EE and I had a few spare hours on Sunday morning, but as we went to bed, the outside temps, and the icons on the news weather maps didn’t look all that good, so we decided on a long breakfast.
But looking out the window in the morning with blue sky, golden sunshine, the only thing was to bolt breakfast and head out. We decided “The Office” deserved a quick look, and its only a few minutes away, and before you can say, “Let’s go”, we did.
The Werribee River Park, (The Office) is just across a bridge over the Geelong Freeway, and once off the tarmac, its pretty much paddock. Some very old Pines must have been part of a homestead in the area, I suppose, and last week I’d spotted two Black-shouldered Kites sitting together on the tops of the pinecones. So I figured, that they might have been considering a nesting. How wrong was that!
Not only had they considered, but had just fledged in the past couple of days, two really healthy and vocal youngsters. The young sat on old stump of the tree and were fed in the sunshine. Well done Mum.
We’d also noted a pair of Black Kites in the same tree line, and they were still in attendance, no doubt there is a nest in the offing.
After a few minutes with a lone Brown Falcon a bit further on we stopped at the Park carpark. And immediately the harsh screech of a female Black-shouldered kite was joined by the higher pitched screeches of young ones. And then slowly it dawned on me.
I’d been watching and reporting on this pair for the best part of 3 weeks now, and was pretty convinced with all the activity that they were “planning” a nesting. But no. Wrong again!!!
She has just fledged, not one, not two, but three, beautifully marked birds. No wonder the male was so busy catching mice the past couple of weeks. Put mouse in one end, and out pops a beautifully fledged cinnamon and ginger Black-shouldered Kite.
Now all this activity does not go unnoticed by those who make their living by preying on others. A Black Kite swept up from the River flats and hung around the young. At first I thought it might be going to threaten the young, but its true intent was even more devious. Dad flew in with a mouse and the Black Kite began harassing the much smaller bird, for his catch. In the end, better speed, and skilful harrowing, caused the Black-shouldered Kite to drop the mouse. And the Black moved straight on to it as it fell. But now Mum and Dad were free to harass the Kite and in the end it moved away. It tried again later, but both birds were not to be caught off guard again, and Mum took the prize to the nest tree and the young followed her down into the top of the tree where the nest must be concealed. (It’s too far in behind chain fence for me to get a good looksee.)
Then of course, the weather changed, time ran out, and we decided to retreat for the day.
But with 5 young birds in such a small area we’ll no doubt be back. Oh, and we saw the family of Flame Robins, as well, but didn’t get that close.
One part of the family was off to Sydney for a holiday. So how about we leave our car with you and go to Avalon airport? Now the cool thing about saying yes to the request of course is that Avalon is but a mere 5 minutes from the WTP. And well, we’d have to come back that way after all the farewells, and book ins and security checks, and stuff.
So we found ourselves on the Beach Road in the middle of the afternoon on a not too brilliant for photography day. The folk at the farm had taken the opportunity of the change in the weather to conduct some control burns in some of the bigger fields. And off course the raptors simply couldn’t resist the chance of fried or roasted or bbq locusts, mice, grasshoppers, lizards and the like.
As we travelled down the Beach Road, the sky was awash with larger birds. Perhaps as many as 20 Whistling Kites, twice that number of Black Kites, at least two Australian Kestrels, and an assortment of Ravens, several squadrons of Australian Magpie and innumerable Magpie Larks.
From a photography point of view, the light was wrong and the birds too far away, but the old D2xS on the 300mm f/2.8, stepped up to the challenge. So the big birds swept over the still smouldering ground, or made a landing and picked up a morsel or two. Their friends sat on the fence line and the Whistling Kites kept up a constant call. In the end, we just watched, and enjoyed them enjoying themselves.
A Black Kite became a target for a rather aggressive Whistling Kite and a sky wide battle ensued. At first the Whistling Kite was much faster, could turn quicker, gain height faster and generally outfly the Black Kite. Quite a number of direct hits from above, below and the side ensued. In the end, I decided that perhaps the Black was just taking it all and wasn’t really concerned by the output of energy by the Whistling Kite. It ended by the Black gaining height and just sailing away. The Whistler settled down for a rest on the fence.
On the other side of the road a Black-shouldered Kite busied itself in finding mice for its evening snack.
We also found a large family of Flame Robins. The males looking a treat in the sunshine. But far too far away to do them justice.
As we drove around Lake Borrie on the return home a pair of Cape Barren Geese were feeding in an open area. Really perturbed by our audacity to encroach on their feeding spot, the male gave me a lecture and wing-waving display. I apologised and we parted in good company. Just have to be more careful about sneaking up on him.
With the light finally drifting into greyness, it was considered time for home.
Family gig took up much of the morning, so another trip to Goschen was pretty much ruled out.
“Gardener Ed, (he works the gardens at the Murray Downs Resort), has some birds you should go and see.” So a chat with Ed, and yes its true he does have birds, and yes we would be welcome to go look see, so 11am, on the dot Mr An Onymous and I assembled in the carpark and then followed Ed back to look at his collection. And a fine find it was too. An was pretty happy as he managed to score a couple of tail feathers from Red-tailed Cockatoos.
Ed lives out at Woorinen South, and we’d only driven through there the previous day, so now we did the “explorer” thing and drove round to see the Lake, the Football Ground, and the Water supply. Pretty exciting stuff. Even saw where I’d skinned me knee as a little tacker climbing in an old Malle Pine.
Now this sort of driving may seem a bit out of place and fraught with the possibility of getting lost, but the area was originally blocked off for soldier settler blocks, and so the roads all either run north/south or east/west, so its really just driving on a checkerboard. We rounded a corner and there in the sky was a Black Kite, first for the day, so pretty excited we stopped, got out and started to photograph the bird as it leisurely sweep over the crops. First mistake. Second mistake was doing it just outside the driveway of the local Neighbourhood Watch. Before we’d managed to get 2 frames exposed, said NW was in the vehicle and coming down the track to see, what we were doing. Now I’ve little time for explaining to folk that don’t want to listen that “We’re photographing birds, Mate!” That is NOT, I have discovered the answer to the question of “What the …..##$%% do you think you’re doing, and what .###%%% right do you have to do it here!!!!!&&&&###”
Now I’ve also been made aware it’s not much point debating the issue of the lack(?) of “Bill of Rights” in Australia, and that the correct lawful response to such demands is,”I believe this to be public land, and as you have not identified yourself as a member of a constituted law enforcement agency, I am minding my own business.” Too may verbs and nouns in that sentence for your average NW. Besides which, NW carry things like shotguns and work on a different set of rules “Shot first and ask questions afterward“.
So with a quick flourish of cameras, we abandoned the Black Kite and resumed the safety of the car. NW proceeded slowly, (almost wrote menacingly) out of the driveway and headed in our direction. I slowly, and politely, turned back on the roadway and looked straight ahead as we passed him. NW went down to the corner, (read above if you are geographically embarrassed at this point) turned around, and slowly followed us back along the road. Then after stopping at his gate to be sure we were really leaving the area, turned back into said driveway. Mr An and I pondered that at least we’d given him something to do for the morning.
Enough excitement in that area, so we proceeded to cross the Murray Valley Highway, and were now deep into Murraydale. This area was for the most part still well watered, and the home of a thriving dairy and beef industry.
The roads running east/west eventually run into the Murray River; only 5-10 Kilometres away as the Crow flies. So we tried several of the roads to see if we could find some good views along the river.
First up we found a pair of Australian Kestrels, hard at work trying to move on (I believe) a Brown Falcon. So it was pretty certain they had young in the area.
We were discussing the merits of Round Hay bales vs Square Hay bales, (You can see immediately what a wonderful travelling companion I have), when a Whistling Kite made an appearance over the tree line. More stopping, but no NW this time, so all was well. Now some of the tracks don’t run to the river. They end up in a farmer’s front yard, so while Mr An looked for birds, I tried to keep us from visiting long lost members of the family. EE’s family had a long association with Murraydale. The elders of the clan had worked a dairy farm as far back as the 1930s, and several of the latter part of the clan had run as share–farmers out here. One still had a caravan parked on the riverside on one of the properties. On the other hand trying to explain, “We’re photographing birds, Mate!, and we are related to…… “, or “Oh, I went to school with your brother Peter ,” didn’t seem to have any more ring of likely success, so I tried to avoid the driveways. Besides, farmers have bigger guns, and dogs with really, really sharp teeth.
We turned on to The River Road, and went past the Abattoir. “Why are we going down here?” quizzically asked. “For Black Kites’, I replied. “But there’s hardly likely to be any down here”. As one black kite flew by the front windscreen, then another lifted over the road, and by the time I’d stopped we had 5 or more Kites circling quietly over the road. “Oh”.
We eased on down the road to the turn-around area for the stock-trucks, and then climbed up on to the river bank. Then. Out of the trees on the other side, a White-bellied Sea Eagle threw, gathered speed across the river and went over the treetops above us. I am pretty convinced it’s done this manoeuvre more than once, as it flew across the paddock, found a thermal, and in seconds was heavenwards. Taking with it the flotilla of Black Kites. Again, have to say, not sure they were in pursuit, as it was a no contest, those huge wings just pick up the air. The grins on both of our faces said it all. I gained points as bird finder and expedition leader, and Mr An had a new story to tell of Sea Eagles over the inland Murray.
Update***The shots show it in brown plumage and its certainly a juvenile.
Time for a coffee, and after circling a roundabout of decision making, both figuratively and literally, we were soon reunited with family and I enjoyed a Vienna Coffee and fired up Flickr on the Macbook Air.
One of the nice new pleasures we get from being in the area is to catch up with the Werribee Wagtails birding group.
They have a number of projects for bird counting and one them is at Mt Rothwell.
So we followed the roads out the back of Little River and met up with the eager bird counters.
Mt Rothwell is near the excellent You Yangs and is a fully enclosed area so there are some heavy duty gates to get through before the serious counting begins.
On this day, however there was a wonderful strong breeze at work, and it was the first really cool day after the heat so the big birds were up in numbers all looking to catchup on their dietary requirements.
The area also has a very strong educational programme and there are some great walking tracks covering the area which is mostly light scrub, trees and some great rolling hills with lots of boulders and rocky outcrops.
So we set off. I got side tracked by a Striated Pardalote, and spent about 10 minutes photographing it, and by the time I’d gotten back on the track. Well, the count and counters had moved on. Easy enough, just go along the track thought I. Till I came to a Y in the road. Always take the ‘right’ one is the advice I’ve worked with over the years. Not always good advice and in this case dead wrong. After about 10 minutes I came to an open field and looking along the track not a counter to be seen. Wrong track I thought. So a bit of bush bashing got me across to the ‘right’ left track, and no sign of said counters.
After a bit of scouting about, I found that Arthur had left an “Arrow” of sticks at the next junction, and from there it was walk fast until I caught up. But, the track swept around to the right, and I figured the track had to sweep back again. Remember its a fenced off area. Easy said I. Over the top of the rise in front of me, stand on the top of a rock and they should be visible. So saying I did. And. Yep, there they were way over there. More scrub work.
Needless to say EE was not to happy with my tardiness, and I think I got a black mark on my name from the walk leader who was getting a bit concerned about having to ‘find’ said missing dude.
No more Pardalotes for me for the rest of the day.
With the strong wind running the raptors, which include, Whistling Kites, Black Kites, Brown Falcons, Little Eagles and Australian Kestrels, were in their element. Such a great site to see so many soaring birds. And I didn’t have to get misplaced to see them.
In the afternoon we walked the opposite side of the park and came to a large open field. “Hmm,” said I, “I’ve been here already once earlier today!”