Black-shouldered Kites Growing up. October 10, 2017
Waiting is not Patience. Patience is about the moment,
an intersection of the strongest story with the right light,
the best timing and an awareness of the around.
Waiting makes us pay attention. David Duchemin
You’re Welcome Here.
We’ve been tracking a clutch of Black-shouldered Kites down on the 29 Mile Road at the Western Treatment Plant. The young have been on the wing now for over two months, and are now the expert hunters. They are just moulting out the last of their juvenile ginger and grey feathers and the eye is taking on the rich ruby colour of adult-hood.
The best perches in the area are along the roadside, the few trees and fenceposts and man-made solar panels and the like. And because of their consummate skill in the air, and the vast quantity of mice in the area, the young kites seem quite oblivious to human presence.
So sometimes it’s possible to get right into the world of the hunting birds—not as a long distance observer—in a hurry—but to take the time the learn about the birds, their preferences for hunting areas and their choice of spots to enjoy their successes.
I’ve been reading and following photographer David DuChemin and his approach to teaching a photographic vision. He has a series called Vision is Better. He talks about patience, waiting, the involvement in the around and being able to identify with the subject to really tell their story. On one such video he travels to British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest to photograph the Spirit Bears – a white variation of the black bear. His video is shot from a short kayak trip, and I think its possible to really get both his excitement of the area, and his immersion in the moment, (if you will allow the pun).
Been meandering through Julieanne Kost’s “Passenger Seat” folio book. Julieanne is a product evangelist for Adobe Lightroom, (and having been one of them product evangellies in me time, I am a bit sympathetic to start with),
But Julieanne is quite a creative, and very visually expressive photographer. As she says in the introduction, “meeting with others continually opens my eyes to what’s possible.” and that is why we share stuff I guess.
Now that Kitty and Kalev-the Brave, have their two young on the wing things get a bit more interesting.
Learning to be a Black-shouldered Kite is not a copy book exercise. There are lots of practical things to be considered as they develop not only their wing power, but also their ability to read the wind, find mice, learn to hunt, how to hover, and the myraid other things that are needed to make a Black-shouldered Kite successful.
Among those things are off course the ability to sit very quietly and unobtrusively on a perch. The thinner the better it seems.
Toward the end of last year, a pair of Black-shouldered Kites— we named them Kitty and Kalev-the Brave— set up and successfully fledged three young.
Well, they are back! Or so it seems. Of course they could be completely different birds, but given their relaxed and settled manner, and the way they interact, I’d be pretty certain that we are looking at Kitty and Kalev-the Brave.
So most months there is an event to turn up to. It’s such an intriguing way to organise an event, and great kudos for Graham and his organising group for keeping up the great places to visit. Always good for birds, photography and chatting, and of course food!
So, when I discovered the next one was to be at the Western Treatment Plant, it wasn’t too hard to tick the Yes we will attend box.
So, as the Banjo was wont to say, we went.
Also my long term mate and fellow conspirator and Flickr mate Mark S came over to make an excellent day of it. Graham, herein named, “He who always has brilliant sunshine for his events”, met us at the Caltex Servo at Werribee and had turned on the sunshine as requested.
28 keen folk sipped Gerry’s best coffee, ate raisin toast, and talked about the day’s opportunities. We took off toward Avalon, stopping long enough to get some good views, if only average photos of some Banded Plovers, then it was on to the T Section, and the inevitable wait by the Crake Pool, and out came the Australian Crake, right on time. No Brolga here, so off to the Paradise Road ponds for our little convoy.
Met a carful of helpful folk who said, “Down there somewhere we saw Brolga”, which unscrambled meant. On to the 145W outflow. A very co-operative Brown Falcon stopping us in our quest, and gave some great poses, and a fine fly off shot for those of us not too busy checking the camera settings. —Will I never never learn!!!! 😦
Then, we spotted the Brolga, (Singular in this case), and the usual dilemma, stay where we are for distant, safe views , or drive on a small distance and see if we can get closer. We drove. And the kind bird tolerated us, for a while, then gave a super fly by quite close. Too much fun.
We had a quiet photography time at 145W, and lunch, then it was on to Lake Borrie. My mates Neil and David turned up in the Prado,they were both out playing with new toys, A Canon 1D X and a Nikon D4. Ah, the joys of learning new equipment.
As we drove back the Brown Falcon had perched on the ‘Specimen Tree’ in Little River and we managed several great shots in the sunshine.
On toward the Bird-hide for some good views of Musk Duck, Great Crested Grebe and an obliging Swamp Harrier made the journey well worthwhile.
Then we took a quick detour toward the top end of Lake Borrie, and to my surprise and great delight—Picture if you will, a small child in a sweet-shop—I spotted some White-winged Terns hunting in the next pond. (They used to be called White-winged Black Terns, but like many things name changes are important.)
Not that I cared as a most remarkable all Black flanked bird tacked into view. It was in full breeding plumage, and has to be seen flashing over the water to be genuinely appreciated. By now the memory cards were filling up. And they were just Mine!!!!!
These birds are only at WTP a few weeks during the year, and mostly never in breeding black plumage. Also every other time I’ve seen them it’s been raining. See some other blogs on here.
A really top find, and a great way to end the day. A quick run up the highway. A refreshing cup of coffee and some good discussion on the finds of the day,- including a top shot of a Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater (Missed that one! ), and everybody back in their transportation and time for home.
Thanks again to Graham “He who always has brilliant sunshine for his events”, and the pleasure of his visitor from Thailand, for such a good relaxing day, and so much to see, and to all those intrepid Meetup-erers who ventured down, and enjoyed the day with us. Hope to see you all again down the track.
Jon Young says, “There is nothing random about bird’s awareness and behaviour. They have too much at stake…. Being tuned into the tapestry…. we are venturing into a realm of awareness, and intention and curiosity. I’ve had some magical experiences in the natural world, and some of them have involved birds.”
He quotes a San Bushman, “One day I see a small bird and recognise it. A thin thread will form between me and the bird. I will go again tomorrow and recognise it and the thread will thicken. Eveytime I see and recognise the bird, the thread strengthens. It will eventually grow to become a rope. That is what it means to be a Bushman. We make ropes to all aspects of the creation this way.”
Appreciation of the bird’s perspective.
Which puts us in the vehicle, heading along the 29 Mile Road at Avalon, in the early morning sunshine. EE, Mr An Onymous and I. And as we draw nearer to the end of the road, a thought from us all, was, “Will Orion still be here?”
We need not have worried.
Sitting on a small tree, about 10m off the side of the road. And by the look, having just eaten. Feathers still wet with the dew from the grass of his last capture.
At first we stop the car on the far side of the road, and they photograph through the open window.
Orion turns his head, takes note, and then develops, ‘Soft eyes’. Jon talks to this a lot, and I’ve mentioned it here before, but its the type of eyes that look right past you, with complete confidence. I stepped from the car, I’m on the far side remember, and approached from the sunside, and moved across the road. ‘Soft eyes’ followed me. Because of the line of the branch, his stance, and the way the light is running in the early morning, I want to be about 10m further out in the open. And of course the chance is he will spook and fly.
I make the first few shots. Orion sinks down onto the branch, and I take that as an invitation. Purposefully, rather than creeping up slowly, (that only spooks birds the worst), I move to the open area. Now, the backdrop is not right, so I need another 4 or 5 metres. He throws his head back and begins to hawk-up the fur ball from the last meal. I move. Soft eyes follow.
Because of the lay of the land, it’s going to be hard to isolate him against the backdrop without a horizon line running somewhere. I could go lower, but then it would be blue sky. Nice, but not encompassing. Besides crouching down human with long lens is going to turn those soft eyes to ones of determined study. So I opt for another step or two to put his head against the far distant tree line. That will have to do.
Orion settles to preen.
EE and Mr A take all this as a sign of relaxation and they also move off the roadway for the better angle and the light. Orion soft eyes. We’re cool.
In the end, we’ve enough for a game of cards, the three of us and Orion.
Preening, wingstretches, repositioning on the branch. And all the time he seems completely settled.
After an hour of standing in the fine sunshine, carrying a long lens, and working with a bird that seems to have no fear of us, a great deal of understanding, awareness and connection emerges.
The others move back to the car. I bid this able bird ‘good morning’ and follow them back. Soft eyes follow me.
And just before you think I’ve run out of stuff to write about and am uploading a few older images.
These are from a visit this afternoon. I’ve been laid up at home in bed with the flu for most of the week. And EE decided that it was such a nice sunny afternoon, that I’d be allowed out for a bit of ‘fresh air’.
So down to 29 Mile we went. And there was mr casual, Orion, sitting on the usual post eating a usual mouse. Well obviously not the same mouse as before, but you get the idea.
Interestingly enough there was quite a track made through the long grass and marsh weed, by photographers tracking in and out over the weekend. EE says, if she’d have known it might have been a good place to sell hot scones and tea!
Orion seemed all the more oblivious to it all, and went through an entire preening and resting program with two photographers at arms length —so to speak. Well not quite, but in its relaxed way we enjoyed vicariously its company.
Here is a small sample of the afternoon. And yes, I do feel better from the fresh air.
No. I haven’t fallen off the planet. But my photo database had developed a slight case of computer measels and its taken me the best part of the last couple of weeks to manage it back to life.
It all started…. but, let’s not go there.
Still been making photos but.
Here is a sequence from a morning with a Black-shouldered Kite hunting alongside the roadway. For those who can navigate around the Western Treatment Plant this one is working along 29 Mile Road.
Interesting time at the WTP, the waders are all feeding and colouring up for their journey north to Siberia. And all the nesting birds are now in winter preparation.
Which means the Black-shouldered Kites among others have come down to keep the mouse population from exploding to epic proportions. And if this bird is anything to go by, then the mice are well and truly under control.
I’ve heard it said that on average the success rate for a hunting bird is one strike in about 10-15 attempts. This bird (I haven’t named it yet), obviously never read the fine print, and in the hour or so we shared, it hunted 4 times and took 3 mice.
It also seems quite content around us mere humans and has allowed both close approaches, and has made its own close approaches. Add to that some fine sunshine, a small breeze to give it some lift and what better way to while away a few hours in the morning.
Blogging 201 assignment for this week is Setting the Scene.
As it turns out, I was gearing up to reflect on a day at the Office yesterday.
The weather turned Kind. Really Kind. The kind of Kind, where the cameras practically pack themselves out of the cupboard and into the car, and sit there going, “Well…..” “Well…. are you ready to leave yet.”
We left early, and decided to take the longer walk down to the river behind the golf course. This is really old river flat, and the river makes a distinct “U” for several hundred metres and then a fine “S” movement that provides for some great old river flat dissected by the flow of the water. Water bird can abound, and there is still some good grass and tree cover to make life entertaining for the smaller bush birds.
Its a long way for EE to walk, but stoically she lead on.
The Office for the uninitiated is an area along the Werribee River a few kilometres from the mouth at Werribee South. It cuts through the rich river soil and in places the cliffs are 30-40 metres high. The big birds – think raptors- enjoy the wind currents coming up the ramparts and I do believe a good case could be made that there are certain areas where its better, and a sort of ‘flyway’ or navigational line is drawn. They seem to favour coming and going along those locations.
You just know its going to be a good day when as you drive in a Black-shouldered Kite is hunting close to the carpark, and just inside the walking track, Bernie the Brown Falcon is loafing in a favourite tree.
Next up a Little Eagle made several passes along one of the ‘flyway’ paths. The Ibis, both White and Straw-necked use the same paths on the way to the feeding grounds along the river.
We sat with a family of Superb Fairy-wrens, and I will tell more of that tale on another blog, and were entertained by the feeding antics of a few Crested Terns. (another blog post methinks)
It was pretty awe-inspiring to be sitting by the river, dangling my feet over the river bank and sipping Earl of Grey, and enoying the time time in the sunshine with such a group of bids. And all less than 10 minutes from home. A most amazing place.
Easy day, easy photography, easy birds, and Just Another Day at the Office really.
We had gazed at weather tv presenters, peered at tiny newspaper weather maps, and consulted the occassional web weather site, and it seemed pretty conclusive.
A high moving in during the day would give us that special “Golden Hour”. Nothing else to do really except pack in a cuppa, the cameras, the WTP access key, drop a note to the controller of our intention, and drive.
We had a spot in mind, and as it turned, we arrived travelling in the wrong direction to the sun. Not an error, but just the way things worked out. And of course, as we had already half expected, a White-bellied Sea-eagle was on a post against the light and looking pretty elegant, resplendant, and pretty well pleased with itself.
And then it flew. And EE was the only one out of the car, and the bird passsed on her side of the road, and I couldn’t get the door open as I’d stopped right up hard on a bush, and well, I missed it.
The spot we were heading for has a little bit of open grass and usually good beach on low tide. (Twas high this night!), and an outflow. And a couple of good radio mast perches.
A young Black-shouldered Kite had chosen the area to perch on while Mum gathered food. So we sat, enjoyed the sunshine, the Earl of Grey, and the antics of this beautifully marked bird.
Even if the bird hadn’t been there the weather was so nice.
Last Sunday, the weather people, correctly, predicted foggy morning. That was enough to send us to the Office.
Not only did we get some grand misty moody shots, but caught up with Kitty and Kalav – the Brave.
Kitty now has settled on the nest and he is still bringing food on demand.
The Brown Falcon came and gave us quite a lovely half hour or so sitting and preening waiting for the sun to break through.
And some fine little Superb Fairy-wrens stopped by to entertain us.
Art Morris has been writing a bit of late on High Key portraits, and the mist gave both an ideal light and an excellent backdrop to play the little birds against.
No one needs to be told that today was a cold day. Oh, 14degrees feels like 3.7, so the weather dude said. 3.7??? Now how can you predict that accurately?
Anyway it wasn’t even close in the strong winds running in to the 50+kph, it felt more like -3.7 say -4, whose going to quibble over whole numbers.
Cold. When the wind rips through a Driazabone jacket, I’m here to tell its COLD.
Had a date with Kalav -the Brave. He was going to be in a lot of trouble hunting in this wind. But, did you notice Brave in there somewhere?
By the time I’d arrived, he’d already decimated one part of the hunting ground and had moved to new premises. Seemed more interested in keeping Kitty well supplied than in a silly old dude in a Drizabone pointing a lens at him.
4 mice, in 10 minutes. And all within a stones throw, (not that I threw stones at him) of where I was hunkered down behind the the fencepost, the only protection around.
Its been said, that I’ve lost my bird karma, and over the past few weeks, probably my weather karma as well.
Can’t recall a good day in the sunshine, so we’ve been, as we say on Flickr, practicing.
I’ve been keeping an eye on a pair of Black-shouldered Kites at The Office. (Werribee River Park).
And today, with some sunshine, I needed a place to practice, I’d been reading John Shaw and he seemed to have some pretty fine results using the Nikon 3D tracking, so thought I’d give it a go. Never been one of my favourite settings, I do have to concede.
Knowing I only had a few minutes, I grabbed the D7100 with the 300mm PF. A pretty nice combo now I’ve made some focus adjustments care of Reikan’s FoCal software.
After a little messing with some distant falcons and Black Kites, I was about to return home when sailing over the trees came a Black-shouldered Kite with a mouse, and pretty much immediately pursued by a female crying out for her food.
That was enough for me to drop into the open paddock, (among all the stinging nettles as it turned out!!! – that wasn’t in John’s book!), and see him come in with several mice over the next half hour or so.