Little (cold) Visits: Dedication is Paying Off

Our local pair of Black-shouldered Kites go about the job of enlarging the species as though they are the only ones committed to the programme.

This past week has been constant rain, high winds and freezing cold conditions. But Belle has a job to do, and somehow through all that inclement weather she has stuck to the nest.

We too have been hunkered down. Looking out the door or window at the incessant rain, and feeling the cold creeping into the bones has not only been debilitating, but has dimmed any idea of being able to see how the Kites have been battling.

This morning, a look through the window, showed a few patches of blue-sky with no immediate rain. ” Let’s go see, and if it changes, we can always come home or go get a coffee,” EE said.

And as the good Banjo said, “We went.”

Mind, two people dressed for an Antarctic Expotition, or as a friend said the other day, Two Michelin Men, might not have been elegant, but at least kept the biting wind somewhat at bay.

At first it was all quiet, but then we noted that Belle was now sitting higher in the nest and there was white-wash on the branches below. So no doubt the young are beginning to grow.

In pretty quick succession Bronson arrived with first one, then two, a third and then fourth mouse. So he is doing his best to keep the high quality rocket-fuel going into little tummies and also keeping Belle satisfied.

In the end the Michelin men retreated to iAmGrey-heater turned on, and headed for coffee.

No doubt by the next time we can venture out, we might get the chance to see a tiny head or two.

Enjoy. And keep warm.

From the Fieldnotes Book: Out and About

We were travelling in the early. bright sunshine, on a very still, cold day. Our destination was a couple of paddocks to check for Flame Robins, and also a little further on to monitor the nesting progress of a pair of Black-shouldered Kites.

The narrow road is typical of farming communities with deep drains on either side and very little road shoulder, and while there was room to pass, there was no real room to park. We have been making this journey about once a week, and every so often perhaps twice a week to check on the progress of the Kites.

As we drove along the road, into the sunshine, a tree close to the fenceline, in the distance, looked to have three large bird sized shapes, and as it was a long way ahead we ran through the usual suspects, Ravens, Doves, Magpies, etc.

Then just as we approached, EE exclaimed, “They are juvenile Black-shouldered Kite.” With no where to stop other than the middle of the road, it was a bit precarious, so I moved up to a gateline and we walked back. Sure enough, three very handsome looking young kites. Where had they come from? Where they waiting to be fed? Wonder where the nest had been located? Now there are not too many trees suitable in the area, so it would be hard to pick one, and as we’d travelled that way a few times, and not seen any action in the area, it was even more a mystery.

After a lot of preening and wing stretching the answer to the question, “Are they waiting to be fed?” was answered as first one, then another lifted off with easy, flew out over the paddock and began to hover and drive down. These young kites had been on the wing for three or more weeks its seems.

We didn’t see a successful strike, but that was more to inexperience than anything and no doubt they were quietly confident of getting their own breakfast. After about an hour or so we moved on. The parents hadn’t been sighted and the young weren’t crying to be fed, so the best conclusion perhaps was they were now on their way out into the world on their own and were still travelling together for company.

Enjoy


It will be interesting to see if they are still in the area next time we visit.

From the FieldNotes Book: A Morning’s Practice

How quickly time moves on for these young kites. A few weeks ago they were peeking out of the nest, then launched into flight on some of the most windy days we’ve had this year.
And when we arrived on this particular morning they were now fully-fledged (pun intended) hunters.

Bronson, the male was no longer providing handouts. It was literally every bird for itself. They had chosen to sit together for what was probably the very last time in the early morning sun and scan the surrounding paddock for a likely meal. Most of their hunting as we watched was for skinks and small prey, but no doubt in the next day or two they would have skilled up enough for the real thing. Mice

Bronson flew past at one stage, perhaps checking they were still in the area, but they knew not to pester him for food and it was a silent flyover. They went back to the job in hand.

A couple of days later on our next visit, they were nowhere to be seen, all the usual roosting spots were empty. We caught a glimpse far across the freeway of one sitting, then hunting and flying off with its prize.

Their time had come to explore the world as fully developed young birds.

It is both a sad and also an exciting time to share their graduation and to farewell them.


From the Fieldnotes Book: Learning to Hunt

After a pretty windy start the young Black-shouldered Kites have quickly advanced to developing both their hunting skill and their ground tactics.
It might just me wanting to explain their process, but I think that the first few days on the wing in the very strong gale force winds gave them an advantage in learning the flying techniques. It is not unusual to see them leave the home tree and in a few wing flicks they are nearly a kilometre away down the paddock. So we miss all of the action happening from where we stand.

But, the other morning on what can only be described as “picture perfect”, they were working closer in and going through the paces of hovering and dropping out of the sky into the grass. Now, any mice there were pretty safe as they don’t quite have the skills to finalise the ‘catch’. However it won’t be long I suspect before they make the necesary connections and then they’ll be on the way to independance.

So here are a few highlights from the action.

Dropping from a hovering position. The wings folded up and the legs beginning to tuck up.
No Score. But at this stage they just pull out above the grass.
Getting serious now with the legs coming down
Look out Mice. Here I Come.
A much more serious attempt with the wings folded up and dropping vertically
Complete Concentration
Once again pulling out just above the grass
Really getting into the grass

From Field notes Book: Dad’s Rules

After what has been a bit of a difficult start with heatwave days and torrential rain the local Black-shouldered Kites have fledged three new chicks.

Like everything for this little family nothing goes easily and the young have fledged in the middle of a week of high winds. Yet they seem to have taken to the job with a wonderful zest.

But the high winds quickly throws them off course and Dad has had to go an hunt them back into his territory.

Here are some photos from his attempt to bring one of his wayward young back into the home area. Not easy when little wings are struggling in high breezes.

Interludes: Wings Out

We stopped briefly this morning at the Black-shouldered Kite nest in a pine on a now disused piece of road.

The last few times we’ve visited it was apparent that the young birds were getting close to fledging, however as it turns out we were pretty much completely wrong.

When we arrived they were already sitting high up on the tree and one moved from one branch to another with a skill of a seasoned flyer.
And not long after two of them took to the air and circled about the paddock around the tree, eventually returned and settled in.
A third one came by just as we were leaving so it must have been resting in a tree further down the road.

On return the young kite had to run the gauntlet with an enraged Australian Magpie. Unfortunately it happened all so fast and so close in that we didn’t get much of a result, and to it credit the young kite was easily able to avoid the attack. Which further shows they have been airborne a few days at least.

The female turned up and spent quite a bit of time ‘tail flicking’, which I’ve always taken as either a pair-bonding  or a territory maintenance movement. Given a second pair of Kites have a nest somewhere further down the main road, it might be safe to assume she was giving warning that her young were out and about and not to be messed with.

Here are a few from the excursions around the nest.

 

 

Young Kite defending against the Magpie attack. The feathers might look out of control, but I suspect it has set up the feathers to give it both control and the ability to avoid the magpie. A good indication they have been out for a few days.

Saturday Evening Post #155: Shadow Opportunity

Deng Ming-Dao writes,” Times of oppression and adversity cannot last forever. In the midst of great difficulty, a tiny opportunity will open—if only by chance.
You must be sharp enough to discern it, quick enough to catch it, and determined enough to do something with it.  Stick to it like a Shadow.”

“It is like a bird. If you try to catch it, you will miss. If you are always with it, moving at its speed, as much a part of it as its own shadow, then it is easy to seize.”

We have, tis fair to say, had our fill of lockdownitis. One of several pairs of Black-shouldered Kites that we’ve worked with over the years has flown several clutches of young while we’ve been at home with our four walls.

The sad thing is that the 5km limit we  have been forced to work to, just gets us to the turn-off to the road where the Kites territory begins. So it was possible to drive, and park, and like a kid looking in a lollyshop window droll on the glass.

But. Not able to get close enough to see what was going on.

The road runs off a major access road, so parking on the side, (within our limit) is fraught with its own challenges.  Myriad passing traffic, difficulty of parking on the side of the road, not to mention, standing about with a long camera lens  is likely to bring the wrath of some ‘public concerned individual” as to why we would be doing such a thing. And of course the inevitable visit from the long arm of the law.
So, we stayed away.
This particular pair, and really its the female, as we are pretty certain she has had two male companions over the past couple of years, have done their bit to keep the Kite species alive and well supplied.
Working backward, with the few clutches we had photographed without interruption and the number of clutches that were started and then we lost track of, or had begun and we came back on the end of the season with the young well and truly on the wing, we think in the past 3 years, they have had somewhere around 8 clutches.  Maybe 9.  On average she brings out 3 young, so given one known clutch failure, and one that only produced two young, it would be fair to say they have flown around 25 young birds.

Now we have a little more travel space, EE and I ventured out, among other places to see what the kites were doing, (If anything)   Parking well off the mainroad and scanning about, eventually we found one of the pair sitting high on a tree.  Not long after the female emerged from the top of a tree, and with much sqarrking encouraged the male to go hunting.
Bingo.  They have a nest.
That would be perhaps number 10 so far.  She is a bit of a workaholic.

Shadow time!  Hopefully the next few weeks will give us a chance to follow the progress.

The weather wasn’t all that kind, but here she is coming in with a fresh prize to prepare for the young, which must only be hatched for a week or so.

And just in case you’ve not seen a link before
The Peregrine Falcons high up on 367 Collins Street in Melbourne have hatched a clutch of three.
Here is a link to their video feed.

https://367collins.mirvac.com/workplace/building-overview/falcons-at-367-collins

Enjoy.

 

Interludes: Of Tooth and Claw

Tho’ Nature, red in tooth and claw
In Memoriam;
Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Welcome to Interludes:
We had been monitoring a pair of Black-shouldered Kites for the past several months, in between lockdowns, and had come to the conclusion that perhaps they had abandoned the project due to the cold weather.
However a couple of weeks ago things seemed to change, the male began to bring in food and took to sitting on a tree close to where we thought the nest might be.  Plaintive cries from a hungry female confirmed it.

But, the nest tree was cleverly located behind a huge chainwire fence at the Treatment Plant and access and a close approach was out of the question. So in between weeks at home and bad weather we just had to wait.

Then, the weather opened up one morning to sunshine and we journeyed out for a looksee.

Can’t be sure, but it is pretty clear that the young had emerged from the nest, and at least one of them has made a few tentative flights.
Set up, settle in, see what happens.

One of the young took to the air, but its direction and control skills needed much more development.  Eventually after much loud calling it landed a bit down range in the next tree.

Unfortunately, the tree was already inhabited by a nesting Australian Magpie.

And Maggie has a zero tolerance for visitor. Enraged and highly defensive, the little Kite would be no match for Maggies sustained attack.

There are no First Warnings!

We have a NO Visitors Policy

Not on MY tree you don’t

Contact

Ouch, That Hurt!

Pressing home its attack

Safely back on the Nest: We didn’t see it again for the afternoon

The Cavalry Arrives. But after several half-hearted swoops on the enraged Magpie, Dad gave up.

Interludes: “On The Road Again…”

Well then, time to don the old spotted ‘kerchief, pull down the weather beaten widebrimmed hat, tune up the ole guitar and climb aboard the VW Microbus for another round of Willie Nelson singin’  “On the Road Again”. Now Willie may not be my fav entertainer, but I do as an aside, get a bit lumpy of throat everytime I hear his “Blue eyes Cryin’ in the Rain.”
Wipes moisture off keyboard continues typing.

Yep.  She’s back on the Road.  Well, more particularly out and about in the field with camera at the ready.

A few more weeks, and the old EE will be back to full form I’d be thinking. Goodby to #Kneetoo it seems.

How many Australian Hobbies would you normally expect to see in a morning? Most of us would be hard to agree to One, and then think it lucky
Two?  Stretching it Mate.
Three? EE

Now for bonus points, how many of those Hobbies would be carefully ensconced in a tree happily feeding away on a recent take?
One, oh, ok, I’ll give you that.
Two? Well that is why you should turn up the music louder. She’s back on the road.  🙂

We were working on a couple of recently fledged Black-shouldered Kites, when the conversation changed to,
“I think a Hobby with a meal just landed in a tree back there.”

We look, well at least I did.  Dark in there, lots of thick branches and leaves.  Searching.
Click, click, click.  She’s spotted it.
And there was the Hobby with what was the remains of a House Sparrow.  Way up there, in among all that clutter.  Amazing.

Suitably  photographed, we left it to its devices and headed back to iAmGrey for a cuppa.

Midway through, the conversation changed.

“I think there is a second Hobby with a meal in that tree at the end of the roadway!”

Abandoning the warm Earl of Grey to its own devices, we move to the other side of the parking area.
Now this one wasn’t so hard, out in the open, on a branch, looking very uncomfortable trying to eat on a sloping branch.
Click, click.

Job done we relocated to a second pair of kites.  Another Interlude story for next time.

Just as EE got out of the iAmGrey, a Hobby flew pretty much head height over her. ”
Click Click. Click.

I can still hear the guitars, and,”The Life I love is making photos with my friend, I’m so glad that we’re back in the field again!!”

Young Black-shouldered Kites mock battle

Only recently fledgded, but already quite the adept aviator

Hobby Number One. Once under the tree, it was easier to see among the foliage

A fresh catch that needed cleaning up for table presentation

Hobby Number Two. A rather awkward perch to work on.

Hobby Number Two. Eventually moved to a more suitable branch in the open. 
However this was the home of a pair of Willie Wagtails, and visitors were not welcome.

There is only so much harasssment it could take. FInished the meal, and time to leave.

Young Black-shouldered Kite. It seems this clutch flew two young.
They have been moved a few hundred metres from the nesting area. Perhaps the food is better on that side of the highway.

Outta the Kitchen Drawer

I bet we’ve all got at least one.  If you’re a photographer, like collecting camera bags, it might be that you have more than one.
That drawer in the Kitchen that holds all the knickknacks, detritus, and otherwise never sorted collection of things that have no where else to be stored.

Oh, look, four rubber bands, an old shopping list, some faded receipts for something or other, a pair of blunt scissors, the battery from… I wonder what? And all sorts of other accumulated, but not discarded  items of dubious value.

Irish comedian Jimeoin even wrote a song about it, “The Third Draw Down”  careful about the words, but that is comedy these days.

Well, I’ve been collecting a little here and there for a blog but none of the topics are significant enough on their own to warrant a single blog.

So.

Let’s put them in the Kitchen Draw and rummage through.

#kneetoo is back in the bush.
A few days before out current Fifth Lockdown, #kneetoo made her first real venture out into the wide world with camera and patience both firmly attached.

Also a deckchair, carefully placed in the sunshine was an essential element.  Subject was a Black-shouldered Kite’s nesting.  So here is how the action unfolded.

What else is at the back of the draw.?
Talked at the weekend about the “Mapping” ability of the Brown Falcon.
A tv semi-doco over the weekend produced in England. Life in the Air: Masters of the Sky

Can’t find that much about it, but the graphics are really explanatory, and the short inflight shots really help show what each segment is about.  However there is a lack of any references to the research, and I suspect that many of the sequences have been strung together from unrelated events.

Of interest is the segment on the garden hunting of a Sparrowhawk.  The graphics show how the bird, from 50m out from a birdfeeder in a backyard is able to negotiate a convoluted track in to avoid detection from all the dozens of little eyes always on the alert.
Having established the track, the action then ‘follows’ the bird from strike launch until four seconds later when a dramatic ‘puff’ of feathers over the birdfeeder is supposed to indicate a strike.  It is interesting to see the path the bird takes, its twists and turns to keep hidden for as long as possible   There are quite a lot of slo-mo sequences of it flying under, through and skimming over a bush here, turning on a tree there and the through the railing in a gate.
A great story.

I’d have loved it to be a bit more referenced as it is a great example of what I believe about Brown Falcon.  I love to see Browns running wing height over the ground, through the bracken, and bushes, to arrive at its target. Or the considered attack on a Tiger snake. It is all mapped and planned.

Rumage, rumage rumage.

Here are a few more from the Red Wattlebird attack on Bronson as he delivers another few sticks to bolster the well hidden nest.

 

 

 

 

And not looking to happy about surveying the damage to his rump.

One more from under the receipts, and those old drink coasters, who knew we still had them.

Wanted to finish on a positive note with a big SHOUT OUT, to all the Heroes doing Heroic work on our behalves during this most stressful of times.

Had to get some blood tests the other day.  The nurse doing the work is taking a break after a 6 week shift at the Showgrounds taking Covid 19 tests.  7:30am to 11pm has been her workload for most of that time. Goodonya!

To all those who have one way or another provided support, helped with logistics, cleaned everything—I see you at my Woollies—and all the other amazing Heroic things that are being carried out, often in the background.

Our local Shik community who are working to provide meals and support for so many isolated. ‘Onya!’

Meanwhile the fearnews concentrates one more more ratbag element, when there are so many great stories, even in their simplicity being written by people who have dedicated themselves in so many ways.

And of course to all those whose one simple act of getting tested, and then isolating for the appropriate amount of time.  Thank you.  I dedicate this blog to your act of selflessness.

The list is long, and includes those who turn up at sites to provide some cheer, food, flowers, to all those front line workers, what a great way to say, “Thanks”.

May healing come rapidly on wings of peace.

 

 

 

 

 

Little Visits: The Power of Wings

Somethings happen so fast that it defeats the human eye to follow.  Sometimes a short sequence of photos can reveal not only fine details of an event but also an understanding of the forces at work.

Such, is the case of a pair of Black-shouldered Kites at work on their current nesting duties.
Our blog friend David Nice gave me the headsup that the Kites were back at work on the Sneydes Road area. Time for a looksee.

And indeed they were. The nest is quite a new site for the pair, and built in such a position that its a little hard to fly in nesting sticks directly, and the male has been ‘drifting’ them in at an angle to get the larger longer sticks in just the right position.

I normally don’t shoot multi-burst, but, well you know how it is, the first pair of kites we’ve worked with in quite awhile. So I was happy to begin to fillup the memory card.

Where the magic happened however was when I began to curate the images and found the various changes in wing angle and feather application that he was using to ‘drift’ into the right position.
So the series here are simply to show how he has used wing angle and wing lift to get the right momentum, direction and control. With one wing carrying the movement while the other wing lets air cascade away to ‘fall’ in that direction.
Hope you find in interesting.

 

His second problem is that the locals are not too impressed to have the new home renovators at work in their area, and each trip in and out was a to run the gauntlet of ravens, Red-wattle birds and magpies.  A bit costly on feather contacts on a number of occasions.

 

 

Return to the Office

As the first Australian Lockdown came to an end back in March 2020, Scomo, our Prime Minister announced that it was “Time for Australia to come out from under the Doona and get back to the office”. Fine sentiment.

For readers not familiar with Scomo, it is a contraction of the Prime Minister’s name. Scott Morrison.
It came to public attention first on August 2, 2018, when during a press conference, Mr Morrison was asked about his leadership aspirations, as there was a lot of unease about Malcom Turnbull’s leadership.
He reached out and hugged Mr Turnbull and said, “This is my leader, I’m ambitious for him”

To which the (doomed) Malcom Turnbull responded, “Thanks, Scomo.”

The irony of the comment really only became obvious about 3 weeks later, when Malcom Turnbull was ousted, and Scomo became Prime Minister. (Skipping over some of the heavy duty political drama in there!)

So with the recent lifting of restrictions on the Victorian Lockdown to a 10km travel radius, I decided to take Scomo’s advice and “Return to the Office.

Mostly I wanted to see if the Flame Robins were still in the area. But as it turns out, they have become very conspicuous by their absence.
I did find a lone Black-shouldered Kite who was happy to share a photo of its hunting prowess.

Then I heard the intense call of Magpies announcing a raptor approaching. Looking far across the paddock a small dot with large wings was headed my way. To be honest, at first I thought it was a local Black Kite and was nearly going to dismiss it, but the intensity of the maggies attack made me look again.

Wedge-tailed Eagle

Trying desperately to get enough speed to gain some height and escape being harassed. However maggies are trained for this and they were making sure that the Eagle had to stay down just over the paddock.
It kept coming and then the Eagle and its attendant pesky magpies flew pretty much over where I was standing.

Thanks Scomo.
Hope I don’t get deposed 🙂

Saturday Evening Post #114: Understated Elegance

Perhaps one of the greatest skills for a ‘portrait’ photographer is to ‘connect’ with the subject.

Some people I’ve met seem to have a natural aptitude for bringing out unique character traits of their subject.  A smile, nod, hand movement, a word or two, and suddenly there waiting for the press of the shutter is the ‘essence’ of the person’s personality.

There are so many reasons why people often (always!) say, “Oh, I don’t take a very good picture!”  Too true.
We want to have a candid photo approach, but we don’t want a candid result.

Yousuf Karsh, a Canadian portraitist from the 1930s to when he retired in 1992, was a refugee from Armenia. He apprenticed to first his uncle and then a prominent American celebrity photographer.

His photographs of the great and near great of his time include, what is regarded as the quintessential portrait of Sir Winston Churchill. The story of the making of the portrait is as great as the moment recorded.
Churchill, it is told, turned up at the photo session with his signature cigar.  Just as Karsh was about to make the exposure he walked up toChurchill and removed the cigar from his hand.
The result shows a ‘miffed’ Churchill, yet one that brings out the essence of the subject.

Different time, different subject, different circumstances.
Martin Luther King,
King’s life can only be described as frenetic. Always on the move, always surrounded by helpers, people congratulating him, or commiserating.  The famous portrait was made a quiet corner of a church. The simple setting enabled Karsh to bring out the qualities of leadership, visionary and engaging personality.

Another that is quite confrontational, and given the subject, so it should be is Fidel Castro.  Frame filling, piecing eyes and wisps of shadow glancing over the facial planes make a compelling image.

See more his portrait work here.
If you do visit this site, be sure to click on the Sittings page, and type in the name of one of the studies. Then  click on image and it will open up to a little of the background to the portrait. Fascinating.

Here are a few Karsh quotes.

Within every man and woman a secret is hidden, and as a photographer it is my task to reveal it if I can. The revelation, if it comes at all, will come in a small fraction of a second with an unconscious gesture, a gleam of the eye, a brief lifting of the mask that all humans wear to conceal their innermost selves from the world. In that fleeting interval of opportunity the photographer must act or lose his prize.

I try to photograph people’s spirits and thoughts. As to the soul-taking by the photographer, I don’t feel I take away, but rather that the sitter and I give to each other. It becomes an act of mutual participation.

Light thinks it travels faster than anything but it is wrong. No matter how fast light travels, it finds the darkness has always got there first, and is waiting for it.

And just because we’ll allow him a sense of humour,
The trouble with photographing beautiful women is that you never get into the dark room until after they’ve gone.


I’m often quoted—or misquoted—for wanting to bring out the character of the birds that we meet.
Some birds can be cooperative and its possible to spend sometime making sure things like, lighting, background, pose and the like are helpful. Others, are fleeting and gone.

If nothing else Karsh’s work hints at the need for outdoor photographers to adapt the camera to the subject. We don’t have the luxury of the formal studio portrait.

Yet that mobility enables us to be flexible and capture natural moments.

Bronson is a hard working Dad. We have had the good fortune to work with him through three clutches, and our presence is no longer seen as a threat.

I do therefore, take some liberties with his patience. But always out of respect.

No  photo is worth agitating a bird.

I am, I guess I need to add, quite a critic of my own close approaches, and like to think I have over the years become attuned to a wing flip, leg move, head shake or downright glare that indicates I’ve crossed a line.  Apologetic I retreat.

He sat in the soft early light, and the thought of “Elegance” struck me.  I then worked about to find a suitable background.  The small tree behind gave me an isolation for the head, and the branch gave him a feeling of place.
Waiting is something a Black-shouldered Kite is gifted with. I too needed to wait for the head turn, the piercing eyes surveying the field and the relaxed body.
Click

Any relationship between this shot and Karsh’s “Grey Owl“, is purely coincidental, and no comparison is intended or suggested.

Enjoy

Photographic Essay: I Thought Everyone Loved Me!

This is a story from earlier in the year.

The young Black-shouldered Kites had only recently fledged and were still in the process of learning how to use the muscle control of the wings, how the wind varies. and that it might be possible eventually to fly in something more than a straight line, and land by simply crashing into things.

As it turned out this youngster got to the air, but with a strong wind blowing it managed to drift away from the shelter of the nesting area and about 200metres out eventually land in the leaves of a tall gum tree.

What it didn’t know, and was soon to find out, was that a pair of Red Wattlebirds also had a nest in the tree and some fine youngsters coming on. And at that stage they had a zero tolerance policy for any bird, stray or otherwise from resting near their young.

After several swoops the little Kite realised an important lesson in life. Not everybody loves a cute little ginger and white Kite.

Under attack it took to the air, but it didn’t have the aerial skills of the Honeyeaters that mercilessly chased it from the area.  Taking out a beakful or two of back feathers in the process.

A week later it would have been a different encounter, but the Honeyeaters pressed their attack with avengeance.

Here tis.