My friend Nina was down at the WTP last week.
She sent me a note of her adventures, and has kindly allowed me to share them here.
In a galaxy far, far, far, far, away, in another time, Nina and I both worked for a large multi-national. Her love of the environment and my natural history photography have kind of kept us in touch.
All the photos, words and story are Nina’s. Obviously copyright, and intellectual property rights belong to her and should be honoured.
Here is what she sent me.
I had an extraordinary experience at the WTP with friends last Friday.
Where ever we went, we kept running into Brolgas.
On Kirks Point track we watched some Brolgas playing with a tennis ball for more than an hour. At first I thought they were trying to eat it, but after a while I realised they were just playing. One would drop it and the next one >would pick it up. They would also pass it to each other. I have many blurry photos because I was shaking with excitement. The memories of thisclose encounter will be with me for ever.
The images are linked to a larger version so just double click to see. Be Amazed!
If you would like to contact Nina drop me a note and I’ll pass on the details.
I was going solo at the Western Treatment Plant. #kneetoo was tucked up in her wide view bird-hide at the hospital, and as the sun was shining in a clear blue sky, I thought a quick trip to check to see if any Flame Robins could be making the most of the weather and the paddocks at the Plant.
However after a bit of fruitless searching it was obviously not going to be my day for robins.
A final quick trip around the “T Section” area just in case a Brown Falcon or two might be present and then home was my plan.
As I unlocked the entry gate to the area, I heard the long rasping call away off in the distance of Brolga. A scan around the horizon and it was not likely I’d spot any as the calls had been a long way off, and had now stopped.
I prepared to shut the gate and another birdo was approaching to go out, so I held the gate open and said I’d lock it as they left. Then, just as I swung the gate across the road, that rasping cry filled the air, and this time I’d id’d the location. Sure enough in the air were three Brolga. Then as the shapes grew more distinct, it was likely that they were not only coming in my direction, but would perhaps make a pretty close pass by.
Locking the gate, I grabbed the camera and hoped that the pass would be on the sunny side of iAmGrey.
The more I watched, the more I became aware they would be using the roadway behind me as sort of navigation aid, and would pass right over the top of me.
And they did.
They disappeared behind one of the bunds, and I wondered where they had ended up.
Satisfied with the fly by, I went on to look along the roadways. Time for a cuppa, so I pulled up at one of the cross tracks and pulled out the doings.
Then the croaking call rattled over the ponds and I looked a bit further along the track and the pair were in head stretch calling mode, and engaging in a little pair bonding. Cuppa forgotten, I moved along the track for a better looksee.
They settled down to some preening and feeding and the juvenile with them was feeding in one of the shallow ponds.
I went back for my Cuppa and sat and watched until they moved off the pondage and up on to the track, and moved further along to continue their morning routine.
Satisfied, I packed up and headed off for a visit with the patient.
Tis true to say that EE and I haven’t been down to the Western Treatment Plant for quite a number of weeks. The weather, health things, family events and perhaps a touch of sloth just seems to have gotten in the way.
My photo mate Neil, sent me a note about his last weekend trip, and we decided if the weather opened up a bit, we’d at least drive down 29 Mile Road for a looksee.
So this morning after a couple of Tai Chi class sessions, we loaded up with lunch, a cuppa or two of Earl of Grey and of course the essential cameras and headed out in the warm sunshine, (and to tell all the story, the rather crisp wind as well).
Before we reached Beach Road junction, we spied some Flame Robins, but they wanted to work far out in a paddock, and we could only get glimpses.
Further on down, and a trio of Black-shouldered Kites were keeping the mice on their toes.
And as we sat with lunch at the first corner on the 29 Mile Road, a Spotted Harrier wafted by making some very nervous Swamphens. As we entered the T Section area, we were looking for Brolga as Neil had sighted them here at the weekend, but we lucked out.
Next we found a single Flame Robin female that was working around a puddle of water on the roadway.
Looking up, I heard the familiar call of a Black-shouldered Kite with a mouse, and as we looked a Black Falcon swept in from no where and after a little evasion from the Kite, the Falcon secured the prize and took off with the erstwhile and very angry kite in hot pursuit, but to no avail. The Black is just that good in the air.
As we drove back out, lo, the very Brolga had turned up in the first pond and were busy preening, we shared the last of the Earl of Grey and enjoyed their unconcerned wardrobe adjustments.
So for a first day back at the farm, it was a most enjoyable and profitable time.
A search on the Bureau of Meteorology website, has quite a bit of info on the lack of rain in mid of Australia. See here http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/drought/
At the bottom of the page is a couple of graphs that begin to put it all in perspective.
And as it dries out, it seems, that quite a number of birds are moving south. Or toward the eastern coast.
And we’ve seen quite a change in the numbers of smaller falcons and kites in our area. In the space of a 10 minute drive the other day we saw 14 Nankeen Kestrel.
So we took a trip to the Western Treatment Plant on a sunny morning.
“the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way”
The weather map showed a large high stalled over us for most of the day. “Let’s do an evening at the Western Treatment Plant”, saith, I. “We could take down the picnic, and have a fine old evening watching the sunset over the bay, and maybe photograph a few birds, and well, just enjoy the evening sea breeze. What thinkest thou?”.
A call to Mr An Onymous, and the famed, and legendary “Blackmobile” was on the highway loaded with his fine repast. EE and I decided on a Peri-Peri Chicken Salad, and a round of Earl of Grey.
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.
Lindsay (to his Ozzie Mates), dropped me a note on his scheduled visit and I found a day that looked suitable. Not that we had many options.
So as the Banjo said. We went.
The weather map showed no cloud at all when I checked, but when we got to the Pt Wilson Road it was pretty certain the map was wrong. So we suffered the usual grey sky pics. And kept our eyes up for an elusive Sea-eagle.
Lindsay had about 4 birds that he really wanted and we managed to add Brolga. A pair were sitting in the grass on the far side of a pond, and at first everyone jumped to conclusions “She’s nesting!” but change the ‘n’ to an ‘r’ and you’d be much more likely to be right. So it was. When we swung by on the return journey, they both had moved quite a long way down the bund.
And then we saw them have an altercation with a handful of Cape Barren Geese, and the geese didn’t bother to stick around and argue.
At the moment the Whiskered Terns are hunting prodigiously and obviously productively. So we spent quite a little time working at really close distances with them as they swept along the mouth of the Little River.
And to top it off in the distance a Sea-eagle took off. Too far.
I was using the 300mm f/4 lens and was surprised to remember how fast it was at grabbing focus. I must remember to put it back on the D2Xs and it will really sing.
The sun came out and we had a really fine afternoon and some good results. On the way back we stopped for the ‘traditional’ coffee and Banana Cake at the Highway Lounge, and then as we were near swung into the Werribee River Park, but it was pretty quiet. But on the way out three of the young Kestrels were hunting in the evening sunshine. Lindsay was hanging out the window trying for that ‘best’ shot. The bird obliged by dropping off the post on to the road, but I think the af on the D7000 might have found the roadside more attractive. At least that’s how I interpreted his response.
Here’s a days sample See Lindsay’s Page sometime soon for his version.
We dropped him at the railway station after a day of much mirth and frivolity and some great birding and excellent photo opportunities. Seeya next time mate.
Sometimes the best ideas are those that come with out lots of planning and forethought. Just go out and do it.
With a small cool change coming in, and the wind shifting in from the south, we packed the picnic, grabbed some Earl Grey, and phoned the WTP birding line and booked for an evening down by the sea
To our delight the young Spotted Harriers were still on the roadside, and parking carefully to avoid any likelihood of mishaps with trucks at 110kph, we took our time to get the best lighting on the bird perched on the top of the cyprus tree cones. Then tired of begging, it took advantage of the strong breeze and launched, drifted upwards to the top of the treeline and then without a wing flap, sailed along the treeline and back. Not exactly hard photography as it turned in the evening light. The great tail moving one way or another like a large oar or rudder to keep it almost stationary in the air. With barely a wing flap, it simply enjoyed the moment. So did we.
When we got to The Spit, Murtcaim (n) we found a number of Swamp Harriers at play. Interesting to watch their games from a distance, but not much hope of being able to get close enough of great shots, but highly entertaining none the less.
Further down the road we came upon a pair of Brolga, but they were just too far away to do any real work, so we headed back to Lake Borrie. And then first came upon some Yellow-billed Spoonbills, and a Great Egret sitting on a fence rail. While EE got moved for a clear shot of the Egret, all the seagulls in the world- or at least the 10,000 or so on the seaside took to the air with a broadcasting squawk.
A White-bellied Sea eagle had made a sneak attack along the grasslands, and had swung up over the hapless gulls. Each gull to itself seemed to be the answer, and someone’s relative went home for dinner with the eagle. I managed to find the camera by the time the action was all over.
Probably enough excitement for a mere whim.
Young Spotted Harrier expecting dinner to arrive soon.
Time to stretch those wonderful wings in the evening breeze.
One of many White-fronted Chats that seem to work as a flock at the moment
Waiting for its turn at the Swamp Harrier Games.
This one drifted almost up to our camera position.
Knocking one another of fence posts must be a raptor game, they all seem to indulge in it.
Cautious Brolga checking that the right protocol distance is being maintained.
Great Egret to wing.
Bulking up for the trip to the summer breeding grounds, the waders, mostly Sharp-tailed Sandpipers here, are hard at work getting as many calories as possible.
White-bellied Sea-eagle with its own method of calorie collection.
With the weather man predicting only more heat wave conditions, and the WTP being closed on Total Fire Ban days because of OHS issues, and good on ’em as far as I’m concerned. Don’t want to be driving around in the heat trying to find birds hiding from the heat
We found a bit of a break in the hot days, and decided and early morning start was the best thing. Rather than cover the usual spots we headed down to southern end, known among birders as 29 Mile Road, T Section or the Spit. Also Murtcaim(n) and Pond 9. The Brolgas had been seen among the ponds there and we thought it a good look see.
Here’s the way the day progressed.
Found one of the Spotted Harriers up in the early morning mist. That’s Avalon Aircraft Repair workshop in the distance.
The second young one also put up, and we got some good views even if the light was against us.
Golden-headed Cisticola came by to be sure we weren’t thinking of taking over its territory, and gave a us a good lecture just to prove its point.
We did manage to find the Brolga engaged in team precision preening, but they were too far away, and the heat haze even in the early morning was a curse.
A strong breeze really surprised these Golden-headed Cisticola, nearly blowing it off the rail. The leaning into the wing and wide stretch of the legs was all it could do to prevent it being swept away.
Another great find were a pair of Cape Barren Geese, they did a great little head nodding performance before taking to the air. I always feel a bit sad when I’ve partly been the cause of a bird taking flight.
No such feeling with Swamp Harriers. This bird had no intention of letting us get close under any circumstances and led us on a merry chase along one of the bunds, flying a brief spell, sitting until we caught up, and then wafting on down the road a hundred metres of so.
At the moment, there is alway a Whiskered Tern or two to keep photographers amused and waste lots of time trying to nail that elusive best tern shot. Its not that the birds don’t try hard enough.
And that pair of Geese just would not sit still when we were around.
My bird id skills let me down sometimes and the little grass birds are a good example, but this is a Horsfields Bushlark (I hope). It adopted a different technique to stay on the post, by crouching down.
Back along the Point Wilson Road, one of the young Spotted Harriers had returned to the nest tree for a bit of a spell.
And down along the rocks, the Sharp-tailed Sandpipers were ready to get down to work when the tide lowered a bit.
By late mid morning, the temp was up, the heat haze was reducing very expensive lens to the quality of my Mum’s Box Camera and coffee and a toasted cheese and tomato sandwich (not a bad alternative to a poi.), at the Highway Lounge. How could I resist
Over the past couple of weeks, the Brolgas that are down in the WTP have been a bit more open and readily noticeable. Either because of their walking along the roads along the bunds, or by flying in from seemingly nowhere.
At first I took to them as photo challenge. Big bird, easy to spot, fairly photogenic.
However after a couple of weeks of working with them, I am enamoured. These wonderful creatures with personalities all their own have walked, sung, and danced their way deep into my heart.
Not that its a two sided partnership. They are very people averse and make their feelings on the subject well know, both vocally and by voting with their feet, or wings.
We had decided EE, Mr An Onymous and I to take advantage of the cool of the morning as being the best way to get the best light and to make a concerted effort to locate the Brogla. Now like all birds, they don’t leave signs, or calling cards, so we left an hour or so after sunup and began our quest.
By mid-morning the score was photographers 0 Brolga 3. Then as we were going along the bund to Murtcaim(n) outflow, we saw the Helmutmobile on the other side of the pond, and on the road in front of him. A pair of Brolga. Apparently on a shopping expedition, or perhaps a philosophical stroll in the morning. As Mr An has rightly pointed out, they walk fast on those big legs. And it was as much as I could do to follow along on the opposite bank, as they headed on down to the other end of the pond.
At one point we (both) came upon a mob of Black Swans in the pond, and they were startled either by me, or more likely on reflection, the Brolga. Much wing clattering, foot splashing and eventually they got airborne.
The Brogla stopped, turned their heads, and I thought “Oh, No, they’ll fly too!” But instead they set up a constant calling and looking in the direction of the Swans, and I think I learned some Brolga speak. “Well, Look at those silly swans, we sure scared them. ”
See Helmut’s shot of the Swans in complete disarray on the wing.
Satisfied that honour had been done, they turned and walked nonchalantly off down the road.
I moved to the end of the road, and the pool. There is a road running along there and I figured, they will either turn left and be gone down the road or they might just as well turn right and walk pretty much right past me. However, like all good stories, there was a third possibility that I hadn’t counted on. They walked over the roadway, down the bank on the other side and disappeared into the grass. Brolga 4.
We stopped at the Murtcain(m) outflow, but the tide was in and the best we could do was a nice cuppa and a chat.
When silently as stealth bombers, 3 grey shapes came over the paddock, dropped into the lagoon and immediately started walking. They were much to far out for anything really decent, Brolga 5.
However not to be outdone, I walked down to the end of the roadway and slipped along the roadside trying to get as close, and hoping they would feed across toward my position. Photographer 1.
What happened next was the highlight of my day, probably my month, and might even be my year. (I don’t aim high!).
One of the three, the smallest, stopped walking. Turned about and danced. Now most have heard of the prowess of these birds as exceptional dancers. Don’t believe it. They are much much more than exceptional. To see a video is one thing. To see the elegance, lightness, the subtly of turn, and the wing movements is nothing else other than breathtaking. Its ability to step, and twist and turn and jump in a co-ordinated manner can’t be explained and a few still shots, don’t even begin to touch the scope of the repertoire. Photographer 2.
And it was doing it for itself. The other two took no part and took no notice.
I’ve concluded they do it because its fun. They enjoy it, and it’s an expression of being alive. I know anthropomorphism is frowned upon. I don’t care, I think they have emotions and this one wanted to enjoy the moment.
The heat haze over the water affected most of the shots, but none the less, its only encouraged me to continue working with these birds and hopefully they will grace me with another performance.