One thing our lockdown for the CovidCrisis has highlighted for us, is the chance to enjoy a walk around some of our local areas. Normally we’d be out and about in regular birding locations.
And of course, being local, there is not likely to be much in the way of highly sought out birds in the area.
So we thought.
Not much more than a stroll from home is a new housing estate. It has been built on what, of course, was old farming land. And in our area, that would have been vegetable farming. A small, seasonal creek runs through the area, and because it is of environmental significance because of among other things, the habitat of Growling Grass Frogs (Litoria raniformis) a fairly wide verge has been created, and partly sculptured with a well formed footpath and open grass.
The rest of the creek proper, thanks to the developers, the local council and Melbourne Water, has been turned into runoff water retarding basins. As the creek was originally a set of water holes rather than a flowing creek, they have used the natural lay of the land to develop the area.
The past few days we’ve had a good amount of rain. In our gauge alone showed over an inch and a half (about 39mm). The new development with its sealed roads, footpaths, lawns and of course house roofs has indeed provided plenty of run off. As we walked today there was plenty of evidence of at least a metre or more water having recently been through the reed beds. But thanks to clever Melb Water development, the water level has subsided quite quickly.
About half an hour walk from home is an aptly named coffee shop, The Little Growling, and it makes a good spot to turn around and return. With a freshly brewed coffee to go, thanks very much.
As we walked out of our village at the start of our stroll, I heard the call of a Rosella, I’ve been hearing it occasionally over the past few weeks, and had even spotted it on a fence-line a couple of times. This time it was in one of the street trees, and to my surprise, a Crimson juvenile was with it, so there was much calling. (Whether they nested locally or not is still open to supposition). I am beginning to have my doubts about the Eastern id, perhaps it is a hybrid?
Not a bird we’d normally see locally, so it was not only a pleasant surprise, but quite enchanting.
We went to a BirdLife Werribee, (formerly Werribee Wagtails) monthly outing that included an afternoon at Serendip Sanctuary.
It’s a fairly close park for us, and we visit several times a year, and if the granndies turn up, it’s a day out in the field, but on formed tracks, and things to do, so makes a pleasing family day. And it’s quite close to Lara Village and a certain Routley’s Bakery Pie shop. Which proved too much of a draw for Mr An Onymous and me, so we stopped off for lunch on the way through.
Furphy’s Ale and beef for him. Tandoori lamb for self.
I’m always a bit uneasy about photographing in an enclosed sanctuary area. It’s not a matter of ethics—per se—but, rather always seems to me a less challenging experience than working with the birds in the field. After all, the kangaroos have already seen a 1,000 tourists this week, so you are not exactly interesting. They also know, people stay on the tracks, yell a lot, and move on. Some even wave, point fones at themselves and ‘whatever animal is that in the background?’ selfies abound.
So truth be told I normally wander through the area ohh and ahh appropriately, try not to get upset when someone points at a Tawny Frogmouth and says, “Oh, look, what a cute little owl!” and enjoy others enjoying their wildlife experience. (I’m not a spoil sport entirely!!!)
However it seems I’m mellowing with age. 😉
After so many trips, I’ve come to respect the locals. In their locality. Not only the ones in enclosures, but also the ‘visitors’, that have stayed on as Star Boarders. Quite a lot of the bird life is free on the wing and come and go as the season dictates. Others, for various reasons, including breeding programmes, are permanent.
And, what I’ve discovered from all that is I’m not so fussed about the lack of challenge, and much more interested in the closeup portrait. The challenge for me is working with the bird for the right setting/location/lighting and then allowing them the freedom to move about unstressed. A humbling experience, but really has given me a feel of involvement with them as individuals. So much so that I look forward to being in their area, and hoping I’ll be able to make the best of the moments they share.
Of special interest to me is a pair of Cape Barren Geese. These big birds have settled in to make Serendip their home territory, and with ready provided food, can you blame them. It’s nesting time right now. One enterprising pair have made a nest site among some downed branches and scrub, not more than 5 metres from the main walking track. I spotted him first, and as he paced back and forth as people went by, I wondered, “Where is you mate”, and then I saw her. All tucked up in her ‘secure’ haven.
The rest of the Wagtails tour/ensemble, moved on. I sat down with the pair for about 10 minutes. Now a sitting goose doesn’t do a lot. Yet, the warm image of ‘mum’ raising her young, is such a classical performance.
Choughness, as this blog has often commented is a joy and delight to behold, especially as we don’t know the rules.
Inside the enclosure with the Brolga, there is a feeding station about brolga height. But rather attractive to your passing White-winged Chough. Except, they don’t have a good ‘hovering-flying’ technique, and so couldn’t access the food by sitting on the edge of the feeder. No where for them to attach.
Coughness is never defeated by such mere challenges. So bend down, spring up on uncoiled legs, flap once to get direction, sail into the open feeder, grab a beak full and use those same wings to flutter back to the ground. Innovation at its best.
There is a bird enclose that houses quite a number of birds in a fly aviary.
Interestingly Buff-banded Rails are there in good numbers, and often Freckled ducks. One of the rails that I saw was quite white, so it must be a leucistic (the cells don’t have the ability to make colour).
And while I was there admiring that ‘Cute little owl’ (ggrrrr- it’s a Tawny Frogmouth!!!!), a pair of King Parrot turned up for a looksee at why wasn’t I walking through, yelling, pointing, and waving a fone about. Thanks Mrs King, a lovely portrait session.
A day at Serendip is always a good experience with the birds, and now I’ve discovered my new friendships with them, I’ll look forward to the next trip to enjoy the photography of them as individuals, and find ways to express their character in a much more sympathetic manner.
The Beginners Group of Melbourne Birdlife Australia were having a day at the Banyule Flats park, and as luck would have it the Meetup Bird Photography group were going to be there in the afternoon. Not one to have too to many things conflicting in the diary, (euphemism in there), we decided to go and enjoy the park side area.
Its been a great place at previous events and the weather looked ok, to so so, so we took the (now) considerable drive across town.
Over 45 active birders joined us and a good day was in the offing. Probably one of the highlights were excellent views (if somewhat average pictures on my part) of a Latham’s Snipe, (a new one for me. Thank you)
The area also seemed to have more than its fair share of Tawny Frogmouth and we counted 7 for the day.
The folk from Meetup Bird Photography Group turned up, and we had a second attempt at some of the birds.
A Buff-banded Rail, eluded photography in the morning group, and didn’t improve in the afternoon group. Some had good sightings and photos of a Sacred Kingfisher and we had some lovely views of the wing feathers on an Australasian Darter.
I was working with my newly acquired 70-200 mm f/2.8 and a Teleconverter TC1.7. Made the field of view equivalent to about 500mm stopped down a little to keep sharpness and really had a good day, and got some super images without the need to lug heavy tripods into the field. It will get to go on another expedition anytime soon.
Beautiful colours on the Straw-necked Ibis
Latham’s Snipe. A very relaxed bird, but it could afford to be well out in the water and away from easy photography.
First find your Buff-banded Rail.
A young Kookaburra waiting for the family to return, perhaps with a nice meal.
This one was against the light and really did take on the “branch” look and fooled quite a number of eager birdwatchers.
Tucked up tight against the tree.
Another failed Buff-banded Rail shot
Australasian Darter shows its wonderful wing patterns.
Just look at the calendar! It’s the end of April already. Although I suppose a look out the window at anytime would confirm it is coming on to winter.
I make no excuses, I like to go to the Treatment Plant in the afternoons. The light just runs down the roadways at a better angle. Because there are so many limitations about position in Werribee getting the light direction is one of the keys to great photos down there. So daylight saving is my friend in all this endevour.
But come winter, well, things change a bit. The sun is down by 5 pm, and so there is little time to get about the places we like to work from. So for the next few months, we are back to early morning starts. (No point getting there at lunch time as the birds are past the hungry at all costs mode). The light is harder to work with because the angle of the early morning sun is always lower and 3/4 backlight at best.
So in keeping with all that we loaded the car in the evening, set the alarm, and ventured out just as it was breaking daylight. A better run down the Ring-road too.
As soon as we turned of the freeway onto Point Wilson Road, we found some Red-rumped Parrots. A short distance along and Flame Robins were on the fence. And on the Paradise Road, and the road to Ryans Swamp, past the pumphouse. And a lovely Brown Falcon who sat motionless on a fence post and stared us down. I edged the car past it, on the far far side of the road, and with the long 500mm had to shoot vertically to get it all in. And then it flew. So I got a crop, but am pretty happy with the result.
More Flames down at Chirnside Road gate, and then a fruitless search for Swan J19.
We travelled back along the road to the Bird Hide and in quick succession scored a lovely Swamp Harrier, a pair of White-bellied Sea Eagles and a Buff-banded Rail. Not content we stopped near the Outflow from Lake Borrie and were entertained by five Black-shouldered Kites who seemed to be enjoying the light breeze and playing a game of ring-around-a-rosie, from the outflow sign and a large bush. No aggression, just plain fun.
More Flames along Beach Road, and a tree full of lovely yellow/green parrots.
We trundled down 29 Mile Road, and were amazed to find a single male Nankeen Kestrel,- the first we have seen at WTP (I had heard of it from reports on Victoria BirdLine.). It hunted up the paddock, dive-snatched a mouse, and sat on the fence line to consume it. So I moved the car forward a bit, it moved up about 3 posts. I moved again, it moved up 4 posts, I moved again, and it moved even further. A game of diminishing returns for me, and a success for the Kestrel. Still I managed to get a few record shots of it at work. Must go again. Hope its still there. The farm management were in the process of some controlled burns on the grass lands, and amongst the smoke could be seen 5 or 6 Whistling Kites waiting for some action. They seemed to be calling to one another, which is such a great sound, sends shivers down my spine.
There is a banding program with the Black Swans run by www.myswan.org.au and today we had the chance to get up close and personal to J19. Now this is not going to be a tirade on the fors and againsts of banding, but they are doing some interesting work in collecting data about the swan’s movements and mating and breeding.
So we decided to adopt J19. Turns out it is a female, about 4 years old, or at least if I figure out the numbers that is when she was banded. She was banded at Albert Park Lake and has been there for about three years. She seems to have first been sighted at WTP in January 2012. At the moment, because of the huge population of juvenile birds, there is much pairing going on I suspect.
She is up in 145A Lagoon Area at WTP, and we will keep a check on her movements if at all possible. I will open up a blog page just to keep updates. See blog Here J19 info
Here she is.
Also found a co-operative Brown Falcon. It stayed on the post as I inched the car closer and closer. Just managed to slip away a split second before I could get back on the camera. Love the backwards glance.
Just as we were leaving with the sun setting as I was closing the exit gate on Paradise Road, Dorothy spotted a Buff Banded Rail hunting in the mud-flats. Dieter who was with us thought it was quick enough to be a road-runner.
The sun was well set by the time we were on the road home, but the Rail did provide a few minutes entertainment.
Most of the time these birds are not only hard to find, but hard to see. This bird and its mate had brought the young down on to the exposed low-water mud flats and they spent a lot of time feeding, and foraging among the grass overhangs.
A Whistling Kite patrolled down the waterline and she took the young back under the grass overhangs, and here they are just coming out again.