An ode to Grey Box Forest

One of the highlights of Woodlands Historic Park is a stand of Grey Box Forest that is on a ridge running from Gellibrand Hill.  Probably, once in older times the Grey Box was a predominate stand in the area.   The Grey Box on the ridge line has survived, again, probably because the area would be difficult to cultivate.

Running along the ridge is  pipeline for the nearby airport so I’ve named the ridge. Pipeline Ridge.  Over the years, the open forest has provided a grand home, and a fine stop over point for Red-capped, Scarlet and Flame Robins.   One season I came into a clearing on Ridge and there among the great Grey Box was at least 70 robins at work on the moss-beds in the clearing.

I love Grey Box Forest.  I’ve said it before, but I think I have Grey Box sap in my veins.

These wonderful trees are survivors.  No heavy rainfall areas for them.  A low rain fall, and a gritty stony shallow earth, and they are at home.  And so one of the great things I love about Grey Box is their perseverance and their steadfastness and their survival against the odds.
The average Grey Box is quite slow-growing, it earns it durable title over many long years.

It makes a tall upright and generally “Y” shaped spread.   In fact up on Pipeline is an old downed warrior that I’ve used as a sit spot, and I first called it the “Y Tree” before I realised that was the general shape of Grey Box.

The bark is a grey (funny about that), fine and flaky. Thinner branches are smooth.

As it grows it develops, as do many eucalypts holes that become home or nesting locations for a variety of birds. The forest area also developes a finer understory, that can be very open, as it is on Pipeline or quite dense as in a few locations in the Eynesbury Grey Box forest.

The cool understory make fine homes for both Black Swamp Wallabies, and Eastern Grey Kangaroos.  When I was a little bloke the Kangaroos were called Forrester. Which I figured was a typographical mistake and what was meant was Forest.  And so for a long time in my youth the were “Forest Kangaroos”.  Ahhh!!!

When the bandicoot program was established at Woodlands a few years back the Predator-free fence was put in place and cut the territory of the only Black Swamp wallabies in half.  I’ve often wondered how the ones that ended up on the outside of the fence fared against the foxes and feral dogs in the area. I’ve no idea either how many were cut off on the inside, and try as I might I’ve only been able to locate two that I can recognise.   There might well be more, as one pair of eyes can only see so much.

Understory in our wonderful Grey Box includes a lot of layover space for the Eastern Greys, and they do a fine job of keeping some areas quite scrub free, and at the same time contribute a fair amount of droppings.
I have a theory, and no budget to prove it, that the composting of the droppings and leave litter promotes the growth of a small saltbush type plant that has a bright red tiny berry.   I theorise that the tiny berry is food for some insects that the Robins consume and thus collect carotene.

The red of the Robins comes from a class of pigments called carotenoids. Carotenoids are produced by plants, and are acquired by eating plants or by eating something that has eaten a plant.

For several years at the beginning of the bandicoot project in the Back Paddock at Woodlands, the Kangaroos were removed. (They eat grass, that is the home of the endangered bandicoots. No grass, no home, no bandicoots).

But the number of layover areas, and the resultant saltbush deteriorated over the next few years, and the Robin numbers that we saw decreased. And at the moment, I believe, (well I’m allowed a theory or two), that as the plant and the carotene insects diminished, so did the resident Red-capped Robins. And the Flame and Scarlet Robins moved on to other areas for winter — some not too far as there a seriously large mobs of the Forresters down along the Moonee Ponds Creek outside the predator-fence.

But the average Eastern Grey Kangaroo female is a pretty persistent little producer, and her male companions are also very capable at their jobs and between them there has been a growing population of Kangaroos in the Feral-free area.  Which means perhaps the old layover areas may get a rebirth too.

Endurance is a work that springs to mind when  you stand under a majestic and venerable Grey Box. Its branches wide-spread and supporting a varied habitat around it.
My Tai Chi master says” Endurance, glasshooper, is not in context of a temporarily demanding activity.  Another facet of endurance is that of persevering over an extended period of time. Patiently persisting as long as it takes to reach the goal.
Patiently enduring the Grey Box forest welcomes our admiration.

I love Grey Box.  It has so much to share, and it  has so much to teach.

Thought I’d share some of the wonder of the forest over the years.  All images made on or near Pipeline Ridge

Enjoy.

Grey on grey.
Grey on grey in the welcome rain
Gery Box provides a suitable nesting site. Here a pair of Red-rumoed Parrots are one of three pairs in this old tree.
Gery Box provides a suitable nesting site. Here a pair of Red-rumoed Parrots are one of three pairs in this old tree.
Magic moments of early morning mist in the Grey Box
Magic moments of early morning mist in the Grey Box
The Pipeline Ridge after a good rain.
The Pipeline Ridge after a good rain.
Hard life on a high hill side.
Hard life on a high hill side.

 

Climbing Mt Everest

Somethings we do as photographers, and bird photographers in particular, seems to rival climbing Mt Everest.

One of those challenges for me is the Rufous Fantail.

Now those who have these amazing birds in their backyard are going to find the next bit of ramble, well somewhat indifferent, if not bordering on the laughable.

But. The Rufous Fantail is not a regular, nor a resident bird in my area.  In fact over 8 or more years at Woodlands Historic Park, I’ve only seen them on three separate seasons.   And then only for a few days, as they either fly South, for their summer location or then North for their Winter escape.  And off course I have to be in the forest when they are there, and as there is no prior warning, and no set pattern of location, climbing Everest seems to be a fair comparison.

“It’s a lovely sunny day. Let’s go visit Ambrose,” said she.  So EE and I headed up the freeway, parked and then walked in to the area where this amiable bird has been the past few seasons.

Long term reader(s) may recall that last season the area had been cleaned up by the local LandCare(?) group and I was a bit unsure if Ambrose would bother.  And after about an hour or so of fruitless searching I was well on the way to convinced.  Then, way off on a corner area of the paddock, a familiar little harmonica call echoed, and I went to look.
And there he was.

Waved a wing at me— in Hello— and was gone. More waiting and a fine cuppa of Earl of Grey, and he made one more quick appearance, but didn’t seem to be photographically inclined today.  But at least we’d made contact.

“How about lunch at Greenvale, and then we can go on to Woodlands Park in the afternoon,” says She.  EE is pretty good on those ideas.  So we went.

Woodlands, as the long long term reader will (or at least might) recall is the birthplace of my bird photography.  I am convinced that Grey Box sap runs in my veins and in a few minutes of walking down the the old “Dog Track”, I was feeling a weight lifting.
I like Grey Box Forest.:

  • No TV commercials with people who have to “YELL” to get my attention.
  • No loud music with people who have to “YELL” to sing a song.
  • No Dodgey commercials that “YELL” at me to buy some piece of useless rubbish or other.
  • No Lines at the Supermarket
  • No pushing and shoving to get a coffee
  • No futile endless running about chasing something of no particular value.

I like Grey Box Forest.

We found some Flame Robins down by the old dam area, and to our mutual surprise a Pink Robin female.

I was photographing some ‘log-dancing’ between two territorial Red-capped Robin males, when a ginger/gold/rufous/orange flash quite literally sped by my ear.

A Rufous Fantial.  First one  I’d seen in years.  Move over Sir Edmund Hilary, and Chris Bonington. This is serious business.

The Rufous, as pointed out at the beginning is a very infrequent visitor. It also has the most beautiful orange tail.  A photo of that is like planting a flag on Mt Everest.  One of the most gorgeous examples of it was taken may years ago by an expert bushman. (he has also featured here before)

Alan (Curley) Hartup made a wonderful shot with a beaten up Mamyia C22 and a roll of filum.  Yes, filum.  It was exhibited and won Curley many well deserved awards and accolades.  Look back and you’ll find a the shot featured on the Hartup Exhibtion flyer  and for more on Curley see here.

One thing I learned about photographing this bird.  It is fast.  So fast in fact that it makes the average Grey Fantail seem glacial.  And your average Grey Fantail is no slacker in either the speed or irrational flying behaviour departments.
“Perhaps, I should practice more on Grey Fantails,’ says EE.  “N0,” says I kindly, and wisely.  “The Grey Fantail isn’t in the same speed league.

So we followed the bird, and eventually managed a few close shots.

I struggled to get to the peak.  Just couldn’t get the flag in.

Enjoy

A "Hello" wing wave from Ambrose. But he didn't stay to chat.
A “Hello” wing wave from Ambrose. But he didn’t stay to chat.
Female Golden Whister with snack
Female Golden Whister with snack
No Grey Box forest would be complete without a Grey Shrike-thrush or two. They look as good as they sound.
No Grey Box forest would be complete without a Grey Shrike-thrush or two.
They look as good as they sound.
One of part of a squadron of Varied Sittella at work among the Grey Box
One of part of a squadron of Varied Sittella at work among the Grey Box
Not my friend Pinky from Pt Cook, but a lovely bird to meet anyway.
Not my friend Pinky from Pt Cook, but a lovely bird to meet anyway.
One of several male Flame Robins that arrived this past week
One of several male Flame Robins that arrived this past week
Even though they have travelled a great distance, they still manage to look in top shape.
Even though they have travelled a great distance, they still manage to look in top shape.
A peach of a bird. The wonderful winter dress of a female Flame Robin.
A peach of a bird. The wonderful winter dress of a female Flame Robin.
A male Red-capped Robin. Intent on discussion with a neighbor over territory rights.
A male Red-capped Robin. Intent on discussion with a neighbor over territory rights.
The one that got away. Enjoy
The one that got away. Enjoy
16-04-18-556-DWJ_6520
Rufous Fantail. At a stand. Managed a couple of shots, but no tail-spread here. Not much room on top of Mt Everest.

Take water, add Robins, instant enjoyment

Gazing out of the window, a little blue sky hinted among the grey.  That was enough to have the Earl Grey Tea poured, the cameras in the car and away we went.   Wanted to have a look along 29 Mile Road at the Western Treatment Plant.

This area has a number of paddocks recently ploughed and the Kites seem to favour the turned over ground. By the time we made it to the “Highway Lounge” at the Caltex Servo on Geelong Road, the little bit of blue has zipped itself up in the dense grey that was accumulating.  So we stopped for a quick Mocca, and then continued.  Only to be confronted with a misty rain.  “Turn back now, or go on?”  We went, and the rain continued, and we went and the rain continued. Exposures of a Week @ f/4 seemed to be the order of the day.

So reaching the Beach Road corner, we pondered a very early mark. Then a flash of red, and another and the paddock opposite was covered in Flame Robins.   Well, covered is such an all encompassing word, so its probably better to use dotted here and there. In the end we found four males, at least as many females and several juveniles in varying states of moult.

I propped the 300mm ff/2.8 with a TC 2.0 (Making 600mm) on a post, and wished I’d been clever enough to include a beanbag.  The rain changed to a drizzle between downpours.  The birds seemed to ignore it an hunted happily.  Feeling pretty confident in the rain, they chose to ignore us pretty much completely and we were able to move about with them without them fleeing.

In the end being sodden completely and beginning to worry about the cameras getting drowned, we called it quits.    And by then the small meagre light had been completely swallowed up in dark and ominous low cloud, which soon turned to massive downpour. Time for home.

2015: The boys are back in town

I used that heading a couple of years back to announce the arrival in the Woodlands Backpaddock of  a family group of Flame Robins with three  males that hunted closely together.  They have been over the past 4 or 5 years very consistent in their wintering over at Woodlands.

So much so that I’ve named them collectively, “The Three Brothers”

Well, they are are back. Roll the Thin Lizzy, Boys are Back in Town, sound track. (Play it loud).

We passed through the hallowed gates today and within about 5 minutes had located a fast moving flock. Perhaps 8-10 birds, a good number of Thornbills, and a Golden Whistler pair, and the usual fantails and wagtail outriders.

Here is Mr Red-slash.   He has a particularly long red bib, goes much further up his neckline that normal.

Not the best image I’ve ever made of him, but given the degree of difficulty I’m pretty happy.  More to follow I expect.

DWJ-1505-01-_DWJ6561

Even though he's much further away, and I've had to nail a big crop, you can see his wider turn on the red chest feathers.  Besides he has a much more imposing look in this one.  I think, if it works that way, that he is the dominant male. The others always seem to take cue from him.
Even though he’s much further away, and I’ve had to nail a big crop, you can see his wider turn on the red chest feathers. Besides he has a much more imposing look in this one.
I think, if it works that way, that he is the dominant male. The others always seem to take cue from him.

Welcoming back the Flame Robins

DJ's Birds as Poetry

Every year, without my help, the Flame Robins migrate out of the high-country where they have spent summer and nested out the next generation.
As a young bloke, I wandered over a fair proportion of the high-country during the end of year holidays, and enjoyed both the walking, the snow gums and the friendly red chested birds in abundance with their young. We would often spend 2-3 weeks above the snowline line.  Our young kids grew up knowing as much about the Alpine area as about their own backyard.

So it was interesting for me, at a number of levels to find that these brilliant coloured birds wintered over in the low country, and as many of 70-80 birds might be found on a good day at Woodlands Historic Park.  One area I call the “footballl field”, and of course gentle reader you are welcome to guess why I’d choose…

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A day with the Werribee Wagtails at the You Yangs

Beginning to really like the monthly foray out with the Werribee Wagtails, good company, tops spots, usually  good birds, and yesterday good weather.

We met down at the Eastern Entrance and took a walk, all 25 of us, down the fence line track.  Immediately we’d started and a pair of Scarlet Robins entertained us, and then a pair of Jacky Winters.  Not to be out done a pair of Restless Flycatchers came out to play in the morning sunshine.  It could hardly be better.

A litre further down the track and we came across a family of Flame Robins, and then… It got a lot better.  We spotted a lone male Red-capped Robin.  Big news for me, as I’ve been trying to locate such bird in the area for the past few months. We walked along the creek line that runs on the south side of the “Seed beds” and came upon another larger flock of Flame Robins, and a pair of Scarlets.
The ‘whip’ for the day rounded us up, and after a morning ‘cuppa’ at the Big Rock carpark, and a few more birds, we took to the drive around the Great Circle Road.   Stopping at one spot we walked in to see a Mistletoe Bird, but it must have gotten the dates wrong in its diary and try as we might we had to admit defeat. Prehaps next time.  A big group of Crimson Rosellas, and a beautifully vocal Grey Shrike Thrush were suitable consolation.

We stopped again at Fawcetts Gully and there was a female Golden Whistler, but try as I might, I couldn’t get a reasonable shot.  Did see the departure of an Eastern Yellow Robin, but again trying too hard, I missed it completely.

So to lunch, and a Collared Sparrowhawk that whisked through the trees, much to the chagrin of around 25-30 White-winged Choughs.
We walked down to see the resident Tawny Frogmouths, and through the bush past the dam near the rangers work area, and there found quite a number of Brown-headed, and White-naped Honeyeaters among others.

After the birdcall, the count was 45. Not a bad day’s birding. Mr An Onymous and I went back past Big Rock to have another look for some Scarlet Robins we’d been working with the previous week, and just as we were leaving we spied another Eastern Yellow Robin just off the side of the road.
Enjoy

As an aside, the Editor of Werribee Wagtails newsletter “Wag Tales”, Shirley Cameron is handing over the job, and I’ve taken on the task.   Bit daunting as 26 years of love, care and attention to the group by Shirley sets a pretty high standard for the incoming ‘new bloke’.
One thing I’m going to do is add the pdf of the magazine to this blog, and you should be able to find it from the Front menu Tab.   Will make an announcement when the first one goes ‘live’.

To add to that, I’ve created a new Flickr page that will have some of the magazine photo content for viewing, also allows us to have others add material for the pages.  We’ll hasten slowly.

 

Yellow-rumped Thornbill at bathing duties, preening in the early morning sunshine.
Yellow-rumped Thornbill at bathing duties, preening in the early morning sunshine.
One of a number of Scarlet Robins for the day.
One of a number of Scarlet Robins for the day.
My find of the day.  One Red-capped Robin, and I can't wait to get back down to have another look
My find of the day. One Red-capped Robin, and I can’t wait to get back down to have another look
Pair of Jacky Winters.  Rare to see them sitting together.
Pair of Jacky Winters. Rare to see them sitting together.
Restless Flycatcher, quite happy to perform with 25 people watching
Restless Flycatcher, quite happy to perform with 25 people watching
Jacky Winter always a favourite find for me.
Jacky Winter always a favourite find for me.
Female Scarlet Robin hunting with a large flock of Flame Robins
Female Scarlet Robin hunting with a large flock of Flame Robins
Tawny Frogmouth, quite near the Main Office area  and completely oblivious to our presence.
Tawny Frogmouth, quite near the Main Office area and completely oblivious to our presence.

Walking the Backpaddock with intent

After our earth shattering discovery of access to the Backpaddock, it was obvious we’d soon make a return trip for a good look at what the robins might be up to.

Again the weather dudes, made it pretty certain that a bleak, and perhaps not monumental storm was on the way, and that dire and severe and as it turned out, over active imagination weather was predicted.
We figured to go on Wednesday, and by the late afternoon of Tuesday, the weather prognosticators seemed to have the upper hand.  And in the end ‘common sense’ prevailed and I decided to stay home.
However, as seems the case so often, by morning, although a bit windy, the sky was blue. Horizon to horizon.  Quick phone call to Mr An Onymous, and he was soon on the way, the car was loaded, and we headed to the Northern Subs.

Once inside the gate, it didn’t take too long for three pairs of eyes, (on second thoughts, make that four pairs of eyes, as EE was with us), to locate a pair of very active, but somewhat suspicious of human activity  Red-capped Robins.  They were in an area that had not had a pair of birds for at least two seasons, so I figured them to be a new couple.   I’m beginning to contemplate that the birds I first saw all those years ago have reached their use by date and that its only now that a new younger generation of birds are building up the numbers again.  Fine theory, but??

The “Three Brothers” flock  of Flame Robins were no where to be seen, but I went to look for “Sam”, and eventually found him, but he certainly didn’t want anyone leaving Tripod Holes on his Forest, and promptly disappeared.
A pair of Scarlet Robins were also in the area, and EE spent  a bit of time with them, eventually getting the male to become bold enough to come in quite close.
Mr An, and I, followed a hunting party of Flames down through the scrub and eventually out manoeuvred them, and were sitting waiting for them to turn up, and they did.  Sunshine, Robins, close up, and a good sit spot. Perfect.   Probably shot more useful images in the hour or so than I have all season so far.

A problem for the robins was the presence of a couple of Whistling Kites, a pair of very vocal and fast, Brown Falcons, and a very noisy and low flying Brown Goshawk.  The slightest alarm call from the thornbill flock and everybody went for cover.

This small Flame flock are new birds for me, and consisted of about 4 males, several females, and 4-5 juveniles. Not having any knowledge of the history of this flock, its a bit hard to determine, but I’d be betting they are on their way back from somewhere, and have chosen to tank up in the forest.  They had joined the mobile Thornbill flock, of about 20-30 birds, so it was  pretty noisy convoy moving through the open areas.

At least the visit proved what we’d been contemplating, that the food source inside was better than outside, and the shelter of the understory in the Grey Box suits them.

And of course today, the weather has turned feral, so we are not likely to be out there again for at least the mid of the following week.
With only a few weeks to go, its a bit hard to think the season is going to provide much data on the flocks.  The encouraging thing I found was that the males were not vocal, and a female matriarch still seemed to be the one that controlled the flock movement.

Enjoy.

On the look out for those pesky photographers.
On the look out for those pesky photographers.
I've only a handful of pics of red-cap pairs together.  He was very defensive.
I’ve only a handful of pics of red-cap pairs together. He was very defensive.
I'm hoping this lovely lass will begin to accept me and we can get some interesting pictures   She reminds me so much of  my old friend Primrose with her wonderful buff dusting on the chest.
I’m hoping this lovely lass will begin to accept me and we can get some interesting pictures She reminds me so much of my old friend Primrose with her wonderful buff dusting on the chest.
He began to get bolder in his hunting close up, perhaps had figured out we were benign.
He began to get bolder in his hunting close up, perhaps had figured out we were benign.
Good enough for another pose
Good enough for another pose
This male has an unusual eye ring, and I'm wondering it it might be a young male still moulting in.
This male has an unusual eye ring, and I’m wondering it it might be a young male still moulting in.
Always hard to gain their confidence.
Always hard to gain their confidence.
This is Mr Yellow Sash, and he is alertly watching the pair of vocal Brown Flacons pass by.
This is Mr Yellow Sash, and he is alertly watching the pair of vocal Brown Flacons pass by.
Think this is the Matriarch.  Her chits and calls seem to bring everybody to attention
Think this is the Matriarch. Her chits and calls seem to bring everybody to attention
One of several pairs of Scarlets we encountered
One of several pairs of Scarlets we encountered

Working with a Flame Robin clan

This past Sunday was one of those great days for photography.  Beaut sun, a little cloud, some good breeze for the big birds.  I wrote previously about the pair of Australian Kestrels at play, but while all that was going on a small clan of Flame Robins was feeding in the area.

I was sitting on the ground with my feet hanging over the cliffs, like a schoolboy at the pier, watching the work of a Black Kite over the nearby treeline when I heard the familiar “chip chip” contact call of a Flame Robin.  There on the roadway behind me were two males, feeding, with several juveniles on the fence line behind.
I moved to a spot next to a melaleuca shrub, and settled in to see if they would approach.   And down the road they marched.  It gave me the chance to get enough shots to be able to differentiate between them.  One became Mr Yellow Feather because   his bright yellow chest feather, and the other Mr Red, as he is a brilliant Scarlet red.  While they didn’t get very close, it was a start.

I worked out that the turn around time in the feeding is just about 30 minutes, and there was  a definite pattern to the moving around, with the exception that bike riders and people with dogs would turn them to fly way down the paddock and be inaccessible   So I sat and waited and within the 30 mins they were back.  In this clan there are 4 or 5 juveniles, perhaps 3 females, and the two males.  One of the females is the Matriarch, and  she is the one which controls the clan movement.  One chirp from her and they are gone.

Because of the lack of trees in the area, its much harder photographic work than the birds in a Grey Box forest with plenty of perching locations.   But they manage.  The fence lines are the obvious, and the big patches of grass also work well.

My closest encounter for the day was the Matriarch. She landed in the back of the melaleuca bush behind me and I could hear her distinctly calling to the group, and I may be wrong, but it seemed the conversation went like this.
“See this big dopey photographer, stay away.”   “I don’t like the look of that big eye he keeps pointing at us.”.  “I’m going to get closer for a better look”.  Then an alarm chirrup, and she flew right by my ear,  less than a handspan away.  Heard the little wings coming, but I’ve learned that its best not to react, as the bird already has the flight path worked out. What I noted was the whirring of the wings was normal flight sound, not the fast pulsing sound of a panic mode.

She landed directly opposite me on the fence and another Chrrriip, which I took to be “He’s probably benign, you can ignore him”, then she hunted on the grass on the far side of the fence.   “Benign” is a term that Jon Young uses in his book, ‘What the Robin Knows’ and refers to local birds concluding that the human presence is of no threat, and they will work in settled, not panic mode. A young cheeky juvenile landed near by, and I concluded that the lesson for me was over for the day.

The office.  Looking along the wide river cliffs over the river plain below. In the flood of 2011 water was part way up the cliffs.
The office. Looking along the wide river cliffs over the river plain below. In the flood of 2011 water was part way up the cliffs.
Bold male holding his station  as I approached.
Bold male holding his station as I approached.
Mr Yellow Feather on fence.
Mr Yellow Feather on fence.
Probably a female or juvenile female.
Probably a female or juvenile female.
Matriarch in the field.
Matriarch in the field.
The Matriarch. What she says goes.  She has just done a fly-by to determine my danger to her brood.
The Matriarch. What she says goes. She has just done a fly-by to determine my danger to her brood.

 

The Matriarch, satisfied I was no threat she dropped off the fence to hunt.  Not big panic wing flap here.
The Matriarch, satisfied I was no threat she dropped off the fence to hunt. Not big panic wing flap here.
Mr Red. Brilliant rich red chest.
Mr Red. Brilliant rich red chest.
Mr Yellow Feather, with a hint of his yellow chest feather.
Mr Yellow Feather, with a hint of his yellow chest feather.
Young male, juvenile.  Showing his developing feathers.
Young male, juvenile. Showing his developing feathers.
Matriarch, ready to leave and take the clan with her.
Matriarch, ready to leave and take the clan with her.
Mr Red, with a score.  He came down the fence line toward me to prepare the bug.  I took that as an acceptance. (Of course I could be wrong and it was just a handy perch.)
Mr Red, with a score. He came down the fence line toward me to prepare the bug. I took that as an acceptance. (Of course I could be wrong and it was just a handy perch.)
Bug preparation 101. First belt it a few times on something solid. Bits of bug dust going in all directions.
Bug preparation 101. First belt it a few times on something solid. Bits of bug dust going in all directions.

Black-shoulder Kite Hunting

I’ve discovered a new park area (new for me), closer to home. It cuts along the ridge of the Werribee River plain near the Werribee Mansion.  Its called the Werribee River Park, and is run by Parks Vic.  It butts up to the very eastern edge of the Western Treatment Plant. I’ve looked at the area on a map a number of times and pondered how to get there as it seems to have  bike track that connects to the Federation Bike Track that runs all the way back to Altona and beyond.    Not wanting to lug all the gear in over 3 kilometres or more I’ve been thwarted by no road access.
But, it seems, wrong I was.  A road access to a small carpark at the top of the ridge is indeed available, and as it runs on the WTP boundary, has lots to offer the raptor photographer.   And.  I may not have mentioned this elsewhere, but it also has a population of Flame Robins in residence for the winter. So what’s not to like.
Access is via New Farm Road, past the Melbourne Water Discovery Centre and over the Geelong Freeway, and just before a very well locked and secure gate a small dirt road marked with an explanatory sign “Werribee River”  leads onto the road to the carpark about another kilometre in.  Out of the car, and the first thing I discover is a pair of Black-shouldered Kites who are obviously thinking seriously about a nesting run.
I suspect that the run of very warm weather has helped the mouse population and Mrs Mouse has seen it as her bound duty to extend the population as much as possible.  To of course the great delight of the Kites.

Had an hour or so to myself and decided to see what the afternoon sunshine would bring.   No great load up here, simply put in the lens and camera, drive for 15 mins and sit in the carpark.  About as hard as bird photography can get.

Said pair are quite along in the relationship,  the female has probably completed the nest.  I would hazard a guess at its location from her perching positions.  He on the other hand now has to prove his ability to provide food.  So while she sits high on the tallest dead limb, offering him her screeching cry for both encouragement and direction, he sets out to provide the snacks.

The river has cut through the old sand here and at this point is several hundred yards wide, and the cliffs are 20 m or so high.  The grassland is an obvious place for Mrs Mouse and her tribe and so the Male is readily able to fly along the old river flat and  hunt.  When he is over the plain he is probably not much more than 30m or so over the ground, which for a photographer on the top of the bank is such an advantage as he is directly in front or below my camera line.

All I have to do is wait.  And not for long.  I reckoned he was getting a mouse about every 10 minutes.  His hunting time was down to a minute or less. And out of about 8 strikes I saw he was successful on 6 of them.

So he hunted and I watched.   Swinging the 300mm around became a bit of a chore, so next time, the tripod and Wimberley head will be part of the deal.
Enjoy.

 

Evening sunshine gives nice shadows for him to work in.
Evening sunshine gives nice shadows for him to work in.
I noticed he always works with the light over his shoulder. My Mum's best advice to budding photographers.
I noticed he always works with the light over his shoulder. My Mum’s best advice to budding photographers.
The legs down are part of the balance and positioning.
The legs down are part of the balance and positioning.
Closing in.
Closing in.
That little dude is down there somewhere.
That little dude is down there somewhere.
All concentration
All concentration
Turning into the light to come round for another run.
Turning into the light to come round for another run.
Another one bites the dust.
Another one bites the dust.
DSC_5329
All feathers and legs at work gaining the balance for the stationary head.
No, I'm not on the tucker list.
No, I’m not on the tucker list.
So great to be able to almost reach out and touch him.
So great to be able to almost reach out and touch him.

One day, Six Robins

As opposed to 3 days and no robins.

Had to motor to the northern subs today for a doc appointment.   Well I got that out of the way, and EE and I decided to make use of the time and take a trip down to Woodlands Historic Park and see if the Flame Robins had learned how to fly over the off limits to humans, Backpaddock.

The paddock is a secure area of about that is part of the Eastern Bandicoot Re-establishment programme. Currently locked because a fox has managed to get into the area and threaten the bandicoots.  One bandicoot making not much more than a take-away snack for a hungry fox.   Fox,by the way, was let into the area, by some banana-boat who propped the secure gates open. The team from the Conservation Volunteers and Park staff have been working since the incursion in early April 2014 to nail the little critter. Apparently at this stage without success.

Grew up in the country, (The Mallee), we had a Fox-terrier Blue-heeler Cross.   She was able to smell a fox spore from out the back of a ute.  Took about half an hour to find said fox.  And little more than a few seconds to despatch it. Quick, clean, neat, and cost effective.    Now, “Dog” (that was her official name.  Said so on the council paper) is of course no longer with us.   But given her efficiency, many a scalp hung on the fence line.  Dog would explode off the back of the ute and be on the job in about a millisecond.  So I’m personally a bit non-plussed that in this day and age, its taken from April to now (early June) to find, locate, and despatch a fox that is within a fenced off area.

I can’t imagine someone is standing in the middle of the park calling ‘Foxy, Foxy” or expecting said criminal to come out with its paws up.    No doubt the foxes of the 21st century have GPS and close contact radar warning and other technical stuff to improve their efficiency.

But, I digress.

Public Disclaimer:  The team working on the Bandicoot programme have done some fantastic work, in spite of some complex issues and I sincerely wish them all the best  of success.  My poor bird photography doesn’t come anywhere in the scheme of things.  Good on ya Travis. 

We went instead to visit Jack of Eastern Yellow Robin fame.  And about as fast as “Dog”, Jack came bounding out to see us.  It was more like him visiting us, than the other way around. Took great delight in sharing a bath in some water EE had tracked in, and then spent time preening before speeding off.  And so did we.  Not much else happening in that area, Except, funnily enough, as  we were walked back to the car,  just down toward the rangers work area, we spotted two Foxes.

Pretty easy to pick. Brown looking things, with long tails and sharp teeth.  We watched them go about their respective businesses and smiled that poor old “Dog” would not have been allowed in the park to deal with them.

Back at the car we travelled further out and were able to find our new friend “Ambrose” and he looked resplendent in his lovely rose red dress.   Then to our surprise he had a friend,   A female  Pink Robin.   She was a little less enthusiastic for the camera, but it was a good find.   Think we also have Ambrose’s lady,  “Rosy” in there somewhere too, but couldn’t make the connection. On to the further east toward Sunbury and we found several Flame Robins, and the figured it was lunch time, so moved on again.

After lunch it was time for home, and EE suggested why not go back past Woodlands, call into Providence Road and have a look for the Red-caps we’d seen  on a previous trip.  Suits me. On the way down to the dam area, we came across a family of White-winged Choughs. Very intent about their business, and we were soon surrounded by about 30 birds.  Lots of choughness going on.  And even mutual preening.

And then, “Peter” the male  Red-capped Robin turned up, and his lovely little lady. She is without doubt the smallest Red-capped Robin I’ve ever seen. Minute, not petite. To top if off a pair of Scarlet Robins came down the roadway, and we’d the chance to write up 6 different Robins for the day. Not a bad effort considering.

Dog would have been pleased with our hunting experience.

Jack, the Eastern Yellow Robin,  The cocked tail is not for my benefit, he's connecting with Jill a little further in the scrub.
Jack, the Eastern Yellow Robin, The cocked tail is not for my benefit, he’s connecting with Jill a little further in the scrub.
Ambrose.
Ambrose.
Pink Robin. Female.  Nice to see.
Pink Robin. Female. Nice to see.
Contemplative Flame Robin.  Perhaps he's wondering why we aren't working with his family in the back paddock.
Contemplative Flame Robin. Perhaps he’s wondering why we aren’t working with his family in the back paddock.
Female Flame Robin.
Female Flame Robin.
Two Flame Robin blokes, have a bit of a discussion about photography.  Not often to see them in the same tree, but they were chatting away.
Two Flame Robin blokes, have a bit of a discussion about photography. Not often to see them in the same tree, but they were chatting away.
Scarlet Robin, male, not the best I've done, but nice to see him.
Scarlet Robin, male, not the best I’ve done, but nice to see him.
Hiding, but I found her.  Scarlet female.
Hiding, but I found her. Scarlet female.
All Choughed up and now where to go.  A sentry took time out for a bit of choughcleaning.
All Choughed up and no where to go. A sentry took time out for a bit of choughcleaning.
Peter, the Red-capped Robin.  Almost working with me now.
Peter, the Red-capped Robin. Almost working with me now.
Such a tiny female Red-capped Robin.
Such a tiny female Red-capped Robin.

Our Flame Robin drought is finally over

 

The Flame Robins travel down from the Victorian High Country where they have replenished the species over summer and spend the winter in the lower country.  Bit hard for a little beak to find food under several metres of snow!

Our former main area of Woodlands Historic Park has been a major stop over for them as they migrate down along the bayside areas.   Some families don’t continue travelling but remain around the Grey Box forest areas at Woodlands and set up feeding territories and have been a great source of picture making pleasure for us over the years.   But, we don’t have close access this year, and the couple of trips we’ve made have been blocked by a large sign on a gate explaining the need for the Parks people to manage a fox that has managed to breach the secure area for the Eastern Barred Bandicoots.  So rather than having nearly a month of good work with the Flame Robins, we’ve been in a bit of a drought. Spotting the odd one or two at a distance is not quite the same somehow.

As we move into winter, the weather has also played its part in keeping us at home. After all what is the point of standing in a cold forest on a grey day with the light completely obscured by the incessant rain.  Not that I’m against getting wet, just not much point photographically.

Our friends,  Richard and Gwen A (he of Woodlands Birds List fame) wanted to have lunch at Eynesbury Golf Club and a bit of a walk in the forest.  Again this  should be a good area for Flame Robins, so we accepted the offer, and waited for a ‘reasonable day’.  It arrived. Beaut cold morning. 2 degrees, plenty of sunshine and little breeze.  Great.  So we, EE, Mr An Onymous, and I set off early to get a good start and work up an appetite for lunch.  We had previously found several robins in an area within pretty easy walking distance of the carpark and so we decided to start there.  Brown Treecreepers, a few Dusky Woodswallows, a White-winged Triller and an assortment of Thornbills were enjoying the change in the weather too.

We eventually found a small family of Flame Robins, and set down to work.   There is something very satisfying about sitting quietly while a dozen or more birds feed back and forth around you.  These birds have the name “Petroica” which roughly translated means “Rock dwellers” and where they were working was indeed the rocky side of a slope.  So we sat in the sunshine and enjoyed the activity.  None seemed to really be too sure of us, but at least they allowed some good, if not great shots.   But like all good days out, it was both enjoyable and a learning experience. Armed with our new knowledge of the feeding area of these birds will give us a head start next time we are out that way. And of course, with such great little subjects its going to be sooner than later.

We caught up for lunch, and then had an hour or so to wander in another part of the forest.  Looked hard for Diamond Firetails, but had to settle for two Whistling Kites, and two Black Kites.  On the way back the fluting call of a Little Eagle led us to some great views of a circling bird.   No Freckle or Blue-billed Ducks on the club Lake, but we did see a golf ball badly sliced off the tee drop into the lake with a satisfying “perlop”.

Always a delight to see in the sunshine a male Red-rumped Parrot
Always a delight to see in the sunshine a male Red-rumped Parrot
Called "Rock dwellers' they remained true to name in this part of the forest
Called “Rock dwellers’ they remained true to name in this part of the forest
Dapper lad
Dapper lad
Tiny little birds always manage to get behind a stalk of grass or two.
Tiny little birds always manage to get behind a stalk of grass or two.
Inbound
Inbound
A female that landed on the fence line next to where I was sitting
A female that landed on the fence line next to where I was sitting
Lift off.
Lift off.
Hunting from a low perch
Hunting from a low perch
Showing off her lovely markings
Showing off her lovely markings
A Jacky Winter came by to see what all the fuss was about. Perhaps it was ticking of humans for its online human list.
A Jacky Winter came by to see what all the fuss was about. Perhaps it was ticking of humans for its online human list.

Fire, smoke, an open paddock, simply add birds for action

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.

 

A burst of late evening sunlight highlights the maize against the brilliant dark sky.
A burst of late evening sunlight highlights the maize against the brilliant dark sky.
Red burst from a Flame Robin male, one of 4 males and about 6-8 female/juveniles in the area.
Red burst from a Flame Robin male, one of 4 males and about 6-8 female/juveniles in the area.
Two Black Kites.  They are at completely different heights.
Two Black Kites. They are at completely different heights.
Australian Kestrel turning  for another sweep over the still smouldering paddock.
Australian Kestrel turning for another sweep over the still smouldering paddock.
One post one Kite
One post one Kite
In times of plenty everyone is friends
In times of plenty everyone is friends
Whistling Kite, vs Black Kite.  Probably not as one sided as it at first appeared.
Whistling Kite, vs Black Kite. Probably not as one sided as it at first appeared.
Completely uninterested in the bbq, this Black-shouldered Kite stuck to its larder.  A mouse.
Completely uninterested in the bbq, this Black-shouldered Kite stuck to its larder. A mouse.
Cape Barren Goose.  He is giving me a lecture on my tardiness in being in his territory.
Cape Barren Goose. He is giving me a lecture on my tardiness in being in his territory.
Late evening light over the You Yangs
Late evening light over the You Yangs