After about a week of really sunny pleasant weather to celebrate our release from restrictions, we were planning a Little Visit to Eynesbury Grey Box Forest.
As it turned out, so the weather turned. So I pulled on my best grey jacket, and we set out under a grey, ashen, sky hoping that the sun might break through a little.
When we arrived at the forest, the weather had ‘lowered’ even further, and any chance of well lit photos had disappeared. However we wanted to look to see if the Flame Robins were in good numbers and set off like adventurers along one of the maintained tracks.
It has been said, either kindly or unkindly, that I have Grey Box sap flowing in my veins. There is something very soothing to me about stepping off the track and merging into the forest. The grey might seem bland to some, but there are so many tones, so many rich shapes and such beautiful trees and that I find it a visually exciting environment.
One of the masters of the forest area at Eynesbury is Jacky Winter.
I find myself enamoured with these delightful little birds that seem both so well adapted and so well suited to the Grey Box area. They don’t come in a wide range of flashy colours, they are somewhat small and inconspicuous, but they always to make the forest dance and sing when we come across them. Perhaps its their ‘tail wag’ with the leadining white edges of the tail flashing their presence.
We were fortunate enough to locate five pairs during the morning.
Perhaps the most interesting were a pair that had located quite a large grub and it took both of them to subdue it. Once they had eaten it they were off to a tree for a rest for the awhile.
Long time readers will no doubt recall that I often claim to have Grey Box sap running in my veins.
These amazing old trees are the superstructure for the type of forest and forest birds that I really enjoy working with. And as Woodlands Historic Park has such an untouched stand of Grey Box, its not hard to see why I love it as I practically learned my forest birds craft out there.
Another find stand of Grey Box is at Eynesbury near Melton.
Every second month the local Eynesbury Environmental Group, here’s their facebook page, conducts a morning walk in the forest for interested locals and visitors.
Chris Lunardi does a super job of getting us out in to the forest to look at some of the lesser visited areas and to find interesting birds.
Chris also seems to have an amazing ability to chose days where the weather is kind. And this past Sunday was no exception.
Probably the highlights of the day were a pair of very vocal Peregrine Falcon, and several sightings of Diamond Firetails.
Diamond Firetails often are found around the lawns and golf greens in good numbers, and occasionally a few birds through the bush. We managed to find them in 4 locations throughout the day.
Been pondering anew, my approach to Bird Photography, again. Yes dear reader, tis that time of year again for tinsel, things red and white, muzak that dumbs the mind at the shopping centre and of course my annual “where is my photography going to bend in 2019”. But
Fear not, this is not that blog.
Great gasps of relaxation and sighs of relief heard across the ‘blogosphere’.
I really wanted to get the remainder of the shots from our Eynesbury excursions, (incursions?) out.
So rather than belabour, here is the best of the rest sort of feature.
There is still one more chapter to put up, but I’m going to do that as a Snapshots type blog as it concerns our favourite Jackys and their now well fledged young. Might even get that done the next few days.
Went to visit the Jacky Nursery last evening.
Both parents are busy looking after the two fledglings, now ensconced in separate trees. One little dude had chosen to fly in and land in a tree that White-plumed Honeyeaters consider “their territory”.
I’ve made the statement before that Jacky Winter are birds that have stolen my heart.
They are not the most startling of colour, nor do they seem to have a particular outstanding feature that makes them a special bird. They used to carry the unfortunate name, “Lesser Fascinating Bird”, so that should be a hint as to how we’ve seen them in the past.
They have a pleasant nature, and don’ t seemed too fussed by us humans. And once they have id’d us, they seem to settle into tolerance bordering on disdain.
We were in the You Yangs some weeks back and it was casually mentioned, “Oh, I saw a Jacky Winter down near the old school building”, as in— well that ticked Lesser Fascinating Bird off my list, have you seen anything important? It was enough to make me stop on the way out and scout around.
Been meandering through Julieanne Kost’s “Passenger Seat” folio book. Julieanne is a product evangelist for Adobe Lightroom, (and having been one of them product evangellies in me time, I am a bit sympathetic to start with),
But Julieanne is quite a creative, and very visually expressive photographer. As she says in the introduction, “meeting with others continually opens my eyes to what’s possible.” and that is why we share stuff I guess.
I’ve said before that I enjoy the company of Jacky Winter.
We were at Eynesbury today on a bird count day. Found time to find several Jacky Winter. They were most co-operative, and I’ve put them here in a gallery as it gives a chance to view them in the carousel. Click on one image and you’ll be able to show through the set.
Enjoy. Jacky and I did.
My mate Chris L, he of Mt Rothwell, and formerly Western Treatment Plant, fame has established a monthly bird walk around the Eynesbury Grey Box Forest.
It is a pretty informal arrangement, no signing of paper and turning up is about the only requirement.
“Are you interested in coming on Sunday?”, he said. Hmm. Didn’t really have to consult the diary. “Be there at 10 of the clock,” says he.
And so EE and I hit the road to Eynesbury in some brilliant sunshine. When Chris organises a day, well, he organises the weather too.
By start time, about half a dozen locals, and Geraldine from Werribee Wagtails – Now BirdLife Werribee, turned up. Chris really wants to make it an opportunity for the local residents to enjoy the forest around their village.
Eynesbury is built around a golf course (well not really, but on the other hand, really). Another golfing friend, took a trip out there one day, saw the greens, and the area, and was back the following day to sign up for a villa. Nothing like a game of golf that starts from your front step.
Surrounding the man-made, is the indomitable Grey Box. This is one of the largest stand of Grey Box left in Victoria. Something the locals are particularly proud of, and with every right.
We set off along the track that leads around the ornamental lake. Lake being a somewhat strange term at the moment as the dry weather has reduced it to a series of water holes. And a home now for a number of Black-fronted Dotterels, among the usual ducks and other waders. The cormorant families have had to move on.
A trip around the lake led us off into the wilds of suburbia as we walked along a track between the forest and the residences. Many little bush birds, particularly Superb Fairy-wrens along here. It seemed that there was about one Fairy-wren clan to every front yard.
Across a dry creek and into the forest proper and the call of Brown Treecreepers announced our presence. Then a Jacky Winter couple, and the familiar call of Diamond Firetails, but search as we might we didn’t spot them today.
A bit of ramble through the thickets between the Grey Box and we were nearing the end of our morning. When a call of an Crested Shrike-tit echoed across the open area. After quite a bit of searching, I’d concluded we’d missed it, and a cuppa beckoned.
Not so Christo. With stoic patience he continued, and a “Here it is!” was really a grand statement of his birding skills. The group hurried to see. And not only one, but two and working very close to the track and unperturbed by our presence.
The photographers were in for a treat and we were shown the skills needed to both track down and extract grubs from the most unlikely places among the bark.
And all too soon we were back in the carpark, and farewelling the lovely area.
I love Jacky Winter. There. I’ve said it. Now you know.
There is something about these little birds that just resonates with me. They are not the most brilliantly dressed, they don’t seem to perform mighty deeds, and they have a fairly limited song routine.
They have a charming and endearing gentleness and unhurried approach, that just fascinates me.
Jacky hunts robin like by sitting quietly then pouncing on prey on the ground.
Jacky also hunts like a flycatcher, hovering over the ground while surveying for movement below (Boles). At one time in history, it used to be called the “Lesser Fascinating Bird”. (Boles again) ” As used here, ‘fascinate’ meant ‘transfix and hold spellbound’. from the belief that the hovering action mesmerised the prey…
I’ve talked this over with several pairs of Jacky Winter, as to why they should be called ‘lesser’, but on each occasion, the little bird’s reaction has been to glaze over its little eyes and settle in to the perch without further concern. So I figured they don’t care what they are called.
Buried in their scientific name is ‘fascinans’, – fascinating. Microeca translating as tiny house (Cayley)
Jacky also has a somewhat predictable habit of landing on a perch and then wagging its tail back and forth, (think Willie Wagtail, Grey Fantail). They also seem to perch down on the branch resting their tummy on the branch.
Jacky’s tail edge is white, and it makes quite a show as it lands and then flicks back and forth.
It’s most melodic tone is a somewhat plain “peter, peter, peter” And it has been reported to be among the very first to herald the dawn chorus. A second chitter is much more a scolding call, and Mr An Onymous loves to remind me of the day we were working with a pair and after 20 minutes or so, Jacky had reached its limit. And I got a really severe lecture, and no further pictures for the day.
Truth be told. EE and I were on a mission. We wanted to locate a pair of Scarlet Robins. They are locals to the area and he has featured in the blog before, long suffering reader that you are, you might just remember the shots of him attacking the ‘bird in the car’ reflection at the carpark!
We’d not seen much of them this season, and at least one nest had not been successful, nor had we seen any evidence of new birds in the area.
As we searched, we came to a opening in the forest near the track, and two Jacky Winter were hard at work. At first they were if nothing, disdainful, at having intruders. But it only took a minute of so to settle and A little bit of patient sitting and both birds were happy to provide various poses.
Then one of those great ‘rites of passage’ moments, and Jacky flew by me, circled about and landed about a metre away. The gracious little bird had accepted me. And then I was able to learn of the ways of the Lesser Fascinating Bird. It hunted on the roadway near my feet, looped up to catch insects and chatted away quietly to the second bird.
I know I talk a lot here about Jon Young’s approach, and sometimes it seems fanciful about the bird’s acceptance of my presence.
As we were working on a branch about 2m from the track, a dog was being walked down the track. Instant alert from Jacky 1 and response from Jacky 2. And remember this happened with the bird on a branch about 3 m from my position.
“Hey, did you see the dog?”
Yes, are you alright?
Yep, I’m up here in the branches.
Is it coming off the track?
No, don’t think so.
It’s passing by now, are you safe?
Yep, I’ve that silly human photographer in front of me., I’ll be alright.
Dog’s going by.
That’s a relief.
Jacky watched the dog go up the track about 50m or so before it dropped its head and continued on with hunting.
Fanciful. Of course. But, what ever happened, the Jacky was on high alert for the dog and completely comfortable with my presence.
Oh, and we eventually found the Scarlet pair. But. That’s another story.
Astute reader that you are, you’ll have recalled that the last posting here was a trip to Eynesbury for a visit to some Woodswallows at Nursery.
Decided on a whim today, to take another trip to the same spot not that we expected to find the Woodswallows still on nest, but y’know, perhaps we might be lucky.
Well time, tide and Woodswallow fledglings wait for no photographer, and they had indeed taken to wing. Now of course it was a new challenge.
But there is something relaxing indeed about a pot of tea, (Earl Grey- see the connection?) in a Grey Box forest. So we sat. And slowly the forest began to reveal those hidden secrets.
Over there, Tree Martins, still feeding young. On the other side a pair of Rufous Whistlers who entertained with their calls. More Brown Treecreepers than you can count, and most of them either at nest, or ferrying food for demanding young.
And my favourite find. Jacky Winter. The pair near out sit spot had two young and were keeping them up in the tops of the trees, but we still had enjoyable encounters.
Off to look for Matilda the Pacific-black Duck who has taken over a hollow, and to my surprise, she was still domicile, but only her carefully crafted wing tip feathers were showing her presence. Must be close for her now. I’ve no idea where she is going to lead them to water, but the nearest must be about 2km away through the scrub.
In the same area, lo and behold a second pair of Jacky Winter, with two well advanced young. I’d be betting these were the same birds we photographed in the area last year. One of the adults adjusted to my presence in a few minutes and continued to feed and preen quite closely. Then it (she?) sat down on the ground a few metres away and “sun-hazed” and quite went into a trance. Satisfied I was no danger, it allowed some fine portraits to be made.
And the I heard the wheezy call of a Diamond Firetail watching the portrait session.
As we started for home we came across the White-browed Woodswallows feeding some young, and then a family of Brown Treecreepers looking after their growing juveniles.
Of course no trip to Eynesbury would be complete without a sighting of the elusive Speckled Warbler, and to both our delights one flew by as we walked back to the car, and then began to feed on the small slope nearby. No close approaches with this bird, so my score of great photos of this little dude is still intact. Zero.
We’ve been up around the Newstead area this past week. Went up for the annual Werribee Birdlife (Formerly Werribee Wagtails) camp out.
On one afternoon in the RIse and Shine Bushland area we were quietly travelling through the forest, when I was pretty sure I’d heard the familiar “Peter, Peter Peter” of Jacky.
So we stopped and eventually I reckoned it about 500mm further down so we went to look. No doubt about it, a Jacky Winter, and quite vocal, and very busy. The EE spotted a pattern of flying into one tree, and a few minutes later announced, like some magician about to pull a rabbit from a hat. “Look, she is building a nest!”.
Now of course you have got to have seen a Jacky Winter nest before to have any idea what you are looking for. Mr An Onymous who was with us peered into the trees, scratched his head, got out his ever dependable Nikon binos and looked again. “Where?” Which is a pretty good question as Jacky doesn’t exactly go in for high class up market building. If there was one of those ‘reality building’ shows for birds she’d be among the bottom of the backyards.
And there on a tiny Y in branch was an almost imperceptible bulge. And pretty soon Jacky confirmed that by adding some more spider web to hold it all together.
We’ve had a whole range of really average weather of late, and both EE and I were getting a bit tired of being unable to get out for a really good look about. Much changes in a fortnight.
We decided on an early trip to Eynesbury, mainly because of Speckled Warbler. These tiny little songsters are proving to be incredibly illusive for us. We’ve heard them in several places, but have little to show other than a glimpse of a bird flying off into the distance.
Weatherzone showed some pretty nice icons indicating its should be clear from sunup till at least midday, so setting the alarm clock, we were ready for an early start. As we drove up toward Eynesbury, it was obvious the weather was not going to match the icons and it was very overcast. And with no wind, it was pretty much going to stay that way. Still we crossed the road entered the forest and began our search. And within about 10mins had heard the cheery cry of the Warbler, but so far away and no pictures.
The other bird of interest is the Diamond Firetail, and while we got some good views no really great photos.
By late morning the sun had poked through, the Little Eagles were playing the strengthening breezes and a pair of Brown Falcons were playing chase across the treetops.
We took a walk up past the old shearing shed area and then down the track toward the golf course dam.
“There is always a pair of Jacky Winter on this corner, ” I assured EE, but she responded “I would have thought the name ‘Winter’ might have been a clue.”
And then to both our collective surprises a Jacky flew down grabbed a bug and sat in a tree with its usual tail wag.
The Jacky winter is a fine mixture of part Robin, part Flycatcher (they used to be called the Lesser Fascinating Flycatcher), part Fantail, and a touch of Woodswallow. Well it seems like that to me.
They are also among my favourite birds. Their simple colours make a great photo harmony, their clear sounding calls are a delight and they can be very easy to work with, almost completely ignoring the inquisitive human being. On average. I’ve also met a few that are extraordinarily skittish, and I’ve never had much success.
This corner pair fall somewhere in between. We’ve had some lovely interaction and complete disdain on other occasions.
I followed this one across the roadway, and propped against a tree, hoping, she/he? they are impossible to tell apart, would come on back and at least hunt in the area. It immediately headed back across the road, into a tree, and I caught a glimpse of it on a limb with a lot of wing fluttering. Perhaps its going to be fed, thought I, so I wandered slowly in that direction, but by then the bird had moved on. However there was a bump in the branch, and at first I thought it might have been the other of the pair.
Then it dawned on me. “It’s a young one that is waiting to be fed”. But…
When I put the glass on it, what I discovered was a Jacky Winter nest. Now, I’ve seen some pretty tiny Red-capped Robin nests and the nest of a Grey Fantail, but this was even tinier, and not at all well built. The two young were already overcrowding the nest. And the one thing they seemed to be able to do was to crouch down, and hang on. So at a quick glance it didn’t look like either a nest nor any young birds. Very clever.
But it is tiny.
After a few minutes the first of the adults and then the other came in and poked food into the open mouths, and there was no sound from the young and apart from putting their head up, no real movement either. Very clever.
I concluded from the size that they were about a week from fledging, so perhaps another trip will be needed to see the young birds in action.
Only spent enough time to get a few shots, like to leave them to themselves unless I’m invited to stay, and there wasn’t time for introductions.
On the way back to where we’d left our gear, I heard the Warbler and managed a few shots of it. One of them in the clear. What I didn’t expect was to be harassed by 3 or 4 very agitated Superb Fairy Wren males and several females. The males getting up very close indeed to try and attract my attention and then I noticed why. They had recently fledged 3 or 4 young birds and were trying to protect them. I managed a couple of quick shots of the young with their very short tails.
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.
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.
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”.