Little Visits: Building a Thread with a Brown Falcon

Many of my early readers and followers of this blog will recall I am a follower of Jon Young, author of “What the Robin Knows”.

His book is not so much about robins per se as about making connections with birds in their world.
Jon is among other things a skilled tracker and an outdoors trainer. He was taught by some of the best trackers and hunters from his tribe with the Native Americans. His work, and humanitarian activities have taken him around the world and he often tells the story of a Sans Bushman from Africa who said,
“I see a small bird and recognise it, a thin thread is formed between me and the bird. If I just see it no thread is made. If I go again, and again, and recognise the bird, the thread will thicken. Each time I recognise the bird the thread will grow to become a string, a cord and then a rope. We make ropes to all aspects of creation in this way.”

He also tells of the time he was at a meeting in a glass-walled office suite and said to the folk in the room, “You have a cat in your courtyard”.  No, no, they replied, there are no animals allowed in the gardens.  A minute or so later, a cat strolled nonchalantly across the manicured lawns. How did he know that, they asked. “The birds in the garden were acting in a manner that suggested a cat was nearby,” Jon replied.

Over the years I’ve managed, and its not bragging, just the way I work, of building some fine rope connections with some birds. Perhaps because of their personality, or sheer inquisitiveness, but like Jon, there a several such stories I could tell, a few of them have been subjects of this blog in the past.

EE and I have located a Brown Falcon at nest. Dangerous really, as Browns broach no interference in this serious business, and someone, even with good intentions, sticking a camera in their work space is not taken kindly. So having worked out where the activity was taking place, I’ve made a wide berth of the spot.   I also know, from past experience, that if all is well, and I don’t press the boundaries, respect their business and keep to my side of the line, that eventually the line will become narrower, and I’ll be able to see just a little more. Then sometimes the bird graces us with the chance to enter into its world, and while I might not have free access, at least I’m treated benignly.

What worries me about sharing this is that some will drag out the ‘Photographers Code of Practice”, or some such and berate me for my impertinence.   However if I’m not invited, I don’t go.

Someone will ask ‘How do you know?”
To which I have to respond honestly, “Why don’t you go out and sit with a bird and find out for yourself.”  Operative point of that is— ‘sit with the bird’.

Here’s the scoop.  She sits the nest. He hunts.  A large gleeful cackle brings an instant response from her and she is off the nest and in the air to accept his delivery.  She will feed, preen, stretch and then return to the nest.  If I’m not wanted, then I don’t see any of that.
Where it gets really exciting is this Brown, feed, then landed on a branch quite close to where we were standing, and sat.

We waited.

She realised no movement from us, and after about 20 minutes, she began the process of putting all her nest crumpled feathers back in place. Then she waited, flew past a few metres out, landed on another tree, and repeated the process.  The shots here were taken over about an hour, and neither EE or I moved much more than a metre or so.
Again she preened, rearranged, and then stepped out, and circled to land in the nest.

Now I should also add that I’ve worked with the bird a few seasons before, so we are not complete strangers. In fact over the time she has taught me quite a bit about the world of Brown Falcon. Still so much more to learn.


Flying out to meet her cackling mate coming in with lunch
This is the male. He has, unusually, a yellow cere and eye ring.
I’d guess its a pipit he’s delivering
Off to the ‘secret’ hand over spot
The male on the way out again. Sometimes he’ll return and sit near the nest, just to check things out. Most times, its back out to the paddock for another food run.
Well fed she can attend to the business of brightening up her wardrobe. I love to see them zip up all the flight feathers.
Sometimes, the one-legged stance is a challenge, but here she is getting ready to line up the feathers.
Wing and tail relief all at once. The wing markings are a treat.
Time to go. Nesting duty calls. I’m pretty certain the egg is near to hatched or just recently hatched as she did spend a lot of time away.
All sails up.
Passing by with not even a glance. Every time that happens, the thread is strengthened.

Enjoying the Freedom of   Flight

Black-shouldered Kites Growing up. October 10, 2017

Waiting is not Patience. Patience is about the moment,
 an intersection of the strongest story with the right light,
 the best timing and an awareness of the around.
 Waiting makes us pay attention. David Duchemin

You’re Welcome Here.

We’ve been tracking a clutch of Black-shouldered Kites down on the 29 Mile Road at the Western Treatment Plant.  The young have been on the wing now for over two months, and are now the expert hunters.  They are just moulting out the last of their juvenile ginger and grey feathers and the eye is taking on the rich ruby colour of adult-hood.

The best perches in the area are along the roadside, the few trees and fenceposts and man-made solar panels and the like.  And because of their consummate skill in the air, and the vast quantity of mice in the area, the young kites seem quite oblivious to human presence.

So sometimes it’s possible to get right into the world of the hunting birds—not as a long distance observer—in a hurry—but to take the time the learn about the birds, their preferences for hunting areas and their choice of spots to enjoy their successes.

I’ve been reading and following photographer David DuChemin and his approach to teaching a photographic vision.  He has a series called Vision is Better.  He talks about patience, waiting, the involvement in the around and being able to identify with the subject to really tell their story.  On one such video he travels to  British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest to photograph the Spirit Bears – a white variation of the black bear.  His video is shot from a short kayak trip, and I think its possible to really get both his excitement of the area, and his immersion in the moment, (if you will allow the pun).

Here’s the link if you’ve got 10 minutes.


Continue reading “Enjoying the Freedom of   Flight”

Wonderful Woodlands Birds for all to enjoy: The Birds of Hume

It’s a bit humbling to have been able to contribute to a most wonderful publication.

The Hume City Council have published a lovely 20 page Bird Guide to the area.  A great creative collaboration by a number of locals and some excellent work by the Evironmental Dept of the Council has resulted in a such a cool little handbook for anyone with even a passing interest in the area.

My Flickr Mate Andew H was among the many of the working group and at one stage asked if I might have some photos of birds they were missing.  And off course, I was all too ready for them to use the images.

After living in the area for nigh on 40 years, it was a great way to respond back to the community and to provide a bit of a “thank you” to the birds that have been such a large part of my photographic endevours over the years.  My family has walked and laughed and picnicked and even married in the park, so we do have more than just a passing connection.

It’s also no surprise to you long term reader(s), that I have a real affinity for the small birds of the Grey Box forest area in the park.  Over the years many  of the missives here have been about their lives and their surrounds.  So much so that many have become in someways quite familiar.  I’ve for a long time taken to giving each of the robins, names.  It helps to id them, to come to an understanding of their location and sometimes their interactions.  Jon Young, my mentor of the book, “What the Robin Knows”, shows how its possible to build tiny connections to individual creatures that become large ropes that bind the bird and viewer.

Of all the birds I photograph, the small bush birds seem to hold the special place in my heart.  I love the boldness of the raptors, the kites, falcons and eagles.  I am constantly in awe of the migratory skills of the small waders and shorebirds that visit us each summer, and I can spend hours with the shoreline birds along the beaches, the terns, herons, gulls and cormorants.  But, put me in a stretch of Grey Box, and my blood fair purrs.  And the small birds fascinate me, not only by their lives, but by the challenge of bringing that portrait moment to life on screen.

Over the years, I ‘ve talked of the lives of Mr. Mighty, (he, who got a front cover on a national magazine), Henny and Penny and their clutches of young. Peter, the Prince, Lockey, and  of recent times, Petite, the smallest Red-capped Robin. And of course my very dear friend, Primrose. A female Red-capped Robin that was happy to come and sit with me on a log in the sunshine whenever I was in the area.
Andrew H talked today a little about our experiences and his own involement with the robins, and at one stage likened it to a ‘spiritiual’ moment.  And to have a bird such as Primrose so delicately and yet deliberately come in contact, and in some way accept the presence of the big klutz of a photographer, with a turn on the head and a lowered wing flap is something that still keeps us going out to make those connections.  How else do you describe a bird that you can see coming through the trees, just to perch less than a metre away and chatter away as if was really important.

And so in the presence of over a hundred or more folk, the Mayor of Hume Council, Cr Helen Patsikatheodorou, talked of the work of the production group, the grandness of the birds in the area and officially launched the booklet for the benefit of all those who love the birds.   We also had the chance to do a small walk around Woodlands Homestead and Andrew talked of some of the better birding areas at the park.

If you are in the area, do pick up a copy of the publication. Or contact Hume Council.

I thought I’d re-quoute Jon Young on the Sans Bushman
“If one day I see a small bird and recognise it, a thin thread will form between me and that bird.  If i just see it but don’t recognise it, there is no thin thread.  If I go out tomorrow and see and really recognise that same individual small bird again, the thread will thicken and strengthen just a little.  Every time I see and recognise that bird, the thread strengthens just a little.  Every time I see and recognise that bird, the thread strengthens.  Eventually it will grow into a string and then a cord, and finally a rope. This is what it means to be a Bushman. We make ropes with all aspects of the creation in this way” —What the Robin Knows, p 180—.

So well done Hume, well done team, a supreme effort and hopefully it will help people build more than a thread to so many of the wonderful birds in our area.
I’m just overwhelmed to have been able to have such a small part in the process.  Thanks again to all.


In the morning before the launch EE and I had travelled up in the brilliant light and touch of frost on the ground for a short visit to see the birds.  The sunshine should have told us it would be a good day, but within about five minutes along the track, Petite, the Smallest Red-capped Robin had popped out on to the roadway, followed by Peter the Prince.  Together they fed and played for us before we moved on to the backpaddock.   And there we were delighted to remake acquaintance again with a new Male Red-capped Robin, and finally find a small flock of FLmae Robins, including the Three Brothers, working the moss beds in the sunshine.
Seemed a great treat to go with the rest of the day.

Petite, the Smallest Red-capped Robin. This tiny bird met us on the roadway as we walked in. Totally unconcerned by our presence. A real thread bulding moment.
Petite, the Smallest Red-capped Robin. This tiny bird met us on the roadway as we walked in. Totally unconcerned by our presence. A real thread building moment.
Peter, the Prince. Its been awhile since I've seen him on the fence line.
Peter, the Prince. Its been awhile since I’ve seen him on the fence line.
Such a delight to find. Pink Robin, female. Now if only she would bring her partner down for winter.
Such a delight to find. Pink Robin, female. Now if only she would bring her partner down for winter.
Female Scarlet Robin
Female Scarlet Robin
One of our new discoveries. This female is still supporting one of her last season young
One of our new discoveries. This female is still supporting one of her last season young
Who is putting 'footie prints' all over my forest? Scarlet came by to see what I was up to.
Who is putting ‘footie prints’ all over my forest? Scarlet came by to see what I was up to.
Wedge-tailed Eagle taking its pet Whistling Kites for an early morning flight.
Wedge-tailed Eagle taking its pet Whistling Kites for an early morning flight.
Female Flame Robin
Female Flame Robin
Flame Robin Male
Flame Robin Male
EE Enjoys Denonshire Tea at the launch at Woodlands Historic Homestead.
EE Enjoys Denonshire Tea at the launch at Woodlands Historic Homestead.
Red-capped Robin Female. This is Primrose, (see the lovely apricot wash on her chest) overseeing a territorial dispute between Lockie, and a would be suitor.
And just because deep down I’m an old softie. Here is Primrose. Red-capped Robin Female. This is Primrose, (see the lovely apricot wash on her chest) Thanks for the memory girl 🙂

Gallery: Click to see full size.




Meeting the “Lesser Fascinating Bird”: Beginning an Apprenticeship

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.

Yep, Ok.

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.


Contemplative Jacky
Contemplative Jacky
How to make any ordinary post look extraordinary. Put a Lesser Fascinating Bird on it.
How to make any ordinary post look extraordinary. Put a Lesser Fascinating Bird on it.
Jacky on a Wing-stretch. The sign of a very relaxed about my presence bird
Jacky on a Wing-stretch. The sign of a very relaxed about my presence bird
A model with a thousand poses.
A model with a thousand poses.
Jacky closeup. I'm sitting on the ground and it came up to my feet
Jacky closeup. I’m sitting on the ground and it came up to my feet
What a about a nice chat?
What a about a nice chat?
Jacky in colour
Jacky in colour
On Dog Alert. It watched the dog come by, and kept it in sight until it was well up the track.
On Dog Alert. It watched the dog come by, and kept it in sight until it was well up the track.
Minimalist Jacky
Minimalist Jacky





Blogging 101 Week 2 Day 1

New week, new assignment.  The “ABOUT ME” page.

Frankly, I’m pretty much over who “Me” is.  I have really wanted to be transparent on the blog and let the photos and words be the heroes and carry the story.  The pictures and words on each story are much more important to me, than ‘selling’ myself.
In the end, if nothing else, the images I make and the stories I write honour the subjects, that will in be sufficient for me.

Thinking about the About page made me realise, at least to my own satisfaction, that in the end, I’d just publish here because I’d like to share some of those small moments we experience with the birds.  I hope you enjoy it as much as we do.

Building Connections, the San Bushman culture.

Jon Young has quite a bit to say about the relationship  of the San Bushmen and their land.  A keen awareness that is virtually impossible for them not to acquire or at least appreciate an understanding of the bird’s perspective. – See there it is the “about me”.

Recently found a wonderful book about the author, Elyne Mitchell, who wrote a series of children’s books titled The Silver Brumby,  great kids read, and pretty nice for adults to chill out on too.  She had a delicious way of describing the horses, their land and their activities.

I bought EE a copy of the book, because in some ways it reflects, how I’ve been able to watch her photography, and her interaction making connections over the past few years blossom  and mature.   See her Flickr site  Friendsintheair to see what I mean.

I wonder how many of us had read at least one of The Silver Brumby series.

We’ve walked the high country EE, I and our small children, summer after summer, autumn and spring. You will of course note not much mention of Winter in that sentence.  Seen the horses run, (Yeah, I know, I know, spare me the lecture on muddied wildflower beds, damaged winter grasses – enjoy the horses) and it’s all part of  building connections.

EE has taken to building relationship with a pair of Eastern Yellow Robins at the You Yangs.  They are, as you’ll be aware, right in the middle of bringing up their young one. This relationship stuff is a one person thing. So I’ve been glad to sit back and let her work with the pair.  I take shots as the birds give me permission.
So here is a few portraits from recents sessions.   And that is what  Birds as Poetry, is about. Didn’t need an “About”  page after all eh?






Off to see Ambrose

This is one of those posts that’s a bit out of sequence.  Just had other things to post.

A couple of weeks back we had a morning free and decided to go and visit with our friend Ambrose, the Rose Robin.

He had decided to winter over in a small patch of scrub away from the highway, and near a used, but not well maintained track.  To get to it, we’d follow the track a bit, then move onto some well formed Kangaroo pads.  The ‘roo pads are easier to walk, and they don’t waste any uphill/downhill meandering.  Very energy conscious is your Eastern Grey, so they tend to take the easiest way along a creek line or over a ridge.  Their number one rule: “Don’t loose height, and avoid the thick scrub”  So its usually pretty flat, and always interesting walking.

When we got the stand of wattle that Ambrose had called home, I was pretty flabbergasted to find that some local “Landcare (?)” group had decided to clean up the undergrowth and pile all the logs, sticks and leaves into one great big heap at the end of the stand.  Of course this meant for the birds, all the normal perching, hunting and hiding places were now removed.   I could just imagine how this happened with a handful of ‘community’ minded folk ‘taking care of the scrub’ in their area.  No doubt with motorised “Bush Whackers” to clean up the offending leaves, grass and stubborn undergrowth.  And there would have been of course the good natured yelling and joking with one another as they scoured the tiny moss beds with the equipment, dragging of logs, and stomping with boots.  All to go home at night to their respective dwellings, having completely ruined the environment for the winter overing birds.  It would be like going to their house,  piling all at the furniture and belongings in one corner, and then emptying out the pantry too.!

Any wonder then as we stood there in the  Landcare (?) equivalent of a moon scape that the usual Thornbills, Wrens, Flame Robins, Whistlers, Honeyeaters and Fantails, were not only no where to be seen, but not even heard.  A pity as this little block of wattle had been a bit of a honeypot over winter.

After 20 minutes of sitting and listing, it was pretty obvious that the friendly character of Ambrose was also not going to make an appearance.  In protest, I redistributed a handful of the “Landcare (?)” pile of logs across the moss beds, and we decided to go elsewhere.

As we were swinging out of the wattle stand, across the open area I spied a flash of grey and magenta.   He was there.   I don’t do bird calls, either vocal or recorded (see the sidebar), but I feel confident enough with this bird to talk to him…   And he came over.
Now if Robins can do indignant he had every right I reckon, but he simply chirruped  (It’s a bit like a single note on a mouth organ), and began to hunt around the tops of the wattles.  Occasionally coming down to see if I was following.  For the next half an hour or so, this delightful little bird graced us with his presence, stopping to pose, and happy to turn his head when I spoke. I know I’ve quoted Jon Young before, but here he is again:

If we don’t barge in and kick up a big flock of frightened birds – if we replace collision with connection, learn to read the details, feel at home, relax, and are respectful- ultimately the birds will yield to us the first rite of passage: a close encounter with a bird otherwise wary of our presence.

So we sat and chatted, he hunted, entertained us with his chirrup, and ultimately sat on a stick a couple of metres away and preened.  He hunted so close at one stage that I said to him, “If you get any closer, mate,  you’ll be in my pocket and I’ll have to take you home!”

In the end we had to say goodbye and I could hear Jon Young again:

 To understand we must slowly but surely expand the sphere of awareness and shrink the sphere of disturbance by learning and practicing good etiquette. We begin to start seeing and hearing more birds.

Hello Ambrose, hope you’ll be polite enough to come back next season.

Oh, there you are. Will you accept visitors.
Oh, there you are. Will you accept visitors.
Relaxed and entertaining
Relaxed and entertaining
Shall I pose here, or would you like me on the other log?
Shall I pose here, or would you like me on the other log?
Any closer and you'll be coming home with me.
Any closer and you’ll be coming home with me.
Magenta on Green. What a great combo.
Magenta on Green. What a great combo.