From the FieldNotes Book: Little Troubles

We were, Mr An Onymous and I, out looking for some elusive Flame Robins around the 100 Steps to Federation park at Altona. The park was previously a rubbish dump, and as Mr A is oft to quote, “Some of my rubbish is under that hill!”

They were here the last time I looked. But, not today. We did find and get close to one lone female, and were consoling our selves that a trip back to The Esplanade and a coffee from The Norfolk Cafe and a sit on the beach area and watch people instead of birds for a while would be a fine thing to do in the warm sunshine.

In the meantime the antics of a pair of Nankeen Kestrels kept us amused as they swept in and out of a tree-line. Just too far away for photos, but I volunteered, “Let’s go check it out anyway on the way back to the vehicles.”

When on a sudden a dark shape quite close swept over my head, —big bird I thought.
By the time I’d looked up and around it had gone to ground about 20m from where I stood. The best I could determine was a big brownish wing being folded down behind the saltbush.

Options were Whistling Kite or perhaps Swamp Harrier, or maybe, well I can dream, a Spotted Harrier.
We could sit and wait, but there was a little of the ‘thrill of the chase’ in this one, so we negotiated the old barbed wire fence and worked our collective ways toward the saltbush. Not too close else if it flew, it would overfill the frame, so we only needed a few metres inside the fence.

And we waited.

The action started when a small flotilla of young Magpies turned up, and decided that what ever was behind the bush needed a good bit of hurry up, and so they set to diving on the bird on the other side of the saltbush. First one, then another, and another. Regroup then return and repeat. The numbers of young Magpies wanting to join in increased and the bush was repeatedly swooped with urgently calling Maggies.

I waited, figuring the bird would take off from behind the bush and up and away from me.
It must have had enough room behind the bush, out of my line of sight to get airborne and swept out from behind the bush directly to my left, low and fast.

A Little Eagle! And the flotilla of Maggies in hot pursuit. This is the type of action they love. Slow moving bird, plenty of support to control the direction and distract it from gaining speed and height.

The chase was on.

Thrilled with the opportunity to harass the Eagle the Maggies pressed home their attack. The big bird circled wide out to escape and I guessed that would be the last I’d see, but the clever Maggies drove it around, and I guess that an updraft of the edges of the 100 steps hillside would work to its advantage. So it tightly circled past me came around, found some air and began to climb. The Maggies were now having to work very hard to maintain station. They still had the speed to attack, but the Little Eagle now had the advantage of its larger wing surface in the rising air, and wasn’t using any energy. The resolute defenders of their airspace began to lose steam, and slowly began to drop away and only one or two, then only one continued the fruitless cause.

The eagle now reached a comfortable cruising speed and altitude and the Maggies were done.

While the Little Eagle drifted away in the breeze, the Magpies landed together on a nearby tree and called out to congratulate each other on a job well done, and to brag about who had come the closest to the victim.

Snapshots: Think Local

I know, the think global, act local is all the rage in some politically correct circles.

We have been thinking locally the past week or so. Partly because of the weather— finally getting the rain we desperately need. And also strong winds, which we could do without. 85kph gusts the other day. Seriously, if you can’t stand up in it why go out.

EE and I have had need to visit the local medical area at Werribee Hospital precinct. As it turns out, my Flickr mate David Nice, has several good areas mapped out in the area.  With Kestrels, Brown Falcon, and Little Eagles, and ‘alleged’ Black-shouldered Kites.;-)

So after the serious stuff, and the coffee in the cafe area, to recover, we’ve been sitting in the car along a couple of the roads by the local paddocks to see what is happening. Now tis true we don’t have the bird Karma of David N. but I do have EE, and that is about the best advantage I can offer.

Oh, she cries, Black-shouldered Kites,  I scan. Nothing. I scan more. Still nothing, I point the Bushnells across the sky. Nothing.
Ok, saith I, Where?
Over there, beyond those trees. What she actually means is in the next suburb! Bushnells finally lock on. Yep, those two insignificant dots, could be Black-shouldered Kites. I retire defeated.

“On the left”, the cry goes up.  Turning in my best Tai Chi move, I make a brush knee move to the left, and sure enough, as I swing up the camera, there is David’s friend, ” Georgia” the Kestrel, lining up for a hunt.  So we spent the next few minutes in the area, and saw her making a number of catches, crickets or the like, I suspect.
She then lucked out with a mouse, then another, which she stashed near a rock, and as we were geting ready to move, she flashed by with a third one, to land on the buildings in the medical precinct.  Not sure where she went with it after that.

We then moved further south, and found a male Kestrel hunting in the paddocks near the Uni.  At one point he was about three metres above the median strip on the roadway, with cars ripping past on both sides.  My heart was in my mouth. No luck, so he too moved on.

Found Arthur the Brown Falcon at work in the fields again. Every time he got airborne, the local Magpie squadron took him out, so he was contented to hunt mostly among the tall grasses and roadside.

And just as the light was going to be captured by thick dark clouds, a Little Eagle drifted overhead, and it too moved further over the freeway.

Think local does have benefits.

Locked on

Lift off.

What are you doing in MY paddock. Inquisitive Willie Wagtail just has to know.

Male, levelling into position

Little Eagle

Little Eagle on a close pass

Nankeen Kestrel, (M), hunting on a roadside verge. He is only a few metres from traffic both ways.

Arthur the Brown Flacon. He had been sitting on the fenceline for about 10minutes. Then just dropped the couple of metres.

Hard to know what he caught, but after a few minutes contemplation, he moved on.

Georgia with a mouse. She will prepare it, then take it across the paddock and tuck it away under some stubble for later on.

Her lunch is tucked away for later.

Georgia with a second mouse. She will fly to the buildings on the far side of the road.

Georgia with the second mouse. I’m unsure what she was going to do with this one, but she disappeared behind the buldings. And we headed for home.

Eynesbury Gems—Episode #1

Eynesbury township just a few minutes from Melton, was established around a golf-club. Part of the deal concerns a stand of Grey Box Forest, that is in close to original condition, or perhaps, well established with old trees and understory, might be a better description.
It was used until the mid 1950s as a pastoral area, and the forest was used to run the shorn sheep from the shearing sheds in the area.

Many long term readers will know that its been noted that I have Grey Box sap running in my veins and a visit to the Eynesbury Forest is enough to rejuvenate the lowest of my spirits.

The local Eynesbury Conservation Group, you can look them up on Facebook, conduct a walk on a Sunday morning every two months. Usually led by the award-winning Chris Lunardi, a local identity; EE and I make it a point to turn up if at all possible.

Much to see in a day, so we cheated, and went back for a second look the following day.

Here are some of the Gems of the Forest.1811-28_DWJ_6412.jpg
Little Eagle, one of a pair. And try as I might I’ve not been able to locate their current nest site.

Peregrine Falcon, a new bird for me at Eynesbury, this one is working on short wings with quick flutters. Target— Tree Martins that are nesting in the forest. We found at least one carcass to confirm its skills.

A fledged Jacky Winter. Not from our usual pair, but one of two young birds on the wing. Well done Jacky


A trip through the Greybox will always be accompanied by the trills from the many Brown Treecreepers in the area. A threatened species, so its good to see them so active in the forest
At the lake, an Australasian Grebe was nurturing at least one new addition to the family

Big, bold, noisy and hungry. Sulphur-crested Cockatoos are working in the wattles that have seeded

“Our’ Jacky Winter young. The nest is near falling apart, and the young still have a few days to go to fledge. Jacky made it quite clear today, that we were not welcome. So we moved on quickly

Normally at this time of the year the forest would be ringing with the calls of hundreds of Dusky Woodswallows. Again, it is feared they are in decline, and this is the first season we’ve seen so few. But those that have come down, have wasted no time in getting off their first batch. This pair are feeding two young

Two Black Kites were in the air having the best time on the strong winds. it really deserves a blog page of its own to describe and show the antics of this couple of birds, but two should do eh?

And finally two of the Tawny Frogmouth from the Children’s Playground park. Other photographers, you know who you are Lyndell, seem to be able to get them on days when they are low down, in the open and all together. They seem to be quite happy to sit in the trees while kids play about on the swings and climbing things just metres below.

Another episode to come I think.


SnapShots: The Account of The Magpie and the Little Eagle

All good tales have a protagonist and of course the antagonist.  From Romeo and Juliet to Jane Eyre, or a Hitchcock movie, the ‘player of the first part’, has always to experience the consequences of decisions.

So as our hero the Little Eagle made its way across the paddocks in the sunshine, oblivious of the dangers, it was soon to learn that not all skies are clear, blue and free.


Continue reading “SnapShots: The Account of The Magpie and the Little Eagle”

Setting the Scene: A Day at the Office

Blogging 201 assignment for this week is Setting the Scene.
As it turns out, I was gearing up to reflect on a day at the Office yesterday.
The weather turned Kind.  Really Kind.  The kind of Kind, where the cameras practically pack themselves out of the cupboard and into the car, and sit there going, “Well…..” “Well…. are you ready to leave yet.”

We left early, and decided to take the longer walk down to the river behind the golf course. This is really old river flat, and the river makes a distinct “U” for several hundred metres and then a fine “S” movement that provides for some great old river flat dissected by the flow of the water. Water bird can abound, and there is still some good grass and tree cover to make life entertaining for the smaller bush birds.

Its a long way for EE to walk, but stoically she lead on.

The Office for the uninitiated is an area along the Werribee River a few kilometres from the mouth at Werribee South. It cuts through the rich river soil and in places the cliffs are 30-40 metres high.   The big birds – think raptors- enjoy the wind currents coming up the ramparts and I do believe a good case could be made that there are certain areas where its better, and a sort of ‘flyway’ or navigational line is drawn.  They seem to favour coming and going along those locations.

You just know its going to be a good day when as you drive in a Black-shouldered Kite is hunting close to the carpark, and just inside the walking track, Bernie the Brown Falcon is loafing in a favourite tree.

Next up a Little Eagle made several passes along one of the ‘flyway’ paths.  The Ibis, both White and Straw-necked use the same paths on the way to the feeding grounds along the river.

We sat with a family of Superb Fairy-wrens, and I will tell more of that tale on another blog, and were entertained by the feeding antics of a few Crested Terns. (another blog post methinks)

It was pretty awe-inspiring to be sitting by the river, dangling my feet over the river bank and sipping Earl of Grey, and enoying the time time in the sunshine with such a group of bids. And all less than 10 minutes from home.  A most amazing place.

Easy day, easy photography, easy birds, and Just Another Day at the Office really.

How’s that for setting the scene!


Black-shouldered Kite.
Black-shouldered Kite.

Berne the Brown Falcon
Bernie the Brown Falcon

A view along the sandy cliff face. The area we are heading is down toward the right hand side.
A view along the sandy cliff face. The area we are heading is down toward the left hand side.

Superb Fairywren. This is a helper bird. A male not yet left home.
Superb Fairy-wren. This is a helper bird. A male not yet left home.

Great Egret
Great Egret

Little Eagle
Little Eagle

White Ibis
White Ibis

Crested Tern against the cliff face.
Crested Tern against the cliff face.

Crested Tern, juvenile, on a wing sretch, while waiting for Mum to deliver food
Crested Tern, juvenile, on a wing sretch, while waiting for Mum to deliver food

Just a little bit of drama

The sun was shining and the clouds, ominous in shape and colour were moving slowly enough for me to conclude that I’d get an hour or so of sunshine.  Interested in the Flame Robins at the Office so down I went.

As it turned out the clouds and the rain moved faster than the traffic along the way, but even so, I managed a few minutes in the sun. No Robins.

Just as I was turning for home, out of no where two Little Eagles decided to song and dance across the sky.

I’ve probably said it before but the Office offers one great advantage when the birds are up.  On the top of the ridge that overlooks the old river plain, its possible to get eyeball to eyeball, and in this case it was pretty much so. The two battled it out pretty much at viewing height.

Now, I’m not sure if I’m looking at two birds in dispute over a territory arrangement, or a pair with bonding in mind.  The amount of wing turn, claw defence and the like, along with the plaintive ”pee, pee” whistle of the birds didn’t help either. In the end I just enjoyed.
Hope you do too.

The tale of the hapless Little Eagle

Sometimes you can always tell when a raptor is in the air. The birds go quiet, or there is a series of warning calls ring across the forest.   Or, the local magpies and ravens go into high gear agitation and  speed across the sky in pursuit of nemesis.

The latter was the case the other morning.  A local Little Eagle had been out and had collected itself a pretty fair meal, and was carrying it home tucked in its crop.  See the flickr shot here.

A little while later, the ravens and magpies were on high call and in hot pursuit.  The day was very windy, and it favoured the highly manoeuvrable and speedy ravens, so the poor Little Eagle copped a right pounding.  The wind gave the ravens a great climbing speed and they were able to outclass the raptor.  It on the other hand couldn’t get advantage as it had to keep losing height and changing direction.  It’s plaintive ‘peep’ call is pretty pathetic.

For some reason, Little Eagles seem to cop it from everyone.  Its diet rarely would include taking birds but it seems to get the rap from all the birds.  Such is the way of life on the wing.

Also hard to get them all in frame when you’ve only got the big lens handy and the wind is blowing a gale and wrenching it out of cold old hands.

The amazing ways of the bird world

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.


Jacky Winter on a hunting trip.  My first sight of the bird.
Jacky Winter on a hunting trip. My first sight of the bird.

What's this.  A nest? Two young nestlings snuggled down in the 'nest'
What’s this. A nest? Two young nestlings snuggled down in the ‘nest’

Proud Mum(?) comes to check on her brood.
Proud Mum(?) comes to check on her brood.

Lots of food needed for them to grow
Lots of food needed for them to grow

She watched over them for quite awhile after each feed.
She watched over them for quite awhile after each feed.

Open wide and I'll pop it in.
Open wide and I’ll pop it in.

Thanks Mum
Thanks Mum

Speckled Warbler.
Speckled Warbler.

Recently fledged Superb Fairy Wrens. Look at the tiny tails.
Recently fledged Superb Fairy Wrens. Look at the tiny tails.

One of a number of "helper' males, who where not at all pleased with my presence near the fledglings.
One of a number of “helper’ males, who where not at all pleased with my presence near the fledglings.

Bounding about Banyule

The Beginners Group of Melbourne Birdlife Australia were having a day at the Banyule Flats park,  and as luck would have it the Meetup Bird Photography group were going to be there in the afternoon.  Not one to have too to many things conflicting in the diary, (euphemism in there), we decided to go and enjoy the park side area.

Its been a great place at previous events and the weather looked ok, to so so, so we took the (now) considerable drive across town.

Over 45 active birders joined us and a good day was in the offing. Probably one of the highlights were excellent views (if somewhat average pictures on my part) of a Latham’s Snipe,  (a new one for me. Thank you)

The area also seemed to have more than its fair share of Tawny Frogmouth and we counted 7 for the day.

The folk from Meetup Bird Photography Group turned up, and we had a second attempt at some of the birds.

A Buff-banded Rail, eluded photography in the morning group, and didn’t improve in the afternoon group.  Some had good sightings and photos of a Sacred Kingfisher and we had some lovely views of the wing feathers on an Australasian Darter.

I was working with my newly acquired 70-200 mm f/2.8 and a Teleconverter TC1.7.  Made the field of view equivalent to about 500mm stopped down a little to keep sharpness and really had a good day, and got some super images without the need to lug heavy tripods into the field.   It will get to go on another expedition anytime soon.


Beautiful colours on the Straw-necked Ibis


Latham’s Snipe.  A very relaxed bird, but it could afford to be well out in the water and away from easy photography.


First find your Buff-banded Rail.


A young Kookaburra waiting for the family to return, perhaps with a nice meal.


Tawny Frogmouth


This one was against the light and really did take on the “branch” look and fooled quite a number of eager birdwatchers.


Tucked up tight against the tree.


Another failed Buff-banded Rail shot


Australasian Darter shows its wonderful wing patterns.

Counting at Mt Rothwell

One of the nice new pleasures we get from being in the area is to catch up with the Werribee Wagtails birding group.
They have a number of projects for bird counting and one them is at Mt Rothwell.

So we followed the roads out the back of Little River and met up with the eager bird counters.
Mt Rothwell is near the excellent You Yangs and is a fully enclosed area so there are some heavy duty gates to get through before the serious counting begins.

On this day, however there was a wonderful strong breeze at work, and it was the first really cool day after the heat so the big birds were up in numbers all looking to catchup on their dietary requirements.

The area also has a very strong educational programme and there are some great walking tracks covering the area which is mostly light scrub, trees and some great rolling hills with lots of boulders and rocky outcrops.

So we set off. I got side tracked by a Striated Pardalote, and spent about 10 minutes photographing it, and by the time I’d gotten back on the track. Well, the count and counters had moved on.  Easy enough, just go along the track thought I.  Till I came to a Y in the road.  Always take the ‘right’ one is the advice I’ve worked with over the years.  Not always good advice and in this case dead wrong.  After about 10 minutes I came to an open field and looking along the track not a counter to be seen. Wrong track I thought. So a bit of bush bashing got me across to the ‘right’ left track, and no sign of said counters.
After a bit of scouting about, I found that Arthur had left an “Arrow” of sticks at the next junction, and from there it was walk fast until I caught up.  But, the track swept around to the right, and I figured the track had to sweep back again. Remember its a fenced off area.  Easy said I.  Over the top of the rise in front of me, stand on the top of a rock and they should be visible.  So saying I did.  And.  Yep, there they were way over there.  More scrub work.

Needless to say EE was not to happy with my tardiness, and I think I got a black mark on my name from the walk leader who was getting a bit concerned about having to ‘find’ said missing dude.

No more Pardalotes for me for the rest of the day.

With the strong wind running the raptors, which include, Whistling Kites, Black Kites, Brown Falcons, Little Eagles and Australian Kestrels, were in their element.  Such a great site to see so many soaring birds.  And I didn’t have to get misplaced to see them.

In the afternoon we walked the opposite side of the park and came to a large open field.  “Hmm,” said I, “I’ve been here already once earlier today!”

Hopefully I’ll be allowed back next time.

Diamond Firetail on display.
Diamond Firetail on display.

This is why they are called Diamond "Firetails"
This is why they are called Diamond “Firetails”

A Striated Pardalote. Probably at the last one I'll photograph.
A Striated Pardalote. Probably at the last one I’ll photograph.

Juvenile Red-browed Finch at a small waterhole.
Juvenile Red-browed Finch at a small waterhole.

How to tell the difference between a Tree Martin and two Welcome Swallows.
How to tell the difference between a Tree Martin and two Welcome Swallows.

Over the tree tops at a great rate. This Brown Falcon was no doubt enjoying the strong winds
Over the tree tops at a great rate. This Brown Falcon was no doubt enjoying the strong winds

In coming
In coming

Brown Falcon on active duty
Brown Falcon on active duty

Little Eagle aerial performance

This morning while we were out looking for the elusive, but very vocal Scarlet Robin, we were entertained by a pair of Little Eagles in the air.  It would be nice to think that they were at play, but it seemed a very dangerous game they were engrossed in.

The pair are a light morph and a dark morph.  Each seemed to be about as aggressive. It just depended on who got the height.  There was lots of crossing one another’s paths, plenty of frontal attacks and several passes with long claws extended. This shot is about half way through the confrontation and shows the darker bird on its back talons extending up.

It might be courtship, or the two young at play, or perhaps a younger bird being chased away.   In the end the lighter one took a thermal to a height and then speared away to the south.  The darker bird circled a little longer, and then we lost it among the trees.  However it did show up at the carpark  later, but on its own.

Much to learn.

Two Little Eagles that are hard at work vying for best position for attack.

Young Little Eagles in a fair breeze

Over the past few months it has become one of my challenges to find where a pair of Little Eagles had nested this season.  I had a rough idea, but heavy chain fences and hard to get to locations had pretty well extinguished any chances of finding the location.  Over the past few weeks things have changed a bit as the young are now on the wing.

Lots of activity in the air today, and we spotted 4 birds.  One was definitely an older bird with lighter colouring and a tail that looked in need of a few feathers.  One other bird was a bit more elusive and could well have been a young bird or perhaps the other of the parent pair.

Two of them were young birds, lovely rich cinnamon and ginger colours.  They are masters of the air already and in a good breeze, they manoeuvred over our location in fine style.  The camera says that the closest I recorded was 35 metres, like it just passed overhead.  One made a pass over some small dense scrub at the end of a dam, and went down to just over the scrub height.  All hell broke loose as the various inhabitants including ducks, grebes, cormorants and a few assorted cuckoos, wagtails and the like took off in all directions with honks, squawks and chatter. It took a trip around the dam to gain height and had a second go, fluttering down like a leaf swaying from one side to the other just loosing height, but this time the wagtail contingent were ready and it got a right royal chattering and dive bombing from the squadron.

A couple of other shots are in the Little Eagle page here.

A very brown Little Eagle in flight over dam

Little Eagle loosing height by falling as a leaf from side to side, legs are down for control.