It’s been awhile since I posted, and I’ve been hesitant to upload this long set of picture. It’s not that I can’t edit them down to say just a few, but each carries a different aspect of the story.
So it’s publish, or perish.
+D4, our Ballarat-based granddie invited us up for a weekend, promising all sorts of picture opportunities. And it has to be said—delivering.
Toward the end of the day, he took us to a new housing estate area to look at a pair of nesting Black-shouldered Kites, and as we needed to be back in time for a meal were making our way through the partially built houses, when EE exclaimed, “Kestrel”. And there she was sitting on a street lamp, hunting for small insects, spiders and crickets among the grasses between the houses.
The late evening light broke through the clouds and the bird, which had been working the area while the tradies had been busy all day, was not fussed by a couple of photographers getting in the way.
Time just rolled away, as did the images on to the memory cards. I lost count of the strikes, but each one was short glide from security fence, street light, or dumper bin, into the grass.
There are a lot of shots here, and I partly apologise, but if I cut it down to just the stars of the show, then the magic of the moment would be lost.
After the last couple of ranty posts, I thought I fine day at the plant might be a good idea. 🙂
The Western Treatment Plant is about the size of Phillip Island and to travel all the tracks and explore all the possible bird sites can easily consume an entire day, and a goodly chunk out of the fuel budget for the week. 🙂
We tend to be a bit selective about the areas we travel through. Preferring to stop at one location for a time and see what is moving about. It also depends a lot upon the weather. Being a flat farmland, there is little shelter from high winds or the heat of midday.
So we tend to go either late in the afternoon when conditions are good, or early in the morning. Morning can be hard at first as the long drive in from the main road is directly into the rising sun. But once in the bird area it becomes easier.
We had decided to go on the morning as the weather looked promising, and if the wind picked up as predicted then back to the Highway Lounge and a Gerry Coffee.
Here then is a look at how the morning, and the birds progressed.
Our local pair of Black-shouldered Kites go about the job of enlarging the species as though they are the only ones committed to the programme.
This past week has been constant rain, high winds and freezing cold conditions. But Belle has a job to do, and somehow through all that inclement weather she has stuck to the nest.
We too have been hunkered down. Looking out the door or window at the incessant rain, and feeling the cold creeping into the bones has not only been debilitating, but has dimmed any idea of being able to see how the Kites have been battling.
This morning, a look through the window, showed a few patches of blue-sky with no immediate rain. ” Let’s go see, and if it changes, we can always come home or go get a coffee,” EE said.
And as the good Banjo said, “We went.”
Mind, two people dressed for an Antarctic Expotition, or as a friend said the other day, Two Michelin Men, might not have been elegant, but at least kept the biting wind somewhat at bay.
At first it was all quiet, but then we noted that Belle was now sitting higher in the nest and there was white-wash on the branches below. So no doubt the young are beginning to grow.
In pretty quick succession Bronson arrived with first one, then two, a third and then fourth mouse. So he is doing his best to keep the high quality rocket-fuel going into little tummies and also keeping Belle satisfied.
In the end the Michelin men retreated to iAmGrey-heater turned on, and headed for coffee.
No doubt by the next time we can venture out, we might get the chance to see a tiny head or two.
We had ventured to Ballart for a family shindig. Normally such events would see us travelling to the family acres, but this was a special time and the shorter trip was appreciated. Being in Ballarat meant we were both keen to see if we could find the Great Crested Grebes on the lake. Sort of a busman’s holiday.
On the first evening we were to meet with some of the family for an informal dinner and I decided that a quick trip to the lake area before leaving for the main event would be useful in gaining an understanding of the the light around the lake. On pain of death, I left the cameras behind as being late to the aforementioned dinner would release the Wrath of Khan.
So I quicky drove past and gained a lay of the land (or light in the case) as I passed by the area known locally as “Fairyland”, I saw what appeared to be an unusual Raven running across the grass. On second glance I exclaimed, “Chough”. That was enough for me to park iAmGrey and go and have a looksee. Sure enough it was a White-winged Chough. Now Chough are very much communal birds, a flock is at least 7-8 birds and often more. They need that many birds to make a succesful nesting season. They are also known to abduct birds from other flocks to increase their numbers. They build a communal nest, each one bringing its supply of mud for the process. Once the eggs are laid, they also take it in turns at sitting. If there is an order of who gets to sit I’ve never figured it out, nor I suspect have they. I’ve seen three or four of them hold long meetings around the nest discussing whose turn it is to sit. The same with food. They will all bring back about the same time and like a conveyor belt each move up the branch to provide the young with their tasty morsel. Again arguements seem to be the order of the day, as they try to convince the young that theirs is the prettiest and therefore the most succulent of offerings.
So I expected to find a family of Choughs around the lake. But.
After a few minutes my score was—One Chough.
The following morning saw us both arrived armed with cameras and keen to look for Grebes. We had the good fortune to bump into a local who seemed to know a bit about the birds in the area and was happy to share with us. After a bit of information about the Kookaburra that couldn’t Kooka call, and that the Grebes had moved out to the reeds further in the lake, I asked about the Chough.
It seems that “Charlie the White-winged Chough” (Charlie as it could be either male or female) had turned up about two years ago and had stayed. The conjecture was that Charlie had a damaged wing and couldn’t fly and that the flock had moved on leaving Charlie to its own devices and fate. Young Choughs are gormless and it might have been separated from the family group and somehow they moved away, or perhaps it was frightened by some event and was unable to locate the family. I’ve seen them caught up in downed branch leaves and need an adult to help free them. Also, Charlie didn’t call out at all while we were there so that adds another level of complexity to the tale. Charlie might have sulked in the corner for a little bit, but was soon seen moving about in the parklands sharing the space with the Swamphens and Coots and humans and their dogs and small children.
We didn’t see Charlie again that morning but as we had dipped out on the Grebes as well, we were back in the gorgeous evening light to have another attempt. This time, Charlie was in residence and we watched and photographed as it moved about over the picnic areas helping itself to various insects buried among the garden mulch. It must also be noted that while Charlie did not fly it very quickly scampered from one location to another and seemed to take a particular dislike to Swamphens. With much raising of wings and aggressive stance. The swamphens invariably gave it space.
We were domile in a unit across from the lake so the following morning were back again for a brief period. The beauty of the early morning still air was a highlight of the day. Our grandson was going to take us on a tour of several of his favourite birding spots and we took the opportunity to again look for the Grebes. This time we did spot several. Way, way out there among the far flung reeds and so not much photo possibility. “Look,” cried EE, “the Chough just flew into the tree in the lake.” And
Sure enough there was Charlie, out in a tree in the water, where the Fairyland area enters the lake proper. So, it seems that flying is a skill that Charlie has. Now, is Charlie good at it? Well… Choughs are not exactley the greatest aeronauts so it would be hard to say if Charlie has diminished skills, but the tree is a fair way out in the water, and as its swimming skills are negligible, flying seems to work.
A couple of visiting lasses were discussing the id of some Little Pied Cormorants, and I offered some ideas, and also showed them the White-winged Chough. A quick check on Uncle Google and they were happy to confirm I was right—It was a White-winged Chough, but where was the white on the wings? Good question. And I explained that white is only shown in flight, and right on cue, Charlie took off flew down the Fairyland waterway and landed about 400m down in the garden area. White-wings and all.
Choughness is so very complicated , and hard to explain, and I’ve long ago abandoned trying to understand these birds, but as long time readers will know, I have a real affinity for these amazing birds and was thrilled to have a new chapter to add to my limited store of knowledge. Thanks Charlie.
I was going solo at the Western Treatment Plant. #kneetoo was tucked up in her wide view bird-hide at the hospital, and as the sun was shining in a clear blue sky, I thought a quick trip to check to see if any Flame Robins could be making the most of the weather and the paddocks at the Plant.
However after a bit of fruitless searching it was obviously not going to be my day for robins.
A final quick trip around the “T Section” area just in case a Brown Falcon or two might be present and then home was my plan.
As I unlocked the entry gate to the area, I heard the long rasping call away off in the distance of Brolga. A scan around the horizon and it was not likely I’d spot any as the calls had been a long way off, and had now stopped.
I prepared to shut the gate and another birdo was approaching to go out, so I held the gate open and said I’d lock it as they left. Then, just as I swung the gate across the road, that rasping cry filled the air, and this time I’d id’d the location. Sure enough in the air were three Brolga. Then as the shapes grew more distinct, it was likely that they were not only coming in my direction, but would perhaps make a pretty close pass by.
Locking the gate, I grabbed the camera and hoped that the pass would be on the sunny side of iAmGrey.
The more I watched, the more I became aware they would be using the roadway behind me as sort of navigation aid, and would pass right over the top of me.
And they did.
They disappeared behind one of the bunds, and I wondered where they had ended up.
Satisfied with the fly by, I went on to look along the roadways. Time for a cuppa, so I pulled up at one of the cross tracks and pulled out the doings.
Then the croaking call rattled over the ponds and I looked a bit further along the track and the pair were in head stretch calling mode, and engaging in a little pair bonding. Cuppa forgotten, I moved along the track for a better looksee.
They settled down to some preening and feeding and the juvenile with them was feeding in one of the shallow ponds.
I went back for my Cuppa and sat and watched until they moved off the pondage and up on to the track, and moved further along to continue their morning routine.
Satisfied, I packed up and headed off for a visit with the patient.
This is just about straight out of the “Ripley’s Believe it or Not!” archives.
It was a cold wet morning. However #kneetoo was keen to see how the little Kingfishers were progressing, and we only had a narrow space in the ‘very busy’ diary.
Knowing they had been on the wing for several days, our probability of anything other than a chance encounter were slim to say the least.
Nothing around the now abandoned nest site, nor by the old blackened stump training ground.
I managed a sighting of a small blue blur in the forest and headed over for a looksee. And sure enough a young one perched among the branches of a black wattle.
Then with no warning, an adult turned up with quite a large bundle. And at first it was difficult to make out. Not a large skink or beetle.
Are they really legs, or is it a fish tail I could see?
Then she flipped it about in the air and it was a mouse! No way!
At first the young one didn’t seem all that interested, but after a few more flips and attempts to turn it round so the small end would go down first the adult presented it to the young one.
Now on an aside, your average field-mouse is around 20gm. Your average grown Sacred Kingfisher might come in a touch over 30gm. So I’m guessing the little dude was at best, 25gm. UPDATED: HANZAB give the bird a weight of 55g which would be a more reliable weight I think. Still give the little dude 35gm and it’s going to be a 55gm tubby blue blob for awhile. 🙂
It took the mouse head first, not headfirst, even that suits. 🙂
And so began a 10-15 minute battle for the young one to eventually ingest the mouse.
On quite a number of occasions, it had to stop, and I guess catch its breath, or simply rearrange the internal spaces to make space.
A couple of times it began swaying back and forth on the branch, and I feared it was going to choke and fall off the branch. Not much in my skill set for resuscitating a downed Kingfisher.
And slowly—very slowly—the mouse began to disappear.
After it was all over, a tubby little kingfisher gave a few shakes of its body, to rearrange all the feathers and no doubt the internals, and then sat. More likely squatted.
A few minutes quietly sitting to let the digestion process begin, and a tubby blue blur sped off through the forest.
Here we are a week or so out of a nearly 4 month lockdown. Depends of course where you start counting, but we were in one of the ‘naughty’ suburbs, so our privileges were removed a bit earlier than the rest of the city.
For EE and I, a run down to “The Office” was always going to be high on the must do first list.
So given a halfway decent burst of sunshine and we were off.
The one thing that we noted first was the amount of grass that covered normally bare areas. A distinct lack of large kites, Black and Whistling, and how well some of the smaller scrub birds had done getting an early nesting in.
Now that we have the chance to get out and about, well at least for 25km, it might seem strange that I’d start off by posting some activity on the river where we’ve been doing our daily walk.
Two things have become apparent on our little journeys.
Firstly: How many Magpie Larks are at work on nests or have already flown young.
Secondly: The numbers of Willie Wagtails, all with nests quite close to one another, 50m or so is not unusual, and they have all begun about the same time, and most of them are now fledging, or soon will be, their first clutch. And surprisingly for Willies, none so far seem to have suffered predation by larger birds. We have about 6 nests for sure, and several others that have yet to be discovered.
It was time to take a look at how things were going, and to our delight one pair had managed to get their three young on the wing, either that morning, or the day before, as the young were still ‘getting their wings’.
Another pair, with perhaps the best nest location, under an overhanging branch now overgrown with a creeper, also just got their two on the wing. They seemed content to hop from branch to branch among the creeper and the branches.
Added the “Couch” heading to my normal visits and journeys. We are as it happens, at home on the couch, iPad in hand.
So come with me on a journey back in time. Shades of “Back to the Future —another couch-time activity.
We had been, in early Feb and March, working with a pair of Black-shouldered Kites at nest. The day the first lockdown took effect, the young had only just flown. And then we didn’t see them for over three weeks. By then they were well advanced.
It was a bit of a missed photographic opportunity as the nesting site lended itself both from great light and open areas, for some really clear shots of the birds as they began their life on the wing.
Time passed, and restrictions lifted and we went back to the usual haunt to see if they were still around.
No. Well gone.
A couple of weeks later we returned with Flame Robin arrivals in mind.
EE spotted way, way, way down the paddock—even for her— a flash of white in the sky and declared that the young kites were probably way down the fence-line in the distance.
Robins, or Kites?
We set out along the fence-line.
The mice population among the bracken must have been very good as all three quickly scored a meal while we were approaching.
They settled down in among some of the small trees to enjoy a feast.
Out of nowhere, Dad arrived on the scene and took station on one of the higher branches. But rather than welcoming him, they harassed him for food.
However he wasn’t taking any orders. His Uberfood days were over.
The interesting thing that we noted was the colour change, each one was well into moulting the subtle grey and white and the ginger colours were being replaced.
I guess having some more time at home, I can work through the files and find some images, or sets that normally I’d just leave to mellow on the disk. A tweak here, a slider or two there, a brush on a mask there, and ‘hey presto’.
Mentioned a trip a few weeks ago to the You Yangs.
One of the highlights of the morning was an encounter with a family group of Varied Sittella.
These charming little birds are not always so easy to find, and because of their hyper-active approach to feeding, are always on the move. It might be I guess that they have to search through all the bits of loose bark on a branch looking for a tid-bit, and with so many birds all at work at the same time, its really the quickest down the branches. Sittellas have an unique approach to feeding, starting at the top of the tree and then working their way down. Treecreepers on the other hand, usually start lower down and work upwards.
What was interesting is that this family had several young, recently fledged with the party. The young ones preferred to sit together and preen, while the adults did all the work.
They moved so quickly that we lost them for a short time, and while we went right, they apparently had gone left.
Big Rock is just what it says, a very big rock. There is a track around the base, and its about 20 minute stroll. The birds were working primarily in Black wattle that grows up along the base of rock. When the rains come, good water flows from the rock, but at other times, the area is particularly dry so much of the wattle never grows to maturity. Which suits the insects that the Sittellas feed. So it works all round.
One of the first times EE and I have been out just looking about.
We had been hoping to find some Eastern Yellow Robins, and or some evidences of the Scarlet Robins at the You Yangs, and EE also wanted to visit her water feature near the Big Rock carpark.
In the end, the big surprise was a family of Sittella, and their young recently fledged clan. I’m going to do a separate blog on that encounter.
In the meantime in spite of all the disaster that is around, and the challenges of the rest of summer ahead of us, it was good to see the birds had new life on the way.