Little Visits: When I Grow up I want to be a Black-shouldered Kite

Ha!  Kids today have such ambitions.

For the queasy of stomach, time to click away.

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.

Where is Ripley when you need him?

Little Visits: They’ve Flown

For several previous days, it was apparent that the young Kingfishers were getting ready to fly. Interestingly, they are pretty much fully developed when they fly, and while the parents still top them up with food, they appear to have some hunting ability for easy to find prey

#kneeetoo, and I arrived early one morning and waited for the usual food supply activity. After a bit of time had passed, it was obvious that something had changed. A further hunt around the nest area, and following the adults, we soon found, the first of the flown young. It’s plaintive cry for food was taken care of by both the adults, and just occasionally would one venture to the nest opening and deposit a top up snack, so, a second one was still nest bound.

The following day, it too had broken free from the nest and we found them moving about the forest with ease.
A tree had caught fire a few days before and the local fire and park people had cleaned up the mess, and cut down the old red-gum tree, as the fire had eaten through the inside. So there was a lot of downed timber as well as cleared spaces, and the young Kingfishers were taken there by the adults to sharpen their hunting skills.
It was a bonus for your photographers as the venerable old gum had supplied some fine landing spaces for the Kingfishers and some of the larger trunk pieces a good place to sit and watch the activity.
As the morning went on, the young became engrossed in being fed, and learning to feed themselves and completely ignored out presence, often landing only an arm’s reach or so away. Sometimes too close for the lens to gain focus.

In the end, a mid-morning rain brought closure for our efforts and the young took off to find some shelter.


Little Visits: Kingfisher Feeding

Still continuing with the Kingfisher Nursery.
The young had been hatched about 3 weeks, and were now quite grown. But almost impossible to see as the tree opening had a rather large lump of wood that covered part of the hole, and it was difficult to get a glimpse.

Kingfisher young fly pretty much complete, in that they are capable in a few days of fledging to be self-sufficient. Although the parent birds keep up a good food supply.

Here then is a selection from that last week feeding.  

The setup is pretty much as described previously.  Main flash high and to the left. Using the Auto FP setting on the Nikon D500 to override the usual problem of working with faster shutter speeds.   On Auto FP, the SB910 Flash-units fire multiple times in what seems to be a continuous stream of light from the beginning to end of the exposure so all the sensitive chip receives an equal amount of light without any part ‘blacking’ out.   Downside is that the poor old SB’s have to drain the charge, and I can only get two or three frames per in or out flight. Then of course the battery has to recharge the unit, so it’s a few seconds delay.  I’m sure that Eric Hosking with his half ton of batteries or Steven Dalton in his studio set up didn’t have that problem 🙂



Little Visits: What’s on the Menu

Looks like WordPress have put the skids under my basic blogging style.

From now on it seems I have to work with ‘upmarket’, ‘ubeaut’ ‘user friendly’ styles and blocks.

All I wanted was somewhere to put text and photos.
Does not augur well for on this server.

Whinge over.

We soon became aware of working with the Kingfishers as they fed the young that the light was only really useful on the nesting site for about 45 minutes in the early morning, after that the sunlight slipped behind the river gums and we were going to be hampered by slow shutter speeds and high iso.

It’s been awhile since I lugged large electronic flash about on to a site for photographs, but loaded up each morning with a couple of units, a Better Beamer flash extender, and some connecting cables and I setup to get a little flash fill and also keep the shutter speeds high. No tech explanation, but the Nikon system’s use of flash was why we originally bought into the system. Oh, yeah and a bunch of manual focus lenses we were going to use, and now only have one of those left, and its been in the garage box for years! 🙂

High (about a 1 and 1/2 metre up) and to the left gave the most ‘natural’ effect, following the sunlight. But in the end I settled on high (about 1 metre) and to the right as giving me a slightly better colour rendition and better looking fill of the shadows.

As the weeks went by, the different types of food they delivered ranged from small bugs and centipedes, skinks, crustaceans, and every so often small fish.

This is a collection of about 3 weeks of images from that time. It’s just a handful of some of the opportunities we shared with the birds.


Little Visits: The Steady Procession

Having found our needle in the haystack, we made plans to visit regularly to see how things were progressing.

Because of the situation of the tree in question, it kind of determined an early morning start. Which in hindsight turned out to have several advantages. And of course the obvious dis. Getting up and rolling just after sunup.  Daylight saving is never high on my must have lists. As early starts have one other dis.  The day becomes very long.  Good excuse for a ‘nanna nap,’ I hear you cry. 🙂

The general layout of the area helped a lot too.  Kingfishers are pretty fussy about location, so there were several branches that became favoured perches for checking things out before delivering food, and also to get the right angle of attack to sweep into the nest, deposit the food and depart.

The average person in the bush would not notice ‘corridors’ through the trees, but no so Kingfishers.  It took us several visits to work out where they were coming from, and so could be prepared, and where, on leaving, they were disappearing to.

While they were still sitting eggs, the food visits were around the hour or so, usually a little longer. Once the young were hatched, the time between appearances was within 20 minutes or so.  Both adults were involved in the feeding.

Here is a selection from that first couple of weeks.  It was interesting to note that food sources were varied. After cleaning out the skinks, they moved on to centipedes and the like, and occasionally some aquatic fare as well.

Little Visits: Like a Needle in a Haystack

…. or a Kingfisher in a Forest.

“Found It”, the text message said.  Neil A. and I both smiled.
We had been photographing the nesting Hobbys and EE had decided to leave us, and venture further on down into the forest to look for a pair of nesting Sacred Kingfishers.
Sacred Kingfishers are not noted for putting up a Neon Arrow pointing the way, and to say that sacred could also be interpreted as ‘furtive’ would not be pushing the language too far.

Sacred Kingfishers in our area come down from up north in late Spring and after a lot of calling through the forest, select a suitable small opening in an old tree and move in.
They don’t spend a lot of time sitting around contemplating their next move. The most we usually see is a flash of green and blue disappearing into the forest.

The one upside is that they have a particular ‘skcrrrarrk’ call when they are near the nest.  They also are able to sit perfectly still for many minutes and because of their colour set will simply blend into the surrounding forest colours.

However, with several seasons under her belt, and eyesight and intuition that must have been handed down through the gene pool for generations, Neil and I both had our money on EE’s ability.

The ring on my phone, announced in the absolute minimum of words, that the hideout was located.  Neil had other places to go, and so we parted company and I headed on into the scrub. Now, my challenge was not to locate the Kingfisher nest, but rather to hopefully find EE, another needle in a very large haystack.

To my surprise she wasn’t too far from where we’d spied a bird a few days before, just off a main track.

Another succinct conversation. “There.”

Well, I could see a number of trees with holes that might have been useful. A pair of Red-rumped Parrots popped their heads out of one, and a fierce looking pair of Rainbow Lorikeets seemed to have another hole staked out. So I eliminated them from the search.

“He’s coming”, EE called, and in short time a male Sacred Kingfisher turned up on a branch not that far from where we were standing.

He sat.

Twirling a small skink in his beak, he sat.

Then a few wing-flaps and he had delivered the meal to a hole in an old tree just across a small dry water course.
“Oh, there.”

We concluded that he was feeding the good lady as she was sitting on the eggs. And perhaps an hour or so later she poked her head out, and then flew before we even had a chance to press a shutter.

Now we knew.
Time to plan a full scale Expotition as  Winnie the Pooh would say.
“Pooh tells Rabbit about the Expotition (which he says is a sort of boat, which might not be exactly right, but we shall have to wait and see.

But in the meantime we were watching it unfold.

Yawning as he contemplates going out for the next hunt, or laughing at the futile attempts to locate the nest.

Checking out the unwanted attention

Food up. Delivering top up snacks to the female sitting on the nest. It is quite a tiny hole.


Sometimes the transfer fails and he has to make another turn around.

All good. Time to go.

A quick peak to make sure all is clear and the like a bolt of green and blue she was out of the nest and away.

More as they say, to follow.

Sacred Time

Sacred Kingfishers on the Werribee River Park. 12 October 2017

There are billions of photographs out there. The world in no way 
needs more mediocre images. 
What the world does need is more passionate photographs, 
images that begin life conceived by the eyes, 
but expressed through the lens by the heart. 
If you are going to create better photographs, 
begin with things you care about deeply. : David DuChemin
You are Welcome Here.

“It’s a Sacred Kingfisher,” Mr An Onymous called. To no one in particular, and those around him just looked and nodded hoping that was the end of the outburst.

“Pee-p, Pee-p, Pee-p, Pee-p”.  It is a Sacred Kingfisher says Mr A.  But quietly, to himself.

He dropped me a note and I was glad of the info.  We’d been talking of their return the past few weeks.

I told EE.  She put on her skates and was ready to go.   Those who follow her Flickr posts will be well aware of the time, energy and effort that she put into the pair the past season. It is, “Something she cares deeply about”. And being passionate, as David DuChemin is wont to remind, “Photographing those things you are passionate about tells me several things. It shows me more of you. It shows me more of the thing you love. And it makes better photographs.”

So we went.  Now the access road to the “Office”—Werribee River Park— for new readers, has been closed these last six weeks or so.  The road was ripped up by hoons and 4wds when it was wet, and the road had become nigh on impassable for normal vehicles.  Think Sir Perceval—i20— for new readers. But a check the day before had shown Parks Vic had sent in the heavy duty toys and the road had been re-graded, and surfaced and was a version of Dorothy’s Yellow Brick Road, for all the Wizard of Oz fans. So donning our “Ruby Slippers” —or Silver ones if you’ve read the book— we set off in search of Oz, or Sacred Kingfishers if they turned up first.

Continue reading “Sacred Time”

Off to a Flying Start

Haven’t been in the doldrums.  It’s just that there is so many things happening.
Been enjoying Mike over at The Online Photographer  See here for “When things Go Wrong”.
Go on, have a look, you deserve a smile. Especially the comment on alarm clocks that don’t turn off!

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.

A wonderful blend of grey and ginger
A wonderful blend of grey and ginger

Continue reading “Off to a Flying Start”

An easy day out

Friend of mine once said in conversation as we chatted about my time in the bush,  “Bird photography is pretty easy, you just sit in a deckchair and photograph any birds that happen to come by.”  And today, for once, he was right. Thanks for the advice John.

Mr An Onymous had looked at the weather maps, the weather forecasts, the icon ladies and I guess in the end, just plain looked out the window, and declared we should take a trip to Point Cook Coastal Park on Friday.  Sounded good as we’d not been out that way since the end of the Flame Robin season, most of the birds were well on their way back by mid of September.

Meet you down there, and so we did.


Continue reading “An easy day out”

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.

Goschen Diary Day #2

My mate, Mr An Onymous and his family had also travelled up for the week and we met up and chatted over a few cold sherbets as to a plan for the following day.

Seeing as there were a few pressing family events that needed attention, and because it was going to be a hot day, we decided an early morning start at  Goschen would be the go.  By 6:30am the car was loaded, with drinks, cameras and bodies.  We set off.  The simplest run, is to follow the sealed roads, but we opted, (well I was driving) to go out past the Airport and then pick up one of the backroads to Goschen.   From yesterday, you’ll recall that we travelled that way often on pushbikes in the sweet savour of youth.

Besides from previous years, we’d had a bit of raptor success out near out mate Steve’s place and nothing ventured…

We had just turned past the airport when I spotted an Australian Kestrel, in the early morning sunshine. At this stage the sunlight was running horizontal with the ground.  “Fishfryer” lighting for the studio buffs.  Hadn’t realised, we parked on the major highway to somewhere, as the amount of cars going by was a bit awkward both from parking and photographing points of view.  Mr An, got busy, while I tried to park the car off the roadway.  No mean feat on a  tiny country road, built for tractors and harvesting toys.

I’d also been ‘clever’ enough to attach a TC1.7 to the 300mm to ‘save’ time, and now was having trouble handholding the 500mm resultant lens.  In the end, either because of boredom with the game, or because it saw prey, the Kestrel departed, and we moved on to Goschen.

Mostly the pictures tell the rest of the story.  A huge flowering gum near the old tennis court played host to a variety of honeyeaters, and we spent quite  a bit of time just enjoying their antics.

Then back on to the main road and a detour to the Little Murray Weir.  Another of my childhood pastimes.  Last year we’d been lucky and got some great shots  of a Sacred Kingfisher on a wire here, and to both our surprises, as we stopped the car, a blue flash went by and there on the wire was.   A Sacred Kingfisher.  How do you account for that bit of co-incidence.

On the way back to the main road, I saw a number of small birds dive into a box-thorn bush, and slowed, then stopped. Look as I might, I couldn’t see any, and Mr An was getting coffeitis by then, until.  Out from the tree behind the bush, rose a beautiful Wedge-tailed Eagle, before I could say, “Did you see the Wedget…..”  He was out of the car and had the first 6 shots off.   It took a circuit round the paddock, located a thermal, and before you could say, “It’s found a thermal’, the black and brown bird had  risen on those wonderful wings to an amazing height.
Suitably impressed we retired for coffee.

Every one gets up early.  Australian Kestrel, female, in the first shafts of morning light.
Every one gets up early. Australian Kestrel, female, in the first shafts of morning light.

Juvenile Black Honeyeater
Juvenile Black Honeyeater

Singing Honeyeater. Another Zorro Bird
Singing Honeyeater.
Another Zorro Bird

Tiny red wattle behind the eye on a White-fronted Honeyeater.  Most limey a nomad to the area.
Tiny red wattle behind the eye on a White-fronted Honeyeater. Most likely a nomad to the area.

A Red-rumped Parrot in flight.
A Red-rumped Parrot in flight.

Mr Hooded Robin. A pleasure to photograph
Mr Hooded Robin. A pleasure to photograph

Long rows of harvested wheat leave interesting patterns. Only a Magpie can work them out.
Long rows of harvested wheat leave interesting patterns. Only a Magpie can work them out.

One year, two year.  Same bird, same wire, same photographer.
One year, two year. Same bird, same wire, same photographer.

Wedge-tailed Eagle looking for a thermal.
Wedge-tailed Eagle looking for a thermal.

Goschen. A little bird oasis in a very dry part of the country.

The little map dot name “Goschen” has quite a reputation among birdos who are in the know.

This little area of scrub only a couple of football grounds around has at various times of the year an opportunity to spot a large number of species without much trouble.  See some of the many blogs that tell tales. See Ian Smissen’s recent post.

It is not far from Lake Boga, and only 15 minutes drive from Swan Hill. We were bound there for a family weekend event. (Some would use the term Holiday, but I cannot understand why!)

Mr An Onymous and his lens were there as well, so we plotted a day at Goschen. Only trouble was the weather. The day we travelled up it was 40C.  About 120 in the water bag as my old Dad used to say. So we went to Goschen early early in the morning.

And inspite of the heat, and the overcast sky the birds did play a bit of a treat for us.  A Hooded Robin pair were probably the single highlight. But that is not forgetting the Honeyeaters, and Treecreepers and an Australian Hobby. A small flock of Budgerigars were a nice addition to the day. We also did a bit of a diversion down to the Tresco Nature Reserve (Its about 10 mins from Goschen) and scored some Blue-faced Honeyeater as Blueb-bonnet Parrots for our efforts.
Being an ex local lad, I figured we’d follow some back roads to Kerang, pick up a pie at Gray’s Bakery and have lunch there. One of the back roads is called just that. Back Quarry Road. Its really only a link for the farm machinery between paddocks, but has a good stand of mallee on one side.
The new lens played a great note and he got a super series of a Pied Butcher Bird being fee.  Also a few Mallee Ringnecks and Blue Bonnets.

We made a futile attempt at Lookout Lake, and ended up at the pie shop. Sure enough still great pies after all those year.  Sign said 200metres to Bakery. It took us about 3 goes round the block to figure it out. Sort of missed the big building labelled “Bakery”. No wonder we can’t find birds.

A stop at the Kerang Ibis rookery seemed sensible, and as soon as we got of out the car the call of a Whistling Kite pair echoed across the carpark. We located them well down the ‘nature’ track by the lake.  Too many trees for great shots, but lovely to hear them exchanging calls.

Last stop for the day was the Little Murray Wier, and again the big lens was working hard. And a Nankeen Night Heron and then a patient Sacred Kingfisher rounded out a nice day.

Ont the way back past the Swan Hill Aerodrome (I was thinking Kestrels) we came across Steve (who drives harvesters at Quambatook-, but that’s another story) and his front yard. In the air above said driveway was a couple of Whistling Kites. Nice. We went back out in the late evening sunshine on spec. and.  There were Ten  Kites up over the recently cut wheat/hay/lucern.  Spect– tack-ular.

Goschen even in the middle of a heat wave still had enough to keep us busy.

Hooded Robin
Hooded Robin

White-browed Babbler showing off its very long beak
White-browed Babbler showing off its very long beak

Brown Treecreepers in deep discussion about people with long lenses interrupting a perfectly good days outing.
Brown Treecreepers in deep discussion about people with long lenses interrupting a perfectly good days outing.

A very patient Sacred Kingfisher, as we manoeuvred into the best spot for a shot.
A very patient Sacred Kingfisher, as we manoeuvred into the best spot for a shot.

Whistling Kite in the evening sunshine near Swan Hill.
Whistling Kite in the evening sunshine near Swan Hill.

A turn of the season and the Sacred Kingfishers are back for the summer

A walk about down past the carpark at Woodlands at the moment will mostly bring disappointment for the numbers of birds has indeed diminished.  Much nesting going on, so even the Thornbills are quiet.

After a session with Lochie and Will o’Scarlet, in which Will is definitely the bird with the upper hand.  Poor old Lockie with wings flapping raced across the open area near the power-lines, but was mowed down by the speed of the Scarlet Robin. Still he is not taking it laying down. He managed to feed Primrose a few tasty morsels in between bouts of defence against the Scarlet.  So I suspect that she is well into nesting, only seeing glimpses of her among the prickly wattle.

I moved on down to the dam, and an Australian Reed-Warbler has taken up residence. First one, I’ve ever heard there. Being able to see them is either and art or beginners luck.  Did however manage to get a glimpse as it powered from one set of reeds to another. A blue/cyan flash distracted me, and I thought, “Sacred Kingfisher” , it about time they put in an appearance, but scanning across the trees, only revealed a number of Tree Martins, and I put it down to being one of them.

Then a splash, and another flash by and it was definitely a Sacred Kingfisher. That’s considered good luck by the original peoples, so, I took it as a good sign too. It ate something so fast I didn’t get a shot, then it took several splash baths and did some drying off and preening.  The light, and the small twigs and leaves aren’t much help, but at least I got a few records of this lovely bird as it went about its business.

There was a lot of tail flicking, which I interpret as a visual sign to the other mate, but I wasn’t good enough to see it today.
They nested up in the Sugar Gums last year, so no doubt will make the dam a good fishing spot again.

Sacred Kingfishers return to Woodlands for the summer season

After a little snack, time for a bath and a dry off in the sunshine