The weather was kind, coolish and a tad of sunshine to keep things pleasant.
Good bird action in some areas, and of course a few areas that were a bit barren for birds.
All in all a good start for Wagtails for 2021
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.
It’s been dry. Last decent soaking rain was over 2 months back.
EE is getting on quite comfortably with her walking aid, now dubbed “Dolly the Trolley”. So she said, that we might take a trip down to the You Yangs, and have a walk on some of the tracks around the carpark. Sounded good, but its dry, very dry. So I didn’t have much hope of finding many birds.
Suitably loaded with morning tea and a banana smoothie, and securing Dolly into the boot of the car, we set out. And what a fine morning the weather had put on. No wind and an enjoyable warm sunshine.
We arrived at the carpark at Big Rock and Dolly immediately sprang into action. First sighting was a Nankeen Kestrel, then a Brown Goshawk, and two families of White-winged Choughs. And to my amazement, the Scarlet Robin pair that normally are in residence. Off to a good start. Dolly is good about this, as EE can go to a spot, and instead of having to stand or sit awkwardly on a log or stone, Dolly is ready and willing. So a comfortably seated EE is a happy EE.
While she sat in the shade, I looked about a bit to see if any of the usual suspects were about. By the time I got back, EE was under a tree, near a piece of pvc pipe running out of the ground. And a red plastic cup! (?)
She had noted a couple of wrens inspecting the pipe, and concluded, rightly so, that it sometimes held water, and the birds were looking for a drink. Enterprisingly, she located the ominous red cup, filled it from the handbasin at the toilet, poured it into the end of the pipe, so the water dripped out slowly into a tiny pool she had created among the rocks, and…
Add water—Instant Birds!
They must be able to smell it.
Or hear the tinkle tinkle of it dropping. But within a few minutes, she had quite a mixed flock on hand. Only problem that the water was only good for a couple of minutes. Which is when I arrived. Now, we’ve seen the pipe dozens, if not hundreds of times, and never taken a lot of notice. But from the location, I figured it was the run-off from the handbasin at the toilet block. Let’s see. Hold down the tap, let a couple of litres of water run down and go see.
Slowly a tiny trickle of water appeared, and then a stream. And before you could say, “What a waste of Water!!!!”, we had flocks of Red-browed Finches, Spotted Pardalotes, New Holland Honeyeaters, Silvereyes, White-naped and Yellow-faced Honeyeaters, a few familes of Superb Fairywrens, Brown Thornbills, Red Wattlebirds, and two bossy Magpies. Then to top it off both Scarlet Robins made a quick appearance.
So, we sat, occasionally egressing to push some more water down the pipeline, and drank a cuppa, enjoyed the fun, and felt pretty happy that they were able to enjoy such a precious commodity. When a few Crimson Rosellas came by to inspect, we thought we were made. But the Rosellas didn’t stay. Likewise a passing Grey Fantail, but being photographed was not on its todo list.
Satisfied with a morning’s work, and two memory cards bulging with images, it was time to leave. I gave the tap a run for an extra minute or so and didn’t feel the least stressed about ‘wasting’ water. The birds were more than happy.
We loaded EE and Dolly back in the car and went for a well-earned coffee at Gary’s at the local servo.
It was one of those mornings when I looked out the window when I got out of bed and it looked clear. No Wind.
Bonus. Didn’t take long to work out what to do. Check again, just in case. Yep, no sun up yet. Crisp twinkling stars set against a perfect black velvet setting. Good to be alive.
Mind, most of the apprehension of the morning was based on dire predictions of Noahic proportion winds and rain from the weather prognosticators on the telly the previous evening. But most times they leave me amazed at the amount of descriptive words that can be used to create fear and despair among the masses, when it comes to describing the following day’s weather.
It’s been awhile since we’ve been into the greybox at Woodlands Historic Park.
As we had a need to travel out to the northern subs today, we hummed and hahhed about making the extra effort to swing by Woodlands. Mostly the conversation was about the weather.
Neither of us being partial to walking about in the rain, or being blown backwards by strong wings, nor suffering from the interminable porridge skies we’ve been experiencing the past week or so.
So says she, “Why don’t we put the cameras in, and take a late lunch at Greenvale Shopping Square and if when we come out, the weather is reasonable—at term to be defined by looking at the sky and the action of the wind in the trees—and decide then.?”
I suppose it was not to be unexpected that after finding some Flame Robins at The Office last week, that we would have to venture further afield.
A rare find of a Rose Robin at Woodlands Historic Park, must have got the inquisitive out and about, as every person we met today asked, “Have you seen the Rose Robin?” Sadly we had to respond “No”. We did manage to get an indication that some Flame Robins had been seen down near the hospital dam, and so like the Banjo suggests, “We went”.
But no luck. Did you remember to pack the bird karma, she asked.
At this time of the year I always expect the Bandicoot Hilton, Backpaddock to be firmly locked from mere mortals, but today it was open and so we ventured in.
Been a bit frantic with a number of projects the past week or so, and have a bit more to add to Studio Werkz.
EE suggested a bit of a break from serious bird photography, and an early morning at the You Yangs Park sounded about right.
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.
Gallery: Click to see full size.
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.
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.
Female Scarlet Robin
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.
Wedge-tailed Eagle taking its pet Whistling Kites for an early morning flight.
Female Flame Robin
Flame Robin Male
EE Enjoys Denonshire Tea at the launch at Woodlands Historic Homestead.
One of the highlights of Woodlands Historic Park is a stand of Grey Box Forest that is on a ridge running from Gellibrand Hill. Probably, once in older times the Grey Box was a predominate stand in the area. The Grey Box on the ridge line has survived, again, probably because the area would be difficult to cultivate.
Running along the ridge is pipeline for the nearby airport so I’ve named the ridge. Pipeline Ridge. Over the years, the open forest has provided a grand home, and a fine stop over point for Red-capped, Scarlet and Flame Robins. One season I came into a clearing on Ridge and there among the great Grey Box was at least 70 robins at work on the moss-beds in the clearing.
I love Grey Box Forest. I’ve said it before, but I think I have Grey Box sap in my veins.
These wonderful trees are survivors. No heavy rainfall areas for them. A low rain fall, and a gritty stony shallow earth, and they are at home. And so one of the great things I love about Grey Box is their perseverance and their steadfastness and their survival against the odds.
The average Grey Box is quite slow-growing, it earns it durable title over many long years.
It makes a tall upright and generally “Y” shaped spread. In fact up on Pipeline is an old downed warrior that I’ve used as a sit spot, and I first called it the “Y Tree” before I realised that was the general shape of Grey Box.
The bark is a grey (funny about that), fine and flaky. Thinner branches are smooth.
As it grows it develops, as do many eucalypts holes that become home or nesting locations for a variety of birds. The forest area also developes a finer understory, that can be very open, as it is on Pipeline or quite dense as in a few locations in the Eynesbury Grey Box forest.
The cool understory make fine homes for both Black Swamp Wallabies, and Eastern Grey Kangaroos. When I was a little bloke the Kangaroos were called Forrester. Which I figured was a typographical mistake and what was meant was Forest. And so for a long time in my youth the were “Forest Kangaroos”. Ahhh!!!
When the bandicoot program was established at Woodlands a few years back the Predator-free fence was put in place and cut the territory of the only Black Swamp wallabies in half. I’ve often wondered how the ones that ended up on the outside of the fence fared against the foxes and feral dogs in the area. I’ve no idea either how many were cut off on the inside, and try as I might I’ve only been able to locate two that I can recognise. There might well be more, as one pair of eyes can only see so much.
Understory in our wonderful Grey Box includes a lot of layover space for the Eastern Greys, and they do a fine job of keeping some areas quite scrub free, and at the same time contribute a fair amount of droppings.
I have a theory, and no budget to prove it, that the composting of the droppings and leave litter promotes the growth of a small saltbush type plant that has a bright red tiny berry. I theorise that the tiny berry is food for some insects that the Robins consume and thus collect carotene.
The red of the Robins comes from a class of pigments called carotenoids. Carotenoids are produced by plants, and are acquired by eating plants or by eating something that has eaten a plant.
For several years at the beginning of the bandicoot project in the Back Paddock at Woodlands, the Kangaroos were removed. (They eat grass, that is the home of the endangered bandicoots. No grass, no home, no bandicoots).
But the number of layover areas, and the resultant saltbush deteriorated over the next few years, and the Robin numbers that we saw decreased. And at the moment, I believe, (well I’m allowed a theory or two), that as the plant and the carotene insects diminished, so did the resident Red-capped Robins. And the Flame and Scarlet Robins moved on to other areas for winter — some not too far as there a seriously large mobs of the Forresters down along the Moonee Ponds Creek outside the predator-fence.
But the average Eastern Grey Kangaroo female is a pretty persistent little producer, and her male companions are also very capable at their jobs and between them there has been a growing population of Kangaroos in the Feral-free area. Which means perhaps the old layover areas may get a rebirth too.
Endurance is a work that springs to mind when you stand under a majestic and venerable Grey Box. Its branches wide-spread and supporting a varied habitat around it.
My Tai Chi master says” Endurance, glasshooper, is not in context of a temporarily demanding activity. Another facet of endurance is that of persevering over an extended period of time. Patiently persisting as long as it takes to reach the goal.
Patiently enduring the Grey Box forest welcomes our admiration.
I love Grey Box. It has so much to share, and it has so much to teach.
Thought I’d share some of the wonder of the forest over the years. All images made on or near Pipeline Ridge
In the You Yangs, looking for Red-capped Robins. What we did find is this handsome (?) young male just moulting out of his juvenile feathers and into his marvellous Male Adult feathers.
Long, long term readers may well recall, but you don’t lose points for not recalling that a number of years back I encountered another young male at Woodlands who subsequently stayed on, and became quite the dominate male in the area.
Just thought I’d share where I am with the updated site.
And to be honest, I’m not.
So after a couple of false starts I’m learning to live with this layout.
Hate the huge text header, but like the page layout.
Moving navigation and the drop down sidebards to the RHS seems a good step forward. The little ‘Folder’ Icon holds most of the sidebar stuff previously so if you want to see Flickr shots they are now under there.
Wow, over a month. What a lot of stuff happens that keeps you from the things you’d like to be doing.
We had a couple of weeks away back up on the family acres, mostly family things, and I have to admit to not even bothering to take a camera. And its not been much better since we returned. So there hasn’t been much to report.
I do have a backlog of a few earlier trips to slot in here, but thought we’d start with the You Yangs.
Our friend Merrilyn (see her blog here), mailed me that she’d seen a Red-capped Robin on a track in the Big Rock area. That was enough to get the gear loaded in the car.
It’s no secret to the erstwhile longtime reader that Woodlands Historic Park was our ‘second’ home. In fact my association with photographing the birds at Woodlands goes back a number of years predating this blog. As I was able to roam over quite a bit of the area, I spent a goodly amount of that time working out which birds where nesting, and where territories might be found. The local Red-capped Robin population also accepted me, and a number of them came to be on good speaking terms, and would come out to see what I was upto anytime I wandered through.
But, as we’ve moved, all that is pretty much ancient history. We’ve be able to locate a couple of areas locally, but none the rival the freedom of being a few minutes away such as Woodlands offered.
Oh, yes, the You Yangs trip.
We set out to have a look at the Red-capped Robing, and despite much searching were Not successful. He might have been travelling through, or he might have been resting in the bush just behind me. So not sighting yet. We also looked for Eastern Yellow Robins and only found a couple of pair. Not unusual, as they have most probably taken a new batch and are quietly feeding them amongst the thicker scrub in the area.
What we did find was quite a few Scarlet Robin juveniles. These lovely birds are very distinguished by their motley feather set as they moult out juvenile and take on first year feathers.
My long time reader will recall that about this time, several years back one such bird turned up at Woodlands and for a few weeks I thought S(he) was female, but within few weeks the beautiful glossy black revealed a very handsome male. So it was like meeting old friends when we came across several family groups of Scarlets. Some still unidentifiable as males or females, and some quite well advanced into first year dress. What was interesting, in the 4 major locations there were at least 4 or 6 such young. And we think that it was only a sample of the numbers of Scarlets that have been successfully hatched this season.
At Woodlands one of my all time favourite birds and a particular interest to my mate Ray, was a single female White-throated Treecreeper. For a number of years she seemed to be on her own. One season I found a male, and later a juvenile, but she went back to her single ways the following year. So it was quite a surprise to encounter a White-throated female, and see her disappear behind a tree trunk. When I looked, there was a nest in the hollow of a tree, and her one young offspring perched on the side of the opening. Just like meeting an old friend.
At a large tree near the Ranger’s Office, there is usually one or two Tawny Frogmouth, but they’d been absent for quite awhile. But we went to look anyway.
They were back, along with at least one young one. Again at Woodlands there are a resident pair near the carpark, so again it was like meeting old friends.
Beginning to really like the monthly foray out with the Werribee Wagtails, good company, tops spots, usually good birds, and yesterday good weather.
We met down at the Eastern Entrance and took a walk, all 25 of us, down the fence line track. Immediately we’d started and a pair of Scarlet Robins entertained us, and then a pair of Jacky Winters. Not to be out done a pair of Restless Flycatchers came out to play in the morning sunshine. It could hardly be better.
A litre further down the track and we came across a family of Flame Robins, and then… It got a lot better. We spotted a lone male Red-capped Robin. Big news for me, as I’ve been trying to locate such bird in the area for the past few months. We walked along the creek line that runs on the south side of the “Seed beds” and came upon another larger flock of Flame Robins, and a pair of Scarlets.
The ‘whip’ for the day rounded us up, and after a morning ‘cuppa’ at the Big Rock carpark, and a few more birds, we took to the drive around the Great Circle Road. Stopping at one spot we walked in to see a Mistletoe Bird, but it must have gotten the dates wrong in its diary and try as we might we had to admit defeat. Prehaps next time. A big group of Crimson Rosellas, and a beautifully vocal Grey Shrike Thrush were suitable consolation.
We stopped again at Fawcetts Gully and there was a female Golden Whistler, but try as I might, I couldn’t get a reasonable shot. Did see the departure of an Eastern Yellow Robin, but again trying too hard, I missed it completely.
So to lunch, and a Collared Sparrowhawk that whisked through the trees, much to the chagrin of around 25-30 White-winged Choughs.
We walked down to see the resident Tawny Frogmouths, and through the bush past the dam near the rangers work area, and there found quite a number of Brown-headed, and White-naped Honeyeaters among others.
After the birdcall, the count was 45. Not a bad day’s birding. Mr An Onymous and I went back past Big Rock to have another look for some Scarlet Robins we’d been working with the previous week, and just as we were leaving we spied another Eastern Yellow Robin just off the side of the road.
As an aside, the Editor of Werribee Wagtails newsletter “Wag Tales”, Shirley Cameron is handing over the job, and I’ve taken on the task. Bit daunting as 26 years of love, care and attention to the group by Shirley sets a pretty high standard for the incoming ‘new bloke’.
One thing I’m going to do is add the pdf of the magazine to this blog, and you should be able to find it from the Front menu Tab. Will make an announcement when the first one goes ‘live’.
To add to that, I’ve created a new Flickr page that will have some of the magazine photo content for viewing, also allows us to have others add material for the pages. We’ll hasten slowly.