‘tails free along the river

Here’s a story I’ve been waiting to tell. It’s the followup from last Saturday Evening’s Post.

EE and I have been searching along the trees at the Werribee River for a pair of Tawny Frogmouth and their young.  Thanks to a friendly tip from a member of BirdLife Werribee, (formerly Werribee Wagtails), we were able to eventually make the connection.
What we also discovered.  We in that phrase meaning EE spotted. What we also discovered was several pairs of Willie Wagtails that had all gone to nest about the same time, and within about 50m or so of each other.

To our delight one pair were only  a metre of so from the little walking track.  Little and Walking in that sentence are more an euphemism for—gaps among the scrub.

For as many afternoons as we can fit in, we’ve been dropping in to see how they are going. And the last day or so, in spite of the drenching weather,  they have flown!

Here is the visuals of the story unfolding.  Quite a few shots, but it takes about 14 days to hatch, and about 14 days to fledge.  You can take a lot of pictures of a nest on a stick in that time.

Good luck littleuns, hope to see your tails flying free for a long time.

Click on each image for a larger view

1811-08_DWJ_2850.jpgTaking a snack to work. This one is still sitting eggs

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The casual work approach

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First sight of the little featherless, blind young

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A couple of days later and Mum is sitting on the tucking them down and look at the size of her ‘eyebrow’. A very upset bird.

1811-11_DWJ_6296.jpgMore hi power food going in

1811-15_DWJ_6545Several days later and the first signs of wing feathers sheaths are beginning to show.

1811-15_DWJ_6629.jpgSnuggling down over the young to keep them safe from view1811-15_DWJ_6632.jpg
In spite of her care, one of the young pokes out the back to see what’s going on

1811-17_DWJ_4295.jpgNow they are really developing a full set of feathers

1811-17_DWJ_4301.jpgMore food going in.

1811-19_DWJ_4820.jpgTrying to distract me by pretending to be an injured bird.

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Each day brings them closer to fledging

1811-21_DWJ_5123.jpgFledging day.   Not more than 10 minutes later all three were on the wing.  The poor old nest is beginning to suffer from their activities and the heavy rain the night before

1811-21_DWJ_5285.jpgAnd here we are young ‘tails on the move

1811-21_DWJ_5321-2.jpgSee Mum, I can fly. I can fly.

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Little Visits: Meeting the Chestnuts

Pretty sure I’ve mentioned it before, but when I was a little tacker, we had in our limited home library several small books by an American writer and self-styled genius, Elbert Hubbard.

Hubbard’s collection were titled, Little Journey’s to the homes of the Great and near-Great, as best I remember.  I was later to find there was at least a dozen or more of them, and each contained an article he had published, regularly, perhaps once a month, and it contained both, as I was to discover later, both historical fact, and romantic nonsense of his own creation about each of the ‘Famous’ visits.
And such strange names and places for a young lad more interested in frogs, and beetles and chocolate.  But none the less, I can recall, somewhat sagely, being read some of these stories as a little dude

, sitting wide-eyed in bed, before ‘lights out’.

So today, for want of not being able to travel great distances, and the need to spend some time around at the doc’s getting a ‘script, we took to the Werribee Mansion for a coffee, and a walk around the ornamental lake.
And we found Mr and Mrs Chestnut Teal.
Engaged in what can only be described as intense discussion.  Those who know of Mrs  Ches Teal’s enigmatic “Laugh”, will well know how this conversation was going.

And for those who might be wondering where my photo direction could be going, these were shot with a Nikon V1 (and old camera, which has been much maligned on this blog, more than once).  Today, I coupled it with the 300mm f/4 PF and a TC 1.4  Nice, light, easy to carry, and as long as the temperature doesn’t go up, a much better performer than I can remember.

Enjoy.

 

Warm sunshine schmoozing
Warm sunshine schmoozing
There is obviously more than one point of view in this discussion and she has them all.
There is obviously more than one point of view in this discussion and she has them all.
And he could give back as good as he was getting
And he could give back as good as he was getting
Ahhh, Kik kik kik kik kik
Ahhh, Kik kik kik kik kik
It's enough to make you put your bill in the water
It’s enough to make you put your bill in the water

Blogging 101 Week 3 Day 1 Now you see me now you don’t

Now You See Me

New week, and I’m away from home for the week. Travelled up to the family acres. This is an exercise  of sitting in a fast moving car and waiting while the miles, (kilometres) roll by.   Long straight roads with not much else to see but the road, and the horizon, and the blue sky.  Didn’t we already pass that 105 km post?

And today’s Blogging exercise is to find a prompt (Bloggsville provides them), and so we come to Now you see me, now you Don’t. Thought it was appropriate for being on the road again.

Stopped as is our want at The Eaglehawk Bakery to enjoy a “Mulga Bill’s” Pie for lunch.  One thing I guess that has changed a bit over .the past twelve months or so it that I’ve had to reduce my diet from pies, and all those lovely carbs, and concentrate on ‘healthy’ food.  But, hey its a long road to the family acres and a pie is just the right thing.  Also picked up a Banana milkshake.  This is starting to sound like a Facebook foodaholic journal.

The days before we left, we were watching a pair of White-plumed Honeyeaters.  This clever pair had built a nest among the leaves over the river.

It’s funny as I’ve written to this before, just recently, about now you see me now you don’t. While EE was busy working with a  Wagtail pair, (and I stay away as it doesn’t need two humans in their space), I was watching a White-plumed Honeyeaters.  Something about the extra intensity of their actions said, “They have a nest somewhere.”  And while I looked here, and there and over there too, no sign did I see of their location.  The following day had us at the same spot, and this time I moved about 50m down the river.  Again time passed.  The Honeyeaters passed and the mystery deepened, Finally I got a glimpse of them moving back and forth from a branch stretching over the river and it was even more obvious that is where they were working.  And down at the end of some leaves over the water, tightly fitted in among the reeds was their deliciously wound, spider web and grass globe.  But so far out over the water as to be very safe from most prying eyes.  And being in the leaves, it was really impossible to get a good view.

So, I waited.  And as the pair moved back and forth with food, I was able to get at least a look at the opening and occasionally as it all swung back and forth in the breeze a glimpse of little heads inside.

Then the mystery deepened, or more accurately my observations became more detailed.   She had sited the nest opening in such a way that a leaf was being used as a ‘trapdoor’ to conceal the opening.

Here was a bird with a super sense of security.  The older leaf lay perfectly over the nest opening and made it almost impossible to see that there was a nest down there.

Then she would fly in, push the leaf to one side, feed the young, and then on leaving she would pick the leaf up and place it back over the hole! If both birds arrived at about the same time, the last one leaving would cover over the nest.

Now you see me.  Now you don’t.  How appropriate.

Several days later the first of the brood had clambered out of the nest and was clinging tightly to the top of the nest.  And while we were watching a second one also made its first tentative ventures out of the nest.

By the time we get back, they will be well on the wing.

 

Cleverly Hidden in the overhanging leaves
Cleverly Hidden in the overhanging leaves
Ahh there it is.
Ahh there it is.
Little heads
Little heads
Picking up the leaf and setting it in place
Picking up the leaf and setting it in place
Putting the leaf back in place
Putting the leaf back in place
Ready to leave and the leaf is back in position
Ready to leave and the leaf is back in position
In the sunshine first day out
In the sunshine first day out

Fire, smoke, an open paddock, simply add birds for action

One part of the family was off to Sydney for a holiday.  So how about we leave our car with you and go to Avalon airport?  Now the cool thing about saying yes to the request of course is that Avalon is but a mere 5 minutes from the WTP.  And well, we’d have to come back that way after all the farewells, and book ins and security checks, and stuff.

So we found ourselves on the Beach Road in the middle of the afternoon on a not too brilliant for photography day.    The folk at the farm had taken the opportunity of the change in the weather to conduct some control burns in some of the bigger fields.    And off course the raptors simply couldn’t resist the chance of fried or roasted or bbq locusts, mice, grasshoppers, lizards and the like.

As we travelled down the Beach Road, the sky was awash with larger birds.  Perhaps as many as 20 Whistling Kites, twice that number of Black Kites, at least two Australian Kestrels, and an assortment of Ravens, several squadrons of Australian Magpie and innumerable Magpie Larks.

From a photography point of view, the light was wrong and the birds too far away, but the old D2xS on the 300mm f/2.8, stepped up to the challenge. So the big birds swept over the still smouldering ground, or made a landing and picked up a morsel or two. Their friends sat on the fence line and the Whistling Kites kept up a constant call.   In the end, we just watched, and enjoyed them enjoying themselves.
A Black Kite became a target for a rather aggressive Whistling Kite and a sky wide battle ensued.   At first the Whistling Kite was much faster, could turn quicker, gain height faster and generally outfly the Black Kite. Quite a number of direct hits from above, below and the side ensued.    In the end, I decided that perhaps the Black was just taking it all and wasn’t really concerned by the output of energy by the Whistling Kite.   It ended by the Black gaining height and just sailing away.  The Whistler settled down for a rest on the fence.

On the other side of the road a Black-shouldered Kite busied itself in finding mice for its evening snack.

We also found a large family of Flame Robins.  The males looking a treat in the sunshine.  But far too far away to do them justice.
As we drove around Lake Borrie on the return home a pair of Cape Barren Geese were feeding in an open area.  Really perturbed by our audacity to encroach on their feeding spot, the male gave me a lecture and wing-waving display.  I apologised and we parted in good company.     Just have to be more careful about sneaking up on him.

With the light finally drifting into greyness, it was considered time for home.

 

A burst of late evening sunlight highlights the maize against the brilliant dark sky.
A burst of late evening sunlight highlights the maize against the brilliant dark sky.
Red burst from a Flame Robin male, one of 4 males and about 6-8 female/juveniles in the area.
Red burst from a Flame Robin male, one of 4 males and about 6-8 female/juveniles in the area.
Two Black Kites.  They are at completely different heights.
Two Black Kites. They are at completely different heights.
Australian Kestrel turning  for another sweep over the still smouldering paddock.
Australian Kestrel turning for another sweep over the still smouldering paddock.
One post one Kite
One post one Kite
In times of plenty everyone is friends
In times of plenty everyone is friends
Whistling Kite, vs Black Kite.  Probably not as one sided as it at first appeared.
Whistling Kite, vs Black Kite. Probably not as one sided as it at first appeared.
Completely uninterested in the bbq, this Black-shouldered Kite stuck to its larder.  A mouse.
Completely uninterested in the bbq, this Black-shouldered Kite stuck to its larder. A mouse.
Cape Barren Goose.  He is giving me a lecture on my tardiness in being in his territory.
Cape Barren Goose. He is giving me a lecture on my tardiness in being in his territory.
Late evening light over the You Yangs
Late evening light over the You Yangs

Checking up on the Darters

Been about a week since we’d seen the Darters on the Barwon River, and decided on an early morning run.

The Shannon Avenue bridge is busy at any time it seems, and again we met with much pedestrian and bike traffic and the usual, “Oh, I’ve passed here for years and never seen them before, did they just come in?”  and other questions.

The nest we’d been watching previously now had two quite large young in it. Well formed and with some pins of real feathers just starting to emerge.  The male was on the nest, and the young were relentless in their waving at him for food.  They continued full speed for over twenty minutes and he moved about the nest trying to avoid the tiny waving heads.   He seemed so patience at their insistence and finally tucked his head under his wing to avoid them.  Not being able to see his head stopped the begging, and in the end it was obvious he didn’t have any more food to give, and they settled down for a sleep.  He stood over them and tucked his head. one more time, and lifted out his wings to give them some protection.

The two other eggs that had been there the previous week were obviously infertile, and they had been removed from the nest.  Perhaps its too late in the season to try and feed four hungry mouths.

We waited an hour or so hoping that the female would return from her hunting expedition, but no such luck.  The female in the apartment above had settled down on her eggs and only an occasional head lift to check things out was her response.

We figured that our luck was out on the female returning so we did the right thing and headed off with ‘coffee’ as the next challenge.

Gimme gimme gimme Two little waving heads as they beg for food.
Gimme gimme gimme
Two little waving heads as they beg for food.
Gimme Gimme, they were so active and persistent
Gimme Gimme, they were so active and persistent
Hide as he might, they were quick to take up every opportunity.
Hide as he might, they were quick to take up every opportunity.
When he tucked his head away, they started on each other.
When he tucked his head away, they started on each other.
Gottem settled down at last
Gottem settled down at last
Even time for Dad to take a quick nap.
Even time for Dad to take a quick nap.
The wonderful wing feathers are just starting to come through.
The wonderful wing feathers are just starting to come through.
He stretches out his wings over the sleeping pair
He stretches out his wings over the sleeping pair
In the apartment above, the female has settled in to hatch her clutch.
In the apartment above, the female has settled in to hatch her clutch.
The nosey neighbours.
The nosey neighbours.
A fledged but not very agile young darter is preparing for a quick flight to the next tree.
A fledged but not very agile young darter is preparing for a quick flight to the next tree.

Werribee Wagtails Bus Tour

Werribee Wagtails meet once a month on the first Tuesday of said months.  They are a really dedicated group of birdwatchers and we find ourselves well pleased to have become part of the mob.

For March the trip was by Community Bus down to Geelong and beyond. So we arrived at the meeting spot ready to go.  Now the bus had been booked out  and we had chosen instead to convey down in the traditional spirit of motoring.   However some bookees had not taken up the opportunity and so we found ourselves loading food, chairs, cameras and bodies onto the bus.

The first stop was to be Queen’s Park, and a walk along the River to the Balyang Sanctuary.   Last seasons, thanks to me mate Helmut of Flickr fame, we had a couple of trips down there to find the Darters nesting next to the bridge.  Our original plan, sans bus, was to go directly there and wait for the walkers to turn up.  So we sat on the bus as everyone unloaded and despite clever arguments about Tawny Frogmouth, and Gang-Gangs, we stuck to the plan.  With a “swish” the door closed and our driver took us to the next carpark.

The weather was offering  some good sunshine so it was likely that we’d get some great shots; and we did.  Top must be for the mother Darter, whose first two young had just hatched.  These scrawny looking featherless creatures had her full attention, and while the nest is quite large, one can only imagine the complexity of moving those big webbed feet of hers around without damaging her newly hatched and yet to be hatched off -spring.

Not knowing much about the habits of Darters, I was pretty amazed to find that both male and female incubate and feed the young. But the male is the hard worker on building the nest.  At least to providing all the necessary sticks and things to make the nest.  As it turned out on this trip, one male was busy on the apartment above, moving sticks in to position.

Where all this happens is within a stone’s throw, (probably OHS insensitive), so 26.498 metres from the edge of the main traffic bridge over the Barwon River.  This bridge carries a flow of heavy duty vehicles and the bridge moves as they thunder over it,  it also has a constant stream of joggers, cyclists, walkers, babystollers and group exercisers. Which all means that the poor old stationary photographer is being jostled and ‘ding’ed at on the narrow walkway.   But, the birds don’t seem to care.

Pointing the lens at the darters on their nests brings comments such as “Oh, what are they?”  “How long have they been there?”  “I’ve lived in the area for x years and I’ve never seen them before”. “What are you going to use the pictures for?”  “That’s a big lens, do you need  a permit for it?” and of course the inevitable, “What do you think you’re doing?”   But the best of the day was from the groupathon bike riders. “We’re  strange birds, take our picture!”

Just as the bus driver was warming up the bus, a mother Darter came in with a snack for one of the kids.  Lots of wing waving and head bobbing as she positioned herself and the lucky young chick to receive the treat.   And then it was back on the bus, and Hi Ho Silver, away.  We went on toward Barwon Heads to look for waders and water birds.

After a lunch under a spreading tree with the breeze pleasingly  blowing through the shade it was a bit hard to get going for an afternoon foray for birds.  And then.  A bird count of 63 for the day, and we were back in the bus on the way home.

Coffee at the local and a pleasant day drew to a close.

Female Darter preening among the autumn colours
Female Darter preening among the autumn colours
Such a big bird and such delicate looking young
Such a big bird and such delicate looking young
The two little ones must have hatched that morning.
The two little ones must have hatched that morning.
Not only Darters, but a range of Cormorants as well.
Not only Darters, but a range of Cormorants as well.
Male Australasian Darter hard at work on the next nest.
Male Australasian Darter hard at work on the next nest.
Two juveniles waiting patiently in the sunshine for breakfast.
Two juveniles waiting patiently in the sunshine for breakfast.
"Look there's Mum!  She's got something for me.  Patience has deserted them.
“Look there’s Mum! She’s got something for me. Patience has deserted them.

DSC_4111

You want me to put my head in your mouth!
You want me to put my head in your mouth!
It looks dangerous, but the species has managed to survive.
It looks dangerous, but the species has managed to survive.
There's got to be a fish down here somewhere.
There’s got to be a fish down here somewhere.

Evening around Werribee Treatment Plant

It only took a glance at the weather map in the paper, while I was at the coffee shop to conclude, “Golden Light Night Tonight”.

So a quick chat with EE and we were ready to go by mid afternoon.  I think the gear being loaded in the car was about as much persuasion as it took.

True to form the sky was a beautiful blue, the light was golden and the birds in the late evening light were active.  

I could go on about it, but the pictures probably are better at telling the story.

Enjoy. We did.

Brown Falcon about to launch.
Brown Falcon about to launch.
A very well fed Brown Falcon was enjoying the quiet while its meal went down.
A very well fed Brown Falcon was enjoying the quiet while its meal went down.
Swamp Harrier has just seen me and swung around to fly away.
Swamp Harrier has just seen me and swung around to fly away.
On Beach Road, an Australian Hobby has taken up residence for the moment.
On Beach Road, an Australian Hobby has taken up residence for the moment.
On a beach full of waders I found some Red-capped Plovers hard at work.
On a beach full of waders I found some Red-capped Plovers hard at work.
See, this is why we used to call them 'Spur-winged Plovers'
See, this is why we used to call them ‘Spur-winged Plovers’
A Whistling Kite in brilliant yellow light.
A Whistling Kite in brilliant yellow light.
From the Bird Hide. Extreme low tide meant a huge feeding ground for the hungry waders.
From the Bird Hide. Extreme low tide meant a huge feeding ground for the hungry waders.

Wandering with Werribee Wagtails: Altona

Getting right into this organised birding thing.

The Werribee Wagtails group met at Altona for a look at the shore, the river, and the lake.

So off we went.  Weather was fine, company was excellent and we made a few finds and discoveries along the way.

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All ready for a great day out and about, members of Werribee Wagtails on the track.

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Always full of excitement the New-Holland Honeyeaters seem to own every bush and shrub along the waterway.

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Sharptailed Sandpipers at work in a drain. The top bird is starting to show some chest colour, getting ready for the long journey north.

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Common Greenshanks. I’m alway amused by the “Common” moniker.  Does it mean there are “uncommon Greenshanks”, or perhaps “Special, or Important” greenshanks?

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Along Kororoit Creek we found a number of numbered Swans.  The programme is run by the guys at Myswan Database, and I’ve even got some info in the Albums area of another one we followed for awhile.

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Teals take advantage of a convenient roosting place.

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Spotting along the Kororiot Creek. EE is obviously on to something.

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J28, another numbered Swan from the series.

Here is the details from the Database.

J28 Database

J28 even has her own passport.  The white collars are female, the black collars are male.
The red spots on the map indicate she spends a lot of time in the area.

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View across the lake at Newport Lakes, after years of hard work the area has developed into a great bird habitat. Spot the Australasian Darter. For bonus points, spot the Nankeen Night Heron.

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Closeup of said Darter and a cormorant friend.

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Oh, there you are!   Nankeen Night Heron pretending to be somewhere else.   I spotted the colours as we were walking down the track to catchup to the group. (yes, I’d done it again) and didn’t take any time to check it out.  (See my tardiness in the Mt Rothwell blog report.)

But when everyone had settled on a view, I went back for a closer look.

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Heading homewards across the stepping stones over the lake.   A good day.  Extra points for Spotting Mr An Onymous. (but then he wouldn’t be would he?)

Taking the early morning run to Western Treatment Plant

With the weather man predicting only more heat wave conditions, and the WTP being closed on Total Fire Ban days because of OHS issues, and good on ’em as far as I’m concerned.  Don’t want to be driving around in the heat trying to find birds hiding from the heat

We found a bit of a break in the hot days, and decided and early morning start was the best thing.  Rather than cover the usual spots we headed down to  southern end, known among birders as 29 Mile Road, T Section or the Spit. Also Murtcaim(n) and Pond 9.  The Brolgas had been seen among the ponds there and we thought it a good look see.

Here’s the way the day progressed.

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Found one of the Spotted Harriers up in the early morning mist.  That’s Avalon Aircraft Repair workshop in the distance.

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The second young one also put up, and we got some good views even if the light was against  us.

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Golden-headed Cisticola came by to be sure we weren’t thinking of taking over its territory, and gave a us a good lecture just to prove its point.

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We did manage to find the Brolga engaged in team precision preening, but they were too far away, and the heat haze even in the early morning was a curse.

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A strong breeze really surprised these Golden-headed Cisticola, nearly blowing it off the rail. The leaning into the wing and wide stretch of the legs was all it could do to prevent it being swept away.

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Another great find were a pair of Cape Barren Geese, they did a great little head nodding performance before taking to the air.    I always feel a bit sad when I’ve partly been the cause of a bird taking flight.

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No such feeling with Swamp Harriers.  This bird had no intention of letting us get close under any circumstances and led us on a merry chase along one of the bunds, flying a brief spell, sitting until we caught up, and then wafting on down the road a hundred metres of so.

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At the moment, there is alway a Whiskered Tern or two to keep photographers amused and waste lots of time trying to nail that elusive best tern shot.  Its not that the birds don’t try hard enough.

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And that pair of Geese just would not sit still when we were around.

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My bird id skills let me down sometimes and the little grass birds are a good example, but this is a Horsfields Bushlark  (I hope).  It adopted a different technique to stay on the post, by crouching down.

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Back along the Point Wilson Road, one of the young Spotted Harriers had returned to the nest tree for a bit of a spell.

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And down along the rocks, the Sharp-tailed Sandpipers were ready to get down to work when the tide lowered a bit.

By late mid morning, the temp was up, the heat haze was reducing very expensive lens to the quality of my Mum’s Box Camera and coffee and a toasted cheese and tomato sandwich (not a bad alternative to a poi.), at the Highway Lounge. How could I resist

A day out with the Werribee Wagtails Group

Now that we’ve made the move, some things get a bit easier.

The Werribee Wagtails are an informal group of birders amalgamated with Birdlife Australia.  They have a monthly day out and about, and we’ve taken to tagging along.

This particular day was Jan 7th.   And the area covered included the mouth of the Werribee River at Werribee South.  Very cold in the morning with icy winds blowing over the water.  Still we managed a good range of water birds including a Red-capped Plover scampering back and forth among the seaweeds.

A truly wonderful place called “The Cliffs” at a right angle bend in K Road, opened up to wonderful vistas across the river, and a range of beautiful birds.

From there a trip to a special carpark at Werribee Mansion, and a lovely walk down to the river flats and back through the vegetable and fruit gardens on the flats.  And we found about 8-10 young Whistling Kites and a similar number of Black Kites who were working along the river.

I’d go back again just for that.

In one of the river crossing we found some Purple-headed, Musk, and Rainbow Lorikeets, one of the Rainbows appeared to have a nest.  Or was raiding someone else’s.    To top it off the “Kee, Kee Kee, kee” of a Sacred Kingfisher who sped by us with a couple of flybys.

Then on to the Cache Coffee shop and produce Store.  If you are in the area, include this great place for great food and coffee, and amazing local produce.  Another reason I’m happy we’re local.

Cormorant.
Cormorant.
Goldfinch.
Goldfinch.
Great Eastern Egret
Great Eastern Egret
Sacred Kingfisher
Sacred Kingfisher
Rainbow Lorikeet
Rainbow Lorikeet
Black Kite
Black Kite