Tis true to say that EE and I haven’t been down to the Western Treatment Plant for quite a number of weeks. The weather, health things, family events and perhaps a touch of sloth just seems to have gotten in the way.
My photo mate Neil, sent me a note about his last weekend trip, and we decided if the weather opened up a bit, we’d at least drive down 29 Mile Road for a looksee.
So this morning after a couple of Tai Chi class sessions, we loaded up with lunch, a cuppa or two of Earl of Grey and of course the essential cameras and headed out in the warm sunshine, (and to tell all the story, the rather crisp wind as well).
Before we reached Beach Road junction, we spied some Flame Robins, but they wanted to work far out in a paddock, and we could only get glimpses.
Further on down, and a trio of Black-shouldered Kites were keeping the mice on their toes.
And as we sat with lunch at the first corner on the 29 Mile Road, a Spotted Harrier wafted by making some very nervous Swamphens. As we entered the T Section area, we were looking for Brolga as Neil had sighted them here at the weekend, but we lucked out.
Next we found a single Flame Robin female that was working around a puddle of water on the roadway.
Looking up, I heard the familiar call of a Black-shouldered Kite with a mouse, and as we looked a Black Falcon swept in from no where and after a little evasion from the Kite, the Falcon secured the prize and took off with the erstwhile and very angry kite in hot pursuit, but to no avail. The Black is just that good in the air.
As we drove back out, lo, the very Brolga had turned up in the first pond and were busy preening, we shared the last of the Earl of Grey and enjoyed their unconcerned wardrobe adjustments.
So for a first day back at the farm, it was a most enjoyable and profitable time.
I have, it must be said, been hanging off making this post. I was hoping, somewhat against hope, the I’d get another day down at the WTP with these delightful birds, but sad to say, the season has changed, the birds are on the move, and the fickle weather has finally arrived with some decent rain for the hard stressed environment.
White-winged Terns, (used to be called White-winged Black Tern for obvious reasons), pay a visit to the south over the mid-of-summer through most of autumn. They feed up on the rich supply of insects along the bunds and over the waters at the treatment plant. I suspect we see somewhere between 50-100 of them over the period.
The breeding birds also begin to colour up readying for their trip north. They are not huge migrants, like say Red-necked Stints, but still their journey north will take them into South-East Asia, and as far as China and India. Hard to find definitive data. There is also a branch of the family that breeds as far up as northern Europe. I think they spend the summer around the Mediterranean.
We all, I suppose, have birds that intrigue us to one extent or another, and White-winged Terns are one of those birds for me. I think mostly because of their consistent habit, and their lovely changeable plumage. Most seasons they seem to work in just a few ponds at the WTP, it changes a bit with the food source, but most times if they are locatable, and not on far-off ponds that have no access, they present a wonderful show of hunting close into the edges of the ponds and over the grass verges. Making it easy to get closeups, if and I did say, if, I can keep them in the viewfinder. Like all terns the flight path is not erratic, but certainly not predictable.
We have had several sessions with the birds, and rather than try and explain it all, the following shots should speak volumes for the beauty and delicate nature of these birds.
Hopefully it might also show just a little bit of my interest and enjoyment of their visit and how much I appreciate such a challenging subject.
Till next year, travel well little birds, your visit was most appreciated.
If you feel history is repeating itself, well done. It is.
Brown Falcon are very active at the Treatment Plant at the moment, as it seems are snakes in the close of the warm weather.
This bird didn’t fool me. I knew it had intentions. That it only moved one or two fence posts at a time was the first clue. When a vehicle drove down the road past EE and I, and then past Brown, and it didn’t even flinch, I knew.
Settle in for a long wait. My first frame of the encounter was shot a 1:53pm. The last one 2:42pm. And the bird was still in residence at that stage.
Here’s a summary and then we’ll let the images tell the story.
We noted the Falcon on the fence as we drove down. It was not in a hurry to move, and it was apparent that in spite of its seeming casualness, it was hard at work. I’ve written before that I believe Browns map everything only move when its to their advantage.
It flew along the road, and then walked into the grass. At first I missed the movement. But Brown had calculated the snake would move out into the open. Ha! Not this one. Brown reacted but the blanket weed is much too thick. Advantage Snake.
Brown considered a new plan from a small hillock nearby. And that is where there time went. Twenty minutes of more. Then for no apparent reason the bird moved to a higher roadside sign. And I knew an attack was in play.
It went down behind the small hillock, and we lost sight, but we lost no time in getting up the road to see if we could get a look.
Yes. There it was mantled, wings spread out. Motionless. At the right time, the head moved and it was all over.
The next few minutes were dealing with the death throes of the snake, and it eventually got a tail twisted over the Falcon’s wings.
After gorging itself it tried to move the snake out into the open, but for some reason, the snake had twisted itself into the grass. Pretty much exhausted from all the effort, the bird took a break, then flew on to the roadside fence. And sat.
After a few minutes it began to preen, and we decided to move on.
I collected the vehicle from down the road, and we drove by the fence, and normally a bird would take to the air. Not this bird, it was either satisfied we meant no harm, exhausted, or just was not going to give up its ground for its meal.
Which ever, EE got an eye to eye encounter as we went past about arms-length from the bird.
None of these are cropped as they show both the action, the closeness, and the area of the action. For those that are guessing, I think the
In the best traditions of exclusive marketing, “Snapshots” has been renamed “Moments”. Same great taste, same great ingredients, just a name that more closely realises the time with a bird(s).
EE and I have been missing our dose of Brown Falcon life for quite awhile. Summer over, nesting behind them, tis time for Browns to come out and play again. Gone are the wary, defensive secretive lives. Now relaxed birds that don’t have a territory nor a growing family to defend.
We were looking along Ryan’s Swamp Rd at the WTP and found a bird sitting just off the road on a bund. Hunting.
Now Browns aren’t like other falcons, lots of flying about looking, here and there, looking busy. Brown’s mostly contemplate. They are clever hunters that have their local territory ‘mapped’. Each flypast simply confirms, or adds to their already massive data bank. A farm ute driving past on the roadway doesn’t even get a glance. They know it’s not a threat.
We managed to get past the bird for some over-the-shoulder front light.
And then. Waited. Browns do that a lot.
This one sat, then lifted off with one wing sweep, and landed on the far side of the bund emerging with a cricket or a beetle snack.
Next it swept across the road. Low down, Brown style. Paused on a white fence post. Then returned to our side of the road landing on a post to contemplate.
Another trip across the road, and more sitting.
A small sweep out to pickup another snack, and back on the white fence post.
Watching it is one thing. Working out the its stratergy something else again.
A dash off the post, a huge sweep up on to a branch and it sat.
Intruiged I walked over the road to get closer.
And it sat.
After a few minutes, it threw off the branch, dropped without a wing flap, straight down on to the ground on top of the bund on the far side of the fence. Straight into some old grass and scrub. Luckily for me, there was an opening in the dried twigs and I managed to see it turn around with its latest meal. A snake. Tiger I think. Your average Brown stands about 50cm so its fair to guess that the snake was at least that longer or a bit longer, perhaps 60-70cm (about 2 Foot in the old real measurement).
Satisfied all was safe, the bird went to work and before too long, turned, licked its beak (Well it can’t do that, but anthropomorphically speaking). Looked about and sailed back up into the tree to let the meal digest.
Bad career move!
The tree was inhabited by a small flock of WIllie Wagtail juveniles, all wanting to show their prowess and bravery. So poor Brown was harassed mercilessly by the team of young guns. Each trying to be a little more enthusiastic than the others. In the end, Brown took the hint and moved on.
A search on the Bureau of Meteorology website, has quite a bit of info on the lack of rain in mid of Australia. See here http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/drought/
At the bottom of the page is a couple of graphs that begin to put it all in perspective.
And as it dries out, it seems, that quite a number of birds are moving south. Or toward the eastern coast.
And we’ve seen quite a change in the numbers of smaller falcons and kites in our area. In the space of a 10 minute drive the other day we saw 14 Nankeen Kestrel.
So we took a trip to the Western Treatment Plant on a sunny morning.
We’d be chatting, Mr An Onymous and I, about the history and development of Greek Drama and Tragedy. And the role of Satyr as a political statement. Among the playwrights were Sophocles, and Euripides, and how they used the stage to create the Spectacle and allow the characters and drama to develop. Anyway, you get the idea.
“The Rise and Rise of the Brown Falcon in Unfamiliar Territory”
All good plays need a title that might throw the unwary viewer in the wrong direction.
Scene 1. A roadway somewhere along the Western Treatment Plant. Single treeline along roadway. Magpies embedded in trees carolling among themselves.
Enter Stage Left. Single Brown Falcon, flying about tree height toward the roadway. Point to note. Brown is flying slowly and deliberately.
Scene 2. Brown approaches treeline directly toward Magpies. Still slow and deliberate.
One of the more visited areas at the Western Treatment Plant is the “T-Section”. Among its notable areas is the aptly named, “Crake Pool”, it’s not unusual on any given trip down there, to find at least one, sometimes more, vehicles pulled up in the open areas near the pool, hoping to catch a glimpse of the many crakes that inhabit the area.
Just a little further along the road and a small pile of rocks in the middle of the pond usually has a share of waterbirds, or waders loafing in the sunshine.
So you might well imagine our suprise the other day to see a pair of enterprising Black Swan had taken over the rocks, and built what can only be thought of as Swan Hilton, securely among the rocks.
Mostly we think of Swamp Harriers as pretty serious birds, going about their serious business and always on the look out for the next meal.
So we were a bit taken back to find a couple of Swamp Harriers, engaged, in what can only be described as games.
It’s often seen among the Whistling Kites and Black-shouldered Kites, but Swamp Harriers seem to be very much the solo bird.
These two took it seemed great delight in working the air, and making passes at one another. They remained at it for at least 10 minutes, and stayed around the river edges, so we were able to follow them along for much of the time. In the end, both swept away, to see what they could find among the ducks now congregating along the ponds.
Been beavering away here at the Website trying to find ways to improve the overall look and experience of visiting, and trying to give expression visually to the site’s dedicated title. “Birds as Poetry”.
Sometimes its easy to find clever words to describe a moment in time with the birds, or to cover over the fact it was just another day on the job making images of very fine birds. But that is not the visual feel. And above all I guess my main goal for the web pages.
Been doing as you’ve probably gathered a bit of introspection on what the bird stories should show, how relevant that is to those who have graciously signed up to follow along here and at the same time not making it so esoteric that even I find it hard to reach those heights of expression.
And at another level, the pure old photographic know how and application needs to still satisfy both viewer and creator. And of course in this day and age wrestling with the ever-advancing technology that so readily leads us onward with banners waving from one vantage point to the next, without even taking the time to notice the journey across the plain.
Along with photography, poor writing and a love of Russel Coight’s All Australian Adventure tv shows (skits please), I also offer Tai Chi as another of my dizzying weaknessess. What I like most about this ancient (art) is the definiteness of purpose and deliberateness of movement. And in that is the edge of my photography with the birds, and hence the constant need to find expression of Birds as Poetry.
The header image is a Photoshop Montage of two shots I made at the Western Treatment Plant. I put it up on Flickr as I wanted to be able to show the interaction between the pair.
Had an interesting comment by Marcos who suggested that the manmade fences and wire detracted from visual impact of the image. And I find myself in full understanding of his assessment.
On the other hand, ‘my’ Falcons are falcons of the open plains and the fenced paddocks. I could I suppose have, while in photoshop, put in some nicely placed branches, added a majestic snow-covered mountain range and given the surrounds some real presence for the birds.
But my falcons live on a working farm. No trees, few shrubs and lots of open flat ploughed paddocks and fencelines.
Brown Falcons :the only raptor with an indigenous first inhabitants name in its scientific name, “berigora”. – perhaps meaning ‘Clawed’.
Browns seem to have quite happily adapted to the rabbits and mice provided by early settlers, also enjoyed the fence posts set up across the land, and the clearing of open plains even more suitable for their hunting.
When I was a little tacker growing up in the Mallee, and NSW River country, we would often play a game of count the falcons on the posts as we travelled about. It was normal to see 10-15 on a several hour trip.
All the Browns I’ve worked with seem to be as happy perched among the grass and scampering about among the scrub. The damage to their tail feathers quite evidence of a land based operation.
Their colour scheme is amazingly variable. From almost white, to completely dark brown, grey.
I have a theory on Browns ability. And the female on the fence is a good example. They seem happy to sit for hours watching. And noting. They seem to be able to map the land around them, such that when they fly, it’s on a fully worked out pattern, not hurried, accidental or haphazard.
Perhaps it goes like this.
“Over by the dam, a small family of mice, need to check that out sometime soon.”
“Under the big rocks by the roadside, lizards, come in from the fence side.”
“Tiger snake moving through the long grass, hmmm too big for me to tackle alone.”
“Willie Wagtails nesting in the short tree, stay away”
and so it goes. Each part of the paddock is scanned and locked away.
After just over an hour of sitting, no sleeping or preening, just looking, she dropped off the fence, secured a small lizard and was back on the fence. It was not an opportunistic catch. She had waited for the best time.
When I was very new to photographing birds, I found a pair at work out on the old Cumberland Homestead paddocks. Not knowing any better I tried to get some good images. And they tolerated me until nesting. Then I became an unwanted guest, and several close passes, claws out, were enough to convince me to be much more careful around her.
So here is a short photo journey with these most amazing birds. Well adapted to make the most of human intervention, they may not take us on as partners, but there is no doubt a wire fence, metal gate and large fence posts are as much a part of their dna now as snake catching.
Henri Cartier-Bresson, the wonderful French photographer speaking of his portraits would say, “I want to get the personality, the character, the essence of the subject. To get between his skin and his shirt.”
I want to show Brown Falcons by getting between their skin and their feathers.
No doubt you might have expected a return to the WTP to see how the White-winged Terns were doing.
And not to disappoint, we took an hour or so to try and locate them and enjoy the bright sunshine. On two counts struck out. The sunshine disappeared and the Terns had other ideas about being made famous.
None the less it was pretty impressive to see and to also get a few frames from some occasional close passes.
There seemed to be only one bird in full Black Plumage and it didn’t really turn up until the sunlight had melted to the usual porridge. But. That means another chance on another day. Continue reading “On Black and White”→
So most months there is an event to turn up to. It’s such an intriguing way to organise an event, and great kudos for Graham and his organising group for keeping up the great places to visit. Always good for birds, photography and chatting, and of course food!
So, when I discovered the next one was to be at the Western Treatment Plant, it wasn’t too hard to tick the Yes we will attend box.
So, as the Banjo was wont to say, we went.
Also my long term mate and fellow conspirator and Flickr mate Mark S came over to make an excellent day of it. Graham, herein named, “He who always has brilliant sunshine for his events”, met us at the Caltex Servo at Werribee and had turned on the sunshine as requested.
28 keen folk sipped Gerry’s best coffee, ate raisin toast, and talked about the day’s opportunities. We took off toward Avalon, stopping long enough to get some good views, if only average photos of some Banded Plovers, then it was on to the T Section, and the inevitable wait by the Crake Pool, and out came the Australian Crake, right on time. No Brolga here, so off to the Paradise Road ponds for our little convoy.
Met a carful of helpful folk who said, “Down there somewhere we saw Brolga”, which unscrambled meant. On to the 145W outflow. A very co-operative Brown Falcon stopping us in our quest, and gave some great poses, and a fine fly off shot for those of us not too busy checking the camera settings. —Will I never never learn!!!! 😦
Then, we spotted the Brolga, (Singular in this case), and the usual dilemma, stay where we are for distant, safe views , or drive on a small distance and see if we can get closer. We drove. And the kind bird tolerated us, for a while, then gave a super fly by quite close. Too much fun.
We had a quiet photography time at 145W, and lunch, then it was on to Lake Borrie. My mates Neil and David turned up in the Prado,they were both out playing with new toys, A Canon 1D X and a Nikon D4. Ah, the joys of learning new equipment.
As we drove back the Brown Falcon had perched on the ‘Specimen Tree’ in Little River and we managed several great shots in the sunshine.
On toward the Bird-hide for some good views of Musk Duck, Great Crested Grebe and an obliging Swamp Harrier made the journey well worthwhile.
Then we took a quick detour toward the top end of Lake Borrie, and to my surprise and great delight—Picture if you will, a small child in a sweet-shop—I spotted some White-winged Terns hunting in the next pond. (They used to be called White-winged Black Terns, but like many things name changes are important.)
Not that I cared as a most remarkable all Black flanked bird tacked into view. It was in full breeding plumage, and has to be seen flashing over the water to be genuinely appreciated. By now the memory cards were filling up. And they were just Mine!!!!!
These birds are only at WTP a few weeks during the year, and mostly never in breeding black plumage. Also every other time I’ve seen them it’s been raining. See some other blogs on here.
A really top find, and a great way to end the day. A quick run up the highway. A refreshing cup of coffee and some good discussion on the finds of the day,- including a top shot of a Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater (Missed that one! ), and everybody back in their transportation and time for home.
Thanks again to Graham “He who always has brilliant sunshine for his events”, and the pleasure of his visitor from Thailand, for such a good relaxing day, and so much to see, and to all those intrepid Meetup-erers who ventured down, and enjoyed the day with us. Hope to see you all again down the track.
Came upon a small band of Banded Stilts and Red-necked Avocets the other morning.
We had been looking for some locations for subjects for my book on “How to Sneak Up on a Swamp Harrier”. Needless to say the next chapter or two will for the short term be blank pages.
On one pond we happened in the best of traditions on a flock of Banded Stilts, and some companions.
So we settle down for about an hour or so. While we were enjoying the birds, the sunshine and a cuppa, we were joined for a short while by a hunting party of Black Kite and a Black Falcon. We counted around 25 Black Kites and there were plenty spiralling down from a great height that we didn’t count any more.
Sort of added that sparkle to the day.
Tight formation to fool the Black Falcon
Spot the odd one out. Red-necked Avocet looking for a landing space.
Settling in to land
The arrival of the Black Falcon kept everyone on their toes—or wings
Doesn’t seem to have a lot of friends, the Black Falcon.
Ready Set Go. I’ll race you to the end of the pool.