Now that Melbourne has emerged from its fifth covid lockdown its time for the Doona Hermit to shed his old worn doona and venture out in to the real, (no definitions please) world.
#kneetoo and I had a little local journey planned, with a stop off along the way to look at a pair of Black-shouldered Kites and their young(?)
But as I pulled back said doona and checked the weather app, it looked like a beaut, clear, cold morning.
We had planned to do our quick visit and then be home by mid-morning for a relaxing morning tea, so I was not planning to load Earl of Grey into the thermos or grab a bikkie or two for the journey.
On a whim, we decided that a morning driving around part of the Werribee Treatment Plant birding area would make the most of the weather, and who knows when if, ever, we’d have such a chance. Fix snacxks, load cameras, dress warmly and we were on the way.
As it turned out much of the area where we visited was pretty bereft of birds, but what we lacked in quantity we made up for in birds we’d not had the pleasure of seeing for quite awhile
My friend Nina was down at the WTP last week.
She sent me a note of her adventures, and has kindly allowed me to share them here.
In a galaxy far, far, far, far, away, in another time, Nina and I both worked for a large multi-national. Her love of the environment and my natural history photography have kind of kept us in touch.
All the photos, words and story are Nina’s. Obviously copyright, and intellectual property rights belong to her and should be honoured.
Here is what she sent me.
I had an extraordinary experience at the WTP with friends last Friday.
Where ever we went, we kept running into Brolgas.
On Kirks Point track we watched some Brolgas playing with a tennis ball for more than an hour. At first I thought they were trying to eat it, but after a while I realised they were just playing. One would drop it and the next one >would pick it up. They would also pass it to each other. I have many blurry photos because I was shaking with excitement. The memories of thisclose encounter will be with me for ever.
The images are linked to a larger version so just double click to see. Be Amazed!
If you would like to contact Nina drop me a note and I’ll pass on the details.
I was going solo at the Western Treatment Plant. #kneetoo was tucked up in her wide view bird-hide at the hospital, and as the sun was shining in a clear blue sky, I thought a quick trip to check to see if any Flame Robins could be making the most of the weather and the paddocks at the Plant.
However after a bit of fruitless searching it was obviously not going to be my day for robins.
A final quick trip around the “T Section” area just in case a Brown Falcon or two might be present and then home was my plan.
As I unlocked the entry gate to the area, I heard the long rasping call away off in the distance of Brolga. A scan around the horizon and it was not likely I’d spot any as the calls had been a long way off, and had now stopped.
I prepared to shut the gate and another birdo was approaching to go out, so I held the gate open and said I’d lock it as they left. Then, just as I swung the gate across the road, that rasping cry filled the air, and this time I’d id’d the location. Sure enough in the air were three Brolga. Then as the shapes grew more distinct, it was likely that they were not only coming in my direction, but would perhaps make a pretty close pass by.
Locking the gate, I grabbed the camera and hoped that the pass would be on the sunny side of iAmGrey.
The more I watched, the more I became aware they would be using the roadway behind me as sort of navigation aid, and would pass right over the top of me.
And they did.
They disappeared behind one of the bunds, and I wondered where they had ended up.
Satisfied with the fly by, I went on to look along the roadways. Time for a cuppa, so I pulled up at one of the cross tracks and pulled out the doings.
Then the croaking call rattled over the ponds and I looked a bit further along the track and the pair were in head stretch calling mode, and engaging in a little pair bonding. Cuppa forgotten, I moved along the track for a better looksee.
They settled down to some preening and feeding and the juvenile with them was feeding in one of the shallow ponds.
I went back for my Cuppa and sat and watched until they moved off the pondage and up on to the track, and moved further along to continue their morning routine.
Satisfied, I packed up and headed off for a visit with the patient.
After our aborted visit late last week, and with the prospect of finding Glossy Ibis in the sunshine, we eagerly waited for a break in the weather, and of course time out of our hectic social calendars (Well EE’s anyway).
Such an opportunity does not come up that often it seems so Iam Grey sat languishing in the garage as both the calendar and weather phenomena swept over our heads.
EE agreed to cancel a day with the girls, and so it was deemed that we’d make a run early on Tuesday morning. Of course the weather prognosticators and their cleverly arranged little tv charts said, “Oh no, not another disastrous weather pattern, watch out for a bloke with a big boat and lots of gathering animals”, but none the less, given that was the time slot.
Didn’t see the animals two by two, but have to confess the rain made up for any loss there.
In the end I sat in the car, window down, rain falling down and watched Whiskered Terns hunting along the edge of the bunds among the grasses and the escapee canola. (ahhh yes the product that was promised not to get out of control)
The waves in the photo are not tidal, these are former sewerage ponds and the wind has stirred up the water into large running waves.
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.