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.
And that I didn’t get a bright sunny day to go with it, is not nearly so important as being at the right spot.
EE and I had left home amid some bright afternoon sunshine and stopped for a coffee at the Highway Lounge at the Caltex Servo on the road out of Werribee. By the time we’d sipped one of Gerry’s best brews, and stepped back outside the cloud was thickening up to biblical proportions. Mind I’m not sure what separates biblical proportions from ordinary thick grey cloud, but..
The last burst of sunshine for a week or so according to the weather prognosticators, the icon ladies, and the general look out the door.
So with just a little light left we decided to go looksee along 29 Mile Road.
No Kites. Orion has hunted the area dry it seems. (Perhaps those Olympian gods can now justifiably enjoy their umbrage.)
Lot of noise on the fence line just off the road. A small family of Golden-headed Cisticolas were intent on something.
And putting it all together after the event, I do believe I might have stumbled on a Cisticola version of “The Gunfight at OK Corral”
Seems that two males were going at it with a will, and all the family came out to see the event.
One of the major tactics it turns out is a lot of Ztttt Zttt yelling, and wing waving and turning and flicking of tail. This last technique is done with back to the opponent so they get to see just how serious you are.
Hard to work out in this little melodrama who was Wyatt Earp, and who was the various Clantons, but none the less the seriousness of it all can not be overlooked.
After about 10 minutes of dancing along the fence, turning and twisting that little tail and much Zrrrtt Zrrrt calls, one flew off leaving the other one the undisputed King of the Post. Well at least that is the way I’m writing it.
Jon Young says, “There is nothing random about bird’s awareness and behaviour. They have too much at stake…. Being tuned into the tapestry…. we are venturing into a realm of awareness, and intention and curiosity. I’ve had some magical experiences in the natural world, and some of them have involved birds.”
He quotes a San Bushman, “One day I see a small bird and recognise it. A thin thread will form between me and the bird. I will go again tomorrow and recognise it and the thread will thicken. Eveytime I see and recognise the bird, the thread strengthens. It will eventually grow to become a rope. That is what it means to be a Bushman. We make ropes to all aspects of the creation this way.”
Appreciation of the bird’s perspective.
Which puts us in the vehicle, heading along the 29 Mile Road at Avalon, in the early morning sunshine. EE, Mr An Onymous and I. And as we draw nearer to the end of the road, a thought from us all, was, “Will Orion still be here?”
We need not have worried.
Sitting on a small tree, about 10m off the side of the road. And by the look, having just eaten. Feathers still wet with the dew from the grass of his last capture.
At first we stop the car on the far side of the road, and they photograph through the open window.
Orion turns his head, takes note, and then develops, ‘Soft eyes’. Jon talks to this a lot, and I’ve mentioned it here before, but its the type of eyes that look right past you, with complete confidence. I stepped from the car, I’m on the far side remember, and approached from the sunside, and moved across the road. ‘Soft eyes’ followed me. Because of the line of the branch, his stance, and the way the light is running in the early morning, I want to be about 10m further out in the open. And of course the chance is he will spook and fly.
I make the first few shots. Orion sinks down onto the branch, and I take that as an invitation. Purposefully, rather than creeping up slowly, (that only spooks birds the worst), I move to the open area. Now, the backdrop is not right, so I need another 4 or 5 metres. He throws his head back and begins to hawk-up the fur ball from the last meal. I move. Soft eyes follow.
Because of the lay of the land, it’s going to be hard to isolate him against the backdrop without a horizon line running somewhere. I could go lower, but then it would be blue sky. Nice, but not encompassing. Besides crouching down human with long lens is going to turn those soft eyes to ones of determined study. So I opt for another step or two to put his head against the far distant tree line. That will have to do.
Orion settles to preen.
EE and Mr A take all this as a sign of relaxation and they also move off the roadway for the better angle and the light. Orion soft eyes. We’re cool.
In the end, we’ve enough for a game of cards, the three of us and Orion.
Preening, wingstretches, repositioning on the branch. And all the time he seems completely settled.
After an hour of standing in the fine sunshine, carrying a long lens, and working with a bird that seems to have no fear of us, a great deal of understanding, awareness and connection emerges.
The others move back to the car. I bid this able bird ‘good morning’ and follow them back. Soft eyes follow me.
And just before you think I’ve run out of stuff to write about and am uploading a few older images.
These are from a visit this afternoon. I’ve been laid up at home in bed with the flu for most of the week. And EE decided that it was such a nice sunny afternoon, that I’d be allowed out for a bit of ‘fresh air’.
So down to 29 Mile we went. And there was mr casual, Orion, sitting on the usual post eating a usual mouse. Well obviously not the same mouse as before, but you get the idea.
Interestingly enough there was quite a track made through the long grass and marsh weed, by photographers tracking in and out over the weekend. EE says, if she’d have known it might have been a good place to sell hot scones and tea!
Orion seemed all the more oblivious to it all, and went through an entire preening and resting program with two photographers at arms length —so to speak. Well not quite, but in its relaxed way we enjoyed vicariously its company.
Here is a small sample of the afternoon. And yes, I do feel better from the fresh air.
Not sure how you’re Greek mythology is, but Orion was a hunter who was going to kill all the wildlife. A bit miffed with his hubris, the gods took umbrage— they seeemed to do that a lot, over the least, and perhaps even looked for opportunities to be offended, but I digress.
In the end of the myth, well he gets bitten by a clever snake, and is consigned to turn for ever in the heavens, he at one end, and the snake at the other. When one lot of star pattern is visible at night, the other is below the horizon. One sets as the other rises. All very mystical.
There is a lot of the life/death, rebirth and restitution in the entire story, but that is probably enough for most average bird photographers to take in at one sitting.
After several sessions with the Black-shouldered Kite down on the 29 Mile Road, it dawned on me that Orion, the mighty hunter, would be a good, well, unisex name for our hero(ine).
So we went down to see Orion, discuss the matter with him/her, and see what he/she thought.
Seemed to go pretty well, and just to confirm it all the bird dropped off the post, flew a few wingflaps, hovered, dived and returned with a mouse. One can almost here Mt Olympus turning.
Addendum: Just to be very clear. These birds are not baited, called in, or in anyway interfered with. We are simply recording the activities of a very relaxed and completely confident bird. We strive for connection and if a bird exhibits any ‘stress’, we leave it in peace. No photo is worth stressing the bird. Now you know!
No. I haven’t fallen off the planet. But my photo database had developed a slight case of computer measels and its taken me the best part of the last couple of weeks to manage it back to life.
It all started…. but, let’s not go there.
Still been making photos but.
Here is a sequence from a morning with a Black-shouldered Kite hunting alongside the roadway. For those who can navigate around the Western Treatment Plant this one is working along 29 Mile Road.
Interesting time at the WTP, the waders are all feeding and colouring up for their journey north to Siberia. And all the nesting birds are now in winter preparation.
Which means the Black-shouldered Kites among others have come down to keep the mouse population from exploding to epic proportions. And if this bird is anything to go by, then the mice are well and truly under control.
I’ve heard it said that on average the success rate for a hunting bird is one strike in about 10-15 attempts. This bird (I haven’t named it yet), obviously never read the fine print, and in the hour or so we shared, it hunted 4 times and took 3 mice.
It also seems quite content around us mere humans and has allowed both close approaches, and has made its own close approaches. Add to that some fine sunshine, a small breeze to give it some lift and what better way to while away a few hours in the morning.
The Werribee BirdLife group had their monthly outing yesterday and visited the Western Treatment Plant.
The weather has been predicted to be sunny and hot, so it was with a touch of bemusement that we headed off down the highway in the fog!
But it did give us a lovely cool morning, so the sulking photographer in me just had to make do for awhile.
Travelling with the Wagtails (Werribee Birdlife in a former name), is a fun experience. There is a great deal of knowledge of the birds, and the area, and the social activity makes for a fun filled and well fed day.
We went down to the T Section, an area that is fast taking on hero status as a Red Phalarope has come down to visit over. Perhaps to the uninitiated a bit hard to spot, but once seen the frenetic activity of the bird makes it reasonably easy to locate. And especially if the tour leader. (D Torr esq.) lines it up in the spotting scope at the start of the activity.
Mr An Onymous has remarked from time to time on his bemusement at water birds that spend all their time hunting, and standing about in the water, to spend some time bathing in the stuff.
Seems to him, that its a bit incongruous for a ‘water’ bird to then take the time to use the water to bathe, given its already dripping wet in places.
Which brings us to a fine warm morning at the Western Treatment Plant.
The waders that visit over summer are now getting the first signs of the travelling bug biting. Its time to pack on as much weight as possible, and to conserve as much energy as possible.
So as the tide comes in, and the mudflats are covered with water, they retire inland to some of the safer ponds and settle in for a long sleep, and a bit of a preen. No doubt feathers need be tip top for the long flight ahead.
There are a special set of small ponds near the Beach Road entrance the plant that almost always attract them in great numbers. Plenty of soft grass, the safety of rocks and small islands and water that is only knee deep for a dotterel.
And because they are trying to conserve energy, they are a little more approachable. I managed to quietly slip off the side of the road and working my way through the grasses come up pretty close to a large clutch of Sharp-tailed Sandpipers, loafing in the sun.
The water in the ponds has come up a few centimetres of late, and I was not able to get a really low down water level shot without actually being in the water, so I opted for wet knees and elbows and hoped the water would not rise up through the grass and saturate me all over.
The Sharpies decided that with such nice sun, it was time for a bath. One by one, they stepped off the grasses and into the water for the tentative bobbing into the water then settled down like great big sponges, and simply soaked up the water. Which was then sprayed over all in close proximity. Finally a few wing flaps and a jump for joy, and the bird moved out of the way and the next one took up the challenge.
After about 20 minutes, and my knees and elbows turning strangely bleached, I rolled over back up the grass to the roadside. They didn’t flinch a feather.