Saturday Evening Post: #41 Problem Solving

Long term readers will remember, or might recall, that I have a warm and fuzzy feeling for “Choughness”, the life skills of your average White-winged Chough clan.
I put up a shot a week or so ago from a trip to Serendip Park, where the Choughs were trying to raid the feed bin for Brolgas and Magpie Geese.

Now it probably doesn’t take much to figure out that your average feeding spot for a brolga or goose is somewhat higher up than even the tallest chough.

The family I worked with two week ago had adopted the ‘jump higher its got to work’ approach as each family member tried-usually in vain-to get a grip inside the feeder and only had time to grab a small beakful before plummeting back to earth.

However time goes on. Problem solving skill seminars and practice sessions followed up with various counselling events, has given the Choughs a new approach to the problem
Or

This is a different family and well on the way up the evolutionary ladder. Next step Chough on the moon?

This family had developed a very workable solution indeed.  One clever bird, (Called Lucky by its friends) would jump up, flap/drop onto the edge of the feeder, and somehow balance its centre of gravity over the feeder and thus successful land inside. Then with great scooping bills-full, drop seed out of the feeder to the waiting family members below.
The only draw back to this incredible bit of problem solving is the Brolga, Magpie Geese and Little Ravens, don’t take to kindly to their food supply being raided, and every few minutes Lucky was forced to abandon its position to avoid a sharp wrap from the Brolga.

Where there is a will there is Choughness.

Enjoy

Little Visits: Serendipitous

We went to a BirdLife Werribee, (formerly Werribee Wagtails) monthly outing that included an afternoon at Serendip Sanctuary.

It’s a fairly close park for us, and we visit several times a year, and if the granndies turn up, it’s a day out in the field, but on formed tracks, and things to do, so makes a pleasing family day.  And it’s quite close to Lara Village and a certain Routley’s Bakery Pie shop. Which proved too much of a draw for Mr An Onymous and me, so we stopped off for lunch on the way through.
Furphy’s Ale and beef for him. Tandoori lamb for self.

I’m always a bit uneasy about photographing in an enclosed sanctuary area. It’s not a matter of ethics—per se—but, rather always seems to me a less challenging experience than working with the birds in the field. After all, the kangaroos have already seen a 1,000 tourists this week, so you are not exactly interesting.  They also know, people stay on the tracks, yell a lot, and move on. Some even wave, point fones at themselves and ‘whatever animal is that in the background?’ selfies abound.
So truth be told I normally wander through the area ohh and ahh appropriately, try not to get upset when someone points at a Tawny Frogmouth and says, “Oh, look, what a cute little owl!” and enjoy others enjoying their wildlife experience. (I’m not a spoil sport entirely!!!)

However it seems I’m mellowing with age. 😉

After so many trips, I’ve come to respect the locals. In their locality. Not only the ones in enclosures, but also the ‘visitors’, that have stayed on as Star Boarders. Quite a lot of the bird life is free on the wing and come and go as the season dictates. Others, for various reasons, including breeding programmes, are permanent.

And, what I’ve discovered from all that is I’m not so fussed about the lack of challenge, and much more interested in the closeup portrait.  The challenge for me is working with the bird for the right setting/location/lighting and then allowing them the freedom to move about unstressed. A humbling experience, but really has given me a feel of involvement with them as individuals. So much so that I look forward to being in their area, and hoping I’ll be able to make the best of the moments they share.

Of special interest to me is a pair of Cape Barren Geese.  These big birds have settled in to make Serendip their home territory, and with ready provided food, can you blame them. It’s nesting time right now.  One enterprising pair have made a nest site among some downed branches and scrub, not more than 5 metres from the main walking track. I spotted him first, and as he paced back and forth as people went by, I wondered, “Where is you mate”, and then I saw her.  All tucked up in her ‘secure’ haven.

The rest of the Wagtails tour/ensemble, moved on. I sat down with the pair for about 10 minutes.  Now a sitting goose doesn’t do a lot. Yet, the warm image of ‘mum’ raising her young, is such a classical performance.

Choughness, as this blog has often commented is a joy and delight to behold, especially as we don’t know the rules.
Inside the enclosure with the Brolga, there is a feeding station about brolga height. But rather attractive to your passing White-winged Chough. Except, they don’t have a good ‘hovering-flying’ technique, and so couldn’t access the food by sitting on the edge of the feeder. No where for them to attach.
Coughness is never defeated by such mere challenges.  So bend down, spring up on uncoiled legs, flap once to get direction, sail into the open feeder, grab a beak full and use those same wings to flutter back to the ground. Innovation at its best.

There is a bird enclose that houses quite a number of birds in a fly aviary.
Interestingly Buff-banded Rails are there in good numbers, and often Freckled ducks. One of the rails that I saw was quite white, so it must be a leucistic (the cells don’t have the ability to make colour).
And while I was there admiring that ‘Cute little owl’ (ggrrrr- it’s a Tawny Frogmouth!!!!), a pair of King Parrot turned up for a looksee at why wasn’t I walking through, yelling, pointing, and waving a fone about.  Thanks Mrs King, a lovely portrait session.

A day at Serendip is always a good experience with the birds, and now I’ve discovered my new friendships with them, I’ll look forward to the next trip to enjoy the photography of them as individuals, and find ways to express their character in a much more sympathetic manner.

Emu Portrait, in soft light. Finding the right background is the challenge
Oh, there you are, all tucked up in a safe nest
Sitting pretty, watching the parade of humans walking by
With a one, and two, and go. Coiled up like a spring it has to leap/flap about a metre and a half to get to the covered over feeding area.
As the old cartoony used to say, “Thunderbirds are GO!”
Incoming. Fiercely protective male makes a stunning entrance.
1907-02_DWJ_4665
Buff-banded Rail, not exactly blending in like its neighbors. Best guess is leucisim.
Mrs King, always looking resplendant.

 

Enjoy

In the School with Choughs

Flow with whatever may happen 
and let your mind be free. 
Stay centered by accepting 
whatever you are doing. 
This is the ultimate. 
Chuang Tzu

 

We’d been sitting quietly for awhile. Infact long enough to enjoy at least one cuppa and think longingly for the Thermos for a second.

It’s the You Yangs. Near the old, now unused, Duckponds School building. We were making one last session at finding the Jacky Winter pair and to see what the Eastern Yellow Robins were up to.
And.
To tell all the truth.  Not much.  Yep, that’s it. Little, a void, devoid, uninhabited. Departed, moved on, relocated.

And its been like that for quite awhiles. Many of the more productive spots we’ve been visiting, have been, well, decidedly UNproductive.

I knew there were White-winged Choughs on the other side of the main road, as their calls were quite clear.

1802-12_DWJ_3288.jpg

Continue reading “In the School with Choughs”

Life with a sprinkle of Choughness

Long term readers will know of my fascination with all things Choughness.

White-winged Choughs can be both frustrating and rewarding to follow.  Some families seem to have a high human tolerance and I’ve had them hunt around my feet and sit on the same log with me.  Others. No matter how much time I spend, they just keep moving on.
They are not the world’s greatest aeronauts and I often think that if they can run to the next location that is their preferred method of locomotion.

They also have quite well established family rules. Which they understand, while I must guess what is going on.  And at just about every encounter, I come away impressed by some new view of choughness.

One family we see regularly in the You Yangs have just managed to get a couple of young ones off the nest.   Now comes the job of teaching these little ones all the rules of choughness.   And its a big task.  The young birds are quite clueless. And they have an average attention span of about 1 millisecond.   “Is it food”, seems to be the total of their ability to reason.   So the adults have to spend quite a bit of time working with young. And because of their lack of reason, they are easily enticed away by other families offering “bigger grubs”.  Oh boy, I gotta go

Choughs need quite a large family size, at least six or seven adults to raise a young.  Larger groups have more flexibility and its reported, more success.

Found the family at work around some rocks, and settled down for a sprinkle of choughness to add to my day.

Continue reading “Life with a sprinkle of Choughness”

Blogging 101 the Third Week in Review; “Family Matters”

Family Matters

Been away for the bulk of this past week. Up at the Family Acres.  We stayed at the Murray Downs Resort in Swan Hill.  Really nice and quiet, and just a few km out of town.
Like all good resorts, probably enough to do without having to make the tourist mecca trip. And a lovely golfcourse built in.
But, of course not being the sporty type, golf doesn’t mean, clubs, balls and keeping score.  It means wide open green areas, water, trees, bushes and … birds.

So each morning we managed to be up at Sparrows call, and walk around the course, before the golfers began their pilgrimages.
In return we got to see among other things, White-winged Choughs, Rainbow Bee-eaters, Pied Butcherbirds and a host of the usual suspects.
With the Goschen Roadside Reserve about 20 minutes away, it should have been a great birding week.

But.

Family Matters.

So photography was banned.  Well at least frowned on. So I snuck into the deep pockets of my Breakaway jacket, a D810, sans its L Bracket, and in the other pocket, the 300mm f/4 PF with a 1.4 TC attached.    Not much help for general photography but at least it covered some of the birds at the golf course.

The White-winged Choughs have adapted quite well, thank you, to the rolling sand hills, saltbush and thin mallee scrub, nestled between the sweeping grassy greens of the golf course.   Able to enjoy both the richness of their old habitat and the pleasures of the new.

I managed to spend two sessions, a mid morning, and a late evening with a couple of the families.  They are so used to people zooming past in carts, or walking by with bags and clubs that a dude walking quietly with a camera seemed quite  harmless. So within a few minutes I was accepted into the family, and they worked around me nonchalantly. Even the ever present “Lookout” bird relaxed enough for closeups.

Blogging 101 was also concentrating on the family of bloggers.

But a lot of it was about branding, id, making themes that people will follow, or seek out and developing a feature to enrich readership, as my eyes glaze over….

So I came to the conclusion “Family Matters”. Those who graciously have clicked the Follow button or come over from another link are welcome here as family, and the time shared is as much important to me as the enjoyment of the birds.

So there is not going to be a ‘sustainable purely personal blog of random musings benefitting from a hint of structure.. ” here anytime in the foreseeable future.

Just me sharing our best time with the birds and hoping you enjoy it as much.

Here is how the Chough Family took their day.

Enjoy.

Sentry on Guard. If it can get the sentry to accept my presence then the family will settle down.
Sentry on Guard. If I can get the sentry to accept my presence then the family will settle down.
Always a delight to see the wing spread. They are not the world's most agile flyers
Always a delight to see the wing spread. They are not the world’s most agile flyers
The benefits of settling in a golf course. Plenty of water in pools on the road
The benefits of settling in a golf course. Plenty of water in pools on the road
A somewhat deformed beak.
A somewhat deformed beak.
Taking a stroll under the cooling shower of a lawn sprinkler.
Taking a stroll under the cooling shower of a lawn sprinkler.
The family that preens together.
The family that preens together.
Plenty of food among the damp understory litter.
Plenty of food among the damp understory litter.

Writing on Choughedness

Warning, this post is full of anthropomorphic observations, if the thought of creatures having feelings and thought processes like humans is not your scene, click away now.

I make no effort to hide the fact, that “I like Choughs”.  Their communal actions and activities are a constant source of inspiration and amusement to me.

Mr An Onymous and I had a bit of time after dinner while everyone was taking their evening dip in the Resort Pool, or sipping on those drinks with the cute little umbrellas attached. We thought a walk across the golf course open forest area would be a good way watch the sun go down.  And we’d seen some White-winged Choughs there the night before, so armed with the photography hardware we sallied forth. Bumped into one of the Resort staff who pointed out where the 4 or 5 Eastern Grey Kangaroos come down to feed on the grasses, and I didn’t have the heart to explain that back home they are in plague proportion and considered a nuisance.  Still, the right words. “Oh, Kangaroos, wow, that is amazing, fancy seeing them in the bush”, seemed to work.

We very soon found a family group feeding across an open paddock, and they were engrossed in digging down into the sandy soil to extract a white prize. (no not a golf ball).  It might have been a grub, or a shell, or a seed. Just hard to tell.  But it seemed to me they were able to pinpoint where to dig. It wasn’t random.

One found a top from a take-away coffee, and seemed to be amused by it, and went to no length of trouble to make sure no one took it away from it.  In the end, no coffee, no food, and just left it standing.  Those engaged in the digging would find a ‘white thing’ and then run across the paddock to be the first to pop it into the ever waiting beaks of the 3 or 4 young they were looking after.  Much wing folding, spreading and Chough babbling accompanied the activity.   By now they treated us with disdain, and just carried on feeding.
Then with a clatter, they all headed for the forest.  Mr An and I looked at each other, but couldn’t conclude why they left, so, we followed.

Light was now really fading, we found them inside the forest having met up with first one other company, and then another, up to 40 birds in total I guesstimated.

They took to the trees for a quick preening session, and then reassembled on the ground.  What happened next is best seen from the photos.

3 birds seemed to take centre stage and call the meeting to order. Then one of the others “St Paul”,  delivered the “Vespers” message. To our amazement, the 40 or so birds all stood round in a rough half circle and seemed to listen intently to what was being said.  Meeting over the three families began to prepare to roost for the night.
This involved much wing hugging, chatting and preening.  It also resulted in the very first Chough Scuffle I’ve seen.   One bird was trying  to go with a particular group, and it became obvious that its perfume, politeness, dress sense or general demeanour were unacceptable by the group.  A real scuffle followed and one emerged with a beakful of feathers! Disgruntled the looser skulked away to find some where else to roost for the night.
All the others in the group wigwagged appreciation and then flew off to find a spot.

Now finding a spot to roost sounds easy, but not for Choughs.  Its all in the order of who sits next to who on the branch. Much calling, wing waving and downright pushing and shoving ensued.  It was obvious that ‘she’ didn’t want to be next to ‘him’ and this one only wanted to roost next to that one.  And so it went.

In the end Five Choughs on a branch is the limit, and the next one to land bent the branch so much that all were put to flight.

By now the light had gone, and they did a final sweep over a Pied Butcher Bird and her two offspring. Moving them along out of the area.

Last seen and heard setting into the tops of some gum trees.

Choughedness, something I’ll never understand, but will be pleased to learn more.

I thought I ordered a Skinny Soy Latte.
I thought I ordered a Skinny Soy Latte.
Working at small time tunnelling.
Working at small time tunnelling.
What ever was down there required a bit of effort.
What ever was down there required a bit of effort.
"I got one, I got one", heading to feed one of the young.
“I got one, I got one”, heading to feed one of the young.
With a flash of white wings and they were gone
With a flash of white wings and they were gone
Preening for the big meeting. Got to look the best among family.
Preening for the big meeting. Got to look the best among family.
The social committee. "I hear by call this meeting of Choughedness to order."
The social committee.
“I hear by call this meeting of Choughedness to order.”
"St Paul", the message must have been a good strong one ,to get everyone's attention. No one back chatted.
“St Paul”, the message must have been a good strong one, to get everyone’s attention. No one back chatted.
Listening intently, no preen gin, taking, or feeding.
Listening intently, no preening, talking, or feeding.
Lecture over, time to get ready to roost
Lecture over, time to get ready to roost
A sentry stands guard while everyone else has a dust bath and hug.
A sentry stands guard while everyone else has a dust bath and hug.
Working out the sleeping arrangements for the night.
Working out the sleeping arrangements for the night.
And let that be a lesson to you.  A beak full of feathers, finished any further discussion.
And let that be a lesson to you. A beak full of feathers, finished any further discussion.
Downcast, the outcast wandered off forlornly.
Downcast, the outcast wandered off forlornly.
Five Choughs in the bed and they all rolled over and all fell out.
Five Choughs in the bed and they all rolled over and all fell out.

The mystery becomes a little clearer or more complicated

Because of a family event, we were on the road early to Ballarat.  On the way back, on my own, I dropped by the park. The weather was sunny and the wind had dropped off.  Nice.

After about 15 minutes, Primrose came by and was quite happy to pose in the sunshine. No sight of Lochie, and I don’t know where he is, and she wasn’t telling.

Also the male Scarlet,  I’ve decided he should be Will of Scarlet,  sort of Robin Hood style. Will of Scarlet came by and was quite vocal.  After about an hour, I saw him fly rapidly into a nearby bush, and another bird emerged out the back a couple of seconds later. At first it was hard to make out, and the light was never going to be great for a photo, but…. Lo and behold..  Its a female Scarlet Robin.  She was in a hurry to feed, and to wing stretch, so I think we might have a nesting function going on.  I hope so.  Anyway that explains the male and his hunt and carry activities. What it doesn’t explain is his attention to the female red-cap.   Or it might just be the birdy neighbourly thing.  More watching me thinks.

On the way back to the car, a small feeding party of White-winged Choughs came by, the light was falling, but they got into a ruckus over a small area on the side of the road. Much calling, squawking, alarm calling and jumping in the air. They also seemed to be intent to keep one another away from what ever it was. When they moved on I had a look and a large ‘shingleback’ lizard has a hole there and he was quite put out that his afternoon in the sun had been disturbed.  Several of the Choughs had white stuff on their wings which is pretty typical of birds that are sitting nest, with young who can now excrete, so there’s another generation of White-winged Choughs in there somewhere. How cool.

Enjoy the moments, we do.

Primrose at close quarters. She was happy to hunt around me, and come back quite close to check it all out. No nesting bump, so I don’t think she has started for real yet.

 

Scarlet Male in the very late afternoon light. Pity about the small branch across his wing and neck.

 

Female Scarlet Robin. As good as I got in the failing light. First time We’ve seen her in about three weeks.

 

White-winged Choughs giving a shinglebacked lizard a piece of their minds.

 

 

 

White-throated Treecreeper hard at work

So many places to go, so much to do, so little time.

When I first started looking at birds at Woodlands, I ran into  a birdo, Ray, who shared with me a lot of his knowledge of the area. One bird he pointed out was the White-throated Treecreeper and its distinctive call. It is alway such a pleasure to hear them, and find them among the trees.  The one Ray and I would find was a female, and for several seasons she didn’t seem to have a mate, then last season she turned up with a mate and eventually produced two young.  But since then I have only be only to find the female.

I heard her calling in the long creekline off Gellibrand Hill, and after a few minutes was able to find her hard at work. After following her about for about 15 minutes, I didn’t find any mate or young, so she might be back on her own.  But nice to see her again.

Also ran into a family of White-winged Choughs.  Or more accurately they found me and sped off with great alarm calls.  But then they settled down to feed and I was able to get within lens distance.  Lighting wasn’t so good, and I was hoping to get some pics of them with the lovely wings spread out.  But no such luck.  They are such a a dumpy looking bird, yet they seem to glide about as if on gossamer.  They have an elegance about the way they touch down for landing.

This one was in preening mode.