Always a great fan of Crosbie Morrison’s radio program “Wild Life” of the 1950s and 60s. Took me many years but I eventually found a copy of his book, “Along the Track” So thought this year I might use it as a way of honouring the influence he had on so many listeners. Always fascinating as a little kid to hear what had been sent into him, packed in cotton wool in a matchbox.
Perhaps it was part of my desire to not only see things in the bush, but to really get to know them closely.
Such, is a family of Willie Wagtails.
Now that all the Black-shouldered Kites have left the area, and the Australian Hobbys have fledged and are already making all-day forays out over the paddocks, and the young of Brown Falcon, Cassia, of Cinnamon are now self-sufficient, it’s been a lot harder to find the ‘usual suspects’
I’ve noted before that Wagtails had a very bad start to the season. Been hard to find any that weren’t washed or blown out during the foul weather a few weeks back. When the only protection is clever placement of the nest and a finely woven spiderweb cup, it doesn’t take much to bring the project undone.
One pair had two lots of bad luck. (Perhaps three, as there is some debate about the possibility of an earlier nest we didn’t see).
The first nest was built in the open, and had no protection from the elements. A quick shake of the head and no time for moping about, they got straight back into a new nest. This one was pretty well protected under the leaves, but exposed to the edge of an open paddock and when the rains and winds came, like the three little pigs, the nest was pretty much blown upside down.
Quick off the mark, they returned to the scene of the first nest and relaid the foundation and built a new one. For those that follow Monty Python, it’s a bit like Willowshade in “The Holy Grail”
When I first came here, this was all swamp. Everyone said I was daft to build a castle on a swamp, but I built in all the same, just to show them. It sank into the swamp. So I built a second one. That sank into the swamp. So I built a third. That burned down, fell over, then sank into the swamp. But the fourth one stayed up. And that’s what you’re going to get, Lad, the strongest castle in all this Isle.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail
So Swamps aside, here are some of the highlights from the third and successful nesting
The weather here was not kind to the first clutches of Willie Wagtails. Those birds that started early ran into extreme conditions and as the nest is mostly spider-web and at best minimally attached to the branch, rain and high wind inevitabley took their toll. Some Willies brave it and have nests on open branches, while others adopt a more sheltered approach. Some will work on just a branch, while others go to the extreme of working on a branch junction and get the support of several branches, and even a vertical one which does give them extra support as it seems easier to bind the spiderweb tightly.
But little Wagtails grow fast, (about 14 days from hatching to fledging) and they soon overwhelm the tiny nest.
One pair we’ve been monitoring of late, has built their nest under the branches of a old, small, Peppercorn Tree. However it is right alongside a very busy walking track, and a few steps from a picnic/rest/viewing area. Wasn’t hard to find them. And they seemed unconcerned about the human presence. We try not to get too close or get in the way, and they just go on with the important job of first sitting, and then feeding.
I do get complaints from time to time that we are obtrusive and break the ‘rules’ of not photographing nests and it only encourages others. So, just to set the record. No photo is worth stressing a bird.
If we aren’t invited to be there. We don’t. Willies pretty quickly establish the boundary rules.
This pair, had chosen both the place and the time rather cleverly. She had nested through the last of the storms and the three young hatched just as the weather picked up, so they have had about two weeks of no rain and winds. Interestingly, on the day that these young flew, the weather turned nasty again. But they should survive in the thicker pines nearby.
Due to an odd arrangement of circumstances, that would take several blog pages to cover and even more to wend the pieces together, we had decided on a trip to the Western Treatment Plant. (WTP) What, of couse, was not in the “How to do it” manual was control of the weather.
Grandson “+D4” was staying over and t’was the only day avaible. For those interested “+D4” comes as an ‘Addition’ to the “3D’s” fabled for their “Dawdling” while on car-convoy on such trips to the WTP.
We picked up the usual Coffee-to-Go from our local and hit the highway. (Mr An Onymous, has a theory that in future times, sociologists and archeologists will conclude that ‘hit the road’ had some quasi-spiritualistic meaning and that the poor deluded ancients would go out and hit the road with their hand expecting some mystical experience—but— I digress)
The overcast, rain and high winds did not digress. Nor did they ease off. I may have mentioned before, that I can deal with the poor light and the rain at the WTP, but not the wind. It just makes getting out of IamGrey and standing in the open a truly harrowing experience and one that even the best of birds seems avoid at all costs. For those that might venture there, the track in the “Special Section” that was out along the beach area and barely passable with 2WD is now eroded to the point of being 4WD only.
So we had a fairly quiet trip about the plant. Good news is the roads are in very good condition and the closure has allowed several areas to be graded and topped and the drive experience improved no end.
We had hoped that White-winged Black Terns might have returned by now, but if so we didn’t get a sighting. The weather changes seem to have altered the plans of many returning migrants so far this season.
So as the blog is more now about the photos of the day, and less about the babble, here tis. Enjoy
Tis a well known fact that mostly I am allergic to photographing birds as part of a long walking exercise programme. To me, its two distinct activities and the thought of knocking up 15 kms and seeing the occassional bird, way, way over there, is enough to make me stay at home.
Tis also a well known fact, and long term readers will be well aware that an area in the Werribee River Park just a few minutes drive from home has been called, “The Office”, as in “just another day at”. Over the past 10 years we’ve spent countless hours in the area and tis fair to say that at one stage we probably had a close relationship with the majority of the birds in the area.
But, and there in is the rub. But. Recent rains have made things much more complex for us. The Werribee River ran to flood level and huge volumes of water rushed down the narrow channel, and of course gained speed and force as they went. So much so that a footbridge over the river has suffered ‘irreparable damage’. So Parks Vic, to protect the unsuspecting public, and those that would ignore signs suggesting it was unsafe, have now for everyone’s safety closed the area “Until Further Notice”. One of the pylons holding the bridge has been eroded and needs a complete replacement. Sadly there is no budget money for that in the ‘foreseeable future’, so the area will be out of bounds for your average Sacred Kingfisher aficionado. (You can guess EE’s disappointment.)
Couple that with the need to install on the far side of the river a new pipeline to feed the Werribee Open Range Zoo, and that access road is also now heavily chain-wired, with a similar sign that says, in its meaning, No Access to Kingfishers Here! I just hope the birds can’t read.
With two of our preferred birding spots now off limits, we are in the market, so to speak, for a new location. So a couple of days ago we took a walk along part of the track running alongside the Werribee River as it cuts through suburbia. Well actually the River has always been there and Suburbia has encrouched up to the edges of the river.
So we didn’t expect any exotic or unusual birds, but thought the walk would give us the option of exploring some locations that might prove worthwhile. And as Ashley over on “Aussiebirder” points out Forest Therapy is about taking the time to appreciate the simple, and common around us.
What surprised us was the height that the water had come up to in the recent floods. Trees festooned with plastic bags and other disposable disposed rubbish certainly drew a line. Including a rather large log that was jammed 5-6 metres above water level.
We did find the usual suspects and a few extras which did make the day worthwhile. And we have a couple of places that might yield us some good opportunities in the future. Sore of feet and a little exhausted, we headed for home and lunch.
We finally managed a day that at least started out looking sunny, but it did deteriote. However no rain. Bonus!
A short stop to catch up on our local Willie Wagtails nesting. All seemed well, and as this pair have been washed and blown off the branch in their past two attempts, it is heartening to see them back on the job.
We also walked about part of the Werribee Mansion precinct and EE managed to spot at least four Wagtails at work on various stages of nesting.
The Hobby pair have also shown they have been able to weather the various weathers that have been given them and have two rather well developed young chicks on the nest. Given the days of constant rain, and exceedingly high winds its says a lot of for these birds to have survived. I had, I must admit begun to think they might have abandoned the project.
EE was at her alert best and found four nesting sites. It seems the Willies have figured out the dreadful weather might be gone, and are keen to make up for lost time. Willies have, it seems two major nesting strategies. I’ve noted over the years that its possible to find a pair building a nest on a branch out in the open. No surrounding cover. In your face. I’m here, “This is Me!” The second strategy is one of the furtive, hide-away in the deepest part of the a thickly covered bush or tree and, Ha! Let someone try and find us in there. I once had one that had nested in what can best be describes as the very centre of a Prickly Wattle bush (Acacia paradoxa) Each time getting into and out of the nest damaged some feathers. The clutch was well protected from self-serving Ravens and other thieves. They fledged three young. And occasionally there is one that just seems to go for location, location, location, a bit like Goldilocks. Not too open, not too hidden.
I have to say that over the years, each method has had its successes and failures, so its hard to conclude one is better. I think it just depends on how stubborn the pair are.
Went to look for Seraphema and see if she was still in residence. Along the way came upon a White-faced Heron that seemed to have started a nest, but wasn’t sure if it should be completed. There was lots of calling disussion among the pair, but not much building. Time will tell. And EE managed to locate a pair of Magpie larks engaged in the fun of building their mud house. The male popped down on the ground for a quick snack or two with his black apron all covered in mud flecks.
And so to the business in hand. The male Hobby deposited a catch into Serpaphema’s waiting claws and a few minutes later she headed to the nest.
After a feed, the two young climbed to the top of the nest for a look about and a wing-stretch. If a picture is worth a thousand words, here comes a small essay.
And just as I was leaving I found a young Red-rumped Parrot sitting on a fence line. The soft light seemed to grace those lovely young colours
Not sure if you’ve seen this, but here is a link to an ABC story on a Raptor Rehabilitation Centre. Birds of Prey Rehab
Some things, as the credit card ad points out, Just can’t be purchased.
On our Kingfisher quest, we’ve crossed the paths of several Willie Wagtail pairs at nest. Not all of them are successful. But the agile and relentless little birds only try the harder. Most will, within a few days of loss, be hard at work on the next nest.
We found a pair that have survived with three happy little young—without any catastrophe. I don’t normally publish nesting photos of Wagtails until I am sure that they have been successful. No point in raising hopes and then seeing the nest disappear. The Wagtails take it as part of the cost of doing business, we humans seem to take the devastation personally.
A recent fledging of three out of four young Peregrine Falcons at 367 Collins Street is a case in point. The fb page had thousands of words of anguish at the loss of one of the young that succumbed before flying. Angry, “Why didn’t ‘they’ Do Something” posts seemed to miss the point that the parents had managed a magnificent feat in fledging three fat healthy young. It was as if people had lost their favourite teddybear when young and now had a reason to express their own personal loss.
It takes the Wagtails about a week to build the nest, about 14 days to hatch and about 14 days to bring them to wing.
This pair had a nest quite low down on a tree trunk that had only recently fallen in a previous storm. Some Wagtails seem to nest in quite secretive behind-the-leaves locations, and others take what seems to be the risk of exposing their work to the world. Such was this pair.
Several days back we’d seen the first of the young ‘branching’, so no doubt they would be on quite mobile when we checked again today. To add to our difficulty a light rain persisted in falling. However, the little tackers were quite dry and feisty safely under the leaves of a tree.
Now that we have the chance to get out and about, well at least for 25km, it might seem strange that I’d start off by posting some activity on the river where we’ve been doing our daily walk.
Two things have become apparent on our little journeys.
Firstly: How many Magpie Larks are at work on nests or have already flown young.
Secondly: The numbers of Willie Wagtails, all with nests quite close to one another, 50m or so is not unusual, and they have all begun about the same time, and most of them are now fledging, or soon will be, their first clutch. And surprisingly for Willies, none so far seem to have suffered predation by larger birds. We have about 6 nests for sure, and several others that have yet to be discovered.
It was time to take a look at how things were going, and to our delight one pair had managed to get their three young on the wing, either that morning, or the day before, as the young were still ‘getting their wings’.
Another pair, with perhaps the best nest location, under an overhanging branch now overgrown with a creeper, also just got their two on the wing. They seemed content to hop from branch to branch among the creeper and the branches.
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
Taking a snack to work. This one is still sitting eggs
The casual work approach
First sight of the little featherless, blind young
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.
More hi power food going in
Several days later and the first signs of wing feathers sheaths are beginning to show.
Snuggling down over the young to keep them safe from view
In spite of her care, one of the young pokes out the back to see what’s going on
Now they are really developing a full set of feathers
More food going in.
Trying to distract me by pretending to be an injured bird.
Each day brings them closer to fledging
Fledging 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
Hope you like the new site. I like the design as it will work well on pads and phones. Each block will be in a single line down the page, and as there is a limited number of posts on the front page, it shouldn’t go on and on and on forever.
It also seems that unless I ante up some cash and take on a ‘paid’ site then anyone on my mailing list for blog updates will get emails which include ‘clickbait’ ads for stuff you don’t need.
Not my fault I cry, but it does mean that come the new year I’ll have to take a paid site to get rid of the problem. And I see any such intrusions into people’s trust and relationships as INTRUSION.
Also get ready to see lots of photos of Willie Wagtails at nest. After what has been a very slow start by the Wagtail community to the increase of their species, they seem to have thrown everything at it the past couple of weeks. Even a stroll around our morning walk site has revealed 3 pairs hard at work, and we weren’t trying hard. Add another 4 or 5 pair at The Office, and its certainly going to be a busy wagtail season anytime soon.
Look at the eyebrow in the header image. That is one annoyed Willie.
And on a positive note, a check on our local Tawny Frogmouth young this afternoon reveals they have flown. Well done Tawnys.
This one is so busy that it took a snack to work while it was doing its share of nesting duties. The eggs hadn’ t hatch this time last week.
Took a stroll tonight to look for the little lone Wagtail of my previous post. A bit harder to find as its well on the wing.
So turned to go back for a fine cuppa of Earl of Grey with EE, my favourite person.
As I passed by the old tree that had held the nest, I stopped just to see how dilapidated it would have become in the past few days.
Double take Time !!!
Was that a tail I saw on the nest. Stop, rub eyes, look again.
She has added a new coat of web to the nest, set up the wide-screen tv, remodelled the Kitchen, and laid eggs and was about to do her part for Wagtail lineage.
In what must be about the fastest turn-around between clutches, this lady means business. No doubt they’ve figured that one can sit the eggs, while one administers the young fledgling to maturity.
And if the nest worked once. Well!!!
This time I refrained from yelling my best advice across the paddock to her. Including the fact the next few days are going to be in the high 30s C. I don’t think she considers it good wagtail advice.
Over the past few weeks along the river area at Werribee River Park, (The Office), we’ve been waiting for the Willie Wagtails to get into their nesting season.
Normally quick off the rank for a bout of nesting, the Wagtails around The Office seem to have been particularly slow in making the first move.
Not that I blame them, as about 8 pairs we worked with last year, built a nest early, and were washed out with rain. They rebuilt, only to have a second storm cell come though about a fortnight later and once again wash them off the branches. After a couple of weeks they started again, and as luck would have it, a third storm ripped through and again devastated their efforts. By the fourth clutch, we were well into summer and most seemed to raise this round. At one stage there were over 30 young juveniles all flitting about together as mum and dad worked on a fifth clutch.
This year, they seem to have taken the approach: Wait till the storm season is behind us.
And about two weeks back, we were thrilled to hear the nesting call of as many as 8-10 pairs as they worked away building in various locations from highly concealed among the leaves, to desperate, out in the open. Nothing is going to get us.
It has a territory by the main gate at Paradise Road entrance at Western Treatment Plant.
His (?) job in the world is to give lectures to all those who would dare to open the gate and enter the Paradise Road area.
and a good job he does too.
Lindsay (to his Ozzie Mates), dropped me a note on his scheduled visit and I found a day that looked suitable. Not that we had many options.
So as the Banjo said. We went.
The weather map showed no cloud at all when I checked, but when we got to the Pt Wilson Road it was pretty certain the map was wrong. So we suffered the usual grey sky pics. And kept our eyes up for an elusive Sea-eagle.
Lindsay had about 4 birds that he really wanted and we managed to add Brolga. A pair were sitting in the grass on the far side of a pond, and at first everyone jumped to conclusions “She’s nesting!” but change the ‘n’ to an ‘r’ and you’d be much more likely to be right. So it was. When we swung by on the return journey, they both had moved quite a long way down the bund.
And then we saw them have an altercation with a handful of Cape Barren Geese, and the geese didn’t bother to stick around and argue.
At the moment the Whiskered Terns are hunting prodigiously and obviously productively. So we spent quite a little time working at really close distances with them as they swept along the mouth of the Little River.
And to top it off in the distance a Sea-eagle took off. Too far.
I was using the 300mm f/4 lens and was surprised to remember how fast it was at grabbing focus. I must remember to put it back on the D2Xs and it will really sing.
The sun came out and we had a really fine afternoon and some good results. On the way back we stopped for the ‘traditional’ coffee and Banana Cake at the Highway Lounge, and then as we were near swung into the Werribee River Park, but it was pretty quiet. But on the way out three of the young Kestrels were hunting in the evening sunshine. Lindsay was hanging out the window trying for that ‘best’ shot. The bird obliged by dropping off the post on to the road, but I think the af on the D7000 might have found the roadside more attractive. At least that’s how I interpreted his response.
Here’s a days sample See Lindsay’s Page sometime soon for his version.
We dropped him at the railway station after a day of much mirth and frivolity and some great birding and excellent photo opportunities. Seeya next time mate.
A long time ago, in years, I was a simply a Landscape Photographer. I happened to live quite near the Woodlands Historic Park, just opposite Melbourne Airport. The Moonee Ponds Creek has its head waters in the area, and the Creek at this end is not permanent water, but draws from the surrounding hills and channels the water down toward the Yarra.
The watercourse was, and still is a prefect habitat for the majestic River Red Gum, and there are many fine examples of these trees in the park. Some of them no doubt older than European Settlement. It is pretty awesome to stand under these wonderful trees and ponder all the things that they have seen come and go.
Now, as I mentioned, in days of yore, I would roam these paddocks and valleys in search of the right light, the perfect moment, the touch of mist or the brilliance of the light upon the massive trunks to make great landscapes. I also in those days had a huge tripod, which I seemed quite capable of lugging for miles. Some of you won’t have heard of Filum, but it’s not a four letter word alone, it was the medium of preference for photographers all those years ago. Big filum. Large sizes. No megapixels, and remarkably heavy and slow lenses to use on equally heavy and awkward cameras.
But times change.
I moved to digital very early in the development. (Easy to say, worked for a company that had both a foot embedded in the filum market, and dabbling in the development of digital technologies.)
But my love of light, shapes, tones and textures that make those landscapes work still drove me.
One morning, about 10 years back, I was returning to the carpark, and stopped to take a break at a park picnic table. A Willie Wagtail flew past. Not the first one I’ve ever seen, but it flew back again. After a few minutes I became aware of a lot of Wagtail chatter going on about 20 m, away and decided to see what it was all about. To my delight, surprise, awe and enchantment, the two Wagtails were hard at work building a nest, and explaining in Wagtailese to one another the finer points of nest building. Nor did they seem at all concerned by my presence. So, wandering back to said tripod, (I was still using for the digital cameras.) I picked my longest lens (a 200mm f/2.8 ) and moved it all close enough to take some shots of this activity.
Willie Wagtails are a remarkable combination of Black and White. The two most difficult tones to reproduce well. As any formal wedding photographer, or rock band enthusiast, or vehicle photographer, or just about anyone who photographs high contrast subject will tell you. Still on the point. I was thrilled to see the nest develop, and came back the following day, sat with the birds and watched them at work. The following day, she had laid an egg, and then next couple of days began the process of hatching the young. In the end, flying 4 big fat juveniles. More to photograph.
Now this monologue better go somewhere. From that moment on, I was hooked on photographing birds. So every word and image you see here, and ever pic thats on Flickr and is in mags, calendars and cards is the result of two squabbling little birds.
The only thing I’ve leaned about bird photography is its obsessive. I no longer even attempt to explain. “Oh, I’m obsessed”, is my standard answer.
Which bring us to a trip along the track at The Office, and a Willie Wagtail that came across the paddock to first harass me, then to settle, and then to follow me down the fence line taking insects as it went. Most every birdo will have come across a bird on a fence. It’s about 3 posts away. Too far for a good shot. You move in. The bird moves 2 more posts. You move in, it moves 2 more posts. etc etc, until 10 posts seperates.
And this Wagtail was no exception. But, by not hurrying, I managed to get the gap down to about 2 posts. Then things changed. The game became: How close can I let this dude get, before I show my disdain and move on. And still I kept advancing on its position, until we were 1 fence post apart. Then for its own reasons, it began to feed in the road and grass verge near me. Still I advanced and in the end, this amazing bird for no reason other than its own, landed by my foot, hunted, and then kind of flew around me, landed and repeated the process. Now it would land on the fence wire and I could move in to fill the frame. “Do you think this side, or that side suits me best?” Should I wag my tail? And so my love for these delightful little birds was rekindled.
Now its true I could fill Flickr with heaps of shots of wagtails, but rather than do that here is a short selection from a delightful 3o mins or so with a very elegant and relaxed bird.