Little Visits: The Tale of Wagtails

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.
I digress.

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.

Well done, all round.

Sitting Pretty.
Just a couple of days old.
Not ready to fly, but the wings are starting to come away from the sheaths.
High Protein Rocket Fuel going in.
Filling them up keeps the adults busy all day
Testing the well developed wings. Not long to go now
Small nest. Growing birds. Time to take to the surrounding branches for a little extra space.
No doubt they all flew this day.
Out of the rain in the dry under a tree
Ready to explore the world.

Developing that Wagtail stare is a must
A neat little package. Ready for anything.

Little Visits: Hard Work Pays Off

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.


One of two that have been on the wing for about 5 days.
Time for a food top up.
An adult with their three young aeronauts.
Still with short tails and rich brown markings. The short tail doesn’t stop them from “Wagging”.
Time for a food topup
And down it goes.
tough shot. Two just fledged and still really only branch hopping.
Overlooking its important charges. This is one of the adults with the branching young.

‘tails free along the river

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

1811-08_DWJ_2850.jpgTaking 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.

1811-11_DWJ_6296.jpgMore hi power food going in

1811-15_DWJ_6545Several days later and the first signs of wing feathers sheaths are beginning to show.

1811-15_DWJ_6629.jpgSnuggling down over the young to keep them safe from view1811-15_DWJ_6632.jpg
In spite of her care, one of the young pokes out the back to see what’s going on

1811-17_DWJ_4295.jpgNow they are really developing a full set of feathers

1811-17_DWJ_4301.jpgMore food going in.

1811-19_DWJ_4820.jpgTrying to distract me by pretending to be an injured bird.

Each day brings them closer to fledging

1811-21_DWJ_5123.jpgFledging 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

1811-21_DWJ_5285.jpgAnd here we are young ‘tails on the move

1811-21_DWJ_5321-2.jpgSee Mum, I can fly. I can fly.

Saturday Evening Post #006

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.

News Flash: Important Update: Tale of a Wagtail A revisit

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.

Time will tell how it all goes.

Nicely setteled in.  The next addtion to the family is on the way. Persistence and Patience have your way.
Nicely setteled in. The next addtion to the family is on the way. Persistence and Patience have your way.

A Little Wag Tale

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.


Continue reading “A Little Wag Tale”

Willie Wagtail

DWJ_4921 - Version 2
Not sure if you know. But if you click on the image it will go to a larger size Click a second time and it will go to full size. Worth it to see the priceless expression here Enjoy

This is Gate Willie.

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.

Hauling around the Western Treatment Plant

Every year my Flickr mate Lynzwee, makes a trip down to see us and to spend a day at the Treatment Plant.

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.

"Is she nesting?"  No, afraid not.
“Is she nesting?” No, afraid not.
You don't mess with the big guy.  For some reason the Geese were not welcome in his pond
You don’t mess with the big guy. For some reason the Geese were not welcome in his pond
Really soft light helped the Spoonbill shots.
Really soft light helped the Spoonbill shots.
Whiskered Tern at touch down
Whiskered Tern at touch down
Little wings that have flown so far
Little wings that have flown so far
The tide was a bit slow turning and these birds were anxiously waiting for the mudflats to be exposed.
The tide was a bit slow turning and these birds were anxiously waiting for the mudflats to be exposed.
A Wagtail sees of a Brown Falcon
A Wagtail sees of a Brown Falcon
Pied Oystercatcher on final approach
Pied Oystercatcher on final approach
Always enjoy the flight control of the Silver Gull.
Always enjoy the flight control of the Silver Gull.
Its not obvious, but the Black winged Stilt is moving the Red-necked Avocet along. No room in this pool.
Its not obvious, but the Black winged Stilt is moving the Red-necked Avocet along. No room in this pool.
The master at work.
The master at work.

A Willie Wagtail story

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.

Too close, too close, fly away.
Too close, too close, fly away.
Never to sure about you humans. You all look the same to me.
Never too sure about you humans.
You all look the same to me.
At moment of launch.
At moment of launch.
Wow, look at what I caught. Thanks for stirring it up.
Wow, look at what I caught. Thanks for stirring it up.
To deal with these little beasties, one must change the sharp end around.  Claws work.
To deal with these little beasties, one must change the sharp end around. Claws work.
Gotta be careful of the sharp bits.   Snip, snap.
Gotta be careful of the sharp bits.
Snip, snap.
Now you see it now you don't
Now you see it now you don’t
Well, stir up some more.
Well, stir up some more.
Is this my best side?
Is this my best side?

A morning at Goschen Bushland Reserve.

We had to take a trip back up to the family acres during the week. (Astute readers will see the euphemism in there).

On the way back we left early in the morning from Swan Hill, and after some family duties (again an euphemism), we headed on down to the Goschen Bushland Reserve. This little clump of trees and shrubs is a truly outstanding area for birds and no matter what time of year, there will always be something to find.   We took the back way down which gets us onto the Woorinen Road and is a very pleasant drive among the trees and wheat lands, if somewhat dusty.

After about three hours, (no euphemism in there), we had seen an array of birds and EE had nailed some new species.  Including the Rainbow Bee Eater.

Top of the day however was a pair of Hooded Robins. (those who’ve followed here before will know there is pair we’ve photographed there previously), and they had only in the past day or so fledged at least two young. We got a good look at one of the young, but in the end Mum was getting quite distressed and doing a ‘broken wing’ display on the ground so we moved out of the area.

Next turned up the Rainbow Bee Eaters.  These are the most stunningly coloured birds and the metallic colours simply sparkle in the light.  I’d not noticed before how hard that is to record with the camera.  Plenty of White-browed Wood-swallows were nesting, and I managed to locate a female on a nest. Well to be truthful, I was stalking a Hooded Robin, and walked right past her nest.  She quickly regained composure, I took a shot and moved away.   I really dislike disturbing them.  There were also plenty of Masked Wood-swallows as circulating as well, and no doubt nests to looked after.  A few Brown Treecreepers and some Singing Honeyeaters, lots of White-plumed, and EE remarked its funny to drive all this way to photograph whats in our backyard.
And of course as is the case, the Black Honeyeater was no where to be seen.  Another chance another time.

As we drove out we spotted some young new fledged Willie Wagtails, and by the road way several White-browed Babblers, but it was time to go and so we moved on.

Just as we crossed the railway line at Kerang, on a most conspicuous tree, we noted a Wedge-tailed Eagle and a nest. Too much traffic behind to stop and go back, so we had to be content with what we had, and journey on to Eaglehawk, and the Eaglehawk Bakery for a “Mulga Bill Pie”.  Worth the drive. (No euphemism in there)

Most elegant and distinctive Hooded Robin, male.
Most elegant and distinctive Hooded Robin, male.
"Leave me alone".  Caught in the act on her nest
“Leave me alone”. Caught in the act on her nest
Hooded Robin, family group. Junior thinks its feeding time.
Hooded Robin, family group. Junior thinks its feeding time.
Very annoyed female Hooded Robin, she was most protective of her recently flown young.
Very annoyed female Hooded Robin, she was most protective of her recently flown young.
I often try but hardly succeed, to get a sharp shot of the White-browed Woodswallow.
I often try but hardly succeed, to get a sharp shot of the White-browed Woodswallow.
Rainbow Bee Eater. The streamers in the tail suggest a male
Rainbow Bee Eater. The streamers in the tail suggest a male
New fledged Willie Wagtail
New fledged Willie Wagtail

Around the Sugar Gums at Woodlands

With the backpaddock now devoted to the enjoyment of two foxes, and some soon to be introduced bandicoots, it’s been time to find a new area to explore.

Luckily Woodlands has an abundance of locations and habitats.  On the promting of our friend Richard, we decided on an excursion up into the Sugar Gum plantation.  This is pretty old vegetation these days, and has more than a few species so  we expected a bit of a treat.

On the track in, just about every tree had its own Striated Pardolote in residence, and many of them were happy to come and see what was going on. A small flock of weebills went by also, Would that be a wee flock of weebills?

But the highlight of the day was down in the clearing near the rangers work area.  A number of Dusky Woodswallows were at play in the open area. We sat and watched for about 30 minutes.  Now there are some rules to the games, and that became apparent. One rule is:Everybody find a perch on a tree- not the same tree. Rule two was one by one try to unperch the ones with the best location. Rule three: unperched birds can then try to remove the next most likely location.  The problem with the game is that rule three deteriorates into three or more birds on the one perch squabbling about whose site it is.
Good naturedly they then all fly off for a well earned feed. After some circling of the watching humans, rest momentarily and go back to rule one.

If there was a rule four, it seemed to have something to do with agitating the local Willie Wagtails who were busy getting acquainted.

The walk back to the car uncovered a covered up Pallid Cuckoo.  They had been calling all morning, and this one was close to the working area of a family of Superb Fairy Wrens. It didn’t seem to mind me taking a closer look at it.

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