We had a few minutes to spare on the return home past the Western Treatment Plant and decided to look in on the “T Section” area. Not many birds in there at present, except for colonies of nesting swans.
I was going solo at the Western Treatment Plant. #kneetoo was tucked up in her wide view bird-hide at the hospital, and as the sun was shining in a clear blue sky, I thought a quick trip to check to see if any Flame Robins could be making the most of the weather and the paddocks at the Plant.
However after a bit of fruitless searching it was obviously not going to be my day for robins.
A final quick trip around the “T Section” area just in case a Brown Falcon or two might be present and then home was my plan.
As I unlocked the entry gate to the area, I heard the long rasping call away off in the distance of Brolga. A scan around the horizon and it was not likely I’d spot any as the calls had been a long way off, and had now stopped.
I prepared to shut the gate and another birdo was approaching to go out, so I held the gate open and said I’d lock it as they left. Then, just as I swung the gate across the road, that rasping cry filled the air, and this time I’d id’d the location. Sure enough in the air were three Brolga. Then as the shapes grew more distinct, it was likely that they were not only coming in my direction, but would perhaps make a pretty close pass by.
Locking the gate, I grabbed the camera and hoped that the pass would be on the sunny side of iAmGrey.
The more I watched, the more I became aware they would be using the roadway behind me as sort of navigation aid, and would pass right over the top of me.
And they did.
They disappeared behind one of the bunds, and I wondered where they had ended up.
Satisfied with the fly by, I went on to look along the roadways. Time for a cuppa, so I pulled up at one of the cross tracks and pulled out the doings.
Then the croaking call rattled over the ponds and I looked a bit further along the track and the pair were in head stretch calling mode, and engaging in a little pair bonding. Cuppa forgotten, I moved along the track for a better looksee.
They settled down to some preening and feeding and the juvenile with them was feeding in one of the shallow ponds.
I went back for my Cuppa and sat and watched until they moved off the pondage and up on to the track, and moved further along to continue their morning routine.
Satisfied, I packed up and headed off for a visit with the patient.
For those new readers, Studio Werkz, was the proposed name of a ‘Studio Alliance”, by a group of photographers ever-so-long ago. I’ve blogged here about the formation and dissolution, (all in 24hours), so won’t belabour here.
However everytime I get the chance to make a portrait of a bird, I find myself pondering why studio offers so many opportunities to bring out the character of the subject.
It is about lighting, it is about backdrop and it is about the magic moment when the subject no longer is “having a portrait taken”, but allows an insight into their life. A sparkle in the eye, a wry grin, leaning forward, turning the body everso slightly, and there is the magic moment.
It’s like as one of my early mentors would say, “Like eavesdropping on a special moment. Developing a real sensitivity for a feeling that says so much. The lens, the camera, the lighting all are forgotten, it is the reaction that speaks visually.”
On my very first ever trip to the Western Treatment Plant many years back, I’d been travelling about the Plant with a very experienced birdo who graciously gave me a wonderful introduction to the area—so much so that I registered for access the following morning.
However, I hadn’t managed to achieve any significant pictures during our day, as we had little time to work with the birds.
After I picked up my car and was driving along 29 Mile Road on the way home, I spied this Brown Falcon sitting on the post in the late evening sunshine. Hesitantly I parked, and eased out of the vehicle, 500mm lens and beanbag.
Would Brown stay?
Now the falcons in the area are pretty used to vehicles speeding past, or even stopping, and have at least a passing tolerance for the human condition. Although what they really think of us is debatable. Three things they they do give credit for, are lovely well spaced perching spaces, mice and rabbits.
And so I began to move about to get the best light, angle, and backdrop. And for a brief moment it took me all in.
That was the going home shot.
Not more than a minute later, a vehicle approached and Brown felt the pressure and sniffing a light breeze turned and was gone.
Around November-December, a flock of Terns visits the Western Treatment Plant and stays over a few months, begin to colour up for breeding, before heading northwards for their territories somewhere in Eurasia.
One of their most endearing markings is a bar of black feathers across the back of the neck, that looks like Earmuffs.
They used to be called “White-winged Black Terns”. Useful name, as when coloured up for breeding they have jet black bodies and white wings. Simples.
Not so for the namers of names, now they are called, much more usefully, you’d agree, “White-winged Tern”.
The numbers have been consistent over the few years I’ve been following them, and 30-40 birds are not unusual. They are a little smaller than Whiskered Terns, and they do seem to flock with their similarly usefully-named cousins. The WTP is some 10,000 hectares, so trying to locate 30 or so birds can be the needle-in-the-haystack kind of proposition, but as they mostly favour the ponds nearer the beach areas, the challenge is reduced at least a bit.
This year for some reason, the numbers were down, and it was obvious that we weren’t going to see the range of colouring occuring as in past years. Then to make the job, “Roll down the Shutters, and turn off the Lights”, the WTP was closed for visitors when the ‘Until Further Notice” notice was added to the gates and the locks changed. Got the message.
We did manage a couple of days with good light, a day or two with not so good light, and an evening that progressively became unworkable, so I’ve not been able to add substantially to the world’s collection of photos of the “Earmuff Tern”.
Tis true to say that EE and I haven’t been down to the Western Treatment Plant for quite a number of weeks. The weather, health things, family events and perhaps a touch of sloth just seems to have gotten in the way.
My photo mate Neil, sent me a note about his last weekend trip, and we decided if the weather opened up a bit, we’d at least drive down 29 Mile Road for a looksee.
So this morning after a couple of Tai Chi class sessions, we loaded up with lunch, a cuppa or two of Earl of Grey and of course the essential cameras and headed out in the warm sunshine, (and to tell all the story, the rather crisp wind as well).
Before we reached Beach Road junction, we spied some Flame Robins, but they wanted to work far out in a paddock, and we could only get glimpses.
Further on down, and a trio of Black-shouldered Kites were keeping the mice on their toes.
And as we sat with lunch at the first corner on the 29 Mile Road, a Spotted Harrier wafted by making some very nervous Swamphens. As we entered the T Section area, we were looking for Brolga as Neil had sighted them here at the weekend, but we lucked out.
Next we found a single Flame Robin female that was working around a puddle of water on the roadway.
Looking up, I heard the familiar call of a Black-shouldered Kite with a mouse, and as we looked a Black Falcon swept in from no where and after a little evasion from the Kite, the Falcon secured the prize and took off with the erstwhile and very angry kite in hot pursuit, but to no avail. The Black is just that good in the air.
As we drove back out, lo, the very Brolga had turned up in the first pond and were busy preening, we shared the last of the Earl of Grey and enjoyed their unconcerned wardrobe adjustments.
So for a first day back at the farm, it was a most enjoyable and profitable time.
I have, it must be said, been hanging off making this post. I was hoping, somewhat against hope, the I’d get another day down at the WTP with these delightful birds, but sad to say, the season has changed, the birds are on the move, and the fickle weather has finally arrived with some decent rain for the hard stressed environment.
White-winged Terns, (used to be called White-winged Black Tern for obvious reasons), pay a visit to the south over the mid-of-summer through most of autumn. They feed up on the rich supply of insects along the bunds and over the waters at the treatment plant. I suspect we see somewhere between 50-100 of them over the period.
The breeding birds also begin to colour up readying for their trip north. They are not huge migrants, like say Red-necked Stints, but still their journey north will take them into South-East Asia, and as far as China and India. Hard to find definitive data. There is also a branch of the family that breeds as far up as northern Europe. I think they spend the summer around the Mediterranean.
We all, I suppose, have birds that intrigue us to one extent or another, and White-winged Terns are one of those birds for me. I think mostly because of their consistent habit, and their lovely changeable plumage. Most seasons they seem to work in just a few ponds at the WTP, it changes a bit with the food source, but most times if they are locatable, and not on far-off ponds that have no access, they present a wonderful show of hunting close into the edges of the ponds and over the grass verges. Making it easy to get closeups, if and I did say, if, I can keep them in the viewfinder. Like all terns the flight path is not erratic, but certainly not predictable.
We have had several sessions with the birds, and rather than try and explain it all, the following shots should speak volumes for the beauty and delicate nature of these birds.
Hopefully it might also show just a little bit of my interest and enjoyment of their visit and how much I appreciate such a challenging subject.
Till next year, travel well little birds, your visit was most appreciated.
A search on the Bureau of Meteorology website, has quite a bit of info on the lack of rain in mid of Australia. See here http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/drought/
At the bottom of the page is a couple of graphs that begin to put it all in perspective.
And as it dries out, it seems, that quite a number of birds are moving south. Or toward the eastern coast.
And we’ve seen quite a change in the numbers of smaller falcons and kites in our area. In the space of a 10 minute drive the other day we saw 14 Nankeen Kestrel.
So we took a trip to the Western Treatment Plant on a sunny morning.
Black-shouldered Kites Growing up. October 10, 2017
Waiting is not Patience. Patience is about the moment,
an intersection of the strongest story with the right light,
the best timing and an awareness of the around.
Waiting makes us pay attention. David Duchemin
You’re Welcome Here.
We’ve been tracking a clutch of Black-shouldered Kites down on the 29 Mile Road at the Western Treatment Plant. The young have been on the wing now for over two months, and are now the expert hunters. They are just moulting out the last of their juvenile ginger and grey feathers and the eye is taking on the rich ruby colour of adult-hood.
The best perches in the area are along the roadside, the few trees and fenceposts and man-made solar panels and the like. And because of their consummate skill in the air, and the vast quantity of mice in the area, the young kites seem quite oblivious to human presence.
So sometimes it’s possible to get right into the world of the hunting birds—not as a long distance observer—in a hurry—but to take the time the learn about the birds, their preferences for hunting areas and their choice of spots to enjoy their successes.
I’ve been reading and following photographer David DuChemin and his approach to teaching a photographic vision. He has a series called Vision is Better. He talks about patience, waiting, the involvement in the around and being able to identify with the subject to really tell their story. On one such video he travels to British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest to photograph the Spirit Bears – a white variation of the black bear. His video is shot from a short kayak trip, and I think its possible to really get both his excitement of the area, and his immersion in the moment, (if you will allow the pun).
“the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way”
The weather map showed a large high stalled over us for most of the day. “Let’s do an evening at the Western Treatment Plant”, saith, I. “We could take down the picnic, and have a fine old evening watching the sunset over the bay, and maybe photograph a few birds, and well, just enjoy the evening sea breeze. What thinkest thou?”.
A call to Mr An Onymous, and the famed, and legendary “Blackmobile” was on the highway loaded with his fine repast. EE and I decided on a Peri-Peri Chicken Salad, and a round of Earl of Grey.
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”→
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.