It was one of those mornings when I looked out the window when I got out of bed and it looked clear. No Wind.
Bonus. Didn’t take long to work out what to do. Check again, just in case. Yep, no sun up yet. Crisp twinkling stars set against a perfect black velvet setting. Good to be alive.
Mind, most of the apprehension of the morning was based on dire predictions of Noahic proportion winds and rain from the weather prognosticators on the telly the previous evening. But most times they leave me amazed at the amount of descriptive words that can be used to create fear and despair among the masses, when it comes to describing the following day’s weather.
Flow with whatever may happen
and let your mind be free.
Stay centered by accepting
whatever you are doing.
This is the ultimate.
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.
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.
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.
Be like the forces of nature:
when it blows, there is only wind;
when it rains, there is only rain;
when the clouds pass, the sun shines through.
When I was a mere broth of a photographer, and knee deep in learning the craft, one of the big studio swings was away from formal portraits in a studio and more to ‘environmental portraits’, as they became known.
I’ve blogged on this process here before and over on Studio Werkz, and the studio I was working with, at the time, was quite slow in making the ‘customer’ perceived change and ‘that mob’ down the road with their shiny new Hasselblads made the running. Yet the young-gun in me was always eager to explore new opportunities. And like hand-coloured black and white photos, the old studio portrait gave way to the more ‘exciting and involving’ outdoor portrait.
As much of my own direction turned to product photography the need to embrace the new age really didn’t catch me. After all who wants to see their precious white-porcelain bathroom bowl posed against some tree/plant/water feature or industrial backdrop.
Yet, I have to be among the first to acknowledge, the chance to use the power of the ‘around’ and the available light has always given me a real pleasure when I get to do the occasional, informal portrait.
I’ve been contemplating my own bird photography of late, and while I enjoy the camaraderie of the Flickr page tis a tough medium to encapsulate the images that go into making a story of the birds. Long time readers will recall the earliest blogs here were much more the sharing of time with a bird or pair or family as it seemed to me to bring the story of their important lives.
So, I have considered combining Studio Werks into BirdasPoetry, and share the challenges of the craft of portrait stories.
Which of course takes us directly into the field and in this case a sunny morn at the You Yangs.
And almost before we had the cameras out of the car, the shrill, Zhhhhht, Zhhhhht, Zhhhht. Pling pling pling, of a Restless Flycatcher rang in our ears.
Been a bit frantic with a number of projects the past week or so, and have a bit more to add to Studio Werkz.
EE suggested a bit of a break from serious bird photography, and an early morning at the You Yangs Park sounded about right.
Went to visit the Jacky Nursery last evening.
Both parents are busy looking after the two fledglings, now ensconced in separate trees. One little dude had chosen to fly in and land in a tree that White-plumed Honeyeaters consider “their territory”.
I’ve made the statement before that Jacky Winter are birds that have stolen my heart.
They are not the most startling of colour, nor do they seem to have a particular outstanding feature that makes them a special bird. They used to carry the unfortunate name, “Lesser Fascinating Bird”, so that should be a hint as to how we’ve seen them in the past.
They have a pleasant nature, and don’ t seemed too fussed by us humans. And once they have id’d us, they seem to settle into tolerance bordering on disdain.
We were in the You Yangs some weeks back and it was casually mentioned, “Oh, I saw a Jacky Winter down near the old school building”, as in— well that ticked Lesser Fascinating Bird off my list, have you seen anything important? It was enough to make me stop on the way out and scout around.
Spotted Pardalote. The bird of rumour and voice. Mostly we never see them. Hidden among the topmost leaves, their tiny call recognisable, but impossible sometimes to locate.
To nest, they descend to the earth, dig an incredible tunnel — up to 60cm or more and setup house for the 3 weeks it takes to lay, incubate, hatch and fledge their young.
Those of us who walk the earth with them will often find evidence of their nesting activity. So I suppose do all sorts of feral predators. Yet, each year they disard their cloak of invisibility and take to the task.
Once complete, its back to the treetops and small tiny peeps that discolose their presence.
They are one of our smallest birds. I’ve handled a dead one, (hit by a bicyle — the bird didn’t even know what happened, and the rider was oblivious —. I picked it up, still warm, it fitted into the very centre of the palm of my hand, my thumb twice as large as the bird. I took it to the side of the road, opened up a small hole in the earth and laid it ever-so-gently down. The warm earth welcomed its little wonder.
They are so prefectly marked. Rich black, white, deep orange yellow. Tiny legs that seem like rubber bands as they can stretch and seem to bend to any angle.
While EE was spending time with ‘her’ Juvenile Eastern Yellow Robin — it is now growing to be quite the impressive adult, keeping only just a hint of its juvenile brown feather set now — I looked to see what else was in the area.
A small family of Spotted Pardalote were feeding among some of the smaller gums in the area, and were happy to work in the lower branches while I followed their progress.
I love Jacky Winter. There. I’ve said it. Now you know.
There is something about these little birds that just resonates with me. They are not the most brilliantly dressed, they don’t seem to perform mighty deeds, and they have a fairly limited song routine.
They have a charming and endearing gentleness and unhurried approach, that just fascinates me.
Jacky hunts robin like by sitting quietly then pouncing on prey on the ground.
Jacky also hunts like a flycatcher, hovering over the ground while surveying for movement below (Boles). At one time in history, it used to be called the “Lesser Fascinating Bird”. (Boles again) ” As used here, ‘fascinate’ meant ‘transfix and hold spellbound’. from the belief that the hovering action mesmerised the prey…
I’ve talked this over with several pairs of Jacky Winter, as to why they should be called ‘lesser’, but on each occasion, the little bird’s reaction has been to glaze over its little eyes and settle in to the perch without further concern. So I figured they don’t care what they are called.
Buried in their scientific name is ‘fascinans’, – fascinating. Microeca translating as tiny house (Cayley)
Jacky also has a somewhat predictable habit of landing on a perch and then wagging its tail back and forth, (think Willie Wagtail, Grey Fantail). They also seem to perch down on the branch resting their tummy on the branch.
Jacky’s tail edge is white, and it makes quite a show as it lands and then flicks back and forth.
It’s most melodic tone is a somewhat plain “peter, peter, peter” And it has been reported to be among the very first to herald the dawn chorus. A second chitter is much more a scolding call, and Mr An Onymous loves to remind me of the day we were working with a pair and after 20 minutes or so, Jacky had reached its limit. And I got a really severe lecture, and no further pictures for the day.
Truth be told. EE and I were on a mission. We wanted to locate a pair of Scarlet Robins. They are locals to the area and he has featured in the blog before, long suffering reader that you are, you might just remember the shots of him attacking the ‘bird in the car’ reflection at the carpark!
We’d not seen much of them this season, and at least one nest had not been successful, nor had we seen any evidence of new birds in the area.
As we searched, we came to a opening in the forest near the track, and two Jacky Winter were hard at work. At first they were if nothing, disdainful, at having intruders. But it only took a minute of so to settle and A little bit of patient sitting and both birds were happy to provide various poses.
Then one of those great ‘rites of passage’ moments, and Jacky flew by me, circled about and landed about a metre away. The gracious little bird had accepted me. And then I was able to learn of the ways of the Lesser Fascinating Bird. It hunted on the roadway near my feet, looped up to catch insects and chatted away quietly to the second bird.
I know I talk a lot here about Jon Young’s approach, and sometimes it seems fanciful about the bird’s acceptance of my presence.
As we were working on a branch about 2m from the track, a dog was being walked down the track. Instant alert from Jacky 1 and response from Jacky 2. And remember this happened with the bird on a branch about 3 m from my position.
“Hey, did you see the dog?”
Yes, are you alright?
Yep, I’m up here in the branches.
Is it coming off the track?
No, don’t think so.
It’s passing by now, are you safe?
Yep, I’ve that silly human photographer in front of me., I’ll be alright.
Dog’s going by.
That’s a relief.
Jacky watched the dog go up the track about 50m or so before it dropped its head and continued on with hunting.
Fanciful. Of course. But, what ever happened, the Jacky was on high alert for the dog and completely comfortable with my presence.
Oh, and we eventually found the Scarlet pair. But. That’s another story.
We have, EE and I been following a pair of nesting Eastern Yellow Robins at the You Yangs since she began about late October to settle in to nesting.
Because EE has been working with them pretty closely, I’ve really tried not to get in the way, as the raising of an Eastern Yellow Robin is fraught with complications and doesn’t need people trampling all over the nursery.
For the uninitiated, Mum sits on the nest, Dad feeds, and after about 3 weeks the egg(s) hatch. Then a feeding frenzy gets the little one(s) to a point of being able to move but not quite fly. They then flutter down from the nest. Once into the leaf litter or small shrubs, they stay pretty much stationery unless really disturbed, and then the best they can do is to hop or jump away. Flight of any real significance doesn’t happen for 3-4 weeks.
They have two survival strategies.
One: remain absolutely still. No matter what. And I’ve seen them for up to 15 minutes or more, sitting in the leaf litter and not a move is made. It can be barely possible to see them breathing.
Two: A brilliantly designed brown and creamy chevron dress makes them almost impossible to see amongst the litter. Just ask someone who has located one, and then tries to explain to someone else. “There, by the small stick, under that overhanging branch, with the dark green leaves. Oh, better yet, look from just here, bend down, see, just there behind that pale grey leaf.” Oh. Forget it. About the only way is when an adult flies in with a food parcel. Then, “Oh, over there, you didn’t tell me that!” See first paragraph about not getting in the way for more details.
Mum and Dad, (This is one of the few pairs we’ve never struck names for, as we really can’t distinguish one from the other), have been working so well with EE, and occasionally I’ve been allowed a glimpse of the young one – they only seem to have succeeded in bringing one up.
But now that the young one is nearly moulted out of the brown and chevron, and is a fully developed flyer, and is able to fend for itself, things have changed a bit. And today, I got a few minutes where it came to visit me and see what I might be doing.
During that time, it also put itself into a secluded area behind some leaves and I think it practised its singing calls. It has the Robin contact call and what appears to be the warning call down pretty well, but the sharp distinct “PhTew’ call of the adults is still a ways off. So it sat among the leaves and seemed to run through the process of calling. A bit garbled, so more praccy needed I suspect.
Here are a few from the morning’s portraits.
In the You Yangs, looking for Red-capped Robins. What we did find is this handsome (?) young male just moulting out of his juvenile feathers and into his marvellous Male Adult feathers.
Long, long term readers may well recall, but you don’t lose points for not recalling that a number of years back I encountered another young male at Woodlands who subsequently stayed on, and became quite the dominate male in the area.
Well at least that is what the assignment says. And as this is not for profit, not political, not competitive, and essentially about the birds, the process of audience profile, identification, and finding the niche in the market, leaves me just a bit blah, and pretty much over Blogging 101.
Still its always nice to be prompted to look at things from another perspective. Keeps us fresh.
I practice Tai Chi, (there a new factoid), and one of the reasons is an awareness of the constantly changing orientation of the body, its parts relative to each other and to the surroundings. And funnily enough when I get to the bush, the same kinds of awareness helps to appreciate the birds and their surrounds. (maybe I’m just getting old and mellow?)
Parenting in the You Yangs
We, EE and I, have been working for several months now, with a delightful pair of Eastern Yellow Robins as they accept the challenge of adding their little bit to the gene pool.
As EE has adopted this pair, I’ve been a bit reluctant to pursue them as well. Figuring that parenting a young Eastern Yellow Robin is difficult enough. For the un-initiated, she sits on the eggs for around two weeks, then they feed the young, (usually two, but this pair had one) for about two weeks.
Then it jumps from the nest, flutters to the ground and spend the next 3-4 weeks hiding in the leaflitter. Barely able to fly as it has no real flight feathers at this stage, it must surely be among some of the most vulnerable of birds. But, the process works.
So, finding this well disguised and cleverly marked tiny bird is typical needle in haystack stuff. See point above about awareness and you’ll begin to grasp what goes on at the location. Not that we are chasing the bird. Far from it. Sometimes I really just want to know where it is, so we don’t inadvertently stand on it. Or more probably flush it to a new location. Bad for it, stressful for the parents, and against my work ethic. See border box.
We have pretty much been unable to distinguish the female from the male, so really not much point, as Jack Sparrow (should be a Cap’n in there somewhere) says, Naming fingers and pointing names.
Now as the young bird is much more mobile, it has become somewhat easier to sit, wait and opportunistically, it will fly by and sit. And it did.
I knew where it was pretty much from the moment we got off the track and into the scrub. See point on Awareness above. How? Well let’s just say Mum told me.
After bringing it down for us to admire, and then feeding it a great big grub, she decided that was sufficient activity for the moment and a big sleep would do wonders for the little bird.
After much body language, and a really interesting ‘fluffed up’ head, the little dude took off the the undergrowth for a sleep. And this is where I reckon it gets really interesting.
Not just anywhere out of sight and hidden, but in the bush next to where I’d been sitting.
The distance measured by the camera through the bushes to the little dude is less than 4 metres. It snuggled up on a branch with Dad (?) nearby and Mum (?) on guard on a tree directly above.
Point is, I’m still having the hair on the back of my neck stand up about it. The choice was hers to sit in that close to me. I didn’t move. Jon Young calls it a Rite of Passage, in a world in which “Connection” has to do with the strength of your mobile fone signals; sitting still for the sacred and connected moments brings dramatic benefits. A full-contact nature sport!
I’ve joined a WordPress Challenge to revisit my blog and take some time to make some new discoveries to the things that I write and put up online. So expect to see a few Blogging 101 post over the next few weeks.
Well it wouldn’t be a Birds as Poetry blog if we didn’t feature some birds, so here are few from a recent You Yangs morning. Then we’ll get down to blogging assignment.
I’ve added a black border to the images that matches the look and feel of the blog. I like that sort of co-ordinated feel.
Which Brings us to Blogging 101
One of the challenges is to revisit the reason for the blog in the first place. Bird as Poetry is not the first blog I had been working on. I used to use a wonderful Mac program called iWeb. And it was auto published to another piece of Apple Goodness called MobileMe. But of course Apple moved on and the blog had to have a new home.
Enter Telstra. Bigpond in particular. And they housed my ramblings which at the time included lots of updates of Classic car photos we were making, (and selling!). But, Telstra too decided that charging big bucks for their service didn’t include a website and so Birds As Poetry was lonely again.
With all that background I was over a xmas break looking for nothing in particular in a newsagents and found a “How to make a WordPress Blog” mag, and with little else on over the holiday, snapped it up, proceeded to the computer and began. Which is why the earliest in this blog is about 2012. The rest just wafted off into the ether. Or where ever else stuff goes when you hit the DELETE button.
Finding a “voice” that suited my writing style and the blog I suppose was always a big part of the challenge. Making it tongue in check and introducing some elements from everday life became a part of my process. Think Pie Shops, Coffee Places. interesting characters and places we’ve visited: Think “A Bridge that needed a Jolly Good Walking to”
Around the same time I began collecting a collection of collectable photos of walks around Woodlands Historic Park. Not far from home, and filled with really interesting birds, and as my knowledge of bird photography grew, so did my collection of robins and the like.
I was also teaching a class on visual elements in photography and the concept of visual poetry. A hop step and a really big jump through Haiku poetry lead to Birds as Poetry as a title So it stuck.
I suppose I could have taken a step to extend ‘how to’ articles but let’s face it, google will find you plenty. A scant few of them might in fact be useful, and correct, the rest? Well, mostly just un initiated rambles by people who haven’t done the hard yards behind a camera.
Who dear reader are you? Mostly I think folk that have either found the blog, or have been directed here by either word of mouth or from my Flickr site. Flickr! Gotta talk about that sometime too.
I really wish there was a much better co-ordination between Flickr and WordPress. But not so.
How to measure the success of the site. Well here’s the scoop. Its not a competition. In another part of my life I Tai Chi. A very personal activity that has little that can be measured or passed on to others. So blogging, So birding.
A thought that reverberates with me is “Birding is not a Spectator Sport!”.
I once started a blog that was going to try and see birding as a spectator sport with commentators and scores and all sorts of things. But. I may yet.
I do enjoy the comments that occasionally come my way, and thanks to all those who’ve taken the time to drop me a note about some of the photos. Makes the keyboard experience a little more involving.
So there we are. Well done for persevering to the end of page 1.
One of the down sides of moving across town has been our loss of ready access to the Woodlands Historic Park. In particular a stand of Sugar Gums that held all sorts of interesting birdlife.
It’s also probable that you recall that EE (Eagle-Eyed for the uninitiated), had established a Water Feature in the gums and would on a regular (daily) basis keep the small plastic container filled with fresh water over the hot summer months. Not to attract the birds for photography, but simply to give them some relief. “If only one bird ever drinks from it, it will be worth the effort,” quoth she.
As it turned, as you may recall, a pair of Eastern Yellow Robins became quite attached to EE and her water feature, and would follow her into the forest and then with much calling would head for the water feature when she came along. It was, at the very least a noble gesture on the part of the birds, and to tell the truth was quite spine tingling to hear two little birds get all excited and eagerly await her arrival. (Now its not time to lecture on ‘dependant’ birds, as they were the ones who chose to live in the dry area in the first place. ) Besides, its pretty humbling to have two Eastern Yellow Robins sitting about a metre away watching the water being poured into a tiny dish.
We have been working a part of the Grey Box forest in the You Yangs almost for two years. Early on in our visits, EE established another ice-cream container water feature besides a log. But, we don’t have ready access, and it is only visited occasionally, and once in three weeks would be more the norm. So it hasn’t been possible to build up any permanent relationship with the inhabitants. And as EE readily acknowledges, “Its most likely the little Black Swamp Wallabies that take the water, as the container is often misplaced.”
Still with more patience and determination, every visit sees a bottle of water left for the locals. And we had really never seen the locals make the pilgrimage to the area. Perhaps a passing Flycatcher would be the most likely suspect.
We went in today to look to see how the pair of Eastern Yellow Robins are going with their young fledgling. And of course to topup the water.
What happened next is the source of great delight and much mirth.
At first we continued in the hunt for the Robins, and I found a pair of Weebills that were working through the tree tops. Then. First one, then another, then another bird dropped by the log and checked out the water.
Within a few minutes a bold Grey Fantail had dropped into the water and began the splashing. Which acted like a ‘Jungle Drum’. The sound of water on whirring wings must have some sort of magnetic attraction. The sound went, as they say on You-tube, “VIRAL”, and birds came from all around. Including the two Eastern Yellow Robins, more thornbills than I could count and ‘my’ pair of Weebills. Each waited in turn, (not much room in an ice-cream container). and after a few minutes there were wet feathers everywhere drying in the sunshine.
Then just as quickly “Jungle Drums” played another tune and they were gone! Leaving two photographers with the widest grins, and filled memory cards.
I can see another trip down there very soon.
You’ll find some more pics by the Water Feature Manager over on EE’s Flickr site.