Along The Track: Duck Season

Warning: This blog contains details and images that may cause distress to some readers.
I see that just about every night on the tv news, and I’m not sure what you are expected to do. Change channels, turn tv off. Close your eyes?

When I was a little kid, I remember a Loony Tunes cartoon of Elmer Fudd, the duckhunter, and Daffy Duck eluding him. The hapless Elemer never seemed to be able to take home a duck dinner.
Currently our Victorian Government seem to be in the same sort of dilemna about banning Duck Season 2023.

In the meantime, down at the the Western Treatment Plant, a White-bellied Sea Eagle is not the least preturbed by a possible closure of duck season.

Thanks to the headsup of its likely presence by my Flickrmate Don, and a couple of other birdos, we were planning to make a trip to WTP to see what, well, what we could see.

The family were coming for Australia Day, so we were planning to go the following day, but, best laid plans as Robbie Burns would write, and family decided that to come the day after Aussie-Day-Maaate.
How Un-Australian is that! I wonder if they disappeared as happens in the Sam Keckovic Lamb tv ad.

So rearranging our schedule we headed for the Treatment Plant. I’m not a great fan of going there on public holidays and weekends. Once the plant was visited by keen birders who took time to see and id as many birds as possible, and it was very laid back and tranquil.

These days it seems to be photographers who hurry from one end of the plant to the other to get just that one shot. Sometimes its seems to resemble a badly run motorcrosse event. And I’ve photographed a goodly number of motorcrosse events, and participated in a few historic rally runs so have a vague idea about proceedings.

So weekends are not my fav time in the plant.

Rant over, back to Sea Eagles. Well, one in particular.

The smart money seemed to suggest it would be on Lake Borrie, that’s where it was the day before. Every heard that advice. “Oh, yes, I saw it just there, yesterday.”

We parked conveniently about mid-way along the road and started to scan. Nothing in close. Of course not, did you really expect it?

Then EE made a gesture, way out in the middle of the lake. A white spec, that could have been a refigerator as far as normal eye sight would know. Through the binos, it was indeed a White-bellied Sea Eagle, perched high on a tree with great views of the menu (eer. ducks) all around.

It sat. We despaired at getting a sharp image at that distance and with the sun rising, heat-haze began to make it presence felt.
Then the bird jumped, went to the deck and moved about 300m up the lake. Just about every duck in that direction took to the air and flew the opposite way. Better to fly first and ask where later on.
Still too far out, but, just that little bit closer. Another long sit, and as soon as I turned away, it dropped down on to a log at water level.
Missed that.
Another long wait. But the bird kept turning its head to the left, and it had obviously locked on to something. More waiting.

Then, unfurling the wings it took off, quite leisurely it seemed, almost stealth mode.
And while I didn’t really see it though the viewfinder, somewhere out there a Chestnut Teal had nodded off to sleep.
Bad career move.
There was no second chance. The eagle swiftly despatched the duck, and sat on the waterline with it for a good 15 minutes, then scooping up its prize flew down the lake to a suitable dining table.

Event Log

When a Sea Eagle flys East, the wise among the ducks fly West
Swinging In to land
Locked for landing
Viewing the Menu from the best position in town
After a very long wait, it dropped down on to a waterline log for a drink
It kept looking to the left, obviously some opportunity had presented itself
Like all raptors there is no wasted energy, the time to move has to be just right.
Strike
Time to recover
Now to relocate to a more suitable dining table
A handy perch
cenare all’aria aperta

Along The Track: Spare a Thought

I was on my way in that lovely pre-dawn light to check on a pair of Mudlarks and their nest.
As R L Stevenson said, and “I found the dew on every buttercup”

On a tree some distance down the road, the familar shapes of Black-shouldered Kites. It was enough for me to try to find a place on the narrow roadway to pull over and take a walk back to see what was happening.

As it turned out.
A lot.
This is not a pair that I’ve worked with before, and probably won’t see again with any regularity.

The male was in the business of renovating or newly constructing a nest, and to my surprise, chose the tree quite near me for his timber collecting duties. It caused me to spare a thought for the effort he has to put in to select and acquire just the right piece of wood.

I don’t normally see this action close up so it was quite intguiging to watch him at work, first selecting a stick to break off, and failing, and then collecting another.

She on the other hand, sat quietly on the other side of the tree. Dreaming, no doubt of mice, or a wide screen tv.

The nest I discovered is 600-800 metres further down the paddock, and far too far away to monitor.

Dropping in to select a branch.
It is always a pleasure to watch the Kites work the air so gently and softly. Each feather working hard to control the approach
I have no idea how he knows which is the best branch, or does he just keep going until he can find one to break off.
It seems to be quite a balancing act to hold on, and at the same time tug away at a branch. One he was standing on gave way. But he quickly recovered
A bit like the big bad wolf, huffing and puffing is not getting this branch lose.
Time to re-evaluate the options
Quite amazing to see how well he can move about on the tiniest of branches
There, that is the right one.
And away we go.
And there is the nest tree. Way, way, way down there. Two fences a gate and an irrigation channel away.
Quite an enlargement, but you can see his progress.

Enjoy

Along the Track: Growing your Wag Tail

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

Enjoy

This is the industrious action on the second nest site. Regretably the rain and wind tore it from the branch before the young were hatched.
Refurbished first site. Most of the nest had gone, but you can see where they reinforced the foundation and then went on.
This time the weather was much more kind. She is sitting up a bit higher in the nest this time and the young must have hatched a couple of days previously.
The nest was well sited behind the trunk of the tree to avoid prevailing winds. (Do you think they know that stuff?)
No Secret Now The young keep a very low profile and hardly move around
Defensive
Nothing to see here.
She sits on the young ones to keep them covered. As they grow, they tend to stick out from under her feathers.
Cozy, but now overgrowing the tiny cup
They get constant visits with food
I’ve always been fascinated about how they know which is the next mouth to be fed. It’s more than just the loudest or largest as each gets a fair share
We missed them flying, but this is a couple of hours out of the nest, and a bit bewildered by the big world around. But still, even with a tiny tail, able to Wag successfully
A couple of days later and this one is quite at home among the branches.
Two weeks on the wing, and with a well grown tail, ready now to take on the world. Go little Wagtail

From the Field Notes Book: Feeding your Hobby

The weather has not been conducive to keeping tabs on the local Hobby Nursery.
We have also the challenge of the location, as its quite a busy carpark, and Security offers its own challenges. Carparks are not public spaces.
The second challege to in-flight photography is the trees are all very well established Sugar Gums, with a few Umbrella Pine, and all quite tall, and of course close together. So its hard to get an open shot of in-flight activity.

But persist we shall.

Early mornings seem to be the best. Quiet carpark, security having breakfast and the like. And if the light is right then its a bonus.

Here is a few from a couple of feeding cycles the other day.

Dad arrives with a breakfast offering. Unlike Black-shouldered Kites, he doesn't seem to have the ability to hover. Rather he pulls up in a climb and then for a few seconds holds station before beginning to drop.
Dad arrives with a breakfast offering. Unlike Black-shouldered Kites, he doesn’t seem to have the ability to hover. Rather he pulls up in a climb and then for a few seconds holds station before beginning to drop.
Hold on. I'm comin'
Hold on. I’m comin’
Me too
Me too
Hard to see in these shots, but one of them is quite a bit larger than the other. So I'm tipping its a male and a female.
Hard to see in these shots, but one of them is quite a bit larger than the other. So I’m tipping it’s a male and a female.
I'm also sure everybody knows who's turn it is for the food. I don't think its a case of first in.
I’m also sure everybody knows who’s turn it is for the food. I don’t think its a case of first in.
I think this might be my Nat Geo Shot.
Dropping away,
Needing to find a suitable perch to hold the prey while it eats.
That might work.
Which leaves the other one to hone up its flying skills. They have already learned to take dragonflies in the air.
A great look at the outstretch as it takes off
Graining speed and height
Dad arrives with a new meal. This time he takes the safe approach and delivers onto a branch
All secure and away

That’s it for the year.

Enjoy your festive season and may 2023 bring some fantastic picture opportunities to your lens.


See you in 2023 Along the Track