As EE is becoming much more comfortable with Dolly, we decided on a morning around the Ornamental Lake at Werribee Mansion. The tracks are wellformed and its possible to get close to the action without long walks.
The only part of our plan that was not controllable was the weather, and we ended up with mostly an overcast morning. Also there was little activity at the Lake, perhaps most of the food has diminished and the birds have moved away.
We were sitting on the grass near the lake enjoying a cuppa when an Australasian Darter launched itself out of the water, from between the reeds and waddled up onto the grass. So close that I had to inch back along the grass to get it all in the frame. I guess that I was at grass level, and not standing up, the bird felt comfortable enough to go about its preening and drying business.
So, rather than repeat my rant from the Saturday Evening Post on Dean Collins, here is the few moments as they played out.
Werribee Wagtails meet once a month on the first Tuesday of said months. They are a really dedicated group of birdwatchers and we find ourselves well pleased to have become part of the mob.
For March the trip was by Community Bus down to Geelong and beyond. So we arrived at the meeting spot ready to go. Now the bus had been booked out and we had chosen instead to convey down in the traditional spirit of motoring. However some bookees had not taken up the opportunity and so we found ourselves loading food, chairs, cameras and bodies onto the bus.
The first stop was to be Queen’s Park, and a walk along the River to the Balyang Sanctuary. Last seasons, thanks to me mate Helmut of Flickr fame, we had a couple of trips down there to find the Darters nesting next to the bridge. Our original plan, sans bus, was to go directly there and wait for the walkers to turn up. So we sat on the bus as everyone unloaded and despite clever arguments about Tawny Frogmouth, and Gang-Gangs, we stuck to the plan. With a “swish” the door closed and our driver took us to the next carpark.
The weather was offering some good sunshine so it was likely that we’d get some great shots; and we did. Top must be for the mother Darter, whose first two young had just hatched. These scrawny looking featherless creatures had her full attention, and while the nest is quite large, one can only imagine the complexity of moving those big webbed feet of hers around without damaging her newly hatched and yet to be hatched off -spring.
Not knowing much about the habits of Darters, I was pretty amazed to find that both male and female incubate and feed the young. But the male is the hard worker on building the nest. At least to providing all the necessary sticks and things to make the nest. As it turned out on this trip, one male was busy on the apartment above, moving sticks in to position.
Where all this happens is within a stone’s throw, (probably OHS insensitive), so 26.498 metres from the edge of the main traffic bridge over the Barwon River. This bridge carries a flow of heavy duty vehicles and the bridge moves as they thunder over it, it also has a constant stream of joggers, cyclists, walkers, babystollers and group exercisers. Which all means that the poor old stationary photographer is being jostled and ‘ding’ed at on the narrow walkway. But, the birds don’t seem to care.
Pointing the lens at the darters on their nests brings comments such as “Oh, what are they?” “How long have they been there?” “I’ve lived in the area for x years and I’ve never seen them before”. “What are you going to use the pictures for?” “That’s a big lens, do you need a permit for it?” and of course the inevitable, “What do you think you’re doing?” But the best of the day was from the groupathon bike riders. “We’re strange birds, take our picture!”
Just as the bus driver was warming up the bus, a mother Darter came in with a snack for one of the kids. Lots of wing waving and head bobbing as she positioned herself and the lucky young chick to receive the treat. And then it was back on the bus, and Hi Ho Silver, away. We went on toward Barwon Heads to look for waders and water birds.
After a lunch under a spreading tree with the breeze pleasingly blowing through the shade it was a bit hard to get going for an afternoon foray for birds. And then. A bird count of 63 for the day, and we were back in the bus on the way home.
Coffee at the local and a pleasant day drew to a close.