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.
That’s it for the year.
Enjoy your festive season and may 2023 bring some fantastic picture opportunities to your lens.
Due to an odd arrangement of circumstances, that would take several blog pages to cover and even more to wend the pieces together, we had decided on a trip to the Western Treatment Plant. (WTP) What, of couse, was not in the “How to do it” manual was control of the weather.
Grandson “+D4” was staying over and t’was the only day avaible. For those interested “+D4” comes as an ‘Addition’ to the “3D’s” fabled for their “Dawdling” while on car-convoy on such trips to the WTP.
We picked up the usual Coffee-to-Go from our local and hit the highway. (Mr An Onymous, has a theory that in future times, sociologists and archeologists will conclude that ‘hit the road’ had some quasi-spiritualistic meaning and that the poor deluded ancients would go out and hit the road with their hand expecting some mystical experience—but— I digress)
The overcast, rain and high winds did not digress. Nor did they ease off. I may have mentioned before, that I can deal with the poor light and the rain at the WTP, but not the wind. It just makes getting out of IamGrey and standing in the open a truly harrowing experience and one that even the best of birds seems avoid at all costs. For those that might venture there, the track in the “Special Section” that was out along the beach area and barely passable with 2WD is now eroded to the point of being 4WD only.
So we had a fairly quiet trip about the plant. Good news is the roads are in very good condition and the closure has allowed several areas to be graded and topped and the drive experience improved no end.
We had hoped that White-winged Black Terns might have returned by now, but if so we didn’t get a sighting. The weather changes seem to have altered the plans of many returning migrants so far this season.
So as the blog is more now about the photos of the day, and less about the babble, here tis. Enjoy
We finally managed a day that at least started out looking sunny, but it did deteriote. However no rain. Bonus!
A short stop to catch up on our local Willie Wagtails nesting. All seemed well, and as this pair have been washed and blown off the branch in their past two attempts, it is heartening to see them back on the job.
We also walked about part of the Werribee Mansion precinct and EE managed to spot at least four Wagtails at work on various stages of nesting.
The Hobby pair have also shown they have been able to weather the various weathers that have been given them and have two rather well developed young chicks on the nest. Given the days of constant rain, and exceedingly high winds its says a lot of for these birds to have survived. I had, I must admit begun to think they might have abandoned the project.
EE was at her alert best and found four nesting sites. It seems the Willies have figured out the dreadful weather might be gone, and are keen to make up for lost time. Willies have, it seems two major nesting strategies. I’ve noted over the years that its possible to find a pair building a nest on a branch out in the open. No surrounding cover. In your face. I’m here, “This is Me!” The second strategy is one of the furtive, hide-away in the deepest part of the a thickly covered bush or tree and, Ha! Let someone try and find us in there. I once had one that had nested in what can best be describes as the very centre of a Prickly Wattle bush (Acacia paradoxa) Each time getting into and out of the nest damaged some feathers. The clutch was well protected from self-serving Ravens and other thieves. They fledged three young. And occasionally there is one that just seems to go for location, location, location, a bit like Goldilocks. Not too open, not too hidden.
I have to say that over the years, each method has had its successes and failures, so its hard to conclude one is better. I think it just depends on how stubborn the pair are.
Went to look for Seraphema and see if she was still in residence. Along the way came upon a White-faced Heron that seemed to have started a nest, but wasn’t sure if it should be completed. There was lots of calling disussion among the pair, but not much building. Time will tell. And EE managed to locate a pair of Magpie larks engaged in the fun of building their mud house. The male popped down on the ground for a quick snack or two with his black apron all covered in mud flecks.
And so to the business in hand. The male Hobby deposited a catch into Serpaphema’s waiting claws and a few minutes later she headed to the nest.
After a feed, the two young climbed to the top of the nest for a look about and a wing-stretch. If a picture is worth a thousand words, here comes a small essay.
And just as I was leaving I found a young Red-rumped Parrot sitting on a fence line. The soft light seemed to grace those lovely young colours
Not sure if you’ve seen this, but here is a link to an ABC story on a Raptor Rehabilitation Centre. Birds of Prey Rehab
There comes the day in every young Australian Hobby’s life that it must learn about serious hunting on the wing.
Grasshoppers and dragonflies are great food, but real protein is needed for them to grow.
Dad is not going to be there as a free Uber-delivery for ever.
And so we ventured out on a day when he was getting serious about the training program.
First step was to get them good and hungry. So his regular callbys with quick top-ups, seized-up faster than tripod legs immersed in seawater.
When he did come by they had two new lessons to literally ‘grasp’.
The first was taking the prey from him as he did his best to remain stationary in the sky, holding the latest Fairy Martin.
Then after a few attempts at that he would let the Martin drop, and watch as the young bird followed it down and quickly managed to secure the meal. He also invariably rolled over in a small stoop to pace the tumbling meal, just in case anything should go awry. Needless to say on the attempts we saw, it was 100% score all round.
By the end of the morning, the young were now quite capable of chasing, if not catching the dwindling Fairy Martin fraternity.
At least one came back after a rocketship foray, and if there was a food exchange I missed it, but the young bird came in high and fast so I concluded that it was a successful strike. (If not, no doubt by day’s end their score would have been gaining an impressive run total, just like the Australian Cricket team.)
I suspect this will be the last close quarter encounters with the young. No doubt they will be fed far less and make their own field trips and return with food. All that will happen well beyond the tree line where we currently are working and then… Before we know it, the paddock will be bereft of the young. The parents will move on to other territory and we’ll not see them regularly until next year.
Not sure who has learned the most, but we have certainly gained some interesting anecdotal insight into their growth and development.
Following on yesterday’s Interlude as the young Hobbys continue to develop their inflight hunting skills.
Presently the air is filled with big juicy plump dragonflies. Among them thousands of Tau emerald. They seem to enjoy working high in the air over the orchard near the Hobby’s domain. Perfect for developing inflight skills.
At present it seem that the female, Seraphima, has taken a holiday, and the male, Bronte, is left to bring the young one’s hunting skills to the fore. What better way than to take them into the swarms of dragonflies.
I wish I could explain how it all works, but it usually is so high up, and so far out that I’m really watching tiny shapes streak across the sky, change direction in an instant, climb up, dive down and do it all at speeds that bend my mind, let along ponder what g-forces they somehow overcome.
Here are few rather than try and explain it all so inadequately.
It has to be said that the learning curve for young Australian Hobbys would best be described with an exponential curve rather than a lazy sine curve wandering about aimlessly.
For a start, the speeds that all the activities take place is super-sonic.
Ask anyone who has tried to keep them in the viewfinder as they speed past.
“Oh, glad you asked! It is next to impossible to keep them in the viewfinder as they speed past.”
Most of the shots below were taken at quite some distance out. These little dudes have discovered that they can dig into the air and be a kilometre out of sight before you can say, “Now where are they going?”
It’s more likely, “There they went.”
Over the past few days they have been learning to hunt dragonflies. Interesting as the adult, no doubt its Bronte, the male, lets them run hard and fast and then seems to manoeuvre through their actions, helping, or at least guiding. A few times catching and then dropping the prey for the young bird to snatch away.
Early on, he was arriving with a fresh kill, and then allowing the youngster to snatch it away from the perch. A day or so later and he developed a new strategy.
He would come in, and then ‘hover’ for a few seconds with the prey while the young came up and took it. Now there are several actions going on here that I could determine.
First: He has to swoop up, and stall, before falling backdown. In those few seconds, (like a diver from a springboard) there is a delay between the going up, and the coming down.
Second: The young at first were a tad clumsy. Tad being a euphemism for very clumsy. But a few attempts of crashing into Bronte really honed the skill and they both soon learned to get the timing right.
Third: He would roll over and follow them down to be sure that nothing untoward, such as dropping the prey occurred. If it did, he simply closed wings and sped past them to retrieve it and repeat the food pass.
I only saw one food drop.
And as they say: Therein endeth the lesson.
Moving on to dragonflies and other flying creatures tomorrow.
I’ve often commented on Flickr and Facebook and other online groups, and of course here on the blog that I consider the Australian Hobby to be our most beautifully marked raptor.
It’s steel-blue-grey wing and back contrasts with the rich chest and underwing colours and the light and dark underwing patterns all make for an impressive show.
David Hollands writes, in “Eagles, Hawks and Falcons of Australia“, in his chapter on Australian Hobby
If there is a jewel among Australian hawks, it is the hobby. Smaller than the Peregrine, it is lithe and slim and incredibly fast. At rest, sleek and polished with a silhouette that tapers rapidly from its slim shoulders, it has the look of pent-up brilliance waiting only for the trigger to transform potential into action. In flight the promise becomes reality, it seems hardly to have left its perch before it is travelling at dazzling speed. The wings are long, narrow and swept back in a sickle-shaped curve that is particularly noticeable when gliding. … Of all the falcons I know it is the most graceful and there are few more exhilarating sights than one that is stooping, wings curved back, eyes fixed on its target: everything taut and totally controlled:wavering not one fraction from its course and travelling at remarkable speeds for its size. (p.156)
Somehow I suspect that most of us never get to see the bird at much more than a distance, or at high-speed in a high wind, or perhaps sitting on a open perch or fence post.
But to appreciate this bold little bird requires a lot of time working with just one bird or pair, and due to their rather nomadic and social isolation, it is not often we get the chance.
I have featured a pair at nest at the Werribee River Park precinct a couple of years now on the Flickr and here on the blog. We have had at least three previous seasons with them, and were highly anticipating getting out of our 5 km bubble to see if they had returned for another year.
We have the good fortune of being only a 15 minute and 5 minute walk from their nesting area. So it’s possible to arrive early and watch the comings and goings of both the tiercel (male) and falcon (female) and learn a little about their ability in the air.
The nest is being reused and is high in a sugargum, the multi-branching of the tree has produced substantial eight to ten branches that form a ‘cup’ and the previous owners had filled it with sticks, and as Hobbies don’t build but rather reuse, its probable that they have not refurbished the nest since its last use.
The nearby Werribee River run between some quite steep, and high sand ‘cliffs’ and Fairy Martins and Welcome Swallows among others use the area over the water to hunt for food. It makes an easy food source for the tiercel, he sits on a branch overlooking the water, and when opportunity presents itself, with barely a feather flick he is airborne off the branch down into the river area and because the cliffs on either side give the target little hope of avoidance, is usually back up out the other side of the river in his first swoop. If he misses, I’ve not seen it happen yet.
Which brings me to another point that David points out about it travelling at both incredible speed and with unwavering trajectory.
It is hard to put to words, but on return he flies far out and then on a perfectly designed and executed arc, circles back to land without making any adjustment to his travel that I can detect. It is like a beautiful Tai Chi move. Smooth, controlled and effortless. (In Tai Chi, the term, “Sung” would be appropriate)
At first I thought it was just a one off, but each time he came in it was pretty much a carbon-copy of previous returns.
The falcon does the same thing when she leaves the nest and returns. It’s a long arc at speed, and just as she approaches the nest, she throttles back and lands though the tree branches as light as a feather.
It’s early days in the cycle at the moment as they are still mating, but not doubt she is sitting on some eggs as he is quite the busy provider.
It is worth contemplating that over the next two months, he will bring in daily about 12-15 kills. Mostly small birds, from Martins, Swallows, Sparrows, Honeyeaters and the like. Not so much Mynahs and Starlings. (Although they are quite plentiful). That will be somewhere around 700 dinner invitations that the invitees can’t refuse.
This shot is the tiercel, he has just passed over the food supply to the falcon and is going to take a quick rest in a tree opposite until she has eaten and is ready to return to the nest.
Covid Lockdown Restrictions not withstanding there will be more to see of this pair and their progress with the clutch.
Well then, time to don the old spotted ‘kerchief, pull down the weather beaten widebrimmed hat, tune up the ole guitar and climb aboard the VW Microbus for another round of Willie Nelson singin’ “On the Road Again”. Now Willie may not be my fav entertainer, but I do as an aside, get a bit lumpy of throat everytime I hear his “Blue eyes Cryin’ in the Rain.”
Wipes moisture off keyboard continues typing.
Yep. She’s back on the Road. Well, more particularly out and about in the field with camera at the ready.
A few more weeks, and the old EE will be back to full form I’d be thinking. Goodby to #Kneetoo it seems.
How many Australian Hobbies would you normally expect to see in a morning? Most of us would be hard to agree to One, and then think it lucky
Two? Stretching it Mate.
Now for bonus points, how many of those Hobbies would be carefully ensconced in a tree happily feeding away on a recent take?
One, oh, ok, I’ll give you that.
Two? Well that is why you should turn up the music louder. She’s back on the road. 🙂
We were working on a couple of recently fledged Black-shouldered Kites, when the conversation changed to,
“I think a Hobby with a meal just landed in a tree back there.”
We look, well at least I did. Dark in there, lots of thick branches and leaves. Searching.
Click, click, click. She’s spotted it.
And there was the Hobby with what was the remains of a House Sparrow. Way up there, in among all that clutter. Amazing.
Suitably photographed, we left it to its devices and headed back to iAmGrey for a cuppa.
Midway through, the conversation changed.
“I think there is a second Hobby with a meal in that tree at the end of the roadway!”
Abandoning the warm Earl of Grey to its own devices, we move to the other side of the parking area.
Now this one wasn’t so hard, out in the open, on a branch, looking very uncomfortable trying to eat on a sloping branch.
Job done we relocated to a second pair of kites. Another Interlude story for next time.
Just as EE got out of the iAmGrey, a Hobby flew pretty much head height over her. ”
Click Click. Click.
I can still hear the guitars, and,”The Life I love is making photos with my friend, I’m so glad that we’re back in the field again!!”
By the end of 2020, the young birds were for all intents and purposes self-sufficient.
We hadn’t seen either of the adults for at least two weeks, and the young were now skilled at finding their own food. Hunting on the ground for insects, raiding the nearby orchard for tasty morsels on the fruit trees, or helping themselves to the young recently-fledged Fairy Martins.
And then all too soon so it seems, the trees became quiet. The loud calls of success with each catch was stilled, and they were on their way from home into the wide world around.
An end to a fascinating few weeks of learning from the birds just that little more about the lives of Hobbys.
As Mr An Onymous said to me today, on a slightly different subject, “It is one of the great mysteries of bird photography that you never get to repeat an event. Once the birds have moved on, you’ll have plenty of shots, and memories, but it most unlikely that you’ll ever again be able to replicate that season.”
Perhaps one of his many (un)proved theories, but I did get the drift.
So, we come, as Bob Seger sings, to “Turn the Page”.
And there is the back cover of the Field Notes. The close of the book.
Welcome back from Lockdown.
While others have found all sorts of things to complain about, and decry the efforts of those in charge, I on the other hand, have gratitude and awe, not only for the people whose job it has been to try to contain the outbreak, but the general feeling of most Victorians to simply work in their own little way to help stop the spread.
That nearly 40,000 people lined up to be tested yesterday says something about the confidence we have.
As Dan said, “I am proud of all Victorian who have done their bit”. Seriously think we should be concentrating on the good things that have come out of the lockdown and stop nit picking over ‘he said, she said’.
How quickly Hobbies grow.
Just a few weeks out of the nest, and they had developed great strength and wing control. They were also hunting for themselves. And I didn’t see the adults in the area again. They might well have made visits, but certainly not like the first few weeks.
The nesting location is on a large river bank cliff and falls away to the Werribee Open Range Zoo on one side, and the old Heritage Orchard along the river flats.
Ideal training grounds for the young Hobbies, who were now flying rapidly almost out of sight over the Zoo, or disappearing into the trees way down river at the end of the Orchard. And. Just as quickly reappearing.
Early on, they were still playing aerial games together, but very quickly learned to hunt in the trees lining the river banks and much too hard for photography. Each success though was loud and sustained.
Think I have one more page in the Field-Notes left.
When new neighbours arrive, birds are as inquisitive as the next one.
However it didn’t always go well for the young Hobbies as some of the neighbours have a distinct dislike for raptors, small, large, young or old.
A constant source of interaction was with the Galahs in the area.
Here is one such event.
Next in line, several more turn up and chase the young Hobby about the sky. The little dudes still don’t have real flying skills, so it’s a pretty much one way competition.
Here the galahs have outpaced and out-turned the Hobby, but give the impression of being chased. Not so.
Early morning and one of the young was having some quiet time in the sunshine when a pair of Rainbow Lorikeets dropped by for a looksee. Much more robust in their attack, and working as a team, the young Hobby in the end had to abandon its rest spot.
Close to the last pages in the field notes.
The Hobbies quickly gain flight experience and then were off to explore the world around the nesting location. A week on and they could disappear almost at the blink of an eye, and quickly reappear breaking all records in a sharp dive descent.
Their next adventure was learning to hunt along the tree-line nearby, but for a photographer there was not chance of keeping up with the action.
The young Hobbies were well established but still needed to be feed by the female.
In this sequence she divides up the catch among two of the young. The other would not miss out, as another meal was certainly on the way.
Had this ready to go and then got side-tracked last night and overlooked the Publish button.
The young Hobbies had flown. Three hungry mouths on the wing.
It is interesting to observe them in the nest. Too big to just settle down, too young to actually be out and about.
After lots of wing practice, hanging on to the nest, and exploring the close branches, they seem to have full knowledge of what is required, but the connection between flapping and letting go is not made.
Then, it’s seems, almost on a whim, they turn, flap, and are aerial. Not that it’s great flying, mind you, straight lines mostly, and of course the challenge of slowing down enough to grab onto a branch for security.
Presumably they were airborne the day before we arrived, as they seemed to have settled to the jobs at hand. Dad was still bringing in food, Mum organising it and distibuting in an even manner.
Three perfect little carbon copies.
We had, about a month back, one of those beautiful days that make photography not only a pleasure, but also a chance to nail some great detail.
The Hobby pair were still feeding the young, and the male was providing a steady assortment of snacks.
Here is one delivery from the series
The male flies in and sets on a well used exchange branch. He then calls, softly, and she has been sitting high of the nest on another tree. Without hesitation she glides to meet him. You can just see her wing in the top of the frame.
With a minimum of fuss she quickly acquires the prize
In barely the blink of an eye and she is on her way. As usual he is intent of watching, I assume to be ready to quickly pickup if she slips (not likely)
Securely tucked up, she is on her way
And a quick look at one of the young, now only a few days from flying.