The Duty Sergeant would remind his team as they left the daily briefing, ‘Let’s be Careful Out There.”
In these days of rampant pandemic it still seems like good advice.
However being careful out there applies to some birds as much as it did to the police in “Hill Street Blues”
Longer term readers may recall that two years ago we spent quite a bit of time with a Brown Falcon pair as they nested. Cassia, of Cinnamon, provided us with some excellent insight into the nesting and feeding habits of their lives.
Unfortunately we were unable to follow up with them last season due to travel restrictions.
However with a change in limitations we have now been able to revisit the park, and after a couple of futile attempts, EE pulled the proverbial Brown Falcon Nest out of a Hat.
He had been hunting close into the nest in the open paddocks and seemed to be having some success, however we missed the food exchanges and were unable to determine a possible nest site.
It was not only us that were taking an interest in the falcon’s presence. Australian Magpies took them as ‘easy’ targets and each time one of the birds flew, a flotilla of maggies were in hot pursuit.
Mostly the magpies are fast enough, and the falcons don’t put in that much effort to get away, but today it was quite obvious that the falcons were not going to broach harassment, and each time the magpies drew in close, the falcons put effort into the wing strokes and powered away. Not something I usually see.
Cassia does indeed, Need to be Careful Out There.
Here is a small selection of the morning’s activity.
Tho’ Nature, red in tooth and claw In Memoriam; Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Welcome to Interludes:
We had been monitoring a pair of Black-shouldered Kites for the past several months, in between lockdowns, and had come to the conclusion that perhaps they had abandoned the project due to the cold weather.
However a couple of weeks ago things seemed to change, the male began to bring in food and took to sitting on a tree close to where we thought the nest might be. Plaintive cries from a hungry female confirmed it.
But, the nest tree was cleverly located behind a huge chainwire fence at the Treatment Plant and access and a close approach was out of the question. So in between weeks at home and bad weather we just had to wait.
Then, the weather opened up one morning to sunshine and we journeyed out for a looksee.
Can’t be sure, but it is pretty clear that the young had emerged from the nest, and at least one of them has made a few tentative flights.
Set up, settle in, see what happens.
One of the young took to the air, but its direction and control skills needed much more development. Eventually after much loud calling it landed a bit down range in the next tree.
Unfortunately, the tree was already inhabited by a nesting Australian Magpie.
And Maggie has a zero tolerance for visitor. Enraged and highly defensive, the little Kite would be no match for Maggies sustained attack.
We were, Mr An Onymous and I, out looking for some elusive Flame Robins around the 100 Steps to Federation park at Altona. The park was previously a rubbish dump, and as Mr A is oft to quote, “Some of my rubbish is under that hill!”
They were here the last time I looked. But, not today. We did find and get close to one lone female, and were consoling our selves that a trip back to The Esplanade and a coffee from The Norfolk Cafe and a sit on the beach area and watch people instead of birds for a while would be a fine thing to do in the warm sunshine.
In the meantime the antics of a pair of Nankeen Kestrels kept us amused as they swept in and out of a tree-line. Just too far away for photos, but I volunteered, “Let’s go check it out anyway on the way back to the vehicles.”
When on a sudden a dark shape quite close swept over my head, —big bird I thought. By the time I’d looked up and around it had gone to ground about 20m from where I stood. The best I could determine was a big brownish wing being folded down behind the saltbush.
Options were Whistling Kite or perhaps Swamp Harrier, or maybe, well I can dream, a Spotted Harrier. We could sit and wait, but there was a little of the ‘thrill of the chase’ in this one, so we negotiated the old barbed wire fence and worked our collective ways toward the saltbush. Not too close else if it flew, it would overfill the frame, so we only needed a few metres inside the fence.
And we waited.
The action started when a small flotilla of young Magpies turned up, and decided that what ever was behind the bush needed a good bit of hurry up, and so they set to diving on the bird on the other side of the saltbush. First one, then another, and another. Regroup then return and repeat. The numbers of young Magpies wanting to join in increased and the bush was repeatedly swooped with urgently calling Maggies.
I waited, figuring the bird would take off from behind the bush and up and away from me. Wrong! It must have had enough room behind the bush, out of my line of sight to get airborne and swept out from behind the bush directly to my left, low and fast.
A Little Eagle! And the flotilla of Maggies in hot pursuit. This is the type of action they love. Slow moving bird, plenty of support to control the direction and distract it from gaining speed and height.
The chase was on.
Thrilled with the opportunity to harass the Eagle the Maggies pressed home their attack. The big bird circled wide out to escape and I guessed that would be the last I’d see, but the clever Maggies drove it around, and I guess that an updraft of the edges of the 100 steps hillside would work to its advantage. So it tightly circled past me came around, found some air and began to climb. The Maggies were now having to work very hard to maintain station. They still had the speed to attack, but the Little Eagle now had the advantage of its larger wing surface in the rising air, and wasn’t using any energy. The resolute defenders of their airspace began to lose steam, and slowly began to drop away and only one or two, then only one continued the fruitless cause.
The eagle now reached a comfortable cruising speed and altitude and the Maggies were done.
While the Little Eagle drifted away in the breeze, the Magpies landed together on a nearby tree and called out to congratulate each other on a job well done, and to brag about who had come the closest to the victim.
One thing our lockdown for the CovidCrisis has highlighted for us, is the chance to enjoy a walk around some of our local areas. Normally we’d be out and about in regular birding locations.
And of course, being local, there is not likely to be much in the way of highly sought out birds in the area.
So we thought.
Not much more than a stroll from home is a new housing estate. It has been built on what, of course, was old farming land. And in our area, that would have been vegetable farming. A small, seasonal creek runs through the area, and because it is of environmental significance because of among other things, the habitat of Growling Grass Frogs (Litoria raniformis) a fairly wide verge has been created, and partly sculptured with a well formed footpath and open grass.
The rest of the creek proper, thanks to the developers, the local council and Melbourne Water, has been turned into runoff water retarding basins. As the creek was originally a set of water holes rather than a flowing creek, they have used the natural lay of the land to develop the area.
The past few days we’ve had a good amount of rain. In our gauge alone showed over an inch and a half (about 39mm). The new development with its sealed roads, footpaths, lawns and of course house roofs has indeed provided plenty of run off. As we walked today there was plenty of evidence of at least a metre or more water having recently been through the reed beds. But thanks to clever Melb Water development, the water level has subsided quite quickly.
About half an hour walk from home is an aptly named coffee shop, The Little Growling, and it makes a good spot to turn around and return. With a freshly brewed coffee to go, thanks very much.
As we walked out of our village at the start of our stroll, I heard the call of a Rosella, I’ve been hearing it occasionally over the past few weeks, and had even spotted it on a fence-line a couple of times. This time it was in one of the street trees, and to my surprise, a Crimson juvenile was with it, so there was much calling. (Whether they nested locally or not is still open to supposition). I am beginning to have my doubts about the Eastern id, perhaps it is a hybrid?
Not a bird we’d normally see locally, so it was not only a pleasant surprise, but quite enchanting.
One of the first times EE and I have been out just looking about.
We had been hoping to find some Eastern Yellow Robins, and or some evidences of the Scarlet Robins at the You Yangs, and EE also wanted to visit her water feature near the Big Rock carpark.
In the end, the big surprise was a family of Sittella, and their young recently fledged clan. I’m going to do a separate blog on that encounter.
In the meantime in spite of all the disaster that is around, and the challenges of the rest of summer ahead of us, it was good to see the birds had new life on the way.
We’d be chatting, Mr An Onymous and I, about the history and development of Greek Drama and Tragedy. And the role of Satyr as a political statement. Among the playwrights were Sophocles, and Euripides, and how they used the stage to create the Spectacle and allow the characters and drama to develop. Anyway, you get the idea.
“The Rise and Rise of the Brown Falcon in Unfamiliar Territory”
All good plays need a title that might throw the unwary viewer in the wrong direction.
Scene 1. A roadway somewhere along the Western Treatment Plant. Single treeline along roadway. Magpies embedded in trees carolling among themselves.
Enter Stage Left. Single Brown Falcon, flying about tree height toward the roadway. Point to note. Brown is flying slowly and deliberately.
Scene 2. Brown approaches treeline directly toward Magpies. Still slow and deliberate.
All good tales have a protagonist and of course the antagonist. From Romeo and Juliet to Jane Eyre, or a Hitchcock movie, the ‘player of the first part’, has always to experience the consequences of decisions.
So as our hero the Little Eagle made its way across the paddocks in the sunshine, oblivious of the dangers, it was soon to learn that not all skies are clear, blue and free.