Tis true to say that EE and I haven’t been down to the Western Treatment Plant for quite a number of weeks. The weather, health things, family events and perhaps a touch of sloth just seems to have gotten in the way.
My photo mate Neil, sent me a note about his last weekend trip, and we decided if the weather opened up a bit, we’d at least drive down 29 Mile Road for a looksee.
So this morning after a couple of Tai Chi class sessions, we loaded up with lunch, a cuppa or two of Earl of Grey and of course the essential cameras and headed out in the warm sunshine, (and to tell all the story, the rather crisp wind as well).
Before we reached Beach Road junction, we spied some Flame Robins, but they wanted to work far out in a paddock, and we could only get glimpses.
Further on down, and a trio of Black-shouldered Kites were keeping the mice on their toes.
And as we sat with lunch at the first corner on the 29 Mile Road, a Spotted Harrier wafted by making some very nervous Swamphens. As we entered the T Section area, we were looking for Brolga as Neil had sighted them here at the weekend, but we lucked out.
Next we found a single Flame Robin female that was working around a puddle of water on the roadway.
Looking up, I heard the familiar call of a Black-shouldered Kite with a mouse, and as we looked a Black Falcon swept in from no where and after a little evasion from the Kite, the Falcon secured the prize and took off with the erstwhile and very angry kite in hot pursuit, but to no avail. The Black is just that good in the air.
As we drove back out, lo, the very Brolga had turned up in the first pond and were busy preening, we shared the last of the Earl of Grey and enjoyed their unconcerned wardrobe adjustments.
So for a first day back at the farm, it was a most enjoyable and profitable time.
Black-shouldered Kites Growing up. October 10, 2017
Waiting is not Patience. Patience is about the moment,
an intersection of the strongest story with the right light,
the best timing and an awareness of the around.
Waiting makes us pay attention. David Duchemin
You’re Welcome Here.
We’ve been tracking a clutch of Black-shouldered Kites down on the 29 Mile Road at the Western Treatment Plant. The young have been on the wing now for over two months, and are now the expert hunters. They are just moulting out the last of their juvenile ginger and grey feathers and the eye is taking on the rich ruby colour of adult-hood.
The best perches in the area are along the roadside, the few trees and fenceposts and man-made solar panels and the like. And because of their consummate skill in the air, and the vast quantity of mice in the area, the young kites seem quite oblivious to human presence.
So sometimes it’s possible to get right into the world of the hunting birds—not as a long distance observer—in a hurry—but to take the time the learn about the birds, their preferences for hunting areas and their choice of spots to enjoy their successes.
I’ve been reading and following photographer David DuChemin and his approach to teaching a photographic vision. He has a series called Vision is Better. He talks about patience, waiting, the involvement in the around and being able to identify with the subject to really tell their story. On one such video he travels to British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest to photograph the Spirit Bears – a white variation of the black bear. His video is shot from a short kayak trip, and I think its possible to really get both his excitement of the area, and his immersion in the moment, (if you will allow the pun).
Now that Kitty and Kalev-the Brave, have their two young on the wing things get a bit more interesting.
Learning to be a Black-shouldered Kite is not a copy book exercise. There are lots of practical things to be considered as they develop not only their wing power, but also their ability to read the wind, find mice, learn to hunt, how to hover, and the myraid other things that are needed to make a Black-shouldered Kite successful.
Among those things are off course the ability to sit very quietly and unobtrusively on a perch. The thinner the better it seems.
Toward the end of last year, a pair of Black-shouldered Kites— we named them Kitty and Kalev-the Brave— set up and successfully fledged three young.
Well, they are back! Or so it seems. Of course they could be completely different birds, but given their relaxed and settled manner, and the way they interact, I’d be pretty certain that we are looking at Kitty and Kalev-the Brave.
Jon Young says, “There is nothing random about bird’s awareness and behaviour. They have too much at stake…. Being tuned into the tapestry…. we are venturing into a realm of awareness, and intention and curiosity. I’ve had some magical experiences in the natural world, and some of them have involved birds.”
He quotes a San Bushman, “One day I see a small bird and recognise it. A thin thread will form between me and the bird. I will go again tomorrow and recognise it and the thread will thicken. Eveytime I see and recognise the bird, the thread strengthens. It will eventually grow to become a rope. That is what it means to be a Bushman. We make ropes to all aspects of the creation this way.”
Appreciation of the bird’s perspective.
Which puts us in the vehicle, heading along the 29 Mile Road at Avalon, in the early morning sunshine. EE, Mr An Onymous and I. And as we draw nearer to the end of the road, a thought from us all, was, “Will Orion still be here?”
We need not have worried.
Sitting on a small tree, about 10m off the side of the road. And by the look, having just eaten. Feathers still wet with the dew from the grass of his last capture.
At first we stop the car on the far side of the road, and they photograph through the open window.
Orion turns his head, takes note, and then develops, ‘Soft eyes’. Jon talks to this a lot, and I’ve mentioned it here before, but its the type of eyes that look right past you, with complete confidence. I stepped from the car, I’m on the far side remember, and approached from the sunside, and moved across the road. ‘Soft eyes’ followed me. Because of the line of the branch, his stance, and the way the light is running in the early morning, I want to be about 10m further out in the open. And of course the chance is he will spook and fly.
I make the first few shots. Orion sinks down onto the branch, and I take that as an invitation. Purposefully, rather than creeping up slowly, (that only spooks birds the worst), I move to the open area. Now, the backdrop is not right, so I need another 4 or 5 metres. He throws his head back and begins to hawk-up the fur ball from the last meal. I move. Soft eyes follow.
Because of the lay of the land, it’s going to be hard to isolate him against the backdrop without a horizon line running somewhere. I could go lower, but then it would be blue sky. Nice, but not encompassing. Besides crouching down human with long lens is going to turn those soft eyes to ones of determined study. So I opt for another step or two to put his head against the far distant tree line. That will have to do.
Orion settles to preen.
EE and Mr A take all this as a sign of relaxation and they also move off the roadway for the better angle and the light. Orion soft eyes. We’re cool.
In the end, we’ve enough for a game of cards, the three of us and Orion.
Preening, wingstretches, repositioning on the branch. And all the time he seems completely settled.
After an hour of standing in the fine sunshine, carrying a long lens, and working with a bird that seems to have no fear of us, a great deal of understanding, awareness and connection emerges.
The others move back to the car. I bid this able bird ‘good morning’ and follow them back. Soft eyes follow me.
And just before you think I’ve run out of stuff to write about and am uploading a few older images.
These are from a visit this afternoon. I’ve been laid up at home in bed with the flu for most of the week. And EE decided that it was such a nice sunny afternoon, that I’d be allowed out for a bit of ‘fresh air’.
So down to 29 Mile we went. And there was mr casual, Orion, sitting on the usual post eating a usual mouse. Well obviously not the same mouse as before, but you get the idea.
Interestingly enough there was quite a track made through the long grass and marsh weed, by photographers tracking in and out over the weekend. EE says, if she’d have known it might have been a good place to sell hot scones and tea!
Orion seemed all the more oblivious to it all, and went through an entire preening and resting program with two photographers at arms length —so to speak. Well not quite, but in its relaxed way we enjoyed vicariously its company.
Here is a small sample of the afternoon. And yes, I do feel better from the fresh air.
Not sure how you’re Greek mythology is, but Orion was a hunter who was going to kill all the wildlife. A bit miffed with his hubris, the gods took umbrage— they seeemed to do that a lot, over the least, and perhaps even looked for opportunities to be offended, but I digress.
In the end of the myth, well he gets bitten by a clever snake, and is consigned to turn for ever in the heavens, he at one end, and the snake at the other. When one lot of star pattern is visible at night, the other is below the horizon. One sets as the other rises. All very mystical.
There is a lot of the life/death, rebirth and restitution in the entire story, but that is probably enough for most average bird photographers to take in at one sitting.
After several sessions with the Black-shouldered Kite down on the 29 Mile Road, it dawned on me that Orion, the mighty hunter, would be a good, well, unisex name for our hero(ine).
So we went down to see Orion, discuss the matter with him/her, and see what he/she thought.
Seemed to go pretty well, and just to confirm it all the bird dropped off the post, flew a few wingflaps, hovered, dived and returned with a mouse. One can almost here Mt Olympus turning.
Addendum: Just to be very clear. These birds are not baited, called in, or in anyway interfered with. We are simply recording the activities of a very relaxed and completely confident bird. We strive for connection and if a bird exhibits any ‘stress’, we leave it in peace. No photo is worth stressing the bird. Now you know!
No. I haven’t fallen off the planet. But my photo database had developed a slight case of computer measels and its taken me the best part of the last couple of weeks to manage it back to life.
It all started…. but, let’s not go there.
Still been making photos but.
Here is a sequence from a morning with a Black-shouldered Kite hunting alongside the roadway. For those who can navigate around the Western Treatment Plant this one is working along 29 Mile Road.
Interesting time at the WTP, the waders are all feeding and colouring up for their journey north to Siberia. And all the nesting birds are now in winter preparation.
Which means the Black-shouldered Kites among others have come down to keep the mouse population from exploding to epic proportions. And if this bird is anything to go by, then the mice are well and truly under control.
I’ve heard it said that on average the success rate for a hunting bird is one strike in about 10-15 attempts. This bird (I haven’t named it yet), obviously never read the fine print, and in the hour or so we shared, it hunted 4 times and took 3 mice.
It also seems quite content around us mere humans and has allowed both close approaches, and has made its own close approaches. Add to that some fine sunshine, a small breeze to give it some lift and what better way to while away a few hours in the morning.
We had gazed at weather tv presenters, peered at tiny newspaper weather maps, and consulted the occassional web weather site, and it seemed pretty conclusive.
A high moving in during the day would give us that special “Golden Hour”. Nothing else to do really except pack in a cuppa, the cameras, the WTP access key, drop a note to the controller of our intention, and drive.
We had a spot in mind, and as it turned, we arrived travelling in the wrong direction to the sun. Not an error, but just the way things worked out. And of course, as we had already half expected, a White-bellied Sea-eagle was on a post against the light and looking pretty elegant, resplendant, and pretty well pleased with itself.
And then it flew. And EE was the only one out of the car, and the bird passsed on her side of the road, and I couldn’t get the door open as I’d stopped right up hard on a bush, and well, I missed it.
The spot we were heading for has a little bit of open grass and usually good beach on low tide. (Twas high this night!), and an outflow. And a couple of good radio mast perches.
A young Black-shouldered Kite had chosen the area to perch on while Mum gathered food. So we sat, enjoyed the sunshine, the Earl of Grey, and the antics of this beautifully marked bird.
Even if the bird hadn’t been there the weather was so nice.
Last Sunday, the weather people, correctly, predicted foggy morning. That was enough to send us to the Office.
Not only did we get some grand misty moody shots, but caught up with Kitty and Kalav – the Brave.
Kitty now has settled on the nest and he is still bringing food on demand.
The Brown Falcon came and gave us quite a lovely half hour or so sitting and preening waiting for the sun to break through.
And some fine little Superb Fairy-wrens stopped by to entertain us.
Art Morris has been writing a bit of late on High Key portraits, and the mist gave both an ideal light and an excellent backdrop to play the little birds against.
No one needs to be told that today was a cold day. Oh, 14degrees feels like 3.7, so the weather dude said. 3.7??? Now how can you predict that accurately?
Anyway it wasn’t even close in the strong winds running in to the 50+kph, it felt more like -3.7 say -4, whose going to quibble over whole numbers.
Cold. When the wind rips through a Driazabone jacket, I’m here to tell its COLD.
Had a date with Kalav -the Brave. He was going to be in a lot of trouble hunting in this wind. But, did you notice Brave in there somewhere?
By the time I’d arrived, he’d already decimated one part of the hunting ground and had moved to new premises. Seemed more interested in keeping Kitty well supplied than in a silly old dude in a Drizabone pointing a lens at him.
4 mice, in 10 minutes. And all within a stones throw, (not that I threw stones at him) of where I was hunkered down behind the the fencepost, the only protection around.
We’ve been sitting in our mobile hide (the little i20), near a tree that has a Black-shouldered Kite nest and the female in residence.
As is typical of her species, the nest is just below tree top and hidden well in among the fine uppermost branches. Once she is under the canopy she is gone!
He off course is on hunting duty, and every so often turns up with a nice fresh mouse. So all we have to do is point the camera, (attached, I might add to the WImberley Gimbal head), and wait either for him to arrive and/or her to emerge or reenter.
Now, if you’ve ever watched them, the first thing you’ll recall is that it can be a long long long time inbetween feeds.
Sometimes even she gets a bit anxious and sends out some pretty interesting Kite calls just to make sure he gets the message.
So we wait.
And of course in the waiting is the challenge. So we, well at least I, keep the shorter 300mm f4 PF on a second camera and practice my flight shots on anything that spins past.
So here are a few from the other day.
Oh, and Mr Grey-head just had to come and see what I was upto.
Fantail Cuckoo, first I’ve seen at WTP
Fantail Cuckoo, airborne
The male on a mission. He has been told in no uncertain terms what the requirements for a snack are.
Been awhile since I’ve posted, but its been lack of good weather more than anything.
The area close to home, on the Werribee River Park, that I’ve taken to euphemistically calling ‘The Office”, has an amazing number of raptors, and I thought I’d introduce them and what they are up to.
On the roadway in, just over the Geelong Freeway, there is a fence line and a few old pines. Here a pair of Black-shouldered Kites have just flown their two orange and cinnamon young. In the same tree line a pair of Black Kites appear to be setting up house, if not already at work on brooding. Next tree or three down, is a pair of Brown Falcons. Not nesting yet, but certainly staking out their claim to the territory. Much to the anger of the Black-shouldered Kites.
Down the road a little just before the carpark off in the paddocks a second pair of Brown Falcons are at work on territorial rights. Also regularly in the area a pair of Wedge-tailed Eagles, although the moment, it probably is just a convenient perching location.
At the carpark proper, a pair of Black-shouldered Kites and their recently fledged three teenagers. Not more than a dozen trees down from them is a pair of Black Kites and a nest that is work in progress. I’ve not checked up close, but there is either brooding or feeding going on. The male seems quite adept at pursing a laden Black-shouldered Kite and getting it to release its mouse capture.
A pair of Brown Falcons are constantly in the trees just off the river cliffs line, and I’d be tempted to say its a likely spot for a nest.
Further out in the field and well away from my prying lens is a pair of Australian Kestrels, and again they are too early for nesting, but are certainly building good pair bonding.
Combine that with the regular visits by any number of Whistling Kites and the area is certainly busy. A few days back an arrow shaped bird sped through the trees and caused quite a stir among the smaller birds and the one really good look suggested Peregrine Falcon, and I’ve seen one briefly on the fence line on the way in.
So here are a few of the birds at work. The food in the area must be exceptional to support such a range of nesting and preparing birds.