We started out heading to monitor several Black-shouldered Kites nestings, but as the early morning sunhine beckoned when we made it to the freeway we decided a coffee at Gerry’s at the Highway Lounge and then on the WTP for a looksee for robins.
Coffee despatched, we didn’t have any success with the Robins however.
For those that have visited the WTP we headed on up toward Ryan’s Swamp.
A good move it turned out to be as there were a number of raptors working along the roadway.
We have been following a pair of Black-shouldered Kites since early January.
It’s been an on and off again project, both for the Kites and for us. Because of the distance, its just that little too far to be regularly checking on them, and in the beginning, they were somewhat half-hearted about making a start.
But by late Feb, it was pretty clear she had taken a nest in a pinetree next to a public carpark. The Point Cook Coastal Park is now surrounded on the landside by housing estates and is a popular walking, bicyling, picnicing location, so the carpark is always extremely busy.
Early morning light, or late afternoon is best suited for the location, and it was not unusual to see a photographer or two standing on the grass against the fence line waiting for the young to show themselves.
I thought it wise to wait until the cycle was nearly over and I had a reasonable show of the activities, rather than just publishing a few isolated moments of the action.
So in the growing tradition of the blog, here are the pics to tell the story.
And like all good Black-shouldered Kite stories, the last we see of the young is them sweeping out over the field, hovering and then diving down to secure their own feed.
We are left to wonder is the pair going to have another clutch soon
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.
Just in case anyone thought from my previous post that I’d abandoned BirdsasPoetry.com, rest assured all is well.
On yet another cold, windy morning we had ventured out to see if the young kites were in residence or if they had finally taken the hint and moved on to explore new areas.
We found them down the paddock about a Kilometre from the home tree, and all three actively engaged in the business of food production.
A little further investigation, and it seems like they have continued to use the home tree as a roosting area, for present. It appears that a line (invisible so to speak) has been drawn through the home territory, and they have access to the western side, and can hunt and roost freely. The eastern side, where Belle has a new nest in production, is a no-go zone and should they venture there they are quickly hunted away. So it means that unlike most clutches, they are still operating in the home territory, if somewhat tenuously.
Bronson it seems is not adverse to sneaking over the line, with a treat for them from time to time. But there is no doubt they are now self-sufficient
Here is a selection showing them in action.
I missed this one going down. It must have spotted the mouse and dove headfirst into the grasses, and I just couldn’t keep up with it. In a few seconds it lifted off with its prize
This is another one on full attack.
And here the two of them, with mouse in claw, arrived back on the home tree within seconds of each other.
I’ve been a bit remiss of late keeping the current nesting updated on the blog. I had decided that I’d just wait to make a single story rather than publish in installments.
Belle and Bronson had finished a clutch in early April, and the young were honing the last of their hunting skills, when it became obvious that the pair were planning a second clutch in the same nest. Normally after a clutch, the female takes a well earned break and may not be around for several weeks, and feeds herself, or sometimes moves on to another territory. So it was interesting to see them carrying sticks, Bronson feeding her and mating on a regular basis.
Then. The weather turned. I’m sure she didn’t plan for it, but the weather simply went from bad to dreadful. Rain. Wind. Hail. Gales. Some days all together.
EE and I were talking over the image selection for this set, and noted how few days of bright sunshine there had been and how much of the journey we had missed simply because it was too cold and dreadful to be out in the field.
Yet, to their credit, they persisted. The nest is exposed to the North. So any strong northerly winds, and there were whole days of that, really blasted onto the nesting site. It is a clever nest, among the young leaves and twigs at the end of a branch. It is built over a ‘Y’ at the end of the branch and a short dead stick in the centre of the “Y” takes the load bearing. But on a strong wind, the nest was lifted near vertically and must have been a wild ride for the brooding mother and eventually the hatched young.
Yet. To their credit, they persisted.
There are a few more photos than I’d normally publish and I’ve interspersed them through the text notes.
The first step in the process it seems is for the nest to be refurbished. Some internal material was removed, old feathers, dried leaves and some sticks. Perhaps it was soiled by the young before they could move about. Then a range of new sticks were added to build up the edges of the nest as the young had stood on the edges.
The next step was to top up Belle’s reserves. She will be on the nest and unable to catch for perhaps as long as 45 days. She will let him know when she is hungry.
It’s not often easy to get a glimpse of her on the nest, as she sits well down. This was a little later in the brooding and most likely the young were hatched and she was sitting over them rather than down on the eggs.
Hard to know at first how many are in the nest. For quite awhile we though we only saw two, so one might have been a few days behind the others. But once they get their bearings they are quick to want to see the world around them. It is often interesting to see those rich ginger colours, which at first seem to bright to hide them, but suprisingly (I jest) the grey, white and ginger are a perfect match for the nesting location.
Several days before they fly they move about the branches and twigs, a combination of clambering and jumping. This enterprising one had managed to get right out in the open to plead with Bronson for an extra helping.
Then the big day comes and they step out of the tree and into the air. Getting out is not so much a problem for them as working out how to slow down and stop well enough to land. The first few attempts usually are just dumping into the surrounding leaves—just as well they are soft. But in a day or so they can judge the speed and angle and make it on to the branches, albiet in a haphazard fashion
But the skills develop quickly, as you would expect, and within a few days they are highly manouverable little aeronauts. Wing strengh develops and long forays down the paddocks and out of sight become the norm.
Then begins the process of teaching them to take prey from the male. They take to this execise with great enthusiasm, very little skill, clumsiness and what can best be described as un-coordination. A hard time for the male as he gets buffetted about by the young who judge the speed, height and angle badly and barrell into him with no hope of making split second corrections. He seems to take all this in a stoic manner and I’ve seen him sometimes raise a little higher to match the upward speed, or drop lower with a long outstretched leg to place the mouse in the waiting claws. Other times he seems to be able to hold out the mouse and then slip away sideways to avoid a headon collision.
Eventually all the training comes to fruition and they become highly skilled at judging the parameters and can do it with a minimum of effort and few missed opportunities.
And now they are just bragging. The once unskilled can now make a bold one legged move.
This happened a long way out, and I’ve only got small shots of the entire sequence, but the young one secured the mouse, and somewhere between grasping it, and wanting to eat it in the air, of course it dropped the mouse. Bronson was on to it but as my Flickr site shows, a mouse free-falling is faster than a Kite. They are built for hovereing and do not have the speed of say, a Peregrine or Hobby, and the mouse tumbled to the ground. He was however right behind it, and I think this one was dead, as he quickly retrieved it, took it to a branch and the young one safely collected it.
Soon the colours will fade and they will be ready to face the world on their own. As Eleanor pointed out the orange colouring come from a chemical in the feathers, Porphyrin.
It seems the baby colours out of the nest don’t moult out, the rich copper tones fade out gradually over a few week. The brownish colour on young BSKs comes from Porphyrin, which fades in sunlight.
Eleanor says, “Porphyrin, which has been studied less than other pigments, as it doesn’t occur in large numbers of birds. It is found for example in the reddish-brown feathers of a juvenile Black-shouldered Kite. This fades after a few weeks, without the birds replacing the feathers, as it degrades in sunlight. It is also found in the brown and reddish spots on birds’ eggs.”
Porphyrin also emitts or fluoresces under UV light so the colouring would show up quite brightly for the birds, which may be an indication of individuals, or breeding potential. All just too fascinating.
And so through the sleet, the hail, the rain, the high winds and freezing cold they have matured enough to move on from the nest site. Here Bronson is sitting with them, a symbolic sort of image as they are now banned from the nesting area, as Belle is already preparing a new nest and by the time I publish this, no doubt she will have another clutch on the go.
Our local pair of Black-shouldered Kites go about the job of enlarging the species as though they are the only ones committed to the programme.
This past week has been constant rain, high winds and freezing cold conditions. But Belle has a job to do, and somehow through all that inclement weather she has stuck to the nest.
We too have been hunkered down. Looking out the door or window at the incessant rain, and feeling the cold creeping into the bones has not only been debilitating, but has dimmed any idea of being able to see how the Kites have been battling.
This morning, a look through the window, showed a few patches of blue-sky with no immediate rain. ” Let’s go see, and if it changes, we can always come home or go get a coffee,” EE said.
And as the good Banjo said, “We went.”
Mind, two people dressed for an Antarctic Expotition, or as a friend said the other day, Two Michelin Men, might not have been elegant, but at least kept the biting wind somewhat at bay.
At first it was all quiet, but then we noted that Belle was now sitting higher in the nest and there was white-wash on the branches below. So no doubt the young are beginning to grow.
In pretty quick succession Bronson arrived with first one, then two, a third and then fourth mouse. So he is doing his best to keep the high quality rocket-fuel going into little tummies and also keeping Belle satisfied.
In the end the Michelin men retreated to iAmGrey-heater turned on, and headed for coffee.
No doubt by the next time we can venture out, we might get the chance to see a tiny head or two.
We were travelling in the early. bright sunshine, on a very still, cold day. Our destination was a couple of paddocks to check for Flame Robins, and also a little further on to monitor the nesting progress of a pair of Black-shouldered Kites.
The narrow road is typical of farming communities with deep drains on either side and very little road shoulder, and while there was room to pass, there was no real room to park. We have been making this journey about once a week, and every so often perhaps twice a week to check on the progress of the Kites.
As we drove along the road, into the sunshine, a tree close to the fenceline, in the distance, looked to have three large bird sized shapes, and as it was a long way ahead we ran through the usual suspects, Ravens, Doves, Magpies, etc.
Then just as we approached, EE exclaimed, “They are juvenile Black-shouldered Kite.” With no where to stop other than the middle of the road, it was a bit precarious, so I moved up to a gateline and we walked back. Sure enough, three very handsome looking young kites. Where had they come from? Where they waiting to be fed? Wonder where the nest had been located? Now there are not too many trees suitable in the area, so it would be hard to pick one, and as we’d travelled that way a few times, and not seen any action in the area, it was even more a mystery.
After a lot of preening and wing stretching the answer to the question, “Are they waiting to be fed?” was answered as first one, then another lifted off with easy, flew out over the paddock and began to hover and drive down. These young kites had been on the wing for three or more weeks its seems.
We didn’t see a successful strike, but that was more to inexperience than anything and no doubt they were quietly confident of getting their own breakfast. After about an hour or so we moved on. The parents hadn’t been sighted and the young weren’t crying to be fed, so the best conclusion perhaps was they were now on their way out into the world on their own and were still travelling together for company.
It will be interesting to see if they are still in the area next time we visit.
How quickly time moves on for these young kites. A few weeks ago they were peeking out of the nest, then launched into flight on some of the most windy days we’ve had this year. And when we arrived on this particular morning they were now fully-fledged (pun intended) hunters.
Bronson, the male was no longer providing handouts. It was literally every bird for itself. They had chosen to sit together for what was probably the very last time in the early morning sun and scan the surrounding paddock for a likely meal. Most of their hunting as we watched was for skinks and small prey, but no doubt in the next day or two they would have skilled up enough for the real thing. Mice
Bronson flew past at one stage, perhaps checking they were still in the area, but they knew not to pester him for food and it was a silent flyover. They went back to the job in hand.
A couple of days later on our next visit, they were nowhere to be seen, all the usual roosting spots were empty. We caught a glimpse far across the freeway of one sitting, then hunting and flying off with its prize.
Their time had come to explore the world as fully developed young birds.
It is both a sad and also an exciting time to share their graduation and to farewell them.
After a pretty windy start the young Black-shouldered Kites have quickly advanced to developing both their hunting skill and their ground tactics. It might just me wanting to explain their process, but I think that the first few days on the wing in the very strong gale force winds gave them an advantage in learning the flying techniques. It is not unusual to see them leave the home tree and in a few wing flicks they are nearly a kilometre away down the paddock. So we miss all of the action happening from where we stand.
But, the other morning on what can only be described as “picture perfect”, they were working closer in and going through the paces of hovering and dropping out of the sky into the grass. Now, any mice there were pretty safe as they don’t quite have the skills to finalise the ‘catch’. However it won’t be long I suspect before they make the necesary connections and then they’ll be on the way to independance.
We stopped briefly this morning at the Black-shouldered Kite nest in a pine on a now disused piece of road.
The last few times we’ve visited it was apparent that the young birds were getting close to fledging, however as it turns out we were pretty much completely wrong.
When we arrived they were already sitting high up on the tree and one moved from one branch to another with a skill of a seasoned flyer.
And not long after two of them took to the air and circled about the paddock around the tree, eventually returned and settled in.
A third one came by just as we were leaving so it must have been resting in a tree further down the road.
On return the young kite had to run the gauntlet with an enraged Australian Magpie. Unfortunately it happened all so fast and so close in that we didn’t get much of a result, and to it credit the young kite was easily able to avoid the attack. Which further shows they have been airborne a few days at least.
The female turned up and spent quite a bit of time ‘tail flicking’, which I’ve always taken as either a pair-bonding or a territory maintenance movement. Given a second pair of Kites have a nest somewhere further down the main road, it might be safe to assume she was giving warning that her young were out and about and not to be messed with.
Here are a few from the excursions around the nest.
Young Kite defending against the Magpie attack. The feathers might look out of control, but I suspect it has set up the feathers to give it both control and the ability to avoid the magpie. A good indication they have been out for a few days.
Deng Ming-Dao writes,” Times of oppression and adversity cannot last forever. In the midst of great difficulty, a tiny opportunity will open—if only by chance. You must be sharp enough to discern it, quick enough to catch it, and determined enough to do something with it. Stick to it like a Shadow.”
“It is like a bird. If you try to catch it, you will miss. If you are always with it, moving at its speed, as much a part of it as its own shadow, then it is easy to seize.”
We have, tis fair to say, had our fill of lockdownitis. One of several pairs of Black-shouldered Kites that we’ve worked with over the years has flown several clutches of young while we’ve been at home with our four walls.
The sad thing is that the 5km limit we have been forced to work to, just gets us to the turn-off to the road where the Kites territory begins. So it was possible to drive, and park, and like a kid looking in a lollyshop window droll on the glass.
But. Not able to get close enough to see what was going on.
The road runs off a major access road, so parking on the side, (within our limit) is fraught with its own challenges. Myriad passing traffic, difficulty of parking on the side of the road, not to mention, standing about with a long camera lens is likely to bring the wrath of some ‘public concerned individual” as to why we would be doing such a thing. And of course the inevitable visit from the long arm of the law.
So, we stayed away.
This particular pair, and really its the female, as we are pretty certain she has had two male companions over the past couple of years, have done their bit to keep the Kite species alive and well supplied.
Working backward, with the few clutches we had photographed without interruption and the number of clutches that were started and then we lost track of, or had begun and we came back on the end of the season with the young well and truly on the wing, we think in the past 3 years, they have had somewhere around 8 clutches. Maybe 9. On average she brings out 3 young, so given one known clutch failure, and one that only produced two young, it would be fair to say they have flown around 25 young birds.
Now we have a little more travel space, EE and I ventured out, among other places to see what the kites were doing, (If anything) Parking well off the mainroad and scanning about, eventually we found one of the pair sitting high on a tree. Not long after the female emerged from the top of a tree, and with much sqarrking encouraged the male to go hunting.
Bingo. They have a nest.
That would be perhaps number 10 so far. She is a bit of a workaholic.
Shadow time! Hopefully the next few weeks will give us a chance to follow the progress.
The weather wasn’t all that kind, but here she is coming in with a fresh prize to prepare for the young, which must only be hatched for a week or so.
And just in case you’ve not seen a link before
The Peregrine Falcons high up on 367 Collins Street in Melbourne have hatched a clutch of three.
Here is a link to their video feed.
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.
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!!”