Little Visits: A Morning in the Western Treatment Plant

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

This is part of the coastal road at the Plant. Normally it is accessible by 2WD, but now 4WD and low tide are the recommendation. Erosion is quite evident. We retreated.
A small selection of Pied Oystercatchers hunkering down on a sandspit out of the wind.
This beautiful Goose has been on its own for at least 12 months, but has remained faithful to the area. I’m sure it doesn’t recognise me, but each time we go past its territory, I stop and we exchange a few head-bobs and it goes back to feeding.

I’m pretty certain it has lost its mate, the pair used to be quite the regulars in the area and nested over several seasons. For its own reasons it hasn’t ventured away to find a new mate.
Female White-fronted Chat. They seem to take extraordinary care about returning to the nest with food, and will spend many minutes checking everything out before deposting the food.
One of a pair of Brolga that were working in the T-Section
He is returning to see how things are going with his nesting mate. I’m sure that is a Swan smile
I saw the nest from the other side of the pond and we drove round for a clearer view. This clever lass was taking no chances and had built her nest in the very middle of quite a deep pond and it seems to have paid off with a lovely set of matching cygnets.
By early afternoon, the wind, the cold and the rain has gotten the best of the best of us, and we made one forlorn loop around the Western Lagoon area. Surprisingly we spotted a pair of Brolga with two quite large well developed juveniles in tow. Well worth the extra few minutes and the tired and exhausted among us were quick to respond to the opportunity. The birds seemed quite relaxed and in no hurry to go anywhere, but big long legs quickly carried them across the ponds.
Quite well developed. I’m not sure if they are fledged, but that normally takes around 3-4 months. Which just shows how silly Uncle Google can be, as I’ve seen figures of 2-3 weeks, which are impossible. They stay with the parents for nearly 12 months until the next breeding cycle.
Here is an intersting factsheet on Brolga on Farms.
For bonus points we called in to see the Hobbys on the way home. This one is now just about a ‘brancher’ and no doubt days from flight. The nest is festooned in discared down.
All tucked up secure. Three little Wagtails about a week old.

Tennis Stars Be Prepared to Be Amazed!

My friend Nina was down at the WTP last week.
She sent me a note of her adventures, and has kindly allowed me to share them here.

In a galaxy far, far, far, far, away, in another time, Nina and I both worked for a large multi-national. Her love of the environment and my natural history photography have kind of kept us in touch.

All the photos, words and story are Nina’s.  Obviously copyright, and intellectual property rights belong to her and should be honoured.

Here is what she sent me.
I had an extraordinary experience at the WTP with friends last Friday.

Where ever we went, we kept running into Brolgas.

On Kirks Point track we watched some Brolgas playing with a tennis ball for more than an hour. At first I thought they were trying to eat it, but after a while I realised they were just playing. One would drop it and the next one >would pick it up. They would also pass it to each other. I have many blurry photos because I was shaking with excitement. The memories of thisclose encounter will be with me for ever.

The images are linked to a larger version so just double click to see.  Be Amazed!

Thanks Nina.

If you would like to contact Nina drop me a note and I’ll pass on the details.

Be Amazed

Little Visits: The Flight of the Brolga

I was going solo at the Western Treatment Plant.  #kneetoo was tucked up in her wide view bird-hide at the hospital, and as the sun was shining in a clear blue sky, I thought a quick trip to check to see if any Flame Robins could be making the most of the weather and the paddocks at the Plant.

However after a bit of fruitless searching it was obviously not going to be my day for robins.

A final quick trip around the “T Section” area just in case a Brown Falcon or two might be present and then home was my plan.

As I unlocked the entry gate to the area, I heard the long rasping call away off in the distance of Brolga. A scan around the horizon and it was not likely I’d spot any as the calls had been a long way off, and had now stopped.

I prepared to shut the gate and another birdo was approaching to go out, so I held the gate open and said I’d lock it as they left.  Then, just as I swung the gate across the road, that rasping cry filled the air, and this time I’d id’d the location. Sure enough in the air were three Brolga. Then as the shapes grew more distinct, it was likely that they were not only coming in my direction, but would perhaps make a pretty close pass by.

Locking the gate, I grabbed the camera and hoped that the pass would be on the sunny side of iAmGrey.

The more I watched, the more I became aware they would be using the roadway behind me as sort of navigation aid, and would pass right over the top of me.

And they did.

They disappeared behind one of the bunds, and I wondered where they had ended up.

Satisfied with  the fly by, I went on to look along the roadways. Time for a cuppa, so I pulled up at one of the cross tracks and pulled out the doings.

Then the croaking call rattled over the ponds and I looked a bit further along the track and the pair were in head stretch calling mode, and engaging in a little pair bonding.  Cuppa forgotten, I moved along the track for a better looksee.

They settled down to some preening and feeding and the juvenile with them was feeding in one of the shallow ponds.

I went back for my Cuppa and sat and watched until they moved off the pondage and up on to the track, and moved further along to continue their morning routine.

Satisfied, I packed up and headed off for a visit with the patient.

Enjoy


 

A Day at the Farm

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.

The fur flies as the Kite prepares lunch

Fast food

Spotted Harrier at work over Swamphen pool

Australasian Swamphen with impeccable table manners

Golden-headed Cisticola

Female Flame Robin

Black Falcon speeds in on a free lunch

Easy to see why the Kite has no hope of winning this battle

Having lost its mouse, it did at least give the Falcon a parting swoop.

Preening Brolga

Snapshots: A Raptor Day at the Treatment Plant

A search on the Bureau of Meteorology website, has quite a bit of info on the lack of rain in mid of Australia.  See here http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/drought/
At the bottom of the page is a couple of graphs that begin to put it all in perspective.

And as it dries out, it seems, that quite a number of birds are moving south.  Or toward the eastern coast.
And we’ve seen quite a change in the numbers of smaller falcons and kites in our area.  In the space of a 10 minute drive the other day we saw 14 Nankeen Kestrel.

So we took a trip to the Western Treatment Plant on a sunny morning.

Continue reading “Snapshots: A Raptor Day at the Treatment Plant”

Funny old thing is Serendipity

“the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way”

The weather map showed a large high stalled over us for most of the day.  “Let’s do an evening at the Western Treatment Plant”, saith, I. “We could take down the picnic, and have a fine old evening watching the sunset over the bay, and maybe photograph a few birds, and well, just enjoy the evening sea breeze.  What thinkest thou?”.

A call to Mr An Onymous, and the famed, and legendary “Blackmobile” was on the highway loaded with his fine repast. EE and I decided on a Peri-Peri Chicken Salad, and a round of Earl of Grey.

Pied Oystercatcher
Pied Oystercatcher

 

Continue reading “Funny old thing is Serendipity”

Meeting Up with Friends Take #2

Graham Harkom, as self-confessed birder and mad photographer, also among his other accomplishments runs an online bird photography group,   Melbourne Bird Photographers, under the Meetup banner.

See Here

So most months there is an event to turn up to.  It’s such an intriguing way to organise an event, and great kudos for Graham and his organising group for keeping up the great places to visit. Always good for birds, photography and chatting, and of course food!

So, when I discovered the next one was to be at the Western Treatment Plant, it wasn’t too hard to tick the Yes we will attend box.

So, as the Banjo was wont to say, we went.

Also my long term mate and fellow conspirator and Flickr mate Mark S came over to make an excellent day of it.   Graham, herein named, “He who always has brilliant sunshine for his events”, met us at the Caltex Servo at Werribee and had turned on the sunshine as requested.

28 keen folk sipped Gerry’s best coffee, ate raisin toast, and talked about the day’s opportunities.  We took off toward Avalon, stopping long enough to get some good views, if only average photos of some Banded Plovers, then it was on to the T Section, and the inevitable wait by the Crake Pool, and out came the Australian Crake, right on time.  No Brolga here, so off to the Paradise Road ponds for our little convoy.

Met a carful of helpful folk who said, “Down there somewhere we saw Brolga”, which unscrambled meant. On to the 145W outflow. A very co-operative Brown Falcon stopping us in our quest, and gave some great poses, and a fine fly off shot for those of us not too busy checking the camera settings. —Will I never never learn!!!!  😦

Then, we spotted the Brolga, (Singular in this case), and the usual dilemma,  stay where we are for distant, safe views , or drive on a small distance and see if we can get closer.  We drove.  And the kind bird tolerated us, for a while, then gave a super fly by quite close.  Too much fun.

We had a quiet photography time at 145W, and lunch, then it was on to Lake Borrie. My mates Neil and David turned up in the Prado,they were both out playing with new toys, A Canon 1D X and a Nikon D4. Ah, the joys of learning new equipment.

As we drove back the Brown Falcon had perched on the ‘Specimen Tree’ in Little River and we managed several great shots in the sunshine.

On toward the Bird-hide for some good views of Musk Duck, Great Crested Grebe and an obliging Swamp Harrier made the journey well worthwhile.

Then we took a quick detour toward the top end of Lake Borrie, and to my surprise and great delight—Picture if you will, a small child in a sweet-shop—I spotted some White-winged Terns hunting in the next pond.  (They used to be called White-winged Black Terns, but like many things name changes are important.)
Not that I cared as a most remarkable all Black flanked bird tacked into view.  It was in full breeding plumage, and has to be seen flashing over the water to be genuinely appreciated.   By now the memory cards were filling up. And they were just Mine!!!!!

These birds are only at WTP a few weeks during the year, and mostly never in breeding black plumage. Also every other time I’ve seen them it’s been raining.  See some other blogs on here.

A really top find, and a great way to end the day. A quick run up the highway. A refreshing cup of coffee and some good discussion on the finds of the day,- including a top shot of a Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater (Missed that one! ), and everybody back in their transportation and  time for home.

Thanks again to Graham “He who always has brilliant sunshine for his events”, and the pleasure of his visitor from Thailand, for such a good relaxing day, and so much to see, and to all those intrepid Meetup-erers who ventured down, and enjoyed the day with us.  Hope to see you all again down the track.

Enjoy.

A fine start to the day with a Black-shouldered Kite warming in the morning sunshine
A fine start to the day with a Black-shouldered Kite warming in the morning sunshine

At Crake HQ, an Australian Crake on good display.
At Crake HQ, an Australian Crake on good display.

A hunting we wiil go Whistling Kite over paddock
A hunting we will go. Whistling Kite over paddock

A Black Kite on a tight turn hunting small insects.
A Black Kite on a tight turn hunting small insects.

No one gets past here!
No one gets past here!

One of the finds of the day. Brolga in flight
One of the finds of the day. Brolga in flight

Brown Falcon on Specimen Tree
Brown Falcon on Specimen Tree

A Swamp Harrier on a tight turn. Another one for my "How to Sneak up on a Swamp Harier", book. :-)
A Swamp Harrier on a tight turn. Another one for my “How to Sneak up on a Swamp Harrier”, book. 🙂

White-winged Tern. What a great find, and this one in full breeding plumage.
White-winged Tern. What a great find, and this one in full breeding plumage.

So Good. Here is another.
So Good. Here is another.

White-winged Tern (formerly White-winged Black Tern for obvious reasons), this one is moulting in.
White-winged Tern (formerly White-winged Black Tern for obvious reasons), this one is moulting in.

 

Dancing with Brolga

Over the past couple of weeks, the Brolgas that are down in the WTP have been a bit more open and readily noticeable.  Either because of their walking along the roads along the bunds, or by flying in from seemingly nowhere.

At first I took to them as  photo challenge. Big bird, easy to spot, fairly photogenic.

However after a couple of weeks of working with them, I am enamoured.  These wonderful creatures with personalities all their own have walked, sung, and danced their way deep into my heart.

Not that its a two sided partnership.  They are very people averse and make their feelings on the subject well know, both vocally and by voting with their feet, or wings.

We had decided EE, Mr An Onymous and I to take advantage of the cool of the morning as being the best way to get the best light and to make a concerted effort to locate the Brogla.  Now like all birds, they don’t leave signs, or calling cards, so we left an hour or so after sunup and began our quest.

By mid-morning the score was photographers 0 Brolga 3. Then as we were going along the bund to Murtcaim(n) outflow, we saw the Helmutmobile on the other side of the pond, and on the road in front of him. A pair of Brolga. Apparently on a shopping expedition, or perhaps a philosophical stroll in the morning.  As Mr An has rightly pointed out, they walk fast on those big legs. And it was as much as I could do to follow along on the opposite bank, as they headed on down to the other end of the pond.

At one point we (both) came upon a mob of Black Swans in the pond, and they were startled either by me, or more likely on reflection, the Brolga. Much wing clattering, foot splashing and eventually they got airborne.
The Brogla stopped, turned their heads, and I thought “Oh, No, they’ll fly too!”  But instead they set up a constant calling and looking in the direction of the Swans, and I think I learned some Brolga speak. “Well, Look at those silly swans,  we sure scared them. ”

See Helmut’s shot of the Swans in complete disarray on the wing.

Here. http://www.flickr.com/photos/88560281@N06/11941596805/

Black swan

Another view is here.

Black Swans

Satisfied that honour had been done, they turned and walked nonchalantly off down the road.

I moved to the end of the road, and the pool. There is a road running along there and I figured,  they will either turn left and be gone down the road or they might just as well turn right and walk pretty much right past me.  However, like all good stories, there was a third possibility that I hadn’t counted on.  They walked over the roadway, down the bank on the other side and disappeared into the grass.  Brolga 4.

We stopped at the Murtcain(m) outflow, but the tide was in and the best we could do was a nice cuppa and a chat.

When silently as stealth bombers, 3 grey shapes came over the paddock, dropped into the lagoon and immediately started walking. They were much to far out for anything really decent, Brolga 5.

However not to be outdone, I walked down to the end of the roadway and slipped along the roadside trying to get as close, and hoping they would feed across toward my position. Photographer 1.

What happened next was the highlight of my day, probably my month, and might even be my year. (I don’t aim high!).

One of the three, the smallest, stopped walking. Turned about and danced.  Now most have heard of the prowess of these birds as exceptional dancers.  Don’t believe it. They are much much more than exceptional.  To see a video is one thing. To see the elegance, lightness, the subtly of turn, and the wing movements is nothing else other than breathtaking.   Its ability to step, and twist and turn and jump in a co-ordinated manner can’t be explained and a few still shots, don’t even begin to touch the scope of the repertoire.  Photographer 2.
And it was doing it for itself. The other two took no part and took no notice.

I’ve concluded they do it because its fun. They enjoy it, and it’s an expression of being alive.  I know anthropomorphism is frowned upon. I don’t care, I think they have emotions and this one wanted to enjoy the moment.

The heat haze over the water affected most of the shots, but none the less, its only encouraged me to continue working with these birds and hopefully they will grace me with another performance.

Nothing like a morning constitutional stroll.
Nothing like a morning constitutional stroll.

Oh, look I missed a feather, just there.
Oh, look I missed a feather, just there.

"Silly Swans"
“Silly Swans”

When you're casual walking there is always a time of for a quick preen.
When you’re casual walking there is always a time for a quick preen.

Reaching the end of the road, would they turn and walk toward me?
Reaching the end of the road, would they turn and walk toward me?

A threesome, perhaps two adults and a juvenile, flew quietly in for a walk along the pond.
A threesome, perhaps two adults and a juvenile, flew quietly in for a walk along the pond.

For no reason, only that it could this bird decided to dance in the sunshine.
For no reason, only that it could, this bird decided to dance in the sunshine.

Wings widespread help to control the dreaming drifting down sequences.
Wings widespread help to control the dreaming drifting down sequences.

At the height of the dance. Float like a butterfly.
At the height of the dance. Float like a butterfly.

Performance over time to rejoin the walking group.
Performance over time to rejoin the walking group.