Little Visits: Searching for the holy grail or Grebe

We had gone to Ballarat with high hopes of being able to find the resident Great Crested Grebes and be able to photograph them up close.

Such was the the plan

Day One:  Not a feather of a grebe to be seen.

Day Two: Helpful local pointed out that since they had raised the young they were now residing further out in the outer most reeds.
So we patiently looked, from a distance, at the various reed beds.  Not much happening really.

Day Three. An early morning search did in fact reveal a grebe or two, way, way out there, in those reeds well beyond reach of the best long lenses.

Day Three: Evening stroll.  Now this was more like it, they had moved to perhaps the second set of reed beds, closer in.  But, clever birds they are, were all tucked up asleep and had no intention of coming closer.

Day Four: Departure day.  Early morning.   Well, they were still out on the second reed beds and a single adult and two juveniles were in the open, adult was hunting ,young were still hoping for handouts.   Didn’t look like we were going to get the shots.
Then EE said, “Oh, look one of the young is coming in this way.”  Sure enough.

And then a few minutes later the adult swam in the same direction but further around the lake so we quickly walked, as it swung in quite near the edge and then with some deft strokes to get away from the complaining young one by its side, it was back out among the furtherest reeds.

Still, we had bagged some shots, and while not memorable, we had at least been able to check off the grebes from the list for the weekend.

Little Visits: The Wonders of Choughness

We had ventured to Ballart for a family shindig. Normally such events would see us travelling to the family acres, but this was a special time and the shorter trip was appreciated.
Being in Ballarat meant we were both keen to see if we could find the Great Crested Grebes on the lake. Sort of a busman’s holiday.

On the first evening we were to meet with some of the family for an informal dinner and I decided that a quick trip to the lake area before leaving for the main event would be useful in gaining an understanding of the the light around the lake. On pain of death, I left the cameras behind as being late to the aforementioned dinner would release the Wrath of Khan.

So I quicky drove past and gained a lay of the land (or light in the case) as I passed by the area known locally as “Fairyland”, I saw what appeared to be an unusual Raven running across the grass. On second glance I exclaimed, “Chough”. That was enough for me to park iAmGrey and go and have a looksee. Sure enough it was a White-winged Chough.
Now Chough are very much communal birds, a flock is at least 7-8 birds and often more. They need that many birds to make a succesful nesting season. They are also known to abduct birds from other flocks to increase their numbers. They build a communal nest, each one bringing its supply of mud for the process. Once the eggs are laid, they also take it in turns at sitting. If there is an order of who gets to sit I’ve never figured it out, nor I suspect have they. I’ve seen three or four of them hold long meetings around the nest discussing whose turn it is to sit. The same with food. They will all bring back about the same time and like a conveyor belt each move up the branch to provide the young with their tasty morsel. Again arguements seem to be the order of the day, as they try to convince the young that theirs is the prettiest and therefore the most succulent of offerings.

So I expected to find a family of Choughs around the lake. But.

After a few minutes my score was—One Chough.

The following morning saw us both arrived armed with cameras and keen to look for Grebes.
We had the good fortune to bump into a local who seemed to know a bit about the birds in the area and was happy to share with us. After a bit of information about the Kookaburra that couldn’t Kooka call, and that the Grebes had moved out to the reeds further in the lake, I asked about the Chough.

It seems that “Charlie the White-winged Chough” (Charlie as it could be either male or female) had turned up about two years ago and had stayed. The conjecture was that Charlie had a damaged wing and couldn’t fly and that the flock had moved on leaving Charlie to its own devices and fate. Young Choughs are gormless and it might have been separated from the family group and somehow they moved away, or perhaps it was frightened by some event and was unable to locate the family. I’ve seen them caught up in downed branch leaves and need an adult to help free them. Also, Charlie didn’t call out at all while we were there so that adds another level of complexity to the tale.
Charlie might have sulked in the corner for a little bit, but was soon seen moving about in the parklands sharing the space with the Swamphens and Coots and humans and their dogs and small children.

We didn’t see Charlie again that morning but as we had dipped out on the Grebes as well, we were back in the gorgeous evening light to have another attempt. This time, Charlie was in residence and we watched and photographed as it moved about over the picnic areas helping itself to various insects buried among the garden mulch. It must also be noted that while Charlie did not fly it very quickly scampered from one location to another and seemed to take a particular dislike to Swamphens. With much raising of wings and aggressive stance. The swamphens invariably gave it space.

We were domile in a unit across from the lake so the following morning were back again for a brief period. The beauty of the early morning still air was a highlight of the day. Our grandson was going to take us on a tour of several of his favourite birding spots and we took the opportunity to again look for the Grebes. This time we did spot several. Way, way out there among the far flung reeds and so not much photo possibility.
“Look,” cried EE, “the Chough just flew into the tree in the lake.” And

Sure enough there was Charlie, out in a tree in the water, where the Fairyland area enters the lake proper.
So, it seems that flying is a skill that Charlie has. Now, is Charlie good at it? Well… Choughs are not exactley the greatest aeronauts so it would be hard to say if Charlie has diminished skills, but the tree is a fair way out in the water, and as its swimming skills are negligible, flying seems to work.

A couple of visiting lasses were discussing the id of some Little Pied Cormorants, and I offered some ideas, and also showed them the White-winged Chough. A quick check on Uncle Google and they were happy to confirm I was right—It was a White-winged Chough, but where was the white on the wings? Good question. And I explained that white is only shown in flight, and right on cue, Charlie took off flew down the Fairyland waterway and landed about 400m down in the garden area.
White-wings and all.

Choughness is so very complicated , and hard to explain, and I’ve long ago abandoned trying to understand these birds, but as long time readers will know, I have a real affinity for these amazing birds and was thrilled to have a new chapter to add to my limited store of knowledge.
Thanks Charlie.

Charlie looks like it is ‘carrying’ a wing, but I think it might just be a Chough thing
The lefthand side wing seems quite normal.
What are you doing out there on a tree in the Lake?
Hopping from one branch to another seems easy enough
There is always time for a spot of feather cleaning
A few missing feathers but that shouldn’t be a bother. It might just be moulting in for a winter season wardrobe
Time to Go
And across the lake and down to the picnic area for a morning snack
Seeming out of character, but confident among the carpark and traffic.
Scampering along the running track with the early morning jogging crowds, Charlie is quite comfortable
While others hurry by, Charlie can stop for a quick refreshment break.
Arriving late at the picnic table.

Swamphens beware. Charlie means business

A Little Visit: Stop Picking on Me!

At the Point Cook Coastal Park, there is pair of Black Swans that are always together, and almost always distinguishable from others in the area because of their behaviour together.

I was casually watching them, as they don’t do much really, just swan about together.
When on a sudden one of them arched up from the middle and sort of jumped up out of the water.  Curious, but it quickly settled down again.
A few seconds later it did the same thing, and then a Little Pied Cormorant popped up out of the water along side it. The swan took a swing at the cormorant and it quickly submerged.

Then, the swan arched up again, and I figured out the cormorant must have been hitting or poking it underneath.
This time it was a bit too much for the swan, and it gave chase to the cormorant.  And again it submerged and the swan gave another start, and the process repeated.

Perhaps the cormorant was gaining some underwater advantage from the bulk of the swan, or perhaps their movement stirred up the waters and the creatures.

Eventually tiring of it all the cormorant swam off, while the pair of swans went back to ‘swanning about’.

Enjoy

Little Visits: When I Grow up I want to be a Black-shouldered Kite

Ha!  Kids today have such ambitions.

For the queasy of stomach, time to click away.

This is just about straight out of the “Ripley’s Believe it or Not!” archives.

It was a cold wet morning. However #kneetoo was keen to see how the little Kingfishers were progressing, and we only had a narrow space in the ‘very busy’ diary.

Knowing they had been on the wing for several days, our probability of anything other than a chance encounter were slim to say the least.

Nothing around the now abandoned nest site, nor by the old blackened stump training ground.

I managed a sighting of a small blue blur in the forest and headed over for a looksee.  And sure enough a young one perched among the branches of a black wattle.

Then with no warning, an adult turned up with quite a large bundle.  And at first it was difficult to make out.  Not a large skink or beetle.
Are they really legs, or is it a fish tail I could see?

Then she flipped it about in the air and it was a mouse! No way!

At first the young one didn’t seem all that interested, but after a few more flips and attempts to turn it round so the small end would go down first the adult presented it to the young one.

Now on an aside, your average field-mouse is around 20gm. Your average grown Sacred Kingfisher might come in a touch over 30gm.  So I’m guessing the little dude was at best, 25gm.
UPDATED: HANZAB give the bird a weight of 55g which would be a more reliable weight I think.  Still give the little dude 35gm and it’s going to be a 55gm tubby blue blob for awhile. 🙂

It took the mouse head first, not headfirst, even that suits. 🙂

And so began a 10-15 minute battle for the young one to eventually ingest the mouse.
On quite a number of occasions, it had to stop, and I guess catch its breath, or simply rearrange the internal spaces to make space.

A couple of times it began swaying back and forth on the branch, and I feared it was going to choke and fall off the branch. Not much in my skill set for resuscitating a downed Kingfisher.

And slowly—very slowly—the mouse began to disappear.

After it was all over, a tubby little kingfisher gave a few shakes of its body, to rearrange all the feathers and no doubt the internals, and then sat. More likely squatted.

A few minutes quietly sitting to let the digestion process begin, and a tubby blue blur sped off through the forest.

Where is Ripley when you need him?

Little Couch Visits: On the trail of growing Black-shouldered Kites

Added the “Couch” heading to my normal visits and journeys.  We are as it happens, at home on the couch, iPad in hand.

So come with me on a journey back in time. Shades of “Back to the Future —another couch-time activity.

We had been, in early Feb and March, working with a pair of Black-shouldered Kites at nest. The day the first lockdown took effect, the young had only just flown. And then we didn’t see them for over three weeks. By then they were well advanced.
It was a bit of a missed photographic opportunity as the nesting site lended itself both from great light and open areas, for some really clear shots of the birds as they began their life on the wing.

Time passed, and restrictions lifted and we went back to the usual haunt to see if they were still around.
No. Well gone.

A couple of weeks later we returned with Flame Robin arrivals in mind.
EE spotted way, way, way down the paddock—even for her— a flash of white in the sky and declared that the young kites were probably way down the fence-line in the distance.

Robins, or Kites?
We set out along the fence-line.
The mice population among the bracken must have been very good as all three quickly scored a meal while we were approaching.
They settled down in among some of the small trees to enjoy a feast.

Out of nowhere, Dad arrived on the scene and took station on one of the higher branches.  But rather than welcoming him, they harassed him for food.

However he wasn’t taking any orders. His Uberfood days were over.

The interesting thing that we noted was the colour change, each one was well into moulting the subtle grey and white and the ginger colours were being replaced.

I guess having some more time at home, I can work through the files and find some images, or sets that normally I’d just leave to mellow on the disk.  A  tweak here, a slider or two there, a brush on a mask there, and ‘hey presto’.

Enjoy

Remain.

The Doona Hermit.

They were down in a tree-line, and it took EE awhile to locate them

Perhaps pretending not to be there. It is starting to replace the juvenile feathers with the adult grey.

Easy to see how the grey adult feathers are moulting in

Dad dropped in to see how they were doing and immediately they all thought he should be hunting for them.

Fully able to look after themselves

Not a good idea to knock Dad off his perch

Feed me, feed me. That look on his face says that he is not hunting any more for them.

A Hunting We will Go

Hunting like the professional it has become