Weegee was a great New York newpaper photographer. See Here,
His specialty was recording the darker side of New York life. His images depict for a large part the inhumanity of man to man. Death and destruction were his staple image set. He was called “Weegee” because of his almost uncanny ability to arrive at a crime scene sometimes before the law enforcement. He had a special police radio built into his car and constantly monitored the radio calls. He patrolled the streets armed with THE press camera of the day, a venerable Speed Graphic camera and a pocketful of Double Darkslides, that held 2 sheets of 4×5 inch film. No Spray and Pray multi burst for Weegee.
Among many of his apocryphal quotes is this one. When asked “Oh, Weegee, On the camera, what settings do you use?” His response, ” f/8 and be there!!!!
And its seems to me that bird photography sometimes is just like that. You need to be there. And there of course is where-ever the birds happen to be engaged in some amazing activity.
EE, Mr An Onymous, and I had taken the morning down to the Treatment Plant. Our main plan of intent was to find the furtive Sea Eagle. The weather person on the tv, y’know, the one with all the icons of what the weather will be in your backyard in the next hour or so, and mostly it will be anything from floods, to thunder and lighting, if not snow, had apparently used up all those icons yesterday, and the only ones left were a few sunny, foggy, misty and clearing. So she intoned. “Tomorrow will be a little foggy in the morning, changing to a light mist and then sunny for the remainder of the day … Insert plastic smile here!!”
Not known as one that is enamoured by the use of cute little icons to tell me really important things about what the weather may do, I did what any self respecting weather smart person would do, I went outside to see if it was raining. (Winnie the Pooh joke in there somewhere). Noting the cold, it was pretty certain that the morning offered some promise of clear weather and so rounding up the troops, we set forth.
But… the icons were far from right, and the fog turned out to be about treacle in density and porridge in movement. And it hung around, the Sea Eagle came and went somewhere in the mist, and by late morning, it was pretty obvious that we were out of luck. As we drove toward home we took a bit of a detour south along the 29 Mile Road. This piece of Realestate separates part of the Treatment Plant farm from some of the last of the wetlands.
Today, Farmer Brown, was out in his big green tractor using up all sorts of farmer stuff that he had in the shed, and sitting high in his air-conditioned palace he was turning the soil into arable land.
Now, a farmer with a tractor in a paddock is a pretty big magnet for an inquisitive Black Kite, and this was no exception. The kites sat in the ploughed furrows and watched for small creatures to try to escape the oncoming tractor. Those wanting first crack at the startled prey were circling over the tractor as it passed on by. To watch a Black Kite over a tractor is a pretty awesome experience. They have mastered the ability to perfectly link up with the speed of the tractor and some hold station at the front of the travel, some to the sides. All just about at tractor height. Anything that moves is pounced upon.
We stopped by the side of the road to watch them at work, farmer and kites. At first I counted about 15 in the air. Then noted about another 15 sitting in the furrows waiting for the tractor to pass, and then another 15-30 sitting at a distance on the fence line. Waiting.
As it happened, one of the kites did infact land some prey. On hindsight, I would venture that it was a Brown Quail. Big enough, open enough country and we’d seen some earlier in the day back along the track.
Catching it of course is one thing. Keeping it to yourself quite another, and at least four of the brothers flew in to help claim the prize and to wrest it from the successful bird. In the ensuing battle the quail was dropped and it fluttered to the ground, followed by 6 or so of the circling kites. However, as luck turns, they missed it in the turned over soil. That done all that was left was recriminations, so they took battle with one another, as presumably a good scrap is as good as a good feed. So now about 6 or so of them were circling in ever challenging circles.
Meanwhile, I’d noted off in the distance an small black spot that was getting larger. Then it grew large enough to identify as it swept in over the paddock, past the kites and rocketed skywards. The unmistakable shape and speed of a Black Falcon.
The Black Falcon gets reported by very excited birding people on Birdline, every so often as an amazing find on 29Mile Road. Black Falcon, or really exciting “Black Falcon Pair”. To those of us who regularly work along the road, it’s a frequent visitor and a little patience on most days will locate either the pair or at least one of them. Still it must be amazing to see if you’ve come a long way to the Treatment Plant.
Oh, I digress. We left said Black rocketing skywards.
Then it did the Falcon thing, turned on a wing and ‘stooped’. Now it was a missile on a mission earthwards. The Black has a particular turn of speed, and is not like its lumbering cousin the Brown, but it may not have the speed of its other cousins, the Peregrine or Hobby. None the less, a black streak plummeting out of the sky is a heart stopping thing. One of its more favourite foods is the agile Budgerigar so it must be pretty swift and agile to make a meal of them.
All of this of course, I tell in hindsight. I only saw this black thing dropping like a projectile. It came in with wings drawn back, legs out, and rocked backward, grabbed, attached, and then rocked forward and began to gain height.
At about the time I exclaimed, “it got the prey” five or six of the Black Kites had reached the same conclusion, and were in hot pursuit, not willing that the prey should escape them.
And of course this is where the Falcon has the speed advantage. For every wing beat put it further in front of the pursing Kites. And eventually they had to admit defeat and watch it, and their lunch, disappear across 29 Mile Road and into the Falcon’s roost tree. (15th tree down from the corner if anyone wants to check!)
With nothing better to do, the kites settled back in the furrows and waited for the next pass of the tractor.
A couple of the images lack a bit of sharpness because of focus fault, but I’ve added them anyway as I think they fill in the details.
Just a handful of the thirty or more that were working with the tractor. Brown Quail are on the menu. Why fly about when you can sit and wait for the tractor to disturb the prey.
Every farmer with a tractor has black kites as his best mates.
The rich colours on this one probably is a juvenile.
Masters of the light breeze they can hold station over the moving tractor
Three birds clash over the prey, resulting it it being dropped and no one has it.
Prey, perhaps a quail, falls to earth with the thwarted kites in pursuit.
“Where did it go, can you see it?”
Prey lost, recrimination begin. “See what you did, made me drop it!!!”
Lurking on the outer edge of the paddock, this black shape came in for a close look.
Ah, a Black Falcon
Ready for a wing turn over and about to enter a stoop.
Target acquired, missile locked on.
“Hey ,that’s ours.”
Realising that the game has changed the Kites close in to retrieve the prey.
Quick adjustment for a speedy get away.
Gaining speed and height with every wing stroke, the bigger birds were being left behind
“Come back here.”
“I said come back here, I’ll get really mad!!!!”. With each wing stroke the distance opens up for the Falcon’s advantage.