From the Fieldnotes Book: Flame Robins

It has been a little over a month since the first of the Flame Robins began appearing at Point Cook.
As usual they come down in a largish travelling party and then slowly disperse into smaller family groups about the park

Often the older females will stay together and the males will move to other parts of the park.
We have been working with one smaller group that has 5-6 females, 2 males and several juveniles. The one that appears to be the Matriarch is still trying to persuade the males to move on a bit further down the field.

Now that they have settled in, it makes finding them, and photography a little easier. The Parks people have inadvertently helped by cutting a 10m or so firebreak around the fence lines so the birds are able to successfully hunt in the shorter grasses.

Sadly for photography there is not a lot of suitable perches and the fencelines offer them the best views of the area, if not the best poses for photography. But its been good to catchup with them and we now have more photos of the Robins from this season than for the entire previous two seasons that were constantly cut short by limiting lockdowns

So in no particular order here are some from the last couple of visits.

Enjoy

Interludes: Galah Fun-Park

We found a  family of Galah today.
They had discovered an old disused Southern Cross Windmill.  Whilst it no long is used to draw water, the blades still function in the wind, and while it might not be as balanced precision as when first installed, in a strong wind it can crank around at a fair pace.

Now the questions arise.  Did the Galahs know what would happen as they perched on the vanes, or was it all some fun thing to do that needed to be repeated to get the most from it.
None-the-less, for about 20 minutes or so they enjoyed exploring and learning about gravity. (?).

If one landed on a vane off vertical it enjoyed a slow trip down to the bottom of the arc.   If two or more landed, then the balance could be worked out and the windmill did not turn, but when one left, either by flying off or moving to another vane, then the others enjoyed a trip around the circle.

The rust on the vanes always was intriguing and so each one tried their hand (beak) at removing it.  Stubbornly it remained.

It was one of those times when the video on youtube would get a million hits.

Enjoy

Interludes: Bold and Beautiful

While many of us have been indulging in a self-imposed “Shadow Lockdown”, mother Collared Sparrowhawk has been busy increasing the Sparrowhawk population.

A few weeks back when we were at the height of working with Cassia, of Cinnamon’s three young Brown Falcons, we regularly  caught sight of a Sparrowhawk running food deliveries to its young.   Now about four weeks later, three young Sparrowhawks are out and about.

Mr An Onymous had given me a heads-up that they were out, as he visited the area a few days back.   We had other plans for the day, but it was such perfect beach weather that we abandoned them and headed out to see what we could find.  We left early morning to arrive in the cool of the day, and also figured that would be the most obvious feeding time.

The young were very much mobile and quite vocal.  So they are not yet much of a threat to the local birds. Although we did see them catching dragonflies from time to time.

Long term blog followers will know that I’ve been guilty of taking— as someone said, “great liberties with raptors”. (In my defence it is always when I’m invited by the bird), however to set the record straight,  Sparrowhawks and Goshawks are a different matter.  They are the birds that I am most wary of.  Several reasons.  1. They are quite bad-tempered.  2. They have quite short tolerance times. 3. They hunt by stealth and are silent in their approach. 4. They are stealth hunters and slip between trees and branches with an ease that can be a bit disconcerting to watch. 5.  They have long thin dangly bits hanging off the bottom which can be used with surgical precision to snatch at prey and anything they have taken a dislike to.

I’ve been harassed by a number of raptors over the years, mostly my fault, but these dudes turn it into a sustained attack.  Now mostly that has been because foolishly I’ve stumbled close into a nesting area, and so I don’t blame them, but I can take the warning, should it ever be given.  It’s not!

These young birds are different.  They are out for fun and games.  Serious no doubt, but they seem to enjoy it none-the-less.  They spent the morning chasing Wattlebirds, pigeons and Magpies, had altercations with Black-shouldered Kites and with no respect for elders even bailed up Cassia.

We also saw an adult come into feed.  Regrettably I followed the wrong bird in the viewfinder and missed the pass, but ever-reliable EE nailed it.  So we’ve included a shot from her friendsoftheair account.    When you have a choice of 4 birds all filling the sky, which one would you follow?? Oh well!

Enjoy

One leg lifted and feathers flared out has always been a warning sign for me.

Why are Sparrowhawks marked that way? So they can hide in plain sight in the trees. 🙂

Sliding past the “Southern Cross” windmill direction vane.

No respect. They bailed up poor Cassia, of Cinnamon as she went about her field work

Thanks to friendsintheair for supplying this shot of the adult dropping the prey for the young to snatch away. Too easy.

Interludes: Growing Up

We made a trip to Point Cook with Mr An Onymous to have a look at the growing Brown Flacon clutch.

Managed a sunny day, and the young have been out of the nest for a few days and quite adept as flyers.  Also very quickly adopting the Brown Falcon sit and contemplate the world stance as well.

Here are a few from the outing

About to release

Plenty of control as it slides away from the perch

Landing is still a little tricky, but each time the skills improve

The three amigos. How hard it can be to get them together, and all looking in the same direction at the same time.

Cassia, of Cinnamon arrives with a mid-morning snack. Now who is going to get it.

When its your turn, its ok to step on your sibling’s head to get to the front of the queue.

Manners are forgotten and its ok to push their head into the branch.

Mum will still sort out whose turn it is

Thanks Mum

Miffed at missing out this one departed to watch from afar

Food arrives and while the male holds still, Cassia swoops in to collect it.

His job done, he departs for a rest.

Little Journeys: Three to Go

The weather has to coin a phrase, has been less than kind of late.  Cold, windy, rain, overcast and just plain miserable and stay-at-home-able.

It is nearly Summer, but here we are with the heaters turned on and thick clothes, shivering in the cold.

We had decided to go to the River and have another look for the elusive Sacred Kingfishers.   It has become a task that rivals the search for Tutankhamen’s Tomb.

As we travelled to make yet another morning attempt, we decided at the last moment to abandon the project for the day, and instead travel on to see how Cassia, of Cinnamon’s young were doing.

At first sight of the nest we could only see one little rich ginger brown head bobbing about.  Then, looking further over the tree, right at the very top stood the other two young.  Looking very confident, and balancing precariously on the top most fronds of the pine tree.  No mean feat for a well developed bird I would have thought.

While we were there we managed to see two food exchanges and a number of wing-flap trails by the young birds.  No doubt they will be on the wing in the next few days.

Here is a small selection from the morning

 

A food exchange as Cassia slips aside to prepare the meal

The male moves on for a quick rest before heading out again

All prepared and now to deliver to hungry mouths.

Is there any for me!

Rested and ready to hunt again, the male heads out. He is a much lighter marked bird.

Just a little too cheeky.
Cassia had found the nest of either a Wattlebird or perhaps even a Magpie. But she was hunted off very quickly by the local Neighbourhood Watch.

While they wait for the next round of food, there is plenty of time for some wing exercises.
I found this series interesting as it shows the ‘rowing’ action that is typical of Brown Falcon flight. No doubt by our next visit they will be on the move.

 

Little Journeys: Passing Visitors

I had, finally, thanks to lockdown restrictions easing, journeyed over to Camera Exchange. My trip was to complete a deal we’d commenced back in July, and had been forced by luck of lockdown to put on hold as I couldn’t get over with my gear to exchange nor pickup any goods that were part of the exchange.  I mean, that is how exchange works. (isn’t it)
So after exchanging some of the Queen’s Legal Tender, (is it the Queen’s? or the Australian Government?) either way, Ryan was happy to relieve the bulge in my wallet and gave me a shiny new carry case to put in iAmGrey to transport home again.

Thinking it would be nice to see in the shiny case, and to give its contents a bit of a test run, I had to pass by Point Cook Coastal Park, and decided that a quick trip to the beach should be enough to see put the contents of the shiny case to good use.

However when I arrived at the beach area, the birds had different ideas and only a few gulls and a lone White-faced Heron were in residence.   But I got to play with the kit, and as time was of the essence, I moved on.

Partway back to iAmGrey, I heard a familiar call, but not one I’d ever  heard at Point Cook before.  So it was time to investigate.
The noises increased and I suddenly could count, not two, nor five, but 14 Rainbow Bee-eaters. Not a bird we’ve seen at Point Cook before.

No doubt they were not moving in, but were simply topping up with fuel on their annual trip down the coast to a suitable nesting location.  Just behind the You Yangs is one of the closest I know of.

Rainbow Bee-eaters in our area generally nest in dry creek-beds burrowing into the sandy banks to form their nesting chambers.  Most of the sites I know of are either on restricted access parks, or on private property farms. So it’s not unusual to go the whole season and not see or photograph them.

No doubt they were not going to move into the park here, but would be on their way over the next couple of days.  So I had to make the most of what I has available.

A few days later,  Mr. An Onymous, and Ms. In Cognito, EE and I stopped by for another look, and of course not a bee-eater to be found.
Such is the Karma of birding.  I’m thinking of a note to Ross to tell him the shiny case is a good piece of kit, and more importantly it attracts birds 🙂

At least the bee-keeper who has some hives in the area would be happy that they had travelled on.

Enjoy.


Interludes: Let’s Be Careful Out There

The title is a quote from a tv show of the 1980s.

The Duty Sergeant would remind his team as they left the daily briefing, ‘Let’s be Careful Out There.”

In these days of rampant pandemic it still seems like good advice.

However being careful out there applies to some birds as much as it did to the police in “Hill Street Blues

Longer term readers may recall that two years ago we spent quite a bit of time with a Brown Falcon pair as they nested.  Cassia, of Cinnamon, provided us with some excellent insight into the nesting and feeding habits of their lives.
Unfortunately we were unable to follow up with them last season due to travel restrictions.

However with a change in limitations we have now been able to revisit the park, and after a couple of futile attempts,  EE pulled the proverbial Brown Falcon Nest out of a Hat.
He had been hunting close into the nest in the open paddocks and seemed to be having some success, however we missed the food exchanges and were unable to determine a possible nest site.
It was not only us that were taking an interest in the falcon’s presence.  Australian Magpies took them as ‘easy’ targets and each time one of the birds flew, a flotilla of maggies were in hot pursuit.
Mostly the magpies are fast enough, and the falcons don’t put in that much effort to get away, but today it was quite obvious that the falcons were not going to broach harassment, and each time the magpies drew in close, the falcons put effort into the wing strokes and powered away. Not something I usually see.

Cassia does indeed, Need to be Careful Out There.

Here is a small selection of the morning’s activity.

This is the male, he is lighter in colour. He is doing his best to hover over the grasses

Action TIme. A quick drop on to some prey below

Mouse delivery. Unlike Black-shouldered Kites, he carries the prey in his beak.

The male: Time for a scratch on the wing.

Sitting waiting for an opportunity to pounce. His yellow cere and eye ring are noticeable id markings. HANZAB notes that yellow cere may be a sign of age and is more prevalent in males. This bird might be at least 15 years old as we’ve seen him over a number of seasons.

Heading out for another catch

This is Cassia, of Cinnamon and her nest with at least two young. They are only recently hatched, perhaps in the past few days.

The magpies decided that Cassia was not going to sit quietly anywhere in their territory.

Maggie closing in.

She is well aware of the challenge, and is about to power away.

This is the first time I’ve seen a falcon put in the effort to evade the charging magpies. I think she has the better of them in a vertical climb

Stretching out. The magpies might have the advantage on a downhill run or across a level field, but in this case she just lifted up faster than the magpie could manage.

The male avoiding two enraged Little Ravens

Little Visits: Enjoying the Morning Sunshine

Funny old weather Melbourne.  Biting cold for days, then, such a tiny break of stable weather.  Frost on the ground, breathing out ‘steam’, and calm winds. Ideal.

So. I, as the Banjo wrote, “Sent him a email, which I had for want of better knowledge sent to his mail address, in case he was home.
Just on Spec, titled as follows, “A trip to Point Cook is in the offing”.
And an answer came directed in a manner I expected.  “Mr An Onymous will meet you there”.

So, as #kneetoo is on the move, but not willing to venture too far at the moment, I went.

As the weather icon ladies had predicted, the morning was crisp, still and sunny. Ideal.

After the usual “G’days” and, the like, we set off for a walk through the pines.

We’d not walked more than a few hundred metres when I turned to glance a Brown Falcon that had set itself up in a sheltered, warm spot in the sunshine. Had I kept going, he’d have stayed I’m guessing, but too much activity too close, and he unfurled the big brown sails and was gone.

Next the call of Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos rang across the frosty grass, and there on the other side of the paddock we say around 6-8 descend on the large pines. To be followed in quick succession by a second group of more than 20, and then another smaller mob of about 10. By the time we’d arrived close up, they were well in to their feast of the young cones in what can only be described as an open area dining area.

 

 

Then one of the young ones, crying, caught my attention and we managed a view of it being fed.  Beak to beak.

Onward for a cuppa of the Earl’s best and a sit by the water’s edge.  The moon was pulling in a high, high tide and the still waters lapped and laughed as they kissed the sand, and retreated, having enjoyed the moment so much to quickly repeat the performance.
Sometimes, just slowing down, and watching the small things, like small child exploring the beach, not over-awed by the expanse of sand and water, but rather inspecting the grains of sand on its fingers.

A Greater Crested Tern was fishing, and I missed the head shake as it came out of the water.   Then a White-faced Heron again standing perfectly still.

Several young Pacific Gulls were paddling in the clear waters, and an adult was doing its best Otis Redding impersonation of “Watchin’ the Tide Roll Away…”

We could have stayed all day, but each of us had other things family to attend to, and we retreated to the vehicles and a local coffee shop.
Great day for birds, relaxing and a bit of a natter.

As we left the beach an Australian Pelican beat its way along the water’s edge, flying low to make the most of the lift of the water.

Little Journeys: The X-Rated Story

We had as the story is told, been shopping early in the morning to beat the rush before Metro Melbourne is forced into lockdown because of the stupidity and thoughtlessness of people.
As a friend of mine has put a sign in his window, “Welcome to Melbourne. The home of the stupidous people in Australia”.
Dictionary definition of stupidous: One who knows how stupid they are and still continues to act stupid; hence the ous at the end.

On a whim, as we had indeed packed the cameras, you know, on the off chance, wink wink, if the light was good, we might make a last journey to the beach area at Point Cook.

So, as The Banjo did write,  we went.

As soon as we arrived, EE called, “See, Black-shouldered Kite on the highest branch”, and of course she was right. Not that anyone would doubt.

Within a few moments of getting out of IamGrey, it was obvious that this was the female of the species, as very quickly the male swept in first with a mouse, then with a stick for the nest and then for pro-creation purposes.

Unlike the pair we’ve been working with locally, these two are pretty much about the same size, she being a bit better weighted.  They have a much more robust relationship too, as he is quite capable of giving as much as he gets. She might rule the roost, but he is definitely not subordinate.

Time passed, and as we hadn’t thought about lunch or any snacks, we were just as refreshed watching the birds going about their important business, and sitting in the sunshine enjoying the serenity around us.
We did make it to the beach, but not before an interlude with Cassia of Cinnamon, the Brown Falcon that featured here with her two young last year.  No doubt she is back and establishing a nesting territory.  Time will indeed tell.

By late mid-afternoon, with a full memory, and a full memory card or two, it was time to head for home.

The lockdown this time seems to have enough flexibility for a return visit or two so we might be able to follow the new Kite family in a bit of detail.  Just going to have to buy a set of golfclubs or a fishing rod or surfboard, to carry around, as such activities are gazetted.

Here is a few from the day, and a link here to the X-Rated Material on the webpage.

Looking remarkably refreshed after two successive nestings, the female is preparing for another round.

Meanwhile down in the forest the male is collecting the necessary building materials.

Personally beak picked and ready for installation. It took me a few minutes to locate where he’d settled.

Heavy lifting done, time for the next step in baby-making

His next mission it to provide some top-up snacks

She has the casual one legged approach to landing

This was an interesting transfer, as he bought in the mouse, and then set for quite a few minutes before she flew in to wrestle it from him.

The handy dandy workman at work.

Each twig or branch has to come from just the right spot, and he often has a hard time getting the branch to break off.

In bound with just the right piece.

 

Saturday Evening Post #54: Infatuated

In a recent article in “Nikon Users” magazine, an article on landscape photography had the following quote.

... the one thing we, as photographers, professional or enthusiast, must not lose sight of that we do this for a reason.

We enjoy it.

It's creative, and it's fun.

It's not easy, no one ever said it would be, but the buzz you get when you produce 'the' image is amazing.
Jeremy Walker. See here

Normally I like to keep a Saturday Evening Post to just one image that has impacted me during the week.

However, just for once I’m going to break with tradition, mostly because I think the images are related, tell a story, and also give an insight as to why I’ll be away this coming week.
We had, EE and I, made a trip to Point Cook Coastal Park to look for the return of Sacred Kingfisher.
It was one of those days where the weather was not playing to our advantage. A strong northerly wind was ripping through the trees, and out over the beach, sand whipping up with each step.

We had as they say had a bit of luck with the Kingfisher—All Bad! Not a feather to be found, not wing flicks and not a single distinctive call.

Why don’t we go to the beach, saith she. Ok, saith I.

And just as we arrived at the beach a small squadron of Australasian Gannets appeared, fishing in the water in front of us.  I’ve noted before that a lowish tide, and an offshore breeze seems to bring the gannets in closer, and not doubt because the fish shoals are working in closer.

This was exceptionally interesting as the tide was quite low, and the edge of the sandbank was visible in places, and the rocky ledge was also exposed.  So the birds were diving into the water not more than 30-50m from where we were standing.

Its the closest I’ve ever been to such awesome birds in action.

There is something intriguing, boarding on infatuation about watching big fishing birds explode into the water.  One only needs to look over the majority of bird books/site etc. to see the numbers of eagle, herons, cormorant and osprey photos to know that photographers find them irresistible subjects

I’ve had several sessions with gannets out beyond the reef along the Point Cook coast and also down at Point Danger, near Portland. But these were frame filling birds, and because of the wind, they adopted quite a different approach to the attack. Normally we see them rollover and drop directly.  But they seemed to drop the wings, hang out the legs, reduce speed and the torpedo-like slide into the water.  Then after 10-15 seconds they must swim back up, as  they fair bobbed out of the water, then settled back down to eat and prepare to takeoff.  Fascinating.

“So”, she reminded me, “Why did we spend $40 to book a trip to see Gannets in the water next week?” Ya gotta laugh.

See how we go ah?  Just don’t lose sight of the reason to be out and about.

 

This is one of the few that I saw rollover preparing to dive

Wings tucked, legs out, tail flared. Speed reduction technique

Impact

The rocks show how close to the edge of the reef the birds were working

Folded back wings preparing for entry

Coming up

How much power to get the big bird out of the wate

One jump two jumps, airborne.

Head shake to get rid of excess water.

Simplicity

 

Moments: Free-for-All

It’s been a bit quiet for us of late. Too cold, too blowy, lack of birds. And hot chocolate at home…Yum!

We had been at Point Cook Coastal Park a couple of weeks back. Looking for Flame Robins—not too many, unfortunately—and EE’s Sea Eagle, (hers by virtue of she saw it first, not that any would be surprised).

By the time we had arrived there was a pretty stiff Southerly breeze at work, making walking challenging for EE and Dolly. However we found a sheltered spot at the beach, and opted for a cuppa and snack, and while we sat contemplating no Sea Eagle, Robins, nor Cormorants, (somewhat in that order of importance), a large mixed flock of sea birds arrived just about in front of us.

No doubt a school of fish was running along the edge of the sandbank a few hundred metres out.  Outstanding among them was 25-30 Australasian Gannets.  It’s really only on a Southerly that we see these birds in so close, so it was a bit of a treat to watch their controlled dives. A large number of seagulls and cormorants were also along for the feast and quite a few Greater Crested Terns.

Unfortunately for photography, they were just that little too far out, and mostly swung round into the breeze for lift off, which meant very few close passes.  As it happened, however, I had packed in the Teleconverter, TC 1.4, so it gave me a little more reach with the 500mm.

Still for all that,  all these images are huge crops from the D500.  But it does reinforce what I’ve said previously about the lens.  It does focus well, beyond the somewhat limited 30m or so of the cheaper tele/zooms.

Eventually the fish moved further out and up the bay, so we settled back to our now cold cuppas and enjoyed the action from a distance.

Made up for the lack of other special guests that day.

They seem to roll over, then correct and plunge straight down

No doubting where the target is.

Starting to fold up all the hardware

And down it goes.  Interesting to see the Pied Cormant appearing in the sequence

 

Another of the roll over actions

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All tucked up for a smooth entry

A juvenile. When you consider it’s actually upside down as it comes out of the roll over, their body flexibility is awesome.

SNAPSHOTS: Landing Rights at Cormorant Jetty

You can tell, dear reader, when its a quiet birding day.  And that I’m down at the Point Cook Coastal Park.  When the tide is in, the cormorants, Little Pied and Pied mostly, congregate on an old abandoned pier that orginally served the first Chirnside Homestead in the area.
Now it’s a shadow of its former self, but regularly used by water birds as a safe haven for resting, preening and establishing relationships.

And when there are no other birds on show, well, I settle down on the sand, and watch the comings and goings. Always some new thing to see.

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SNAPSHOTS: Inside Pinky’s World

It says something about the whole day in general when, we set out to find some Flame Robins at Point Cook Coastal Park, and end up spending half an hour with a single Pink-eared Duck.

The plan was to have a look around the old homestead area and see if we could locate any Flame Robins that usually turn up for their winter holiday at the beach. And if we were really lucky, perhaps a Pink Robin, or two—that would be nice.

We met Bernie the ranger on the way in, and he (of the sharp eye), said he’d not seen the usual suspects so far this season.

So we went.

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An easy day out

Friend of mine once said in conversation as we chatted about my time in the bush,  “Bird photography is pretty easy, you just sit in a deckchair and photograph any birds that happen to come by.”  And today, for once, he was right. Thanks for the advice John.

Mr An Onymous had looked at the weather maps, the weather forecasts, the icon ladies and I guess in the end, just plain looked out the window, and declared we should take a trip to Point Cook Coastal Park on Friday.  Sounded good as we’d not been out that way since the end of the Flame Robin season, most of the birds were well on their way back by mid of September.

Meet you down there, and so we did.

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