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
So the old story goes: Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him to fish And he’ll sit in a boat all day drinking beer. (at least I think that’s how it goes)
EE was out for the day, and as the weather was fine in the afternoon, I decided to go to a special place at Point Cook park. We don’t usually go out that far, as its a long haul through some very loose slippery sand so we avoid it.
A point in the park was formed millenia ago when the great western plains lava flows occurred. The lava jutted a tongue out into what was to become Port Phillip Bay. Over the years, sand has been deposited on both sides of the rocks, and two tiny little bays have been formed with the sand keeping the water shallow. On low tide the point can go out for about 150m or more, and on very low tide the sands are exposed and its possible to walk out most of the way.
The rocks form a lovely resting spot for the seabirds and it’s not unusual, even on high tide, to find cormorants, gulls and terns, and occassionally swans and pelicans making the most of the view.
I like it as a quiet, lonesome place. One of my preferred solo birding spots.
So I pushed on through the pine plantation, slogging over the hot slippery sand until I reached the coolness of the shoreline. Then a few minutes along the beach to the point. Luck would have it, it was late on a falling tide so there was some exposed sand I could walk out on. Because of the little bays, the water is pretty shallow and it’s easy to take off boots and socks and roll up the Levis and wade out a bit.
Greater Crested Terns were in abundance and fishing further out, but returning to enjoy a meal on the rocks. A scattering of Red-necked Stints were also in attendance, getting ready for their epic journey. When I walk out in the water paralled to the rocks, the birds generally are relaxed and don’t seem to pay any attention. Except for a pair of Pied Oystercatchers, that immediately moved as far away as they could to the sand on the far side. Then they do what Oystercatchers do best. They glared at me.
A tern came in with its latest catch and seemed to want to brag to everyone about its good fortune, and flew about from rock to rock cackling and playing with the meal.
I moved back to the sanddune and sat on the grass with a brew of the Earl’s finest and soaked up the feeling of isolation.
With a loud call and wing flurry the gulls all took to the air and at first I missed the action, then a dark shape flew over the rocks. Regaining composure, and the camera, I called out to no one in particular, “Arctic Jaeger”, and as there was no one else, its just as well I didn’t call to anyone in particular.
Sure enough. A Jaeger was looking for an afternoon snack, and what better way than to relieve some hapless gull of its meal. But they were gone. It turned to head along the beachline, just as an unsuspecting Tern flew in with its latest meal. The Jaeger summed the matter up in a split second and the chase was on. Jaegers have a surprising turn of speed and incredible air contol, at one point, its head was going in one direction, its wings in another, the body in yet another direction and its feet controlling the action.
Somehow the Tern managed to lose enough height to get onto the sand, and mantle its meal with its wings. Thwarted the Jaeger moved along the beach to retrieve some other offering and in the flick of a wing was gone.
Time had run out, so it was time for me to slog back through the pines and home.
A movie that I never tire of watching reruns is the Hugh Jackman in, “The Greatest Showman”. I enjoy the fun and the intesity of the music and the dancers. Storyline is well… but the visuals really excite me. There is also some fine songs including the amazing, Keala Settle as the Bearded Lady and her song, “This is Me!” (PS if you want a great version of this song see Keala Settle – This Is Me | Abu Dhabi 2019 Special Olympics Closing Ceremony It is throat-choaking stuff and she looks like she is thoroughly enjoying herself)
Well, the other day, we were invited to enjoy Cassia, of Cinnamon’s version of the “Greatest Show on Earth!”
Her young are now well hatched and beginning to show some juvenile feathers under the white down, and so she is able to spend most of her day off the nest waiting for Alistair to being in food, and also to keep watch over the young from a high vantage point in the tallest Umbrella Pine in the park.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.