Wandering around in The Long Forest

Have you seen the weather details, she said!

I suppose i could have said, “Which Part?”, but when EE asks those sort of questions, the only right answer is.

“Well it looks pretty ugly, and 90% chance of rain, and high winds, but why don’t we go out anyway, if it really is dreadful we can come home early”.

“Thought you’d never ask”, she replies and whisks away to change into suitable attire

I load the car with cameras, (see other posts as to why this is ESSENTIAL survival gear). a cuppa and of course the rain jackets. Good old Driazabone. Where would be we without them.

Long Forest was the agreed destination mostly because Len had sent some pics of a Red-capped Male, and it seemed a likely place to start given my beloved Woodlands is somewhat out of bounds of late.

To its credit the weather opened up to some fine sunshine, a bit of cool overcast and no wind.  Who writes those weather forecasts???

Arriving at Happy Valley Carpark, the name lifts our spirits straight away, I point gleefully to a clump of loose branches that featured in one of Len’s fotos.  “He should be perching on that branch there any moment offered, “I.

“There he is on the roadway,” she replied.  Oh!

And indeed this handsome little red/black and white carpark monitor was indeed out and about.  Landing on the table practically right next to me before I’d even figured out which end of the camera to point.

However we obviously bored him very quickly and he was gone.   We set out to walk toward the River.    Not a lot of birds, but have to say I was looking at some worked over leaf litter on the ground and immediately thought “White-winged Choughs”,and sure enough within a few minutes the welcoming cry of the clan rang through the forest.  We didn’t get a great look,but its another reason to return.

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Looking for Kestrels

Its been quite awhile since I logged in here and added some pics.

With the Bandicoot Hilton (aka Bandicoot Big Brother House) (aka Backpaddock) now likely to be inaccessible to mere mortals, the chance to follow the nesting success of the  Red-capped Robins is going to elude me I think.

The only pair I’ve access to is down by the dam, and a week ago she was back building nests again, indicating a lack of success so far.  Just to many Ravens and other egg stealers in the area.

Consequently I’ve been round in the western paddocks mostly looking for the elusive Nankeen Kestrels. To date the score is Kestrels 0.

However I did spend an hour with a large flock of Tree Martins who were hard at work setting up a nesting site.  After a few minutes, they concluded, correctly that I was not a threat and returned to the work at hand, collecting building materials.

They are such agile creatures and can fly to the opening at full tilt, and then brake, just as they touch down.  Up to three at a time were stuffing leaves, grass and other things into the hole, and then after a few minutes would all take a break, and sit about and discuss the progress so far.  Lots of tail flicking and wing waggling is part of the discussion.

On the way back to the carpark, I bumped into the Birdlife Australia Group from the Bayside, and they were out for the day.  I continued on and just before the carpark, heard a very familiar call.  It WAS a Red-capped Robin.  I managed to track him down to a small stand off grey box, and got quite a few sighings, but no great photos.  He didn’t have any company, but I took that as a good sign, she must be on a nest somewhere near. Perhaps he too is an Eviction from the Bandicoot Hilton.

In over 20 years of walking in the park, I have not seen a red-cap in the area near the carpark, so it was  great day for no other reason.

Tree Martin Leaf Delivery
Tree Martins in conference
Red-capped Robin male near Somerton Road Carpark.

Red-capped Robin mystery solved

With an really nice burst of weather, I decided on a whim, to go to the park early.  Only had about an hour, so I decided to see if I could locate the missing Lochie.

In his “secret hiding’ place, I waited about 10 minutes and along came Will ‘o Scarlet. He was pretty vocal, but very approachable.  And a few minutes later, looking all fresh in the morning Primrose also made her way through the trees, but with a few clicks and D’reet calls as she went.  Next in line was a female Scarlet, so it was looking to be an interesting morning.
Then the familiar calls of Lockie rolled around the openings among the trees.  He was there.  How great.

But the Will was having none of  it, and a quick fly around trees battle began, with the little bloke getting the worst of it I am afraid.  The Scarlet is quite a bit larger, and much much faster and more aerobatic so it was pretty much a one sided battle.  But plucky little thing, Lochie retreated, and then snuck through the tree tops to dive bomb on the Scarlet.  Then he retreated and repeated the performance, before landing away, and giving a cheeky location call.  All this lead to the Scarlet taking revenge, and more tree flying and chest bumping, and wing clicking took place.  A bit of David and Goliath ensued, and a couple more forays through the trees and a few more dive bombing missions kept Lochie in the game.

The Scarlet retreated to the other side of the clearing and Lockie went on to feed and encourage Primrose in her current nest building attempt.

This is a pic I took of him earlier in the season, but just hadn’t gotten around to posting it here.

The wonderful arrangement of bird and web backlit really works well for me.

Lockie and Spider web combination

Woodlands and Red-capped Robins

I might have mentioned in the previous post that timing is everything.  And it is, so is getting close.
We never ever seem to have a short distance between our lens and the birds we love.  We sneak up, we sit and wait, we drive about hoping to find a bird that is inquisitive enough to come-look-see, and we buy expensive, long focal length lenses when it becomes apparent that aside from patience, not much else works. (Luck of course being the factor that most other people have.  I was once a member of a junior football club, the coach began by explaining, “We’ve been having a run of luck lately.  …… Long pause….. “All bad.”

So I’ve been haunting the camera stores, pouring over pages on ebay, all hoping that I could find that magic lens at an even more magic price.  Not that my AF-S 500m F/4 is a slacker.   Just want it to be longer.   So after a bit of soul-searching, (most would tell you that wouldn’t take long in my case), I decided to get Nikon’s new TC20eIII televerter.  Now the websites will tell you it won’t focus, won’t work, isn’t sharp, won’t put the cat out at night, and makes appalling coffee, but I’ve learned to ignore most of that.

Truth be told it does focus.  Somewhat erratically on my D700, well on my D200. The problem is the little elves inside get tired of trying and give up.  So the lens sometimes locks, or it loses focus and then goes all the way from one end of the range to the other, hopefully stopping at the right spot on the way back. Sometimes.  Sometimes the elves get distracted by the light coming through the trees, or the highlights on a leaf.  But, hey its 1000mm and if it was an old manual focus lens, I would have to rock back and forward over the focus point anyway. For those young’ns who don’t understand that sentence, back in the days before autofocus we used to manually- by hand and eye-  focus the lens.  Strange but there you have it.

So here I am in the forest.  2x on board.

And up pops Primrose.  For a bit of a chat.  The first image is full frame.  She was that close.  7 metres it says.  The second image is also close to full frame. just cropped a bit of the top. 5 metres it says.  Couldn’t get all of her in the frame. Just in case anyone is guessing, according to the book she stands 10-11 cm tall.  And she kept on coming closer.  In the end the focus just gave up, and I had a minute or so of a very tiny bird hunting on the roadway alongside my knee. Who said birding is hard?

But all this is about Check the sharpness.  Just a little pre-sharpening using Nik Presharpener 2.0  The image has heaps of feather detail, has kept colour and contrast and all in all if I’d have sprung the zillion dollars for the 800mm Nikon, it wouldn’t be that much better and twice as heavy to get into the bush anyway.

Also found the most beautiful Scarlet Robin female, who also posed nicely, but not quite as close. All in all a good day, and a good start to my relationship with the 2x converter.

How close can you get? Now turn to the right, work it, work it.
She is as close as the focus can work. TC20eIII on 500mm lens.
Found this beautiful Scarlet Robin in the sun on a side track. She waited long enough for me to get organised
The light was a little soft and kind. She wasn’t as close as Primrose.

 

Just for a bit of fun.
The photographer is the big ugly dude on the right with all the hardware. The bird, subject of said photographer, is the little tiny smudge on the lefthand side. Sort of puts it all in perspective really.

 

Just little wanders

Had a wander over the weekend with the organised Beginners Group of Bird LIfe Asutralia (Melbourne Group).  Titles get so long these days, and the acronyms are dreadful, but by the time I get it all typed I’ve forgotten what it was I was going to ramble on about.
Oh, yeah, we went with the beginners group to Woodlands.  Now as the National Parks people are on strike, the gate at Somerton Road is closed.  Which in some way s me thinks is a good thing.  But with nearly twenty cars parked along the road it did look to say the least a bit dangerous.  And as Somerton Road is apparently the extension of some race track or other, speeds along the road are simply overwhelming at times, with some of the best passing manoeuvres that would do credit to  Mark Webber at Albert Park F1, are taken with out much concern for the narrowness of the roadway.  Anyway I digress.

The weather was pleasant if just a bit overcast and after a stroll around the Moonee Ponds Creek tracks, – Note: the river was in a flood, probably 1 1/2 meters or more deep.- we decided to move around to the Providence Road carpark and spot Robins.  And on this day, the resident Tawny Frogmouths had moved to a new tree and were not to be found.  I was pretty much accused of  climbing up in the morning and moving them. <ggg>

The gate to the Backpaddock is now closed, so we made do by following the kangaroo tracks down toward the Dam area.  Now the robins were pretty much on strike too, it seems. However I broke away from the main group and with a little bushcraft, and determined perseverance and highly developed robin finding skills.  And let’s face it. LUCK, I found the pair, Lockie and Primrose. They were taking a bit of a stroll down toward the dam as there were some nice wet patches of run-off water from the previous couple of days.  Next, call up the group, so some thirty birdwatchers descend on 10 square metres of robin feeding territory and the fun begins. “There on the tree just on the left of the other tree, near the branch sticking out behind the wattle, near the laid over stump, about a metre off the ground, oh, never mind it’s flown away.”  Much too much fun.

Some of the beginners did however manage to get a good views of Lochie and another male, and Primrose seemed completely unpreturbed by it all and just continued to feed.  So after about twenty hectic minutes with the binoculars and pointing just about everybody had seen some good robin views.

We then moved back to the cars and had another great view of several of the Flame and Scarlet robins in the paddock near the cemetery.  Enough for all, so lunch was at the Woodlands Homestead. Then a bit of a walk around Woodlands Hill, but no raptors were up.

Dorothy and I went back for another look in the pm, and found some Flame Robins and Lochie and Primrose again.  Here he is in the sunshine.

Redcapped Robin Male, hunting in the sunshine after several days of intense rain.

 

Here he is again with a nicer background. He is my second most favourite of the Red-caps because he is very relaxed with me most of the time.

 

 

 

Young Miss Heartbreaker

After a busy weekend away from birding we were both looking forward to going back out to Woodlands today.  The weather didn’t promise much and didn’t deliver much either. But on the upside we didn’t get any showers so that helped.

Once we were inside the Backpaddock a family of Flame Robins came by, but quickly disappeared and we lost them.  Mr Mighty made an appearance but for some reason we didn’t get close enough for much worthwhile photography.  After waiting fruitlessly for some other action we toured about the pathways and I found Little Miss Red red-capped Robin.  Perhaps she should be called Little Red-riding Hood.

The sun graciously shone through some cloud and a little bit of extra light helped on the moss beds.  She seemed to be unattached today and was with a small family of female and juvenile Flame Robins.

But as always at the moment, the Thornbill flock flew in, and then out and everyone was gone.  There is plenty of activity, just not sufficient time to get some great photos.

How does she look. Red-riding Hood, with her little red-breast feathers and her brilliant orange red cap.
Female Flame Robin. She seemed to be calling to the family group because they took too flight and followed her departure.

Guess who’s turning all the boy’s heads?

This little miss, has turned up over the past week or so, we spotted her in the rain, and all remarked about the ‘redness’ of her cap.

The last few days there have been a three male suitors down in the same area.  Very territorial and each of them, trying to drive off the other two. Today, one of them seemed to at least have the dominance and after a few verbal battles and some branch dancing, he moved her up the paddock away from the other two males. Nothing left for them, so they squabbled amongst themselves.

After about five minutes a little grey/brown streak zoomed down the forest and back out among the boys. With some suitable tail-wagging and some scolding tic tics, she got them all going again. One seemed to win out and again two males were left to themselves.

Something new going on all the time.

Mr Mighty and his lady are back feeding in their old quarters from last year.  He doesn’t seem to take part in the domestic worries across the forest.

An unattached female who seems to have all the local males interested
Mr Mighty feeding in a moss bed, very early in the morning, the sun is just starting to advance through the tree line

 

Young Flame Robin, part of a family of 5 birds.

 

One of the “Brothers” three males who seem to hunt as an independent group.

 

 

Flame, Scarlet, Red-capped Robins on a sunny day

After a week of fairly average weather, it was nice to see the sun beaming through this morning. That was enough to put all other jobs on hold, load the car and head for Woodlands.

The forest had a lovely smell after the rain, and it was looking quite crisp.

To add to the enjoyment within about 5 minutes, we had our first Flame Robin Male, and followed it up very fast with another male, a female, and some juveniles. They didn’t seem in any particular hurry and cruised around an open area feeding as they went.  Then the local Scarlet Robin popped by, and he is still with his red-capped escort, although she spent a lot of time preening while he flew about in ever broadening circles.  Henny and Penny two redcaps in the area popped by for a visit, and Penny does look the part in her new winter dress and a distinct orange/red cap.

The pair from down near the three-way junction also put in an appearance, but a lot further away, too far to pursue.   Time just seemed to stand still as the birds hunted and chased around the stump area we propped on.  Then off course it was back to the real world, so we went by the powerline area near the dam and found another pair of co-operative Red-capped Robins.   All in all over four hours had gone by, we had collected our share of vitamin D for the day, a nice collection of images and a collection of good spots to check in the future.

Flame Robin male. He has an interesting red feather just under his chin that breaks the sharp black line on his mask.

 

The local male. He was as busy and as vocal as usual. His consort spent most of the hour or so in a nearby tree tic'ing at him and ignoring his circle flights.
A juvenile (perhaps). There are several similar birds already in the park.

 

This Grey Shrike-thrush came to find a space to pulverise its insect prey and to enjoy the meal.

Scarlet Robin still in residence

Scarlet Robin at Woodlands, moulting into a dapper bird.
Scarlet Robin at Woodlands, moulting into a dapper bird.

 

First time back at Woodlands since the long Goschen trip.

Within a few minutes I had heard a familiar chirrup of the Scarlet Robin and went to investigate.  I saw it in the distance, and it continued to come closer landing in a tree across the track from where I was.  It is a male for sure. Has a lovely black head, really strong red colour, and that wonderful white spot above its beak.
It has grown quite bold as the week has gone by, and now patrols quite an extensive territory inside the Back Paddock fenced of area.
It does not seem to have a mate, but it is still in attendance with a female Recapped Robin. It is also moulting through and looks a bit of a sight at the moment. They sit together, hunt together and move about together, although it has to be said that the poor little redcaps wings whir quite  bit trying to keep up with the speedy Scarlet.  But they ‘tick’ call at one another.

Also saw today; three black swamp wallabies, so they have managed to get inside the fence in the new area. They seemed very relaxed. So that is good.

Male Scarlet Robin taking time for a good scratch

 

 

Well, the process does work. Redcapped Robin Juvenile

I was woken this morning by a clap of thunder, and looking out – the sky could only be described as dark and gloomy.  But, I had planned a trip to Woodlands, and I started to get the gear into the car and rain fell. Not that pitter patter raindrops of the songs, these were great big blobs, that went not gently on the car, but sounded like hail.  And created great big pools where they landed.  “Might put the rain jacket in,” I thought.

As I drove toward the park, it started to rain, not drizzle or occasional shower, but serious-soak the ground-rain.  And it didn’t look like it would let up anytime soon.  By the time I got to the last roundabout near the park the road was awash. But I pushed on.

At the park it wasn’t much better and the idea of sitting in the car was the go.  Twenty minutes or so and it let up, and the sky just looked leaden.  No point in coming all this way and not at least having a look.

The park along the road is very quiet at the moment, hardly any bird activity, and I wanted to go down through the fenced off “Back Paddcok” to have a look a kilometre or so in as last year many of the fledged robins ended up down there for awhile.

By the time I got into the area, the rain was over, the sky even looked like it might clear up, and so I found a spot near a likely feeding area and waited.

A few freshly fledged Willie wagtails kept me company and amused with their chasing games antics.  A flock of Yellow-rumped Thornbills fed their way through and a large group of Weebills all chattering away. And about then the sun emerged and so did all the young Superb Fairy Wrens, so they have had a good year, I stopped counting after about 10, and mostly because I had lost track of who was who.

Then to my complete surprise and delight, a whirr of feathers and a juvenile Redcapped Robin landed on the branch about 5 metres away.  All in is lovely striated white, brown and grey.  It was completely unconcerned by my presence or the shutter going crazy.  And then the sun came out.

It also had a friend, and they preened and fed and did bird things on the bush for about 10 minutes and then it was all over. The news from all this of course is that all the hard work of the past few months has paid off for the robins and mum and dad can take a well earned rest knowing they have done their bit for the species.

Rather glad the weather improved.

Juvenile Redcapped Robin

D200, 500m F/4,  ISO400, F/4.5, 1/250, WB Auto

 

And a very busy little Fairy Wren.  I think it wanted to show off its catch more than anything else.

Fairy Wren with breakfast

D200, 500mm F/4, ISO400, F/4.5, 1/1600, WB Auto.

Territorial Disputes

Out in the forest this morning and came across a mixed flock of wagtails, thornbills and a number of redcapped robins.

First time I have been able to locate them all together since the nesting season.  Two males were particularly interesting as one smaller one, seemed to want to try its luck on the larger (older) bird.  Where they were was sort of at what I think is the border of two territories. And while it is hard to tell who is who, I suspect that the larger bird is the male of the territory.  He was in the company of the only female present  a bit earlier.

There is an excellent series of article on the net. Papers by Damien K. Dowling, of Melbourne University. And in the paper “Breeding biology of the red-capped robin”, AJZ 2003,51,533-549  he describes the behaviour of males in territorial conflict. His work was done around Mt Terrick Terrick Park, and is a great read on details of nesting and behaviour and success rates.

Today’s males preformed lots of dancing back and forward on a branch, it looks a bit like it is choreographed, and they seem to know their parts well.  In the end, one did the fly away, by slow retreat and in the eventually I lost sight of it completely. Hopefully it will find a reasonable amount of space in the forest, and at least one new territory will be established.

The pair in the area seem to have finalised this year’s breed. Both birds are beginning to look worse for wear feather wise and the moulting probably is only a month  to six weeks or so away.

Red-capped Robin males in territorial discussion. Dominate male in rear.
Red-capped Robin males in territorial discussion. Dominate male in rear.
Male Red-capped Robin territory dispute resolution
Male Red-capped Robin territory dispute resolution

No nests here I’m telling you

Found this little fellow out and about looking for tucker.   He was  in an area that has not been a redcap territory for a couple of years.   However I think the rain, and the long grass is the large open areas has made his hunting a bit difficult on the ground and he has moved operations into the lighter grey box forest areas where there is quite a bit of open forest floor.  Once he spotted me, we went on a bit of a round circuit of the area, so I am pretty sure  his lady has a nest in the area as well.

But to assure me that there were no nests he did a lot of elaborate cleaning and constant moving about.   His feathers seem now to be getting a bit worn for wear and he is looking a bit on the scruffy side.

Be interesting to see if he maintains the new territory or moves back when the grass dies down over summer.

80-400mm  ISO800 f/8 1/800th.

Red capped Robin Male
Male Redcapped Robin in cleaning mode.

So, there you are!

This is a female Red-capped Robin on her nest.  I have been trying to find some sign of them over the past few weeks, without much success. Which is probably a good thing as they have been busy at work.

By a little bit of chance I heard the distinctive call of the male, and followed up to find both male and female on the side of a track, and he was feeding her.  It stopped me in my tracks, and as it happened the nest was in the tree next to where I stopped.

It took me a few minutes to work out that she was trying to get back into the nest, and then I moved away about 50 metres. She immediately settled down on her clutch.

This is her second brood this year, and she successfully got 2 chicks off in late October.

Recap Robin on nest
This a female red-capped robin hard at work on her next litter