Philomena and Friends

It was one of those mornings when I looked out the window when I got out of bed and it looked clear. No Wind.

Bonus. Didn’t take long to work out what to do.  Check again, just in case. Yep, no sun up yet. Crisp twinkling stars set against a perfect black velvet setting.  Good to be alive.

Mind, most of the apprehension of the morning was based on dire predictions of Noahic proportion winds and rain from the weather prognosticators on the telly the previous evening. But most times they leave me amazed at the amount of descriptive words that can be used to create fear and despair among the masses, when it comes to describing the following day’s weather.

So we went.

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Continue reading “Philomena and Friends”

How to Brighten up a Grey Box Forest

I suppose it was not to be unexpected that after finding some Flame Robins at The Office last week, that we would have to venture further afield.
A rare find of a Rose Robin at Woodlands Historic Park, must have got the inquisitive out and about, as every person we met today asked, “Have you seen the Rose Robin?”  Sadly we had to respond “No”.  We did manage to get an indication that some Flame Robins had been seen down near the hospital dam, and so like the Banjo suggests,  “We went”.

But no luck. Did you remember to pack the bird karma, she asked.

At this time of the year I always expect the Bandicoot Hilton, Backpaddock to be firmly locked from mere mortals, but today it was open and so we ventured in.

Continue reading “How to Brighten up a Grey Box Forest”

Wonderful Woodlands Birds for all to enjoy: The Birds of Hume

It’s a bit humbling to have been able to contribute to a most wonderful publication.

The Hume City Council have published a lovely 20 page Bird Guide to the area.  A great creative collaboration by a number of locals and some excellent work by the Evironmental Dept of the Council has resulted in a such a cool little handbook for anyone with even a passing interest in the area.

My Flickr Mate Andew H was among the many of the working group and at one stage asked if I might have some photos of birds they were missing.  And off course, I was all too ready for them to use the images.

After living in the area for nigh on 40 years, it was a great way to respond back to the community and to provide a bit of a “thank you” to the birds that have been such a large part of my photographic endevours over the years.  My family has walked and laughed and picnicked and even married in the park, so we do have more than just a passing connection.

It’s also no surprise to you long term reader(s), that I have a real affinity for the small birds of the Grey Box forest area in the park.  Over the years many  of the missives here have been about their lives and their surrounds.  So much so that many have become in someways quite familiar.  I’ve for a long time taken to giving each of the robins, names.  It helps to id them, to come to an understanding of their location and sometimes their interactions.  Jon Young, my mentor of the book, “What the Robin Knows”, shows how its possible to build tiny connections to individual creatures that become large ropes that bind the bird and viewer.

Of all the birds I photograph, the small bush birds seem to hold the special place in my heart.  I love the boldness of the raptors, the kites, falcons and eagles.  I am constantly in awe of the migratory skills of the small waders and shorebirds that visit us each summer, and I can spend hours with the shoreline birds along the beaches, the terns, herons, gulls and cormorants.  But, put me in a stretch of Grey Box, and my blood fair purrs.  And the small birds fascinate me, not only by their lives, but by the challenge of bringing that portrait moment to life on screen.

Over the years, I ‘ve talked of the lives of Mr. Mighty, (he, who got a front cover on a national magazine), Henny and Penny and their clutches of young. Peter, the Prince, Lockey, and  of recent times, Petite, the smallest Red-capped Robin. And of course my very dear friend, Primrose. A female Red-capped Robin that was happy to come and sit with me on a log in the sunshine whenever I was in the area.
Andrew H talked today a little about our experiences and his own involement with the robins, and at one stage likened it to a ‘spiritiual’ moment.  And to have a bird such as Primrose so delicately and yet deliberately come in contact, and in some way accept the presence of the big klutz of a photographer, with a turn on the head and a lowered wing flap is something that still keeps us going out to make those connections.  How else do you describe a bird that you can see coming through the trees, just to perch less than a metre away and chatter away as if was really important.

And so in the presence of over a hundred or more folk, the Mayor of Hume Council, Cr Helen Patsikatheodorou, talked of the work of the production group, the grandness of the birds in the area and officially launched the booklet for the benefit of all those who love the birds.   We also had the chance to do a small walk around Woodlands Homestead and Andrew talked of some of the better birding areas at the park.

If you are in the area, do pick up a copy of the publication. Or contact Hume Council.

I thought I’d re-quoute Jon Young on the Sans Bushman
“If one day I see a small bird and recognise it, a thin thread will form between me and that bird.  If i just see it but don’t recognise it, there is no thin thread.  If I go out tomorrow and see and really recognise that same individual small bird again, the thread will thicken and strengthen just a little.  Every time I see and recognise that bird, the thread strengthens just a little.  Every time I see and recognise that bird, the thread strengthens.  Eventually it will grow into a string and then a cord, and finally a rope. This is what it means to be a Bushman. We make ropes with all aspects of the creation in this way” —What the Robin Knows, p 180—.

So well done Hume, well done team, a supreme effort and hopefully it will help people build more than a thread to so many of the wonderful birds in our area.
I’m just overwhelmed to have been able to have such a small part in the process.  Thanks again to all.

 

In the morning before the launch EE and I had travelled up in the brilliant light and touch of frost on the ground for a short visit to see the birds.  The sunshine should have told us it would be a good day, but within about five minutes along the track, Petite, the Smallest Red-capped Robin had popped out on to the roadway, followed by Peter the Prince.  Together they fed and played for us before we moved on to the backpaddock.   And there we were delighted to remake acquaintance again with a new Male Red-capped Robin, and finally find a small flock of FLmae Robins, including the Three Brothers, working the moss beds in the sunshine.
Seemed a great treat to go with the rest of the day.
Enjoy.

Petite, the Smallest Red-capped Robin. This tiny bird met us on the roadway as we walked in. Totally unconcerned by our presence. A real thread bulding moment.
Petite, the Smallest Red-capped Robin. This tiny bird met us on the roadway as we walked in. Totally unconcerned by our presence. A real thread building moment.
Peter, the Prince. Its been awhile since I've seen him on the fence line.
Peter, the Prince. Its been awhile since I’ve seen him on the fence line.
Such a delight to find. Pink Robin, female. Now if only she would bring her partner down for winter.
Such a delight to find. Pink Robin, female. Now if only she would bring her partner down for winter.
Female Scarlet Robin
Female Scarlet Robin
One of our new discoveries. This female is still supporting one of her last season young
One of our new discoveries. This female is still supporting one of her last season young
Who is putting 'footie prints' all over my forest? Scarlet came by to see what I was up to.
Who is putting ‘footie prints’ all over my forest? Scarlet came by to see what I was up to.
Wedge-tailed Eagle taking its pet Whistling Kites for an early morning flight.
Wedge-tailed Eagle taking its pet Whistling Kites for an early morning flight.
Female Flame Robin
Female Flame Robin
Flame Robin Male
Flame Robin Male
EE Enjoys Denonshire Tea at the launch at Woodlands Historic Homestead.
EE Enjoys Denonshire Tea at the launch at Woodlands Historic Homestead.
Red-capped Robin Female. This is Primrose, (see the lovely apricot wash on her chest) overseeing a territorial dispute between Lockie, and a would be suitor.
And just because deep down I’m an old softie. Here is Primrose. Red-capped Robin Female. This is Primrose, (see the lovely apricot wash on her chest) Thanks for the memory girl 🙂

Gallery: Click to see full size.

 

 

 

Well Hello Young Lad.

Scarlet Robin, a Season of Change

In the You Yangs, looking for Red-capped Robins.  What we did find is this handsome (?) young male just moulting out of his juvenile feathers and into his marvellous Male Adult feathers.

Long, long term readers may well recall, but you don’t lose points for not recalling that a number of years back I encountered another young male at Woodlands who subsequently stayed on, and became quite the dominate male in the area.

See here, Scarlet Robin, female?

and here, as it became more apparent he was not a she 

I also featured this new bird about 4 weeks back when we came across it earlier in the season. The shot is over on Flickr.

 

Scarlet Robin, Juvenile

 

So here he is in all his resplendant dress. Well perhaps not so much at the moment, but given a few more weeks, and he’ll be the best looking bird.

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Now don’t you look just a bit funny with some feathers in place and some still to change
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Fine wing stretch.
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A fine wing stretch. His head is in the shadow of a branch
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His consort. I am not sure if its a sibling, or in fact a female that he is wooing. They were together about4 weeks back, so it might be they are related. We shall see.
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All the colours are starting to give the right indications.
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Another view of the consort. She seems to keep up a constant chatter with him.

Getting an early start on Spring

Visiting one of our favourite pairs of Scarlet Robins, we found that she was hard at work on a new project for the season.

At first she didn’t seem to happy about disclosing the nest, and it was probably we concluded because although we couldn’t see it, it must be in the area we were standing.

That move  away opened up possibilities and within a few moments she was whistling while she worked.

I have grave doubts this will be her first successful nest, but its all a matter of numbers to  her,  keep trying until she has a brood off. Good luck.

All in a day's work.
All in a day’s work.
The site inspector came by to offer some food topup, and to handle any technical questions.
The site inspector came by to offer some food topup, and to handle any technical questions.
The importance of each piece is pondered before she lays it in place
The importance of each piece is pondered before she lays it in place
Its all bound together with spider web which she brings in around her beak, head and wings. Its then a matter of wiping it all into the correct place.
Its all bound together with spider web which she brings in around her beak, head and wings. Its then a matter of wiping it all into the correct place.

Something old, some thing new

Just thought I’d share where I am with the updated site.
And to be honest, I’m not.
So after a couple of false starts I’m learning to live with this layout.
Hate the huge text header, but like the page layout.

Moving navigation and the drop down sidebards to the RHS seems a good step forward. The little ‘Folder’ Icon holds most of the sidebar stuff previously so if you want to see Flickr shots they are now under there.

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.

Woodlands Historic Park on a wet day

DJ's Birds as Poetry

Sunday, in-spite of the doom and gloom of the weather’perts on tv started out sunny.
“Why not a look out at Woodlands, ” offered EE, and Why not? I replied.  Gear loaded, tea brewed, we are on the way.

By now the Flame Robins should at least have arrived, and might well have started to join together as a flock.   It has seemed to me, anecdotally, at least, that it takes about 2-3 weeks for the males to settle down and become docile enough for a flock to form.  No fighting for territory now.

As we started toward the backpaddock we also wonder if its been locked again for winter.  Part way down opposite the Weroona Cemetery there is an open area of Grey Box, and some small stands of prickly wattle.  It used to be the area of Primose and Lockie, but they have been gone for a…

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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.

 

Woodlands Historic Park robin season

 

With the ongoing closure of the Backpaddock at Woodlands, the opportunities for following Flame Robin families has been greatly diminished.  I have to admit defeat at this stage, as here we are getting close to the end of the winter over season, and I really only have a few images that I am  satisfied with. Problem is of course not being able to follow the birds as they move across the light Grey Box scrub along the ridge lines in the Backpaddock.
Not that it is doom and gloom as a few parties come out on raiding sessions into the area outside the park, but it’s impossible to predict where and when, so it is pretty much hit and miss.

Also not being able to track the Red-capped Robins movements, it will slow me down a bit when they go to nest, as I don’t have any idea where they are in the territory, and they certainly aren’t going to put up flags.  (Not that I am tracking nests, but rather where it is all happening so I can prepare for shots of the fledged young. I try not to disturb the nesting birds as she will get anxious and abandon a nest at any stage.  I think her main concern is Cuckoos, but Ravens made havoc of several nests sites last year.)

So here is a compilation of the work from about the past two weeks.  Weather has not been kind either.

The female is Primrose, and she has a territory that is outside the backpaddock. She is currently being courted by two males, but I think she seems to favour Lockie, so things will be as previous.  I do hope the younger male finds a mate as he seems most capable of defending himself.  With all the young that were produced in the area past season, it is a ponder as to where they all go.

The Flame males were beginning to call with their territory call the last few days.  They usually are gone in a fortnight or so after that.   They go early, and then the females follow about a week or so later.  But, I haven’t seen very many females, and am assuming they are up on the grey box ridges.

*** The images in the blog are now part of a gallery.  As such if you click on an image it will open them all up in a slide show.  That way you can advance through the photos rather then see them one by one and have to come back to this page for a new pic.  I think it’s more elegant, and I wish I had figured it out earlier in the blog.

Hope you like it.

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.

 

 

 

Hello, and aren’t you looking super?

No one can say that the weather has been photographically kind over the past few days.  Its not just the risk of taking the cameras out in the rain, or the chance of getting wet, its just the light is so weak that the exposures are wide open, slow shutter speed.  Even on a tripod, the chances are the bird is breathing in and out faster than the shutter speed, so, its a blurry pic.

Stay home, do other things, play with last years images and hope for a break.

So with high hopes we set out early this morning, sun looked good, and the weather man gave us a 50/50 chance.  Should be good.

But!  The gate to the Woodlands Backpaddock is locked.  Work is going on to remove the feral invaders, and keep the feral photographers out.

Sadly we traipsed back towards the car.  But on the way, we found a lovely looking Female Scarlet Robin, so of course we stopped to play.  She and her mate were a bit skittish at first but after a little bit we managed to meet on sort of mutual terms and were able to get reasonably close. Good light and the rest was easy.

After all that excitement we travelled on a bit further and found an Eastern Yellow Robin.  Very impressive, and again a bird that once it settled down was not to fussed by being chased by a photographer.

Looks like we’ll be travelling a bit further to keep up with the Yellow Robin and fill in time till the gates are re-opened.

Female Scarlet Robin in the early morning light

 

Female Scarlet Robin hunting

 

Scarlet Robin Male

 

Find of the day. Eastern Yellow Robin in a small clump of Black Wattle

Sunday at Woodlands

Dorothy and I looked out of the window early in the morning, and decided it was just too nice a morning to sit at home and worry about getting ‘stuff’ done.
So we packed a picnic and took off to see what the Robins were up to.  And they certainly were.  We found the cemetery pair within a few minutes. The female must be the hardest working bird in the forest. She had at least 4 clutches this summer, and I counted 9 young that she had gotten off.  Given that she lost at least one nest to Ravens, she really didn’t have a moment to spare.  But she looks quite relaxed and in good nick at the moment.  Her male, is sporting a cute little white feather or two around his beak, giving him a little moustache appearance.

We settled into a favourite spot in the fenced off area and while we waited Andrew and Adrienne  turned up, so  we had a lovely morning with the birds and some great company. The weather couldn’t make up its mind but sunshine probably dominated. The birds are not in a flock yet, each little family group seems to be moving independently.  The three males, “The Brothers” are still together, and it was good to be able to find one, and then quickly find the other two in quick succession.  Mr Cooper-top is sporting his lovely brown feathers.

The Brown-headed Honeyeater trapeze troupe dropped by, and we also were entertained by the four Grey-shrike Thrush as they worked the trees, bushes and ground litter.

By the time we had arrived home it was too cold to work in the garden so we compared pictures from the day’s effort.  Dorothy is about to get a new Nikon 1 V1, the super little mirrorless camera, which just happens to have an adaptor that can attach the DSLR lenses, and that will give her some new opportunities.

The hardest working little bird. She has had a very productive summer, and now is piling on the food, ready for next season.
This boy and his rather shy female put in an appearance, he is now one of three males in the area. They are a bit of a bully to the Red-caps I think.
Mr Copper-top. One of three males that travel together, “The Brothers”.
Another of “The Brothers”. He is nicely positioned against the spider’s web.

A hunting we will go

Friday dawned all lovely and still, with plenty of blue sky and none of the rain of the previous few days.  I was getting a bit tired of pacing the floor and finding other things to do, so it was good to get back into the bush and see if the storms had diminished the robins activities. I needed not have worried, as they were soaking up the sunshine and on the hunt everywhere.

The Brown-headed Honeyeater aerial trapeze team came by for a visit and I’ve put up a page here with their antics on display.

This young lady spent a lot of the morning with serveral other females hunting on their own. They seem to have a different call, a Cheep, Chip, Chip, which must be a location thing. This one seemed to be the noisiest or most persistent caller. Perhaps it was “C’mon girls, let’s go over here.”
Another one from the hunting party