We don’t need to know what it looks like (whatever it is),
but what it might mean—what it might feel like.
More than ever, we need images that speak to a deeper part of our humanity
than the thirst for details.
We need, and hunger for, context, insight, hope,
and the kind of visual poetry that stirs our hearts,
sparks our imaginations.
Posted 28 Jan 2018
A few days before our sojourn up to the ‘old’ country, we were part of Werribee Wagtails quarterly bird count at Mt Rothwell.
In line with the weather all around, it was hot. But we managed some good numbers in the first morning walk and at lunch time were sitting in the shade of the office area. The ranger in charge (Should that be hyphenated?) Ranger-in-charge. There—setup a hose and sprinkler to give the little garden area a bit of relief. This one action of course brought all the small bushbirds out for a bit of a cool off.
When I was a mere broth of a photographer, and just learning the craft, almost all weddings, portraits and product and advertising photography was done in the Studio. Photographers like D’acre Stubbs specialised in getting just the right light on a product, and Wolfgang Sievers made wonderful detailed industrial photos with dramatic lighting.
And I traded my poor old Super Baldar, 120 folding camera for the chance to learn the craft as a trainee.
We had walked down along the edge of the river to a spot where the river cuts back on itself forming a little backwater.
Good place to stop says, EE and well, I agreed. Settled down for a cuppa in the sunshine. It soon became apparent there was a family of Superb Fairywrens in the locality. Their constant chattering and carrying food about, lead to the conclusion, “They have a nest, or young one’s very close to where we are sitting.” The obvious spot was a large crop of grass and low shrubs they kept flying around.
With the humans out of the way it didn’t take them too long to get back to work.
I’ve been reading, co-incidently Rowley and Russel, Fairy-Wrens and Grasswrens.
Published in 1997, it details a lot of the field work of these two Australian Ornithologists over many years. Intriguingly, I’ve been delighted to see a lot of what we have observed being detailed in the work.
One thing that becomes clear about the Superb Fairywren is the unusual family arrangements.
Once called “Mormon Wrens”, as it was assumed that one bright blue male was in charge of a harem of females in various lighter brown dress.
But it’s now known that there is only one ‘active’ pair, and the remainder of young in the family group are ‘Helper’ males of the first or second year.
On average the males outnumber females by around two to one. So a female adult is in as the good Jane Austen so succinctly put it,
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.
However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered as the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters.”
Change man to female wren, and it seems that an available female has little trouble in establishing a new family connection. One such female in Rowley’s book is reported as having attained a bond relationship in somewhat under two hours of leaving the home territory. 🙂
So what we saw were a male/female pair and two or three helper males hard at work.
What we weren’t counting on is what happened after about 20 mins of watching.
The chattering went up, the birds surrounded the bush and it was obvious something was amiss. Suddenly at least two young virtually tailless fledglings burst clumsily out of the bush and took off, mostly running as they were not yet equipped to fly.
One took refuge alongside EE’s foot for a few minutes and then ran off eventually tumbling over the river bank edge and lodging (fortunately) in the bushes about two metres down.
The family continued its agitation at the bush. Conclusion being that some predator, – rat, snake ? had managed to get into the area. Did they lose any of the young. Hard to say. After about 10 minutes one of the helpers found the young one over the river edge and went to feed it.
Here is the drama as it unfolded.
The shot of the young wren is by EE (Dorothy M Jenkins- Friendsintheair, (c) 2016)
Blogging 201 assignment for this week is Setting the Scene.
As it turns out, I was gearing up to reflect on a day at the Office yesterday.
The weather turned Kind. Really Kind. The kind of Kind, where the cameras practically pack themselves out of the cupboard and into the car, and sit there going, “Well…..” “Well…. are you ready to leave yet.”
We left early, and decided to take the longer walk down to the river behind the golf course. This is really old river flat, and the river makes a distinct “U” for several hundred metres and then a fine “S” movement that provides for some great old river flat dissected by the flow of the water. Water bird can abound, and there is still some good grass and tree cover to make life entertaining for the smaller bush birds.
Its a long way for EE to walk, but stoically she lead on.
The Office for the uninitiated is an area along the Werribee River a few kilometres from the mouth at Werribee South. It cuts through the rich river soil and in places the cliffs are 30-40 metres high. The big birds – think raptors- enjoy the wind currents coming up the ramparts and I do believe a good case could be made that there are certain areas where its better, and a sort of ‘flyway’ or navigational line is drawn. They seem to favour coming and going along those locations.
You just know its going to be a good day when as you drive in a Black-shouldered Kite is hunting close to the carpark, and just inside the walking track, Bernie the Brown Falcon is loafing in a favourite tree.
Next up a Little Eagle made several passes along one of the ‘flyway’ paths. The Ibis, both White and Straw-necked use the same paths on the way to the feeding grounds along the river.
We sat with a family of Superb Fairy-wrens, and I will tell more of that tale on another blog, and were entertained by the feeding antics of a few Crested Terns. (another blog post methinks)
It was pretty awe-inspiring to be sitting by the river, dangling my feet over the river bank and sipping Earl of Grey, and enoying the time time in the sunshine with such a group of bids. And all less than 10 minutes from home. A most amazing place.
Easy day, easy photography, easy birds, and Just Another Day at the Office really.
The current lesson is the all important first line. The opener that reaches out and grabs the readers attention and drives questions that must be answered, so read on read on.
Had to write for assignment 5 different openings for this blog.
Cruel fate deals a heavy blow in the life of a young wren.
– always good to have some catchy disaster theme, we want to know it won’t happen to us.
Super success for the springy young Wren who overcame hardship and rose to the heights of his profession.
– Always good to have a success story and link it in someway to a fabled lifetime goal. We all want to think I need to find out how he did it, I’ll be able to do the same thing.
It was a Dark and Stormy Night; the rain fell in sheets except for the occasional intervals when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets….
Hmm, I think that one has been done by someone before. http://www.bulwer-lytton.com
The forest rang with the shrill clear sound of a high pitched voice, crying out challenge and authority to all who could hear.
– The old power game story, we want to know who, where, why and what effect this bold challenge will bring to the forest.
Take your time, the wind encouraged. Walk quietly and all with be revealed. Look not for the answers that appear quickly, but rather look, feel, listen, and taste. There is much to know, much is hidden and much will be revealed for those who tread quietly.
– Well when you’re desperate for a fifth opening line, a page from my new novella will do nicely.
And so dear reader, assuming you are still there, hello? hello? we can adopt the opening line I always like best for this blog.
Tell you what we’ve been upto and let your judgement decide to read on or to quickly click away to something much more relevant in your life.
So dah dah!!!!
We went to visit Timmy today.
-I like the direct attention grabbing simplicity.
I’m betting you came over here to see what the birds are doing and that is just what is not going to change.
We went to visit Timmy today. Just to refresh the memories, we had visited this plucky young hero a few weeks before the holidays and found he had lost his tail. Completely!
Then over the next couple of weeks, Timmy not only began to regrow, but also take on his responsibilities as territorial defender for his female companions and their soon to be growing offspring. -There is every good chance that the young that come from his territory are not his offspring, but rather the work of his next door neighbours. But, don’t be sad, Timmy’s genes live on with the females of the surrounding territories. Its the way it works in Wrenland.
We had, because of trips to the family acres, depressing weather, hot weather, other places to go and just plain old laziness, not been back to see Timmy or indeed the entire Office area for over six weeks. But, today, nice light, an early mark on the house duty(s), and we decided and afternoon trip would work.
I soon heard Timmy’s cry as we approached the corner on the track that he called home. And. There he was. And with a nice rich full tail. Well done Timmy.
Local boy makes good!
Among his new duties were looking after about 4 or more young. And they all looked just like “Dad”. Short-tails. Must only have been recently fledged.
So between feeding and rounding up the little ones, being harassed by the females, and being sure to take time to keep his nemesis, Tommy the Bigtail, in his own territory, Timmy has his work cut out.
And that is the way I overcome writing complex mind entrancing opening lines.
Simply show the pictures.
Still remember sitting spell-bound in the theatre watching the sheer bulk of the Star Destroyer that seemed to go on and on.
So we segue way to Timmy. We last left our hero looking much better with his new appendage appearing in fine form.
Today’s visit showed he had continued to grow the tail, and we learned a few new things about his life. Firstly he and several of the females are carrying food in to the bush where the nest is located. I’ve not been given privilege to go see, so can’t confirm what is going on in there.
Perhaps they are not feeding young, but rather keeping the nesting female well supplied in food.
Secondly his tail has started to come on quite nicely, and he still can hammer out a song.
And thirdly. As its gotten bigger, so has his territorial aspirations.
Today saw him take quite a number of forays into Tommy the Tailful’s territory. Timmy was able to advance about 10-15m more that last week, and even has established for himself a couple of calling posts, so this seemingly disadvantaged lad has made good.
Timmy seems to have accepted my being in the area, and is able to use the closest perches without the least concern for my being there.
Last week, dear reader, like the old Saturday Arvo Kids Matinee at the movies, we left Timmy with a a problem.
Took a hour or so today, to go back and visit our brave hero and see how he was handling his injury.
And surprise, his tail is indeed regrowing. Not bad for about 2 weeks. So its pretty certain that he is well on the road to recovery.
In the hour or so we sat with him it was pretty obvious that his condition hadn’t dented his enthusiasm, or his strong singing voice. And we learned a little about life in Wren land. He also seemed completely undeterred by our presence and would land on his favourite perches with no concern of our being there.
Another favourite spot
Timmy has a rival across the path. Called him Tommy the Tailful. Because, well, he is looking pretty attractive in the Tail Stakes. It also seems that Timmy’s territory covers the path and about 10 metres into the bush on the other side, and then after a small no-man’s land, Tommy is in charge.
Now, I’m sure the rules are well written, but a bit hard to follow, but its seems that the border really is a no go zone. Neither Tim nor Tom managed to cross over into each other’s territory. In spite of some fearful calling battles. But what was obvious is that the young ladies on both Tim and Tom’s side feel no such limitation and freely crossed back and forth between the two territories. Much to the delight and the chagrin of both males. Each time a young lass would appear from the other side they were treated very well, and the male sat with them and performed all around the branches. But when one of the wayward locals moved over and returned they got a right royal talking to.
In the end, it’s pretty certain that the only winner in all this is of course, the Gene Pool. Female wrens not being noted for their fidelity, but rather the males end up raising young from other territories. As this seems to have worked down through the years, one can only conclude that they benefit from the excursions.
So Timmy is well in control, well on the way to developing his new tail, and quite capable of bashing out a strong territory song.
On the day of a great feel good story from the Melbourne Cup, I found Timmy on the mend.
I’m not much of a fan of horse racing, but have to admit that the story of Michelle Payne, the wonderful horse Prince of Penzance, her brother as the strapper, and the trainer/connections story is one that fairy tale dreams are made of. See the story here.
Steven the Strapper to qoute the article; “Steven, who has Down syndrome, was responsible for drawing Prince of Penzance’s number one barrier, and correctly predicted the horse would be “in front at 200 metres [to go]“.
And rather than go up market, they have stayed with their roots and enjoyed the evening at a battler’s pub in St Kilda.
Love it when we stay true to our convictions.
Now its not that I don’t like horses, I’ve photographed a few of them in my time, and its not that I don’t enjoy a good day at the races. Love the food, the atmosphere and the excitement of country racing. Just don’t fancy seeing my money going into an endless pit, and watching an endless parade of horses around a track. Now before some one calls me, I really believe that horses love to run. And to run fast, and to jostle and parade. It’s just that I don’t get the gratification thing for humans.
But back to Timmy.
You’ll remember when we left our hero that he was looking a bit down in the wardrobe department with the mysterious departure of his beautiful tail. So we paid him a repeat visit today, and another fairy tale come true.
Timmy has begun to replace the missing wardrobe piece.
Still as active as ever, and just as vocal, and still chasing and harassing the females in his territory. So tailless or not, life has gone on for Timmy. What a great story.
At first glance all seems well, but on a second take, well, its obvious. Timmy doesn’t have a tail. And there-in lies the tale.
Was working with a pair of Willie Wagtails and had been sitting quietly for perhaps 15 minutes or more as they worked out strategy and tactics for building of their new domicile. If all goes well, expect more of that story.
When suddenly up pops Timmy. And at first glance I thought, “Oh, another Fairy-wren”, but then it was obvious that something wasn’t right.
Happen to be reading “blink: The power of thinking without thinking”, by Malcolm Gladwell. A good book for bird photographers as it suggests that the power of making choices in an instant. Actually its more about the power of marketing, and why we all recognise a can of Coca Cola, even if we don’t drink the stuff.
But, it didn’t seem right. So I looked, and sure enough Timmy is Tail-less. Otherwise a perfectly healthy Male, Superb Fairy-wren, and quite able to defend vocally his territory. Also seems to have a flotilla of females in a bush area some 30m from where I was sitting and they all treat him as usual. (That is giving him lectures from bushes).
So what happened to Timmy? Something disastrous, or is he also helping nesting and has lost his tail in the process, or has he had a bad attack of the moults? Or is its even more complicated. Perhaps someone has some info on what might have happened.
In our backyard, there are two resident Blackbirds. For most of the early part of the season, they seemed to be engaged in battles that were more than courtship, and occasionally I’d see quite a few feathers fly, and find a few on the patio. Now, as they settle to nesting, and don’t seem anywhere near as aggressive, I’ve noted that both of them are tail-less.
Other Blackbirds I’ve seen in the area are well tail endowed, so its just this pair.
Did they manage to pull each one’s tail feathers out in the ensuing battles?
Will keep an eye on Timmy, will be interesting to see if he regrows his glory.
If you’ve been following for a while, and have a bit of a memory, you might recall that I put up a story of an aggressive Scarlet Robin Carpark attendant that took to the “mirror bird” reflected in the car.
Well time has moved on, so has the Scarlet Robin, but the carpark as it turns out is still there. So we pulled up there the other day hoping to find a few interesting bush birds as there is good piece of grey box forest on the far side of the fence.
What we didn’t expect, of course was to set up by the latest iteration of the Carpark attendant.
The “Blue Flash” Car Inspector. He came out of nowhere and immediately took to the mirror bird in the far side car mirror. EE said, if the window was down,” I could touch him.”
Next he proceeded all along the front windscreen, (I’d gotten myself and the 300mm lens out of the car by this time. Then on to the drivers side door and gave that a right hammering.
On looking at the shots, he does look like a young male who is just moulting-in to breeding plumage, the few grey feathers are still showing. So perhaps he is now the chief breeding male and needed to be sure he was in fact the only one in the area.
After about 10 minutes or so, he flew off across the carpark chattering at all the watching females and lesser males. They seemed to giggle at his arrival and they all took off back into the scrub.