Home Improvements

One of the more visited areas at the Western Treatment Plant is the “T-Section”. Among its notable areas is the aptly named, “Crake Pool”, it’s not unusual on any given trip down there, to find at least one, sometimes more, vehicles pulled up in the open areas near the pool, hoping to catch a glimpse of the many crakes that inhabit the area.

Just a little further along the road and a small pile of rocks in the middle of the pond usually has a share of waterbirds, or waders loafing in the sunshine.

So you might well imagine our suprise the other day to see a pair of enterprising Black Swan had taken over the rocks, and built what can only be thought of as Swan Hilton, securely among the rocks.


Continue reading “Home Improvements”


In Search of the Grail: The Journey of Perceval

++++ Editorial Note: This was written back in May 2016, due to complicated circumstances, (if you will) I had let its publication slide.  Enjoy. ++++++

One of the most endearing myths surrounds the Search for the “Grail”.  This mysterious cup that is the hero’s quest.

Joseph Campbell, is one of my favourite authors and while I don’t always concur with his conclusions, his insight into the depths of myth and legend always intrigues me.

One such story is the Hero’s Journey.  A story that is played out over and over in old Hebrew texts, Chinese history, Indian legends, South American dramas, and innumerable other historical stories. And into modern-day novel such as Dan Brown’s “Da Vinci Code
Simplified it’s “Local Hero—(ine) makes Good”.

Somewhere the legend becomes intertwined with knights bold of old and ends up as justification for the wholesale slaughter that was inflicted during the Crusades, in search of the now “Holy Grail” the cup that held the crucified Messiah blood.

Campbell writes it best as the story of Sir Perceval, although there are lots of previous versions going well back into the Dark Ages of Europe.


Sir Perceval, is off on his Quest. His is the journey to visit the wasteland, (Joyce devotees take note  {++ Ed Note: I was thinking of Ulysses, here, but as Cheryl rightly points out the reference probably belongs more to T.S. Eliot++}),   of a certain king, sometimes called the Fisher King who is the possessor of the Grail. Giver of Eternal life.  This dude is crippled, variously described as from battle or curse, and the ‘grail’ keeps him alive.   He not only has the cup, but is wont to hand out helpful advice and wisdom to any who would enter his realm (Aside— I’ve often pondered if he was so smart and wise how come his kingdom was a wasteland and his subjects abject suffering wretches— but let’s not let detail get in the way of a good story)

Sir Perc, is supposed to ask the magic question, but of course his chivalrous upbringing, (or lack of) means he can’t do that, so he misses out on the prize.  Now banished he too must walk his own wasteland.  (I do see a picture building up here).

Before your eyes glaze over, he returns, retrieves the grail, heals the king, the land and puts out the cat and makes toast. On ya Perc, good afternoon’s work.

(Aside: always wanted to write it that way for my term paper on Myth and Symbol, but figured a pass was better than a laugh).

Which brings Sir Perceval, that is the name of our little grey car, on its quest to the Wasteland of the Western Treatment Plant in search of “The Grail”.

On board Sir Perc are  EE, Mr An Onymous and your erstwhile writer. The Grail is “White-bellied Sea-eagle”
There are several of these amazing birds at work over the Treatment Plant ponds.  The amount of duck on the water is fairly easy picking for a well-trained Sea-eagle, and these dudes are well trained. (Even without the Fisher King’s help, they know fishing)


Finding one in a good location, and up-close and personal, has always been a problem for Perc and contents. EE had a plan, not the first you are reminded, but none the less a plan.  Mr An Onymous had the lens ready and a theory for everything. And me.  I was looking for birds.
We entered the track alongside the Little River, being allowed access by the “Gate Keeper”,  Little Pied Cormorant who is often at work near the gate.

Two Whistling Kites departed from the Specimen Tree, and were away before a lens was pointed.  On to the Japan Tree. This lovely tree has featured here on the blog and on my Flickr site regularly. A tree of a thousand poses, it sits on the edge of the causeway over Little River.

I spotted it in the tree.

Grey and white in the sunshine.

I slowed Sir Perc and stopped.  Each looked about. “Not much here- as usual”.

“What about the Sea-eagle,” I reply.
“Oh it would be so good if we saw one somewhere along the track today, ” reply.
“Well what about that one up in the tree,” saith I.
“Yeah, that would be a good spot”
“It’s there on the left-hand side.”

Brains click into gear, doors open, cameras start to bundle images onto memory cards.
“It’s tough light here,” add I, “I’m going to take the car to the other side of the causeway.”

  • Meanwhile, I’m adding up the possibilities.
    Move to other side of causeway.
    Light better.
    Not hidden among tree branches
    Bird will throw if I move the car
    If bird throws from this side it will be into the light and we’ll get silhouettes.
    Walking about will make it throw.
    Take the risk.

So, Sir Perceval moves over to the far side of the causeway. I think I heard the Fisher King groaning.

Bird is relaxed. Goodo—out of the car, setup the lens, beanbag on roof, line up shot, check exposure, make more shots.
Change camera to the shorter lens. — Mistake. Note to self. Only take one camera/lens combo next time.

The light is about as good as it gets, the pose is as regal as they come and the memory card is still taking in the images.
It ruffles the wings, and I can only say, under my breath, “It’s about to throw”, to no one in particular, and before I can change back to the longer lens, it’s airborne. No time to put up the big camera. Mutter under breath about senility.


It throws out into the open, pulls the big wings about, and comes directly into the sunshine.  No time to ponder correct exposure now, this is what we came for.

“Well, we can go back for coffee now”, I announce. But the others are ‘chimping’ at the review screens on the camera. Y’know, head down, arms waving, “Oh, oh, oh”

Not a bad morning’s work. The Sir Perc of Old would be happy.

The Gate Keeper “Who dares enter here?”
First sighting. Lost among the branches
That was the view I was looking for
Elegance has a form
Wing ruffle, its time to go.
Beginning to stretch the wings
Coiled and ready to unwind
1605_05-DWJ_3761 - Version 2
Stepping out, wing driving to the left
Succesful launch
1605_05-DWJ_3763 - Version 2
And against the best backdrop sky

Loitering with INTENT

We’ve been housebound because of the weather, and in the early afternoon, the sun shone, blue sky, and we decided to head to Twenty Nine Mile Road.  Just for a look, and then a coffee on the way home.   The Plant is Locked Out to mere mortals at the moment as the roads are a quagmire from the rains, the constant 4WD traffic, and that one of the number of bird watchers managed to put their ‘fourbee’  off the road and into a bog, requiring work by the management to get it out.  So.

The weather forecast was loaded with gloom and doom, but we thought it was worth the risk just for the time out.

And we managed some good sunshine for about 30 minutes.  And then a great big black cloud with a distinct grey sheet falling from it, headed in our direction. It was, as they say.  All over.

And in the same direction a large raptor, which as it came closer was definitely a White-bellied Sea-eagle. It swung in on the wind, which even optimistically could be measured somewhere between 50-60kph. The rain was ripping in behind it.  The bird landed, without a care on a roadway bund between two ponds.  And with the rain pelting down it just sat and watched.   A lone Samp Harrier had clued on that something was going to happen and was making various treks back and forth behind the eagle. We were stuck sitting in the car with the window open, and rain pouring in.  Close window at least.

And it waited.  It seemed to me the wind and the rain were increasing, but still it sat. And looked.

Then at what can only be described as ‘The height of the storm”. — or as poor old much maligned Edward Bulwer-Lytton “It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents — except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.” might have said.

The bird casually turned its body into the wind, raised the wings and lifted off. And to my real surprise, headed “into” the wind. Long deliberate beats that took it just over the water out along the pond.
Then it became clear through the rain.
A lone Eurasian Coot had taken that moment to make its run across the lake.  Wrong move!

With the rain hammering at me as I swung open the door, and raced back along the road to get a clear look at the event, the eagle made several passes at the hapless coot, and then I lost it behind a clump of grass in between, and to be honest, the sting of the rain, the lack of wet protection for body and camera, and it was time to go back to the ‘safety’ of the car.   EE had managed to get a better look of the eagle as it brought the coot to land.

But.  Let’s face it. A long way away, drenching rain, no  light, and buckets of contrast and colour and sharpening and noise reduction, and this a about as good as it gets.

I guess I make no apology for the images.  At least we were there.

The power of the eagle is still haunting my thoughts.  I was having trouble walking in that wind.

Thanks to EE for supplying the last moments of the action.

Locked on Target
Locked on Target. That the D810 and the 300mm Locked on at all is much a tribute to the gear.
Photo Courtesy EE
Photo Courtesy EE
Photo Courtesy EE
Photo Courtesy EE
Photo Courtesy EE
Photo Courtesy EE
Photo courtesy EE
Photo courtesy EE


What a Difference some Sunshine Makes

Been beavering away here at the Website trying to find ways to improve the overall look and experience of visiting, and trying to give expression visually to the site’s dedicated title. “Birds as Poetry”.

Sometimes its easy to find clever words to describe a moment in time with the birds, or to cover over the fact it was just another day on the job making images of very fine birds. But that is not the visual feel.  And above all I guess my main goal for the web pages.

Been doing as you’ve probably gathered a bit of introspection on what the bird stories should show, how relevant that is to those who have graciously signed up to follow along here and at the same time not making it so esoteric that even I find it hard to reach those heights of expression.

And at another level, the pure old photographic know how and application needs to still satisfy both viewer and creator.  And of course in this day and age wrestling with the ever-advancing technology that so readily leads us onward with banners waving from one vantage point to the next, without even taking the time to notice the journey across the plain.

Along with photography, poor writing and a love of Russel Coight’s All Australian Adventure tv shows (skits please), I also offer Tai Chi as another of my dizzying weaknessess.  What I like most about this ancient (art) is the definiteness of purpose and deliberateness of movement. And in that is the edge of my photography with the birds, and hence the constant need to find expression of Birds  as  Poetry.

Continue reading “What a Difference some Sunshine Makes”

Ode to Brown Falcon

The header image is a Photoshop Montage of two shots I made at the Western Treatment Plant.  I put it up on Flickr as I wanted to be able to show the interaction between the pair.

Female in focus
Female in focus
Male in focus
Male in focus

Had an interesting comment by Marcos who suggested that the manmade fences and wire detracted from visual impact of the image.   And I find myself in full understanding of his assessment.

On the other hand, ‘my’ Falcons are falcons of the open plains and the fenced paddocks.   I could I suppose have, while in photoshop, put in some nicely placed branches, added a majestic snow-covered mountain range and given the surrounds some real presence for the birds.
But my falcons live on a working farm. No trees, few shrubs and lots of open flat ploughed paddocks and fencelines.

Brown Falcons :the only raptor with an indigenous first inhabitants name in its scientific name,  “berigora”.  – perhaps meaning ‘Clawed’.


Browns seem to have quite happily adapted to the rabbits and mice provided by early settlers, also enjoyed the fence posts set up across the land, and the clearing of open plains even more suitable for their hunting.
When I was a little tacker growing up in the Mallee, and NSW River country, we would often play a game of count the falcons on the posts as we travelled about. It was normal to see 10-15 on a several hour trip.

All the Browns I’ve worked with seem to be as happy perched among the grass and scampering about among the scrub.  The damage to their tail feathers quite evidence of a land based operation.

Their colour scheme is amazingly variable. From almost white, to completely dark brown, grey.

I have a theory on Browns ability.  And the female on the fence is a good example.  They seem happy to sit for hours watching.  And noting.  They seem to be able to map the land around them, such that when they fly, it’s on a fully worked out pattern, not hurried, accidental or haphazard.
Perhaps it goes like this.

“Over by the dam, a small family of mice, need to check that out sometime soon.”
“Under the big rocks by the roadside, lizards,  come in from the fence side.”
“Tiger snake moving through the long grass, hmmm too big for me to tackle alone.”
“Willie Wagtails nesting in the short tree, stay away”
and so it goes.  Each part of the paddock is scanned and locked away.

After just over an hour of sitting, no sleeping or preening, just looking, she dropped off the fence, secured a small lizard and was back on the fence.  It was not an opportunistic catch.  She had waited for the best time.

When I was very new to photographing birds, I found a pair at work out on the old Cumberland Homestead paddocks.  Not knowing any better I tried to get some good images.  And they tolerated me until nesting. Then I became an unwanted guest, and several close passes, claws out, were enough to convince me to be much more careful around her.

So here is a short photo journey with these most amazing birds.  Well adapted to make the most of human intervention, they may not take us on as partners, but there is no doubt a wire fence, metal gate and large fence posts are as much a part of their dna now as snake catching.

Henri Cartier-Bresson, the wonderful French photographer speaking of his portraits would say, “I want to get the personality, the character, the essence of the subject.  To get between his skin and his shirt.”

I want to show Brown Falcons by getting between their skin and their feathers.


The first pair I photographed.  He is about to depart.
The first pair I photographed. He is about to depart.
That is Melbourne Airport in the backdrop.
That is Melbourne Airport in the backdrop.
In coming. She will pass so close I'll hear the wind in the wings
In coming. She will pass so close I’ll hear the wind in the wings
Bird with snake handling capabilities
Bird with snake handling capabilities
Portrait of a well fed bird
Portrait of a well fed bird
The blue cere indicates a young bird
The blue cere indicates a young bird
Often they sit with one foot lifted.
Often they sit with one foot lifted.
On a mission. Slipping deftly between the grass tussocks.
On a mission. Slipping deftly between the grass tussocks.
A young recently fledged young
A young recently fledged young
Rich colours in the late sunlight
Rich colours in the late sunlight
Brown is happy to hunt on the ground
Brown is happy to hunt on the ground
Rabbit away.  A full grown rabbit off to feed   the young falcons
Rabbit away. A full grown rabbit off to feed the young falcons
Locked in for landing
Locked in for landing