Around November-December, a flock of Terns visits the Western Treatment Plant and stays over a few months, begin to colour up for breeding, before heading northwards for their territories somewhere in Eurasia.
One of their most endearing markings is a bar of black feathers across the back of the neck, that looks like Earmuffs.
They used to be called “White-winged Black Terns”. Useful name, as when coloured up for breeding they have jet black bodies and white wings. Simples.
Not so for the namers of names, now they are called, much more usefully, you’d agree, “White-winged Tern”.
The numbers have been consistent over the few years I’ve been following them, and 30-40 birds are not unusual. They are a little smaller than Whiskered Terns, and they do seem to flock with their similarly usefully-named cousins. The WTP is some 10,000 hectares, so trying to locate 30 or so birds can be the needle-in-the-haystack kind of proposition, but as they mostly favour the ponds nearer the beach areas, the challenge is reduced at least a bit.
This year for some reason, the numbers were down, and it was obvious that we weren’t going to see the range of colouring occuring as in past years. Then to make the job, “Roll down the Shutters, and turn off the Lights”, the WTP was closed for visitors when the ‘Until Further Notice” notice was added to the gates and the locks changed. Got the message.
We did manage a couple of days with good light, a day or two with not so good light, and an evening that progressively became unworkable, so I’ve not been able to add substantially to the world’s collection of photos of the “Earmuff Tern”.
I have, it must be said, been hanging off making this post. I was hoping, somewhat against hope, the I’d get another day down at the WTP with these delightful birds, but sad to say, the season has changed, the birds are on the move, and the fickle weather has finally arrived with some decent rain for the hard stressed environment.
White-winged Terns, (used to be called White-winged Black Tern for obvious reasons), pay a visit to the south over the mid-of-summer through most of autumn. They feed up on the rich supply of insects along the bunds and over the waters at the treatment plant. I suspect we see somewhere between 50-100 of them over the period.
The breeding birds also begin to colour up readying for their trip north. They are not huge migrants, like say Red-necked Stints, but still their journey north will take them into South-East Asia, and as far as China and India. Hard to find definitive data. There is also a branch of the family that breeds as far up as northern Europe. I think they spend the summer around the Mediterranean.
We all, I suppose, have birds that intrigue us to one extent or another, and White-winged Terns are one of those birds for me. I think mostly because of their consistent habit, and their lovely changeable plumage. Most seasons they seem to work in just a few ponds at the WTP, it changes a bit with the food source, but most times if they are locatable, and not on far-off ponds that have no access, they present a wonderful show of hunting close into the edges of the ponds and over the grass verges. Making it easy to get closeups, if and I did say, if, I can keep them in the viewfinder. Like all terns the flight path is not erratic, but certainly not predictable.
We have had several sessions with the birds, and rather than try and explain it all, the following shots should speak volumes for the beauty and delicate nature of these birds.
Hopefully it might also show just a little bit of my interest and enjoyment of their visit and how much I appreciate such a challenging subject.
Till next year, travel well little birds, your visit was most appreciated.
Every year the White-winged Terns (not very aptly named I suggest), wing their way south and a group of them visit the Western Treatment Plant.
They come in varying stages of breeding plumage from white (hence the name), to mottled black, to an impressive Jet Black. To be graced by the presence of these birds is a real highlight for me and we spend several sessions down a the WTP trying to capture them in flight. Not always easy, as tricky as they are, sometimes they hunt on ponds that are inaccessible from the roadway. But when the light is right, they are hunting close and the action is fast and furious it is indeed a photographic delight.
After my confusing rant last week which had started out well enough on an examination of lighting techniques and the astounding work of Dean Collins, I thought I’d be a bit more circumspect this week and stick to, well, you know, birds. And the enjoyment of images.
Seeing as Freeman Patterson explains it, is “…using your senses, intellect and your emotions. Encountering your subject with your whole being.
It means looking beyond the labels of things and discovering the wonderful world around you.”
These birds fill me with awe, they travel to us from Asia, or maybe Northern Europe. They don’t breed here, but spend their time feeding up for their trip to warmer climes. My challenge is not to just capture their presence, but also to grasp a hint of their freedom to roam the world, not encumbering it, but making it a little more enjoyable for those who accept their invitation to wonder.
No doubt you might have expected a return to the WTP to see how the White-winged Terns were doing.
And not to disappoint, we took an hour or so to try and locate them and enjoy the bright sunshine. On two counts struck out. The sunshine disappeared and the Terns had other ideas about being made famous.
None the less it was pretty impressive to see and to also get a few frames from some occasional close passes.
There seemed to be only one bird in full Black Plumage and it didn’t really turn up until the sunlight had melted to the usual porridge. But. That means another chance on another day. Continue reading “On Black and White”→
So most months there is an event to turn up to. It’s such an intriguing way to organise an event, and great kudos for Graham and his organising group for keeping up the great places to visit. Always good for birds, photography and chatting, and of course food!
So, when I discovered the next one was to be at the Western Treatment Plant, it wasn’t too hard to tick the Yes we will attend box.
So, as the Banjo was wont to say, we went.
Also my long term mate and fellow conspirator and Flickr mate Mark S came over to make an excellent day of it. Graham, herein named, “He who always has brilliant sunshine for his events”, met us at the Caltex Servo at Werribee and had turned on the sunshine as requested.
28 keen folk sipped Gerry’s best coffee, ate raisin toast, and talked about the day’s opportunities. We took off toward Avalon, stopping long enough to get some good views, if only average photos of some Banded Plovers, then it was on to the T Section, and the inevitable wait by the Crake Pool, and out came the Australian Crake, right on time. No Brolga here, so off to the Paradise Road ponds for our little convoy.
Met a carful of helpful folk who said, “Down there somewhere we saw Brolga”, which unscrambled meant. On to the 145W outflow. A very co-operative Brown Falcon stopping us in our quest, and gave some great poses, and a fine fly off shot for those of us not too busy checking the camera settings. —Will I never never learn!!!! 😦
Then, we spotted the Brolga, (Singular in this case), and the usual dilemma, stay where we are for distant, safe views , or drive on a small distance and see if we can get closer. We drove. And the kind bird tolerated us, for a while, then gave a super fly by quite close. Too much fun.
We had a quiet photography time at 145W, and lunch, then it was on to Lake Borrie. My mates Neil and David turned up in the Prado,they were both out playing with new toys, A Canon 1D X and a Nikon D4. Ah, the joys of learning new equipment.
As we drove back the Brown Falcon had perched on the ‘Specimen Tree’ in Little River and we managed several great shots in the sunshine.
On toward the Bird-hide for some good views of Musk Duck, Great Crested Grebe and an obliging Swamp Harrier made the journey well worthwhile.
Then we took a quick detour toward the top end of Lake Borrie, and to my surprise and great delight—Picture if you will, a small child in a sweet-shop—I spotted some White-winged Terns hunting in the next pond. (They used to be called White-winged Black Terns, but like many things name changes are important.)
Not that I cared as a most remarkable all Black flanked bird tacked into view. It was in full breeding plumage, and has to be seen flashing over the water to be genuinely appreciated. By now the memory cards were filling up. And they were just Mine!!!!!
These birds are only at WTP a few weeks during the year, and mostly never in breeding black plumage. Also every other time I’ve seen them it’s been raining. See some other blogs on here.
A really top find, and a great way to end the day. A quick run up the highway. A refreshing cup of coffee and some good discussion on the finds of the day,- including a top shot of a Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater (Missed that one! ), and everybody back in their transportation and time for home.
Thanks again to Graham “He who always has brilliant sunshine for his events”, and the pleasure of his visitor from Thailand, for such a good relaxing day, and so much to see, and to all those intrepid Meetup-erers who ventured down, and enjoyed the day with us. Hope to see you all again down the track.
I’m no expert on terns, well to be honest, I’m like Winnie the Pooh, a bear with a small brain. So when it comes to id-ing them I’m probably not going to get it right all the time.
I’ve only ever come in contact with these terns once before. Was with a group of birdos looking at about 14 birds sitting on individual posts in far out in the water when one said, “Oh, that bird 4th from the left is White-winged Black Tern.” And then the ‘scopes came out and discussion ensued for the next 20 minutes or more, and to be honest, I couldn’t tell the difference between any of them.
And in the meantime, because that is the way of things, the birds have taken a new name. No longer Black, they are simply White-winged Terns.
It seems that there are two breeding areas, one in Europe…