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.
Astute reader that you are, and having followed along from the beginning of this blog, will recall that I originally all those years back set it up to document the comings and goings of Red-capped Robins at Woodlands Historic Park.
As the years have gone, things have changed, and among them of course, our move away from the area.
So when we travel back that way we are more or less tourists.
Where once we had a fine almost family familiarity with a number of Red-capped Robin pairs, and were as familiar with each of their territories as they were, today we are just interlopers in their front yard.
Our morning at Eynesbury in the sunshine had us out and about, and we decided that a fine Chicken Focaccia and a Coffee a Regina’s at Greenvale was the go
What we didn’t off course expect was the Sunday Traffic!
Most Sundays, would see us out early and then back late in the day, this missing the mayhem that is sunday melbourne traffic.
And why is it that everybody who wanted to go very slowly was in the same lane I was in? And why is that apparently when you drive that slowly the indicators on the car no longer work? and so you have to change lane without warning. Or worse. Slow down, even further, and then swing wide to turn either left or right making not only me, but the car in the next lane all take evasive action. Right into my lane!
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.
Gallery: Click to see full size.
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.
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.
Female Scarlet Robin
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.
Wedge-tailed Eagle taking its pet Whistling Kites for an early morning flight.
Female Flame Robin
Flame Robin Male
EE Enjoys Denonshire Tea at the launch at Woodlands Historic Homestead.
BirdLife runs a number of Beginners days throughout the year, and Hazel and Alan do a super job of finding the right places to explore and go out of their way to make sure that beginners get the best looks at the various birds found on each day out.
So when the Woodlands Historic Park Beginners day came along we were very happy to go along and catch up with friends and to share just a little of our experiences in the park. It’s also a wonderful opportunity to see the park through a different set of eyes. And some 40 pairs of eyes is always going to see so much more than just my poor old eyesight straining through the bushes.
As the weather has been anything but predictable of late, we were also pleased to see some open blue sky as we drove out toward the park, and as the day went on, the warmth came on well. Our flickr friend, Eleanor turned up and that made the day a little bit special.
The first part of the day featured a walk around the upper ends of the Moonee Ponds Creek, which was actually carrying a flow of water following the recent rains. The creek here suffers from losing input water because of the large reservoir at Greenvale, but none the less it still drains from a long way up toward the north. It also is an especially steep fall from the north side of the park to the more southern areas, so the creek dries out through the park very quickly.
A number of small weirs and dams have been used across the creek over the years, and the Chaffey Brothers, built a substantial weir and bridge near the homestead at one stage. But, on a heavy flood year, the foundations gave way and the weir was never repaired.
At first our outward journey seemed a little slow for birds, but eventually things began to pickup, with a Crested Shriktite being a major find, some thornbills, and Galahs and a pair of Eastern Rosellas which let the photographers gain some excellent portraits. A Brown Falcon took to the air on our approach into the open farmland areas, and the usual Sulphur-crested Cockatoos continued to screech at our presence.
We walked around the homestead and then headed back on a middle track above the river, and some spotted a Scarlet Robin. And after much investigation we were able to get quite close to the female and she gave lovely views for those who might not often have the acquaintance of such a fine looking lady.
Lunch time, and bird count and we had 37 species to our list.
On to the BackPaddock area. Mostly to look for Robins.
A trip around the dam area didn’t do much for the enthusiasm, and I managed to add some Brown-headed Honeyeaters, and more Shriketits. A Whistling Kite and a Wedgetailed Eagle made up for small numbers else where. Despite EE and I looking in some of the places that have been quite profitable of late, the robins were not in a cooperative mood.
The group moved toward the BackPaddock, and I spotted a male Red-capped Robin on the inside of the fence, and the group moved to have a look. Eventually we found him, and his lady, and also a few Flame Robins. The male Red-capped Robin performed so wonderfully close to many of the group and hunted quite close to us on the ground. Nice way to end the day.
Thanks to Alan and Hazel and their helpers for such a good day out, and lovely warm weather to add to the warmth of the company.
One of the highlights of Woodlands Historic Park is a stand of Grey Box Forest that is on a ridge running from Gellibrand Hill. Probably, once in older times the Grey Box was a predominate stand in the area. The Grey Box on the ridge line has survived, again, probably because the area would be difficult to cultivate.
Running along the ridge is pipeline for the nearby airport so I’ve named the ridge. Pipeline Ridge. Over the years, the open forest has provided a grand home, and a fine stop over point for Red-capped, Scarlet and Flame Robins. One season I came into a clearing on Ridge and there among the great Grey Box was at least 70 robins at work on the moss-beds in the clearing.
I love Grey Box Forest. I’ve said it before, but I think I have Grey Box sap in my veins.
These wonderful trees are survivors. No heavy rainfall areas for them. A low rain fall, and a gritty stony shallow earth, and they are at home. And so one of the great things I love about Grey Box is their perseverance and their steadfastness and their survival against the odds.
The average Grey Box is quite slow-growing, it earns it durable title over many long years.
It makes a tall upright and generally “Y” shaped spread. In fact up on Pipeline is an old downed warrior that I’ve used as a sit spot, and I first called it the “Y Tree” before I realised that was the general shape of Grey Box.
The bark is a grey (funny about that), fine and flaky. Thinner branches are smooth.
As it grows it develops, as do many eucalypts holes that become home or nesting locations for a variety of birds. The forest area also developes a finer understory, that can be very open, as it is on Pipeline or quite dense as in a few locations in the Eynesbury Grey Box forest.
The cool understory make fine homes for both Black Swamp Wallabies, and Eastern Grey Kangaroos. When I was a little bloke the Kangaroos were called Forrester. Which I figured was a typographical mistake and what was meant was Forest. And so for a long time in my youth the were “Forest Kangaroos”. Ahhh!!!
When the bandicoot program was established at Woodlands a few years back the Predator-free fence was put in place and cut the territory of the only Black Swamp wallabies in half. I’ve often wondered how the ones that ended up on the outside of the fence fared against the foxes and feral dogs in the area. I’ve no idea either how many were cut off on the inside, and try as I might I’ve only been able to locate two that I can recognise. There might well be more, as one pair of eyes can only see so much.
Understory in our wonderful Grey Box includes a lot of layover space for the Eastern Greys, and they do a fine job of keeping some areas quite scrub free, and at the same time contribute a fair amount of droppings.
I have a theory, and no budget to prove it, that the composting of the droppings and leave litter promotes the growth of a small saltbush type plant that has a bright red tiny berry. I theorise that the tiny berry is food for some insects that the Robins consume and thus collect carotene.
The red of the Robins comes from a class of pigments called carotenoids. Carotenoids are produced by plants, and are acquired by eating plants or by eating something that has eaten a plant.
For several years at the beginning of the bandicoot project in the Back Paddock at Woodlands, the Kangaroos were removed. (They eat grass, that is the home of the endangered bandicoots. No grass, no home, no bandicoots).
But the number of layover areas, and the resultant saltbush deteriorated over the next few years, and the Robin numbers that we saw decreased. And at the moment, I believe, (well I’m allowed a theory or two), that as the plant and the carotene insects diminished, so did the resident Red-capped Robins. And the Flame and Scarlet Robins moved on to other areas for winter — some not too far as there a seriously large mobs of the Forresters down along the Moonee Ponds Creek outside the predator-fence.
But the average Eastern Grey Kangaroo female is a pretty persistent little producer, and her male companions are also very capable at their jobs and between them there has been a growing population of Kangaroos in the Feral-free area. Which means perhaps the old layover areas may get a rebirth too.
Endurance is a work that springs to mind when you stand under a majestic and venerable Grey Box. Its branches wide-spread and supporting a varied habitat around it.
My Tai Chi master says” Endurance, glasshooper, is not in context of a temporarily demanding activity. Another facet of endurance is that of persevering over an extended period of time. Patiently persisting as long as it takes to reach the goal.
Patiently enduring the Grey Box forest welcomes our admiration.
I love Grey Box. It has so much to share, and it has so much to teach.
Thought I’d share some of the wonder of the forest over the years. All images made on or near Pipeline Ridge
Somethings we do as photographers, and bird photographers in particular, seems to rival climbing Mt Everest.
One of those challenges for me is the Rufous Fantail.
Now those who have these amazing birds in their backyard are going to find the next bit of ramble, well somewhat indifferent, if not bordering on the laughable.
But. The Rufous Fantail is not a regular, nor a resident bird in my area. In fact over 8 or more years at Woodlands Historic Park, I’ve only seen them on three separate seasons. And then only for a few days, as they either fly South, for their summer location or then North for their Winter escape. And off course I have to be in the forest when they are there, and as there is no prior warning, and no set pattern of location, climbing Everest seems to be a fair comparison.
“It’s a lovely sunny day. Let’s go visit Ambrose,” said she. So EE and I headed up the freeway, parked and then walked in to the area where this amiable bird has been the past few seasons.
Long term reader(s) may recall that last season the area had been cleaned up by the local LandCare(?) group and I was a bit unsure if Ambrose would bother. And after about an hour or so of fruitless searching I was well on the way to convinced. Then, way off on a corner area of the paddock, a familiar little harmonica call echoed, and I went to look.
And there he was.
Waved a wing at me— in Hello— and was gone. More waiting and a fine cuppa of Earl of Grey, and he made one more quick appearance, but didn’t seem to be photographically inclined today. But at least we’d made contact.
“How about lunch at Greenvale, and then we can go on to Woodlands Park in the afternoon,” says She. EE is pretty good on those ideas. So we went.
Woodlands, as the long long term reader will (or at least might) recall is the birthplace of my bird photography. I am convinced that Grey Box sap runs in my veins and in a few minutes of walking down the the old “Dog Track”, I was feeling a weight lifting.
I like Grey Box Forest.:
No TV commercials with people who have to “YELL” to get my attention.
No loud music with people who have to “YELL” to sing a song.
No Dodgey commercials that “YELL” at me to buy some piece of useless rubbish or other.
No Lines at the Supermarket
No pushing and shoving to get a coffee
No futile endless running about chasing something of no particular value.
I like Grey Box Forest.
We found some Flame Robins down by the old dam area, and to our mutual surprise a Pink Robin female.
I was photographing some ‘log-dancing’ between two territorial Red-capped Robin males, when a ginger/gold/rufous/orange flash quite literally sped by my ear.
A Rufous Fantial. First one I’d seen in years. Move over Sir Edmund Hilary, and Chris Bonington. This is serious business.
The Rufous, as pointed out at the beginning is a very infrequent visitor. It also has the most beautiful orange tail. A photo of that is like planting a flag on Mt Everest. One of the most gorgeous examples of it was taken may years ago by an expert bushman. (he has also featured here before)
Alan (Curley) Hartup made a wonderful shot with a beaten up Mamyia C22 and a roll of filum. Yes, filum. It was exhibited and won Curley many well deserved awards and accolades. Look back and you’ll find a the shot featured on the Hartup Exhibtion flyer and for more on Curley see here.
One thing I learned about photographing this bird. It is fast. So fast in fact that it makes the average Grey Fantail seem glacial. And your average Grey Fantail is no slacker in either the speed or irrational flying behaviour departments.
“Perhaps, I should practice more on Grey Fantails,’ says EE. “N0,” says I kindly, and wisely. “The Grey Fantail isn’t in the same speed league.
So we followed the bird, and eventually managed a few close shots.
I struggled to get to the peak. Just couldn’t get the flag in.
Astute reader that you are, you’ll recall several times I’ve said that I think I have Grey Box sap flowing in my veins.
We had to motor to the northern subs today for medical things, so it was not a big ask to travel that little bit further to Woodlands Historic Park. Haven’t been there in many a long day, and now we are pretty much in the one day tourist category.
The wind was strong, the weather hot, and it didn’t look all the promising. Till. We found “Petite”, and again Astute reader that you are, you’ll remember, in some detail I hope 🙂 that she is a very charming if very small Red-capped Robin. What was more exciting was that she had two juveniles she was attending. Clever girl, small though she is, she must have started early in the season and all things worked to her favour and the gene pool ends up the winner.
I’ve not worked with this bird very much so would have expected her to be quite wary. And she was. Flying further away and taking the young with her.
Yet after about 20 minutes or so, she worked out that I meant no harm, and that I wouldn’t invade her space with the young and then it all changed. She bought them back to the bushes near us, and was happy to feed around me. Hunting quite close to me on the ground and encouraging the young to do the same. Awesome.
Her young are well on the wing, and yet are still masterly marked to keep them safe. The little grey chevrons make a perfect match to the Grey Box scrub.
Also those who have been brave enough to follow along on Flickr might have noted a slight change in direction for me at the moment. Mostly I am wrestling with the exploration of the craft and the process of both bird photography and my expression of that.
Found this piece suitable for today.
There are moments in our lives there are moments in a day, when we seem to see beyond the usual–become clairvoyant. We reach them then into reality. Such are the moments of our greatest happiness. Such are the moments of our greatest wisdom. It is the rare few who able to continue in the experience and find expression for it. Robert Henri – The Art Spirit
Bet you thought you’d never see that head line again ah?
We needed to go to the Melbourne Airport. For the geographically embarrassed that is about ohhh? 15 mins from Woodlands. So.
Why don’t we leave early, have a look at the Red-caps and then go to said airport?
Which was pretty amazing as we met Nina out there and she had had a good morning seeing among other things a Fantail Cuckoo. The carpark near the cemetery was abuzz with Thornbills and so many Grey Fantails. So after farewelling Nina, we set off for Red-cap country.
And we found a couple of female birds quite quickly, but no male. Then a couple of Rufous Whistler females seemed to be having a tiff over a male, and he happily responded with his usual “Echong” call. All very nice.
Enter stage right a Shining Bronze Cuckoo, and things were looking up.
The rain came. As come it must. By then we’d ventured into the (in)famous Backpaddock, only to discover its still a quiet place for birds.
More time with the Red-caps, and I began to wonder if one of them at least might be the previous season juvenile having just moulted in as she has a very tiny red cap.
By now, the rain was winning and the coffee shoppee at Greenvale was inviting, then off to the birdless airport we adjourned.
I used that heading a couple of years back to announce the arrival in the Woodlands Backpaddock of a family group of Flame Robins with three males that hunted closely together. They have been over the past 4 or 5 years very consistent in their wintering over at Woodlands.
So much so that I’ve named them collectively, “The Three Brothers”
Well, they are are back. Roll the Thin Lizzy, Boys are Back in Town, sound track. (Play it loud).
We passed through the hallowed gates today and within about 5 minutes had located a fast moving flock. Perhaps 8-10 birds, a good number of Thornbills, and a Golden Whistler pair, and the usual fantails and wagtail outriders.
Here is Mr Red-slash. He has a particularly long red bib, goes much further up his neckline that normal.
Not the best image I’ve ever made of him, but given the degree of difficulty I’m pretty happy. More to follow I expect.
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…
With the evening sun rapidly taking away the glorious light from the forest, I wandered over to see what was happening with Karen and Jimmy and their offspring.
With some help of general arm waving from EE, I soon located first one of the parents, and then where the little dude was holed up.
Trying ever so hard not to get to close, and yet at the same time get a reasonable view, I sat behind some small trees and waited.
And suddenly things took a turn. Both Karen and Jimmy came down to the small bird and called in a most anxious and scolding call. Highly vocal and active they were both trying to get the young one on the move. I’d not seen them react like with me before, and wondered what I’d done that had bought on such nervous activity.
Casting around, I found the cause, as not only were the Robins in full cry, but so was every Wagtail, Woodswallow and Grey Shrike-thrush.
Like all good dramas, there was indeed a culprit. A fox had wandered along the kangaroo tracks seeking no doubt an evening meal. The birds were in full cry against it, the wagtails making a rush, and the Robins trying to get their young one to higher ground. No mean feat when it doesn’t have any flight capability, and no sense of direction and no understanding of navigation.
In the end they moved it in my direction! So I had a few grams of brown and gold feathers jumping along sticks, bark and leaves in my general area. Which, above all things gave me some lovely views of the little bird in the rapidly diminishing sunlight. And I pondered later that perhaps they saw me as a protection from said sly fox. (well its nice to dream dreams ah?)
I stood up in the end, which gave the fox a start, and then I moved toward it, and soon it was a brown blur in the distance, by the time I’d returned the young one was being encouraged to find its way up some low branches for the evening.
Now the fox would have made such short work of the little brown and gold feathers that it reminded me of the story of the Gingerbread man, and the fox tossing him in the air and “Snip Snap, went the old fox and he ate the Gingerbread Man all up”.
So I decided that “Ginger” was a good name for the little dude and that it can indeed grow up to fly away as fast as it can.