My friend Nina was down at the WTP last week.
She sent me a note of her adventures, and has kindly allowed me to share them here.
In a galaxy far, far, far, far, away, in another time, Nina and I both worked for a large multi-national. Her love of the environment and my natural history photography have kind of kept us in touch.
All the photos, words and story are Nina’s. Obviously copyright, and intellectual property rights belong to her and should be honoured.
Here is what she sent me.
I had an extraordinary experience at the WTP with friends last Friday.
Where ever we went, we kept running into Brolgas.
On Kirks Point track we watched some Brolgas playing with a tennis ball for more than an hour. At first I thought they were trying to eat it, but after a while I realised they were just playing. One would drop it and the next one >would pick it up. They would also pass it to each other. I have many blurry photos because I was shaking with excitement. The memories of thisclose encounter will be with me for ever.
The images are linked to a larger version so just double click to see. Be Amazed!
If you would like to contact Nina drop me a note and I’ll pass on the details.
For those new readers, Studio Werkz, was the proposed name of a ‘Studio Alliance”, by a group of photographers ever-so-long ago. I’ve blogged here about the formation and dissolution, (all in 24hours), so won’t belabour here.
However everytime I get the chance to make a portrait of a bird, I find myself pondering why studio offers so many opportunities to bring out the character of the subject.
It is about lighting, it is about backdrop and it is about the magic moment when the subject no longer is “having a portrait taken”, but allows an insight into their life. A sparkle in the eye, a wry grin, leaning forward, turning the body everso slightly, and there is the magic moment.
It’s like as one of my early mentors would say, “Like eavesdropping on a special moment. Developing a real sensitivity for a feeling that says so much. The lens, the camera, the lighting all are forgotten, it is the reaction that speaks visually.”
On my very first ever trip to the Western Treatment Plant many years back, I’d been travelling about the Plant with a very experienced birdo who graciously gave me a wonderful introduction to the area—so much so that I registered for access the following morning.
However, I hadn’t managed to achieve any significant pictures during our day, as we had little time to work with the birds.
After I picked up my car and was driving along 29 Mile Road on the way home, I spied this Brown Falcon sitting on the post in the late evening sunshine. Hesitantly I parked, and eased out of the vehicle, 500mm lens and beanbag.
Would Brown stay?
Now the falcons in the area are pretty used to vehicles speeding past, or even stopping, and have at least a passing tolerance for the human condition. Although what they really think of us is debatable. Three things they they do give credit for, are lovely well spaced perching spaces, mice and rabbits.
And so I began to move about to get the best light, angle, and backdrop. And for a brief moment it took me all in.
That was the going home shot.
Not more than a minute later, a vehicle approached and Brown felt the pressure and sniffing a light breeze turned and was gone.
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”.
When out and about at the Western Treatment Plant, often I’m asked, “What are you looking at/photographing”.
Which is an interesting question in an area of such a multiplicity of bird species.
Usually the question is only an introduction to a more meaningful question. “Have you spotted something I should look at, or have you located my target bird for the day”.
Not always, but often times the question comes after one or two fourwheel drives have arrived at great speed, like the devil hisself was after them. Wind down window, “What have you seen…”
Or after having driven past where I was sitting several times, curiosity overcomes and the “What have you seen…” is often asked.
The second part of the question really is, “Have you seen the bittern, or pehaps the plentiful pec sandpipers, or maybe even the long-toed stint, or the black-winged bluetailed rock-eater.” As surely its been mentioned on spaceblock or elist, or someone’s text message.
So I generally respond, “Striated Fieldwrens”. Oh, -quickly checks bird list, no don’t need one, Safari of vehicles disappears in proverbial cloud of dust.
Or, “Have you seen any?”, to which usually, truthfully, I can say, “Oh, not yet, but I’ve only been waiting thirty minutes so far”, Eyes glaze over, window winds up, dust indicates the vehicle has moved on.
Now to be fair, not every encounter is like that. Often good birding discussions take place and the cloud of departing dust is tolerable.
However on a fine sunny evening as we were negotiating some areas of said Treatment Plant, EE and I saw on a number of occasions, Straited Fieldwrens. We saw more in one afternoon than in the past three years.
And they were all out, and about, and calling, and displaying. Easy to approach, great light, in the open. Photography doesn’t get any easier.
Enjoy. We did.
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.
If you feel history is repeating itself, well done. It is.
Brown Falcon are very active at the Treatment Plant at the moment, as it seems are snakes in the close of the warm weather.
This bird didn’t fool me. I knew it had intentions. That it only moved one or two fence posts at a time was the first clue. When a vehicle drove down the road past EE and I, and then past Brown, and it didn’t even flinch, I knew.
Settle in for a long wait. My first frame of the encounter was shot a 1:53pm. The last one 2:42pm. And the bird was still in residence at that stage.
Here’s a summary and then we’ll let the images tell the story.
We noted the Falcon on the fence as we drove down. It was not in a hurry to move, and it was apparent that in spite of its seeming casualness, it was hard at work. I’ve written before that I believe Browns map everything only move when its to their advantage.
It flew along the road, and then walked into the grass. At first I missed the movement. But Brown had calculated the snake would move out into the open. Ha! Not this one. Brown reacted but the blanket weed is much too thick. Advantage Snake.
Brown considered a new plan from a small hillock nearby. And that is where there time went. Twenty minutes of more. Then for no apparent reason the bird moved to a higher roadside sign. And I knew an attack was in play.
It went down behind the small hillock, and we lost sight, but we lost no time in getting up the road to see if we could get a look.
Yes. There it was mantled, wings spread out. Motionless. At the right time, the head moved and it was all over.
The next few minutes were dealing with the death throes of the snake, and it eventually got a tail twisted over the Falcon’s wings.
After gorging itself it tried to move the snake out into the open, but for some reason, the snake had twisted itself into the grass. Pretty much exhausted from all the effort, the bird took a break, then flew on to the roadside fence. And sat.
After a few minutes it began to preen, and we decided to move on.
I collected the vehicle from down the road, and we drove by the fence, and normally a bird would take to the air. Not this bird, it was either satisfied we meant no harm, exhausted, or just was not going to give up its ground for its meal.
Which ever, EE got an eye to eye encounter as we went past about arms-length from the bird.
None of these are cropped as they show both the action, the closeness, and the area of the action. For those that are guessing, I think the
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.
A search on the Bureau of Meteorology website, has quite a bit of info on the lack of rain in mid of Australia. See here http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/drought/
At the bottom of the page is a couple of graphs that begin to put it all in perspective.
And as it dries out, it seems, that quite a number of birds are moving south. Or toward the eastern coast.
And we’ve seen quite a change in the numbers of smaller falcons and kites in our area. In the space of a 10 minute drive the other day we saw 14 Nankeen Kestrel.
So we took a trip to the Western Treatment Plant on a sunny morning.
Black-shouldered Kites Growing up. October 10, 2017
Waiting is not Patience. Patience is about the moment,
an intersection of the strongest story with the right light,
the best timing and an awareness of the around.
Waiting makes us pay attention. David Duchemin
You’re Welcome Here.
We’ve been tracking a clutch of Black-shouldered Kites down on the 29 Mile Road at the Western Treatment Plant. The young have been on the wing now for over two months, and are now the expert hunters. They are just moulting out the last of their juvenile ginger and grey feathers and the eye is taking on the rich ruby colour of adult-hood.
The best perches in the area are along the roadside, the few trees and fenceposts and man-made solar panels and the like. And because of their consummate skill in the air, and the vast quantity of mice in the area, the young kites seem quite oblivious to human presence.
So sometimes it’s possible to get right into the world of the hunting birds—not as a long distance observer—in a hurry—but to take the time the learn about the birds, their preferences for hunting areas and their choice of spots to enjoy their successes.
I’ve been reading and following photographer David DuChemin and his approach to teaching a photographic vision. He has a series called Vision is Better. He talks about patience, waiting, the involvement in the around and being able to identify with the subject to really tell their story. On one such video he travels to British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest to photograph the Spirit Bears – a white variation of the black bear. His video is shot from a short kayak trip, and I think its possible to really get both his excitement of the area, and his immersion in the moment, (if you will allow the pun).
“the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way”
The weather map showed a large high stalled over us for most of the day. “Let’s do an evening at the Western Treatment Plant”, saith, I. “We could take down the picnic, and have a fine old evening watching the sunset over the bay, and maybe photograph a few birds, and well, just enjoy the evening sea breeze. What thinkest thou?”.
A call to Mr An Onymous, and the famed, and legendary “Blackmobile” was on the highway loaded with his fine repast. EE and I decided on a Peri-Peri Chicken Salad, and a round of Earl of Grey.
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.
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.
Came upon a small band of Banded Stilts and Red-necked Avocets the other morning.
We had been looking for some locations for subjects for my book on “How to Sneak Up on a Swamp Harrier”. Needless to say the next chapter or two will for the short term be blank pages.
On one pond we happened in the best of traditions on a flock of Banded Stilts, and some companions.
So we settle down for about an hour or so. While we were enjoying the birds, the sunshine and a cuppa, we were joined for a short while by a hunting party of Black Kite and a Black Falcon. We counted around 25 Black Kites and there were plenty spiralling down from a great height that we didn’t count any more.
Sort of added that sparkle to the day.
Tight formation to fool the Black Falcon
Spot the odd one out. Red-necked Avocet looking for a landing space.
Settling in to land
The arrival of the Black Falcon kept everyone on their toes—or wings
Doesn’t seem to have a lot of friends, the Black Falcon.
Ready Set Go. I’ll race you to the end of the pool.