Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Bread Run

Every other day, I do a 'bread run'. None of this pre-packaged bread for me, only the 'proper' stuff. So it was today, on a heavily overcast morning, with the hint of much needed rain, that I did my run. I always take my camera with me, and do a drive round the Bellerive waterfront, hoping for a possible photo op.. Nothing much about, even the usual gulls seemed absent, but I caught sight of a White-faced Heron, standing on the railing of the yacht club's pier. So out I get, and took a few shots, albeit in less than perfect conditions, but you have to take your opportunities. As I crept ever closer, I was suddenly aware of a commotion in the water beyond the jetty. A pod of around 20 Common Dolphin, obviously chasing fish, were passing, some only a few metres from the shore. I was a bit torn at this stage! Realising that I am rarely present at these dolphin moments, I opted to 'shoot' the dolphins, and ignore the heron. Well it soon became apparent that to take any meaningful shots would need better reflexes than I've got! Lots of shots of dorsal fins, not much else, save for a single shot of a dolphin leaping, taken by pure chance, as it was just beyond others that I was targetting! I, and a number of other bystanders, were given a great display, as the pod moved into Kangaroo Bay. I suspect their prey was probably Black-backed Salmon, but that's only an educated guess. In minutes they turned back into the Derwent River, still chasing fish, paralleling the shore for a few hundred metres and then out into deeper water. A great sight and a great adjunct to my 'bread run'.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Little Swanport Melee

Feeling in need of a field outing, I was somewhat frustrated by the forecast of rain for the Hobart area, with showers moving in from the West. So I opted for an early morning dash up the Eastcoast, which appeared likely to give me some chance of reasonable weather, albeit, only for a short while. On the road at sunrise, I arrived at the mouth of Little Swanport with some expectations, but as I surveyed the inlet from the boat ramp, apart from a solitary Great Egret, there wasn't much about. However, I was really looking in the wrong direction, because as I turned towards the inlet mouth, there, strung out across the entrance, was a good number of Australian Pelican and Great Cormorant, riding the substantial swell, and feasting on schools of fish. I rapidly drove off to the entrance, leapt out of the car, and started taking shots of the pelicans, realising as I did so, that the schools of fish were moving down the inlet and taking the birds with them. If only I had arrived just a little earlier--the story of my life! In about ten minutes there were only a few birds remaining, but a couple of Australasian Gannet, fishing just outside of the breakers, gave me some chance of getting a few shots, so I walked out to the headland and waited. As you
can see from the accompanying shots, I managed a few distant shots, including one in a dive, just about to hit the water. I watched the gannets closely as they fished around the bay, noting their fishing methods, particularly how they use their tail as a dive brake by depressing it, causing them to stall and slowing them down. A quick hover, followed by their spectacular dive and plunge--magnificent! I've watched as large flocks of them repeatedly plunge dive, sometimes from only a few metres above the surface, presumably when their prey is near the surface, or in shallow water. Neither of the 2 gannets in the bay came really close, as I'd hoped, but they were certainly still worth watching.
Back down the inlet, some of the pelicans and cormorants, now joined by Crested Terns and the odd Kelp and Pacific Gull, were fishing close to the boat ramp, so I made another quick drive to close on them. Most of the Great Cormorants were now drying out on the sandbanks, probably having had their fill of fish, leaving only an odd bird or two fishing, along with tens of Crested Terns and a few pelicans. It's always a somewhat frantic scene, as some of the hapless fish, in this case mainly Garfish, come up to the surface, giving the birds their chance of a feed. It's an all in melee, often only for a few minutes, before the fish are sighted elsewhere, causing another frantic chase. Whether caused by frustration or perhaps a reaction, I noted the confrontation photographed at lower left. A Great Cormorant surfaced close to the pelican, garfish in bill. This immediately caused the pelican to set off in pursuit of it. The pelican quickly overhauled the cormorant, landed on top of it, causing the cormorant to dive. The pelican failed to acquire the fish, but it did leave me wondering why it had bothered. Perhaps the schools of fish were in too deep water for the pelican to successfully catch them, or perhaps this is a quite normal occurrence.
I had only been at Little Swanport for about an hour or so, and by now the pelicans were fishing well down the inlet, in much shallower water, better suited to them, and the weather was closing in. Time to leave. A well worthwhile trip, my only regret was not arriving sooner. I stopped off briefly at Rostrevor Lagoon, near Triabunna, on my way back. The water level is very low--both Orford and Triabunna have water restrictions at the 'critical' level, and perhaps not surprisingly, the lagoon is a refuge for waterfowl, and there were some hundreds there. Of particular interest was the presence of 24 Blue-billed Duck and 17 Hardheads, both species uncommon in Tasmania, although Rostrevor Lagoon is one of the more reliable venues for seeing them.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Tasmanian & Brown Thornbills

I've been setting up a pbase site of bird photographs, during a recent bout of illness. While doing so, I happened to find a few similar shots, taken in similar lighting conditions, comparing two of what appears to be, among the more difficult Tasmanian birds to separate. I say appears to be, as I've noted a spat of reported sightings of Tasmanian Thornbills in areas and habitat that are not "usual"--no names, no pack drill! While I'd not like to say that they could never occur at these sites, they appear to be recorded by visitors to this state, which makes me 'uneasy'! I'm not setting myself up as an expert, merely hoping that the accompanying images will help separate two similar species. Tasmanians on the left, Browns on the right.
There appear to be a few obvious differences--easy when you have images and not looking at birds in the canopy or against the light. The Browns are much better marked on the breast, and they have noticeably larger bills. The undertail coverts are light brown in the Brown, and white in the Tasmanian--t
his has been one of my diagnostic points to look for, often very noticeable in the Tasmanian, as they are often seen 'fluffed ' out. I would be disinclined to use any colour differences you may note, as the vagaries of my image editing, and the differences of screen colour settings, will influence this.
So if you're looking at 'brown' thornbills in Tasmania, I suggest you go for a couple of the diagnostic points, to satisfy yourself of the species. In the main, the endemic Tasmanian Thornbill will be in wetter, more heavily forested areas, especially in the South East.
The Tasmanian Thornbill images were shot in the Wielangta Forest, and the Browns in the Peter Murrell Reserve.

NB.If you're interested in looking at the Tasmanian Bird images that I'm currently inputting, you may find them at , I will eventually put a link in. The site is still under construction.