Sunday, January 27, 2008

Cameo Performance..... Satin Flycatcher

On a recent overcast morning, I set off in the Meehan Range to look at the status of the waterhole. Last Summer, it dried out completely, and as conditions weren't particularly conducive for photography, it seemed a good opportunity to recce this spot, but I took the camera just in case! I always get that feeling of excitement as I approach the waterhole, mixed with apprehension. Will it or won't it have water in it, and as the approach is from below the small dam wall, it's not until the last moment that you know. Well, in the event, there was water, albeit obviously in need of replenishment soon.
This waterhole, is a magnet for birds, and this morning was no exception. The first bird I noticed was a female Satin Flycatcher, sallying forth over the water, before plopping down in it at a chosen spot and returning to a perch to preen. Shortly after that I was surrounded by Grey Fantails, many of them this year's youngsters, mostly hawking after the numerous small flying insects. I suspect that the presence of these insects also drew in the stars of the morning, Satin Flycatcher males. In general, the male flycatchers only occasionally visit, whereas the females are frequent visitors. I noted three males, and from previous experience here, expected a 'verbal' battle to commence. I was not disappointed, and this one lasted several minutes, during which they gave me the opportunity to take many shots, a few I've published here. It was quite a morning! Although I've witnessed these battles before, I hadn't noticed the extreme posture in which the calling bird elongates its body, as in the shots at left. I must say that they do get very worked up, so much so, that they often flew extremely close to me, I'm talking centimetres, as they pursue one another. It's unfortunate that you can't hear their rasping calls, which is very much part of the display. As many would know, one of the habits of these birds, is the vibrating of the tail whilst perched, and in many of my shots, the tail is a blur, due to the slow shutter speeds needed in the overcast conditions. I had a quiet chuckle at the lower shot, in which the bird is giving a passable impression of a woodpecker.
I had a great morning, and I hope you'll get some enjoyment from the images too. (I suggest clicking on the images to enlarge them, may help).

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Time of Plenty......Musk Lorikeets

If you've ever aspired to photographing birds, you could do worse than try your hand at photographing the many Musk Lorikeets. At the moment, at least in my suburb (Bellerive), they're feasting on the profusely flowering eucalyptus ficifolia, a native tree of Western Australia, and widely grown in gardens and parks. From a photographer's perspective, these gums have one great advantage, they have large showy flowers carried on the outer branches. This causes the lorikeets to feed in, relatively speaking, full view. Close to my abode, there must be in excess of 20 of these trees, and the local flocks of lorikeets, totalling around a hundred or more birds, make full use of them.
I've often wondered where the local muskies breed, as I've found no obvious signs of nesting or young birds. There are a few birds that lack the red colouring on the bill, and they are probably immature birds, but I haven't noted any obviously juvenile birds.
As you watch the feeding flocks, it soon becomes clear that it's largely made up of pairs. Squabbles frequently break out between pairs if they encroach one another's 'space', which, together with the constant, screeching, contact calls, results in a clamorous racket. Occasionally, one of a pair, I'm presuming the male, will splay its tail at an neighbour, in what I suspect is a 'keep off the grass' warning, this may be followed by a chase.
The tree that I photographed these birds in, is within a few feet of a school classroom, so it's probably just as well that the flowering will be just about over, by the time the local pupils return from the Summer break.
As I stood by this tree, the muskies eventually ventured to within a few metres of me, feeding with indecent haste, often inverted, making difficult 'targets'.` Despite photographing them several times in recent years, I still delight in this annual event.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Gould's Lagoon "Chicks"

This morning,I tried yet again, to get some meaningful shots of the Little Grassbirds at Gould's Lagoon. I had noticed that at the moment, there are good numbers here, largely boosted by this year's youngsters. They're really frustrating birds to see, let alone photograph, and this morning's outing was nothing different. They were coming out to feed on a strip of newly exposed mud, which gave me some hope. But it was while I was concentrating on the Grassbirds, that I noticed out of the corner of my eye, a movement among the reeds to my right. On closer inspection, I could see that it was a very dark, very young chick, which after briefly looking at me, scampered back into the reed bed. I decided, wrongly as it turned out, that it was probably a newly hatched Purple Swamphen chick, a common bird here. The size should have been a giveaway! Back to the Grassbirds. Ten minutes or more later, it reappeared, this time with a parent--an Australian Crake. What a great surprise! For the next quarter of an hour, the adult and two, or possibly three, chicks fed around the margins of the swamp, never far from the saf
ety of the reed bed. The chicks foraged for themselves, but were quick to accept food offered by the adult. Passing vehicles often caused them to scurry back to cover, but they were equally quick to re-emerge. However, the excitement wasn't quite over yet. As they continued to feed, they were coming ever closer. Eventually, the adult walked into the very small patch of reeds that I was in.(I was going to say "concealed in", but in fact I was standing up, head and shoulders above the reeds). Feeding as it passed among the reed stems until no more than a foot away, followed later by one of the youngsters. Great stuff! (absolutely useless for photography, but a great experience). After feeding for five or so minutes, they walked off down a narrow passageway in the reeds and disappeared from sight. As you can see, I managed a few shots, which, more than anything, are a personal record of a memorable encounter. [There are few Australian Crake breeding records for Tasmania]

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Resourceful Fairy-Wrens

I persuaded the family to make a small detour to Pirates Bay at Eaglehawk Neck, while on a recent outing to the Tasman Peninsula. As there was a strong, cool, northerly wind blowing, I was hopeful of perhaps seeing some interesting seabirds from the lookout. In the event we saw 20 or more Australasian Gannets, fishing well offshore, and a constant procession of Black-faced Cormorants, probably from their nearby breeding place on the Hippolytes, but little else. Next, wandering down to the jetty, we were confronted by the full force of the northerly and took shelter behind the Tuna club building. Two passing Oystercatchers caught my eye, one a Sooty, the other a Pied. The Sooty alighted among the nearby rocks, and I followed, hoping for a "photo-op". As I did so, a male Superb Fairy-wren passed me, battling into the headwind, to land behind the bull kelp covering the beach. I watched for a while, mainly to see what had brought it out of the nearby cover, to a non-typical fairy-wren habitat. I soon realised that it was very actively chasing small flying insects, and soon had a bill full. It was joined briefly by a female, before flying off into the scrub, returning shortly afterwards. Obviously, it was feeding nestlings. Trying to photograph it feeding among the kelp, proved challenging, with an active bird and a strong wind, but, aided by the bird being inured to the presence of humans, I managed a few shots. I briefly turned my attention to photographing the Sooty Oystercatcher feeding among the rocks, before deciding that it was time to pay more attention to my family's needs! Something, at times, I am apt to overlook.