Friday, September 26, 2008

Right Whale and More

The weather hasn't been that conducive for birding this week, and I've had a couple of outings cut short by high winds and rain squalls. But on Tuesday afternoon, I noticed a Cessna 172 from the local aero club, circling the bay near my residence, and being "nosey" by nature, I drove to a nearby lookout to see what they were looking at. I was fortunate to find that I wasn't the only curious local, and quickly established that the centre of attraction was a Right Whale. Not that I immediately saw it, but I was given a blow by blow account of what I would have seen, if only I'd been there a little earlier! From their description, I felt I'd have an evens chance of seeing it, and after a few 'false' starts, the much barnacled whale emerged briefly, not far offshore from my vantage point, before disappearing again. It wasn't exactly the most energetic whale I've ever seen, as it oh so slowly made its way across the bay, just occasionally surfacing. But they are awesome creatures, this one somewhere in the region of 14 metres or more in length, and well worth the wait. The locals drove off shortly afterwards, but I waited in the hope that I might get better views (and photographs), deciding to do a bit of birding while I waited. Scanning down the Derwent River, I could see small groups of Australasian Gannets, totalling about 20, strung out across the water a kilometre or more away. Nearer, there were Little Pied and Black-faced Cormorants, and I could hear the yelps of Little Penguins, but never did spot them. At one stage, a group of cormorants flew round the whale, I'm not sure whether it was out of idle curiosity or the chance of a feed, but they only stayed briefly. A few Crested Terns passed the headland, obviously searching the water for food, before one of them plunge dived. This had an immediate impact on the gannets, because within no time they had joined the terns and began diving headlong into the fray. The speed of their reaction to the diving tern was quite amazing. I guess sitting on the water waiting for others to find the location of food, is a good strategy and uses a whole lot less energy. Within a few minutes the flurry of activity was over, and I was left wondering whether to stay, or give it away. At this point, I spotted the first of what proved to be a procession of birds, right in front of me. No doubt they'd been there all the time, but I was too busy casting my eye over the bay to notice. Only a few metres in front of me, was one of a number of weather beaten she oaks (casuarinas), growing out of the side of the cliff face below the lookout. I was effectively looking into the crowns of these small trees, and perhaps it was this that gave the birds a false impression of security. The first bird I noticed was the male Crescent Honeyeater (at left), the bad news was, I'd put the camera in the car to protect it from the occasional light showers. But I needn't have worried, it stayed put, preening itself, while I retrieved my camera and returned. In the next 20 minutes, I photographed, what I think is probably its mate (above right), a pair of Spotted Pardalote, the Little Wattlebird, whose territory I was almost certainly in (bottom right), several Silvereyes and a Magpie. I also had fleeting glimpses of a pair of Yellow Wattlebird, chasing the Spotted Pardalote at high speed through the trees. The only downside to all this, was the Magpie. Although magpies are common in the vicinity, they rarely venture out to this bluff. While photographing it, I realised that it had strands of nylon fishing line round its feet, which it would occasionally peck at. It seemed to be able to feed adequately, but no doubt it had effectively been isolated from its family group, and I did have a feeling of impotency in not being able to free it.
I did see the whale again, albeit several hundred metres away, and looking more like a floating tree trunk! But I shouldn't complain, it's not everyday that I see a whale


Mosura said...

Sounds like you had a whale of a time and some great birds to boot.

Alouk said...

Lucky Lucky you! Sounds like a lovely accidental trip!

mick said...

A very good morning's observation! Especially the whale. The photo of the male Crescent Honeyeater is especially nice.

Anonymous said...

Lovely pictures of male Crescent Honeyeater and little Wattle Bird - looks like you had good light levels to capture the finer detail.
Magpies unfortunately have not yet settled back in the Cygnet/Nicholls Rivulet area (locals say that the population was wiped out by some nasty orchard sprays decades ago). I've observed them regularly at Cradoc, Snug & Woodbridge.

BirdingTas said...

Hi Mosura, Louisa and Mick,
You've got to be lucky sometimes, it balances out the days that, frustratingly, nothing seems to go right. When I ponder on the times that I've tried to photograph Crescents in particular, and failed, it's hard to believe how easy it was to photograph them on this occasion. I actually ended up with a fair number of usable shots. That's the ups and downs of birding. Would we want it any other way?

BirdingTas said...

Hi Penny,
The light was very variable, with good light in between passing squally showers. Typical Tassie spring weather--not enough rain though. The "quality" of light is an important ingredient in getting shots that "make it", and I prefer the early morning light, but on this occasion, it ended up with late afternoon light for a change! Must try that more often.

Denis Wilson said...

I would have been thrilled to bits to see a whale as close as that one way.
Great shot of the Crescent stretching his wing and tail.

BirdingTas said...

Hi Denis,
I think I'm guilty of chauvinism.I let my 'joy' of getting shots of the birds, overwhelm the whale sighting! It was great to see the whale, and from only 100 metres or so, and from land. That should have been enough good luck for anyone. I'm obviously not easily satisfied.