Sunday, May 22, 2011

Roadkill Feast for Brown Falcon

Hoping that the low cloud would eventually lift, I had delayed my departure for a morning's birding to the South Arm area. The commuter traffic had long gone and I was just cruising, cursing yet another heavily overcast day that was not very conducive for photography. I passed a Brown Falcon feeding on the carcass of a freshly roadkilled rabbit, a not that unusual occurrence, but most likely to occur mid winter when conditions are harsher. I slowed, but drove on, as from my experience stopping close to any bird alongside of the road is a recipe for the bird to rapidly depart. A kilometre on, I changed my mind (also a not unusual occurrence!).

Two U-turns later, I slowed to a crawl, worrying about how close I dare get. Fortunately there was a shallow and wide drain on my side of the road, and I headed down and stopped. The falcon eyed me off, but kept feeding. I took a few distant shots, but realised I needed to get closer. Gingerly, keeping my eye on the 'brownie', I edged closer. It kept on feeding. Still virtually 2 road widths away, I stopped. I watched the falcon for the next several minutes, taking the occasional shot as it tore chunks of flesh off the rabbit, and gulped the meat down. It fed rather frantically as if it hadn't eaten for ages, but perhaps also knowing that once the ever present Forest Ravens found the carcass, it wouldn't get a look in.

Ravens and Brown Falcons have an uneasy relationship at best, and I only recall seeing them feeding together once. That was in mid winter in the highlands close to the Great Lake. Heavy snow had fallen and a single Raven and a 'brownie' were feeding side by side on the carcass of a long dead Brush Possum. Probably neither had eaten for sometime, and chasing each other would have been counter productive anyway.

I think this bird is most likely in its' first year, judging from the colouration, and as yet lacks the skills of its' parents and will take whatever it can get. It gave an excellent opportunity to get some shots, but in the low light many suffered from 'movement'--the bird was feeding rather frantically. The shot at top left almost looks as if the bird was 'mantling', but it was in fact stopping itself overbalancing as it vigorously tore off pieces of meat. 'Mantling' is a term describing the action of a bird of prey as it spreads its' wings over prey thus hiding it from other predators. It's a falconry term and comes from the old English word for a cloak. Non raptors also perform this act and I've seen Grey Butcherbirds mantling.

Inevitably, a passing car flushed the falcon off the roadside, and it flew into the lower branches of a nearby gum only to be mobbed by several bush birds, led by Noisy Miners. I decided to move away, stopping only to move the carcass onto the verge to enable the raptor to feed rather more safely. The rest of the morning seemed rather mundane after that.


Duncan said...

Wonderful shots Alan, I'm green with envy....

BirdingTas said...

Thank you for your comments--"you win a few and lose a few!" I've tried so many times to use similar situations that I didn't have great expectations of getting any shots. But I can see how I could have improved on the images. Maybe next time.

Anonymous said...

goodness! i wish i could join you on your bird watching trips!

Denis Wilson said...

Hi Alan
Loved your report.
I had a similar experience watching a Peregrine on a Galah "kill". I had no camera then, but I was fascinated to watch it (form the car).
It stared me down, though.
A definite challenge was evident - Its MY Galah.
One of my fondest memories of an interaction with a wild bird of prey.

BirdingTas said...

Hi Joey Beatrix,
My birding trips only highlight what may be seen by anyone that cares to spend the time out there. Some get converted into photographic essays, most are fairly mundane and predictable.
Being written up on your blog as a consequence of joining me on a field trip is scary :)
Thanks for commenting.

BirdingTas said...

Hi Denis,
Thanks for your comments. Raptors do seem to have that imperious stare, daring the observer to do their worst.
In Tasmania it's quite common to see birds of prey on roadkills, most often Swamp Harriers during the summer. They get skittled all too often.
One of my still stark memories was turning a corner on a mountain road in the depths of winter and finding six Wedgetails on the road in front of me, feeding on a wallaby carcass. I braked hard and they dispersed in all directions, one passing only inches over my vehicle--awesome, but the whole episode could so easily have ended in "tears".