Sunday, February 24, 2013

Gould's Lagoon... The "Others"

Before the "excitement" at Gould's Lagoon over the sightings of two Baillon's Crakes (see previous blog) becomes a distant thought, albeit a memorable one, it's worth mentioning other sightings. I'm not a patient birder at the best of times, but to photograph or even sight the "Baillon's" required considerable sitting or standing in a chosen spot for hours, yes hours. I should recount here that one local, 'nameless' birder, recounted that he had spent a total of 17 hours looking for this crake, before finally succeeding--I'm not sure what to say about that feat!
  During my sojourns sitting in the hide, or wandering around the lagoon perimeter, there were plenty of distractions, not including the human ones (the lagoon is very adjacent to a major suburb).
     The early morning visitors usually started with Welcome Swallows, mostly family groups, hawking for insects, with the occasional individual 'propping' on a large post in front of the hide. This is usually followed by a visit from a Swamp Harrier (image) looking for breakfast, and its' presence is usually heralded by the strident calls of the numerous Masked Lapwing that temporarily leave their roost on the nearby railway embankment, to harass it. I do wonder whether they do this from habit or perhaps just enjoy the pursuit, since they no longer have young to protect. There is little doubt that these harriers do take a substantial toll on the young of several species that breed in and around the lagoon, but the area would be the 'poorer' if they were absent.
     While wandering around, I watched two Australian Crakes (image) swim across a gap between reed clumps, one stopping en route to grab a small fish, while a few metres away on the dry crust, 3 Black-fronted Plover (image) "ticked" away at my presence, before taking flight. Two Great Egrets (image) have been present much of the summer, but have lately been joined by three others, and together with Australian Pelicans, have feasted on the small fish in the ever diminishing eastern lagoon. 
     Getting to the hide inevitably causes considerable disturbance especially to the ducks, the approach being open, but a slow approach may minimise this effect, but the hide offers less than ideal cover. With patience, and perhaps the presence of the more audacious Purple Swamphens and Eurasian Coots, a few duck return to the water's edge to roost. I managed to photograph Chestnut and Grey Teal, and Australian Shoveler, all from the hide, but they remained suspicious. Swamphen and Tasmanian Native Hen occasionally crept past, all with one eye on me, and an immature Dusky Moorhen (image), a relatively recent breeding resident here, sidled past too. I watched family groups of Common Greenfinch (image) and European Goldfinch, fly down to the water's edge to drink at several parts of the lagoon, but only managed this single shot of a greenfinch,( frankly they really seem more yellow than green!)
        Arguably the highlight of my recent visits and one that nearly 'got away', was the arrival of a single young Swift Parrot (image). The Swift Parrot is listed as endangered under the Tasmanian Threatened Species Act, so any sighting away from their known areas is noteworthy. The truth is, at the time of its' arrival, I was deeply engrossed in photographing the Baillon's Crake, which was slowly making its' way towards me, and my concentration was such that everything else was virtually shut out. I did notice its' arrival on a nearby reed stem, but as Musk Lorikeets could be seen and most certainly heard, only a short distance away, I assumed that's what it was. Fortunately, because it was in an unusual habitat (not a flowering eucalypt!), I took a few shots anyway, then returned to the crake. The crake shortly moved out of sight and I was able to return to the "lorikeet". Then the penny dropped! The lack of the long tail of the adult 'threw me'. It was obviously aware of my presence, but flew down to the water's edge and first drank, then partially immersed itself in the dreadful looking lagoon water. It was actually in sight for nearly 5 minutes, but my mind was so focused on the crake that I didn't really make the most of this unusual event. I can take some comfort in the fact that only a few minutes later the 'Baillon's' made its' closest approach and the best photo.opp.--so what would have been your choice? 

Friday, February 01, 2013

Baillon's Crake at Gould's Lagoon

  Gould's Lagoon, near Granton, in southern Tasmania, has this summer become something of a Mecca for many local and visiting birders. The centre of their 'excitement' has been the sighting of several crakes including at least 2 Baillon's Crakes, something of a rarity in this state. Their job has been made decidedly easier by the low water levels and a relative paucity of reed cover. Crakes are 'lurkers' by nature, preferring the dense reedbeds to the exposed mud, but have been forced into the open as the food rich wet mud has 'receded' from the reedbeds.
   On hearing of first one, then 2, Baillon's Crakes, I just had to visit "Gould's". A single bird was first reported by Ed Pierce in early December and tentatively IDed as a Baillon's Crake. Rodger Willows subsequently sighted this bird and then a second, keeping birders updated as to where they might be seen. I made several brief visits, but 'only' sighted several Australian Crakes, but there were many other "goodies" sighted too, including Hardheads, Grey Teal, Australasian Shoveler, Black-fronted Plovers, Caspian Tern, and Little Grassbirds to name a few.
    After meeting Rodger Willows by chance and getting some first hand information, I eventually managed to find a single bird on the edge of the eastern lagoon. My views highlighted the difficulties of crake watching. Although I had scanned this area before, I eventually noticed a movement beneath the fallen sedge stalks, on the far side of the lagoon, some 20 metres away, and there, shuffling along, was a small bird and by its' shape, obviously a crake. I watched for sometime and eventually it broke cover and I was better able to see the colouration and confirm that it was indeed a Baillon's, my first for several years. It seemed 'nervous' and several times ran for cover, once for a passing Swamp Harrier, and again after a brief 'confrontation' with an Australian Crake. It was this event that made me aware of just how small this bird is. The Australian Crake is perhaps the size of a slightly corpulent starling, and the Baillon's, a whole size smaller, being about sparrow size, no wonder I had so much difficulty finding it.
     Mid January, Jeremy O'Wheel photographed the Baillon's from the hide and it appeared this was worthy of follow up and attempt at photographing said bird. So a few days later I sat in the hide and waited, not with any great conviction, but my patience was to be rewarded. Watching several feeding coot some distance away, I became aware of a small bird feeding amongst them--"the" crake--I had at least seen this 'second' Baillon's. I was joined by Els Wakefield and Karen ? and we sat patiently hoping and reminiscing about past bird encounters, all 'armed' with cameras. We took oh so many shots as it eventually 'fronted' the hide, but in the overcast, I can't say that my results, at least, were much more than record shots. So a few days later, in better light, I tried again.
       The second try was not without its' frustrations. First a passing Swamp Harrier scattered "everything" and no sooner had they settled down than a visiting birder arrived, having a similar effect. This was followed by 2 locals, dressed for the beach, who had little or no interest in birds or the lagoon, who stood in the middle of the walkway to take the 'obligatory' camera phone shot of themselves, before, mercifully, moving on. I mention all this, because, as you might gather, I did become somewhat frustrated by this toing and froing, but this is a public hide in a public place and like it or not, visitors go with the territory. I still managed the accompanying images (not to mention many others), not quite what I had hoped for, but it's not often that I get to photograph such an elusive bird.