Saturday, 21 February 2015

Western Treatment Plant

Today I had the pleasure of participating in a Melbourne Birdlife Photography outing to the Western Treatment Plant. I arrived early while it was still quite dark so I bumped the ISO up to 800 to give me at least some semblance of a chance of catching a few birds.

This immature Black Kite cooperated nicely, staying on on the branch of a dead tree long enough for me to park about a hundred or so metres up the road and walk back under cover of the roadside vegetation.

Black Kite (immature), Beach Road Avalon
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8 x2 adaptor, ISO 800, f/5.6 1/250

There were a lot of Zebra Finches in the roadside vegetation but they were considerably less cooperative than the Kite, flitting from branch to branch and flying between trees in almost continuous motion. Combined with the low light, it was tough to get any great shots but these cheeky little birds are great to just watch.

Zebra Finch (immature), Beach Road, Avalon
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8 x2 adaptor, ISO 800, f/5.6 1/125
Zebra Finch (adult male), Beach Road, Avalon
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8 x2 adaptor, ISO 800, f/5.6 1/320

Lake Borrie and the coastal ponds had all the usual suspects: ducks, cormorants, pelicans and the beach sand and mud flats had gulls and a few terns but these were mostly too far away for any good shots.

When we reached the bird hide, two Australian Spotted Crakes turned on a show, wandering around the mud bank on one of the nearby ponds, seemingly oblivious of the wall of photographers.

Australian Spotted Crake, Western Treatment Plant
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8 x2 adaptor, ISO 400, f/5.6 1/500

Returning back along the coast road, we spotted a group of White-winged Black Terns on a log in one of the ponds right beside the road. I've only ever seen these birds on distant rocks offshore so it was a thrill to see so many so close. The non-breeding plumage of these birds is nothing like the breeding plumage for which they are named so its somewhat confusing to separate these birds from the other 'grey-winged white terns' we see more commonly. The characteristic black patch curving around behind the eye was easily seen here though.

White-Winged Black Tern, Western Treatment Plant
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8 x2 adaptor, ISO 800, f/11 1/640
White-Winged Black Tern, Western Treatment Plant
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8 x2 adaptor, ISO 800, f/11 1/400

The real highlight for the day was finding two Pectoral Sandpipers among the Sharp-tailed Sandpipers and Red-necked Stints in the pond back near the Beach Road gate. The Pectoral Sandpiper is the one in the middle of this shot with the heavily streaked chest with the sharp cut-off to the white breast.

Pectoral Sandpiper, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Red-necked Stint, Western Treatment Plant
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8 x2 adaptor, ISO 800, f/11 1/200
Pectoral Sandpiper, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Red-necked Stint, Western Treatment Plant
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8 x2 adaptor, ISO 800, f/11 1/200
Pectoral Sandpiper, Western Treatment Plant
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8 x2 adaptor, ISO 800, f/11 1/400
Pectoral Sandpiper, Western Treatment Plant
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8 x2 adaptor, ISO 800, f/5.6 1/640

The stints also put on a bit of a show, congregating on rocks in the middle of the pond.

Red-necked Stint, Western Treatment Plant
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8 x2 adaptor, ISO 800, f/11 1/400

Late in the afternoon in rapidly falling light and with an oncoming storm, two of us headed for the Borrow Pits at the far east of the Plant where we found dozens of Red-necked Avocets and Marsh Sandpipers.

Red-necked Avocet, Western Treatment Plant
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8 x2 adaptor, ISO 1600, f/8 1/800 
Marsh Sandpiper, Western Treatment Plant
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8 x2 adaptor, ISO1600, f/11 1/200

and thousands of Red-necked Stints and Curlew Sandpipers

Red-necked Stint, Western Treatment Plant
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8 x2 adaptor, ISO 800, f/11 1/200

which were spectacular when they took off in flight. I didn't have time to change the settings on the camera to enable a fast enough shutter speed to freeze the birds but decided that slow shutter speed and panning would work to capture recognisable birds but with blurred wings giving the feeling of motion

Red-necked Stint + Curlew Sandpiper, Western Treatment Plant
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8 x2 adaptor, ISO 1600, f/16 1/50

and, just for the heck of it, I tried a few shots with less panning, blurring the birds even more.

Red-necked Stint + Curlew Sandpiper, Western Treatment Plant
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8 x2 adaptor, ISO 1600, f/16 1/50

...and John managed to find an Eastern Blue-tongued Lizard and corral it by the side of the road until I caught up to him after locking a gate. 

Eastern Blue-tongued Lizard, Western Treatment Plant
Pentax K-5, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 107.5mm, ISO 400 f/8 1/80

Eastern Blue-tongued Lizard, Western Treatment Plant
Pentax K-5, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 100mm, ISO 400 f/8 1/100

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