Friday, 28 December 2012

Kerang Daytrip

It has been a while since I had the camera out so decided to hit the road early this morning for a daytrip to the Kerang Lakes area. Primary target was to find Orange Chat that had been reported in the region recently but also wanted to try out the new flash and Better Beamer and walk off some of the Christmas pudding.

First stop was Goschen Reserve, which was surprisingly quiet but I did manage to find a few cooperative birds:

I found a tree with a pair of Striated Pardalotes that were very active so I slowly approached then stood still for about ten minutes while they came closer and closer, this one eventually landing on a dead branch only a few metres from me.

Striated Pardalote, Goschen Reserve

I also got the chance to use the flash to fill in the shadows on this bird. For today, the first time using this set-up, I just set the flash to TTL and let it do its thing.

Striated Pardalote, Goschen Reserve

This male Hooded Robin allowed me to approach quite close and stayed still long enough for me to take a few shots with and without flash.

Hooded Robin (male), Goschen Reserve

The flash worked well filling the sidelit shadow and balancing the exposure better with the sky but shooting from below the bird gave an unnatural extra catchlight in the bird's eye.

Hooded Robin (male), Goschen Reserve

A little touchup with Photoshop makes a much more pleasing image.

Hooded Robin (male), Goschen Reserve

Woodswallows were everywhere, mostly flying high over the treetops catching insects but a few stopped in the trees long enough for some shots.

White-browed Woodswallow (male), Goschen Reserve
Dusky Woodswallow, Goschen Reserve

There were Singing Honeyeaters in most areas of the reserve. This one provided another good opportunity for fill flash (again with a little Photoshop to clean up the eye)

Singing Honeyeater, Goschen Reserve

Next stop was Lake Lookout to find Orange Chat, where they had been seen recently. I did find several among the saltbush and grasses around the lake but impossible to photograph staying under the bushes and flushing when I got within 30 metres of them. Several similar birds were also feeding on the exposed lake bed so I thought I'd try for some photographs. With no cover near the lake shore, I needed a way of getting close. After watching the birds for a few minutes, I noticed that they would zig-zag along the lake shore feeding so I found a suitable spot to sit and wait for the birds to come past. This proved to be reasonably successful but their almost perpetual motion made them difficult to track and focus on. I needed to wait for the occasional split seconds where they stood still to look around. These turned out to be Australasian Pipit but worth the stalking challenge...

Australasian Pipit, Lake Lookout
Australasian Pipit, Lake Lookout
Australasian Pipit, Lake Lookout

...mostly they looked like this

Australasian Pipit, Lake Lookout

So, no photographs of Orange Chat - maybe next time...

Last stop was Reedy Lake in Kerang, where apart from the usual ibis and waterbirds, there were more woodswallows - a third species for the day.

White-breasted Woodswallow, Reedy Lake Kerang

and several Black Kites flying around low enough for some shots

Black Kite, Reedy Lake, Kerang
Black Kite, Reedy Lake, Kerang

Monday, 19 November 2012

Lunch on the Barwon River

It was too good a day to spend the whole day indoors so I headed for the Barwon River for lunch. Fortunately, I was not alone with an egret and lapwing feeding on the shore just near my usual lunch spot...

Eastern Great Egret, Barwon River, Ocean Grove
Masked Lapwing, Barwon River, Ocean Grove

but the highlight was the Eastern Curlew feeding on the sandbar in the middle of the river.

Eastern Curlew, Barwon River, Ocean Grove

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Waterbirds Galore

I have driven past Lake Connewarre on the Barwon Heads Road 20 or 30 times in the last month, noting the large mixed flocks of waterbirds congregating on the lake and meaning to come back and investigate further but until today had not managed to find the time. Mid afternoon, backlit and a lot of heat haze so not the best conditions for photography but sometimes you have to take what you find...

Most of the birds are Eurasian Coot, thousands of them, with a few intermingled ducks and grebes.

Eurasian Coot, Lake Connewarre

There are also flocks of ducks--mostly Grey Teal--along with Black-winged Stilts. This flock was spooked by a Swamp Harrier flying low over the lake.

Black Swan and Grey Teal, Lake Connewarre
Grey Teal and Black-winged Stilt, Lake Connewarre

I also drove past the Breamlea Flora and Fauna Reserve. The shallow, ephemeral lakes along on Blackgate Road are usually good for ducks, herons, egrets, ibis and spoonbills but today I found a flock of hundreds of Sharp-tailed Sandpipers and Red-necked Stints. I have seen the occasional small flocks of stints here before as well as the odd Red-capped Plover but this is the first time I have seen migratory waders in these numbers and the first time for Sharp-tailed Sandpipers.

Red-necked Stint and Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Breamlea Flora and Fauna Reserve
Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Breamlea Flora and Fauna Reserve
Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Breamlea Flora and Fauna Reserve
Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Breamlea Flora and Fauna Reserve
Red-necked Stint, Breamlea Flora and Fauna Reserve

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Shyish Albatross

On Sunday's Port Fairy pelagic trip I also photographed this bird that looks different from the nominate race of the Shy Albatross (or species depending on which side of the discussion re race or separate species you subscribe to). It's obviously an immature bird but the grey hood suggests to me Salvin's Albatross Thalassarche (cauta) salvini but I am not familiar enough with this race or with variations in immature Shy Albatross Thalassarche (cauta) cauta.

any ideas welcome...
(click on an image for larger view)

UPDATE (31 Oct 2012):
The general consensus of opinion (thank-you to all those who emailed me) seems to be that this is either a Shy Albatross (Thalassarche cauta) or  White-capped Albatross (Thalassarche steadi) with most suggesting that it is difficult to distinguish between them, particularly in immature birds, but there's a leaning towards T. steadi so I'm labelling this post that way for the moment. I am happy to take further suggestions/advice and will update this post accordingly if I get further evidence/argument to change this position.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Port Fairy Pelagic

One of my long-standing birding ambitions has been to go on a pelagic trip so when one was being organised by the Melbourne Photography Group of BirdLife Australia through Birdswing Birding & Wildlife Tours, I jumped at the chance and was not disappointed.

15 hardy souls assembled with cameras, binoculars and warm and weather proof clothing at Port Fairy wharf at 7:15 for a 7:30 boarding of the Perceive.

Perceive docked at Port Fairy wharf
(at the end of the trip - I was too busy chatting to get the early morning photograph)
Once all were aboard we headed down the Moyne River into Port Fairy Bay, rounded Griffith Island and headed SW into the rolling swell of the Southern Ocean. The sky was heavily overcast but there was almost no wind which made for fairly pleasant travel albeit with lots of up and down (I have never suffered from sea-sickness but took the precautionary pharmaceutical prophylactic before hand just in case...thankfully, I have still never suffered from sea-sickness).

We cruised for 2-3 hours out past the continental shelf, stopping when there were birds to be seen, burleying to attract the birds in closer to the boat. For some reason, few were keen to "land" on the water (an interesting, oxymoronic expression) for a feed but many were happy to fly around the boat.

First to fly by were several Shy Albatross (at one stage we counted at least 10)

Shy Albatross, Southern Ocean

including this immature bird

Shy Albatross (immature), Southern Ocean

and one alighted close enough for some good close-ups

Shy Albatross, Southern Ocean

Among the Shy Albatross, there were also several White-chinned Petrels (my first lifetime tick for the day)

White-chinned Petrel, Southern Ocean

We were also lucky enough to see a lone Campbell Albatross. I believe that the discussion about the taxonomic status of this bird continues re whether it is elevated to its own species or remains a race of the Black-browed Albatross. Regardless, it was a pleasure to see it and clearly identify it by its "honey-coloured eye" (the poetic description courtesy of Pizzey & Knight).

Campbell Albatross, Southern Ocean

Next stop there were more Shy Albatross and White-chinned Petrels but the highlight was this Wandering Albatross that cruised gracefully around the boat

Wandering Albatross, Southern Ocean

before alighting (more like a crash landing - it's amazing how graceful these birds are in flight and how clumsy they are landing and taking off) 

Wandering Albatross, Southern Ocean

settling for several minutes within a few metres of the boat

Wandering Albatross, Southern Ocean

closely followed by several Great-winged Petrels (far more graceful - taking off like ballet dancers).

Great-winged Petrel, Southern Ocean

This immature Black-browed Albatross spent a long time circling and following the boat.

Black-browed Albatross (immature), Southern Ocean

We also spotted several smaller seabirds including Fairy Prion and Wilson's Storm-Petrel but they remained too far away for good photographs. However, this Grey-backed Storm-Petrel (another life-time tick for me) came close enough for a few ID shots.

Grey-backed Storm-Petrel, Southern Ocean

All too quickly, time caught up with us and we headed back into Port Fairy - 3 hours cruising but much easier surfing the swell than climbing into it on the way out.

One last gem awaited us right at the entrance to the Bay - difficult to shoot backlit by the (now) bright afternoon sun but worth including as another lifetime tick for me making three for the day.

Northern Giant-Petrel, Port Fairy

Thanks to Neil of Birdswing Birding & Wildlife Tours for his guiding, Russell and Paul for their skipper and mate duties on board the Perceive and John for organising our participation.

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