Saturday, 31 May 2014

Lake Colac Serenity

Having taken the scenic route to Colac this afternoon (with stops at Breamlea and Wurdiboluc Reservoir), I arrived to find the Lake as calm as I have ever seen it.

Australian Pelican, Lake Colac
Black Swan, Silver Gull, Pacific Black Duck
Lake Colac

While Silver Gulls are common and frequently annoying, they are beautiful birds and usually photographically cooperative, so I couldn't resist this one...

Silver Gull, Lake Colac

A flotilla of Australian Pelicans, cruised past,

Australian Pelican, Lake Colac

the backlighting showed off the wake and bow wave

Australian Pelican, Lake Colac

and one flew in for some party tricks

Australian Pelican, Lake Colac

Black Swans hung out among the reeds,

Black Swan, Lake Colac

while an odd pair of spoonbills was feeding close to shore

Yellow-billed Spoonbill + Royal Spoonbill
Lake Colac
Royal Spoonbill, Lake Colac
Yellow-billed Spoonbill, Lake Colac

and a Magpie Lark was stalking the shoreline.

Magpie Lark, Lake Colac

There's a small swampy wetland just next to the lake (accessible by car from the end of Church St or by walking east along the track around the south shore of the lake) designated as the Lake Colac Bird Sanctuary. By the time I got there it was getting quite dark but I did manage to find this lone Cattle Egret.

Cattle Egret, Lake Colac Bird Sanctuary

but then a few of its mates flew in

Cattle Egret, Lake Colac Bird Sanctuary

to join the party.

Cattle Egret, Lake Colac Bird Sanctuary

On the return walk to the car, a family of Superb Fairy-wrens was hanging around the track but only this female sat still long enough for a photograph.

Superb Fairy-wren, Lake Colac Bird Sanctuary

but the photographic highlight for the day was this fox. I have rarely seen them this brazen in broad daylight - it was feeding on something in a paddock as I drove by and stayed long enough for me to stop, reverse, park, get out and grab the camera.


Taking the back roads across to Colac this afternoon, I passed the Wurdiboluc Reservoir, south-east of Winchelsea (see map), and noticed a pair of Nankeen Kestrels in a tree just near one of the pedestrian entrances.

There's very little cover at the reservoir so I couldn't get much closer but a pair of fisherman walking along the track past this tree flushed the birds and one landed on a sign closer to me.

Nankeen Kestrel (female), Wurdiboluc Reservoir

and then again flew over my head to land in another close tree.

Nankeen Kestrel (female), Wurdiboluc Reservoir

Thompson Creek

I was heading out towards Colac today and couldn't resist a quick stop at Thompson Creek. The incoming tide was attracting a variety of fisher folk, mostly human but did include these two:

Pacific Gull, Thompson Creek, Breamlea
White-faced Heron, Thompson Creek, Breamlea

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Coots at Pt Henry

I had 30 minutes to kill today near Pt Henry so took a quick drive-by. It was high tide and the usual suspects on the sand flats were absent so I took a walk around the wetland boardwalk. It was very quiet bird-wise and, despite it being the middle of the day, the light was poor due to a heavy, dark cloud cover. A few cooperative Eurasian Coot did give me a chance to practice some low-light photography (no flash today).

Eurasian Coot, Pt Henry

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Point Nepean National Park

As I was going to have time before the last ferry on my way home from the Birdlife Melbourne Photography Group day out on Mornington Peninsula, I decide to do a quick reconnaisance into Point Nepean National Park to check it out as a location for a future birding trip. This National Park encompasses the old quarantine station and military fortifications on Point Nepean (see National Park website) as well as some great remnant coastal scrub and relatively unspoiled beaches.

I drove through to Gunnery Cottage (as far as you can drive your own car--any further is on foot, bike or pay for the shuttle bus)--and took the 400m Walter Pisterman Walk to Observatory Point, on the way spotting a flock of Brown Thornbills doing their last minute feeding. Again, low light made photography difficult but I managed to get one shot with flash that captured most of a bird.

Brown Thornbill,
Walter Wisterman Walk, Point Nepean National Park

I arrived at Observatory Point in time to catch the last rays of sunshine peaking through the clouds over Port Phillip Heads.

Sunset over Port Phillip Heads
Observatory Point, Point Nepean National Park

Observatory Point is the location of the ruined Cattle Jetty.

Observatory Point, Point Nepean National Park

I spotted three Pacific Gulls circling around a spot a few hundred metres offshore. On closer inspection, they were harassing a fur seal that had captured (what I subsequently--see below--found out to be) a squid.

Pacific Gull and Australian Fur Seal
from Observatory Point, Point Nepean National Park

One of the birds managed to get hold of the remnants of the seal's meal and bring it to shore.

Pacific Gull (immature)
Observatory Point, Point Nepean National Park

After several unsuccessful attempts to swallow the morsel whole and an equally unsuccessful attempt to tear it apart, the bird abandoned it and flew away to land on the other side of me giving some interesting silhouette shots as the sunset in the background. (In the meantime, I managed to check out the abandoned meal and it was what was left of a squid)

Pacific Gull (immature)
Observatory Point, Point Nepean National Park

The gull eventually took off and circled around overhead for a few minutes giving me time to change the camera settings to try for a proper silhouette (helped a little by Photoshop later)

Pacific Gull
Observatory Point, Point Nepean National Park
and to top off the birds in flight, an Australasian Gannet and squadron of Australian Pelicans did a last minute fly-by/over.

Australasian Gannet
Observatory Point, Point Nepean National Park
Australian Pelican
Observatory Point, Point Nepean National Park

By the time I reached the ferry terminal in Sorrento, the sun was well and truly set but I couldn't resist trying to get these two Silver Gulls standing on the pier railing.

Silver Gull (adult on left, immature or right), Sorrento Pier

and one more with flash, just to see if I could get anything useful...I'm not sure, I'll leave it to the readers to judge...

Silver Gull (adult on left, immature or right), Sorrento Pier

Mornington Peninsula

I spent another great day out with the Birdlife Australia Melbourne Photography group today, covering various sights on the Mornington Peninsula. First stop at Cape Schanck meant an early rise to catch the ferry from Queenscliff to Sorrento. The sun was rising as the ferry departed Queenscliff, providing some great views of Port Phillip Bay.

Sunrise over Swan Island and Port Phillip Bay

This trip frequently gives good views of several species of seabirds (including Australasian Gannets that breed on nearby Popes Eye and several channel markers in the south of Port Phillip Bay) as well as fur seals and dolphins but I was a little early for much wildlife activity this morning. However, I did manage to catch a few sleeping Little Pied Cormorants as the ferry passed by a channel light.

Little Pied Cormorant, Port Phillip Bay

I got to Cape Schanck before the scheduled meeting time so took the loop walk that gives great views of Bushranger Bay, Cape Schanck and the lighthouse.

Bushranger Bay from Cape Schanck
Cape Schanck
Cape Schanck Lighthouse

The strong N-W wind made it a tough day for birding. We did manage to find more than 20 species of birds in an hour, including Shy and Black-browed Albatross (cruising past the Cape several hundred metres offshore), Pacific, Kelp and Silver Gull and a range of bush birds but none was willing to brave the wind to give us any worthwhile photographic moments. This Shy Albatross was about as close as any got while we were there.

Shy Albatross, Cape Schanck

Next stop was the ocean Beach at Flinders where, again, the windy conditions kept the birdlife scarce but made for some interesting seascape opportunities.

Ocean Beach, Flinders

A small flock of the ubiquitous Silver Gull made interesting photographic subjects floating on the waves just offshore. I wanted to try and get all the birds in focus so closed the aperture down to f/8 (effectively f/16 as I was using the 2x teleconverter). This made the shutter speed very slow (1/25th of a second - almost impossible to shoot moving birds at this speed) so I bumped up the ISO to 1600, which gave me a shutter speed of 1/100th--not ideal but the best I could do.

Silver Gull, Flinders

This Willie Wagtail entertained several of us for about 20 minutes, allowing very close approach of up to ten photographers while it hunted for small invertebrates amongst the seaweed along the edge of the dunes. The dull light and a fast-moving bird made photographing in the natural light challenging due to slow shutter speeds so I took the opportunity to practice some more flash photography. The best images resulted from using manual flash and dropping the power down to 1/8th. The lower power makes for a very fast flash which freezes the action and also makes it easier to balance the flash with the natural light reducing the shadows.

Willie Wagtail, Flinders

After a picnic lunch, on the more sheltered jetty side of Flinders, we headed to Green's Bush (part of the Mornington Peninsula National Park see Parknotes) and took the Circuit Track from Baldry's Crossing Picnic Area. This walk passes through a stringy bark forest with dense undergrowth providing great habitat for a wide range of bushbirds.

Green's Bush, Mornington Peninsula National Park

Forests are always challenging habitats for bird photography as the canopy cuts much of the natural sunlight and many of the birds are high in the trees so they are a long way up and are nearly always silhouetted against a bright background sky. That said, with patience, you can usually locate a range of birds that will eventually become more photographic. My favourite strategy is to walk slowly along the track listening and looking for movement, until I find a suitable location to sit or stand and wait for the birds to come to me. This is harder to do in a large group but we did see more than 20 species in an hour walk. My photographic highlights were...

Eastern Yellow Robin
Green's Bush, Morning Peninsula National Park
Fan-tailed Cuckoo
Green's Bush, Mornington Peninsula National Park

After a final bird count for the day, we parted company and went our separate ways, in my case heading back to Sorrento for the return ferry trip.

...but wait, there's more...

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