Saturday, 21 June 2014

Kallista Cockies and Kookas

I stopped briefly at Grant's Picnic Ground (on the edge of the Dandenong Ranges National Park in Kallista) on the way home from Bunyip. This is a reliable place for lyrebirds and as it was late afternoon, I thought I'd see if I could find some males displaying. I heard at least three and managed to see one but it was too far away for any photography. Great just to see him though.

Grants Picnic Ground is also on a main tourist bus route and there's a bird feeding area where Sulphur-crested Cockatooos hang out waiting for a free feed (free for the birds, that is; the tourists buy food from the gift shop).

Sulphur-crested Cockatoo
Grant's Picnic Ground, Kallista

I'm a little ambivalent about this sort of "attraction". I am all for giving tourists close-up experiences with wildlife but not a fan of feeding wildlife. However, it does give photographers a chance to get close to these beautiful birds...

Sulphur-crested Cockatoo
Grants Picnic Ground, Kallista

...seriously close (this was shot with a 70-200mm lens).

Sulphur-crested Cockatoo
Grants Picnic Ground, Kallista

It was nearly dark by the time I got back from the lyrebird exploration so when I spotted this Laughing Kookaburra on the entry sign, the only option was to use flash.

Laughing Kookaburra
Grants Picnic Ground, Kallista

Bunyip Wrens and Robins

A great day out at Bunyip State Park with the Birdlife Melbourne Photography Group today.

First stop was the Buttongrass Nature Walk, which passes through mixed dry sclerophyll forest/woodland and button grass heath.

Several winter flowering species were blooming giving me a chance to try out the new 70-200mm lens (I need to dig up the old botany books to check on the Acacia and Hakea species - it's been too long).

Acacia sp.
Buttongrass Nature Walk, Bunyip State Park
Hairpin Banksia (Banksia spinulosa)
Buttongrass Nature Walk, Bunyip State Park
Hakea sp.
Buttongrass Nature Walk, Bunyip State Park

We stopped at several locations watching Brown Thornbills and several species of honeyeaters but they were mostly in the treetops so difficult to photograph. However, one Eastern Yellow Robin cooperated by hanging around at eye level

Eastern Yellow Robin
Buttongrass Nature Walk, Bunyip State Park

and sitting still long enough for a few shots, with fill flash

Eastern Yellow Robin
Buttongrass Nature Walk, Bunyip State Park

and without.

Eastern Yellow Robin
Buttongrass Nature Walk, Bunyip State Park

We heard and most of us saw Southern Emu-wren in the Buttongrass but they were too well concealed by the intervening vegetation for me to photograph successfully...but that just makes a good reason to come back to this fabulous spot!

We moved on to Mortimer Picnic Ground in the far west of the park where the forest is much wetter and taller, consisting mainly of Mountain Ash and Blackwood. The picnic ground was alive with Superb Fairy-wrens and Eastern Yellow Robins so I spent my time after lunch trying out various flash on/off techniques.

Eastern Yellow Robin
Mortimer Picnic Ground, Bunyip State Park

This one is not quite in focus. Well, the feet are because that's where the head was a split second before the shot and the camera's auto-focus was not quick enough to pick up the movement...but I'm getting closer :-)

Eastern Yellow Robin
Mortimer Picnic Ground, Bunyip State Park

This female Fairy-wren was hopping around on the grass right in front of me and I managed to get these two shots a few seconds apart.

Superb Fairy-wren (female)
Mortimer Picnic Ground, Bunyip State Park

This male (in eclipse plumage) was not quite as cooperative, staying only long enough for a shot without flash.

Superb Fairy-wren (eclipse male)
Mortimer Picnic Ground, Bunyip State Park

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Lunchtime Surprise

Another quick trip out for lunch today, this time at Ripview Lookout in Queenscliff. There's always something going on here with plenty of gulls and cormorants and, if you're lucky or patient there are gannets and, at this time of the year if the weather is right, albatross flying past. It was a quiet day today with just a few birds around.

This Pacific Gull stood sentinel on the reef marker

Pacific Gull, Ripview Lookout, Queenscliff

A few Pied Cormorants flew by and the dull overcast conditions reduced the contrast making it easier to get some underwing detail without any fiddling in Photoshop.

Pied Cormorant, Ripview Lookout

As I was about to pack up and leave, I noticed a small ship entering The Rip (the perpetually rough entrance to Port Phillip Bay) and I recognised it as one of the Sea Shepherd ships, the Sam Simon, named after the co-creator and executive producer of “The Simpsons" and managed to capture it just as it was turning into the channel.

so I hung around for a few more minutes as it passed by Point Nepean.

Driving back through Queenscliff, I noticed a lot of White-faced Herons feeding on the mudflats of Swan Bay. The backlighting made for some interesting silhouettes.

White-faced Heron, Swan Bay, Queenscliff

There were many other birds there too but work beckoned...

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Silver Gulls at Pt Lonsdale

The weather was cool and rainy today but a quick stop at the Pt Lonsdale lighthouse, while out running a few errands, proved fruitful despite there being very few birds around. Usually in bad weather at this time of the year the lighthouse is a good place to spot albatross, gannets and other seabirds flying around offshore. However, despite the frequent rain storms today, the wind was an unseasonable northerly and not very strong. In the 20 minutes I spent at the lighthouse between rain storms I did not see one bird offshore.

The lookout in front of the lighthouse does provide a great view west to The Bluff at Barwon Heads

The Bluff, Barwon Heads from Point Lonsdale

and east to the limestone cliffs and fortifications on Point Nepean.

Point Nepean from Point Lonsdale

Serendipity played its part though when for a brief few minutes a gap in the heavy cloud cover in the north allowed a diffused sunlight to pass through just as a pair of Silver Gulls landed on the cliff top in front of me. The light combined with the soft, out of focus sea behind the birds and their "modelling" display (they really did look like they were trying out poses for me to shoot), allowed me to capture this sequence in a few minutes before I had to retreat from another oncoming storm.

Silver Gull, Pt Lonsdale

These really are glorious birds when you find them away from car parks, rubbish dumps and fish'n'chip shops.

Friday, 13 June 2014

Another lunchtime at the river

As the title suggests, following yesterday's encounter with a grebe, I went back to the Barwon River at lunchtime today. No grebes but did manage a few shots of some other waterbirds.

There is a boardwalk along the Barwon Heads side of the river that gives great access to the mangroves but is obviously restrictive in the views you can get of the birdlife. This Pied Cormorant sat preening on a fence post but the only view possible was almost directly into the sun with a wire fence in the way. This is the best I could do.

Pied Cormorant
Barwon River Estuary, Barwon Heads

I came across this Eastern Great Egret standing on the edge of one of the small jetties.

Eastern Great Egret
Barwon River Estuary, Barwon Heads

It got spooked by an approaching fisherman and took off

Eastern Great Egret
Barwon River Estuary, Barwon Heads

but quickly wheeled back and landed on the path, ironically only a few metres away from another fisherman.

Eastern Great Egret
Barwon River Estuary, Barwon Heads

As I walked back past the jetty, a Little Pied Cormorant had taken up the egret's position.

Little Pied Cormorant,
arwon River Estuary, Barwon Heads

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Hoary-headed Grebe on the Barwon River

After a long morning sitting in front of a computer, I got out of the office for a short lunch break by the Barwon River. Fortuitously, a solo Hoary-headed Grebe was fishing close to shore and despite being obviously aware of my presence, hung around while I took a few shots. From a distance, Hoary-headed Grebes are difficult to distinguish from Australasian Grebes in winter or non-breeding plumage (they are quite distinct in breeding plumage). The key distinguishing features if you can get close enough are:
  • the Hoary-headed Grebe has a white ring around the pupil in the eye; the Australasian Grebe has a yellow eye
  • the line between the darker facial/crown feathers and lighter throat/neck feathers on the Hoary-headed Grebe runs below the eye; on the Australasian Grebe it runs through the eye.
The Australasian Grebe is also less likely to be found in estuarine or salt water, preferring fresh water habitats.

Hoary-headed Grebe, Barwon River Estuary, Barwon Heads

Monday, 9 June 2014

A Long Weekend in SW Victoria: Part 4. Shore birds

Driving home from Cape Bridgewater today, we decided to stop at some locations that we'd never visited before and we were rewarded with some great shore bird spotting and photography.

Shelly Beach (on Bridgewater Bay)
This beach is accessible from a short track off the main Bridgewater Road opposite the intersection with Bridgewater Lakes Road.

Shelly Beach, Bridgewater Bay

The highlight here was a pair of Australian Pied Oystercatchers that turned on a great show:

First chasing each other around in circles with one bird latched on to the scapular feathers of the other

Australian Pied Oystercatcher, Shelly Beach, Bridgewater Bay

then taking off in flight,

Australian Pied Oystercatcher, Shelly Beach, Bridgewater Bay

one landing again just in front of me to pose for a portrait

Australian Pied Oystercatcher, Shelly Beach, Bridgewater Bay

The other wandering off purposefully down the beach in the other direction

Australian Pied Oystercatcher, Shelly Beach, Bridgewater Bay

Before flying back,

Australian Pied Oystercatcher, Shelly Beach, Bridgewater Bay

landing on rocks close-by and calling loudly.

Australian Pied Oystercatcher, Shelly Beach, Bridgewater Bay

Mouth of the Fitzroy River
The Fitzroy River drains into Portland Bay a few km SE of Tyrendarra. Access is via Thomsons Road. There's a car park with boat ramp and picnic tables at the end of Thomsons Road but you can continue on past the car park driving along the firm sand bank of the river estuary stopping a hundred metres or so short of the river mouth and beach.

As we walked out onto the beach we spotted a solo Hooded Plover on the water's edge among some washed up kelp.

Hooded Plover, Fitzroy River Mouth

I managed to get a little closer by staying low and crawling slowly while the bird was feeding, stopping every time it looked up. This was as close as I was willing to get so not to scare the bird away.

Hooded Plover, Fitzroy River Mouth

While there I also spotted several Double-banded Plover

Double-banded Plover Fitzroy River Mouth

including this one just starting to develop breeding plumage.

Double-banded Plover Fitzroy River Mouth

Belfast Beach
A stretch of beach due south of Tower Hill, about half way between Warrnambool and Port Fairy, can be accessed from Gorman's Road. If you drive as far as you can there's a small car park with a short sand track to the beach. Immediately we got onto the beach we spotted Red-capped Plovers sheltering in tiny sand scrapes at the lee side of the sand ridge along the beach.

Red-capped Plover (male), Belfast Beach

I gave them a wide berth and headed over the ridge towards the sea. Closer to the water's edge, each small pile of kelp was surrounded by footprints where small wading birds had been feeding on the collection of invertebrates that make their home in the kelp.

I spotted several female Red-capped Plovers feeding along the water's edge so I crouched down and crept as close as I thought I could get without disturbing the birds.

Red-capped Plover (female), Belfast Beach

It's possible to get quite close to shore birds, while they are concentrating on feeding, providing you stay low. It helps having dunes in the background so your outline doesn't break the horizon. I tend to sit/kneel and wait for a while so I can see what the birds are doing and let them get used to me. I then crawl up on my knees leaving behind a turtle track...

Photographing Plovers, Belfast Beach
Photo courtesy of Joanne Smissen

...and then wait for the birds to come closer to me.

Red-capped Plover (female), Belfast Beach

It helps if the tide is coming in as most wading birds feed along the water's edge and the incoming tide will bring them closer to you.

Red-capped Plover (female), Belfast Beach

...but sometimes, they look straight down the barrel at you...

Red-capped Plover (female), Belfast Beach

As the waves recede, you can get some nice reflections.

Red-capped Plover (female), Belfast Beach
Red-capped Plover (male), Belfast Beach

A handful of Red-necked Stints were also feeding along the beach, having obviously opted to brave the Victorian winter in preference to the return flight to Siberia.

Red-necked Stint, Belfast Beach

A pair of Double-banded Plovers marched by

Double-banded Plover, Belfast Beach

and, as we were leaving, we found a solo juvenile Hooded Plover on the edge of the lagoon.

Hooded Plover (juvenile), Belfast Beach

The rest of the weekend:
Part 1. Cape Nelson
Part 2. Sunrise at Bridgewater Bay
Part 3. Lower Glenelg National Park

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