Monday, 28 January 2019

An Osprey in Melbourne!

The Eastern Osprey, Pandio cristatus, is a species rarely seen in the central region of Victoria and almost never in Melbourne. A solo female has been spotted along the banks of the Werribee River in western Melbourne this week and the bird watchers and bird photographers of Melbourne have been all in a flutter. While I have seen and photographed this species elsewhere in Australia, I couldn't resist an early morning start to get to the location, at which she'd been spotted for several days, just after sunrise. Several other birders were already there with cameras and binoculars scouring the trees along the river banks. Apparently she'd been here earlier but had flown off up river, so we waited, our numbers swelling to about 20 by the time she was spotted in a tree on the opposite bank. She stayed, posing for portraits, albeit long distance ones, for about 30 minutes...

Eastern Osprey, Werribee River, Victoria
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8 + 1.4x adapter, ISO400, 1/2000 second @ f/5.6 (cropped)

 before taking off...

Eastern Osprey, Werribee River, Victoria
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8 + 1.4x adapter, ISO400, 1/2000 second @ f/5.6 (cropped)

and plunging into the river and catching a small fish then alighting on a branch closer to us and proceeded to eat the fish. I missed the fishing because of shrubs and tree branches in the way but managed a few shots of the dining room.

Eastern Osprey, Werribee River, Victoria
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8 + 1.4x adapter, ISO400, 1/4000 second @ f/5.6 (cropped)

Saturday, 5 January 2019

Tufted Duck - first sighting in Australia

It has been a (very) long time since I've posted something here but the sighting of a new vagrant species in Australia this week prompted me to get out and find the bird this morning. A male Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula) was spotted at the Western Treatment Plant (WTP, aka "Werribee Sewerage Farm") earlier this week and it had the Australian twitching community all a flutter (pun intended). This was the first ever sighting of this species anywhere in Australia. So, camera gear and binoculars packed in the car, I picked up my son at 7am for the hour's drive to Werribee. We initially investigated the location at which the bird had been spotted on Wednesday but, while there were plenty of interesting birds, there were very few ducks and no sign of the foreigner.

Twitching (searching for new/rare bird species) at the WTP has some distinct advantages over other locations:
  1. LOTS of birders go there and when a new species is sighted you can guarantee you won't be alone,
  2. The country is VERY flat so you can see for kilometres,
the result of which is that when searching for a rarity, it's easier to look for the crowd of birders than to look for the bird.

As we were leaving our first location, a little disheartened, we spotted a collection of cars (yet to find a suitable collective noun) a couple of km away at another series of ponds. A few minutes later, we had joined the throng (below - the gap in the middle is where we had been) - binoculars, telescopes and long lenses pointed towards a flock of ducks (mostly Australian Shelduck) and a few grebes and coots clustered on the other side of a pond.

It only took a few minutes for the first call of "I've got it!" to rouse the gang into cries of:
"You see the last hangar...just below the right hand side of that"
"You mean near the pile of dirt?"
"Yes, just near the those swans close to the bank"
"Wait, I see it, no, it's just dived..."

My 300mm lens was never going to be sufficient to see the bird clearly so I added both 2x and 1.4x tele-converters to my Pentax K-3 (crop factor of 1.5) giving me a virtual focal length of 1260mm. Even then, the bird was not much more than a blur in the distance.

Tufted Duck (centre of photograph near the grassy bank) with Australian Shelduck and Eurasian Coot
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8 lens x2 and x1.4 adapters, 1/125 sec @ f/12.5
Fortunately, video is more forgiving of having so much extra glass and I (unusually) had the foresight to switch to video for a few seconds, capturing the bird preening and wing-flapping.

I'm not sure how many species that is for me now in Australia (I'm not a fanatical counter/ticker) but it's always great to find such a rarity and very happy that it's my 300th bird in Australia on this blog.

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