Thursday, 23 June 2011

Black-crowned Night Heron et al.

Black-crowned Night Heron
(Fukushimagata, Niigata, June 19, 2011)
 Saw the most Black-crowned Night Herons that I've ever seen at Fukushimagata last weekend. One or two flew over every few seconds. I also saw the other usual species for summer. I usually overlook them but decided most things are worth trying to photograph if the light is right and the photo works. It's usually pretty dull in what is regarded as the best birding months. I like blue skies.

Oriental Turtle Dove

Barn Swallows

A Black-eared Kite chases off a Great Cormorant as it lands.

Black-crowned Night Heron in afternoon light.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Slo Mo Tsubame.

No problem with your connection. These videos are intended to be slow motion. 

"Tsubame" is the Japanese word for "Swallow". It's the baseball season and I heard that the "Swallows" were pretty famous so I went out for a look. They sure look cute and provide good action but I'm sceptical about their baseball skills.

My first attempts at high-speed digiscoping using a Nikon p300 attached to a Nikon ED50 fieldscope. The first four videos are in slow-motion but the last is in real-time and shows the actual speed of parental swallow feeding. 

Barn Swallows at Fukushimagata, Niigata, yesterday.

The original for this last one is in full HD.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Whistleblowers of the Bush.

Noisy Miner
(Toowoomba, 2010)

Noisy Minors are actually a large species of honeyeater. They are not bashful and live in noisy, family groups. I’m not sure whether people in my childhood confused them with other species such as Indian Mynas or Apostlebirds, but I remember some people referring to these birds as “Happy Family Birds”. I have done a couple of fruitless searches about this. Maybe it is a colloquialism confined to region.

Noisy Miners are common and one of the best ways to find raptors in the Australian bush. Whenever there is danger they will sound alarms. (That is, they will make loud, urgent calls) When they do, the alert birdwatcher should scan the sky overhead and look out for a bird of prey. Sometimes I’ve gotten their messages wrong and realised they were worried about a snake in a tree or even someone walking their dog in the park. In any case, they are “busy-bodies” and will alert the world to suspicious activities in their environment.

In the 1980s and 1990s I had the pleasure of spending some time in Capalaba, east of Brisbane. The house was surrounded by a lot of bush near a lake and it was a great place for wildlife, especially koalas and birds, with raptors galore. Every time I went into the house by day I would hear the alarms of Noisy Miners and I would grab my camera and sprint outdoors. Eventually I tried to guess the raptor by the kind of alarm call. It became an interesting study. Some days there would be alarm calls every 20 minutes or so. Lazy, half-hearted calls would tell me that a slower hunter, a Brahminy or Whistling Kite was about. At other times an urgent, wave of calls would come flowing directly up the street and sure enough I’d just get outside to catch a peregrine or two rocketing overhead towards the lake. Other times there were somewhat 3D calls coming from all around me. I’d look up and nothing would appear. It would be puzzling as the calls would increase then soften all around me but remain tense and urgent. Surely enough, if I remained patient, I’d have a close encounter with a Brown Goshawk skulking along the fence line at eye level. Different alarms for different hunter behaviours.

On one occasion there was a very significant reaction by lots of birds calling and racing off. The miners kicked off the session with alarms that were very loud and panicked. I looked around and saw I was standing close to a Kookaburra sitting low in a tree. I walked up so close to him, I could have reached up and grabbed his tail. He remained frozen as the alarms screamed all around us. I followed his gaze upwards to the sky and found a Black Falcon very high up in the deep blue sky. A very eastern location for that species and the only time I ever saw one in Capalaba. I was left with the question from such encounters, “How do the miners and other birds know which species are more threatening especially when some intruders are scarce?” Is it just sense or do they rely on the wisdom and experiences of their elders and follow their reactions?

From memory, the Noisy Miners taught me a lot about the raptors in Capalaba and I would often see the same ones every day, mostly:

1 pair Wedge-tailed Eagles, White-bellied Sea-Eagle, Brahminy Kite, Whistling Kite, Osprey, Pacific Bazas (nesting nearby), Brown Goshawk, Collared Sparrowhawk, an occasional Brown Falcon, a pair of Peregrine Falcons always every day. Maybe some others that I’ve forgotten, and the one record of a single Black Falcon.

Below is a small selection of my Australian Raptor photos from 1989 to, I think 2001. 

Brown Falcon
(Cherry Lake, Altona, Victoria, 1990s)

Australian Hobby
(Thomson River, Longreach, July 1989)

Black-shouldered Kites
(Port Melbourne, Victoria, 1990s)

Black-shouldered Kite and Australian Kestrel
(Darling Downs, early 1990s)

Black Kite

Newly fledged Pacific Baza
(Capalaba, 1995)

Australian Hobby with prey
(Near Quinalow and Maclagon, Queensland, 1990s)

Black Falcon hunting pigeons.
(Toowoomba, 2000?)

Australian/Nankeen Kestrel with dragonfly
(Port Melbourne, 1998/9?)

Brown Goshawk hunting Common Starling
(Toowoomba, 2001?)

Brahminy Kite
(Victoria Point, Queensland, forget when maybe 2001?)

Brahminy Kite
(Victoria Point, Queensland)

Black Falcon pair
(Oakey, Queensland, 1990s)

White-bellied Sea-eagle
(Wivenhoe Dam, 2001)

Brown Goshawk
(Bunya Mountains National Park, 2001)

Brown Goshawk
(Toowoomba, 1995)

Brahminy Kite
(Victoria Point, mid-1990s)

Immature White-bellied Sea-eagle
(Wivenhoe Dam, 2001)

Brown Falcon
(Cherry Lake, Altona, Victoria, late 1990s)

Fight between Brown Falcons
(Cherry Lake, Altona, Victoria, late 1990s.)
-I remember the falcon on the right being very agressive on many occassions attacking many different birds and even me.

Collared Sparrowhawk
(Capalaba, 2001)

Young male Collared Sparrowhawk
(Capalaba, 2001)

Collared Sparrowhawk
(as above)

Brown Falcon
(Forgot where, when)

Black-shouldered Kite
(Westgate Park, Port Melbourne, 1990s)

Black-shouldered Kite
(I think Port Melbourne)

Little Eagle rounding-up feral pigeons
(Toowoomba, 2001)

Brahminy Kite
(Victoria Point, 2001)

Wedge-tailed Eagle
(Bunya Mountains, 1990s)

Grey Goshawk
(Bunya Mountains, 2001)

Black Falcon
(Oakey, late 1990s)

Wedge-tailed Eagle
(Near Sommerset Dam, 1990s)

Spotted Harrier and Nankeen Kestrel
(Darling Downs, early 1990s)

Also you can download and/or print pdf files of Australian Raptors from the Toowoomba Bird Observers website from their 'downloads' page here: raptorguides

Saturday, 4 June 2011


Common Kestrel 
(Fukushimagata, June 4, 2011)
Today, I was strolling in the middle of the day at Fukushimagata. I was walking in an area with long grass and reeds all around and was thus surrounded by the calls of warblers, sparrows and finches. Suddenly I realised that with a few chirps, all the small birds were fleeing from the grasses towards a clump of large trees ahead of me. It was obviously evasive action yet I scanned the skies for a predator but saw nothing. An eerie quiet took over the area and it took me another two or three minutes to get up on the road that cut through the trees. Once there I looked up and saw a crow chasing this kestrel towards me. The kestrel was well above the trees but I tried to get focus through the branches and managed to just get two shots in a gap between the trees; the first a little out of focus and this one. It's into the sun and overexposed, but still I think its ok in that we can almost see what it was carrying. I thought it wanted to stop in the trees but I think it saw me, did a left, and faded into a dot over the rice fields. 

I continued past the trees and followed the road for another 50 metres in the direction from which the  kestrel had come. I saw a very young wagtail on the side of the road and one adult. I had seen two adults in the same spot one week ago taking food to a spot in the bank of a waterway next to the road. I wonder if the package the kestrel was carrying was a member of the wagtail family?

White Wagtail, male

White Wagtail, female