Monday, August 6, 2012

Adventures of the Black Falcon

Black Falcon

Falco subniger

Grantham, Queensland, Australia
July 28, 2012


It was still dark but I awoke abruptly. It wasn’t for sound or movement but for my mind. My eyes were wide open and I immediately anticipated the events of the coming day. It was a rare opportunity for me to go on an outing with the Toowoomba Bird Observers. Within moments I realised my face and feet were cold. (It was minus 1 Celsius outside). I tried in vain to snuggle and snooze, eventually getting up to make coffee. I grabbed the coffee and turned on the TV in time to watch James Bond arrive at Buckingham Palace. It was live. By the time Mr Bean was running along the seaside I was downing hot porridge laced with fruit and washed it down with another cup of coffee and a giant can of Red Bull. Mick picked me up at 7:07am.




We arrived at Highfields Falls at 7:30 sharp where we met friendly, bright-eyed bird watchers keenly gathering for the outing. It was pretty cold in the shadows but wherever we found the early sunlight, there was gentle warmth. No snow or ice. Small shadows were already flittering high in the trees above us and the day had begun.





At first I was in awe of the size of the surrounding trees and bushes and was almost blinded by the contrasts of the light and shadows playing across the cold, dew ridden, dark red clay path in front of us. I watched helplessly as names were called as little figures darted from one bunch of leaves to another. I’ve never been good at photographing (or even seeing) small passerines in the wild but now I am hopelessly out of practice. White-napped honeyeaters, Brown Thornbills, Eastern Yellow Robins, Australian Brush Turkey, Brown Cuckoo-Dove, Pale-headed Rosellas, King Parrots, Torresian Crows and Grey Fantails are just some on the top of my mind without referring to a list (At least several others). Hard to believe that sighting such a collection was regarded as a quiet morning.  (I’ll post some shots at a later time)

By late morning, we headed to a park at Highfields for refreshments where I found myself enjoying a nice cup of hot coffee provided solely by kindness.  In the distance we found Straw-necked Ibis, and crows chasing some kind of raptor, and soon a Brown Goshawk passed by. Pied Currawongs were present as were Galahs and I got shots of a Sulphur-crested Cockatoo announcing his whereabouts wherever he went. A Brown Falcon also stirred the alarms of Noisy Miners. A pair of Wood Ducks sat beside a pond and a Little Pied Cormorant soaked up the sun. High above us Black Kites floated back and forth.
Black Falcon couple appeared to be courting

After the refreshments, Mick offered to drive down around the Lockyer Valley in search of raptors. Kylie jumped in the back and we set forth with a couple of other cars in tow. First Mick spied a distant Wedge-tailed Eagle as we went through Murphys Creek. Later, Kevin and Kay had selflessly stopped ahead of us and waved us on so I could get some shots of a Brown Falcon sitting on a power pole near Murphys Bridge. We needed to remain alert for every moment. Eventually the others left the three of us to continue our search.  Not long after, Mick received a mysterious call by undercover agents, Rob & Jocelyn Wilson, reporting ‘activity of interest’ in the Grantham area. It seemed that a tractor working on a field had attracted numerous birds, including birds of prey. Sirens blazing and lights flashing we jumped into the transporter and were away. As we approached the Grantham area we found Black Kites lofting all about the place.
Brown Falcon

Falco berigora

Murphys Bridge, Queensland

In full patrol mode we cruised cautiously scanning for a field bloated with raptors and within seconds, we did. Black Kites and Crows were sitting in a field with others alighting low and some high in the thermals. After getting to the end of the “field of interest”, Mick carefully performed a u-turn to double back. Suddenly two Black Kites were seen to be mobbing a dashing Black Falcon around trees ahead of us and Mick carefully landed the craft on the side of the highway. The three of us somersaulting out of the vehicle into ready positions.


The Black Falcon is an endemic species to Australia. It is a true spirit from Gondwana. It looks very sleek and large and it is a dynamic aerialist. The female is slightly heavier than a female peregrine. Although it is classified of “Least Concern” by Birdlife International (Birdlife International Black Falcon Factsheet) it is thinly scattered over the outback. It’s been decades since I read David Hollands’ superlative book, “Eagles, Hawks, and Falcons of Australia”, but I recall Dr Hollands writing that it took him seven years of searching for Australian raptors before he finally encountered one.
Black Kite

(Foked-tailed Kite)

Milvus Migrans

As I landed to my feet I drew my camera from its holster. The falcon was hurrying our way, zigzagging around trees, power lines and poles. I tried to focus.
Australian Hobby

Falco longipennis

The Nikkor 80-400mm f5.6 VR lens is a very high quality lens made by Nikon in 2000. I bought mine in 2010. It was Nikon’s first lens to boast VR (VR = Vibration Reduction which takes the shake out of handholding). In recent years, however, many have criticised Nikon for not updating the lens with an AF-S motor (an in-built focussing motor). The current lens relies on the in-camera focussing engine to focus. In the case of my Nikon D300, it can be ok but not completely accurate for moving subjects. An AF-S motor added to the lens would help it to focus faster and more accurately.

Black-shouldered Kites courting

Elanus axillaris

Really kicking myself for failing to get better shots of these. It was a really good opportunity.

Near Gatton, Queensland.


I focussed on a tree behind the oncoming missile and the camera refused to refocus. I shook it. The falcon funnelled around trees, poles and power lines and my lens found the lines but not the bird. I focussed on my left foot. Suddenly a great Gondwanian energy wave was upon us. My balding, eight year old R.M. Williams Gardener boots, (which were given to me freely by R.M. Williams outfitters when I went to get my old ones repaired in 2004) succumbed to the force sending me backwards. My camera flinging upwardly out of my hands. I tried to save the camera, grappling with it, I accidently grabbed it around the shutter button. I could hear the shutter going, “bang, bang, bang” but by the time I got the camera back securely, I looked upwards to see the falcon already high in the blue wilderness with its mate. The chance was gone.





Again we were alone. The trees reforming to stand tall, the power lines calming from their swing.






Raptors seen in the Lockyer Valley for the day were, Black Falcon, Brown Falcon, Black Kite, Whistling Kite, Black-shouldered Kite, Wedge-tailed Eagle, White-bellied Sea-eagle, Australian Kestrel and Australian Hobby. I’ll go back over the list and count them properly later, but I think it adds up to eighteen species* in a couple of hours. For the day we have to include the Brown Goshawk up at Highfields too.  

A Torresian Crow stuck his nose into the private goings on.



Days have drifted by like the continents. I have awakened to breakfasts of miso soup and rice washed down with a cup of coffee and a small can of Red Bull. It is so very hot and humid. I decide to write for my blog and input a title, “We saw a Black Falcon at Grantham”. Frustratingly, I am interrupted by the doorbell. I sign for a delivery ignoring the delivery man, close the door and pick-up and comfort a howling dog. She calms down and I nurse her as I dream of past events. I go back to my computer and read, “Your post has been published”. A gush of air flings the curtain out of the window behind me. I run to the window but see no-one.



*some statements may be untrue in attempt to out-perform previous records of others. 
Or could be true…