GREY FANTAIL (Rhipidura fuliginosa)

Exciting news!

Yesterday when I was cleaning out my desk drawers, (a task one does in ‘lockdown’), I spotted a movement out of the corner of my eye.

I looked up and thought I saw a bird in the eucalyptus tree beside my balcony fence.   After collecting my DSLR and long 150-500mm lens out of its soft pouch on the floor, I slowly stood up and edged sideways towards the lounge balcony door.

Now,  normally this movement on my part would scare any birds away, but with the foliage being thick and not much light, I felt the only way to get a shot was open the balcony door and have no glass between the bird and myself.  I’d cleaned the exterior of my lounge windows only a week ago, but some rain, thick with yellow/orange dust, had re-soiled the windows mid-week.

FIRST SHOT OF THE GREY FANTAIL 5/9/20. I CLEARLY NEEDED TO GET CLOSER TO SHOOT OVER THE BALCONY FENCE RAIL.

The bird didn’t move much.   Take note of its soft downy breast feathers (below).   These and the size of the fantail suggested a very young bird, probably born in the last week or so.   It also looked rather fat so I might suggest it was well-fed by its mother?

A BETTER SHOT BUT WITH AN ISO of 800, CLEARLY A BIT OF NOISE or GRAINYNESS IN THE BACKGROUND FOLIAGE

It was very small and I wondered if the faint white on its face denoted a tiny Willy Wagtail chick initially.   Willy Wagtails have very distinct white ‘eyebrows’. I managed to get 2 shots before it flew away and when I downloaded them, I saw at once that it was a tiny Grey Fantail chick.

THE NEXT SHOT OF THE SECOND VISIT. I WAS HOPING FOR A FRONT-ON VIEW, BUT THE SPOT OF LIGHT REFLECTING IN ITS EYE (MAKING IT A FAIRLY GOOD BIRD SHOT) WAS MISSING.

It was so cute and similar in size to the Superb Fairy-wrens who move with such speed around my balcony area.

Next minute I saw more movement so once again repeated the exercise……got up off my desk chair and slowly moved to the doorway which I’d left open.

I actually repeated this 6 times as the tiny chick flew over to the other side of the road to the tall trees and back to my tree again.   It whipped around to the back of the tree and I watched for some time as it came back to the front-facing me.   Over and over, several times.

I HAD TO STEADY MY LEFT ARM AGAINST THE DOORWAY POST (to get handheld shots).   I missed quite a few when it moved.

It turned continuously as though it was showing off its new coat of feathers to its adoring public – aka ME!

THEN THE SUNLIGHT DISAPPEARED BELOW THE HORIZON AT THE TOP OF MY HILL AND THE TREE FOLIAGE, WHICH WAS ALREADY THICK AND DARK,  got PLUNGED INTO extreme DARK.

I switched the ISO to the highest speed on my Canon DSLR – 3200.   This high ISO creates a lot of noise, or graininess, in the background, but for a hand-held shot and a bird continuously on the move on that branch, it was the only way to get the bird in focus in such low light..

I walked indoors to get out the Sony a6000 ‘mirrowless’ with its fast 11 fps (frames per second) continuous shooting speed.   The Sony has a top ISO of 6400 which was the only way I was going to get more shots of the fantail in the dim light.   I only have one lens for this camera, but that would have to do.

With my eyesight, I can’t tell which of the following 2 shots is in focus, so I’ve given you both. With only the 55-210 kit lens for my Sony left now (the 18-200mm lens died in a fall 3 months after I bought the Sony in 2015).   I traded some lenses to buy the Sony, partly because of its light weight with my declining spinal condition, but also because, at that time it was the fastest fps (frames per second) on the market.

So the 2 shots below were handheld with my left elbow resting on the doorframe to try and steady the camera.  Hope you can see the bird right of centre.

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I’m hoping to see this tiny new chick a few more times in the afternoons.   I’m not sure why it flew back and forth betweeen the tall tree over the road and my eucalyptus tree so many times, but it kept me entertained for quite some time.

The first (and only) time I saw a Grey Fantail previously was in the Japanese Maple tree on the 19th September 2019.

That Fantail was fully grown (to my eyes) and continually flew up, down and all around the branches in the maple for 3 hours.

Here are a few of the 2019 shots.   You’ll notice the new Spring growth on the bare-limbed winter tree.

Yesterday’s tiny bird sighting really made my day.

A friend who lives on the top floor of this building rang me on Friday to say there were new ducklings on the large puddle of water near Frogs Hollow and also 2 black swans further down the river on the pond.

Dare I hope for another walk and some more photos in this glorious Spring sunshine?

You’ll have to keep following my nature blog to find out   🙂

HOUSE SPARROW (Passer domesticus)

female House Sparrow

House Sparrows are as common as mud, but that doesn’t take away the pleasure of observing their habits and trying to photograph them from the comfort of my desk chair.

They’re fascinating.

Sitting at my desk with intermittent glances out the lounge windows gives me a ‘birdseye view’.

I got fed up with my sore neck and headaches this week so put my new(ish) 27″ iMac back down on a box atop a low table behind my desk again this week and discovered that with the screen 5-6″ lower, I was able to observe the Sparrows (and sometimes the Superb Fairy-wrens) in the nearby Eucalyptus tree over the top of my iMac screen.

The fixed stand on the iMac (desktop) is one of the few daily and rather trivial annoyances that have entered my life since my crashed Mac Pro laptop and Dell high resolution 27″ screen left my life mid-May 2019.

The Dell screen could be moved up, down and even turned portrait size (as well as the usual landscape view).   i could tilt it any old way.  I had it connected to my 13″ Mac Pro on my desk and with the slight colour tone differences could correct any colour saturation that looked a wee bit off on either screen.   The Mac Pro laptop had a slightly richer colour.

(note: in the series below the window was dirty from recent rains so the images are a bit faded).

A couple of days ago, a male House Sparrow seemed to be actually enjoying bouncing up and down on a small branch.   For once I could clearly see through the thick foliage.

If I didn’t know better, I might suggest the bird was bouncing up and down on the branch in the brisk winter wind for the sheer fun of it.

Seriously.   The bird stayed on the branch for quite some time.

Took me a while to focus over the top of my (lowered) computer screen and through the louvred window panes on that side of the room.

NOTE: I have reduced the shadows, increased the contrast and ‘black point’ in photo editing so you could see the bird more clearly, otherwise, the bird’s outline would have been almost invisible.

You will notice this male Sparrow has a beautiful soft thick grey winter coat of breast feathers and in the cold winter morning the bird has also fluffed up its feathers to retain some warmth.

Here’s example of a couple of Spotted Turtle-doves in Frogs Hollow Nature Reserve behind my apartment building in winter 2017 below. Note how they’ve fluffed up their winter coat in order to retain some warmth.

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Back to the story……….

One other day this week, the sun came out and several sparrows came to play and splash around in my (temporary) birdbath.

Actually, it’s not temporary.

A large plastic plant saucer atop an even larger empty plant pot makes a wonderful birdbath.   It’s higher up so I can take photos more clearly through the windows.  Since the water is quite deep, I have put 2 small metal water bowls in the centre so the birds have a sturdy bowl rim to stand on and bend over when quenching their thirst.

The Avian species on my balcony needs some good ergonomics just as much as me with my desk chair height  😀

One day, when the stores open again, I might buy a real birdbath.   The blue ceramic one has broken twice over the last few years necessitating 2 trips to the local Bunnings Hardware Warehouse with its attached plant nursery.    It’s only 15 minutes walk away but closed for 6 weeks at the moment.   I usually book a taxi to go there (and back home) as I always buy too much.

For the newer followers who have just joined me, this series (below) gives you an idea of where I buy my herb and veggie seedlings each Spring.   Bunnings is the name of a larger Hardware warehouse chain of stores and they must have millions of products indoors, let alone the large outdoor plant nursery.

The House Sparrows play and splash around and make great entertainment value in this current ‘lockdown’ in Melbourne.

If you’re a bird photographer.  Even an amateur like me.   Don’t dismiss the fun in observing these common little birds that frequent our urban landscape in the absence of more exotic species.

I’ve taken so few photos in recent weeks, I actually leave my cameras packed away in their soft pouches most days.

I saw a grey Fantail land on my balcony fence this week and missed the shot due to having no camera ready and waiting.

Just to share what a Grey Fantail looks like, here are the images made last year when I spotted one in my Japanese Maple.

# A PHOTO A DAY KEEPS THE DOCTOR AWAY – Day 9

I think I missed my Photo-a-Day from my archives yesterday.   Like many of you, I have been exploring some more online ordering, now that we are all staying at home and ordered not to go out (except for 4 reasons as specified by the Australian Government), so a little extra time ‘surfing the net’ has occupied my spare time.

For those new to my nature blog, I thought I’d go through my archives right back from the beginning in May 2010 when I first bought a camera and took up photography.   I figured a photo-a-day would keep you all entertained while the coronavirus restrictions are in place.   Some of you may be spending more time online.

Since I have thousands of photos, you’d think it would be easy to choose one each day, but it’s not.   I am hopeless when it comes to choosing one photo over another.   I keep finding faults with those early photos too.

Anyway, this photo is for Gary in N.Z. as we were talking about Fantails. (sorry the tail got chopped off).

GREY FANTAIL (Rhipidura fuliginosa)

On the 19th September last year. when the Japanese Maple was bursting with Spring buds and quite bare-limbed, I had the luck to be out on my apartment balcony when a bird landed on the tree in front of my balcony fence.   Initially, I thought it was a Willie Wagtail with that white ‘eyebrow’, but then noticed the white cheek patch. I went indoors to get my Australian Bird Guide book out and flipped through the pages.

It was a GREY FANTAIL (Rhipidura fuliginosa).   I’ve never seen this species before (or since) despite them being a common bird according to the guide book.

It hopped continually from branch to branch for about 3 hours.   Yes, that long.   I went outdoors several times in the afternoon before it finally flew off around dusk.   Plenty of time to get my camera with a short telephoto lens and plenty of time to identify it.

Here are a couple more shots (below) which I took before the one above.  As you can see, the shadows made it hard to get a good shot.   If you’re Australian and reading this post, you will know what a Willie Wagtail looks like and how I initially identified it incorrectly.

You have to have a great deal of patience when doing Bird Photography.   I’ve taken hundreds of shots with the camera setting on ‘continuous shooting’ in the hope of catching at least one image in focus (when the bird species is a fast-moving one like this fantail).   I’m much better at photographing birds and animals which stand perfectly still.

GREY FANTAIL (Rhipidura fuliginosa)
GREY FANTAIL (Rhipidura fuliginosa)

By the way, when standing at the front door of my apartment building on Wednesday, waiting for my supermarket delivery, (the drivers are not allowed to come indoors, up the lift and deliver to my apartment door due to the social distancing rules),   I saw not only a male Superb Fairy-wren run across the road, I saw a tiny field-mouse run across the path into a garden bed about 4 feet away from my feet.   It was the smallest mouse I’ve ever seen in my life and I was thrilled to see it.

These chance encounters with the little critters in nature never cease to bring some excitement to my day and always make me smile.   Once, about 15 years ago, while walking home from work through the Royal Botanic Gardens, I stopped at the small Nympheae Lake to feed the ducks.   Next minute a small marsupial of some kind – maybe a water rat? – swam through the water, head & nose poking just above the surface.  It then proceeded to climb onto a water lily leaf with something in its ‘hands’ and sat back on its haunches and proceeded to daintily nibble away at its meal.

I stood perfectly still and watched, totally fascinated.   It was like watching a little critter from a Beatrix Potter story (for those in the U.K. who are familiar with Beatrix Potter’s children’s books).

It was BC (Before Camera) back in those days.

THE BIRD HAS GONE……….

The Grey Fantail I watched erratically flitting from branch to branch yesterday is gone this morning.

Phew!

For once in my life, I’m glad to see the absence of a bird as I was so worried about it yesterday.   The Fantail’s body was about the size of a small chicken egg to give you an idea of how tiny it was.   Similar in size to the baby Fairy-wrens I photograph in my Balcony Garden (below).

 

GREY FANTAIL (Rhipidura fuliginosa)

After such a woeful outpouring a couple of posts ago, I’ve had a most thrilling sighting this afternoon.

At first I thought it was a baby Willy Wagtail I saw out of the corner of my eye (whilst typing at my desk).   I opened the sliding balcony door and stepped out into the wild gusty wind and went over to the balcony fence.

There was a tiny flash of black darting continually around the Japanese Maple (located between my balcony and the footpath).

I went back indoors and grabbed the long 150-500mm ‘birding’ lens and quickly flipped the 9 focus points to 1 and went back outdoors to try to get that between the Maple foliage.   Not thick foliage at this stage of Spring, but thick enough for me to quickly go through something like 50 shots in an attempt to get the tiny bird in focus.

Here are a few attempts…..

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I was totally mystified by the white wing-like patches behind the white ‘eyebrow’ feathers (which would have made it a Willy Wagtail chick flashing its tail backwards and forwards faster than the eye or camera could follow).

I got my Australian Bird Guide Book out and after downloading the images onto the 27″ screen I realized I had captured some images of a new Bird I’d never seen before – a Grey Fantail.

What a thrill!

Fantails are common birds all over Australia, but I’d never seen one before.

My excitement started to die down and all those long months of photographing the fast-moving Superb Fairy-wrens on my balcony started to pay off.

I finally got some better shots……

The white chin feathers clinched it!  Besides, Northern Fantails are restricted to the far north of Australia, so it wasn’t one of that species.   If you think I’ve got the ID wrong, please let me know in the comments section.

This was about 1.45pm or so.   I was so engrossed in my efforts I nearly forgot I had a doctor’s appointment at the local clinic.

Anyway, 2 hours later, when I returned home, the bird was still frantically flying around the Maple tree, then to the hedge next to the footpath, to the young Eucalyptus sapling and then back to the Maple.

Before I left home it had crashed into the glass balcony fence several times.

It’s 6.00pm at the moment and it’s still madly (and somewhat erratically) moving from branch to branch and tree to tree.

I wonder if it’s looking for its Mother or nest?

I wonder if crashing into the balcony glass fence a few times has hurt it somehow?

I’d never be able to catch it.

If it’s still in the tree tomorrow……. crazily flying around, I’ll be on the phone trying to find the appropriate wildlife association or the local Park Ranger to come and try to catch it and take it to a vet or something.  It is probably a bit premature to phone now this late in the day.

I’ve never seen a bird flying so fast and behaving in such a crazy fashion.

Except when a Rainbow Lorikeet, who flew into my lounge window, crash-landed and fell down dead in my plant pot.   Its body was still warm when I picked it up and surveyed the broken body.   I have to admit a tear came to my eye at that moment.