WAITING……….

If you learn to enjoy waiting, you don’t have to wait to enjoy.

Kazuaki Tanahashi

The Birdsong is back and I’ve sat enjoying the cool breeze wafting through my apartment via the open sliding door and louvre windows……watching the birds on the other side of my road.  

It’s a real stretch for my 150-500mm lens to capture a bird on the other side of the road, but the shot of the male Splendid Fairy-wren below was pretty good for a hand-held shot.

I could spend all day watching…..waiting…..observing Nature in all its beauty, but this morning I am eager to go to the Opticians to pick up my new glasses.  The ones I’ve worn for the last 10 days since the current pair broke in half, are just not good enough to read blogs or do much on the computer.

Staying at home from 10.30am -2.30pm while the Property Agents inspect all the apartments they manage can be a nuisance too,  as you never know when they’ll turn up in the 4 hours time slot, so I try to make that time a special occasion to see how many birds I can spot from my desk chair.

You know that old saying ‘a watched kettle never boils’. Well, I have a new version.  ‘A waited-for doorbell never rings’ 🙂

Of course I’ve already done my ‘garden’ round to see if the Capsicums are starting to change colour, but no, they’re still green and in recent weeks I’ve knocked two baby capsicums off already.  Their stem attachment must be very fragile.  This variety is supposed to change from green to purple to red in about 3 weeks after they mature, but I suspect the extremes in temperature and unseasonal storms and weather patterns have upset their growing cycle.

I was standing on the balcony watching the foliage through the telephoto lens when I spotted a dark shape in the Eucalyptus sapling to the right side of my balcony fence.

The wind, while not as gusty as the last couple of days, was still enough to toss the dark shape, branches and leaves around, so I took several photos trying to get the waving outline of the bird in focus.

 

And then……………………success!

It was a Grey Shrike-thrush and I was lucky enough to capture the bird’s head in reasonable focus before it flew away as I moved forward and tried to get a bit closer to the bush.

Waiting….. is a time for being still, focused and taking time to chill out and relax.

I am so lucky to have this time to myself to do what I love best – observing Nature and practising Photography.

Life is so good when we appreciate the simple things and the simple pleasures they bring into our lives.

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THE DAY OF THE WIND

It’s after 4.00pm on a gorgeous blue sky cool day and all I can hear is the Wind (from  my desk chair).

It is buffeting the flimsy branches of the young Japanese Maple and Eucalyptus saplings in front of my apartment balcony in all directions.  At times it is whistling throughout the building and I’m wondering whether I should put the draft stoppers under my front door again (like I do in winter).

Where is the birdsong today?

Perhaps it is Resting in Silence.

The last couple of days the rain has fallen steadily , but softly, most of the waking hours.

It did pound down with menace for a short time yesterday afternoon and then just as suddenly as it started, it stopped, and all I could hear were the gentle droplets on my balcony fence rail.

I tried to catch some droplets of rain in a photo, but for some weird reason my camera wouldn’t autofocus and I had to be content with sitting and watching.  It was very soothing and peaceful just watching.

Almost like a meditation in nature (despite the humidity necessitating the  air-conditioner).

Today, it is cool and the breeze winding its way through my lounge louvre windows is refreshing and downright heavenly after the heat and humidity of recent days.

Methinks this little female House Sparrow (below) has had too much to eat.  It is looking decidedly fat! (but then I am no longer trim, taunt & terrific looking as in my youth, so I shouldn’t criticise I suppose).

Yesterday I had only one visitor to the blue bird bath swinging wildly in the wind.  The ceramic shallow dish was just like a small boat riding the waves of a storm at sea.  Perhaps the House Sparrows found the swinging bowl disconcerting.

This afternoon the bird bath is gently swaying and I’ve had 2 female House Sparrows drop in for several drinks to quench their thirst and then fly up to the balcony rail tap-tapping their beaks on the hard metal surface.  I presume they do this to sharpen their beaks or something.

But still no birdsong.

When the washing machine finishes its current cycle it will be a perfect time to go outdoors for a walk.  But at 20 degrees C (about 68F), it will definitely be a ‘short coat’ walk.  I’ve got 3 appointments (or deliveries) over the next 3 days, so best make the most of the cooler weather in today’s remaining hours.

Then it’s back to 39 degrees C (or 102F) on Thursday.  Quite weird, our summer in Melbourne,  so far.  Blistering heat one day and cool, verging on cold, the next.  But then the world news reveals freakish snow storms and mudslides taking lives in the Northern Hemisphere, so perhaps not unusual to find weird weather patterns in Melbourne, DownUnder, too.

RED-TAILED BLACK-COCKATOO (Calyptorhynchus banksii) – The Great Aviary, Melbourne Zoo

From the Archives……..

We have some beautiful Lorikeets, Cockatoos, Corellas and Parrots in Australia.

I’ve seen several in the wild, but I’ve only seen the Red-Tailed Black-Cockatoo in the Great Aviary at Melbourne Zoo.  The small yellow spots on its head and white beak indicate it’s a female.

Red-tailed Black Cockatoo (Calyptorhynchus banksii)

 

FINALLY………….SOME BETTER SHOTS

New Years Day’s feeding frenzy, when I put out some birdseed, yielded some better shots and a new visitor yesterday.

Spotted Turtle-dove (Streptopelia chinensis) dropped in for lunch.  I think this is only the second time I’ve seen this species on my balcony.  Quite clearly all the spilt bird seed was a big attraction.  Unbeknown to me, much had fallen in the empty planter box hanging over the side of the balcony rail.

(Note: long-time followers will remember the Spotted Turtle-doves not only visited my 3rd floor previous apartment on the north-east side of Melbourne, but several eventually became very tame and I could fill the bird-seed and water bowls 6″ away from where they stood on the fence.  One bird even hopped inside my open balcony door and inspected my lounge room, but upon stepping on my wool rug, it quite clearly didn’t like the surface and eventually flew back outdoors – Phew! Just as well too.  I’d hate to have to chase a dove around my lounge room trying to catch it and put it outdoors).

After a couple of quick shots, I thought yesterday’s Dove had flown away and went back to my computer work, but it was merely playing hide and seek.

This empty long planter box is awaiting a visit to the nearby Hardware/Plant Nursery Warehouse to get some more potting soil.  My brother gave me a Basil and Italian Parsley seedling together with a book & dvd on Gardening in a Small Space for Christmas and the poor little plants keep wilting in the hot sun, so a shopping expedition is sorely needed.

I am hoping there are no visitors today so that I can finally get out the front door to do some much needed fresh food & plant nursery shopping.

I think all the long-term Followers will agree – this is the best couple of weeks for avian visitors since I moved to the western suburbs of Melbourne 15 months ago.

BRIGHT IDEA (on New Year’s Day)……….MEDIOCRE RESULT

I had a bright idea on New Year’s Day.

I was expecting friends for lunch who are great bushwalkers, cyclists and outdoor Nature Lovers.  Initially, we were all going to complete the final part of my coastal walk at Jawbone Conservation Reserve in Williamstown on the north-west side of Port Phillip Bay and then have a picnic lunch.

Unfortunately my ankles were still too swollen and my breathing a little ragged which I have yet to see the doctor/cardiologist about, so I changed the arrangements to lunch at my home.

Around the time I was expecting my friends, I put a trickle of finch/budgerigar seed along the whole balcony fence rail in the hope of attracting all the bird life I’d been avidly watching last week.  It worked a little too soon, but I had the pleasure of observing a female House Sparrow feed her (very large) offspring.  I couldn’t see the offspring very well in the deep shade of the foliage of the tree next to my balcony.

Secondly, my windows, sliding door AND thick glass balcony fence were covered in dust from a recent rain shower, so it was really hard work trying to get a shot of the action in the deep shade.  I couldn’t quite see enough through all those layers of dirty glass.

But here’s the best out of about 100 shots (taken with the DSLR on continuous shooting).  I have a light touch with the DLSR and can actually take just one shot or press down and capture multiple shots on the continuous shooting setting, where if using the Sony a6000 “mirrorless’ on the continuous shooting setting at 11 fps, (frames per second), it’s too fast and I end up with at least 6-10 shots of the same scene.

Hence me using a DSLR on the Day.

I’ve done the best I can in increasing the exposure, increasing the contrast and reducing the shadows in post processing , so I hope you can see enough.  My eyesight in not good enough to find the best shot.  They all look a little fuzzy or soft in focus to me.

Here’s the ‘juvenile’ below,  (although it looks larger than it’s Mother to me)

And here’s the Mother back again for more seed.  The House Sparrow made many trips while I was watching, but my friends missed the whole show.

The bird seemed to be ‘chewing’ the seed up before placing it in the juvenile’s mouth.

Now you can pick which one is the clearest and best focus (below).

Remember it was very dark and I could only see a shadow through 3 panes of dirty glass, although occasionally the bird’s head or beak moved into the sunlight a bit.

Then the birds flew away and my friends arrived.

During the afternoon, the birds dropped down for a drink from the bird bath, but to me, that was a rather ordinary experience, where a bird feeding its young is a treat.

The result was both bird and wind brushed the seed off the balcony rail on to my potted plants and the sparrows spent the next 24 hours feeding on the soil of my potted plants or scattering the soil on to the ground (in their efforts to find more spilt bird seed).

I’ve already swept all the scattered soil up once this morning, but looks like a mess again.

As I type this post, I had to stop to photograph a Spotted Turtle-Dove who dropped in for a late lunch today. but if there are any decent shots in that series, you’ll have to wait til the next post.

MIDDAY VISITORS

No wonder I never get out the front door for a nature walk these days…….. (well, only one since 2nd November).

There’s too much happening on my balcony, (and it’s been either raining, or too hot, or my lower back/hip hurts too much, anyway).

Looks like I had the focal point on the bird on the right in this initial image. A bit later I managed to change the camera setting a wee bit.

This morning’s visitors, apart from the House Sparrows, were 2 Willy Wagtails (Rhipidura leucophrys).

 I’ve lightened the shadows in the above image so the eye and white eyebrows are easier to see. 

One fanned its tail out in a beautiful display but I missed that shot.

The nearest camera bag next to my desk chair contained the Sony a6000 ‘mirrorless’ with a 55-210mm lens attached and set on the Continuous Shooting setting.  I grabbed that very quickly.

Minutes later when I grabbed the DSLR & 150-500mm lens behind my chair, the Wagtails had flown away.

One appeared to have some white fibre in its beak so maybe it was nest-building nearby.

No time to compose the shot or change the focal point much (so no complaints about where the bird is located in the frame please).

Interesting to note that most of the birds I’ve seen in the last few days are slim and have relatively small heads and I suspect are youngsters or teenagers, perhaps?

The female House Sparrows are definitely young(er) and seem reluctant to come to the bird bath for a drink while the slightly larger male Sparrow is drinking from the ceramic dish.

PS I MAY NEVER LEAVE MY DESK AGAIN at this rate 😀

FIRST FLIGHT???????

Oh my goodness!

I was beside myself with excitement.

(I was just about to step into the shower when I heard furious tiny tweeting….over and over again.  It sounded frantic).

I went out to the lounge and looked out of the window to see one tiny chick on my balcony rail and another clinging for dear life on the young eucalyptus sapling at the other end of my balcony.   I’d been watching the gusty wind blow all the nearby young trees and hedges almost double for some time, earlier in the morning, (i.e. late in the morning as I get up late).

I filled the small plastic watering can full of water to fill up the nearly empty bird bath, which had dried up in today’s heat and slowly stepped over the door rail and up to the bird bath, (just below the tiny bird standing on the rail).

It didn’t move and had its eyes tightly shut, but was tweeting its little heart out.

Then after filling the shallow dish, I went and retrieved my DLSR & long lens to get some photos.  I’d put it away last night after leaving it out all week, primed and ready for bird balcony shots.

Then I realised the tiny chicks had the markings of New Holland Honeyeaters on their wings and with their eyes tightly shut hadn’t even seen me, but I wondered if they’d fallen out of a nest on the building somewhere?  Nope.  These birds probably had a nest on the other side of the road in those tightly leafed Cypress(?) trees.

MAYBE, IT WAS THEIR FIRST FLIGHT AWAY FROM THEIR NEST? (and they were frantically called for their Mama to come and get them as they’d lost their way home).

I slowly put my hand up to about 3″ away from the feet of the one on my balcony rail and whispered softly “are you awake?”

It opened its eyes and looked straight at me.

There was no fear, just curiosity.  My head was about a foot away from the tiny bird.

I slowly turned walked down 5-6 feet and tried to get some shots of the bird in the tree, but the wind gusts were too vigorous, so I went back inside to get my Sony a6000 with its 11 fps (frames per second) and tried again.  Of course I had both cameras on continuous shooting (so I’ve got a zillion shots) and the ISO on Auto, but for the life of me couldn’t remember what else I should do to capture the wildly waving branch in the frame.

Brain Fog.

I started to get nervous that the tiny bird would fall off the Eucalyptus sapling, but its tiny claws were obviously very strong.  Eventually it opened its eyes and stared at me (trying to reach the branch to still the movement).  I actually thought if I could reach it and coax it on to my hand I could gently put it down next to the other chick on the balcony.

They might have been siblings, or twins, or cousins, or…….even, potential lovers one day (yes, I have vivid imagination).

But no, ‘the bird in the bush‘ actually flew off down to the road about 2 ” away from the front tyre of a smoke alarm service vehicle with its engine running.

Oh no.  The car was probably going to pull out and squash the chick.

They may not look it by my photos, but these birds were TINY!

I dashed back into the lounge to get my mobile phone and I managed to see enough of the Company’s phone number on the side of the vehicle and phoned them.  After the usual “press 1 for service”, “press 2 for ………., “press 3 for ……” and so on up to “6 for reception”.

A cool middle-aged female voice answered and I explained I was standing on my balcony on the first floor at xyz address and could see a baby honeyeater 2″ away from the left front wheel of one of their Company’s service vehicles and could they patch me through to the driver OR, could they phone him and tell him not to move his vehicle or drive off.   Next minute the passenger got slowly out of the vehicle and I called out an explanation and that the chick had just gone under their vehicle where it was shady.  Driver & passenger, both in Company Uniform, got down on their hands and knees to look, but the bird then flew off.

Phew!

They said they’d double-check after they’d been inside to service a fire alarm.

I’ll bet that was the weirdest phone call that receptionist had ever received in her entire life 😀

EARLY MORNING VISITORS

I am not a morning person.

I need my sleep/rest, so when I sat down at my desk with my Italian Espresso coffee at 9.30am my eyes were still half-closed this morning.

That caffeine hit of the day is what keeps me going.  1-2 cups in the morning is about my limit or else I can’t get to sleep at night.  After a couple of hours yesterday with my younger brother in front of the computer identifying birds on his new website, I’d even had a third cup after Christmas lunch.

Being from his farm up the country, my brother’s avian species were completely different to my own regularly seen around Frogs Hollow.  Apart from many images of Willy Wagtails, most of his images were of colourful Rosellas and the vivid red and green Australian King Parrots he feeds regularly.

I couldn’t copy them , so some of my own images from my archives when I was up the country will have to suffice for this post.

Most of his images were made with his Phone from his tractor, not with his recently acquired DSLR and lenses.  When I asked why he didn’t take his camera outdoors, his reply was that when you go out to plough a field with a tractor, you have a phone in your pocket, not a DSLR & telephoto lens 😀

I smiled rather weakly at the Obvious.

My 91 year old Father was dozing in the armchair I’d placed in front of the open lounge doorway, so he could watch the House Sparrows drink their way through the chilled water I’d poured in the bird bath earlier in the morning.  He missed our photo sharing completely.  I think he was thoroughly enjoying the bird song as we’d had few cars driving up/down the road before Christmas lunch, but his regular afternoon nap couldn’t be missed – even on Christmas Day.

A short while ago the tiny Splendid Fairy-wrens flitted through the deep shade of the tree in front of my balcony.  They were mere shadows and yet I studied them as eagerly as if they’d been out on an open branch.   I couldn’t see if they were males or females.

Despite the distance to the other side of the road, I could easily identify the reddish heads of the European Goldfinches (Carduelis chloris) this morning. (and I wish the Auto Spellcheck would stop changing ‘chloris’ to ‘chlorine’ 🙂 )

The time when I get up, make coffee and sit down at my desk in front of the window is my favourite time of day.  The tiny avian visitors frequent my side of the road as its lovely and cool and the foliage is in deep shade making these small birds almost invisible to larger predators.

What is that damn tree anyway I thought to myself.  A Japanese maple?  It’s deciduous in winter and it sort of looks like a maple leaf (attached to its slender branches waving gently in the morning breeze).

I know ‘squat‘ about trees.

Give me a bird to identify any day.

To be honest, I only know about 100 Australian birds and in any one of my Brain Fog moments, this knowledge leaks out of the back of my brain in a silent stream, leaving a black hole, so some days I know ZERO.

I picked up the DSLR with the long 150-500mm lens (now) permanently sitting next to my desk on a low table…….well, for this week anyway.

Damn it, I said again.  The expensive long telephoto lens has broken.  It had toppled off the table yesterday when I turned my swivel desk chair around.  It was dark looking through the viewfinder and for the life of me I couldn’t work out why.  If I’d broken the $1000+ lens, then I’m not buying another one.  The Photography Fund is empty.

Wake up I said to myself, you haven’t taken the lens cap off!

Duh!

The bird which had just landed on the top branch waved around uncertainly for a moment or two, leaving me mystified as to why it appeared so small.  It looked vaguely like that Grey Shrike-thrush (Colluricincla harmonica), which a fellow blogger had identified for me only a few weeks ago.  But with the foreground in deep shade and the background (the other side of the road which gets the morning sun) bright, it was not an easy ID.  Besides all its feather were wet so the colouring was unclear.

Wake up I said for the umpteenth time.

Unlock the zoom and zoom the lens out, you idiot.

Ahhhhhhh!  Now I had the bird looking a reasonable size.

And yes, I do talk to myself a lot.  Keeps me sane in this uncertain world we live in.

In the absence of a clear ID, we’ll call it THE Grey Shrike-thrush.

It turned its head around to scratch an ‘itch’ on its back.

I managed one more shot and then it flew away.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw another movement and 3 male Splendid Fairy-wrens, with their vivid blue heads showing up quite clearly, came to the top of the young tree, but I was too late to capture them in the frame and they flew off just as quickly as they’d arrived.

Besides I was typing this post before I’d forget the reason for opening up my Nature blog first thing this morning, (instead of my gmail).

Did I tell you I’m not a morning person 😀

COCKS COMB CORAL TREE (Erythrina crista-galli) – ROYAL BOTANIC GARDENS, MELBOURNE

From the Archives – 12th December 2012

The Cocks Comb Coral Tree appears with slightly different names in my Plant Encyclopaedias, so if you know it by a different name, don’t be surprised.

Coral tree (Erythrina crista-galli)
Coral tree (Erythrina crista-galli)

I came across one particular plant down near Fern Gully in the centre of the Royal Botanic Gardens which was covered, (well, at least 30-35 birds), in Rainbow Lorikeets when the flowers were fully open in the Summer.

What a raucous noise they made.  It was such an amazing sight to see so much colour.

This image was made on the day that there were 30-35 Rainbow Lorikeets on the one bush.

Further down the same path, but next to the large Ornamental Lake there was another bush right next to the asphalt path and I photographed 3-4 more Rainbow Lorikeets up close – not in the least disturbed by my proximity.  As it was very bright sunlight, I just had to wait until the birds climbed under the bush to avoid over-exposed shots.

LUCKY SHOT!

I’d just made my morning coffee, sat down at my desk and opened my email when I caught some movement out of the corner of my eye.

A tiny female Splendid Fairy-wren (Malurus splendent) had landed on the netting covering my tomato plants.  This time I had the DSLR set on Aperture Priority and Auto ISO and was well prepared with the telephoto zoomed out to approximately what I would want for a bird on my balcony.

So it was lens cap off as fast as lightening and action……..

I think it must be a young bird, as not only has it downy soft feathers and small frame, but it crashed into my bedroom window twice before flying away to the other side of the road.  An experienced adult would know not to fly into a window.  (and since its been raining heavily, I imagine most of the windows have dusty spots on them).

I’ve woken up to perfect weather and scarcely a breath of wind.

Let’s hope I get out the front door today.

Yesterday, the power went off and I waited and waited (to make breakfast) and finally ended up having a cold shower and staying home.   All I could do for some time was read a book, as I didn’t know when the power would come back on.  Even though I have a kettle on my modern gas stovetop, it turned out one needs power to spark the gas ignition.  And I didn’t have a box of matches as I’d given all of them to my brother years ago.

So………where will I go today?  Out with the camera OR to the market to get some much-needed food for the Christmas week?

A WINDLESS DAY (or nearly windless day), IN MELBOURNE IS NOT TO BE ‘SNEEZED AT’.

FRECKLED DUCK (Stictonetta naevosa) – The Great Aviary, Melbourne Zoo

Freckled Duck (Stictonetta naevosa)

The Freckled Duck has to be one of the most drab and ordinary waterfowl around and to be honest, one that I’ve photographed a few times but hesitant to share online.

But I guess birds can’t all have dazzling plumage merely to make them interesting or Photogenic.

Freckled Duck (Stictonetta naevosa)

I did read somewhere or other that it is rarely seen in the wild, but I suspect that’s more to do with their ability to blend into their surroundings as much as reduced numbers.  Apparently, it is often mistaken for other breeds and shot by hunters during the duck-shooting season here in Australia.

It’s beak is characteristically wedge-shaped, slightly upturned at the tip and the male becomes bright red over the base when breeding.

But I was glad I’d photographed it in the end as its fanned tail helped me identify a Musk Duck down at St Kilda beach one day (which looks very nondescript and similar).

Freckled Duck (Stictonetta naevosa)

 

 

PATIENCE

If you learn to enjoy waiting, you don’t have to wait to enjoy.

Kazuaki Tanahashi

I have an extraordinary amount of patience.

I can spend hours sitting at my desk, staring at the bird bath or surrounding trees.  Far more time than I can possibly stand still outdoors on a nature walk.

But, I can only hold my breathe (and heavy telephoto lens) for so long.

This morning, I’ve been staring at the tree in front of my balcony for quite some time waiting for the birds to visit.  Yesterday the House Sparrows visited the bird bath most of the day as I kept filling it with chilled water from the fridge.

The sparrows seemed to stay longer and take more drinks of water when I do this on a hot day.  I think they really do appreciate the cooler water (but that could be my imagination).  The little female House Sparrow below certainly did, although as soon as I put the DSLR down to ease the ache in my shoulders and neck, it flew away – no doubt startled by the sudden movement.

This tree (below) is thick with foliage, but I’m determined to catch a photo of a bird in the midst, especially now that the tiny flowers are starting to open.

I saw a wren drop down to a branch and it bounced up and down as though on a trampoline.  No chance of a shot through that dirty window either.

I slowly rose up from my desk chair (regretting my choice of a bright blue rather noticable shirt today).   I managed to pick up the DSLR & long lens and move sideways inch by inch to the open sliding door.

The wren moved up to the top of the tree.

This would be about 10 feet from my standing position.

I silently sent it a little message for it to look up and stop hiding…..

I sent another message for it to stand still (as there was almost no breeze on this hot, humid overcast day).

…..and then, success.

I silently thanked the little female Splendid Fairy-wren as it flew away.

By the way, the flowers you can see in the image above, are the first to open on this particular young Eucalyptus, so in the days to come, I might get many more avian visitors looking for some nectar.

The bees will certainly be in the area.

Midday and time to close all the windows and sliding door and turn the air-conditioning on – little rivulets of perspiration are pouring down my forehead and nose and my glasses are slipping off  🙂

BUFF-BANDED RAIL (Gallirallus philippensis) – MELBOURNE ZOO

Having recently retrieved an old back-up file, I have loads more bird images in my archives and I was thinking last night that maybe I should share some more of them.

I’ve always re-shared my favourite images – usually herons – but perhaps you might enjoy some of the ‘not shared before‘ bird species.

The shots I consider pretty ordinary.

Not close enough to the bird, or the light was poor, or I could only get a shot of their rear end as they were in a tree over my head and ‘bottoms’ were all I could see.

I kept this image of the bottom of a Satin Bower Bird as I like the feather pattern, but seriously, one of these days I’m going to get bird poop on my camera lens or glasses.

The images I made some years ago of the Buff-banded Rail fall into this category.  I lightened the exposure of a few shots last night in pp and its a bit easier to see this bird within the frame.   I always thought I’d go back and re-shoot this species, but of course after 3 years zoo membership and about 100+ visits, I let my Zoo membership lapse, thinking to go on to photographing landscapes, or more street photography, (which hasn’t happened I might add, well not much anyway).

During many hot summer days I’d go to the zoo 3 times a week as the temperate rainforest landscaping of Melbourne’s main zoo, (we have 3 zoos), offered me much relief from the heat.  Sometimes I’d go and spent the whole afternoon in the Great Aviary until the loud speaker system indicated it was 15 minutes to closing time, then there was always a mad scramble to get to the back entrance/exit which linked with the city-bound tram line.

I rarely used the front entrance of the zoo.

So here’s some photos (as well as some of the Great Aviary so you know the area I’m talking about and can gain an appreciation of the massive size of this structure).  There’s a water course running through which ends up in a pond when many of the storks or other large birds do their mating dance.  I’ve been lucky enough to see several courtships.

This is about the best out of all the shots.  I lightened the exposure last night so you can see the colour and feather pattern a bit more easily.

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This is a series of Aviary shots I made over several visits and show how large it is.  The long space is broken up into 3 climate zones, although you can’t see much at the far end which is very thick rainforest.  Some images may look similar, but they have actually been made from opposite ends of the boardwalk.

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Some days you get lucky and other days the birds are high up near the roof basking in the winter sunshine leaving only a silhouette to shoot, OR hiding in the shadows of the long  boardwalk in the heat of Melbourne’s long humid summer.

Some birds, like the finches, are housed in smaller cages in another area of the zoo, although since it’s a couple of years since I’ve visited, they may have been re-housed in newer viewing areas constructed more recently.

One afternoon I went specifically to visit the Aviary and it was closed for renovation, so if you’re visiting Melbourne, always best to check their website or ring first if you want to visit a specific area.

Melbourne Zoo is open 365 days per year and one year, I even went on Christmas Day.  Best not to go during Melbourne’s school holidays though – the crowd makes it difficult to get close to many of the animal viewing windows or cages.  I’ve gone with young family members a couple of times, but to be honest I’d rather visit on my own so I can spend long periods practicing photography on the bird, animal or reptile exhibit I particularly like.

As to photography, well, Melbourne Zoo is where I learnt how to photograph through tiny wire, thick foliage and hold my first DSLR very, very still.  It’s a great photography learning experience.  You do need to change your DSLR focus points from the usual 9 to 1 to get through 1/4″ wire though.

You need to have the bird (or animal) a certain distance behind the wire and your own position a certain distance from the cage wire.  Maybe I need to go back to the zoo for a ‘refresher’ course, as some of my bird shots are a bit wobbly these days.  I can’t get shots between tiny cage wire with my Sony a6000 ‘mirrorless’ camera though, only my Canon DLSR.

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No doubt many of the zoo’s exhibits and some of the landscaping have changed since I was there a couple of years ago.

ROSE-CROWNED FRUIT-DOVE (Ptilinopus regina) – MELBOURNE ZOO

We have several beautiful Doves and Pigeons in Australia, but I’ve only seen 6-7 in the wild.

Back in 2014, I photographed one that normally lives in the northern warmer states in woodland, forest and scrubby parkland with fruit-bearing trees and shrubs, and its a beauty.  Initially I saw it in the humidity of the Butterfly House at Melbourne Zoo, but it was not until many zoo visits later that I saw it in its own large enclosure and found out its name.

The Rose-crowned Fruit-Dove is medium-sized and spectacularly coloured.  The female is slightly less so, but they do have a loud distinctive cooing sound.  I wish I could see one in the wild because although we have large, well landscaped enclosures at Melbourne Zoo, it’s not really the same thing.  Actually, we have many wild birds, large and small, that are wild in the Zoo, no doubt attracted to the regular feeding times.

BIRD LIFE

It feels like eons since I’ve done any photography, but the reality is that I’ve been working my way through the ‘to do‘ list…….the chores that I’ve been meaning to do since I moved to the area 14 months ago, but have been procrastinating about every morning.

Yesterday I took a break and spent most of the afternoon watching the bird life in front of my apartment balcony.  I can spend quite literally, hours and hours, totally absorbed in the antics of the House Sparrows, European Goldfinches and Splendid Fairy-Wrens, let alone the birds whose names I don’t know.  They’ve been quite a few of the lovely blue male Splendid Fairy-wrens around recently.  Not so many of the females, although admittedly the plain light brown colour makes the females harder to spot.

This image below, made on the 10th November, is the only time they’ve landed on my balcony and close enough to photograph has been this male.

I watch them criss-cross my narrow road flitting from tree to tree and hedge to hedge.  Sometimes I hear the House Sparrows repetitiously tweeting for an hour or so  in the Eucalyptus sapling in front of my balcony, but now the tree is lush with young leaves I can’t see even a silhouette of any bird life among the swaying branches.

Not sure if the House Sparrow is calling to a mate or a juvenile calling for its breakfast.

I have noted that the most of the sparrows that drink from my bird-bath are quite young and slender in recent days, so I suspect they are mainly young adults or juveniles from this past Spring’s hatchlings.

This morning it was the fluid ‘tu-leep’, or drawn-out ‘Twee-eet’  of the European Goldfinches that caught my ear.  They have a very metallic, but attractive song, but with the strong wind today, I had little hope of catching them in a photo.

This was the best I could do this morning (with them bouncing up and down on the gusty wind-swept branches).


They weren’t interested in looking towards me where I am sitting at my desk.

Here’s a better shot of the European Goldfinch standing quite still from the 10th November.  It must have been one of those rare windless days in November for me to catch that shot.

I re-filled the bird bath with chilled water out of the fridge this morning in the hope of getting the birds to cool down with a splash around the bird bath in this 37c degree (about 100F) heat today.

I caught one very young female landing on my balcony fence, then do a strange tap-tapping on the metal with its beak and quickly fly away.  I’ve often seen this beak-tapping and not sure why they do it?  Is it to sharpen or blunt their little beaks?  It is to ‘gulp’ or help swallow food?  Is it a signal to other sparrows in the area?  I really should ask Mr Google one day.

I caught sight of a male House Sparrow landing on the fence a short time ago, but it didn’t even bother flying down to the bird bath.  I wondered if there were some larger avian predators around as my balcony remains in the shade until about 1-2.00pm on this west-facing side of the building and a good cool space to stand still for a rest.

They often do it.

Stand quite still…….. surveying the surrounding foliage and hedges, I mean.

But the sparrows, unlike the Spotted Turtle-doves around my previous apartment on the north-east side of Melbourne, just seem to have a quick drink and then fly away this morning.

I miss those Spotted Turtle-doves on the north-east side of Melbourne where I used to live.  I made friends with 2-3 doves and they’d let me slowly move up to about 6″ away from them to refill the seed bowl.  Here’s a re-cap of some of them (below).

COMMON STARLING – juvenile – (Sturnus vulgaris)

Soon after I posted the mystery bird image yesterday and we concluded it was a Grey Shrike-thrush, another new bird landed on my balcony rail.

UPDATE (12th Nov) – It appears that this is a juvenile Common Starling.

Very similar to the Grey Shrike-Thrush but plainer and more brown (depending on the white balance of my camera of course).  I managed to get 2 clear shots with the Sony ‘mirrorless’ and quickly dropped the camera and picked up the heavy Canon DSLR & 150-500mm lens, but couldn’t hold it as steady and the 2 images I shot, before it flew off,  weren’t as sharply focused (below).

As the bird stayed such a short time, no more shots were to be had and neither new bird was seen again yesterday.  As with many once-off bird shots, there is no time to compose or get the ideal angle or even, camera setting.

 

GREY SHRIKE-THRUSH (Colluricincla harmonica)

In regards to the new bird mentioned in the previous post, John from Paolsoren, mentioned a Grey Shrike-thrush as a possibility.

I think he may be right and its just that I can’t see the true colour of my mystery avian visitor due to the bright sunlight on my balcony.

Here’s the only image I’ve got of that particular Shrike-Thrush (made over near Dights Falls in Abbotsford) where I lived prior to this current apartment.

The image above was sharp enough to crop it down to……

…….and here’s yesterday’s image again….

What bird is that?

A new bird,  (to me), landed on my balcony rail about an hour ago and this time……….I managed to get a quick shot (before it flew away) – obviously a good bird spotting day to stay at home in this lovely warm Spring sunshine.

I’ve pored over my Bird Guide book and a pdf of local birds trying to identify it.

It was facing into the bright sunlight coming from the upper western sky, so the head and neck were slightly over-exposed (which I tried to remedy with increasing the mid-tones in editing).

From this angle, the long beak looked straight (which suggests its not a honeyeater, which has a curved beak).  Otherwise it looks a bit like a faded version of a Brown Honeyeater in my Guide book which is normally found in western, northern and north-eastern Australia.

Any Bird-lovers out there in Melbourne who could ID it and let me know in the comments section would be greatly appreciated.  Keep in mind that the straight beak could merely be the angle of the shot.  I can’t see any neck markings or eye details so that makes identification hard.  It was about the size of a starling or honeyeater, greyish with olive? wing feathers.

Thrill of the Year

I’d just sat down at my desk with my morning coffee to read my emails when………. I was surprised to see a Red Wattlebird (Anthochaere carunculata) land on the old trolley table I use for potting on my balcony.  It landed on the right hand curved handle in the lower right edge of image below.

FOR THE BENEFIT OF NEW FOLLOWERS…..My desk sits in front of my apartment floor-to-ceiling windows.  I like watching the House Sparrows land on my balcony or drink from my bird bath, let alone keep an eye on my flowers and herbs growing in pots.  It’s like sitting in a garden every day when I’m at home.  I’d only brought the blue trolley indoors yesterday to wash all the shelves and remove the spider webs and dead leaves that had accumulated over Winter. I also have trees growing in front of my balcony and on the other side of the road.

My west-facing balcony is in shadow in the mornings up until midday, or early afternoon, depending on the season. Regular followers can see how tall my tomato plants are in the top left of the image. You might also notice my pink daisy and blue Bacopa (centre of image) are STILL flowering (since I planted them in November 2016). This means they’re been in flower every day for 370 days.  I had to prune the daisy right back to half its size though.  It had some broken branches from the fierce winds that roar down my road and over my balcony railing.

This was about 2 feet from the back of my computer screen.  I’ve never seen one around the apartments in my road before, let alone land on my balcony.

And I’m sure you know what I’m going to say…….

I put my cameras away last night after I arrived home from a dental appointment in Melbourne’s CBD.

I missed the Shot of the Year this morning!

But, I certainly got the Thrill of the Year 🙂

A Red Wattlebird has distinctive reddish/pink ‘wattles’, (or earrings I like to call them), and yellow belly, whereas a Little Wattlebird is plain.

Here’s an image I took in June last year when I lived on the north-east side of Melbourne to show you which bird I’m talking about.

They’re quite a large bird compared to my regular visiting House Sparrows.

Needless to say, I’ve just got my camera out of its bag and put it back on my desk and set it on Shutter Priority (just in case the Wattlebird comes back) 🙂

Here’s another shot, (with a branch in the way, so not considered a ‘good’ shot), taken in Frogs Hollow Nature Reserve behind my apartment block.

When I started this blog and named it Living in Nature,  it was because, by sheer good luck, my last 3 apartment rentals have had balconies to grow herbs and flowers and I’ve lived next to the Royal Botanic Gardens to the south-east of Melbourne city, the Yarra River walking trails  to the north-east, or now, next to Frogs Hollow Nature Reserve and 400 hectares of parkland along the nearby Maribyrnong River.

If you’ve got to live in a city or urban area, I must be one of the luckiest people around.

Affordable rental properties are extremely hard to find in Melbourne and the inner suburbs.

WHITE-FACED HERON (Egretta novaehollandiae) – Newells Paddock Nature Reserve & Conservation Area

Although I didn’t have my long 150-500mm lens on my nature walk in Newells Paddock Nature Reserve last week, a White-Faced Heron stepped from behind a small seedling protective plastic ‘tent’ very close to me as I walked along the high path overlooking the main pond area.  The rise in the path is next to the fenced-off verge near the train line.

I love watching these Herons and often see one near my home (next to Frogs Hollow Nature Reserve).  I’ve even managed to photograph one of these beautiful soft blue/grey herons with a lizard (or goanna) in its mouth twice. Once next to the river 10 minutes walk from my apartment and once down at Jawbone Arboretum, Nature reserve and Marine Sanctuary in Williamstown.

White -Faced Heron at Jawbone Arboretum, Williamstown

Last Thursday, I managed to very, very slowly step towards this heron until I was about 15 feet away before the bird flew off as a runner came up the path behind me and frightened it.

The Heron watched me out of the corner of its eye as I moved closer to it, but seemed relatively passive and calm until the noise and movement of the runner (on her regular exercise route).

Here’s a better shot of this bird which I made when I lived on the north-east side of Melbourne next to the Yarra River (below).  Sometimes an overcast day with plenty of light is better than a sunny day for bird photography.

….and fishing in Pipemakers Park pond late one afternoon (about 10 mins walk from my current home).

and down on the Maribyrnong River (below).

….and even……in The Great Aviary at Melbourne Zoo some years ago (below)

Before I saw these soft blue/grey herons in the western suburbs, Nankeen Night Herons with their soft grey/blue caps and salmon pink feathers used to be my favourite and most often observed Heron.

Of course there are other herons in Australia, including the Pied Heron (below).

But the White-faced Heron is fast becoming my favourite on this side of Melbourne.

I must say Herons are a lot easier to photograph as they’re out in the open (compared to smaller native birds in the tree tops these days).

Hence the numerous images in my photo library 🙂

MARIBYRNONG WETLANDS

“When you live in the moment, you are always on time” 

Dave Rauschkolb

Plenty of bird life and water in the Maribyrnong Wetlands yesterday – mainly seagulls enjoying a bath and a good feather wash.

A couple of Pacific Black Ducks and what I think was a young Grey Teal paddled in and out of the water reeds too.

I have a bit of trouble identifying Grey Teals from female Chestnut Teals from a distance, but my Bird Guide says the Grey Teals have lighter neck feathers and a slate grey beak, compared to the female Chestnut Teals, (which are also slightly larger).  I did see a male Chestnut Teal with its glossy green head and russet brown chest feathers, but it was too far away to photograph.

This particular section of water dries up completely by the end of the summer, whereas the pond on the other side of the island has plenty of water all through the hot months.

The best way to time my walk is so that I end up at the deep Maribyrnong Wetlands Pond (or Bunyap Park pond – name varies on the signposts) at the golden hour – it really is a pretty place to watch the bird life with the dying sun reflecting off the water as you can see by the images below which I made back in June.

The Ducks below are Khaki Campbell Ducks.

Had to believe this is all on a causeway of land connected to an ordinary residential road with a row of townhouses on the other side.  The images below were made in Winter.

If one looks to the right of the images above (not shown), one can see the residential area (below) and in the centre of the frame, the bus stop where I usually catch a bus most of the way home so I can stop at the local pharmacy.  I’d much rather walk the long way along the scenic river path, than the short 10 minute walk to the shops along the busy, mostly boring main road.

(Probably full of petrol fumes and traffic noise too).

Even when I had a car pre November 2003, I always took the long scenic route going anywhere in my daily life.

Now, with no car, I still follow the same routine.

AUSTRALASIAN GREBE (Tachybaptus novaehollandiae)

I often see Grebes in the centre of the Maribyrnong River near my home.  I might add, this river is fairly wide so I need the birds to swim over to my side of the river to be easily identified.

Unfortunately, even with my 150-500mm lens I can never get close enough to really make them large within a photo frame to share online, but I still photograph them as I love the challenge of trying to get them in focus in a hand-held shot with this heavy lens.

2 days ago, I spotted an Australasian Grebe in the pond near Pipemakers Park, whereas the Grebes in the centre of the river have been Hoary-headed Grebes (Poliocephalus poliocephalus).  There is also the Great Crested Grebe but I’ve never seen one of these.

I might have done better if I’d had a tripod for the shot below as the bird was fairly stationary enjoying the late afternoon sunshine for quite some time before it dived underwater.

Note: I had the same problem when I lived and photographed these small, dumpy-looking birds in/near the Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne.  

This is the best shot I’ve made showing the bird’s feather colouring (so far)

I still live in hope that one day I’ll get a close-up.  In the meantime here’s a small selection of my attempts so far in my western suburb of Maribyrnong.

These Grebes, (and there 3 different ones in Australia that I know of), are one example of how hard Bird Photography can be, as the small birds dive frequently and I’ve ended up with more images of rippling water and no bird, than many other species I’ve photographed over the years.

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RED-RUMPED PARROT (Psephotus haematonotus) – male – Pipemakers Park

I was so busy observing a couple of these male parrots yesterday, hoping they would hop out into the sun (that moment when the sun reflects in a bird’s eye making a good photo), I didn’t realise several birds were gradually working their way towards my back.

Over the years, I have learned to move very slowly and wear black, or very dark, colours when out on a bird Photography field trip, so as I turned (to walk up to the Pipemakers Park historic garden), I was able to catch a couple of males from about 7-8 feet away.

I never did catch a shot of this species with the spot of sunlight on their eye yesterday.

For the first time ever, the males were on their own, grazing in the flat newly mown field between Pipemakers Park and Frogs Hollow Nature Reserve.  I’ve only ever seen couples grazing – with the plainer olive-coloured female being a little harder to see in this location.  They were only grazing in the deep shade of some Eucalyptus trees so I’ve lightened these images so you can see them a bit better.

I naturally assume the females were at home sitting on nests?

…..and for those new to my Nature Blog, here’s a couple of old images made when I lived on the north-eastern side of Melbourne in Abbotsford (next to the Yarra River).

Different light and different camera as you can see. I seem to remember they were grazing in the sun on this particular day, not shade.

Female RED-RUMPED PARROT
male RED-RUMPED PARROT

…..and the first time I ever saw these lovely Parrots was in the Royal Botanic Gardens in 2012 – in the shade of a few old trees on the western side of the large Ornamental Lake.

Red-rumped Parrot (Psephotus haematonotus)

There are actually 5-6 Australian Parrots that are fairly similar in feather colour, but this Red-rumped variety have a lovely warbling song – unusual for parrots.

Spring! Spring! SPRING!!!!!

Yes, I thought the Title would get your attention.

Today was a perfect Spring day and after my last feeble walking effort down in Williamstown and Jawbone Arboretum, and exhaustion later that evening, I decided to stick close to home base.   I made do with a mini walk outdoors and thought I’d see how I felt.  I’m a little embarrassed to say that at the present time, I actually feel UNFIT! (note the capital letters 🙂 )………..for the first time in years.  I always have to walk slowly, but I used to walk for 3-5 hours a few years ago.  Now I seem to be restricted to short walks of 1-2 hours only.

So a quick walk around the perimeter of Frogs Hollow Nature Reserve, across a grass-covered area where the Red-rumped Parrots and Splendid Fairy-wrens graze, and then, Pipemakers Park.

The sun was glorious and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute outdoors.  In fact I only came home from the Historic garden ruins early (10 min brisk walk if one takes the short cut), because my water bottle was empty and my hands filthy from pulling a few weeds in one of the outer garden beds.  I only had my lightweight Sony a6000 camera and 55-210 lens, no gardening tools or hand wipes.

I almost…….got……hot 🙂

And wouldn’t you know it – I saw so many birds.  The variety of bird song was amazing, so I guess the avian life made the best of the Spring day also.  I did see some Red-browed Finches, but without a long telephoto lens, I just had to restrict myself to photographing flowers for the most, (or trying to – it was still a wee bit windy and I take better flower shots with my Canon DSLR to be honest).

The Tuesday morning gardening group have done a massive amount of work, but there’s still a lot more to be done.  After a chat with an old acquaintance from previous walks in the area and a few quick flower shots, I couldn’t resist pulling a few weeds……..which grew into quite a sizeable pile.  I didn’t have my hand gardening tools, or a rubbish bag, so left the weed pile for the Park Ranger and Tuesday Morning Volunteer Gardening group to dispose of.  I took a few more shots and then came home as I was so thirsty (and no matter how much you squeeze an empty drink bottle, it’s impossible to produce a single drop 🙂 )

NOTE: I could have looked up all these flower names in my Plant Encyclopaedias but I decided a guess would do for tonight.  Gone are the days living near the Royal Botanic Gardens when I wouldn’t dare upload a flower image without an accurate identification – Common & Botanical name.

GOOD MORNING LITTLE SPARROW

I love the way the sparrows stop by each day to quench their thirst via my blue water bowl.  Occasionally I take this down, wash it out and put some bird seed in it.  For the first 5-6 months since I moved to this area, the female sparrows wouldn’t come near the dish, but now they do.

I made the photo of a male House Sparrow (above) yesterday as I’ve already packed my cameras for today’s walk and photography outing.

I had the good fortune to be actually looking out the window as the tiniest bird I’ve ever seen flew around my balcony garden and landed briefly on the rim of my pink daisy pot. I’ve never seen it before and it was possibly a juvenile finch or tiny wren of some kind.  It flew very fast and I have to admit it didn’t stay still long enough to even see if it had a long tail like the Splendid Fairy-wrens that frequent the area.  I put my hand down to unzip my camera bag (sitting on the floor) and when I looked up it was gone.

Hopefully it will return for a closer inspection.

 

HOUSE SPARROWS (or how to waste 6 hours on a Sunday morning)

The temperature plummeted again today down to 12C (about 53F) and I woke up to rain, light hail and a brisk wind.  Light snow was forecast down to 600 metres so that would probably mean the low-lying range of hills overlooking the eastern suburbs of Melbourne might have white caps today.

Not a Sunday to go outdoors, so I made breakfast and sat down at my desk to read my emails.

I also plugged the Sony a6000 into the computer via the USB to re-charge it.

I’d filled an enormous plastic pot saucer with bird seed yesterday, but it was almost flooded over the rim and the House Sparrows sat on the rim looking hungrily at the seed faintly visible through the 2″ deep water.  

When a break in the light rain came, I stepped out in my PJ’s and tipped the worst of the water out and shivered more than a wee bit (before stepping back into my lounge), closing the sliding door and turning the wall heater on.

Then I preceded to waste 6 hours watching the Sparrows.  I did see one New Holland Honeyeater alight on the bare-limbed sapling where the bird’s nest had been, but it flew away before I could un-plug the USB cable, take the lens cap off and aim.  My other cameras and lenses were on the other side of the room and I didn’t want to miss too much of the action retrieving them, cleaning the lens and setting one/them up.

Since I had the Sony a6000 ‘mirrorless’ on continuous shooting which is 11 fps (frame per second), then I had the lengthy job of going through about 100 images which looked pretty much the same.  I don’t know who was fighting the most – the boys (dark head, grey cap) or the girls (plain), but it was highly entertaining.  There was one series of completely blurred shots too.  The autofocus must have been ‘on the blink’  🙂  (do you use that term in other countries when something doesn’t work? Or is that an Aussie phrase?).

Doesn’t take much to entertain me on a Sunday morning 🙂

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Now, I really, really, really should get dressed as the clock just struck 2.00pm.

And with only 7% of my 8GB monthly internet allowance left this morning, I’ll better get on the phone tomorrow and see if I’ve got one more FREE ‘top-up’ of internet allowance left this year.  I knew I had at least one FREE ‘top-up’ per annum, but quite by chance when I was chatting to my service provider last month, I discovered they, (TELSTRA), actually give me 3 FREEBIES per annum.

Keep your fingers crossed there’s 1 left, other wise I’ll be offline until the 9th September when my next billing month starts.

(and I’m afraid I can’t make any more iMovies as that’s what wasted my limited monthly internet allowance this month).

PACIFIC BLACK DUCK (Anas superciliosa)

My favourite shot of a Pacific Black Duck made at Ringwood Lake in the outer eastern suburbs of Melbourne. A favourite, probably due to the natural background as much as the duck itself.

Apart from the beautiful pale salmon-pink Nankeen Night Heron, Pacific Black Ducks are the most photographed wild bird in my photo library.

These ducks are seen in all the public parks and nature reserves around Melbourne (and probably much further afield – which I can’t reach via public transport).  Here’s a selection of some of my favourite images – most are hand-held shots, not from a tripod.

AWWWW……THE BIRD’S NEST HAS DISAPPEARED

I was thrilled to report a bird’s nest in the tree next to my apartment balcony on Saturday the 19th.

I was out on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday so didn’t actually check it on those days.

Yesterday, Wednesday, it rained most of the day.  In fact at once stage, the rain was bouncing off the ground so heavily, it almost looked like hail and the temperature dropped considerably.

So I didn’t check the nest yesterday either.  When I saw a bird in the tree this morning and retrieved my camera off the kitchen bench and came back, the bird was gone and that’s when I realised………so was the nest.

I went outdoors to double-check the ground at the base of the tree and all around.  Definitely gone.

How disappointing.

I was so looking forward to having new avian neighbours.

I saw plenty of bird life on my walk along the western side of the Maribyrnong River on Tuesday, but too far away to photograph.  I rarely walk on that side of the river as the surrounding landscaping between the townhouses and river is a little more formal  (than the two long islands in the middle of the river where I usually walk, as shown on the map at left).

I was intending to do the walk to the Maribyrnong Wetlands pond every day this week (with a bus up the 2 steep hills and along the main road home, shown on the left), but yesterday was too wet to go outdoors at all.

After Sunday’s rather slow and fatiguing walk at the Jawbone Conservation Reserve in Williamstown, I figure I need to get my fitness level back up again after much of this past Winter confined indoors.

For the first time in the last 7 years of nature walks and Photography, I genuinely felt unfit last Sunday.  I may have to walk very slowly due to my (inherited) heart condition of Obstructive HCM and Fibromyalgia/CFS, but I usually warm up slowly for the first 10 minutes of a walk and end up covering a fair bit of ground, stopping to look around for birds or other nature subjects (which gives me a breather to bring my heart rate back down) every now & then.

Only the Pacific Black Ducks on the Maribyrnong Wetlands pond were close enough to get a decent shot with the Sony a6000 on Tuesday.  Until the weather improves again, I’ll only be carrying this smaller, lighter ‘mirrorless’ camera on my walks.  It’s easier to carry in a waterproof bag, than all my Canon DSLR gear.

THE ELUSIVE WHITE-PLUMED HONEYEATER (Lichenostomus penicillatus)

One of the most magical times of day around my area is between 3.30pm and 4.30pm in the afternoon.

Especially in winter when the sun reflects off the clouds like a spotlight.  My side of the river starts to fall into a deep mysterious shade quite early, due to the overlooking cliff-top or hill (depending on where you’re standing).

I plan my walks over to the nearby Pipemakers Park so that I walk home via the pond just as the sun starts to drop low in the winter sky.

Part of Pipemaker’s Park garden ruins back in Autumn which reflects the time of afternoon I visit the area.
It looks more like this in winter and quite stark and more sombre.

It can be hard to see anything much happening at the pond as the brilliant sunlight shines directly into your eyes and the scrubby undergrowth is too thick to walk around to the sides, or back of the pond.  I usually stand in the shade of a large tree and surreptitiously, very slowly, peep around the tree trunk to attempt a photo.  I usually take a photo with my right hand with my left hand shading my brow & eyes, so I can see.

A variety of birds take turns diving into the shiny, murky-looking water surface (throwing a shower of sparkling droplets into the air) and then fly back up to the tall water reeds (or a nearby tree), shaking their feathers very fast to discard the excess water weight.  They make this flight over and over continuously.

The splash they make as they hit the water looks like dozens of diamonds being thrown into the air.  It’s hard to describe this magical scene without some photos, but I’ve only managed to take 2-3 images showing the light, never the fast-flying small birds………until last Monday.

I stood enchanted for about 20 minutes watching what looked like a White-plumed Honeyeater.

I’ve just re-viewed Monday afternoon’s images and I think the photo below might be good enough for you to see it.  It’s a small plain honeyeater with underparts a pale olive-green.  The face is a bit more yellowish and it’s underparts a pale yellowish grey-buff, but the black-bordered long white neck-plume clinches the identification.   You can’t see the white-neck plume in this image very well, so you’ll just have to believe me when I have 100% identified this elusive bird, that I saw this particular day.

(note: they’re a common bird in the area, I just can’t manage to photograph them up in high trees).

If you look carefully in the centre of the frame you can just barely see the bird as it’s the same colour as most of the surrounding leaves.

I’ve cropped the image a wee bit in the next shot.

In the centre of the frame below you can see it backlit. It was moving fast so the bird is a wee bit blurred.

And this poorer shot below shows the bird flicking the droplets of water off.  Again, blurred, (or soft in focus), due to the speed of movement.  I can’t really raise the ISO over 800 on my cameras without getting too much ‘noise’ or grainyness in the image in this type of situation and it’s hard to catch the bird within the frame as it flies up and down from the water so quickly.

I could watch these tiny birds for hours, but the light disappears quickly (and suddenly) like a light globe being turned off behind the high western cliff-top, so not a place to be stuck in without a torch I guess.  I try to leave before this happens.  In Summer, the daylight hours are longer of course.

Capturing these small birds such as the White-plumed Honeyeater, the Red Wattlebird and Reed Warblers in flight, or hitting the water surface, is my current challenge and I’ve always enjoyed a challenge in bird photography (as much as in my working life).

Of course photographing the White-faced Heron in this pond is much easier as it often stands still.

SPOTTED TURTLE-DOVE (Streptopelia chinensis)

We’ve had some lovely sunshine in Melbourne last week and again this week (since the gale force winds over the past weekend), but I’ve had so many errands (and other commitments), I’ve had little chance to enjoy it.  Monday,  I walked home along the Maribyrnong River path as the sun got lower in the sky and turned much of the surrounding landscape into gold which is really a wonderful time of the afternoon for Photography.

I noticed a couple of Spotted Turtle-doves on a branch in Frogs Hollow Nature Reserve and (fortunately) had the long 150-500 lens with me.  Initially, they seemed to be half asleep but when I took aim through the viewfinder, one opened its eyes as though it sensed my presence.  Impossible from that distance away, so was probably just coincidence the Dove opened its eyes and stared straight at my camera lens at that moment.

The image below (at 4.15pm as I walked home on Monday) gives you an idea of the pleasant weather we’ve experienced.

Yesterday and today was almost picture-postcard perfect too.

Although in one way,  I’ll be glad if it does rain for the rest of the week as we surely need it in Melbourne at this stage of late Winter.  While my balcony tiles have been wet most mornings when I wake (suggesting overnight rain), my potted plants have needed regular watering by hand again!

We’re having a very dry winter here.

SULPHUR-CRESTED COCKATOO (Cacatua galerita)

From the archives……..19th October 2012

This series comes to you from the Dandenong Ranges National Park – the range of hills overlooking the eastern suburbs of Melbourne.  I have seen these Cockatoos in the Royal Botanic Gardens and down by the Yarra River also (running by the southern side of Melbourne city out into Port Phillip Bay) but they were always too far away to get a good shot.

They’re found on the northern, eastern and south-eastern areas of Australia and very common.  Their white feathers make them easy to spot high up in the trees.  One day I found a couple grazing on some grass seed about 4 feet away from my walking path along the Yarra River, but I didn’t have a camera at that time and they flew away quickly on sensing my presence.

SACRED KINGFISHER (Todiramphus sanctus)

From the archives……..19th May, 2013.

One of the advantages of bird photography in the Great Aviary at Melbourne Zoo is the ability to use the waist-high guard rail of the boardwalk as a tripod.  I could never have got sharp focus of this Kingfisher with a hand-held shot using the heavy Sigma 150-500mm telephoto lens otherwise.  On this particular occasion, the disadvantage is getting the cage wire in the background of the image.

The Sacred Kingfisher always chose this sunny spot to warm up (on a cold day), whereas some of my Zoo images show no cage wire at all.  This beautiful bird is found all over Australia except for the arid centre of the country.

Sacred Kingfisher

SATIN BOWERBIRD (Ptilonorhynchus violaceus) – female

From the archives…..

In all the years I visited Melbourne Zoo’s Great Aviary, I never managed to get a decent shot of the male Satin Bowerbird.  The 2 or 3 shots I did take were too soft in focus to be worthy of sharing and I deleted them only recently.  The male is a rich glossy blue-black all over.

But the female……..well, I did score a couple of nice shots of that and in both images the eye is a gorgeous blue/purple not unlike the feather colour of the male  (although my Australian Bird Guide book doesn’t mention this characteristic, so maybe it was the light on the day that gave the eye this colour).  It’s a fairly common bird on the south-east coast of Australia, but I’ve only seen it at the Zoo.

Satin Bowerbird – female (Ptilonorhynchus violaceus)
Satin Bowerbird – female

MAJOR MITCHELL’S COCKATOO (Cacatua leadbeateri)

From the archives……

I love the soft pink colour of the Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo and when it splays out all its crest feathers it is very handsome indeed (according to the image in my Australian Bird Guide).  I’ve never seen it fan out its crest feathers myself though.

In Melbourne Zoo’s Great Aviary, this cockatoo is very friendly with the Eclectus Parrots (bright green male & red/blue female), so much so, that one of my images of the M/M Cockatoo ‘talking’ to the female Eclectus Parrot scored the back page of the March 2012 Zoo News magazine.  I felt very flattered as I’d only been photographing birds at the zoo for a few months or so at the time – (for some strange reason the editor reversed the image).

pink Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo & male Eclectus Parrot
Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo and female Eclectus Parrot

I used to watch this Cockatoo and the Eclectus parrots for ages as they really do appear to be talking, or communicating, with each other.

NOTE: Today the weather forecast was for 90% rain and possible hail so I’m catching up with blogging and blog reading.  It’s past midday and all I’ve seen is blue sky and sunshine (with some rather brisk wind blowing my balcony plants) so far.  Where’s the rain & hail that made my planned ‘at home’ day I ask myself?

BLUE-FACED HONEYEATER (Entomyzon cyanotis)

The Blue-faced Honeyeater is common in the north and north-east of Australia, but very scare in the south, so it was good to see these lovely birds in Melbourne Zoo’s Great Aviary.

This is one of my favourite bird shots from all the zoo visits I made over the years. I think part of it was the angle of the shot and secondly, I like the blue in the background complementing the honeyeater’s blue head.  As an artist (well, water-colour painter, potter & several other artistic skills, I like the overall colours & composition as much as the subject in photography).
These two honeyeaters landed right in front of me after the aviary staff had put some mealy worms on the wooden post for them at feeding time.
I was too slow zooming out on this shot so the bird’s tail got chopped off, but It was still a treat to be so close to this bird. Most of the feeding trays are close to the boardwalk in the Aviary, so if you’re there at the right time, you can observe the birds closely (and get some nice close-up shots).

PIED IMPERIAL PIGEON (Ducula bicolor)

From the archives…..

The Pied Imperial Pigeon actually comes from South-east Asia, but is now found in the north-east Australian state of Queensland.  The images below are from the Great Aviary at Melbourne Zoo and I’ve included a few old images of the Great Aviary to give you some idea of what a great space this is.  It’s enormous and covers 3 temperature zones with a water course running from the top Rainforest end down to a large pond in a dryer more temperate zone.

The boardwalk runs up to about 20 feet above the aviary floor, but on cold winter days, the birds are ‘indoors’ in sheltered spots and hard to see.

Spring, Autumn or a sunny Winter day are the best times to visit (when the birds are sun-baking in the trees (level with the boardwalk).  A couple of times, I’ve been to the Zoo specifically to spend a couple of hours in the Great Aviary (only) and it’s been closed for maintenance.

Pied Imperial Pigeon – this one looks like a rather obese older bird.

I dropped my Zoo membership a couple of years ago as I’d been about 100 times in 3 years to practice (mainly) bird photography and really………just how many times can you photograph the same birds.  Now that I’m living in a western suburb of Melbourne, I’m quite close to the main Melbourne Zoo (as the crow flies – about 3 miles or 6 kms).  Shame there isn’t a direct route over the Maribyrnong River from where I live now.

Melbourne Zoo is a great location to spend a hot summer’s day as the landscaping around most of the exhibits is temperate rainforest.

 

AUSTRALIAN PELICAN (Pelicans conspicillatus)

From the archives….

Haven’t been doing much photography in the last week, but we’ve had a couple of great sunny days for walking and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the invigorating fresh cool winds.  Rain forecast for the coming week and weekend, so it’s back to the archives for some images to share.

THEN THERE ARE THE GREBES………..

I don’t often see Grebes and if I do, they’re always in the middle of a lake or river.  I’m wondering if their food source is in deeper water?

They dive often, but I managed to get a couple of good shots of the Australasian Grebe (Tachybaptus novaehollandiae)  in Frogs Hollow last October (just after I moved to Maribyrnong).  The reddish-brown neck is the colour of a breeding grebe.  This species is the smallest and dumpiest of the grebes found in Australia.

But the day I walked all the way down to Newells Paddock Nature Reserve (about 3.7kms) nearly 3 weeks ago, I saw about 7-8 Hoary-headed Grebes (Poliocephalus poliocephalus) along the river….mainly in the centre.

To be honest, I wouldn’t have recognised them as they were too far away, but an elderly man sitting on a bench told me what they were.

And the image below was cropped down to about 10% of its original size in an attempt to see it a bit closer up.  This particular Hoary-headed Grebe was in the middle of the river.

So while I take many bird photos on my walks, it is rare that they’re close enough to fill the frame and share online these days.  The White-faced Heron, Willy Wagtails and the various Cormorants are the exceptions I guess.

A neighbour told me she’d seen an owl on her balcony very early one morning, so perhaps I need to get up earlier 😳

RED-RUMPED PARROT (Psephotus haematonotus)

Here’s some more examples of the small birds that graze in the low-lying Frogs Hollow field.

So you can see them better, here’s some images I made when I was living on the north-east side of Melbourne next to the Yarra River.

The lovely males are easy to spot.
The plain females are not so easy to see as they blend in with the grass. Since they always seem to graze in pairs, it’s the males that I spot first.
This image of a female is probably the best shot I’ve made so far.

RED-BROWED FINCH (Neochmia temporalis)

I’ve photographed several small birds grazing on seed in recent weeks – mostly late on a sunny afternoon.  I haven’t shared those images because the birds are generally too far away to see much feather detail OR they are poor shots with waving grass spoiling the image (the shots below are examples).

The images below were made with the Sigma 150-500mm lens fully zoomed out to 500mm and I was trying to get a focal point on their eye before they did the next ‘hop’.  Not easy.  Since I can’t see the eye, I have to just aim at the red part of the head which is quite clearly visible.

I spotted about 4-5 of them pecking at seed around one of the trees below the gravel walking path which goes straight down to the river.

Here’s a photo of the field (to the right of the nature reserve as I face the river) that I’m talking about.  The image was made last October so it’s still water-logged from the record-breaking Spring rains we had in 2016.  I was standing on the gravel path on the lower left of the image below and the birds were in the field which is about 6 feet lower than the walking path.   While the birds were only about 25-30 feet from my position, I guess I’d need a 700mm lens to get close enough to get a really good shot to share.

DARTER (Anhinga melanogaster)

From the archives………

In my efforts to reduce my photo library, I’ve come across several bird images that I don’t think I’ve ever shared before.  Mainly because they didn’t have particularly sharp focus.  This image of a Darter (Anhinga melanogaster) in the Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne is one of them.  The image was made in July 2013 – Winter.

This cormorant-like bird was standing near an old wooden jetty on an island way out in the middle of the large Ornamental Lake in the Royal Botanic Gardens and I didn’t have a tripod at the time, so a hand-held shot with the heavy 150-500mm lens was the best I could do.

I went back many times over the following days with a tripod in the hopes of a better shot, but never ever saw the bird again.

It’s a very large bird with a long sinuous neck and very distinctive feather pattern.

With its wings outstretched in the image in my Australian Bird Guide Book, it looks so much like many of my Cormorant shots of birds drying their wings out.  My Guide Book says it swims down low, often with only its snake-like head and neck out of the water and dives frequently, so I was pretty lucky to catch this Darter sitting quite still on a tree bough.

AUSTRALIAN WOOD DUCK (Chenonetta jubata)

……………From the Archives

The Australian Wood Duck (Chenonetta jubata), is one of the commonest ducks to be seen around Melbourne’s public parks and gardens and I seem to have photographed them more times than most other birds (except perhaps the Nankeen Night Heron and the Pacific Black Duck, that is).

Young teenage female at Maribyrnong Wetlands about 30 mins walk from where I currently live in the Western Suburbs.

Looks like a couple of clear sunny winter days coming up next weekend according to the weather forecast, (which is always wrong 🙂 ), so I hope to have some new images to share afterwards.  I’ve been out and about in recent days with shopping, errands and/or appointments, but not doing photography.  There was a time when I’d take a camera everywhere, but not so these days.

PIED (or LITTLE PIED) CORMORANTS?

I see Cormorants everywhere along my stretch of the Maribyrnong River, but now I’m starting to look a little more closely.

When a fellow bird-lover informed me the Pied Cormorant (Phalacrocorax varius) has a hooked beak (and more orange coloured), I think I’m starting to see the differences between them. The Pied Cormorant is larger for sure, but when you’re photographing them from a fair distance away and there only one bird, size is a difficult concept for me.

I’m wondering if I’ve identified Little Pied Cormorants (Phalacrocorax melanoleucos) when they should be the larger species.  (same issue with Little Black Cormorants and the larger Great Cormorants which are both black).

Some examples below.  I think the 4th image is the only Little Pied Cormorant in this post.  The other 4 images are the larger species.

SPLENDID FAIRY-WREN (Malurus splendent)

I’ve been trying to get close enough to the small birds that feed on the low-lying field of Frogs Hollow on sunny afternoons, but either I haven’t got my 150-500mm lens with me on my walk OR they fly away before I can get close enough.  Finally I decided to just share these images.  I accept I will never get closer to get a really decent shot.

First I saw them next to the wood pile between my apartment building and the path leading to the river. I couldn’t get close enough, but there were about a dozen wrens hopping around on the grass or on the newly cut trees. Apparently these trees were cut as they weren’t native to the area and will soon by taken away by the Nature reserve ranger/staff. Shame about that in one way, as the pile were good cover for small birds from larger predators.

Mostly, in trying to photograph small wild birds, I am having trouble hand-holding the heavy lens as I follow the tiny birds as they continually hop around.   A tripod would be of no use in this type of situation.

About a week and half ago, I managed to capture them in a bit better focus, together with a flock of red-browed Finches and Red-rumped Parrots.  All together there must have been about 30 birds of the 3 species in the one area.

I managed to catch one in the grass.
Than I caught the backside of one walking down the gravel path.

I think all the Fairy-wrens were females.

Than I followed about 5 birds as they hopped down towards the river, eating grass seed at the path edge along the way.

I have to say that I find trying to photograph tiny wild birds more than a bit of a challenge.  I realise how lucky I was when I was living next to the Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne for 15 years.  Most of the birds I photographed were used to humans and I could get quite close.  Even the herons or cormorants on the large lake island usually stood still in the afternoon sun and I was able to use a tripod.

The following 2 shots were the closest I ever got to the wrens when living on the north-eastern side of Melbourne next to the Yarra River.  They are males.

This shot was made in deep shade so I’ve lightened the shadows in PP as much as I could without getting too much ‘noise’ or graininess in the image. In this case I had to watch the patch of blue flitting about among the green foliage and brown tree trunks as the rest of the bird was hard to see in the deep shade.
This shot of a male Splendid Fairy-wren was the best I’ve ever shot in the past. Apparently the males change to all-blue in the breeding season, but I’ve never seen one completely blue.

LITTLE PIED CORMORANT (Phalacrocorax melanoleucos) – Maribyrnong River

I’ve never been able to tell the difference between a Little Pied Cormorant (Phalacrocorax melanoleucos) and a Pied Cormorant (Phalacrocorax varius) as I’ve never seen them together to observe that the Little Pied Cormorant is a fair bit smaller.  A bird watcher on last Friday’s walk gave me the clue. A Pied Cormorant’s beak is hooked at the tip. Apparently they’re both seen along this river, together with the Little Black Cormorant and the Great Cormorant (also black, but larger).  The image above is definitely the Little Pied Cormorant.
I saw the Pied Cormorant on a rock near the bank of the river approximately here (just before I go under the bridge to reach Newell’s Paddock Wetlands and Nature Reserve)
I don’t why these Cormorants try to hide from me, because my ‘distance’ glasses, which I use all the time now, give me excellent vision for spotting birds at a long distance. It’s close-up that I have a problem. Note: my reading glasses which were pretty useless anyway, kept breaking at the hinge of the side frame.  After the 4th time (and the 4th lot of $70 to fix them), I gave up.  Wish I could still wear my old multi-focal contact lenses – they would have been perfect for photography. 

 

AUSTRALIAN WOOD DUCK (Chenonetta jubata)

AUSTRALIAN WOOD DUCKS (Chenonetta jubata) – male in the foreground with the brown head and female (with the stripe above and below the eye) in the background.

On the way to Newell’s Paddock (via the river cycling/walking path) last Friday, I came across a pair of Australian Wood Ducks (Chenonetta jubata) dozing in the sun on a tiny jetty.  I walked up behind them quite close and fully expected them to fly away, but they didn’t.

Both opened and closed their eyes from time to time to keep an eye on me.

Then I slowly walked up to about 3 feet behind them.  They were one very tame couple.

Absolutely amazing and I felt really honoured to be allowed to observe them so closely.

By the way, the image below shows what superb weather Melbourne is having at the moment.  Even Melbourne’s ever present wind has died down in recent days.  The Park Ranger I was talking to in Newell’s Paddock Conservation and Wetlands Reserve was telling me we are going to have a very dry winter here in Melbourne.  This does not bode well for the flora and fauna, either now or next Summer.

 But for the time being, at least its great outdoor walking weather for me.