HOUSE SPARROW (Passer domesticus) – female

It’s rare that I don’t take a photo (or two) every day.

As far as I’m concerned it really doesn’t matter if it’s a good shot or a not-so-good shot.  Its all practice and practice is well worth the effort in Lockdown.

I love the image below.   It was made yesterday when the sun cast a brilliant beam of light on my balcony fence rail and despite the ghostly band of white in the bottom half of the frame (which is actually where a louvred window overlaps the pane below), I think its the face and eye which appeals in this shot.

I’d sprinkled a long row of birdseed on the fence rail in the hope of attracting a few more birds to photograph.  In general, it’s only the House Sparrows that like to snack on it,  but I still get Superb Fairy-wrens flying down to the grey balcony floor tiles and wander around in the hope of something tasty to eat.

I followed one male Superb Fairy-wren around the Japanese Maple branches for a quite a while yesterday, but despite having washed the glass panes of the fence, couldn’t get a clear shot.

 

It’s still fun and entertaining.

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Only 14 new COVID cases in Melbourne in the last 24 hours (and sadly 5 deaths – all in the aged care sector).

We’re well on the way to achieving the goal of 14 straight days of an average of <50 new daily cases in order to drop down a Stage in restrictions on Monday, September 28th.

Only 7 days, 7 hours, 40 minutes and 5 seconds to go – not that I’m counting mind you.  😀

 

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   🙂

A (very) SHORT WALK

Towards the end of last week the weather fined up considerably – definite signs of spring were everywhere from the lush green Barley grass (below), ripe from heavy rain earlier in the week, to tiny buds on bushes.

BARLEY GRASS (Hordeum leporinum)

I was determined to get some sun and fresh air.   I’ve been indoors for most of this year and let’s face it, there’s only ‘x’ amount of things you can do when you live in a tiny studio apartment and don’t have the eyesight for reading much or the desire to spend time on the computer.    I’ve watched so many series on TV I can tell you what happens with my eyes closed   😀

The image (below), made last year, gives new followers a sense of how close my apartment building is to that patch of trees in the background which denotes Frogs Hollow Nature Reserve (and Wetlands)…….actually – a man-made area in an attempt to re-vegetate up and down the Maribyrnong River.

Here’s a little history from Wikipedia for those interested in the local history.   If you’re not interested, just jump to the next image in this post.

The river was initially named Saltwater River[7] by early settlers, due to the tidal nature of its lower reaches. The name Maribyrnong however, is derived from either mirring-gnay-bir-nong which in Woiwurrung, the language of the local Wurundjeri people, is said to mean “I can hear a ringtail possum”[7] or “saltwater river”[8] (Gunung or Gunnung is Woiwurrung for river,[9] as seen in the names of other watercourses in the area, such as; Koonung Creek and Birrarung).

Marriburnong is an alternate spelling listed on a map dated from 1840.[8]

The inner western and north-western suburbs of Melbourne are located in the vicinity of the Maribyrnong River and the river has given its name to the suburb of Maribyrnong and the local government area, the City of Maribyrnong.

The Maribyrnong River valley has been home for the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation for up to 40,000 years. Human remains dated at least 15,000–years–old have been found along the river, with much older signs of human habitation also present.

The first Europeans to explore along the river were the party led by Charles Grimes, Deputy Surveyor-General of New South Wales, in February 1803. John Batman is likely to have explored up the river in early 1835. With the establishment of the colony of Melbourne later that year, sheep runs were soon established by Edmund Davis Fergusson and Michael Solomon in the Avondale and Sunshine areas. On Solomon’s sheep station the ford now near the west end of Canning Street in Avondale Heights soon became known as Solomon’s Ford. This was the lowest crossing on the Saltwater (Maribyrnong) River, and the furthest inland point of tidal influence. Batman is believed to have crossed the river at this point probably in the well worn steps of Aboriginals. It was for many years the only way from Melbourne to Geelong and land west.

During the second half of the 19th century much of Melbourne’s industry was located along the river, and the water became very degraded. With the closure of many industries since the 1960s and 1970s, much river front land has opened up to parkland and highly sought after residential estates.

The tiny dead-end road curves to the right after my building carpark entrance and steeply descends to the lowest apartment building in this relatively new housing estate (built around 2013 I think).

It was close to 4.00pm before I exited my ‘back gate’ on Friday.

THIS IMAGE WITH THE BLOWN-OUT BRIGHT SKY SHOWS HOW MUCH THESE 2 BUSHES HAVE GROWN IN THE LAST COUPLE OF MONTHS.

I didn’t have to walk far to find signs of Birdlife.   I heard a constant stream of tweeting and ‘tjit’ and ‘tzeert’and up popped a New Holland Honeyeater in the white-flowering Tree Lucerne (or Tagasaste).

Fortunately the honeyeater and bush were in shade and the background filled with lots of sunlight.

Very soon after, another honeyeater popped up to join it, but as they were moving fairly fast over the enormous bush, I could only get a photo of the first one.

I stood and watched them both for several minutes and then was distracted by a couple of male Superb Fairy-wrens on the concrete kerb gutter.

The one on the left (below) was in full breeding colours and the one on the right was flecked with sky-blue on its head and breast.   These fairy-wrens, once you have familiarized yourself with their accelerating ‘trill’, (perhaps a bit like the sound of a squeaking mouse), is one sound you can’t miss once heard.

I always know the difference between fairy-wrens and house sparrows on my balcony while I’m lying in bed in the morning.

The Tree Lucerne and Gorse bushes had grown enormously since I last stepped out the back door about 2 months ago.  They are both classified as weeds in my Field Guide to Weeds in Australia.

I walked around the curve in the road and stepped up on the pebble pathway leading past the lowest apartment building and stopped to look over the last of the mulched formal landscaping and spotted another fairy-wren a bit closer.

It was standing right next to a lovely white-flowering gum.   I couldn’t identify which variety of gum it was due to several similar varieties on Google images.   I spent half the weekend trying to find its name.

Behind it was a particularly attractive red-flowering eucalyptus.

I looked over to the nature reserve and then zoomed in on the bare-limbed tree on the right-hand side of the image below.

I couldn’t see any splashes of bright red which might signify another Crimson Rosella which I’d seen same time last year.   The images below are from 2019.

I might add this is the only time I’ve seen a Crimson Rosella in my immediate surroundings in the 4 years I’ve lived here, but I’m forever hopeful of seeing another one some time in the future.

I walked over to the low-lying field where 2 large puddles of water must have filled up with recent winter rain.   That’s the most water I’ve ever seen in the nearest ‘puddle’.

I walked forward about 20 feet anticipating a very slow walk down to the river (some 7-8 minutes brisk walk to the river).   I then stood quite still for some time peering through the long telephoto lens at the chain wire fence marking the start of the nature reserve on the left.

I have often seen Red-browed finches in the area….. on the ground….. or on the fence (in the past).

But the fence was empty last Friday and I continued on.

I walked another 20 feet and scanned the ‘puddle’ on my right.  (note: I suspect this raised pathway to the river is to gain access in the event of the river flooding the surrounding area.   I read somewhere that a little further downriver it flooded in 2014).

I spotted a pair of Chestnut Teal ducks diving underwater for some tasty tidbits on the puddle floor.  The water surface was flecked with some sort of pondweed.   At first, I wasn’t sure they were Chestnut Teals as the constant stream of water washing over their heads darkened the bright green head of the male to more of a brown colour.

I eventually captured the pair below as they swam to the other side of the puddle and the male’s green head was a bit more visible.

These ducks nearly always travel in pairs and this was the only way I could identify them as the female in the image above – with the red eye and pale neck – looked a lot like a Grey Teal.

It’s easy to mix up the two species.

After a short while, they finished their meal and clambered up onto the grass and settled down for an afternoon nap.

I was having a bit of trouble holding the heavy long 150-500mm lens steady as my shoulder was not quite over the injury of the previous week, so I hope you’ll excuse the lack of sharp focus.

To be honest, in that brilliant sunlight it was pretty hard to see through the viewfinder so I just tried to focus on the head/neck area as best I could.

Next minute I spotted a White-faced Heron.

I’ve only ever seen one Heron (and one Egret) in this location beside the river, so one might assume it’s the only one living here.

I spent ages trying to get the heron’s eye in focus, but the bird kept moving around, constantly dipping its head in the water searching for something to eat.

Up, down, up, down, step forward, up, down, another step forward, and then turning it’s back to me – it was on the constant move.   So much fun to watch and even more fun trying to get the eye/head in focus as it moved.

I was wishing it would stop and pose for a while like this one below in 2016 on the north-east side of Melbourne down by the Yarra River drying its feathers.

WHITE-FACED HERON (Egretta novaehollandiae)

or this one in 2017 near my local pond….

WHITE-FACED HERON (Egretta novaehollandiae) – Maribyrnong River

I’m rather fond of Herons – White-faced or Nankeen Night Herons in particular (which are supposed to also call this area home).   I’ve only seen Nankeen Night herons in the Royal Botanic Gardens or Melbourne Zoo though.   I’ve never seen one of these pinkish/terracotta-coloured herons in this area.

Some Nankeen Night Herons from my archives to show you their beautiful Salmon pink cloak of feathers and grey cap (with 2 white feathers erupting from the back of their neck).

……and back to the local White-faced heron from last Friday below.

Finally, I gave up watching and since my hip was already painful, decided to walk back up the slope and home.  Having some new photos to share for a change made me eager to get indoors and download them.

It wasn’t that late, but my side of the river and the steep hill on which the housing estate was built had already cast long shadows on the fields, nature reserve and eastern side of the apartment buildings.

When the sun dips behind the hill, it grows dark very quickly.

It wasn’t quite the golden hour, but the grass, still damp in some places from the previous night’s rain, seemed to reflect the light in such a way as to make any photography hard.

Sometimes I prefer a cloudy sky for photography, so the highlights are not blown out in the glare of the Australian sun.

On Friday, I walked back indoors via the front entrance of the building so I could pick up my mail from the ground floor postboxes.

This was the ‘allowed’ 1 hour of exercise outdoors with a mask on in Melbourne’s current Lockdown – only 73 new COVID cases and 8 deaths in the last 24 hours – very promising that we will end the lockdown in a couple of weeks and start opening up the stores and businesses again.   My shopping list is getting longer by the day from light globes, to herb seedlings to clothes and a new desk chair.   I also need a few cooking items for my tiny galley kitchen also.   I don’t like shopping online.   I like to look and try on before I buy.

I didn’t walk more than about 100-150 feet but it was such a  joy to feel the hot sun on my face and the wind in my hair on Friday.

…..and although I didn’t take a photo last Friday, the various low-growing bushes of Shrubby Bindweed were visible next to the path and steps, so I’ve included a photo taken last year to end this post.

SHRUBBY BINDWEED, SILVER BINDWEED (Convolvulus cneorum ??)

AUSTRALIAN RAVEN (Corvus coronoides)

I’ve finally unpacked everything and got 97% of my possessions back in place after my apartment move on Monday this week.

(I seem to have more possessions than 2 weeks ago  😀   but that’s impossible, merely that I’ve done a bit of re-arranging in this move to try and eradicate so much bending and/or twisting in daily activities for my degenerative spinal condition and right hip OA).

Anyway, this means I’ve found my photographic field guide Birds of Australia by Jim Flegg.  

By the way, if you live in Australia and are interested in Bird Photography, I can highly recommend this relatively small, (well, about 8″ & 6″), book to help you identify any Australian Birds you’re keen to put ‘name to face.’

Most of the images in this guide are very clear in both colour and bird shape, sometimes the eye colour being the only thing to help you identify between 2 or 3 similar birds.   Jim Flegg has inserted a small map of Australia with shaded blue areas of where the bird species is usually found for each one and a very concise description of the bird, the differences between male and female, its call and whether it’s common or rare etc.

AUSTRALIAN RAVEN (Corvus coronoides)

I believe the couple of photos I made of a large black bird last week in the local children’s playground have now been identified correctly, (although please let me know in the comments section if you believe I’ve got the name wrong).

There are 6 species of Raven or Crow in Australia, with the 3 Currawongs adding to an easy-to-mistake identification.

First I cast aside any bird photo that didn’t fall into my state of Victoria, then dismissed the ones with dark eyes and carefully read the description to reveal the name Australian Raven (Corvus coronoides).

I think Jim’s description finally clinched it.

47-56cm Large, familiar, and the largest Australia Crow.  Entirely glossy black, with an oily sheen in sunlight.  Throat feathers of adult bushy and bristly, especially during calling, when body is characteristically held horizontal.  (yes, this description definitely looked like the bird on the right side of my photo).  Eye white in adult.   Beak long, strong and black, with slightly convex ridge to upper mandible.

Immature duller with brown eye.  Mated pairs characteristically sedentary, roaming flocks of non-breeders small, not cohesive as in very similar Little Raven.

And so on………

This identification was a hard one for me as I’m not good at judging bird size from any distance and 8 (out of the 9) birds in the book have white eyes.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower
 Albert Camus
Despite the gusty wind and overcast day yesterday, I couldn’t help but admire the Japanese Maple leaves tossing around above my balcony fence.  Thank goodness the dead branch is on the other side of the tree next to the road and I can barely see it from my desk chair.
I sat and watched the leaves in lazy silence as I ate my lunch at my desk.   Who could resist getting the camera out and making a few images.   For a change, I didn’t actually worry whether the results were in focus or not.   I just enjoyed the tangle of colour as the wind picked up speed, died down, and then picked up and raced faster than ever down my steep cliffside short road.
The Fairy-wrens and House Sparrows are out in great numbers today and I’m hoping the sun will stay out and give me an opportunity to get out in the fresh air.   Hard to believe Winter is on the horizon and the last 3 months of Autumn have flown by in a haze of TV News and mostly deserted streets.
I feel as though I’ve missed Autumn altogether this year.
I came across this sunset captured in early Autumn – 3rd March 2018 BC (before construction across the road) as I looked back to see what was happening the same time in previous years.
It never ceases to amaze me how one minute the sunset is gold and orange and next minute……..pink, mauve, blue or purple…….in the same night.
SUNSET up on the clifftop opposite my apartment balcony – 3rd March, 2018

 

GRAPE HYACINTH (Muscari armeniacum)

GRAPE HYACINTH (Muscari armeniacum)

I first saw this tiny blue flowering plant on a corner flower bed in a residential garden on my route to my office back in my working life.   (I worked across the road from the Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne for the benefit of new followers).  I loved its delicate tiny blue flowers and used to look for it each Spring.

When I bought a camera and took up Photography as a hobby in May 2010 after taking early retirement, it was one of the early flower images I was pleased to capture.

The image above date back to 22nd August 2012 and after reading about it this morning I delayed my offline tasks and decided to share it.

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As an aside, I spent ages over the weekend making a copy of a couple of seascapes and converting that copy to Black & White for my other blog.   I must have spent an hour editing them and creating what looked like a pen & wash type of image.   I also re-edited a whole series of images made down at St Kilda Beach and Boat Marina in July 2012, but after a software update in the last couple of days, they’ve completely disappeared – the copies and the edits.

I did the same for a scene showing a Father and 2 children walking along St Kilda pier.  That is……making a copy of the colour image first and then converting it to Black & White and editing the copy (leaving the original in colour).

Now, the colour version has completely disappeared so I’m left with a B & W version that won’t reset back to colour since the software update.

Actually, none of my B & W images will revert back to colour since I bought a new computer and had the latest software installed last year.   After buying an Apple Mac Pro back in 2012 I used to always be able to revert images or retain editing after software updates.

Has anyone else done an Apple Catalina software update in the last couple of days and found images changed or disappeared?   The photo library which I’ve had trouble with since I bought a new desktop computer and updated to Catalina software in May 2019 drives me crazy anyway.   The worst problem is the images freezing within minutes of opening the library each morning and the only way to resolve it to log off and reboot the computer…….sometimes many times in the one morning.   There is nothing wrong with the rest of my Catalina software.   Only my photo library and ability to edit images.  It’s version 10.15.4