Yesterday (19/5) was a glorious autumn day in Melbourne. The sun was out, there was very little wind and the temperature was low so heat haze was a minimal problem. In fact visibility was so good that from The Spit track with my 45 X scope I could clearly see gannets landing on the platform at the end of the Point Wilson explosives jetty - and Google Earth tells me that is a distance of about 5.9 km!
I didn't rush to the WTP to see the Northern Shoveler, instead I had a leisurely breakfast and got there at about 1000. This technique usually works well on a weekend when there is a rarity at WTP because when you get there you don't need to look for the bird, all you need to do is drive in and look for the congregation of cars. And Sunday's congregation was up there with the largest, and it was at the first pond on the right as you come down Paradise Rd. Too easy. There were cars, scopes, camera and binoculars everywhere and, sitting on the water in the sun with the other shovelers was the Northern. It seems that it likes this spot because it has been there for a few days now. One problem with it though is, if it turns its back on you it instantly turns into "just another Aus Shoveler" and binoculars and scopes scan over it as though it had Harry Potter's invisibility cloak on. To add excitement to the morning of watching the NS a Peregrine came in low and fast across the pond on a harassment run (not a hunting run) and scattered the Pink-ears in all directions.
|The Northern Shoveler with Pink-eared Ducks, Coots and Swans|
|A distance shot showing how well the Northern Shoveler can stand out|
|When it turns its back however it just looks like all the other shovelers on the pond|
|Mostly it just slept while I watched but just once it awoke and stretched|
|Australasian Shoveler for comparison|
|The Peregrine starting its "harassment" run|
|As it past over the Pink-ears they scattered in all directions|
As it was getting toward lunchtime when I left the NS I headed toward the Borrow Pits. This place is so well recognised by WTP regulars as "the" place to have lunch that I remember a discussion with some friends there one day who wanted to set up a concession stand selling coffee and sandwiches to passing birders (smile). Anyway, I pulled in and one of the lunch group called out "quick, over here, there is a Bittern" so I walked over, looked in the scope, and added Aus Bittern to my day list. Gorgeous.
|Australasian Bittern at the Borrow Pits|
On the basis that all birds are special there were plenty of other special birds around and I spent the rest of the day watching, amongst others, Red-kneed Dotterels, Musk Ducks, Swans, Brolga, a Great Egret with the start of its breeding plumage coming in and a Cattle Egret with just a touch of colour on the top of its head. It was a special day with one of my lowest WTP species counts (71) because it was more fun watching the visible birds than looking for the difficult ones.
Interestingly, some of the breeding plumaged Banded Stilts at WTP seem to be in pairs and these birds appear to have nuchal plumes on their backs; or maybe not strictly nuchal plumes but large feathers that they can raise in display. Also, the paired birds that I saw were away from the big flocks, mainly in pond 25 to the east of lake Borrie South.
The feathers stand proud between the folded wings. I thought at first that it was possible that the feathers were just lying out of position but they were common to all the apparenly paired birds I saw. There was also no wind that could have raised the feathers. The feathers also seem longer than I would have been expected for back feathers. I now need to go back and look more closely. I never thought of stilts as having “flirt feathers”, apart from their chestnut breast band.
|Banded Stilt showing presumed nuchal feathers|
I also had an interesting session with a Whistling Kite. I was heading toward the Beach Rd gate when I saw the kite and it had a long, red, unravelling "rope", about a metre long, hanging from its feet. "HA!" I thought, "an obvious case of a bird tangled up in man made rubbish - AGAIN!" With my "high horse" well up and running I took some photos and then thought "wait a minute, maybe it has just picked up this rope to add to its nest" and I climbed down off my "high horse" for a moment and zoomed in the photo on the back of the camera. It was then that I could see that the metre +/- of "red rope" was actually the long, red, fleshy strands of the entrails etc of a bird, and that it ended in a pair of feet and legs that looked like they might have belonged to a Purple Swamp-hen. It was a bit of a gruesome sight but quite spectacular. The WTP is a wonderful place for birding, you never know what you will find.
|The distant kite with the "red rope" attached to its feet|
|A close up showing it wasn't a rope, just the remains of dinner|
All photos and text © Jenny Spry