I have just returned from a two day return roadtrip from Sydney to Melbourne on the boring Hume Highway. It was not a birding venture but a mercy venture to help my brother move a family member’s possessions to their new lodgings in our state. Of course, it need not be said, my camera ‘rode shotgun’ on the seat beside me as I drove the long 10 hour journey each way. As I traveled the miles of plains and slopes, mainly sheep country, I would always be vigilantly looking at the sky and bare tree tops ahead for raptors, as this was their country. Several I missed as I sped past at 110km/hr, with no place to stop, but occasionally, I did see them in time enough to stop. So I was asking God to give me opportunities to stop and capture some of these raptorian wonders.
Not long after my request was made, I saw from a distance as I approached the above. I couldn’t but notice Australia’s largest eagle perched on the power pole. So I stopped and took some shots. The Wedge-tailed Eagle has a massive wingspan ranging from 2.3 to 2.8 meters. I have experienced on two past occasions, of one spreading its wings completely over my front windscreen of my car while driving, totally obstructing my view for two seconds.
Looking carefully at these photos you will notice the very dark plumage and the large neck hackles which give it a somewhat Afro look. This is seen in older very mature eagles. After some time, he flew off. This guy was perched some distance across the highway but I am sure with his superior eyesight 10 times better then mine he could clearly see my every movement.
One of the easiest places to spot perched raptors is on the top of dead tree branches. Most raptors want a clear view around them without any obscuring foliage, so the highest point on a dead tree branch serves them well. Moving along the highway I keep looking ahead beside the road for dead trees (or power poles) and a perched object. I see another and this time I again am able to pull over. It is a Whistling Kite, a bit worse for wear on its tail though. After a short time, it becomes concerned at my interest in it and flies off, almost being hit by passing traffic. These are fairly common raptors, like the Wedge-tailed Eagle found throughout mainland Australia, and they really do have a loud whistle like call.
As was about to cross the state border I saw this white raptor hovering over a field, so again I pulled over. At the time it appeared to be a Grey Goshawk as they act in a similar way, but viewing my photos at home it was a Black-shouldered Kite. This is another commonly sighted raptor found throughout mainland Australia including parts of Tasmania.
Above the hovering action is depicted in the short video clip. Several of the smaller raptors including Goshawks and Nankeen Kestrel do this. They wait over an area where they may have seen movement for their prey to move into view below them. They will do this for a short time and if it is unfruitful move on to another area and repeat the same. When they see their prey, being above it, the prey can not see them, and they will pounce catching them unawares.
My Bird of the Week – The Australian Hobby
But the greatest gift I received on my journey was found at a rest stop by Winton Wetlands in Victoria, where high in a eucalypt tree I saw this Australian Hobby dismantling its prey, as it hung it from the branch. The bird was not put off by my presence but proceeded to tear off pieces of food. Please note that I initially incorrectly identified this bird as a Peregrine Falcon, which is similar in appearance, I apologise to those who have read my blog before the correction. I thank Jesse for making me aware.
The above video clip shows the ripping action. This is why all true raptors have a powerful hooked beak, for the ripping and tearing action they require to tear off pieces small enough for them to eat. Their prey, mainly birds, small animals and reptiles. Though like all raptors they do supplement their diet eating many large insects. I managed to get many good shots from different angles.
It is found throughout mainland Australia and Tasmania. This was a lifer for me, as I had only ever seen one close up in Raptor Conservation Parks.
While I watched a Blue-faced Honeyeater arrived on the same branch. The Australian Hobby calmly looked at it. From my observation of the above photos, I see a look of fear and surprise in the face of the Honeyeater. However, seeing the Australian Hobby with the dead bird does not seem to perturb it from checking the branches below the Hobby, but only for a short time and with great caution, and then is off again.
Finally, the Australian Hobby had enough of me watching it, and flew off quickly with its prey to a place on the ground some distance away.
I did see other birds also along the way, these include the Red-rumped Parrot which is very common inland over the ranges between NSW and Victoria. This male and female were grazing on seed by the road. The male has the red rump as you can see from the flight shots. As with other parrots they pair for life, so you usually will find them in pairs.
A surprising yet delightful find was this lone Koala sleeping high in a small eucalypt tree by the road to Chiltern NP, a top birding spot. It was surprising to see it so exposed.
This Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike was watching over the area from its high vantage. I always hear their beautiful song before I spot them.
The Fuscious Honeyeater is one bird common to Chiltern National Park and is difficult at times to photograph as it moves about.It is sometimes confused with other similar looking bids. I looked at the Mugga Ironbark trees but they were not in flower, so there was no sign of the elusive Regent Honeyeater.
This lone White-winged Chough was moving about in the park. This bird is usually found in small flocks, foraging on the ground most of the time in a similar way to the Apostlebird.
The raucous and aggressive Red Wattlebird was working the trees in its area. The wattle is the small red protrusion from either side of its neck.
One of the features of my visits to Melbourne is to wake up with the beautiful warble of the White-backed or Australian Southern Magpie. In this area of Nunawading where I was staying, the streets are lined with them calling in the morning.
The above is a sample of both female and male birds calling.
The most commonly seen birds in large numbers on my trip are not shown here in my post. These include the Australian Raven, Noisy Miner, House Sparrow and Common or Indian Myna birds. It is interesting though that this Australian Raven from a distance on the cloudy morning looked like a raptor possibly a kite, and I started photographing it, thinking it was the mate of the raptor I was capturing at the time. This caused me to ponder a life lesson, not to judge from a distance, we need to examine for ourselves up close forming a a verifiable understanding for ourselves. We may run into the trap of trusting the hearsay of someones uninformed judgement which may be seeded with bias and false information.
“In a lawsuit the first to speak seems right, until someone comes forward and cross-examines.” – Proverbs 18:17