Blue Skies of a Winter August

Black-shouldered Kite

Gowrie Junction, Queensland, Australia

August, 2015

(Above and below)

Here are some pics from a couple of outings with Kevin Williams in the second week of August. The mornings were cold but the sky was blue and incredibly clear. The days warmed up and were very comfortable. I certainly wasn't bored with beautiful birds everywhere. 

These pics were with the Nikon D7100 and Nikkor AF-S 80-400mm VR. I think they are nice and clear but I was having trouble framing them with a smaller viewfinder than the D800 and I kept chopping off the bird's wings when they flew... It was the first real run I've had with the camera since I got it. On other days I felt birds in Australia were too far away with the full-framed D800...

Getting back to the birds....aren't Black-shouldered Kites just superb up against the blue?

Thanks for the outings, Kevin!

Australian Kestrel also known as Nankeen Kestrel

Oakey, Queensland, Australia

Black-shouldered Kite

Gowrie Junction, Queensland, Australia

and below..

Black Falcon

Toowoomba tip, Queensland, Australia

and below...

Black Kite

Toowoomba tip, Queensland, Australia

and below..


Toowoomba tip, Queensland, Australia

Adventures of the Black Falcon

Black Falcon

Falco subniger

Grantham, Queensland, Australia
July 28, 2012

It was still dark but I awoke abruptly. It wasn’t for sound or movement but for my mind. My eyes were wide open and I immediately anticipated the events of the coming day. It was a rare opportunity for me to go on an outing with the Toowoomba Bird Observers. Within moments I realised my face and feet were cold. (It was minus 1 Celsius outside). I tried in vain to snuggle and snooze, eventually getting up to make coffee. I grabbed the coffee and turned on the TV in time to watch James Bond arrive at Buckingham Palace. It was live. By the time Mr Bean was running along the seaside I was downing hot porridge laced with fruit and washed it down with another cup of coffee and a giant can of Red Bull. Mick picked me up at 7:07am.

We arrived at Highfields Falls at 7:30 sharp where we met friendly, bright-eyed bird watchers keenly gathering for the outing. It was pretty cold in the shadows but wherever we found the early sunlight, there was gentle warmth. No snow or ice. Small shadows were already flittering high in the trees above us and the day had begun.

At first I was in awe of the size of the surrounding trees and bushes and was almost blinded by the contrasts of the light and shadows playing across the cold, dew ridden, dark red clay path in front of us. I watched helplessly as names were called as little figures darted from one bunch of leaves to another. I’ve never been good at photographing (or even seeing) small passerines in the wild but now I am hopelessly out of practice. White-napped honeyeaters, Brown Thornbills, Eastern Yellow Robins, Australian Brush Turkey, Brown Cuckoo-Dove, Pale-headed Rosellas, King Parrots, Torresian Crows and Grey Fantails are just some on the top of my mind without referring to a list (At least several others). Hard to believe that sighting such a collection was regarded as a quiet morning.  (I’ll post some shots at a later time)

By late morning, we headed to a park at Highfields for refreshments where I found myself enjoying a nice cup of hot coffee provided solely by kindness.  In the distance we found Straw-necked Ibis, and crows chasing some kind of raptor, and soon a Brown Goshawk passed by. Pied Currawongs were present as were Galahs and I got shots of a Sulphur-crested Cockatoo announcing his whereabouts wherever he went. A Brown Falcon also stirred the alarms of Noisy Miners. A pair of Wood Ducks sat beside a pond and a Little Pied Cormorant soaked up the sun. High above us Black Kites floated back and forth.
Black Falcon couple appeared to be courting

After the refreshments, Mick offered to drive down around the Lockyer Valley in search of raptors. Kylie jumped in the back and we set forth with a couple of other cars in tow. First Mick spied a distant Wedge-tailed Eagle as we went through Murphys Creek. Later, Kevin and Kay had selflessly stopped ahead of us and waved us on so I could get some shots of a Brown Falcon sitting on a power pole near Murphys Bridge. We needed to remain alert for every moment. Eventually the others left the three of us to continue our search.  Not long after, Mick received a mysterious call by undercover agents, Rob & Jocelyn Wilson, reporting ‘activity of interest’ in the Grantham area. It seemed that a tractor working on a field had attracted numerous birds, including birds of prey. Sirens blazing and lights flashing we jumped into the transporter and were away. As we approached the Grantham area we found Black Kites lofting all about the place.
Brown Falcon

Falco berigora

Murphys Bridge, Queensland

In full patrol mode we cruised cautiously scanning for a field bloated with raptors and within seconds, we did. Black Kites and Crows were sitting in a field with others alighting low and some high in the thermals. After getting to the end of the “field of interest”, Mick carefully performed a u-turn to double back. Suddenly two Black Kites were seen to be mobbing a dashing Black Falcon around trees ahead of us and Mick carefully landed the craft on the side of the highway. The three of us somersaulting out of the vehicle into ready positions.

The Black Falcon is an endemic species to Australia. It is a true spirit from Gondwana. It looks very sleek and large and it is a dynamic aerialist. The female is slightly heavier than a female peregrine. Although it is classified of “Least Concern” by Birdlife International (Birdlife International Black Falcon Factsheet) it is thinly scattered over the outback. It’s been decades since I read David Hollands’ superlative book, “Eagles, Hawks, and Falcons of Australia”, but I recall Dr Hollands writing that it took him seven years of searching for Australian raptors before he finally encountered one.
Black Kite

(Foked-tailed Kite)

Milvus Migrans

As I landed to my feet I drew my camera from its holster. The falcon was hurrying our way, zigzagging around trees, power lines and poles. I tried to focus.
Australian Hobby

Falco longipennis

The Nikkor 80-400mm f5.6 VR lens is a very high quality lens made by Nikon in 2000. I bought mine in 2010. It was Nikon’s first lens to boast VR (VR = Vibration Reduction which takes the shake out of handholding). In recent years, however, many have criticised Nikon for not updating the lens with an AF-S motor (an in-built focussing motor). The current lens relies on the in-camera focussing engine to focus. In the case of my Nikon D300, it can be ok but not completely accurate for moving subjects. An AF-S motor added to the lens would help it to focus faster and more accurately.

Black-shouldered Kites courting

Elanus axillaris

Really kicking myself for failing to get better shots of these. It was a really good opportunity.

Near Gatton, Queensland.

I focussed on a tree behind the oncoming missile and the camera refused to refocus. I shook it. The falcon funnelled around trees, poles and power lines and my lens found the lines but not the bird. I focussed on my left foot. Suddenly a great Gondwanian energy wave was upon us. My balding, eight year old R.M. Williams Gardener boots, (which were given to me freely by R.M. Williams outfitters when I went to get my old ones repaired in 2004) succumbed to the force sending me backwards. My camera flinging upwardly out of my hands. I tried to save the camera, grappling with it, I accidently grabbed it around the shutter button. I could hear the shutter going, “bang, bang, bang” but by the time I got the camera back securely, I looked upwards to see the falcon already high in the blue wilderness with its mate. The chance was gone.

Again we were alone. The trees reforming to stand tall, the power lines calming from their swing.

Raptors seen in the Lockyer Valley for the day were, Black Falcon, Brown Falcon, Black Kite, Whistling Kite, Black-shouldered Kite, Wedge-tailed Eagle, White-bellied Sea-eagle, Australian Kestrel and Australian Hobby. I’ll go back over the list and count them properly later, but I think it adds up to eighteen species* in a couple of hours. For the day we have to include the Brown Goshawk up at Highfields too.  

A Torresian Crow stuck his nose into the private goings on.

Days have drifted by like the continents. I have awakened to breakfasts of miso soup and rice washed down with a cup of coffee and a small can of Red Bull. It is so very hot and humid. I decide to write for my blog and input a title, “We saw a Black Falcon at Grantham”. Frustratingly, I am interrupted by the doorbell. I sign for a delivery ignoring the delivery man, close the door and pick-up and comfort a howling dog. She calms down and I nurse her as I dream of past events. I go back to my computer and read, “Your post has been published”. A gush of air flings the curtain out of the window behind me. I run to the window but see no-one.

*some statements may be untrue in attempt to out-perform previous records of others. 
Or could be true…

Milvus migrans: of Forked-tail and Black-ears

young Fork-tailed Kite

Milvus migrans affinis

(Australian Black Kite)
General guides in Australia simply refer to this as Black Kite but another name is Fork-tailed Kite.

(Click on the image for a closer view)

Oakey, Queensland, Australia
August 2011

This is a comparison between two subspecies of Black Kite, Milvus migrans affinis of Australia and Milvus migrans lineatus of Japan. 

I'm not exactly sure how to separate the two, the above names are from the Wikipedia Black Kite page
It differs a little from my "Raptors of the World" by James Ferguson-Lees and David Christie. The latter designates the Australian bird as a subspecies of Milvus migrans but separates the Japanese kite from 'migrans' as simply Milvus lineatus. I don't think there is much in it so I won't worry too much. I'm not a scientist.

Black-eared Kite

Milvus migrans lineatus

(Japanese Black Kite)

Japanese name: Tobi

This Kite is just a little larger and bulkier than the Australian Kites.
So named for the darker patch around the ears.
It also has a more distinctive white patch just near the base of the front primary feathers
and the wings are broader.

Toyanogata, Niigata, Japan

Black-eared Kite

This photo shows how the Fork-tailed Kite forks its tail in flight as compared to the first photo where it is stretched out squarely.
The tail looks very forked when perched. More noticeably than with the Black-eared Kites. 

Fork-tailed Kite

The Australian race is the smallest of the Black Kites according to my raptor book.

Fork-tailed Kite 
Notice how the wings are narrower than the Black-eared Kites below.

Oakey, Queensland, Australia
August 2011

Black-eared Kite 

Sakata, Niigata, Japan


Black-eared Kite

Black-eared Kite
Notice on the above three photos the distinct white window at the end of the wings.

Black-eared Kite, Hyoko, Niigata, Japan (snowing)

young Fork-tailed Kite, Oakey
I think in this photo we can just see the yellow cere found on the Australian Kites.
(cere: nose)

immature Fork-tailed Kite
Here we can see yellow feet!

adult Fork-tailed Kite
The wings look very narrow to me now I'm use to Japanese birds!


Showing how flexible the tail really is.

Black-eared Kite
Usually the light is much duller for the Japanese species and colours can be difficult to compare.


The feet are greyish blue, not yellow.



Fork-tailed kite

It's interesting to compare them again in different lighting conditions.

Fork-tailed Kite

Fork-tailed Kite

Can you tell which is which? 

View from Enoshima, 2002
Taken with a Pentax Z-1 film camera.

A Fleeting Visit to Oz

Enjoyed a fleeting visit to Australia in August 2009. 12 busy days. (Above) Australian or Nankeen Kestrel near Southbrook, Darling Downs, Queensland.

Above and below: Black-shouldered Kite near Southbrook, Darling Downs.

(Above and below)
Galah, also near Souhbrook.

Above and below: Two views overlooking the canopy of the Bunya Mountains National Park, Queensland.

Above and below: A Crimson Rosella challenges the effectiveness of using my binoculars on a tripod.

Below: A female Superb Fairy Wren at the Bunya Mountains.

Above and below: Staff members -Two views of a pair of Red-necked Wallabies at the Bunya Mountains.

A male Satin Bowerbird sits briefly on a fence post in the shadows. (Bunya Mountains)

Below: A male Yellow-throated Scrubwren lands briefly in the dark of the forest.

Above and two photos below: Easy photographic subjects. Laughing Kookaburras at the Bunya

Below: I'd prepared a large flash for night-spotting along the Mossman River in north Queensland. It was overkill for the close-ups I should have prepared for. This is a Net-casting Spider waiting for something to walk beneath him. Net ready!

Below: A dragonfly sleeps along the Mossman River. Don't know what kind. Barry please help!

Below: Quite a few Brown Bandicoots but they're were fast footed passers-by. (Mossman River)

Two Below: Black Kites can be seen around the sugar cane. (Mossman)
This is Milvus migrans. Not to be confused with my photos of the Japanese, "Black-eared Kite", Milvus lineatus

Saw several Brahminy Kites north of Cairns. This one on the road kill was just north of Mossman.