Bird of a Brown Land

Brown Falcon

Falco berigora

West of Toowoomba, Queensland, Australia


Here are three different Brown Falcons that I saw with Rod Hobson in 2014 and in August 2015.

Brown Falcons are the most common large falcons found in Australia. I'm not a fan of their bland name though, as I think they are more beautiful than just "Brown Falcon" implies. Over the years I have seen incredible variations of this species especially in central Queensland. I have seen very pale, sandy coloured birds, one or two like large kestrels. I have also seen all black birds like Black Falcons and red-barred birds that had me running down the street screaming "Red Goshawk". When I was photographing one flying around with a large snake (Altona, Victoria 1990s) I was attacked by its mate. They appear to fly with less zest than other falcons but I believe they are pretty aggressive hunters too. I have watched them in serious dogfights with other falcons and raptors such as harriers.

I think they are true spirits of the Australian landscape and are dramatic and variable. I think they would be better named, "Australian Falcon". What do you think? 

(this is the above bird in flight and below)

Another Brown Falcon west of Toowoomba, 2014. As well as the three shots below.

We encountered this Brown Falcon north-east of Toowoomba this August (2015).
Maybe Flagstone Creek Road.

Guardians of Westgate Park

Brown Falcon
launching from a stone sculpture with the
Westgate Bridge in the background.

Westgate Park, Port Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


Here are some photos from the Kodak Photo CD made on May 13, 1999. All these shots were at Westgate Park, Port Melbourne in the 1990s. I don't know why I wanted these scanned. I think they had landmarks. I often visited the park in the 1990s as it was the best place to find raptors near the Melbourne CBD. 

I have many nice memories and loads of negatives and slides. Nothing worth hanging on the wall but I think I have some nice historical records for the end of the century. 

Apart from these pictures I also remember photographing a Spotted Harrier having a dogfight with a Whistling Kite in the middle of a 45C day. Who in their right mind would be out birding then?

I also had a close encounter with a young Black Falcon cutting through the park (winter). Well out of its recorded area but I'd been photographing them a week earlier in Queensland and felt they were following me around.

I watched a Nankeen Kestrel grab an Indian Myna in flight and the two cart-wheeled to the ground. I got two shots of it. It would be nice to find them. The birds disappeared behind a hedge in a business property next to the park so I couldn't go in. Neither bird appeared again, leaving me to imagine the outcome.

Other raptors included, Australian Hobby (regular), Brown Goshawk - I watched being chased away by a team of Black-shouldered Kite and Peregrine Falcon (on one occasion), Collared Sparrowhawk, and Swamp Harrier. 

Pretty cool for a major urban environment!

For more information about Westgate Park please visit: Friends of Westgate Park

Nankeen Kestrel

Little Eagle

Peregrine Falcon (above and below)

Black-shouldered Kite

Fox and Australian White Ibis


Black Falcons rounding up Feral Pigeons (Rock Dove)

North-west of Toowoomba, Queensland, Australia

as seen with Kevin Williams!!

am March 28, 2013

Been so busy lately but wanted to upload these images. Hope to have time to read other blogs soon.

Thanks for visiting.

Black Falcon

...and late one afternoon a couple of days later >

A Sulphur-crested Cockatoo launches as flocks of birds stir with the arrival of some raptor.

Late afternoon, Near Quinalow, Queensland, a few days after watching the Black Falcons.


A couple of Little Corellas following the flock

I saw buckets of birds flocking but only two kestrels were soaring.
A Brown Falcon then appeared

Lots of Little Corellas everywhere but realised after I downloaded
 my pics that this looks like a Long-billed Corella.

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…

Food for Thought

Brown Falcon
Hovering at Felton, Queensland, August 18, 2011

It seems that after centuries of gathering knowledge, we have decided to cut the planet into pieces and sell it.

When I was a school student I was ‘educated’ that the Darling Downs region west of Toowoomba was one of the most important agricultural regions in Australia. Nowdays however, farmers and communities are being removed for coal and gas mining. You can see signs of the battle in some farming areas, such as Felton south-west of Toowoomba (Queensland, Australia).

The Australian governments have a savage hunger to get money for Australian dirt.

I guess it's already more than 15 years ago now that I went to a talk about Australian forests. By then we'd cleared 90% of the forests in NSW. It was then claimed by the government that only 10% of the forests were being logged. What they didn't say is that they were logging 10% of the remaining 10% of forests. Interestingly most of the cleared land had become farmland.

I don’t know if the mining boom is related to the massive spending on the infrastructure of the state’s capital, Brisbane. It seems every time I have to visit things have been redeveloped. When I was there in August they opened a new billion dollar bus terminal that cuts 10 minutes off travel time to the local University. I guess that's the one the Queensland lawmakers come from.

A bit off the track, I want A brief WHINGE ABOUT BRISBANE: In 2009 after we travelled from Cairns to Brisbane by train we rented a car (in Brisbane), drove around south-east Queensland before eventually heading across the Gateway Bridge to get to Brisbane airport. It had been years since I crossed the bridge and I was delighted to find that the toll gates had been removed. Anyway once we crossed it we forgot about it, dropped off our rented car and flew to back to Cairns and on to Tokyo. Two months later we got a letter from the car rental company to tell us that our credit card had been docked thirty odd dollars due to our failure to pay for the bridges toll. Somehow we were supposed to know beforehand to call a phone number and pay via credit card for crossing the bridge. Outraged I researched the matter over the internet, tried to make calls from Japan and sent e-mails to several Brisbane City Council offices and received zip in response. Eventually I complained to the Brisbane car rental office that they should advise visitors to Brisbane of such a toll system. Even though they had taken our money and I was using my name in the e-mail, they needed my customer ID number to respond. I then had to ask my wife as she’s the one who manages such paper work and she told me to just forget about it.

My Japanese is terrible but I’ve never had such troubles in Tokyo (An urban area ten times bigger).

Brisbane must make buckets from unsuspecting visitors. I guess they just don’t think there are any overseas or bush visitors. 

There are no direct flights between Brisbane and Tokyo.

Spotted Harrier
Between Toowoomba and Wyreema
August 18, 2011

Black Falcon (above and below)
A few minutes after the harrier at Wyreema
August 18, 2011
....appears to have caught something.  I kind of find these often enough but I'm never quick enough or it's too cloudy to get good shots.

Australian Kestrel
Between Felton and Greenmount
August 18, 2011
and another below in the same area.

Brown Falcon
Almost at Greenmount
August 18, 2011

It was an Australian Prime Minister who said "Australia is the arse end of the world". 
Australia's biggest weakness has been its leaders. They just never had any respect for it.