Yellow-billed Kites, Addis Ababa
Over recent weeks I have been writing about the birds I saw in Ethiopia on a visit there last December. I’ve already written several posts about Yellow-billed Kites here and here.
Today I feature several more photos taken in the grounds of Bingham Academy in Addis Ababa, an international school where my daughter was teaching last year. There were always several dozen soaring over the campus or low over the ground. On many occasions I saw anything from a dozen to 20 or 30 feeding on the school oval. I can only assume they were catching insects and beetles stirred up during watering of the grass.
Australasian Pipit, Hay Plains, New South Wales
Sydney Trip Report June 2011
When we travel to Sydney to stay with family we usually have to drive over the Hay Plains. This very flat region is in western New South Wales. I guess most people find this drive boring and try to complete this leg of the journey as quickly as speed limits allow. The road is very good and you can maintain 110kph for several hours without having to slow down – unless you get behind a slow moving car towing a caravan.
My wife and I don’t find this drive at all boring. In fact I look forward to it. The region has very few trees; the photo above is a typical view. Trees are usually only found around the few farmhouses and along water courses. The Murrumbidgee River to the north and the Murray River to the south are some distance from the highway, so trees are few.
Despite this limitation, the birding is often wonderfully good, especially as far as raptors are concerned. On our most recent crossing of the plains earlier this year I recorded the following birds of prey:
- Wedge-tailed Eagle (two only)
- Nankeen Kestrel (common)
- Black-shouldered Kite (common)
- Black Kite (common)
- Little Eagle (one only)
Other species seen include:
- Australian Raven (common)
- Australian Magpie (common)
- Australian Magpie Lark (common)
Probably the most outstanding sighting was of the Australasian Pipit (see photo below). I’ve never seen so many in one day before. I’m used to seeing the odd one or two on the road or on the roadside verges. I didn’t do a count but there must have been several hundred present over about a 50km stretch of road. All of them were on the road, not the edges, and would only just fly out of the way of approaching vehicles.
Interesting behaviour; I’m guessing that they were feeding on road kill. This area is rich in insect life and fast moving vehicles account for many insect deaths. This area had recently experienced a locust plague with some remnants of that time still around. It must have been a veritable smorgasbord for them.
By way of contrast, on our return trip over the same route two weeks later, I didn’t see any pipits at all.
A missed birding opportunity
Many people have commented on the photos shown here on my birding site. Thankfully, most of the comments are complimentary. When I do public presentations about birds like I did a few nights ago I also get many ooohs and aaahs when I show certain photos. Just to show that not all my photos are fabulous and gasp worthy, today I present one that got away. A missed opportunity.
Last year as I was driving near Palmer on my way to stay with my daughter in Clare, I stopped at a lookout. The view from this vantage point over the River Murray valley is spectacular and so I stopped to take a few photos, not being in a hurry on this occasion. As I pulled up I noticed a Brown Falcon perched on a nearby tree. I whipped out the camera – only to see the bird take flight. I snapped anyway, hoping for a spectacular shot.
It was not to be.
You get that. I guess that for every lovely photo shown here I’d take 4 or 5 or even more that never pass the test and never appear here or anywhere else. Most just get deleted from my computer files. That’s photography for you, especially in the challenging field of nature photography. So to compensate, I’ve included below a shot of a Brown Falcon taken on another occasion at the nearby Monarto Zoo, an open range conservation area near our home. On this occasion the bird posed for me in a most considerate way.
It’s moments like this that make nature photography so worthwhile.
Wedge-tailed Eagle overhead
I had to admit to my wife last week that I really enjoy hanging out the washing.
The reason is simple: it gets me outdoors, eyes cast skywards. Some of my best birding moments have occurred while hanging out the washing.
Last week was one of those moments. I had barely commenced when my attention was caught by a bird of prey high in the sky. It was obviously an eagle, slowly riding the air currents and circling overhead. I raced inside for the binoculars, sure that it was a Wedge-tailed Eagle. A more passes overhead confirmed my first identification.
This magnificent raptor – our largest bird of prey – is widespread all over Australia. It is widespread in our region too, but not common. Their territories are often huge, and they soar for many kilometres each day searching for their food. Despite them being relatively common in our region, this is only the third time in over 25 years I’ve observed one over our property. I need to get outdoors more often!
The nest of the Wedge-tailed Eagle consists of many sticks and twigs and can be reused many times in the lives of a pair. They will often refurbish the original nest, adding many more sticks until the structure is huge, sometimes large enough for a human adult to lie down in. The nearest nest I know of is about 20km NW of home near the Mannum waterfalls reserve.
Nankeen Kestrel breeding
This morning I was working out in the garden early before the heat of the day. I had been doing some mowing after all of the rain we’ve had over winter and spring. I’d just switched off the mower, that noisy beast, when I heard a familiar bird call overhead.
Three Nankeen Kestrels were flying low over head, two of them chasing after the first while calling. I recognised the call as that of the young birds begging for food. They are a regular breeding species here in Murray Bridge, South Australia but I don’t often get to hear or see the young ones. It’s good to see this species thriving here.
Nankeen Kestrels are found throughout Australia but they are uncommon in Tasmania I understand. They are one of our raptor species and are the smallest of the kites found in Australia. The Letter-winged Kites and the Black-shouldered Kites are just marginally larger.
This species is most commonly encountered along country roads in rural Australia. They can been seen hovering 5 to 10 metres above the ground or hanging motionless on a stiff breeze while searching for a feed. Their diet consists usually of mice, grasshoppers, insects and small lizards.
Their preferred habitat is grasslands, plains, farmlands as well as roadside verges, but they are equally at home in the built up CBDs of towns and cities.
Perhaps the most spectacular view I’ve had of this species was an individual soaring at eye level within metres of where I stood on a visit to the control tower of Melbourne Airport.