22 April, 2012

Finding a Hobby

On Tuesday, with the kids back at school and still suffering the after effects of Sunday's run and several subsequent games of netball, I decided that a gentle stroll around the river might ease out the stiffness. I don't think it helped much, but it was a good excuse as it was a pleasant afternoon and I had some investigating to do.
A recent article in the Advertiser by that guru of all things bird-related in Geelong Trevor Pescott, informed me that I could expect to find Grey Goshawks, Brown Goshawks, Australian Hobbies, Peregrine Falcons and a variety of other raptors hanging around Fyansford at this time of year. I was a little surprised to learn this, as in several years of traversing this part of the river, I had only ever seen a single Nankeen Kestrel near Queen's Park and within the last few months, a juvenile Brown Goshawk down near Belmont Common. A little more Googling confirmed that I could definitely expect to find raptors anywhere from Fyansford to town. Tempted to go to Fyansford, but with limited time, I opted instead to walk to Breakwater and back towards town. The raptors would have to wait.
Juvenile Brown Goshawk near Belmont Common on
6th February, 2012
I headed down the path trying to decide where to stop for lunch. Then rather suddenly as I approached the new Breakwater Bridge, a flash of striped wings revealed what was probably a Brown Goshawk. It landed a few trees away from its initial perch, however it didn't want to hang around for a photo shoot and promptly disappeared. Hmm...maybe I didn't need to go to Fyansford after all.
On this occasion however, I had no further success. The Goshawk had vanished, so I continued my stroll, chased down a couple of butterflies, had lunch and dawdled back towards town. I crossed back over the McIntyre Bridge and was heading for the boatsheds when I noticed another pair of rather predatory wings circling overhead. This time I was in luck. My quarry immediately headed for a nearby communications tower and settled. I doubled back and got as close as I could, however the height of the tower precluded any decent close ups with my little camera. Nonetheless, I was still able to identify what I believe was an Australian Hobby. The first I'd seen. Eventually, it decided to move on and I headed for home.
Australian Hobby near the Moorabool St Bridge
On Thursday, buoyed by Tuesday's success, I headed back to the river, this time on the bike. My legs were almost working again and I hoped to cover some more distance, however on this occasion, there wasn't a single raptor to be seen. Maybe this wasn't going to be as easy as I hoped. The ride was not without its excitement but that topic requires a separate post which I will get to shortly.
So, with nothing to show for my efforts on Thursday, I decided to give it another go on Friday. With more time and another packed lunch I headed for Fyansford. Right on cue, as I left Queen's Park behind and rode below the Deviation, I spotted large brown wings circling overhead. Probably another goshawk I thought and true to recent form, it immediately disappeared before I could even get off my bike let alone get a decent photo. This was becoming a familiar pattern.
Eventually I gave up before I added a stiff neck to my sore legs, had some lunch and annoyed a few more butterflies before jumping back on the bike and heading round to Red Gum Island where I went for a wander up the anabranch before crossing over onto the island and following a little trail I hadn't realised existed until now.
It isn't exactly suited to riding but I managed to haul the bike over rocks, under branches, around trees and even down some steps without too much difficulty. It was as the trail neared the point where it rejoins the main track along the river that I saw a large completely white bird land in a gum tree on the opposite side of the river. At a quick glance and at that distance it could have been a cocky or maybe even a small egret, however I spotted thick yellow legs and it was a little too chunky to be a cocky.
Grey Goshawk - white morph at Fyansford
I worked my way up as close as I could, took some shots and then decided to head round to the opposite side of the river beside the golf course. By now I was fairly certain that as predicted by the guru, I had found a white morph form of a Grey Goshawk. A couple of minutes later and I was on the opposite bank. The problem was that by now, so was the goshawk. Hmmm! I was a little closer than before and snapped a few more shots as the bird watched me for a while then moved a few trees up and then a few more. At this point I swapped back to the opposite bank. So did the goshawk. Grrrr!!
Grey Goshawk - white morph at Fyansford
And then things started to get interesting. With a screech and a rush of wings, a magpie went hurtling over the head of the goshawk which ducked and moved to a lower branch before finding a slightly more distant tree. This appeared to suit the magpie and its mate even less than the previous perch and both then proceeded to make numerous diving attacks on the goshawk, screeching and swooping at significant speed. The goshawk endured this indignity for some time, hunching as each attack came but not looking too concerned, before eventually deciding enough was enough and taking off for good.
Once I got home some more Googling and a quick check of the Birds in Backyards website informed me that the white morph of the Grey Goshawk is the only pure white raptor in the country. For obvious reasons it is also known as the White Goshawk or also self-evidently, the Variable Goshawk. It is found in Tasmania, along the north west coast of the mainland and the Victorian coast line. The grey morph is mostly found along the east coast.
Another point which was reiterated as I attempted to photograph the goshawk was the difficulty of taking shots of white birds. They are terribly prone to coming out glary and over exposed even in what should be relatively ordinary shots. The goshawk was no exception, so it looks like I will need to head back to Fyansford to see if I can improve my technique.

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