Beauty on the Wing

As a young pilot flying around the west coast of South Australia and across the vast deserts to the north in the late 1970s, I saw so much that was new and mesmerising that I bought a Nikon 35mm film camera and snapped away whenever I was awestruck, which was often. That habit has persisted to this day.

Taking photos for so many years has taught me to be observant and patient in capturing an image worth keeping. These habits have proved particularly rewarding when it comes to taking photos of birds. Serendipity has also played a role.  With one exception, all the birds in the photos below (nearly all of which were taken in and around Apollo Bay), I encountered by chance. The exception is the eastern great egret. I first encountered this bird by chance, and was enthralled by the protracted slow motion dance of us staying close yet keeping our distance around the mudflats at the mouth of the Barham River. But I now know where that bird lives and what the rules are, and have sought him out with success on many occasions.

Upon first coming to Apollo Bay, I thought that seagulls, cormorants, sparrows, magpies and cockies, with the occasional wedge tailed eagle over Marriners Lookout pretty much summed up the bird life in the area. How wrong I was.

These photos have all appeared on my blog. But in compiling the photos for this post I am working on the assumption that nobody has followed/read this blog from its commencement, or devoted a substantial part of their annual leave to immersing themselves in the back catalogue.

I wish to share with readers through this collection of favourites of mine, the beauty, the majesty and the sheer wonder of some of the birds I have encountered and photographed in the paradise that is Apollo Bay and its immediate surrounds.

This post is all about the photos. The words are superfluous, so please treat reading the comments as entirely optional.

Australasian Gannet

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The Australasian gannet is a powerful flyer. They breed in Australia and New Zealand, and flights across the Tasman and up and down the east coast of Australia are not uncommon.
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One mode of fishing mastered by this species is plunge diving. The birds dive at speeds up to 80kph and enter the water with wings folded back. They can dive to 50 feet or so underwater, and can manoeuvre under water using their wings. Sometimes the birds will target a single fish before diving, but often a flock will fly at 30 feet or so above the water and herd fish into a concentrated area before diving and catching them with ease. They have been observed to catch as many as 4-5 fish on a single dive.
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These birds are so aerodynamically streamlined and are such accomplished flyers that they spend much of their time aloft soaring and gliding. The Australasian gannet always seems to fly and manoeuvre with elegance and efficiency.

Pacific Gull

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Silver gulls must sometimes look at Pacific gulls and wonder if the silver gull was simply a first draft, and that this species is where nature finally got it right. This bird does everything a silver gull is capable of, but does it better, further, higher, faster and with more panache and ease.  This is a very stylish, robust and well designed seabird.
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These birds look absolutely on top of their game, even when doing ordinary things like formation head checks before takeoff.  They are distributed in a relatively thin band along the south coast of the Australian continent,  and up the south west coast of Western Australia. They are common enough, but nowhere near as common as the silver gull.
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Wherever possible I try to get a photo of a bird with at least one eye clearly lit and visible. It gives a hint as to the character of the bird. This closeup of a Pacific gull does just that. I’ll leave the character reading to you, but it should include supreme confidence.

Silver Gull

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This silver gull was standing in the shallows in the flowing Barham River on a very hot evening. He seemed to just be chilling, letting the freshwater flow around his legs, and enjoying the coolness of the air just above the water.
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I learnt something very useful from this silver gull. I was taking photos of very small things on the tidally exposed reef between Pt Bunbury and the Barham River mouth. This required lying down on the sand or rocks at times for a better view. It was while in that position, having been there for a little while. that this bird in the company of others landed close to me then proceeded to walk and feed even closer. There was no doubt that my reduced apparent size by reason of being prone removed or reduced the appearance of threat that usually causes them to land warily at a greater distance, and move away not towards me. I have put this theory into practice on other occasions, and it works.
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Juvenile silver gull – distinguishable by light brown feathers on the wings, and dark beak and legs.
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This gulls quartet was in fine voice just after dawn on a beach at the Bay of Fires in Tasmania one cold winter’s morning. They were giving this rousing number everything they had.
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That’s Cape Patton in the distance. The photo was taken looking east after sunset from Tuxion beach at the end of my street in Apollo Bay. These birds appear to me to have the languid relaxed air of heading home for the night after putting in a solid day. Their legs are just dangling, and their beaks are pointing left and right respectively indicating they have not given up entirely on scoring a snack on the way home.

Sooty Oyster Catcher

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That beak is certainly heavy duty.

Pied Oyster Catcher

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The pied and sooty oyster catchers frequent the same areas in southern Australia. Makes me wonder why they evolved such contrasting markings.

Crested Tern

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Juvenile crested tern channelling its inner dove of peace.

Australian Pelican

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The ubiquitous Australia pelican. This one was photographed on Wallis Lake at Forster-Tuncurry in NSW.

Domestic Geese

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A small number of long-liberated domestic geese live in the Apollo Bay harbour. Fishermen and other locals feed them from time to time.
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This is a formal goose portrait. Its colouring and pose reminds me of those old sepia portraits of early American presidents and the like. This goose had  an imperious look about him which suggested he answered to nobody,  called the shots on every occasion and was never wrong.

Hooded Plover

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Inconveniently for them, hooded plovers nest on open beaches.
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Effective lookout system in action while on the nest..

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Spurwinged Plover

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I have researched the sharp yellow spike on the leading edge of the wings of this bird. It is not actually used in battle. But it is used in threat displays. All show apparently.

Black Swan

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This swan had just taken off from the Barham River at sunset, and was heading west. That’s a lot of neck to control in flight.

Eastern Great Egret

A truly exquisite bird.

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Australian Magpie

The song of the magpie is second to none. It is truly beautiful and uplifting. I got to know this particular male magpie over three breeding seasons. Its territory is in and around my house and the tree lined creek beside it, and up and down the street I’m on. I have watched it rear young with its mate (two young for each year I have observed). This bird would come down from a lamp post and land at my feet upon being called by me. It was also familiar with my house, and would peck on the front door or adjacent window. It would also look through windows and find me in the house. It knew when I was getting something from my special stash of approved maggie tucker, and would head to the nearest door before I did. It would take the food from my hand, and sometimes then stay put on the balcony rail, as if for the company. Sometimes when I was using the outdoor shower after a swim, this bird would land near me and throw its head back and treat me to a song or two, while enjoying a bit of splash from the shower.  This species likes to interact with humans, and many householders in Australia have a special relationship with their local maggies. They are very territorial.

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Satin Bowerbird

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Readily distinguishable from other bowerbird species by its striking blue eyes. This photo was taken from the balcony on my house beside the creek.

Laughing Kookaburra

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This is a Tasmanian bird, which lives and breeds in Tasmania and some islands in Bass Strait. This photo was taken at Cradle Mountain.

Yellow Tailed Black Cockatoo

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A male yellow tailed black cockatoo (dark bill, pink ring around the eyes and a smaller cheek patch than the female, which has a paler bill, a grey ring around the eye and a large patch on the cheek).
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These birds are awkward flyers compared to say the Australasian gannet. It seems that they flap, then notice that they are going down, and so flap again. It’s as if they have reluctant wings barely up to the job. But that aside, when they descend on target trees their eating method is to bite off a branch, have a nibble and discard the branch. Then repeat. A tree they have fed from often has a substantial pile of bitten of branch pieces below it. These birds work in gangs – but there is always a non-eating lookout appointed when they raid a tree. The hakea tree in our backyard is a regular victim of the yellow tailed black cockatoo. I forgive them. Long may they visit.

New Holland Honeyeater

This tiny darting little bird lives on nectar, and sometimes insects. It moves too frequently and quickly for an observer to have any hope of ascertaining its true beauty. The photo yields wonderful surprises with this little bird.

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Only a still photo enables this stern looking and feature-rich little face to be appreciated.

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None of these colours, markings, feathers and shape are able to be appreciated when this bird darts past.
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I suppose when insects are on your diet you have to be able to maneouvre in flight in this extreme manner. Any flying machine built by man, with wings on these angles, would be about to crash. All in a day’s or perhaps a millisecond’s work for the NHH.

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Seabirds on the Wing

Birds on the wing, betwixt heaven and earth.

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I have a large framed print of this on my wall in my house at Apollo Bay. It’s a favourite. It draws me in whenever I glance at it. I find so much in it to look at and think about.



2 thoughts on “Beauty on the Wing

  1. Hi John
    I have just enjoyed a wonderful half hour viewing your Beauty on the Wing!
    Your photos are amazing! The birds are beautiful! and you should think about making a calendar for all your followers to buy and enjoy!!
    Hope to see you and Liz soonish…

    Liked by 1 person

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