The hierarchy of harrassment

23/12/2014

Some days there isn’t much to see, other days it just doesn’t stop. The other day was one where it didn’t seem to stop, from the moment Jambo and I dropped into the creek to the when we hauled ourselves out 40 minutes later.

We often come across ducklings with mother duck and the pantomime in which Jambo charges up and down the creek while mother duck puts on the “injured wing” routine as her ducklings flee is so common as to go unremarked. Ducklings are brilliant at diving and spreading out so that they all pop up a few metres away from where they started, which is generally enough to confuse a predator. But I’ve never seen an adult duck do this, till today.

I’m guessing this fellow is old enough to have mature plumage but still young enough to use duckling tactics when threatened. We came across him in the beck, high upstream. Most ducks this point fly away; was he injured? He didn’t look to be in any discomfort.

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As soon as Jambo went after him, though, he took a deep breath and …

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Under he went, for a good 5 or 6 metres. When he did surface he kept a flattened profile, before diving again and making another few metres.

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It was all hugely interesting, and no ducks were harmed the process.

And that would have been enough for one walk, but there was to be more fun in the gasworks. The grass has been slashed, possibly just regular ongoing maintenance but perhaps part of the preparation for the forthcoming land clearance. The cut grass has exposed the small critters that creep, squirm and slither, resulting in the arrival of many more birds of prey than has been case in the last few weeks.

A pair of black-shouldered kites consider this to be their territory and haven’t taken kindly to the recent arrivals. I’ve seen a brown falcon down the drain and patrolling the bamboo by the rail line, but today he thought he’d try the pickings in the gasworks. The first I knew of it was an angry screech from one of the kites; his mate arrived and they soon drove the falcon off and into the fig trees over by the Hamilton Business Centre. This rubbish picture shows three tiny specks in the sky. It was very exciting in real life. Honest.

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And that, too, would have been enough for one walk. But wait! There’s more!

The falcon, harried into the fig trees, turned from bullied to bully. A huge bird rose out of the crown of the fig with great wafting wing flaps. At first I thought it was an eagle, but I think from the scale (to the falcon) and the tail profile that it’s a black kite.

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And see that smudge at bottom right? It’s the brown falcon, heading out of the sun. Tora! Tora! Tora!

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The black-shouldered kite hung back. I’m surprised at how often this hierarchy works itself out: a willie wagtail will harass a magpie and a magpie will harass a goshawk but not a willie wagtail; a brown falcon will be harassed by a smaller black-shouldered kite but will itself harass a much larger black kite.

And a cairn terrier will always hassle a duck.


A nip in the air

29/03/2014

March hasn’t been able to make its mind up: it hasn’t let go of summer, neither has it embraced autumn. At night I’m still throwing off the doona then pulling it back on, hot one minute and cold the next, and my hay fever’s all over the place.

Nature’s in limbo too, though I do feel a quiet sense of urgency starting to gather its grip around the creatures of the creek. We don’t have an arctic winter in Newcastle but we do get a cold time, and so if you haven’t got a layer of fat on you by now then you may struggle in May. If you’ve been so rash as to have a clutch of chicks, well, you’re pushing your luck, I reckon.

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The gasworks is full of fungi.

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The big tall bamboo-like grass on the banks of the Styx has exploded into fat candles of seedheads.

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There’s a native grass in the gasworks which, given the chance, will spring up after a slashing and some rain. At sunset the heads of the grass catch the slanting rays, and the whole area seems to glow as though a soft pink mist had settled across the land in a way that I don’t have the photographic skills to capture. Trust me!

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A Darwin friend happily Facebooked the other day to say that the dragonflies had arrived, a sure sign of the forthcoming dry season. Here, the dragonflies are getting dopey and starting to crash into the ground, into each other, into clumps of lantana.

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This guy even crashed into me, staggered around a bit, took a breather on my finger before humming off to do whatever it is that dragonflies do in late March.

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A pair of brown falcons have been gliding around at dusk, working the area normally worked by the black-shouldered kites. Have the muscled the territory? A few weeks back a pair of grey goshawks were nesting in the one of the few tall trees on the railway land, which I didn’t comment about until their chicks had fledged and moved on.

I came across this grim kill site; maybe a young sulphur-crested.

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The trail spread right upstream. This was no chick, it must be an adult bird.

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Or, erm, a feather-stuffed pillow. Whoops!

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And then, just as I was laughing at myself, I found these feathers in the feathers.

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Yes, autumn really is getting closer.