Today marks a pretty amazing day for me. I've been looking forward to birding this week because the forecasters promised sunshine. I drove home from work this morning, sun shining all the way, only to get home and have it be overcast. Call it what you will, fate, a birder's instinct, perhaps insanity, I went birding anyway.
Altona CSR Landcare Reserve:
In some ways, I'm lucky to still be at a point with my birding where visiting local patches still occasionally gives me lifers. My first highlight I came across as my eyes passed over the vegetation on one side of the walking trail. I wasn't looking for anything, in fact I was turning my gaze to see a bird on the other side. But a shape caught my eye, a shape in the dark circle of a hollow. I knew instantly what it was, an Australian Owlet-nightjar, not my bogey, but I was ecstatic. I have often heard these birds, but have never before seen one. Turns out they're a little bigger than I expected. I took my time approaching the hollow, which was just above head height. The bird retreated a little way in but was still visible (likely the hollow didn't go any deeper). I made sure to stay behind the trunk of a small tree, even though it didn't block me from view, it would still be an obvious physical barrier between the bird and I. I had to put the camera on live view mode and lift it above my head to get the image, so I'm pretty pleased with it.
After a couple of snaps, I went to leave the bird, I turned around to walk away and as soon as I did so the bird flushed from the hollow. I feel awful about it because I had tried so hard not to flush it, not really knowing if nightjars were prone to flushing from their hollows. It didn't fly far and perched amongst the leaves of a nearby tree, so I left in the opposite direction to ensure I didn't flush it again.
My next highlight was a Black-shouldered Kite. Common, and frequently seen while driving, but I've never been so close to one (despite the height difference) and one has never sat around for a photo before. I came to realise that this was because it had a mouse in its talons. Even when it was swooped by a Kookaburra, the kite still stuck around for some photos, at a steep angle, against the light, with an overcast sky behind it. Perfect conditions for photographing white birds...
Black-shouldered Kite with prey
So we come to the star of the show. I had decided on this day to walk every loop trail in the park, often I only walk 1 or 2, but this time I thought bugger it, and walked all three. There's that birder's intuition again. No more than 50 meters along the 3rd and final loop I see movement to my left. A whistler-sized bird with its back to me in the fork of a eucalypt, "cool" I think, haven't got a whistler on today's list yet. A moment later, the bird turned its head and the vibrant white facial markings were an instant give-away. Crested Shrike-tit, my bogey bird. On the inside, I screamed and jumped up and down. On the outside, that behaviour scares away birds so I whispered "oh my gosh" while I fumbled with my camera. I somehow managed to take a photo, only for it to be of the fork of a eucalypt and nothing else. You would need Superman's x-ray vision to be able to see the bird that had moved around to the far side of the branch.
Fortunately, the bird decided that a tasty meal was to be had below the eucalypt so it re-emerged a moment later. Having never encountered them before, I was unsure of the comfort zone of this species, so I approached cautiously at first. The bird seemed quite at ease so I approached until I was no more than 10m away while he continued to forage in front of me. And I must say, wow, what a spectacular looking bird. He made some of the soft "chucking" calls that I've heard so much about (and listened to online on many occasions) and a second bird responded from nearby. I'm not surprised that I haven't heard these calls up until now, they're quite soft and seem to serve mainly (or only?) as a means of contact with nearby birds. He got to forage, I got to gawk. He posed nicely on some exposed branches of a golden wattle, I took some pictures. While I would have liked to have had some sunlight for my photos, I think I'll take the fact that the bird was at chest height over sunlight, as I'm aware that these are often very much birds of the higher branches and canopy. I didn't manage to see the other bird. The whole experience lasted about 4 minutes, before he dived into a kangaroo thorn and emerged from the other side never to be seen again. How a vibrant bird like that manages to disappear so easily, I'll never know.
Male Crested Shrike-tit
So it ended up being a very productive day and I snagged 42 species of birds at the reserve with two new lifers in one, which made me pretty pleased. Not to mention catching up with the bird that I've been trying so hard to find for so long. No longer a myth, and now I know where to start my search for them next time I visit.