Saturday, 8 June 2013

Post script to "An autumn morning birding at Jones Bay"

As I returned to my vehicle from the sand islands I spotted a Black-shouldered Kite perched on top of an old navigation pole feeding on a kill. I thought, here is a photo opportunity if I can use the car and a wattle tree as a cover to get closer. So I bent low and crept up. I managed to get into position without scaring off the bird, which was preoccupied with its meal. However when I went to snap some shots the auto focus was not working and then I noticed the image stabiliser was also not functioning. It was then I noticed the camera battery was flat. So I backed behind the wattle and changed the battery. When I worked back into position again the bird had gone. Ahhhh! - the frustrations of bird photography?

As I walked back to the car I noticed the bird had flown to a young Redgum beside the Mitchell River, just 50 metres from the car, where it was perched on its meal and feeding. So I was still in the hunt. I worked my way, with no cover at all, very slowly towards the tree and the feeding bird, stopping often to ensure the bird was comfortable. Over the next 10 minutes or so, and 20 shots or more, I found I was nearly by the tree and very close to the feeding bird. It was then that I realised I had completely missed a second BSK perched about 4 metres above the bird I had been photographing. To my surprise I found this second bird was also feeding. Both birds had caught rats - the tail is visible in some of the shots.

I then started taking some shots of the second bird which was bigger than the first and therefore probably a female.

I went back to taking shots of the smaller male and while so occupied heard the female squawking and realised she had flown off. When I looked to see what the fuss was all about the female was attacking a Whistling Kite and still holding its partly eaten rat. At first I thought the female must have been chasing the WK away from its territory, however during a close encounter between the two birds the BSK dropped the rat and as it fell the WK effortlessly swooped and caught it in flight. That was the end of the encounter. The BSK returned to the tree, minus its meal, and the WK flew off with its stolen meal. The male BSK continued eating. I think the WK had approached with the intention of grabbing an easy meal and it succeeded. So in the end I think the BSK was trying to protect its meal and not its territory?

I have found in the past that raptors on a kill and busy feeding will sometimes allow close approach, provided of course you work your way towards the bird/s slowly, stopping often so they can be satisfied you are not a threat. That morning I got to within about 8 metres of the two birds while taking lots of photos and standing in the open - no cover at all. It should be noted however that this pair of BSK’s occupy a territory that has frequent human visitors, mostly fishing, and therefore they are relatively tolerant of people.

What a way to end a two hour walk in Jones Bay? Amazing luck and a bunch of nice photos - here are a few - I hope you enjoy them.

This is the male Black-shouldered Kite with its kill - I assume an introduced rat.

This is the female, also with a rat - she is either hungrier, a faster eater or started earlier than the male?

I am only about 6 metres away however she continues feeding while keeping an intense ruby red eye on me.

Back to the male who is demonstrating the effectiveness of the raptor bill for ripping flesh.

At this point the female has lost her meal to the Whistling Kite and is perched nearby. The male continues feeding safe from the WK.


  1. G'day JH,
    Wonderful shots - a great series. The BSKites seem to be quite plentiful in the last couple of seasons I reckon. DF and I recently came across one doing almost the exact same thing but couldn't approach closely enough for a decent shot.

    1. Thanks Gouldia. I agree that BSKites have increased recently along with other species of raptors. As raptors are at the top of the food chain their numbers are dependent on the pyramid of living things beneath them, starting with plants of course. During the long most recent drought the abundance of most life declined dramatically and since the breaking of the drought and the two or three good years of rain across much of Australia life has boomed again. We have made many long outback trips and seen over the past six years or so both the bad and the good. On our most recent trip last winter up to Byron Bay and then west as far as the Simpson Desert and then down the Birdsville Track and back through the Flinders Ranges etc we saw large numbers of raptors everywhere we traveled. The raptor highlights were a pair of Grey Falcons (NE of Cameron Corner)and three pairs of breeding Letter-wing Kites (Birdsville Track). As we swing back towards drought conditions again I predict we will start to see more unusual raptors visit our area such as Black Falcons and Spotted Harriers and you never know, a Letter-winged Kite might turn up. One was reported recently on Bird Line Vic just north of Melbourne.

      Cheers, Avithera