Thursday, 14 May 2009
Fishing Egret and Fighting Herons!
I'm still waiting for the Kotuku to return to the river. The large white bird that flew over the saltmarsh last week (which I hoped was kotuku but suspected was an egret) was back feeding one morning. Sure enough, he was quite small and had a dark beak - an egret. Just as lovely as kotuku although not as impressive in size and unfortunately much harder to photograph as he is very shy! To get these photos I waited until he had caught himself a nice fat little eel and was distracted by trying to swallow the slippery wriggling meal which is not easy if you are a bird. With his attention on breakfast I snuck down the bank behind some rushes and shot this series of photos as he resumed feeding. The egret has a style of fishing all of its own and is quite entertaining as he flaps about actively chasing fish as opposed to the herons preferred silent stalk approach. The whitefaced herons will use a similar technique to the egrets at times but are usually more regal and dignified in their methods.
On Wednesday I arrived at the river to a most lovely morning, still and calm, sunny but cold. Perfect conditions for photos but there didn't seem to be any interesting birds around at all. Plenty of ducks taking refuge from hunters but I resist shooting (with my camera) both ducks and seagulls as much as I can.
Call it avian snobbery but you can take the best shot in the world of a duck or seagull but at the end of the day they are still just a duck or seagull if you get my drift!!!! ALTHOUGH I did weaken and shoot this photo of a pair of mallards with the excuse that it is a shot just as much about the water and lovely reflections as it is the ducks.
This pair were photographed just behind the skate bowl.
I decided to give up for the day and get to my studio and my painting so headed back to the yacht club where I had parked the car. As I was walking along the stopbank a whitefaced heron flew in from upriver and landed on the flats. Immediately another bird flew in from the rocky point to my right croaking angrily.
In the time I have been photographing these birds I won't go so far as to say I recognise each individually but I have come to know of a few by their habits. There are three or four birds who favour this feeding ground, two are a pair although they don't always feed together. Another is a single male who often challenges the male of the pair and two or three times I have witnessed arial battles between them. Unfortunately I have always been too far away to photograph them scrapping but it appeared that this morning I was finally able to get the opportunity. The heron from upriver was the single male, the one from the point one of a pair.
Battles usually start with body posturing, Both birds drop their wings a little and the long thin feathers on their backs stand semi-erect. They hold their heads up as high as they can, all this posturing in an effort to appear bigger than they truly are. They strut side on to each other for a bit then turn and show their other side as they strut back again like yachts tacking in a race. If neither side backs down then they get closer and closer before finally turning to face each other in a challenge to duel. These two didn't waste much time posturing before they were hard out fighting! Unfortunately I didnt have time to get closer and I was shooting into the sun so my photos arent the best quality but they capture some of the action. There were literally feathers flying although they didn't show up in my images.
After a battle of about five or six seconds the male from the point beat a hasty retreat back to where he had come from, near where my car was parked. I followed and very soon he flew back to again challenge his attacker. I was able to get myself close and in the perfect position to capture another fight, this time with the sun at my back. BUT those bloody birds just did their sailboat impressions cruising up and down with their beaks pointed at the sky for about half an hour!!!! The loser from the first encounter was just not quite game enough to engage in combat and would back off as soon as the first one got too close. Finally he was distracted by a fish flopping about in the water so he grabbed that and used it as an excuse to walk away from the fight.
While the herons use this posture of "heads up as high as they can" to signal aggression, the opposite is used to signal a friendly greeting. The heron pair, after a morning feeding often rest together on the balcony of the yachtclub and when they meet there it is with heads lowered and beaks clapping at the other birds knee height. They croak softly to each other and the feathers on their backs are raised. The sexes are difficult to tell apart unless they are together with the male slightly larger and a little more colour in his plumage.