I was sick of sitting in front of the computer today, so I packed up my camera and binoculars and headed down to Serendip Sanctuary. Not exactly wilderness but it's an excellent spot to contemplate bird life. And there are no phones, no email and, this afternoon — hooray! — there were no other people. I had the place to myself.
The bird watching started on the Princes Freeway between Werribee and Lara. This is a first-class stretch for raptors. I saw two pairs of black-shouldered kites. The first couple were hovering over the slow lane, about six metres above the road. The second swirled around each other, in a mating display or territorial dispute or possibly just for the fun of it.
At Serendip, the grebes were doing what they always do—diving just as I pressed the shutter. It didn't take me long to give it up as a bad job. No point filling up the camera's memory with blurred shots of the birds' cotton wool bottoms or of ripples spreading out from the places those fluffy bums had once been.
The chestnut teal weren't quite as modest but they were still reticent about having their pictures taken. I raised the camera; they retreated. I pretended I wasn't interested in photographing them, but rather the ibis rookery on the other bank. No good. They weren't fooled. Canny things, those chestnut teal.
And that's how the afternoon went. Plenty of birds but none of them prepared to be immortalised in pixels. Even the pelicans, normally unconcerned by the attention, weren't playing the game. They clustered at the far end of the lake, lined up like yachts in a marina.
So I put the camera away and took out the binoculars. And that's when things livened up. Apart from those species listed above, I also saw black-fronted dotterel, masked lapwings and magpie geese. Welcome swallows swept over the water. Superb wrens (mostly males in eclipse plumage) hopped along the lake's edge. (Like me, they were probably trying to avoid stepping in ibis poo.) A black kite landed in one of the taller trees and surveyed the scene. (Tallying the number of visitors who'd slipped on the poo-greased board walk?)
Away from the lake, New Holland honeyeaters and a couple of spiny-cheeked honeyeaters — more common further inland — worked their way through the last of the eucalypt blossoms. A gang of about twenty white-winged choughs moved through the open woodland, examining the ground with the diligence of an archaeological team. (They went on to mug the captive bustards for their lunch. I saw one of the bustard hens staring at the mountain of red-eyed glossy black birds in the spot where her food tray had been only seconds before. She looked appalled.)
The resident emus kept very much to themselves. This is a Good Thing. Emus that get used to humans are quite intimidating. The birds at Serendip like to maintain their distance.
But the highlight of the visit came on the way out. The chestnut teal may have sailed away when faced with the viewing public but this male musk duck was not so coy. He was advertising his availability with a theatrical water-splashing display. I had to catch this on camera.
He flattened his curious fan-shaped tail against his back, extended his neck and stretched out the flap under his beak. Then he kicked his feet to the side, sending up sprays of water, while making a strange 'plonk' noises to make sure observers got the point. It was one of the oddest — and most captivating — thing I'd seen for ages.
I must leave the office and get out more often.