Don’t Mess with the Stilt Boss!

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The past few early mornings have been spent patrolling Buckley’s Hole on Bribie Island in the hope of some unusual stuff. With the exception of a nesting pair of Black Winged Stilts which vigorously chased any bird coming within 10 meters and a dead fish which very nearly made me puke it was a pond filled with the usual stuff.

I like Buckley’s because it usually offers a chance for some good birds-in-flight photography, and this time round was no exception with some very nice Royal Spoonbill flight shots going in to the camera. But it was the stilts which really stole the show. They aggressively attacked any bird; ducks, spoonbills, ibises and even grebe’s that came within ten meters of the nest. So it was more or less a case of setting up and sitting down to wait and watch for something to happen.

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I started off in a nice spot right low at the waters edge; perfect for everything. While setting up I smelt a rotten smell, but thought it was the exposed mud and just ignored it. But every time the wind shifted the smell was really bad. Nothing much was happening so I decided to have my breakfast of tea and a rusk and just had the rusk in my mouth when an almighty rotten stink settled down on me. It was bad, too bad to be mud, so holding my mug and rusk I stood up to see what could be the cause of the smell. Then I saw it, about 2m away from me in the reeds was a big dead fish crawling with maggots……! I don’t have to tell you what happened next. The tea, rusk, previous nights dinners, lunch and everything else I had eaten for two days was rushing up my throat as I stumbled out of the reeds onto the path. It was Bad!!!

Needless to say after that clandestine exit every bird within a hundred meters was instantaneously gone. Then to make matters worse while recovering the camera the tripod legs got caught on a stump sending me and the kit sprawling. Fortunately the ground was soft sand, but everything now needs to be cleaned.

Anyway after a while life in the pond returned to normal and the resident waterbirds eventually worked their way towards the stilts nesting site giving a great opportunity to photograph its defense.

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The best series of shots were those between Stilts. For these birds, territorial fights are high jumping, legs kicking Karate stuff. While it made for great photography it would have been even better if the rotten fish was not polluting the best photography location! I’d like to say I stuck it out and swallowed the stench in the name of art, but it was just too rich a sight and smell for me. So you are stuck with photos from the second best angle!

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Stilts are delicate graceful birds and I would call their fighting more a rigorous threatening dance than an all out damaging fight. But it’s an interesting event to photograph. In order to catch the birds it’s necessary to watch the aggressive bird and when you sense there will be action immediately focus on it, because the whole scene is over within a few seconds. Fortunately it’s quite easy to see a change in the birds demeanor from quietly feeding to purposely walking towards the opposing target. After that it’s a jumping flight with both legs and beak used in attack. Even much bigger birds like Spoonbills quickly got the message and left the nest area.

So, once again Buckley’s Hole delivered!

 

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