Friends in High Places – Hamon Cove

Definitions of friendship vary, but usually include mutual affection and support. In the case of my feathered friends, the relationship is usually one-sided. I benefit from the association and they are unaware of the many lessons and gifts they impart to me. I’m fond of these winged teachers and therapists, and thankful for the moments of joy and comfort I receive from their presence. 

Today’s post is mainly about a feathered friend I came to know during a year when a loved one had an emergency health crisis and needed to be moved permanently into full-time residential care. Being able to see this species at Hamon Cove on my trips north helped to release tension before arriving back home.

I’m not sure why sightings of black-shouldered kites anchored me so much during a difficult time. They’re not cute and cuddly animals, so why do they comfort me? How do they transform my emotional turmoil into a state of calm?

And why are so many of us fans of raptors even though they kill other creatures, eat carrion, and often have intensely fierce expressions? Is it their flight patterns – their soaring, hovering and swooping that appeal? Is it their power and strength? Is it their solitary nature? Do raptors represent “wildness” more than most birds? Do we humans with our awkward legs crave the freedom of the skies? Maybe you have your own theories.

Hamon Cove is situated just south of Esk, on the western side of Lake Wivanhoe, which supplies more than half the water for the South-East Queensland region.

The Traditional Owners of the Brisbane Valley area include the Dungibara, Ugarapul, Yuppera, and Jagera.

Basic facilities such as toilets and barbecue areas are provided, but the Cove is mainly used to launch recreational fishing boats or kayaks rather than as a picnicking spot.

There is little shade and during dry seasons in particular, the water in the Cove can have problems with toxic blue-green algae blooms. It is, however, a great spot for birdwatching.

To make the trip north to see my relative, I would pass the turn off to Hamon Cove early in the morning, then drive by it again at sunset on my return trip the next day. It has a small sign that’s easy to miss, and if you do spy it at the last moment, it’s not a safe option to brake suddenly when travelling at 100km/hour with vehicles following behind you.  After telling myself for months that I should really stop and have a look, I finally pulled into the side road late one afternoon.

The first thing to catch my attention on the side road out to Hamon Cove was this black-shouldered kite, perched high in a distant skeletal tree. Fortunately, I had a new camera. The Canon SX60 HS is not a DSLR, but with an excellent built-in birding zoom and costing less than $400 AU, it represented a much more affordable option for me at the time. This picture shows how far away I actually was from the tree. I’ve circled the roosting kite.

I focused in on the bird which appeared ghostly in the overcast late afternoon sky.

Glued to my camera zoom, I watched it leave the perch, hover and drop down to catch a rodent, and then return to the tree to devour it.

As well as being beautiful to watch, these feathered friends provide a great pest control service to humans. They feed mainly on rodents and will follow plagues of introduced house mice in agricultural areas. They will also eat insects such as grasshoppers, so locust plagues are another boon for this species.

Black-shouldered kites form monogamous pairs and share nest-building, which is usually a large untidy shallow cup of sticks on high trees, or on artificial structures such as electricity poles or bridges. During courtship, the male will feed the female in mid-air. While they are flying, she will flip upside down and take food from his feet with her own. The following pictures may be a record of this courtship; however, I can’t be sure. It may have been a territorial battle instead.

Once the offspring have fledged, they can feed themselves after 7 days, and leave their parents after a month. They’re classified as a medium to small raptor, with the male generally being larger than the female. The red eye is marked by a black comma that extends behind it and is one way to distinguish it from the similar looking letter-winged kite.

I’ve also observed another raptor at Hamon Cove.

Whistling kites tend to eat carrion in non-breeding season, but when nesting, hunt live prey such as rabbits, fish, reptiles, small mammals, invertebrates and birds.

Unfortunately, the region was gripped by drought when most of these shots were taken a few years ago.

Marsupials were a frequent sight, surviving on green grass close to the roadsides and at the water’s edge.

Sometimes at the Cove I saw human-made flying objects from Amberley RAAF base. I still find it amusing how much effort is required to try to replicate the natural flight of birds. This is a Boeing C-17 Globemaster III, a large transport aircraft. C-17s are used in the Australian military for their ability to carry large amounts of cargo across long distances. In addition to military tasks, they have been useful in delivering supplies during humanitarian crises. I still prefer the feathered versions. (A big thank you to Puzzle Man for identifying the aircraft for me.)

On the subject of human activities, instead of being a good friend to raptors and other rodent-eating animals, Australians still use second-generation anti-coagulant rodenticides (SGARs). These are widely available in our supermarkets and hardware shops, despite being heavily regulated in the US, Canada, and the EU. Second generation anti-coagulant rodenticides put all rodent-eating animals at risk by causing internal haemorrhaging. They do not kill rodents immediately or break down after ingestion, meaning mice and rats that have eaten them can still be caught and eaten by other animals. It can take 5-10 days for rodents to die from consuming a dose of SGAR, during which time they remain attractive but potentially deadly prey for raptors. Any creature that eats rodents is at risk of a slow painful death if they ingest prey affected by SGAR. The following video from the Birdlife Australia website explains the dangers of these rodenticides in more detail.

First-generation anticoagulant rodenticides (FGARs) are less dangerous for rodent-eating predators and are referred to as ‘multi-dose anticoagulants.” Rodents must eat these baits for several consecutive feedings to consume a lethal dose. FGARs also break down in rodents more quickly than second generation anticoagulant rodenticides, so there is less chance of secondary poisoning occurring in non-target animals.

The BIRDLIFE AUSTRALIA WEBSITE has important information about the sale of these deadly SGARs and how Australians can help reduce the killing of non-target animals. I urge you to check this link if you value our feathered friends in high places.

When I was a very young girl, my sweet and funny, ginger-haired best friend, Colleen, gave me this Holly Hobbie piggy bank printed with the words, “A true friend is the best possession.”

I’ve carried this treasured gift around with me for over 40 years. It’s sustained a few cracks, but the message is even more meaningful to me now. I hope in Australia we can learn to be more supportive of our feathered “friends in high places.”

38 thoughts on “Friends in High Places – Hamon Cove

    • I give you full permission to share your expertise on poisons, Brian! Haha. I have a lot of lived experience around poisons because as a child we lived on an orchard and an agricultural farm, and also because my father had a job poisoning trees with highly toxic Tordon. In fact, he ended up in hospital from Tordon poisoning. When we were caretaking an orchard, I sometimes accompanied my father on the truck as a 4 year old when he sprayed poison. We would both come home soaked in it. My pregnant mum handled and washed our clothes. I’ve since found out that many orchardists back then used the drums of 245D left over from the war in Vietnam as it was sold off to Australia! Then when I had my own children we were exposed to poisons used on grazing properties. I grew up with lots of skin rashes/allergies and my own children have similar problems. I can’t prove it was the exposure to poisons of course. I get very frustrated by the use of dangerous chemicals to control weeds, fungus/mould, insects and vermin. I can rant about it for ages too. 😀 We’ve had a phenomenal amount of rain up here this week. It’s looking like flooding this summer is inevitable. It’s great to have full dams though and the green frogs have arrived in my yard after disappearing for 8 years. I hope you’ve had enough rain for your needs now. Thanks, Brian. 🙂

  1. Thank you for sharing your beautiful photos and profound love and appreciation for nature and our feathered friends. Like you, I spend much time with birds and find them endlessly fascinating. I think one of the reasons why being out-of-doors and watching nature and its wild denizens is so comforting results from the fact that, despite our best (or worst) efforts (the continued use of SGAR is appalling), there is still a predictability to nature’s cycles that soothes the soul and roots us in a reality that is not human-made.
    Best wishes,
    Tanja

    • Thank you for those lovely words, Tanja. I’m so pleased you gain so much pleasure from nature and our feathered friends too. I think you’ve managed to describe very beautifully how the natural world can help soothe and ground us. I wish I’d been able to explain it that well! I think the cycles of nature really do help to anchor me during human troubles. When everything feels out of control, knowing that like the seasons, “this too shall pass,” is reassuring and gives me hope. Time spent in the natural world is sometimes the best medicine for a troubled soul. I hope you continue to find much pleasure in your outdoor observations, Tanja. Thanks again for your kind and thoughtful feedback. It’s much appreciated. All the best. 🙂

    • Thank you, Susan. I remember being incredibly excited when I bought that Canon and I could finally take better shots of distant birds. For a cheap camera it has a remarkably good lens. Suddenly I could actually see birds of prey. I haven’t been back to Hamon Cove in a long while. With all the heavy rain from La Nina I expect it is looking very lush now. I hope the black-shouldered kite has fared well since my absence. Hoping you are keeping well there. All the best. 🙂

  2. A very interesting and informative post Jane. It is always good to see you posting again, and the Black-shouldered Kite is a popular one for us birders. So true about the rodent poisons and their effect on rodent predators, it is a problem, and causes some frustration as the plagues this year of mice are quite extreme and devastating for farmers. It was a blessing Jane that you were able to draw comfort and peace from the kite when you were attending your suffering relative, the birds do provide more than just song. I have been told that if they ceased to exist, many of our trees would not be pollinated and we would have so many insect pests humanity would find life intolerable. Enjoy your week my friend and stay safe 🙂

    • Thank you very much, Ashley. You more than most would appreciate the gifts and lessons birds provide. Your many years of birdwatching, photography and writing have imparted much wisdom. So black-shouldered kites are a favourite of birders? I had wondered if others appreciated them as much as I do. The ones at Hamon Cove seemed unafraid of my attentions, although the camera did allow me to keep my distance from them. The aerial display of the couple of kites intrigued me. At the time I hadn’t read about the courtship behaviour. I still wonder if it was a mating behaviour or a territorial battle. Yes, I did think that seeing the black-shouldered kites was meant to be. It seemed to help combat a depression spiral from seeing my relative suffer. It’s amazing how these gifts can arrive at exactly the right time. That has often happened to me in my darkest hours. I remember the powerful owl sighting right above me when I sat under my favourite tree at White Rock. I’d been really struggling that day. I am incredibly thankful for these special moments. Yes, the mouse plague has been terrible this last year. I’ve lived through 3 major plagues in my life. One out at Roma was incredible. I was caretaking a mixed dairy/grazing/farming business at the time. The owners had open drums of grain for stock and they’d be teeming with mice. They chewed through everything in the house – even steel wool I’d packed into gaps! It was a nightmare. To this day I can’t eat Jasmine rice as the smell of it cooking reminds me too much of mouse poo. The owners started mixing cement powder with grain and leaving it around the bottoms of walls. It seemed to set in their intestines and they would die from bowel blockage. Kind of horrendous really. We would set up large bucket traps with water inside. The mice would crawl along a pipe along the top to get food and slip off into the water. We used quite a few tricks but it was still difficult. Fortunately we didn’t use SGARs though. The owners were bird lovers and also worried about their farm dogs eating the mice. Actually, I remember now that our big muscovy ducks would run around gobbling up the mice. Haha. My parents experienced a rat plague on a farm when I was about two and my mother recalls finding one chewing my hair while I was asleep. It didn’t seem to turn me completely off rats completely though as when I met the father of my children, he had a pet ex-lab rat. Great to hear from you again, Ashley. Do take good care of yourself. All the best. 🙂

    • Thank you, Tom. I was so pleased with my new Canon when I bought it. It really encouraged a greater interest in birdwatching. Being able to observe all the details of a distant bird made my walks more exciting, and of course the camera helped me to blog more. It’s been several years since I bought it and I still haven’t made use of all its features. I’m very poor with technology. I tend to just use the “auto” function most of the time. I would probably struggle with a proper DSLR even if I had the money to buy one and a separate enormous lens. I think I’ll stick with what I can handle at present! It seems my laptop is telling me to update to Windows 11. I’m still figuring out the changes from when I changed to Windows 10. I’m hoping that the general public will become more aware of the impacts of using SGARs on wildlife. Things don’t seem to change very quickly in that regard in my country, unfortunately. We’re still logging ancient old-growth forests and destroying precious habitat. And of course, despite our ample sunshine, fossil fuels are still very popular with certain politicians. I hope you are having a smooth build up to Christmas and your family are keeping weel. All the best. 🙂

      • I am threatened with that Windows update too. I shudder when I read that it is supposed to simplify things as that means you will have to do things their way or not all from my experience.

        I don’t make use of most of the capabilities of either of my cameras.

        • I’m relieved to know I’m not the only one to dread these updates, Tom! I’m still working out how to use the new WordPress Block system. By the time I get it sorted, no doubt WordPress will force me use a supposedly “easier” method that will take me another year to get used to. 🙂

    • Thanks for forwarding on my post, Steve! Do you mean Tanja? She was very quick! I’m actually quite ashamed of Australia’s poor history regarding the environment. We still log ancient native forests, we’ve damaged the Great Barrier Reef, we divert water from rivers for large agricultural companies or for use on mines which has increased salinity problems and destroyed native species. Our Federal Government has been extremely backward when it comes to renewable resources as well. No wonder the Traditional Owners of this land are so angry. Not regulating SGARs more strictly is yet another failing. I hope your other birdophile friend enjoyed my black-shouldered kite pictures despite the rodenticide failing, Steve. Thanks very much for your kind support. I hope you and Eve are still well. It seems Covid 19 isn’t finished with us all just yet. I’m still waiting on permission to get another vaccine here. One day. All my best. 🙂

      • Yes, Tanya was the one. I’ve not yet heard from the other; not surprising, as it’s already 10:30 at night here. Thanks for asking about Eve. We’re both hanging in there, eager to do a little traveling again after two years. We’ve both read plenty of books and watched lots of nature, science, and history videos.

        I’m sorry vaccines aren’t as easily accessible near you as here. We have many places where you can walk right in with no appointment and get vaccinated for free; no one needs permission. We’ve both already had a booster shot after the first two. Too bad you can’t fly over here for a visit and get vaccinated at the same time!

        • Yes, I can imagine you must be itching to travel after two years! So many wonders to see in the world. I do hope that will come to pass soon, Steve. I should have clarified why I need to get permission for another vaccine. They are freely available here in my state, and boosters have now been approved, but due to a severe reaction to my second Pfizer shot (requiring hospitalisation and prednisone to suppress my immune reaction), I now need to have various tests done and see an immunologist before I am allowed to proceed with a replacement vaccine. It’s more about the possible risk of an even worse reaction. I’m just a bit unlucky. I wore a 24 hour heart monitoring halter earlier this week as part of the testing process. Even though I have had 2 shots, the protective effect of the second one was negated by the use of a steroid to treat the urticaria and swelling, so I am really only half vaccinated. Once I see the immunologist on the 16th December she will be able to give further instructions. Due to waiting lists for specialists, it’s taking much longer to sort this out than I expected. I’m anticipating they might want me to wait for Novavax as Moderna is similar to Pfizer. In the meantime, I am being rather hermit-like! 😀

          • Oy vey! Sorry to hear of your vaccine travails and the resulting hermit-like existence they’ve imposed on you for the time being. Your mention of urticaria sent me searching and I learned that it’s the technical name for hives. I recognized urtica as the Latin word for nettle. That led me to look up the origin of the English word nettle, which I found out is related to net. The American Heritage Dictionary notes that “nettles or plants of closely related genera such as hemp were used as a source of fiber,” and of course people made nets out of fibers.

            • I can always rely on you to teach me something new about etymology, Steve. Thank you! Your research is always interesting and I often relay these word origins to friends and family. I’ve now also learnt from you that “Oy vey” is Yiddish and expresses dismay. I have Jewish ancestry in my family tree so I will have to start using that expression to impress (or confuse) my relatives and friends. 😉

  3. Such beautiful photos of the magnificent Kite. I saw my first one about a month ago, at Kobble Creek. Not close enough for a decent photo, but definitely close enough to identify it. You’ve inspired me to keep trying for a better picture, thank you.

    • Wow, Michael! I just checked out your bird photos from Lake Samsonvale. What a great variety! I’ve never been there before. I must check it out soon. I’ve never seen so many little cormorants in a group before! Your whistling kite photo is excellent. Well done. Thanks for commenting. I have a new place to check out now. Happy birdwatching! 🙂

  4. I love how you find nature to help heal wounds or provide solace during difficult times. I share the same wanderings in nature – it’s soothing. We have Mississippi kites here, and many nest in our immediate area and raise young. I find them quite beautiful and interesting to watch, and certainly respect their ability to keep rodents under control.

    Your images are beautiful. I enjoy that you manage to show us close up, detailed photos and also distant to show a different perspective of the kites. Well done, Jane!

    • Thank you so much for those lovely words, Lori. I remember my delight when I found your blog years ago and thought how similar we were. We both find the natural world to be soothing and healing, have lived on farms, and have cared for injured/orphaned wildlife. You have a beautiful writing style, Lori, and I enjoy your sense of humour. Life has had its challenges over the years for all of us and while my blogging has been sporadic, I never forget the wonderful people I’ve met through blogging. I’m hoping to share a couple of humorous tales next from the archives. One involves poor Lycra Man again which may give you a chuckle. It’s probably time for me to share some strange Jane humour after a few serious posts.

      I looked up Mississippi Kites and they are very similar to our black shouldered kites. What a thrill to have them nesting in your area. That would be such a treat to watch!

      Hoping all is well with you, dear lady. All my best. x

    • Thank you once again for your kind and encouraging feedback and for the lovely holiday wishes, John. It’s always wonderful to hear from you. I do hope you and those you love also have a peaceful and joy-filled holiday too. Take very good care of yourself, please. All my best. 🙂

  5. Oh Jane…. your kite is so very beautiful. I’m glad it gave you comfort. Hoping for the best for all these lovely creatures so threatened by the two-legged variety. It’s pretty sad, isn’t it?
    Always so very good to see a post from you! 💕

    • Thank you very much, Gunta. They are beautiful creatures aren’t they! I’m so thankful to have a camera that allows me to view birds close up these days. It gives me such joy to observe them as I know it does for you too. I’ve been privileged to be able to help rear a nocturnal bird chick recently and it’s been such a delight (as well as a little sleep depriving! :D) I’ve been feeling particularly grateful lately for the gifts nature brings. It’s always a pleasure to hear from you. I wish you a wonderful 2022 filled with even more love. 😀 All my best. x

  6. Sublime images and fab writing, as always, Jane. What a sublime bird. Such elegance and style. Yep, there sure is something about raptors, isn’t there? They always remind me of the struggle of life that goes on in the bird world. As with us mere humans, there is drama and struggle each day. The piping alarm call of other birds gets us looking for that speeding or gliding raptor overhead, the reactions of the other birds, the glimpse of a bright, fierce eye as the bird of prey zooms past. And there’s the excitement of trying to identify the type of raptor from perhaps a fleeting look. OK, you might be the only person on the street who stops spell-bound to look up at a passing raptor, only to realise that you have no more idea what species it is than all the other oblivious humans wandering past you glued to the earth. Or there’s the quiet contemplation of the dazzling beauty of birds, the wonder of what the view must be like for a soaring wedge-tailed eagle of a speeding peregrine, unchained from the grip of gravity, at least for a while. Sheer, utter, joy-inducing awesomeness – always!

    • What wonderful thoughts you’ve shared that I’m sure resonate with so many bird fans, me included! You’ve explained it so well, Rob. They were the words and ideas I was struggling to articulate. Thank you very much for taking the time to share your thoughts about these amazing birds and our fascination with them. I love your passionate last sentence in particular – “sheer, utter, joy-inducing awesomeness -always!” Exactly! So hypnotic aren’t they? I spent several magical hours at Mt French on the rocky lookout area one day watching two peregrine falcons. I managed a few shots, but of course they don’t capture the thrill of being there watching this amazingly fast bird. I’m still trying to grab a shot of wedgetail eagles. I saw so many out west but didn’t have a decent camera back them. Another incredible bird. Thanks again. All the best. 🙂

  7. Gorgeous photos, as always dear Jane. I love seeing raptors; really exciting birds that obviously generate such fear in their prey. They seem so powerful and are completely single-minded when hunting but are just as fragile as the tiniest birds. I found a poor dead male sparrow-hawk in our garden a few years ago. He had collided with one of our windows which made me feel so guilty.
    Black-shouldered kites look such handsome birds and being mainly white are so striking, too. I am very glad you decided to visit Hamon Cove and spend time observing them.

    • Thank you, dear Clare. I loved reading your wonderful response about raptors – feelings I share with you. You’ve hit the nail on the head with your sentence, “They seem so powerful and are completely single-minded when hunting but are just as fragile as the tiniest birds.” Even the strongest have their vulnerabilities don’t they? I know how you feel about the guilt over a bird crashing against a window. That used to happen here a lot when I first moved in. Now my shoulder is too damaged to clean my windows and the moths, geckoes and spiders leave so much mess on them that the birds don’t crash into them anymore! At least the wildlife can benefit from my pain. Haha. A silver lining to every cloud. I hope you and your loved ones are well, Clare. All the best. x

      • I am so sorry about your damaged shoulder; you have so many health problems. ❤ We are all well though my elder daughter has just started to take high blood-pressure tablets. We hope this is not a long-term thing and the high b/p can be brought under control quite quickly. My younger daughter is suffering from high anxiety levels made worse by the current state of affairs world-wide and the fact she is in her final year at university. She will, no doubt, cope alright but her life is no fun.
        Love and best wishes,
        Clare xx

        • Thanks for your kind concern, Clare, but you don’t need to worry about me. I’m doing well despite some health problems and count myself very lucky in comparison to others. I hate cleaning windows anyway, so the bad shoulder is a great excuse not to! Hehe. I’m still plodding along. You have enough stress in your life. It is always so hard when children are going through health challenges. I really feel for you at the moment. I hope your daughter’s high blood pressure can be controlled. My daughter has an underlying heart issue that is a concern in these Covid times. We just don’t know how catching Covid-19 will impact her. Our daughters are younger than us and it feels wrong somehow that they should have heart/blood pressure issues doesn’t it? One of the things they don’t really tell us (or perhaps we didn’t want to hear it) when we are considering having babies is how much we’ll still be concerned about how children’s health FOREVER. People tend to focus on talking about the baby/child stage. I actually find things harder emotionally to cope with their adult troubles! Mental health of our adult kids is a really big concern, isn’t it. I know how utterly exhausting and paralysing it can be to have chronic high anxiety levels. Everything is so much more effort and it’s really hard to tap into the creative part of the brain with anxiety dominating the mood. Many people who don’t usually experience anxiety have suffered it during the Pandemic, so people like your dear daughter who has had to deal with it pre-covid would be having such a terrible exacerbation of it. As you said, she will most likely cope but it certainly doesn’t make life very easy at all. It can be so debilitating. I hope she is able to receive some periods of relief and after her final year of Uni is over that some more relaxing times are ahead. Uni can be very stressful. Thinking of you. Love Jane. x

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