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.”