A Brown Falcon afternoon … sort of!

A journey around the Moolort Plains yesterday threatened to be dominated by Brown Falcons. They are a nice raptor, but not in the same league as a number of rarer plains inhabitatnts.

The first four images below are all Brown Falcons – all different individuals seen as I did a long loop from Cairn Curran, through Baringhup West and then back to Joyce’s Creek via Cotswold.

It was only on the final leg that I got some welcome variety – a pair of White-bellied Sea-eagles over Long Swamp (perhaps shuttling from Cairn Curran to Tullaroop Reservoir), a few Nankeen Kestrels and single Black-shouldered Kite. Finally, just west of Joyce’s Creek a scatter of Crested Pigeons drew my gaze to a Peregrine Falcon hunting along the basalt escarpment above the waterway. The camera just managed to capture a distant image as the bird departed north at ‘peregrine velocity’!

Brown Falcon near Picnic Point, 15th June 2019

Brown Falcon #2 @ Baringhup West

Brown Falcon #3 @ Boundary Gully

Brown Falcon #4 @ Moolort

Peregrine Falcon @ Joyce’s Creek

Just down the driveway, it’s crane and giant emu time

A clear winter night is a delight for southern hemisphere astronomers as the centre of the Milky Way galaxy is in a perfect position for observing. As I was spending some time at my telescope eyepiece a couple of nights ago, I couldn’t resist getting the camera to capture the spectacle of the galactic centre rising over our driveway. Just down the road really!

The centre of the galaxy rises over Strangways

The Galaxy rises!

The centre of the Milky Way is in the direction of the Arabic-European constellation Sagittarius – the centaur archer. While the bright stars of Sagittarius are all less than 100 light years away, the supermassive black hole at the centre of the galaxy is 25,640 light years from us and the galaxy itself is estimated to be 150,000 light years across. A light year is the distance light travels in a year – about 10,000,000,000,000 kilometres.

Also in this photo are the constellations Scorpius and Grus – the scorpion and the crane. Both of these constellations actually look like the beings the are named after, but the upswept wings of the crane are actually out of the frame at the bottom of the photo.

Gas giant planets Jupiter and Saturn can also be seen in this photo – about 50 and 80 light minutes from us, so very much closer to home.

The dark patches across the Milky Way are lanes of cold gas and dust, from which new stars will one day be born. At the top right hand corner of the frame, between two stars of the Southern Cross (Crux) is a dark gas cloud unpoetically called the Coal Sack by western astronomers. To indigenous Australian astronomers, this was the head of the giant emu, the shape made by the dark clouds along the Milky Way.

The centre of the galaxy rises over Strangways labeled

Many years ago, Newstead Landcare were fortunate to have a night under the stars with John Morieson who had studied the records of the astronomy of the Boorong people of Lake Tyrell in northern Victoria. They called the giant Emu Tchingal and it was a giant who ate people – perhaps the giant carnivorous megafauna emu that once roamed Australia. John told us of the fight between Tchingal and Bunya, the Ring-tailed Possum ancestor, who drops his spear whilst climbing a tree that we see as the Southern Cross. The spear is seen as the pointers – Alpha and Beta Centauri, whilst Bunya’s head is the top star of the cross (Gamma Crucis), his ears are two small stars above the cross and his tail is an arc of stars to the left of the cross.

bunya labeled

Bunya and his spear and tree

I pointed the camera south to capture more of Tchingal’s head in case I needed to stitch a few photos together to catch the emu’s full glory. As I did so, a bright fireball meteor plunged earthward between the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds. These neighbouring dwarf galaxies are 150,000 and 200,000 light years away respectively and consist of 15 billion and 5 billion suns. The Milky Way is 200 billion suns in mass.

Fireball between Magellanic Clouds

A meteor passes between the Magellanic Clouds

Fireball between Magellanic Clouds labeled

To the right of the Southern Cross along the Milky Way is a small bright patch around a small yellowish star, Eta Carinae. It is the seventh brightest star in the constellation Carina, the keel of Jason’s ship Argo. This star is likely to be the largest star in the Milky Way, 150 times the mass of our sun and is 7500 light years away. The fuzzy glow around it is a vast cloud of dust and gas, lit by Eta Carinae and forming numerous clusters of new stars. Eta Carina is very unstable and underwent several convulsions in the 19th century, throwing off clouds of material that are easily seen through amateur telescopes.

Incomprehensible as Eta Carinae may be, the Tarantula Nebula in the Large Magellanic Cloud manages to dwarf it. To the right of the north end of the Cloud’s bar, it appears as a faint, fuzzy round glow to the naked eye under a dark sky. It is the largest star forming region in the Local Group of galaxies and have stars up to 300 times the mass of the sun and the nebula is 930 light years across.

Eastern Rosella eating charcoal

Birds are known to occasionally eat wood ash and charcoal, materials that are rich in potassium and calcium. The Black Honeyeater, recently observed locally over summer, is renowned for eating charcoal and ash. After a little research I turned up a paper from 1965 (M. Baldwin, Emu 64 (3) p.208) where the observer noted a number of species consuming charcoal; including Fairy Martin, Dusky Woodswallow, Banded Finch and Zebra Finch.

Until yesterday I had never witnessed this behaviour from an Eastern Rosella. The bird pictured below was feeding with its mate on the ground around the remnants of an old fire when it picked up a small piece of charcoal and proceeded to nibble gently as I watched on from nearby.

Eastern Rosella, Clarke Lane Newstead, 10th June 2019



Loquat and Yellow-faced Honeyeater

Loquats Eriobotrya japonica are an ‘old-fashioned’ fruit tree, often grown in home gardens but, at least in my experience, the fruits are of more interest to birds than people!

A few trees can be found flowering over winter in the gardens around town, the flowers providing a useful source of nectar for honeyeaters. Yellow-faced Honeyeaters are partial to feeding on loquat flowers, adroitly working their way in and around the tight clusters in search of open flowers to sip on.

Yellow-faced Honeyeater & loquat, Wyndham Street Newstead, 9th June 2019





Winter residents

Every winter the gardens around Newstead are home to a familiar array of resident and migrant species. Red Wattlebirds and White-browed Scrubwrens are resident year round, while Eastern Spinebills are only with us for the cooler months. Yellow-faced Honeyeaters tend to come and go – they are certainly more common over winter but can turn up at any time of year.

Red Wattlebird feeding on ornamental Yellow Gum, Wyndham Street Newstead, 8th June 2019

Whire-browed Scrubwren

Eastern Spinebill


Yellow-faced Honeyeater

Feasting on winter flowers

I’ve commented many times on the role that exotic trees, especially in town, play in the evolving ecology of our landscapes.

As we move into winter the various types of ash Fraxinus sp. begin to flower, a short lived burst of activity, but important as a source of nutrition for lorikeets.

The church-yard next door is home to a number of Claret and Golden Ash trees and over recent days Musk Lorikeets have been gathering noisily several times each day to feast on the flowers.

Musk Lorikeet, Wyndham Street Newstead, 8th June 2019




Moss, water, wonder.

Moss and a little bit of water go a long way for life and for beauty as well. Frances Cincotta of Newstead’s native plant nursery Newstead Natives recently lent me a tray of germinating seedlings with a thick layer of moss to explore with my macrophotography set-up. The mosses had put up a multitude of spore capsules, which hold water beautifully!


Moss spore capsule #1

The photo above was taken inside with natural light and the window of the room can be seen reflected in the drop.

At 5x macro, truly each drop holds a world.


Moss spore capsule #2 at 5x

These images are made by focus stacking. As the depth of the image in focus is very small at high magnifications, one solution is to take several photos at different focal planes and use software to combine the images. This can result in some artefacts, which can be edited out. In this photo, I’ve left the artefacts in to add to the other-worldly feel’.

Moss flowers and dew

Focus stack with artefacts.

A common wisdom in macrophotography of plants is to avoid flash. However, with a tiny subject and large diffuser for the flash, the results can be quite good.

moss 3x stack 3 v crop

Moss spore capsule and water, focus stack with diffused flash.

Moss 3x stack 2 crop a

And again.