Welllllllll…not strictly true. This Nankeen Kestrel was on the power pole on the nature strip in front of our house. Another metre and it would have been in the front garden so I’m claiming it. They often perch there in the cooler months to either observe the field opposite for small animals or to eat the small animal they’ve just caught. This one was running an observation post.
The other day I’d been up on Mount Brown (which is a grand name for a moderately sized hill) looking for interesting birds to photograph. The conditions were great, but the birds uncooperative so I gave up and started driving home. At the bottom of the hill I caught out of the corner of my eye a nankeen kestrel hunting on an empty block. It swooped down into the long grass and quickly took off again obviously holding something. So I did something I’d never thought that I’d do. I’ve just been really getting into this bird photography malarkey and have been watching YouTube videos for tips. Mostly British videos, but the occasional American one. I’d noticed that quite a few of the American ones had the photographers driving around looking for birds and photographing then from the car. Well I started to follow this bird in the car. It didn’t go far. It landed on the power lines outside of Marwick’s Barn obviously to catch its breath. It obviously decided that the power lines was no place to deal with the kicking and struggling mouse so it moved to the top of a nearby power pole. So I pulled up on to the dirt shoulder and hanging out of the driver’s side window I photographed madly.
There were no niceties, the kestrel didn’t even both to dispatch its prey before eating – it just pulled the mouse apart. I continued snapping frantically. When everything was finished the kestrel noticed the sound of the camera and gave me a hard stare. Rumbled! With a look of disdain it flew off.
Back in September I wrote about the various birds nesting in the garden. Well autumn is now here and I thought I’d write an update. The white browed babblers have successfully hatched all their eggs which means there has been a population explosion. They are quite curious birds as they live in communal nests and have separate nursery nests as well which they all take turns in raising the chicks. Well now they are embarking on a building program to make a new communal sleeping nest for all the new adults. As a result these funny little grumpy birds are flying in building materials at a great rate of knots.
We were also quite delighted to have a visitor. While we were talking one afternoon I spotted a Nankeen Kestrel hunting in the field opposite. It didn’t catch anything and left empty-handed. I thought that was that when I heard a bump from the TV aerial so we both ran outside to look, me with my camera and Helen with her binoculars. Sure enough the kestrel had decided our aerial would make a very good observation perch. It remained there quite unfazed for quite a while. It was only when I tried to get closer for a better photo that it decided to leave.
Every day tour buses stop over in York on their way to Wave Rock near Hyden. The Northern Territory has Uluru (formerly known as Ayres Rock) and Western Australia’s tourism industry markets Wave Rock as our equivalent. I often feel sorry for the tourists, particularly the Chinese and Japanese ones, as they drive out from Perth to the middle of nowhere to see a large rock that looks like an enormous ocean wave frozen for posterity. I wonder what they think when they get there.
A week or so ago we went out to Hyden to visit Wave Rock. It’s not the first time we’ve visited, we first went in 2008. I find it very hard to be enthusiastic about it – it is just a curved rock face. My over all feeling is that Wave Rock is more marketing than substance. What I find more interesting is the way people interact with it. The majority of people just pull up in the car park and jump out to quickly take a selfie with their phone or a couple of seconds of video on a GoPro on one of those annoying sticks that they nearly poke someones eye out with as they are too busy on making strange faces for the camera. They then jump back into their cars and race off to the next destination on their itinerary. The next group of people are harried parents herding their bored looking children around and eventually persuading them to have their photo taken while they pretend to surf the perfect stone wave. The best was a young Chinese couple – he was shooting “glamour” photos of her while she was standing halfway up the curve in skimpy attire and the most incredible high heels – the sort that you need a ladder to get into and induce vertigo. My immediate reaction was not to perv the girl, but one of how the hell did she get up their dressed like that. The answer was obvious – when he finished taking photos he threw a bag up to her and she changed into a pair of track pants, a t-shirt and trainers and slid down on her backside.
Sixteen Kilometres north-east of Wave Rocks is The Humps Nature Reserve. It’s not a very appealing name and probably doesn’t help with marketing to the tourist hordes. The Humps are a massive granite outcrop some 2 km x 1.5 km in area and rises to 80 m above the surrounding plain which was and is of huge cultural significance to the Nyoongar people. Mulka’s Cave is a gallery for 452 motifs which makes it the largest collection in southern Western Australia.It is thought that the paintings were produced over the last two or three thousand years and it feels like the people who made them are reaching out from the past to the present day. It really reinforces the impression of spirit of place and of belonging to the land. To me this is what makes The Humps more special than Wave Rock, it engenders a feeling to that felt at Uluru or Ubirr. Powerful stuff. Mulka’s Cave is named after one of its inhabitants about which there is a gruesome Dreamtime story.
‘Mulka was the illegitimate son of a woman who fell in love with a man to whom marriage was forbidden. As a result, Mulka was born with crossed eyes. Even though he grew up to be an outstandingly strong man of colossal height, his crossed eyes prevented him from aiming a spear accurately and becoming a successful hunter. Out of frustration, Mulka turned to catching and eating human children, and he became the terror of the district. He lived in Mulka’s Cave where the impressions of his hands can still be seen much higher than those of an ordinary man. His mother became increasingly concerned with Mulka and when she scolded him for his anti-social behaviour, he turned on his own mother and killed her. This disgraced him even more and he fled the cave, heading south. Aboriginal people were outraged by Mulka’s behaviour and set out to track down the man who had flouted all the rules. They finally caught him near Dumbleyung 156 km south-west of Hyden, where they speared him. Because he did not deserve a proper ritual burial, they left his body for the ants – a grim warning to those who break the law.’
R.G.Gunn, Mulka’s Cave Aboriginal rock art site: its context and content, Records of the Western Australian Museum 23: 19-41 (2006).
There are a couple of walks in the reserve – The Gamma Trail a 1.2km interpretative walk explains the significance of the area to the local Nyoongar people, and the Kalari Trail, a 1.6 Km trail climbs to the summit. The early morning walk to the summit was fantastic. There were kangaroos amongst clumps silver princess trees (Eucalyptus caesia), nankeen kestrels were riding the thermal currents looking for prey and there were hosts of wrens bathing in the shallow pools of water on the rock surface. You get the feeling that this is a place where everything has been stripped back to the elemental essentials. Time was standing still. Of course the moment was lost as the multitudes of tourists pulled up in the car park jumped out to grab a selfie in the cave and use the toilet, their chattering voices carrying up to the summit shattering the tranquility. For a brief couple of hours on top of the humps I was somewhere else quite magical.