Monday, 6 October 2014

Bullies of The Cut

I spent the morning with Birdlife East Gippsland on their regular Monday outing. The venue today was initially Jones Bay, to the east of Bairnsdale, and then the northern silk jetty, specifically where it has been cut by the Mitchell River. The river flows into Jones Bay through this cut but water also continues along between the silk jetties discharging a further few kilometres along into Lake King.

We arrived at The Cut, had morning tea, then slowly walked the few hundred metres to the end. Apart from the swans and cygnets, the egrets, the various species of ducks and resting cormorants and herons we spotted six Royal Spoonbills and four Little Pied Cormorants resting and preening on a dead tree in the middle of the cut.

Getting on with life as a spoonbill.
A bit of peace and quiet.

 No interruptions please.
Here is another view of the party from a different angle with Lake King/Jones Bay in the background. But what is going on in the distance?

A massive raft of Great Cormorants and some Pelicans.
There was a lot of flying going on, wheeling around, dropping into the water. Probably feeding -- a feeding frenzy! Estimated at least one thousand Great Cormorants involved. It was too far away to see much of the action. Even a telephoto on a 1.6 camera can only bring the action so close. So the action would have to come to us.


We carried on walking a few metres more to end of the jetty. There on the sand spit about 10 metres away were Sharp-tailed Sandpipers, Red-necked Stints, Black-fronted Dotterills, Masked Lapwings and chicks, Red-capped Plovers. Great. But what's that noise just behind us?  All the feeding action had transferred to The Cut. The birds were following the mullet who were trying to escape (being) dinner!  The sound of thousands of wings beating as the Great Cormorants landed and or did 'touch and gos'. Pelicans zooming left, right and centre. All this occurring twenty metres in front of us. We could now see what was really happening. The spoonbills took off. Exit stage left.

It looked like total chaos.
The cormorants were diving for the mullet and eating the small ones when under the surface. If a fish was too big to swallow, the cormorant came to the surface with the fish in its beak. A valiant attempt to swallow the mullet would happen but, as the pelicans were on "snack alert", the cormorant would be mobbed by those bullies, the pelicans. Three or four pelicans would assault the cormorant, beaks open and wings flapping, in an attempt to steal the meal.

"There's a cormorant in here somewhere!"
"Give me that fish"
The cormorant invariably dropped the fish which would be snapped up instantaneously. Occasionally it seemed that the fish was taken from the cormorant's mouth!

"Aah. Got one. Yum"
Pelican in the centre: "Finally. Morning tea"
This lasted ten minutes. Cormorants and pelicans continually flew past us chasing the mullet as they entered the cut and turned left going down the jetties back towards the lake.

f8 and be there. Magic.

* I'll tell you about the choir of cisticolas at Cisticola Central in the next blog!!

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