I had originally put these photos aside, thinking they weren’t quite close or sharp enough. However I changed my mind this week, when I received an email from BirdLife Australia nominating the Black-shouldered Kite as their bird of the month.
My photos were taken last month when I went with a couple of friends to Cape Solander. Walking south from the lookout, I saw a white bird in the distance inland that didn’t look like a gull. I took a few photos in the hope that there might be enough detail to identify the bird later.
I was in luck because it gradually flew closer, giving me a reasonable image as it surveyed the heath below.
As we walked back, it retreated a little and then returned and slowed again to watch something below.
It began to hover with impressive control:
It then stooped vertically, too suddenly for me to follow with the camera, and disappeared into the scrub below. Shortly after, it rose again, carrying something long-tailed in its claws.
It zig-zagged back briefly, allowing us to see that it had caught a small rodent. We could also see the sun catching one red eye.
Soon it headed off towards the lowering sun. This was my last image:
Back home, I was able to identify the bird as a Black-shouldered Kite (Elanus axillaris) – something I’ve not photographed before. Although all my photos have been considerably cropped, you can see the Kite’s distinctive black wing patch on the top of each wing, and the smaller patch on the underside, as well as the piratical black eye-patch. It’s one of the two Australian birds of prey that regularly hover – the other is the Nankeen Kestrel. They have different diving techniques, however: the Kestrel folds its wings whereas the Kite holds its wings up in a steep V with its talons outstretched. My last image, taken a second or two before it stooped, shows – though I didn’t realise it at the time – the kite positioning its claws and wings for the drop.
Black-shouldered Kites are fairly small raptors – about the same size as a city pigeon. They are quite common over much of Australia, usually in more open and less arid country such as grasslands and heaths, including agricultural land. They prey on rodents, insects and small reptiles.
They are not “firehawks” like the Black Kites who’ve learnt to flush out prey by spreading grass fires. (Firehawk species do this by picking up a burning twig and dropping it away from the existing fire front.)