It was late afternoon. The hot wind was breathing a fiery heat from the desert to the east, blowing the deep aroma of the water treatment area as an added bonus. The sun was at my back and I had front seats to an awesome display of deception by an Australian Hobby. I have been very lucky this year with my experiences with this bird species. You can find some other photos and stories here.
The first indication the Hobby was around was the panic it engendered in a large flock of Galahs, mixed with some Little Corellas, as well as some waders including a group of 11 Sharp-tailed Sandpipers. Initially I thought the Hobby was coming for a drink as it didn’t seem to take much notice of any of the birds. It flew slowly compared to the speeds I have seen in the past, and then land on the shoreline, just looking around, almost aimlessly. Eventually it flew off, causing another flurry of panicked fluttering by the other birds. I watched as it flew off to a nearby low hill and disappeared. The sandpipers returned in small groups, first 4 then another pair, and then the final 5.
Ten minutes later, the same scenario occurred. Loud squawking by the Galahs and Corellas and scrambled fleeing by the waders. Again, the Hobby seemed fairly disinterested. Again the sandpipers returned, although there were only 7 in the group I could see. I wondered if the other 4 had decided they might find a different camp for the night.
For the third time, this time about 20 minutes later, the Hobby flew in and settled eventually on a fence post rimming the south of the ponds. It looked as though it had a bit more intent this time. The light was fading as the sun had finally dipped below the western horizon. I could still see the Hobby quite easily, but the waders on the ponds were harder in the greying evening light. As I alighted from my perch atop the car, I noticed movement to my right – the Hobby had taken off. This time the Sandpipers voiced their high-pitched terror although they remained as a large group. I watched as they rose above the ground level, fleeing to the north-west, while the Hobby headed to the north-east. As the sandpipers wheeled towards the north, the Hobby wheeled into the same flight path and smashed into the small flock, taking one of the sandpipers with its talons and flying directly over my head, not very far above. I think my presence had been forgotten as it immediately dropped the sandpiper, all of 10 feet in front of the car. I’d already put my camera back in the car as the light had become too low for any decent photos, so for once I was just bird-watching, not taking photos. The poor sandpiper was helpless, trying desperately to get to its feet but it was too badly injured from the initial onslaught. It flopped towards me twice before the blue-grey shape sped down to claim its prize. It didn’t stop and say hi, or pose for an imaginary photo, it just snatched the prey in its talons and took off. I was left dumbstruck by what had just happened, and in the car on the way back to my accommodation, wondered whether or not I could have saved the sandpiper if I had been more alert to what was happening, rather than being frozen in awe of this raptor. I decided eventually that I had to let nature take its course without interference from me even if I didn’t enjoy seeing a living creature get taken.
Here are some photos: