Each autumn in Victoria, Australia, Scarlet Robins (Petroica multicolour) leave the high country and return to lower altitudes. The arrival of the robins is often first noticed by early morning power walkers as the robins swoop ahead, keeping about one panel of fence in front of the walker. The bright red breast feathers of the male are set off by his black head and back. The female is not quite so flamboyant but is equally beautiful.
Eventually the robins seem to settle in an area with a suitable food supply and remain there until they return to the Victorian High Country to breed over summer. Although called robins, they are really members of the flycatcher family (some would say it is more correct to place them with the “thickheads”, but the connotations of that steer me towards “flycatchers.”). Our early settlers with a great nostalgia for home (the UK) called them robins because they reminded them of the European robin.
The robins like to pick a lookout post or branch and then swoop down to catch their meal. Perched on the spike of a grass tree their bright red breast is a beacon in the grey of the Australian bush.
I have been endeavouring to photograph them in the MYN style for the past week or so. After a fruitless attempt at a watering point where they were completely uncooperative I purchased some meal worms and set up a feed point. This produced immediate results with the female. Of course as is the nature of things, she initially used my back light box as a perch rather than the stick I had set up. She only used the stick a couple of times, but it was enough. The male however was more preoccupied with vanity. He would sit on the rear vision mirrors of my car and either admire himself, or more likely, challenge his reflection. The next step was to remove one of the mirrors and set it up in front of my background. Following this the crazy bird lost interest in the mirror but decided to eat the meal worms. *#@!. Lucky it was only a strap on style caravan mirror. Regardless, he was now coming to the right spot and I was able to capture some shots.
Generally his feed pattern was quite different to the female. She would fly down, occasionally perch, but more often grab a meal worm without perching and fly back to the tree above my set. Off set she would consume the grub. The male on the other hand, tended to land in the petri dish, scoff the grubs and then fly off until I replenished it. Fortunately he landed on the perch I provided enough times to encourage me to continue doling out the grubs.
Photographing birds like this is not something done in a hurry. With robins you do not need a hide, but it does take a little time for the birds to become used to you. Once they are familiar with you they tend to come and go with little more than a cursory glance. Waiting for this familiarity to develop is in no way a chore. On the day I first photographed the female, I had Gang Gang cockatoos in the tree above me, blue wrens literally hopping under my tripod, a scrub wren foraged under my stool and a yellow robin landed on the trunk of a tree only a few feet away. Life’s tough!
by John Tiddy, Victoria, Australia