Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Seasons Greetings

May You All Have a Safe & Merry Christmas

The accompanying photographs of Dusky Woodswallows were taken at Mortimer Bay. It's not a venue that I have regularly visited in the past, but seeking an area close to home and easy walking, Mortimer Bay near Sandford, fitted the bill. It has proved to be a surprisingly good site, with a good range of species, and many of them breeding here. Recent sightings have included 2 pairs of breeding Satin Flycatchers (not a typical site), a Horsfield Bronze Cuckoo being fed by Superb Blue Wrens, and numerous Blue-winged Parrots. Other regulars have been Dusky, Scarlet and Flame Robins, Eastern and Green Rosellas, Common Bronzewing Pigeons (breeding), several pairs of Black-faced Cuckoo Shrikes, Black-headed, Yellow-throated, and New Holland Honeyeaters, and numerous Shining Bronze Cuckoos. I hope to publish some of the many shots taken here over the last few months, soon.

[ I seem to be slowly recovering from the after effects of the viral infection that laid me low. I have dubbed my present condition as "rampant lethargy", although I do suffer from a degree of lethargy on a good day!! Thank you to those well wishers who asked after my health, and apologies to those that I failed to reply to--they were nevertherless much appreciated. I hope to get back into the 'swing' soon]

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Another Cuckoo.....Fan-tailed

I've been struck down with a nasty virus (is there any other sort?), and it's unfortunately effecting my eyes (among other parts!). So this is something of a make weight.
Shortly after taking the shots of a Shining Bronze-Cuckoo in the previous blog, I visited Risdon Brook Park, near Risdon Vale. I had photographed Horsfield's Bronze-Cuckoo there a few years ago--pretty awful shots in fact--and I had seen a single individual on a recent visit, so I was hoping for a another photo opp..
Arriving early am, on a very still and overcast morning, I'd hardly got out of the car when I heard my first cuckoo, a Pallid, calling from the nearby high ground. A good omen I thought. Well in the few minutes that it took me to get my gear organised and cross the car park, I'd heard, in quick succession, a Fan-tailed Cuckoo, and both Horsfield's and Shining Bronze-Cuckoos. What more could I ask for? Now all I had to do was find them.
Cuckoos have, from my observations, very large territories, measured in hectares, and I haven't found chasing after calling birds particularly productive. So I set off birdwatching, hoping that sooner or later, I might just be lucky. I did get some good birding in, including seeing both Blue-winged and Swift Parrots, and my first Beautiful Firetail in this venue for a couple of years. A fairly distant view of a Brown Goshawk being harassed by a pair of Yellow Wattlebirds, high in a eucalypt. One of the many Kookaburras in this park, being mobbed by some recently arrived Dusky Woodswallows. But although I heard several cuckoos, I didn't look in any danger of photographing one. But that's the way birding is, and makes the good days really stand out. After about 3 hours of tramping around, I headed back to the car, having taken few shots, save for some close ups of the few orchids that have survived, despite the dry conditions.
Crossing a large open area of what was once a sheep run, I stopped to watch some Dusky Woodswallows hawking for insects from the dead branches of a fallen wattle. I closed on them to get a few shots, and disturbed a perched Pallid Cuckoo which 'looped' its way to the top of fairly distant gum. Decision time. Was I going to try to take some shots that I knew would hardly amount to much anyway? I was pretty weary by now and lunch was beckoning. While I was still deliberating, I saw a bird fly to the ground some hundred metres away, and was now mostly hidden in the dry grass. A look through the binos established that it was a Fan-tailed Cuckoo, the first that I'd seen that morning, despite hearing several. Well, as you can see by the accompanying images, I scrambled a few shots of this surprisingly tame individual. The Fan-tailed Cuckoo is arguably the most commonly seen cuckoo in Tasmania. All our cuckoos are Summer migrants, but Fan-tailed Cuckoos commonly overwinter, usually in coastal areas, and I recorded 2 calling vigorously on Goat Bluff, South Arm, in the middle of July this past Winter.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Shining Bronze-Cuckoo

I would like to have recounted how, after diligently searching for a Shining Bronze-Cuckoo, I finally tracked it down and photographed it. But the truth is that luck played a major part. Earlier this week, on a less than perfect day for photography, I decided to spend a few hours birding the nearby 'nature recreation reserve' at Rosny Hill. For most locals (including me), this reserve is the scenic lookout, giving expansive views over Hobart City, the western suburbs, and the Derwent River estuary. It's not an area that readily springs to mind when looking for a place to bird, but, as I was about to find out, it has hidden depths.
This reserve of around 26 hectares, consists largely of casuarinas and wattles, with a few taller eucalypts, and is subject to frequent controlled (and uncontrolled) burns. Apart from about a hectare around the lookout, much of it is reasonably steep hillside. A quick walk around the parking area, found a single Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike, and a passing flock of 4 or 5 Dusky Woodswallows, the first that I had seen this Spring. Several Tree Martins, and a single Welcome Swallow were hawking nearby, joined occasionally in the updraught, by the resident pair of Forest Ravens. A flock of 30 or so Silvereyes "tanged" their way from shrub to shrub. I suspect that the latter were part of the Silvereye population that migrates to the Mainland, as at least some of the 'locals' are already breeding. A pair of scolding Brown Thornbills caught my attention, followed by what proved to be the first of several pairs of Yellow-rumped Thornbills. As I haven't yet managed to get decent shots of this species, I decided to attempt to remedy that.
I had a little success at first among the fire blackened remains of some large shrubs, at least the leafless bushes didn't give them anywhere much to hide. I had only been photographing here a short while, when a single Shining Bronze-Cuckoo arrived, lifting my spirits considerably. I had heard what I suspect was this bird, calling from several points around the reserve, but decided the steep hillside wasn't the best place to seek this bird out. However, my optimism was short lived, because one of the thornbills had seen it too. With considerable zeal, it went for the cuckoo, with wings and tail spread widely, showing off its yellow rump. Exit cuckoo. Back to the thornbills. However, the cuckoo hadn't given up that easily, and returned and spent much of the next half hour or so, among the fire blackened shrubs and nearby wattles, and the accompanying images are some of the many I took. My only wish was that there had been some sun!
Surprisingly, the yellow-rumps didn't make any attempt to drive it off this time, but they did keep a wary eye on it, often from only a metre or less away. I watched both species find and eat caterpillars, including the very hairy caterpillar in the shot at left. The cuckoo spent several minutes bashing the caterpillar, before devouring it. (It does have a rather 'natty' pair of 'plus fours', something I hadn't noticed before!).A second cuckoo put in an appearance, dashing back and forth, before alighting and calling from a nearby bush (shot at right). It flew off shortly afterwards.
I have found both this species and the similar Horsfield's Bronze-cuckoo, among the more difficult birds to get to grips with, and I felt more than a little excited and privileged to have spent a while both watching and photographing these two individuals.
I recorded another 23 'bush' species here, and I might just add it to my list of places to regularly visit.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Right Whale and More

The weather hasn't been that conducive for birding this week, and I've had a couple of outings cut short by high winds and rain squalls. But on Tuesday afternoon, I noticed a Cessna 172 from the local aero club, circling the bay near my residence, and being "nosey" by nature, I drove to a nearby lookout to see what they were looking at. I was fortunate to find that I wasn't the only curious local, and quickly established that the centre of attraction was a Right Whale. Not that I immediately saw it, but I was given a blow by blow account of what I would have seen, if only I'd been there a little earlier! From their description, I felt I'd have an evens chance of seeing it, and after a few 'false' starts, the much barnacled whale emerged briefly, not far offshore from my vantage point, before disappearing again. It wasn't exactly the most energetic whale I've ever seen, as it oh so slowly made its way across the bay, just occasionally surfacing. But they are awesome creatures, this one somewhere in the region of 14 metres or more in length, and well worth the wait. The locals drove off shortly afterwards, but I waited in the hope that I might get better views (and photographs), deciding to do a bit of birding while I waited. Scanning down the Derwent River, I could see small groups of Australasian Gannets, totalling about 20, strung out across the water a kilometre or more away. Nearer, there were Little Pied and Black-faced Cormorants, and I could hear the yelps of Little Penguins, but never did spot them. At one stage, a group of cormorants flew round the whale, I'm not sure whether it was out of idle curiosity or the chance of a feed, but they only stayed briefly. A few Crested Terns passed the headland, obviously searching the water for food, before one of them plunge dived. This had an immediate impact on the gannets, because within no time they had joined the terns and began diving headlong into the fray. The speed of their reaction to the diving tern was quite amazing. I guess sitting on the water waiting for others to find the location of food, is a good strategy and uses a whole lot less energy. Within a few minutes the flurry of activity was over, and I was left wondering whether to stay, or give it away. At this point, I spotted the first of what proved to be a procession of birds, right in front of me. No doubt they'd been there all the time, but I was too busy casting my eye over the bay to notice. Only a few metres in front of me, was one of a number of weather beaten she oaks (casuarinas), growing out of the side of the cliff face below the lookout. I was effectively looking into the crowns of these small trees, and perhaps it was this that gave the birds a false impression of security. The first bird I noticed was the male Crescent Honeyeater (at left), the bad news was, I'd put the camera in the car to protect it from the occasional light showers. But I needn't have worried, it stayed put, preening itself, while I retrieved my camera and returned. In the next 20 minutes, I photographed, what I think is probably its mate (above right), a pair of Spotted Pardalote, the Little Wattlebird, whose territory I was almost certainly in (bottom right), several Silvereyes and a Magpie. I also had fleeting glimpses of a pair of Yellow Wattlebird, chasing the Spotted Pardalote at high speed through the trees. The only downside to all this, was the Magpie. Although magpies are common in the vicinity, they rarely venture out to this bluff. While photographing it, I realised that it had strands of nylon fishing line round its feet, which it would occasionally peck at. It seemed to be able to feed adequately, but no doubt it had effectively been isolated from its family group, and I did have a feeling of impotency in not being able to free it.
I did see the whale again, albeit several hundred metres away, and looking more like a floating tree trunk! But I shouldn't complain, it's not everyday that I see a whale

Saturday, September 20, 2008

It's Plan B Again.

On a recent bright and clear morning, I decided it was past time to look for migrant waders. I knew they were about because, on a trip to Sorell a couple of weeks back, I nearly "collected" a flock of around 25 Bar-tailed Godwits as they shot between my car and another coming from the opposite direction, as we crossed the causeway. Knowing that the tide should be high, first stop was at Lauderdale. Well I didn't actually stop, as a quick look at the spit as I drove past, showed that there were only a handful of waders, probably Redcaps and stint, so on to Pipeclay Lagoon. Nearing the Cremorne turnoff, I looked out for 'the' Swamp Harrier which I had seen in the paddock alongside of the road on several previous visits, and sure enough, it was there this morning. With commuter traffic not yet in evidence, I was able to park alongside the paddock, and took the shot of what I believe is a female, Swamp Harrier (shown at right). On to Pipeclay Lagoon, where, disappointingly, the tide was obviously not going to be high enough to force the waders to roost. I parked and walked off to look at their usual roost sites beyond the Oyster sheds, with little expectation. There were a few around, drawn, as they often are when they first arrive back, to the the local Red-capped Plovers that nest along the edge of the marsh. I approached the small mixed flock of Curlew Sandpipers and Red-necked Stint (about 9 of the former, and 70-80 of the latter), but much chasing among the redcaps was obviously making them nervous, and they soon took flight. But as usual, the redcaps were soon back, and this drew the 'migrants' back too. I managed a few shots, including the one at left, of a Curlew Sandpiper, still showing the remnants of its summer plumage. You might notice too, that its carrying a band on the right leg, perhaps one of the many banded here, some good few years back now, by the Shorebird Study Group, of which I have fond memories. Well I had only been out a short while and with such 'low' high tides, I needed a plan B. So I fell back on my 'usual', Goat Bluff a few kilometres away.
At this time of year, Goat Bluff is reaching its most interesting. The summer migrants are arriving, and the locals are breeding, or about to. Add that to the few species that are making the most of the last of the flowering shrubs, before heading off to breed, and you have a great mix. I shouldn't forget the sea birds either, with gulls, terns, cormorants and the odd Australasian Gannet. This may all seem idyllic, but you have to be prepared, at times, to share the area with a range of other users, and unfortunately, abusers (but I won't rant on about that). I wandered down the eastern side of the bluff, enjoying the early morning sun, towards the clifftop overlooking a small cove some 60 metres down. Here, recently arrived Tree Martins, and a pair of Welcome Swallows, were hawking for insects in the updraught of the cliff, and over the nearby stunted heath, propping occasionally atop the fence wire. While attempting to photograph a swallow on this wire, I spotted, first a Striated Fieldwren, and then a Flame Robin, both on this same wire. Forgetting the swallow, I concentrated on the fieldwren. I have to confess at this point, and some readers may have noticed, that I've published numerous shots of this species over the months. It's becoming, or perhaps already is, the single species that I've photographed most (could it be that I hold an unlikely World record!!!). For some reason, I find them fascinating. Perhaps its because on some visits, no amount of searching will turn one up, on others, as was to be the case on this visit, they appear 'everywhere'. Much of the area is covered by low heath, much of it less than knee high, interspersed with other dense plants, such as acacia and correa, rarely more than a metre high. So their ability to elude birders looking out for them, is legendary. (I note that the Bird Atlas does not appear to have any records for anywhere on the South Arm peninsula, where it is in fact quite common). Conversely, or perhaps, perversely, I've walked up to within a couple of metres of a calling fieldwren, without seeming to faze it. The photo at bottom left, illustrates, perhaps, their ability to blend into the 'country', and I watched this bird as it foraged among the foliage and grasses, occasionally breaking cover to run along the narrow tracks, before 'plunging' once more into cover.
I shouldn't neglect to add, that other species present on the bluff included Fan-tailed and Horfield's Bronze-Cuckoo, Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos, many Yellow-throated and Newholland Honeyeaters and soon to be departing, Crescent Honeyeaters. Brown and Yellow-rumped Thornbills, Scarlet and Flame Robins, flocks of Silvereye, and pairs of both Spotted and Striated Pardalotes. Soaring White-bellied Sea Eagle and Swamp Harrier, and singles of Brown Falcon and Brown Goshawk. An interesting morning, despite the earlier disappointment.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Gould's Lagoon Bird Hide Destroyed.

I've just received an email from JJ Harrison a local resident at Austin's Ferry (I believe), telling me that the Gould's Lagoon bird hide has been destroyed in a fire, lit by vandals,a few days ago. It has been vandalised on many occasions, and is frequently used for drinking parties and worse. I recently commented to a council employee, working at the reserve, that is was a wonder it hadn't been burnt down, well now it has. Hopefully, it will be rebuilt in due course. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident. The picnic shelters and facilities at the Myrtle Forest, near Collinsvale, was significantly vandalised shortly after a major upgrade, and I can recount many other minor events

Friday, September 12, 2008

Parrot Heaven

The Kingston area, just South of Hobart, must be the Tasmanian equivalent of Mecca, for a range of parrot species that have had more than passing assistance from humans. For many years the home of about 25 or so Galahs, believed to be the progeny of birds released from a ship at Port Huon in 1922, they have been joined by Long-billed and Little Corellas, and most recently by Rainbow Lorikeets. The Galah numbers have burgeoned too, no doubt joined by aviary escapes and possibly trans Bass Strait migrants. Apart from the odd vagrant, these species would not normally include Tasmania as part of their distribution range.
A few days ago,I spent a morning on the Kingston Golf Course (after seeking permission from the secretary/manager), armed with a camera rather than golf clubs, and wandered round. I wanted to get a few shots of the Rainbow Lorikeets, having noted half a dozen of them in the Blue Gums along the nearby beachfront, and having heard that they frequented the golf course.
As I wandered back to my car from the clubhouse, I could already hear the 'strains' of the numerous Musk Lorikeets in the nearby gums, I could also hear a few Swift Parrots calling from among them, but this was the first and last intimation of their presence. I drove down to the club's works area, flushing several Eastern Rosellas from the track side, and noting several groups of Wood Duck and flocks of Galahs, feeding on the verdant fairways. The works area abuts Brown's River, and I walked over to the river bank. My first sighting there was a solitary Australasian Grebe, splashing its way over the water surface, towards me! Concentrating on that, I had failed to see the single Little Pied and Two Little Black Cormorants, roosting on a dead tree branch, only a few metres away, obviously used to the to and froing of the ground staff, and unfazed by my close approach. With obviously so many groups of birds about, I just wandered "higgledy piggledy" round the course, drawn to whatever seemed like a photo op.. I photographed Galahs, Eastern and Green Rosellas, Musk Lorikeet, Noisy Miners, Australian Magpies and Wood Duck in quick succession. However, the Rainbow Lorikeets were proving rather more elusive, although I had a brief view of a couple passing rapidly on to distant gums. I then spotted a corella among a flock of around 30 Galahs, and closed on this. It proved to be the only Little Corella that I recorded (photo at bottom left). It was keeping company with a very anaemic coloured and similar sized Galah, a species with which they occasionally cross breed, at least in aviary situations.
I had just about given up on the 'rainbows' when I was drawn to a dispute between Eastern Rosellas and Musk Lorikeets, high in a large gum. I tried to get a few shots, but the 'easterns ' flew off. I stood under the trees contemplating leaving, the increasing numbers of golfers were a distraction, when I heard a 'rainbow' call from almost overhead. And there, unnoticed by me, were a pair of Rainbow Lorikeets, sussing out a nest hole or 'spout' at the end of a hollow branch, some 10 metres up. A couple of shots before they disappeared deep inside. I waited for what seemed an eternity, (I'm really not the patient type that people sometimes suggest!). 10 minutes or so later, they emerged, and I shot a few more images including the photo at right of a bird at the possible nest entrance, and the image at top left, before they flew off. Ambling back along the river bank, I could see a flock of Long-billed Corellas lined up along the power lines overlooking the children's playground, on the other side of the river, waiting for one of the frequent 'handouts' of food. Every now and then, amid much screaming, they would all take to the air, and from my observations this usually indicates a nearby raptor, often a Brown Goshawk.
I have mixed feelings about the corellas and 'rainbows'. There is no doubt that many are aviary escapes, or their progeny, and they have the potential to become serious pests. There is also the question of what impact they may have on our native species, the Swift Parrot in particular. I suspect that they are already past being able to 'control' their numbers, and I'm not sure that it would be supported by well meaning, but perhaps, ill informed members of the public. I have no doubt that although we use the expression "aviary escapes", many of these parrots have in fact been deliberately released when the owners tired of them. All too frequently I notice other fauna that's been dumped, ranging from chickens and ducks, through to cats, many of them in conservation areas.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Pink Robins Galore

Mid week, beautiful morning, a frosty start, and off to the Myrtle Forest in the foothills of Mount Wellington, where it was even colder. But the birding was great. Hadn't gone more than a hundred metres when I spotted an all white bird fly up to a perch among the saplings, all this a good way off. My first reaction was a Sulphur-crested, which often roost around here, but thinking on, what was it doing among the saplings? A brief look through the glasses, and I realised it was a Grey Goshawk (white morph in Tasmania). Every other birder tells me about their encounters with this hawk, even get them in their gardens, but I always seem to miss out, so for me it was a good start. It even looked as if I had an evens chance of some photographs, but a pair of Grey Currawongs had also spotted it, and they proceeded to give it a hard time. It took refuge well up an old acacia tree, where despite their best efforts, the currawongs couldn't easily mob it, but not for want of trying. I got a few poor shots through the foliage. It was as I was watching the goshawk from beneath its perch, that I heard the first Pink Robin calling, and soon sighted it as it called from a high perch overlooking the track. Not more than a hundred metres on, and the second and third came in sight, both hawking in a clearing next to the creek. A Brush Bronzewing, one of several seen during my walk, flew up from the track with their characteristic clapping of wings, and I could hear another calling from the hillside. On to the picnic huts, and I could just hear another Pink Robin above the noise of the creek, together with a Golden Whistler, and the clamouring of a small flock of Black Currawong. I took the old fire track at this point, overgrown at the start, but I've found it offers better birding opportunities. The Tasmanian Thornbills were also in good voice this morning, and I found them at regular intervals during the climb. I stopped to try to photograph a pair, and failed, but I had the bonus of finding the first of many Scrubtits, mostly in pairs, and an unsighted, scolding, Tasmanian Scrubwren, which are common in the area, but were even more skulking that usual, and I presume they're breeding at the moment. Four more calling male Pink Robins on the track, one of which I spent some time attempting to photograph, top 2 shots. This bird was wary of me at first, but later seemed to accept my presence while it went about its business, albeit in poor light, under the tree canopy. Occasionally it propped only an arms length away--too close to photograph! Like most of our robins, the 'pinks' often hunt from a perch, dropping down and seizing prey, and I noted this one catch a variety of very small insects on the ground, but it also gleaned them from beneath leaves, as the thornbills do. At one point, it found an earthworm, bashed it a few times, before quickly swallowing it, something I've seen Flame and Dusky Robins do. The Dusky also takes skinks. Further up the track I came across one of several flocks of Strong-billed Honeyeaters, which judging by the frequent chasing, are, or soon will be, pairing up for breeding. I saw several Olive Whistlers, none calling as yet, and a few Golden Whistlers, that unlike their cousins, were in good voice, and paired.
I counted at least 14 Pink Robins during my walk, all male, although one of them was still in the 'brown' plumage of an immature bird. I didn't see a single female pink. So I was left wondering whether they are breeding, or whether the males are advertising their territory to attract a mate. I've read various tomes that suggest that males, like the females and immature birds, wander during Winter. From my observations, males may range more widely during the colder months, but they can consistently be found at the same spots all year round, although, of course I have no way of knowing whether they're the same individuals!
At the same clearing that I'd seen 2 'pinks' hawking earlier, one, very obligingly, posed in bright sunshine, and allowed close approach (image bottom right). A little perverse, when I had struggled to get any worthwhile shots in the 'gloom. But there's something about the Pink Robin that gets me trying to photograph them at every opportunity--they are gorgeous!

Monday, September 01, 2008

Truganini Reserve & Swift Parrots

You probably haven't been waiting with bated breath for this, but I've only just managed to get my PC back in some semblance of order after temporarily losing the last 6 months worth of images! As I mentioned in the last blog, I moved on to the Truganini Reserve at Taroona, in search of Swift Parrots. There's a familiar ritual to arriving, you can usually count on seeing, or at least hearing, the local Yellow Wattlebirds as you park your car, and on this morning they didn't disappoint. Their interest was in a pair of Grey Currawongs, skulking about, and at least 3 Kookaburras, and the wattlebirds managed to move them all on, without getting too close. By the track, I witnessed nuptial feeding by a pair of Crescent Honeyeaters, and overhead, much chasing among the Black-headed Honeyeaters . So it appeared that for some, breeding was underway. Within a 100 metres of the entrance, I heard the first Swift Parrots, so at least I now knew they were about. But, as anyone familiar with watching Swift Parrots would be aware, hearing them is one thing, seeing them is another! The calls were emanating from some of the taller eucalypts, mainly Blue Gums, although few, if any were flowering here. I climbed the bank on the northern side of the gully, up into the morning sun, and as I did, I could hear other Swifties calling. I estimated that there were about 6 or 7 pairs in the area, but as yet I hadn't seen a single bird. The shrill call of a nearby Musk Lorikeet caught my attention, and it was then that I saw my first Swift Parrot, well to be precise two, undoubtedly a pair. Both were in dispute over a possible nest site, with both Musks and Swifties entering a hole in a gum, some 15 metres up. The Musks used there "tail spreading" act, to warn off the Swifties, and the Swifties, opened their still folded wings to show the red colouring beneath. They also showed their displeasure as seen in the, not very flattering, shot at upper left. Neither of the pairs actually came into contact with one another, preferring to animatedly display as mentioned, sometimes within a few centimetres of one another. It's the first time that I've witnessed this, and unfortunately it was among the foliage and some way from me, so I didn't get the sort of images that I might have hoped for. After about 10 minutes of this action, both pairs flew off, but as I returned a little later, I disturbed a single Swift Parrot from the vicinity of the same tree. I did speculate whether the confontation was a common occurrence, and is the increasingly numerous Musk Lorikeet population having a detrimental effect on the already threatened, Swift Parrot's breeding chances. Higher up the slope, I noted the single Swift Parrot, pictured at lower left. It called from a high perch at the extremity of a dead gum. It appeared to be alone, and its frequent calling was not answered, perhaps it was in search of a partner, or had become separated. Later, on the track back down into the gully, I also recorded Pink Robin, Olive and Golden Whistlers, Tasmanian Scrubwrens (very quiet, which leads me to believe, they are nesting), a solitary Brush Bronzewing, and numerous Strong-billed Honeyeaters, some gathering strips of bark for their nests. It was while I was watching the latter, that I noted another pair of swifties. These appeared to be gleaning insects from the crevices of a large Blue Gum, and amongst the 'strings' of bark hanging down. Going silently about their business made me realise just how much I, and doubtless others, rely on hearing their call to find them, often as they 'explode' from a tree. In fact, thinking back over the years, I couldn't recall too many times that I had witnessed them feeding on anything other than flowering gums. An interesting morning.
[NB. I've added the only meaningful image of the Swift Parrot threat display, with the individual at lower right showing the red underwing area]

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Setting Up Home.....Musk Lorikeets

I was feeling particularly depressed. I had just lost all my emails, and that was only one of a number of computer issues that I have recently suffered. I needed to get out. But I knew that the need to fix the PC would soon draw me back home, so I opted for the short trip to Lambert Park, Sandy Bay, in search of newly arrived Swift Parrots.
Arriving, I was confronted by the screeching of Musk Lorikeets as I opened the car door, but I thought I also heard a couple of Swift Parrots calling. I could be in luck. This time of year a couple of years ago, in this park, I watched a flock of about 40 Swift Parrots, feeding on the ground, I think it was probably on elm seeds. A repeat of that was uppermost in my mind (briefly forgetting the PC!). Unfortunately that wasn't to be, and I had to settle on watching other parrots. The Blue Gums were in full flower and the Muskies and Eastern Rosellas were making the most it. There were several Galahs and a few Green Rosellas to add to the list of parrots. Only a few metres from the car, several pairs of Musks were embroiled in a melee on the side of a eucalypt, with one pair appearing to defend a possible nest hole, about 3 metres up. The brief scrum over, I was intent on finding out whether they were indeed setting up home, and I took the accompanying images while I watched. The two birds sat at the entrance hole, and the male (based on the greater amount of head colour), splayed its tail, and quivered its body feathers. After doing that several times, they took to mutual grooming, mostly of neck feathers, before flying down to the ground. The male lorikeet then searched among the many gum flowers littering the ground, before presenting one to its mate (upper left image). Further mutual grooming, and an attempt at coition, which if it took place, was over in the blink of an eye, was followed by rather more aggressive 'grooming', as shown in the lower left shot. The two birds then sat side by side for sometime, before flying off.
A few metres higher up the tree, was another potential nest hole, this one defended by a pair of Galahs, in between bouts of chasing other pairs around the area.
Having failed in my primary goal of finding Swifties and feeling somewhat invigorated by all the action, I decided to widen my search to nearby Truganini Reserve. But that's another story!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Possible Darter sighting

I received an email from Eric Woehler (Chair of Birds Tasmania), with an attachment outlining a possible Darter sighting and a request from the observers for help.
The sighting occurred during a wildfowl count at Moulting Lagoon on Tasmania's Eastcoast, about a week ago, and the following is a precis of the event.
During a pre-count briefing it was emphasised that if any unusual birds were seen, to take notes and talk to the organiser about it (Stewart Blackhall) rather than just add it to the list. He mentioned that in the past a Darter was reported, but he was unable to confirm it. This caused some mirth among the seasoned birders, as a Darter would indeed be an unlikely sighting in Tasmania.
On a beautiful calm day, the 4 observers in question, Ron Nagorcka, Ross Monash, Louisa d'Arville and an unnamed parks field officer, headed out on the Sherbourne property in the north-western arm of Moulting Lagoon. During the count, made with the aid of a spotting scope, they counted many wildfowl, especially Black Swans, some Grey Teal, Crested Grebes and cormorant. While doing a count of the cormorant numbers, Louisa excitedly noted a much larger cormorant among the Little Pied and Little Black Cormorants, all grouped together on an old, dilapidated hide. When this 'cormorant' turned its head, it showed off a long, slender, very straight, bright orange bill, with the orange seemingly stretching back behind its eyes. The bill was on the end of a long snakelike neck. After watching it for some time, noting its distinguishing features, they consulted the field guide. The longer tail, large body, long neck and sharp, unhooked bill, saw them all concluding that it was a Darter. Ross and Louisa have both lived in Queensland and seen Darters before, as has Ron.
They did manage to get some, in their words, "blurry photographs", by digiscoping with a camera that was about to run out of battery life! While not ruling out that it could have been a Great Cormorant, the 4 agreed that the bill was different to any cormorant, lacking the hooked end, but the all black bird lacked any white markings on its face, neck or wings, often seen in Darters.
The following day a number of observers went in search of the "darter", without success.
From the above, the 4 birders are requesting your assistance if you're heading for Moulting Lagoon. If you wish to go to the Sherbourne property, which is private land, or you would like more details on how to get there and how to get permission to go on to this property, you may contact Stewart Blackhall on 62336585 or Louisa d'Arville on 62238905.
[NB I am aware of only one other Darter record (but there may be more), sighted at Brumby's Creek, near Poatina, in July and August of 1980. My apologies if, in precising the information that I received, I have omitted or misrepresented any detail of this sighting.]

Friday, August 08, 2008

Denizens of the Deep.....Shade that is!

After several days of birding the South Arm area, yesterday I decided to try my luck in some of the wet forest areas, and opted for a visit to the Wielangta Forest. Specifically, I birded both ends of the Sandspit River Track, in fact I have to admit to never having walked the whole length of this track, perhaps this Summer? I stopped off at the picnic huts at the southern end, noticing that the sun had yet to clear the tree tops, so the area was still in deep shade. I always listen out for the resident male Pink Robin here, and wasn't disappointed, noting another 'Pink' answering his call from the other side of the road. I walked a few yards, looking for the robin, without success, and anyway deemed the area too 'gloomy' for photography, and set off for the northern end. While still at the northern car park, getting geared up, I noted several more Pink Robins calling in the very still conditions. Tasmanian Thornbills scolded me from the riverside vegetation, and I could hear a distant Golden Whistler calling, as well as a nearby Scarlet Robin. As I neared the forested area, I realised that although I had recorded several species, I had seen very little, and this seemed to be the norm for much of the next couple of hours. The lesson here is, make sure you know your bird calls, otherwise you could have a very frustrating visit! I heard numerous Eastern Spinebills and Strong-billed Honeyeaters, but saw neither. I did see a few of the numerous and very vocal Crescent Honeyeaters, and a glimpse of an Olive Whistler, a common, but retiring resident. I arrived at a spot where I've photographed Scrubtits on previous visits, and I hoped for a repeat performance. The area is primarily of Man Ferns surrounded by thick scrub, with overmature acacias growing up through it. It's main attraction from a photographic stand point, is that a recently dozed firetrail runs close to it, allowing more light into the area. Despite that, it's still not the easiest of spots, and I usually manage to collect leeches as I wander through it, one of those beings that I have an unhealthy loathing of. But, at least on this morning, it proved to be worth the effort, as I quickly found the resident pair of Scrubtits. Scrubtits are thornbill size birds, very active, and often shy, The accompanying images are a few that passed muster, most exhibiting movement of bird or camera, or both, in the less than ideal conditions. Perhaps that's why there seems to be so few images of Scrubtits to be found on the www. Eventually, the pair just disappeared into the scrub, and that was that. I wandered a little farther down the track, but apart from a fleeting view of a Brush Bronzewing, little else was seen. Time to call it a day, well, morning. I did however stop at the picnic huts on my return journey, and walk down to the creek, hoping to see the Pink Robin, which I did, but also in search of more Scrubtits, which I didn't. But I did spot a Bassian Thrush, scraping among the leaf litter in a verdant patch of rainforest. Despite the dingy conditions, I took several shots while it continued feeding. Later, looking at enlarged views of what it was feeding on, I was surprised to see that its prey was mostly winged insects. It continued feeding despite my close approach, and I eventually managed to get a few usable shots, including the accompanying image. For those of a photographic bent, the image was taken at 1/20th second, with a tele lens and no tripod, which says a lot for the Canon image stabilisation system! At least these thrushes do spend a lot of time standing stock still, in much the same way as their cousins, the European Blackbirds do, in many of our suburban gardens.Eventually it flew up onto an overhanging branch some 6 or 7 metres above me, which was something of a surprise, as I've rarely seen them more than a few metres above the ground, they were after all known as the Ground Thrush for many years.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Of Barbs & Barbed Wire

A few days ago, I made one of what, recently, has become a regular haunt, the Waterview Sanctuary at Sorell. I always start by making a b-line for the water's edge, looking, almost in vain these days, for any migrant waders that might be feeding on the mudflats. Surprise, surprise! A solitary, overwintering, Eastern Curlew, feeding among a small group of Chestnut Teal, but sadly that was the sum total. A quick scan of the fence poles surrounding the chicken factory to sus out the almost resident Brown Goshawk drew a blank, so I wandered along the line of African Boxthorns, bordering the factory. These boxthorns, a noxious weed in Tasmania, are presently the home and a food source for many small birds. As you walk along this line of shrubs, you can see why they were once popular in place of fences. With their long sharp spines, and their ability to grow almost anywhere, and forming impenetrable thickets, they must have been a godsend for early settlers looking for cheap 'fencing'.
On this particular morning, there were numerous New Holland Honeyeaters, many of them now in pairs, several Crescent Honeyeaters, almost all males, small flocks of Silvereyes, feeding on the still green seed pods of the boxthorn, family groups of Superb Fairy-wrens, and the ever present Blackbirds and House Sparrows. As I walked towards the link fence of the chicken factory, the honeyeaters frequent calling, stilled, and almost simultaneously I realised that about 30 metres away, atop a fence post was the immature Brown Goshawk, very animated, and obviously intent on catching breakfast, no doubt drawn there by the to'ing and fro'ing of birds. I say the Brown Goshawk (pictured top right), as there has been one here most of the Autumn and Winter.
Although I tried back tracking, my presence was obviously too much for the hawk, and it soon flew off, flying only a few centimetres above the ground, before propping again atop another post. The hawk was briefly mobbed by a few Forest Ravens, but the hawk seemed unperturbed and they soon gave up. The honeyeaters reappeared from their thorny refuges, many sitting on the topmost parts of the boxthorns, keeping a wary eye out. In the case of the New Hollands, (pictured at right), they were also keeping an eye on each other, and they spent a deal of time chasing one another. As I wandered back to my car, I was delighted to see what was once a common resident here, White-fronted Chat. A pair were sitting on a strand of barbed wire and seemingly reluctant to fly. I photographed them (female at left). Perhaps they're making a welcome return to this area, but I think it more likely they're on their way to nearby Orielton Lagoon. There may not be many waders these days, but the Waterview Sanctuary is still worth a visit, with the possible bonus of the Brown Goshawk.
[ I should add that I also recorded: Hoary-headed Grebe, Little Pied Cormorant, White-faced Heron, Great Egret, Tas. Native Hen, Pied Oystercatcher, all 3 gulls, Galah, Musk Lorikeet, Skylark, Grey Fantail, Brown and Yellow-rumped Thornbills, Yellow and Little Wattlebirds, Yellow-throated Honeyeater, Spotted Pardalote, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Starling as well as those mentioned]

Sunday, July 20, 2008

"Fingers & Thumbs" & Eagles

One of several recent 'crisp' mornings, saw me driving up to Orford to have a look at the spit, with a plan B, to drop into the Wielangta Forest. As it turned out, Orford was overcast and somewhat foggy, so plan C was a drive further up the east coast to Triabunna and beyond, hoping that by the time I returned, the sun would have broken through. In no particular hurry, I drove out towards the coast to a spot that on several occasions, I've found a White-bellied Sea Eagle in an old, cliff top eucalypt, a tree with a view. No eagle this morning, instead, I stood and watched a dozen or more Australasian Gannets fishing way out in Great Oyster Bay. Little Pied and Black-faced Cormorants flew past me on their way to join them, as did scores of Crested Terns. A cool breeze eventually drove me back into the shelter of my vehicle, and I sat there and contemplated my next move. Far down the coast I noticed a large bird flying towards me, and a quick look through the binoculars established that it was a Wedge-tailed Eagle, a fairly common bird of prey around here at this time of year. I sat and waited as it came ever closer, hoping for a 'photo opp'. Things were looking hopeful, and I finally got out of the car and prepared, but my hopes were dashed when it flew down the other side of the bay and into a clump of Blue Gums. Still a possibility, I reasoned, as the track ran quite close to the gums. Off, back down the track, but a close scrutiny of the trees failed to find any eagle. Time to go back to plan A, Orford Spit. As I drove down the dirt track towards the highway, I had a quick glance at another tree where I've noted eagles of both persuasions over the years. I did a double take, and braked hard. A quick look through the binoculars, yes, there was indeed not one, but three Wedge-tailed Eagles. A presumed pair together near the top, and a somewhat 'patchy' plumaged bird lower down (top left). As they were close to the track, I had high hopes of getting some reasonable images. From there on, photographically speaking, things deteriorated. I think I was so driven by the possibility of some good shots, (in my mind's eye, I think I could already see them), that I omitted to check the camera settings. Bad move! I walked towards them, stopping to take an occasional shot, and mentally registered that all was not well with the camera settings, but chose to ignore that. The lower, immature bird, took flight, and soared slowly in circles above me, I took several shots and stopped to review the images. All was indeed not well. I quickly chose what I thought was the right settings, but my mind was very much focused on the eagles. The immature bird alighted back in the tree, and the very dark, almost certainly adult male, took off. More shots. As I closed on them, the remaining birds took flight, and all three circled the hill, but appeared reluctant to leave (not that I wanted them too!). A score or more photographs later, I left them to it, confident that I'd managed a few decent shots, and they returned to their roost tree.
My optimism proved wrong, as most of the shots had been shot at completely the wrong settings. Obviously in my haste, I had set the camera up incorrectly, and my attempts to correct them while my thoughts were elsewhere, only made things worse. The outcome is that I managed to resurrect a few, two shown here. I also resolved to check before I shoot, and I suspect I will, for a while! Despite the disappointing shots, watching the 3 Wedgetails circle around me at tree top height, made for a memorable morning.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Double-banded Plover at Ralph's Bay

I drive past the Lauderdale end of Ralph's Bay on many occasions, it's only a 10 minute drive from my abode. As I pass I often look, make that, always look, out across the bay, scanning for waders. At this time of year, apart from the flocks of Pied Oystercatchers, I can often see other small waders, scattered across the bay, feeding. But, to be honest, I rarely stop to identify what's there. A few days ago, while returning from an outing to the South Arm area that had only been mildly interesting, I spotted a few small flocks roosting close to the road and decided it was time to have a closer look.
During the Winter months, most of what to us are Summer migrants, are off to such areas as Mongolia and Arctic Russia, to breed. The likes of Eastern Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwit, Curlew Sandpipers and Red-necked Stint, that frequent this bay during our warmer months. But even during our Winter, we always have one migrant here, the Double-banded Plover. I always feel there's something rather odd about the Double-banded. For one, while there is an obvious advantage for migrant birds to seek warmer climes, such as more food and a better climate, the Double-banded migrates sideways! These plovers breed in New Zealand, usually away from the coast, and migrate to South-eastern Australia during our Winter. At least a fair number of them do ( some few thousand), the remainder staying in New Zealand, and Tasmania gets a large part of those migrating. Most stay on the coast, but some find their way inland, even into our high country. But if they can find enough food to survive our
Winters, and put on weight for the return journey, what is it that makes Tasmania unsuitable for breeding?
The flock at Lauderdale consisted of about 35 individuals, roosting in the pebbled area, only a few metres from the highway. With them were 20 or more Red-capped Plover and a few overwintering Red-necked Stint, all spreading out on the falling tide, as they began to feed. My main interest in the Double-banded was to get some useable shots of birds in their breeding strip, showing the two bands, and I reasoned that as they should be leaving our shores in August, they should be nearing full breeding plumage. So I was a little disappointed to find that only a few of them were anywhere near that stage. Plumages ranged from that of near breeding plumage of the bird at top left, to that of the individual at right, that still has a long way to go. The lower shot shows a part of the Red-capped Plover flock (and a solitary Double-banded Plover), which appeared to have a preponderance of males. In contrast to their slightly larger New Zealand cousins, they were all resplendent in their breeding plumage. Probably not surprisingly, as they are usually early breeders and I have found nests as early as late July, only a few weeks away.
Ominously, a floating drilling platform was operating not far away, as this area is under threat of being developed into a canal type housing estate, and this area is a 'conservation area'!

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

A Passing Sea Eagle

Over the last several weeks I've been sent a number of shots of White-bellied Sea Eagles, and I've had a few close encounters myself. But the weather has been indifferent to awful (but we badly needed the rain), and any chance that I've had to photograph them has been minimal. All that changed recently on a drive round Bellerive Bluff. There was a strong, gusty, South westerly wind blowing, with occasional passing squalls, and in those conditions, I often try my hand at photographing gulls in flight. These conditions often mean that the larger gulls, Pacific and Kelp, will "hang" in flight, just off the bluff, giving me a chance of reasonable results. I had taken several shots, when a passing shower made me take cover back in my car. The shower appeared to have passed so I got out, this time without camera. I scanned the sky for a break in the clouds, satisfied that a break was imminent, and casually looked up as I wandered back to my vehicle to get my camera. Aha! High above me was a solitary adult White-bellied Sea Eagle, soaring majestically, almost stationary as it rode the wind. Magnificent, but far too high for any worthwhile shots, so I contented myself with watching it through my binos. I momentarily took my eyes off it, and when I looked back the eagle was in a near vertical dive, wings folded back, and traveling at considerable speed. I panicked at this point, unsure of whether to grab the camera or just watch, and I tried to do both! I was most interested to record its possible victim, which I fondly assumed was a fish. Wrong! It was in fact a 1st year Kelp Gull flying past some hundred metres away. It saw, or perhaps heard, the eagle's approach, and jinked at the right moment (right if you're the gull!), and the eagle flew on towards Bellerive Beach and out of my sight. Cursing that I'd not even got a record shot of the, albeit, distant event, I consoled myself that I had at least witnessed the exciting episode. Standing there, still mulling over what might have been, I had failed to notice that, like the gulls I had been photographing earlier, the Sea Eagle was now just in front of me, drifting past into wind. Snapping back into reality, I just had time to take a few shots, one shown here. It then hung in the updraught at the edge of the bluff, not more than 30 metres away, but tail on to me, before sliding away along the coast. I really must stay more alert!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Sign of Things to Come?......Pied Oystercatcher

Returning from Granton recently, I decided to look in at Montrose Bay at Rosetta, a northern Hobart suburb. I was primarily interested in looking for the Little Black Cormorant that usually roost on the small wooden jetty (now condemned), together with Great and Little Pied Cormorant. And indeed I found all 3 on the jetty, enjoying what I suspect is a brief respite before the jetty is demolished, as there's a new, all concrete one, a short distance away. But my interest turned to the flock of around 50 Pied Oystercatchers, feeding on the grassed area behind the yacht club. I've found them in this area before, feeding on the nearby, well manicured and watered playing fields of the local school. But as they were being mown, the oystercatchers were making the most of the public area, only 20 or 30 metres away from one of the state's busiest highways, the 'Brooker". I was intent on getting a few shots of them as they fed, but not too close as to flush them, which proved fairly easy, despite the to'ing and fro'ing of cars and people to the nearby children's play area. I walked back to my car, noting a few oystercatchers roosting on the grass near the yacht club, one of which flew up onto the roof of a nearby building, joining a few loafing Silver Gulls. That at least I hadn't noted before, and wondered whether the POs regularly use this roof to roost on, particularly at times when this council recreation area is in full swing. That would certainly be unusual, and well worth looking out for. The use by Pied Oystercatchers of grassed areas to feed, often well away from their usual haunts, as in this case, appears to be a fairly recent change of habit. I've also noted them feeding on grassed areas at Dover, Gordon and Franklin. Perhaps with sea levels rising, this will become the norm amongst our oystercatcher population, and regularly choosing to roost on roofs inevitable.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

What Early Bird?

With such fine weather of the last few days, I finally threw off my recent lethargy, and with an early start, headed for the Goat Bluff area. I have a routine at Goat Bluff, starting with the short walk to the lookout. Occasionally, especially during the Winter months, you can spot the odd albatross, albeit, usually some kilometres off the coast. But that morning, I could only pick out a few Australasian Gannet, and a mob of gulls off nearby Betsey Island. With a stiff breeze blowing, and frost still evident on the ground, I was glad to get away from that exposed spot and into the coastal scrub. Walking down the track towards Hope Beach, I was struck (and disappointed) by the lack of birds. A few distant Crescent Honeyeaters called, and the odd, unmistakable twinkling, of an Eastern Spinebill, but little else. I reached a spot close to the beach and scanned the area. I picked up a pair of Hooded Plovers, a rare sighting on this beach in recent times, and then an adult White-bellied Sea Eagle, low over the sea, leisurely making its way to Betsey. It was some consolation, but I had expected more. I wandered back up, and down the eastern side of the bluff, hoping to see at least a Striated Fieldwren, a common, if elusive, resident here. No show, only a flock of passing Silvereyes, and the calling of unseen Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos in the scrub below. By now I had been here nearly 2 hours, taken a few scenic shots in the low angle light, and was about to give up. Back up to the car park, one last look along the road--and then they all started appearing! I disturbed the small flock of resident Yellow-rumped Thornbills, now reduced to just 3, from a dozen or more in the Summer--casualties, or moved on? Then a number of honeyeaters, feeding on the few remaining banksia flowers, passed in quick succession, as I stood and watched. Firstly an Eastern Spinebill, supplanted shortly by a Crescent Honeyeater, in turn pushed out by the very nervous Yellow-throated Honeyeater, pictured at right. Eager to get some shots of Yellowrumps, I positioned myself in the scrub near where they were feeding, and eventually, one came just close enough to get a worthwhile shot (lower left). Hoping that I might get a better shot, I waited. It proved fruitless for the Yellowrumps, but instead, I had a succession of birds prop on top of a nearby dead sheoak. First a Grey Fantail, then a Yellowthroat, followed by a Crescent Honeyeater, a pair of Scarlet Robins, and finally a few Black-headed Honeyeaters (top left). So I got my fill of photographs, but left wondering why I had bothered to get there so early!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Whoa! Great Egret Aerobatics

I made a brief diversion to Gould's Lagoon recently, while returning from a trip to New Norfolk. I had little time for anything but a quick scan, but seeing the resident Great Egret close to the highway, I couldn't resist getting out and taking a few shots. While it usually puts up with passing pedestrians, it was suspicious of my intentions, as you can see (top left image). However it allowed me to take a few shots before it flew a few metres, landed and carried on feeding. As I stood deciding whether to try for more shots, it took off again, calling with the usual croaking call, as it climbed ever higher, then circled some hundred metres or more over the lagoon. I watched, wondering whether I had been responsible for this action--I get, perhaps justifiably, paranoid about overstepping that indefinable line between legitimate watching and harrying birds, especially when attempting photography. So I stood there willing it back down to the lagoon, when it went into a series of high speed dives and loops, pulling what in an aircraft, would be described as high g turns. Frankly, I've watched many hundreds of egrets, but this display can only be described as awesome! As you can see, I shot off a few images, albeit from some distance away. If you look closely at the images (by clicking on them), you may see the distortion of its' body, particularly in the neck, during these high speed aerobatics. The whole episode was over in a matter of minutes, and it soon descended back to the lagoon, and after a few laps round it, landed on one of the decaying nest boxes, close to the hide. I returned to my car, quite relieved that the egret had returned, but still puzzled by the event. My thoughts as I drove back, were that perhaps it was a reaction to a predator, possibly a Peregrine Falcon, the local White-bellied Sea Eagle, or one of the overwintering Marsh Harriers, unseen by me. Perhaps you may have seen a similar display and have a better explanation. An interesting brief visit.