Saturday, December 19, 2009

Park Hotspot

I've spent many hours wandering the more distant parts of Risdon Brook Park, near Risdon Vale, on the eastern shore of the Derwent River. This area is a popular spot for walkers, cyclists, joggers and families, although they largely keep to the impoundments perimeter track. Visiting in early December, I took a track along the side of a small valley that I've found to be a good birding spot. My 'schedule' for this spot, is to stand and listen, noting the calling birds. First 'cab off the rank' on this morning was the unmistakable "tinkling" call of a Blue-winged Parrot. They usually call from the tops of the dead trees higher up the side of the valley, but are hard to spot, and I failed to find them on this morning, but I had consolation of finding a juvenile Flame Robin, still being fed by its parents. Calls came thick and fast after that, the distinctive call of a Satin Flycatcher and competing Golden Whistlers, contact calls of foraging Silvereyes, Green Rosellas and Musk Lorikeets. Close by Brown Thornbills and Superb Fairy-wrens scolded me as I passed. As I stopped to watch them I noticed a bird that I couldn't ID, rapidly cross the valley, and I spent a while trying to locate it. It turned out to be a juvenile Horsfields Bronze-cuckoo, which appeared to be begging food from both the thornbills and wrens. While still focused on these birds, I heard the distinctive, somewhat mournful call of a Beautiful Firetail from the depths of the thick scrub lining the small creek running through the valley. Not uncommon in this reserve, I often hear them calling, but much less often see them. I stopped and sat at a vantage point overlooking the valley and was soon rewarded. Rarely getting to see them, let alone photograph them, this proved to be a red letter day. At least 2 pairs of Firetails, one seeming to have a helper in tow, were nest building. They were taking the material, in this case long grass stems, most measuring 30 cms or more, from high up the valley side, down into the scrub at the bottom. They passed many times, slowly and cautiously up, and rapidly down. As you can see by the accompanying images, they sometimes gave me a "photo opp.". It appeared that only one of the pair carried the material, the other riding shotgun. In the middle of all this excitement, I had several times heard a hawk calling from the canopy of nearby gums, but was reluctant to move. In the end curiosity got the better of me, and after some time searching, located the nest of a Brown Goshawk, high in a (photograhically) distant eucalypt. Surprisingly, since I was clearly visible to the female goshawk in the photo., she remained on the nest. I watched for sometime before the hawk eventually flew off and I wandered back to my 'firetail'
spot. In the next half hour or so, I was visited by Yellow Throated and Black-headed Honeyeaters, Silvereyes, a calling male Satin Flycatcher, Grey Shrike-thrush, and a Golden Whistler. I briefly heard a Swift Parrot from one of the tall blue gums, a species I have suspected may breed here. The goshawk continued to visit the nest, which almost certainly contained young, always calling as it neared, and only the female. Where was the male? I soon found out. A pair of Grey Currawong approached and was vigorously attacked by the previously unseen male, which briefly perched on a dead limb across the valley, before, presumably, returning to his vantage spot overlooking the nest site. Perhaps this was why the female called when approaching the nest? Didn't want to be mistaken for an intruder! As the morning wore on, the area quietened down, and I reluctantly left, having had another rewarding day in the park.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Vibrant Gould's Lagoon

I've made a couple of 'pilgrimages' to Gould's Lagoon at Granton this week, largely to get usable shots of Little Grassbirds. In the case of the grassbirds, it's still work in progress, for although I've shown the image at right, I've still got a way to go before I get what I'm after. Grassbirds aside, the visits have certainly been worthwhile, with evidence of a range of birds successfully breeding there.
My first surprise, as I stood watching the grassbirds, some carrying food, flit from reed clump to reed clump, was a family of Eurasian Coot, with four newly hatched chicks. I haven't noted any coot breeding here before, and during my visits this week, I counted a total of 4 pairs with young or eggs. While this may not be surprising given the large numbers often seen around this state, coot breeding in Tasmania is a relatively recent event. As recently as 1995, Bob Green in his "Fauna of Tasmania", reported "only rarely is it found breeding here". Other species with young included Chestnut Teal, Black Duck, Purple Swamphen, and Tasmanian Native Hen. As a local remarked, "they'll probably end up as harrier food", and indeed the local Swamp Harriers frequently patrol the reed beds.
I had received an email from a reader, saying that she had seen a Latham's Snipe at "Gould's", and indicating that it was near the "barking dogs" on the northern side of the lagoon. Not seeing that many snipe in recent years, I thought it was worth a look. Sure enough, as I walked along the track (and despite the accompaniment of barking dogs), I heard the snipe as it flushed and I watched as it sought shelter in the delta of a nearby stream. I sought a better view, but before I got there, a second individual flushed, which in turn flushed the first, and all I could do is watch as they flew the length of the lagoon and pitched down near the main road.
On my second visit (in light rain), and despite my wary approach, I flushed an individual, which once again pitched down in the nearby streamside vegetation. I walked back to the bank above said stream and stood scanning the heavily vegetated far bank. After what seemed ages, and as I was about to venture closer, I realised I was looking straight at the snipe, perhaps 20 metres away! I took several shots, all identical, one shown above. How lucky can you get!. When reviewing the shots on my PC, I realised what an exquisitely marked bird this snipe is--absolutely beautiful. Once again, Gould's Lagoon is worth a visit.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Spirit of King Canute...Red Knot

One of the few Latin bird names I remember is that of the Red Knot, Calidris canutus. It stems from my now distant childhood and the story of King Canute. As I recall, it was then suggested that his courtiers told him that he was so powerful that he could command the tide not to come in and he got very wet in the process--stupid git! Today, I see that the boot's on the other foot, so to speak. It's now suggested that he got wet to prove to his courtiers that he was not more powerful than God.
For many years I thought that this event was immortalised in the Latin canutus referring to the Knot. I fondly watched Knot feed on the tide line, and occasionally take to the water, reinforcing this thought. The truth is that the call of the Knot is written as "knut knut", which also happens to be the old Norse word for Canute. I think I prefer my version--another childhood story shattered.
Recently the spit at Lauderdale, in Ralph's Bay, has been graced with the presence of first one, and more recently two, Red Knot. Not that uncommon in Tasmania, and often seen in the company of Bar-tailed Godwit, numbers in recent years suggest a decline. Surprisingly tame, I took the opportunity to get numerous images, a few shown here, while looking for a mystery wader that was reported to be among the Red-necked Stint flock. One bird that I did see, as I parked my vehicle alongside of the nearby canal, was a sandpiper that I suspect was a Common Sandpiper--a decidedly uncommon sandpiper in Tasmania. I did subsequently see 'the' reported Common Sandpiper at the mouth of the Clarence Plains Rivulet, across the bay from Lauderdale.
While in the area, I visited the now full, Clear and Rushy Lagoons, observing a flock of 30+ Hardhead, another uncommon species in this state.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Ralph's Bay's Feisty Locals

Perhaps mirroring the fight that locals (and many others) fought over the Ralph's Bay Conservation Area at Lauderdale, I witnessed the event, pictured at left, a few days ago.
For many years a pair of Pied Oystercatchers have nested on the end of the Lauderdale Spit. Unfortunately for this resident pair, it's also a spot where many other birds choose to roost at the top of the tide. Mostly they have to contend with other oystercatchers, sometimes numbering a hundred or more, one of the largest roosts you'll find anywhere. But they also need to defend their territory against gulls, Silver, Kelp and Pacific, and, as you can see, the odd White-faced Heron. The pair of oystercatchers at left of the image, started on the oystercatchers that I had disturbed from further down this little peninsula, and once 'wound up', took on all-comers. This hapless heron, that had been fishing in the drainage ditch as the tide rose, lobbed down almost in front of them and immediately became the centre of their attention. Confused at first, it tried several times to find another spot to land, but these oystercatchers were determined that shouldn't happen! Amazing what determined locals can do when their 'space' is threatened!

Friday, October 30, 2009

......and on to Orielton Lagoon

Feeling that I'd probably already used up my birding luck (see previous blog), I wasn't that enthusiastic about donning gum boots and plodding through the Orielton mud. Gone are the halcyon days when many of the rarer waders were seemingly regularly seen here. Such birds as Oriental Plover and Ruff spring to mind. Having said that, it's still one of the few places in southern Tasmania to see some of the less common migrant waders
My first surprise was to find a 'new' wetland, I believe courtesy of the release of 'grey' water from the nearby water treatment dams. With the high Winter and Spring rain, this water isn't required for irrigation purposes, but still has to go somewhere, hence the around one hectare wetland. My first encounter was with a Black-fronted Plover, well actually I only heard the characteristic "rattle" call, and sought it out. As I stood scanning the area of drying mud on the far side of the creek seeking the blackfont, I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye and only a few metres away. Second surprise, it was an Australian Crake, creeping away into the salt bush, flicking its' white under-tail as it did. This is the first I've ever seen here, and I've been a regular here for many years. Was the 'new' wetland the lure, or have they always been here?
I stood there for several minutes hoping to get a photo opp., but no reappearance, so back to the blackfronts. First one and then a second flew round, calling, and I got the impression that they were probably breeding close by. Moving on along the bank of the creek, about a 100 metres further on, I met 4 more blackfronts. Making a note to return to this spot for some attempt at photography I moved on, trying, unsuccessfully as it turned out, to avoid stirring up the breeding Kelp Gulls which "infest" the eastern side of this reserve. I quickly moved off, 'pursued' by calling gulls. They in turn disturbed a flock of Eastern Curlew and Bar-tailed Godwit, just visible a kilometre away, through the heat haze. I walked through the marsh towards the golf course to the East, disturbing a few Australasian Pipits and numerous Eurasian Skylarks. Overhead small flocks of Galahs and Corellas past, calling, and I scattered several family groups of White-fronted Chats. Keeping a wary eye on me were 2 pairs of Pied Oystercatcher, by their actions, breeding close by. My goal was a closer look at a flock of small waders, which proved, as expected, to be Red-necked Stint. Numbering around 500, one was colour flagged (banded in South Australia over 800kms away), and among their number was a solitary Sharp-tailed Sandpiper. Nearer the golf course, in a favourite posi., I could just make out a flock of Pacific Golden Plover, around 20. I left them in peace, and headed back to the blackfronts for an attempt at photography.
As you can see by the accompanying images, I was at least partially successful. These Black-fronted Plover have probably been 'pushed' out from the nearby overfull farm dams, as I've rarely recorded them here in recent years, and usually only an odd pair. I sat on the creek bank and 'allowed' them to come to me, which rather warily, they did, albeit on the far bank of the creek. But since I've only managed a few shots from the car before, I made the most of it.

Friday, October 23, 2009

"Late" Cattle Egrets

En route to Orielton Lagoon for a change of birding venue, I chanced upon a small flock of Cattle Egrets on the northern side of the lagoon. Totaling 9 in all, they were feeding among a small flock of sheep, fairly close to the road. A quick U-turn and I was alongside the paddock, which made the egrets understandably nervous. I scrambled a few shots out of the car window before they edged further up the paddock.
In recent years, no doubt due to the lack of rain, I've found few Cattle Egrets in southern Tasmania. So the recent prolonged rain may have caused these egrets to hang on longer than usual, before migrating back to the Mainland. The individual pictured at right is sporting almost? the full breeding plumage, the first that I can recall seeing in Tasmania. A few others in the flock had partial breeding plumage, but most exhibited none.
As I drove the short distance to the bridge over Orielton Creek, a Little Egret flew over. Added to the 6 Crested Grebe I 'd seen from the Sorell Causeway, it made for an excellent start to my visit to the lagoon. More of that later.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Striated Pardalote--"orange-tipped"

While looking for Striated Fieldwrens at Pipeclay Lagoon (I failed), I came across a pair of Striated Pardalotes with a nest hole in a low bank beneath an old fence line. Watching them from a distance, I realised that both birds had orange markings in their wings, rather than the usual yellow, one of which is shown at left. (You will need to click on the image to see this and you might like to compare it with the 'normal' type below).
The Tasmanian striateds, were once known as 'Yellow-tipped Pardalotes', but are now lumped with their Mainland counterparts. This species ranges over much of Australia, exhibits variable plumages and the spot in the wing ranges from yellow to red (consult your field guide!). The one thing they apparently have in common is their "pick-it-up" call, and this pair incessantly demonstrated that. Most Tasmanian striateds migrate to the Mainland in the Autumn, returning early in Spring.
Orange-tipped birds have been recorded in Tasmania from time to time, as has the red-tipped 'model', but this is the first that I've seen.
I'm not sure whether this pair will breed successfully, as they have chosen a site potentially subject to flooding. Much of the area is already inundated, sufficient to attract a pair of Black-fronted Plovers.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Just Passing....Gould's Lagoon

I managed to fit about 20 minutes of birding at Gould's Lagoon last weekend, while on my way to a family get together at the Salmon Ponds. A little blustery, and overcast, but Gould's is almost always worth a look, and I even managed to add to my list for this location.
We parked on the side of the highway, crossing the road to cast our eyes over the reed beds, and saw the first of several Little Grassbirds, one carrying food, and I even managed a distant shot of one (below). A very 'nervous' Great Egret stalked the reeds beside the rail line, and we noted a number of paired male Australasian Shovelers involved in vigorous aerial chasing of unpaired males trying to "muscle" in.
Along the shoreline towards the partly rebuilt bird hide, a pair of Chestnut Teal herded their clutch of recently hatched ducklings, although I suspect, some at least, may well end up as Harrier food, as a pair of Swamp Harriers were regularly hunting over the reed beds. Among the Coot and Teal, I found the first of two, possibly a pair, of Dusky Moorhens, my first for this venue. This species, common over much of Eastern Australia, is slowly but surely colonising Tasmania, so it will be interesting to see whether they breed here.
Anxious family members, looking I thought, rather ostentatiously at their watches , finally pricked my conscience, and all too soon we moved on. All in all, a worthwhile 20 minutes.
[I didn't manage any shots of the moorhens, and the image at top, was taken earlier this year on the river at Richmond, where a few pairs bred]

Friday, October 02, 2009

"It's Not All Doom and Gloom"

Early in September, Birds Tasmania played host to the Australasian Wader Study Group's 7th conference. Mike Newman, a long time Tasmanian birding stalwart, now a NSW resident, asked me to co-author a paper on long term observations on Pied Oystercatchers in South-East Tasmania. (I should mention here that I may have been the catalyst for Mike's long term interest and study of Pied Oystercatchers, and my contribution to the paper was minimal and 'historic' rather than recent). I'm not big on meetings these days, and I was surprised that I managed to 'survive' two days of papers and discussion. Probably tempered by meeting both old friends and new, who have a passion for the conservation of shorebirds.
I am not a member of AWSG these days--I was party to its' foundation--and I was for the most part a passive observer. But, there's always a but, after listening to the many papers on the state of play in the East Asian-Australasian Flyway (the route taken by waders flying between breeding grounds and wintering sites), I could only say it's pretty horrific. I was rash enough to voice my 'horror' of the decline of migrant wader numbers and destruction (euphemistically referred to as "reclamation") of their feeding grounds, particularly in South East Asia, and notably in South Korea. I also felt that the next conference would be reporting on further declines, but little would have been done about it. Ken Gosbell, chair of AWSG, countered by saying that "it's not all doom and gloom", and a discussion followed. There were some bright spots, but even on the Australian scene, sharing beach habitat with the general populace was of concern. Compliance with limits placed on beach use for bird conservation, by dog owners especially, was extremely low (I seem to recall about 17% in one study!). So even with these limitations in place, it's a struggle for our shorebirds. Ken did mention the close cooperation with Birds Korea and other overseas groups, and that was heartening, adding that a wealth of information has been gathered showing this serious decline in wader numbers. But I couldn't help feeling that the whole debate needs to be voiced at a higher level, and become a mainstream issue for conservation groups generally. I can only say that I was left feeling rather depressed--it may not be "all doom and gloom", but it's getting perilously close!
Birds Tasmania (chaired by Eric Woehler), deserves to be congratulated on a well run conference--the company and the refreshments were excellent.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Peter Murrell Reserve Surprise

In need of a change of birding venue, midweek I birded the Peter Murrell reserve at Kingston. Having recently photographed both Spotted and Striated Pardalotes, I fondly thought I might have a good show of doing similarly with the 40 spots. In that I totally missed out--I didn't even see one. Starting at the northern carpark, I wandered along the western boundary, stopping to get a few distant images of Australasian Pipits and Yellow-rumped Thornbills. The latter, a particularly numerous species this Spring. On, past both ponds, I turned down over the bridge and looked (in vain) for the 40 spots--I find this is usually one of the best areas. There were numerous Black-headed Honeyeaters, and 2 or more pairs of Yellow Wattlebirds, but only Striated and Spotted Pardalotes. Following the horse riding track, I walked on into the large paddock to the South. At the far end of the paddock I no
ted a pair of Swamp Harriers in what I assume was some kind of nuptial chasing, as they flew in unison among the gums. Having missed out on the pardalotes, I thought they might prove to be worth an attempt at photography, so I ploughed on. Approaching the far side of the paddock, I flushed the female swampie out of a tree, and managed a few shots as she wheeled over me, gaining height. At this spot, adjacent to a large area of ferns and Blackberry entanglements, I noted a number of pairs of Superb Fairy-wrens popping up among the vegetation. Rarely missing an opportunity to photograph these exquisitely plumaged birds, I tried my luck. I moved back along the edge of the ferns, managing every now and then to get the odd shot or two of the males (one top right) . While photographing a calling male, I realised that he had some competition, as a number of other birds were calling. When I finally concentrated on IDing them, I was delighted to find they were Striated Fieldwre
ns, two of them pictured here. While these Fieldwrens are not uncommon in Tasmania, they certainly are elusive, and in probably 50 or more visits to the Peter Murrell, I have never seen them here. In the next 30 minutes or so, I watched and occasionally photographed them, and concluded that there were probably 10 or a dozen here, and as they appear to be breeding, I would expect that number to soon grow.

I looked up the Bird Atlas--no records, and emailed some of the "regulars", and it appears that they have been seen in this reserve in the distant past, but not in recent years. So if birders are seeking this species, this may prove one of the easier sites to see them. I have been asked for sites to see this species more often than almost any other and as this reserve is already a much frequented place for visiting birders, this may add to its' allure.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Brief Encounter...............Swift Parrots

Just a short note to recount an all too brief encounter with Swift Parrots this morning.
The first reasonable day for sometime, but still windy, I decided to bird the Mortimer Bay reserve. Little action at first, probably not helped by the temperature hovering around 8C, but as it warmed up, so did the birding. While trying to get close enough for a few shots of a Dusky Robin, I heard a single, rather metallic, sharp call. Although I felt sure I should know what was calling, I couldn't at first place it. However as I neared what I thought was the source, the bird repeated it several times, and then gave the "giveaway" screech of a departing Swift Parrot--my first for the season. It wasn't a bird that I expected in this area as this parrot is more usually encountered on the western side of the Derwent River. It has bred here in the distant past, but that's was 30 years ago when the area was farmed. I followed in the general direction of the departing bird, which fortunately gave the same single note occasionally, enough to eventually find it. As you can see from the accompanying shots, it remained high in the dead branches of a eucalypt, not very conducive to great images. After a few minutes it took flight, at which time I realised there was in fact a pair. During the course of the mornings birding, I heard distant screeching from at least 3 pairs, but there may have been more. Perhaps they have been drawn here by the lack of Blue Gum flowering so far locally, and the fairly profuse flowering at "Mortimer" of the local peppermints. So if you haven't found any of the returning "swifties" yet, it's time to get out there!

Monday, August 24, 2009

All Change at Ralph's Bay

An ongoing illness and the wettest weather for many years, has kept my birding to a minimum. I've also chosen "soft" areas to bird, when I have managed to get out--those that require less walking, and some that don't even require me to get out of my vehicle! Ralph's Bay at Lauderdale is one of former, but it can be one of the best. So on a driveby, ten days ago, I noted several Double-banded Plovers, most resplendent in their summer plumage, and worth an attempt at photography. They were in a mixed flock with about 20 Red-capped Plovers, all feeding on the edge of a retreating tide. Both these species are surprisingly tame, but in a flock they are rather more inclined to fly, and they did, albeit only a short distance. However, I had "help" at hand. An elderly gentleman decided to walk along the beach, through the flock, much to my annoyance. But, It did enable me to take the shot at top left, as those of the flock that didn't fly, ran along the beach towards me, taking flight only when they realised they were caught in a pincer movement! Among the flock I noticed a banded Double-banded, and on closer inspection, realised that it was "double banded", colour banded that is. I stalked it and scrambled a few shots, one at left. An enquiry as to where it was banded, brought a swift reply, (although there appeared to be some confusion). It appears most probable that it was banded in the Tasman River area of New Zealand--about mid South Island.
So, last weekend, hoping to get better shots of the DBPs, before they head off for New Zealand, I returned to Lauderdale. A quick scan of the area revealed a total lack of DBPs, and only a handful of Red-caps. Undeterred, I wandered along the shoreline to a stony area they sometimes roost on, the tide fairly high and coming in. I had only taken a few steps when I was buzzed by a flock of Bar-tailed Godwit, wheeling rapidly across the bay. I walked away from the beach beyond the low vegetation and watched. After several circuits of the bay, they alighted less than a hundred metres away alongside the spit, in an area they often roost on, which I assumed they were about to do. So I was surprised that instead they walked towards me, into the shallow water, and started feeding, coming ever closer as they did so.
It's times like this that never cease to excite me. By standing quite still and just waiting, this flock of 23 birds, came within 20 metres or so, and continued feeding. Much of the time they would feed in a tight pack, all walking in the same direction, probing deep into the soft mud, sometimes immersing their heads to get at their unseen prey. I watched and photographed them for 20 minutes or so, before retreating and leaving them to continue feeding.
So once again I had failed to get the sort of shots of DBPs that I'd hoped for, well there's always next year. However, it did occur to me that with all the gale force westerly winds we've had lately, that these plovers probably got to New Zealand a damn sight quicker than we ever could from Tasmania, having no direct link these days, and having to go via Melbourne, with all the security checks etc..... but don't start me on that one.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Magic Moments........Grey Fantail

Having been stuck indoors for what seems like weeks with this interminable wet easterly weather, I just couldn't wait to get back out birding again. So, on a less than optimal day for birding, I fell back on my old favourite , the South Arm peninsula. With the continuing on-shore winds I rather hoped to see albatross off Goat Bluff, but in the event had to settle for 60 or 70 Australian Gannet, most fishing far to the south east. Having spent awhile scanning for seabirds, with little luck, I took to the nearby banksia scrub, walking along the sheltered edge, which seemed uncharacteristically quiet. I stopped briefly to photograph a preening New Holland Honeyeater, and I could hear a few others calling in the distance, but the usual noisy and numerous Crescent Honeyeaters, appeared absent. I nearly gave it all away at this point, with increasing overcast, and distant rain, (not to mention that is was 'cool'), taking away my enthusiasm for continuing. A calling male Scarlet Robin, 50 metres away, briefly rekindled my enthusiasm, although I'm not sure
why, because I must have photographed these robins more than almost any other bird! Perhaps faced with few options, it seemed like a good idea. Before I'd taken a few steps, it was chased off by a New Holland, but I continued. The light wasn't that conducive for photography, but from previous visits, I knew this spot could be good, so I stood and waited. A succession of New Hollands moved past, as did an Eastern Spinebill and a Yellow-throated Honeyeater. A scolding Brown Thornbill neared, and I had fleeting views of a family of Superb Fairy-wrens, but none close enough for photography. A pair of Grey Fantails caught my eye as they neared, but I would have to say, these are birds that I 'resort' to photographing when there's nothing much happening, so I wasn't that excited. They're fidgety birds, and their erratic behaviour often makes for a difficult subject to photograph in good light, which this wasn't. But I stood still and waited. Oneof the fantails made a couple of close passes, as if to say "I know you're there", and then a series of events that despite having birded for many years, only happens to other people. It landed on the end of my lens, giving me a warm fuzzy feeling, but no photographs!. I thought that was it, which was quite delightful, but no, it repeated this a few more times, appearing to use the end of the lens as a perch from which to spot insects. Briefly the pair flew off, and I was just about to move on, when they both returned, pirouetting on nearby shrubbery long enough to get a few shots. One bird then landed on my hat, did a few 'sorties' before returning. I can only assume that my presence was disturbing insects, probably midges, and I made a good perch, close to the action. But it wasn't quite done yet. It's last hurrah was to land about half way up the lens, and look staringly at me--eyeball to eyeball! A quite unforgettable moment. It was one of those few times in birding when you feel part of the action rather than a mere observer. While all this was happening, I also managed to get a few shots of another sometimes elusive bird to photograph, a Brown Thornbill, appearing to want to be part of the action too. A magic morning.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Seek and Ye Shall Find... ....Flame Robin

Well suggesting that I was seeking is not strictly true. With the prolonged period of rain that SE Tasmania has had, and all the farm dams brimming over, I made a detour on the way home from birding Goat Bluff. My main interest was whether Clear Lagoon, an ephemeral shallow lagoon at Sandford, had any water in. It was full, the first time in many years. If this lagoon holds any water during the summer months, it often hosts good numbers of waders, especially Curlew Sandpipers and Red-necked Stint. This day it held a small number of Chestnut Teal, 2 Black Duck, a few Black Swans and a score of Kelp Gulls. A short walk around the shore, produced about 20 or more Australasian Pipits and a few Eurasian Skylarks. I drove on to nearby Rushy Lagoon, a considerably larger lagoon, which also now held large areas of water. Here there were substantial numbers of Wood Duck and Chestnut Teal. A squabble among some distant Black Swans drew my attention, and while watching them I noted a solitary Black-fronted Plover, a normally fairly common bird around waterway perimeters, but sadly lacking over the past several very dry years. It was while searching for more blackfronts, there were 4 in all, I noticed a small 'orange ball' around 300 metres away in the deep vegetation. Although I couldn't be sure of the ID, I was fairly confident that it was a Flame Robin. Further scanning, produced 5 'orange balls', and a number of other 'plain brown' birds that as they worked their way in ragged line abreast towards me, were patently Flame Robins. I counted 17 birds at any one time, although I'm confident that the flock numbered around 25 or more, quite the biggest flock I've seen for over 20 years.
I decided to attempt to photograph them, but realised that if I got out of my vehicle, they were unlikely to come anywhere near me. I parked along the fence line, reasoning that as they were spread out over a hundred metre wide band as they fed, I might just fluke a shot or two. A brief "dread" when many of them flew into nearby bushes, almost dashed my hopes, but they returned shortly after, and were now nearing me. I eventually scrambled shots of 3 individuals, 2 of them shown here, as they reached the fence line, before crossing the road into another paddock and were lost to my view in dead ground.
After my recent post, I was heartened to find so many Flames. Whether they're normally here, or perhaps the recent weather played a part, I don't know. But I will be making more detours in the next few months! Perhaps the recent rain is responsible for the 'spat' of nesting Masked Plover. I noted 3 pairs with eggs in the Sandford area, a fairly early start.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

A Chance Remark....Crescent Honeyeater

Out birding at Mortimer Bay recently, with a long time friend, and during the wide ranging discussions, I mentioned that I had an observation and question about Crescent Honeyeaters. Well we must have had some telepathic thought process going, as he started the answer without hearing my question! Perhaps I had broached the subject before, but it was in regard to Crescent Honeyeaters breeding, and apparently something that had been mooted during the first Bird Atlas in the early '80s.
On the Eastern Shore of the River Derwent, Crescents are visitors during the cooler months, and commonly seen at that time in gardens and the surrounding bushland. In the main they're absent here in the Summer months, except in a few isolated areas of wetter forest, such as parts of the Meehan Range. However, during last Spring, I had photographed a very juvenile male Crescent (lower left) on Rosny Hill in early September, certainly not a typical area for Crescents to breed. I also recall photographing an apparent pair of this species on Bellerive Bluff a few days earlier, at a spot that they were frequently returning to. Closer examination of those images showed that they were carrying bills full of flying insects, as in the shot of a male at top left. Why I didn't 'twig' that they could be breeding there, I'm not sure, but I probably dismissed it as being outside their normal breeding range. One of the shots (at right) clearly shows a bird carrying a faecal sac-- an 'envelope' containing the faeces of a nestling--a clincher that the pair were breeding close by, possibly among the sheoaks clinging tenuously to the cliff face.
So it appears that a few of the local Crescent Honeyeaters breed here, before both parents and young move (separately) away into the 'normal' Summer quarters. The question then arises, do they subsequently breed in their normal range and is this a relatively new phenomena, or has it just been overlooked previously.

Sunday, June 07, 2009


When you've been around birding for a while, it's easy to fall into the trap of believing you can interpret what birds are doing. The reality of course, is that at best you can make an informed guess, with the benefit of experience. So when watching the local Silver Gulls along the nearby waterfront going through violent gyrations, (without giving it much thought), I assumed this was part of a display. It was only when I decided to try to photograph them 'performing'--a difficult task at best--I realised this was far from the truth.

In fact, it did take a lot of shots and careful examination of the images, to discover what they were up to. They were chasing and catching European Wasps. I should probably have realised this earlier, as I had "accidentally" photographed a gull that enlargement showed was chasing a wasp, at a nearby beach last Summer. But I had dismissed this as a one-off, isolated event. I guess that few birders spend much time closely watching the all too common Silver Gulls, but perhaps we shouldn't dismiss them so quickly. Having 'discovered' what they were up to, I went back and watched their modus operandi.

They,(there was up to 10 birds at a time), sat along the waterline, looking towards the sun, thus giving themselves the best chance of seeing the wasps silhouetted against the sky. Having spotted one, one or more of the gulls would give chase, sometimes, as in the lower image, squabbling over a single insect. What surprised me was the obviously large numbers of wasps involved, but also that the gulls would bother with such small prey sometimes requiring considerable expenditure of energy to catch. Ah well, perhaps it just gave them something to do while waiting to share in the lunch of people parked at the nearby scenic lookout. The Silver Gull joins a list of local species that, thankfully, target European Wasps. They include Yellow and Little Wattlebirds, Noisy Miners and Grey Shrike-thrush. May they have great success! You may need to enlarge the images by clicking on them, to see the wasps.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Decline of Flame Robins

I keep a list of birds that I would like better images of, and high on that list is, and has been for some time, the Flame Robin. In fact, during the last several months, I've only managed to take the rather 'distant' shot (at left) of a Flame, this one an immature male, and it's not for want of looking. I photographed this bird on Goat Bluff, South Arm early in April, a venue that in the past has been a reliable spot for finding at least one, and sometimes, several pairs. I've also dipped out on recording them at several other 'reliable' spots. The lack of Flames contrasts with the relative abundance of the more sedentary, Scarlet Robin. Locally, I know of numerous venues that I can be sure of finding pairs of Scarlets, still in the vicinity of their breeding territories, and they are one of the species that I most often photograph (male Scarlet at lower right). I've even seen many more Pink Robins v Flames during the last year, a decidedly more elusive species.

Looking back through the literature, it's plain to see that there numbers have been significantly decreasing for many years. Michael Sharland, not a person given to exaggeration, wrote in his "Tasmanian Birds"(published after WW2) "very common", and of the Scarlet, "common". Bob Green, in his 1989 revised edition of "Birds of Tasmania", describes the Flame as a "numerous trans-Bass Strait migrant". He also describes the Pink Robin as "uncommon and nomadic". I also note an apparent decline that emerges after comparing the 2 Atlases of Australian Birds, published in 1984 and 2003. Perhaps they should all be compared to John Gould's comment, in his 1849 "Birds of Australia", when describing the Flame Robin as very common in Tasmania, goes on to say " I have even taken its nest from a shelving bank in the streets of Hobart Town". Those were the days!

Although my lack of sightings of Flame Robins may just be 'one of those things', I'd be interested in other perspectives on their apparently declining numbers.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Recent Sightings

For those who missed out on the Australian Crakes at Gould's Lagoon last summer, it's time to try again. I doubt that these crakes ever leave the area, but with the low water level at the moment, they're probably forced more into the open. I photographed the one at left from the roadway, at the point where the suburban road meets the main thoroughfare. You may have to be patient, and I would suggest that fairly early morning is your best bet. They seem to prefer the wet mud and usually keep to the shadowed areas where possible.
Noted and photographed a single Double-banded Plover at Pipeclay Lagoon this morning (at left), a recent arrival from New Zealand. No doubt the first of many that will spend the cooler months around Tasmania and the east coast of the Mainland, before returning to breed in NZ. It was keeping company with a loose flock of around 20 Red-capped Plover.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Friday 13th.....Lucky For Some

I received an email mid week, telling me that the sender had photographed 10 different species of bird at the Peter Murrell Reserve at Kingston, and all that in a few hours. Having not visited this reserve in several months, it was tempting, but I know only too well, that trying to emulate someone else's experiences, is almost always fraught. However, Friday morning was one out of the box, with very light winds and a fine forecast, and, from my experience, an ideal day for a visit to this reserve. It proved a great choice, despite the date!
I arrived early, and with an air temperature still in single digits, and lightly overcast, realised that I was going to be "under dressed" for the first hour or so. But there was an upside to the temperature, as a number of birds were using the fence line to hunt from. The first bird that I noted was an adult Swamp Harrier, making forays to catch insects from a distant fence post. Nearer, were families of Welcome Swallows, also pouncing on still grounded insects. I stopped to take numerous shots of both adults and juveniles, both seemingly reluctant to move from their vantage point. Further along the fence wires, were numerous young Dusky Woodswallows, also waiting for a feed from their parents, although obviously quite capable of catching insects for themselves.
A familiar call caught my attention, as a family of White-fronted Chats flew over, not a species that I expected to see here, but they're great nomads, and were probably in transit! Disturbing some Green Rosellas feeding in a nearby shrub, their alarm call in turn flushed 2 Blue-winged Parrots, feeding in among the dry grass. Rarely managing to photograph these parrots, I set off in pursuit. As often happens, this proved fairly pointless. I would hear their tinkling calls coming from a nearby shrub or tree, but their colouring made them almost invisible, and I only saw them after flushing them. I gave up. The "chase" was not entirely wasted though, as I recorded New Holland Honeyeaters, Silvereyes, Brown and Yellow-rumped Thornbills, Superb Fairywrens, Scarlet Robins, Australasian Pipits, Tree Martins, Grey Shrike Thrush, Grey Fantails, and numerous families of Goldfinches. It was, as the email had implied, really 'humming".
After abandoning the bluewing chase, I walked into the nearby lightly forested areas, around the presently dry creek line, looking for the Forty-spotted Pardalotes that I usually see at this spot. I could hear a small group of Spotted Pardalotes, and I had already seen a few Striated, all in the tree canopy, but it took a while to find the Fortyspots. I finally found them, but at this juncture, I was faced with a dilemma. The bluewings re-appeared, and quite close by. The fortyspots were nearly close enough to get a few shots, do I leave them and try for the bluewings? The bluewings won. I reasoned that the fortyspots are here virtually all the time, the parrots only briefly. I managed several shots of the bluewings, and had the bonus of photographing an adult Pallid Cuckoo in the same thorn bush. The latter being dive bombed by Welcome Swallows and Dusky Woodswallows. I still managed to 'scramble' a few shots of the, by now, parting fortyspots, as well as a juvenile Fantailed Cuckoo.
By mid morning I had had my 'fill', and wandered back along the fence line, now devoid of birds. Back past the second pond, now sporting a flock of Wood Duck, but I still had one "photo opp" to come. As I neared the upper pond, a flock of around 30 Masked Lapwing took to the air, calling raucously. I guessed they'd spotted a raptor, which indeed they had, a juvenile Swamp Harrier. Unlike the adults, juvenile Swamp Harriers are dark brown, looking almost black at a distance, and I watched this one as it neared. I'd hoped it would quarter the area along a nearby ditch line, and for a change I guessed correctly. It passed probably 50 metres away, and I managed a few shots before it was obscured by nearby trees. A great way to end a memorable morning. The above are a small selection of the many images that I took. I only wish you could have been there!