Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Season's Greetings

  Wishing all a great time over the Christmas New Year and above all, stay safe.
   I'll couple the wishes with a New Year's resolution to publish more articles!

  The accompanying photograph of a pair of courting Crested Terns ( should now call them, Greater Crested Terns!), was taken a few weeks back on the shores of the River Derwent. No doubt they are now off breeding.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Heavy Lifting......Grey Butcherbird

 On my frequent birding outings to the South Arm peninsula, I often make a detour round the Lauderdale Canal. In the summer months there's little here except the large numbers of domestic ducks that have either escaped from their owners, or just dumped. But occasionally, there's a couple of Pelicans or the flock of Little Black Cormorants that "fly in-fly out" looking for a feed. During the autumn and winter, there's an increase in ducks with Chestnut Teal (and the odd Grey), Black Ducks ("real ones", not the "mongrel" Black x Mallards and heaven knows what else, that's have reached epidemic proportions) and even the odd Hardhead, and feeding on the margins Pied Oystercatchers. My interest on this morning was a Great Egret that I had seen feeding in the waterway a few days earlier.
           As I neared the eastern end of the canal, I noticed a movement out of the corner of my eye, which before losing sight of it, I identified as a Grey Butcherbird apparently feeding on a 'corpse'. I reversed to have a closer look and thought this might have some photographic possibilities, although it was heavily overcast. The Butcherbird seemed quite comfortable with my presence, provided I stayed in the vehicle. The 'corpse' proved to be a female Blackbird, probably a recent road casualty, and I looked forward to getting a few shots of the Butcherbird feeding.
       That didn't happen. Over the next 20 minutes or so, the Butcherbird moved the body nearly 20 metres and into the thick scrub. The recently dead Blackbird would weigh around 80 grams or so, and the Butcherbird not much more, so it was quite some feat. As you can see in the lower photo, it didn't drag the corpse, but lifted it and walked forward, which was obviously an awkward way to go about it, but it eventually managed to secrete it in the scrub. Whether this is normal behaviour or not I don't know, but the Butcherbird gets its' name from the practice of some of its' relatives, hanging up their prey on thorns on suitable shrubs.
          Meanwhile, a few hundred metres away.....Great Egret

   As you may see by the accompanying images, I caught up with the Great Egret too. I had managed a few shots on an earlier visit, but the bird was clearly 'nervous' and I was reluctant to "push" too hard for fear of the egret departing. On my second visit this egret had perhaps become used to the passing locals and allowed a quite close approach. On my first visit, with the water level much higher, I had felt almost sorry for it. It had to wade out into the deeper water to catch prey, and almost completely submerged its' entire body to do so. Fishing only a metre in front of it were 2 Little Black Cormorants, catching small fish on almost every dive and a White-faced Heron, only half the size of the egret, content to pick prey off the water surface.
      In the lower image you may just be able to see the small fish that it has in its' bill, which reminded me of watching Great Egrets in the United States fishing in the backwater of a river where the water was receding fast after a flood. They and a Belted Kingfisher were feasting on the fish floundering in the shallow water. Incredible how many fish they managed to consume in a short time.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

"E-Day" at Gould's Lagoon....Great Egret

A recent mention of several Great Egrets at Gould's Lagoon reminded me of a similar incident I had witnessed there in January. Great Egrets are normally considered winter visitors to Tasmania, usually in quite small numbers. I suspect that the same ideal breeding conditions on the Mainland, of a few years ago, that caused the sightings of so many 'rare' ducks in Tasmania and especially so at this lagoon, also proved beneficial to  these egrets.
    I usually arrive at this lagoon with some expectation of an interesting sighting, but after the excitement of so many rarities last year, which included Pink-eared and Freckled Ducks and Baillon's Crake, I was not that optimistic on this occasion. A quick scan of the lagoon from the road showed there were few duck, save for several Australasian Shoveler and a single Freckled Duck. A solitary Australian Crake scuttled away into the reeds, Usually considered a good sighting, it's become almost commonplace here recently, and I rarely pay a visit without seeing one or more. Lastly I looked at the trees on the far side of the lagoon, that often houses roosting cormorants, sighting 40 or so Little Black Cormorants together with a few Great and Little Pied Cormorants, and at the very tops there were at least 10 Great Egrets. It warranted a closer inspection.
  From the hide walkway I counted 14 Great Egrets, a high number for this lagoon, scattered among the tops of the eucalypts. There's often one or two egrets here, particularly during the winter, as there are in the nearby bays and marshes of the Derwent River. I suspect that the very high tides at the time, had forced them to this roost site.
  I decided on a closer inspection, stopping briefly to photograph the Australian Crake that usually hangs out around, and occasionally under, the walkway. I took several shots of the egret roost (top left), but they were clearly very nervous of my presence so I retreated back to the hide.
            A few minutes later the entire roost took flight when two walkers passed underneath the roost. The cormorants flew off, but the egrets scattered around the lagoons on both sides of the main road. From the roadway I watched those on the main lagoon for the next 30 minutes or so. Roosting sites were obviously at a premium, as the image of the two in flight show, as they jockey for position on top of a defunct nest box. Another individual picked up a large stick, carrying it around and later flying off with it. I'm not sure why, although it's easy to make assumptions.
Having had my fill of photographing and watching those egrets on the main lagoon, I wandered over to the other smaller lagoon, where 5 had alighted. They were clearly uneasy, but the presence of a White-faced Heron feeding along the water's edge, unfazed by me, seemed to calm them down. All was well until an empty log train passed by, causing all the egrets to take flight, flying around until it had long passed. The heron continued feeding oblivious to the train and the panicked egrets. They finally alighted in a group as shown in the lower shot. Not wishing to add further to their nervousness, I left. An enjoyable, and at least in Tasmania, an unusual event.


Friday, February 21, 2014

Feisty Flycatchers,,,,,, "Satins"

  The rasping call of the Satin Flycatcher, resonating through woodland and forest is, for me, one of  the most anticipated birding events of every spring. "Satins" are one of the last of the summer migrants to arrive in Tasmania and among the first to leave. Being almost exclusively insect eaters and given the unpredictability of our summers, especially so this year, that's probably a wise move.            
     Although they can be very vocal and their calls may be heard a kilometre or more away on a still day, they can be surprisingly difficult to locate. Largely occupying the tree canopy and being only around 170mm in length doesn't help and males often call and move and call and move, making it a somewhat fraught business. They are of course proclaiming their territory, and several pairs may occupy adjacent areas, and occasionally disputes break out between males. Mostly this is just a verbal joust, with crest raising and the characteristic tail vibrating and occasionally  followed by chasing. So I feel fortunate to occasionally manage a close encounter with these birds and the accompanying images are the result of one of these occasions.
         I stood at the top of a small shallow valley, a favourite spot of mine, giving views into the canopy of the small peppermints. Almost immediately two male Satin Flycatchers shot past, one either side of me no more than a few centimetres away. One returned quickly (in triumph?) and perched just behind and above me. I didn't need to turn and confirm the ID, the vibrating tail apparent in the cast shadow said it all.
         For the next 40 minutes or so, I watched the antics of one, sometimes two, family groups of "satins" as they went about the business of catching insects to feed their offspring. The most surprising events were their fearless defence of the young. I watched as Grey Shrike-thrush and Yellow-throated Honeyeaters were seen off, both of these species themselves, quite pugnacious. Others seen off included Black-faced Cuckoo-shrikes, a Fan-tailed Cuckoo, Black-headed Honeyeaters and Dusky Robins. The male "satin" (below) with an evil look in his eye, (if only looks could kill!) ambushed a shrike-thrush, physically attacking it and chasing it high into the top of a dead gum over 100 metres away.
      But this pales compared to the combined efforts by two males, who took on an juvenile Grey Currawong. Unseen by the "satins", an adult and juvenile currawong had landed in the Native Cherry alongside me and all was well until the juvenile flew down to pick up a "cherry". It was instantly spotted and a spirited attack by two males ensued, which included landing on the unfortunate bird and pecking it vigorously. The young currawong seemed nonplussed by the event and just allowed the attack to continue before beating a retreat pursued by the males. The adult currawong wisely stayed concealed in the dense foliage of the cherry and flew off when it appeared safe to do so!
        In between seeing off the interlopers, I watched both males and females catching insects, mostly in mid-air, but occasionally from the woodland floor. The male pictured above with an insect (love to know what insect) at one point dropped it, and the flycatcher showed great agility in recapturing it before it had fallen a metre. Only one bird managed to avoid being seen off, a Shining Bronze-Cuckoo. The flycatcher had passed within a metre or so of it several times without event. Although the cuckoo was only about 20 metres away and straight in front of me, I had failed to notice it until it briefly moved to pluck a hairy caterpillar from a nearby leaf. Perhaps its' cryptic colouring kept it 'safe', or perhaps the flycatcher didn't see it as a threat.
         Watching from close quarters these highly animated flycatchers going about their business was an experience up there with the best. What a privilege! 
         On and off during the last few months I have followed the several pairs that occupy Pilcher's Hill Reserve at Gielston Bay on Hobart's Eastern Shore. My visits have made me painfully aware just how little I know about these flycatchers, and as always, every piece of information gathered leads to even more questions. I had, for example never seen a juvenile (image at right) and didn't realise how rapidly they moult through the various plumage states (I'm still not sure I fully understand this). Do some males arrive in immature plumage--basically the same as female plumage (top left)--and change during the summer to full male state? I photographed two males that were still showing remnants of immature plumage in early January.
       Satin Flycatchers are found widely in the taller, often wetter, eucalypt forests and my impression is that they have increased in numbers over the past several years. My reason for thinking this is that, at least in the south-east, they now occupy areas not previously used, such as more open and drier woodland with only modestly tall trees. Such impressions can be misleading as I've noted this year that I've seen many more Flame Robins and an apparent "crash" in Scarlet Robin numbers. Swings and roundabouts? Time will tell.
    Around the Hobart area "Satins" may be found (or at least heard!) in most of the reserves, such as the Waterworks Reserve, lower areas of Mtn. Wellington Park, Risdon Brook Park and the Meehan Range and other areas of similar habitat.