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.


Duncan said...

Super shots Alan, the first is a ripper.

BirdingTas said...

Thanks Duncan,
It proved quite difficult to decide which shots to put on the blog, as many were shot against the sky, always the most difficult situation to get acceptable results. Just being there was enough, the images are a bonus!

Mosura said...

You seem to have a knack for finding great birds. Fantastic shots!

BirdingTas said...

Hi Mosura,
Thanks for the vote of confidence, I only wish I really did have the knack.I also have trips where nothing seems to go right, and you learn to sense when it just isn't going to happen. But if you're out there often enough, I guess your chances are increased. I realise too that although I've been a birder for many years, I've missed so much by not taking the time to really observe. If you want to get photographs, you really do have to closely watch birds.

Penny said...

Great clear shots Alan. I find a cloudy sky like the one you were experiencing can be really good for highlighting colours & detail - nature's own form of 'sharpening' an image.- that is provided one can nut out exposure compensation in time.
I saw my first Shining bronze cuckoo this week at the Peter Murrell Reserve, conditions were gloomy, and the bird was certainly more wary than your subject!

Denis Wilson said...

Hi Alan
Stunning images. Loved your "plus fours" comment.
You are right about the need for persistence. I waited half an hour for a pair of Kingfishers to return to a nest-hollow this week. When one bird eventually returned, I missed the shot (damned auto-focus setting) and gave up. I will go back again soon.
I find Orchids easier, as at least they are not camera shy.

mick said...

This is the second post in a row that you have been in the right place at the right time! More than just luck I think! Great photos of the cuckoo. I loved the 'plus fours' which can be clearly seen in your photo.

BirdingTas said...

Hi Penny,
I totally agree with your comments about overcast days--providing they're "bright". Sunny days can cause distractive shadows being cast, and this particular day was cloudy with occasional breaks. It's bad enough having to react to photo. ops that birds present, without having to alter camera compensation settings. How many times have I, on seeing the results said "if only". I think we've all been there!

BirdingTas said...

Thanks for your comments Denis. I sympathise with your "kingfisher episode", but I know exactly how you felt. Auto focus is a great utility, but it has let me down at critical times.I've also been guilty on a number of occasions in not checking camera settings in the belief that they should be still as I left them. I must be a slow learner!

BirdingTas said...

Hi Mick,
I would like to tell you I have a magic formula for photographing birds, but it has been just luck. You just don't get to see or hear about the times that nothing seems to work. The birds know you're there and sometimes tolerate you, but more often don't!

Mosura said...

Speaking of getting lucky, by amazing coincidence, I was up the back this morning and had two Shining Bronze Cuckoos land right in front of me. They were much smaller than I imagined. This was the first I've ever seen one (or two). The down side was that my camera was in sleep mode and by the time it woke up the birds had flown off. It also brought my life list to 300 which sounds not too bad until you consider that it spans 2 countries :-)

BirdingTas said...

Hi Mosura,
I find bronze-cuckoos in particular, pretty skittish, and rarely give you a second chance, but at least you got another tick! As you say, they are pretty small, next size up from thornbills, and much smaller than our other cuckoos.
I used to keep tabs on my life list, and I've birded in numerous countries, but still lack many Australian species. Must sit down one day and see if I can make a list, should run into a few thousand. I've still got my annotated field guides.

frogpondsrock said...

Hi I have just discovered your blog. Yay!!! I saw a pair of butcher birds the other day. I was really pleased because I generally only hear them or occasionally just see one..
The black faced cuckoo shrikes have just returned.
Unfortunately my camera is only a little point and shoot So my bird shots are generally blurry brown and green images.
I am in the southern midlands, So I am especially pleased to have found you.. cheers Kim

freefalling said...

Wow - I never knew such a creature existed!
He's beautiful!

BirdingTas said...

Hi Kim,
Thanks for visiting and bothering to comment. It's a great time of year for birding, although the weather isn't always co-operative! I started out with a point and shoot camera too, so don't despair. Hope you'll pay a return visit.

BirdingTas said...

Hi "freefalling",
I think that your reaction to the photographs is the best yet! Most people never get to see the real beauty of many of our birds, and that includes birders too. I would like to think that photography is a way of making people more appreciative of our wild birds.

Dave said...

Hey, just wanted to say thanks for putting up a such a great site. My father-in-law and I just identified a Shining Bronze in our backyard thanks to your wonderful pictures. And we saw a Fan-tailed a few days ago perched on our electricity line right outside the house, got some great video of that one. We live just outside Cygnet

Keep up the good work!