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.