Saturday, February 25, 2012

Shag Bay Bluewings & more

A passing remark by my son, an occasional, but experienced birder, about seeing "bluewings and firetails" at Shag Bay, inspired me to visit this spot at the next opportunity. So a few days ago, on a clear but initially cool morning and not long after sunrise, I set forth. The walking track starts on the northern side of Gielston Bay (on Hobart's eastern shore) and meets the East Risdon Nature Reserve at Shag Bay. It's many years since I walked this area, but I set forth with some expectation following my son's comments.
The lightly wooded area around the entrance soon produced flocks of 'tanging" Silvereyes, family groups of Black-headed Honeyeaters in the outer branches of the eucalypts, the strident calls of Yellow-throated Honeyeaters, and the less welcome sounds of a family of 5 Grey Currawong tearing bark off trees in their search for insects. As the trees thinned out and still within cooee of the entrance, I flushed a group of 5 or so Blue-wing Parrots, that I had failed to see on the track. Elated in finding them so soon, I followed them up the hillside, closed on one, but again failed to see the rest only a few metres away and again flushed them. Happy that I'd seen them I rejoined the track and walked on.
On leaving the light woodland, the track diverges from  the coast and crosses an open expanse of, at present dry, grassland, with the occasional eucalypt, including dead ones, thickets of acacia, and along the coastline, many she-oaks. An immature Yellow Wattlebird feeding in a distant tree soon caught my attention and as I stopped to watch, a covey of 5 Brown Quail burst out of the nearby grass, I followed them with my bin's until they disappeared back into the grass. A solitary Australasian Pipit hopped along the mown areas adjacent to the track and for a brief moment I thought I might have a photo opp., but no, it was off and away.
I decided to try the coastal strip and left the track in the hope of finding the aforementioned firetails and almost immediately spotted a lone bluewing, sunning itself in the warmth of the early sun, atop a dead branch. As I neared it, I found a group, usually referred to as a cluster, of young Dusky Woodswallows, also sunning and preening themselves while they waited to be fed by their hard worked parents. This clustering is a well known phenomenon, although the reason for it is debated, and I have seen and photographed this on many occasions. This group of only 6 birds, is small and I have seen groups of 18 youngsters huddled together. I moved on, closing the sunning bluewing, taking a few distant shots on the way. A few steps more and I flushed another covey of Brown Quail, only 3 this time, but it also flushed what I had assumed to be a lone bluewing, revealing that there were in fact 7. I watched them alight in a nearby tree and occasionally drop into the grass to feed, but they were understandably wary and I enjoyed just watching them go about their business.
Moving into the coastal strip above Shag Bay, I observed a Little Pied Cormorant fishing in the bay below and above it, in a tall eucalypt, a watchful White-breastd Sea Eagle.Once in among the scrub, while watching passing pairs of feeding Spotted Pardalote, I heard the mournful double 'contact' notes of a Dusky Robin. I followed the sound and found a family group of duskies. They gave me a brief chance at photographing them  before moving on. Like many bush birds at the moment, they weren't at their best, being in various stages of moult, but worthy of a shot or two nonetheless.
Returning briskly along the track, I occasionally stopped to watch bluewings, some passing overhead "zitting", others atop dead trees, ever watchful. Something "stirred" the bluewings at one stage, and I counted a total of 22 birds rapidly wheeling in a single flock, quite a sight. A single Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike made low forays for insects close to the track and an immature Grey Butcherbird caused some panic to another family of Dusky Robins, and they took refuge in an acacia thicket. I walked over to the thicket, spotting the robins within, but was surprised to see that 3 bluewings were roosting inside. I left them in peace. Nearing the end of the track, I noticed the group of parrots that I'd seen early into my walk were back feeding trackside. I suspect that seed, their main food source, is blown or 'gravitates' down the hillside and collects on the track at this spot--sure beats 'trolling' among the grass! I slowly closed on them taking a few shots as I did, before they spotted me and flushed into the trackside shrubbery. In the last few metres, I added Green Rosella, New Holland Honeyeater, a stray Crescent Honeyeater and Brown Thornbill to the morning's list. Alas no firetails, but a pleasant morning's birding, and a note to revisit soon.


Carole M. said...

a delightful post and beautiful captures

BirdingTas said...

Thanks Carole for your kind words. I only wish I could fully convey the enjoyment that I get on such a walk, and thank goodness I have a few images to make up for my limited prose!

Mick Brown said...

No need to apologise for your prose Alan:-). The last shot of the bluewings is great - it really was a very successful stroll!

John Tongue said...

Hi Alan,
Great spot and great shots! Must try to get back there soon. Trying for 40spot pics on Wed, at Peter Murrell.

BirdingTas said...

Hi Mick,
I'm only too aware of my limitations, so thank you for your positive comments. I probably should carry a recorder around with me, because I can often find the right words at the moment of the "action", but seldom afterwards. First and foremost, I'm a birder, the photographs hopefully add a dimension that I can't convey in the writing. The photography is often the easy part! The "stroll" took me nearly 3 hours.

BirdingTas said...

Hi John,
With any luck you'll probably see Bluewings at the Peter Murrell. They often seem to feed in the paddock to the west of the reserve, roosting in the trees along the riding track. Sadly, every time I go there more "development" seems to have taken place along that side. Thank you for your comments.