Thursday, November 30, 2006

Chauncy Vale

After reading a recent newspaper article about the Chauncy Vale Reserve having been enlarged, I thought a visit might be in order. I hadn't visited this reserve in over 10 years, but recalled seeing such species as Peregrine Falcon and Bassian Thrush there, to name only two. This reserve is situated in Bagdad (the Tasmanian one!), and is accessed down the lane by the sandstone church in the centre of the township. My first impressions were that, like so much of the state, it was extremely dry and the bush looked 'distressed'. Certainly not the fairly lush surrounding of my last visit. So the sign at the last gate saying "No Smoking", shouldn't have brought a wry smile to my face!. Actually I had the thought that maybe it should have added "Turn Off Mobile Phones"--now there's a thought. In the event I had the reserve to myself. I kept mainly to the track along the near dry creek bed, but did climb the hill to Guvy's Lagoon--unfortunately bone dry, but the presence of a male Flame Robin hawking over the area, calling Satin Flycatchers , Shining Bronze Cuckoos and scolding thornbills, made up for that. On my return to the valley floor, I was greeted by the calling of a number of Olive Whistlers, the predominant whistler in this area. I've been trying for sometime to get shots of this species, and although I've seen a good few, this proved to be the first time I've actually got to photograph one. They do seem to call mostly from within dense shrubbery. Fortunately, this one (top right) spent a while in a mainly open, old, lichen covered acacia area with young gums growing through it, giving me at least a show of photographing it. Predictably, it wasn't long before it disappeared back into the dense cover along the creek line. After spending some time on the Whistler, I crossed the creek and walked back towards the entrance, passing largely stagnant pools. Stagnant or not, the presence of water attracted several species, including family groups of Strong-billed Honeyeaters and 5 or 6 male Satin Flycatchers. Farther downstream were family groups of Scarlet, Flame and Dusky Robins, several very territorial Yellow-throated Honeyeaters and numerous Green Rosellas. A satisfying walk, although I had only seen a small part of the reserve, but it had whetted my appetite for another visit, soon. As I drove out, there were at least 4 Pallid Cuckoos hawking from the power line. I say hawking , but they were actually pouncing on insects on the ground. At one stage I noticed a Richard's Pipit give a "shivering" wing display, apparently aimed at one of the Pallids. I'm not aware that they are parisitized by Pallids, but I really don't know. I suspect that their hawklike appearance was just too much for the Pipit. Nearer the main road, in very dry bare paddocks and on the roadway, were numerous Richard's Pipits, many of them juveniles, one of which I photographed as shown at left. All in all well worth a visit. [By the way, there is a $2 a head entrance fee by way of an honesty box at the gate.]

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Latest Pelagic Trip

Bill & Els write: Sunday's pelagic trip off Marion Bay produced only 3 species of albatross, which was disappointing. They were c70 Shy Albatross (image at right), 3 nominate Black-browed and 2 Wandering Albatross. Fairy Prions were around in small numbers most of the day, though not close enough for any great shots. One Long-tailed Jaeger and 3 Arctic Jaegers, 3 Southern Giant Petrel, 1 Great-winged Petrel, 3 White-chinned Petrel, 4 or 5 Grey-backed Storm Petrel, 5 or 6 Wilson's Storm Petrel (image at left), 1 White-headed Petrel, 5 Sooty Shearwater, 1000s of Short-tailed Shearwater, 2 Fairy Penguins. Miracle of miracles, no one was 'crook' despite the rather 'uneven' surface of the water!

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Masked Owl--Truganini Reserve

I was sitting in front of my PC first thing this morning, contemplating where I might go birding, even in the light rain and overcast conditions, when I received an e-mail from Bill & Els. The gist of the message was that a Masked Owl had been found by Kerry Williams, a visiting birder from Adelaide, in the Truganini Reserve at Taroona. So the decision where to go was made for me! Off to Taroona. I had directions from the e-mail, although it didn't mention how far in to go, and for some reason I expected it to be close to the entrance! After I'd walked a kilometre or so, I was beginning to have doubts whether I'd find the Owl, however I soon found the marker, but no Owl. Fortunately another early morning walker arrived and after a general discussion on birds, turned, pointed, and then asked me what the large bird up there was. Obviously someone with far superior eyesight to mine, for there, as you will have guessed, was the Owl, some distance, but still in the general vicinity of where Bill had seen it.
I've never been very satisfied by photographs I've taken of Owls, perhaps, in part, it's the fact that they've usually asleep, and there is only so many ways to photograph them. This Masked Owl was no
different, and the difficulty was to find a way to take shots without too much vegetation getting in the way. At one stage it was very much awake and started to stretch its' wings, as you can see in the lower image, but this action only alarmed me as I thought it might be the precursor to taking flight. It also spent a deal of time preening, delicately passing feathers through its bill, as it straightened them. Despite our presence it finally went back to a rather fidgety sleep, puffing itself up to preserve warmth. Shortly after leaving another birder approached, Ron Spencer, who I'd spoken to on the phone several times, but never met in person. The grapevine was working well!
I've omitted giving precise directions to where the bird's roosting, but if anyone requires information on where these shots were taken, you're welcome to contact me at the e-mail address. Thanks once again to Bill & Els for the timely information.

Friday, November 24, 2006

South Arm Odds and Ends

I had a call from Bill Wakefield recently, telling me about a sighting of an unidentified wader near the mouth of the Clarence Plains Rivulet at Rokeby. The consensus was that it was probably a Common Sandpiper, a less than 'common' wader in Tasmania. Since then I've made a number of visits of short duration to the site with nil results. Of course it could be anywhere along this rocky coastline, from the rivulet to Howrah. In the past Common Sandpipers were regularly seen on the rocks at Bellerive Bluff, but with increased disturbance, that is not likely these days. At the rivulet there is often a roost of Pied and Sooty Oystercatchers, Pacific and Kelp Gulls, and occasionally White-faced Herons. They're somewhat inured to human disturbance--the road is only a few metres away-- and the birds are often very approachable. The White-faced Heron (at top), flew over me as I approached, and landed a short way up the beach, returning as I left. With increasing cloud cover and the threat of rain ( which rarely seems to eventuate these days), I moved on to Pipeclay Lagoon. While watching a pair of Pied Oystercatchers with 2 well grown young hurriedly moving them into a nearby paddock, I heard the unmistakable call of Fairy Terns. On further investigation I found the 2 birds at right, presumably a pair, fishing in the lagoon. These terns are occaisonally seen here, but usually later in the Summer, post breeding. Strangely, I couldn't find the usual flock of waders (Curlew Sandpiper and Red-necked Stint), but with recent very high tides, they may be roosting on the dry bed of nearby Calvert's Lagoon.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Summer Stunner--Satin Flycatcher

It was with some trepidation that I ventured back into the Meehan Range, the first time since the fires. One of my goals was to see whether the breeding habitat of one of the most stunning of Summer migrants, the Satin Flycatcher, had survived the fires. As I trundled up the track, I could see the mosaic of burnt areas and recall the birds that until recently, occupied them. I think the biggest losers were probably the Tasmanian Scrubwrens, that always seem to have a tenuous hold here at the best of times, surviving as they do, in the depths of the thickets in the creek gully, much of it now gone. On the brighter side, I counted no less than 7 pairs of Scarlet Robins, with males busily singing, as I walked the kilometre or so to the area usually frequented by the Satin Flycatchers.
As I arrived at my destination, I flushed a pair of Kookaburras. I can't say that they're my favourite bird in this habitat, being all too deadly on small birds, as I've witnessed on many occasions. After they had departed, I
saw a succession of small birds, including, Silvereyes, Brown Thornbills, Grey Fantails, Superb Fairy Wrens, Dusky and Scarlet Robins. Overhead the entire time I was there, rather like an all seeing surveillance drone, I could hear and sometimes see a Swamp Harrier. A succession of honeyeaters kept me interested, Strong-billed and Black-headed, a pair of Eastern Spinebills, and a solitary Yellowthroated. At last, in the distance I could see a male Satin Flycatcher. It was slowly approaching, feeding on the odd flying insect as it did. It then stopped and called. This is when all the action took place! Another male, having approached unseen by me, responded. Both now had a "verbal" duel. Their rasping calls, brought the females into view. Obviously the 2 pairs must have a common territorial boundary about where I was standing, because shortly, there was a brief, but spirited fight between the males, before they both retreated back into their own domains. I had chosen my spot well, apparently, because during this exchange, I managed to get a few shots of one of the males, pictured. I never think that any photograph really does them justice. The depth of colour and the way that it changes as they move, is difficult, if not impossible, to convey. But I was releived to see they were back and in a relatively unburnt area. I no doubt will return to try again to photograph them during the Summer.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

The Long Wait--Scrubtit

I've seen a good few Scrubtits over the years, but I have to confess that I've rarely spent much time actually watching them going about their business. Having photographed all the other Tasmanian endemics, I set about trying for the Scrubtit. Scrubtits spend much of their time on the vertical sides of moss and lichen covered trees, in deep shade rarely suitable for photography. The habitat is temperate rain forest, with scattered trees ferns. It's damp and dingy. I spent a good number of hours and made several trips to get even the shots you see here. It was interesting to watch Tasmanian Thornbills, Tasmanian Scrubwrens and Scrubtits as they fed around me, in a relatively clear area that I thought had some likeliehood of producing results. All 3 fed at different levels often in close proximity of one another. The Scrubwrens fed largely on the floor of the forest, often among fallen and rotting vegetation. The Thornbills were leaf gleaning and the Scrubtits were, as mentioned, feediing on insects among the moss and lichens on the trunks of trees.
All three species were surprisingly tolerant of my presence, although I was in deep shade and reasonably camouflaged. The Scrubwrens and Thornbills came within a metre or less of me, but I wasn't so lucky with the Scrubtits! On several occasions all 3 species quite suddenly and quietly vanished, and it took me some time to work out why. While looking around I realised I was being watched! From behind the trunk of a tree, I noticed the unmistakeable head of a Black Currawong eyeing me off, then taking flight as I moved. Several Currawongs had been calling from high in the tree canopy, but had silently descended. From these interactions, I suspect that the young of these three small species, may form part of the Currrawongs diet at this time of year. Few other birds were utilising this habitat, only the occasional Pink Robin and overhead, small groups of Strong-billed Honeyeaters, noisily pulling bark off as they searched for insects. Despite the long vigils, I count myself fortunate to have spent that time almost exclusively among Tasmanian endemic birds.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Welcome Swallows in Tasmania

In reply to a question I posed in "Always Welcome" about how common Welcome Swallows were prior to European settlement, Tas. Boskell has researched the subject and replies: As Welcome Swallows were in Australia when Europeans arrived and as structures built by the Aboriginal population would be unlikely nest sites , we must assume the swallows used natural features. John Gould, most probably using information from early naturalists such as George Caley, as well as his own observations, states in his Handbook that the "natural" nest sites of the swallow were in "deep clefts of rock and dark caverns", but began using human structures when the opportunity arose. Littler in his 1910 Handbook of the Birds of Tasmania, includes in his list of nest sites, "the side of a cave, inside of a hollow tree". Louisa Meredith writing in the 1850s, records swallows nesting in farm buildings and also the granite areas of Schouten Island.
It seems clear that swallows did not depend on humans for their nesting sites. However, did the settlements in Tasmania influence the number of Welcome Swallows?
Furneaux in March 1773, Cook in January 1777, and Bligh in February 1792, all visited Adventure Bay on Bruny Island, but Welcome Swallows were not collected or reported. It would be strange indeed if swallows had been present, that they would not have been noticed by members of his party and been reminded of the 'English' Swallow.
The French Expedition under D'Entrecasteaux made its second passage through D'Entrecasteaux Channel in January and February 1793, but there are no records of the swallow. Baudin's Expedition in January and March 1802, not only spent time in the Channel Area, but also visited Maria Island and some islands at either end of Bass Strait. The only record of a swallow is in Baudin's Journal--"a type of swallow which perches in trees". Viellot, (1817) who examined some of the specimens collected on the voyage, describes the Tree Martin which could be the bird referred to by Baudin. As the specimens collected by D'Entrecasteaux were mostly lost and those from Baudin's expedition studied and kept in a disorganised manner, it is possible the Welcome Swallow was among those collected but later lost.
Bass and Flinders visited the Tamar and Derwent Rivers during their October to December circumnavigation of Tasmania in 1798, but there is no mention of swallows amomg the birds they noted for those areas.
As for settler records, the earliest is from G. Hobbler who records swallows about the river near his home at Kilafaddy in late August 1829. In 1834 he records them nesting under his verandah. R.C. Gunn in correspodence with Dr.J. Grant, discusses the classification of the Welcome Swallow and Gunn says a pair nested on the back porch of his Launceston home for six consecutive years--1831 to 1837. T.J. Lempriere records them at Port Arthur in September 1842. According to records compiled by N.J.B. Plomley, the Tasmanian Aborigines in 3 localities of the East Coast, had seperate names for the "swallow". However, the reliability of this information, dating from the 1830s, is questionable due to language and history interpretation issues.
Apart from game (food) birds, information on bird species for the period 1803 to 1835 is very scarce. Specimens and records were generally sent to English authorities for classification. As Gould is credited with officially naming the species in 1842, it seems no credible description or specimen reached Europe before that time.
More information from the time before 1830 is needed before we can be sure about how European settlement affected the numbers of Welcome Swallows, but it is nice to think they actually increased, because they are one of the few species which, in the main, had the goodwill of humans.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

More Images from the Orford Spit

As I looked through the many shots I had taken at Orford of the protected beach area, I couldn't help pondering whether this scene couldn't be repeated in other areas around the state. With minimal protection and the goodwill of the local community, a very small area of beach can be so productive from a birding perspective. On this small spit were breeding Pied Oystercatchers, Hooded and Redcapped Plovers and Fairy Terns. It also hosted a roost of around 30 Red-necked Stint. If only...

Photos. show some of the inhabitants: from top: Fairy Tern, Red-necked Stints and a Hooded Plover and Pied Oystercatcher.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

With a Little Bit of Help

Well, with a great deal of help really! On Friday, I set out for a mornings photography in the Wielangta Forest, but increasing cloud and smoke haze saw me driving up the forest road to Orford. Quite by chance, I came upon a couple of Birds Tasmania volunteers, doing a survey of the Fairy Tern colony at the mouth of the river. Birds Tasmania and Coastcare, with some assistance from Parks, have fenced off and look after an area that has something of the order of a dozen pairs of Fairy Terns nesting. Mostly at the moment they have small runners, as seen in the top photo.. Fairy Terns these days, very much need all the assistance they can get. Once found nesting on many parts of the Tasmanian coast, including parts of the Derwent Estuary, their numbers have been in serious decline for 2 decades at least. Choosing to nest on open beaches, the combination of human disturbance and higher sea levels, have taken their toll. Only with the help of volunteers and hopefully the local communities understanding, will they survive in Tasmania.
At the moment, the terns are probably at their most vulnerable, with their small young needing constant attention. I noted while with the BT volunteers, that our presence attracted the inevitable Silver Gulls, no doubt looking for a 'handout'. Despite their small size, the terns take on the gulls with considerable gusto, as you can see from the lower photo., and drive them off. If we got a little too close, they gave us the same treatment, passing less than a metre away. Other species also benefit from fencing off the area, with Hooded and Red-capped Plovers, and Pied Oystercatchers all breeding here. Thank heavens for the volunteers!

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Fiordland Penguin

Bill & Els write: On Thursday, as we were about to head off to catch the ferry at Darlington, Maria Island, two of our party said they had just seen a penguin sitting on the edge of the sea about a kilometre down the coast. Thinking "oh yeah, it's got to be a Little Penguin", I asked about the size of the bird. To my surprise, I was told it was at least knee high if not taller. The next question as to whether it had any other markings, was answered with " yes, there were bright yellow stripes on each side of its' head". This triggered an immediate response, with us throwing our rucksacks to the ground and running as fast as we could in the direction indicated. Sure enough, right on the waters edge stood a Fiordland Penguin. Unfortunately the bird had been injured, having a tear of skin exposing the left shoulder joint. From what I could make out at the distance, the joint and its tendons appeared intact, so that there's every chance that the bird may survive. The rangers were notified, and were seen to be present around the bird as we left, heading back to Triabunna after a great few days walking on the island.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Dusky Woodswallows

Briefly mentioned in my recent piece about Spotted
Pardalotes, these Dusky Woodswallows were photographed in the Peter Murrell Reserve last weekend. For me, they are a much anticipated summer migrant, usually arriving in October. I think they have what one might call "character". They are surprisingly confiding while nesting, and these birds pictured, were obviously setting up territory. I say obviously because they were chasing off any other birds that came close. That included 2 Eastern Rosellas, which they really got stuck into. Unfortunately, there has been a noticeable decline in numbers over the years, at least in Southern Tasmania, and I suspect elsewhere. Some of the decline around Hobart could be put down to development of housing estates and the destruction of the open dry eucalypt areas, preferred by this species. I can take you to many areas around the South that had colonies of woodswallows breeding about 20 years ago. Nowadays, they are noticeable by their absence. At one time I believed that there were more woodswallows here in wetter years, but in the mists of time, I can't really recall what I based that on!
In the Autumn they can be seen in small groups hawking from power lines and fences. Occasionally in much larger flocks, rising in the thermals, sometimes with Needletails, feeding on flying insects. One Autumn, I watched a large flock of woodswallows at Bridport, rise in a thermal to several hundred feet, and disappear offshore to the North. I also had a sighting of a flock of around 200 birds, this time on the East Coast of Flinders Island, that as late as June, that did similarly. I think both instances were probably examples of bird migration, a rarely seen event in Tasmania. Some years, a few overwinter.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Well Fed Pied Oystercatchers

On a day that looked less than promising, I made an early morning visit to Pipeclay Lagoon. By the oyster sheds there are 2 pairs of Pied Oystercatchers that have become very tolerant of human presence, and one pair (pictured) is regularly fed oysters by the staff there. I'm sure I could make some remark about the aphrodisiac properties of oysters, but as I stopped the car to observe this pair, as you can see, they copulated. I have always thought that the shots that I've seen of Oystercatchers copulating, must have been the result of many hours watching and waiting! Maybe not. With rain threatening, I decided to drive on to South Arm, and walked through the dunes to Calvert's Beach. As I reached the top of the dune, I saw below me, the seal on the waters' edge that is pictured here. I assume it's an Australian Fur Seal, but perhaps there's someone reading this who can confirm that. A more rewarding morning than appeared likely.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

At Last! Spotted Pardalote

Well at last I've managed to get some useable shots of the Spotted Pardalote. It's not as if the bird is a rarity! Arguably it's one of the most approachable and confiding birds that are found in Tasmania. But try as I could, this species had alluded me. Well today, in the Peter Murrell Reserve, I found a pair with a nest hole that they were preparing. As the lower shot shows, they, like all the local pardalotes, seem to carry nesting material en masse to the nesting site. They do this oblivious to the fact that by doing so, they compromise the nesting site. While standing watching them, I noted that both the Fortyspotted and Striated Pardalotes could be heard in the vicinity.
While I was photographing the pardalotes, Tas Boskell came along. He had some interesting facts on the status of the Welcome Swallow in the early days of settlement, which I think would make interesting reading, so I hope he'll send me his findings for a future article.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Clamorous Reed Warbler

One of the highlights of Gould's Lagoon during the warmer months, to me at least, is the calling of the Clamorous Reed Warblers as they take up territory among the reed beds.
Getting on for a year ago, I attempted to photograph these warblers at this venue. The results were less than spectacular, so I recently gave it another go, with somewhat better results, but I nearly gave up in the attempt. They're not called 'clamorous' for nothing, it's not as if you can't hear them. Seeing them can prove a little more difficult, and as I have found before, photographing them needs a great deal of patience and luck.
The best spot to get to grips with them proved to be from the track that runs from the car park. Two birds were calling incessantly, and obviously had territories that abutted one another. That proved to be the key to photographing them, as they both tried to outdo one another with song. The down side of this spot, was the frequent passers by, several with
dogs, and some obviously suspicious of my intentions! The spot was also down sun when I was there (in the morning). One of the birds frequently called from a bush, I suspect a Hawthorn, which gave passable opportunities, certainly better than previous efforts. But the frustration of frequent interruptions by people and the resident geese, caused me to give up and return to the car (all of 20 metres away). My more tenacious side finally kicked in at this point, and I decided to give it one more go. This proved fortuitous, as the birds obviously took pity on me and allowed a range of photographs to be taken. In fact the most difficult problem has proved to be, which images to blog, because I ended up with so many. A rare state of affairs! While photographing at Gould's, I couldn't help feeling sorry for the Little Grassbirds. They seem to outnumber the warblers, but their faint call was barely discernible. Photographing them will have to wait for another day, but I can't help feeling they will test my patience and resolve even further.

Forthcoming Events

John Tongue sent in a note on forthcoming events that may be of interest to Tasmanian birders.
"Birdwatching with your ears"--how are you on your bird calls? It can often be very useful (as well as interesting) to be able to identify birds by their call. Many feel they are not very good at this, but may be better than they think. A Birds Tasmania outing will focus on bird calls, though there will be lots of 'watching' too. Meet at the RedGate Section of the Meehan Range Conservation Area (Cambridge) at 8.30am on Saturday, November 11th. Contact John for more details: phone 62346535 or
" The Great Tassie Twitchathon"--not a nervous disorder, but competitive birdwatching. It will be run over a two week period in January 2007. See how many 'ticks' your team get over a twenty four hour period, and maybe enter one of the novelty events. For an information kit and registration, contact John and Shirley Tongue at 17, Church St. Hobart, phone 62346535, or