Monday, December 24, 2007

Season's Greetings

May you all have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Stay safe people!

Forty-spotted Pardalote. An iconic and endangered Tasmanian endemic bird. Recently photographed in the Peter Murrell Reserve at Kingston.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Young Ones

A call from Trevor Hanlon of New Norfolk on Thursday evening saw me heading off to New Norfolk early on Friday morning. He had found the nest of a Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike in a reserve near his house, which he believed would be suitable for photography. After meeting Trevor and a short walk along the cliffs overlooking the Derwent River, he showed me the nest site. The nest was on an outer eucalypt branch, on a tree growing well below the track, giving us a view of it at eye level. It was at that tantalising distance away from us, not close enough for quality images, but certainly close enough to get a shot of the parents feeding and brooding the three youngsters in the nest. I'm not a great supporter of photography at nests, but these birds were obviously used to the to'ing and fro'ing of people out for a walk along the cliff top track. I must confess that I was under the impression that Cuckoo-shrikes fed almost exclusively on caterpillars, but looking closely at some of the images taken, suggests that they also fed their young on quite a wide variety of insects, including spiders. A little further along the cliffs, I could also see 2 young Dusky Woodswallows, not yet fledged, being fed by their parents, and took the shot at lower left. A little later we were joined by Bill Wakefield and Els Hayward, who had seen and photographed the Cuckoo-shrikes on a previous visit.
Trevor is also starting to take bird shots, and his wife, Barbara, is an accomplished painter. He showed me a shot of a Grey Goshawk (white here in Tasmania) that he took in his garden--very envious! A thank you to both of them for their hospitality, and good luck to Trevor with his bird photography.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

A Shadow of its Former Self....Orielton Lagoon

Yesterday, I made one of my now rare visits to the northern end of Orielton Lagoon. Back in the '70s and '80s, I plodded the mud here many weekends, especially in the Summer months, looking for migrant waders. This lagoon had a justified iconic status and over the years produced many of the rarer migrant waders, as well as substantial flocks of the more mundane.
Not long after leaving the car, I was beset by the first of many Kelp Gulls
(top left), and they and their raucous calls, followed me around for the next hour or so. About 20 years ago, they started nesting here, just a few, mostly along the banks of Orielton Creek, but today there are probably over a hundred pairs and each year their colony grows ever larger. Presently, they mostly have 'runners', like those pictured, and as a you near them, not surprisingly, the adults get ever more agitated, taking it in turns to dive bomb. Like the Fairy Terns, mentioned in the last article, they also defecate as they dive. Fortunately, they're nowhere near as accurate, but near misses can be disconcerting!
The notice describes th
e area as "a wetland of international importance", but the presence of the burgeoning Kelp Gull colony is having an ever more negative effect on the area. Some of the smaller waders like the Red-necked Stint, can still be seen in some numbers, about 400 or more were present yesterday, but I didn't see a single Red-capped Plover, a once common breeding resident here. I walked towards a mixed flock of Curlew (42), Bar-tailed Godwit (2) and a lone Whimbrel, and although I was still a distant 6 or 7 hundred metres away, they took flight, passing me (pictured) and briefly alighted in the bay to the West. It wasn't long before they were harassed by the Kelp Gulls, and had to move on. I beat as quick a retreat as I could in the clinging mud, to allow them to resume their prefered roost site, which they did. To me, this was a classic example of why, if this area is to remain an area of importance to waders, that some action needs to be taken to limit the growth of the gull colony.
Other sightings included a flock of about 30 Pacific Golden Plover, roosting at their prefered site alongside the golf course, and a solitary European Hare.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Going Well---Orford Fairy Terns

I made a visit to Orford towards the end of last week to see how the Fairy Tern colony was doing, and I'm glad to report, it's going well. Something like 18 pairs have nested on the spit on the North side of the mouth of the Prosser River, and there's already a good number of young birds on the wing. Thanks are largely due to a number of interested parties, not least the interest shown by the locals. That this site is nonetheless vunerable, was brought home to me, as I walked along the shoreline adjacent to the ternery. On the opposite shore, only a matter of metres away, a lone walker with 2 unrestrained dogs, chased the roosting flock of terns, gulls, oystercatchers, hooded plovers and pelicans, even to the point of pursuing the pelicans already in the water. Only one bird stayed, a lone Pied Oystercatcher, very agitated, suggesting that it had a nest or youngster to protect. That area was the original site of the ternery, and the present site is protected only by a few signs and a few strands of string! Entry is permitted, but you need to keep to the shoreline. If you're intending to visit, apart from observing the signs, I strongly suggest you wear old clothes, and a hat. The Fairy Tern adults strongly defend their young. They will dive at you, screaming, probably missing you by only a few inches, which if you're not expecting it, can be pretty intimidating, which of course it's meant to be! They will, quite probably, also defecate on you as they pull out of the dive (image on the left is of a diving adult). If you think 'Spurwings' are intimidating, well I can assure you these terns, despite their small size, can be even more so. They managed to score direct hits on me, including my glasses, hat, shirt and camera, even though I didn't approach the nesting area. It highlights the benefit of these and similar species, nesting colonially. They are able to combine and drive off would be predators (and humans). I also made a short visit to the Saltworks, at the mouth of Little Swanport, where there also appears to be a small Fairy Tern colony of just a few pairs. Judging by the frequency of adults passing, carrying food, they must have non flying young. Of interest, is the report of possibly a pair of Little Terns amomg the Fairies at Orford. The bottom right image is of a recently fledged young Fairy Tern.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Another Day, Another Wedgetail

I don't wish to give the impression that I've seen too many Wedgetail Eagles of late. To misquote Samuel Johnson, "when a man is tired of watching eagles, he is tired of life". Perhaps in this PC age, I should have used the term "person"!
I set off last week for Marion Bay, full of expectation, but by the time I arrived, there was a very cool south westerly blowing, scudding clouds and occasional rain. I was still wondering whether I should abort the trip as I drove down the ever deteriorating track towards the car parking area, when I noted a large bird being harasssed by a couple of Forest Ravens, a Wedge-tailed Eagle. Watching the eagle, driving, and getting my camera prepared, all at the same time, made for an interesting few moments. But in no time I was alongside the eagle, now standing in the paddock, keeping a wary eye on me. I guessed it would inevitably take off shortly, and positioned myself upwind and waited. As you can see from the image, I had an excellent view of it as it floated by in the strong wind. Gaining height, it quickly outflew the ravens, circled and flew along the length of the dune, briefly attacked by two Kelp Gulls. After that, the walk to the point was, inevitably, an anti-climax!

Friday, November 30, 2007

Gould's Lagoon Crakes

Visited Gould's Lagoon this morning, hopeful of getting a few shots of the Clamorous Reed-Warblers or better still, the Little Grassbirds. As I usually do, my first port of call there was the bird hide.(I should just say at this point, that this hide is in a deplorable state. It's obviously used as a drinking venue, smells of urine, and all the signs have graffiti on them, so approach with caution!) Fair number of duck about, mainly Chestnut Teal, but a few Black Duck and Shoveller. I managed a few distant shots of the Reed-Warblers, they appear to be feeding flying young, and a Purple Swamphen. As the water level is pretty low at the moment, I hoped that I might see a Spotless Crake, as those conditions have been fruitful in the past, and I've even managed to photograph them here. But despite waiting in the hide for sometime, no crakes. However, there's almost always plenty going on in the area, and I noted Galahs, Eastern Rosellas, Musk Lorikeets, a single Swift Parrot, Swamp Harriers, Yellow Wattlebirds, several families of Welcome Swallows feeding over the reed beds, to name a few, as I waited. I eventually tired of the wait, and opted instead for a walk down the footpath through the reeds. I stopped several times on this path, just listening for bird calls from the reeds. As I neared the end of the reed bed, I glanced back, just in time to see a crake running rapidly across the track. I was fairly certain it was a Spotless Crake, so I walked back towards where I had see it and waited. It briefly re-emerged, just long enough to confirm my original ID, before dashing back. Wasn't having much luck this morning as far as photography goes, so I re-traced my steps to the hide. As I walked along the raised walkway, I flushed a crake off the mud, from just a few metres away. It flew and dropped into the reed bed. Definetly another Spotless Crake. I waited back at the hide, hoping it would come back onto the mud to feed. I couldn't see the area in question from the hide, so I slowly walked back towards the area watching for any sign of movement in the deep shade of the reeds. A flicking tail movement gave away a crake creeping around, and I stood stock still hoping it would emerge. It did, just enough for me to realise that it was in fact a Spotted Crake (now properly called Australian Crake) and not the Spotless that I'd expected. Great Joy! Haven't seen one for possibly 25 years, the last also at this lagoon. I took several 'record' shots, but not what I was after. A passing Harrier caused the local Masked Lapwing to start 'screaming', which in turn caused the crake to seek refuge back among the reeds. Damn! Back to the hide and another wait. Well, as you can see from the images, it finally had a happy outcome. Take 2 saw the Australian Crake feed out away from the reeds, and eventually came quite close to my position. A Spotless Crake also appeared briefly, although noticeably more timid, keeping very close to cover. The 2 crakes fed within half a metre of one another for a time, without seemingly being aware of each others presence. Both species are very 'restless' feeders, constantly on the go, with rapid body movements and the tail held mostly vertical and constantly flicked. Eventually they both walked back into the reeds. For me, it had turned into a memorable morning. It isn't often I get to photograph a 'new' species, and especially one that has such skulking habits.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Lauderdale Spit ---More Than Just Waders

I've spent quite a bit of time in recent days, on the Lauderdale Spit. I guess, like me, most of the local birders think of the spit as mainly a good spot for waders, which of course it is, but there's often more going on here. Lauderdale Spit consists of about, (I'm guessing), less than a hectare of saltmarsh, often substantially covered by seawater on "king tides". There are a few stunted bushes and the odd she oak growing on a bank probably formed when the drainage ditch was dug. It forms part of the Ralph's Bay Conservation Area and is under threat of being turned into, of all things, a housing development! At its base there is a major highway that effectively isolates it. I'm attracted to the area for the relative ease of finding migrant waders, and I've blogged some of my visits. My latest forays there have seen my attempting to photograph some of these waders in flight, not an easy ask at the best of times. No doubt I'll publish those shots sometime. But that brings me back to my point, that there's more to interest birders here than just the waders. While esconced amomg the low vegetation awaiting flybys by the small wader flock, consisting of Bar-tailed Godwit and a lone Whimbrel, I had close encounters with other species. The predominant one at the moment is the White-fronted Chat, (male, top right; female, bottom left), both photographed during my vigil. There appeared to be 3 or 4 pairs of them, and by their reaction to me, are breeding here, and have young in the nest. The chats usually nest in the tall spikey clumps of grass, or in low shrubs, and when they feel threatened, flutter down and along the ground, as if injured, to draw your attention from the nest or young. This action appeared to be more likely to be performed by the female. This will, in all probability, be their second, or third attempt at breeding, not all necessarily at this location, for chats are great nomads.
Other species that I noted as I lay there, included several Silvereyes, Little Wattlebirds, Yellow-tailed and Brown Thornbills, Starlings and House Sparrows, Goldfinches and Greenfinches. Apart from the passerines, there were Crested Terns, vying for position atop the remnant posts of an old jetty, Pacific, Kelp and Silver Gulls, a lone White-faced Heron and a pair of Chestnut Teal. Two pairs of Pied Oystercatcher nested here, and both appear to have young, one of which took to the water and swam off, when, earlier, I had walked towards the spit end, causing me to beat a hasty retreat. Occasionally, flocks of Pied Oystercatchers, probably moved by the incoming tide or human disturbance, made for the spit end. This sent the resident pairs into a frenzy, running at the interlopers with head down and much calling. This usually moved them on, but occasionally they had to resort to an aerial attack on some of the more stubborn ones. A fascinating place, best visited around high tide, but try to minimise disturbance.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Cryptic Resident .... Bassian Thrush

Having spent many hours in the Wielangta Forest on Tasmania's East Coast recently, of course I've seen a lot more than just the Scrubtits and Tasmanian Thornbills that I've recently written about. One of the more noteworthy and quite commonly seen birds, particularly on the narrow tracks, is the Bassian Thrush. As you can see from the shot at left, they're not the easiest bird to spot (or photograph!). At the sort of distance that you usually notice them, they don't look, or indeed act, very differently from their close cousins, the Common Blackbird. The Bassian Thrush is a somewhat more robust bird, and in the hand, you really appreciate that it's a beautifully marked bird. It has over the years suffered something of an identity crisis, having had a number of name changes. I learnt to call it a Ground Thrush, but its also been 'officially' called, Scaly, White's, and Mountain, before finally? settling on its present name of Bassian.
I stopped on the track to watch a pair of Brush Bronzewing, one scratching around on the track, the other perched in the nearby scrub. I say a pair with some confidence, as I had just picked up a recently discarded eggshell, almost certainly a bronzewings. Suddenly, from a few feet away, there was a great commotion, startling me for a few moments, as a Bassian Thrush burst from what proved to be its nest, and fluttered down into the low scrub. The nest was basically similar to a Blackbird's, but considerably larger, and 'decorated' on the outside with moss. I have seen other nests over the years, but they had all been on rock shelves, this one was in a fork of a tea tree, a little over head height. I quickly moved on down the track, but returning later, took the accompanying shot of the sitting bird. I don't usually photograph birds at nest sites, but as it sat tight, I couldn't resist the temptation, (at an exposure of 1/15th of a second!)
. There has been some suggestion that Blackbirds, now commonly seen in similar habitat to the Bassian's, may be having a detrimental effect on them, but the jury is still out on that.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Tasmanian Thornbill.

There are two very similar 'brown' thornbills in Tasmania, the Brown and the Tasmanian. I should confess here, that in my early days of birding in Tasmania, without the aid of illustrated bird guides, I rather 'fudged' my sightings of Tasmanian Thornbills. If it was in a wet forest, it must be a "Tasmanian", and vice versa for the "Brown" in drier areas. I must say that in the main, that was probably correct, but these days I'm a little more thorough!
I've had a bit of an issue with some of the field guides, largely when the description includes statements like, "bill larger in Brown". This may be true, but unless you have the other to compare it with, or very familiar with both species, it's not the most useful piece of information. I should say here that I'm not setting myself up as an expert on the issue of 'brown' v 'tasmanian'. In fact, while looking through the many images of the 2 species that I've taken, I sometimes got it wrong. The reality in the field is that you're often looking at birds in deep shade or high in the canopy and that's when it gets interesting.
I have published the accompanying images to hopefully aid observers, as there doesn't seem to be many images on the internet of the Tasmanian Thornbill. Many have their own method of differentiating the two, but the rufous colouring on the primaries and pure white undertail feathers (lack of buff), stand out. I hope the images prove useful!

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Work in Progress........Scrubtit

I've spent quite a few hours in the Wielangta Forest lately. My prime aim has been to get shots of the Scrubtit, arguably the most difficult of the Tasmanian endemic birds to photograph. It's not that they're uncommon, but they do inhabit the darkest of bird habitats, the fern gullies of wet temperate forests. I've posted here a few of the many shots I've taken, most of which ended up in the "bin". It's the longest time I've ever watched Scrubtits, and it's changed some of my beliefs. Until now, I've seen them almost exclusively feeding on the vertical trunks of rough barked eucalypts, behaving more like a treecreeper. Perhaps it's because they're breeding at the moment, but most of the feeding has taken place in the understorey scrub, in close proximity of the man ferns in which they appear to have their nests. They feed in much the same way as thornbills, gleaning food off the leaves and only occasionally feeding on the trunks of the same scrub. I've found the Scrubtits to be very timid, probably one of the reasons they're often not found, even in areas known to hold them. A sudden breeze would send them back into the deep scrub, and a calling Olive Whistler entering their domain, sent them into a frenzy approaching apoplexy! In the area that I have been, there appeared to be about five pairs alongside a watercourse, in a distance of 200 metres. I only witnessed the occasional interaction between pairs, initially squaring off, with crown feathers raised, followed by a brief chase, and all over in seconds. A spin off during my vigils, has allowed me to get shots of other species, such as Tasmanian Thornbill, Olive Whistler and the odd Tasmanian Scrubwren, and the enjoyment of watching a Platypus going about its business. I also found an occupied Bassian Thrush nest, complete with sitting adult, and of course, observed other species such as Brush Bronzewing and Satin Flycatcher. I'll probably publish some of these in due course. One thing that has surprised me from the photographs, is that the bill is both longer and more decurved than I realised (despite seeing a large number over the years) and that few of the field guides seem to show this. Overall, I suspect I've never really watched this species critically or intensively before. All too frequently, I've had only a brief sighting, and been glad to have that. Although I've now taken many shots, I'm still looking for that 'defining' image, and will no doubt return to try again.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

"Clinkers"........Grey Currawong.

It wasn't a great morning's birding at Peter Murrell reserve. I was feeling less than 100% as we'd hosted a dinner for visiting relatives from the UK, the previous evening. Coupled with that, was the presence of 3 stray dogs wandering around, and the incessant calling of recently fledged Forest Ravens. In woodland areas, I rely heavily on hearing birds call, both to ID them and of course, locate them, and with, perhaps, as many as 50 or 60 Ravens calling, it wasn't easy to concentrate. Most of the action was in the tree canopies, with Yellow Wattlebirds and Dusky Woodswallows, chasing off the Ravens, and Ravens chasing Ravens. I did get a brief view of a Brown Goshawk, as it passed over the treetops. After about an hour, I decided I'd had enough! As I neared the car park, I noticed a lone Grey Currawong flying towards a large gum, some distance away, and took a single shot (top left). I should confess here, that I really don't like the name Grey Currawong. Yes, I do know that elsewhere around Australia they are grey, but ours aren't! For many years, in Tasmania. they were 'officially' named Clinking Currawong, an admirable description of the call. I watched the Currawong for a while, as it levered bark off the gum, and delved deeply into the crevices to find insects. I was about to get into the car, thinking that my morning's birding was over, when said bird flew back into a group of small gums close by. Having photographed almost nothing of note all morning, I thought I'd try my luck. For a while I couldn't locate it, despite hearing an odd short call, and finally flushed it from the edge of the creek. Fortunately it propped in a nearby gum, where it proceeded to preen. Just as I was thinking that I had missed my best chance of photography, it flew back to the creek, had a brief drink before batheing. I took a few distant shots, before it resumed its perch in the gum. By now I was quite close, and therefore surprised when it came back to bathe yet again. As you can see in the lower shot, as it washes, it was well aware of my presence, and kept both of those piercing yellow eyes on me. Although Grey Currawongs are not uncommon, they do seem to be fairly thinly distributed, and I rarely see groups of more than 4 or 5 birds, unlike the Black Currawongs, which, particularly in Winter, may be seen in flocks of a hundred or more. In my neighbourhood, they visit gardens, usually in Winter, and cause total panic among the resident birds. Few, even the Noisy Miners, daring to get close, perhaps dissuaded by the Clinkers formidable looking bill.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Two Years On......Banded Lapwing

It seems incredible to me, that it's taken 2 years to finally photograph a Banded Lapwing. This species was once to be found widely around the South of Tasmania, being commonly seen at such venues as Sandford, South Arm, Richmond and Sorell. In recent years, I've seen a few around Bridgewater and heard the odd bird around Barilla Bay, but they're a bit thin on the ground. I could speculate on the reasons, but it's seems most likely to be related to drought conditions and changes in land use.
I found a pair this morning at Kellevie, just to the East of Copping, with a single, half grown runner. It's a fairly late date to find them with young, often nesting as early as June, and as they usually have a clutch of 3 or 4 eggs, this runner is presumably the sole survivor. Much of this area is now improved and irrigated pasture, not the sort of habitat I associate with Banded Lapwing.
I have rather missed seeing these plovers, as they're one of my favourites. My son and I used to call them "bandits", because of their likeness to the old cartoon drawings of masked intruders!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Spin Off---Raptors

I've spent a deal of time on Goat Bluff recently, as you will have gathered from previous articles. Goat Bluff is a scenic lookout, forming part of the South Arm Conservation Area, and is visited by many hundreds of people. It's mainly coastal
heath, with dominant banskia on the western
side, and low regrowth heath on the eastern. To the South, apart from Betsy Island, next stop is the Antarctic. Besides the bush birds, there is the occasional sightings of sea birds, such as Australasian Gannets, Short-tailed Shearwaters, and in storm conditions, the odd Albatross, mostly Shy. While birding here in the last few weeks, I've often watched distant raptors, some on nearby Betsy Island (named after the wife of Tasmanian Governor Sir John Franklin, in the 1830s), and others, 'floating' over the sand dunes to the West. Inevitably, they also hunt over the bluff, where the accompanying shots were taken.
The Swamp Harrier (
top 2 shots) was quartering the heath while I was taking shots of a Shining Bronze Cuckoo. I only noticed it at quite close range, as it hung briefly in the updraught. Floating on, it suddenly took fright at my presence, too close to get the whole wingspan in! As they say--"awesome".
The second event occured a few days later, when this immature White-bellied Sea Eagle (at bottom), circled over the bluff as it climbed in a thermal. It was all over in too short a time, But at least I had a few images to relive the event. Reviewing the shots, I was struck by the huge area of their wings, particularly in the eagle. Both encounters a great addition to a day's birding.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Striated Fieldwren "Display"

While watching and photographing a Flame Robin on Goat Bluff recently, I noticed a Striated Fieldwren feeding among the grasses on the edge of the narrow track I was standing on. I stood quite still, and eventually the Fieldwren approached within about two metres of me, pictured top right. Inevitably, it finally noticed my presence, and ran back along the track, giving the display seen in the middle shot. Shortly after, it was joined by another Fieldwren, this one atop a bush, and this bird gave the display shown in the lower shot.
I assume both displays would probably be described as distraction displays, that is, it was given to divert my attention, possibly from a nearby nest or young. Whatever it might best be described as, I show the images here as I suspect it isn't frequently seen by birders (in Striated Fieldwrens), and even less often photographed. You can make your own interpretation of the meaning of these displays!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Horsfield's Bronze-Cuckoo.....One Year On.

It was only a year ago, that I was bemoaning the fact that I had seen or heard, very few Horsfield's Bronze-Cuckoos. Whereas, I had seen the similar, Shining Bronze-Cuckoos, at a number of sites, in varying habitats and in good numbers. Well, one year on, and I have already seen Horsfield's at Goat Bluff, Peter Murrell Reserve, Cape Deslacs, Sandspit River, Meehan Range, and the Risdon Brook Park. I've even managed to get a few reasonable shots of one, these taken at Goat Bluff, earlier this week. Further, by chance, I managed to get a shot showing one of the diagnostic features of Horsfield's, the rufous outer tail feathers (top image), lacking in the Shining.
It proved to be fairly difficult to get close enough to photograph them. I heard the familiar call, traced the caller down, realised that there were two birds, which I presumed were a pair. One or perhaps both birds, used a "chrrrp" call, to keep in contact. They often flew past me, always travelling at high speed, in an undulating flight, usually alighting in the dense banksia scrub. Several times, being small, around 17cm, and cryptically coloured, I only found them as I flushed them, which added to the problem. With patience, I eventually managed a few shots.
In the field, they were noticeably browner bronze, lacking the Shining's greener back. They also have a dark red eye, the Shining having a much lighter, orange red eye, but that's not likely to help you in the field!
Why they're much more prevalent this year, or appear to be, I can't even hazard a guess at. Conversely, I've seen and heard fewer Shining than last year, perhaps it's just swings and roundabouts. The areas that I've found Horsfield's in, appear to be relatively open, with few mature trees (or none), and all have healthy populations of Brown Thornbills, which may well be the main host in Tasmania.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Flame Robin Rethink

I spent a few hours on Goat Bluff, South Arm, this morning. I'd fallen back on this venue as it offers several options. With an early morning temperature in the mid single digits, and strong southerly winds, this is one place you can generally find some sheltered birding. I settled for the eastern side in an area of low coastal scrub. As I parked my car, I could hear a Flame Robin calling. This was not unexpected, as two pairs have spent all Winter here, but I've found getting good photograps of, what are usually easily approached birds, quite difficult. I watched a male robiin for sometime, sussing out his preferred perches, and chose a sunny spot and waited, eventually taking the shot at right. But as I waited, I realised that in this small area of perhaps a few acres, there was not one, but four male Flame Robins calling, all from prominent perches, visible from my position. I mentioned in earlier articles that I had found 'Flames' in generally wetter and more heavily wooded areas than Scarlet Robins, at least during the breeding season, but this doesn't conform to that scenario. This is an area of scrub, mostly less than a metre high, atop cliffs, with a few 'skeleton' casuarinas, burnt in a fire several years ago. The area supports several Striated Fieldwrens, which may give an indication of the vegetation. My assumption is that the 'Flames' are breeding here, although I only sighted one female. If that is so, the density of 'Flames' here seems very high, and perhaps I had better have a rethink about their preferred habitat! I'll keep an eye on this spot.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Grey-tailed Tattler Revisited

The Grey-tailed Tattler that overwintered in Ralph's Bay at Lauderdale, is still hanging out there. I think it's suffering something of an identity crisis. Some of the time it hangs out with the larger waders, Bar-tailed Godwits and a lone Whimbrel, and at other times with the much smaller,Red-necked Stints. I recently
managed to catch it on its' own as it fed along the edge of the Lauderdale Spit. As always, I was interested in what it was feeding on, and with the benefit of digital photography, all was revealed!
Tattlers behave similarly to their close cousin, the Common Sandpiper. When disturbed, they fly low over the water, wi
th a flicking action of the wings. It also "teeters"--the nervous bobbing of head and tail.
This individual allowed me to follow it closely as
it fed, and I made the most of it, taking several shots, a few are shown here. As you can see in the lower shot, it was feeding on small crabs, in fact, very small crabs. Eventually, I must have got just a little too close, and I watched as it briefly swam away, probably no more than a metre, before resuming feeding. It was time to leave it in peace.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Made My Day---White-bellied Sea Eagle

I was having a somewhat frustrating day. I had set of for the Arve Valley, hoping to find and photograph, Scrubtits. Well, I found several, all in deep, deep shade, and not very co-operative either. I had tried instead, first Tasmanian Scrubwrens and then a pair of Pink Robins. None of them wanted to play. Cutting my losses, I decided to look for Swift Parrots. I had found a few at Port Huon on the way, high in the tops of blue-gums, being harried by a pair of Yellow Wattlebirds, and I had heard a distant flock in the forest near Geeveston. Bill Wakefield had mentioned seeing several in coastal trees around Gordon, and I opted to go there.
By now the morning was nearly over, and from previous experience, Swift Parrots often roost in the middle of the day, and are more difficult to find. Several stops along the coast near Gordon failed to produce any Swifties, which was in line with the rest of my morning! I was just deciding whether to find an eatery or wait until I got home to have lunch, when I noticed a bird flying parallel to my car over the water. My first
assumption was Kelp Gull, possibly from the nearby gullery, but cautiously switching my gaze from road to bird (and back), I realised it was a White-bellied Sea Eagle. Not only that, but if I drove hard enough, and got to the approaching small headland first, I had an evens chance of photographing it as it flew by. Well I beat it by a whisker, or whatever the avian equivalent is, parked (there are double white lines here, but it's a quiet road), grabbed my camera. I was ready! But the eagle had seemingly disappeared. Where was it? I walked back down the road, looking out over the bay, nothing. Then the penny dropped, it had landed in a nearby 'tree with a view'. I closed on the bird, but it looked a bit edgy and shortly took flight. I took several shots as it passed, which when reviewed as I ambled back, were terrible! I really was having a bad day. Fortunately, as I looked back towards my car, I could see the eagle, now perched in a tree alongside it. Take 2. This perch was photographically much better, and the eagle allowed me to photograph and watch it for 15 minutes or more. Finally, after much ruffling of feathers, it took flight, almost straight towards me and away over the hillside forest. I suspect this bird is a regular along this piece of coast, probably nesting nearby, and has become accustomed to vehicles and the presence of people. For me, it saved an otherwise forgettable morning.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Migrating Silvereyes Return.

It's not often that Silvereyes get a mention on this blog, but a visit to the Goat Bluff area 3 days ago, prompted this mention.
A substantial number, perhaps the majority of Silvereyes, migrate to the Australian Mainland, some apparently getting as far as Queensland, an epic journey for a small bird (weighing in at around 10 grams). Many of what I assume are the non migrants, have already starting breeding, indeed for a month or more, so coming across substantial flocks of Silvereyes, suggests that these birds are the returning migrants.
I took the accompanying images of these birds, as they fed among the low coastal scr
ub. At first I assumed their interest was in the flowers, just as wintering flocks feed on the correas here, but close observation showed that they were eating small insects. In this few acres of heath, there were probably a hundred or more Silvereyes, erupting from the scrub as you passed by, with much "tanging", as they kept in touch with their neighbours.
Why only part of the Tasmanian Silvereyes migrate, and in particular, how they navigate, has been the subject of much research by Dr Ursula Munro, and you may find out more about that on the internet. At the Tasmanian end, I have had a peripheral role with Ursula and other researchers. Tasmanian Silvereyes are slightly larger than their Mainland cousins, and in the field they have noticeably darker chestnut flanks.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Living Dangerously

I briefly mentioned in the previous post, that, for whatever reason, the South Arm Neck roost of Oystercatchers has moved to a spot close to the road. This roost, made up of non breeding Pied Oystercatchers and the odd Sooty Oystercatcher, numbering in all around 50 birds usually roosts along the edge of the marsh, about 500 metres away and well away from the road. As you can see from this shot, they are at this site, perilously close to the road, and vehicles are travelling, in the main and quite legitimately, at around 100kph at this point. I picked one of their number off the road this morning, and the only surprising thing is that not more have succumbed. Possibly the present very high tides and strong winds makes this a better roost site. Unfortunately, this is the narrowest part of the beach, and they frequently spill onto the tarmac. I did try moving them, but they were back at this spot, very rapidly. I just hope drivers will slow down and avoid them, but I'm not holding my breath.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Unexpected Behaviour--Wedge-tailed Eagle

Bird behaviour can sometimes surprise you when you least expect it. I had been birding on Goat Bluff, on the South Arm peninsula, on the eastern shore of the Derwent River, and decided to make the short journey to the South Arm neck, really hoping to get to grips with one of the Swamp Harriers which hunt over the marsh there, from time to time. The first thing I noted as I drove along the neck, was the flock of Oystercatchers, mostly Pied with a couple of Sooty, roosting within a metre of the road. Although the tide was in, this isn't the favoured roost site, and I surmised that they had been disturbed, but by what or whom? I drove on. I casually looked toward the stunted trees, growing on the windswept dunes to the South, half expecting to see a Harrier, the treetops being a vantage point they often use to survey the marsh. I did a double take! Instead of the expected Harrier, there was the unmistakable shape of a Wedge-tailed Eagle. Quickly doing a U turn, I pulled to the side of the road to watch and take a photograph, albeit from inside the car, as I felt sure it would fly off if I got out. Having secured a shot, (I've added the image to show it really was a free flying bird!), I got a little bolder and moved the car closer. It lifted off and using the updraft from the dunes, hunted over the area. I watched, just enjoying the moment, as the eagle went about it's business, but a little disappointed in not getting a better shot.
But all was
not lost! It returned to the vantage point it had only recently left. Well, over the next 20 minutes or so, I got a little bolder in my approach. Eventually getting ouit of the car and walking up to the tree it was in--and it stayed there! The shots shown here were taken from the sort of distance an eagle or indeed any other bird, would almost certainly normally cause them to take flight. I walked back to my car with the eagle still atop the tree, mulling over why it had behaved so apparently indifferent to my presence. Perhaps it was driven by hunger, or is it a recently rehabilitated bird? I have seen, what I suspect is this bird, hunting over nearby woodland and on to Betsy Island, usually harried by local Forest Ravens. I doubt that I'll ever know the cause, but it's events like this, that make birding so pleasurable.