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!