Sunday, February 24, 2008

Tassie's Endemic Parrot.....Green Rosella

I must plead guilty to ignoring the Tasmanian endemic birds all too often. I often mention them in passing, and seeing this purports to be a blog about Tasmanian birds, I must make more effort to show them in all their 'glory'. The truth is, many of them are not that showy, and in the parrot stakes, the Green Rosella is not considered to be among the showiest. But a recent brief encounter, made me realise that I might be selling them short.
This rosella, the largest of the rosellas, is commonly found in much of the treed areas of the state throughout the year. During the cooler months, some resort to open paddocks and suburban parks, attracted by rosehips, thistle seeds, and similar, sometimes in flocks of 20 or so.
The accompanying shots were taken at that well known waterhole in the Meehan Range. They're very wary in their approach to water, often sitting in nearby trees for several minutes and if they're not happy it's safe, they'll take flight with much excited calling. The birds shown here, were part of a flock of around 6 individuals, mostly immature birds, and eventually, one thought it was safe enough and dropped down to the water, and the others quickly followed. I was standing on the dam wall, and looking down on these bathers mostly through the light scrub and only about 4 metres away from them. It's always thrilling to watch or photograph birds from close quarters as they go about their business, but as these were in deep shade and only visible through the scrub, I had to be content to just watch. Fortunately, one eventually chose a spot in a patch of sunlight, slightly farther away, enabling me to set about getting some photographs. It was while I watched this individual, splashing happ
ily in the shallow and somewhat murky water, that one of those memorable instants occurred. In the low angle light of the early sun, the individual beads of water that it had splashed onto its back, stood out like diamonds. That, coupled with the intense bright blue of the splayed tail, was absolutely splendid. I am usually pretty pragmatic about photographing birds, concentrating intently in recording the moment, but the colours displayed were quite moving. The only downside is that I don't think the image quite does it justice, (or match my rhetoric!). You'll just have to take my word for it.
After several minutes watching them peacefully wash and drink, it all came to a sudden, noisy end. I was aware of a large bird that shot past me, heading towards the rosellas. They shot off in all directions screaming their "cusick" call. The culprit turned out to be an immature Grey Butcherbird, possibly trying to ambush nearby Brown Thornbills, also washing. Whatever it was after, it missed, and quickly left, pursued by a female Satin Flycatcher. All in all, another memorable outing.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Meehan Range Blue-winged Parrots

Arguably, one of the more interesting birds of the Redgate section of the Meehan Range, is the Blue-winged Parrot. I have seen a few on recent visits, and even managed a photo or two, as you can see. Twenty or more years ago, I had a study area here, and we (my son Matthew and I), would often hear the unmistakable 'tinkling' call of these parrots as they flew over high up. They were so high, that we only rarely saw them, and this eventually led to climbing the hills to look for them. We eventually discovered several nest sites along the ridge of the hills. I'm nowhere as fit as I was in those days, and the thought of the climb doesn't fill me with enthusiasm! (Perhaps I should get a lift up there on one of the illegal off road bikes that plague this area! They must be good for something). Occasionally, I've come across them feeding in the open, dry grassed areas near the entrance, usually in pairs, but all these images were taken at the waterhole, some kilometre farther in. The waterhole is fast drying, and it will take more than the recent heavy showers to stop it drying out completely very soon.
You can never guarantee what might turn up at the waterhole, some days it really hums with birds, others, seemingly identical, and there's little action. This day there were plenty of fantails and flycatchers, but I've photographed them so much lately, that I pick my shots with care. Also a few Striated Pardalotes, Silvereyes, the usual Brown Thornbills, Yellow
-throated and Black-headed Honeyeaters, Dusky, Flame, and Scarlet Robins, (most of them this year's young) and a succession of Green Rosellas, the latter arriving to bathe. Sometimes I get so engrossed in watching some small piece of behaviour by one species, that I fail to notice a new arrival. And that's what happened with the Bluewings shown here. I glanced up at some movement almost overhead, and there, only a few metres away was the Bluewing illustrated at top right. And that was the only shot I managed, before it flew. Fortunately it joined a few others that had landed, unseen by me, on the far side of the waterhole and they warily approached to drink. A little too far away for great shots of what is after all, a "budgie" sized bird, but you take what you're given. They drank and sunbathed for a while, before suddenly flushing and disappearing into the treed area up the valley. The top two shots are adult birds, and the lower right a juvenile. I'm hoping the water in the waterhole will hold out just a little longer, and I get another opportunity to photograph these delightful parrots.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Eastern Curlew and Whimbrel

Mona asked the questions "What's the best way to tell apart Whimbrel and Curlew, and where's the best place to see them?" (in comments in the last post). So I've placed a few images here to highlight the differences, largely for the benefit of those birders who spend little or no time watching waders (shame on you!). Curlew on the left, Whimbrel on the right. Looking at them the differences may seem obvious, however, in reality you'll often be watching them from a considerable distance in a heat haze, when it's more challenging. Curlews are considerably bigger, in fact the largest of our migrant waders, and the stand out is the bill length. Whimbrel are a similar size to Bar-tailed Godwit, and have their own claim to fame as having one of the most widespread distribution of any migrant wader, being found over much of the World's coastlines.
In the South of Tasmania, Eastern Curlew are found during the Summer months, in the Orielton Lagoon, Barilla Bay, Sorell and Five Mile Beach areas. (In the North, the Tamar River in the vicinity of Georgetown is a good spot for both species). Presently there's a flock of around 70 or 80 birds, frequenting the southern areas I've mentioned . A few may overwinter. Whimbrels are a lot thinner on the ground, but occasionally consort with the curlews, notably in Orielton Lagoon. One has been present in Ralph's Bay for many months and is easiest seen there at high tide on the Lauderdale spit, usually roosting with a small flock of Bar-tailed Godwits. You might be lucky and find the curlew there too, as mentioned in the previous post.
Once you've found a few of both, I think you'll have little problems in IDing them.
[NB. Please approach roosting waders with care. Undue disturbance, particularly at this time of year, while they're putting on fat to enable them to safely make the return journey to their breeding grounds, should be avoided.]

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Ralph's Bay Curlew

On recent high tides, the 2 Eastern Curlew that frequent the Ralph's Bay area, have roosted on the Lauderdale Spit. I've always found curlew fascinating, but rarely managed to get even close to them, save for one early morning encounter some years ago. My son and I had been mist netting waders at Orielton Lagoon all through the night, with moderate success, and at first light we were about to call it quits. My son, then in his early teens, made one last round of the nets. As he walked back I watched as he appeared and disappeared in the early morning mist, and, confusedly, he appeared to be carrying something quite large under his arm. From a distance, and in the mist, it appeared to be a chicken! As you can guess, it was indeed an Eastern Curlew, not a species we had expected to catch, and the one and only I have ever handled. From memory it was a female, and had fattened up for the long haul back to the breeding grounds in Russia and North East China. It weighed in at around a kilogram. These days, sadly, the numbers of visiting Eastern Curlew have drastically declined. In Ralph's Bay the decline has been from around 20 or so birds, 30 years ago, to just two in recent times, and if the proposed development takes place in the bay at Lauderdale, it will be zero. Very wary birds and amongst the most difficult to approach, their presence on high tide roosts is one of the few opportunities to photograph them. However, undue disturbance at these roosts is a "no-no". So it was with some trepidation that I attempted the accompanying shots. As you may see in the the shot of a curlew with Pied Oystercatchers, while the oystercatchers weren't too concerned with my presence, the curlew certainly was, and it took flight while I was still a good distance away, taking some of the oystercatchers with it. I retreated, and the oystercatchers quickly returned. The curlew, however, continued flying around, which at least enabled me to take a few flight shots. It then briefly alighted next to the second curlew (which had continued to roost a little further down the spit), and somewhat surprisingly, a brief skirmish between the two broke out, resulting in one taking refuge back among the 100 plus oystercatchers. The above episode was over in a matter of minutes and I was anxious to cause no further disturbance, so I was happy to just stand and watch them from a respectful distance, and enjoy the moment.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Wetland Gymnasts....... Little Grassbird

The Little Grassbird is often described in terms that allude to the difficulty of finding them. Elusive, skulking, and wary spring to mind, and I've used those terms myself. But after spending several hours watching and trying to photograph them, mostly without result, I think they might alsol be described as gymnasts! I hadn't really considered it until recently, but their World is almost completely made up of vertical perches (at least for those that inhabit the reed beds) and that in order to get about, they really do have to resort to a form of gymnastics, much as the juvenile pictured at top right.
I took the accompanying shots at Gould's Lagoon, and were the reason for my recent visits, but in the event, I was rather sidetracked by the presence of both Spotted and Spotless Crakes. I
gather the crakes have been twitched by a number of local birders, some at least, having great views.
I can give a passable imitation of the grassbird call, which consists of 3 or 4 rather tuneless notes, often described as plaintive. I say it's passable only because, occasionally, a grassbird replied. Listening over some hours, I realised that different birds had quite different calls, perhaps essential given their environment. Some had 3 notes with equal spacing between notes, some 4. Others added a last note at a different pitch, others varied the spacing. All appeared to be consistent enough to believe that individuals had different calls.
I rarely see them out of the reed beds at this lagoon and I'm beginning to realise why. While I waited patiently for them to emerge and feed on the fast drying mud, I could see movement of the reeds as they neared. They would then watch me, sometimes from less that a metre away, but still concealed in the reeds. Very galling! Well I managed a few shots, some of youngsters, nothing flash, but I did get a whole lot better acquainted with them.