Sunday, April 27, 2008

Tinderbox, Still Worth a Visit

Late last week, I had occasion to visit Kingston, and not wishing to waste the opportunity to go birding, I left early and planned a side excursion to Tinderbox. Once, a few decades ago, Tinderbox was synonymous with Forty-spotted Pardalote. Since then, the area has been developed, largely with low density housing,and birders wishing to see 40 spots, have usually visited the nearby Peter Murrell reserve. Not dressed for birding, I reasoned that I could bird from the open area adjacent to the WW2 gun battery site, and I wasn't disappointed.
I arrived around 8am, on a beautiful still day, marred only by the smoke haze from Forestry burns that have covered SE Tasmania for several days. Initially I sat in the car listening, birding is often more about listening than looking, but apart from several guttural calls from a nearby Yellow Wattlebird, not much stirred. I wandered down towards the light overlooking the mouth of the Derwent River. I picked out calling Crescent Honeyeaters, the "tok-tok"call of a Yellow-throated Honeyeater, and a group of Black-headed Honeyeaters, feeding in the canopy of nearby Blue Gums. I heard, then saw, the first of many Spotted Pardalote, several chasing one another. I should mention here that, unlike last Autumn/Winter, when they were numerous, I haven't sighted a single Striated Pardalote since mid March. Walking towards the edge of the woodland, I stopped to watch and photograph, a passing Eastern Spinebill (bottom photo), one of several, mostly feeding on the red flowers of a small prostrate plant, that I should know the name of, but don't! Several small flocks of Little Wattlebirds passed overhead, as did a Peregrine Falcon, causing the whole woodland to fall into silence. I walked back up the hill towards the road. Here I watched the antics of a flock of New Holland Honeyeaters, mostly defending feeding rights to certain trees, chasing off other New Hollands, or any other birds that trespassed. Then, with much noisy chattering, they would all cluster close together in a huddle, before noisily breaking up to return to their territory, quite comical at times. It was while watching the honeyeaters that I heard the contact call of the Forty-spotted Pardalote, and saw the first of several, this one being chased out of a euc viminalis by one the honeyeaters. Despite that, the 40 spots were pretty determined, and shortly returned, and I spent the next 20 minutes watching them. As with the Spotted Pardalotes, there was a lot of chasing going on, which I assume is related to pairing. Although feeding mostly amongst the outer foliage of their chosen eucalypts, and often hard to watch, I did manage a few shots of them (not brilliant!), including one showing 2 birds (image on the right), something of a first for me! I must say that I had little expectation of seeing any 40 spots, let alone photographing them, so that was a bonus.
So perhaps Tinderbox is still worth a visit, at least at this time of year. As a sequel to this, I stopped about a kilometre down the road towards Blackman's Bay, to talk to an old friend, and saw yet more 40 spots, so there appears to be a good few about.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A Tale of Two Wrens

Two recent outings saw me coming to grips with two of Tasmania's more elusive wrens. The first was during a search of the western side of the Derwent for recently arrived egrets. At my first stop, Gould's Lagoon, I did manage to find a single Great Egret and a single Cattle Egret roosting in the dead tree normally occupied by cormorants. The Great Egret flew from that tree, shortly after I arrived, and joined 3 other "Greats" flying upstream above the river. I moved on to New Norfolk, hoping to see the usual small flock of Cattle Egrets feeding in the irrigated paddocks on the outskirts, but drew a blank. A little deflated, I dropped into the Old Hop Field reserve, specifically to the sewage ponds, where a surprising range of birds may be seen, including the Yellow-throated and Black-headed Honeyeaters, and Yellow Wattlebird (all Tasmanian endemic species), robins, Native Hen, the occasional Dusky Moorhen, Chestnut Teal and Black Duck. Noting a male Superb Fairywren still resplendent in full adult plumage, I tried
closing for a photograph. I scrambled a couple, before being scolded by a Tasmanian Scrubwren. I was a little surprised to find one here, among the willows lining the creek, with blackberries and hop plants forming a dense mass in between, much of it now acquiring that attractive golden Autumn look. Perhaps inured to passing humans, it reacted well to 'pishing', and I took several shots, two reproduced here (2 upper shots). They're seldom easy to photograph, being very active and occupying the shadier situations, so I was glad to make the most of it.
The following day, I drove down to Goat Bluff, near South Arm. I was interested to see whether the Flame Robins were still present, as some of these robins form flocks, and part of the local population migrates to the Mainland. Wandering round the light scrub on the eastern side of the bluff, I found a solitary 'brown' Flame Robin, so most of the several pairs that had territories here, appear to have moved elsewhere. Watching this Flame Robin singing from the top of a fence post, I noticed another bird, also singing, on a fence wire a few metres from the robin. Nearing the two songsters, the robin flew, leaving the other, a Striated Fieldwren. As I watched it from a few metres away, I realised that there were at least 2 other fieldwrens in the area, also singing, in their case from on top of low bushes. I was pleasantly surprised that, in general and with care, I could get close enough to get acceptable images, two of which are shown (2 lower images). As I have found on other occasions, in sunny still conditions, almost year round, these fieldwrens call from conspicuous perches, presumably to establish or reinforce their territories. In between bouts of song, they would forage on the narrow tracks, often running along the tracks with amazing speed.
So despite failing to achieve what I had set out for, on both outings, it was pleasing to get to photograph 2 birds that often prove difficult. Both species are common, in suitable habitat, in Tasmania, but, particularly the fieldwren, can prove difficult to find, notably when you're trying to find them for visiting birders!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Brief Encounter......Brown Goshawk

Sunday morning, and undecided were to bird, I ended up at the Waterview Reserve at Sorell. This reserve is on the old Sorell tip site, and was once renown for high tide wader sightings. Sadly, these days there are few waders, their place taken by hundreds of gulls and Forest Ravens. Despite that, I have noted one saving grace on my infrequent visits, raptors, and my Sunday visit was no exception.
I had only been there a few minutes when a raptor flew from the sewage ponds and off towards the chicken factory grounds. I tentatively identified it as a Brown Goshawk, partly on silhouette and partly on having seen one here several months ago. I wandered on towards the water to scan the area. A few Chestnut Teal, 4 Pelican, several Little Pied and Black-faced Cormorant, a solitary Great Cormorant and a few dozen Pied Oystercatchers spread out on the distant tidal flats. Turning towards the chicken factory, I instantly picked up the raptor, this time sitting atop the wire mesh boundary fence. I decided to try to get close enough to ID it and possibly photograph it.
Using the numerous boxthorn bushes as cover, I closed to about 80metres, took a few shots, looked closely and decided it was indeed a Brown Goshawk, in immature plumage. Could I get closer? Using some dead ground and more boxthorn, I got to about 50 metres. It didn't appear to be too disturbed by my now obvious presence, but when it shortly 'voided', I knew it would soon be off! It flew, not far though, this time sitting on top of one of the many large hay bales, looking back towards me. While sighting it through my tele lens, it suddenly took flight, this time towards me and only inches off the ground, and fast! I desperately tried to get the camera to autofocus on this 'missile' as it passed, getting the one shot pictured at top. It disappeared in the fold of the slope, reappearing briefly, as it pulled debris from a pile of dry plants (image at right). Down again, and mantling over something, but I could only see the occasional flap of the wing. Off with something in its left talon, propping down on a nearby hay bale (at left). A quick look around and it was off into the blue gum plantation and lost to sight. It took me sometime to work out what it had caught (by looking at the enlarged images), which turned out to be some hapless mouse. The whole process was over in well under 2 minutes, and for me, they were very much adrenalin filled! Big buzz, and a record of it to take home to boot.[I suggest it's worth clicking and enlarging the upper image in particular, to see the goshawk in full cry]

Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Myrtle Forest, Wellington Park

I am rather a creature of habit, and anyone regularly reading this blog will be aware that I often visit the same places, but occasionally, I break out. Lying in bed the other morning and knowing that the forecast was for one of those idyllic Tasmanian Autumn days, I racked my brains for a 'new' place to visit that wasn't too far away. Going back in my mind over the last 30 years or so, I recalled birding a spot in the foothills of Mt. Wellington, near Collinsvale, about 30 minutes drive away. A quick look on the internet confirmed there was a reserve there, named as "The Myrtle Forest", and I headed for the hills.
Arriving, I realised that the area had changed out of all recognition from my last visit, it sported a formal car park, and a formal road in, and I set off down the track with high hopes. I passed the picnic hut and started the climb and shortly came across a trio fungi hunting, one of whom was David Ratkovsky, a birder from way back, whom some of the long time birders will recall. He co-authored 2 papers on the birds of the Mt Wellington Range. After a chat, I decided that I'd take one of the side tracks that I'd passed earlier, which, apart from anything else, gave more
chance of photography than the heavier rainforest. That proved a good move!
At first I thought the track was probably an old, now overgrown, fire trail, but debris along the track suggests it was probably an early logging access road. Much of this area was destroyed in the 1967 bushfires that ravaged much of what is now, the Wellington Park. The climb took me away from the manfern-lined creek, into more open forest, with a thick understory of shrubs and cutting grass. The predominant birds were Crescent Honeyeaters, noisy as ever, Eastern Spinebills, Tasmanian Scrubwrens, and small parties of passing Tasmanian Thornbills, one individual briefly posing for me, (pictured at top right). Overhead, there were numerous flocks of Strong-billed Honeyeaters feeding in the tops of the eucalypts, several Green Rosellas, not to mention the noisy flocks of Black Currawong, flighting down the mountainside.
As the track narrowed, largely with encroaching cutting grass, and the bush either side became denser and wetter, I saw the first of several Olive Whistlers, feeding on the track. I stopped to photograph it, a female. As I stood there, I became aware of first one, then a flock of perhaps 10-12, Scrubtits feeding among this dense scrub. I think this is the largest flock that I've
ever sighted. A few ventured to the edge of the scrub, enabling me to get a shot or two, one of which is shown at left. They were gleaning insects from both the trunks and leaves, and in a short while, had moved on. Perhaps, as their name suggests, this is their true habitat, but it's not the habitat that I usually associate them with. Perhaps I've been looking in the wrong place! I also saw and photographed the first of several Pink Robins that I recorded along the track, mostly males. It was interesting to notice the difference in their calls, one had a call that had a 'fault' in it, sounding rather like a vinyl record that had been badly scratched! I tried, unsuccessfully, to photograph the Tasmanian Scrubwrens, of which there were many ensconced in the thick scrub, but they were quite content to stay there and scold me as I passed. While having one last try at photographing them, I was 'rewarded' by having a solitary Yellow-throated Honeyeater, alight on the underside of an overhanging branch just above my head, and feed by pulling the bark back to expose insects, (bottom image), and in case you're wondering, it is the right way round! Like all of the Tasmanian endemic honeyeaters, and somewhat in contradiction of their name, they spend much of their time searching for insects under the bark of trees, displaying great agility in the process.
All in all, a great morning, and I managed to 'shoot' a number of other species in the process, which I hope to blog soon. In the right conditions, this is a great area to bird.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Dusky Moorhen & More

A recent phone call from Bob Patterson, a long time friend and birder, set me scanning the skies for 'swifts', well White-throated Needletails, to give them their proper name. It was a week or so ago, before the 'big blow', and on a day forecasting a thunderstorm. Bob had mentioned hundreds over his suburb of Blackman's Bay, but I only managed distant views of small numbers around the hills and over the Derwent River, from Bellerive. 'Swifts' seem to be far less frequently observed in the Hobart area these days, and I often spend time expectantly scanning the clouds during suitable weather conditions. By suitable weather, I'm referring to warm humid days, preceding storm fronts.
Bob and I go way back, to arguably the heyday of the local birding scene ('70s and '80s), certainly as far as amateur scientific work is concerned. Today, quite rightly, the emphasis is more on conservation. I suspect, like me, he takes a somewhat jaundiced view of some of today's 'instant expert
s', in a hurry to show their limited knowledge of the local birding scene! (Perhaps we were similarly perceived by the established birders when we first started).
Bob also menti
oned that on an old farm dam, close to the Antarctic Division's HQ at Kingston, he had seen some Dusky Moorhen and Australasian Grebe. Neither are these days considered to be rare in Tasmania, but certainly worthy of mention. The grebe has always been a bit thin on the ground, most often found on farm dams, and was considered rare during the first Australian Bird Atlas (1977-1981). The first breeding record was in 1965, since when a slow increase has occurred. The similar, Hoary-headed Grebe, is widely recorded around the state.
The Dusky Moorhen is a more recent 'invader', first recorded on Flinders Island in 1935, and present and breeding since the 1960s, on King Islan
d. By 1977 it was recorded as breeding in the Launceston area (I can remember seeing them there then, on the surrounds of the then Launceston tip). From that time there has been a gradual southward range expansion.
An early morning visit to Kingston fo
und 4 Australasian Grebe, and a similar number of Dusky Moorhen, as well as a few Black Duck, and 2 Eurasian Coot, on the less than one hectare pond. Trying to get close enough for worthwhile images, particularly of the rather timid moorhens, proved difficult, almost to the point of total failure! The pond is fringed by reeds and protected by an impenetrable 'hedge' of Blackberry bushes, but eventually I 'scrambled' the accompanying images after several circuits of the dam. Watching the moorhens, there appeared to be 2 juveniles (one pictured at lower right), an adult (top right), and an 'intermediate' plumaged bird (upper left).
While compiling this piece, I've spent sometime looking at various images of moorhens, and the bird that I've described as "intermediate", still seems to be odd. It certainly seems to lack the white undertail feathers which is present even in the younger birds. I'm leaning towards the possibility that it is a hybrid cross between coot and moorhen, but with my limited recent acquaintance with Dusky Moorhen, I'm hesitant to be categoric! Certainly there are records of coot and moorhen hybridising in Europe, so that could be a possibility. It spends all its time with the other duskies, so it thinks it's a Dusky! Not sure whether such a cross has been recorded in Australia. It also fits with the possibility of it being a parent of the two younger birds. Probably of academic interest only, but I'd still like to hear from anyone having any thoughts on this.

The Australasian Grebes were far easier to approach, but being much smaller, presented other issues. Although I've seen both of these species many times over the years, this was the first time I've managed to photograph them, so a 'thank you' to Bob!
[NB.The area surrounding the dam will soon be a housing estate, although I understand the dam will be retained.]

Friday, April 04, 2008

The Big Blow

It would be remiss of me not to at least mention in passing, the big blow that hit wide areas of Tasmania in the early hours of yesterday (Thursday) morning. With winds reaching a reported 176km/hr on a nearby hill, I can confirm that it was an horrendous, sleepless night. Many houses suffered damage, most of it relatively minor (loss of roofing etc), and many hundreds of trees were damaged or blown down, some taking out power lines causing blackouts (nearly 5 hours in my case). After an inspection of the outside of the house, thankfully intact, and removing some of the tree debris from my garden, I drove to a nearby vantage point overlooking the Derwent River. From there I took the accompanying shot of one of several Australasian Gannets fishing offshore, their white plumage contrasting against the dullness of the morning. They were among many hundreds of 'muttonbirds', (the local name for the Short-tailed Shearwater), living up to their name, flying fast and low over the water. Close inspection through the bins., I noticed scores of Crested Terns, and way down the river, 2 Giant Petrel, unfortunately too far away for me to ID whether they were Northern or Southern. By mid morning the strong winds had abated and so had all the action in the river, but the memory of the big blow will not be so easily forgotten!