Sunday, June 22, 2008

Sign of Things to Come?......Pied Oystercatcher

Returning from Granton recently, I decided to look in at Montrose Bay at Rosetta, a northern Hobart suburb. I was primarily interested in looking for the Little Black Cormorant that usually roost on the small wooden jetty (now condemned), together with Great and Little Pied Cormorant. And indeed I found all 3 on the jetty, enjoying what I suspect is a brief respite before the jetty is demolished, as there's a new, all concrete one, a short distance away. But my interest turned to the flock of around 50 Pied Oystercatchers, feeding on the grassed area behind the yacht club. I've found them in this area before, feeding on the nearby, well manicured and watered playing fields of the local school. But as they were being mown, the oystercatchers were making the most of the public area, only 20 or 30 metres away from one of the state's busiest highways, the 'Brooker". I was intent on getting a few shots of them as they fed, but not too close as to flush them, which proved fairly easy, despite the to'ing and fro'ing of cars and people to the nearby children's play area. I walked back to my car, noting a few oystercatchers roosting on the grass near the yacht club, one of which flew up onto the roof of a nearby building, joining a few loafing Silver Gulls. That at least I hadn't noted before, and wondered whether the POs regularly use this roof to roost on, particularly at times when this council recreation area is in full swing. That would certainly be unusual, and well worth looking out for. The use by Pied Oystercatchers of grassed areas to feed, often well away from their usual haunts, as in this case, appears to be a fairly recent change of habit. I've also noted them feeding on grassed areas at Dover, Gordon and Franklin. Perhaps with sea levels rising, this will become the norm amongst our oystercatcher population, and regularly choosing to roost on roofs inevitable.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

What Early Bird?

With such fine weather of the last few days, I finally threw off my recent lethargy, and with an early start, headed for the Goat Bluff area. I have a routine at Goat Bluff, starting with the short walk to the lookout. Occasionally, especially during the Winter months, you can spot the odd albatross, albeit, usually some kilometres off the coast. But that morning, I could only pick out a few Australasian Gannet, and a mob of gulls off nearby Betsey Island. With a stiff breeze blowing, and frost still evident on the ground, I was glad to get away from that exposed spot and into the coastal scrub. Walking down the track towards Hope Beach, I was struck (and disappointed) by the lack of birds. A few distant Crescent Honeyeaters called, and the odd, unmistakable twinkling, of an Eastern Spinebill, but little else. I reached a spot close to the beach and scanned the area. I picked up a pair of Hooded Plovers, a rare sighting on this beach in recent times, and then an adult White-bellied Sea Eagle, low over the sea, leisurely making its way to Betsey. It was some consolation, but I had expected more. I wandered back up, and down the eastern side of the bluff, hoping to see at least a Striated Fieldwren, a common, if elusive, resident here. No show, only a flock of passing Silvereyes, and the calling of unseen Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos in the scrub below. By now I had been here nearly 2 hours, taken a few scenic shots in the low angle light, and was about to give up. Back up to the car park, one last look along the road--and then they all started appearing! I disturbed the small flock of resident Yellow-rumped Thornbills, now reduced to just 3, from a dozen or more in the Summer--casualties, or moved on? Then a number of honeyeaters, feeding on the few remaining banksia flowers, passed in quick succession, as I stood and watched. Firstly an Eastern Spinebill, supplanted shortly by a Crescent Honeyeater, in turn pushed out by the very nervous Yellow-throated Honeyeater, pictured at right. Eager to get some shots of Yellowrumps, I positioned myself in the scrub near where they were feeding, and eventually, one came just close enough to get a worthwhile shot (lower left). Hoping that I might get a better shot, I waited. It proved fruitless for the Yellowrumps, but instead, I had a succession of birds prop on top of a nearby dead sheoak. First a Grey Fantail, then a Yellowthroat, followed by a Crescent Honeyeater, a pair of Scarlet Robins, and finally a few Black-headed Honeyeaters (top left). So I got my fill of photographs, but left wondering why I had bothered to get there so early!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Whoa! Great Egret Aerobatics

I made a brief diversion to Gould's Lagoon recently, while returning from a trip to New Norfolk. I had little time for anything but a quick scan, but seeing the resident Great Egret close to the highway, I couldn't resist getting out and taking a few shots. While it usually puts up with passing pedestrians, it was suspicious of my intentions, as you can see (top left image). However it allowed me to take a few shots before it flew a few metres, landed and carried on feeding. As I stood deciding whether to try for more shots, it took off again, calling with the usual croaking call, as it climbed ever higher, then circled some hundred metres or more over the lagoon. I watched, wondering whether I had been responsible for this action--I get, perhaps justifiably, paranoid about overstepping that indefinable line between legitimate watching and harrying birds, especially when attempting photography. So I stood there willing it back down to the lagoon, when it went into a series of high speed dives and loops, pulling what in an aircraft, would be described as high g turns. Frankly, I've watched many hundreds of egrets, but this display can only be described as awesome! As you can see, I shot off a few images, albeit from some distance away. If you look closely at the images (by clicking on them), you may see the distortion of its' body, particularly in the neck, during these high speed aerobatics. The whole episode was over in a matter of minutes, and it soon descended back to the lagoon, and after a few laps round it, landed on one of the decaying nest boxes, close to the hide. I returned to my car, quite relieved that the egret had returned, but still puzzled by the event. My thoughts as I drove back, were that perhaps it was a reaction to a predator, possibly a Peregrine Falcon, the local White-bellied Sea Eagle, or one of the overwintering Marsh Harriers, unseen by me. Perhaps you may have seen a similar display and have a better explanation. An interesting brief visit.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Another Tick--but only just!

I received an email from Bill Wakefield on Sunday morning, saying that Tim Reid had reported a Pink-eared Duck on "Lake Chook" at Gretna (I assume the name is an unofficial birder name!). Unable to check it out on the weekend due to family commitments, today (Monday) I opted for an early morning start. Well, in my eastern shore suburb, it was bright and sunny, so I set off with high hopes of seeing said bird. But....the whole of the Derwent Valley was in thick fog. Being a supreme optimist, you have to be to photograph birds, I kept going, telling myself the weather at Gretna would be clear. Wrong!
The stretch of water concerned, is a large farm dam, opposite the Gretna village hall. At the moment, being one of the few stretches of water still extant, due to low rainfall, it holds good numbers of waterfowl. Arriving, my heart sank, visibility was extremely poor, with a thick mist over the entire area that, in the very still conditions, was unlikely to lift for some hours. I pulled off to the side of the road and scanned the area. Numbers of teal, shoveler, black duck, coot, Hoary-headed Grebe, and Black Swan, but no pink-eared. There was obviously many other birds further down the dam, but in the conditions they were just ghostly blobs. At the risk of scaring everything, I got out of the car and walked down to the fence, hoping that would enable me to 'see' a little further down the dam. Little stirred, except a solitary Black-fronted Plover calling--I think they were having trouble seeing me! I scanned again, just being able to make out 4 Hardheads on a small islet, mid water. I was fast coming to the conclusion that this really was a waste of time, but thought I'd have one last scan. Voila! The unmistakable outline of a Pink-eared Duck, about a hundred metres away! Must get a record shot, just to prove I did see it--top left. (Yes, I know it doesn't look foggy, but that's entirely down to digital imaging, for which I'm truly grateful).
Pink-eared Duck are considered a rare vagrant in Tasmania, and Bill tells me that this is only the 8th record for the state. From memory, most of the records have come from the far NW of Tasmania. It's also my first sighting of this species in Tasmania, and I've been around a long time! My thanks to Bill and Tim.