Monday, December 20, 2010

Season's Greetings

Have a good one! Stay safe

Image of Tree Martin taken at Goat Bluff, South Arm. A few pairs have nessted in the cliffs for many years.

Lauderdale Spit....recent visitors

In the past few weeks I've often stopped off at the Lauderdale Spit for a quick visit, usually while en route to other venues on the South Arm Peninsula. I'm often lured there by the sight of roosting Bar-tailed Godwits, clearly observable from a moving car, but for the first time in several years, they have been been 'missing'. I've had to settle for the occasional Caspian Tern, or the scores of Pied Oystercatchers that regularly roost on the spit.
So I was delighted to find a few migrants have recently taken up residence, at least temporarily, on the spit, and have managed to photograph them as you can see by the accompanying images.
Last Summer two Grey-tailed Tattler and two Red Knot spent much of the Summer on this small peninsula, so it's interesting to speculate whether the two Knot and the solitary Tattler are the same birds. I suspect they probably are.
I've spent a good while watching them as they feed and although the Knot and Tattler are of a similar size they're after quite different prey. The Tattler seems only interested in the small crabs that abound in the shallow water. The Knot appear to be mainly interested in small molluscs, which they find by probing the mud, also usually in shallow water. Both species swallow the prey whole.
I've only seen an Eastern Curlew on one occasion at the spit this summer, and managed a distant shot before it flew down to the bay to the south, which is its' preferred feeding area. It was once common to see 10 or more Curlew feeding in this bay, but numbers have seriously declined and it's rare to see more than a solitary bird there nowadays.
Yesterday, I noticed the 2 Knot were roosting with the 70 or so Red-necked Stint alongside the highway, and sought a closer view. It's possible to get quite close to the stint while walking along the edge of the highway. Not the most 'restful' birding, with cars only a few metres away! Observing through the tall grass
I could see the stint and several pairs of Red-capped Plover, and noted a Black-fronted Plover among them. The latter is a bird usually found around the margins of fresh or brackish water, and locally most frequently found around farm dams and similar, so it was surprising to find it among the stint and in a salt water environment. This was a 'first' for me at Lauderdale and I was pleased to get the accompanying image.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Whistlers Galore

Whistlers were the highlights of 2 recent outings. At this time of year, in their chosen habitats, these two species are often the dominant songsters. The Golden Whistler is common in many of the more open forested areas, but often "encroaches" into denser, wetter, scrubby areas, preferred by the Olive Whistler. On forest edges and along stream sides, the two seem to co-habit quite amicably.
I must have photographed male Golden Whistlers on numerous occasions, but I never knock back the chance to try again. Fortunately they're among the easiest bush birds to photograph at this time of year, calling from favoured perches, and often allowing close approach. Males spend a great deal of time chasing other males while they're establishing their territories.
I recently saw 8 males in a melee during an early morning walk in the Risdon Brook Park on Hobart's eastern shore, but once they've established their territories, their 'battles' are limited to calling. I've noted that they frequently react to other birds calling, and seem to try to 'drown' them out, and anyone standing close to a calling male can attest to the strength of the call.
Olive Whistlers occupy generally denser, often wetter habitats, commonly along stream sides. Whereas the 'goldens' are extroverts, the olives are generally retiring, calling from within the vegetation. I did witness, or perhaps more accurately. I heard a vocal duel recently on the edge of the Sandspit River in the Wielangta Forest. Three calling olive males, chased one another among the tea tree thickets, giving me only the occasional glimpse of them. One must have taken pity on me, and stopped for a photo opp., and I scrambled the accompanying shot, taken close to my photographic gear's limits. I have been to this spot along the stream side many times and rarely miss out on recording them, albeit often only from a single call. Golden Whistlers are common here too. I spent an hour or so in the area, recording, among others, Strong-billed and Yellow-throated Honeyeaters, Pink Robin, Scrubtit and Tasmanian Scrubwren, leaving when the wind rose and finally quietened the whistlers.
The Sandspit River track at the northern end has become somewhat overgrown, no doubt due to the rain and lack of use while the road bridge has been closed. The good news is that work is finally being carried out to reconstruct the bridge, the bad news, for me at least, was that I managed to pick up 4 leeches as I pushed my way along the track. I didn't discover this for some hours later and after they had gorged on my blood (top stuff). A reminder to take more precautions next visit.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Don Jones........Birds Tasmania

I've just received a short note announcing the death at the weekend of Don Jones. Don has been the hard working Secretary of Birds Tasmania for a number of years. He will be sorely missed by members and his many friends.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Free Feed Pierson's Point

Before you rush off to partake, this feed is strictly for the birds.
A recent outing with my son's family to the Peter Murrell Reserve at Kingston, in part to find Forty-spotted Pardalote, ended in a visit to nearby Pierson's Point. We had failed to find any 40spots, and thought that we'd give this area at Tinderbox a look. It was late morning by the time we got there, and I set off round the perimeter of the small reserve, looking in the gums in areas that I have found 40spots in the past. Again I failed, but on rejoining the others found that I had really missed all the action. My son, Matthew, himself a keen birder and photographer, had taken excellent shots of Green Rosellas and Dusky Robins. I hurriedly tried to emulate him, but the best of the day had passed and it was now quite overcast and the children were hankering after the promised lunch at "Maccas". I made a mental note to return.
So about a fortnight later, I made an early morning return visit which turned up trumps.
The local council is undertaking a "beautification" exercise of this area, which is the grounds of the old gun battery, WWII vintage, which overlooks the Derwent River estuary.
My first shots were of members of a group of Dusky Robins, enjoying the spoils from the newly disturbed soil, and utilising the newly installed picnic tables as vantage points to spot insects. Also enjoying it were two groups of Superb Fairy-wrens. But there were many more birds feeding on the ground. It was about now the penny dropped, I'm not sure why it took so long. The attraction was the newly sown grass seed. Green and Eastern Rosellas, Yellow-rumped Thornbills, and Tasmanian Native Hen were all feasting on the seed, and their desire to feed made them easier to approach.
There is a concrete lookout, no doubt originally the control centre for the guns, now windowless, and a large Blue Gum, in the middle of the reserve, and with the gum in flower was attracting a range of birds. I made my way over to the blockhouse, entered and happened to glance through a 'window' on the far side of the room. By one of the picnic tables some 30 metres away, was what I first thought were small animals, but on closer inspection were a covey of Brown Quail, six in all. They too were enjoying the free feed. Although not uncommon, quail seem to have made something of a recovery in the last 12 months. Until last summer, I had rarely seen quail around my usual haunts for some years, but following good Spring rain in 2009, I have noted them in several local reserves.
They were too far away for quality images, but it was fascinating watching them over 30 minutes or more. It was the first time for many years that I've been able to see much more than their tail end after flushing them. They spent most of their time fairly tightly grouped as they fed, and allowed cars to come and go without bothering them unduly. Eventually I must have made one movement too many and alarmed them. They scuttled off keeping closely bunched, heads down, again looking more like a large articulated mammal.
I was more than pleased to have such good views of the quail, but there were other 'delights' about. Two Swift Parrots calling from the top of nearby gums were my first of the season, and a calling Shining Bronze-cuckoo, also present in the Peter Murrell, suggest that this species has made an unusually early arrival. Black-headed, Crescent and New Holland Honeyeaters were particularly active, as were both Spotted and (also newly arrived) Striated Pardalotes, but still no 40spots sighted, although with all the action, I only made a somewhat half hearted attempt to find them. Despite not seeing the 40Spots, it was a most enjoyable morning.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Welcome Winter Visitors

One of the delights of Winter in many urban gardens in Tasmania, is the arrival of honeyeaters to feed on the array of "exotic" native plants that flower at this time of year. As I sit typing this story, I can hear the unmistakable "jik" call of a Crescent Honeyeater, just outside the window. It's there to feed on the red flowers of a callistemon (bottlebrush), now unfortunately showing its' 40 years plus, and beginning to slowly die. Every now and then, I try my hand at photographing them. I say them, but in truth, I've no idea how many visit, rarely seeing more than one at any one time. They do seem to have a routine, arriving via a closeby dense shrub, and warily watching for some time before showing themselves. The male Crescent Honeyeaters then usually announce themselves by singing, before partaking of the pollen. The females, with their relatively subdued plumage, slink in, trying to stay as unobtrusive as possible, largely because if a male Crescent sees them, they'll be chased off.
Another unobtrusive visitor, far fewer in number, are the Eastern Spinebills. In fact, it was only while trying to photograph the Crescents that I realised that they are regulars too. Difficult to photograph at the best of times, with their hyped up behaviour with constant flicking of wings and tail, the image at top is the only worthwhile shot I managed in several attempts.
Every once in awhile, a flock of Silvereyes will descend on the garden, their arrival preceded by the constant "tang tang" call that keeps the flock together. I counted at least 30 birds in one arriving flock, feeding on both blossom and insects, mainly whitefly and greenfly.
Welcome visitors to me maybe, but their arrival, if spotted, is anathema to the resident Little Wattlebirds. With much snapping of bills, they plough into the shrubs holding the visitors, and chasing them with considerable vigour, when they take flight.
Since I started this story a month has passed and I realised if I didn't publish it soon, Spring will have sprung, and I think maybe it already has. On a recent visit to Risdon Brook Park, I heard then saw 2, almost certainly a pair, Fan-tailed Cuckoos, seemingly on the prowl, and at Peter Murrell Reserve, I heard a Horsfield's Bronze-cuckoo calling. With the continuing dry weather here in the south-east of Tasmania, together with sunny days, one might be forgiven for believing that Spring has indeed arrived. But I don't think we've quite down with Winter yet!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Little Tassie Battler..........40Spotted Pardalote

A recent article in Wingspan (Birds Australia's magazine) highlighted the plight of the Forty-spotted Pardalote, a species endemic to Tasmania. In essence, the article showed that there has been a marked decline in numbers, from an estimated 3,520 birds in 1986-7, to only 1500 or so in the latest survey, conducted in 2009-10. This iconic Tasmanian bird, one of our smallest species, has long been on the endangered list.

40spots are around 10cm in length and they spend much of their life in the outer canopy of eucalypts, and anyone who has looked for them knows just how difficult they can be to find. Probably never numerous, they're found mainly in White Peppermints Eucalyptus viminalis, known as Manna Gums, a species naturally found along the coasts of south-east Tasmania. Colonies are found mainly on Maria and Bruny Islands and on the Tinderbox Peninsula south of Hobart.

The article speculates the reasons for the decline, suggesting climate change, drought and die-back disease in eucalypts.

In recent years I and many visiting birders, have looked and found them in the Peter Murrell Reserve at Kingston, south of Hobart. During my visits this last autumn, I have only occasionally seen them there, and always at the same location. To be fair, I haven't made a point of looking for them, and only found them because I heard them calling. But my overall impression is that there are very few about, and this impression is typical of other birders experience.

I am not a biologist, but my concern is that we seem to know surprisingly little about these birds. It's well known that a major food source is "manna", the conical scales spun by lerp species on the underside of eucalypt leaves. These sugary scales are known as honeydew, and are also eaten by a range of birds, including Black-headed, Yellow-throated, and Crescent Honeyeaters. These lerps are considered a pest as they skeletonise the leaves, which in turn can have an impact on the wellbeing of the tree. My observations locally suggest that there is a paucity of these insects on eucalypts this winter, so is this the "x factor"? Two winters ago the numbers of lerp 'infested" trees was considerable, and many Striated Pardalotes overwintered rather than migrate to the Mainland as they normally do. Were the numbers of lerps the reason?

Obviously the above is just my observations, and only in a small area of the state, but to my mind it does highlight some of the gaps in our understanding of what makes pardalotes 'tick'.

A much greater effort needs to be applied to the wellbeing of the 40Spot and soon. The degrading of the Peter Murrell Reserve, with ever more recreational activity and industrial and housing development on the surrounds, suggests that we're not taking this issue seriously. A more proactive approach is called for.

NB. The accompanying images were taken at the Peter Murrell Reserve about 2 1/2 years ago. I noted that these birds were regularly coming down to a bush on the side of a hill, and was grateful for a relatively easy chance to photograph them. I surmised they might be feeding nearby young, but they didn't appear to be carrying food and were unfazed by my presence. I moved away to better understand what was going on. They were in fact visiting a nest site situated behind a thick piece of bark near the base of a Manna Gum. Further watching revealed that the visiting birds were mainly juveniles, and that a family of 40spots appeared to be using this as a "funk" hole.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Masked Lapwing Feast.

I just caught the end of a TV story a few days ago. It was refuting comments that the Melbourne Cup carnival was in danger of being called off because of an infestation of cockchafer beetles. These little critters, in their larval form, had caused the grass to die, (it eats the roots). In turn, this caused "divoting" of the turf, and deterioration of the track. Having almost no interest in horse racing, I can't say that the story had much interest to me, but it did remind that a few months ago, I had an encounter of sorts with these little "beasts".
I was returning home from the bread run, via the Bellerive waterfront, armed as usual with a camera. It had rained overnight and was still threatening, so my birding was limited to a quick scan of the Derwent River. The nearby point had the usual cormorants, gulls and Crested Terns on, and farther down the estuary I could see several Gannets fishing. Nearer, a few Sooty Oystercatchers were loafing on the rocks, but there was little else of interest, except a pair of Masked Lapwing. They're often there, or close by, so common as to not evoke any interest, but lacking any other chance of photography, I took a few shots. One thing led to another, and I began to wonder what they were feeding on. Multiple shots later, I finally found out, cockchafers.
Cockchafers are a common lawn pest, and I recall a remedy that I suspect would probably be frowned on in these 'waterwise' days--flood the lawn with water, forcing the larva out of the ground and presumably drowning them in the process. The overnight rain had the same effect, giving the plovers a feast. Perhaps a large flock of Masked Lapwing on Flemington race course might have helped rid them of the larva, but judging by the number of them caught by 2 birds on a few square metres of grass, it would have required a very, very large flock.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Priorities.....Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo

I'm sure we all have a set of unwritten priorities when it comes to everyday life. So I'm also sure
that you would do the same thing as I did yesterday morning, in similar circumstances.
I was alerted by my visiting granddaughter Caitlyn, in her usual dramatic way, that a terrible catastrophe was taking place in the toilet. "Water's going everywhere grandpa, come quickly". Something was not well with the cistern, and water was spraying everywhere, including over me, and I soon found myself standing in a few millimetres of an ever widening pool of water, clean I hasten to add! I stopped the flow, but as I walked back through the kitchen to put on some old (and dry) clothes before fixing the problem, I glanced out of the window and down the garden. High in the angophora near the bottom of the garden, I could see a solitary large bird, unmistakably a Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo.
They visit on occasions to feed on the Banksia integrifolia flowers and seeds, but this was the first visit of the year. Any thought of fixing the cistern or cleaning up, quickly disappeared, as I grabbed a camera and headed off down the garden. Unfortunately, the bird had flown. So thinking that was that, I headed back up the garden, but on nearing the house, I heard the unmistakable "kee-ow" scream of their contact call coming from the other side of a banksia spinulosa close to the house. Frustratingly, I couldn't even see the bird, let alone photograph it--foiled again. Eventually it flew back down the garden onto to one of the "integrifolias", finally giving me my photo opp., images shown. As I closed on the cockatoo at top right, I realised it was not alone in the banksia. as a head popped up on the far side, this time a male, pictured at left, and a third bird called from nearby, so they were most likely a family group. After 15 or so minutes, I heard an approaching flock of their fellows, about 18 in all, and "my group" soon joined them. all flying off to the east.
But it wasn't quite over yet. As I climbed the steps to the backdoor, the local flock of 40 or more Galahs, flew over screeching and obviously agitated, usually a sign of a predator about. But the object of their concern was a passing Pelican, fairly uncommon over my garden, flying high to who knows where.
So finally back to the cleanup, but feeling a whole lot more contented than I had a short while ago.

Friday, May 21, 2010

European Wasps and Birds

A recent story in the local paper, The Mercury, caught my attention, and told of losses being sustained by Tamar area grape growers. This time they weren't aiming their ire at birds, such as the Silvereye, but at the European Wasp. (Most vineyards are now netted). Wasps were apparently accidentally introduced to Tasmania around 1959, possibly from New Zealand, and they are now frequently encountered around much of the state. Unlike bees, they are able to sting multiple times and, speaking from personal experience, it's much more painful! The growers complaint was that they are losing up to 30% of their crop to wasps (eating fruit) and they wanted a public campaign to combat them.
My thoughts about the story related to several species of our birds that actually regularly include this pest in their diet, including Noisy Miners, Yellow Wattlebirds, Grey Shrike-thrush and the ubiquitous Silver Gull, but I suspect there are several others. The miners and wattlebirds almost certainly don't target them, but encounter them when both are attracted to flowering
eucalypts. Shrike-thrushes and gulls certainly do, as I recount below.
While birding in the Meehan Range, I came across a pool of water that had collected in a wheel rut and flushed a shrike-thrush from the water's edge. Cursing that I had missed a photo opp. by my lack of vigilance, I was surprised when it quickly returned to the poolside. Over the next several minutes I photographed it on the ground and in the nearby scrub, and despite repeatedly flushing it, it was always drawn back to the pool, but didn't appear to drink. Later, looking more closely at the pool I noted that there was a procession of wasps visiting the edge of the water, presumably to drink. It was then that the penny dropped, the shrike-thrush wasn't drinking but had found a great source of 'easy' food--the wasps.
I had noted and blogged a previous occasion that I had witnessed Silver Gulls targeting wasps, and a few days ago I took the accompanying images of a similar event, this time on Bellerive waterfront. I suspect that it's a regular occurrence. Several gulls lined up, some few metres apart, on the river's edge, facing towards the sun, probably to silhouette the prey. Individual wasps were flying from the shore across the water. The gulls would spot them and give chase as the wasps climbed ever higher. To catch them, the gulls had to use all their flying ability, but I never saw them miss. They would usually descend back to the rocks to eat them, but I couldn't determine whether they removed the sting before swallowing. I'd estimate that they were catching maybe 20 or 30 an hour, so it's probably not going to make too much of a dent in wasp numbers, but every little helps.
From all this a few questions arise. Where are the wasps going to (they're heading off across the Derwent River), or for that matter where are they all coming from, as there was a fairly constant procession of them? Why do the gulls bother with them as they would appear to have very little nutritional value?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Lake Dulverton.....Worth a Look

I stopped fairly briefly at Lake Dulverton, Oatlands, about 10 days ago, and took the accompanying images. For the past several years this lake has been effectively dry, save for a small section next to the high street, but thanks to good winter rain, it's looking more like its' old self. The view at right was taken from the "far side" looking towards the township. I always start from the highway side, looking first at the dammed area which during the last decade has held the only water of any moment for wildfowl. Here were several Black Swan, some with cygnets ranging from near flying to still covered in down. It also appeared probable that Eurasian Coot had bred here too, among the dense floating vegetation, as there were several juvenile coot, one pictured below. I'd heard reports of Hardheads at the lake, and this is where they often hangout, but the combination of looking towards the early morning sun and the thick vegetation made for difficult viewing conditions. To get a better view I walked along the top of the grassed dam, but apart from getting several shots of coot, swan and a couple of Purple Swamphens, I didn't have any better luck, although walking back I spotted a roost of several Little Pied Cormorants in the top of a waterside fir.
I drove round to the camper van parking area and noted as I approached, a few duck and coot on the foreshore and drove closer to investigate. A driveby found a few duck including 2 Australian Shelduck, a pair of Australasian Shoveler, several coot and a few Chestnut Teal. Realising that I had no hope of approaching them on foot without flushing them, I drove along the lake edge and 'shot' them out of the window (accompanying images). Feeling that I'd done my photography "thing", I set about getting an appreciation of the bird life. There were several hundred coot, numerous Black Duck, Chestnut Teal, several 'flotillas' of Hoary-headed Grebe, scores of Black Swan, a scattering of Australasian Shoveler and Wood Duck, but still no sign of Harhead or Great Crested Grebe. Lake Dulverton was once the home of Great Cresteds in Tasmania, and the only site that they regularly bred at. When the main lake dried they bred in the small dammed area that I have previously mentioned, but although I know they nested and laid eggs, I don't believe they ever successfully raised any young. It was here that on one memorable morning I saw 6 Australsian Bitterns on the shoreline, most probably refugees from other drying and dried out lakes. A species that is now rarely seen in this state.
I drove on round the lake to the headland opposite the island. This spot gives a good view of the eastern end of the lake, and has been the best site to see the great cresteds from and appears the preferred area for Blue-billed Ducks too.Here were many more duck, swans and coot, as well as several White-faced Herons chasing grasshoppers along the top of the second dam.
I walked out along this fairly recently built dam, more in hope than expectation, and after much searching drew a blank on the grebes. As I reached the far side a stiffening breeze got up and I decided to call it quits. It also seemed to have some effect on the ducks too, as a procession of duck, mainly pairs of Blacks, flew over towards the eastern section. A small flock of duck showing white in the wings, and obviously not Blacks, flew rapidly towards me and I took a few shots as they passed--"my' Hardheads! About a dozen off them, alighting about 200 metres away, they were quickly 'swallowed up' in the floating vegetation. I drove off feeling somewhat satisfied.
If you're in this neck of the woods, it's also worth having a look at the Mud Walls dam. It's situated on the Mud Walls road about 3 kilometres from the junction of the Midland Highway and the "Richmond road", B31. It's easy viewing from the roadside and if you don't wish to panic the waterfowl, you'd be advised to stay in your vehicle. There were several hundred duck on the water and in the surrounding paddocks as I returned from Oatlands. They included 300 plus Australian Shelduck, numerous Black Duck and Chestnut Teal, 40 odd Australasian Shoveler, around 60 Wood Duck and 2 Grey Teal. This is one of the few sites that I have regularly seen Grey Teal. Both sites are worth a look.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Ubiquitous Silvereye

At this time of year Silvereyes must be one of the most abundant birds about in many parts of Tasmania, often in large flocks. They're so common that I rarely even bother to photograph them. So usually when I do I know things must be quiet! In this instance that wasn't quite so.
I was making yet another trip to Gould's Lagoon, hoping that the water level had dropped to the point that the crakes might be tempted to feed outside the reed beds. I was particularly after some shots of Spotless Crakes, the shyest of the two species seen at Gould's. I had managed a few distant shots a week or so before, but on this day I was out of luck, scrambling only a few distant shots of an Australian Crake, a species I have frequently photographed here before. The crakes seem to be especially timid at present, perhaps caused by recent cutting of the tall roadside vegetation. There was plenty of other birds to see, including 2 Pelicans and a group of Little Black Cormorants "communally" fishing. A passing Caspian Tern, an infrequent visitor, made a noisy pass at a juvenile Swamp Harrier as it hawked over the lagoon, many Chestnut Teal (including a pair with small ducklings), and the usual Black Duck and Shoveler. A Great Egret roosting with the cormorants was possibly a recent arrival.
Finding no 'Spotless' on the main lagoon, I wandered over to the railway embankment where I have occasionally seen them, but more in hope than expectation. So I wasn't disappointed! There were sizeable flocks of Greenfinch and Goldfinch feeding on rose hips and thistle seed heads. There was also a loose flock of Silvereyes, numbering over 50; flocks sometimes number in the hundreds. Walking back along the water's edge, I found myself among a number of tall Fennel plants that had gone to seed. They're a common weed around the Hobart area, growing mainly on disturbed ground, and although they can be eaten, locals rarely bother with them. Seeing a small brown job, which turned out to be a Brown Thornbill, I ventured farther into the Fennel where I was soon joined by the Silvereyes. As they soon gave me every opportunity to photograph them, I obliged.
Back home with the images on the computer, I was somewhat surprised to notice that they weren't eating the Fennel seeds as I had assumed. Looking closely at the images (such as the one above) I could clearly see that they were after the greenfly and whitefly that was liberally coating the Fennel seed heads. Since many gardeners and grape growers often see Silvereyes as "pests", perhaps finding that they also feed on greenfly and whitefly, they may be looked on just a little more kindly.

Siberia Bound.....Red-necked Stint

Now looking decidedly portly, and having shed their drab greys, most of the local Red-necked Stint are preparing for their annual, epic journey. These small waders will shortly be winging their way back to their breeding grounds in north-east Siberia, several thousand kilometres away, stopping occasionally to top up their fat reserves. Weighing less than 30 grams when they arrived in our spring, by now most will have put on as much as 15 grams for this journey. Only the juvenile birds, born last northern summer, will overwinter here in Tasmania, and in other parts of Australia.
Most of the stint that I observed a few days ago, both at Lauderdale, where I took the accompanying images, and along the South Arm Neck, were showing variable degrees of breeding plumage, but none had yet attained their full rich colouring.
The flock at Lauderdale numbered around 150 stint, together with a dozen or more Double-banded Plover, 30 plus Red-capped Plover and a solitary Red Knot. The stint numbers being the highest I've noted at this venue this summer. South Arm Neck had many more, around 400, but I also noted a distant flock in flight, out of West Bay, that had perhaps as many again.
Ralph's Bay at Lauderdale also turned on another of those feeding frenzies common at this time of year. Large numbers of Silver Gulls, a few Crested Terns and over 40 Black-fronted Cormorants were chasing some unseen prey, probably small fish, all over the bay, even to the shallows alongside the road. The sheer exuberance and persistence of the birds during these events, makes exciting viewing.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Clear Lagoon.....Black-fronted Dotterel

Clear Lagoon, situated at Sandford (but only a stone's throw from Ralph's Bay at Lauderdale) is probably best described as a shallow, ephemeral water body, certainly in the last 10 or so years its few hectares have been totally dry. Good rains last Winter and early Spring filled it to capacity, attracting waterfowl from far and wide. A few Chestnut Teal and Black Swan managed to breed there, as apparently did a pair of Hoary-headed Grebe, surprisingly, given how shallow the lagoon is.
Predictably, after the recent warm Summer, the area of water has been drastically reduced, but it's surrounded by mud, glorious mud.
A few days ago I stopped along Forest Road, which runs along the southern side of the lagoon, to 'scope' the area. Distantly I could see 2 or 3 hundred waterfowl roosting in the remaining water and on closer inspection these turned out to be almost all Chestnut Teal, with a group of a dozen or so Wood Duck and a solitary Black Swan, the latter I suspect has been injured. I could also see a few grey blobs, which from their number I guessed were probably Red-necked Stint that had flown over from Lauderdale. Anyway it was worth a closer look.
My initial concern on entering this reserve, was to avoid flushing the waterfowl, since the duck shooting season had started the previous weekend. (Why oh why do we still allow duck shooting--and call it 'sport'!). When I got a better view of the "stint", they turned out to be Black-fronted Dotterel, in fact 44 of them, one of the largest groups I've seen in Tasmania. Among them was a solitary Red-necked Stint and a Double-banded Plover. By the number of juvenile plumaged blackfronts, they've had a good year.
I can still recall my first Tasmanian sighting of a blackfront. It was in the Tasmanian Midlands at Tunbridge. I was crossing the Tin Dish River (a stream) and flushed a bird from the stony shore. It flew a few metres (yards actually, this was in the Summer of 1971) and propped, giving me a chance to identify it. I have the event recorded in the margin of my copy of Sharland's "Tasmanian Birds", a bird he described as "uncommon". Since that time there has been a modest increase and they can no longer be considered as uncommon in the drier parts of the state.
After counting the dotterels ( I usually call them plover, but I was taken to task after my blog on them. In my defence, I feel it's only a matter of time that they, like other past "dotterels" will be renamed plovers), I wandered around the perimeter, noting the swarms of insects, which in turn was attracting good numbers of Welcome Swallows and Tree Martins. Flocks of White-fronted Chats were at the feast too, although getting close enough to photograph them in an area with little cover, proved a challenge. Small flocks of Australasian Pipits and Yellow-rumped Thornbills flushed from the dry grass as I passed. A group of the blackfronts that had been feeding out on the mud started to feed on the lagoon edge too and briefly gave a 'photo opp', as did the sole Double-banded Plover. So it was pleasing to once again add Clear Lagoon to my list of places worth a visit after so many dry and, from a birders perspective, barren years.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

A Morning at Orielton Lagoon

I have to confess that I seldom bird Orielton Lagoon these days, mainly because I have fond memories of its hey day back in the 70s and early 80s. Changes to the waterflow, brought about after serious algae blooms, altered the area drastically. Despite all that, for wader buffs in particular, it's still one of the best sites in southern Tasmania.
I have a routine that I invariably follow. First stop is Cemetery Point on the eastern side of the lagoon. From there I can scan the shoreline, and on this visit a few days ago, I quickly found a group of 5 Pacific Golden Plover, roosting close to some 60 plus Red-necked Stint. I managed a distant shot of 2, "glowing" golden in the early morning sun. While watching these, a pair of Great Cormorants flew close by, and I noted the white patches on their "thighs" denoting that they were in breeding condition, and berating myself for missing a photo opp.. I needn't have worried, because another pair followed shortly after, and a few minutes later a flock of 20 or so followed them, all showing the white patch.
Next stop is the northern end of the lagoon, approached via the stile on Shark Point Road, Gum boots are advisable here, at least if you intend to get to grips with the waders. I scattered a small flock of Australasian Pipits, and the odd rabbit, but little else until I reached the wet mud. A quick scan found 2 flocks of Red-necked Stint, totaling around three hundred or more, and several small groups of Red-capped Plovers. The latter seems to have had a bumper breeding year, with good numbers at several coastal sites. Closing on the waders, I picked out several Double-banded Plovers, hidden amongst the drying pancakes of mud, recently arrived, no doubt, from their breeding grounds in New Zealand. On the outer edge of the mud, I counted 21 Eastern Curlew, and although they were still several hundred metres away, they took flight. To the east I could see a few remaining adult Kelp Gulls, and the odd juvenile, still occupying their breeding grounds. Beyond them a solitary Little Pied Cormorant and 8 Australian Pelican, were roosting on the creek bank. The Kelp Gulls spotted me and, as usual, flew around me calling loudly. Not to be outdone, a pair of Caspian Terns briefly joined in. I wandered over towards the golf course, hoping to find more Golden Plovers, but only turned up a pair of Pied Oystercatchers (and several golf balls).
My third stop was, as usual, at the outfall works at Midway Point, on the western side of the lagoon. At high tide, this spot is the favoured roost site for the Bar-tailed Godwit and Common Greenshank. The tide was only of moderate height and they were not on the favoured small spit, but walking further along the shoreline, I found them on a sand bar, around 30 Bartails and 20 Greenshank, a few of the Bartails attaining breeding plumage. With care, they can often be fairly closely approached, although I did note the fresh paw marks of an errant dog (the lagoon is a RAMSAR site). I decided to take to the water, hoping to get closer without undue disturbance, as I have many times in the past. Everything was progressing well until I realised that I was fast sinking into the silt, something I hadn't encountered before. Panic by me as I flailed around trying to extricate myself from my predicament, followed by first the greenshanks flying off, and shortly after that by the Bartails, something that I had hoped to avoid. I 'righted' myself long enough to get a parting shot of the Bartails, before returning to the task of extrication. I succeeded only after filling my gum boots with mud and water. Fortunately, the 2 species flock alighted close by, but I was not about to cause them further disturbance, and anyway, I had had enough excitement for one day.
[RAMSAR is the international convention signed at Ramsar, Iran in 1971. It's aim is the conservation of important wetlands. There are 65 such sites in Australia]

Thursday, February 11, 2010

A Painted Button-Quail

Although I'm out and about birding more than most, at least on the local scene, I rarely see anything other than the expected, and this one so very nearly 'got away'.
I visited the Redgate section of the Meehan Range at Cambridge last Tuesday, with high expectations of getting a few more shots of the Satin Flycatchers or Blue-winged Parrots. Last week I had counted a group of no less than eleven 'Satins' at one point, mostly juveniles and quite the largest number I have ever seen at one time. But the weather intervened, and although it didn't rain, the light conditions became very poor, at least from a photographic standpoint. I had even wound the camera up to ISO 800, something I've not bothered doing previously, because if the light's that bad, you're probably going to battle to get any worthwhile images.
I was about to leave, when I noticed a movement on a nearby bank. Obviously a bird and creeping towards an area of thick scrub. Expecting it to be a Bronzewing pigeon as I had heard what I assumed was that species calling from nearby, but just as it disappeared I ID it as a Quail, a species I have yet to photograph, and rarely see these days. I waited for it to emerge from 'my side' of the scrub, but to no avail. Some minutes later I spotted it again slowly moving across a rise about 30 metres away. So with little enthusiasm or expectation, and with great difficulty in focusing on this very cryptic bird in the gloom, I took several shots. Before I had time to use the binoculars, it had crept off.
An hour or so later and back home, I scanned the few images that I had taken that morning, and surprise, surprise! As you can see from the accompanying image, it turned out to be a Painted Button-quail. Decidedly uncommon these days, or perhaps I should say, surprisingly rarely recorded, and only the third time I've seen this species in Tasmania. Reading up on them, I see that they too have an 'oom oom' call, similar to the bronzewing's, something to remember. Not the best image, it's highly enlarged, but it did make my morning.

Year of the Blue-winged Parrot

Judging from the amount of correspondence I have received, it looks as if the past breeding season has been particularly successful for the Blue-winged Parrot, at least in Tasmania's South-East. These parrots disperse to suitable grasslands post breeding, and it's then that numbers of them are first noticed. My first encounter this year was at Mortimer Bay, Sandford, in small parties of 3 to 5, most probably family groups, back in early January, an earlier date than usual. But I've had reports from as far South as Coningham, also from Kingston, Cambridge, Risdon Brook Park and the Coal River valley. Most were seen in grasslands, as you might expect, although I've seen several groups in the wooded areas of the Meehan Range.
I suspect that the good Winter and Spring rains, the highest rainfall for many years, was the main driver. It produced abundant grass, the seeds, according to the literature, being a major food source. The partly digested seeds are regurgitated to feed the nestlings, and also the female during incubation. From personal experience, for much of the time while they're nesting, you're much more likely to hear, rather than see them. Their "tinkling" call can often be heard as they fly high overhead, to and from the nest site.
Both the accompanying photographs were taken in the Meehan Range in the last few days. The upper shot, of a female I believe, was in a flock of 7 that came down to drink. After drinking, they flew to the shallow end of the pool to wash where they were quickly joined by several Green Rosellas, a not infrequent event. They seem to form a sort of "mutual defence pact", the Bluewings being very alert to anything unusual. The lower image is of a juvenile bird that appeared on its lonesome, stayed briefly, obviously didn't like the look of me, and flew off.
This small parrot, (it's about the size of a domestic budgerigar), is one of my favourites and some years ago now, I was fortunate enough to be involved in a project on this species. The project included a visit to the 'Woolnorth' property in the far North West corner of Tasmania, in Autumn, where they gather prior to migrating to the Australian Mainland. Despite the horrendously wet conditions we encountered, the sight of flocks of 3 or 4 hundred Bluewings wheeling en masse, often being harried by Australian Hobbys, both great aerialists, is one of those memories that I treasure.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Rumblings at Gould's Lagoon.......Crakes

Suffering from some undiagnosed 'issue' with my lower leg, and having limited mobility, I have taken the opportunity to visit Gould's Lagoon at Granton several times and just sit among the reeds and watch and wait. The main aim of this exercise was to get some shots of Little Grassbirds, which at the moment are both numerous and active. Most are juvenile birds from what appears to have been a successful breeding season. On my first visit in early January, most of the youngsters were still at least partly dependent on their parents for food and the birds called frequently, so I got a good idea of their whereabouts--rather useful in thick reedbeds! It also meant that by imitating their call (a series of 2 to 4 rather mournful whistles), I had a chance of attracting them. However, this often meant their approach was rather skulking, and, frustratingly, I could see them only a metre or so away, looking at me rather quizzically through the mass of reeds, and certainly quite impossible to photograph.
While I sat there, trying hard not to dwell too much on the fact that my backside was getting ever damper, I noticed a movement to my left, low among the reeds several metres away. Feeding avidly on unseen invertebrates in the shallow (stinking!) water, and approaching ever closer, was an adult Australian Crake. I can't say that it was entirely unexpected, as I had seen a Spotless Crake in an adjacent reedbed from the roadway, but a great find nonetheless. I should mention here that it was a very still morning, no wind, and the sounds and smells from nearby houses were wafting my way. The crake, one of three I saw that first morning, seemed unfazed by sounds of large construction vehicles passing, a goods train, passing cyclists talking loudly, or even my camera shutter, which in the still, sounded like a machine gun. It was soon joined by a youngster (seen above), which kept close in to the reeds. Presumably it hadn't yet quite got used to the sounds of "civilisation", because the slightest sound saw it disappear into the vegetation. The adult came ever closer, and I took many shots. It's pertinent to mention here that these birds are only the size of a starling (with rather larger legs), so close is "good". I couldn't believe it hadn't seen me as I wasn't hidden, and the sound of the shutter seemed so loud. Well, I've found one noise it definitely didn't like--the rumblings of my stomach! I'm afraid I've 'suffered' all my adult life with a grumbling stomach. I've kept meetings amused, certainly when among people I know, but among strangers it can be embarrassing, and I've taken to sitting in the back row if possible. The crake took off at lightning speed, and at first I looked around for the cause, but a repeat performance half an hour later, revealed me as the culprit.
I've been back a few times since, and the juvenile crake image was taken more recently and it's now beginning to show the typical crake markings. I've also managed several shots of the grassbirds, but they appear without warning to feed on the edge of the reeds, and several times I've missed great opportunities while watching the crakes. One is sometimes faced with a dilemma, do I concentrate on the crakes or the grassbirds, and although I must have taken hundreds of shots of the crakes and few of the grassbirds, I do still find the crakes rather fascinating. I just hope they'll forgive my stomach.
Perhaps I should have added a possible explanation to the "rumblings" before you dismiss the story as fanciful or worse. The various inhabitants communicate in the reedbeds by various calls, these crakes by a single note not dissimilar to a quieter, less harsh version of the swamphen's. They share this environment with Purple Swamphen, Tasmanian Native Hen, the occasional Coot, other crakes and possibly Lewin's Rail. Between them they have a variety of calls, many could be described as grunts or guttural in nature. So I suspect the crake with a youngster in tow on hearing a rumbling stomach, mistook it for one of these other inhabitants and using the precautionary principle, took off. Certainly the arrival of an adult Swamphen with juvenile in tow, caused a similar flap.
NB. If you wish to see more images of the crakes, click "Alan Fletcher's Bird Photo's" link at right, then click "Wetland Birds" .

Monday, January 18, 2010

Birds of Ironhouse Point

Ironhouse Point is situated on Tasmania's Eastcoast to the East of St. Mary's, and although it's not a recognised birding spot, the birds here are fairly typical of those of much of the coast from the Freycinet Peninsula to St. Helens. I spent around a week here, at a resort, with friends and family over the Christmas break, so birding was conducted somewhat ad hoc. Much of the forested area was 'devastated' in the extensive bushfires around 3 years ago, and is now mostly typical after fire regrowth.
I managed to bird most mornings, before everyone roused, and from many years of birding during the Summer months on the Eastcoast, this is the pick of the day, before the almost inevitable, euphemistically called, sea breeze comes in--a cooling, often strong, onshore wind. I totalled just over 50 species of birds, which included a few, such as Australasian Gannet and Black-faced Cormorant, only seen offshore, and single pairs of both Hooded Plover and Pied Oystercatcher on the beach. Surprisingly, honeyeaters were 'light on', the commonest and most widespread being Little Wattlebird, but also the odd Yellow Wattlebird, numerous New Holland, and several Yellow-throated. Most mornings found a range of birds sunning themselves in the early sun, including Pallid, Fan-tailed and Horsfield's Bronze cuckoos , but also Australasian Pipit (common, no skylarks), Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike, Dusky Woodswallow and Welcome Swallow.
The resort here boasts a substantial impoundment (stocked with trout), which attracted Great Cormorant, Pelican, Black Swan and a pair of Musk Duck. A drying swamp area behind the dunes held a surprise. While watching Superb Fairy-wrens, I could hear a solitary Striated Fieldwren calling, and in trying to find it, flushed first one, then another Latham's Snipe, an uncommon bird on this coast.
Brown and Yellow-rumped Thornbills were common, as were Grey Fantail. I recorded both Flame and Dusky Robins, but no Scarlets. Silvereye were widespread, particularly in the coastal wattles, as were the fairy-wrens, some seen carrying nesting material. A few White-fronted Chat were seen, all in the dunes or feeding among the beach wrack. While on the subject of small passerines, I noted in the Bird Atlas records, that the only thornbill recorded here was the Tasmanian, whereas I saw and photographed both Brown and Yellowrumped only. It's a point that has "worried" me for some years, and this habitat is not typical Tasmanian Thornbill country. This isn't an isolated instance, and I feel that some birders at least, are unable to tell 'brown' from 'Tasmanian'. I would suggest that if in doubt, they omit. I have to admit to sometimes having difficulty myself!
Both Striated and Spotted Pardalotes were common here, but I failed to record a single raptor, although I had seen a Sea Eagle a few miles to the South. The 'higher' predators seem to consist of a few Grey Butcherbird, Grey Shrike-thrush and Kookaburra. The only parrot species observed was a few Green Rosella. Around the buildings were the inevitable House Sparrow, Goldfinch, Starling, and Blackbird, but surprisingly, I didn't see a single Greenfinch, a common bird in coastal wattles A large family of Tasmanian Native Hens utilised the grassed areas, competing at times with wallabies and wombats. The accompanying images were all shot at Ironhouse Point. Great to get away from my usual haunts and a great family holiday too.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Trials & Tribulations of Hooded Plover

I'm well aware of many of the conservation issues faced by Hooded Plovers while breeding here in Tasmania, but seldom "see" it in action. A family getaway over the Christmas break gave me an all too closeup of the problems facing them while breeding. We stayed at a resort South of Falmouth boasting 2 beautiful, pure white, typical eastcoast beaches and I took little time in sussing them out for bird life. I quickly found a pair of Pied Oystercatchers which appeared to be the only shorebirds occupying either beach. But during an early morning walk the following day, I photographed a single Hooded Plover (at right) among the beach wrack. While walking back up the track through the dunes, I flushed another and came within an ace of stepping on their 3 eggs in a shallow scrape, mid track. From my observations over the years, this is not their preferred site, but as you can see from the image at top left, ever increasing tide heights have produced "sand cliffs", and the beaches they prefer are no longer available to safely nest on. Since the bush track was wide and not used by most of the holidaymakers, I thought that it was reasonably secure. How wrong I was!
A few days later, while I was fishing off the breakwater, a series of fellow visitors were enjoying rides on a jet ski nearby. As I found the constant sound of the jet ski a little wearing, I wasn't exactly sympathetic when it broke down on the next beach up. I didn't see what subsequently happened, so I can only guess. But the upshot was that a 4WD vehicle tried to access the bush track, probably to 'recover' the jet ski, and while trying (and failing) to get to the beach, completely buried the plover's nest, something I only discovered the following day. I'm not apportioning blame here, I would probably have done the same myself in similar circumstances.
A few days later on a nearby beach, my son found another hoodie's nest, this time at the top of a considerably wider beach and on the slope of the dune. In the meantime, I was attempting to photograph a pair of hoodies feeding on the tide line, undoubtedly the owners of the nest. I was all lined up as they neared me, but, concentrating on the birds, I was unaware of an approaching runner with dog. I caught sight of the dog at the last minute and captured the image at left.
These kinds of disturbance are, sadly, all too common, and these eastcoast beaches are relatively undisturbed. It does not augur well for the hoodies future, especially with global warming and subsequently higher tide heights kicking in and in so doing, denying these and other shorebirds, feeding and breeding places.