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.