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.