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.


mick said...

Uh-Oh! I have been chasing off the Plovers on my back lawn because they are so aggressive when they are nesting. But if they are eating the grubs in the lawn I think I might change my tactics! Maybe I should just go out with the camera and follow them around for a while to make sure of what they are eating up here.

BirdingTas said...

Hi Mick,
I think they stay in the ground until spring before turning into beetles, so you might still be in business. Personally, if it was in my garden, I would put up with the grubs! Plovers can be too much in your own backyard. I found it surprisingly difficult to get a shot of the prey, so you might find you take many shots. Good Luck.

Denis Wilson said...

Hi Allan
Nice post, showing how useful birds are.
Doing their own thing, getting on with keeping pests under control.

Unknown said...

Great photos of these wonderful birds! Very underestimated characters, the masked plovers. Hmm, "cock-chafers"? Never heard of them being called that before. Are they otherwise known as corby grubs? or is that something else?

BirdingTas said...

Thanks Denis,
With birding a bit slow here, not to mention cool, I've spent some time getting close and personal with some of our common birds. It's surprisingly difficult to actually see what some of them are eating, probably because much of it is almost microscopic, so I'm enjoying the challenge.

BirdingTas said...

Hi Joseph,
Thanks for your comments. You raised an interesting point about corby grubs. I think that's the generic name given to all "lawn grubs" here in Tasmania. Essentially, these cockchafers are the larval form of a number of beetles. I did ID the specific one that the plovers were eating. If you google "cockchafer", I think you'll find numerous images and information on them. The story about Flemington race course specifically refers to them as cockchafers. There are a number of species in Australia.

BirdingTas said...

Just realised that once again I've misnamed a bird! While originally known as Spur-winged Plover, it's now properly known as Masked Lapwing and not Masked Plover as originally posted.