Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Visit from an Escapee!

Several times lately I've heard a bird call that I couldn't identify, from somewhere close to my house. Frustratingly, I had failed to even locate it. That was until yesterday afternoon. Sitting in front of my PC with doors and windows open, I heard a nearby commotion. Something had the local Noisy Miners and Little Wattlebirds stirred up and I went outside to investigate.

Clearly their focus was on next door's Ash tree, but equally obviously it was deep among the foliage. I had searched for several minutes without success when a bird shot out of the tree and down the garden. I had a fleeting view of a beautiful green parrot, quite large and a great flyer, as it sped away.

Early this morning, I heard that call again, this time from my own garden. I grabbed a camera and a quick search revealed that it was in an angophora. I closely approached that tree, but again failed to find it before it took off, screeching, disappearing over adjacent gardens. Shrugging my shoulders and trudging back towards the house, somewhat disappointed, I happened to look towards a neighbour's Coral Gum, and there it was! Well I guess I shouldn't get too excited, it is after all an escapee, most probably an Alexandrine's Parakeet. It seems to lack some of the markings of that species, but perhaps it's a young bird. Maybe there's someone out there who might put me straight if that's incorrect. Alexandrine's is a native of India, but a fairly commonly kept aviary bird. I'm not a fan of cage birds, but I suspect this individual may not survive long in the wild, certainly if the local miners and wattlebirds have any say. [It appears to actually be a female Rose-ringed Parakeet--also from the Indian sub-continent--my thanks to Neil, see comments]

Beautiful as this bird may be, introduced bird species often end up as pests. Many owe their presence in the wild, to aviary escapes. Some threaten our own bird species. The Rainbow Lorikeet springs to mind as a species that interbreeds with native species and has the potential to do serious damage to fruit crops. The cost of eradication, if this problem is not dealt with quickly, could be enormous.

Friday, March 25, 2011

"Fat Man" and Robin

Monday morning and hankering to go out birding before the rain forecast for the rest of the week. The 'mountain' was clear; to Hobartians the 'mountain' refers to Mt. Wellington that is often a good indication of weather to come. So I headed off to one of the many walking tracks on the mountain. It was still early and quite mild as I climbed towards the Organ Pipes (a rock feature of the Mtn.) and it at least sounded promising with the still air filled with the familiar sound of calling Crescent Honeyeaters. Although these honeyeaters are not really flocking birds, during autumn they are often found in groups just after sunrise, calling loudly. Loudly enough in fact to drown out all other bird calls. Most appeared to be juveniles and soon started to disperse through the light scrub, some feeding on the flowering banksia, some chasing flying insects and yet others, mostly males, chasing each other. A few Tasmanian Scrubwren quietly disappeared into the scrub as I approached, emerging soon after I'd passed, but this promising start was cut short by light rain, followed by increasing wind and I beat a retreat to the car. Somewhat frustrated, and hoping that the rain was only around the mountain, I decided to try the nearby Waterworks Reserve which is more sheltered and at a lower altitude.

I drove to the far car park and headed off. Almost immediately stopping to ID a bird call that I was sure I knew but couldn't place. Eventually the 'penny dropped', it was a Bassian Thrush, well actually three, presumably males announcing occupation of their respective territories. I've rarely seen these birds at this reserve, although I suspect they're quite common here, and as they continued to call, headed off in 'pursuit'. Before I could get a good bearing on them, they stopped calling, and light rain began to fall. I wandered on, hoping that it would improve, it didn't. I took shelter in the scrub alongside the track under towering gums.

It proved to be a good move, not perhaps photographically, but certainly for birding. Perhaps insects were being disturbed by the light rain, perhaps the birds were taking shelter too, whatever, I was soon 'surrounded' by numerous birds. Strong-billed Honeyeaters overhead, Silvereyes 'tanging' their way through the shrubs, The occasional Tasmanian Thornbill scolded me, as did several scrubwrens. Grey Fantails flitted round me, as did the Golden Whistler pictured, often coming within a few feet of me. Very exciting and it was difficult to know where to look next!

After the initial excitement, I began hoping for a chance to get a few shots, despite the appallingly poor light for photography. A weak call that sounded like the contact call of a distant Dusky Robin, grabbed my attention, and on a dead branch lower down the slope I spotted a small bird that by it's 'rotundness' I realised was a Beautiful Firetail. I immediately named it "fat man". I managed to get a few usable shots of this juvenile firetail as it sat forlornly calling, to no avail, for the next several minutes. I had hoped its' parents might put in an appearance, but they didn't. A 'real' Dusky Robin call heralded the appearance of a family group of 4 or 5 of them, as they foraged around for insects, occasionally coming close enough for a photo. opp., before the arrival of a group of Grey-shrike Thrush caused them a brief panic. They too were after insects, sometimes on the ground, but more often on the trunks of the gums. The robins were soon back, and a juvenile Fan-tailed Cuckoo put in a brief appearance, but the rain persisted and, reluctantly, I headed back to the car. An excellent morning's birding despite, or perhaps because of, the weather, giving me enough memories to last me through a very wet week.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Dusky Robins and More

I've walked around a nearby reserve on numerous occasions lately, mainly because it's flat and easy walking as I'm still trying to throw off a persistent chest infection. I feel I'm on nodding terms with some of the feathered inhabitants, but have refrained so far from giving them individual names; it's tempting, but my imagination doesn't stretch that far. The upside of walking the same areas regularly is that it gives the observer an insight into the daily lives and movements of some species.

Their presence or otherwise seems, probably predictably, linked largely to temperature. On a cold morning I've usually found several species foraging on the ground, even species like Dusky Woodswallows and Tree Martins that are normally found hawking in flight. Insects grounded, birds seek insects on ground!

Dusky Robins, a Tasmanian endemic, are almost exclusively ground feeders, although they will chase the odd flying insect, or pick at insects on bark. Surprisingly, they take their share of skinks (small lizards) too.
On most mornings, I hear their mournful two note contact call, as family groups move through the light bush. The young still showing a few rufous feathers as they 'emerge' from the juvenile plumage. On one recent morning, I decided to observe them more closely and stood amongst the scrub just watching, taking the odd photograph as the opportunity offered. They spend much of their time on a low branch or stump, usually facing the sun and just watching for any movement among the woodland debris. Dropping down and seizing their prey, often returning to a perch to consume it. On the menu this particular morning appeared to be mostly small grubs. Their grey brown plumage matches the surroundings all too well (from my perspective) and I missed several good photographic opportunities as I'd failed to notice a close approach until they moved on.

Nearby I occasionally caught sight of a pair of Scarlet Robins; the female coming close enough to photograph; feeding in much the same style as the Duskys, although they often picked insects off the acacia leaves, as did small flocks of Superb Fairy-wrens, Brown and Yellow-rumped Thornbills and Silvereyes. Unlike the Dusky Robins, which forage widely through the woodland, the several pairs of Scarlet Robin at this venue rarely move far from their territories, and are present, with males announcing their occupation, all year round.

At one point the bush went silent, and from experience this usually means that a predator is present. I had earlier heard the unmistakable Brown Falcon "kekeke" call as one flew over, and Forest Ravens can sometimes have a similar effect, and there was no lack of them. But I'd had a very brief view of a bird landing in a nearby pine, and although through the binoculars I could only see a portion of the bird, it was enough to confirm that it was a Brown Goshawk. It had presumably seen me too as it flew off. After such events the bush can remain silent for a good while and I was considering moving on, but luck must have been with me, as a juvenile Fan-tailed Cuckoo almost immediately flew into the area. I took a few shots, in hope more than expectation in the mottled light. As I stood there reviewing the recently taken images, I noticed a movement to my right and there in all its' glory was an adult Fan-tailed Cuckoo right in front of me! Time for a few shots before it too moved on. I decided that I'd probably used up all my good fortune and it was time to get back to review my handiwork on my PC. A very interesting morning.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Pied Oystercatcher Roost.

I hadn't been out birding for several days, and in some frustration, finally chose a less than optimal day to try my luck and drove down to the Lauderdale Spit. With the temperature in single digits and a gale force wind blowing, as it had for the last week, it probably wasn't the best spot for someone suffering a debilitating chest complaint, but I persevered.
As you might guess, most birds had found a more sheltered spot, but it did highlight one significant issue--the importance of this area of Ralph's Bay to Pied Oystercatchers. The Australian population of this oystercatcher is estimated at around 10,000 individuals, and on this small spit I counted 353, and there may have been others I missed hunkered down in the vegetation. That's well over 3% of the entire (World) population. Many of these birds would normally roost in other bays, but the severe weather and high tides meant that this was one of the few roost sites left.
In some states the Pied Oystercatcher is on the "threatened" list, mainly due to habitat loss and human disturbance. The recent failed attempt to develop this area for canal style housing, shows just how easily this can occur.
I was able to get close enough to take a few shots without disturbing the flock--important at any time, more so in the conditions--and the image shows a small part of the roost.