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.

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