Friday, December 21, 2012

Season's Greetings

                     Have a happy, fulfilling, and safe, Christmas & New Year.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Worth a Visit........Pilcher's Hill Reserve

Satin Flycatcher (male)
Over the last few months I've been surveying bird populations in some of the reserves in the Clarence City Council area ('Clarence' lies on the eastern shore of the Derwent River 'opposite' Hobart).  
I'm quite well acquainted with most of these reserves, but one seems to have 'escaped' me--Pilcher's Hill at Gielston Bay. I had made a fleeting visit a year or so ago, in light drizzle, and my first impressions weren't good. It lies close to a fairly recent housing development for one, and has been the dumping ground for building and garden 'refuse' and is criss-crossed by multiple bulldozed tracks and, if that wasn't enough, it is still recovering from a major bushfire of a few years ago. Doesn't sound too good so far!
Flame Robin (male)
So without a great deal of 'conviction', I undertook two surveys one each in October and November. Both early morning and lasting a few hours on each visit. So the surprising result was that I recorded a total of 44 species not counting 'overflyers' such as Kelp Gulls. To this total, I consider other species that are probably present, especially closer to the hills of the Meehan Range, or casual visitors (e.g. Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo and raptor species), may total an additional 16. The only raptor seen, and on several occasions, was a male Brown Goshawk, which I'm sure is breeding here.
In the Tasmanian context that puts this reserve, in species terms, among the best. Finding only 6 of the Tasmanian endemics was a little disappointing, but a search in the wetter areas nearer the Meehan range will probable show the presence of both Tasmanian Thornbill and Scrubwren--awaiting further surveys. It's worth commenting here that most of the 44 species seen in this reserve, are breeding here too.
Dusky, Flame and Scarlet Robins were recorded, with the former present in considerable numbers, largely in the bushfire damaged regrowth areas. In fact I can't recall ever seeing the numbers of Dusky Robins that were present here, anywhere, quite remarkable. Both Bronzewing Pigeon species are present, and finding 5 Brush Bronzewings on a track in open, dry scrub, was an interesting sighting.
Scarlet Robin (male)
Of the summer migrants, Satin Flycatchers were the stand out, with one or more pairs heard calling in most wooded valleys.  Three of the four cuckoos were present, with only the Horsfield's Bronze-Cuckoo absent--I have only 2 spring records this year. A few Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike and Dusky Woodswallows were also seen, but numbers of the latter seem to be well down on 'usual' numbers in many areas. 
Surprisingly (and with some feeling of relief!), I have yet to record Australian Magpie or Noisy Miners in the reserve, but that could easily change if large trees were removed, as they have in my suburb (Bellerive)-- many bush species that were once regular visitors to my garden are now only a distant memory.
So if you're looking for fresh fields to explore, you might consider a visit to this reserve. I would be interested in your observations. 
 NB. The accompanying images were taken during the surveys.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Not Far from the Madding Crowd.....Australian Reed-Warbler

The grandchildren had opted for a visit to Zoodoo, not far from Richmond (southern Tasmania), a few weeks back. I have a somewhat ambivalent attitude towards zoos, but concede that for the children, it's a great day out. Our ritual when we're in the Richmond area, has to include a visit to the local bakery for lunch, followed by a visit to the sweet shop and then on to the "bridge" to see the ducks. 
   The day had proved to be unusually mild and the village was choked with people and parked cars. The bakery was full of like-minded visitors all vying for the diminishing choice of pies and sandwiches. Not my scene at all, and I couldn't wait to move on. I hadn't felt the best from the outset and my patience was fast running out. I avoided going into the crowded "old world" sweet shop, giving the grandchildren some money instead, and warning them of the dire consequences of spending more than the very modest limit I had set. On to the bridge and the ducks.
For many visitors to the village, Richmond Bridge is the one "must see" site. Completed in 1825, it's the oldest bridge in Australia that's still in use. It's showing its' age
      The grandchildren spilled out of the vehicles and ran down the grassy banks to the river. A photographer was ushering a wedding party into position, while other visitors took the inevitable images of the view through the bridge arches. I tried to relax by the vehicles, keeping a watchful eye on the young ones. A chainsaw roared intermittently nearby as did a number of lawnmowers, a group of bikers crossed the bridge, briefly raising the noise level to new heights, but even amongst all this hubbub, I suddenly became aware of the unmistakable sounds of a bird persistently calling-- an Australian Reed-Warbler. The day took on a whole new perspective, my spirits raised. Amazing what one small, as yet unseen, bird can do!
I strode down to the river bank about 50 metres away and listened, trying to locate the calling bird among a small area of phragmites reed on the opposite bank. A Tasmanian Native Hen swam towards me, 'escaping' an off lead dog. A Little Black Cormorant nervously passed, diving after unseen prey. A Black Duck ushered her youngsters away from me and a single Eurasian Coot sought refuge among the reeds. The reed-warbler sang on, still hidden among the reeds. An eel rose, taking bites out of passing slices of bread thrown by visitors, and Welcome Swallows collected mud for their nests from the river bank--and the bird sang on. Finally, it appeared on a stem on the outer edges of the phragmites clump, giving me my first view, still calling, with  its' rich, rasping notes now seemingly drowning out all other noises around me. A great moment.

       A few days later I returned to Richmond and took the accompanying images. It required rather more patience than I can usually muster and had its' moments of sheer frustration. From my observations, it appears that 2 pairs of Australian Reed-warblers were present. This species is not rare in Tasmania, but is fairly thinly distributed in the south. Most are summer migrants to this state, but on bright sunny days in mid winter, I've heard them calling in the Tamar Marshes, probably the stronghold for this species in Tasmania. Gould's Lagoon at Granton was for many years the "surefire" place around Hobart to see them, but in the last few years they have been almost absent. A single bird, late last summer, is my only record from there for the past 2 years.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Golden Mornings........Whistlers

Towards the end of August, there was a noticeable increase in female Golden Whistlers in some of the coastal areas that I frequent. They were feeding quietly among the denser scrub, rarely seen in the open, and I had dubbed them "grey ghosts". I say 'grey', because despite the fact that they are indeed mostly light brown, as you can see from the image below, they appear grey. While watching honeyeaters and other bush birds, I would become aware of these females as they moved through the scrub, rarely getting an opportunity to photograph them. Reviewing some of the few shots I did get, I noticed the unmistakable remnants of spiders around their bill (legs), so I'm assuming they're high on the menu at this time of year. During summer these whistlers feed mainly on caterpillars. I only very occasionally saw a male, in fact throughout the winter, I only saw them on rare occasions.

     In early September, I heard the first male calling, and in the ensuing days the numbers of males I observed increased, but mostly they too were deep in the 'shrubbery'. By mid September, the numbers of calling males was significantly higher, and they 'emerged'. Males chased males as they patrolled their chosen site, stopping to call at times from a prominent perch. Not, I suspect, the site where they will breed, but an area where they could show of their singing skills, and attract a mate.The numbers of males in some spots far exceeded the number that will breed there, so perhaps it's not so surprising that the males were so boisterous. The upshot of this was that for a few days my morning walks were full of very strident and persistent calls as the males participated in a singing competition, marking another spring event. Within a week most of these birds had dispersed leaving only the few pairs that will breed there.
   Golden Whistler males are one of the 'showiest' of our native birds, and judging by the numbers of images on the various photo forums, one of the most photographed. I am, however, left with a puzzle. Where do all these male Golden Whistlers hang out during winter?

Friday, September 21, 2012

More on the Early Migrants

Well it's all happening out there, and during the last few weeks, between the showers, I've  had a few close encounters with some of the recently arrived migrant birds, and here they are.
 The most widespread species is the Striated Pardalote (at left). At almost every local venue I've visited, the first sound that has greeted me, has been the persistent "pick it up" call of this pardalote. Considering how many there are about and that they all seem to suddenly appear, I can't recall ever seeing a flock or any gathering of more than half a dozen or so birds. I do recall watching around 20, all gathered in the outer branches of a dead tree in late summer. It had just started to rain after a long dry spell, and they appeared to be 'enjoying' a shower, at least that was my interpretation. The bird pictured had flown, with difficulty, to the top of the post to administer the 'coup de grace' to this caterpillar by bashing the hell out of it. It's certainly a sizable mouthful.
  For many people around the World, the arrival of swallows of one species or another, is considered to be the first sign of spring. Although in Tasmania the vast majority of Welcome Swallows migrate to warmer climes during the colder months, a few pairs hang on and manage to survive, often roosting in buildings. The Welcome Swallow at left had obviously started nest building as the bill is covered in dry mud. They gather mud from pools or other water bodies, and use this to form their nests. 
  Often mistaken for swallows are the Tree Martins, particularly in flight. They both hawk for insects in a similar manner, and are often seen together. The white rump and the much shorter tail are  the most obvious differences. The Tree Martin at left, was using an old fence line to rest between forays over the nearby heath. It was still cool and there wasn't much flying insect activity, giving a photo opp.. Frequently nesting in holes in large trees, and seldom needing to come down to ground level, they aren't the easiest to come to grips with.

This year, the Shining Bronze-Cuckoos seem to have arrived particularly early, although a few had obviously overwintered, as I outlined in a previous story. I photographed this one (at right) a few days ago at Pipeclay Lagoon, but I've heard them calling from most local birding spots. Perhaps a little more surprising, was recording my first Pallid Cuckoo in the first few days of September, many more will arrive shortly.
The bronze-cuckoos are small, swift flying birds that are more often heard than seen. From experience, they often call from among the outer foliage of shrubs and trees, and their excellent camouflage makes them difficult to locate. I had the good fortune to find this one while I was photographing pardalotes feeding in low heath. It flew around, occasionally propping in the top of low sun bleached shrubs,and calling. Eventually, and from my perspective, fortuitously, close enough to photograph.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Signs of Spring

 Spring in Tasmania comes in fits and starts. Recent weather conditions have swung from mild, still days, to blustery windswept ones with rain squalls and snow down to the 300 metres mark. I've spent some of the milder days wandering the coastal heaths along the South Arm peninsula and the signs of spring are slowly emerging, but definitely gathering a pace.
 The earliest signs are usually the Masked Lapwing nesting. They often start in July, but locally at least, appear to have delayed until the last few weeks, possibly because of rain sodden paddocks. They in turn have brought to notice the recently arrived Swamp Harriers, which become the harried as they are vociferously pursued by pairs of lapwings.
  This last week has seen the return of Tree Martins, firstly wheeling high overhead, and later scything their way low across the heath in pursuit of flying insects, occasionally joined by the odd Welcome Swallow. On one visit a couple of days ago, I heard the first Striated Pardalotes calling, but a rather cursory look failed to find any, but that was about to change.
    I had stopped at a small piece of woodland and had noted a few pairs of Black-headed Honeyeaters, which I felt was worthy of a return visit as they are thin on the ground in this area, and was trudging back to my vehicle. My thoughts were on a soft armchair and a cuppa after a 3 hour birdwatch, when a vehicle stopped abruptly nearby and the occupant walked towards me asking (I thought rather accusingly) "are you a birdwatcher?". I wasn't quite sure whether I should admit that I was, despite carrying binoculars round my neck and wearing a "silly" hat! I sheepishly admitted I was, but quickly added that I take photographs too, as, for some reason, I thought this might give me an 'out' if it transpired that he had some dislike of birdwatchers.
   This was all far from the reality. John, as he introduced himself as, believed he had some interesting pardalotes on his property, just up the hill, and he wanted some assistance. I agreed to follow him and take a look, and I hoped I looked more enthusiastic than I felt. I was tired. But the thought that perhaps, just perhaps, this might prove to be the threatened Forty-spotted variety urged me on. The site is after all, very similar to other 40 spot venues, and Tinderbox and Bruny Island can be seen from here, just across the River Derwent Estuary.
    John showed me around the area of his house and I could clearly hear both Striated and Spotted Pardalotes calling, as well as a small flock of Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos nearby. John has made a vehicle turning circle above the house, cutting into a bank, and during the construction had noticed that pardalotes had dug nesting holes in the sand piles. Since inevitably he had to move these piles, when he built the stone retaining wall, he included short lengths of plastic pipe in the wall. There were several of these pipes and they all appeared occupied by the recently arrived Striated Pardalotes. John confided that he had grown an interest in birds as a result of these pardalotes, but I got the impression that this wasn't something that he was in a hurry to tell his friends.
  I left John and did a brief and only cursory look  around his property, and as he had invited me to return anytime I liked, I felt that I at least owed him that. I did stop and take a few shots of the 'striated', (at top right), but I hope to do them more justice on a subsequent visit.
     It's interesting to think that this small bird weighing in at around 9 grams (less than the weight of a 20cent coin), has flown from the Australian Mainland only a few days previous and has immediately got down to the arduous business of finding and preparing a nest site, and defending it from all comers. Puts my feeling tired to shame!
    It's all change on nearby beaches too, the soon to leave Double-banded Plovers consorting with recently arrived Red-necked Stints. The few Double-banded Plovers that remain, are resplendent in their breeding plumage (upper left), the majority of their ilk having already left for their New Zealand breeding grounds. The migrant Red-necked Stints, some in partial  breeding plumage (lower left), have just returned from their sub Arctic breeding grounds and are appearing among the rather dour grey of the overwintering stint flock.
     Spring is probably the most exciting time for birders, a time of hope and renewal. It's time for you to get out there and enjoy it!                                                                  

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Another Winter Cuckoo

     As any regular reader would have noticed, I'm a frequent visitor to the Mortimer Bay reserve at Sandford. I often just drop in on my trips round the local traps. This particular morning, as well as birding the area, I hoped to get some shots of a Grey Shrike-thrush that I have regularly seen in an area that seemed to present some "possibilities". The area is only a few yards into the reserve, and I could hear the shrike-thrush's unmistakable metallic contact call as I got out of my vehicle, so I set off with high expectations.
      Within minutes I had taken several images of this shrike-thrush as it tore at bark looking for prey (from the images, spiders), but the call of a Fan-tailed Cuckoo side-tracked me. It was obviously close, but try as I might, I couldn't locate it. I  narrowed it down to one mid-sized eucalypt, and in the outer canopy. Eventually it flew a short distance to a nearby limb and I managed to get the shot shown at right, resplendent with a hairy caterpillar. In my experience, caterpillars are the main prey for cuckoos, and I'm always surprised that there are apparently so many around during the colder months. This bird may well be the same individual that I had seen and photographed as described in my previous story.
        I hung around, now completely absorbed by the cuckoo, the shrike-thrush forgotten. The cuckoo appeared to be finding most of the caterpillars from the outer foliage of a flowering peppermint, and was joined by the occasional New Holland Honeyeater attracted by the blossom. While watching these and a nearby, very vocal Yellow-throated Honeyeater through the binoculars, I noticed another small bird that I couldn't immediately identify. I watched for some minutes, the bird giving only brief glimpses and somewhat silhouetted against the sky. Eventually it dropped down into the lower parts of the gum almost immediately in front of me. It was a Shining Bronze-Cuckoo, a great Winter find. In the dappled light, not in the greatest position for photography, but with the bronze-cuckoos you have to take what you can get! This bird too, had a small, very small, also hairy, caterpillar, as seen in the lower image. It flew back into the canopy and for the first time, gave a single "fwee" call and almost immediately a second bronze-cuckoo appeared. I soon had another brief photo opp., when the second bird 'propped' on a low branch (top image) between short forays to scratch among the leaf mulch. I've never witnessed this species doing this before, and as it has very short legs unsuited to foraging, I'm guessing that they seldom do. That would perhaps suggest a paucity of suitable food sources. Another excellent morning and I even managed some passable Grey Shrike-thrush shots too.

   The bronze-cuckoos (Shining and Horsfield's) are much smaller than the fan-tailed (17cms vs 26cms), and all cuckoos, including the largest, the Pallid Cuckoo, are essentially Summer migrants to Tasmania, although Fan-tailed Cuckoos are fairly regularly seen here in Winter, mainly in coastal areas.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The First Cuckoo of Winter?

 A few days ago, during a break in the "indifferent" weather, I set forth to visit some of the local traps. The first few seemed ominously quiet, and I finally settled on the Mortimer Bay reseve at Sandford, a favourite of mine. I can't say it was jumping with birds, but the New Holland, Crescent, and Yellow-throated Honeyeaters, Brown Thornbills, Spotted Pardalotes and the Superb Fairywrens at least kept me interested. I stopped briefly to photograph a thornbill. It had caught my attention with an unfamiliar call, perhaps it was seeking a mate, it was strident, but not the usual territorial call. I could hear a nearby Dusky Robin calling, but failed to see it. Several Grey Butcherbirds called. They have taken up residence in the coastal strip of pines and from previous experience, they  make the local birds 'jumpy'.
  A few pairs of Grey Fantails were evident, brushing the acacia bushes with their wings to dislodge insects and then swooping, with great agility, to catch them in mid-air. Pairs of Scarlet Robins were active along the tracks, making forays from a convenient perch to catch grounded insects, but even they were hard to approach on this occasion. Of woodland species, I must have photographed 'scarlets' more often than any other, especially the "showy" males.
   I was about to call it quits, when I heard the unmistakable 'descending trill' of a Fan-tailed Cuckoo, close by, high among the tall pines. As I neared the pines, it called from the acacia scrub alongside of the track and as I neared them, it called from the lightly wooded area a further hundred metres away. It was mobile!
   At this point, for some reason, I became determined, perhaps obsessed, to see it, photography was in any case unlikely. It had thrown down the gauntlet (in my mind at least). Fan-tailed Cuckoos are a common enough summer visitor to this state, and a few are assumed to overwinter., mostly in coastal areas. So is this an early arrival, or just failed to migrate? Most of their 'host' species, thornbills and fairywrens, are early breeders, so early arrival would appear to benefit this cuckoo.
    I then had a stroke of luck, it flew across the track only metres away and called from the nearby scrub. I had at least seen it. I closed on the scrub, it flew a short distance, and appeared to alight in a young eucalypt. I stood for several minutes peering through my binoculars, hoping for a better view and at last found it. It was facing away and surprisingly cryptic for a fairly large bird (26cm.), but appeared to well aware of me. It called and an answering call came from some distance away. Now I understood why I had thought it so mobile--presumably a pair. With careful approach I even managed to get close enough for a 'shot' or two, as you can see.
   I left soon afterwards, feeling, I must admit, a little smug!

Friday, June 01, 2012

Pardalotes........40 Spots or Not ?

I had taken my son and granddaughter, Jade, to Fossil Cove, near Blackman's Bay. Jade has a new found interest in fossils which needs to be encouraged, and this site was one that I thought worthy of visiting, which it proved to be. The downside was the 'climb' back up, made only slightly more bearable by the variety of birds seen--a spot for further exploration.
 A short drive and we stopped to explore some roadside vegetation that appeared to have possibilities.  Almost immediately we noticed a pair of Spotted Pardalotes feeding in the low hanging branches of a peppermint that seemed a good photo opp., which it proved to be. I took a few shots of the female (at top), and reviewed the results on the camera's LCD screen, put the camera back up to my eye, refocused, and did a double take! In place of the 'spotted' I now had a 'Fortyspot'--a couple of shots and it was gone.
We stood around looking for this bird and found that we actually had 2 pairs, and they seemed much more interested in chasing each other than in our presence, so I was able to take several more shots. If you're interested they can be found on my pbase site via the link at right.
When I have been out and about birding, on many occasions I have stopped to talk to passers-by about what I'm doing, ( I have in part, found the need to explain my potentially suspicious looking gear and dress). One of the more popular bird topics raised has been about 'fortyspots', they're one of the birds that people seem to have heard of, they are after all, an iconic Tasmanian endemic species  and listed as "endangered". They frequently top the list of 'must see' birds for visiting birders. On a number of occasions, the 'passer-by' volunteers that they have seen the fortyspots in their garden, or in a nearby park. Being the sceptic that I am, I usually pass over the subject of the improbability of their sighting, not wishing to offend them, but some are not easily put off. Sometime I may press them for more information, especially if they live somewhere near a known breeding site. Forty-spotted Pardalotes do roam in the cooler months, but you're more likely to see the common, and much more 'flamboyantly' plumaged, Spotted Pardalote, or during the Summer, the widespread Striated Pardalote, which in any case lacks 'spots'. Undoubtedly the best place to see the fortyspots is Bruny Island, in the lightly timbered areas almost always among stands of White Gum Eucalyptus viminalis. The Peter Murrell Reserve at Kingston, which for many years was the best spot near Hobart, has become somewhat unreliable in recent times, but I understand that a few pairs still 'hang on' there.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Patience Rewarded.....Pacific Gull

Interactions between birds are always interesting, and it's easy to second guess the outcome, as I did on this occasion. I had briefly stopped at Lauderdale Canal on the way home from birding. There is almost always something to watch there, much of it commonplace, but I caught sight of a Pacific Gull washing and thought it worthy of recording it photographically.
     Around many of the bays and inlets, pairs of Pacific Gulls are encountered at this time of year. They often set up exclusive territories, becoming quite aggressive to others of their species who venture too near. One such pair calls the Lauderdale Canal home. They spend much of their time loafing about, and although they are quite obviously a 'pair', they are seldom seen together, even when food is around. Because the canal perimeter is a popular walk, they are used to the close proximity of humans, and the bird pictured allowed close approach. I spent several minutes photographing this gull, when I noted an immature Black-faced Cormorant diving for fish as it passed by. These cormorants are frequent visitors to the canal during the Winter months, feeding on the schools of small fish 'trapped' in the canal as the tide falls. I should mention here that although called a "canal" it is only open at one end, only ever having been a true canal very briefly, since the 19th century when it was constructed.
After one dive, the Black-faced surfaced carrying a decent size fish, which I incorrectly surmised was a flounder. The Pacific Gull had noticed this too and stopped washing and slowly swam towards the cormorant. Perhaps rather over eagerly, I suspected that I might get shots of a free for all, and watched expectantly. The Pacific swam to a metre or so away and just watched and waited. The cormorant was having difficulty in turning the fish round--they swallow fish head first--and several times the fish appeared to escape but was quickly recaptured. That was not all for despite these birds capability to swallow quite large fish, this was patently too big for it to swallow, but it persisted. The shot of the cormorant was its' last try. It gave up. The Pacific Gull swam over, retrieved the, by now, dead fish and carried it to the far bank of the canal. It was at this point that I realised that the fish was a Leatherjacket, complete with a large vertical dorsal spine (visible in the lower shot). No wonder the cormorant couldn't swallow this fish. Although, as the name 'leatherjacket' implies, this fish has a tough skin, the Pacific Gull had no difficulty in tearing the fish open. Pacifics have, arguably, the bulkiest bill of any gull worldwide. It was an interesting encounter, but I have to confess I did feel a little disappointed that it had turned out so meekly!

Monday, April 02, 2012

French Visitor from the LPO

I'm often asked to guide visiting birders around some of the local  birding sites and almost invariably decline, but I was recently somehow cajoled into doing so. The recipient of my "largesse" was Philippe de Grissac, who was staying in Hobart with his partner, Nichole, as the guest of Dr Ian and Ann Crawford, of West Hobart. The Crawford's had befriended members of the French Antarctic organisation after a fatal helicopter crash in the Antarctic. The French operate the resupply vessel L'Astrolabe out of Hobart.
Philippe is the vice-president of the French bird conservation organisation LPO--La Liege Francaise pour la Protection des Oiseaux, the French equivalent of the British RSPB. I must confess that I'd never heard of the organisation, but it has just celebrated its' 100th birthday! My stereotypical view of the French is that they're more likely to eat the wildlife than conserve it. My lack of knowledge is perhaps all the more surprising, since I lived near the English coast not far from the Channel ports and visited France on the early "no passport" trips regularly. However, I do remember that these trips had more to do with duty free than any interest in French cultural pursuits. I also remember a lack of locals on the street, and now realise that our boorish behaviour may have been the cause--I don't recall ever seeing any birds there, not sure what that tells me!
Our first outing, to the Waterworks Reserve at Dynnyrne, wasn't exactly auspicious as it drizzled constantly, but we soldiered on, ticking off at least a few of our endemics, before retiring to a local coffee house.
Philippe and Nichole then toured the state and our second excursion was a week or so later, also to the Waterworks at Dynnyrne--I've found this to be one of the best sites to see a cross section of Tassie's birds. This visit included other members of his family (their relationship I wasn't sure of, and was afraid to ask--well they are French!). I do know it included his daughter, Sophie (pictured with binoculars at the ready), an ornithologist in her own right, and had just returned from the Antarctic--the reason for Philippe's visit. Sophie has recently co-authored a paper in the prestigious publication, "Science" entitled "Changes in Wind Pattern alter Albatross Distribution and Life-history Traits"--an interesting read. Due to a language "issue", I inadvertently led Philippe to believe I too had written a paper for "Science", and it became too difficult to put that to right. If you read this Phillipe, I have co-authored several papers, but definitely none have reached such exalted publications!
At the Waterworks we managed a good haul of local birds, including close views of a pair of Pink Robins. A pleasure meeting Philippe and family, I only wish I had paid more attention during my now distant French lessons.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Shag Bay Bluewings & more

A passing remark by my son, an occasional, but experienced birder, about seeing "bluewings and firetails" at Shag Bay, inspired me to visit this spot at the next opportunity. So a few days ago, on a clear but initially cool morning and not long after sunrise, I set forth. The walking track starts on the northern side of Gielston Bay (on Hobart's eastern shore) and meets the East Risdon Nature Reserve at Shag Bay. It's many years since I walked this area, but I set forth with some expectation following my son's comments.
The lightly wooded area around the entrance soon produced flocks of 'tanging" Silvereyes, family groups of Black-headed Honeyeaters in the outer branches of the eucalypts, the strident calls of Yellow-throated Honeyeaters, and the less welcome sounds of a family of 5 Grey Currawong tearing bark off trees in their search for insects. As the trees thinned out and still within cooee of the entrance, I flushed a group of 5 or so Blue-wing Parrots, that I had failed to see on the track. Elated in finding them so soon, I followed them up the hillside, closed on one, but again failed to see the rest only a few metres away and again flushed them. Happy that I'd seen them I rejoined the track and walked on.
On leaving the light woodland, the track diverges from  the coast and crosses an open expanse of, at present dry, grassland, with the occasional eucalypt, including dead ones, thickets of acacia, and along the coastline, many she-oaks. An immature Yellow Wattlebird feeding in a distant tree soon caught my attention and as I stopped to watch, a covey of 5 Brown Quail burst out of the nearby grass, I followed them with my bin's until they disappeared back into the grass. A solitary Australasian Pipit hopped along the mown areas adjacent to the track and for a brief moment I thought I might have a photo opp., but no, it was off and away.
I decided to try the coastal strip and left the track in the hope of finding the aforementioned firetails and almost immediately spotted a lone bluewing, sunning itself in the warmth of the early sun, atop a dead branch. As I neared it, I found a group, usually referred to as a cluster, of young Dusky Woodswallows, also sunning and preening themselves while they waited to be fed by their hard worked parents. This clustering is a well known phenomenon, although the reason for it is debated, and I have seen and photographed this on many occasions. This group of only 6 birds, is small and I have seen groups of 18 youngsters huddled together. I moved on, closing the sunning bluewing, taking a few distant shots on the way. A few steps more and I flushed another covey of Brown Quail, only 3 this time, but it also flushed what I had assumed to be a lone bluewing, revealing that there were in fact 7. I watched them alight in a nearby tree and occasionally drop into the grass to feed, but they were understandably wary and I enjoyed just watching them go about their business.
Moving into the coastal strip above Shag Bay, I observed a Little Pied Cormorant fishing in the bay below and above it, in a tall eucalypt, a watchful White-breastd Sea Eagle.Once in among the scrub, while watching passing pairs of feeding Spotted Pardalote, I heard the mournful double 'contact' notes of a Dusky Robin. I followed the sound and found a family group of duskies. They gave me a brief chance at photographing them  before moving on. Like many bush birds at the moment, they weren't at their best, being in various stages of moult, but worthy of a shot or two nonetheless.
Returning briskly along the track, I occasionally stopped to watch bluewings, some passing overhead "zitting", others atop dead trees, ever watchful. Something "stirred" the bluewings at one stage, and I counted a total of 22 birds rapidly wheeling in a single flock, quite a sight. A single Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike made low forays for insects close to the track and an immature Grey Butcherbird caused some panic to another family of Dusky Robins, and they took refuge in an acacia thicket. I walked over to the thicket, spotting the robins within, but was surprised to see that 3 bluewings were roosting inside. I left them in peace. Nearing the end of the track, I noticed the group of parrots that I'd seen early into my walk were back feeding trackside. I suspect that seed, their main food source, is blown or 'gravitates' down the hillside and collects on the track at this spot--sure beats 'trolling' among the grass! I slowly closed on them taking a few shots as I did, before they spotted me and flushed into the trackside shrubbery. In the last few metres, I added Green Rosella, New Holland Honeyeater, a stray Crescent Honeyeater and Brown Thornbill to the morning's list. Alas no firetails, but a pleasant morning's birding, and a note to revisit soon.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Cooperation.......Little Black Cormorant

A heavily overcast day, threatening rain, I opted to catch up on one of the many chores that I usually put off to go birding. This one entailed a visit to a garden centre at Lauderdale, but with an eye to a quick birdwatch.  Purchase concluded, I made the short trip to the canal, having decided that with the tide well out, there would be little to see on the spit. The canal is less than a kilometre long, around 10 metres wide and perhaps a metre or so deep, lined with large well spaced eucalypts--it is blocked at one end. Its days as a short cut from Ralph's Bay to Frederick Henry Bay lasted a few days. A storm blocked one end and it was never re-opened. This results in small fish entering on the high tide and  provides a great place for herons, egrets, terns and cormorants to get a quick feed as tide recedes.

        As I scanned the length of the waterway, I noted a gathering of Silver Gulls near a drain about half way along, and on closer inspection I could make out a number of diving cormorants. These turned out to be a group of around 20 Little Black Cormorants, and not the usual Black-faced and Little Pied. Although Little Blacks are by no means uncommon, they are the least likely to be encountered, at least in the south east. A cormorant roost at Gould's Lagoon at Granton, is the best local spot to see them, where they share the roost with Great and Little Pieds, or in Derwent Marshes nearby. Where they are seen they are usually in flocks numbering in the tens of birds, but occasionally in the hundreds.

   Although I had my trusty camera with me (no I don't take it bed), the conditions were marginal for photographing black birds in 'dark' water, and I was content to just watch. Little Blacks work cooperatively, 'herding'  fish together or, as in this case, into shallow water, before rather frenetically diving into the school to catch their 'share'. The gulls hung around hoping to get the leftovers, and a White-faced Heron raced back and forth along the bank in excitement, but only managing to seize an occasional fish and was in turn set about by the Silver Gulls, who, despite their efforts went largely unrewarded. It was fascinating to observe the interaction between the species. An occasional Crested Tern put in an appearance, and I noticed a Pacific Gull with a small fish, which I suspect  had been pirated from a cormorant.

   So where did the photographs come from? Well I returned the following day in the hope they would return, and initially I was disappointed and went elsewhere to birdwatch. Returning a few hours later I found them drying out on the canal bank, possibly having fished in one of the nearby bays. Watching them for some 20 minutes, they must have noticed fish surfacing because they suddenly half flew, half fluttered 50 metres down the waterway and started fishing. They bunched together, one or more with head submerged, swimming rapidly. If one dived the others would quickly follow. Trying to get decent shots during this operation proved elusive as they frequently changed direction, dived or flew several metres and recommenced their efforts. It was all over in minutes and they emerged to dry out again further down the canal. I did manage the image at centre, with the bird apparently "washing". Most cormorants do this before roosting, especially the Black-faced. I had previously concluded that it was indeed "washing", but I'm pretty sure that I'm wrong. I think they are probably fluffing their feathers to get the air back in them. This would improve body insulation and aid drying. I would be pleased to get other people's thoughts on this.