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.