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!


Carole M. said...

Great to see the fan-tailed cuckoo (new to me); great photographic opportunity!

John Tongue said...

Well done Alan. I'd plug for over-winterers. Otherwise, they're very early arrivals back.

BirdingTas said...

Thanks for your comments Carole, they're always welcome. There are 4 members of the cuckoo family that are summer migrants to Tasmania. The 'fantail' is the only one that appears to regularly overwinter. However, since in the main, all 4 are more often heard than seen, if they don't call we don't record them!

BirdingTas said...

Hi John,
It's always difficult to determine "early" arrivals, and in the main any summer migrant present now has almost certainly "overwintered". This 'fantail'appears to have paired up, not in my experience the norm.
The blog was really about a play on the "first cuckoo of spring" theme, and to the idiosyncratic actions of birders. Does it really matter that the cuckoo was photographed in winter! Only, I suspect, to me.