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!