Monday, August 05, 2013

Return of the Striated Pardalotes

       There are definite signs of Spring about, the most obvious at the moment are the numerous Masked Lapwing pairs that have started nesting in various grassland sites. While for many, the arrival of the Welcome Swallows heralds Spring, I look forward to the return of one of our smallest birds, the Striated Pardalote.
       I visited Pipeclay Lagoon this morning, mainly looking at the migrant waders, Red-necked Stint, Double-banded Plover and Bar-tailed Godwit, but also looking for signs of our resident Red-capped Plovers and Pied Oystercatchers taking up breeding territories.
         I find that I can make a close approach to these waders in my car as they feed along the tide line, giving excellent views and the occasional photo.opp. Approaching a group of Red-capped Plovers, I wound down the window, and across the marsh came the umistakable "pick-it-up pick-it-up" call of a Striated Pardalote. "They're back!". I always find such events uplifting and something to be savoured, and set off in pursuit..
          I've never seen large flocks of pardalotes, although they often breed in something approaching colonies, but their sudden appearance in substantial numbers suggests they cross Bass Strait on their southern migration from the Australian Mainland, in a cohesive way. None around a few days ago, many today.
          The Striated Pardalotes nest in holes, mostly in trees and banks, but at 'Pipeclay' they nest predominantly in holes in the ground. On arrival, pairs immediately take up a chosen site, having paired off during the preceding months, and their "pick-it-up" calls are announcing to others that this is their territory. Disputes do take place, but it's rarely more than threat displays with open wings, and incessantly calling.
           Although I've taken many photographs of them before, of course I couldn't help taking a few more and quickly found an occupied territory. There were 2 pairs in close proximity that were having a vocal joust and allowed a very close approach. On 3 occasions all too close, as one bird used my hat as a convenient observation point, I being the tallest "structure" around! I could only look at my own shadow with bird atop-- gives you a warm fuzzy feeling.
          Of Tasmania's three pardalote species, the Striated is the only migrant. In some years a good part of the population stays in Tasmania during Winter, but this year they departed early, and I haven't recorded any since March.Welcome back.


Sunday, August 04, 2013

The Early Bird

     Somewhat frustrated by recent weather conditions, I opted for an early morning visit to the Waterworks Reserve at Dynnyrne, a Hobart suburb, which I hoped would be sheltered from the strong south westerlies. In retrospect I think I might have been a tad too early, with frost still present on the downstream face of the dam and few birds in evidence, but I was optimistic.
     I've often been able to photograph birds from the car here, and that's one of the attractions, but I wasn't quite "tuned in" yet and failed to see a roadside Common Bronzewing presenting a photo.opp. or the Grey Currawongs or the Forest Ravens. It was going to be one of those days!
     I did notice the group of around a dozen Hardhead ducks roosting on the water's edge,  and  a few Coot and Hoary-headed Grebes nearby. Normally considered an uncommon species in Tasmania, Hardheads have been seen around Tasmania in unprecedented numbers this year, and have turned up on many bodies of water, including farm dams. I recently noted around 90 on Rostrevor Lagoon near Triabunna and a few dozen on Risdon Brook Dam.
     Spotting a pair of Dusky Robins perched on the top of star pickets around a construction area--I believe it's going to be a handicapped friendly BBQ area--I wandered closer, noting a pair of Scarlet Robins doing the same thing. I had thoughts of photography, but that was cut short by the arrival of the construction crews and the departure of the robins, and me.
      There's an area near the reserve's entrance where I can usually find Dusky Robins and I retreated to this spot. My first impression was one of ominous silence, which didn't bode well, but I persevered. I soon flushed two Forest Ravens, and assumed they were the reason for the lack of bird activity. A Yellow-throated Honeyeater called from high in the canopy, but little else. A few steps more and there was the culprit, a Laughing Kookaburra, the bane of many small birds. Kookaburras were introduced into the Tasmanian Midlands around 1906 and have steadily spread throughout the state and are now commonly seen, even in suburban gardens. Patient birds, they will sit on a suitable perch watching for minutes on end, before pouncing on some unsuspecting prey, including small birds. I took several shots of it perched and moved on, but I'd only taken a few steps before it dropped to the ground. Hidden from my view by a tree, I retraced my steps, interested in what prey it was after. As you can see from the image, it was a worm and a protracted tug of war ensued, and my proximity wasn't going to inhibit its efforts. Worm devoured, it resumed its perch, but seconds later, a second kookaburra passed over my head, and it set off in pursuit.
        Their departure seemed to breathe new life into the bush and Dusky and Scarlet Robins emerged, together with Superb Blue-wrens, while above in the canopy, Strong-billed and Black-headed Honeyeaters  chattered away. The occasional Golden Whistler sidled quietly through the nearby scrub as did Brown Thornbills. I briefly investigated a peculiar rasping call I couldn't identify emanating from high in the eucalypts. That turned out to be two pairs of Wood Duck probably looking for nest holes. I still find it strange to see ducks in trees.
         There were at least 8 Dusky Robins feeding in and around the clearing. Most were feeding deep in the understorey scrub, but a few were making forays from low branches, patiently waiting for some movement in the leaf mulch before pouncing, while others were actively searching the ground and I was able to get a few shots. Most of the prey appeared to be very small insects. I stood quietly beside a large gum and was finally "rewarded" by a close approach of the Dusky Robin pictured. It stood on a fallen branch for a few seconds, before disappearing into the grass and reappearing with a worm. It always strikes me that worms are rather a large prey for robins, but I've seen all 4 of our robins feeding on worms. I suspect they are 'opportunistic' prey rather than sort after, but Dusky Robins also take skinks (small lizards), certainly more 'substantial' than worms.
          My photo.opps were not quite over as, while watching the robins, a pair of Green Rosellas (like the Dusky Robins only found in Tasmania) that had been feeding beneath the nearby acacias, repositioned close by. Actively feeding, probably on seeds, one coming to within a few inches of my foot, before realising its error! But it only flew a few metres and gave me my chance. My only regret was that it was in such deep shade (1/30th of a second exposure!) . Despite an inauspicious start, an excellent morning's birding.