Sunday, 7 January 2018

Barking Mad


Several times a week, the birds in the garden get upset at something in the scrub. It could be anything - a tree monitor, a possum, a funny-looking twig. Lewin's honeyeaters are the biggest complainers. One of them (I'm sure it's the same one) will come to my office window and yell at me until I go outside, at which point it will then - and I'm not making this up - lead me to where a brown tree snake is dozing in the carport rafters. Since I am an advocate in letting sleeping snakes lie, the honeyeater is invariably disappointed in my response. I am sorry I don't live up to its expectations.

But one day the complaining was led by less excitable birds, including a pair of barred cuckoo-shrikes. So I grabbed the binos and went to have a look. If they were mobbing a big snake, I wanted to maintain a bit of distance.

It wasn't a snake, it was a barking owl. And they always look that annoyed.


Barking owls are one of three owl species that occur in the patch of rainforest. The other two species are southern boobook and lesser sooty owl. There have also been records of rufous owls in this area, but I have yet to hear them calling.

Sunday, 31 December 2017

For Bird Nerds: My 2017 List

Casuariidae
Emu


Anseranatidae
Magpie Goose


Anatidae
Spotted Whistling-duck
Plumed Whistling-duck
Wandering Whistling-duck
Pink-eared Duck
Cape Barren Goose
Black Swan
Radjah Shelduck
 
Hardhead
Australian Shoveler
 
Pacific Black Duck 
Grey Teal 
Chestnut Teal
Australian Wood Duck
Green Pygmy-goose


Megapodiidae
Australian Brush-turkey
Orange-footed Scrubfowl

Numididae
Helmeted Guineafowl

Podicepidae
Australian Grebe
Hoary-headed Grebe
Great Crested Grebe

Columbidae
Rock Dove
White-headed Pigeon
Spotted Dove
Brown Cuckoo-dove
Spinifex Pigeon
Common Bronzewing
Crested Pigeon
Diamond Dove
Peaceful Dove
Bar-shouldered Dove
 
Brown-capped Emerald Dove 
Torresian Imperial-pigeon 
Wompoo Fruit-dove
Superb Fruit-dove (heard)
Topknot Pigeon


Cuculidae
Pheasant Coucal
Eastern Koel
 
Channel-billed Cuckoo
Horsfield's Bronze-cuckoo
Shining Bronze-cuckoo
 
Little (Gould's) Bronze-cuckoo
Chestnut-breasted Cuckoo
Fan-tailed Cuckoo

Podargidae
Marbled Frogmouth
Papuan Frogmouth


Otididae
Australian Bustard


Aegothelidae
White-rumped Swiftlet


Rallidae
 
Red-necked Crake 
Buff-banded Rail
Baillon's Crake
Pale-vented Bush-hen
 
Purple Swamphen 
Dusky Moorhen
Tasmanian Native Hen
Eurasian Coot

Gruidae
Sarus Crane
Brolga


Burhinidae
Bush Stone-curlew


Haematopodidae
Australian Pied Oystercatcher
Sooty Oystercatcher

Recurvirostridae
Banded Stilt
Black-winged Stilt
Red-necked Avocet

Charadriidae
Red-capped Plover
 
Hooded Plover
Banded Lapwing
 
Black-fronted Dotterel 
Masked Lapwing 
Red-kneed Dotterel

Jacanidae
Comb-crested Jacana

Scolopacidae
Sharp-tailed Sandpiper
Red-necked Stint
Common Greenshank

Glareolidae
Australian Pratincole


Laridae
Caspian Tern
Whiskered Tern
Black-naped Tern
Crested Tern
Pacific Gull
Kelp Gull
Silver Gull

Diomedeidae
Black-browed Albatross
Shy Albatross


Ciconiidae
Black-necked Stork


Pelicanidae
Australian Pelican


Ardeidae
Nankeen Night-heron
Striated Heron
 
Cattle Egret
White-necked Heron

Great Egret
Intermediate Egret
White-faced Heron
Little Egret
Eastern Reef Egret


Threskiornithidae
Australia White Ibis
Straw-necked Ibis
Yellow-billed Spoonbill
Royal Spoonbill

Fregatidae
Lesser Frigatebird
Great Frigatebird

Sulidae
Brown Booby
Australasian Gannet


Phalacrocoracidae
Little Pied Cormorant
Great Cormorant
Little Black Cormorant
Black-faced Cormorant
Pied Cormorant


Anhingidae
Australasian Darter

Accipitridae
Osprey
Black-shouldered Kite
Black-breasted Buzzard
Pacific Baza
 
Wedge-tailed Eagle
Swamp Harrier
Spotted Harrier
 
Grey Goshawk (white & grey phases)
Brown Goshawk
Red Goshawk
 
White-bellied Sea-eagle
Whistling Kite
Brahminy Kite
Black Kite


Tytonidae
Sooty Owl
(heard)

Strigidae
Barking Owl
(Red) Boobook (heard)

Meropidae
Rainbow Bee-eater


Coraciidae
Dollarbird


Alcedinidae
Azure Kingfisher
Yellow-billed Kingfisher
 
Forest Kingfisher
Sacred Kingfisher
Red-backed Kingfisher
 
Buff-breasted Paradise-kingfisher
Laughing Kookaburra
Blue-winged Kookaburra


Falconidae

Nankeen Kestrel
Australian Hobby
Brown Falcon
Peregrine Falcon

Cacatuidae
Cockatiel
Red-tailed Black Cockatoo
Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo
Palm Cockatoo
Galah
Major Mitchell Cockatoo
Little Corella
 
Sulphur-crested Cockatoo

Psittacidae
 
Australian King-parrot
Red-winged Parrot
Eclectus Parrot
Red-rumped Parrot
Mulga Parrot
Golden-shouldered Parrot
 
Green Rosella
Crimson Rosella
 
Pale-headed Rosella
Eastern Rosella
Australian Ringneck

Rainbow Lorikeet
Scaly-breasted Lorikeet
Budgerigar
Double-eyed (Macleay's/Marshall's) Fig-parrot

Pittidae
Noisy Pitta


Ptilonorhynchidae
Spotted Catbird
Tooth-billed Bowerbird

Satin Bowerbird 
Western Bowerbird
Great Bowerbird
Fawn-breasted Bowerbird

Climacteridae
White-throated Treecreeper

Maluridae

Lovely Fairy-wren 
Superb Fairy-wren
Splendid Fairy-wren
Red-backed Fairy-wren
Dusky Grasswren

Dasyornithidae
Rufous Bristlebird (heard)


Meliphagidae 
Dusky Honeyeater
Scarlet Honeyeater
Macleay's Honeyeater
Tawny-breasted Honeyeater

Helmeted Friarbird
Noisy Friarbird
Little Friarbird
Banded Honeyeater
 
Brown Honeyeater
White-streaked Honeyeater
 
New Holland Honeyeater
White-cheeked Honeyeater
White-eared Honeyeater
 
Blue-faced Honeyeater 
Strong-billed Honeyeater 
White-throated Honeyeater
White-naped Honeyeater
 
Black-headed Honeyeater
Green-backed Honeyeater
 
Eastern Spinebill
Rufous-throated Honeyeater
Brown-backed Honeyeater
Bar-breasted Honeyeater

White-fronted Chat
Yellow Honeyeater

Lewin's Honeyeater
Yellow-spotted Honeyeater
Graceful Honeyeater
Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater
Red Wattlebird
 
Yellow Wattlebird 
Bridled Honeyeater
Singing Honeyeater
Grey-headed Honeyeater
Yellow-tinted Honeyeater
 
White-plumed Honeyeater
'Herberton' Honeyeater
 
Yellow-faced Honeyeater
Bell Miner (heard)
Noisy Miner
Yellow-throated Miner


Pardalotidae 
Forty-spotted Pardalote
Red-browed Pardalote
Striated Pardalote


Acanthizidae 
Brown Gerygone
Fairy Gerygone
White-throated Gerygone
Large-billed Gerygone
Weebill
Striated Fieldwren
Yellow-throated Scrubwren
Atherton Scrubwren

White-browed Scrubwren
Large-billed Scrubwren
Tropical Scrubwren
Yellow-rumped Thornbill
Striated Thornbill
Tasmanian Thornbill

Mountain Thornbill 
Chestnut-rumped Thornbill

Pomatostomidae
Grey-crowned Babbler


Campephagidae
Barred Cuckoo-shrike
Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike
White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike
Cicadabird
White-winged Triller
Varied Triller


Pachycephalidae 
Rufous Whistler 
Golden Whistler
Little Shrike-thrush
Bower's Shrike-thrush
Grey Shrike-thrush

Falcunculidae

Eastern Shrike-tit

Oreoicidae
Crested Bellbird (heard)


Psophodidae
Eastern Whipbird


Oriolidae
Australasian Figbird
Yellow Oriole

Machaerirhynchidae
Yellow-breasted Boatbill


Artamidae 
Pied Currawong
Grey Currawong
 
Black Butcherbird 
Australian Magpie 
Pied Butcherbird
Grey Butcherbird
Black-backed Butcherbird
 
Dusky Woodswallow
Little Woodswallow
 
White-breasted Woodswallow

Dicruridae
Spangled Drongo


Rhipiduridae 
Northern Fantail
Willie Wagtail
 
Rufous Fantail
Grey Fantail


Corvidae
Torresian Crow
Little Crow
Little Raven
 
Forest Raven
Australian Raven


Monarchidae
Leaden Flycatcher
Shining Flycatcher
Frilled Monarch

Pied Monarch
Magpie-lark 
Spectacled Monarch
White-eared Monarch
 
Black-faced Monarch

Corcoracidae
White-winged Chough
Apostlebird


Paradisaeidae
Victoria's Riflebird
Magnificent Riflebird


Petroicidae 
Pink Robin
Scarlet Robin
Yellow-legged Flycatcher

Lemon-bellied Flycatcher
Jacky Winter
White-browed Robin
 
Grey-headed Robin
Eastern Yellow Robin
White-faced Robin

Pale-yellow Robin
Hooded Robin
 
Dusky Robin

Dicaeidae
Mistletoebird


Nectariniidae
Olive-backed Sunbird


Estrildidae 
Chestnut-breasted Mannikin 
Beautiful Firetail 
Red-browed Finch
Star Finch
Masked Finch
Black-throated Finch
Zebra Finch
Double-barred Finch


Passeridae
House Sparrow


Motacillidae
Australasian Pipit


Fringillidae
European Goldfinch

Alaudidae
Eurasian Skylark

Locustellidae
Little Grassbird


Hirudinidae
Fairy Martin
Welcome Swallow


Timaliidae
Silvereye


Sturnidae
Metallic Starling
Common Starling
Common Myna


Turdidae
Bassian Thrush
Common Blackbird


Reference
BirdLife Australia (2016) Working List of Australian Birds, Version 2.

2017: Resolving the Resolutions


Now that 2017 is receding in the rear vision mirror — which needs a bit of a clean, by the way, look at the state of this vehicle — it's time for a wrap up of the year.

Blimey!

So there it is: 2017 in a single word.

As for my year, I went places, saw birds, caught up with old friends and met new friends. All in all that's a bloody good way to spend the time.

I started the year with a plan to see 300 species of birds. I travelled to Tasmania, Iron Range (Cape York Peninsula), Alice Springs, the Blue Mountains, and Melbourne. Thanks to ace bird people (in alphabetical order) Mark Carter, Tonia Cochran, Henry Cook, Steve Davidson, Alan Gillanders, Carol and Andrew Iles, David Mead, and David Stowe, my 2017 bird list reached 323 species. There were lots of lifers.

There were a few notable omissions. Southern cassowary and golden bowerbird should be there because they are local specialties, but I didn't make the effort to drive up the road to take a look. Sheer laziness on my part. They are on the Must See list for 2018. Also, who spots Papuan and marbled frogmouths, but misses tawnies? Just me, apparently.

(The complete list is in the sidebar. I'll also put it in a separate post.)

My 2018 diary is lookin' good. I'm off overseas in February (more on that in later posts) and have one big Australian trip scheduled in July. There will be more.

Because setting a numerical goal worked for 2017, I'm setting one for 2018. It's not huge — 350 Australian species — but it is doable.

I'm also going to make this a water/wading/sea/shorebird year. I'm not very good at IDing these birds — except for ducks, I absolutely rock at duck IDs — so I want to improve my non-duck-related identification skills. There's no numerical goal for waders.; I'd just like to be able to tell a plover from something that isn't a plover, and to be able to distinguish between all those long-legged, long-billed cryptically-coloured species that look like thumbprints on the binocular lenses. Don't @ me, wader specialists. You know I'm right.

Other goals for 2018:
  • a blog post a week
  • finish all these — flicks through 2017 diary — things I started last January
  • read more books
  • write more books
  • learn more stuff
  • invent an EMP that targets leafblowers

  • HAPPY NEW YEAR!




Sunday, 13 August 2017

White-necked Heron


Sometimes you can go for months without seeing a white-necked (Pacific) heron. Then, like buses, three turn up at once*

At Musgrave, Cape York Peninsula.


 At Ormiston Gorge, west of Alice Springs.


And at Hasties Swamp, near Atherton.




* Where at once = over the period of two months in three different places**

** Much like buses

Lines from the Road

Hello.

Is this thing on?

Er...yes...hello. I've been away for a while. I went to the Blue Mountains and Melbourne. Then I came home for a week to do stuff. Mostly laundry, if I recall correctly. It seems so long ago. Then I went back to Melbourne and returned via the Sunshine Coast. Now I've been home for...ooh...ten days and it's as if I'd never been away.

I'm sure you know that feeling.

While I was away, I cracked the Quite a Few Birds in 2017 target of 300 species, thanks to Steve Davidson. We headed down to the Great Ocean Road and Werribee and, despite the rotten weather, racked up the sightings. Bird sp #300 was the hooded plover. The last new species, #317, was a Baillon's crake. The crake was also a lifer, so that was a wet and windy September day well spent!

So now my target is increasing in 25 species increments. Just for fun, of course.



Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Spotting Catbirds


No reason for this post other than I am very fond of these noisy, rambunctious birds.


Especially as the male brush-turkey has now taken against them and charges if they are on the ground. He also does this to the emerald doves, so I'm not sure if he's antagonistic to all other birds or is just seeing red over green.


Saturday, 5 August 2017

Bollywood! (No, not that one.)

I'm on the road at the moment, with limited internet access, so I'll be posting some photos I've taken through the first half of the year.


Towards the end of the dry season, white bollywood or bollygum (Neolitsea dealbata) produces new growth so pale that it is almost luminous. It is a species that favours disturbance and is abundant at the rainforest's edge. At my place, it lines the driveway. On sunny days, the light makes the leaves look like bunting; coming home is a celebration.


The first signs of new leaves are these candles.


New leaves are covered in dense white hairs. The youngest leaves are almost all down (see first photo), but as they grow, the hairs are more widely spaced and the surface appears smoother. 


Leaves go through colour changes as they mature. Although not as showy as those of lillipillies (Syzygium and allies), bollywood leaves have their own subtle charm.


Tree kangaroos sometimes get stuck into the foliage at this stage. They will often return to the same tree every few days to eat the next batch.


Fine hairs are distributed along the twigs. This is a young stem. The hairs are not so obvious in older growth, where they tend to be worn and covered in lichen and moss.


In contrast to the shiny dark green of the upper surface, the undersides of mature leaves are pale. As are the aphids.


The flowers are modest, but the tree produces a lot of small, berry-shaped fruit, which might, in fact, be berries. Or might not, because 'berry' has a specific meaning in botany and I've never got the hang of it. One of bollywood's (many) alternative common names* is pigeon-berry. Frugivorous birds, including bowerbirds, and wompoos and topknot pigeons, love the fruit, and will stuff their faces with it. If you are planning to plant a few of these trees — and they are very attractive at the new growth stage — this is something to consider. The seeds germinate easily and could end up as a problem outside their natural range, which is is rainforest and wet sclerophyll from the tip of Cape York Peninsula south to about Wollongong.

* Don't get me started. Again.





Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Jottings from the Tropics: 1 August 2017


It's been cool and wet lately. This has discouraged the brown tree snakes, but encouraged the northern/eastern/settle on a common name long-eared bats (Nyctophilus bifax). While the snakes are inactive, they roost wherever they like and stay in that spot for extended periods.


They seem to get on well. But sometimes they behave like quarreling siblings.


- o O o -

I was working in the office, when I heard a commotion upstairs. A bird had flown into the house and couldn't find its way out again. So far this year, a Lewin's honeyeater and a little shrike-thrush have done the same. This was a bulkier bird. And the swish of taffeta ballgown told me it was a male Victoria's riflebird.


The windows must have confused him. The panes are small; many of them are coloured red or green and are made of rippled glass. They presented him with an unusual perspective.

I placed some banana on the window sill to lure him out. But as soon as I stepped back, the female riflebird swooped in from the forest and carried it away.

A second piece of banana worked and a short while later he was sitting on the carport roof, sharing it with a Lewin's honeyeater. Perhaps they were exchanging war stories.


During his brief time in the house, he had visited several rooms. I spent the rest of the afternoon cleaning up riflebird poo.


- o O o -

After years without much travelling — shopping in Atherton doesn't count — I've been out and about. So far this year, I've visited Bruny Island, Cooktown, Iron Range, and Alice Springs. I've organised a few more trips for the remainder of 2017, including the Blue Mountains, SW Victoria, and Broome, with return journeys to Alice Springs and Cooktown.

The Quite a Few Birds list is currently up to 278 species. That includes a substantial number of lifers, most of which were from Iron Range.I reckon I'll reach my goal of 300 species before the end of the year!

My diary for 2018 is already full.

Friday, 28 July 2017

What's brown & white and swims in circles?


Almost everything at Hasties Swamp at the moment is a plumed whistling-duck. That's not a complaint; plumed whistling-ducks are the finest of our two three I don't know how many resident species of whistling-ducks. And here's the obligatory photo of a plumed whistling-duck gazing into the middle distance.


But there's more to the swamp than plumed whistling-ducks. There are plenty of magpie geese, a fair number of hardheads, and a few white-necked herons, Australian white ibis, swamphens and moorhens around at the moment. And pink-eared ducks (Malacorhynchus membranaceus), which are the best ducks. Just look at them.


Pink-ears are also called zebra ducks, because of their annual migration across the Serengeti. Alternatively, it might have something to do with the coloration.


They're common but —

Honestly, why would you name a bird for its least conspicuous feature? Zebra duck, small stripey duck, flappy-billed duck, whirly duck...All of these are more descriptive than pink-eared duck. I don't care that the tiny splash of pink is due to carotenoids in the feathers, which is so unusual in Anseriformes that it's a subject of academic study*. It looks as though someone's left the cap off a highlighter pen. Common names ...pfft. Don't get me started on brown honeyeaters and rainforest tamarinds.

— nomadic, often following the floods.

They feed on small invertebrates and algae, which they filter out of the water using lamellae on the edge of the bill. The duck on the bottom left is doing just that.


Often, two or more ducks swim together in a circle in a behaviour known as vortexing. This stirs up and concentrates food, working to both birds' advantage.



It also entertains the whistling-ducks.



* Thomas, DB, et al. (2014) Ancient origins and multiple appearances of carotenoid-pigmented feathers in birds. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, Biological Sciences 281