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Showing posts from November, 2008

Yellow and red on the cards

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Just a fleeting glimpse of a distant Yellow Wagtail today, after another late start because of vital football duties (watching Chelsea's multimillion men struggle to 1-1 against Bourdeaux).

One of the most colourful things about the footy was the ref's six or seven yellow cards, and one red. So here's a picture or two - from the rainy-day bin - to match the colours of the day.
What could be more fitting than a Silvereye (Zosterops lateralis). Very yellow, and with a beady eye to boot?
Or an Olive-backed Oriole (Oriolus Sagittatus)? Some yellow, and with a red eye?
Last, two Noisy Pittas (Pitta versicolor), bits of buffy-yellow, red, green and black, lighting up their arena, but out of focus and unsatisfying. Bit like today's match.

'Zweep' for rare wagtails

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The Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava) pops up as a summer migrant along most of the eastern coastline down to Victoria. The birds are usually of the race simillina (from E. Russia), less often taivana (Asia, Japan).

Rarer still, mostly, are Citrine, Grey, Black-backed and White Wagtails. If there be a wagtail heaven in Australia for birdwatchers it is Darwin, where almost all races of almost all species may turn up.

Want to find a rare wagtail? Do not follow the guide books to playing fields, airstrips and other mown areas. Instead, take their sometimes advice and get yourself near sewerage lagoons, spread sludge, or water treatment ponds. Not so easy in many places and cases.

Or wait till someone else finds one. Or two. Or three. Or four. Perhaps even five. You've guessed it! I am that someone else.

Took a late afternoon drive yesterday to some ponds and in the breaking gloom of distant thunder clouds heard a high, sweet 'zweep zweep'. Focussed too late on small bird ascending…

Saving them from ourselves

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Oh, look, the poor little bird has fallen from the nest. It's fluttered up on to that old birdo's bicycle. Isn't it cute? What shall we do?

We'd better try to put it back. Pick it up and find the nest. Let's take it home and look after it. Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!

We're so keen to do the right thing we often get it all upside down. Doctors are told (but then sometimes go on to ignore the dictum): First, do no harm.

So it should be with us and wildlife. We almost all know not to get between wild animals and their young. That's because it's dangerous for us. But our thoughts should be first for the good of the young.

So when the above fledgling Rufous Whistler lost a tenuous grip on some outer foliage at Tyto today and fell at my feet, I naturally stepped back to get a picture. And to think about its welfare.


Yes, in that order and without any thought of saving the bird. That's what parents are for. Right on cue a male whistler turned up. With food in mouth. B…

Heading for a falls

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How about some sightseeing, with striking birds thrown in - and a blue frog?

Starting at the beginning, a 20-minute, 2-hectare transect across the reed flats and through the Scleria, looking for Little Bitterns. Furtive movement high in Razor Grass. Away flies male bittern, showing typical glorious chocolate and custard yellow colouring seen from behind. Top start!


On to the pool of death. Almost all evidence of total fish kill sunk without trace. But here's a blue frog drawing the flies. Blue? Yes. It's a dead Green Treefrog (Litoria caerulea).
Scientific name is said to spring from specimens pickled in alcohol when preserving fluid ran out during Joseph Banks' collecting. Blue and yellow equals green. But the frog yellow is alcohol soluble. So the taxonomists in England poured blue frogs from the bottle.
Still early morning and bright, clear sky. Time for a change. Out west 45 kilometres to Seaview Range, rainforest, and Wallaman Falls, Australia's longest one-step drop.…

Honeyeaters help themselves

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Seems innocent enough, doesn't it? Male Rufous-throated Honeyeater (Conopophila rufogularis) collects material for nesting. But thieves are ever with us.

Victims of this robbery are the Brown-backed Honeyeaters (Ramsayornis modestus) that defied my prediction of failure with a nest right in front of the Tyto hide. The pair three days ago began an even more noticeable nest outside the hide.

Progress seemed slow and work rather off and on, but that's not too unusual. Today, the nest was being deconstructed by the Rufous-throateds, busy unpicking spider webs binding the nest and carrying them to an islanded paperbark 30 metres away.

The four prominent small honeyeaters in the wetlands are the BBs, the RTs, and the Browns and (slightly larger) Yellows. BBs nests are targeted by all three other species, but I can't recall seeing the thieves' nests being raided until abandoned.

Browns and Yellows hide their nests better. But RTs, like BBs, build their dangling nests in the open,…

Eagle-eyes needs beagle nose

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Golden-headed Cisticola not so rusty when it comes to catching a feed

See the eagle-eyed birdo doing his stuff. Eyes always on the move, missing nothing. Searching for Pale-vented Bush-Hens (Amaurornis olivaceous). Listening intently for telltale murmured 'tuck tuck tucking' from the long grasses.
Pair of birds yesterday fled the drying margins of the only pool left in creek, which runs southwest-northeast in a southern semicircle around the main lagoon. Later got close to one bird but no clear views. Ditto with a pair of Buff-banded Rails (Gallirallus philippensis).
Prowl the pool area again today. Get a whiff of something unpleasant in the air. Ignore it and continue the search. No hint of hens or rails. But that smell. What is it?
Stare at shallow water. Penny drops. Those hundreds of small pale white 'leaves' patterning the yellow algal bloom are dead fish. Those three small branches are dead eels.
So busy looking for birds, I've missed the death of every fish in th…

Rufous Fantails, rueful birdo

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Here's my bogey bird. Rufous Fantail (Rhipidura rufifrons). The bird that won't turn up most days, rarely sits still when it does turn up, and never sits still in the open anywhere near me.

Today, two turned up - an extremely rare double act in Tyto. They then took turns in teasing me, flying close by and taking up tempting positions low in trees before darting away into the upper foliage.

As a variation they'd wait till I got near and then flash across the Razor Grass in the now dry creek bed. One bird wearied of the sport after about five minutes. The other vanished more than 10 minutes later.

Got one usable picture. Lovely pose, but focus isn't great and it took some tweaking to get an image that merely hints at the most colourful of the fantails. One day ...




Sparrow makes rare entry

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Don't laugh. This is a rare bird once you've gone more than 100 metres west from Tyto's eastern boundary and carpark. Plenty of House Sparrows (Passer domesticus) in the carpark trees and nearby suburbia.
The above female made it all the way (about 250m) to the edge of the first lagoon. Looked very out of place pottering about among the sparse weeds at the water's edge. Not for nothing are they called House Sparrows.
Further in today it was more a case of gone than out of place. Rain and wind overnight further reduced numbers on the main lagoon and reed flats. No spoonbills, ibises, egrets, and fewer ducks and Magpie Geese.
Fruitless chase at the western boundary for pictures of a busy Dollarbird. But it hawked from a series of tallish trees and the sullen grey sky made perched and in-flight pictures nigh impossible.
And no sign in the same general area of the Lovely Fairy-Wrens, which popped up again for a second yesterday and vanished just as quickly. Frustrating!
On a po…

Brown streaks are Crimsons

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Where'd he go? Do you see him? Can you see mum and dad? Do we have to go now?

Three fledgling Crimson Finches (Neochmia phaeton) peer uncertainly from their tree trunk nest hole beside the bird hide at Tyto today.

By chance (and self-imposed Little Bittern survey duty), I was in the hide for much of the morning. It soon became obvious nest departure time was nigh. The parent birds issued nonstop calls from nearby bushy weeds to encourage their young out into the world.

Answering calls from within the nest hinted at a reluctance to quit the cosy surrounds. After more than an hour without outcome, the female parent tried a new approach, perching at the nest entry and telling those inside to get outside.

Didn't work immediately. But after about 15 minutes and the fourth such command a brown streak (I'm presuming a male - sorry, but that's the way of wildlife: boys first and riskiest) launched from the nest and flew 10 metres directly across a narrow channel and landed clumsil…

Ups and downs at the beach

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Day for a sea change. Don't travel out to the coast often. The waders are always too far away and without a hide there's no catching birds unawares.
But hope springs eternal. So when a dead low tide coincides with a promising dawn I head to Taylor's Beach and its wide expanse of tidal sands, channels, and patches of mud and sea grass, fringed in part by giant mangroves.
Hopes quickly unsprung! One Black Butcherbird visible in the mangroves and a few unseen Mangrove Gerygones. A Silver Gull (Larus novaehollaniae) sidles over, mistaking me for a fisher or crabber. Hangs about until it sees I'm no source of a free feed.
Squelch out on the flats thinking something will turn up. Something does. Hunched low on the sea grass, a Striated Heron (Butorides striatus). One of the wariest birds when chanced upon elsewhere unconcerned by me up to about 20 metres. No luck, however, with pictures of the bird snapping up prey.
The gull dropped in close again. But it persisted in moving as …

Baza solves raptor puzzle

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Pacific Baza (Aviceda subcristata) circles at a distance above me near Tyto's western boundary today. Hours before I had a tantalising glimpse of what appeared in the early morning light to be an oddly white and grey raptor carrying some small leggy prey.
The later sighting of a Baza - with a Willie Wagtail bouncing off its back - almost certainly clarified the question. Probably one of what proved to be a pair of Bazas, and equally probably the prey would have been a tree frog.
Bazas do love big juicy tree frogs, and crunchy mantids. So much so they'll sometimes fling themselves at outer foliage to see what shakes. Don't see much of the behaviour in Tyto, the trees in the main neither suiting nor rewarding such extreme foraging.
Nor are the birds that occasionally drop into the wetlands as unconcerned by human presence as they can be elsewhere, particularly in and near coastal settlements.
In the Daintree I've seen small flocks chatting (rather like New Zealand's Keas…

Flycatchers build on success

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Where would you like to build this year, my love? Fancy a change?

Oh, I don't know, darling. That spot last year was nice, with plenty of morning sun. And a bit of shade in the afternoon.

You mean that little paperbark by the track? Just around the bend from the hide?

Yes, that would do nicely. It was fun last year sitting right over the heads of people walking by.

And they didn't notice us, most of them. Right, I'll get to work straight away. We'll wrap this up in just a few days.


Creatures of habit, all of us. None more so than a pair (male above) of Leaden Flycatchers (Myiagra rubecula) seen in Tyto today part-way through construction of their nest on a low horizontal fork.
With some bark exterior to camouflage it the nest won't be quite so obvious in another day or two. It will, however, be in view to all visitors who lift their heads a fraction. Most won't, so the birds will sit quietly on the nest and watch the walkers wander by.
Before their happy paperbark exp…

Heron makes rare showing

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Rare sighting and flyaway at the rainforest pools today of dark grey Striated Heron (Butorides striatus) didn't give me time to even lift the camera.

Even more surprising than seeing the bird has been the rarity of sightings over the years: two in five years at Tyto (a kilometre away) - to my knowledge. Today's was a rainforest first for me. But no sign of the Azure Kingfishers.

So, three pictures from the past few days:


Male Rufous-throated Honeyeater (Conopophila rufogularis) reaches under a dead pink lotus flower head in its search for small insects. The birds are seldom absent from Tyto, but often disappear high into trees through the day. Mornings and evenings, they more actively forage at and near the water's edge.



Northern Fantail (Rhipidura rufiventris) takes a spell from competing with Willie Wagtails for moths and other flying prey. The fantails can't match their more numerous rivals in open woodland. They do better in closed woodland, and stick around long after…

Yellow Sunbird turns olive

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Yellow-bellied Sunbird? Nope, Yellow-breasted Sunbird? Nope. Olive-backed Sunbird? Yep!

Nectarinia jugularis's opinion of this chopping and changing isn't known. But on the little bird's behalf may I protest the latest downplaying of the gorgeous dominant yellow in favour of the ho-hum workaday olive. To say nothing of the male's splendid iridescent blue-black bib.

Came upon this female building in a shadowy grove today. Typical dangling structure hanging from a tiny twig. (Sunbirds can be encouraged to build from strings hung from sheltered verandas.) She stopped work soon after my arrival, so I pushed off.
Earlier, I chased after a Horsfield's Cuckoo (Chrysococcyx basalis) hoping to get close as it dealt with a large caterpillar. Cuckoos are usually more interested in preparing and downing large catches than flying away from birdos. This bird was less willing to be photographed close up.
Not so, this Red-backed Fairy-Wren (Malurus melanocephalus). Sat on branch and a…

Luck's spotty, like the birds

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Luck's been spotty with birds spotted in the distance. Didn't even know the Nankeen Night Heron (Nycticorax caledonicus) disappearing fast from view at Tyto today was a spotty juvenile till I downloaded the images. From distance the bird looked a somewhat drab adult.


Pheasant Coucal (Centropus phasianinus), in black and brown breeding plumage, is more streaked than spotted, and more often spotted running along the ground looking - as in Judith Wright's marvellous set of bird poems - like a granny tripping along tiptoe with skirts up.
Difficult to catch these crafty birds in clear view, on boughs or in the air. They almost invariably clamber high within a tree and launch themselves out the other side away from perceived danger. Their flight is not so clumsy as often described.
Though from the cuckoo family, it's hard to see much about them that other cuckoos would admire. Pheasant Coucals build their own ground nests, incubate the eggs, feed the young, and generally behave…

Tawny away with the Fairy

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Tawny Grassbirds (Megalurus timoriensis) filled the air with their chiding descending songs in many spots at Tyto today. Though they've been noisy for some time activity has stepped up.

Field guides offer a range of northern breeding periods, from a broad August-April to a narrow February-April. Not much doubt, however, what all the to-ing and fro-ing is about.

Makes thing easier for birdos. Not so much easier for photographers, since the birds are so intensely busy and vanish in a flash. Nests, too, when built, are difficult to locate.

Got myself into great position today for the pictured bird. It struck a perfect pose. Camera - set on AI servo for tracking shots - found the low contrast and stillness too much! Perfect pose squandered! Sorry, but second-best has to do for now.

Different story, similar result with a hyperactive Fairy Gerygone (Gerygone palpebrosa).The birds usually move through a wide variety of trees in groups of six to eight, rarely still and seldom low in foliage. …

Martins get the message

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You don't think they could have forgotten about us, do you?

Juvenile Fairy Martins (Hirundo ariel) don't look too happy at the lack of service from their parents at Tyto yesterday. With good reason.

No food or obvious parent turned up in the 15 mintues or so I watched. The youngsters seemed finally to get the message and set about doing a bit of hawking for themselves.

This pair of Sharp-tailed Sandpipers (Calidris acuminata) near some mill treatment ponds appeared more content. Flocks of Sharpies have been much smaller this season and other waders sometimes seen in small numbers have not shown up at all.
I've been chasing one markedly dark bird, without much success in getting close enough to absolutely satisfy myself that it is a melanistic Sharp-tailed. It sometimes stands apart from the other birds and seldom joins flock flights. The behaviour is puzzling. But then waders often puzzle me.
There are few to ID at Tyto now. The reed shallows reached a tipping point as temperat…

Of Koels and cool cameras

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This juvenile Common Koel (Eudynamys scolopacea) continued its nonstop demands for food from a pair of Blue-faced Honeyeaters (Entomyzon cyanotis) at the caravan park today.

For a large, incessant caller the bird has been surprisingly difficult to spot in the tall trees. It came a little lower early this morning. But feeding was done at such a rush I missed two chances, and then the Koel moved out of sight.

In a post with emphasis as much on photography as the natural world, I like the attractive patterns in the out of focus branches and leaves behind the bird. A plug for image stabilisation: 420mm=630mm, handheld at 1/60sec F14 ISO400. Naturally many more blurred shots hit the trash.


Here's a Golden-headed Cisticola (Cisticola exilis) on a sugar cane flower stalk, also early today. The side-on pose helps keep all in focus. 420mm=630mm handheld at 1/800sec F10 ISO400.

And finally a Monarch butterfly on one of the few Tyto lagoon-edge weeds not to have been sprayed in the last few day…

Deserving cases find places

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Male Rufous Whistler (Pachycephala rufiventris) takes in the morning sun.

Themes running in recent posts left some deserving pictures with no place to go. So, here's a place for them.

Black-necked Stork (Ephippiorhyncus asiaticus) kicks up the mud as she lifts off.


Female Shining Flycatcher (Myiagra alecto) perches in the rainforest.
Dragonfly (Diplacodes haematodes) takes a rest.

Lot of nothing 'hiding' near hide

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'Not much to see here, is there?' visitor one said to visitor two after a minute or so in the Tyto hide today. The second agreed and they pushed off.

Scarcely a thing, I said at their retreating backs (since some people make it very clear they don't want help).
Scarcely a thing, except for:
Drawn-out gurgle from left-front 10 metres off in Scleria. Hello, Little Bittern, nice of you to announce your presence. Yes, I know, that's it for the day. Pity the impatient pair missed it. They wouldn't have appreciated the signal? You're right.
Scolding from two metres up and a metre out from left of hide. Gidday Mr Willie and Mrs Willie, how are the two wagtail youngsters? See for myself? Of course. They look bonny!
Tinkling from paperbark three metres out in front. Morning, Crimson Finches, how are you doing? Goodness only knows how many eggs or young you've got tucked in that nest hole. You'll know in good time, they said.
Churring from directly in front of hide. Hi…