Thursday, November 27, 2008
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
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 rapidly off muddy area of pond and climbing high before disappearing west.
But the Yellow Wagtail's 'zweep' is not too different from the Australasian Pipit's call. The area is base to two or three pairs of pipits (a bird which normally flies low when disturbed and returns to ground quickly).
After a hectic morning watching Euro soccer (lucky Arsenal!), fixing bicycle, getting in way of water blasting the caravan (oops, partly inside!) and seeing a false roof fitted (less heat, fewer leaks, reduced rain noise), I headed off hoping to confirm wagtail's presence to the east.
No joy on first patrol of pond system. Then, more 'zweeping'. Forty metres away, a rather yellow Yellow Wagtail. On the algal green surface of a drying section of pond mud. Quick pictures. Race off for tripod. Return to find Black-fronted Dotterels chasing wagtail. More quick pictures before bird quits under dotterel harassment.
Trudge off in 35C heat and tons of sun in pursuit. Criss-cross dried weed-filled pond. Chase after possible two birds. Much more 'zweeping' and see four or five birds leave ponds and go to ground in waist-high sugar cane.
Two birds then head off to nearby trees. Two return toward where the chase began. More hot trudging. No birds on the mud. But more sounds heading back toward the cane.
Trudge back and find non-yellow Yellow Wagtail calling from a mass of dried floating pond grass. Better pictures, but unable to get really close before bird lifts off and disappears west.
My experience suggests the birds will stick around so long as the mud areas continue to be uncovered. However, much of the ponds' cane grass and bulrush were dug out this year, and some ponds are also carrying high water levels. Experience must often give way to changed conditions.
But between now and the beginnings of the Wet I'll somehow sneak close to one or two of my four or five Yellow Wagtails. It's on my Xmas list!
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
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. But it didn't go near the fledgling. It ducked here and there close by. Then it swallowed the caterpillar.
What's the problem? I'm probably the problem. Whistlers are trusting birds, but instinct runs counter to heading direct to the young. I back off. Still nothing doing. So I clear right off for 10 minutes.
On return it takes me five minutes to find the 'helpless' fledgling near the top of the tree it fell from. Doesn't seem judging by its fretful calls to be getting all it demands from parents but how's that different from most hungry juveniles? It's safe and sound!
I know, not all cases match such happy outcomes. My principle, though, is always to do as little as possible to interfere - or 'help'. How do others feel?
Monday, November 24, 2008
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.
The birds, though uncooperative, are worth a few words. First up was a Wompoo Fruit-Dove, 'wollack-a-woo-ing'. Sorry about the picture. Bird refused to leave the shadows.
Even harder to see and impossible to snap, a pair of hyperactive Spotted Catbirds. Their mewing and yowling forces smiles from the glummest birdo. Fifteen minutes with the green clowns and I'm laughing for the rest of the day. In the same patch of rainforest, a Noisy Pitta, Yellow-breasted Boatbill, and Black-faced Monarch.
Highlight still to come: on a forested track by Stony Creek (which feeds the falls). Series of one-note calls. Glimpses of biggish dark bird. Finally, some distant light - on orangey-brown breast, red bill and blue head of a migrant Buff-breasted Paradise-Kingfisher. Azures pale in comparison. But couldn't see anything of white tail streamers. And no picture.
A final bonus. I caught sight of a leech on my leg before it put the bite on me!
Sunday, November 23, 2008
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, over water usually, and yet escape theft. It may be that the BBs' habit of stop-start work invites the other species to help themselves.
Saturday, November 22, 2008
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 the 30-metre S-shaped shallows. It probably began at least two days ago. Yesterday's searing 36 Celsius would have virtually cooked the oxygen-starved fish.
So much for eagle eyes, what I need is a beagle's nose! And even the tiniest bird-brain might have pondered why the hens and rails were hanging around the margins of the pool.
Got things back on track an hour later with a Little Bittern sighting. Heard stealthy movement high in a patch of Scleria I was skirting. The bird, a female, took off low as always and plunged back down into more of the two-metre grass. Never any point in chasing once the bird has flown.
But the encounter may offer an insight worth chasing about the daytime habits of the birds. In a possible case of another penny dropping, it struck me that the birds' rare gurgles seldom come from areas that lack a small tree springing from the dense Scleria (Razor Grass). This applies particularly to two spots in front of the hide.
Today's movement came from further west, close to a small Tulip Tree. On checking under the tree I found a small raised patch of bent grass. I'm tempted to describe it as a natural cathedral, but an A-framed structure with high flattened grass floor will do.
Exploration near the hide and other areas would be much more intrusive. So I'll see if there are spots elsewhere that I might test the theory, without overly upsetting any birds - or anyone else.
Thursday, November 20, 2008
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 ...
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
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 clumsily low in the Scleria.
That left - as it turned out - three to follow. Number two a few minutes later flew straight over the channel and dropped onto the Scleria. Number three followed the same flight path after an awkward scrambled exit.
Number four proved a problem. Calls from parents and three siblings drew no response for several minutes. The siblings gave up calling and concentrated on the challenge of maintaining a sure foothold on their new habitat. This seemed more problematic than the first flights.
Finally, the last brown streak dived across the gap and joined the family. All promptly disappeared deeper into the Scleria. And not a minute too soon as the wind picked up and an hour of showers followed. A wet wide world welcome for the juveniles.
So, to wrap up the three nests around the hide and introduced as a group in an earlier post about impatient tourists:
Willie Wagtails, two young - always visible; Crimson Finches, four - never visible; Brown-backed Honeyeaters, ? perhaps two - mysteriously invisible (nest, metre from hide: awful position; incubation: no sign; feeding: seen twice; juveniles: no sight or sound).
In the interim, the male Crimson has completed another nest in a cleft immediately above the now empty hole, but with the entry facing west rather than east. They do love building! Not all such secondary nests are used as it depends on the female's approval. We'll wait and see.
And a pair of White-breasted Woodswallows have built in a deep fork of another paperbark about 10 metres to the west of the hide.
In the midst of all this procreation, two Little Bitterns gurgled briefly from deep cover, a Spotless Crake darted across a channel, two Purple Swamp-Hens gradually accepted my shadowy presence, six Comb-crested Jacanas danced on the water, four Magpie Geese squabbled about grass rights, and a Wood Sandpiper probed the water's edge.
Throw in an assortment of other birds about the place and being sheltered from the squalls and it's little wonder time flies in the hide.
Monday, November 17, 2008
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.
But what initially looked a lot of wet sand and almost no birds gradually showed more promise. No flocks of migrants, yet dotted here and there small numbers of resident plovers, dotterels, knots, tattlers, curlews, godwits, whimbrels. All more or less as expected.
Less expected was catching two Bar-tailed Godwits (Limosa lapponica) almost sharp as they whizzed by and finding a usable image of a far-off Grey-tailed Tattler (Heteroscelus brevipes) taking off.
Not all that's expected of a sea change, but not so dusty.
Sunday, November 16, 2008
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) as they fly between offshore roosts and mainland feeding areas. But never more than a pair, or an adult plus a juvenile (parent birds seem to split up and look after one juvenile apiece) around Ingham.
Saturday, November 15, 2008
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 experience raising two youngsters last year, the same pair nested very low on a shaded bough and just above waist-high grasses close to another track nearby. One day, two hatchlings; the next, no hatchlings! Tree snake or tree frog, probably.
The birds wasted no time in moving 30 metres west - and two metres higher - to the paperbark. The new nest is less than a metre away from the old site. Success breeds success - and good habits!
Friday, November 14, 2008
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 the Grey Fantails have headed off for cooler forest and higher ground.
Australasian Pipit (Anthus novaeseelandiae - formerly Richard's P.) surveys its typical mown grass territory from atop an Ingham airstrip security fence, which forms Tyto's southern boundary. I'm not too keen on manmade bits in my bird pictures, yet have to admit they do sometimes make a photgrapher's life easier.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
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 almost begged to be snapped. Facing left, looking down, facing right. But one is enough. Why can't the rare ones co-operate similarly?
Boring bit starts here! Quick word on species counts. Got 57 in six hours yesterday and 59 in five hours today; 13 from yesterday unseen today; 15 from today unseen yesterday. It's an indication of how greatly lists can vary. Also, that there are fewer birds than in any of the last few months, when 65 or so would have been the count.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
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 like good bird parents.
Spotted close to the long-deserted nest, the quicksilver pair of Lovely Fairy-Wrens. As ever, they flashed across a track, spent a split-second in lantana close to their decaying nest, and disappeared into thick tangles of more lantana and guavas. But I will get them!
And here's a biggie to finish. The best-conditioned, thickest Amethyst Python (Morelia amethistina) I've yet seen in Tyto. About 3.5 metres of muscular, shimmering gorgeousness, so heavy it left deep grooves in the shortish wet grass. Perfection! Until it came to keeping its tongue in frame and itself out in the open.
What do you say to an almost 12-foot snake as it goes by? So long! What else could you say?
Spot you later, as they say.
An afterword: Problems with downloading pictures, formats that kept changing, and supposedly lost internet connections added at least an hour to posting this blog. Do others strike similar posts or days? It's maddening to space everything perfectly, introduce another image and find spacing's gone haywire and font and type size has changed. Happens whether I paste stuff in or enter it directly.
Monday, November 10, 2008
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. (Unlike White-throated Gerygones (Gerygone Olivacea), usually in pairs, almost always in paperbarks, and scouring them from top to bottom.)
Today's solitary Fairy, busy foraging, stayed low in a small tree and near the outside of foliage close to me. Too close, in fact, since I had trouble locating the bird in the viewfinder.
In the end, no great picture. The bird was too quick and the foliage too thick. Pity, but there it is. Two almosts for the day. But two pictures to build future hopes on.
Sunday, November 9, 2008
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 temperatures soared last week. Suddenly, shortage of shallows. Over the last three days scarcely a wader to be found - apart from three Latham's Snipe (Gallinardo hardwickii).
And hope it hops close to me, as did this White-winged Triller (Lalage sueurii) today as I rode home through an industrial estate. Wish more birds were so open!
So, too deep when most of the migrants were passing through. Too dry to attract any strays. Looks like being a low wader species count this season. Just have to hope for a Yellow Wagtail before Christmas.
Friday, November 7, 2008
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 days. Not a macro, this is another handheld 630= shot, at F13 1/1250sec ISO1600. The picture has been lightly sharpened, without any denoising. Not a super shot, but a telling example of camera technology at work.
Thursday, November 6, 2008
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
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, Brown-backed Honeyeaters, you're proving me wrong, aren't you? Going ahead with a nest I can touch? Too right, they said, you people can't see what's right in front of you.
Don't forget us, just because we're down here on the water, called three juvenile Comb-crested Jacanas. We don't like too much movement above us, but we'll be here for an hour or so.
No, I'm not, because here's a Yellow Honeyeater almost at touching distance and those White-breasted Woodswallows on the hand rail deserve a mention, and I'd almost forgotten the Buff-banded Rail darting for cover as I arrived and the Great Egret who stalked closer and closer to the hide before getting hungry for elsewhere and the Magpie Geese squadrons overhead and the Hardheads and Pacific Black Ducks and Wandering Whistling Ducks splashing close by and the squeaky-cushion noises from the unseen White-browed Crakes.
Besides, you birds are beautiful, but so too are the dragonfles, the damselflies, the butterflies, and that tree frog there right in front of the hide, sunning every day low on the Scleria.