Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Oily boids get ... caterpillars



Gloriously 'oily' Metallic Starlings (Aplonis metallica) were busy taking to caterpillars on a Leichhardt tree in Tyto today. The birds appear to have migrated south in lesser numbers this year.

Favourite trees (usually rain trees: Albiza spp, I think) carry fewer of their bulky 'apartment' buildings. Perhaps Ingham has not retained the favour of these spectacularly plumaged tourists. There may be greater numbers elsewhere.


One small blessing will be reduced mortality around town. All the birds, but particularly the immatures, are terribly naive. Their low, swift flights lead tailenders to crash into windows, fences, power lines and vehicles.

An aside on Leichhardt trees. It's curious how one or two trees will be ravaged by caterpillars (sorry, no idea of species) grazing on the surface of the large leaves , yet others nearby go untouched.   

Monday, December 29, 2008

Duck makes a X landing


X marks the spot as a Wandering Whistling Duck (Dendrocygna arcuata) hits the main lagoon in Tyto today. Pretty handy, having your own X. Means always landing on the right spot.

After much eXiting there's not a lot of competition for landing spots right now. About XXX Plumed Whistling Ducks spend their days on dry land. Pacific Black Ducks and Green Pigmy Geese number in the XXs. Little Black and Little Pied Cormorants and Darters together wouldn't make X. Leaves XXX Comb-crested Jacanas with the run of things.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Rufous-throated in golden haze

Rufous-throated Honeyeater (Conopophila rufogularis) bathes in the golden haze of morning sunlight at Tyto today against a background of bare earth and perched on plastic mesh protecting a recently planted tree.

Not the usual sort of spot for a Rufous-throated. The birds prefer life in trees and bushes close to the edge of water and out amid lotuses on the lagoon. They compete with Brown-backed Honeyeaters for dangling branches overhanging water and build similar bulky nests.

It's worth remarking on the plastic. Trees planted in the latest revegetation have all been protected by mesh secured to a triangle of wooden stakes. Birds have shown much more liking for the thick mesh as perch than the thin chicken wire previously used. The plastic also bounces back when accidentally knocked by wallabies moving about at night and so better protects young trees.


Sticking close to the water's edge today brought the reward of some time spent watching a male Cotton Pigmy Goose (Nettapus coromandelianus) trying to join a few Green Pigmy Geese (N. pulchellus). Any Cottons are rare on the lagoon and solo males are least likely to appear.

Though not actively hostile, the temporarily resident Greens didn't respond positively to the Cotton's advances, swimming off as the newcomer drew close. It had no better luck with a pair of Pacific Black Ducks. Unless another Cotton turns up within a day or two the male will get the message and seek its own kind elsewhere.


It wasn't the only bird getting a cold shoulder. This female Black-necked Stork marched right by its three begging juveniles. Remarked in previous post about plaintive calling by young bird. Today, all three were at it.

What's odd is that the same birds exhibited no such demands in many weeks leading to the present. And I never saw the parents feed them. Perhaps they fed them at the roost/nest site (somewhere close, but not known to me). Or perhaps it's no easy job learning how to keep such a large body fueled.


Here's another large body needing plenty of food. This White-bellied Sea-Eagle (Haliaeetus leucogaster) occasionally takes up an early morning spot on a tall eucalypt overlooking the deepest water.

Why I don't know - except as a triumph of optimism over experience (to steal a phrase). The eagles do score a feed in Tyto from time to time, but never in my sight from the water. Nor do they seem to go for dead wallabies.

I suspect its mainly smaller stuff, some even killed by mowers - snakes, turtles, even large insects. Seems a bit demeaning for such a glorious bird, doesn't it? 

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Portrait of Adoring Grey



Bit of a grab bag for Santa's night. Start with the best first on Xmas Eve, shall we? Besides which, pun lodged in my grey matter and refused to be erased. So, Black-faced Woodswallow (Artamus cinereus) strikes ageless pose in the later afternoon light. 

I'm repaying the species with kindness after one of their kind recently took against me. For unknown reason it began buzzing me when I neared its evening perch on a nearby road sign. Odd. (Years ago seagulls launched at me when marathon jogging. Something about the outline and black shorts, I think.)


Onwards and upwards. Garishly awful picture of Rainbow Lorikeet (Trichoglossus haematodus) serves to show why Tropical North Queensland is covered in mistakenly admired Tulip trees. Many weeds, sadly, look oh so attractive!

The profuse seed heads hold huge numbers of feather-light capsules in triple stacks. Lorikeets love them but are fussy about it, feasting for a day or so on some trees, ignoring others, then quitting the area.

The birds carry seeds away of course. But their feeding helps loosen and scatter huge numbers of seeds. The wind does the rest. Some days, tracks in Tyto are almost covered by the thumbnail-sized seed envelopes. No wonder the woodland is full of seedlings. 


Onwards and inwards. The Azure Kingfishers (Ceyx azureus) have flown the burrow. Must have been two or three days ago. I suspected as much yesterday when pictured bird sat and stared unconcerned at me for about half an hour.

It had turned up without calling, and without any fish in bill. Nervy at first, it settled to an occasional head bob. Encouraged, I edged closer on hands and knees, then, clumsily, on bottom, like a rower sliding forward.

If a kingfisher can be amused, this was such a bird. I inched closer till only the pool's width separated us. It never flinched. I asked after the family and got only smug silence as answer. I looked away briefly and it was gone.


Today, I returned. No sight, sound or sign of kingfishers, apart from the tidy hole in the bank. Carefully inserted leafy branch into tunnel. Nothing to feel but the tunnel's earth. And only an earthy smell on the leaves after withdrawing the branch.

Here's the curious thing. I'm not at all downcast about missing the exit of the young birds. It was always going to be a matter of luck. And thoughts of getting good pictures met the reality that professionals would use fixed cameras, motion sensors and auto flashes.

So I count myself lucky to have had about two months off and on with two glorious and secretive little birds. I learned a tiny bit more about them. And a bit more about myself.

   

Monday, December 22, 2008

Distant, is what they are

Not a great fan of distant birding. I've never possessed a decent telescope. And far-off birds don't mean a lot when photographed.


But distant pictures may help tell a story or two. Take these two Black-necked Storks. Carrying across the reed flats yesterday morn came a plaintive little call - to put it unkindly, a whining 'peeee, pee-pee, youoooo'.

I surveyed all likely areas for the 'small bird' source. Nothing. Finally realised it was standing 60 or so metres in front of me. The juvenile Jabiru was begging. Didn't do it any good. The female above marched distantly straight by the youngster and left it to fend for itself. Fair enough, too. It's long past need of babying. 

Can't say I've heard the like before. That said, my hearing, though still sharp enough, isn't matched by good aural memory. Bird songs and calls often fool me.


And here's another bird about 60 metres away. It's a male Little Bittern (dead centre: don't strain eyes too much!) at the edge of a Scleria (razor grass) island in the main lagoon at Tyto today.

The bird launched from one island and alighted on another. Four minutes later it flew into grass and weeds on a one-paperbark island. Soon after it flew back into the Scleria. And then it retraced the way it originally came and plonked down out of sight.

Four relatively extended sightings of the chocolatey-custardy back of the bittern, and not a single blurred in-flight shot! It's frustrating, trying to photograph distant bitterns. On the other hand, I've never had a string of four flights before.


To make up for such long-range views, here's a closer look at a Wood Sandpiper, taken yesterday near the Jabirus, from a distance, but without too much camera shake (shooting at 1/2000sec). The bird was alone, as usual. Most Woods appear to prefer to remain apart from others of their species. Distant, is what they are.    

Friday, December 19, 2008

Three, two, one - it's all go!

Came upon these three Willie Wagtail (Rhipidura leucophrys) hiding in a Leichhardt tree near the Tyto entrance today. In fact, parent birds gave the game away with their chattering and scolding runs at me. Luck continued when the centre bird tried to burst into sound just as I was snapping. Win some, lose some. Birds above lack the symmetry of same three but with righthand bird turning head left (below). And, sadly, didn't manage to keep all three in sharp focus.


Similar focus failure with these two Brown Honeyeaters (Lichmera indistincta). Kept hoping also that birds would either get into perfect mirror image, or, failing that, form a bill-to-tail circle. Another almost all round.


Finally for the day, one Little Friarbird (Philemon citreogularis) made an unexpected appearance. It turned up head down for much of the short time it spent foraging near me. Very few Little Friars have visited the wetlands in the second half of the year. They like Tulip tree flowers but find them less attractive at this time of year.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Azure Kingfisher up a bit closer

'You're not going to show them yet another Azure Kingfisher picture, are you?

'They all look the same anyway. Always with a honking great fish poking out of their bills. Why don't you just run last week's picture? Safe time messing around with Gimp.


'And that's virtually the same male Shining Flycatcher picture as last time too. There's plenty more birds in the bush. Get out and capture something different, why don't you?'

That's not a real person talking, you understand. It's the little voice in my head. Little voice? Big mouth, more like. Are not all kibitzers thus?

And the reply?

Well, I could spend more time on other birds, but the Azures have a hold on me (with Shining Flycatchers a bonus). The chances of getting anything worthwhile when the youngsters (however many there may be) emerge from the nest tunnel are slim. 

But when else will I ever get any such chance again? Even though the birds are said to reuse tunnels, there's no certainty they will.

Perhaps they leave them fallow for a season or so. A sort of natural fumigation. Get rid of the stinking debris, the excreta, and, no doubt, a load of parasites.

So the cycling and sweating over now flooded tracks will go on. So too the slapping at the mozzies, the stiff standing, and the bum-numbing sitting.

Mostly forgotten today when one of the parents faced me (about 8 metres away) and the tunnel (about 3m). Didn't stay long on the old branch poking from the creek pool and didn't go to the tunnel, but seemed less concerned at my presence. Perhaps a happy sign of some acceptance once the fledglings emerge.

Elsewhere today, a very rare sight in Tyto of more than 100 White-throated Needletails hawking low over the main lagoon and higher over the grasslands, and a male Little Bittern taking a typical 20-25 metre flight up from, across, and back down into the Scleria.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Butterflies save rainy day

Poured down for hours early today so spent some time housekeeping picture folders and importing a new browser after heeding latest IE security warnings. So, what's in the rainy-day folder?

What about a couple of male butterflies, both largely failures as pictures, but one having perhaps a little merit regarding intent if not execution?


First, Shining Oak-blue (aka Common Oak-blue: Arhopala micale), on a dewy palm tree flower stalk in early morning light. Too much noise in background and not quite sharp enough. How would anyone know it was a bright blue? Just have to take my word for it. And I'm no expert on butterfly IDs.


Easier to name, a Varied Eggfly (Hypolimnas bolina) on lantana (also only too easy to ID!). Trial here was to get some light flashed on the body without blowing out the wing white. So, unsuccessful. But at least there's a hint of the gorgeous glowing dark purple in the wings.

Overall, the lesson must be: don't send a 300mm lens to do a macro's job! 

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Who gives a fig for colour?

Green, Yellow, Banana. All colourful names. But no more for the male Australasian Figbird (Sphecotheres vielloti), above thinking about swallowing another of the dry, tasteless (to us humans) fruits it loves - and few other birds show great fondness for.

Figbirds came in two races, S. vielloti and S. flaviventris, till the split was ended with a revised list (Christidis & Boles) early this year. The male birds will continue to show big differences: northern yellows grading through to southern greens.

Closely related to figbirds (usually on the same page in field guides), the Olive-backed Orioles (Oriolus sagittatus) are less obvious and seldom so brightly plumaged as the above juvenile bird. Much of the contrasting colour on the back will disappear with adult plumage.


So much for colour. What about sounds? I've often been struck by what appears in honeyeaters to be more curiosity about strange noises than other birds show. This White-gaped Honeyeater today seemed to react to the Canon's clattering shutter.


I'd been standing in long grass chasing Tawny Grassbirds when the White-gaped darted in and struck several 'listening' poses as the camera clacked away. Honeyeaters are also among the few birds ever to react at my otherwise ineffectual 'pishing'.


While on the subject of theories, limited searches of possible Little Bittern daytime hideouts have revealed absolutely nothing resembling the apparently shaped space found last month at the base of a small tree springing from Scleria (Razor Grass). Guess it was just a natural artifact.


Finally, the issue of huge fish and small Azure Kingfishers nestlings. First readings suggest the birds simply truck the fish in. If the fish is eaten, fine. If not, it can sit and rot in the darkness. Along with bones, other unwanted morsels, excreta, and anything that may have crawled in.


Can't wait till nestlings have fledged and I get a chance to sniff the delicate odour of Azure domestica! :-(

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Young ones out and about

Plenty of young birds about the wetlands and more to come as serial nesters such as Willie Wagtails and Crimson Finches keep at it. White-gaped Honeyeater (Lichenostomus unicolor) juvenile popped up unexpectedly yesterday.
Bit of a surprise since the species' (aka River Honeyeater) numbers in Tyto dropped away as the creeks dried up. However, one or two birds have shown up in plantings by the carpark. They may have nested in a home garden.
No way of knowing where or what nest this Horsfield's Bronze-Cuckoo (Chrysococcyx basalis) sprang from. The young bird was sitting solo on a footbridge handrail. Lack of colour on back and no dark stripe through eye makes ID a tad dodgy. But the plainness of young Horsfield's can be a telling point.


No problems with ID-ing juvenile Brown Honeyeater (Lichmera indistincta). Browns and Yellow Honeyeaters dominate the woodlands. The yellow gape at the base of the bill tells of the bird's immaturity. The typical long honeyeater tongue is a bonus.


This oddly coloured Grey Whistler (Pachycephala simplex) arrived at the rainforest pool today in company with two others. But they didn't seem to be getting along. The small rufous 'ear patch' may perhaps mark the bird as a juvenile. I can't recall seeing anything similar and the guide books haven't helped.


Also at the rainforest pool today, a brief flurry of action after a long period of nothing larger than mozzies in the air. Silvereyes, White-browed Robins, Shining Flycatchers, Large-billed Gerygones, Little Shrike-Thrushes and Brush Cuckoos showed up noisily. Five minutes later, all quiet.


In back of it all, an Azure Kingfisher sat carrying a huge fish (about twice the size of that in previous post). But the bird would not cross to the nest burrow. So I quit my 'hiding' place. The question is: how do the nestlings cope with a (relatively) gigantic fish? I have no idea, so I'll chase it up.

Friday, December 12, 2008

So near and yet still too far

So close, but not quite! It's been one of those weeks. Plenty of action and colour, let down at the final stage by inability to get the killer picture.

Thought I had a sharp shot of this Azure Kingfisher carrying a fish for its nestlings (burrowlings?) yesterday, only to find shaky tripod and high ISO rendered the bird blurred and looking as if I'd gone mad with the saturation slider. On the plus side, the bird went almost straight to the burrow. The minus side? An hour's wait and no more action.

Today, this male Red-backed Fairy Wren carrying a red enticement for females danced here and there on the Scleria. Just wouldn't stay still and unobscured long enough for anything better than this hasty effort - and many others even less successful.

Good pose from a distant White-browed Robin in the shade. This typical robin angled hold on a vertical trunk is seldom seen in Tyto, possibly because White-broweds behave and forage more like flycatchers or fantails most of the time. This bird was taking a short break from nest-sitting.

Finally, this Tawny Grassbird the other day led me a circular dance through long grass and under low trees. Round and round we went, the bird singing heartily and me muttering mightily. It might look a draw, but I think the singer more or less won the day.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Mothing and circles of death

Be a piece of cake, this mothing lark. Toss a sheet over a light, wait an hour or so, and take a few pictures of the catch.

Invited to join the realm of mothers (that doesn't look right: mothos? mothwatchers? perhaps mothing is best), I set out last night to do my darndest for the group. And found moths are hard to pin down in my steamy-warm night world.

That's because predators are only too easy to fix upon. Asian House Geckos (Hemidactylus frenatus) and a variety of frogs rule the walls, windows and ceilings, and the cane toad rules the ground.

No sooner does a moth - or anything else that flies - alight than the stalking begins. Wall space in the caravan park indoor/outdoor kitchen carries up to 10 frogs and 4-5 geckos to the square metre.

So, the mothing didn't take off. But the evening wasn't a dead loss, except for one victim of events. One other player in my little night out did throw a hissy fit. But that's what Rhinoceros Beetles do when upset: all hiss and wind!

And the night's victim? Don't look down if you're squeamish.

These two geckos began their duel to the death locked in a curious Yin and Yang pattern, an almost circle of sinous curves, sinister intent and subtle feints.

I missed the critical strike after racing off for a camera. Came back to find the geckos shifted from tactical circle to death round.



As the Eastern mystics say: a good big guy will always beat a good little guy.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Three beach birds fill frame

Another morning at Taylors Beach today looking for birds such as Striated Herons (Butorides striatus) silly enough to keep standing around as the tide retreated and I advanced across the wet sand.

Wonder of wonders, three birds were more or less happy to have me get close. Not so wonderful, all three obliged on my last day at the seaside.

How to vary the output from an enjoyable stroll in balmy sea breezes? What about a technical challenge? Say, use only full frame pictures? No cropping and very little post-processing?

But I'm not that great behind a camera. The plan would be too hard for me. But, I could discover, afterwards, three pictures fitted such a challenge.
And one of them, with a bit more work, ended looking fit to put up for critique elsewhere. No prizes for guessing which one. It's not the Silver Gull (Larus novaehollandiae) below.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Azures see through me

Azure Kingfisher (Alcedo azurea) sits and waits at the oft-mentioned rainforest pool today for the right moment to zoom across and into the nest tunnel.

The birds must have returned to the hole immediately after I stopped haunting the area last month. Heard plenty of their high-pitched in-flight calls as I passed by yesterday. Snuck in today and stood 'hiding' behind a tree about 10 metres from the obscured tunnel entry.

Many more calls. The birds came and went. Fish in bill, they'd perch opposite me, upstream from me, downstream from me, high in trees, low on exposed roots. And never go near the nest tunnel.

I moved further away, lost sight of the tunnel entry, and yearned for Harry Potter's invisibility cloak. Legs started to feel numb.

Just another five minutes. And another five. And another five. And finally one of the birds darted across the water and vanished. Seconds later it reappeared, minus fish.

But that was it. Neither bird would deliver more fish. I felt they did not see me as a threat to themselves, but wouldn't extend grudging trust when it came to possibly revealing the nest site and (probable) 4-6 young. Very sensible parenting.

I'll revisit even more circumspectly in two or three days.

After that terrible picture of bird and fish, here's something a little better. Olive-backed Oriole sits watchfully above a low-slung nest in Tyto's first shady grove of trees. The nest is in plain view just a few metres from the main track.

On the opposite side of the track - and in even plainer view - a pair of White-browed Robin sit, at times, on two green-and-brown speckled eggs. But the birds are so alert, and the nest site so exposed, it's impossible to sneak up on them.

Also frustratingly difficult to pin down, in spite of noisy activity in many spots throughout Tyto, have been several pairs of Pale-vented Bush-Hens, which flew in following rains in mid-November.

Finally, a first since the start of 'winter', a female Cicadabird, on the rainforest fringes today. Though said to be sedentary in northern Australia, the birds - never in great numbers - don't usually stay in or near Tyto beyond May.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Chick gives parents bad turn

White-browed Crake (Porzana cinerea) chick took an unusual turn at Tyto today. It took to the water instead of getting under vegetation's cover.

In turn, the parents set about creating diversions to draw me away. One took to the water and hopped about on lotus leaves. The other trailed an 'injured' wing into the long grasses.

Squeaky noises nearby suggested two or three other little black chicks in hiding. Probably getting ready to scold the bold - or unwise - one.

Its behaviour was so untypical I assumed on first seeing it puddling about it had been caught in mud or had snagged a foot. Only when I drew closer did the chick head for cover.
Then it changed its mind and took to the water. Another change of mind - possibly in response to calls from the vegetation - and it finally did the 'natural' thing and got out of sight. Black isn't such a protective colour in blazing sunlight!

Others showing up in the sultry heat (33C+) today were a pair of Latham's Snipe (Gallinargo hardwickii). Showing up - for snipe - doesn't mean showing out.
Here's the pair doing their usual trick of hiding out right in front of the birdo. But the reeds don't do a great job disguising them. They prefer more mixed cover, and quickly headed off to find some. I did manage one so-so flight picture.
Still at the water's edge, all is alive - sadly, with 'toadpoles'. Seething is the word. Parts of the shore are almost equally alive with toadlets. The good news is that almost all will fail to survive. And cane toad numbers seem to have plateaued (perhaps even dropped) in recent years.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Dingos caught unawares

Almost bumped into this dingo (Canis lupus dingo) on a track near the rainforest pools today. She and another larger dingo were standing rock-still and staring intently into some guinea grass and lantana.

They were so fixed on their unknown target I was able to stop the none-too-silent pushbike and grab a couple of pictures without being noticed. Tried to get closer and off they slipped, away from the spot they'd been eyeing so intently and into a handy grove beside the track.


Seconds later, up flew a Pheasant Coucal from the target area. Wouldn't have been much of a breakfast, but it may have had a lucky escape. It didn't stop to thank me.


Not a common sight in and around Tyto, dingos come and go. It's not so unusual to catch them unawares on occasion in less populated places, but I've never come upon two dingos so engrossed and motionless before.


And this on a track used by licit and illicit pig hunters (whose attitudes to protected dingos might not be kindly, to say the least).


In general I've little time for 'sport' hunting and hunters. If I added to the dingos' wariness of humans in today's short encounter I'm happy to have helped their survival.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Robins bob up - BBs bounce back

Juvenile White-browed Robin (Poecilodryas superciliosa) on a branch near the lookout knoll at Tyto, no more than 50 metres from a nest site that I watched off and on early in October.

This young bird and another fledged not long after my crawl over green ants in pursuit of a Long-tailed Nightjar. From the day before they left the nest till three days ago - about six weeks - I'd not sighted them.


Yet neither the two juveniles nor their parents could have been far off at any time. Nor is the area densely treed. Some birds and their young have this ability to seemingly disappear, without leaving the breeding locality. Small honeyeaters share the knack.


Willie Wagtails, on the other hand, do not move from the immediate nest zone and dominate their space. There's no denying their breeding and survival supremacy among all the local insect eaters. But few birds can match the Willies' devotion and natural aggression in defence of nest and even mature young.


While on the subject of juveniles' whereabouts, the four young Crimson Finches not long departed from their nest hole in front of the hide now spend their days in Scleria (Razor Grass) 100 metres to the west on an untrafficked (except by me) margin of the main lagoon.


Sadly, the Leaden Flycatchers nesting near the hide seem to have fallen victim to last week's lashing rain. The trim nest sits abandoned. No sign of the birds, or the unknown number of eggs on which they had been sitting.

But the Brown-backed Honeyeaters (Ramsayornis modestus) have returned to the hide and are rebuilding the nest they started and abandoned - and which the Rufous-throated Honeyeaters looted. Brown-backeds' nesting habits are certainly erratic.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Who's going to ground?

Bush Stone Curlew spreads out after being caught unawares over the weekend. It wasn't the only one caught out lately.

After a lashing load of rain late last week came a deluge of laptop meltdowns. The upshot - apart from a large bill - is a chastened systems operator (me) and a vow to never ever ever again uninstall software without counting to 100 first.

Second, to never, never, never ever again try to System Retore-Unrestore-Rerestore. (Because it led to something akin to a time travel paradox, besides scrambling software, cocking up hardware and baffling so-called experts). Oh, and it wiped Windows out!

Can I vent for another par or two? Please? I now have software such as Photoshop Elements 6 and Canon Eos Utilities that cannot be opened or uninstalled. Since PSE6 proved less than promised for $169, that's not so bad. Gimp is a great fallback.

Canon's software is a largely useless gorilla at 550mb. But to import anything from my Canon I've had to install Picasa3, the best of a rather bossy bunch of (freeware) picture editors. But I do have my DVD/CD back. And loads of software I got rid of months ago (part of the System Restore time travel paradox).But things are moving again.


Not moving at all at the weekend, was this young Pheasant Coucal. It stayed motionless after I first spied it at the edge of some much longer guinea grass. In fact, it remained so still I started to consider the shape might be vegetable rather than animal.

As I snuck in close the bird turned and spotted me. Without much haste it walked into the long stuff. A rare sighting. Coucals keep their youngsters well concealed. The juveniles in turn learn to stay well hidden.

Gone to ground, as they say. Like some of my programs!