Sunday, July 27, 2008

Dining out on fruity ants

Good day, Mr Macleay, Mrs Macleay - and what would you be fancying for luncheon?
Black tree ants? An excellent choice. Not so fizzing on the palate as green ants. And no risk of a savage bite to the tongue or face.
Today's delicacy comes au naturelle. There's the usual subtle tang of exotic wild fruit and a delicate hint of licorice. You'll find the lasting aftertaste gives way to a cleansing astringency with a not unpleasant flintiness.
And the wee beauties come replete with the usual valuable proteins and many minerals. A health food from kindly Mother Nature.
Bon appetit!

Well, perhaps it wasn't quite like that in Tyto today. But a pair of Macleays Honeyeaters did show a huge liking for the black ants (about two-thirds size of greens). The ants were picked off singly from amid a few dead guava leaves and a cluster of small branches. The feasting continued for more than five minutes after I came upon the action in a shaded patch of bush.
It is probably not uncommon feeding by birds, given their wide tastes and the great numbers of ants. But it's something I'd not noticed and was certainly an encouragement to try an ant or two. (Feeding spritzy fizzy green tree ants to tourists is a popular stunt on 'bush tucker' backpacker trips. They can and do bite!) The black ants were as described by my mock maitre'd.
I'd include a picure of an ant, but it was hard enough snapping one of the birds. And between us we polished off the branchful.

Eating larger fare was the first Pelican to splash down for 2008. Competition mainly for the Darters and Little Pied Cormorants. The Pelican's gruff croaks were not the only new sound today. Earlier, the immature Rufous Songlark began some tentative vocals, suggesting it's male (but I'm not sure). Rather sweet snatches of twitter and chitter, all at a level to be heard only within 10 metres of the bird. With luck there'll be louder bursts later.
In all, 70 species seen in about five hours, the other highlights being mature and juvenile Fan-tailed Cuckoos, Swamp Harrier, Dusky Honeyeaters, and the female Cotton Pigmy Goose that may be thinking of attachment to a male Green Pigmy Goose.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Little things mean a lot

Bush Stone-curlews sit and stand around doing not much most days. Then they wander off to feed at night and rehearse for the eeriest bird noise prize. Spine-tingling wailing choruses arise. Burhinus grallarius was also known as Bush Thick-knee. (There is also a Beach Stone-curlew (Esacus neglectus), more boldly marked and rarer).

The two birds pictured at Tyto today are helping tell three stories. The crouching bird is a maturing juvenile with an injured leg. It can hobble awkwardly but I suspect it relies on the parents for some food, months after the usual age of independence. Time will tell, I guess (carers ruled out rescue: repair unlikely).

The bird also offered a grey-day opportunity to make a comparison between noise levels on my Panasonic FZ30 handheld with 1.7x converter (700mm=). Bit of a surprise. ISO 200: F5, 1/100th, 3.57mb file; ISO 400: F6.3, 1/160th, 2.72mb. Note huge file difference. Overall, a big thumb up the Pana's image stabiliser (six of 12 shots were OK or sharper). But ... which is which?
This picture is ISO400. Image stabiliser did better job!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Darters snaking and snakey

A Darter offers a sleek profile as it quits a lagoon today at Tyto. Also known as Snake-birds, Darters feature a writhing long neck, often all that shows above water as they pause for breath before again chasing fish underwater.
But they're not so sleek coming in for web-footed landings. There's something comic (think Daffy Duck) in their tiffs.
But there's also a certain grandeur, don't you think?

Friday, July 11, 2008

Tilting at lists and craning a neck

Black-necked Stork reveals inner bill colour almost matching vivid coral red of her legs. Yellow eye distinguishes females from males. Note distinctly nonblack neck. Just one of many birds done an injustice by its name.

IF birdos on the Titanic had been told of a list to port they'd have demanded to know what birds were on it.
For we do love lists: today's species; week's; month's; year's; lifetime's. One site; block; cell; state; country; world.
So those of us not physicists are all more or less Rutherford's 'stamp collectors'. Give Ernest his due, it's unlikely he was in total earnest. Those super-starched 1930s types failed to feel their legs being firmly tugged by the atom-splitting Kiwi.
Taxonomists can take all the umbrage they like, but surely one of Rutherford's points would have been: is the list real (will it stand rigorous scrutiny)?
How real are the lists many of us love to be challenged by? Not the major international and national lists. No matter how bizarrely geographic, inclusive, exclusive, lumping or splitting they may be, at least they are under serious scrutiny.
But many impressively long lesser lists seek to cash in on eco-tourism and the 'big bucks' birdos throw around. Laugh if you like, but the tourism industry appears to believe birdos are mostly millionaires. It also has an inflated idea of birding numbers (partly because most caravanners, for example, tick the box in surveys - and indeed may glance at them sometimes). The temptation all round is to gild the lily.
After puzzling over some 'optimistic' lists might I suggest birding groups work on guidelines to help tourism and local, state and federal government produce info that's both accurate and - to my point - realistic.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

No shortcuts to high bird counts

Golden-headed Cisticola finds use for pretty weeds

PLENTY to see in the wetlands today, the final tally after five hours being 65 bird species - without a few regulars.
Yet it is common for visitors in Tyto and in many other birding spots to bemoan a lack of birds. The lagoons do not hold masses of birds, on the water or lining the fringes. The sky above is mostly clear. The open woodlands show a few species but the creek forest sounds and looks a bit lifeless. Where are all the birds?
For a start, how many were there in the carpark trees and plantings? It's not unusual to see 10 species before quitting the asphalt, and another 10 in the first 500 metres of track. (The best sightings are often close to base.)
The Tyto track goes in three ways to the main lagoon. Most walk straight to the viewing knoll, and return the same way, and so miss possible birds by covering the same ground. Many skip the lagoon circle (2km). Or do only part of the creek track. Spend token minutes in the hide. Skip the fire trails. Shun the guava groves. The 'typical' visitor today would probably have seen fewer than 35 species.
The more persistent and lucky (the two go together) would have walked to 50 or so. By cycling most areas twice I gained extra sightings.
So, no shortcuts. Go slow. Go everywhere. Go get 'em!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Thumbs up for rules of thumb

Sulphur-crested Cockatoo shows its colours at Tyto

THUMBS up or thumbs down for rules of thumb? By and large my birding thumb figures on a species count of 60:90:120 at Tyto. That's 60 birds in a full morning, 90 in a week, and 120 in a month. That's a big month.
For a quieter month the figures are 50:80:110. The thumb hasn't got a figure for year by year counts, the task being too much to grasp. And that's the problem you can put your finger on with rules of thumb: lack of precision. Lately, 60 has been a push, 90 too low, 120 about right. Thumb's still sort of up ... for now.
Here's a bit of even more relevant arithmetic. Tyto species list still stands at 234 after latest addition (Red-capped Robin) and a subtraction (Gould's Bronze Cuckoo, swallowed by Little Bronze Cuckoo). After several 120-bird months how many of the 234 should be seen? Don't rush to answer.
First, subtract the singleton sightings and the species not seen in the last four years. That's 25 off the list. Now delete the rare and the rarely seen: goodbye to another 42. Throw in seven more as extremely unlikely and the number is a rounded 160. Allow for seasonal migration and influence, and at this quarter of year another 20 (rounded) vanish. Down to 140.
Guess what? Just checked, and found my count for April-May-June is 140. Another rule of thumb in the making!
So far, so boring, you say? But there are a couple of points to be taken from the figures. The first has been made in earlier posts, perhaps without much support info. It is: take a cold, hard look at all bird lists. Second: seek local knowledge.
Surely the second point needs not be stated? Oh, but it does, indeed it does. Many well-travelled birding tourists give the impression they would prefer to miss sightings than be thought in need of help from anyone (not just me!).
Just as strangely, travellers frequently stand in the midst of Tyto's plenty and persist in talking only of their (often Northern Hemisphere) stamping grounds. That this is so literally out-of-place and wholly upsidedown seems to escape them. Tourists, OK; bore-ists, no!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Such a pretty wetlands

Somewhere under a rainbow...
there's a place in Australia called Tyto Wetlands...
with habitat that attracts 230 species of birds...
and draws birdos and nature walkers...
seeking beauty any time of day or year.

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