Saturday, January 31, 2009

Wading into Tyto ...

Wee access problem at Tyto today. Bit of water on the track, as you see, after three days of rain (a January of it, in fact). Waded in briefly, but there wasn't too much sense or point to the exercise. 

Much of the water will get away rapidly, given a break from more downpours and depending how much is roiling down the Herbert River, just to the north of Ingham and subject nearer outlet to sea surges.

So I settled for a few watery pictures. And since in grumpy mood for want of birding offer a jaundiced view of architecture designed to get 'most bang for the buck'. 

The Tyto Info Centre's kite roof and slanting stanchions - at such odds with the otherwise pleasing verticals and horizontals - don't fly with me, though I've nothing against 'industrial-functional' design and materials. (My preference would have been for a huge steel Queenslander: all verandas and stark square simplicity).

The new motel across the road picked up the theme and did a better job, then ruined it all with clashing brick external landscaping! Grumpy bits end there.

Here's a view from the rear of the info centre. Under about one-metre too much water, some of the paperbarks are actually islands within a series of manmade small lagoons, through which a boardwalk will lead to a raised cultural/restaurant complex with extensive southwest views of lagoons and 'savannah' woodlands, to 'old' Tyto's present eastern boundary. 

Also tried for a view of the main lagoon from the old shire dump close to sports grounds on the northern boundary. But it started to rain again. Naturally, it stopped right after I'd cycled the 3km back to the caravan park. Oops! No, that's not really a grumpy bit. Nice and dry inside as I post this. See?  ;-))))

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Gracefully spotting Yellow-spotteds

Two honeyeaters in Tyto can bring birders to a serious identity crisis. Yellow-spotteds (Meliphaga notata) and Gracefuls (M. gracilis) are found in woodland and creek forest areas, mostly outside the hot pre-Wet and wettest months (November-March).

So in this saturated January I was a little surprised to first hear and then get poor pictures of this Yellow-spotted earlier in the week (before the rain really set in - again!). The hearing is almost everything, until the birds get into close range.

Yellow-spotteds offer a metallic rattling (feebly echoing 'machinegun' bursts from much larger - but seldom in Tyto - lookalike Lewin's Honeyeater (M lewinii)). Gracefuls, slightly smaller, with longer, slender bills, mostly give one repetitious 'tuk' (louder further north: can trick southerners into looking for 'tinking' Bell Miners).

But birds don't always call on command. And slight bill differences can be hard to spot. You could try and see whether the earmark is a rounded yellow triangle (Yellow-spotted) or merely rounded (Graceful). Good luck with that idea!

How to tell them apart? Well, both have a yellow gape streak, which points at the earmark. The Yellow-spotted streak points to the centre of the earmark, but in the Graceful it curves down and points to the bottom of the earmark. (Sorry, can't lay hands on Graceful picture: two oldies of mine just checked are Yellow-spotteds!)

It's obvious when pointed out, though not every guidebook gets it right. So that's my out for never having noticed. Many thanks to Tyto visionary and birder supreme John Young for showing me the difference.           

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Rainbow Lorikeet over the top

A problem with Rainbow Lorikeets (Trichoglossus haematodus) is the temptation to crank up saturation to psychedelic levels. But the colours are dazzling enough, there's no need to go over the top.

Nobody told this bird (click pic to enlarge) about not going over the top. Came upon it bouncing on a dead stump of branch in Tyto this week. The bird kept mouthing and 'licking' a leaf of the tree. Couldn't see any insect life at all on the leaf. Nor was the bird biting chunks out of the leaf.

Rather, it seemed the bird might be drawing something 'chemically interesting' from the ragged edge of the leaf. After each mouthing/lick it would bounce up and down on the branch, then throw its head vigorously left and right. Licking, bouncing, head tossing. Bouncing, licking, head tossing. And so on for more than 10 minutes. A few random screeches and a bit of chattering added to the colourful encounter.

A few other Rainbows then turned up, but landed in a nearby Euodia. They paid no heed to the bouncing bird and it showed no interest in them. But it gave me a last screech and took off. Hard to be sure, but it may have been joined in departure flight by the newcomers.

I have absolutely no idea what the episode was all about. Took a tentative taste of leaf. Nothing. No taste, smell, reaction of any sort. Never seen any lorikeets in the tree before, nor any other birds acting oddly.

Am trying to nail ID for tree. Don't hold your breath! (Feb 6: hope you didn't hold breath! Tree is 'Alphitonia excelsa, commonly known as the Red Ash or Soap Tree, is a species of tree in the Rhamnaceae family. It is endemic to Australia, being found in New South Wales, Queensland, Northern Territory and the northeastern tip of Western Australia. It is used in bush regeneration as a pioneer species and for amenity planting.' Thanks, Wiki, and Greg Calvert, who told me name, which I forgot.)

While on the subject of lorikeets, here's a holdover Scaly-breasted (T. chlorolepidotus) from an earlier post, for comparison between the closely related species.  

Monday, January 26, 2009

Black Bittern finally poses

Wary Black Bitterns (Ixobrychus flavicollis) had till today been too quick for me since they arrived as usual with flooding rains and overspilling of Tyto's main lagoon. The birds stand in shaded areas close to culverts and drainage pipes, waiting for whatever the outflow provides. Once flushed they commonly fly off to a tree from which they can keep an eye on any intruding threat.

This month brought four birds, almost certainly two pairs, though the birds stood alone. Each flew off when disturbed and seldom looked back, let alone took up any nearby position. There were territorial disputes, with one of the males (pictured) showing little tolerance for the other. My last few sightings suggest the bullied pair has quit the scene.

So photo opportunities had been limited to long-range shots, fast deleted in hope of something better. Which finally arrived today, but only after I saw a female fly from a favoured spot and vanish through the trees. 

This male then rose from close by and - against recent experience - stayed briefly low in a tree watching me and issuing croaky grunts bordering on barking before scrambling higher through the branches and taking off after the female. Now I must hope to sneak closer in next few days.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Here be dragons . . .

Here be dragons, warned ye olde mappes at the point where invention trumped geography. Fair warning here comes after intention outjumped my photography. But even failure holds merit, if only as lesson and spur.

Deep purple: late grey afternoon beside a sugar cane ditch (click pic to enlarge).

Red chews blue: feeding time as big eats little.

Two tangle: looks like this pair haven't got the hang of it.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Red tails in the sunset

A small flock of Red-tailed Black Cockatoos (Calyptorhynchus banksii) has graced the caravan park over the past week. The birds are drawn to Indian almond trees. More exactly, to the tough, fibrous fruit. Above, a male flourishes its crest in late afternoon light. 

The birds have two feeding strategies. Pluck the almonds and eat them while perched in the tree. Or litter the ground beneath the tree with branches bearing the almonds and descend to eat them. A female (above) makes light of ripping into a tough green almond.

Either way, feeding is accompanied by companionable chat conducted in hoarse squawks. Full volume alarm screeches can make the birds somewhat less lovable.

Once the almonds have been stripped from the trees the cockatoos will move on, usually toward the beaches, where they can find more almonds and also tuck into casuarina nuts. Less often, they tackle green pine cones in the district's forestry plantations.

Hard to catch the birds' coloured tail panels in flight, but this male showed off 'reddily' while preening late this afternoon.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Chasing wren to a conclusion

Chased a male Red-backed Fairy Wren back and forth along a small area of swampy woodland track for about 15 minutes in Tyto today. The bird danced in and out of small trees, vine-hung pandanus, scrubby weeds and long grasses. The first result? A few so-so pictures, one with fresh-caught grasshopper (above). A strong argument for purchase of flash unit.

Result two? The wren hopped across some scraggly vines, one of which dangled interestingly. As small Amethystine Pythons do. It had almost certainly been in the same position throughout all my chase after the wren. Hiding out in the open. Well, openly in the shade of a pandanus. A strong argument for standing still and and looking, looking, looking at our surroundings.

For now, I lean to the second argument. It's much cheaper, and applies universally.

Elsewhere today, came upon this Lace Monitor on a vacant block in the seaside suburb of Forrest Beach. The 1.2-1.3 metre beauty was taking the morning sun, as reptiles do, with throat and breast directed to the incoming warmth. Took some time to capture the flickering tongue as the animal got a long-range 'taste' of me and vanished into a culvert hidden by the long grass.  

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Bad, the Ugly and the Beautiful

Steamy stuff in the daytime? Sounds a bit like soap opera to me. We'll call it The Bad, the Ugly and the Beautiful!  

Not so bad to look at, but ugly is as ugly does. And what the Cane Toad (Bufo marinus) does is reproduce its poisonous self in noisome numbers: up to 30,000 eggs per female a season. Perhaps 99% will not survive. Still leaves 300 to do their worst. Look closely and you'll see a chain of black eggs stretching along the flank of the male toad (above, at work in Tyto. Click to enlarge).

Hard to see bad barbed wire as anything but ugly, even with an attractive young Welcome Swallow (Hirundo neoxena) taking a comfort stretch upon its rustiness. But I was taken with the colour match between rust and parts of the bird. (Note to barbed wire collectors: I don't think this is a rare piece.)

Nothing ugly about the Ulysses butterfly (Papilio ulysses), though the brilliant blue coloration signals a warning against swallowing the swallowtails. The males sip salts from small puddles, in part to produce pheromones to attract females. Their liquid uptake - and throughput - must be considerable as this butterfly spent several minutes moving from puddle to tiny puddle and produced scores of drops, such as that shown.

Nothing ugly or bad about Plumed Whistling Ducks (Dendrocygna eytoni). Two have taken up temporary quarters in a waterlogged corner of the caravan park. Funnily enough, Plumed Whistlers can give the impression they are averse to water. They stand around by day, prefer ground landings to splashdowns, will breed far from water, and feed nocturnally on grasses and other low growth.

Well, that didn't go so badly, did it?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Lorikeets in two minds

A Scaly-breasted Lorikeet (Trichoglossus chlorolepidotus) tucks in to Euodia (commonly, Evodia) flowers during an extended feeding spell in Tyto yesterday. The bird's partner shot off early on. Expecting the pictured bird to do likewise, I rattled off several quick bursts. Then, we settled down: the lorikeet to enjoy foraging; me to stay close for a chat.

There's always a fly or two in the (app)ointment however. Birdwatcher first and photographer second, and engrossed in the chat, I failed to change camera settings to take advantage of improving light. So, pictures noisy and suffering for lack of tripod - back in car and put aside in favour of umbrella.

Rather appropriate, being in two minds about what to set out with, then having extended chat with a bird that itself often seems in two minds. Smaller and plainer than Rainbow Lorikeets (T. haematodus), Scalys give the impression they would be amazed to be told they were not Rainbows.

I'm sure they think themselves merely a little less colourful. And though their smaller relative size leaves them open to bullying, it's no surprise that aviary escapees in Melbourne and elsewhere are said to readily find Rainbow and other lorikeet breeding partners. (But I cannot remember ever seeing any intermediate forms.) 

Friday, January 16, 2009

Bee-eaters: just my b..... luck

Seldom have much luck getting close to Rainbow Bee-eaters (Merops ornatus) when I've a camera in hand. Large flocks close up against blue skies are memories of non-photographic yesteryears. 

But there have been a few pirripping here and there in paperbarks and launching out after dragonflies and other insects - almost certainly not bees. (At risk of repeating myself, Rainbows rarely show any interest in Tyto honeybees, which four years ago swarmed in to a large tree hollow and took over from a pair of Masked Owls.)

Two of the birds this week proved a little less wary than the rest. The light was ever changing as clouds white and grey rushed west, now and then leaving frustratingly small blue holes and some sunlight. 

Just my luck, though, to find the one bird that stayed low and let me walk up to it looked as if it recently went through a car wash - backwards! It seemed healthy, without any sign of parasites. Just moulting, I suppose. The other bird let me even closer, without ever presenting itself in good light or at good height. B..... bee-eaters! 

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Trickle of birds as Tyto floods

Plenty of rain, but Tyto wasn't looking too wet today. A bit of water running over a track, some paperbarks and razor grass sitting in deeper water, unwanted rampant lotuses going under, a few trees with limbs shattered by weight of water and gusting winds. In fact, surprisingly little flooding, given more than 300mm in 24 hours on Monday and heavy showers yesterday.

Improved culverts on the highway allowed much swifter outflow of floodwater than in previous years. Newly completed rock-lined lagoons overtopped yesterday by 700mm-800mm of surging brown water were today back to merely brimming.

But few birds were on any of the water or its edges, though there was plenty of activity in the trees. Best sighting on my morning cycle was a Black Bittern. Also showing out briefy: Buff-banded Rail, Pale-vented Bush-hen, White-browed Crake, Black-necked Stork, Comb-crested Jacanas, and Magpie Geese. No ducks, pigmy geese, egrets, cormorants.

Didn't feel like risking the new camera and lens, so pressed the old Panasonic FZ30 back into service. Pictures not quite so sharp, but came across a Long-necked Turtle and a White-bellied Cuckoo Shrike to get some wildlife into the morning's ride.

A tail piece about the 'nannyism' threatening all sorts of outdoor recreation. Note the water flowing across the track (above). Be aware there's a crocodile warning near Tyto's lookout (one croc seen in five years, but ever a possibility). I've been told that the track doesn't conform with safety guidelines even when most of the year it stands 300mm-500mm clear of the main lagoon (left in picture).

Such guidelines, enforced rigidly, would close much of Kakadu, many other northern national parks and nature reserves, and huge numbers of boat ramps. Informed and sensible caution, yes; mollycoddling for all, NO! And don't get me started on croc and shark hysteria... 

Monday, January 12, 2009

Wildlife charms: wild life harms

Agile Wallabies (Macropus agilis) often adopt poses sure to bring a smile to most watchers. There's no intention on their part to amuse. The heads-up quizzicality usually denotes uncertainty and general wariness. Yet such knowledge cannot stop a grin every time I see two such as those above, pictured near Tyto's first lagoon a few mornings ago. Equally charming is the natural 'grin' of a wallaby as (below) its mouth opens while chewing.
But no wallaby would today have been looking so photogenic. On the edge of the weakening Cyclone Charlotte, Tyto has copped a day of downpour and gusts with the probability of another night and day or two of the same.

I have a new false roof on my caravan and so can sit comfortably dry writing about the charms of wallabies. They, however, must find such shelter as drenched flooded grass and woodland offers. No agility exists that can escape the truth of life in the wild.  

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Beating the grey skies

Rain. Showers. Threat of rain. Well, it is the Wet season. But the real rain has been falling well to the west or north of Ingham and it's been frustratingly hard to read the morning sky. I don't mind the rain, but the camera's not so keen. Even when there's no rain, the grey skies make bird photography something of a washout without plenty of flash power (which I lack).

One or two chances have offered themselves however. There's this Brown-backed Honeyeater from a sunnier moment a few days ago. And the juvenile Crimson Finch (below) with its spot of coming breast colour.

The stop-start weather has made short-term nonsense of my predicted inflow of birds chasing small fish as they thrash upstream into flooded grasslands. But all will come to pass!

In the meantime, looking for more birding stuff? Try I And The Bird 91  Lots of interesting bits - and an amusing false link that makes Kiwis Australian!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Cannon Ball (Tree) run

Since first seeing a Cannon Ball Tree (Couroupita guanensis) a few years ago I've been unable to pass one by without taking a deep sniff of the heady scent and checking the flowers for insects on them.

So far as I know there's just the one rather stunted specimen of C. guanensis in Ingham. It stands somewhat forlornly with a lone poinsettia (in which the headstone-adorning Magpie Larks of an earlier post nested) at the entrance to the historic cemetery.

So, a wee tribute to the tree, including a totally overdone and luridly coloured picture in the style of movie posters and pulp science fiction magazine covers of the 50s and 60s. The unnamed insects are mere bit players! 

Thursday, January 8, 2009

A year of Tyto moments

Gulp! Tagged by Duncan as part of a chain meme to list 10 memorable nature moments in 2008, I've scrabbled through my tatty sweat-stained daily notebooks praying that in my absence they'd miraculously grown magical details of marvellous sights. They haven't!

What's worse, it turns out that my most stirring moments failed to present themselves as photo opportunities. And when they did, my camera skills were not often up to the task. That's got rid of the excuses-in-advance, time to knuckle down and get the 10 off the fingertips.

First must be the Tyto morning  a Common Tree Snake slides slowly over my shoulder and coils about my hat as I sit paused on my bicycle.  Blurred getaway.
Second, enraged female Pacific Black Duck stands tall, wings flailing and furiously fights off a Little Eagle after it targets her and two ducklings ... and same day, same post ...
Third, after years of failure, a Little Bittern hunting almost out in the open. Get pictures, grainy but graphic. 
Fourth, first Tyto sighting of a Red-capped Robin. Made memorable by my misidentifying it and joining later photo to a dummy spit.
Fifth, witness Black Kite learn new fishing trick, but fail to resnatch catch.
Sixth, find Lovely Fairy-wrens and nest after years of searching.
Seventh, play time with wallabies and wagtail.
Eighth, bit of nonsense with a snarky Carpet Python.
Ninth, see a small Agile Wallaby hurtle from nowhere to boot a large Amethystine Python's head. 
Tenth. At least 10 times in 2008 hear a sweet high song. No sight of bird. No idea of species. Good to have a challenge for 2009!  

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Dekko at 'smiling' gecko

Asian House Gecko (Hemidactylus frenatus) looks rather pleased with this night capture of unidentified prey. Hard to dislike anything so attractive, though they have taken over from native geckos throughout all Queensland coastal suburbia, and the Northern Territory. Makes one wonder if Cane Toads would be so detested had they been blessed with some natural beauty.

Blessed with great good looks, yet often the victims of irrational fear, Carpet Pythons (in this case Morelia spilota mcdowelli) often make an appearance after rain. Found this feisty one-metre snake sprawled along a guava branch in Tyto yesterday. 

Alarm calls from Yellow, Brown and Brown-backed Honeyeaters led me to the python. It always pays to check on any noisy gathering of more than two species of bird. There's usually a predator of some sort hanging around. Literally, in the case of pythons, which like to hang poised above pathways used by animal prey.

Change of pace and space with a Bluedragonfly (? species) on a lotus leaf unusually curled to show its underside colour and patterning. Intended to try for a series of insects using this leaf but 30 hours of rain and showers had by yesterday morning lifted Tyto's lagoons to gentle fullness and trickling outflow. The leaf went under early on.

The outflow through a meandering creek - and, more swiftly, by way of a northern bypass channel - brings a rush of small fish swimming against the tide. They strive to reach flooded grasslands through temporary creeklets and also plastic culverts which feed water into the lagoon system.

In turn, the fish draw egrets, herons and bitterns to the shallow flows where the fish are most vulnerable. The limited numbers of fish here and there yesterday were lucky. Apparently the birds hadn't caught up with the latest fishing reports. Not even a Black Bittern I caught distant sight of three days back. But they'll all be here soon, trust me!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Wings on the headstones

Female Magpie Lark (Grallina cycanoleuca) brings vibrant life to old headstones at the Ingham Historic Cemetery. Chanced upon the bird's mud bowl nest and two near fledglings in a poinsettia as I cycled by the other day. 

The parents gave the game away with their alarm calls and half-hearted swooping at me. Too dark within the tree for worthwhile shots of the youngsters after they left the nest. But the noisy posing of the female offered dramatic possibilities. 

Unfortunately, she wouldn't let me close enough and wouldn't stay still long enough for any first-rate pictures. And the male was content to let his mate do most of the squawking!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Yellow hello not so mellow

Bright and breezy start to 2009 and life outside the nest for this new-fledged Yellow Honeyeater (Lichenostomus flavus) on bush in front of Tyto hide. Parent bird not keen on having people around and letting everyone know it.

The Yellows thus join pairs of Brown-backed Honeyeaters, Willie Wagtails and Crimson Finches in successfully producing young from nests in the three paperbarks that ring the hide. White-breasted Woodswallows used the main vertical fork (as usual) in another paperbark just 10 metres away across a narrow and shallow channel.

But Red-browed Finches (formerly Firetails) (Neochmia temporalis) have not returned to the heights of the trees, which they have used in the past. The pictured bird is building the typical bulky oval nest within twiggy growth on an exposed branch close to a nearby track and a mere two metres above the mown grass.

The site is an odd choice for a bird that normally shows remarkable caution when approaching the nest. The nest tree is seldom reached directly. Most often, the birds carry nest material (and - after hatching - food) into an adjoining tree before sneaking across to their true destination. Makes it easier for me to watch, if all goes well.

Also easier to watch than is commonly the case, this Yellow Oriole (Oriolus flavocinctus) hunting close to the water's edge at the first lagoon. Yellow Orioles will occasionally forage for prey close to the ground in open habitat if it offers low growth with bushy stems stiff enough to carry their weight. Olive-backed Orioles stick more to the trees.      

Brown Goshawk drops in for brekkie banter

Gidday. Just flying up this track and thought I'd drop in and have a dekko for bit of brekkie. Scared? Why'd I be scared of you, sta...