Saturday, February 28, 2009

Four birds in flight

Bush Stone-Curlew looks down as it passes overhead in Tyto yesterday. The birds usually stand quietly for most of the day before walking off on their nocturnal feeding rounds. In common with many larger species, the birds normally go out of their way to avoid flying low over people, but I'd by chance been hard for the bird to see till it was right over me. And here are three other birds-in-flight from the not-so-sharp folder:

Little Pied Cormorant 

Nankeen Kestrel

Whistling Kite

And a sharper Welcome Swallow to finish with. 

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Honeyeater sees, seizes sawfly

Yellow Honeyeater (Lichenostomus flavus) nabs a Paperbark Sawfly (Lophyrotoma zonalis) outside the Tyto hide today (click pic to enlarge). Don't often capture honeyeaters in such an insectivorous moment, but no surprise about the prey, considering the hide is ringed by three Melaleucas.

One honeyeater feeding leads to another. White-gaped Honeyeater (Lichenostomus unicolor) comes up with a bill full of wild passionfruit flesh. Plenty of birds and insects are drawn to the passionfruit flowers. Can't recall seeing birds previously showing fondness for the flesh. The dwarf fruit has a thin, soft skin, and is full of smallish black seeds.

Also with thin, soft skin - and not long for this world - was an unidentified caterpillar, plucked from a part-flooded grass track today by this immature female Magpie Lark (Grallina cyanoleuca). Young Magpie Larks can be quite trusting. For several minutes I trailed close behind as this bird grabbed small morsels. Didn't do so well in encouraging it to stand still and eat slowly! 

Elsewhere in the wetlands today (and two days back), came upon three Black Bitterns, two at one end of the lagoon system, the other at a favourite (for the bird) shaded spot by a culvert outflow. All three, as previously, headed for distant trees and vanished into them.

As did a Collared Sparrowhawk, disturbed in its flight across a corner of the lagoon by a Masked Lapwing, which thereby put paid to any hopes I had of getting the small raptor in flight. The bird has been a presence more felt than seen for about three weeks. It's almost got me shouting: 'Come on out! I know you're in there.' But I'm sure it knows a bluff when it hears one!

Finally, after so much feeding, a Bar-shouldered Dove (Geopelia humeralis) poses perfectly as an end piece to the post!  

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Underneath the (rainbow) arches

Rainbow Bee-eater (Merops ornatus) takes a comfort stretch against a grey sky in Tyto yesterday. The bird stayed put on a bare branch as I sidled up along a wooden walkway/bridge close to the over-brimming first lagoon.

Bee-eaters rarely show so willing. It went through a repertoire of bill-clacking and wing-twisting exercises, mostly with head turned away from me. Luckily, waiting and hoping paid off with the above happy alignment of head, body and movement.

Didn't envisage having to lighten the image so much that the grey sky almost vanished into the now-whitish background. Nor at first was I going to retain all three branches. Sometimes the final offering simply grows more (subjectively) attractive in spite of a picture's technical faults.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Not quite up to the mind's eye

Best laid plans . . . ! Rain overnight put paid to crawling up on Bush Stone-Curlews today. Yesterday's back-numbing effort didn't quite do the trick. Bird walked towards me as I lay down and got so close I couldn't fit all the legs in, and  - propped on elbows - couldn't regrip camera in steady position for a vertical shot. As it is, picture's a bit soft, and back still aches. Pity, as the background is as I wanted.

Comb-crested Jacana was casting perfect reflections on still water reflecting the blue-sky morning yesterday - till I stepped forward at the lookout knoll. The bird stayed close, but never got into the desirable position on the lotuses leaves and stalks. However, while waiting in vain for something better I spotted the first Little Bittern I've seen since January 22, flying between Scleria islands.

Masked Lapwing, from a few weeks back, looked spectacular in late afternoon light as it poked about in a drainage ditch. And the back plumage is striking. But even after cloning some messy background, and selective sharpening, the bird's head refuses to stand out as it did when first sighted. Though pictures may well be worth a thousand words, they frequently fall short of the image in the mind's eye.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Painterly kingfisher - politician dragonfly

Still no worthwhile flight picture of a Sacred Kingfisher, in spite of another hour chasing three of them in Tyto today. Consolation prize is the rather painterly image above. Just an ordinary shot, post-processed normally. But the bird is so perfectly groomed it looks to me rather like a fussy watercolour.

Couldn't get near this Little Kingfisher as it worked the edges of a large creek pool today. With luck there'll be plenty of chances to get closer to the newcomer in coming days. The bird's quick-fire dives for tiny fish show that some clarity is emerging near the surface of the silt-laden waters.

Think this dragonfly is Austrogomphus prasinus. Not showing this just to boast of hand-holding 672mm= lens at two metres, nor to attract Duncan's attention to one of his beloved odos. No, no, no. Look closely at that lovable face. Remind you of a notable politician? A. johnhowardus? Or am I seeing things?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Sacreds the devil to catch in flight

Spent an hour today trying to catch Sacred Kingfishers (Toditamphus sanctus) in flight or on sodden open woodland ground as they pounced on small insects and reptiles. No success. Birds proved almost impossible to anticipate and were typically wary when I moved to unobscured positions.

This flight shot is offered as much in frustration as explication. There is something in the bird's bill, possibly a caterpillar, but I couldn't get close enough or steady enough for a satisfying picture. The Sacreds' numbers are building, however, so we'll have another go tomorrow.

Surprisingly, Forest Kingfishers (Todiramphus macleayii) have yet to dominate the pickings from the swampy grasslands and woodlands. But soon they'll be lining up like a blue and white army on fences and in trees and elbowing the Sacreds out of the picture. Six or so Sacreds will give way to 30-50 Forests.

Hard to elbow a Blue-winged Kookaburra (Dacelo leachii) out of the way, though Willie Wagtails often try. Flood or drought, one or two pairs of Blue-wingeds maintain a quiet presence in Tyto's trees. This female allowed me close a few days ago. She completes the present set because there have been no recent sightings of Little Kingfishers, and the sole Azure seen has been but a high-speed blur.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Grasshopper for feed: weevil for weed

Young Helmeted Friarbird puts the bite on a grasshopper captured by a parent bird in plantings at the Tyto entrance today. Muted begging noises rose sharply when the food was withdrawn. The wait was brief, just long enough for another softening-up chew by the parent before the grasshopper was passed on. Nictitating membrane closure is probably reflex and not blissful savouring of the moment!
A few Golden-headed Cisticolas made their first showings since the floods, but no sign yet of Tawny Grassbirds. Comb-crested Jacanas and White-browed Crakes carry on as normal. The only other birds showing out on and near the water were two trios of  Magpie Geese (almost always in threes) and three Wandering Whistling Ducks. 

And in the wake of the flood comes the threat of invasion. There's always Hymenachne (H. amplexicaulis) springing up amid the Scleria and reeds. But previous floods have brought the even worse Salvinia (S. molesta) and Water Hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes) into the system. So the spray boat was launched today to do a sweep of the main lagoon. It's a sign that the town's returning to normal!

I hadn't realised there was a good-news side to Salvinia. Here it is, from a CSIRO site:

In 1978, CSIRO scientists began the search for biological control agents in southeast Brazil which they had identified as the native range of salvinia. They found three promising potential agents: a weevil (Cyrtobagous salviniae), a moth (Samea multiplicalis), a grasshopper (Paulinia acuminata).

C. salviniae was the first to go through the formalities required before an agent can be released in Australia. In 1980, the first releases were made on Lake Moondarra, an artificial lake providing water and recreation for Mt Isa in north Queensland, which was heavily infested with salvinia. By mid-1981, the beetle had reduced the salvinia to a few small patches.
This one, 2 mm long weevil went on to clear massive infestations of salvinia in areas like the Sepik River (Papua New Guinea), Sri Lanka, Wappa Dam and Lake Moondara (Queensland, Australia) and lagoons in the Northern Territory, Australia, including in Kakadu National Park. In all, salvinia has been controlled by C. salviniae in at least 13 tropical countries.

The CSIRO team that unravelled the complex story of salvinia and Cyrtobagous taxonomy and instigated the biological control project received the UNESCO Science Prize in 1985 for their work in PNG.

A win for the good guys! Pity there's no such story with Hymenachne, which was officially released for pond planting as recently as 1988. Did someone say 'slow learners'?

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Black Bittern out and upstanding

Upstanding start to the day! Cycle past a creek beside the highway and spot a strangely prominent figure rising from some flooded grass. Immature Black Bittern (Ixobrychus flavicollis) revealing its inexperience, choosing wrong place to adopt the stiffly upright posture of the species when caught unawares.

Bird stayed motionless as I braked on bridge, propped bike against guardrail, doffed helmet, fumbled camera into operation and snatched first few pictures. Bird twisted right and then turned left as I tried for steadier position. More pictures. Luck ran out when I tried to add 1.4x converter. Bird stalked slowly into long grass and didn't reappear.

No way of being sure, but this youngster probably came from a nest over water in rainforest just southwest of Tyto. The parent birds would be the pair often seen in the wetlands once the rains come. As the ground dries out they retreat into the forest and its deep, shaded pools.

Here's another youngster prominently out in the open today. This juvenile White-bellied Sea Eagle (Haliaeetus leucogaster) swept briefly directly over the top of me (picture is full frame deep) near the Tyto hide. The birds get progressively lighter year by year as they go from juvenile, to immature, to subadult, and finally gain the full white and grey of maturity.

And yet another young bird over the lagoon today. Juvenile Caspian Tern (Hydroprogne caspia) did a quick circuit without seeing anything that took its fancy and headed off towards the coast. 

Interestingly, many of the smaller and medium sized species were less apparent today than two and three days back. Perhaps the rush to feed after the flooding rains has abated. It seems likely too that insect numbers were much reduced by birds desperate to feed in midweek after the terrible weather cleared, though yesterday/overnight was the first 24-hour cycle without heavy rain for about 36 days.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Even the finches are cleaning up

Ingham cleanup continued today in steamy hot sunshine. Did a squelchy tour of Tyto and found remarkably little flood debris considering up to three metres of water poured in and sat over almost everything twice in a few days.

Not only the townsfolk engaged in getting all back in order. Crimson Finches are busy renovating the nest in a paperbark trunk (above) in front of the hide. May not be the same pair as produced four young in November and then another batch of unknown number from a nest in a fork slightly higher in the same tree. 

Some useful material to hand is coming not from the second and now vacant nest but from the third of the Brown-backed Honeyeater nests in the second of the paperbarks fronting the hide. Finding white feathers to line the nest won't be so easy. Old ones have all been flushed away and few Magpie Geese have stayed near the flooded lagoons.

No egrets, herons, cormorants, darters, and few ducks. But Comb-crested Jacanas and White-browed Crakes were out in small numbers, and noisily busy out of sight. One Black Bittern, highlight of the morning, and mistaken for debris as I surveyed a messy outflow from main lagoon to side pool.

But plenty of chirpy activity in the trees, led by the honeyeaters, doves, woodswallows, wagtails, Metallic Starlings, orioles, figbirds and cuckoo-shrikes. No raptors, few lorikeets, no sight or sound of cisticolas or grassbirds. In all, 35 bird species, plus a few wallabies (many drownings in district) and turtles. No snakes.

The total debris cleanup for Tyto's 120+ hectares will take two men with a small truck and boat about half a day, less time than for many a stricken individual household. Even better, there is nothing that cannot wait. Three metres of water? Been and gone. And it has put a temporary damper on the rampant Pink Lotuses. No worries!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Friars' habits inhibit native habitat

Blue skies! Ingham scored an after-flood break today, starting with light cloud and quickly turning mostly to blue sky and fast-drying sunshine. Second major cleanup at the caravan park almost done. Time to think birds. But no time from water blasting and mopping up to get any photographs. 

So here's a splash of colour saved from early this year (and a message): Helmeted Friarbird (Philemon buseroides) part-ringed by African tulip tree flowers. The bird's a vocally varied goody, the tree's an infesting pest.

'African tulip tree (Spathodea campanulata) is a fast-growing evergreen tree native to tropical Africa. African tulip tree is a Class 3 declared plant under Queensland legislation. Non-invasive native alternatives to the African tulip tree are black bean (Castanospermum australe), wheel of fire (Stenocarpus sinuatus) and flame tree (Brachychiton acerifolius).' (Qld govt site).

Just another of a long list of totally unsuitable plants introduced to Australia, often by people who should have known better. Plenty of concern even 100 years back about thoughtless imports. (Not sure too much has changed.)

Most Tyto visitors love the tulip trees, and few show great enthusiasm for mainland Australia's largest honeyeater, no matter how many pleasing short calls (I've just spent 30 minutes seeking apt onomatopoeic formations  - and failed entirely) it makes.

Here's the real rub. Those big bare black faces are just made to dive deeply into flowers such as the tulip tree's. As with many pest species, the trees lead friars and other birds to conspire against native revegetation.

Suddenly the picture above seems less sunny, doesn't it?

Friday, February 6, 2009

More rain, two more sunnier birds

More heavy rain today. More tomorrow. And the next day. But we've cleaned up almost all the caravan park. No danger of huge reflood, but Herbert River rising slightly, delaying any concerted start on work in Ingham. Now it's time for sunnier images. 

Golden-headed Cisticola (Cisticola exilis) perky and chirpy. The picture's a bit soft, disguised by the sharply alert eye. Lefthand branch retained to help frame bird. Two distracting out of focus branches cloned out from behind the head.

Not much risk of this bird being taken for much rarer, whiter Zitting Cisticola, but Tyto visitors are prone to wishful thinking. No record of a Zitting near the wetlands in almost five years.

Little Bronze Cuckoo (Chalcites minutillus) also suffered background problems. The black bill was lost in the darkness.   Isolated the bill and darkened it to obtain some extra separation and so gain a little more definition. Heavy branch cloned out from across back of bird. The beauty of the plumage in morning light made the effort worthwhile.  

Sick of flood, back to birds

Ingham still cut off. Town cleanup awaits another metre drop in Herbert River. But at caravan park we're better off with standing water shelving across back third of grounds. All facilities came through more or  less intact and we ripped into blast cleaning in yesterday's sunshine. More heavy rain forecast for three days should not slow river's fall.

Tyto's out of question, but it's time to get back to the birds, if only to show slightly improved processing. (Nothing like rainy days to force one to knuckle down and try more time-consuming tasks.) 

First, Brown Honeyeater (Lichmera indistincta). Bird's not bad. Too much tree, and try as I might, couldn't find way to clone the problems away.  The attractive markings are rather at odds with the bird's Latin name, aren't they?

Here's a White-gaped Honeyeater (Lichenostomus unicolor), previously unposted in this blog, but put up on Birding-Oz.  The gape seldom phtographs as true white, usually offering a strong yellow tinge. But the Latin is truer to the plumage.

Time to get back to the cleanup. More later.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Town's under water? No worries!

When your town is under water, what matters most?

No disasters reported in Ingham. But many will have suffered mental distress, physical discomfort and worse, and severe material losses. Their collective suffering makes the news. All sympathy to them.

But a blogger mostly confined to a caravan best stick to the personal, recognising that solipsism rules.

Housing first. A matter of centimetres. Waters reached to 2cm below caravan door last night. Rose slightly, fell slightly. All this, as the rain belted down (perhaps 300mm in 12 hours). But the total flood area is now so great a 30cm fall - in a narrow band - is swallowed and levels just creep up. So, housing dry, no worries. Food? Enough. No worries.

Car? Parked in crowded, swamped driveway outside park owners' residence. Not floating, no leaks. No worries.  Personal gear? Anything of value, high and dry. No worries. Other stuff will survive soaking. No worries.  No insurance (because live in caravan). No worries.

Let's get to the worries.

What say I get Alzheimer's because there's no Times cryptic crosswords to stop my brain tangles knotting even further. 

If I don't cycle daily the right leg will lose muscle tone and the bung knee will have an orthopaedic surgeon hovering above it like a vulture.

What about watching 10's liar-spotter nonsense drama last night because ABC transmission pixilated? Such guilt stress can cause all sorts of illness.

Could cabin fever lead me to do an Oates and tell the cockroaches as I go: 'I may be a while'? (recent TV skit: Scott made up comment after cannibalism).

As you see, there's a lot to worry about! This post starts in serious vein and ends tapped into an artery of flippancy and black humour. Reverting to type.

What matters? 'To thine own self be true'? No matter, truth will ever out!

Unrelated closer: not often I come across a gag in my pictures. I offer this Straw-necked Ibis for nonprize caption competition.    

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

SS Tyto Tony at anchor updated

Looks as if I'm witness to a part of the biggest flood recorded in Ingham. Herbert River peaked at 12.6m+ at Gairloch, east of the town. Low tide at 5am should have helped but water still slowly rising at the caravan park, 3km south of town, at 9.45am. And (revised post) at 4.30pm. Now at the door.

But power's still on, and there's a way to go before van floor goes under. Nowhere to go anyway. Van's anchored as normal cyclone precaution, so it can't float away. And the rain eased off hours ago (then came again); just a smattering of light showers still coming through. Latest word is for gradually drop in waters tonight. Below, site 13 - but any site was unlucky today!

Forest Kingfisher was active as insects were flushed out earlier, but it's mainly the Willie Wagtails benefiting now. Huge flush also of toads and frogs. I expect more cockroaches will sneak aboard the good ship Tyto Tony (seems I was wrong).

I'll leave a Figbird image from sunnier days for last. Here's to blue skies, dry feet and fruitful birding.

Monday, February 2, 2009

'Risky' sign over flooded highway

Lot more rain overnight but Cyclone Ellie moderated to a severe low and kept its heaviest efforts well to the north of Ingham. Ellie's falls to the northwest are adding to the Herbert River and it's expected to peak tomorrow at 12+ metres, spilling south to flood streets, yards and under many of Ingham's lower lying high-rise (mainly sitting on 2m piles) houses. Today, surface flooding on the highway and in parts of town was actually receding temporarily after a morning without rain.  

Without noticing the serendipity with camera in hand at 8.30am, the above picture of the highway into town carries a 'Risk-ay' warning (upper centre: ad for casual fashionwear). It was a bit risky for cars with low clearance. But no trouble to an ancient cyclist!

Palm Creek (above) usually flows through the centre of town as a dribble, sadly strewn with litter. For time being it's less litter and more lotta (water). Below, more water, but with a more photographic eye.

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...