Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Umbrellas for Rainbow Lorikeets

Umbrellas for Rainbow Lorikeets (Trichoglossus haematodusunder the bluest of skies nearing sunset near Ingham? Well, Umbrella Tree (Schefflera actinophylla) flowers and seeds anyway.

The long flowering spikes attract many other birds, honeyeaters, bowerbirds and figbirds. But no other birds seem to have quite so much fun as the Rainbows feeding their faces. It's a little odd that Scaley-breasted Lorikeets - so alike in many ways - do not show the same appetite.

There is another side to the Umbrella Tree. Planters of native gardens, more than ably assisted by birds and small animals, have helped introduce the trees into areas where they are not welcome. Thus (from the DPI):

'The umbrella tree is native to northern Queensland,
north of the tropic of Capricorn. In its natural
ecosystem it has maintained a balance with other
native species, however, when it is grown in
southern Queensland, this fast growing invader
out-competes local native species. It is a prolific
seeder, invading national parks, remnant bushland,
undisturbed forests and reserves, causing harm to
the local ecosystems’ flora and fauna.
It is commonly grown as an ornamental in backyards
as it has a unique look and attracts birds.
Unfortunately, these birds can rapidly spread the
seeds, particularly through native bushland. The
roots of umbrella trees can pressurise building
foundations and block plumbing joints and pipes.
These disadvantages can be overcome by growing
local native species, instead of this invasive plant
from a foreign ecosystem. Appropriate species may
include Celery Wood, Leopard Ash, Native
Tamarind, and Wheel of Fire.'

Just as well Rainbow Lorikeets can't read! Of course, there are more than a few people who think Rainbows also are too much of a good thing, too dominant, greedy and bossy. And much too colourful. Certainly not a bird that does things by halves.   

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Cassowary just a big head

Getting up close for photography is the ambition. But too much of a good thing becomes quickly obvious when a Southern Cassowary (Casuarius casuarius) marches into view. Heading up to Wallaman Falls today, I met Mr Big sauntering down the road. I idled to a stop, grabbed the camera, and cranked the car window down a bit (not fully open, since the birds can be menacing beggars - if idiots have previously fed them). Anyway, low light, dodgy, shaky head-only shots, then bird crunched off into the forest. A frustrating forerunner.

Next up, in a transmission tower clearing in the rainforest, quick grabs at a few locals. First, Yellow-breasted Boatbill (Machaerirhynchus flaviventer), flittering about in a wee island of small trees growing from a pile of old pine logs (self-sown and definitely unwanted). The reason for the bird's name is apparent below.

Also making itself busy on the piled logs, an Eastern Whipbird (Psophodes olivaceus). Proved excellent at posing for a split second and then whipping out of frame. And wasn't in the mood to get cracking on the vocals.

Plenty of noise from the Brown Gerygone (Gerygone mouki) hordes moving purposefully here, there and everywhere in the tall trees. This one bird of hundreds heard through the morning descended close enough to chase after.

And that was probably because is was attracted to this Eastern Yellow Robin (Eopsaltria australis), which was fascinated by something on the ground, but maddeningly quit the chase as I got close. Nor would it indulge in any sideways perching.

Among others spotted: Noisy Pitta, Lewins Honeyeater, Grey Whistler, Topknot Pigeon, Red-winged Parrot, Brush Turkey, Laughing Kookaburra, Brown Treecreeper, Bowers Shrike-Thrush.         

Thursday, April 23, 2009

On the wing and showing some skin

Bit of a fling for birds on the wing today. Australian White (Sacred) Ibis (Threskiornis molucca) led off to a promising start. Noticed several birds showing pink breeding bars at back of neck yesterday. None obliged today. Did capture bird coming into tree (below) and displaying bare scarlet skin underwing, another breeding signal. White Ibises often look dirty from a distance. The plumage can be gloriously pearly seen up close, but few people in suburbia want to see these roof-fouling dump scavengers up close.

Black Kite (Milvus migrans) the only one of four raptors caught on the wing. Till the shire dump next door to Tyto closed about three years ago, the kites competed with ibises and Torresian Crows for easy pickings. Now, kites and crows can be hard to find some days. Even harder to find, the other three raptors (all photographed, but from too far off): Nankeen Kestrel, Grey Goshawk, Whistling Kite. 

Eastern Great Egret (Ardea modesta) easier to see today, with five unexpectedly winging in to join one bird that has been around off and on for a few weeks. Blue sky of earlier in the day had given way to light cloud when this bird flew overhead. No matter what colour the sky, pure white birds drive me and the camera nuts.

On a more positive last note, a few returnees: Silvereyes, Tree Martins, Royal Spoonbill, Northern Fantail, Green Pigmy Geese, White-necked Heron, Black-faced Cuckoo-Shrike.  

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Bully for male Cicadabird

Male Cicadabird (Coracina tenuirostris) popped suddenly into view today and tormented me for the next 30 minutes by sticking almost entirely to deeply shaded upper reaches of trees in a small grove near the first Tyto lagoon. My cause wasn't helped by a Spangled Drongo determined - as they so often are - to bully the newcomer.

Cicadabirds seldom show up here in pairs. Males are rarely seen, but one or two females can often be found in the cooler months. Some of the birds are breeding migrants in southeast Australia and winter in the north and up into Papua New-Guinea, others are sedentary across the Top End. In my experience only birds in the south sound anything like a cicada.

Catch of the day definitely goes to this Black-necked Stork (Ephippiorhynchus asiaticus). Even from afar the fish dangling from the huge bill was impressive. But the head was gobbled down before I got close enough for the picture. Interesting butchery technique. The bird dropped the fish on the ground and stabbed violently at it. Rough shaking followed. Thus one large fish (species unknown) became three great mouthfuls.

Offering itself as a possible mouthful, a sneaky Pacific Black Duck tries the 'broken wing' splash and dash as it seeks to draw me away from (unsuspected) nest or ducklings hidden in a patch of flooded grass. Just as well most predators are not alert to such giveaway signals. Instincts are not all they're cracked up to be!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Some Leaden light at last

Finally, the leaden skies have gone and there's some sunshine and light to show off the Tyto birds, such as the Leaden Flycatcher (Myiagra rubecula) quietly going about business today.

Sorry to have been rather quiet all week. Terrible weather and dodgy modem combined to kill  pictures and posting. 

Not so quiet and just one among many enjoying the end of rain almost every day and night this month, Red-backed Fairy-Wren (Malurus melanocephalus) just coming into male breeding colour.

Almost certainly final tally of species for April will not be close to predicted 120. But today's count of 46 slightly better than expected. Nothing of real note seen, though an immature Dollarbird was mildly surprising since most flew off north last month.

Change of venue for last picture. Eastern Dwarf Treefrogs have taken to sitting by day in, on and among Bird of Paradise flowers and leaves in the caravan park gardens. Need shorter lens to do justice to frog. Working on it!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Ulysses and the lilies

Ulysses butterflies clearly don't realise what glorious sights they make when out on the swamp lilies. Mostly, they jitter about among the trees - where they are almost impossible to frame for photographs. But it's 'wow' on those rare days when one gets out on the water flowers. (A snag with the lily flowers is their featheriness, so fine, light and tiny they almost always look out of focus.)

Another touch of local colour among the lilies: White-browed Crake pauses near the water before going back to 'tuk tuk tucking' in amid the scleria. 

Lot of rain and sudden heavy showers in past few days. Adding to those woes, my modem turned pyscho and refused to recognise me! Sorted out after Telstra on-line techie took it over and gave it a swift kick up the password!

Got into Tyto for a dryish spell today. Forget the jokes, all the rain has meant the ducks have gone. Along with much else. Kingfishers aplenty, including an Azure teasing a sleek juvenile with a fish it seemed reluctant to pass on. But some days, as with the Fairy Gerygone above, there's always a branch or two in the way. But at least the modem's behaving...

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Curlewy question: who's hiding here?

Perilous life for a Bush Stone Curlew chick (click pic to enlarge). Parent birds don't go much for nest building. Almost any old bit of ground will do. Plonk! Plonk! Two eggs. Job done. 

With all their hissing and pretence at injury, the parents often draw attention to the presence of eggs or youngsters. Seeing two birds feigning injury in an area part-cleared for revegetation, I tiptoed about yesterday, attended most closely by the female (above).

Spotted junior 'hiding' motionless. Quick pictures, apologies for the disturbance to Ma and Pa, and tiptoe (could be another, unseen) away. About 140mm rain overnight. Check today. Junior and parents OK.

Here's hoping the youngster grows to fly over Tyto - like this!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Black Butcherbird too close

Black Butcherbirds (Cracticus quoyi) don't spend much time in Tyto and those that do often are quieter than in more usual habitats such as denser rainforest or thick belts of mangroves. Came upon two foraging through guava thickets today. Never any chance of photographing them together, but one went out of its way to get in frame. It landed on leaf litter close to my feet. Almost impossibly close for my lens, in fact, and, worse, almost totally hidden by guava trunks. Adding farce to frustration, along came a long-necked turtle on the dry litter - and scared the bird back into the understorey! Amazing that the above picture is even slightly sharp about the eye, since it was handheld at 1/30th second.

Here's another head, taken under easier circumstances, but also showing a drawback of using long lenses in relatively low light conditions. The Willie Wagtail is one of the Tyto hide resident pair, featured mouth full of dragonfly in earlier posts. Attractive enough pose, but notice the green cast where the black of the bird's outline shades into the distant background. Shorter lens, with greater depth of field, and/or fill flash would offset the effect, I think. Could use in-camera flash except it annoys birds at close range. And I keep forgetting to create a cheap slip-on diffuser. One day!

After the heads, comes a tail. Red-backed Fairy-Wren has nearly completed this nest, which it has sited atop bladey grass close to and almost facing the largely redundant Grass Owl viewing platform. It's lucky that few hopefuls any longer spend their evenings seeking the departed owls (which may only require a mouse irruption to return: or habitat change: or goodness only knows what). The female has done all the nest building. No sign of any male in area. Makes me wonder given the 'naive' placement of the nest if this might be a young bird playing house. As always, time will tell. I've resisted using the obvious heading, but can't resist having the bird ask: 'Does my bum look big in this?'  

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Dragonflies on the menu

Quick look at three dragonflies, one of which didn't get away. First up, a common sight in Tyto, Graphic Flutterer (Rhyothemus graphiptera - so I'm told: not in TNQ guide: click pic to enlarge).

Less common, but called the Common Glider, Trapezostigma (Tramea) loewii.

Last, and lasting only as a brief course for an Australian Reed-Warbler (Acrocephalus australis), uncertain species but may be female Common Glider. Bad luck or fatal snooze for the dragonfly, because Reed-Warblers seldom leave cover to feed and I've never seen one take such prey in the air.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

April Fool's Day, plus drongo

Didn't get a pinch and a punch for the first of the month, but did catch a bird or two trying to make an April Fool drongo of me in Tyto today. Not, however, the Spangled Drongo above. It was on best behaviour, though not quite at the species' spangliest.

First up, a Shining Bronze-Cuckoo making a rare appearance and almost passing itself off as a Little Bronze. But the immature bird, quiet (as are all cuckoos at present) and rather plain, carried a telltale bright green sheen on its back (precisely: wing coverts). They are slightly larger than Littles, but I've found the species' shade of bright green is a surer identifier. Sorry, no picture.

Further along the track, much activity and several high-pitched calls as a minor wave of small birds, including Sunbirds, Dusky, Yellow, and Brown Honeyeaters, Varied Trillers, Rufous Whistlers, and Red-browed Finches came through - with a surprise higher in trees: first Mistletoebird for months, but sounding squeakily Sunbirdish. Surprise in part, too, from total absence of the species recently in spite of mistletoe flowering aplenty. Again, no picture.

Then, worst trick of all: Grey Goshawk glided briefly across my line of sight at bird hide, vanished into nearby paperbark, emerged obscured soon after, vanished again, popped up distantly twice more during the morning, and never offered any chance for a picture.

But the cuckoo and Mistletoebird did mean a flying start on the April count. March brought 97 species, against 89 for February and 109 for January. I'll expect 120 this month. And a nerdish observation. The difference between the March and February figures would suggest some effect from the floods. But the 10 per cent margin could be wholly explained by the fewer days: 28-31. The 109-89 Jan-Feb difference was, however, largely seasonal.

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...