Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Little Bittern makes a return

Thought the Australian Little Bitterns (Ixobrychus dubius) had flown off after the Jan-Feb floods perhaps never to be seen again. But here's a woeful picture to celebrate a return. Bird was distinctly visible from long way off yesterday, but there was little chance of sneaking up close. As things turned out, it fled back into the scleria when a nearby egret spooked it. But a hopeful sign coming as the lagoon shallows dry out. More sightings probable. Better pictures? Maybe.

Even when close to a bird in the clear, things don't always work out. Here's a Golden-headed Cisticola (Cisticola exilis) in 'clumsy' pose and, it must be said, an awful natural frame. Of course, it's ugly because it fails to meet a human's standard of beauty. The bird, happily, knows nothing of such things.

Same with this curiously coloured female Rufous Whistler (Pachycephala rufiventris). Twigs littered all over the place, including across the bird. No trouble. Clone some of them away. It's more an art form than a skill, cloning, they say. They're right. And I've always been hopeless at art! Would the cloning be obvious without my mentioning it?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Bronze-Cuckoos - golden mornings

Trio of Little Bronze-Cuckoos (Chalcites minutillus) notably busy in a scruffy patch of dead guavas and straggling weeds for the past three or four mornings.

The red eye and eye ring of the male make him easy to single out.

Not so simple with females and immatures. But only the immature and the male have so far stayed close enough for worthwhile pictures.

A bonus this morning was the sudden entry of this young Brown Honeyeater (Lichmera indistincta) into the cuckoos' area. Quick picture and the bird was gone. Cuckoos are much less flighty.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Shining light in the shadows

Shifted the morning round to nearby rainforest for part of this week. Found both Little and Azure Kingfishers along shadowed creek and caught flashing glimpse of Noisy Pitta. But only the Shining Flycatcher above obliged by hanging about for a few minutes. Picture not helped by skies clouded by that southern dust! Meantime, this female Shining has stayed near Tyto's now last creek pool for about two months.

Change of pace with a couple of Agile Wallaby images. Caught above animal on the hop along the northern boundary track at the wetlands. Missed the startled reaction springing from seeing me astride bicycle in middle of path, and sideways launch into long grass.

Not much of an anchor! Willie Wagtails usually take up a higher position on their living perch and watch for prey.

Talking of watching, Blue-winged Kookaburra glared briefly at me but chose not to fly off as the gap between us narrowed. Looks as if it's bitten on something rather hard and incurred bit of bill damage. Chewing on rhino beetles perhaps?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Honeyeaters not half tricky

Chasing after Yellow Honeyeaters (Lichenostomus flavus) lately brought a half decent image (or, if you prefer, a decent half image). The task appears simple when the birds begin breeding (about two months ago). Not so. The cup nests are all secreted high in outer leafy branches. Once building stops, the birds near the nest more or less vanish. And in several weeks I saw just one fledgling at close range.

Even trickier to get pictures of Dusky Honeyeaters (Myzomela obscura). They disappear for months before their somewhat squeaky high calls - often in mistletoes - announce a return. From where, I know not. 'Sedentary. Locally nomadic,' say the guide books. About now is their prime breeding time. Can't recall ever seeing signs of such in Tyto. And above bird looks immature.

And so to Mistletoebird (Dicaeum hirundinaceum), a female. Plentiful for some months, they have become harder to find recently as the dry season takes hold. It's likely the pickings are sweeter and life cooler at slightly greater altitude in the nearby ranges.

Staying faithful to its territory - and completing this set of 'birds on sticks' - Little Shrike-Thrush (Colluricincla megarhyncha). One day the trees are full of them. The next, no sight and little sound. Odd, considering they use a wider range of calls than any other species in Tyto. But it would be boring if nature became too predictable, wouldn't it?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Food on the wing - and the legs

Plenty of birds carrying food on the wing as breeding carries on apace. But not all in this selection were selflessly thinking solely of their young. Horsfield's Bronze-Cuckoo leads the way (cropped too tightly, to show off caterpillar).

Fairy Gerygone with something bearing appearance of a spider but perhaps insufficient legs.

Young Welcome Swallows open wide in expectation, though it might appear they are screaming defiance at blurred Rufous-throated Honeyeater intruding into the picture.

And finally on theme of food on the wing, it's up and away from a blue water lily for two pollen-laden honeybees.

Sadly, no food - or anything else - being carried to Lovely Fairy-Wrens' nest. Since first found the nest gained final touches, then an egg, then all wrens vanished, and today the egg was gone. The search will start over again!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Varied catch, luck for fishers

Varied diet among birds stalking alongside and in the lagoon lately. Eastern Great Egret (above and below) grabbed and scoffed six fish in a 20-minute burst.

Darter didn't do so well with this large catch. It tried many times to flip the fish (about 30cmx12-15cm in my estimate) and catch it head-first. But the bulk and size of the silvery 'monster' proved too much and the fish slipped away.

Little Pied Cormorant did better with slender eel. Took a few false swallows, but eventually the catch slithered to oblivion.

White-necked Herons don't seem too interested in trying for large fish. This bird content to grab small prey from the muddy shallows. Must be satisfying enough. It's been working the western end of the main lagoon for more than two weeks.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Raptor picture capture rapture

Enjoyed three decent raptor moments lately. Caught the above Black-shouldered Kite (Elanus axillaris) just south of Tyto in the late afternoon. Lack of strong eye colour and generally 'dirty' colouring suggests a young bird. Not a rare raptor though only a sometime sighting in Tyto as they prefer cruising over open land in search of small prey such as mice.

Whistling Kite (Haliastur sphenurus) looks out from Leichhardt tree in Tyto after displacing a Yellow Oriole. Kites have been showing more than usual interest in the wetlands for two weeks, possibly related to several Agile Wallaby deaths (some bodies reveal dog attacks; most do not: kites rarely seen on the carcases, relying, it seems, on dogs or pigs to scatter morsels).

A major burnoff behind the airstrip to the south of the wetlands drew this Brown Falcon (Falco berigora) in to share the spoils with assorted kites. The falcon - which would usually be found sitting on power lines by sugar cane fields - has stuck near Tyto for about a month, presumably picking off prey from among the regenerating grasses.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Brolga catches my eye and dragonfly

Took subsidised health trip 110km south yesterday to Townsville to have orthopaedics consultant tell me I have one of the best bum knees he's seen. Just keep riding the bicycle for hours of daily birding and buy glucosamine, if the mood takes. Pre-dawn start before the good news bought five hours in the Town Common, a birders' magnet. Highlight photographically was a Brolga (Grus rubicunda) snapping up unidentifiable dragonfly.

Regulars to the Common - which is undergoing extensive planned understorey burning - are currently listing more than 60 species, so I ended well down with just 52 birds for the morning - most of them too distant or high for the camera. The above Black Swans (Cygnus atratus) became the only other shot worth processing.

Two wildlife encounters yielding no usable pictures were a close-up two-step with a particularly stroppy little Red-bellied Black Snake and a Brown Goshawk smashing at speed into a thorny thicket in a vain effort to nail a Bar-shouldered Dove. The snake eventually dived down a hole. The goshawk shook itself free of the thorns and sped off through the trees.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Lovely to catch up with blue fairies

Terrible picture, but it's exciting to have again found some Lovely Fairy-wrens (Malurus amabilis). Ducked into a mess of pandanus and guavas yesterday in pursuit of a Rufous Fantail and found male wren almost under my feet.

The find comes after losing track of a wren pair last year. Fleeting glimpses of other wrens seemingly without much blue initially led me to think perhaps the male was a Variegated (which would be a Tyto first).

That thought evaporated today with this female, carrying nesting material. Even with such a clue, it took me more than an hour to locate the half-built nest, barely 30cm off the dirt in a shadowy grove well away from any regular tracks. I don't like haunting nest areas, particularly so in this case, given the rarity of the species in Tyto, but I'll hope for better pictures and better outcome for the birds (the last nest found held two eggs one day, one the next, and was then deserted).

Much easier to find Red-backed Fairy-wrens (Malurus melanocephalus). Here's one looking straight into the lens at the hide today. And below a better image from the back file.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Cisticolas among attention seekers

Some days Golden-headed Cisticolas (Cisticola exilis) seem almost to be calling out and demanding pictures be taken. It's not always possible to oblige, since they inhabit scruffy areas of tall reeds, grasses and weedy shrubs, replete with obscuring stems and twiggy branches.

But it is somewhat surprising, in retrospect, how rarely I've managed to capture good pictures of birds with prey. Don't even know if the tiny object (above) from midmorning today is prey or an unwanted remnant of flora that happened to stick temporarily to the bird's bill.

Less inclined to pose nicely for the camera, this Brown Honeyeater (Lichmera indistincta) did slow down for a second today.

But it could take lessons from this Tawny Grassbird (Megalurus timoriensis), surveying the scene last month from a low guava bush.

Finally, also from the back file, Brown-backed Honeyeater (Ramsayornis modestus) shows the others how it should be done.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Peacefuls plus bits and pieces

Sometimes the birds under our feet in suburbia can be the most difficult to sneak up on in the wild. Peaceful Doves (Geopelia striata) in Tyto rarely stand for being walked up on. These two birds allowed me nearer than usual, but not close enough.

Eastern Great Egret (Ardea modesta) easier to close in on. The difficulty is trying to control the dazzling whites. (This is made even trickier because my notebook's LCD screen is typical in being extremely sensitive to tiny changes in viewing angle.)

From big to tiny: Little Kingfisher (Ceyx pusilla) on scleria in front of the Tyto hide yesterday. The birds have given up the remnant pools on the outer creek and shifted to fishing at various points within the main lagoon system.

Bonus bird for anyone chasing kingfisher is Australian Reed-Warbler (Acrocephalus australis), more often heard in the scleria than seen on its fringes.

But still no sight or sound from the scleria of the Little Bitterns that inhabited several areas before the floods of January-February drove them elsewhere.

And a quick note of overall August sightings: 111 species, 6 down on July, 8 down on August last year. A few more snakes however: 8 species for the month (of 12 on my total list in 5 years).

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