Friday, February 26, 2010

Pipit sits still in place of Cisticolas

Australasian Pipit (Anthus novaeseelandiae) obliges by sitting still on barbed wire more often occupied by Zittings and Golden-headed Cisticolas.

Plenty of them, usually on the road. Not so common for them to allow an approach for closeups. (Brown Falcons again too fast off their fence posts as I drove up yesterday.)

Couldn't resist a few more shots of Horsfield's Bushlark (Mirafra javanica). They're so willing to sit still it seems almost rude not to stop, swap a few words (theirs much sweeter than mine) and hope for something different.

Tried without success for close shots of their fluttering flights. Light turned grey ... and then came the rain. Which has yet to really stop, 24 hours later. February's proving a wet one!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Cotton Pygmy-goose comes and goes

Few species on main lagoon past two days. Lucky to have solo Cotton Pygmy-goose (Nettapus coromandelianus) show up. Even when Green Pygmy-geese were dotted about the place, Cottons seldom dropped in. The Greens left when the Wet set in. Yesterday, the above distant Cotton fed on floating weed and munched upon the swamp lilies. Gone today.

Which left Comb-crested Jacanas (Irediparra gallinacea) and a couple of Darters as the only birds visible on the lagoon. Elsewhere, Magpie Geese, a few ducks and cormorants, and a Black-necked Stork stood out.

But...But did hear at two sites Little Bitterns grunting quietly. Also, aurally evident, White-browed and Spotless Crakes, Little and Azure Kingfishers, and Little Bronze-cuckoos (above, from sunnier days). Here's hoping for sunnier sightings up this way soon!

Monday, February 22, 2010

No frills defence display from lizard

Frilled Lizard (Chlamydosaurus kingii) plays dead (wide-eyed) in the middle of a sodden Tyto track today. No movement. Not even discernible breathing. Certainly no display of frills. Past experience has always been that in this defence mode the lizards will not move until touched, no matter how close the approach. Didn't bother putting this smallish animal to the touch test.

Black Bitterns (Ixobrychus flavicollis) don't play dead in the middle of mown tracks. But this male seeking morsels washed from the overflowing main lagoon stuck to position as I approached from about 60 metres off. Sadly, two Magpie Larks flew in and for reasons known only to themselves drove bittern off. And I got only blurry shots of the swooping.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Three to look back on from sunnier days

Plenty of rain and grey skies lately. Time for sunnier pictures (enlargeable) that won some praise  elsewhere late last year. First up, Little Kingfisher (Ceyx pusilla) on scleria at front of Tyto hide. Member of species dived into flooded shallows at hide yesterday. No chance for worthwhile picture.

Also on scleria in front of hide, Chestnut-breasted Mannikin (Lonchura castaneothorax). Plenty of the species - many immatures - still in the wetlands. Very hard to get close to across flooded grasses.

Last, Golden-headed Cisticola (Cisticola exilis) enjoying morning sunshine amid the scleria. Another prominent grass inhabitant harder to approach since the Wet set in.

Footnote: Rain comes. Lagoons flood. Birds go. Almost no egrets, herons, ducks, darters cormorants to be seen. Crakes, rails, bitterns, bush-hens hidden in flooded grasses. But still 50 or so species to be found - with effort, and much mozzie mashing!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Coucal, Falcon titbit baffles Bushlark

Mismatches between predators and prey during roadside jaunt yesterday. First, came upon Pheasant Coucal (Centropus phasianinus) - one among many on the morn - taking refuge off the ground in sugar cane. Dark plumage and red eye signify breeding. Same colours male and female.

Next up, Horsfield's Bushlark (Mirafra javanica) bewildered by large grasshopper, prey sought by Coucals, among others. Bushlark picked at find, dropped it, ignored it, returned, picked at it, picked it up and, finally, happily, it seemed, dropped it in long grass.

Which is definitely not what happens when Brown Falcon (Falco berigora) gets hold of grasshoppers. This light morph bird one of a pair whose territory roughly centres on grasslands in which I've been chasing Zitting Cisticolas. First time either Falcon has stayed on fence post after I've stopped car. Didn't stay quite long enough, of course. 
Above, though Falcons will hawk for large insects this bird not interested in whatever has fluked its way into upper left of this shot.

Up and away. Wee glare for intruding photographer. Off to rustle up a grasshopper or two?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Lorikeet, Crested Grebe go it alone

Many birds appear happy with their own company, but it was a surprise to see usually extremely sociable Rainbow Lorikeet (Trichoglossus haematodus) feeding alone in a Euodia (Corkwood) for three days.

Noticed it never flew from branch to branch in its tree beside the Tyto lookout shelter. Perhaps it couldn't fly? Also, very trusting. Perhaps part tame? Several lengthy chats with the bird didn't resolve questions. No sign of it today. Maybe just a happy loner.

Much less common species in Tyto, but often a loner, Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus) floated into distant view yesterday. First sighting for more then two years. Waited for an hour. Bird began paddling nearer. The only other two people in Tyto all morning wandered innocently along. Bird skittered off to other end of lagoon. No sign of it today. One bird. One tick. One year or two till next?

Friday, February 12, 2010

Rough guide to snake safety

Triply lucky today at small local wetlands. Come close to stepping on grey-barred snake snoozing on rain-saturated track. Quick picture.

Step around and line up more composed shots. Snake tastes air. Acknowledges intrusion. Slowly eases into action. Slips gently away into longer grass. Resist urge to pat it goodbye.

Happy in ignorance. Assume it's an oddly marked non-venomous Keelback, though scales don't look right. Into town. Bump into snake breeder. Relate grey barring. Show pictures.

Rough-scaled Snake (Tropidechus carinatus), says breeder. Why didn't I capture it? (snakers are not like you and me!). Pretty easy answer to that one. Dangerously venomous, says Reptiles of Australia. Guidebook picture unlike in markings and colours, but head tells story.

Lucky to see snake, lucky it stuck around for pictures, lucky to forgo farewell pat.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Winged whingers and sweeter singers

Tawny Grassbird (Megalurus timoriensis) perches high during 10-minute burst of persistent calling with partner in Tyto.

Most members of the species most of the time sound somewhat aggrieved: two in 'concert' top the bill as winged whingers. Totally unfair to the birds, of course.

Elsewhere, Horsfield's Bushlark (Mirafra javanica) decorates roadside barbed wire and adds sweet song series to the morning. But Bushlarks always sound happy.

All human nonsense of course, sound alone often being unreliable guide to birds' state of mind. Just as high praise for the 'beauty' of other birds' songs is unfair to lesser songsters. It's all in the mind, you know!

Also mostly in the mind, fear of snakes. Above, young Red-bellied Black Snake (Pseudechis porphyriacus) intent on a scent trail. After spotting snake I crawled toward it, hoping for action closeup, perhaps even threat display. Didn't happen. Snake ignored me until I was about 1.5 metres off (minimum focus for 300mm lens) and then sped off down a weedy bank. I know snakes aren't for everyone, but such meetings are fun. So long as there's no risk of harm to snake or to me!

Monday, February 8, 2010

'Gitting' hot on trail of Zitting

Getting hotter hunting for Zitting Cisticolas (Cisticola juncidis). Spent three steamy hours on Saturday morning stalking grasslands in 35+Celsius in hope of closeups of the hard-to-find species. Once found, their movements when foraging have proved unpredictable. So, huge stroke of luck to get one shot of bird with small grasshopper.

Less luck but lots of patience listening and watching along the fences brought two fair looks at a possibly immature bird on the barbed wire.

First impressions from a few weeks back of three pairs occupying distinct small territories along a three-kilometre stretch of unsealed road appear confirmed by Saturday's sightings - presuming the immature bird to be a near independent product of one pair.

The Zittings share the grassland insects with more numerous Golden-headed Cisticolas (Cisticola exilis - above), and Horsfield's Bushlarks and Australasian Pipits. A slight puzzle, given their fence-posing habits and greater numbers, is the extreme wariness of the Pipits in comparison with the other three species.

And just to show one is not obsessed by birds here's a soft-image dragonfly struggling in the non-cooling breeze to stay attached to a flowering grass. Unpictured: a few hundred grey Brahman types, none of which has shown any interest in bird photography.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Lucky strike with Cuckoo-shrike

Seeing few White-bellied Cuckoo-shrikes (Coracina papuensis) at present so got lucky catching one battering unidentified prey - probably a tree cricket - against branch in Tyto Wetlands yesterday. Many insectivores go to some effort to smash wings off their prey. This bird surprised by not bothering to de-wing catch before downing it in one gulp.

Another unlikely catch came today with White-throated Honeyeater (Melithreptus albogularis). Bird persisted in feeding from Euodia flowers in spite of much harassment from a pair of proprietorial Brown-backed Honeyeaters. White-throateds only rarely venture into Tyto, though they are common enough in some town gardens. Less common is the odd upright pose of above bird. Picture best of a bad lot.

Also best of bad series - because taken from distance - shot of Comb-crested Jacana (Irediparra gallinacea) with wings at full upward stretch upon takeoff in Tyto today. Lovely play of light and subtlety of blacks drew me in to this picture.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Pictures less than perfect

Picture perfect is an ideal often leading (as ideals do) to perverse extremes. Fear not, no tirade follows against the ism of your choice, not even perfectionism. Of which, to my knowledge, I've never been accused, rightly, given lack of any evidence. But I do wish birds wouldn't besot with their beauty before hiding their lights behind bushels of bushes and branches when the camera comes out. Above picture of Little Bronze-Cuckoo (Chalcites minutillus) gets bird looking awkward on wrong side of perch; tail part obscured by branch.

Little Pied Cormorant (Microcarba melanoleucos) at first almost seemed to be wearing necklace, then shifted and rather ruined (my mind's eye) picture.

Wandering Whistling-Duck (Dendrocygna arcuata) gets one feather out of place over face and image should have been waved goodbye.

Peaceful Dove (Geopelia striata) looks okay, but lifts a foot and develops case of the shakes.

As always, there's always tomorrow...

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...