Wednesday, 29 April 2015

A NEW BIRD FOR KEW

I haven't had much time for birding lately, but I usually manage to find time for my morning walk.  This morning, I saw a new species for my walk lists.  It was a Collared Sparrowhawk, not something you see every day in the suburbs.

I don't have a photo of a Collared Sparrowhawk, so here's a picture of me learning how to band a bird, taken a couple of weeks ago by Dena Paris, the girl who was teaching me.

I was delighted to add a new species to my walk list this morning, on the last day of April.  The last new species I saw was, strangely enough, on the last day of March.  It was an Eastern Spinebill.  I began to wonder how many more new birds I might see.

There are, I am told, many formulae for estimating the total number of bird species in a patch.  One devised by Chao goes like this:  the total number of species is equal to the number that you've seen, plus the number of species you've seen once, squared, divided by double the number that you've seen twice.

I've seen a total of 34 species on my morning walks, just five of them only once.  These are Black-faced Cuckoo-Shrike, Australian White Ibis, White-plumed Honeyeater and the aforementioned spinebill and sparrowhawk.  I've also seen five species twice:  Silver Gull, Musk Lorikeet, Australian Raven, Masked Lapwing and Pacific Black Duck.  So, according to Chao, the total number of species here should be:  34 + (5 x 5) / (2 x 5) = 34 + 25/10 = 34 + 2.5 = 36.5.  Now I'm looking forward to seeing those extra 2.5 species!  It will be fascinating to see how long it takes me.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

GREY SHRIKE-THRUSH: A MIMIC

Grey Shrike-thrush, a mimic
Last week, Rog and I spent an enjoyable couple of days around Rutherglen.  Unfortunately, our car demanded a new battery, so my birding was thwarted a little, and I couldn't get to all my favourite spots.

I walked around Lake King, strolled around Wonga Wetlands, visited Wahgunyah, checked out Chiltern No 1 and 2 dams, and had a quick look around Cyanide Dam.  Then I ran out of time.  There were two highlights:  Sunday Creek at Wahgunyah and a mimicking Grey Shrike-thrush at Chiltern No 2 dam.

Jim O'Toole, a Rutherglen bird photographer, (who, I'm delighted to say, I met because of this blog) took me to Pfeiffer's in Wahgunyah, where Azure Kingfishers had nested recently.  Sunday Creek flows behind Pfeiffer's cellar door and Pfeiffer's use the bridge over the creek as a great spot for functions.  A large tree has recently fallen into the creek, and the kingfishers nested in the soil clinging to its bole.  What a tiny hole they used!  They had finished nesting when I was there, but Jim and I stood on the bridge, hoping that a tell-tale flash of azure blue would alert us to the bird's presence.
Jim O'Toole's photo of the dove with its eggs
While we waited, we admired a Peaceful Dove which had nested in the dead branches of the fallen tree, quite safe from ground predators in the middle of the creek.  We watched as one dove came to replace the other on the nest, and had a glimpse of the two round white eggs they were incubating.  It was good to be able to look down on a dove's nest for a change.

We had other things to amuse us too:  Brown Treecreepers, Willie Wagtails, Red-browed Finches, ducks, cormorants and platypus.  Then, finally, our patience was rewarded:  a flash of blue landed on the dead tree.  I gasped involuntarily.  Azure Kingfishers always take my breath away.  Thank you, Jim!
Jim O'Toole's Azure Kingfisher


The other highlight was at No 2 dam.  There's always something good at the gate here.  On this occasion, it was a vocal Mistletoebird.  I walked the track to the bird hide, and along the way accumulated a list of some 15 species.  Dusky Woodswallows were everywhere.  At the hide, I could hear Black-chinned and Fuscous Honeyeaters.  Then I heard a bird I could not identify.  I tracked it down and discovered it was a Grey Shrike-thrush, but it was not making a thrush call.  It was mimicking, something I had not witnessed before.  Unfortunately, the thrush did not appreciate my attention and flew away.

As soon as I was home, I reached for my HANZAB.  Alec Chisholm did a lot of work on birds mimicking, going back to the 1930's and sure enough, he had several reports of Grey Shrike-thrushes mimicking both at rest and while feeding.  There were just two other reports:  one from someone called Bridgewater in 1933, who reported that a thrush copied a possum squeal and one from someone called Jackson in 1995 saying that a thrush mimicked a Golden Whistler in the Big Desert.

Clearly, I had seen something which has not been reported a great deal.  I'm sorry that I did not see and hear more.

There's always something interesting in the Rutherglen district.  I can't wait to go back.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

DO WE WANT TO BURN CHILTERN/MT PILOT NATIONAL PARK?

I was horrified to see this notice last week at Cyanide Dam (or Honeyeater Picnic Area if you prefer) in the Chiltern/Mt Pilot National Park.

Apparently someone thinks it is a good idea to burn this beautiful bush for 'both fuel management and ecological reasons.'  

I don't!

I understand that there is pressure on the Department of Environment and Primary Industries to burn a certain area of Victoria each year to meet 'fuel reduction' targets.  I do hope that the Chiltern/Mt Pilot National Park (or any other national park or, indeed, any patch of Crown land) is not being burnt simply to meet some academic target.  I see no reason to burn this land.  I see no benefit at all.  I can certainly imagine many creatures being terrified, injured and killed.  For what gain?  So that this bit of bush that's been burnt now, won't be burnt next summer?

I wonder if they'd dare to put a match to it, if there were Regent Honeyeaters or Turquoise Parrots nesting there at the moment?  Perhaps they wouldn't care.

I wonder if all the bureaucrats are in agreement on this, or if there is more than one opinion within the Department.  I wonder if the people proposing to burn this National Park love this countryside as I do, or if they regard it as inferior bush 'not as good as rainforest' as one bureaucrat said to me once.

I wonder if all the politicians agree that this is a good idea.

I'm sorry that I cannot do something to stop this desecration.


Wednesday, 11 March 2015

WONDERFUL WERRIBEE AGAIN

Yesterday, I visited the Western Treatment Plant at Werribee for the first time this year.  It was wonderful, as usual.  The sun shone, the birds foraged and the company was great.  I didn't see any rarities, but I certainly saw lots of birds.  There were still plenty of waders, mainly stints, but Sharp-tailed and Curlew Sandpipers too.  I saw about twenty Great Crested Grebes (aren't they funny?) and more Cape Barren Geese than I've ever seen at Werribee.  Shelduck were in their thousands, still moulting I presume, and Pink-eared Ducks that disappeared a few months ago were present again, in a safe haven away from shooters.  I hope they stay there.

There were more people present than I'd expected on a weekday in March and for the first time this century, I was questioned by a Melbourne Water employee.  Charming he was too, and I didn't have my permit with me!

Friends from Canberra came down and gave us the excuse to spend a day at the sewage farm.  Roger Williams is a superb photographer (he has photos in Best 100 Birdwatching Sites in Australia) and Jane Wright, his delightful wife, is an entomologist. 

Jane watches birds, while the two Rogers chat.
We saw one Little Egret, and Roger and Jane saw one Blue-billed Duck.  They also saw a couple of Little Grassbirds that I wasn't quick enough to pick up.  We saw two Brolgas and just two Fairy Martins remained amongst the thousands of Welcome Swallows.  Like the swallows, most birds came in big numbers.  There were multitudinous Musk Ducks, innumerable raptors and one absolutely enormous flock of Little Black Cormorants.  We saw several Yellow-billed Spoonbills, and many more Royals than usual.  Cisticolas sat up and sang for us, and Banded Stilts entertained us as we lunched at the Borrow Pits.

As for the best bird of the day, it's always hard to go past a Red-necked Avocet.  But the cisticola was cute.  And the Great Crested Grebes were amusing.  And. . .

Saturday, 7 March 2015

ANOTHER GREAT DAY AT THE YOU YANGS

Jacky Winter
Yesterday, a group of happy birders enjoyed another great day at the You Yangs Regional Park (site 31).  We gather four times a year to pull out boneseed (an invasive South African weed) and we go home feeling virtuous for having performed a civic duty, when in fact we've had a wonderful time birding.
Beautiful bush at the You Yangs

There were about a dozen of us yesterday.  The first birds we saw flying over the car park as we arrived were a flock of Rainbow Bee-eaters, making their characteristic metallic calls.  We had very good looks at them during the day and they are really very beautiful birds.  The frogmouths were not in residence near the office and sadly, we could not find them anywhere.  We made up for this deficiency with a mixed flock feeding close by.  I counted seven species, but could not find a honeyeater amongst them.  What I saw were:  Buff-rumped, Brown and Yellow Thornbills, Weebills, Silvereyes, Grey Fantails and Superb Fairy-wrens.  Everywhere we looked, small birds were foraging.

Next we saw a female Rufous Whistler with a large caterpillar in her beak, then several very colourful Spotted Pardalotes and one self-assertive Jacky Winter.  We saw and heard Grey Shrike-thrushes and a noisy flock of White-winged Choughs, and had great views of soaring Wedge-tailed Eagles. Both New Holland and Black-chinned Honeyeaters enjoyed the flowering mistletoe and we had lovely views of one friendly female Scarlet Robin.  A flock of Varied Sittellas capped off our birdwatching.

I had a birdlist of 29 species, although others saw birds I missed out on (Golden Whistler, Willie Wagtail, Yellow-faced Honeyeater).

The picnic table where we routinely have lunch was covered in soldier beetles, as was the surrounding ground, branches and posts.  I believe it would be no exaggeration to say there were hundreds of thousands of them, most of them locked in a tender embrace.  Unfortunately they are not tasty, and no birds benefited from this plague of insects.

The You Yangs Regional Park is 55 kilometres south-west of Melbourne, off the Geelong Road via the township of Little River.  All members of Birdlife Australia are welcome to come and help us pull out boneseed, and to enjoy a spot of birding with like-minded companions.  You too can get a virtuous glow after spending a day in the bush.

Friday, 27 February 2015

FEBRUARY 2015


Goodness!  What happened to February?  Suddenly it's gone, never to be seen again.  Worse - I did no birding at all!  I visited Wilson Reserve a few times hoping that the Powerful Owl might have returned to her occasional roost, but I had no luck with that.  Today, when I'd hoped to be out on the waters beyond Wollongong seeking White-necked Petrels, I'm here at my computer writing this.  My total bird count for the month of February was 34.  In all my years of record keeping I've never had such a low count.  March must be better.

I have done my daily walks but there were no surprises in any direction.  I recorded magpies, Rainbow Lorikeets and Spotted Doves on every walk.  I missed Red Wattlebirds just once, Noisy Miners twice and Grey Butcherbirds and Little Ravens just three times.  I recorded a Long-billed Corella and an Eastern Rosella just once, Welcome Swallow and Common Starling twice and a Spotted Pardalote three times.

The sad news is that my Willie Wagtail family seems to have disappeared.  I used to see them reliably on my north walk, but they did not put in an appearance at all for the whole of February.  

The weather has been lovely here this summer - thankfully not too hot.  Now the signs of autumn are beginning to appear.  Young magpies have been experimenting with subsong and I saw my first autumn flock of Little Ravens this week.

I started my daily directional bird counts last spring.  It will be interesting to see if autumn produces any noteworthy differences.  Whatever happens, I simply must go birding in March.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

MY MORNING WALK

This morning I completed my 100th walk:  that is to say, I have walked 25 times to the north, 25 to the south, 25 to the east and 25 to the west of my home in suburban Kew, keeping a birdlist on each occasion.  The purpose of the walk is to keep fit; the purpose of the birdlist is to add interest.

I saw a total of 32 species of birds.  The clear and unambiguous winner was the Australian Magpie, which I recorded on 99 of my 100 walks.  Other birds that achieved a high distinction were Rainbow Lorikeet, Red Wattlebird and Common Myna (all on 96%), Spotted Dove (95%) and Noisy Miner (91%).  I'm delighted that the magpie won, and I suppose that there's nothing wrong with a Red Wattlebird.  The less said about the other winners the better.


Galah - just 6 sightings during 100 walks
After that cluster of birds scoring in the 90's, there was only one in the 80's (the Little Raven at 84), then one in the 60's (Common Blackbird at 68, mainly in spring), then the Brown Thornbill at 52% (30 of these records were heard, not seen) and the Grey Butcherbird at 49% (23 heard).  I was surprised to see that the Magpie-lark scored just 41%; I'd have thought I saw these birds more often than that.  And the Pied Currawong also:  he came in at 36% and, if asked, I'd have said he was around much more frequently than that indicates.  Just shows, you can't trust your memory, or, at least, I can't trust mine.

Next came the Little Wattlebird on 33 (19 heard), Welcome Swallow (29%), Common Starling (28%, mainly north), Feral and Crested Pigeon (both 23, the latter mainly south) and (my very favourite bird) the Willie Wagtail at 22, exclusively on north walks.

If I was disappointed at the low number of records for the Magpie-lark, I was delighted to see Sulphur-crested Cockatoos at 18 (17 of them north).  Cockies are not an every day occurrence in this part of suburban Melbourne.

I saw Eastern Rosellas on 8 occasions and Galahs on 6.  Long-billed Corellas were recorded 5 times.  I saw Red-rumped Parrots three times (all north walks) and Pacific Black Ducks, Masked Lapwings and Silver Gulls just twice.  White-plumed Honeyeaters, Australian Ravens, Black-faced Cuckoo-shrikes, White Ibis and Musk Lorikeets were all recorded just once.

I do wish I'd kept these records in years gone by.  My memory is that we had greater diversity before the Noisy Miners moved in, but alas, that remark is now just anecdotal.

I'm hoping that when I have accumulated more data, I will be able to detect seasonal movements.  If asked, I'd have said that the butcherbird was more vocal in winter, but my records do not support this at the moment.

Whether or not I am gathering any useful information, there is no doubt that I am making my morning walk far more interesting and that's a good thing.