Sunday, 13 August 2017

White-necked Heron


Sometimes you can go for months without seeing a white-necked (Pacific) heron. Then, like buses, three turn up at once*

At Musgrave, Cape York Peninsula.


 At Ormiston Gorge, west of Alice Springs.


And at Hasties Swamp, near Atherton.




* Where at once = over the period of two months in three different places**

** Much like buses

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Spotting Catbirds


No reason for this post other than I am very fond of these noisy, rambunctious birds.


Especially as the male brush-turkey has now taken against them and charges if they are on the ground. He also does this to the emerald doves, so I'm not sure if he's antagonistic to all other birds or is just seeing red over green.


Saturday, 5 August 2017

Bollywood! (No, not that one.)

I'm on the road at the moment, with limited internet access, so I'll be posting some photos I've taken through the first half of the year.


Towards the end of the dry season, white bollywood or bollygum (Neolitsea dealbata) produces new growth so pale that it is almost luminous. It is a species that favours disturbance and is abundant at the rainforest's edge. At my place, it lines the driveway. On sunny days, the light makes the leaves look like bunting; coming home is a celebration.


The first signs of new leaves are these candles.


New leaves are covered in dense white hairs. The youngest leaves are almost all down (see first photo), but as they grow, the hairs are more widely spaced and the surface appears smoother. 


Leaves go through colour changes as they mature. Although not as showy as those of lillipillies (Syzygium and allies), bollywood leaves have their own subtle charm.


Tree kangaroos sometimes get stuck into the foliage at this stage. They will often return to the same tree every few days to eat the next batch.


Fine hairs are distributed along the twigs. This is a young stem. The hairs are not so obvious in older growth, where they tend to be worn and covered in lichen and moss.


In contrast to the shiny dark green of the upper surface, the undersides of mature leaves are pale. As are the aphids.


The flowers are modest, but the tree produces a lot of small, berry-shaped fruit, which might, in fact, be berries. Or might not, because 'berry' has a specific meaning in botany and I've never got the hang of it. One of bollywood's (many) alternative common names* is pigeon-berry. Frugivorous birds, including bowerbirds, and wompoos and topknot pigeons, love the fruit, and will stuff their faces with it. If you are planning to plant a few of these trees — and they are very attractive at the new growth stage — this is something to consider. The seeds germinate easily and could end up as a problem outside their natural range, which is is rainforest and wet sclerophyll from the tip of Cape York Peninsula south to about Wollongong.

* Don't get me started. Again.





Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Jottings from the Tropics: 1 August 2017


It's been cool and wet lately. This has discouraged the brown tree snakes, but encouraged the northern/eastern/settle on a common name long-eared bats (Nyctophilus bifax). While the snakes are inactive, they roost wherever they like and stay in that spot for extended periods.


They seem to get on well. But sometimes they behave like quarreling siblings.


- o O o -

I was working in the office, when I heard a commotion upstairs. A bird had flown into the house and couldn't find its way out again. So far this year, a Lewin's honeyeater and a little shrike-thrush have done the same. This was a bulkier bird. And the swish of taffeta ballgown told me it was a male Victoria's riflebird.


The windows must have confused him. The panes are small; many of them are coloured red or green and are made of rippled glass. They presented him with an unusual perspective.

I placed some banana on the window sill to lure him out. But as soon as I stepped back, the female riflebird swooped in from the forest and carried it away.

A second piece of banana worked and a short while later he was sitting on the carport roof, sharing it with a Lewin's honeyeater. Perhaps they were exchanging war stories.


During his brief time in the house, he had visited several rooms. I spent the rest of the afternoon cleaning up riflebird poo.


- o O o -

After years without much travelling — shopping in Atherton doesn't count — I've been out and about. So far this year, I've visited Bruny Island, Cooktown, Iron Range, and Alice Springs. I've organised a few more trips for the remainder of 2017, including the Blue Mountains, SW Victoria, and Broome, with return journeys to Alice Springs and Cooktown.

The Quite a Few Birds list is currently up to 278 species. That includes a substantial number of lifers, most of which were from Iron Range.I reckon I'll reach my goal of 300 species before the end of the year!

My diary for 2018 is already full.

Friday, 28 July 2017

What's brown & white and swims in circles?


Almost everything at Hasties Swamp at the moment is a plumed whistling-duck. That's not a complaint; plumed whistling-ducks are the finest of our two three I don't know how many resident species of whistling-ducks. And here's the obligatory photo of a plumed whistling-duck gazing into the middle distance.


But there's more to the swamp than plumed whistling-ducks. There are plenty of magpie geese, a fair number of hardheads, and a few white-necked herons, Australian white ibis, swamphens and moorhens around at the moment. And pink-eared ducks (Malacorhynchus membranaceus), which are the best ducks. Just look at them.


Pink-ears are also called zebra ducks, because of their annual migration across the Serengeti. Alternatively, it might have something to do with the coloration.


They're common but —

Honestly, why would you name a bird for its least conspicuous feature? Zebra duck, small stripey duck, flappy-billed duck, whirly duck...All of these are more descriptive than pink-eared duck. I don't care that the tiny splash of pink is due to carotenoids in the feathers, which is so unusual in Anseriformes that it's a subject of academic study*. It looks as though someone's left the cap off a highlighter pen. Common names ...pfft. Don't get me started on brown honeyeaters and rainforest tamarinds.

— nomadic, often following the floods.

They feed on small invertebrates and algae, which they filter out of the water using lamellae on the edge of the bill. The duck on the bottom left is doing just that.


Often, two or more ducks swim together in a circle in a behaviour known as vortexing. This stirs up and concentrates food, working to both birds' advantage.



It also entertains the whistling-ducks.



* Thomas, DB, et al. (2014) Ancient origins and multiple appearances of carotenoid-pigmented feathers in birds. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, Biological Sciences 281 

Monday, 24 July 2017

Water in the Desert


Immediately after the Iron Range trip, I went to Alice Springs with a bird photography group led by Mark Carter, David Stowe and Henry Cook. One of the sites we visited was a dam SW of Alice Springs. It was the only reliable water for a long way, so we decided to stake it out.

These grey teal had already claimed their spot.


This Australian hobby had the same idea.


It didn't take long before the birds started to arrive. There were plenty of zebra finches. They might be abundant, both in the wild and in aviaries, but I still think they are gorgeous little things.



A small flock of budgies flew over, but most didn't settle. Luckily for us, a few rugged individuals peeled away from the mob and joined the zebra finches.


There were also grey-headed honeyeaters...



crested pigeons...


and galahs.


This grey butcherbird must have picked up some tips from the hobby, because moments after I took this photo, it flew straight into a flock of zebra finches.


But it didn't have much luck. Good news for the finches, not so good for the butcherbird.


Sunday, 23 July 2017

Fastidious Bowerbird


The tooth-billed bowerbirds usually ignore the shallow bird bath in favour of a deeper and more secluded one in the corner of the garden. But with the onset of dry weather (it's been four days since rain!), this bird has visited both. I have to refill this after he's splashed around for a while.


And sometimes he even shares with a friend. In this case, it's an eastern whipbird.


Between them, they leave scarcely enough water for the grey fantails.




The fantails are keen to let me know when the water level's low or there are foreign feathers floating in their bath, but they always struggle through.