Monday, November 30, 2009

Simpson Desert

I have published my blog entries as a Blurb book - not that this is necessarily what you'll be getting for Christmas, family and friends.

Stone Cottages

Black-chinned Honeyeater (Wilpinjong)

Painted Honeyeater (Wilpinjong)

Diamond Firetail (Baerami)

Not great images, but my first sightings of these birds with a camera in hand. I spent the weekend at the Goulburn River Stone Cottages with some fellow birdos. While there were plenty of birds just outside the cottage door, it was also a perfect base to explore some of the great birding areas in the Mudgee region - the visitor information centre in Mudgee provides a useful Bird Routes pamphlet.

Some of the notable spots are Munghorn Gap with over 160 species recorded including the endangered regent honeyeater; the Drip, home to the origma or rock warbler; the White Box Camp in Goulburn River National Park for painted honeyeaters; and Stony Creek for diamond firetails. We found great birds all along the Wollar Road with a group of seven wedge-tailed eagles roosting on the edge of mine tailings, a variety of honeyeaters along the creek beds, musk lorikeets feeding on flowering gums, and rufous whistlers calling from every vantage point. The area is also home to the only wild emus in the Sydney basin.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

HiFert, Kooragang Is.

After yesterday's scorching temperatures were promised to be repeated today, we walked early. Lots of little birds singing pre-dawn, cisticolas and fairywrens, finches, scrub wrens, and of course house sparrows.
Just after sun-up a large group of Brown Honeyeaters flew in, feeding and bickering on the gymea lillies.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Hunter Wetlands Centre

Formally regarded as a subspecies of the Great Egret, Ardea alba, the Eastern Great Egret was recently elevated to full species status, Ardea modesta.

Avian taxonomy is no simple thing, complicated by the fact that there are a number of taxonomic authorities who do not necessarily agree on what to name a particular bird, and there are people who have known a bird by a particular name and are reluctant to change what they call it. Avibase gives the major authorities and their various scientic and common names for a species. Past taxonomy has been based on appearance, behavior, habitat, nest characteristics, etc., but most recently DNA hybridization techniques have been used with probably the most accurate results of any method.

Class: Aves
Order: Ciconiiformes
Family: Ardeidae
Genus: Ardea
Species: Modesta
Common Name: Eastern Great Egret

Whatever they are called, they are currently nesting at the Hunter Wetlands Centre and are busy fighting, making love, and building nests in a large colony in the paperbark swamp.

Newcastle Ocean Baths

Great Crested Tern, Common Turn

I met up with Maureen and Alwyn early morning at the Newcastle Ocean Baths, the rocks behind which are a popular roost for gulls, terns and the smaller waders. The tide was high and many of the birds had moved to the sands of the wading pool, called the Canoe Pool. This pool has a map of the world on its base, now covered by sand, but old photos show the pool jammed with small boys in canoes circumnavigating the world.

While Birdline NSW reported up to 250 common terns roosting here last week, today there were about 50, with 14 ruddy turnstones, 100 crested tern, and a sprinkling of silver gulls. One of the common terns was banded with an orange flag on the right leg and a silver band on the left.

An agreed flagging protocol for the East-Asian Australasian Flyway, means any country, or even region within a country, can join in the research project and that, unlike with banding/ringing, the bird does not have to be re-caught to find out in which region it has been banded. An orange flag means that the bird was flagged in Victoria, Australia. The Australian Bird & Bat Banding Scheme (ABBBS) has been banding Common terns since 1955. Band GR27710, banded in May 1956 at Copeland Islands, U.K. was recovered after twelve and a half years at Kow Swamp, Victoria having travelled 16,256 km.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Sandy Hollow

The Black Honeyeater usually ranges in the West of NSW, so the lengthy stay of a group of them in the Hunter valley has aroused a bit of interest. Bird Data has no entries in the area. It took three visits to get a half-way decent photo as rain, dark grey skies, and the fact that they are small fast birds that tend to feed at the top of a dense tree with lots of leaves and scraggly branches, all conspired against the photographer.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

HBOC meeting

At last night's meeting the guest speaker was Dr Mike Newman, sharing elements of his findings in the Australian Pied Oystercatcher Project 1977- 2009. Longitudinal studies are expensive and present logistical difficulties for professional researchers, however amateur ornithologists can make important contributions in enabling these studies.

The research found that adult Australian Pied Oystercatchers show extreme faithfulness to their breeding area despite an increase in recreational disturbance, and in the case of some pairs, continuous breeding failure. These findings have implications for planned developments in Oystercatcher nesting areas.

Mike's presentation featured the photographs of Alan Fletcher.

The Australian Pied Oystercatcher Heamatopus longirostris is restricted to Australia, Southern New Guinea and the Aru Islands. There is no evidence of recent declines in the most important parts of the species’ range in Tasmania or Victoria but the northern New South Wales population is in decline. The main current and potential threats include coastal development, habitat loss, human recreation disturbance, fox predation, clam harvesting, kelp harvesting from sandy shores and rising sea levels with an increased incidence of storm surges associated with global climate change.


Apostlebirds always come in small groups of 12 or 13 birds following a charismatic leader.

OK so the bit about the leader isn't true, but they do seem to form communal groups of around 10 to 12 birds. The group has a dominant male and several females and young birds.

In its own genus (Struthidea cinerea) it is placed in the family known as the mud-nest builders or Corcoracidae, with the White-winged Chough (Corcorax melanorhamphos), which differs in appearance but exhibits many behavioural similarities. The two birds are often found foraging near each other along country roadsides. The natural range is across inland eastern Australia, in dry forests or woodland near water. As a kid I knew them as Happy Jacks, they were also called CWA Birds, though I can't think why.

Apostlebird facts:

  • Apostlebirds are a communal species with each family group generally containing only one breeding pair, the rest being their helper offspring.

  • All family members help construct a labour-intensive mud nest.

  • If a previous season’s nest is in good condition, it is re-lined and used again.

  • Emu dung is used as a substitute for mud in dry years.

  • Apostlebirds become excited after rain even outside the breeding season, picking up mud and running about with it.

  • Chick raising tasks including brooding, feeding and removing faecal sacs are evenly shared by all birds.

  • The group can begin a second clutch in another nest within one week of the first brood leaving the nest.

  • They engorge their irides with blood when excited.

  • Groups remain within their territories, which averaged 25 ha though during the heat of summer, several groups congregate close to a permanent water supply.

  • Apostlebirds feed on the ground, gathering a variety of insects such as grasshoppers, weevils, shield-bugs and ants; they also eat a wide range of small seeds

  • Allopreening is common within the groups and several birds frequently sit side by side on a branch, preening both themselves and one another.

  • They roost side by side, usually touching.

Chapman, G., The Social Life of the Apostlebird Struthidea cinerea Emu. Vol. 98, no. 3, pp. 178-183. Sep 1998.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Nyngan, NSW

Originally intending to drive on to Cobar, we stopped at Nyngan to check birds in the riverside park. The sun was out, the birds were in abundance, and the next-door, dog-welcoming caravan park beckoned. We pitched our tents beside the river, tired the dogs with a quick fetch/swim game and went for a walk.

When I spotted these two young Australian Magpies I thought one was injured, but it turned out they were playing like a pair of puppies.

Play is much better understood in mammals than in birds, but birds exhibit a range of play behaviours including object manipulation (tosss and catch), acoustic activities (wierd noises), locomotory play (funny walks) and social play. The corvids exhibit the most complex play known in birds, and these activities are probably part of the learning process for young birds, helping them to adapt to a wide range of situations.

Ficken's study found patterns in the types of avian play consistent with that of mammals. She concluded that orders with mostly altricial species tend to exhibit more play, especially social play, than do orders with precocial species, and that object play is most common play behaviour, especially in raptors.

Ficken, Millicent S. "Avian Play" The Auk, Vol. 94, No. 3 (Jul., 1977), pp. 573-582

Warren STW

Red-Kneed Dotterel

The settlement ponds in Warren and the lagoons known as Tiger Bay are conveniently arranged both sides of the highway through town. Apart from the olfactory assault that is a usual part of birding in an STW it was a rather pleasant spot with trees around the lagoon, raised paths and good views.

We stopped here on the way to and from Nyngan, turning off the Golden Highway at Dunedoo, and driving through Gilgandra rather than travelling through Dubbo.

Brown Treecreepers were plentiful, and vocal, entertaining us with their antics. Lots of ducks, and several raptors. We were planning to drive west until we found sunshine, and by Warren it had stopped raining and the sun was promising to break through. Two days later there was not a cloud in the sky.

Bird list:

Black Swan
Australian Wood Duck
Pink-eared Duck
Grey Teal
Pacific Black Duck
Australasian Grebe
Crested Pigeon
Little Black Cormorant
Straw-necked Ibis
Yellow-billed Spoonbill
Whistling Kite
Nankeen Kestrel
Black Kite
Purple Swamphen
Black-winged Stilt
Black-fronted Dotterel
Red-kneed Dotterel
Masked Lapwing
Whiskered Tern
Red-winged Parrot
Red-rumped Parrot
Laughing Kookaburra
Brown Treecreeper
Spotted Bowerbird
Superb Fairy-wren
Yellow-rumped Thornbill
Pied Currawong
Willie Wagtail
Australian Raven
Australian Reed-Warbler
Welcome Swallow

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Walka Waterworks

Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo
Little Corella


Red-rumped Parrot

Eastern Rosella

Rainbow Lorikeet

It was Psittacidae Day at the Walka Waterworks on Monday.

Waiting for Maureen I got some great photos of a Yellow-rumped Thornbill who picked a paralysis tick out of the grass just a metre from me. We then set out to walk around the lake hoping to find nesting grebes, or better yet grebes with babies on their backs. We saw all three grebes, but no babies, though the musk duckling almost made up for that. There were a few bush birds, but it was way too hot to pursue them. We encountered two snakes on the path, Maureen almost stepping on an Eastern Brown as she searched the treetops for rarities.

Back at the car park, we were re-hydrating when the parrots started to fly in. It was hard to know where to point the camera. The antics of the cockatoos and corellas won out though as they tried to land on precarious perches in an increasingly stiff wind.

Walka Waterworks

Not a lot is known about Musk Duck's breeding habits. The breeding season varies with rainfall and waterlevels, but is typically between July and January, with the greatest number of clutches laid in September or October. The female chooses a secluded spot and builds a rough nest from trampled reeds, pulling more reeds over the nest to form a canopy. Clutch size is unknown but believed to be around 3 or 4 eggs. In most cases only one chick survives. They hatch already covered in dark brown down and are able to swim straight away, and dive within a few days.
This little guy was very cute. We didn't see him riding on his mum, but he followed her closely, diving at one point, and endearingly rising up to flap his tiny wings.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Hunter Wetlands Centre

Cattle Egret in breeding plumage

The Birds Australia annual fund-raising Twitchathon takes place on the last weekend of October each year. It's a bird watching competition in which teams are sponsored to see as many birds as they can in 24 hours. The money raised goes towards a bird conservation project. The Hunter Bird Observers Club has been very successful in the past, taking out both 1st and 2nd in 2008.
The twitchers were to report at the Hunter Wetlands so Maureen and I went out for the day, to check out the early arriving egrets for the breeding season and hear the reports. Counts have yet to be ratified, but it seems that HBOCers did very well again, perhaps setting a new record.
Some teams covered hundreds of kilometres to get their sightings, though I believe the excessive all-nighters of past years are now prohibited. Still it might be interesting to follow the lead of the Bigby birders and have a carbon-neutral section in the competition - where once you commence the count you remain entirely self-propelled until concluding the count.

Bird list:

Magpie Goose
Black Swan
Pacific Black Duck
Grey Teal
Chestnut Teal
Australasian Grebe
Pied Cormorant
Little Black Cormorant
Australian Pelican
White faced Heron
Great Egret
Intermediate Egret
Cattle Egret
Australian White Ibis
Royal Spoonbill
Whistling Kite
Swamp Harrier
Buff-banded Rail
Purple Swamphen
Dusky Moorhen
Black-tailed Native Hen
Eurasian Coot
Crested Pigeon
Rainbow Lorikeet
Musk Lorikeet
Eastern Rosella
Fan tailed Cuckoo
Channel billed Cuckoo
Laughing Kookaburra
Superb Fairywren
White-browed Scrubwren
Yellow-rumped Thornbill
Yellow Thornbill
Red Wattlebird
Noisy Miner
White-cheeked Honeyeater
Brown Honeyeater
Golden Whistler
Grey Fantail
Willie Wagtail
Spangled Drongo
Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike
Grey Butcherbird
Australian Magpie
Pied Currawong
Australian Raven
Red-browed Finch
Welcome Swallow
Australian Reed-warbler
Golden headed Cisticola
Common Starling
Common Myna

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Nobby's Beach

Walking on Nobby's I sadly came across around a dozen dead and dying Short-tailed Shearwaters. It was difficult to know what to do, but even more difficult to do nothing. Those that were being tossed by the tide I moved out of the water, but I knew I was only delaying the inevitable. Birdline NSW reports dozens dead on Whale Beach. It is believed that starvation and exhaustion on the birds' southerly migrations are the main causes of these deaths. Adults migrate south to their breeding islands during October, and have little to eat on the way. If they meet strong winds, the weaker birds are unable to reach their breeding grounds and end up as casualties along our coast.
The rest of the morning was a little happier; wagtails sang in my garden, grass parrots ate dandelions on the nature strip, lorikeets fed in the pohutukawa, koel courted on the powerlines and channel-billed cuckoos noisily circled the off-leash area.