Sunday, November 21, 2010

Raptorial Weekend

Brown Falcon
image from:

There was once an old Medieval custom practiced throughout England, if indeed not throughout the length and breadth of Europe, of walking the parish boundaries- no doubt lead by the local parish priest. Its roots are buried in the dimmest recesses of human consciousness; ownership, familiarity, defence, etc. Back in my days in Staffordshire, when I penned a regular weekly column [Our Heritage] for the now defunct Rugeley Times, I attempted to revitalise the tradition but met with a number of seemingly unsurmountable obstacles: only Fay and I turned up on the scheduled date at the appointed starting point and before too long it became painfully apparent that much of where our ancestors would have trodden was now the jealously-protected property of the National Coal Board, along with a number of private residences at other critical points. It was no longer possible to follow in the Medieval footsteps of our forefathers.

It is however entirely possible to walk the boundaries of my property on the outskirts of Nanango in Queensland, albeit on a reduced scale: 7½ acres doesn’t quite seem to have the same awe as walking around an entire Medieval parish boundary. Nevertheless that’s exactly what Fay and I do on occasional mornings throughout the year – although in all honesty we are more likely to complete different parts on different days. Complete circuits are labourious and time-consuming, especially along the south west quadrant which is overgrown- to encourage the skulking types.

We were part way through a boundary walk when we came across the White-browed Scrubwrens [see an earlier blog] amidst some of the re-emergent understorey in the south west quadrant. We were again [Saturday 20] part way through an identical walk, albeit a little later in the day, when the Noisy Miners alerted us to the presence of a raptor in the immediate area. Miners have a particular call to warn of raptors, it differs from their more general alarm call.

We stopped, we looked and sure enough there it was, a Brown Falcon Falco berigora being escorted off the premises by a small mob of clamourous Noisy Miners. Not a new Backyard List species as we’d recorded this particular falco on two previous occasions but nevertheless a spectacular cameo to behold- almost as entertaining as the incident during our Nathan Road Wetlands [Redcliffe] days when we observed a small Willie Wagtail standing on the back of, and severely scolding, a Swamp Harrier.

Oddly enough, even later that day, as we drove along Berlin Road, we saw another Brown Falcon. This length of road had been a regular spot for the falcon last year.

Collared Sparrowhawk
image from:

As if the presence of one raptor wasn’t enough excitement for a weekend, on Sunday [21 November] we were busily filling a trench when yet again the noisy Miners warned of the presence of a raptor. Sure enough, a magnificent Collared Sparrowhawk Accipiter cirrocephalus drifted into view – and just as speedily drifted out as it was surrounded by a variety of smaller species all eager to see the back of this particular preditor

And yet, the raptorial gem of the weekend belongs in my other blog:

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Return of the Scrubbers

Zak in the dam with his orange "dummy" at hand [or foot]

Would you believe it! I’d no sooner left the computer, having waxed lyrical about the sad disappearance of the Allen Road skulkers, than Fay and I heard an unusual twittering from near the dam [southern edge]. It stopped us in our tracks. Could it be? Surely not after all these years but, on the other hand, the understorey had regrown in that particular corner of the property.

We saw it suddenly flit into sight and almost as suddenly disappear behind foliage, heading towards the ground. I tweaked the squeaker and it momentarily showed again. Yes, there was a definite white supercillium.

The walk had been intended as little more than an exercise run for the dogs [Boz, an English Pointer, enjoys hunting for rabbit smells – he’s never actually caught one- while Zak, a Labrador, loves nothing better than having to retrieve his orange “dummy” from out of the middle of the dam]. We didn’t have our binoculars with us. Fay raced backed to get them [my replacement knee makes running a poor option if speed is of the essence].

I kept an eye on the skulker who by now had gone deeper into cover but was still calling well. If is wasn’t for that accursed Yellow-throated Scrubwren [I can never distinguish between their peeps] I’d have laid money on White-browed Scrubwren.

Fay returned and we hunted further into the cover. And then, unexpectedly, it stood out on a dead branch, exposing itself in all its diagnostic wonder.

The White-browed Scrubwrens have returned! Well, at least one of them, hopefully a forward scout for a larger party. It merited an extra glass of Barossa red.

This [Sunday] morning we returned and found two of them!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Summer's Coming

No doubt as elsewhere in the world, north or south of the Equator, those maintaining a regular Backyard List notice changes throughout any given year and from year to year. Some changes are merely seasonal, others more diagnostic of something much graver afoot and not always of your own doing.

An in situ windrow, albeit less than 25% the size of the one removed to make space for the house

In creating a space for the house we had to clear an extensive patch of land [with additional space to satisfy insurance requirements]; the clearing included a rather large “windrow” [trees bulldozed over and pushed together into a logpile]. Great habitat for the small skulkers! However, we not only left most windrows in situ, in felling an area of wattle shrubs [and they really are a fire hazard with amazing powers of regeneration] we also created a replacement windrow just north of the one cleared, albeit smaller and looser. It has since been colonized by a family of Variegated Fairy-wren.

The drought, a fact of life for most of the first decade of the 21st century, had a more adverse effect. As the ground dried, the understorey gradually disappeared and with it the undergrowth skulkers: the White-browed Scrubwrens, the Speckled Warblers, a host of thornbills, etc.

Some of course may have been no more than transitory to begin with – there when Fay and I first started our Allen Road list but already scheduled for a periodic migration to pastures new, elsewhere in the region. The Yellow-faced Honeyeater springs to mind. Back in 2001 the property seemed inundated with them but their numbers steadily declined until today [2010] their appearance raises an eyebrow. On the other hand, the Blue-faced Honeyeater, once a rarity here, has become numerous to the point of complacency.

On our return from the U.K. [] we knew that summer was fast approaching. The Sacred Kingfisher was there ahead of us; only the other day we finally tracked down a nesting pair on the southern boundary of the property – obviously they’ve either abandoned their former nesting haunts or this is a new pair setting up home in an available hollow.

The Channel-billed Cuckoo can be up as early of 0300 hours, its raucous call piercing the night’s silence. Dollarbirds flit and roll around the skies. The Australian [Eastern] Koel competes with both the cuckoo and the Laughing Kookaburra in seeing which can first shatter the peaceful tranquillity of slumbering humans. No bronze-cuckoos as yet but it’s still early days.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


No sooner had Fay and I recovered from the delight of seeing six Red-tailed Black-Cockatoos flying aross the property than [the day after] three [the norm] Glossy Black-Cockatoos came from the south-east and flew north-west across the property, Crippling views but my camera was in the bedroom and by the time I'd grabbed it, changed from the standard 50mm to the 300mm lens, they were gone.

Such is life!

On the other hand, the casuarinas we planted along the drain have shot up and should be providing the Glossies with additional food sources in the next year or two.

Another Allen Road innovation has been the introduction of mealworm to the north feeder - and that should be enough to agitate a few diehrad anti-feeder Aussie birders. To date I've noted that both the Magpie-larks and Apostlebirds have found the new food a treat, certainly they swoop in shortly after I place out the mealworms

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Image from

One of the joys of owning your own small birding patch. You can be sitting on the east veranda [see last pic, Background Brifing - stairs are on east side of house], casually polishing an assortment of shoes and boots [Fay was still in bed enjoying her second cuppa] when a distant bird call attracts your attention. There was no mistaking the call, Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo, what remained in doubt was how many.

Six came into view from the south, one a little west of the other five but as they passed over in front of the house they veered to the NE and were gone. Magnificent creatures!

We have had all three regional Black-Cockatoos here; the Yellow-tailed the most common, the Glossy Black-Cockatoo the rarest but moves are afoot to encourage them on a more regular basis [again, browse the earlier blog].


the master kitchen-cum-lounge until the house arrived

Allen Road was always going to be a retreat, a haven far from the madding crowd, our own piece of [albeit slightly flawed] paradise, a place to which we could escape from the growing urban Rat Race, where the birds would come to us rather than we having to trot around Australia, nay, the globe, in search of birds.

We’d scoured the Sunshine Coast hinterland, later infamous for the State Government compulsory purchases of land along the Mary River. At Gympie we turned inland, making our way from Kilkivan to Goomeri [famed for its cheese shop] and onto Kingaroy [where having purchased a bottle of house wine the owner then wanted to charge us additional corkage]. We ventured further into the South Burnett: Nanango, Yarraman and Blackbutt – we’d passed the latter two townships back in the 1990s in our search for Black-breasted Button-quail [finally tracking down the species in the Yarraman State Forest].

By the third weekend we’d narrowed the field of possible properties down to three. A closer examination of one of these revealed serious engineering defects in the dam. That left two.

One, in East Nanango, and preferred by Fay, was a 5-acre block atop a high hill with magnificent scenic views. It had good rich red soil and although there was no obvious source of fresh water I did note that the abutting property had a bore. It lay a stone’s throw from the East Nanango State Forest, only a little further from the Nanango Fauna Sanctuary. We made an offer knowing that the place had been on the market for a little over a year.

That had been a Sunday afternoon. The following Monday evening we receive a telephone call from the real estate agent to inform us that there had been a counter offer on the property several thousands dollars above ours. We simply advised the agent that if the new bidder wanted the property that much then we would pull out. He did sound a little peeved but the property was still on the market several months later when Fay and I managed our first visit to the State Forest.

The other property, in South Nanango, was a little larger at 7½ acres, much lower lying [nevertheless still above 400m asl], with very poor heavy clay soils and a submerged rocky ridge running down the western boundary. On the other hand it had a huge 33m diameter dam,

The dam c.2001

a 12x6m tin shed,

was unkempt with several tall gums and ironbarks

and grasses taller than our car. It was one of a number of properties along Allen Road but retained its “isolated” feel – and we were looking for a birding retreat not looking to become small hobby farmers.

If there were any lingering doubts they rapidly dissipated when a pair of Wedge-tailed Eagles appeared from over the tall gums and seemingly glided down as if to take a closer look at the odd humans below.

We put in a offer and the rest, as they say, is history.

That was in April 2001 [our Backyard List dates back to those days]. True to our original vision we began to make the long 2½-hour trek from Redcliffe on more or less a fortnightly basis, more often when we managed to share a holiday period.

Shortly after, I drove our old campervan and parked it in the shed. It became our bedroom. In summer, with temperatures exceeding 400C under the metal roof, we relocated the campervan outside, on the south side of the shed and were awaken each morning by Double-barred Finches, fossicking for titbits immediately outside our new bedroom.

The house came in May 2002

and by 2005 we were ready to uproot from Redcliffe and make a permanent move to Nanango. Fay came in March, I had to wait until the end of that school year [mid-December].

And so, here we are, on our own piece of flawed heaven but with a Backyard List of more than 150 species.

This blog, a subset of, will simply highlight a few of the more interesting sightings at Allen Road – birds seen on or flying over the property, together with any noted along the length of the road itself [together with those in “Des’s Paddock” on our southern boundary].

We have our current “Earlybirds: precursors to sunrise” project, along with our increasing plantings of she-oak, casuarinas, to encourage more frequent visitations from the darlings of the Backyard List, the Glossy Black-Cockatoos.

The house today viewed from the north