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