Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Cycle of Life

It is no longer appropriate to suggest that spring is on its way. It’s here! All around Allen Road there are the indisputable signs that, at least as far as the birds are concerned, it is spring and spring is the time of regrowth; a time for rebirth and the propagation of the next generation.

The Magpie-larks Grallina cyanoleuca have very conveniently chosen a tree immediately across from the front [east] verandah in which to build their nest – last year it was atop a tall tree up by the front gate, some 600m from the house and near impossible to spot even when standing directly beneath the nest. This year’s nest site is far more expedient for observation purposes; the telescope is already trained on the birds and nest-watching has become a regular breakfast-time activity.

Both birds work hard to feed the as yet indiscernible number of youngsters. The change-over routine has become an established pattern. The “off duty” partner returns to an outer branch of the Smooth-barked Apple tree Angophora leiocarpa, always announcing its arrival with that familiar Magpie-lark call; the “on duty” partner leaves the nest and the other takes over sitting/minding duties.

Their constant battle appears to be with the unwanted close attention of a Pied Currawong Strepera graculina, clearly determined to appease its own needs at the cost of the Magpie-larks’. At the moment the smaller larks appear to be holding their own against their larger adversary. On the approach of the currawong one or the other of the larks will immediately attack the predator and in this they are, on occasions, ably assisted by the Noisy Miners Manorina melanocephala who have their own youngsters nearby and therefore their own quarrels with the marauding Artamidid.
Their cause could also be aided by the fact that one of the two regular currawongs has lost its left eye. Oddly enough our good neighbours, Denis & Jeanette, two blocks away, report feeding what surely must be the same one-eyed bird. Even more curious, they have heard that friends of theirs, living a couple of kilometres away, as the crow [or rather, currawong] flies, have also been feeding a large, black and white one-eyed bird. What odds of two Pied Currawongs with a missing left eye in so small an area?

While seated, breakfasting on the east verandah, we are also at times privileged in being able to observe a pair of Dollarbirds Eurystomus orientalis in their courtship. In spite of their rather unassuming common name they are magnificent rollers [no doubt awaiting the moment some taxonomist will see them as Australian, Australasian or even Eastern Rollers- one calls even as I tap out the keys].

Their renowned aerial courtship display is in abeyance but they continue to perch on the dead outer limb of another of our angphoras – no more than five metres from the corner of the eastern and southern verandahs and again clearly visible while having breakfast or sipping a post-work glass of shiraz. Only yesterday we watched as first one and then the other alighted on the bare outer branch. The first bird appeared to touch bills with the later arrival but if this was an exchange of food the morsel was too small to be seen by the naked human eye. They have been seen allo-feeding on previous occasions so perhaps this was a simple bill-touching ceremony to strengthen bonding previously established between them.

Somewhere to the southwest we hear the desperate begging call of a young Torresian Crow Corvus orru and no doubt the loss of our chicken and duck eggs can at least in part be attributed to this. They have been noted flying away from the area of the henhouse with an egg in their bill, or we have come across empty, discarded shells on our walks between house and large dam on the southern boundary.

The Willie Wagtails Rhipidura leucophrys , Sacred Kingfishers Todiramphus sanctus and Grey Butcherbirds Cracticus torquatus are active as pairs although as yet we have no direct evidence of actual nesting or the rearing of young. The Striped Honeyeaters Plectorhyncha lanceolata have become more vociferous than previously noted, as indeed have the Olive-backed Orioles Oriolus sagittatus. Could these increased vocal displays indicate courting and/or more engaged nesting activities?

Whatever, clearly the cycle of avian life continues to flourish here at Allen Road.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Juggling Act

The more I become involved, the more it seems to me that running a regular birding blog has become akin to being a circus juggler. The most dominant ball of the act has to be one’s job and career, perhaps all the more so if that involves children [although no doubt there would be others, in different occupations, who could argue the same case for their particular line of work]. There remains the expected maintenance and upkeep of your property, exasperated if you deliberately elect to buy an older building that needs time, effort and increasing amounts of energy to renovate and modify.


Almost undoubtedly, it is perhaps my pedantic need to list, to write, that creates the greatest hurdles to blogging. With me it is not simply a matter of seeing and/or hearing a bird and committing the species to paper.


Yes, I do that.


Take Allen Road. Some years back I produced a simple recording sheet with columns for species name, number of birds noted, a H/S column to indicate whether the species was “Seen” or “Heard” [the former always taking precedence]. The last, and widest, column allows me to jot down a few notes as to location or observed behavioural traits. I even acquired a clipboard to provide a reasonable writing surface when recording this data.


All that, in itself, may have readers pondering the root cause of my professed dilemma. With a few adaptations, moderations, I have few doubts that most birders engage in some such system.


My difficulties, my obsession, starts later when I come to transcribe those basic “field” notes to a more substantial format. In the old days, before computers and the Internet invaded the 20th century, I simply copied rough notes into my journal – no self-respecting male birder back in those dim and distant days would ever have admitted to having a diary. Diaries were girls’ stuff, secret women’s business!


A number of birders I know have just dropped the journal entries and enter their bird records directly into a personal computer file, or record their sightings onto one of the growing number of public databases available online [Eremaea comes to mind as a widely used Australian example]. I have done this in the past and to a lesser extent, usually limited to the rarer species, I occasionally still commit sightings too the Birds Queensland Newsletter and/or their website.


However, unlike many of the above-mentioned birders, I have been unable to drop my old handwritten journal. My Allen Road records alone date back to April 2001, in an era before I had access to my own personal computer. I had access at school but that created another set of problems. Thus, I continued to keep a diary of birds noted on each visit to Allen Road and even to this day, when Fay and I live on the property rather than pay occasional visits, I continue the habit. Those records now run to three volumes and I would be loathe to suddenly drop that format.


I of course keep my own electronic records, a practice enhanced when I recently acquired a copy of Bluebird Technology’s simple, but very effective, Bird Journal [currently at version 2.3].

So, my records start with the basic field notes which are then transcribed to a handwritten journal and finally added to Bird Journal.


And the Allen Road records are the simplest of the birding records I keep! The South Burnett region becomes a mite more complicated while any birding trips further afield [e.g. our recent venture out to Sundown National Park] take on huge proportions. My handwritten entries are not merely simple notes, each trip is written up in full.


Which brings me to the original thrust of this blog. I had intended to keep a weekly account of our activities at Allen Road [as I had intended to do with the South Burnett in general] but one or more of the balls in the delicate juggling act keep slipping, spilling over, rolling away.

Once a month is now on trial.

This is a particular good month for birding activity in this neck of the woods. It is spring and that is the season of regeneration, of new life emerging into the world. I have written elsewhere [http://www.birdingsouthburnett.blogspot.com/] of the advent of spring. Allen Road has been mentioned in passing.


As with the South Burnett in general [always remembering that Allen Road is but a small corner within that entire region] Allen Road also displays clear signs that winter, albeit reluctantly judging by some of our more recent overnight lows, is waning.


The arrival of the Little Friarbird Philemon citreogularis as early as mid-August became the scout, the indicator that we were in for an early spring. A day later the Noisy Friarbird Philemon corniculatus made its presence known; in both instances we had heard these species elsewhere in the South Burnett – the Little as early as 3 July, the Noisy at school on 28 July- and July is normally considered to be mid-winter.


At the end of September the Olive-backed Oriole Oriolus sagittatus arrived. Later that same day [26 September] while walking back from the dam we heard the Australasian Figbird Sphecotheres vieilloti. Another duo of signs that spring is springing upon us.

Nevertheless, in secret Fay and I always await the arrival of one particular species before we are prepared to openly declare that winter has gone, that summer is around the corner. Not that we had long to wait. The first Sacred Kingfisher Todiramphus sanctus of the season was heard the following day, 27 September and later that same day we saw it perched on overhead wires along Allen Road.
Spring is here. We await the arrival of another handful of iconic species between now and the advent of summer.


The Spangled Drongo Dicrurus bracteatus we know is present a few kilometres down the road, in open woodland on the edge of Tarong Power Station. The Channel-billed Cuckoo Scythrops novaehollandiae and Eastern Koel Eudynamys orientalis have yet to make their presence known.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

WET but not so WILD



It rained. It rained. Now I know that is simply repeating the same short sentence twice but I felt the point needed emphasising. It rained. And then it rained some more. By day’s end the rain gauge registered 41.5mm of rain. To put this figure in perspective, August comes in as Nanango’s driest month with an average of 32.2mm. An overnight fall in excess of 40mm is, in anyone’s experience of an austral winter, a substantial amount of the wet stuff from the Heavens.

A number of possibilities immediately spring to mind when one arises on a Saturday morning to dark, threatening, clouds blanketing the world around you. As a birder you instinctively appreciate that any plans to go birding around the ridges is out of the question. No right-minded bird would risk a thorough drenching simply to oblige a passing human with the opportunity to focus a pair of binoculars on the finer points of its plumage. Both avian subject and human observer would return to base camp all the worse for the inclemency of the morning.

A second thought occurred almost as quickly: the Utility Room cupboard remains incomplete; indeed, has remained incomplete since originally blueprinted back in 2001! It could have been attended to during the recent January floods when Fay and I became isolated on our property but I was literally up to my neck, well, okay, up to my knees, in muck, mud, water and occasional enemy sniper fire. I sporadically drift into realms of fantasy.

Not that the persistent rainfall eliminated all possibilities of birding. When your accustomed hour of arising is somewhere between 0330 and 0400 hours - don’t ask, it’s a long tale of general lifestyle, diabetes and our continuing research into the local early birds - there is always time to listen out for, if not actually see, birds. The Tawny Frogmouth Podargus strigoides obliged. The Bush Stone-curlews Burhinus grallarius, crepuscular creatures, were howling by 0526 hours from somewhere east of the house.

Heavy overnight downpours have lead to an untested theory Fay and I are developing.

As a preamble I should point out that we are both unashamedly feeders of birds. We have been since our days in the U.K. My first introduction to serious birding was back in the days of my mid-teens, when Fay was merely my girlfriend [yes, we can be classed as childhood sweethearts even though we didn’t actually attend the same school- Fay was clever and went to the local grammar school; I was thick and went to the nearby secondary modern, although thereafter it seems to have become a comprehensive].

Boreal readers may well wonder why the above point is stressed. In the U.K. almost everyone we know feeds birds in one form or another. Our good friends, Keith & Jen of Albrighton, Shropshire, have established a rather elaborate feeder system in their back yard which can be observed at leisure from their conservatory. Les and Sandy of Tewkesbury, Gloustershire, have a simpler but very effective backyard feeder. In the USA feeding birds has become a multi-million dollar business. It is encouraged by birding authorities.

That is not the case here in Australia. Birds Australia, soon to be merged with Bird Observation & Conservation of Australia [formerly Bird Observers Club of Australia], more commonly referred to as BOCA, to form Birdlife Australia, actively discourages the feeding of wild birds. Or at least the organization does not encourage the feeding of wild birds. That same message is oft repeated at gatherings of Australian birders all around the country. The exponents of this particular “anti-ism” range from scientists with genuine but untested concerns to the ranters who could just as easily protest the universal acceptance that the Earth is an oblate sphere when in reality it is flat and all archival evidence from Outer Space to the contrary is a diabolical fabrication instigated by a perverse American government, hell-bent on the de-Christianization of the world.

We smile, we ignore and we continue to feed our local backyard birds. We are aware of the work by Brittingham et al. [1985] as we are aware of the work by Bromley & Geis [1998].

We note that no more than a few hours after gorging itself on titbits of cheese from our verandah, the male Grey Butcherbird Cracticus torquatus honoured us with a magnificent display of hawking. It perched on the east side of the tall angophora [the site of one feeder] and launched itself out into the open sky between tree and grapevine fence to catch small black insects that were visible to the naked human eye. At one point it landed atop the newel post of the front steps before swallowing its prey. The Noisy Miners Manorina melanocephala and Magpie-larks Grallina cyanoleuca, also regular visitors to Café Avian, joined in on the action. The humble juvenile Australian Magpie Cracticus tibicen, seemingly lacking the required aerial acrobatics, simply jumped into the air in an attempt to catch its share of black insects. We cannot comment on its success rate as it had its back turned to us.

I drift. Back to the developing, if as yet untested, theory.

Wild birds become more desperate for food supplements following a heavy overnight downpour.

We have no empirical evidence, no quantitative measures of seed, cheese or biscuit crumb mixture consumed during a post overnight rain session as compared to a “normal” [no overnight rain] feeding session. Currently it is no more than conjecture based on the evidence of our own eyes and the number of birds visiting our feeders.

Allen Road data date back to 2001. As well as species present we record climatic conditions; minimum and maximum temperatures along with rainfall figures and almost invariable the data indicates an escalation of the feeding frenzy on mornings following heavy overnight rainfall. Apostlebird Struthidea cinerea numbers explode. Rainbow Lorikeet Trichoglossus haematodus numbers fulminate. Crested Pigeon Ocyphaps lophotes and Bar-shouldered Dove Geopelia humeralis numbers increase dramatically. White-winged Choughs Corcorax melanorhamphos numbers can double. Galahs Eolophus roseicapillus seemingly emerge from out of the woodwork to engorge themselves on the proffered feast.

If not merely a climatic coincidence, why the sudden increase in numbers following heavy overnight rainfall? Are the birds simply hungrier? Does the amount of rainfall impact deleteriously on their normal food sources? Is it that the wet condition demand greater energy reserves and these are easiest procured from Café Avian than from out in the wild?

Or is it that heavy overnight falls of rain deleteriously effect insects, a major food source of many birds in our area?

Whatever, it seems a simple equation: the heavier the overnight rain the more frenzied the ensuing scramble for food at Café Avian. When we are presented with incontrovertible evidence to the contrary [that it is better for our backyard birds to starve than be provided with a supplementary food source] we may consider demolishing the feeders.

On the other hand, their presence around the place, amid the grevilleas and banksias, makes for a more pleasant life in general.



Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Battling Butcherbirds


As I may have said on a few previous occasions, there is one clear advantage of having your own “backyard” patch, a place you either visit regularly or, and some could argue better still, the place you actually live in. Allen Road comes into the latter category. Each day’s birding inevitably starts out as a list of birds Fay and I can hear while still lying in bed enjoying the morning’s first cup of tea. I often get to see the first bird while making the tea – yes, I’m old-fashioned enough!



In birding your own local patch you soon become familiar with the regular birds of that patch. You get to know them almost as individuals; indeed, I know some of my local birds better than I know some of my neighbours along Allen Road.


Take the two species of butcherbirds, part of the Artamidae family available in this neck of the woods; we have both the Grey Cracticus torquatus and the Pied Butcherbird C. nigrogularis present as residents. However, the former is a daily visitor to our verandahs in search of titbits of cheese or simply using the verandah roof as shelter from more inclement weather while the Pied is, with one notable exception, a bird that we only hear from our property although it is often encountered on our walks along Allen Road.


It has become a regular routine. Our third cup of tea [well, perhaps a few more cups during the shorter, colder mornings of winter] we have on an old miner’s couch on the east verandah. Almost invariably, within minutes of settling down, one or the other of the Grey Butcherbirds, usually the male –you can differentiate between the sexes when both are sitting a metre of less from you- arrives to perch on the top rail. It never makes a sound; it simply sits there looking at us. One or the other of us gets up to cut up the cheese, usually tasty cheddar [for those interested in the piddling minutia]. We toss bits of cheese into the air and enjoy the spectacle of the butcherbirds’ aerial acrobatics as they snatch the morsels from mid air.


In contrast, the Pied Butcherbird, a much larger species, with the one aforementioned exception, has only ever been recorded as “heard only” on our property bird records. We simply don’t expect to see it until our winter weekend or summer evening walks along the road.


That is until the other day. The weather was abysmal. It was cold, ground temperatures plumbing perilously close to zero. It had rained heavily overnight, bringing back memories of last January when Fay and I became isolated on our own property for three days. The morning light was impossible. All was gloom and climatic doom.


As we sat with that welcome cup of tea the male Grey Butcherbird suddenly alighted on the top rail of the east verandah; we could see its mate perched in the nearby angophora. The normal routine ensued. I tossed the male a piece of cheese and then leaned over the rail to toss a piece towards the female in the tree. She never stood a chance. In a flash the cheese was snatched in mid air by a Pied Butcherbird, a much larger close cousin, which clearly had been waiting on the roof. Fay and I were stunned.


Apart from the exceptional agility displayed by the bird, how had the Pied learnt that this was the local Café Avian? It had never previously sought additional food supplements from us. I tossed a second piece to the male Grey and again tossed a piece towards the female in the tree. The Pied intercepted it.


This continued for several throws until both Grey and Pied departed; the former to return later that afternoon.


We were granted a second showing of the Pied Butcherbird’s lissom acrobatic prowess the following day when again it swooped down from the rooftop to intercept pieces of cheese intended for the Grey Butcherbirds. My fingers worked overtime tapping in this newly discovered data into the Bird Journal program.


This week we experienced a repeat performance but with rather a sharp twist to the tale. The Pied Butcherbird arrived earlier than the pair of Grey Butcherbirds and duly took the first morsel of proffered cheese. It perched on the corner of the east and north verandahs and I had just turned away to resume drinking my tea when a flash of feathers skimmed by close to my left ear; there was a distinct clack of wing beats. I stopped, amazed, puzzled. Had I just been attacked, warned off by some unseen bird?


I spotted a Grey Butcherbird in the sapling at the edge of the track leading to the house. Had it been the culprit, the unseen attacker? The question was answered a moment later when the Grey took off and swooped in on the verandah corner – straight at the Pied, only averting certain collision at the last moment. Again, the clack of wings indicted that this was no chance encounter but a deliberate assault by the Grey Butcherbird on its close cousin, the Pied Butcherbird.

Again, moments later, the Grey attacked the Pied in a deliberate offensive. On the next assault the Pied Butcherbird clearly decided that discretion was the better part of valour and beat a hasty retreat back towards the west of the property.

There has been no repeat appearance by the Pied Butcherbird since that ignominious defeat.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Mellow Yellow

As I may well have said before, there is one outstanding advantage in having your own “backyard” birding patch; you get to know your local avifauna. The regulars are there or, if they suddenly cease to be there – and it’s not the migratory season- then you soon notice. You may never know the why this or that particular species has suddenly stopped being among the more common residents or at least frequent visitors but you become aware of the situation and mull over the possibilities. Fay and I continue to mull over the sudden exit of our Yellow-faced Honeyeaters Lichenostomus chrysops; the demise of the Speckled Warblers Chthonicola sagittata and White-throated Scrubwrens Sericornis frontalis could be feasibly accounted for because of the decade-long drought which decimated the understorey, thus depriving these skulkers of adequate cover.

Nevertheless, overall, a backyard patch allows you to become intimately familiar with your local birds.

Occasionally the set routines are pleasantly disturbed by the unexpected arrival of an avian stranger, or at least an infrequent caller.

The other day, while walking through the wooded northwest quadrant of our property, an area set aside as sacrosanct to the wildlife and not to be interfered with by us throughout our sojourn at Allen Road, we suddenly heard the distinctive call of Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoo Calyptorhynchus funereus. It took a little craning of necks, bending of backs to see around or over various shrubs and trees but we soon spotted movement further down [west] Allen Road. Fay counted four flying across the road. A moment later and we heard the plaintive cry of a juvenile cockatoo wanting to be fed.

By the time we had returned to the house, a long list of chores awaited our attention, the Yellow-tails sounded as if they had swung around and were closer to our own property; then on our property, somewhere in the wooded southwest quadrant and another calling from directly west [in Rudolf’s former place]. Fay spotted the two from the southwest; I saw one alight in a tree just on the other side of the western fence.

We stopped our various tasks and looked closer. One Yellow-tailed flew across to the tall, but sadly dead, tree on the edge of the track leading to the front gate. From this lookout post it called incessantly and before long five other Yellow-tails flew across the property, collected the lone pleader and all six disappeared further east along Allen Road.

Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoos are more an uncommon than a rare occurrence along Allen Road but they come infrequently enough to cause at least a mild stir in the bosom of any local birders.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

ROOTLING ALONG

Matters rootle along at a steady pace down Allen Road. There is always the odd excitement, such as a Pacific Baza Aviceda subcristata suddenly sweeping into view from over the tin shed. Its presence had, of course, long since been advertised by the raucous din of the Noisy Miners Manorina melanocephala. However, in general, avian life follows a fairly set routine. One day can be very much like another.


Not that Fay and I are complaining. It’s the bread-and-butter birds of your local patch that set the overall ambience.


We may object to the Torresian Crows Corvus orru which continually steals our chicken and duck eggs but where would the local ecology be without their presence? As scavengers they are second to none among the birds.


The Apostlebirds Struthidea cinerea may be the bullies of the Verandah Feeder, often harassing the attractive Australian King-Parrots Alisterus scapularis from off the terracotta plant saucer itself but their communal co-operation remains a spectacle par excellence. The vocal gymnastics of the Australian Magpies Cracticus tibicen continues to bring auditory pleasure to our ears, just as does the amazing sight of two male magpies sharing a feeding spot together.


Other “regulars” present themselves each and every day. A pair of Grey Butcherbirds Cracticus torquatus has successfully trained Fay and I to provide them with slivers of cheese when they alight on the verandah rail. The Grey-crowned Babblers Pomatostomus temporalis have learnt how to extract discarded sunflower seeds from between the cracks in the verandah decking. The more aggressive of the Rainbow Lorikeets Trichoglossus haematodus appears to have either taken anger-management consultation, moved out of the immediate area or perhaps has even passed on to wherever it is deceased birds go.


No, oddities and rarities are all very well but the non-appearance of our everyday species would be of real concern. We still vividly recall the shock of learning that the humble Tree Sparrow Passer montanus population in the United Kingdom has plummeted; we’ve heard rumours that a similar fate is befalling the even humbler House Sparrow Passer domesticus. Worse yet, consider the Passenger Pigeon Ectopistes migratorius; in its millions one day, extinct the next.

Yet, in spite of all the above, the unexpected appearance of the Red-winged Parrot Aprosmictus erythropterus, quietly perched in a small Wren Garden sapling, next to our angophora tree, was more than mildly exciting. It was only the 17th sighting of this bird on our property since its first appearance back at the end of August 2008.


Its timing was awkward. Fay and I were sitting on the east verandah, sipping coffee, when we suddenly spotted the obvious flash of red wing partly hidden behind foliage. It didn’t need past experience to warn us that Red-wings tend to be skittish, will fly at the least provocation. Fortunately both binoculars and cameras were to hand. I carefully picked up one of the latter, switched on and slowly dropped to my knees on the verandah decking. The southside balustrades would act as partial cover.


On reaching the southeast corner of the verandah I eased myself up, for all the world trying to look a mere extension of the corner post. I fired in the first shot. The Red-wing twitched the photograph was rubbish. I tried a second shot, no mean feat when you’re trying to be a wooden post keeping movement to a minimum. The Red-wing shifted uneasily; the photograph was only marginally better.





I got in a third shot; the bird was distinctly jittery by now.





The second shot, a “D”.





The third shot for which I award myself a “C”, more for the effort than the photographic niceties.


I backed off. It didn’t need a PhD to reason that my next shot could be my last shot and for a long moment I hesitated. Did I need another shot that would surely drive the bird away? Would it be more ethical to abandon photography to allow the bird space?

I needed another shot but a Pied Currawong Strepera graculina suddenly alighting atop the same sapling settled the issue; the Red-wing flew off to the east and I was left with three rather poor shots, ranging from a barely passable “C” to a disappointing “D-minus“.


The pair of Magpie-larks Grallina cyanoleuca reminded me of what really matters along Allen Road.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

EARLY RISERS

Our residence in Allen Road has a history dating back to April 2001 when we initially inspected the vacant block [the tin shed was empty at the time]. The house, from a Toowoomba “house yard,” was moved in situ the following year; weekends were fully occupied in renovating, first the exterior, later the interior. In March 2005 Fay left her position with QML [after more than 20 years with the company] to take up employment with a small research company attached to PCA in Kingaroy. I sought, and was granted, a teaching transfer into the region at the end of 2005. The renovations to the house and improvements to the property in general continued, still continue to this day.



The Backyard List starts from that first cursory inspection back on 13 April 2001. In those early days, when we still lived in Redcliffe and merely visited on every second or third weekend –and that, after all, was the original purpose of the property, a place to which we could escape when the inclination came- we recorded the birds for the sheer pleasure of learning which species we had as permanent residents, as seasonal migrants or as accidental occurrences. Those early data entries are basic presence/absence records.



They evolved to include numbers present, behaviours noted, etc. No doubt one day Fay and I will collate the growing mass of data, design a few pertinent graphs to highlight the major trends and perhaps even offer the resulting mass for publication. Bird Journal makes the earlier processes much simpler these days.

Sunrise over Queensland. Taken from: www.mii.org/Rec/GoldMiningVignettes/GoldVign.html



In more recent times, while the steady accumulation of data for its own sake continues, Fay and I have come to recording the early morning avian risers. Not the songs themselves [we don’t have the equipment to venture along that path] but the actual species involved in our local Dawn Chorus.



If you asked the average Australian, birder or non-birder, to venture a guess as to which species would be “Top of the Dawn Chorus Pops,” I’d be more than mildly surprised if the over-whelming response was anything other than Laughing Kookaburra Dacelo novaeguineae. Many of the Indigenous peoples of Australia share the same Dreamtime tale of how the Spirits, having discovered the wonder of sunrise, asked Kookaburra if he would herald its arrival each morning so that all the creatures could enjoy this phenomenon.



And, of course, within certain caveats, they are all right. On average, over the space of a year, the Laughing Kookaburra is almost invariable the earliest precursor of dawn. Almost always… but not quite always.



It is, on occasions, bettered by other species. The Masked lapwing Vanellus miles springs immediately to mind. The Australian Wood Duck Chenonetta jubata is another serious contender for the title of Early Bird Champion. The humble Australian Magpie Cracticus tibicen and Torresian Crow Corvus orru have been known to call before old kookaburra stirred from his slumbers. Even the diminutive Willie Wagtail Rhipidura leucophrys was once heard well before the official setting for sunrise, albeit from across the other side of Allen Road where neighbours were holding an all-night party. The Pied Currawong Strepera graculina was among the first early risers recorded to have ousted the Laughing Kookaburra from it near unassailable throne.
On at least two occasions in January this year alone the Common Bronzewing Phaps chalcoptera has pipped them all to the post. The Eastern Koel Eudynamys orientalis, a summer migrant, has been recorded as the earliest caller on at least one occasion in the past couple of years.



Yet, in spite of all these excepti0ns to the case, as already stated, in general, at least along Allen Road, the Laughing Kookaburra can often call several times prior to any other bird acknowledging the advent of dawn.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Losses & Gains

Now that was a long weekend!

We all have our own slings and shots that cause us to tarry along life’s highway. Among mine over the past few weeks has been school. More precisely, testing, marking and collating a mountain of data on which to base report cards. The days when a teacher could simply write “Could do better” or “Working well” have gone. I’m not complaining, merely informing.

But I’m back.




It would be gratifying to report that while I was buried beneath an avalanche of test papers the birds merely got on with whatever it is birds do when their human observers are occupied elsewhere. And it might be that that s exactly what they were doing but…

The Yellow-faced Honeyeater Lichenostomus chrysops which seemed to be making a welcomed comeback only weeks ago has again disappeared. Admittedly our observations have been limited to brief weekend windows but at one point back there we could here this bird when simply lying in bed.

It rival, the Blue-faced Honeyeater Entomyzon cyanotis, while still flitting between north and south feeders, is greatly reduced in numbers.

The Sulphur-crested Cockatoos Cacatua galerita had been on the decline for some time but now only occasionally fly by overhead. Perhaps even more alarming is the apparent disappearance of our Galahs Eolophus roseicapillus. They had, at one time, made regular appearances at poultry-feeding time; there would be anything up to 30 specimens competing with the Silver-grey Dorkings for the scattered mixed grain.


We noted a pair flying through overhead yesterday.

It’s puzzling, it’s concerning but hopefully it is no more than an avian reaction to the bitterly cold winter snap we are currently experiencing in the South Burnett region. It bottomed out at 5.5 Celsius the other day and it can get even colder in August!

On the other hand, we seem to have acquired a friendly male Australian Magpie Cracticus tibicen. It has been coming around for some time now. We first noticed him on one of the occasions when the local Grey Butcherbirds Cracticus torquatus arrived on the verandah rail for its usual feed of cheese. We tend to toss small fragments into the air to enjoy the aerobatics of the butcherbirds as they take the morsel in mid air. On the odd occasion the butcherbirds miss the proffered titbit which lands on the verandah decking. It was on one of these instances that we first noted the magpie. It suddenly swooped in, gathered up the piece of cheese and flew off into the nearby angophora.

Nowadays it will readily take split dog biscuit crumbs and indeed can often be seen in the 40x25m dog compound pecking at unguarded old bones in search of some overlooked fragment of meat. We have observed the magpies actually carry off an entire segment of wizened bone.

Yesterday, Fay had it taking cheese out of her hand!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Glorious Morning at Allen Road

I remain a humble Pom at heart [aside: for those overseas readers who may be unfamiliar with the term, Pom is an endearing term often used by Australians when referring to those of us who arrived in this country from England]. I find it difficult to resist a wry smile when I listen to the natives, particularly those enamoured of Queensland [the Sunshine State], wax lyrically that this is “God’s own.” More often than not these sentiments are expressed when the ambient temperature is searing in the high thirties to mid-forties, with humidity at 100% or better. No wonder God chose the Middle East rather than Outback Australia as the earthbound home of His only begotton son!

This past Sunday however, we did experience a truly glorious morning. The temperature only grudgingly crawled above 15 Celsius; there was a crispness to the air that invigorated not only the lungs but the entire spirit. A slight mist came up from nearby watercourses setting an eerie tone to the immediate surroundings.

Admittedly the early part of the morning was not the best for birding, vision was limited to perhaps ten metres all around. On the other hand, where visual impressions were perhaps curtailed, aural perceptions seemed correspondingly enhanced.

In those pre-dawn hours before first light filtered through we could hear the distinctive call of the Southern Boobook Ninox novaeseelandiae [an owl of the Strigiformes], accompanied by the deep boom of the Tawny Frogmouth Podargus strigoides [a nightjar of the Caprimulgiformes]. Oddly enough the next call we heard, at 0555 hours [70 minutes prior to official sunrise that day] was the rather plaintive call of the Australian Wood [Maned] Duck Chenonetta jubata, followed a few minutes later by the somewhat harsh alarm call of the Masked Lapwing Vanellus miles.

The Laughing Kookaburra Dacelo novaeguineae, often the earliest herald of the dawn, was late that morning; its initial call coming only 42 minutes before sunrise rather than its more customary 50+ minutes prior to daybreak. Almost invariably it was followed by the truly melodic song of the Australian Magpie Cracticus tibicen.

By 0546 hours, still nineteen minutes before sunrise, the Yellow-faced Honeyeater Lichenostomus chrysops announced its presence. This honeyeater has featured almost regularly over the past week as part of the “Dawn Chorus”. To gauge the significance of this bird please note my earlier blog, Reflections on Some Honeyeaters.

At 0554 hours the White-winged Choughs Corcorax melanorhamphos announced their arrival at the southern feeder, followed two minutes later by the raucous Apostlebirds Struthidea cinerea and finally, at 0557 hours [eight minutes before the time set for sunrise] a solitary Australian King-Parrot Alisterus scapularis added its sultry tones to the mounting cacophony around us.

That amounted to eighteen species from the first call of the Boobook to daybreak – and all mostly tallied while Fay and I lay in bed enjoying the first cup of tea for the day. Almost all. The earliest birds were down to me and my diabetic insomnia.

With daylight abroad came the Magpie-lark Grallina cyanoleuca and the endearing Willie Wagtail Rhipidura leucophrys. The Common Bronzewing Phaps chalcoptera, Variegated Fairy-wren Malurus lamberti and Little Lorikeet Glossopsitta pusilla added to the morning’s total. Sometime during the mid-morning, with temperatures still well below 20C, the White-browed Scrubwren Sericornis frontalis [see Missing in Action] and Striped Honeyeater Plectorhyncha lanceolata began flexing their vocal muscles.

From somewhere far off to the east Fay, whose hearing is far superior to mine, heard a Fan-tailed Cuckoo Cacomantis flabelliformis, a rarity at this time of the year; a little later the Eastern Whipbird Psophodes olivaceus was heard and finally, as we strolled around the dam we spotted a single White-faced Heron Egretta novaehollandiae perched high in a tall gum overlooking the water. It was around 10.30am, the temperature a little above 15C and a long list of chores awaited our attention but it had been a glorious morning for birds with a final tally of 36 species before we laid aside binoculars and notebook.

Try that while sweltering under a blazing sun with the mercury already in the mid to high 20s by mid-morning!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Marbled Moments

Marbled Frogmouth. Image via ozanimals.com



Nocturnal species along Allen Road are literally few and far between so you can imagine our excitement when last week [26 March] we heard the distinctive call of a previously unrecorded night bird. It was the seventh night-time bird on our Backyard List.

Diabetes and insomnia go hand in glove. I was wide awake and up in the small hours of the morning, “catching up” on entering my handwritten Backyard List sightings into Bird Journal. The call came from the northwest quadrant and sounded close. My initial reaction had been of a Southern Boobook Ninox novaeseelandiae with a sore throat. It wasn’t of course.

Under normal circumstances, if being up and about regularly at around 0300 hours can be described as normal for someone in a diurnal occupation, I would allow Fay to sleep through to breakfast at a more reasonable 0500. On the other hand I have a vivid imagination and could foresee a few uncomfortable moments if I later revealed the presence of a new Backyard List species, indeed a mega addition, and had allowed her to sleep through the experience.

An early morning cuppa and the BOCA discs set to the nightbirds overcame any displeasures Fay may have felt at being stirred [not shaken] before the time set on her alarm clock.

The discs simply confirmed that the identification was incontrovertible. We were listening to a Marbled Frogmouth Podargus ocellatus!

It was the first nocturnal addition to our list since the Powerful Owl Ninox strenua back in October 2008 and that bird had also initially called from the northwest quadrant. And yes, I had been up and about, only on that occasion I was ensconced on the north verandah – October nights can be rather warm and the yellow light bulb helps keep the bugs away.

The Powerful Owl had been the first new nocturnal entry in more than six years. Our Eastern Barn Owl Tyto javanica first appeared on the scene back in August 2002 and has become an irregular feature of the witching hours ever since.

Remarkably enough, the first four nocturnal species were all recorded in our first year at Allen Road [2001]. Top of the List was the Australian Owlet-nightjar Aegotheles cristatus and the only entrant that we saw before ever hearing it. Our immediate neighbour [sharing the eastern fence-line] had a large, old tree remnant with a number of suitable hollows along its entire length. We spotted the owlet-nightjar depart from one of the upper hollows a few hours into dusk and thereafter heard it on a regular basis. Sadly, when Fred sold up, the new owners, with two small children in tow, proved to be rather paranoid regarding snakes and wizened trees too close to the house. The old hollowed stump was felled. The Australian Owlet-nightjar disappeared in September 2003.

September 2001 was a comparatively bumper time for nocturnal additions. The Southern Boobook was first heard on the 1st of that month. It has become among the more regular night-callers along Allen Road.



The vision of our first Tawny Frogmouth Podargus strigoides will remain eternally etched in our memories. We’d been hearing the call for some time previously. Back in those days there was no house, only a shed, a campervan and a campfire. A few feet from the campfire is a tall gum with a horizontal branch protruding out perhaps a metre and a half from the base. We’d just eaten and were enjoying the first sip of a rather pleasant shiraz when we were suddenly distracted by a quick movement. There had been no sound, no whoosh of wings, no sighing of bent branches, or rustle of disturbed leaves. The frogmouth simply alighted as silently as a ghost on the aforementioned horizontal branch. It remained perched there for what seemed a age but in reality was probably no more than a few minutes. It seemed as curious of us as we were excited at seeing it. My camera was still in the nearby campervan but neither of us dared move a muscle; we were transfixed.

At the end of December 2001, and again I was out on the north verandah tapping away at the keyboard, we heard the unmistakable booming of the White-throated Nightjar Eurostopodus mystacalis coming from somewhere over the western boundary. We last heard it in April last year [2010].

We prefer to disregard the record of Papuan Frogmouth Podargus papuensis listed on DERM’s Wildlife Species List for the South Burnett region. It is hundreds, nay in access of thousands, of kilometres out of its accepted range and was, anyway, last sighted in 1908.

Monday, March 21, 2011

MISSING IN ACTION

Most backyard birders tend to concentrate on the species they see and/or hear; it adds to their tally. Fay and I are among that league. Certainly we are always pleased to add a new species to the list but also enjoy the continual return of old favourites.

There are however those species that seem to be dotted around the immediate vicinity of Allen Road but have yet to be recorded anywhere along the street; those missing in action.

The core niggle is not the rarities, as itemized on the Department of Environment &Resources Management official Wildlife Species List for the South Burnett region. We congratulate those fortunate birders who have recorded such gems as: Black-throated Finch Poephila cincta [according to the List last sighted in 2003]; Painted Honeyeater Grantiella picta [circa 2002]; Sooty Owl Tyto tenebricosa [last sighted in 2007]; Swift Parrot Lathamus discolour [last seen as long ago as 1994]; Coxen’s Fig-Parrot Cyclopsitta diophthalma coxeni, a subspecies of the Double-eyed Fig-Parrot [1966];

Nor would we expect regular sightings of species such as Paradise Parrot Psephotus pulcherrimus, lasted recorded in the South Burnett region at the end of 1915 but now generally presumed to be extinct throughout its former ranges. Nor would we expect the Grey Falcon Falco hypoleucos to suddenly put in an unexpected appearance, given that it was last seen in the region in 1908. And while the ever-elusive Red Goshawk Erythrotriorchis radiateus remains a distinct possibility, we will not be holding our breath in anticipation – they can range over territories in excess of 200km2.

Allen Road has had its moments, or at least it has since Fay and I first began recording the local birds back in April 2001. Indeed, as early as 3 June 2001 we were fortunate enough to have crippling views of Black-chinned Honeyeater Melithreptus gularis; it was still here a week later [11 June] and while it has never been here again since, it was recorded in the general South Burnett region in November of that same year. Ours must have been among the last seen hereabouts.

The near threatened Square-tailed Kite Lophoictinia isura was noted flying over our property in March 2008. The Powerful Owl Ninox strenua, listed by the Department as vulnerable, was heard distinctly calling from a little west of the house in October 2008.

No, it’s not the megaticks that concern, they’re just part and parcel of everyday twitching. Our puzzlement remains with the lesser species, those that we have recorded on a regular basis from only a few kilometres away but which have yet to appear on our Allen Road Backyard List.

Take the finches. Our only Allen Road record is of the Double-barred Finch Taeniopygia bichenovii. Indeed, it has nested in our orchard. However, a mere five kilometres away, along Berlin Road, we have recorded both the Red-browed Finch Neochmia temporalis and Zebra Finch Taeniopygia guttata. The habitats are not that dissimilar. Why have they not taken the step across to Allen Road?

Both the Little Anthochaera chrysoptera and Red A. carunculata Wattlebirds have been recorded in the wider South Burnet region but not along Allen Road.

However, of most concern to Fay and I remains the humble robin, any robin! Our birding friends Colleen and Robert Fingland, who, as the [Torresian] crow flies, live no more than a few kilometres from us on ten hectares, have both the Red-capped Petroica goodenovii and Eastern Yellow Eopsaltria australis Robins on their backyard list. We have recorded the latter along Berlin Road.

The Department’s Wildlife Species List records no fewer than eight robin species for the South Burnett: Eastern Yellow Robin; Hooded Robin Melanodryas cucullata; Jacky Winter Microeca fascinans; Scarlet Robin Petroica boodang; Red-capped Robin; Flame Robin Petroica phoenicea; Rose Robin Petroica rosea and Pale-yellow Robin Tregellasia capito.

No robin has yet been recorded along Allen Road in the time that Fay and I have been monitoring the local species. Why?

We can accept the absence of the Hooded Robin; it is a species associated more with drier habitats and no doubt sighted on the western reaches of the South Burnett. The absence of Jacky Winter is also understandable; in our experience it prefers more open woodland, wider paddocks and country roadsides. The South Burnett must be close to the northern range limits of the Scarlet Robin. The same would appear to hold for the Flame Robin. The Pale-yellow Robin prefers skulking in rainforest habitats

However, what of the Rose Robin? We have enjoyed fantastic view of this species only 40km south at Emu Creek.

But the bottom line, the pain, remains the absence of the Red-capped and the Eastern Yellow Robins. They are dotted all around us but continue to resist putting in an appearance along Allen Road.

Image via Ákos Lumnitzer @ amatteroflight.com

Monday, March 14, 2011

All Quiet on the Allen Road Front


Overall aerial view of Allen Road. To the right [east] is the Nanango-Maidenwell Road. The fainter line to the left [west] is Andrew Road. The house can be seen at the approximate centre. The circle towards the bottom [south] is the dam. The blue line denotes the extensive area of Casuarinas


All told, it’s been a rather quiet birding time along Allen Road. Matters have not been helped by our inability to do our usual walk, either up towards the Nanango-Maidenwell Road junction or down to Andrew Road. Having a tree, well, a substantial main branch at least, suddenly fall across the Orchard/Middle Compound fence tends to rather preoccupy one’s attention… all the more when the chainsaw fuel line decides to rupture part way through the task!


Allen Road looking east to the Maidenwell-Maidenwell Road.






We continue our early morning birding, sitting in bed, both windows ajar [thank goodness for mosquito mesh], cup of tea in hand, listening to the growing crescendo of the Dawn Chorus. At weekends we do actually record these precursors to sunrise; during the working week we simply enjoy the various symphonies on offer.

Earlier in the week, Wednesday 9 March, Fay did note a handful of White-throated Needletails Hirundapus caudacutus overhead at the Allen/Andrew Road corner. They are often seen as portents of forthcoming storms. A minor rainstorm hit us on Sunday.

On returning from visiting our [non-birding] son [see the recent post at Birding the South Burnett] on Saturday, I drove a little further than normal past the gate, to allow for the trailer. I spotted a black bird in a low growing Casuarina, perhaps four metres to the west of the track. My initial reaction was to dismiss it as just another crow but immediately realized that the entire topographical jizz was wrong for crow. When I heard the soft crunch of large bill chew a Casuarina seed I knew the Glossy Black-Cockatoos Calyptorhynchus lathami, the darlings of our Backyard List, were back. Indeed, on closer examination we noted a pair of these beauties.


Allen Road looking west towards Andrew Road.





It was too tempting. We alighted and searched the area until we gained better views of the pair. I got in a couple of very poor shots [failing light remains my only excuse] before the bird flew off to the north.


Sacred Kingfisher Todiramphus sanctus @ Allen Road.

We’d no sooner got back into the car than Fay spotted the Sacred Kingfisher Todiramphus sanctus perched on a branch of the dead tree overhanging the track. We had written it off a while back as just another migratory species that had returned to its alternative residency. Perhaps when I have eventually transcribed all our handwritten notes onto computer I’ll be in a position to put together a paper on the local comings and goings of this little gem.

Other than these highlights the past week at Allen Road has been rather quiet- and science conferences will keep me away for the next two Saturdays!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Reflections on some Honeyeaters

Image via en.wikipedia.org

Yellow-faced Honeyeater @ nest

It couldn’t happen again, could it? But it did. I’d come across a similar problem when reflecting on the Noisy Friarbird Philemon corniculatus [previous post].

Heavy overnight rain [in excess of 50mm over a few hours] found us, the following morning, walking down to the front gate, inspecting the condition of the track; we were expecting guests for dinner later that evening and didn’t want them becoming bogged if the surface had become too soft. It was as we passed the run-off to the “Duckpond” [a small dam we had excavated a little over a year ago] that we first heard the call of the Yellow-faced Honeyeater Lichenostomus chrysops. A moment later it flew across the track, disappearing somewhere in the woodland to the east.

It wasn’t new to the Year List [we’d ticked the first back in January]. It wasn’t even new for the 2011 Allen Road List [that had also occurred in January]. It had however become something of a rarity to our backyard.

Our ornithological position has always been to the effect that in the early years of our residence in Allen Road, the Yellow-faced had been the dominant honeyeater; its close relative, the Blue-faced Honeyeater Entomyzon cyanotis a comparative newcomer, a latter-day usurper. It was a stance we adhered to rather rigidly.

Blue-faced Honeyeater, juvenile [note the green rather than blue face].





Then of course, as in the case of the Noisy Friarbird, along came Bluebird Technology’s Bird Journal software. I can only repeat that neither Fay nor I have any commercial association with this company but nevertheless, while admitting that it does not perfectly dovetail with all or birding requirements, it is one of the best bird recording programs I have come across in many a year.

In transcribing hundreds of handwritten records onto the computer it inevitably brought a few facts to light; shed a little reality over the dimness cast by time.

Yes, the Yellow-faced Honeyeater has seniority over the Blue-faced; it was first recorded here [as the 13th new Backyard List species] on only our second visit to Allen Road, 21 April 2001. It was there again on the subsequent visit, Saturday 12 May 2001 and again on the next day, Sunday 13 May.

However, also present that Sunday, as the 35th addition to the Backyard List, was the Blue-faced Honeyeater.

The Yellow-faced Honeyeater was reported on all 13 trips to Allen Road throughout June 2001, including one visit [29 June] when only two honeyeaters were recorded [the other being the Noisy Miner Manorina melanocephala]. The Blue-faced was not.

That initial pattern set the mould: the Yellow-faced was the dominant resident honeyeater; the Blue-faced was merely an occasional visitor.

That remained a fairly accurate assessment throughout 2002, although the Blue-faced was beginning to put in more appearances and, on albeit rare occasions, was present when the Yellow-faced was not [e.g. 31 March; 25 June 2002].

The status quo remained until the end of the first week in July 2003; the Yellow-faced was present on our visit over the first weekend in July 2003 [4-6th]. It was not reported in any of the five subsequent July visits nor, indeed, in any of the eight visits made in the following month, August.

It was next recorded on 4 October and again on 1 November 2003. During the latter part of 2003 the Blue-faced Honeyeater was beginning to be recorded on almost every trip to Allen Road.

Their roles had reversed; the Blue-faced had [and remains]] the more dominant of those two honeyeaters.

Image via en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Lewins_Honeyeater










I apply the pronoun those in that in all these reflections on the seniority and reporting longevity between the Yellow-faced and Blue-faced Honeyeaters [species with the word honeyeater in their name], Bird Journal rather sharply reminded me that throughout this same period two other members of the honeyeater family, apart from the Noisy Miner and the migratory Little Philemon citreogularis and Noisy Friarbirds, were consistently recorded and regarded as permanent at Allen Road; Lewin’s Honeyeater Meliphaga lewinii [first recorded on the same day as the Blue-faced, 13 May 2001] and the Striped Honeyeater Plectorhyncha lanceolata which was initially recorded on 21 April 2001 [alongside the Yellow-faced Honeyeater], giving it seniority over the Blue-faced and Lewin’s Honeyeaters. Indeed, the latter has remained a firm fixture, a resident, on our sightings lists while the former, like the Yellow-faced, now puts in only rare visits.

Striped Hineyeater. Image via Ozanimals.com






Nevertheless, hope remains for the Yellow-faced Honeyeater; over the past week it has been heard calling from somewhere in the northeast quadrant on at least three occasions.



There are 74 species listed under the Meliphagidae family [Christidis & Boles, 2008] of which 14 have been recorded at Allen Road. Along with the seven already mentioned above there have also been:

Eastern Spinebill Acanthorhynchus tenuirostris
Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater Acanthagenys rufogularis
Brown Honeyeater Lichmera instincta
Black-chinned Honeyeater Melithruptus gularis
Brown-headed Honeyeater Melithreptus brevirostris
White-throated Honeyeater Melithreptus albogulasris
White-naped Honeyeater Melithreptus lunatus

Saturday, February 26, 2011

BACKYARD DARLINGS

All bird species are of course most welcome at Allen Road. We extend the invitation to anywhere along the 2km length of the road, from its junction with the main Nanango-Maidenwell Road to its confluence with Andrew Road. Indeed, our offer covers the entire South Burnett region. All we ask is that we [Fay and I] are there when a particularly rare species does put in an appearance.

Yet for all the above, it would be less than honest of me not to admit that there are some species in more favour than others.

Don’t get me wrong, the humble Magpie-lark Grallina cyanoleuca or the oft maligned Torresian Crow Corvus orru are not spurned or driven away as if they were the lepers of avian society. Far from it but they are present each and every day; up close and raucous to boot. They have become a commonplace and complacency has set in- on both sides of the biological divide. The crows ignore all our efforts to keep them away from the duck and chicken eggs while the magpie-larks rotate early morning duties on the verandah rails and call until either one or both of us are awake and out of bed. We have rarely resorted to alarm clocks since moving to Allen Road.

They continue to bring pleasure: the crows when their young have fledged and continuously beg for food. At those times we can even feel sorry for the stressed adults endeavouring to keep the ravenous young satisfied. The magpie-larks brought a smile this year when they successfully reared their second clutch but tinged with a little sadness when the second of their well-developed youngsters simply disappeared.

Nor do we bear any malice to the introduced Spotted Dove Streptopelia chinensis or the much detested Common Myna Sturnus tristis. The doves are harmless enough, nay, they are really quite attractive birds. We initially noted a pair but nowadays see only one.

The mynas present a more serious threat. We first saw them back in the 1980s at a north Sydney railway station where they covered platform and tracks like a writhing carpet of feathers. Years later, our good friends Richard & Bess Newman of Redcliffe, occasional birdwatchers rather than dedicated birders, reported seeing a pair outside the Clontarf State School. Fay and I rushed around to confirm the sighting, a sad first for the Redcliffe Peninsula. On our last visit there, while not abundant, the mynas had certainly become common.

The Pale-headed Rosella Platycercus adscitus comes high on the list of favoured species, if for no other reason than that last year they showed a lot of interest in my “manufactured” rosella nestbox. They entered it, they looked it over but decided against it. We relocated it from the Dog Compound grey gum to the Wren Garden angophora; from facing southwest to northwest; we live in hope of eventual occupancy.


Among Fay’s top birds is the Australian King-Parrot Alisterus scapularis, a striking mixture of vivid red and dark green. They remain among the more confiding of the wild species and can even be coaxed into feeding from your hand. They will land on chair backs and stare through the open French doors to investigate any human indoor activity. The recent sighting of the “Kinky King-Parrot"[see previous posting] has added an element of expectancy; will it reappear?

Given a Backyard List in excess of 140 species there are many among the “more favoured” echelon: the regular summer migrants continue to please, typically, the spectacular courtship displays of the Dollarbird Eurystomus orientalis; the male/female duet of the Eastern Koel Eudynamys orientalis; the deafening call of the Channel-billed Cuckoo Scythrops novaehollandiae.

Some have been “favoured” since, or near, the inception: the raptors, a Wedge-tailed Eagle Aquila audax at the original visit, a Nankeen Kestrel Falco cenchroides at the subsequent visit, the Brown Falcon Falco berigora of September 2001. Others were considered a little special but then disappeared, some, the White-browed Scrubwren Sericornus frontalis and the Eastern Whipbird Psophodes olivaceus, making recent comebacks to once again feature in the “more favoured” list.

Many more could trip off the tongue: Australasian Pipit Anthus novaeseelandiae, Australian Owlet-nightjar Aegotheles cristatus, Dusky Woodswallow Artamus cyanopterus, Leaden Flycatcher Myiagra rubecula, Rainbow Bee-eater Merops ornatus and of course the humble Yellow-rumped Thornbill Acanthiza chrysorrhoa.

However, yesterday’s sighting of the Glossy Black-Cockatoo Calyptorhynchus lathami served as a timely reminder that we have long since felt a special affinity with this beautiful bird. We first recorded it for Allen Road back on 8 July 2001; the 60th Backyard List species on only our 20th visit to the property.

All three of the Black-Cockatoos present in the South Burnett region have been recorded at Allen Road: the Red-tailed Calyptorhynchus banksii [first sighting, 27 January 2002], the Yellow-tailed Calyptorhynchus funereus [first sighting, 10 June 2001] and the Glossy.



The Yellow-tailed, the most common of the three, is classified as “secure” in all states, in which it is actually present, with the exception of South Australia where it has been defined as “vulnerable.” It is the most common of the Allen Road black-cockatoos.

Of the five races of Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo, concern is at its most poignant for the south-eastern form, C. b. graptogyne. The Allen Road specimens are those from the nominatemore widespread form, C. b. macrorhynchus.

And so we come to the real Darling of the Backyard List, the Glossy Black-Cockatoo, one of the more threatened of the black-cockatoos and listed as “vulnerable” both in New South Wales and Queensland. It was the reason I agreed to take on the role of Conservation Committee Chair with BASQ – only to discover that the Glossy Black Conservancy meets during the working week! I am lead to believe this is to facilitate the attendance of people paid to help with the bird. Those of us prepared to give up our own free time –and without pay- are relegated to the nether ranks.

Nevertheless, Fay and I continue our work on behalf of this, the smallest of Australia’s six black-cockatoos. We record every sighting, here along Allen Road and in the wider South Burnett community. One of our major replanting programs on the property is the propagation of allocasuarinas [particularly the Black She-oak Allocasuarina littoralis], the favoured food of the Glossies in this area. Plans are afoot to design and construct nestboxes suitable for this bird.



Friday, February 18, 2011

Kinky King-Parrots

View of four parrots. The one on the left is clearly a male; the one at the right, a female. On the feeder itself, the right-hand bird is another male Australian King-Parrot but what is the one on the left?
p.s. The photo also shows the view from our south verandah


One could wax lyrical about the bird but in simple terms it is probably an Australian King-Parrot Alisterus scapularis that isn’t quite an Australian King-Parrot.

Yesterday, following a day at work, Fay and I found ourselves relaxing on the east verandah, enjoying a glass of the 2007 Thompson Estate Andrea Reserve cabernet merlot [from the, Margaret River, Western Australia], listening to a little Dvorak [Symphony No.9 in E Minor, Op. 95]. We were not particularly birding although from the settee on this verandah we could look across to the orchard and what we refer to as the “Middle Compound.” When not out in the field, our binoculars are usually to be found on the settee, along with my camera [a simple Sony 100 with a 70-300mm telephoto lens almost permanently attached].

The Crested Pigeons Ocyphaps lophotes and Bar-shouldered Doves Geopelia humeralis were quietly feeding from the grain I had scattered in the Middle Compound for the four young cockerels we’re rearing. A female Magpie-lark Grallina cyanoleuca was perched in a tree at the further end of the orchard while a pair of Galahs Eolophus roseicappilus were busily trying to shove more food down their juvenile’s throat to shut it up; young begging galahs can make enough noise to awaken the dead.

There was a pair of Australian King-Parrots at the south verandah feeder. The now almost traditional noisy but harmless kerfuffle between the parrots and the more aggressive Rainbow Lorikeets Trichoglossus haematodus had passed; the latter had ousted the gentler King-Parrots but had then abandoned the sunflower seeds to re-indulge in more favoured fodder on the south feeder.

I happened to look up as from the corner of my eye [albeit diabetes having now reduced the functioning of that eye to 60%] I noted another King-Parrot alight on the terracotta feeder. With its back turned to me I casually called it a female.

Only it wasn’t. Or rather, it didn’t quite fit the complete bill for an Australian King-Parrot.

Note the shade of green and the extent of the red underbelly. All wrong for an Australian King-Parrot.






The green was wrong, too light, more in line with the Red-winged Parrot Aporosmictus erythropterus that are occasional visitors to the property. Fay, an artist with a far better eye that I have, thinks even that it not quite on the mark; the green of this bird was a little paler than even Red-winged Parrot green.

When the new arrival came alongside the male at the south verandah terracotta feeder their differences in size became immediately obvious. The male Australian King-Parrot clearly exceeded 40cm in length, as per the field guides and, perhaps more importantly, in line with the description proffered by Higgins [Handbook of Australian, New Zealand & Antarctic Birds, Vol. 4, 1999]. The interloper, if such it be, was barely 30cm from bill tip to the end of its tail.

Again, note the paleness of the green and the extent of the red under the belly. The flush of red at the upper breast suggests this is approaching a male but at what developmental stage?





Over the years, both prior to moving here to Nanango and certainly since taking up residence in Allen Road, Fay and I have observed an incalculable number of Australian King-Parrot specimens; adult males and adult females together with countless juveniles in varying degrees of development. Yet none has ever matched this bird in size or colouration.

We considered the possibility of it being a slightly older bird, perhaps a first immature male or female. Higgins [1999] separates the males at this stage from their younger counterparts by the “small scattered orange-red patches on breast, throat and sometimes head.” First immature females are more difficult, their plumage being much as adult females but retaining juvenile remiges and rectrices.

However, at this stage in their development, the red on the male’s breast would be more clearly demarcated, approaching its adult stage; its bill would be acquiring orange or red on the upper mandible with a dark grey tip. The equivalent female would have a brown upper mandible.

While it would appear that Fay and I were almost indisputably looking at an Australian King-Parrot, anomalies remain unanswered. The intruder did not behave like a youngster and was certainly self-feeding. The differences in size remain indisputable.

In the end it flew off with one of the two adult males on the verandah.

So, the question is, what do we have here? Is it no more than an aberrant Australian King-Parrot or perhaps an anomalous Red-winged Parrot. Or is it simply a hybrid between the two?

The entire jizz appears to be wrong for Australian King-Parrot but what else can it be? A hybrid? Possibly a cross between Australian King-Parrot and Red-winged Parrot?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

AVIAN TRICKSTERS

Image by Keith & Lindsay Fisher @ Kingfisher Park.

I have no commercial interest and therefore can thoroughly recommend Kingfisher Park as a top birding spot.



Birds can be like that. Just as you think you have fathomed the patterns and behavioural traits of your local patch species, they suddenly exhibit a totally new and unexpected ploy to leave you with egg on your face.

Take the Eastern [Australian] Koel Eudynamys orientalis. In a previous post, “The Demise of the Rollers” I intimated that besides the premature departure of the Dollarbird Eurystomus orientalis, the Eastern Koel had also, seemingly, gone from Allen Road.

Fay and I were comfortable with that. Like the Dollarbird, the Eastern Koel has been known to stay around our property until early March [7th in 2002, 9th in 2010]. We assigned their early departure in 2011 to similar reasons as those expounded for the early exodus of the Rollers.

Imagine therefore our surprise, and perhaps even a little chagrin when, this morning [Sunday 13], we heard the distinctive call of the Eastern Koel. It was a male and it was clearly coming from within our property!

Had it gone only to return a little later? Had it actually remained on the property but simply stayed quiet for the past few days? Given that at one stage we had as many as three separate pairs swooping around, was their disappearance timed in unison, triggered by some unwritten, to human senses, unfathomable clue, or a series of pointers? Have all three males returned with only one of the males calling this morning? Have the females also returned but choose to stay silent?

This trick is beyond our ken.

The Noisy Miner Manorina melanocephala
is another avian trickster who can punch significant dents in your ornithological ego.

Fay and I have long since ceased to ponder about this honeyeater being at the verandah feeder where we scatter a small handful of sunflower seeds to encourage the Australian King-Parrots Alisterus scapularis. We have come to accept that, on seemingly random occasions, if one of the cats dares to attempt a little early morning sunbathing on the east verandah, one, more often several, Noisy Miners will suddenly appear on the handrail to harass them until they seek shelter back indoors or on one of the other verandahs.

We take a pride in informing our non-birding neighbours, and overseas birding and non-birding contacts, that the Noisy Miner is renowned for its alarm calls. It has two; a general purpose alarm [e.g. “Watch out, ham-fisted Homo sapien on the prowl”] and its raptor-specific early warning system. Its latter call has often alerted us to the presence of a raptor nearing the property; we down tools, grab binoculars and race out to vantages points to glimpse the approaching bird of prey.

Little Eagle
Image from ozanimals.com

Why then did this morning’s Little Eagle Hieraaetus morphnoides appear over the vegetable garden unannounced and unheralded by a chorus of clamouring Noisy Miners?

It was only by the merest chance that we came to see this magnificent raptor; Fay was sorting out the young chicks in their cage under the house, I was repairing the back steps and left to find a more appropriate spanner. I have no idea why I should, at that point, have turned and looked up towards the vegetable garden but there it was, gliding in from the west.

As I called out to Fay the bird could have been only a few metres above our heads, making identification unquestionable. As it passed by only a solitary Pied Currawong Strepera graculina seemed to give any vocal indication of the raptor’s presence. The eagle flew on to the northwest and disappeared over treetops.

To make matters even more puzzling, when the Little Eagle returned to view some time later, again there was no warning call from the Noisy Miners.

Clearly, Fay and I will have to modify the details we give to non-birding neighbours and even to birding overseas contacts when discussing the patterns and behaviours of these particular avian tricksters.