Saturday, January 22, 2011

On Recording the first Noisy Friarbird

Photograph by Stuart Smyth
available at
Odd thing the memory. Had I been asked I would have assured listeners that among the very first birds Fay and I recorded at Allen Road was the Noisy Friarbird Philemon corniculatus, a member of the honeyeater brigade. Yes, there was also Little Friarbird Philemon citreogularis but assuredly the noisier of the pair was there on that first day [13 April 2001].

It wasn’t.

That’s one of the advantages of keeping meticulous records. I’m a Dreamtine “dolphin” personality and dolphins revel in the keeping of lists. I am an almost pedantic keeper of records. Our bird lists go back to that first day in 2001 and on every visit, until we finally settled here in 2005, we recorded every bird seen and/or heard on or flying over the property on the occasion of every visit. We extended that to the entire 2km length of the street and Des’s 67ha paddock which abuts onto the southern boundary.

The simple fact is that 13 April 2001 was a quick inspection; one of several properties we had looked over that weekend. Only three species were actually recorded that day: the Little Friarbird, officially the first bird on our Backyard List, followed by Wedge-tailed Eagle Aquila audax and the Noisy Miner Manorina melanocephala, another of Australia’s many honeyeaters.

I knew there was a “noisy” something or other among the early bag.

Nor did we record Noisy Friarbird on our second visit to the property [21 April 2001]. The Backyard List expanded to 17 species but Noisy Friarbird was not among them:

By the end of May 2001 [covering our first four visits] the tally stood at 34 species. It included some real gems: Little Woodswallow Artamus minor, .Speckled Warbler Chthonicola sagittatus, and Pacific Baza Aviceda subcristata but it did not include Noisy Friarbird.

At the end of August 2001 the Backyard List had swelled to 67 species. Among them we could count further gems such as Spotted Pardalote Pardalotus punctatus, Restless Flycatcher Myiagra inquieta, Eastern Spinebill Acanthorhynchus tenuirostris, Little Eagle Aquila morphnoides, both the Yellow-tailed and Glossy Black-Cockatoos Calyptorhynchus funereus and Calyptorhynchus lathami respectively and the mega Australian Owlet-nightjar Aegotheles cristatus.

In fact our first Allen Road Backyard List Noisy Friarbird was not recorded until 2 September 2001, on the 33rd day of records.

They continue to visit each year and one day Fay and I will make the effort to search for their nesting sites which must be somewhere on the property.

And speaking of nests, it is pleasing to record that the Magpie-larks Grallina cyanoleuca have successfully fledged their second brood of two youngsters. They had originally fledged two on their first attempt, failed with their second nest [placing it in the most absurdly exposed site imaginable] and now have added a further duo of Magpie-larks to the world.

This year the Sacred Kingfisher Todiramphus sanctus moved from the termite mound on the edge of the drive to one on the southern edge of the property, a little beyond the dam. The Double-barred Finch Taeniopygia bichenovii have moved from their favoured orchard haunt to take up nesting residence behind the vegetable garden. The Apostlebirds Struthidea cinerea, Crested Pigeons Ocyphaps lophotes and Bar-shouldered Doves Geopelia humeralis have continued to thrive and nest on the property. The young Olive-backed Oriole Oriolus sagittatus is calling even as I tap out these few words and we have noted a number of “green-faced” Blue-faced Honeyeaters Entomyzon cyanotis at the two main feeders.

The Torresian Crows Corvus orru continue to stuff food down the throat of their clamourous youngster while the White-winged Chough Corcorax melanorhamphos appear to present with a little more decorum when feeding their young.

And while there are sadly no old, hollowed, trees on our property, the Galahs Eolophus roseicapilla, Rainbow Lorikeets Trichoglossus haematodus and Australian King-Parrots Alisterus scapularis [all hollow nesters] do at least continue to bring their juveniles to the Allen Road Avian Café Bar.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Wetter, Wilder & Whipbirds

Image from

In my blog of 9 January I used the title “Wet & Wild” in which I briefly described climatic conditions in my part of Queensland. Little was I to guess that it was no more than a gentle prelude to a rather wetter and wilder patch.

As I said, on Sunday 9 January the skies opened up and poured 102.5mm of torrential rain over us in the space of a few hours. It broke all previous rainfall records for the property. The place was saturated. Water was streaming towards the house. I undressed to my underpants [even on 7½ acres of mostly woodland modesty reigns] and started to madly build higher “whoaboys’ [ridges to divert water] and excavated ditches to drain away even more water. I was saturated.

It seemed to do the trick; water was being diverted around the house.

Too much water for the drains.

The following night [Monday 10 January] we experienced a severe thunderstorm, with associated lightning. One clap of thunder, directly overhead, shook the entire [wooden] house. The rain gauge registered 134mm of water.

For those accustomed to thinking of rain in terms of inches, I’ll leave you to mull over these figures – 236.5mm of rain in under 24 hours. 25mm to the inch.

The defences held. More or less. On further inspection we discovered that some of the water being diverted around the side of the house was gathering in a hollow [created by the plumber when connecting the house to the septic system]. A pool had collected and water had seeped under the bottom plank to dampen that corner of the concrete foundation slab. No damage. We only keep the spare ‘fridge there.

And that has been the last of the rain. Life is gradually returning to normal. This morning [Monday 17 January] I even travelled to Blackbutt [where I teach] and managed to pick up fresh milk.

And of course there is a silver lining to every dark cloud.

Not only has the dam more or less doubled in size [see picture in previous blog]but a pair of Eastern Whipbirds appear to have taken up residence on the property. The species is not new to the Backyard List; we first recorded it here back on 10 June 2001. It is not however a common bird here, or anywhere else along Allen Road for that matter.

Image from

We became aware of its presence on Monday 10 January during our early morning walk down [west] Allen Road. It was calling from somewhere off to the north.

On Tuesday 11 January we heard the sharp whipcrack of the male coming from somewhere along the western boundary, clearly within our fenceline. We sat up. We looked at each other and listened intently. The whipcrack had moved to the south west, soft but unmistakeable. It finally seemed to settle south of the house BUT not too far away.

As is all too often the case in such instances, by the time we had dressed and gone looking for the critter it had decided that silence was the better part of valour. We did manage the briefest glimpse of the bird as it flitted behind some undergrowth and Fay eventually viewed him flying across to the orchard.

On Wednesday12 January not only did we hear the whipcrack of the male but it was immediately followed by the “choo choo” of the female. We had a pair!

The following morning the male was calling as early as 0444 hours but we could get no further glimpses of him. Then disaster struck. There was no sign of the Eastern Whipbird on Friday [14 January], not so much as a squeak. Had the pair moved out?

No. On Saturday he was cracking his whip as early as 0446 hours and has continued to crack his whip, with occasional responses from the female, ever since. That makes it a week since we first noted them on the property.

It would be exciting to think they have come to stay at least a while longer.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Wet & Wild

Our front drive gradually succumbing to the relentless rain.

Allen Road is wet.

Well, actually, that could be construed as a blatant understatement. Allen Road is more or less saturated. So much rain has fallen over the past few weeks –culminating in recent deluges- that the land cannot take any more so consequently the water now lies on the surface creating potential hazards for the unsuspecting. To make matters worse, a couple of dams, both on the north side of the road, have burst their banks and the ensuing overflows have run into the totally inadequate roadside ditch. Mud and an assortment of gravel and cinder chips have spewed out into the road.

Over the past few days we have noted at least three vehicles bogged in their owners’ driveways. Other driveways are clearly unusable.

Yesterday [Sunday 09 January 2011] alone our rain gauge registered 102.5mm and at times that came down in furious bucketfuls.

In a number of instances the excess rain has caused more than simple inconvenience. I bogged the new Subaru Forester [all-wheel drive] on Friday; yesterday we managed to bog Fay’s Toyota [4-wheel drive]. We are effectively isolated on Allen Road. The Subaru is useable but requires urgent work to re-balance the wheels. Fay’s vehicle will have to remain stuck until the weather eases up a little.

Even with vehicles, we remain prisoners at the moment. From 63 Allen Road we have two options in reaching the township of Nanango. At the front gate we can turn right to the T-junction with the Nanango-Maidenwell Road, bear left to the T-junction with the D’Aguilar Highway and reach town along this route. Only the bridge into town has the infuriating habit of going under water and the road is blocked off. Back at our front gate we can bear left to the T-junction with Andrews Road which eventually sweeps into Major Road. At its T-junction with the Nanango-Brooklands Road we could turn right and follow that road through to town. Only the Nanango-Brooklands Road has been closed off [road damage ahead]. It is possible to ignore the “Road Closed” signs but it could entail a $300 fine and negates your insurance in the event of an accident.

We’ve found ourselves marooned on two occasions in the past week.

Birding is restricted. We watch from the three verandahs [north, east and south] and occasionally, in between rain squalls, stroll down to inspect the dam, birding as we go. It’s limited. It’s frustrating.

Not that birding is altogether impossible. The feeders help – and please don’t write to tell us we shouldn’t be feeding wild birds, a la BA advice. We know. We tend to disagree with BA on this point. Put it down to the Pommie in our souls.

We have a theory. More birds foregather at a feeder following, or indeed during, heavy rain periods. Our Allen Road records go back to April 2001 and clearly show that on average we attract a pair of Rainbow Lorikeets Trichoglossus haematodus on most occasions. During average rain spells the numbers can increase to four, occasionally as high as six. Over the past fortnight we have recorded up to 20, spread out across three feeders.

The Galahs Eolophus roseicapillus have followed a similar pattern, from humble showings of fewer than half a dozen specimens at any one feeding session to recent highs of 17 and 19.

Some species appear to have remained numerically stable, getting on with their lives.. The Torresian Crows Curvus orru are still feeding their squawking youngster. Until a few days ago the Australian Magpies Cracticus tibicen had two juveniles to feed; we assume they have now fledged and gone out into the world to seek their own fortunes. The Magpie-larks Grallina cyanoleuca, having successfully fledged one brood, lost a second nest in a too-conspicuous setting, appear to have been successful with their third nest; we continue to observe nest duty changeovers.

The male Crested Pigeons Ocyphaps lophotes continue to strut their egos, fan their tails and generally attempt to convince females of the species that they would make potent mates, provide top offspring in return for the energy expended in the copulation. The Grey-crowned Babblers Pomatostomus temporalis simply practice nest-building, seemingly on any pretext.

The obverse side of the rainy coin is, of course, that the dam is fuller than we have ever known it. It has almost doubled in size since 2001.

It’s wet, it’s muddy and slippery underfoot but life goes on. All the very best to everyone [non-borders as well as birders] during 2011. Happy New Year.