Saturday, February 26, 2011


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


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

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.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Demise of the Rollers

Image available at

The Dollarbirds Eurystomus orientalis appear to have gone. They came, they courted [entertained] in mid-air aerobatic displays, they nested, fledged young and have now gone on to fresher pastures. We expect them to return around October.

That, I suppose, is one advantage of having your own Backyard or Local Patch List, eventually you become quite familiar with those species that are either resident throughout the year or are regular seasonal visitors. At Allen Road the Laughing Kookaburra Dacelo novaeguinea [a kingfisher], Rainbow Lorikeet Trichoglossus haematodus, Noisy Miner Manorina melanocephala and Blue-faced Honeyeater Entomyzon cyanotis are typical of species slotting comfortably into the former category. Emblematic of our summer migrants are the Scared Kingfisher Todiramphus sanctus, Channel-billed Cuckoo Scythrops novaehollandiae and of course the Dollarbird.

It can go further. If one keeps records than extend beyond the simple tick [indicating that the species has, at some time or other, put in an appearance in your designated local area] it becomes possible to make predictions on expected times of migrant arrivals/expected times of migrant departures.

As a point of interest, the February departure of the Dollarbird is a little early. It has in past years hung around until early March; 7 March [2010] being the latest on record. My best guess for this year’s premature exodus would be the inclement climatic conditions experienced in this area, as indeed further afield, from before Christmas 2010 until after the new year [2011]. Heavy rains and strong winds may well have played havoc with Roller family planning.

We appear to have now also lost our patch Koels but they remain extant in the immediate general area; we heard a male this morning along nearby Berlin Road [fuller report shortly to appear on http://www.birdingsouthburnett.blogspot/].

Our Allen Road records, dating back to 2001, now cover a period of extended drought as well as the recent deluge. We can begin to detect patterns and trends, as we convert old handwritten entries into the recently acquired Bluebird Technology’s Bird Journal [Martin Yapp of Blurred Birding fame has written a fairly comprehensive report on the program ].

Not that all trends need a computer program to become obvious. Back in 2001 the most common of the honeyeaters was undoubtedly the Yellow-faced Honeyeater Lichenostomus chrysops. Its near relative, the Blue-faced Honeyeater featured only on occasional visits. Nowadays those roles have reversed.

Yellow-faced Honeyeater
Image available from

Similarly, at one time the Pied Currawong Strepera graculina was among the earliest and most vociferous of our local birds. Now its appearances are far and few between, although on occasions [as per the photograph in my previous blog] it does still put in a rare encore.


I remain impressed.

65 visitors from six different countries have now at least briefly perused this simple blog. I am well aware that other blog sites attract even larger audiences but to this humble, and often hesitant blogger, the volume of passing traffic comes as a rather pleasant surprise. And the site is comparatively new!

I can understand the 24 Australian visitors. Australian birding blogs appear to be far and few between. At least, several GOOGLE searches, using a wide variety of keywords, sheds only limited light on potential sites. Many birders, myself included, enjoy sharing birding experiences with other kindred spirits and while birding with a group is often the more direct solution, it is not always possible to be part of a birding crowd. Blogs provide one possible alternative. We may not be able to join others physically but we can at least share birding experiences and thoughts online. Thus, birders of that ilk tend to gravitate towards blog sites.

To some extent I can also understand the seven U.K. visitors. As part of the preparation for our recent [September 2010] trip to the Old Dart I made my first venture into Bloggersphere with Staffordshire Stray. That site attracted a reasonable number of British visitors, together with a fair smattering of “overseas” guests. Perhaps a number of the 173 U.K. visitors, and others, have filtered across to both the Allen Road and South Burnett blogs.

Similarly, the five visitors from the USA could be simple transfers from the 24 that visited the original Staffordshire Stray blog. On the other hand, they could be totally new viewers.

What I find most amazing are the 27 Russian visitors. To the best of my knowledge I have no birding contacts from the Russian Federation, indeed, given the Polish surname, I have no birding contacts in Poland either [although I note a Polish visitor to my Staffordshire Stray blog].

I wonder about the one German visitor. Is this the same birder who visited the Staffordshire Stray blog or is it a completely new convert to my Allen Road ramblings?

And of course there is now a visitor from India. Oddly enough, Fay and I have included India on our shortlist for possible birding venues in 2012. Is this a coincidence, or an fortuitous omen?

Each and every one of you is more than welcome to my Allen Road blog, as you are to my South Burnett and Staffordshire Stray blogs, although now that Fay and I are back in Australia the latter will, by force, be a little thin in content –until we plan our next U.K. sojourn and, with family and friends still domicile there, I can’t see a time when we won’t plan a future return.

Enough already! If Dreamtime “dolphin” personalities revel in lists, the Slav in my veins wallows in garrulousness.

The accompanying photograph of a Pied Currawong Strepera graculina,
nestled on the lower newel of our front steps, was actually part of the original point of this blog but the sight of all those flags rather waylaid me. Keep reading, I’ll reurn to this awesome yellow-eyed Artamidid anon.

PS In the space of time it has taken for me to create this blog, a further five visitors have browsed here. 70 and counting!