Thursday, June 30, 2011


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


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:

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!