Wednesday, April 4, 2012

A Matter of Grey

Grey Goshawk in flight
Photo by Russell Jenkins, available at the Australian Bird Images Database:

Seeing one Grey Goshawk Accipiter novaehollandiae in a week [] is joy enough for the soul of most Queensland birders but to see three over the same weekend – and two of those as a pair- is rapture beyond reckoning!  All the more as at the time we were not birding, simply enjoying a respite from a number of household and backyard chores that needed doing before the sun became too fierce to work in.   We were sitting on the front verandah with a cuppa each.
It was the Noisy Miners Manorina melanocephala that first attracted our attention.  The species has a number of alarm calls, one distinctly warning of the approach of a raptor.  It becomes almost second nature to look up when the Miners alert you to the presence of some danger.
Fay spotted them first, pair of Grey Goshawks just beyond the roofline of our neighbour’s house.  They dipped below our line of vision, reappeared momentarily as they flew towards the wooded area between our two properties, vanished from view again and then suddenly burst out into the open sky.
It was the briefest of glimpses.  Rare views of any delightful bird are never long enough to satisfy the inner being of a birder but it was long enough to note the deeply veed wings as the pair cavorted around each other, dropped from view and reappeared, still in gracefully slow motion before going on their way beyond our line of sight.
We didn’t even have the binoculars at hand but then the pair had been close enough to fully appreciate with the naked eye.
It remains the gem of the 35 backyard species, including the Australian Owlet-nightjar Aegotheles cristatus of the evening, recorded that day.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Glossy Black-Cockatoo

That’s life! Sometimes the end result of a search is another tick to your Lifelist, or simply another good view of a favourite avian species. On the other hand, on occasions, the fruits of diligent observation and searching can amount to little more than a memory, the fading excitement of what might have been.

We experienced the latter on Saturday [17 March]. Not that we were birding avidly at the time. Far from it. There were too many tasks around the Allen Road property listed as needing urgent attention to allow for any serious birding. Nevertheless, as a matter of habit, even while filling in another deepening rut [clay soil and heavy rainfall make for sloppy track surfaces that rapidly degenerate into seeming chasms] eyes and ears remained alert to the possibility of new, or at least interesting, birds passing by.

It was during one of a number of tea breaks that our attention was alerted. Or rather, Fay’s attention was brought into focus. I was inside, continuing to redefine our Lifelist; Fay was on the north verandah reading another chapter of yet another book [she can read the average who-dun-it novel in a couple of days].

Fay called me out on the second call of the Glossy Black-Cockatoo Calyptorhynchus lathami.

You need to understand that unlike its near local relatives, the more common Yellow-tailed C. funereus and the rarer Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo C. banksii, both raucous variants of the family, the Glossy [actually a brown rather than a black cockatoo] is a comparatively quiet bird. Its call could go undetected; its arrival unnoticed as it locates a suitable tree to silently chew away on seed pods.

We both ceased whatever it was we were engaged in doing at the time, grabbed our binoculars [never too far from hand], raced down the front steps and cautiously approached what we refer to as the “Northwest Quadrant” of the property [not that the property is actually divided into four equal parts, nor indeed are there four definable segments]. Fay had heard the bird call from this section; our last sighting of it had been here.

It wasn’t new; it wasn’t going to be a “megatick”. My records indicate that since first seeing the species at Glen Innis [northern New South Wales] back in May 1999 [July 2001 for Allen Road] we had 93 subsequent sightings recorded – the last [at Allen Road] as recently as October 2011.

But it was always going to be exciting! As I have written elsewhere, they remain the darlings of our backyard bird species.

We walked, we stopped, we listened for the tell-tale sound of casuarina seed pods being chewed. Nothing. We walked on, we stopped at intervals and again listened intently for any giveaway indications of their presence – they often travel in trios although we have noted pairs and on one occasion a solitary bird.


We crossed the track and explored along the eastern fence line, heading back south towards the house. Our neighbour, not a birder, has an impressive stand of casuarinas in the northwest corner of his property [abutting our “Northeast Quadrant”]. It was the original source of the seeds used to start our own planting program.


Clearly the Glossy had merely been passing through and to add insult to injury, the rain started to come down. Those remaining ruts and potholes will have to await another day, as of course will our next sighting of the Glossy Black-Cockatoo.

Glossy Black-Cockatoo

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Over the Summer Hump

It has been a rather unusual austral summer. We were warned to expect a very wet period and even though there have been patches of heavy rainfall – 40mm in the space of a little over an hour on one particular day- the predicted wetness has failed to eventuate. It may of course still come in the remaining days of summer but it would have to come down in proverbial bucketsful to come within coo-ee [Australian slang term] of last January’s deluge. No one is complaining. Mostly we remain grateful that Mother Nature has seen fit to control her vagaries.

The waning of summer heralds the gradual departure of our regular seasonal migrants. At its peak we can boast anything up to a dozen or so visitors, ranging from those that reappear almost as regular as clockwork to those that put in an occasional appearance. The Cuculidian trinity of Horsfield’s Chalcites basalis, Little Chalcites minutillus and Shining Bronze-Cuckoos Chalcites lucidus are examples of the latter. None has been observed during this current summer but on the other hand the Brush Cuckoo Cacomantis variolosus has been more prominent than in previous years and the Black-eared Cuckoo Chalcites osculans made its first ever appearance on Allen Road [13 November 2011] and was last heard as recently as 15 February 2012.

One of the earliest indicators of summer has been the raucous Channel-billed Cuckoo Scythrops novaehollandiae. This season it was first heard along Allen Road on 11 October 2011 and remained a regular feature of the dawn chorus [and later in the day] until the end of January 2012. Following a brief pause it reappeared and was last heard on 8 February which in itself raises an eyebrow -last year it was still here until mid-March.

The Australasian Figbird Sphecotheres vielloti has always been something of an anomaly. It arrives, hangs around for a couple of days before disappearing to then put in an occasional subsequent visit before departing to wherever it is figbirds depart to when not along Allen Road. It arrived on 24 September 2011, remained on an almost continuous basis until mid-October, disappeared for the best part of a month, reappearing on 12 November, only to disappear again. It put in a brief appearance on 29 December, vanished and called for the last time on 28 January 2012.

Alongside the Figbird, Fay and I often pair the Olive-backed Oriole Oriolus sagittatus although its stay with us is more settled. It arrived at the end of September 2011 and was still with us, albeit rather less vocal, a couple of days ago. However, Fay and I are beginning to suspect that this species is perhaps not as migratory as originally suspected. In 2010 it was recorded at least half a dozen times in every month barring June; there is one record of the Oriole at Allen Road in June 2008! Food for thought?

Both the Little Philemon citreogularis and Noisy Friarbird Philemon corniculatus remain iconic heralds of summer. The former was among the first three birds we noted when looking over the property as a potential purchase back in April 2001. The Noisy has been known to arrive in early July and hang around until mid-April. The Little can be a month later in arriving but can linger a little longer than its cousin.

No summer would surely be complete in this neck of the woods without the temporary stay of the Dollarbird Eurystomus orientalis and the Eastern Koel Eudynamys orientalis [the iconic “Stormbird”]. This season we have been blessed with two breeding pairs of Dollarbirds on the property. The first appeared on 11 October 2011 and are expected to depart any time soon, although in both 2003 and 2010 they were still about as late as March. Similarly, the Koels are expected to leave sometime in February, although they too have been known to stay until March – indeed, we have one record in the South Burnett of Eastern Koel in May!

Finally we touch upon one of mine and Fay’s favourite summer migrants, the Sacred Kingfisher Todiramphus sanctus. We almost thought that it had deserted us this season: last year it nested in the tree right on the southern boundary fence of the property; in earlier years it has nested in the old ironbark within ten metres of the house. However, it was simply a matter of seeking out its new location, in the northeast quadrant.

The kingfisher usually arrives in September, although we have a record of one in the South Burnett at the end of August 2009. Most remain through to February/March although, again, there is a record as late as May 2010 [distance of locations makes it unlikely to be the early 2009 arrival].

They come, they linger a while, they go. For many of our summer migrants that time of the season is upon them. Even when they remain that while longer they normally become more subdued, less raucous in their call. All adding to the unescapable reality that summer is over the hump and on the downward slide into autumn [fall].

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


Yes, it’s been a long time between drinks. There is of course the usual array of excuses, primarily centred on an increasing workload at school and the coming of the Australian Curriculum to Queensland in 2012. The quinquennial colonoscopy put paid to a few days before Christmas.

Nevertheless, throughout, birding along Allen Road has continued where circumstances permitted, with the unexpected arrival of a Black-eared Cuckoo Chalcites osculans as one of the season’s highlights.

Photograph by Graeme Chapman.

Frustratingly, while we have heard it call from all points of the compass around the property all our efforts to actually locate the bird, with the exception of one fleeting view as the bird raced away, have proved fruitless.

We console ourselves with the knowledge that the same was true of its relative, the Brush Cuckoo Cacomantis variolosus which, in a similar manner, eluded our binoculars for months. Then, on Thursday 29 December 2011, during one of our customary early morning walks along Allen Road, we spotted the bird calling from a smallish tree to our left. The walk was suspended for a few moments while we savoured the view.

Photograph by Ian Montgomery.

That’s all part and parcel of birding along Allen Road. On a daily basis you see and/or hear the regular residents, the Torresian Crows Corvus orru and Noisy Miners Manorina melanocephala, the Australian Magpies Cracticus tibicen and Striped Honeyeaters Plectorhyncha lanceolata but every now and then you come across the more unusual – the Australasian Bittern Botaurus poiciloptilus [4 November 2001] flying over your head, the Black-faced Monarch Monarcha melanopsis [new to the Backyard List in December 2011],

Similarly, summer has its regulars. The Sacred Kingfisher Todiramphus sancta and Channel-billed Cuckoo Scythrops novaehollandiae, the Little Friarbird Philemon citreogularis and Olive-backed Oriole Oriolus sagittatus but again, there can be the unexpected – the Rainbow Bee-eater Merops ornatus and Australasian Figbird Sphecotheres vielloti which comes, remains a day or two and disappears to occasionally put in a rare repeat visit in the one season.

And then of course there are always the part-time birding neighbours who simply floor you with a totally unexpected revelation.

It was back in July 2009 that Les, an ex-Vietnam Veteran two blocks away, first informed us of the aberrant flock of Budgerigars Melopsittacus undulatus he’d noted along Allen Road a number of years earlier By the time he appreciated that Fay and I were more than simply interested, more akin to obsessed, he could recall few further details. The report is duly entered in our computer records in the hope that the birds return to Allen Road one day.

We were in for an even greater surprise during the last weeks of 2011 when we walked over to our neighbours, Denis & Jeanette, both avid backyard bird feeders with a tabletop fieldguide but who play little part in active birding. It was the evidence of the photographs that stunned us.

The Rose-ringed Parakeet Psittacula krameri, clearly an escapee and therefore probably failing to meet the “viable population” criterion, had, on and off, been visiting their backyard birdtable for the past two or three years. Jeanette photographed it on one of those occasions. Its continued presence over that period leaves many unanswered questions.

Photograph by Jeanette McBryde.

As if the parakeet wasn’t enough of a jolt to the system, Jeanette then proudly handed over her photograph of a “strange bird” she had photographed on the morning of 5 December 2011. She had spotted it skulking on the edge of their small front dam, under the pipe leading from pump to water – a Striated Heron Butorides striata!

Photograph by Jeanette McBryde.

Happy 2012 to one and all. May the new year bring you all those as yet unticked species and may all your birding experiences be pleasant but challenging.