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].