Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Cycle of Life

It is no longer appropriate to suggest that spring is on its way. It’s here! All around Allen Road there are the indisputable signs that, at least as far as the birds are concerned, it is spring and spring is the time of regrowth; a time for rebirth and the propagation of the next generation.

The Magpie-larks Grallina cyanoleuca have very conveniently chosen a tree immediately across from the front [east] verandah in which to build their nest – last year it was atop a tall tree up by the front gate, some 600m from the house and near impossible to spot even when standing directly beneath the nest. This year’s nest site is far more expedient for observation purposes; the telescope is already trained on the birds and nest-watching has become a regular breakfast-time activity.

Both birds work hard to feed the as yet indiscernible number of youngsters. The change-over routine has become an established pattern. The “off duty” partner returns to an outer branch of the Smooth-barked Apple tree Angophora leiocarpa, always announcing its arrival with that familiar Magpie-lark call; the “on duty” partner leaves the nest and the other takes over sitting/minding duties.

Their constant battle appears to be with the unwanted close attention of a Pied Currawong Strepera graculina, clearly determined to appease its own needs at the cost of the Magpie-larks’. At the moment the smaller larks appear to be holding their own against their larger adversary. On the approach of the currawong one or the other of the larks will immediately attack the predator and in this they are, on occasions, ably assisted by the Noisy Miners Manorina melanocephala who have their own youngsters nearby and therefore their own quarrels with the marauding Artamidid.
Their cause could also be aided by the fact that one of the two regular currawongs has lost its left eye. Oddly enough our good neighbours, Denis & Jeanette, two blocks away, report feeding what surely must be the same one-eyed bird. Even more curious, they have heard that friends of theirs, living a couple of kilometres away, as the crow [or rather, currawong] flies, have also been feeding a large, black and white one-eyed bird. What odds of two Pied Currawongs with a missing left eye in so small an area?

While seated, breakfasting on the east verandah, we are also at times privileged in being able to observe a pair of Dollarbirds Eurystomus orientalis in their courtship. In spite of their rather unassuming common name they are magnificent rollers [no doubt awaiting the moment some taxonomist will see them as Australian, Australasian or even Eastern Rollers- one calls even as I tap out the keys].

Their renowned aerial courtship display is in abeyance but they continue to perch on the dead outer limb of another of our angphoras – no more than five metres from the corner of the eastern and southern verandahs and again clearly visible while having breakfast or sipping a post-work glass of shiraz. Only yesterday we watched as first one and then the other alighted on the bare outer branch. The first bird appeared to touch bills with the later arrival but if this was an exchange of food the morsel was too small to be seen by the naked human eye. They have been seen allo-feeding on previous occasions so perhaps this was a simple bill-touching ceremony to strengthen bonding previously established between them.

Somewhere to the southwest we hear the desperate begging call of a young Torresian Crow Corvus orru and no doubt the loss of our chicken and duck eggs can at least in part be attributed to this. They have been noted flying away from the area of the henhouse with an egg in their bill, or we have come across empty, discarded shells on our walks between house and large dam on the southern boundary.

The Willie Wagtails Rhipidura leucophrys , Sacred Kingfishers Todiramphus sanctus and Grey Butcherbirds Cracticus torquatus are active as pairs although as yet we have no direct evidence of actual nesting or the rearing of young. The Striped Honeyeaters Plectorhyncha lanceolata have become more vociferous than previously noted, as indeed have the Olive-backed Orioles Oriolus sagittatus. Could these increased vocal displays indicate courting and/or more engaged nesting activities?

Whatever, clearly the cycle of avian life continues to flourish here at Allen Road.

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