There are various species of harriers around the world – Australia has two mainland species, the Spotted Harrier and the Swamp Harrier. The former is more common on the Moolort Plains, while the latter is sometimes seen passing through on migration.
All of the harriers are distinguished in having very long legs, an adaptation that is well suited to their hunting behaviour.
Spotted Harrier, Moolort Plains, 1st December 2013.
The extraordinarily long legs of the Spotted Harrier on display.
Their long, slightly-built legs are well-suited for seizing small rodents and birds from amongst long grass or wetland vegetation. Harriers have been observed subduing large prey by drowning, although I’ve never witnessed this. They hunt largely on the wing in a low, coursing pattern of flight, although I’ve often observed them chasing and pouncing on large insects amongst stubble in the autumn. They fly in a loose, flexible fashion, and dip, rock, bounce, and wheel buoyantly over open country. When gliding, harriers hold their wings slightly above the horizontal in a shallow “V.” Hunting harriers rely heavily on acute hearing as well as sharp vision to locate prey. A ruff of stiff feathers surrounds the face and helps gather and focus sounds to the ears, in the same way as owls’ facial disks.
Departing the perch …
… and a look back towards the visiting photographer!
It’s both a privilege and an education to watch one of our local native birds construct a nest. The Eastern Yellow Robin crafts a superb nest, from grass, bark, leaves and moss. A pair is currently making a new nest beside the Loddon River. The following sequence shows one of the adults going about its work.
Eastern Yellow Robin nest-building, Loddon River @ Newstead, 1st December 2013.
Weaving another strip of grass into the nest lining.
Shaping the nest with its body.
Simultaneously adding more material while using its wing to shape the perimeter of the nest.
Sitting low in the nest and wiggling side to side to shape the bowl!
Following on from yesterday’s post is the story of a pair of Sacred Kingfishers, nesting in a hollow on the opposite side of the same River Red-gum. I can’t recall finding Laughing Kookaburras and Sacred Kingfishers nesting so close together previously.
Sacred Kingfisher about to enter its nest hollow, Loddon River @ Newstead, 1st December 2013.
I’d spotted the smaller kingfishers inspecting the hollow a few weeks back – it seems nesting has now begun. Both adults visited the site, with one individual, I suspect the female, remaining inside for about ten minutes on one occasion, presumably to incubate.
Excellent choice of hollow!
The choice of hollow is superb, perfect diameter and difficult for predators to access. Interestingly the larger hollow above doesn’t appear to be connected.
Ready to depart after a short visit.
The Laughing Kookaburra Dacelo novaeguineae is actually a giant kingfisher, in the family Halcyonidae. It’s an aggressive predator of small birds, reptiles …. and cicadas!
Laughing Kookaburra with cicada.
A few days back I was idly watching one with a cicada in its bill at the river. Oblivious to my presence, it left its perch and alighted at the entrance to a hollow in the side of our famous Newstead River Red-gum. This extraordinary veteran boasts a multitude of hollows and crevices – it must have been the nursery for thousands of young birds over the years, not to mention the other wildlife.
The Newstead River Red-gum, Loddon River, 30th November 2013.
The young kookaburras in the hollow were obviously hungry. Over a thirty minute vigil, at least two adults brought a variety of food to the nestlings.
About to leave the nest hollow after another feeding visit.
Each visit involved arriving at one of a number of favoured perches near the nest, followed by a short flight to the hollow. Cicadas were the favourite meal – it appears the kookaburras were collecting recently emerged adults from along the nearby banks of the Loddon.
This time with a skink – note the absent tail feathers – most likely a legacy of nesting activities.
The arriving kookaburras had some local angst to contend with, mobbed by an array of small birds during most visits. A pair of Sacred Kingfishers, tending a nest in a cosy second storey apartment were not happy … more on their activities later.
Arriving again with another cicada meal!
by Patrick Kavanagh
The Rise and Shine is alive with woodswallows at present and the area to the east of the old quarry seems to be specialising in the White-browed. I love the distinct markings of these birds. Lots of calling and displays and I found one pair building a nest in a low branch well suited for observing and photographing their construction methods.
Male White-browed Woodswallow, Rise and Shine, 29th November 2013.
Female White-browed Woodswallow
The one with the head in the nest tamping down the material is the female.
As I’ve mentioned previously, Speckled Warblers are thin on the ground around here. Numbers seem to slowly increasing, but the birds are still found in only a few widely spread locations across the district.
Male Speckled Warbler, Strangways, 26th November 2013.
To find evidence of recent breeding, is therefore quite exciting. Last week I came across a family party of three, possibly four birds, on a private property at Strangways. A juvenile was being fed by the parents – it was hopping about in a clump of dead mistletoe, waiting for the adults to return with food.
The juvenile Speckled Warbler was using a dead clump of mistletoe as cover.
Speckled Warblers are quite fussy with their habitat preferences. They prefer areas of mature woodland, with a combination of open grassy areas and moderate to high density of fallen wood. Quite a few private land remnants are gradually returning to excellent habitat for this cryptic, but delightful woodland bird.
Another view of the male – female Speckled Warblers have a chestnut eye-brow.
The lovely nest and eggs, pictured in the previous post, belong to a Rufous Songlark, a regular spring-summer migrant to our district. The photograph below doesn’t do justice to the bird. Adults have a rich, rufous rump and its the female that does all the nest-building, incubation and feeding of the young.
Rufous Songlark, Loddon River @ Newstead, 5th November 2013.
Rufous Songlark nest, Sandon, 26th November 2013.
Many thanks to Saide Gray of Sandon, who found the nest.