Just ‘closing the loop’ on Spotted Harrier observations on the Moolort Plains.
The three youngsters featured earlier this month have been honing their flying and hunting skills. Spotted Harriers not fast but they are very acrobatic and can wheel and dive rapidly when required. They are also adept at chasing and hunting down prey; such as small birds, reptiles and insects, on the ground.
Typical harrier hunting behaviour involves low-level quartering over cereal crops and stubble, interrupted (when food is abundant) by regular short descents to the earth to snatch their prey. The initial strike is not always successful and the raptor is quite happy to chase down its quarry ‘on foot’.
The youngsters were having a terrific time practising their acrobatics over the sun-drenched paddocks, while a little later I watched one of the juveniles prancing in the shade emulating the ground-foraging behaviour of the parents … there was no obvious prey in sight but it won’t be long before the technique is more serious.
Juvenile Spotted Harriers, Moolort Plains, 18th January 2020
In recent weeks I’ve enjoyed some time with juvenile Spotted Harriers on the Moolort Plains.
A number of times now while observing the young harriers the peace has been disturbed by the sudden arrival of a falcon, on one occasion a Black Falcon and twice by a Peregrine. Each time the arrival of the raptor was announced by a burst of alarm calls from the local residents and some rapid and haphazard scattering of nearby galahs and corellas.
Galahs are a common prey item of the Peregrine Falcon, as evidenced by my observation near the Moolort Silos. I disturbed the falcon as it stood over its kill in the middle of the road. It returned some minutes later to drag the unfortunate Galah some distance (allowing a quick and blurry image) before departing to perch in a distant tree. Both of these falcon species are extraordinary flying machines, the Peregrine is faster by a reasonable margin, whereas the Black Falcon exudes power and speed on the wing.
Peregrine Falcon, Moolort Plains, 15th January 2021
The ‘not so lucky’ Galah!
Distant and fleeting views of the Peregrine Falcon with its prey
After a good year’s flowering and seeding, there is an abundance of old grass stems in our yard at Strangways. These stems are a surprisingly popular venue for invertebrates by night.
One grass stem provided a bed for a Halictid bee which I think was well asleep as it was very unfazed by my bright lights.
I also found a few bugs which look like more advanced versions of a Stenophyella nymph that I posted a little while back. These are seed eating bugs which explains their interest even though most of the grasses have already sent their seed off on the winds.
Weevils are also on grass stems in numbers. I suspect they are feeding on the stems.
And where there are herbivores, there are also carnivores. This spider was so flat against the grass stem when I found it that I thought it was just a discolouration of the plant. Anything unusual is always worth a look.
Elsewhere, I found a species of Horned Treehopper that I’ve not seem before. Most summers I see quite a few Acacia Horned Treehoppers on our wattles, with a perfect green camouflage. These were Brown Horned Treehoppers, also on a Golden Wattle stem and to me they looked so other-worldly.
As I suspected the Spotted Harrier clan on the plains includes no less than three juveniles – a wonderful result.
The youngsters are doing well it seems , chasing food on the ground and from the air. The adults have been absent during my visits … I suspect they are watching their offspring and the photographer from a distance.
Spotted Harriers lay two to four eggs in a clutch, although to raise three healthy juveniles is, I reckon, a little unusual and a sign of an abundance of food this season.
Juvenile Spotted Harrier, Moolort Plains, 15th January 2021
Constant calling is a feature of young Spotted Harriers
It’s been an excellent season for Australian Reed-Warblers.
A ‘wettish’ winter and spring has meant good growth for their preferred habitat along the Loddon River – Cumbungi and Common Reed, along with a host of other wetland plants. This beautiful migrant songster will be with us for a few months yet before departing to northern climes in the autumn.
A few lazy minutes sitting quietly by the river is time ‘well-spent’ if you’d like to see a reed-warbler or two.
Australian Reed-Warbler, Loddon River @ Newstead, 13th January 2021
Back before Xmas I reported a pair of adult Spotted Harriers hunting on the Moolort Plains. In a pleasing development it looks like this pair has raised two, and possibly a third, juvenile.
Young Spotted Harriers have quite different plumage to the adults, rich buff is the overall impression. They do, however, share the same distinctive features as their parents that makes them instantly recognisable – long slender legs, extended narrow wings, barring on the tail and flight feathers and the owl-like facial disc.
Juvenile Spotted Harrier, Moolort Plains, 11th January 2021
On a drive across the plains earlier in the week a flash of crimson caught my eye, enough to cause me to stop and linger for a while amongst a roadside stand of Bulokes.
The crimson was from Buloke MistletoeAmyema linophylla, a rare parasite that grows on only two hosts, BulokeAllocasuarina luehmannii and BelahCasuarina pauper.
Buloke Mistletoe is only found on a small proportion, perhaps less than 5%, of the Buloke growing on the plains. The host is the signature tree of Buloke woodland, once a widespread and common ecosystem, now extensively cleared and consequently threatened. Buloke woodlands of the Murray Darling and Riverina are of major conservation importance.
As I admired the splendid mistletoe a flock of Yellow Thornbills appeared above me. Also known as the Little Thornbill, the party foraged happily for a while before moving on.
Sitting by a pool of water with the camera is one of my favourite pastimes.
The ‘trick’ is to be observant and patient, as many species of birds will soon become accustomed to your presence and resume their natural patterns.
Honeyeaters, of which we have a multitude of local species, are without doubt the most frequent visitors and locally its Yellow-tufted and Fuscous Honeyeaters that tend to dominate proceedings.
From time to time something special appears, perhaps a Yellow-plumed Honeyeater or Black Honeyeater if you’re really fortunate. In the sequence below I’d estimate that over a period of two hours there were 200+ visits from Yellow-tufted and Fuscous Honeyeaters before the Black-chinned Honeyeater dropped in. It was well worth the wait! This species is by no means rare locally, I hear it on most visits to the bush, but it is seriously outnumbered by other honeyeaters and always a delight to observe.
A couple of days later at the same spot, a real highlight – a juvenile Black-chinned Honeyeater – evidence of successful local breeding.
Fuscous Honeyeater, South German Track, Muckleford State Forest, 3rd January 2020
Juvenile Black-chinned Honeyeater, 5th January 2020