Fizzers

With the warm – well, actually hot! – weather at this time of year, our local bushland is fairly fizzing with the sound of cicadas.

We have several species locally, and I wrote a post a while ago attempting to identify each by their calls. The Redeye, Psaltoda moerens, the largest of them, is quite characteristic and reasonably well known. It is easily recognisable by its song, which builds to a crescendo of revving and yodeling buzzes.

But more common are the medium-sized cicadas of the Pauropsalta family; P. rubristrigata, and the smaller Black Squeaker, P. encaustica. En mass, they fill the bush with that persistent zizzing and fizzing that we hear. Heard up close, each species has quite distinct calls, with individuals giving quite a degree of variety, from steady buzzing to more rhythmical patterns such as “ch-ch-cher, ch-ch-cher”.

I realise it is unnecessary, given how ubiquitous they are now, but here is a recording of our local multi-species cicada chorus.

… and some images of a P. rubristrigata I came across the other morning. They are usually quite wary, so nice to get these close ups. Notice the red hind border of the abdominal segments.

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The Maniacal Cacklers of Newstead

No, I’m not referring to some of our more jovial community members, I’m actually talking here about Litoria peronii, or Peron’s tree frog, colloquially known as the maniacal cackling frog, for reasons obvious to anyone who’s familiar with their call.

Heard on warm spring and summer nights, cacklers are distinctive and, well, yes, a bit maniacal. Although Geoff has written about them being in the area, in seventeen years of living in the bush at Strangways, I’ve never heard a single one. Not a cackle. Until this spring, when unexpectedly, I heard not one but several chortling away by our dam.

Frog movements are perplexing. Where have they come from? Chris Johnston has had them at Green Gully only in the last five years, and I don’t remember them at all when I used to live over that way. So where have they appeared from? Are they gradually dispersing westwards? Is this a regular fluctuation in response to climatic conditions, or a unique population drift?

If you’ve heard cacklers locally, I’d be curious to know. Maybe they’re far more common than I’d thought.

And to help you identify them, here is a recording of our new riotous residents on our Strangways dam. You can hear the cackler almost immediately, and a second one takes over calling after a few minutes. This was recorded during spring, and you can also hear pobblebonks (Limnodynastes dumerilii), brown tree frogs (Litoria ewingii) (“weep-eep-eep-eep”, one quietly and occasionally in the background) and a chorus of brown froglets (crinia parinsignifera) (“squelch”ing calls, one quite close at beginning).

I rushed to make this recording the first night I heard them, being enthusiastically attacked by mosquitoes in the process (remember them?!). I needn’t have bothered. Our cacklers are still calling now in January, when most other frog species have fallen silent.

It’s a plum job!

I’ve been battling for some decent images of Musk Lorikeets all summer – noisy flocks have been feeding in the Red Ironbark in the front yard, but always seemed to be high up against a bright sky. This morning the birds were feasting on a fruiting plum nest door – they were completely oblivious to my presence!

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Musk Lorikeet, Wyndham Street Newstead, 5th January 2016

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Natural Newstead is going on holidays for the next fortnight … see you later in January!

Pinkies breeding

With the Moolort wetlands full over spring a number of duck species have taken the opportunity to breed. There are now lots of families of Australian Black Ducks, Grey Teal, Wood Duck and Australian Shelducks to be seen in the district.

To cap things off nicely I came across a pair of Pink-eared Ducks Malacorhynchus membranaceus with their brood at Walker’s Swamp earlier in the week. Small numbers of this distinctive small duck, notable for its spatulate bill, have been spotted over the past few months. It can gather in huge congregations when conditions are ‘right’ – the numbers of less this year than back in 2010/11 there I cam across a few flocks of between fifty and one hundred birds.

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Pink-eared Duck, Walker’s Swamp, 2nd January 2017 – the pink ear spot clearly visible

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There were six ducklings in total (five pictured here)

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The spatulate bill is obvious even at the duckling stage

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White-faced Herons have also been enjoying the swamp

Back to the waterhole

As the summer rolls on and the first run of hot days are behind us water is becoming scarce in the bush, apart from at the bush dams which filled nicely during spring.

This small waterhole is one of the last ones in the Mia Mia – hopefully a January cloudburst will replenish things.

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Mia Mia waterhole, 3rd January 2017

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Brown-headed Honeyeater

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Fuscous Honeyeater

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Yellow-tufted Honeyeater

Visitors from Japan

Latham’s Snipe Gallinago hardwickii is a migratory wader that visits eastern Australia each Spring. I’ve seen them in a number of locations around Newstead – along the Loddon River, around the shores of Cairn Curran and most commonly on the wetlands of the Moolort Plains when they are suitably wet. Yesterday I had my best sighting ever – at least a dozen birds at Walker’s Swamp.

As a child growing up in the Western District I knew this bird as the Japanese Snipe (they breed in Japan and eastern Russia) – they were common back then on the wetlands of southern Victoria. Nowadays it’s pretty unusual to encounter more than one or two birds and this usually involves a flushed snipe disappearing at speed before the camera even gets a chance!

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Latham’s Snipe habitat, Walker’s Swamp, 2nd January 2017

Yesterday I managed to spot a couple of individuals roosting on a series of small muddy islands in a rapidly drying Walker’s Swamp. Latham’s Snipe are wary and cryptic birds and will spend much of their time feeding quietly for invertebrates in shallow mud near the cover of rushes and other short vegetation. As I moved through the swamp I disturbed a series of birds – I estimate there were at least a dozen in total.

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Latham’s Snipe, Walker’s Swamp, 2nd January 2017

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A slightly closer view of the same individual

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This one ventured briefly into the sunshine – the image was taken from ~ 40 metres away

Latham’s Snipe are highly mobile in Australia, moving between suitable habitat throughout the season. These birds are unlikely to stay more than another month or so and as the Moolort swamps are drying fast we may se them around a brimming full cairn Curran in coming weeks before they head north along the east coast en route back to the northern hemisphere. Rough estimates of their numbers suggest an Australian population of less than 30,000 birds with about a third of these found in Victoria over summer. There is some concern that numbers of Latham’s Snipe may be declining – once again reinforcing the importance of wetlands on the Moolort Plains for biodiversity conservation.

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Half a dozen snipe were roosting on this small island amongst the red gums

Postscript: I’ve just learnt about a terrific new project on this species … The Latham’s Snipe Project was started by a group of passionate ornithologists to better understand the ecology of the Latham’s snipe and their use of wetlands. Their efforts focus on the Port Fairy area in south-western Victoria, breeding areas in Hokkaido, Japan and the migration patterns along the East Asian-Australasian Flyway. The team uses a range of techniques to better understand the species: observations, habitat monitoring, geolocators and satellite tracking. Click here to learn more.

Hard to miss

Regular readers will appreciate that this blog celebrates the unusual, the ordinary and the sometimes exasperating!

Newstead residents will ‘appreciate’ the large numbers of corellas wheeling over town and along the river at this time of year. The flocks are dominated by Long-billed Corellas, but with an increasing proportion of Little Corellas, a species that has increased locally in recent years. Despite their raucous noise and sometimes unhelpful habits they are extraordinary birds.

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Little Corella, Loddon River @ Newstead, 29th December 2016

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Little Corella (at front) with Long-billed Corella

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Long-billed Corellas