The sun comes out …

As I write this the rain is tumbling down again.

Earlier in the week we had a welcome burst of sunshine, enjoyed by fauna and flow alike, notwithstanding some invertebrate casualties!

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White-eared Honeyeater, Bruce Track, 8th August 2022

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Scented Sundew … first flowers

It’s that time of year again

Each year, around this time, the musical calls of Spotted Pardalotes fill the airwaves throughout the gardens of Newstead.

Spotted Pardalotes typically nest in the earth, in a narrow horizontal tunnel that terminates in an egg-laying chamber. Sometimes a new nest is created … or an existing site may be refurbished.

Sunshine and warmer weather are the signal for pardalotes to get busy, as demonstrated by a brief encounter I had with three birds at the weekend. Two males and a female were chasing each other, fluttering in the air space above a prospective nest site – a small pile of builders sand … a favoured location that has been used in past years.

One of the males was eventually chased off, the ‘winner’ then proceeded to display at the entrance of a partially excavated tunnel, whereupon the female arrived to show her appreciation.

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Spotted Pardalote (adult female), Wyndham Street Newstead, 6th August 2022

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Spotted Pardalote (adult male) inspecting a potential nest site

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Courtship display (female at front)

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Male at tunnel entrance – partially excavated

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The female looking a little excited

White-browed Babblers and more

I’m sure it’s a frequent behaviour, just not one that I’ve witnessed previously.

Moments before the second image was captured the White-browed Babbler at left passed a small food item to the individual on the right, most likely an instance of courtship feeding. This activity is common in many bird species, but happens so quickly that it can be overlooked.

Along with the selection below I spotted my first Olive-backed Orioles of the season and heard a Fan-tailed Cuckoo calling.

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White-browed Babbler, South German Track, 29th July 2022

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Moments after the food pass

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White-browed Babblers

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Fuscous Honeyeater

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Eastern Spinebill in Spreading Wattle

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Eastern Spinebill (male) singing

The wattles are out and so are the birds

The first burst of Golden Wattle Acacia pycnantha flowering has occurred during the past week, a sure sign that the season has shifted. Flowering will reach a ‘crescendo’ in August. Rough Wattle Acacia aspera has also commenced flowering, but more on that in a forthcoming post.

A visit to the South German Track area at the weekend produced a number of highlights, including fleeting, close-up views of a Chestnut-rumped Heathwren gathering food and a most unusual find – a peacock tail feather suspended in the foliage of a Golden Wattle. I can only speculate about how it got there.

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Golden Wattle in flower, South German Track, 24th July 2022

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Brown-headed Honeyeater

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Eastern Spinebill

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Chestnut-rumped Heathwren

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Peacock feather

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Yellow-faced Honeyeater

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Yellow-tufted Honeyeater

Hints of spring

The days are growing noticeably longer and despite the cold it does feel like spring in just around the corner. The first Golden Wattle flowers have appeared and the mixed flocks of woodland birds, a feature of the box ironbark over winter, are starting to break down as they begin to establish territories.

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Brown Thornbill, Mia Mia Track, 18th July 2022

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Fuscous Honeyeater

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Scarlet Robin (female)

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White-eared Honeyeater

Welcome … #228

Another new bird for the local list – the Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater Acanthagenys rufogularis.

A medium-size honeyeater (smaller than the wattlebirds), this species has a rather unusual distribution. Essentially a dry-country bird in Victoria it is a common inhabitant of woodland and mallee areas, especially in the north-west. It is also reasonably common around Melbourne and the peninsulas of Port Phillip Bay, where it has adapted to home gardens and areas of scrubland on sandy soils.

Until yesterday it was a species that I hadn’t recorded locally, however, its arrival was not entirely unexpected. It is one of a number of nomadic, dry country honeyeaters* that can often be found well ‘out of range’. I suspect small numbers occur in the district in some years. The late Joan Butler, a dedicated and knowledgeable local bird observer, recorded it a number of times back in 2001 (from May to July at Joyce’s Park) and since then there have been a small number of observations in the vicinity of Maldon and Muckleford.

Like most honeyeaters it is active and somewhat aggressive bird. This recent sighting involved three individuals – spending most of their time chasing each other, or being pursued by Red Wattlebirds and White-plumed Honeyeaters, into whose territory they had ventured.

Apart from their distinctive appearance (brilliant blue iris, pink bill with a dark tip, white cheek-stripe, apricot-buff throat and tear-drop underparts), Spiny-cheeked Honeyeaters have a most beautiful voice. Often described as a series of liquid, gurgling notes it is easily recognised as something different when heard for the first time.

A big shout out to Will Donkin who first spotted this flock last Friday (8th July). Will initially identified the call as unusual and then tracked down the owner!

I don’t expect these birds will stay around … but let’s see.

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Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater, Mia Mia Creek Newstead, 11th July 2022

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* Other dry-country nomads that are well being alert for include: Striped Honeyeater, Black Honeyeater, Pied Honeyeater, Purple-gaped Honeyeater and Yellow-plumed Honeyeater.

The landscape view

How far can a Peregrine see?

This pair, high up in a massive Grey Box, would certainly have a commanding view of the landscape.

From ground level I can only look on … and wonder.

Peregrine Falcon (female), Newstead area, 28th June 2022

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A plethora of fungi and a gratuitous night sky view

With our wet, cool winter we still have an abundance of fungal fruiting bodies popping out of the earth and trees to spread their spores far and wide. I am unsure of the precise identification of these little beauties and welcome any clarifications.

Many of the photos show tiny invertebrates feeding on the fruiting bodies – tiny creatures that I had no idea where there until I processed the shots.

Funnel Cup fungi with a Springtail on top

Springtails have six legs, but are not insects and have internal mouth parts. They live in the leaf litter and eat decaying plant matter and microbes. They also eat fungal hyphae (the strands that make up the bulk of the fungus) and spores.

The delicate gills and rich colours of the fungi look stunning against the mosses.

Galerina sp. – careful inspection of the one on the right reveals another springtail.

Galerina sp. with Fungus Gnat.

Fungus Gnats are tiny flies that are very important pollinators and spreaders of fungal spores. The adult forms can be seen flying around in large groups in still air even in winter as they meet up to mate.

At first, I thought this was a Puff Ball Fungus, but on closer inspection, I think it has a stem which has yet to rise above the moss.
Mycena sp in a niche in an old Grey Box stump. Fungi are important in the recycling of wood.
Galerina sp. and Scented Sundews.
Lichenomphalia sp. – there are so many of these beautiful tiny fruiting bodies on the woodland floor at the moment.

And – quite off topic – a gratuitous night sky shot that I took the other night from the old rail crossing now submerged in Cairn Curran at Joyce’s Creek.

The centre of the Milky Way rises over Cairn Curran. The dark patches are cold clouds of dust and gas from which future stars will form. The bright patches are clouds of gas ionised by the clusters of newborn stars that they surround.

Rakali encounter

This was quite a memorable encounter.

It was the hour before dusk and as I stood quietly beside Muckleford Creek a familiar shape could be discerned moving along the margin between the water and the bank, occasionally pausing. Its identity soon became apparent.

A Rakali, otherwise known as the Water Rat Hydromys chrysogaster, spent the next hour with me as I watched on, fascinated. It was foraging both along the shoreline and in the water, diving numerous times around clumps of Water Ribbons in search of a meal. Feeding on invertebrates such as yabbies and mussels, they will also take small juvenile birds and eggs if the opportunity presents.

Rakali are a reasonably common inhabitant of the Loddon River and its tributaries, also occurring in Cairn Curran Reservoir. They can also apparently be found in bush dams but I’ve never observed one locally in this habitat.

They breed in late winter and spring and produce a litter of one to seven (usually four or five) offspring. Some females may breed multiple times over this period. The denning behaviour of Rakali is little known, but they are known to build a burrow close to water, often under an overhanging bank. This individual disappeared into the same spot on three occasions when it returned from foraging. The last image in this series shows the location of what I suspect is the den.

Rakali are native rodents, one of roughly 60 species recorded across Australia, of which around ten are now extinct. Sadly, many of these unique animals have been lost to the dual depredations of habitat loss and feral pests. Rakali is a survivor … not so species such as the evocatively named White footed Rabbit-rat which once inhabited the woodlands and stream systems of central Victoria.

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Rakali, Muckleford Creek, 28th June 2022

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Rakali can often be found by looking out for their ‘feeding tables’, such as a suitable log or rock, where they consume their meals and deposit the remnants. The ‘feeding table’ pictured below lacks the usual crustacean skeletons or mollusc shells … a little baffling.

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Rakali feeding station

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Rakali at den entrance

Kites and falcons

A few images from a short journey earlier this week across the plains.

The Black-shouldered Kite was one of a pair hunting mice from an elevated perch atop a pine tree.

The Brown Falcon was likely in search of the same quarry – a hay shed its chosen lookout.

The Nankeen Kestrel, a splendid female captured in the golden hour, is another renowned mouse hunter.

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Nankeen Kestrel (female), Moolort Plains, 28th June 2022

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Brown Falcon

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Black-shouldered Kite

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