Sorting out the grebes

All three species of grebes found in Australia can be encountered in the Newstead district. The largest, the Great-crested Grebe, is a bird of open waters and will almost certainly be seen over summer on Cairn Curran now that the storage is full. The two smaller species can also be seen there but this is more common outside the breeding season.

The Australasian Grebe often uses small bush and farm dams for breeding – the images below are from a small dam along South German Track where a pair with two striped youngsters had built a nest over Spring.

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Australasian Grebe in breeding plumage, South German Track, 2nd December 2016

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Australasian Grebe – adult and chick

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Hoary-headed Grebes are less common locally but small numbers breed, especially when the plains wetlands are suitably wet. In non-breeding plumage over winter the two species of smaller grebes are superficially similar – their breeding attire is however, very different. The silver-streaked head-dress of the Hoary-headed Grebe immediately sets it apart from the richly marked Australasian Grebe.

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Hoary-headed Grebe, Lignum Swamp, 3rd December 2016

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The Hoary-head Grebe has a silver eye, while that of the Australasian Grebe is yellow

Summer icon

One of the iconic birds of summer on the Moolort Plains is the Spotted Harrier. While they can be seen through all seasons, it’s in summer when the crops are being harvested that this species comes into its own. The long legs, seen clearly in one of the images below, are an adaptation for hunting. Typically Spotted Harriers can be seen floating at low levels above crops and around the margins of wetlands where they will pounce regularly on unsuspecting prey.

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Spotted Harrier, Moolort Plains, 1st December 2016

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Freshwater meadow at Baringhup West

One good tern …

… after another can be found on the Moolort Plains wetlands.

What a pleasure to watch Whiskered Terns flocking and fishing over these marvellous jewels in the landscape.

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Whiskered Terns, Lignum Swamp, 29th November 2016

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Adult Whiskered Tern in full breeding plumage

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Whiskered Tern with a tadpole … Limnodynastes dumerilii?

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Whiskered Terns flocking

Joycea pallida peaking

by Patrick Kavanagh

One of the joys of decent rainfall at our place at Strangways is the profusion of flowering of grasses. Especially striking are the Red-anther Wallaby Grass Joycea pallida flowers. Lovely to look at with the naked eye, they are a real treat through a macro lens. Quite a popular hunting lair for spiders too it seems.

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Red-anther Wallaby Grass, Strangways, November 2016

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III … with what looks like an orb-weaver?

Fairy Martin magic

Following a successful bout of nesting there are now many juvenile Fairy Martins being fed by their parents. The youngsters often assemble along fence-lines to wait for regular visits by the adults feeding nearby on flying insects. At this stage of their ‘careers’ the juveniles are not attuned to danger … this is great for close-up images, but many must perish from the predations of raptors and other bird hunters, such as kookaburras and currawongs.

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Juvenile Fairy Martin, Newstead Cemetery, 28th November 2016

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Adult Fairy Martin arriving with a meal

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Another juvenile, this one a little further advanced, waited patiently nearby

Dusk at Lignum Swamp

What could be more glorious than spending the hour before dusk at one of my favourite Moolort wetlands? The combination of flying birds, a cacophony of frogs and the golden dusking light is hard to beat!

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Lignum Swamp, 17th November 2016

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Australian Shelducks

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Grey Teal

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Straw-necked Ibis

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Dusk at Lignum Swamp

Discovering a small treasure

Finding the nest of a Red-kneed Dotterel was the highlight of the past month. This charming wader has been absent from the district over the past couple of years – it favours shallow wetlands and could be found in good numbers after the big wet of 2010/11, but disappeared quickly as the Moolort wetlands dried up in 2012. Not many birders get the opportunity to find this species breeding so it was a rare privilege to discover a nest, with four beautifully patterned eggs, recently at Lignum Swamp.

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Red-kneed Dotterel, Lignum Swamp, 16th November 2016

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A first for me … Red-kneed Dotterel nest with four eggs

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The nest site with the eggs just visible at dead-centre

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Black-winged Stilts, Lignum Swamp, 16th November 2016

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Note the ever-so-slightly upturned bill