Time for the Redcoats

Late summer and the Soldier Beetles are on the march. Well, not so much marching as breeding!

Triclour Soldier Beetles (Chauliognathus tricolor)

I’ve often wondered why they’re called soldier beetles. A bit of reading reveals that, since they were named long before the days of military camouflage, their red and black colours evoked the soldier’s uniforms of the day. They are also called leather wings due to their soft wing covers or elytra.

Plenty of other beetles are around at the moment too. Acacias sport quite a few Calomela leaf beetles.

Calomela beetle on Golden Wattle. I’m not sure about whether the attached excrement is significant.
Belid Weevil
Up close

One night recently, I came across an unusually large number of dragonflies sleeping in our front yard, hanging from various shrubs. I think they are Blue Skimmers (Orhtretum caledonicum). Not very blue at the moment as I think they have just moulted. As their skins mature, the boys will go a powdery blue colour and the girls will go brown. It’s not often that I get such cooperative dragonfly subjects!

Blue Skimmer dragonfly
In profile

Now showing in the Mia Mia

Rainbow Bee-eater, Mia Mia Track, 20th February 2021

Red-capped Robin (female)

Chestnut-rumped Heathwren

Passing through

I can’t recall seeing a Fan-tailed Cuckoo since late in the spring. They’ll have been around in small numbers, but remain silent once breeding is finished.

Yesterday afternoon in the Mia Mia they were everywhere. Over the course of an hour I must have seen at least a dozen birds, an indication that their northward migration has commenced. A few remain during the cooler months but they are rarely observed. A fellow north-bound traveller  is the Olive-backed Oriole – this immature bird was in convoy with cuckoos.

The true highlight however, was a brief encounter with some Chestnut-rumped Heathwrens. Over the past year or so I’ve occasionally heard this cryptic and elusive songster without so much as a glimpse. This species is resident all year in the Muckleford Bush, but is something of a maverick, shifting locations from year to year to meet its particular needs.

Fan-tailed Cuckoo, South German Track, 19th February 2021

Not calling … just hot!

Juvenile mouthing into adult plumage … I think!

Olive-backed Oriole

Chestnut-rumped Heathwren … the elusive one

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Mia Mia close-ups

As the summer days slowly shorten birds and mammals gravitate towards any places of precious water in the bush.

It’s a good time for close-up portraits of some of our most familiar and charming species.

Black Wallaby, South German Track, 16th February 2021

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Fuscous Honeyeater

Yellow-tufted Honeyeater

Common Bronzewing

‘Wetland’ birds in the bush

Not surprisingly the local bush is also home to a suite of birds that are typically associated with wetland environments.

Masked Lapwings can often be found in open country adjacent to the bush over summer, while in most years White-faced Herons and Australasian Grebes are a regular feature of small bushland dams. Interestingly Australasian Grebes have been absent until now from a series of my oft-visited waterholes, despite an abundance of water. I suspect the wet winter and spring meant there were better options elsewhere in the landscape.

Masked Lapwing amongst the New Holland Daisies, 13th February 2021

White-faced Heron

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Australasian Grebe

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Trust me …

… this pale smudge is a Grey Goshawk (white morph), an exciting observation for Newstead.

Earlier this morning I glanced up from the garden and spotted a white shape, soaring in tight circles, pursued by two ravens. It took a moment to register that this wasn’t a corella or cockatoo … then I raced back inside for the camera. By this time the bird was rapidly becoming a speck as it drifted north towards Welshmans Reef.

The images below are no better than record shots, but the identification is 100% certain.

Grey Goshawks are rarely observed away from their stronghold, the wetter coastal forests in areas such as the Otways. There have been a number of local records over the years, with three observations in the Mia Mia (1/12/1999, 1/1/2000 and 1/4/2002). For me though this is a local first.

The Grey Goshawk comes in two distinct colour morphs, grey or white, with the white morph more common in southern Australia. In Tasmania, where the species is relatively common, all birds are white morphs.

Grey Goshawk, Newstead, 14th February 2021

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Tree-top height

It takes something special to be distracted from a Rainbow Bee-eater … something like a Wedge-tailed Eagle arriving at tree-top height and almost within touching distance!

Rainbow Bee-eater, South German Track, 10th February 2021

Wedge-tailed Eagle

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Fuscous domination

Not much to report in recent days, apart from the preponderance of Fuscous Honeyeaters pretty much wherever I go.

This species is a ‘sucker’ for water and along with the more aggressive Yellow-tufted Honeyeaters will tend to dominate small bushland water sources. Adult Fuscous Honeyeaters in breeding fettle have black bills while younger birds and non-breeding adults have quite a deal of yellow on the bill and gape.

Also seen and heard in the Rise and Shine – Brown Treecreeper, Mistletoebird, Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike, Eastern Rosella, Sacred Kingfisher, Rainbow Bee-eater, Eastern Yellow Robin.

Brown Treecreeper, Rise & Shine Bushland Reserve, 9th February 2021

Fuscous Honeyeater

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Dusk with a heron

Visits to a series small bush dams often form part of my regular visits to the Mia Mia.

It is common for me to see either a White-faced Heron or White-necked Heron on my arrival at these spots, in some cases both species are present. Typically they will depart for a quieter option nearby.

Yesterday afternoon, on South German Track, as I set myself up in search of bush birds I noticed a motionless White-necked Heron observing me from the far side of the dam. It must have been feeding amongst the rushes when I arrived and I suspect the dining was so good that it was prepared to tolerate my presence. After ten minutes or so it resumed hunting, snaring a yabbie at a strike rate of better than 50%.

Then a Wedge-tailed Eagle appeared overhead, perhaps 100 metres up. The heron had been occasionally casting its eyes skyward and it was obvious why. The arrival of the raptor made the heron extremely nervous, to the point that it flew a couple of tight circles over me and then landed close-by to perch in a dead tree overhanging the water. By this stage it had become quite accustomed to me and happily preened for a time before descending again to chase yabbies.

White-necked Heron, South German Track, 7th February 2021

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Learning the trade

It’s been a good season for Sacred Kingfishers and post Xmas I’ve observed a number of juveniles in the local bush.

Sacred Kingfishers tend to be wait and pounce hunters, a technique that I saw this one use a number of times from nearby perches. The dirty bill on the fourth image was the result of a foray to snare a frog (I suspect) from the edge of the dam.

One one occasion though it expertly chased a dragonfly, weaving in a series of sharp turns over the water, in what proved to be an unsuccessful pursuit.

Juvenile Sacred Kingfishers are typically darker-scaled below than the adults with buff-scaling on the forehead and crown – otherwise they look very much like their parents. This species will be with us for a few weeks more before migrating north in mid-autumn.

Sacred kingfisher (juvenile) with dragonfly, South German Track, 6th February 2021

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Clean bill

Not so clean bill

Mistletoe backdrop