In a good light

While it’s always a sad farewell to daylight saving, an advantage of this time of year is that my rambles tend to coincide better with the ‘golden hour’ before dusk.

Last evening at the Rise and Shine a cavalcade of honeyeaters thoughtfully shared this time with me as they visited a bushland pool. I’ve been making repeat visits to this site in search of Yellow-plumed Honeyeaters, occasional visitors from the mallee country to our north, but no luck so far this autumn.

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Brown-headed Honeyeater, Rise and Shine Bushland Reserve, 7th April 2021

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Brown-headed Honeyeater flock drinking

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Yellow-tufted Honeyeater

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Yellow-faced Honeyeater

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White-plumed Honeyeater

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White-naped Honeyeater

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Fuscous Honeyeaters drinking

Scarlet deficit no more

After nary a Scarlet Robin all through summer the species has been following me around on the past few visits to the Mia Mia.

This lovely pair were sharing a new territory with a pair of Red-capped Robins … a nice combination.

The Collared Sparrowhawk arrived on the scene, pursuing a honeyeater before perching for a few minutes in a nearby Grey Box. The square-tailed silhouette of the raptor in flight confirmed the identity.

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Scarlet Robins, Mia Mia Track area, 5th April 2021

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Male Scarlet Robin

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Female Scarlet Robin

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Collared Sparrowhawk, Mia Mia Track, 5th April 2021

April signs

April is the time when Golden Whistlers arrive in numbers to the box-ironbark country, as they disperse from their breeding grounds at higher altitudes to the south. Immature birds dominate the early influx, with the spectacular males lagging by a few weeks. Colloquially known as thickheads (the first image below explains why), the female is rather nondescript, lacking the fine streaks of its woodland counterpart, the Rufous Whistler. Close inspection reveals the lemon vent, a diagnostic feature. Also returning are small numbers of Scarlet Robins, largely absent during the heat of summer, after breeding locally during spring. Their movements are something of a mystery to me as they are found year round further north, although reporting rates are higher during the cooler months.

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Female Golden Whistler, Mia Mia Track area, 3rd April 2021

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Female Golden Whistler in full voice

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The yellow vent is diagnostic

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Male Scarlet Robin

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Female Scarlet Robin

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Female Red-capped Robin

White-naped Honeyeater

The White-naped Honeyeater is a distinctive local species – adults have a striking orange-red ‘eye-lid’, which is actually bare skin above the eye. This feature is characteristic of Melithreptus honeyeaters – local species of the genus include the Black-chinned Honeyeater (adult has blue eye skin) and Brown-headed Honeyeater (adult has cream eye skin). 

White-naped Honeyeaters can be encountered year-round locally, but they are something of a blossom nomad and, at least in my experience, are more abundant when Grey Box and Yellow Gum are flowering, which is typically from March until the end of winter.

At the Rise and Shine earlier in the week they were the most common visitors to this small bushland pool, outnumbering the Fuscous and Yellow-tufted Honeyeaters. 

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White-naped Honeyeater, Rise and Shine, 31st March 2021

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Female Spotted Pardalote

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Fuscous Honeyeater

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Immature Crimson Rosella

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White-winged Chough

Never quiet

The Restless Flycatcher is said to use its distinctive grinding call to attract prey.

While I’ve watched this species and heard it calling many times, until yesterday I’d never really appreciated how it uses this tactic.

As I watched this lone Restless Flycatcher in the Rise and Shine it moved between a series of low perches, each time uttering a burst of calls directed at the ground and surrounding vegetation. Numerous times it pounced to catch a small insect. It was pretty clear that the call was being used deliberately to disturb potential prey.

The bird also took a small excursion to drink in the pool that was also attracting good numbers of Yellow-tufted, White-naped and Fuscous Honeyeaters. Again, this is not a behaviour that I’ve witnessed previously from Myiagra inquieta, although I’m sure its a regular thing.

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Restless Flycatcher, Rise and Shine Bushland Reserve, 31st March 2021

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Bunjil and buloke

In days long past this observation would have been commonplace, a Wedge-tailed Eagle perched atop a Buloke.

Both are iconic species, but sadly, such a sight is a rarity in these present times.

The Buloke is emblematic of the plains country, easily taken, slow to return.

Bunjil, the Wedge-tailed Eagle, is of special significance to Indigenous Australians, especially the Dja Dja Wurrung People of central Victoria.

Bunjil is the creator being who bestows Dja Dja Wurrung People with the laws and ceremonies that ensure the continuation of life. Dja Dja Wurrung People know Mindye the Giant Serpent as the keeper and enforcer of Bunjil’s law.

Dja Dja Wurrung Recognition Statement*, 15th November 2013

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Wedge-tailed Eagle and Buloke, Joyce’s Creek, 29th March 2021

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* The Recognition Statement signed at Yepenya on 15 November 2013, recognised the Dja Dja Wurrung as the Traditional Owners of Central Victoria.

A good year for orioles

It’s been a very good year for Olive-backed Orioles.

As expected for this time of year, small flocks of these beautiful songsters are descending on the local fig trees to feast on the ripening fruit before heading north again for winter. The number of juvenile birds indicate a successful breeding season.

I was interested to see some of the birds foraging in a small stand of Kangaroo Apple Solanum laciniatum, the ripe orange fruits perhaps serving as an entree to the meal of figs.

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Juvenile Olive-backed Oriole with fig, Loddon River @ Newstead, 27th March 2021

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Down the hatch!

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Note the rufous edging on the wing coverts of the juvenile

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Adult female in Kangaroo Apple

‘Sitting duck’

This Grey Teal duckling was all on its lonesome, paddling happily on a small dam on the plains … no sign of its parents or siblings … I don’t like its prospects.

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Grey Teal duckling, Moolort Plains, 25th March 2021

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Transition time

Over the past week I’ve heard Fan-tailed Cuckoo, Sacred Kingfisher and Rainbow Bee-eater, all three are spring migrants about to head north, as well as Pied Currawongs, autumn migrants, arriving from the hills in good numbers. A single Swift Parrot was also spotted departing the backyard Yellow Gums, chased by a Red Wattlebird. ‘Swifties’ are back from Tasmania and I’m hoping to have a good look for them over the weekend in the Muckleford bush.

Last evening on a drive across the plains I came across a pair of Blue-winged Parrots, feeding on seeding grasses. This species is always a delight to encounter. It arrives in small flocks during autumn, after breeding further south, either in Tasmania or coastal forests in Victoria. More commonly seen on the plains country it also can be found in box-ironbark forests and woodlands.

Earlier I’d come across a young Wedge-tailed Eagle, standing aside a road-killed Red Fox. Quite a sight as it departed with ravens in pursuit.

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Wedge-tailed Eagle (immature), Locks Lane Moolort Plains, 25th March 2021

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III … pursued by a Little Raven

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Blue-winged Parrot, Clarkes Road Moolort Plains

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Another classic … Native Peas of the Mount Alexander Region

Native pea plants in the bush: they’re hard to see when they’re not in flower, and impossible to miss when they are. Peas are beautiful, hardy and good for our soils. The problem is that many pea plants have quite similar flowers, which tempts the observer to lump them all together as ‘egg and bacon’ plants.

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In fact, most peas are easy to tell apart. Even the tricky ones aren’t impossible…as long as you’re prepared to get up close and take a good look. This guide, Native Peas of the Mount Alexander Region, offers detailed notes on 30 different native peas found in the bushlands of north central Victoria. Written in plain language and generously illustrated, it offers readers a way into a little known part of our natural environment.

The book is published by Friends of the Box-Ironbark Forests in association with Castlemaine Field Naturalists Club and the Wettenhall Environment Trust. It follows our successful guides to eucalypts, wattles and mosses. There’s a general introduction, detailed species notes (including on weed species), and a section on names. Although based on species found in north central Victoria, it would be useful to anyone interested in flora of the box ironbark region.

FOBIF has also produced 8 new native pea greeting cards with detailed species notes on the back. They are available in sets of 8 with envelopes.

The book and cards are available from Stoneman’s Bookshop, the Tourist Information Centre, the Enviroshop in Newstead and the Book Wolf in Maldon. You can also buy the book and cards directly from FOBIF through PayPal, by cheque or bank transfer. Go to http://www.fobif.org.au and click on the Native Pea book and cards images on the right hand side of the home page for purchase details. The Recommended Retail Price for the book is $10. Sets of cards are $20.

Trailing Shaggy-pea

The beautiful images and informative text will certainly help take the mystery out of identifying our local peas

Congratulations again to Bronwyn Silver, Bernard Slattery and FOBIF on producing another stunning natural history publication!