Doing the rounds …

Well, summer is here … and I’m playing catch up!

Such a nice array of bird (and mammal) happenings over recent weeks, driven by the mild and moist conditions … La Nina is welcome compared with the alternative.

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Barking Owl (adult male), Newstead, 25th November 2021

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Barking Owl (adult female)

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Barking Owl (juvenile)

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Australasian Grebe, Muckleford State Forest, 27th November 2021

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Rainbow Bee-eater, Newstead Cemetery, 28th November 2021

It’s not every day …

… that you get a chance to spend some time with a family of Tuans Phascogale tapoatafa.

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to observe a family of these remarkable animals, also known as Brush-tailed Phascogales, near Green Gully Creek – a small tributary of the Loddon River to the west of Newstead.

Tuans are Dasyurids, a unique family of marsupial carnivores that includes species such as the Tasmanian Devil, Spot-tailed Quoll and a local favourite, the Yellow-footed Antechinus. Tuans are ‘rat-sized’ with a pointy snout, sharp teeth and a distinctive ‘bottle-brush’ tail which is almost the same length as the rest of the body. They are widespread throughout the box-ironbark country, but rarely seen  – this is only the second time I’ve ever been able to photograph one outside a nest box. Tuans are classified as vulnerable in Victoria.

On this occasion we observed at least three individuals – I suspect an adult female and two immature individuals – emerging from a den at the base of a large eucalypt. A well-placed nest box higher in the tree is also being used by the animals. For more than an hour we watched on in awe as they foraged actively around the den – on the trunk and branches of the gum and also on a nearby Blackwood Wattle.

The extraordinary breeding cycle of the Tuan will be well-known to many folks … the adults mate in late autumn and early winter, then all the males die! The gestation period lasts about a month, with litters of 6-8 youngsters rapidly replenishing the population until the cycle repeats itself again the following year. Some females apparently survive for up to 3 years. Tuans are voracious hunters – they feed mainly on insects but will also eat bird eggs, nestlings and nectar. Backyard poultry can also fall victim to a hungry Tuan!

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Tuan (Brush-tailed Phascogale), Green Gully Creek Newstead, 22nd November 2021

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Vigilance and patience are rewarded

At the risk of repeating myself the keys to nature observation are vigilance and patience.

Sitting quietly in the in the one spot for an extended period is usually rewarded.

Rainbow Bee-eaters are on the cusp of egg-laying, courtship feeding is a sign that tunnels have been prepared and the birds will be ‘earth-bound’ for extended periods over coming weeks.

The sudden appearance of a pair of Peregrine Falcons caused a flurry of alarm calls and a scattering of birds, large and small. Nearby an adult female Brown Goshawk allowed some excellent views as it uttered its chanting calls from a high perch in a Yellow Gum.

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Rainbow Bee-eater (male), Joyce’s Creek, 21st November 2021

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Rainbow Bee-eater (female)

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Male at right … female at left …

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Courtship feeding

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Peregrine Falcon

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Brown Goshawk (adult female)

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Flying high

Harvest has started on the Moolort Plains.

This means there will be good opportunities to observe a variety of raptors over coming weeks.

Black Kites and Whistling Kites are two of the larger species that profit at this time of year.

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Black Kite, Moolort Plains, 18th November 2021

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Whistling Kite

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A rare bird indeed … your invitation to secure it!

In 1980 I acquired a copy of Birds of Australian Gardens by Tess Kloot and Ellen McCulloch, with paintings by Peter Trusler. I still have the book and regard the paintings as some of the finest artistic depictions of Australian birds that you’re ever likely to see.

Peter Trusler has gone on to be one of Australia’s best wildlife artists, specialising in palaeontological illustration as well as birds – Click here to learn more about his career.

Recently I had the good fortune to see one of his early paintings, a portrait study of an immature male Spotted Harrier – a special bird for me as it can be seen locally on the Moolort Plains. This wonderful original watercolour is one of a number of works to be auctioned on the 27th November at the Newstead Arts Hub – as a fundraiser for this vibrant community-run creative space. There are still tickets available (click here for details).

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Portrait study of Immature male Spotted Harrier (Circus assimilis), watercolour on paper, 17cm x 23 cm, Peter W. Trusler 1976. Framing: Wooden frame with matte board

Art Auction
Can’t make it on the night?  … Get in touch to enter a silent bid ahead of time or over the phone on the night. Send an email to info@newsteadartshub.org for a chance to secure your favourite piece of art now!

Stacks on …

At this time of year the song of Mistletoebirds is regularly heard. Yellow Gums, replete with ripening fruit are a magnet for the adults as they ferry the succulent offerings to hungry mouths.

The Mistletoebird nest is a thing of beauty, stitched together from cobwebs, grass, spent flowers and other plant material, the purse-like structure is suspended from a narrow twig … this time in a lilac bush. In town it seems Mistletoebirds often select an exotic shrub to locate their nest. In the surrounding bushland coppice eucalypts are a favoured choice.

Both parents bring fruit to the nestlings, with visits only a few minutes apart – dozens of berries are required every hour when a family of four is raised.

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Mistletoebirds x 4, Newstead, 13th November 2021

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Female Mistletoebird at the nest

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Male Mistletoebird

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Down to earth

Rainbow Bee-eaters have been back with us for over a month now, spending most of their time in the air over their breeding grounds.

During November the birds can increasingly be seen perched lower down around prospective nesting sites, trilling enthusiastically and occasionally dropping to earth. Tunnel refurbishment is underway and egg-laying will commence shortly.

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Rainbow Bee-eater, Joyce’s Creek, 5th November 2021

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Success!

Always exciting to record Barking Owls in the Newstead district … even more so when there are signs of successful breeding.

I’ve been watching this local pair for a few weeks now, hoping to see a youngster in tow. Typically the owlets are out of the nesting hollow by early October and I was beginning to think this pair had failed in this year’s breeding effort.

Not so!

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Barking Owl (male), Newstead, 4th November 2021

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Female Barking Owl

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Plains notes

As spring unfolds Galahs and Long-billed Corellas are busy feeding in patches of thistles on the Moolort Plains. The flowers set seed quickly as the weather warms and the birds are ready to feast. Both species are feeding nestlings in nearby woodland areas, happy to fly some distance in search of nutritious morsels.

Brown Songlarks, spring migrants to the open country, have arrived in good numbers this year. Their rousing display flights are an enjoyable sight.

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Galah feeding on thistles, Joyce’s Creek, 31st October 2021

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Long-billed Corellas

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Australasian Pipit

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Brown Songlark display flight

Grebe watching

In wetter years some of the small bush dams scattered throughout the Muckleford bush provide nesting sites for Australasian Grebes.

Grebes are reluctant fliers but can move long distances when the urge takes them. Their powerful legs are situated at the back of the body, rendering them clumsy when out of the water, but along with their lobed feet enable them to dive instantly to pursue underwater prey including small fish and yabbies. They make floating nests from aquatic vegetation, with the eggs covered by a protective layer of weed during incubation. The adults don’t spend a lot of time sitting on the nest, but return at regular intervals to check the eggs and indulge in some ‘home decorating’. We have two other grebe species locally, the Hoary-headed Grebe and the Great Crested Grebe – both tend to frequent larger water bodies including Cairn Curran.

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Australiasian Grebe, Muckleford State Forest, 30th October 2021

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Australasian Grebe nest

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Adult arriving at the nest

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Rearranging the structure

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Both adults play a role in tending the nest

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Maintenance done

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Yabbies are a major prey item