Look out for these travellers

Being in a different hemisphere meant that I missed the arrival of a number of spring migrants this year.

Before I left in mid-September all five cuckoos (Pallid, Fan-tailed, Black-eared, Horsfield’s and Shining Bronze) had arrived, along with White-winged Trillers. Returning at the weekend I was pleased to now see the three species pictured below in their usual haunts.

A number of Olive-backed Orioles were calling beautifully at the Rise and Shine, while along the Loddon River both Rufous Songlarks and Sacred Kingfishers (two pairs) could be easily located from their distinctive and far-carrying calls. These three very different birds share a common attribute, each is a spring breeding migrant to central Victoria after spending the winter in northern Australia.

Olive-backed Oriole, Rise and Shine, 13th October 2019

Rufous Songlark, Newstead Cemetery, 13th October 2019

Sacred Kingfisher, Loddon River @ Newstead, 13th October 2019

Easily overlooked

Amongst the chattering chorus of woodswallows, at present in their hundreds at the Rise and Shine, it would be easy to overlook some of the less vocal species.

I did, however, at the weekend pick up the mournful descending call of a number of Black-eared Cuckoos – like both White-browed and Masked Woodswallows this species is a spring migrant from the north.

In the same genus, Chalcites, as both the Shining Bronze-cuckoo and Horsfield’s Bronze -cuckoo, the Black-eared Cuckoo is less strikingly marked and also less common in the Newstead district. Like its relatives it has a fondness for caterpillars and as these images show plays a key role in regulating the numbers of cup-moths whose caterpillars can be responsible for large-scale defoliation of eucalypts in the box-ironbark ecosystem. Black-eared Cuckoos tend to arrive a little later in the season than the other local cuckoos and are most often observed during October and November, coinciding with the peak breeding activity of their hosts, such as the Speckled Warbler.

Black-eared Cuckoo with Cup-moth caterpillar, Rise and Shine, 12th October 2019

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Note the trace of metallic sheen at the base of the wing coverts

Woodswallow arrival

We’ve just returned from a month-long expedition in search of flamingos in the northern hemishpere … well, not quite, but we did see Greater Flamingos in the Algarve!

I was delighted to receive a number of updates from home while we were away, especially to hear that White-browed and Masked Woodswallows had arrived in good numbers in early October.

I ventured out to the Rise and Shine yesterday afternoon and was pleased to see hundreds of the birds in residence. I also managed to find one pair of White-browed Woodswallows with a nest, the female apparently incubating. These birds can be a a touch enigmatic and will often desert their nests if conditions aren’t suitable. Fingers crossed for some nice spring rain later this week to encourage them to to stay.

White-browed Woodswallow (male), Rise and Shine, 12th October 2019

White-Browed Woodswallow (female)

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Female White-browed Woodswallow courtship preening the male

Th female beside the nest – hidden amongst the foliage of a Long-leaved Box

List: White-browed Woodswallow, Masked Woodswallow, Black-eared Cuckoo, Horsfield’s Bronze-cuckoo, Fan-tailed Cuckoo, Mistletoebird, Black-chinned Honeyeater, Yellow-tufted Honeyeater, Fuscous Honeyeater.

Another elegant fly. And some bugs

The last few days have seen an abundance of Crane Flies in our bush. These wonderful insects seem both graceful and cumbersome at the same time. The adult flies live about 10-15 days and have long, dangling legs and elegant wings.

Crane Fly

Crane Fly

They fly slowly and dangle from vegetation like grasses and small shrubs. Like all flies, their second set of wings have evolved into little drumstick-like projections that beat as the animal flies and provide information about the fly’s movements and orientation. This enables many flies to be spectacularly skilful flyers, but the long wings and legs of Crane Flies cramp their style significantly. A close-up shot not only shows these modified wings, but the fascinating face and thorax of these intriguing flies.

Crane Fly

Crane Fly up close

The main priority of the adults is to mate, which they do whilst hanging from vegetation. Females apparently emerge into adult form with mature eggs. After mating, she may lay fertilised eggs in water or moss (the latter I suspect around our way).

Crane Fly

Mating whilst hanging around.

Also out and about are Red and Blue Beetles (Dicranolaius sp). I’ve seen them often, but this is the first I’ve photographed with such ornate antennae. I suspect it is a male.

Blue and Red Beetle

Red and Blue Beetle

I’ve also found a few long bugs on Shiny Everlastings. I think they might be Grass Mirid bugs.

Mirid bug

Mirid Bug

One particular Golden Wattle seems to be playing host to numerous Psyllid bugs, the larvae of which will live on leaves (usually eucalypts) as lerp, covered in a crust of sugars beloved by small birds. The adults are about 2mm long.

Psyllid

Psyllid bug.

Also enjoying the flowering everlastings was a very elegant, brown Lacewing. I think it might be of genus Micromus.

Lacewing - Micromus sp?

Lacewing

 

In praise of flies

 

I was a little suprised recently as I was rabbiting on to an avid bird watcher about the joys of macrophotography and flies in particular when she said “what good are flies?” Well, did that get me started?! From clearing up debris, to pollination, there is no end to the beneficial services provided by flies. So here is some recent evidence, especially about pollination, given the season.

A close look at the beautiful Bendigo Wax Flowers in our front yard shows the first tiny Diptera (meaning two wings, as flies only have 2 wings, unlike other flying insects) for this post. This little one is only about 4mm long.

Fly on Bendigo Wax Flower

Fly on Bendigo Wax Flower #1

Fly on Bendigo Wax Flower

Fly on Bendigo Wax Flower #2

Fly on Bendigo Wax Flower

Fly on Bendigo Wax Flower #3

Tiny flies – gnats perhaps – have also been pollinating Gold Dust Wattles (Acacia acinaceae)

Fly

Gnat on Gold Dust Wattle

The beautiful Gold Dust Wattles are also pollinated by a variety of Hoverfly species.

Hoverfly

Hoverfly

Golden Blowflies also do their share and look, to my eye at least, quite lovely.

Golden Blowfly

The introduced Bathurst Burr Fly is another pollinator around at present.

Bathurst Burr Fly (Euaresta sp.)

Bathurst Burr Fly (Euaresta sp)

Aside from pollination, Striated Pardalotes (Pardalotus striatus) also think flies are great! This shot from a few years ago.

Striated Pardalote (Pardalotus punctatus)

Striated Pardalote with Dipteran dinner for the little ones

Of course, flies aren’t the only invertebrates around at the moment.

Geocoreid Bug

Geocoreid Bug.

And a tiny beetle <2mm long on a Hardenbergia.

Beetle

Tiny beetle

In search of flamingos

We are off in search of flamingos … the blog will be quiet for the next month.

Happy wandering.

Black Swan on nest at Cairn Curran, 15th September 2019

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Australian Shelduck … lings on the Moolort Plains

The frogmouth and the kite

When you are a bird, at least for most species, danger is ever present.

I was fortunate to be photographing a pair of nesting Tawny Frogmouths with Dean at the weekend, when a pair of Square-tailed Kites appeared in the sky overhead.

The reaction from the sitting frogmouth* was not unexpected (see the second and third images below) – nonetheless I’d never witnessed this combination (kite + frogmouth) previously!

Tawny Frogmouth (male), Newstead area, 14th September 2019

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The female perched nearby

Note: The male sits during daylight hours with both sexes alternating at night.