Author Archives: Geoff Park

A trick of the light

I never tire of watching Sacred Kingfishers.

Spring migrants, arriving usually in late September, they breed in a wide variety of locations around Newstead. Over the years I’ve found nests in disused mine shafts and termite mounds, as well as more typical sites – horizontal tree hollows and earthen tunnels.

A flash of brilliant blue-green or their harsh scolding call alerts me to their presence. The sexes are very much alike, the male is often described as somewhat bluer and brighter, but as these images show (compare the first three with the last), the light can easily mislead. Male Sacred Kingfishers also tend to have buffer underparts as is evident in the first image.

All images are of the same individual. I first spotted it perched on a branch overhanging the river, a skink firmly snagged in its bill. The bird, an adult male, was making a series of advertising calls (skink in bill) – the unfortunate skink a courtship offering. While I didn’t spot the female on this occasion I had observed the pair in the same area the evening prior. I expect they’ll nest in the vertical river bank, freshly eroded after recent floods.

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Sacred Kingfisher (adult male) with courtship offering, Loddon River @ Newstead, 30th November 2022

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Stepping with care

I endeavour to step carefully as I wander through our local bush, especially at this time of year.

A carpet of wildflowers underfoot – and as the days warm there are other possibilities!

I crouched down amongst a field of Blue Pincushion and Silvertop Wallaby-grass, then the ground suddenly ‘exploded’.

A wondrous sight – a Painted Button-quail nest, with four beautifully marked eggs.

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Blue Pincushion Brunonia australis, Mia Mia Track, 26th November 2022

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Painted Button-quail nest

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Silvertop Wallaby-grass Rytidosperma pallidum

Where are the relatives?

Dusky Woodswallows have been back in good numbers after a brief absence during winter. Nesting is now in full swing.

Usually by this time of year we would expect them to have been joined by their relatives, White-browed and Masked Woodswallows. Alas, no sign of these fellow migrants as yet, although they typically appear on the first of the spring northerlies, often in large mixed flocks. Conditions this year have been cool and wet, and would seem to have delayed their movement south.

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Dusky Woodswallow with prey, Bell’s Lane Track, 21st November 2022

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Dusky Woodswallow, Muckleford State Forest, 22nd November 2022

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Early stages of nest-building in a River Red Gum

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Bush craft

The artistic creations of woodland birds are on display in the local bush at present.

The Jacky Winter, a delightful small flycatcher weaves a delicate nest from thin stems of native grass and cobwebs. The structure is a shallow bowl, often placed like this one in the horizontal fork of a small branch.

Olive-backed Orioles contract a more substantial nest, a hanging basket woven together with grass, cobwebs and narrow bark strips (Red Stringybark is a favourite material). The nest is typically suspended in the canopy of a sapling and well camouflaged.

The adobe nests of the White-winged Chough are scattered throughout. These structures can last for decades, sometimes abandoned after one season, other times refurbished with additional rims added to the original structure over a number of seasons.

Painted Button-quail continue to surprise, pleasantly. This one was foraging just north of Mia Mia Track amongst the Rough Wattle that is doing brilliantly in our soggy spring. I’ve now logged five separate locations for this species over the past week.

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Jacky Winter weaving, Mia Mia Track, 13th November 2022

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Jacky Winter … weaving in monochrome

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Oilve-backed Oriole incubating

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White-winged Chough nest

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Painted Button-quail, Mia Mia Track, 13th November 2022

European Goldfinch

It’s rare for an exotic, introduced or feral bird to appear on this blog.

The European Goldfinch was introduced to Australia during the 1880s, on multiple occasions at many different locations. Many of these attempts apparently failed.

It has an extensive natural distribution encompassing Europe, Northern Africa, western and Central Asia, where its favoured habitat includes open woodlands. In Australia it is usually found in open agricultural landscapes and settled areas in the southern half of the continent, often favouring ‘weedy wastelands’. I occasionally observe goldfinches in the local bush, but suspect they are ‘just passing’. I’m not aware of any studies on their ecological impacts in Australia – my observations are that their effects are on a different level altogether when compared with mynahs, starlings and even blackbirds – a suite of invaders of which I am not at all fond of!

A pair of European Goldfinches has been visiting our front ‘lawn’ in recent weeks, feeding on the abundance of Capeweed. It wasn’t hard to locate their nest, secreted in the canopy of an ornamental pear on a neighbouring property. At least three mouths were being fed.

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European Goldfinch in the home garden, 8th November 2022

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Nesting activity nearby in an ornamental pear

Wonderful wetlands

On Wednesday 16th November Damien Cook from Wetlands Revival Trust will be giving a very interesting presentation on his work restoring the wonderful wetlands of Northern Victoria. Damien is an excellent presenter with over 30 years experience in restoring and managing wetlands. Everyone is welcome to attend at Newstead Community Centre at 7.30pm. The talk will go for about an hour with a cuppa afterwards.

Gold coin donations on the night will go towards a fund to purchase and manage a very special group of wetlands called Wirra-Lo which is 160km or so downstream from the Loddon at Newstead.

Damien Cook, Director and Restoration Ecologist of the Wetlands Revival Trust

Damien Cook, Restoration Ecologist/Director of the Wetland Revival Trust

Damien has been a keen naturalist for 35 years and has developed a sound knowledge of flora and fauna ecology, identification, and habitat requirements. He is a recognised expert in wetland, riparian and terrestrial ecology, particularly in the factors affecting the establishment and management of aquatic and wetland plants, and the revegetation of terrestrial grassland and woodland ecosystems.

The Wetland Revival Trust has been working with the current owners Ken and Jill Hooper since 2014 to repair and preserve the precious wetlands of Wirra-Lo, one of the last strongholds of the nationally vulnerable Growling Grass Frog in northern Victoria and its wetlands support breeding habitat for the endangered Australasian Bittern.

The woodlands at Wirra-Lo are home to Grey-crowned Babblers, another threatened species. To date 127 species of wildlife, including 100 species of birds, 12 species of reptiles and 8 species of frogs, and 126 species of indigenous plants have been observed at Wirra-Lo. The Trust for Nature covenanted property is also of high cultural significance, supporting an Aboriginal oven mound. The Wetland Revival Trust engages with the local Aboriginal community to provide training and employment through restoration and management activities.

For more information and how to make a tax deductible donation, go to https://wetlandrevivaltrust.org/

Out from the shadows

It’s been a good week for Painted Button-quail.

A cryptic species, at home in the box-ironbark, populations fluctuate along with the seasons. This year I suspect we’ll see an ‘uptick’ in numbers as conditions are ideal for a successful and extended breeding effort.

This week I’ve located birds in different parts of the Rise and Shine Bushland Reserve. On both occasions they emerged from the undergrowth as a tightly knit pair, a sign they are on their breeding ground. Earlier during winter, I flushed individual Painted Button-quail in the Mia Mia, and once a covey of three that rocketed off in typical style from beneath my feet. Tell-tale ‘platelets’, saucer-shaped depressions created by their foraging activities, have been found more regularly than usual.

When breeding the species is easiest to locate from its distinctive and far-carrying ‘oom’ calls, uttered slowly at first and then gradually quickening. Sexually dimorphic, the female is significantly larger and more richly coloured than the male – a large rufous shoulder patch the most immediately noticeable difference.

Painted Button-quail are a declining woodland bird. Over the past couple of decades there have been years when I didn’t record a single observation. Hopefully that might be about to change.

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Painted Button-quail (female), Rise & Shine Bushland Reserve, 9th November 2022

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Male Painted Button-quail

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Painted Button-quail pair (male at front)

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Female Painted Button-quail

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Echidna encounter

Always a delight to encounter a Short-beaked Echidna.

On this occasion we met on one of the side tracks at the Rise and Shine Bushland Reserve, detecting each other at much the same time.

The echidna burrowed for safety beside a large Long-leaved Box as I sat patiently by. After a few minutes it surfaced cautiously and continued on about its business.

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Short-beaked Echidna, Rise and Shine Bushland Reserve, 5th November 2022

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It’s not a race …or is it?

In the quiet village of Newstead the healthy rivalry between the ‘west bank’ and the ‘east bank’ continues …

Our local Tawny Frogmouths have been sitting on eggs throughout October and the first chicks have now appeared.

Two well-known local pairs have hatched at least one youngster, both are growing steadily.

Perhaps the ‘west bank’ is slightly in front at present, but stay tuned for the final result.

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Tawny Frogmouth and chick, Pound Lane Newstead, 6th November 2022

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Female Tawny Frogmouth

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Tawny Frogmouth and chick (obscured), Panmure Street Newstead, 3rd November 2022

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Male (sitting) and chick, 5th November 2022

Return to the earth

Since their return in early October Rainbow Bee-eaters have been performing brilliant aerial displays above their breeding grounds.

While I’m yet to see any birds inspecting potential nesting sites, horizontal tunnels in exposed clay banks are in ready supply and awaiting refurbishment.

Pairs perching close together on low perches and uttering their gentle trills is a sign that egg-laying is imminent. The sexes are alike – the female is somewhat duller than the male, with shorter and broader tail streamers.

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Rainbow Bee-eaters, Green Gully, 6th November 2022

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Female Rainbow Bee-eater calling

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Male Rainbow Bee-eater