Author Archives: Geoff Park

Species #225

Whilst not completely unexpected I was thrilled to finally observe a small flock of Banded Stilts yesterday afternoon at Cairn Curran Reservoir.

This is a new species for my local list – number 225 in fact!

There were fourteen stilts accompanied by three Red-necked Avocets, a bird that I’ve seen a few times previously on the storage as well as on a number of the Moolort Plains wetlands.

Banded Stilts can be found across much of central and southern Australia where they typically favour saline wetlands and estuaries – habitat for brine shrimps which are key part of their diet. It’s not uncommon to see them in freshwater environments, however I expect these birds are in transit … shuttling between coastal wetlands and inland salt lakes. They were something of a mystery bird until recent decades when flocks of many thousands were found breeding on islands in salt lakes of inland Australia. A fascinating account of their breeding habits can be found here.

Banded Stilts and Red-necked Avocets, Cairn Curran Reservoir, 22nd November 2020

Banded Stilts and Red-necked Avocets are often found in mixed flocks

Banded Stilts have pink legs while Red-necked Avocets legs are a pale blue

Adult Banded Stilts have a distinctive chestnut breast band – note the sub-adult bird at top right

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Banded Stilts in flight … not to be confused with the White-head Stilt (which lacks the chest band) – common at Cairn Curran 

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The trio of Red-necked Avocets

The tight knit flock

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Quiet moments

This set of images resulted from some patient waiting at the Rise and Shine.

A number of pairs of Dusky Woodswallows were moving between perches and once they became accustomed to my presence were quite happy to make a close approach and start preening.

Traces of cobwebs on the head (Images #3 – 6) suggest that nesting is underway. A shield bug on the lichen (Image #5) was only revealed upon closer inspection.

Dusky Woodswallow, Rise and Shine, 18th November 2020

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Spoonbills, herons and egrets

While Little Grassbirds and Golden-headed Cisticolas have caught the eye at Joyce’s Creek in recent weeks  there have been some pretty impressive large waterbirds to enjoy as well.

Interesting to see a pair of Royal Spoonbills in full breeding plumage as I’ve never found this species nesting locally. Small numbers can be found along the shallows of the creek during wetter years. Still no migratory waders to report – usually a few Red-necked Stints and Sharp-tailed Sandpipers would have arrived by now.

Royal Spoonbills in breeding plumage, Joyce’s Creek, 18th November 2020

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Great Egret and White-faced Heron

Great Egret

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V + White-breasted Woodswallow

Where do you go to my lovely?

The Little Grassbird Megalurus gramineus is a relatively common local warbler, but rarely observed unless you make a special effort. Like many ‘little brown birds’ its plumage is subtle but distinctive.

It can be found in a variety of locations and habitats in the district, almost always near water. Over the years I’ve observed it along the Loddon River, in the rush beds at Joyce’s Creek (where this one seen) and in greatest numbers on the lignum swamps of the Moolort Plains.

It is something of a mystery bird, singing its mournful song regularly during the breeding season and then remaining silent for the rest of the year. It is always cryptic, furtive and wary – to catch a glimpse as I did for these images was fortunate indeed.

Its movements outside the breeding season are where the mystery lies – there is some evidence that birds head inland after breeding, however I can recall it being resident when the swamps were full during 2010-11.

It occupies the same habitat as the Golden-headed Cisticola but rarely sings from an exposed perch as the cisticola will do.

Little Grassbird, Joyce’s Creek, 15th November 2020

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A spent Golden-headed Cisticola nest … a marvel of nature

Meet the maker … adult male Golden-headed Cisticola

Apologies for the lame Peter Sarstedt reference!

A smorgasbord of delights

Nestling Laughing Kookaburras certainly keep their ‘parents’ busy. An assortment of food was being ferried to these youngsters – yabbies and a variety of skinks delivered at regular intervals.

Laughing Kookaburras are cooperative breeders, generally living in small family groups with the offspring of previous seasons assisting the parents to care for the young. The family group by the river includes at least one helper.

Laughing Kookaburra with a yabby, Loddon River @ Newstead, 14th November 2020

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… this time a small skink

… then a larger one

Arriving at the nest site

There are at least two pin-feathered nestlings in the hollow

It’s a numbers game

I’m often astounded at how small Tawny Frogmouths are when they leave the nest.

The youngsters pictured below, from two separate nests, are surely barely able to fly … if at all. In each case they are perched with a parent at some distance from the now deserted nest. I’m intrigued about how they make this journey.

The pair from the ‘West bank’ are tending two healthy offspring, while the ‘East bank’ pair has just one bright and alert youngster. Pairs can lay up to three eggs but it’s unusual for more than two to fledge.

This isn’t the first time I’ve seen the family perched in a Peppercorn tree – the darkness under the canopy is clearly a nice place to spend the daylight hours.

Male and juvenile Tawny Frogmouth, Panmure Street Newstead, 13th November 2020

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The Pound Lane family

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Down to earth … again!

Rainbow Bee-eaters and Sacred Kingfishers are competing for my attention at present.

Both are well advanced in their breeding cycle, with both species inspecting, and in some cases, establishing nesting sites at present.

This sequence shows a territorial pair along the Loddon River up-stream of Newstead. It was interesting to observe the bill-rubbing behaviour from the male – bees and wasps, two of their favourite foods, are rubbed against the perch to remove the stings and venom glands. In this case the male has no prey in its bill so I wonder if this is simply an habitual behaviour to remove any semblance of toxins from a prior catch.

Rainbow Bee-eater (male), Loddon River @ Newstead, 8th November 2020

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Bill rubbing behaviour

Enjoying the gentle breeze

Male (at left) and female (at right)

Potential nest site inspection

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Kingfisher special

This series of cameos involves two pairs of Sacred Kingfishers on the Loddon River at Newstead.

The first set, pair #1, shows two separate instances of courtship feeding – the first with what I think is a robber-fly, the second with a small skink. Courtship feeding occurs during egg formation, laying and incubation and can provide a valuable source of nutrients for females. Many birds engage in courtship feeding.

In this case the female uttered a string of harsh ‘alarm-like’ calls when it spotted the male nearby, after which the male flew in to perform a rapid exchange of food. Male and female Sacred Kingfishers can be hard (perhaps impossible) to distinguish unless you observe this type of behaviour.

Sacred Kingfishers, Pair #1, Loddon River @ Newstead, 8th November 2020

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While I have occasionally witnessed courtship feeding in Sacred Kingfishers, I’d never before observed them mating. In this case, pair #2 were feeding along a stretch of the river with both birds returning to a succession of perches. I watched on in amazement as the male returned on one occasion to mate with the female. The image series below shows some exquisite details of this remarkable event. Just prior to the mating the female flew in to the river bank below my feet to work on the nest site – traces of mud can be clearly seen on the beak of the female.

Nearby a pair of Rainbow Bee-eaters were starting to inspect potential nest sites … more on that another day.

Pair #2 … downstream

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Vale Dawn Angliss

Today’s post is a very sad one.

A little over a week ago, local Newstead resident Dawn Angliss passed away after a short illness.

Dawn was a keen and skilful observer of nature with a great love and knowledge of our local bushland, birds in particular.

I was always delighted to receive a note from Dawn with news about an interesting sighting … White-browed Babblers in her front garden, a Peron’s Tree Frog under the lemon tree or Mistletoebirds gathering cobwebs for a nest.

Dawn will be greatly missed.

Dawn Angliss amongst Demo Track wildflowers, Newstead, Spring 2010 – Photograph by Frances Cincotta.

Woodswallow mystery

I was watching a favourite pool in the Mia Mia at the weekend when this Dusky Woodswallow alighted beside the water.

Rather than drinking, as I expected it would, it proceeded to peck and apparently swallow some material from a white ‘rock’ lying on the ground nearby. I missed the best shot but the image below shows traces of the white ‘mineral-like’ substance around the bill.

On closer inspection the material looked like calcrete – soil or sediment that has been cemented together by the precipitation of calcium carbonate or other mineral material.

Woodswallows and other birds are known to occasionally consume materials such as charcoal and grit to aid digestion, but I can find no specific references to ingestion of calcrete. Given this material is calcium rich (it’s similar to shell-grit) and at least partially soluble it may be used as a mineral supplement for bone and feather growth. I’d be interested in any similar observations or theories that help make sense of this observation.

Dusky Woodswallow, Rise and Shine Bushland Reserve, 31st October 2020 – note the vestiges of calcrete on the bill

Calcrete pieces

Dusky Woodswallow, Mia Mia Track, 3rd November 2020

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