Author Archives: Geoff Park

Unseasonal

Late summer and early autumn rain has triggered sone unseasonal breeding activity.

White-faced Herons, a common local waterbird, often breed some distance away from the waterbodies they frequent when hunting food.

This nest, secreted in a clump of mistletoe in a tall Grey Box is home to two well-grown chicks. A third nestling appears to have succumbed, perhaps the result of competition for food with its stronger siblings.

One parent arrived as I watched on, alighting nervously on a nearby clump of mistletoe before proceeding to attend the chicks.

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White-faced Heron chicks, Newstead, 30th March 2022

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One of the parents

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Spot the difference?

I’ve been tardy posting this story, but here goes.

The first two images are of a pair of Barking Owls, roosting in a tall Yellow Gum west of the Loddon River at Newstead. The slightly larger male is on the right with the smaller female (narrower head and rounded crown) perched just behind. The birds were photographed at 8.30am that morning.

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Barking Owl pair – male at right, Newstead, 10th March 2022

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This second pair of images were taken the next day, around 5pm, this time at a different site about 900 metres to the east.

I’ve studied the images carefully and am convinced they are the same pair – one similarity is the smudge of blood on the bill of the female, but there are numerous other signs if you look closely.

It’s early autumn and I suspect the home range of the birds has expanded as they search for food in the lead up to breeding over winter. Barking Owls are very fond of rabbits!

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Barking Owl (male), 11th March 2022

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Barking Owl (female)

‘Understory’

A small copse of Silver Wattle, established by our wonderful Newstead Landcare Group, highlights the importance of understorey for small, woodland birds.

At least six Spotted Pardalotes were seen foraging amongst the foliage as I snapped this series of images.

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Spotted Pardalote, Loddon River @ Newstead, 27th March 2022

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A lesser known migrant

Autumn has arrived and so we say farewell to a number of breeding migrants for another year. In recent days Rainbow Bee-eaters have departed, along with Sacred Kingfishers a little earlier in the month.

A less well-known migrant, the Tree Martin, can be seen at present gathering in large feeding flocks in the Muckleford bush. This dainty aerialist breeds locally in tree hollows – the red gum swamps of the Moolort Plains are a favoured place as well as the intact bushland around Newstead.

The flocks, comprising adult and immature birds, can number in the hundreds, with the birds feeding above the canopy as well as sweeping down over water in search of insects. From time to time they will perch in small groups on exposed branches, amongst the foliage or alighting fleetingly on the ground where they will pick up dry leaves … possibly a habit associated with their breeding behaviour. Whilst these images were taken earlier in the month the birds are still around – the first cool days of April is when they typically head north.

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Tree Martin, South German Track, 3rd March 2022

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Plains wandering … again

I was keen to pay another visit to the tiny Buloke remnant, in search again for Singing Honeyeaters. Sure enough the birds were still there, at least five individuals active in the canopy. From there I travelled further west to another favourite remnant, along Plumptons Lane at the edge of the plains country.

A Singing Honeyeater was heard, but my attention was drawn instead to a small party of Yellow Thornbills, a species very much at home in Buloke. Nearby, Harlequin Mistletoe Lysiana exocarpi, could be seen on a number of the mature Buloke trees. This striking mistletoe is widespread throughout Australia, from southern Victoria to the tropics and across the arid centre, and is known to parasitise a wide range of shrubs and trees. It will even become an epiparasite on other mistletoes including the local Box Mistletoe Amyema miquelii.

Singing Honeyeater, Moolort Plains, 27th February 2022

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Buloke provide a food source and living space for ants and a myriad of other insects

Yellow Thornbills are a feature of the bird fauna in Buloke remnants

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Harlequin Mistletoe flowers

Harlequin Mistletoe berries

The parasite and its host

Plains song

Bulokes are affectionately known as the ‘wind harps of the plains’ … the sound of the breeze passing through their foliage defies a suitable description.

This remarkable tree is home to a myriad of other species, from the Buloke Mistletoe to spiders, beetles, butterflies and wasps. Birds also, are drawn to this abundance – I’ve often encountered a party of Yellow Thornbills, Weebills or Brown-headed Honeyeaters foraging through the foliage of an isolated Buloke in search of insects.

Yesterday afternoon I stopped, as I often do, to have closer look at a small patch of Buloke at Baringhup West … three trees in the corner of a wind-swept paddock. Immediately I heard a distinctive call … pirtt pirtt, from high up in one of the Bulokes. A Singing Honeyeater Gavicalis virescens, one of a small party of four as it turned out.

I’ve seen this species before on the plains, but rarely. Its stronghold is the dry inland, extending to coastal regions in Victoria. These birds are, I suspect, part of a remnant population that was once widespread across the volcanic woodlands of central Victoria.

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Buloke stand, Moolort Plains, 5th February 2022

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Ripening seed capsules

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Buloke Mistletoe

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A buloke tree is a diverse and complex ecosystem

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Singing Honeyeater

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Summer favourites

Breeding migrants both … they will be with us for a few short weeks still, before heading north again.

The Square-tailed Kite is an adult … twas in the company of a youngster (not pictured).

The Rainbow Bee-eater is a juvenile … a successful fledgling from this summer’s breeding effort.

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Square-tailed Kite, Mia Mia Road, 2nd February 2022

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Rainbow Bee-eater

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Aftermath

After the frustration of watching storm clouds skirt around Newstead on numerous occasions in recent weeks they certainly landed with a vengeance last Friday afternoon … 75mm of rain in 3 hours of mayhem.

The first image was taken at the top of the Mia Mia Creek catchment, just as the most intense storm was passing through. The remaining images were captured the following day as I undertook a ‘mini-tour’ of the Mia Mia catchment.

I am always astounded at the impact of extreme storm events on our landscape that is ostensibly ‘forested’, yet a thousand times removed from its ‘original’ condition.

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Mia Mia Creek at 7pm on Friday 28th January 2022

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… the morning after along Mia Track

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Sparrowhawk trifecta poses a puzzle

I set off this morning to inspect the effects of last afternoon’s storm … 75mm in a two hour burst. More on that in an upcoming post.

As I strolled along Mia Mia Track the distinctive call of a Collared Sparrowhawk grabbed my attention, followed by the agitated call of a second individual nearby.

It didn’t take long to locate three individuals, two of which were juveniles with small songbirds in their talons. One of the prey items was easily identified – a Yellow-tufted Honeyeater, while the other young sparrowhawk had a slightly larger catch … possibly a young Red Wattlebird.

The third sparrowhawk was in similar garb to the juveniles but appeared to be an older immature bird, the slaty-grey upper parts retaining just a semblance of rufous edging on the wing coverts, with this feature more pronounced in the juvenile birds. The parent, which I think was the female, on account of its larger size, later captured a meal for itself … a Scarlet Robin I suspect.

Upon returning home a spot of research revealed that Collared Sparrowhawks sometimes breed before they attain their full adult plumage. This article gives a fabulously detailed account.

This blog post from 2015 has a nice image of an adult Collared Sparrowhawk.

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Collared Sparrowhawk – juvenile with prey, Mia Mia Track, 29th January 2022

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The second juvenile with a Yellow-tufted Honeyeater

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The third bird – I suspect the female parent … still in immature plumage

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Collared Sparrowhawk … ever alert

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One of the juveniles in the act of dismembering its prey

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The female again, this time with what appears to be a Scarlet Robin … note the slaty-grey upper parts, lacking (largely) rufous margins to the wing coverts

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Agitated juvenile

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Collared Sparrowhawk showing the distinctive elongated middle-toe

A varied diet

This family of Australasian Grebes has provided much enjoyment during the heat of summer. Now deserted by their parents, the five juveniles have been happily independent at their birth-place, feeding on a variety of freshwater life, including tiger leeches, yabbies and caddis-fly larvae.

I’d never previously observed one capture a leech, but two of the young did so during this session. Each instance involved violent shaking of the struggling leech for a number of minutes until it was subdued enough to swallow.

Caddis-flies are small insects that spend most of their life-cycle as aquatic larvae, making their home in a protective case – in some cases the larvae weave silken cases that incorporate sand-grains and plant material, or as is the case with the variety pictured here, inside a hollow plant stem. The larvae move about inside these portable cases, protected as they feed on decaying planet material. The strategy is clearly not 100% successful as a hungry grebe demonstrates.

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Australasian Grebe (juvenile) with leech, Muckleford State Forest, 19th January 2022

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This time with a caddis-fly larva

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