by Sarah Koschak
Snakes are so often feared and demonised, but they remind me of the wildness of our bushland – they really are a thing of beauty. They are also an important part of the ecology, snakes save farmers millions in pasture and grain losses every year, because they munch on mice and rats!
Red-bellied Black Snake, Strangways, Photography courtesy of Richard Sullivan.
Eastern Brown Snake at Strangways, Photograph by Sarah Koschak.
If approached with caution, and observed calmly, they will slither away on preference; they are a reminder to treat nature with respect, rather than romanticise it. Oh, and pay attention to where you are walking!
It’s 10.30 pm, and Sarah and I are about to head off to bed, when we hear a soft thump on the window pane.
From experience we know that a sound like this can only be made by either a large moth attracted by our house lights, or more excitingly, an owl hunting them. On past occasions we have found a Barn Owl outside picking off a Bogong Moth, and on another found a tiny Owlet Nightjar perched on the window ledge, peering in our bedroom window at us.
It is such a rare treat to see these nocturnal birds, so we are keen to see what may have made this noise.
Opening the door, we cautiously move outside, scanning the ground but see nothing nearby. We are about to head back inside when Sarah whispers; “Don’t move! …”
Perched atop the garden umbrella next to me is a Tawny Frogmouth, Podargus strigoides. If I reached out I could almost touch it. It sits alert and unfazed, its yellow eyes glowing in the gloom, as we back off to get torches and camera.
I was thinking this critter, seen the other day on our block, was something evil and locust-like! It is a relief to know it is likely a Gum Leaf Grasshopper, which sounds more benign and meant to be here. Thanks Geoff!!
It is cicada season, and the sound of strident buzzing comes from bush and suburban street. But which species are we hearing in our local area?
After listening closely to their calls, tracking them with the camera (attempting to ‘add a face to the voice’), and close reading of Dr. Max Moulds’ excellent ‘Australian Cicadas’, my conclusion is… I’m not really sure.
But I’ll share what I’ve worked out so far, and maybe others more experienced than I can offer their knowledge!
Yellow-tufted Honeyeaters Lichenostomus melanops are common on our bush block – so much so their territorial and mobbing behaviours have prompted us to call them the ‘bush mafia’.
But they are beautiful birds, and their flocking to a late afternoon wash at our birdbath is always fascinating to watch. Here are a few pics of the fun!
This morning I was invited to conduct a birdwalk out at the Rise & Shine Reserve with Newstead Landcare, and about 15 or so people turned up for a relaxing 2-hour stroll. Despite an overcast beginning to the day, by the time we set off the sun was breaking through every now and then, and bird activity was picking up. We ended up seeing (and hearing) a lot more than I was anticipating.
Here is a list of what I recall seeing (* including heard but not seen)
Peregrine Falcon * (maybe???)
Peaceful Dove *
Black-chinned Honeyeater *
Jacky Winter *
Hooded Robin (female)
Eastern Yellow Robin
Golden Whistler (female)
Grey Fantail *
White-winged Chough (nest)
I haven’t heard them yet, but I have my ears open for them. Because it is this time of year that we might hear them.
I’m talking about Rainbowbirds, or Rainbow Bee-eaters Merops ornatus. These beautiful birds are migratory, hanging out in the southern regions of Australia during summer and then heading north for warmer climes over winter. Sensible really.
They are not particularly common around Newstead, which makes coming across them a highlight. One thing we’ve noticed since living here, is that there seems to be a pattern to encountering them. They gather in loose flocks in autumn, hanging around for maybe a few weeks before vanishing.
During this time, often the first I notice of them is their call overhead. I think of it as a soft “tirrup… tirrup”, although Graham Pizzey in his field guide probably describes it better as a rolling “pirr… pirr” or sharp “pik!”. It is quite distinctive and one of my favourite birdcalls.
Birds call on the wing while hawking for insects. This is done by foraying out from an exposed perch, to which they often return, possibly with a snack to dismember.
So keep your ears trained over the coming weeks, you may just encounter a small group of these lovely birds getting ready to set off on their winter holidays.
Here is a sample of their call to listen out for. There are a few other birds calling in this sample, a Willie Wagtail, Grey Fantail and distant Grey Shrike-thrush among them, but you can pick out the distinctive Rainbowbird calls easily enough.