Category Archives: Bird observations

Spring fever

While I didn’t exactly ‘nail’ the first three images they do capture a rarely observed event – one that I’ve only glimpsed, from memory, a couple of times in the past.

All of the robins, in fact many birds, engage in courtship feeding during the breeding season. In this case I first spotted this female Hooded Robin perched high in the canopy where it started to flutter its wings in frenzied fashion. Moments later the male appeared and delivered a caterpillar morsel to its mate. This all happened in the matter of seconds, the male departed and the female descended to the woodland floor where it resumed gathering material for its nest, being built nearby low in a eucalypt stump.

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Female Hooded Robin, wing vibration prior to courtship feeding, Welshmans Reef, 12th September 2021

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Male Hooded Robin courtship feeding

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Hooded Robin (adult male)

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Hooded Robin (adult female) with nesting material

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Shaping the nest – the site in a low fork of a coppiced eucalypt

Familiar friends and a mini-mystery

The bird in the image below has me somewhat confounded.

It’s clearly a tern, but which species?

I spotted it late yesterday afternoon on the Moolort Plains. As I quietly watched a distant feeding Brolga, it must have passed directly over my head, observed briefly in fading light as it headed north.

Whiskered Terns are the most commonly observed birds from this sub-family (related to the gulls) and can be seen in wet years on freshwater wetlands and regularly on Cairn Curran, along with the much larger Caspian Terns.

It was a fleeting glimpse but this individual looked intriguingly like a Gull-billed Tern Gelochelidon nilotica, a reasonably common species in northern and southern Victoria, but one that I’ve never observed locally. The overall appearance was of a bulkier bird than a Whiskered Tern, with less buoyant flight. Adult breeding Whiskered Terns have a black cap and nape, as do Gull-billed Terns, but have a red bill, not black and their underparts typically are sooty. The upper parts of the Gull-billed tern are almost white, rather than grey. Another clear difference is the bill shape – slender, with a less pronounced ‘gull’ conformation than the G.nilotica.

I’ll put this observation in the maybe category for now and would be interested in any reader thoughts. Sadly, the image below is the best one I have!

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A mystery tern … maybe?

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Nankeen Kestrel (female)

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Brown Falcon

Postscript: The view from a number of expert birders is that the tern is in fact a Gull-billed Tern, a rare visitor to central Victoria. One was reported at Lake Eppalock (near Bendigo) on the 9th September.

A good year …

The local bush is oblivious to the pandemic.

With abundant winter and early spring rain there is a riot of colour at present, dominated by flowering wattles – especially Rough Wattle Acacia aspera.

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A riot of colour, Mia Mia Track, 5th September 2021

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Rough Wattle

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Downy Grevillea

The highlight of this walk was a flock of Black-faced Cuckoo-shrikes, perhaps a dozen or so, moving in a loose party through the canopy and feasting on caterpillars. A number were observed with large, green larvae that they had captured. They would bash the larvae on branch before consuming them in a series of gulps. I’m not able to positively identify the larvae but they most likely belong to the family Saturniidae, of which the Emperor Gum Moth is a well known member. Moths in this family often pupate for more than a year, emerging when conditions are suitable.

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Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike with Emperor Gum Moth caterpillar

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… mournful trilling

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Fan-tailed Cuckoo with caterpillar

The chance effect

A wonderful aspect of birding is the unpredictable nature of it all.

I often start a ramble with a reasonable idea of which species I might see, as well as a small list of birds that I hope to encounter. Every trip is different.

Last weekend in the Mia Mia I was on the lookout for cuckoos, especially Pallid Cuckoos, spotted earlier in the week along Bruce’s Track – my first sightings for the season.

While there was no sign of Pallids, other cuckoos were calling – Fan-tailed, Shining Bronze and Horsfield’s Bronze. This Fan-tailed Cuckoo was observed moving surreptitiously through the understory … perhaps in search of caterpillars but possibly also looking for an opportunity to deposit an egg in the nest of a host … such as a Chestnut-rumped Heathwren. As I approached the cuckoo two heathwrens scuttled from a patch of nearby Gold-dust Wattle. Their subsequent behaviour, perching to view the intruders and some gentle contact calling suggest we were both on their breeding ground.

Click here for a terrific local story about the association between these two species. Heathwrens are difficult birds to find and photograph, so to capture one feeding a cuckoo is a great feat.

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Fan-tailed Cuckoo, South German Track, 28th August 2021

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Chestnut-rumped Heathwren

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A woven treasure

The chatter of Weebills provides a pleasant accompaniment on many of my walks. Such was the case last weekend at Rotunda Park, a party of Weebills foraging in a patch of Cootamunda Wattle. The birds weren’t chasing insects, rather they were gathering spent wattle flowers to decorate an almost completed nest in a nearby Golden Wattle.

A Weebill nest is a beautiful creation, a small domed structure woven from grass and cobwebs, interspersed with flowers within and on the exterior …perhaps as camouflage. At least four individuals were contributing to the finishing touches on the nest, suspended less than a metre from the ground. Weebills are known to be cooperative breeders.

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Weebill arriving at the nest site, Rotunda Park Newstead, 28th August 2021

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Grey Fantail

Making a meal of it

Woodland insectivores have been active in recent weeks.

Brown-headed Honeyeaters are currently feasting on lerp … also favourite tucker for Buff-rumped Thornbills.

Golden Wattle is flowering wonderfully at present, which in turn attracts a bevy of insects to feed on the flowers and foliage. If you look closely at the first three images of the Buff-rumped Thornbill below, a juicy green caterpillar can be seen  to the right of the thornbill. Moments after I captured the images the caterpillar was snatched from its hiding place amongst the wattle flowers. The Buff-rumped Thornbill then returned to searching for lerp amongst the  Yellow Gum saplings.

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Brown-headed Honeyeater, Welshman’s Reef, 25th August 2021

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Buff-rumped Thornbill

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A Peregrine moment

The Peregrine Falcon is a cosmopolitan bird of prey.

You could travel almost anywhere on earth ( I wish!) and have a reasonable chance of seeing this majestic raptor.

Locally, there are a number of breeding pairs, including this pair at home in the Muckleford bush. The male Peregrine, known as the tiercel, is much smaller than the female – 600 grams versus 900 grams.

Moments after alighting on the perch (third image below) the tiercel flew a few metres to the left and mated with the female … of course I missed the shot as the event was obscured by the canopy!

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Peregrine Falcon (female), Muckleford bush, 22nd August 2021

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Female perched

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Peregrine Falcon (male)

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Majestic visitors drop in for a bite

Some 12-15 years ago, we threw a few locally collected, untreated Hakea decurrens seeds in the bush at our place in Strangways, protected by a small exclosure fence. Before too long, we had a couple of large hakeas, covered with flowers and seed pods and with numerous second generation seedlings springing up beneath them.

Hakeas from direct seeding, and their offspring.

A few months back, we found seven Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos (Calyptorhynchus funereus) checking our hakeas out. This was the first time in the 27 years we’ve been on our place that we’d seen this species stop rather than just fly over. Yesterday, we saw a flock of about twenty happily and noisily cracking seed pods for their tasty contents. To my absolute delight, they stuck around while I got the camera.

A female pausing briefly from feasting.

Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos evolved to feed on Hakea, Casuarina and Banksia seeds, but have become more dependent on introduced pines as their usual foods have been reduced by European land management practices. They also like to dig burrowing insects out of eucalypts and wattles.

Checking things out

One of the recorded Dja Dja Wurrung names for this species is Wareaine or Weerran (from John Tully’s book Dja Dja Wurrung Language of Central Victoria.

Females have larger yellow patches behind their eyes, grey eye rings and white bills. The males have pink eye rings and dark grey beaks.

One of the males of the group.

After sating their appetite with Hakea seed, the flock flew into a nearby Grey Box to rest and preen.

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A bit of beak sharpening.
And preening.

Watching these magnificent birds was a pure delight. Even more so to think that a few minutes easy work a decade and a half ago has resulted in a bit of food for these beauties. Looking forward to their next visit.

Starting to move

The arrival of Olive-backed Orioles usually marks the appearance of warmer spring weather around Newstead. I heard my first for the season, near South German Track, on Saturday.

The brilliant red iris of the adult oriole is a striking feature, contrasting with the plumage which can make this species hard to see amongst the foliage as it searches for caterpillars and other insect prey. Olive-backed Orioles are an interesting bird. They spend most of the year with us, departing when the last of the autumn fruits are done. I last spotted one in early May, feasting on figs near the Loddon River. I’ve no real idea of where they go over the cooler months – there are a few isolated local reports during June/July but the main influx of birds occurs in September. At this time they are quite vocal and I suspect more birds over-winter than we realise – remaining silent and therefore easily missed.

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Olive-backed Oriole, South German Track, 21st August 2021

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Mistletoebird (male), Mia Mia Track

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Little Pied Cormorant, Bell’s Lane Track

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Balancing act

Like many small woodland birds, Striated Thornbills can be incredibly acrobatic in their search for food.

The individual pictured below was spotted gleaning insects from the foliage of White Box Eucalyptus albens. In the first three images you may just be able to make out, near the thornbill’s tarsi, some white web-like material. This is a remnant of a psyllid casing.

Thornbills are one of a host of woodland insectivores that forage assiduously on this material, which is known as lerp. Lerp is a crystalline honeydew that psyllid insects produce in abundance throughout eucalypt woodlands and forests. The sugary casing acts as a form of protection for the soft-bodied pysllids, however, there is some complexity going on here with the casing a clear attractor for avian foragers.

Two other insectivores were also about in the company of the thornbills, an immature Golden Whistler (note the rich brown in the secondary flight feathers) and a splendid male Rose Robin. Both of these are cool-season migrants that will move south to breed in a week or two, although a few Golden Whistlers do breed locally in some years.

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Striated Thornbill gleaning insects from White Box foliage, Muckleford State Forest, 8th August 2021

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Rose Robin (male)

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Golden Whistler

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