The highlight of a late afternoon visit to the Mia Mia earlier this week was the appearance of a handsome male Red-capped Robin. This somewhat enigmatic local robin can be observed throughout the year, however they tend to be more often recorded in the drier months when they disperse after breeding. The female was seen fleetingly, making some gentle contact calls while the male was displaying boldly.
Laughing Kookaburras are regular visitors to our plot – it’s not unusual to have a party of three or four pay a short visit, perching in the tall eucalypts, as they survey their surroundings for a meal.
Last Saturday morning an absolute cacophony erupted from high up in one of the Yellow Gums out back. There were four birds, with two of the four making repeated forays to a hollow (pictured below).
I suspect they were just ‘playing’ as part of a warm up routine for the upcoming breeding season. After a series of excited visits to the hollow they departed, perhaps in search of a more suitable site.
In the past couple of years a once common raptor of the plains, the Black-shouldered Kite, has been worryingly scarce … even as its favourite prey, Mus musculus, has been abundant.
In recent months I’ve started seeing the return of a few of these beautiful small kites and at the weekend I spent an hour in the company of the bird pictured below. Spotted first on a high exposed perch it appeared to be surveying its surroundings for a likely meal. Over the next hour it departed on five occasions to hover over an adjacent area of rough basalt grassland, returning four times with a House Mouse … an 80% strike-rate.
Unlike most other raptors, the Black-shouldered Kite can be quite confiding and this bird allowed me to approach within thirty metres. What a privilege to be able to witness it hunting successfully. After each meal it uttered some gentle contact calls, an effort I suspect, to attract the attention of a mate to share its territory with.
Fingers crossed for a successful breeding season for this charming raptor.
Black-shouldered Kite , Moolort Plains, 18th June 2022
As we approach the shortest day of the year, a charismatic local species, the Barking OwlNinox connivens, is starting to stir. Perching close together is a sign that a nest site has been chosen and egg-laying is imminent. Young owlets will be demanding food in early spring, just as the prey of Barking Owls – gliders, rabbits, possums and birds, are becoming active.
The sexes are quite different, the male (perched at left in the images below) is noticeably larger and typically has a flattened crown. As I watched on, this pair was mobbed by a contingent of small honeyeaters, triggering a short bout of frenzied calling.
Click on the audio file below to listen to a short duet.
… it’s been a pleasant start to winter around Newstead.
While temperatures have hovered in the low teens over the past three weeks the compensation has been some lovely rain.
The local bush is quite busy and you can sense that many of our woodland bird species are on the cusp of breeding again. The first Golden Wattle flowers have appeared, only on a handful of plants, out of sync with those that will burst forth in late July.
Golden Wattle, Muckleford Nature Conservation Reserve, 13th June 2022
Another observation of an overwintering Fan-tailed Cuckoo prompted me to have a look at BirdData for seasonal records of the species in this part of central Victoria.
Fan-tailed Cuckoo, Muckleford Nature Conservation Reserve, 13th June 2022
The first map below shows records since 1998 for the months of May and June, the second map the combined records for May to August. Clearly this species is about during winter, at least in some years, but observations peak from August through November when they can be readily heard calling throughout the box-ironbark country.
Even in Tasmania, at the southern-most edge of their range, a few individuals are observed through deep winter. It is anybody’s guess as to whether our local ‘fantails’ are residents or migrants from further south, and furthermore if their movements are changing along with our climate. They are largely silent until their hosts (fairy-wrens, scrubwrens and thornbills) commence nest building with the first hint of spring, however I have been hearing the odd bird calling in recent weeks, along with a Shining Bronze-cuckoo.
Fan-tailed Cuckoo records (red dots) in central Victoria – May to June (all years)
Fan-tailed Cuckoo records (red dots) in central Victoria – May to August (all years)
This individual was hunting caterpillars from a series of low perches, dropping successfully to the forest floor numerous times as I followed.
The onset of winter means a subtle change in the composition of the local bird community.
Eastern Spinebill, Golden Whistler and White-eared Honeyeater are distinctive ‘winter birds’ in the Newstead district, although the latter species may be seen throughout the year. Scarlet Robins also tend to be more abundant during the cooler months.
Eastern Spinebill (adult female), Red White and Blue Mine, 2nd June 2022
Gymnopilus junonius (Spectacular Rustgill) on Grey Box