While it’s always a sad farewell to daylight saving, an advantage of this time of year is that my rambles tend to coincide better with the ‘golden hour’ before dusk.
Last evening at the Rise and Shine a cavalcade of honeyeaters thoughtfully shared this time with me as they visited a bushland pool. I’ve been making repeat visits to this site in search of Yellow-plumed Honeyeaters, occasional visitors from the mallee country to our north, but no luck so far this autumn.
Brown-headed Honeyeater, Rise and Shine Bushland Reserve, 7th April 2021
Brown-headed Honeyeater flock drinking
Fuscous Honeyeaters drinking
After nary a Scarlet Robin all through summer the species has been following me around on the past few visits to the Mia Mia.
This lovely pair were sharing a new territory with a pair of Red-capped Robins … a nice combination.
The Collared Sparrowhawk arrived on the scene, pursuing a honeyeater before perching for a few minutes in a nearby Grey Box. The square-tailed silhouette of the raptor in flight confirmed the identity.
Scarlet Robins, Mia Mia Track area, 5th April 2021
Male Scarlet Robin
Female Scarlet Robin
Collared Sparrowhawk, Mia Mia Track, 5th April 2021
April is the time when Golden Whistlers arrive in numbers to the box-ironbark country, as they disperse from their breeding grounds at higher altitudes to the south. Immature birds dominate the early influx, with the spectacular males lagging by a few weeks. Colloquially known as thickheads (the first image below explains why), the female is rather nondescript, lacking the fine streaks of its woodland counterpart, the Rufous Whistler. Close inspection reveals the lemon vent, a diagnostic feature. Also returning are small numbers of Scarlet Robins, largely absent during the heat of summer, after breeding locally during spring. Their movements are something of a mystery to me as they are found year round further north, although reporting rates are higher during the cooler months.
Female Golden Whistler, Mia Mia Track area, 3rd April 2021
Female Golden Whistler in full voice
The yellow vent is diagnostic
Male Scarlet Robin
Female Scarlet Robin
Female Red-capped Robin
The White-naped Honeyeater is a distinctive local species – adults have a striking orange-red ‘eye-lid’, which is actually bare skin above the eye. This feature is characteristic of Melithreptus honeyeaters – local species of the genus include the Black-chinned Honeyeater (adult has blue eye skin) and Brown-headed Honeyeater (adult has cream eye skin).
White-naped Honeyeaters can be encountered year-round locally, but they are something of a blossom nomad and, at least in my experience, are more abundant when Grey Box and Yellow Gum are flowering, which is typically from March until the end of winter.
At the Rise and Shine earlier in the week they were the most common visitors to this small bushland pool, outnumbering the Fuscous and Yellow-tufted Honeyeaters.
White-naped Honeyeater, Rise and Shine, 31st March 2021
Female Spotted Pardalote
Immature Crimson Rosella
The Restless Flycatcher is said to use its distinctive grinding call to attract prey.
While I’ve watched this species and heard it calling many times, until yesterday I’d never really appreciated how it uses this tactic.
As I watched this lone Restless Flycatcher in the Rise and Shine it moved between a series of low perches, each time uttering a burst of calls directed at the ground and surrounding vegetation. Numerous times it pounced to catch a small insect. It was pretty clear that the call was being used deliberately to disturb potential prey.
The bird also took a small excursion to drink in the pool that was also attracting good numbers of Yellow-tufted, White-naped and Fuscous Honeyeaters. Again, this is not a behaviour that I’ve witnessed previously from Myiagra inquieta, although I’m sure its a regular thing.
Restless Flycatcher, Rise and Shine Bushland Reserve, 31st March 2021
In days long past this observation would have been commonplace, a Wedge-tailed Eagle perched atop a Buloke.
Both are iconic species, but sadly, such a sight is a rarity in these present times.
The Buloke is emblematic of the plains country, easily taken, slow to return.
Bunjil, the Wedge-tailed Eagle, is of special significance to Indigenous Australians, especially the Dja Dja Wurrung People of central Victoria.
Bunjil is the creator being who bestows Dja Dja Wurrung People with the laws and ceremonies that ensure the continuation of life. Dja Dja Wurrung People know Mindye the Giant Serpent as the keeper and enforcer of Bunjil’s law.
Dja Dja Wurrung Recognition Statement*, 15th November 2013
Wedge-tailed Eagle and Buloke, Joyce’s Creek, 29th March 2021
* The Recognition Statement signed at Yepenya on 15 November 2013, recognised the Dja Dja Wurrung as the Traditional Owners of Central Victoria.
This Grey Teal duckling was all on its lonesome, paddling happily on a small dam on the plains … no sign of its parents or siblings … I don’t like its prospects.
Grey Teal duckling, Moolort Plains, 25th March 2021
Over the past week I’ve heard Fan-tailed Cuckoo, Sacred Kingfisher and Rainbow Bee-eater, all three are spring migrants about to head north, as well as Pied Currawongs, autumn migrants, arriving from the hills in good numbers. A single Swift Parrot was also spotted departing the backyard Yellow Gums, chased by a Red Wattlebird. ‘Swifties’ are back from Tasmania and I’m hoping to have a good look for them over the weekend in the Muckleford bush.
Last evening on a drive across the plains I came across a pair of Blue-winged Parrots, feeding on seeding grasses. This species is always a delight to encounter. It arrives in small flocks during autumn, after breeding further south, either in Tasmania or coastal forests in Victoria. More commonly seen on the plains country it also can be found in box-ironbark forests and woodlands.
Earlier I’d come across a young Wedge-tailed Eagle, standing aside a road-killed Red Fox. Quite a sight as it departed with ravens in pursuit.
Wedge-tailed Eagle (immature), Locks Lane Moolort Plains, 25th March 2021
III … pursued by a Little Raven
Blue-winged Parrot, Clarkes Road Moolort Plains
Pied Currawongs, arriving around town in recent days from the southern ‘highlands’, are making themselves known with their distinctive calls. They appear to have arrived a few weeks earlier than usual this year.
Meanwhile, in the surrounding bush, the resident Grey Currawongs have become more active and obvious than was the case during the heat of summer. Both species of currawongs are omnivorous; taking a variety of fruits, seeds and invertebrates as well as small birds, eggs and nestlings. Grey Currawongs are said to forage mostly on the ground but the birds pictured below were spotted in the early morning sunshine, searching for insects and spiders under eucalypt bark. At this time of year they form small, loose feeding parties – announcing their presence with characteristic ‘clinking’ calls in flight. A distinctive feature of the Grey Currawong is the pincer-like beak, lacking the hooked tip of its pied relative.
Grey Currawong, South German Track, 20th March 2021
Tree Martins are warm season visitors to the district. They usually arrive in early spring, often overlooked as charismatic counterparts such as Rainbow Bee-eaters and Sacred Kingfishers grab our attention. They typically nest in tree hollows, using both live and dead trees – sometimes in small, loose colonies but often solitary. Unlike the mud-nesting Fairy Martin they generally lay their eggs on a bed of leaves, occasionally augmented with mud.
Tree Martins are most obvious in autumn as they gather in large, post-breeding flocks in the forest, especially near water. Last evening by my favourite bush dam a flock of 100+ birds gathered to chase insects before dusk. They are an enchanting bird, dipping low across the surface of the water or hawking above the canopy in search of prey. From time to time the birds would gather on the ground, picking up dry leaves or pebbles for no apparent reason. I’ve also seen this behaviour from Fairy Martins.
Tree Martin, Muckleford State Forest, 18th March 2021