Category Archives: Bird observations

Hungry mouths

Nesting Sacred Kingfishers are efficient and very effective when it comes to raising their young. I recently watched a pair ferrying a variety of prey to their brood, the hissing calls of the nestlings clearly audible from 20 metres away.

Both parents were visiting the nest site, a tunnel in an erosion gully, at regular intervals … not more than ten minutes apart. The highlight was when one of the adults arrived with a Tree Dragon Amphibolurus muricatus, the largest item I’ve ever seen taken by this species.

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Sacred Kingfisher with grasshopper, Newstead area, 4th January 2022

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Grasshopper #2

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Arriving with a Tree Dragon

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This time with a Bougainville’s Skink

All the colours …

As we swing into the New Year Rainbow Bee-eaters are busily feeding the next generation. Dragonflies, cicadas, moths and grasshoppers … and the occasional bee, are all on the menu.

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Rainbow Bee-eater, Muckleford State Forest, 4th January 2022

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A gentle request: The Newstead area welcomes birdwatchers and bird photographers. Please respect the wishes of private land owners when enjoying these pursuits.

Closer looks

The subtle differences in plumage of even our most common birds are always good to puzzle over.

The two sets of images below illustrate this.

First off, the Fuscous Honeyeater. The first individual shows barely a trace of a plume, while the bill is dark, not black, suggesting this is an immature bird from spring breeding.

In the second image the yellow plume with a small black patch is much more obvious, while the base of the bill and gape are yellow – an adult in non-breeding plumage. Breeding adults are almost identical, except the bill and gape are deep black. The eye-ring is yellow in the adult, but pale in the immature, however, this feature can be variable in my experience.

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Fuscous Honeyeater, South German Track, 1st January 2021

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The Eastern Rosellas also present a challenge. The individual at front is, I suspect, an immature – the pale yellow and green plumage on the nape and crown a feature of younger birds. It is accompanied by one of its parents, I think the female, going by the less than vibrant red on the head and slightly off-white cheek patch.

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Eastern Rosellas

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Playing it cool

In the past week or two I’ve heard Pied Currawongs calling in Newstead. I suspect this species, normally a cool season migrant, is expanding its range with some younger birds now remaining all-year round.

Meanwhile, the next generation of Grey Currawongs are appearing. This currawong is resident in the box-ironbark forests surrounding Newstead and is a wary and nervous bird around humans.

The baking weather enticed this adult Grey Currawong to bring its recently fledged youngster for a brief drink at a waterhole on South German Track. Moments earlier this perch had been occupied by a Sacred Kingfisher and soon after the currawongs departed a Laughing Kookaburra arrived, much to the consternation of the honeyeaters gathered around.

The juvenile Grey Currawong was clearly feeling the effects of the heat, its wings held apart from its body and bill agape. The iris of the young currawong is paler than that of its parent, while the yellow gape will be disappear slowly in coming months.

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Grey Currawong (adult), Muckleford State Forest, 30th December 2021

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Grey Currawong (adult) at left with juvenile

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Juvenile Grey Currawong

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Black-chinned Honeyeater

Seen and heard

While it has been the usual suspects getting in the way of the camera on recent visits to the Muckleford bush, there are a number of interesting observations to report.

Yesterday afternoon I heard at least two Yellow-plumed Honeyeaters, occasional summer visitors from the mallee country further north and the previous evening a small party of White-throated Needletails. The latter usually arrive at ahead of a storm front but these ones appeared under clear blue skies, circling overhead for a few minutes and then disappearing before I could grab the camera.

Also … Sacred Kingfisher, Black-chinned Honeyeater, Crested Shrike-tit, Whistling Kite. Pied Currawongs were also heard calling last night in town.

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Yellow-tufted Honeyeater, Muckleford State Forest, 29th December 2021

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Brown-headed Honeyeater

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Peaceful Dove

A wounded teal

As I slowly crested the dam bank a whirr of wings marked the departure of a party of Australian Wood Ducks and a single Pacific Black Duck. In the middle of the dam a lone Grey Teal remained, unusual, until I realised this was a wounded bird. The primary feathers of the left wing had been shredded, possibly in an encounter with a raptor, or perhaps a fox. The bird raised itself to fly a number of times without success. Such a beautiful bird, but sadly I don’t fancy its chances from here.

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Grey Teal, Muckleford State Forest, 28th December 2021

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To 2022

On behalf of Natural Newstead, all the best for Xmas and the new year.

May 2022 be replete with rainbow birds and kingfishers!

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Easily fooled,

… that’s me, not the kingfisher.

I’ve been staking out a pair of Sacred Kingfishers in the Rise & Shine for a few weeks now.

Last season a pair nested in an exquisite hollow (image #2 below) in a Long-leaved Box and I was convinced they were using the same site again.

One of the adults arrived with a freshly caught skink and as I waited expectantly for it to disappear into the hole, it darted, much to my surprise, into a different hollow in the same tree. Both adults made a number of visits during my short vigil. I suspect the young have just hatched, based on the lack of white-wash around the hollow entrance.

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Sacred Kingfisher with a freshly caught skink, Rise & Shine Bushland Reserve, 20th December 2021

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Last season’s nesting site

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Arriving with a wolf spider

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Departing with a fecal sac

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Not quite sharp!

Grebeology

I’ve been studying this family of Australasian Grebes for a few months now.

During the spring they built a nest and incubated four eggs but failed to make it through to hatching. It’s possible that a Red-bellied Black Snake was the culprit … I’ve enjoyed watching one sharing the dam with the grebes and hunting actively.

The adults were undeterred and nested again in a different spot on the dam, this time successfully producing five youngsters, that are now about ten days old. The baby grebes, sometimes referred to as dabchicks (as are the adults), are precocious and able to swim soon after hatching. At this time they will happily ride on the backs of the parents until they become too big and outgrow their welcome.

Young grebes are strikingly patterned, with bold black and white stripes on the head and neck, contrasting with red-orange skin around the eye and the base of the bill. As the young grebes grow they  progressively lose this striped patterning.

Watching the family feeding is utterly absorbing. When a mini feeding frenzy occurs, every half-hour or so, the adults will dive in search of prey with a close to 100% success rate. Yabbies and tadpoles are repeatedly brought triumphantly to the surface, then torn into pieces and fed to the hungry chicks.

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Australasian Grebe, Muckleford State Forest, 15th December 2021

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… 3 days older … 18th December 2021

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Back to the well

It feels like the weather dial has shifted again.

The memory of a cool, wet spring is fading and with it the landscape is drying fast. There are still some small pools in the bush, birds seem to prefer these places when they are available, over the bush dams that will be vital refuges as summer marches on.

I sat quietly by this shallow depression in the Muckleford bush and watched a procession of birds arrive over an hour or so. Very relaxing.

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Yellow-tufted Honeyeater, Muckleford State Forest, 12th December 2021

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White-naped Honeyeater

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Black-chinned Honeyeater

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Rufous Whistler (male)

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Red-rumped Parrot (male)

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Eastern Rosella