Category Archives: Bird breeding

Gold is the colour …

Gold is the colour of the bush at present – wattles, honeyeaters and robins are the embodiment of a wonderful spring.

Yellow-tufted Honeyeater, Mia Mia Track, 16th September 2020

Eastern Yellow Robins continue to delight … the final image in this sequence is a first for me.

Eastern Yellow Robins

Female at right

Male at left

Curious and delightful birds

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Magic moment!

In the engine room

The local bush hasn’t looked as good for years … of course memory does play tricks, but it’s a cracker of a spring.

Healthy shrubby understorey is a key driver of bird populations and there has been a steady recovery in some areas of the Muckleford bush since the Millennium drought broke in 2010. Rough Wattle Acacia aspera is one of the plants priming this resurgence. In full flower it’s home to a myriad of insects and this of course brings the insectivorous birds to feast and breed.

Hooded Robins are competing at present with a host of other woodland birds for their share. The Eastern Yellow Robin (pictured below) was chasing the Hooded Robin pair in a minor territorial dispute, before all resumed regular duties.

Rough Wattle, Mia Mia Track, 12th September 2020

Female Hooded Robin with nest-building material

Hooded Robin pair

Male Hooded Robin

Eastern Yellow Robin … on the lookout

Sittella central

I’ve been visiting a hotspot on Mia Mia Track this week.

Hooded and Eastern Yellow Robins, along with Rufous and Golden Whistlers were conspicuous and active during each visit, as were a party of Varied Sittellas.

The sittellas, seen foraging in the late afternoon sunshine on Thursday, were then spotted gathering nesting materials yesterday. The nest, almost complete, is high-up in the fork of a dead sapling – perhaps 1o metes above the ground.

A sittella nest is a thing of beauty. The delicate cup features vertically arranged shreds of bark, bound together with cobwebs, including a few threads that have been used to anchor the structure. The final touches include spider egg sacs that are arranged around the rim.

Varied Sittella, Mia Mia Track, 10th September 2020

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Still foraging in the same spot, a day later.

The nest, almost complete

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Woodland musing

For a while now, decades in fact, I’ve been an interested observer of landscape change in the Newstead district and more generally across the box-ironbark country.

Three overarching observations:

  1. Significant areas of farmland, prime grazing land last century, are now largely de-stocked and actively regenerating – especially with eucalypts and native grasses.
  2. This farmland sits within a mosaic of  ‘bush’ – forest and woodland, much of which is public land in varying states of recovery. The legacy of repeated clearing (many areas were harvested for timber multiple times since the 1850s) is often reflected in regenerating eucalypt thickets where the stem density may be 10 to 100 times greater than it was pre-clearing.
  3. Bird populations know what’s going on … there are distinct patterns of species richness and abundance that reflect the past history of land use and management.

What is happening in central Victoria is not unique, in many parts of the world agriculture is retreating from areas where it was once pervasive, a phenomenon described as land abandonment. In my experience the greatest variety and numbers of birds tend to be found in areas where the original fabric of veteran trees has triggered natural regeneration of understorey plants and this is happening where farming practices are changing and land is recovering with or without direct intention.

The three habitat images below exemplify this:

#1 woodland bird habitat (private land) – large old trees, natural regeneration and patchiness – ideal for Jacky Winter, Hooded Robin, Diamond Firetail and Swift Parrot

#2 woodland bird habitat (public land) – woodland thicket with fair to middling understorey – not as bird rich as #1 but has potential … just wait 100 years or so to see this realised.

#3 woodland bird habitat (private land) – woodland thicket with minimal understorey – maybe a Brown Treecreeper or two and the odd Scarlet Robin … this too has potential but would most likely benefit from some active management (fire, thinning, planting etc) … and time!

There are layers of complexity too – while #1 woodland bird habitat is good it could be even better with replenishment of missing shrubs, grasses and forbs.

Jacky Winter, Green Gully, 5th September 2020. This species does best on the margins of intact bush and open country – especially abandoned farmland.

#1 – Woodland bird habitat ***

#2 – Woodland bird habitat **

#3 – Woodland bird habitat *

Eucalytpus regrowth is an important part of the story – it is ideal breeding habitat for a range of woodland birds, such as the Yellow Thornbill (pictured below), Mistletoebird and Weebill. Black-chinned Honeyeaters also enjoy this habitat.

Yellow Thornbill nest in eucalyptus regrowth

The tail end of a Yellow Thornbill

Peeking out from the beautifully woven nest of grass, moss and synthetics

Black-chinned Honeyeater

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To read more about land abandonment here is an interesting article from the Yale School of the Environment.

Night birds

It’s been a rich few days for nocturnal birds.

Numerous pairs of Tawny Frogmouths are nesting around town at present. A pair on Panmure Street have selected a large horizontal branch in a veteran River Red Gum on which to construct their meagre arrangement of sticks. Some eucalyptus and peppercorn leaves have been added as adornment. The male is sitting in these images, which is the norm – at night both sexes share incubation.

Tawny Frogmouth on nest in River Red Gum, Panmure Street Newstead, 5th September 2020

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Just after dusk last evening a Southern Boobook arrived silently in our back garden, allowing a few minutes of wonderful close-up views.

Both frogmouths and boobooks are common around town, but their nocturnal habits render them invisible to us humans for much of the time.

Southern Boobook in the home garden, 7th September 2020

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Wattlebird factory

Our home garden is essentially a wattlebird production line.

The combination of Yellow Gums (offering a healthy supply of nectar and lerp) and denser shrubs (offering multiple safe nesting sites) are the reason we have numerous families of Red Wattlebirds in the home garden year round.

Nesting commences in early August and during spring the constant calls of begging Red Wattlebirds can be heard from dawn until dusk. The youngsters gather together on exposed perches while the parents convey bills full of insects at regular intervals to the eager mouths.

These two recently fledged nestlings were being fed every few minutes, right on dusk.

Red Wattlebird … almost fledglings, Wyndham Street Newstead, 4th September 2020

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Young and adult Red Wattlebirds

Each bout of feeding is somewhat chaotic

Wood Ducks in the garden

Australian Wood Ducks are getting busy scouting out nesting sites at present. This species typically nests in tree hollows – River Red Gums are favoured locally.

A pair turned upon in the garden yesterday morning and were showing interest in this nesting box in a Yellow Gum. The box is home to a Brush-tailed Possum so I don’t expect to see an eviction!

Australian Wood Ducks scouting out a nest site, Wyndham Street Newstead, 3rd September 2020

Female Australian Wood Duck

Male Australian Wood Duck

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Silent no more

Mistletoebirds have been absent from the local area over winter. It’s been wonderful to hear their song in recent days around town and in the surrounding bushland.

I’ve often puzzled about their movements and suspect that while some individuals remain locally all-year round there is a partial exodus following breeding.

This handsome male was spotted calling in the Muckleford bush last weekend. The string of ejected mistletoe seeds appeared in the blink of an eye, between bouts of song.

Mistletoebird (adult male), Muckleford State Forest, 30th August 2020

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Voila!

Robin vignette

Eastern Yellow Robins are enthusiastic courtship feeders, a behaviour they share with many other species of songbirds.

During the nest-building phase and throughout the incubation period males will regularly offer a morsel, usually an insect or in some rare cases a small reptile, to the begging female. This behaviour is more than symbolic, providing the female with extra resources during a period when its own foraging activities may be limited. Close inspection of the first image shows some threads of cobweb on the head of the female that have been collected for nest construction.

Eastern Yellow Robin (female), Tunnel Track in the Muckleford State Forest, 30th August 2020

The female performing a courtship feeding begging display

The male appears with an offering

Immature Golden Whistler

Male Spotted Pardalote

Brown Treecreepers on the move …

This observation is now a week old, but noteworthy nonetheless.

This Brown Treecreeper was observed collecting nest-lining material at the Rise and Shine. I’m not 100% sure what the material is but suspect it may well be fur from a dead rabbit. Treecreepers are nothing if not opportunistic.

Brown Treecreeper collecting nesting material, Rise and Shine Bushland Reserve, 25th August 2020

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Brown Treecreeper in profile

Mantid ootheca (egg-case)

Restless Flycatcher