Category Archives: Bird breeding

Three … no less

As I suspected the Spotted Harrier clan on the plains includes no less than three juveniles – a wonderful result.

The youngsters are doing well it seems , chasing food on the ground and from the air. The adults have been absent during my visits … I suspect they are watching their offspring and the photographer from a distance.

Spotted Harriers lay two to four eggs in a clutch, although to raise three healthy juveniles is, I reckon, a little unusual and a sign of an abundance of food this season.

Juvenile Spotted Harrier, Moolort Plains, 15th January 2021

Juvenile #1

Juvenile #2

Juvenile #3

Constant calling is a feature of young Spotted Harriers

That ‘owl-like’ face!

Spotted success

Back before Xmas I reported a pair of adult Spotted Harriers hunting on the Moolort Plains. In a pleasing development it looks like this pair has raised two, and possibly a third, juvenile.

Young Spotted Harriers have quite different plumage to the adults, rich buff is the overall impression. They do, however, share the same distinctive features as their parents that makes them instantly recognisable – long slender legs, extended narrow wings, barring on the tail and flight feathers and the owl-like facial disc.

Juvenile Spotted Harrier, Moolort Plains, 11th January 2021

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The waiting game

Sitting by a pool of water with the camera is one of my favourite pastimes.

The ‘trick’ is to be observant and patient, as many species of birds will soon become accustomed to your presence and resume their natural patterns.

Honeyeaters, of which we have a multitude of local species, are without doubt the most frequent visitors and locally its Yellow-tufted and Fuscous Honeyeaters that tend to dominate proceedings.

From time to time something special appears, perhaps a Yellow-plumed Honeyeater or Black Honeyeater if you’re really fortunate. In the sequence below I’d estimate that over a period of two hours there were 200+ visits from Yellow-tufted and Fuscous Honeyeaters before the Black-chinned Honeyeater dropped in. It was well worth the wait! This species is by no means rare locally, I hear it on most visits to the bush, but it is seriously outnumbered by other honeyeaters and always a delight to observe.

A couple of days later at the same spot, a real highlight – a juvenile Black-chinned Honeyeater – evidence of successful local breeding.

Fuscous Honeyeater, South German Track, Muckleford State Forest, 3rd January 2020

Yellow-tufted Honeyeater

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Black-chinned Honeyeater

Juvenile Black-chinned Honeyeater, 5th January 2020

Frogs on the menu

While this is not exactly the famous kingfisher shot that many nature photographers crave, it might be the best I ever get!

This Sacred Kingfisher has been coming in to a nice perch above a small bush dam on South German Track … a perfect vantage point from which to spy a frog for its nestlings. The images below are in sequence … moments after I took the first shot the kingfisher swallowed the frog and then plunged in after another.

While I’m pretty confident on the bird ID I’d be happy for any suggestions specific to the unlucky amphibian!

Sacred Kingfisher with amphibian prey, South German Track, 2nd January 2020

Another sortie #1

No success this time!

A good sign … and a puzzle

Yesterday afternoon I walked in the Mia Mia … hoping to get a drenching from the promised thunderstorms.

The rain stayed away, but thankfully we received 20mm overnight.

The good sign was a juvenile Red-capped Robin, found in the Rough Wattle to the west of Mia Mia Track and in the company of Buff-rumped Thornbills and Superb Fairy-wrens. Juvenile robins, like quite a number of the songbirds, are distinguished by blotchy patterning that serves as excellent camouflage. Young ‘red-caps’ are much paler, smaller and slimmer than juvenile Scarlet Robins which breed regularly in this area but then appear to depart over summer.

Nearby I spotted an adult male Red-capped Robin … with a couple of puzzling features, firstly the gape colour (yellow rather than black at the base) and also the general appearance of the head feathers (quite pale ear-coverts and light brown overall rather than the usual jet black).

Immature male Red-capped Robins resemble the female (see here), often with a reddish wash across the breast – young birds are known to breed in this plumage.  The adult male pictured here is, I think, more likely to be an older bird (some adults retain a pale gape) showing signs of feather wear and possibly moulting into fresh plumage.

Juvenile Red-capped Robin, Mia Mia Track, 2nd January 2020

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Red-capped Robin (male), Mia Mia Track, 2nd January 2020

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List: Crested Bellbird, Brown-headed Honeyeater, Fuscous Honeyeater, Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike, Striated Thornbill, Weebill, Peaceful Dove.

Hollows make a home …

… for a myriad of native wildlife.

A pair of Sacred Kingfishers is currently occupying this fine hollow in a veteran River Red-gum. The lack of ‘whitewash’ around the entrance indicates that the eggs are yet to hatch, or at least they may have just done so. As the nestlings grow the adults perch at the entrance to deliver food and leave a tell-tale trail of excreta below the opening.

As I sat, entranced by the kingfishers, a small bird caught my eye as it fluttered, like a large moth, to perch beside another hollow above me. It was an Australian Owlet-nightjar (often confusingly referred to as the moth-owl … it is neither a moth or an owl!). It must have been sitting quietly nearby observing me before deciding to decamp to its roosting hollow for the day.

I was intrigued to notice the projections at the end of the rictal bristles around the face of of the owlet. I’ve never noticed these before but suspect they are a type of filoplume. The bristles are thought to aid the nocturnal navigation of the owlet as it hunts for insects in its favoured habitats – woodlands and forest. The plume-like projections looked very delicate and perhaps they only persist for a short time on the newly replaced bristles?

Australian Owlet-nightjar, Loddon River @ Newstead, 30th December 2020

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Sacred Kingfisher @ nest site in River Red-gum

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A perilous time to be a woodswallow

In a summer notable for the almost complete absence (so far) of White-browed and Masked Woodswallows, Dusky Woodswallows are more than compensating.

‘Duskies’ commenced nesting in mid-November, usually the time when their migratory cousins appear in large numbers throughout the box-ironbark country. The first youngsters are now facing a perilous period post-fledging – it takes them a week or so to become capable aerialists and during this time they perch, often noisily, waiting for their parents to arrive with food. Surely many are ‘picked off’ by predators, such as currawongs, kookaburras and raptors, as nature takes its course.

This group of four was observed earlier in the week along Sullivans Track in the Muckleford bush. The adults were arriving with food every few minutes – cicadas, wasps and bees, captured on aerial sorties high above or taken from the ground nearby. Initially three of the four were huddled close together but over a period of thirty minutes or so they became separated as each youngster made short, faltering flights to test its newly acquired powers.

Dusky Woodswallows are partially migratory in my experience. The majority of birds have left the district by late autumn, but I have seen the species in all months – either small numbers are resident or these may be birds from further south spending the winter in warmer climes. Dusky Woodswallows are the only woodswallow to include Tasmania as part of their normal range.

Juvenile Dusky Woodswallows, Sullivans Track, Muckleford State Forest, 29th December 2020

Juvenile Dusky Woodswallows have distinctive blotchy plumage to provide some camouflage during a vulnerable part of their life-cycle

Adult arriving with cicada prey

The appearance of the adults nearby elicits a frantic burst of wing fluttering from the juvenile 

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Wing and tail stretching by the juveniles was observed regularly – this aids the rapid development of their flight feathers.

… another cicada!

Xmas feast

Xmas in Newstead is Musk Lorikeets raiding the backyard plums … Rainbow Bee-eaters feasting on a variety of flying insects for their nestlings.

Musk Lorikeet, Wyndham Street Newstead, 25th December 2020

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Rainbow Bee-eaters @ Newstead Cemetery

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So, what’s more special?

Some birds, seen through human eyes at least, are more charismatic than others.

Tawny Frogmouths, in spite of their daylight hours immobility, fall into the charismatic department it seems … they always elicit an enthusiastic response from blog followers anyway!

Checking in on the ‘Pound Lane pair’ at the weekend was terrific – the parents with now two well-grown youngsters … eclipsed however by the appearance of two juvenile Diamond Firetails arriving to drink at the dam beside where the frogmouths are resident.

Diamond Firetails are a declining woodland bird, although the Newstead district is something of a hot spot. Evidence of recent breeding success is very heartening.

Tawny Frogmouth (male), Pound Lane Newstead, 20th December 2020

One of the juveniles

The second juvenile (at left) with the female

Juvenile Diamond Firetail

Immature Red-Rumped Parrot

Male Red-rumped Parrot (juvenile)

An old friend in the shine

I’ve ‘known’ this old Yellow Box for more than three decades.

At various times it has been home to nesting Laughing Kookaburras, Brown and White-throated Treecreepers and Sacred Kingfishers … in some years simultaneously. I’m sure the tree is also home to bats, sugar gliders and who knows what else!

This season it’s the kingfishers that have returned to breed once again. An early morning visit showed that spiders (wolf spiders I think) were the favoured tucker. I witnessed at least 10 visits over the course of an hour where spiders were delivered to the nestlings. I find it remarkable that the kingfishers are dining out on prey that is completely invisible to me as I stumble through the bush.

Yellow Box, Rise and Shine, 12th December 2020

Sacred Kingfisher with spider prey

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Arriving at the hollow …

… departure

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The other parent … possibly the male

This time with a grasshopper