Category Archives: Bird breeding

A golden autumn

A number of folks have commented in recent weeks on the proliferation of spiders in the local bush, in particular the extraordinary Golden Orb-weaver Nephila edulis.

These magnificent spiders have been casting their webs with enthusiasm post Xmas. Walking in the bush at present is tricky as you weave your own way amongst their silken creations, some of which are more than a metre across.

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Golden-orb Weaver, Mia Mia Track, 27th March 2022

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Speckled Warblers have bred again during autumn, a good sign for this declining woodland bird. I’ve also spotted both Red-capped and Scarlet Robins in recent weeks … they went missing during the heat of summer.

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Speckled Warbler (female)

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Speckled Warbler (male) … ferrying food, 7th March 2022

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Speckled Warbler (male) calling

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White-eared Honeyeater, 27th March 2022

Unseasonal

Late summer and early autumn rain has triggered sone unseasonal breeding activity.

White-faced Herons, a common local waterbird, often breed some distance away from the waterbodies they frequent when hunting food.

This nest, secreted in a clump of mistletoe in a tall Grey Box is home to two well-grown chicks. A third nestling appears to have succumbed, perhaps the result of competition for food with its stronger siblings.

One parent arrived as I watched on, alighting nervously on a nearby clump of mistletoe before proceeding to attend the chicks.

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White-faced Heron chicks, Newstead, 30th March 2022

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One of the parents

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A lesser known migrant

Autumn has arrived and so we say farewell to a number of breeding migrants for another year. In recent days Rainbow Bee-eaters have departed, along with Sacred Kingfishers a little earlier in the month.

A less well-known migrant, the Tree Martin, can be seen at present gathering in large feeding flocks in the Muckleford bush. This dainty aerialist breeds locally in tree hollows – the red gum swamps of the Moolort Plains are a favoured place as well as the intact bushland around Newstead.

The flocks, comprising adult and immature birds, can number in the hundreds, with the birds feeding above the canopy as well as sweeping down over water in search of insects. From time to time they will perch in small groups on exposed branches, amongst the foliage or alighting fleetingly on the ground where they will pick up dry leaves … possibly a habit associated with their breeding behaviour. Whilst these images were taken earlier in the month the birds are still around – the first cool days of April is when they typically head north.

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Tree Martin, South German Track, 3rd March 2022

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Sparrowhawk trifecta poses a puzzle

I set off this morning to inspect the effects of last afternoon’s storm … 75mm in a two hour burst. More on that in an upcoming post.

As I strolled along Mia Mia Track the distinctive call of a Collared Sparrowhawk grabbed my attention, followed by the agitated call of a second individual nearby.

It didn’t take long to locate three individuals, two of which were juveniles with small songbirds in their talons. One of the prey items was easily identified – a Yellow-tufted Honeyeater, while the other young sparrowhawk had a slightly larger catch … possibly a young Red Wattlebird.

The third sparrowhawk was in similar garb to the juveniles but appeared to be an older immature bird, the slaty-grey upper parts retaining just a semblance of rufous edging on the wing coverts, with this feature more pronounced in the juvenile birds. The parent, which I think was the female, on account of its larger size, later captured a meal for itself … a Scarlet Robin I suspect.

Upon returning home a spot of research revealed that Collared Sparrowhawks sometimes breed before they attain their full adult plumage. This article gives a fabulously detailed account.

This blog post from 2015 has a nice image of an adult Collared Sparrowhawk.

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Collared Sparrowhawk – juvenile with prey, Mia Mia Track, 29th January 2022

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The second juvenile with a Yellow-tufted Honeyeater

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The third bird – I suspect the female parent … still in immature plumage

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Collared Sparrowhawk … ever alert

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One of the juveniles in the act of dismembering its prey

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The female again, this time with what appears to be a Scarlet Robin … note the slaty-grey upper parts, lacking (largely) rufous margins to the wing coverts

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Agitated juvenile

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Collared Sparrowhawk showing the distinctive elongated middle-toe

A varied diet

This family of Australasian Grebes has provided much enjoyment during the heat of summer. Now deserted by their parents, the five juveniles have been happily independent at their birth-place, feeding on a variety of freshwater life, including tiger leeches, yabbies and caddis-fly larvae.

I’d never previously observed one capture a leech, but two of the young did so during this session. Each instance involved violent shaking of the struggling leech for a number of minutes until it was subdued enough to swallow.

Caddis-flies are small insects that spend most of their life-cycle as aquatic larvae, making their home in a protective case – in some cases the larvae weave silken cases that incorporate sand-grains and plant material, or as is the case with the variety pictured here, inside a hollow plant stem. The larvae move about inside these portable cases, protected as they feed on decaying planet material. The strategy is clearly not 100% successful as a hungry grebe demonstrates.

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Australasian Grebe (juvenile) with leech, Muckleford State Forest, 19th January 2022

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This time with a caddis-fly larva

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What’s been happening this week?

In a nutshell … it’s been hot!

My excursions have been limited and targeted. Just like the birds I’ve been making repeated, short visits to the water.

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Brown-headed Honeyeater, Muckleford State Forest, 17th January 2022

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Eastern Rosella

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Fuscous Honeyeater

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Welcome Swallows

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Yellow-tufted Honeyeater

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White-eared Honeyeater

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White-naped Honeyeater (adult)

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White-naped Honeyeater (juvenile)

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Yellow-faced Honeyeater

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Red Wattlebird

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.

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

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!