Category Archives: Bird breeding

A trick of the light

I never tire of watching Sacred Kingfishers.

Spring migrants, arriving usually in late September, they breed in a wide variety of locations around Newstead. Over the years I’ve found nests in disused mine shafts and termite mounds, as well as more typical sites – horizontal tree hollows and earthen tunnels.

A flash of brilliant blue-green or their harsh scolding call alerts me to their presence. The sexes are very much alike, the male is often described as somewhat bluer and brighter, but as these images show (compare the first three with the last), the light can easily mislead. Male Sacred Kingfishers also tend to have buffer underparts as is evident in the first image.

All images are of the same individual. I first spotted it perched on a branch overhanging the river, a skink firmly snagged in its bill. The bird, an adult male, was making a series of advertising calls (skink in bill) – the unfortunate skink a courtship offering. While I didn’t spot the female on this occasion I had observed the pair in the same area the evening prior. I expect they’ll nest in the vertical river bank, freshly eroded after recent floods.

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Sacred Kingfisher (adult male) with courtship offering, Loddon River @ Newstead, 30th November 2022

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Stepping with care

I endeavour to step carefully as I wander through our local bush, especially at this time of year.

A carpet of wildflowers underfoot – and as the days warm there are other possibilities!

I crouched down amongst a field of Blue Pincushion and Silvertop Wallaby-grass, then the ground suddenly ‘exploded’.

A wondrous sight – a Painted Button-quail nest, with four beautifully marked eggs.

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Blue Pincushion Brunonia australis, Mia Mia Track, 26th November 2022

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Painted Button-quail nest

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Silvertop Wallaby-grass Rytidosperma pallidum

Where are the relatives?

Dusky Woodswallows have been back in good numbers after a brief absence during winter. Nesting is now in full swing.

Usually by this time of year we would expect them to have been joined by their relatives, White-browed and Masked Woodswallows. Alas, no sign of these fellow migrants as yet, although they typically appear on the first of the spring northerlies, often in large mixed flocks. Conditions this year have been cool and wet, and would seem to have delayed their movement south.

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Dusky Woodswallow with prey, Bell’s Lane Track, 21st November 2022

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Dusky Woodswallow, Muckleford State Forest, 22nd November 2022

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Early stages of nest-building in a River Red Gum

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Bush craft

The artistic creations of woodland birds are on display in the local bush at present.

The Jacky Winter, a delightful small flycatcher weaves a delicate nest from thin stems of native grass and cobwebs. The structure is a shallow bowl, often placed like this one in the horizontal fork of a small branch.

Olive-backed Orioles contract a more substantial nest, a hanging basket woven together with grass, cobwebs and narrow bark strips (Red Stringybark is a favourite material). The nest is typically suspended in the canopy of a sapling and well camouflaged.

The adobe nests of the White-winged Chough are scattered throughout. These structures can last for decades, sometimes abandoned after one season, other times refurbished with additional rims added to the original structure over a number of seasons.

Painted Button-quail continue to surprise, pleasantly. This one was foraging just north of Mia Mia Track amongst the Rough Wattle that is doing brilliantly in our soggy spring. I’ve now logged five separate locations for this species over the past week.

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Jacky Winter weaving, Mia Mia Track, 13th November 2022

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Jacky Winter … weaving in monochrome

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Oilve-backed Oriole incubating

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White-winged Chough nest

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Painted Button-quail, Mia Mia Track, 13th November 2022

European Goldfinch

It’s rare for an exotic, introduced or feral bird to appear on this blog.

The European Goldfinch was introduced to Australia during the 1880s, on multiple occasions at many different locations. Many of these attempts apparently failed.

It has an extensive natural distribution encompassing Europe, Northern Africa, western and Central Asia, where its favoured habitat includes open woodlands. In Australia it is usually found in open agricultural landscapes and settled areas in the southern half of the continent, often favouring ‘weedy wastelands’. I occasionally observe goldfinches in the local bush, but suspect they are ‘just passing’. I’m not aware of any studies on their ecological impacts in Australia – my observations are that their effects are on a different level altogether when compared with mynahs, starlings and even blackbirds – a suite of invaders of which I am not at all fond of!

A pair of European Goldfinches has been visiting our front ‘lawn’ in recent weeks, feeding on the abundance of Capeweed. It wasn’t hard to locate their nest, secreted in the canopy of an ornamental pear on a neighbouring property. At least three mouths were being fed.

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European Goldfinch in the home garden, 8th November 2022

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Nesting activity nearby in an ornamental pear

Out from the shadows

It’s been a good week for Painted Button-quail.

A cryptic species, at home in the box-ironbark, populations fluctuate along with the seasons. This year I suspect we’ll see an ‘uptick’ in numbers as conditions are ideal for a successful and extended breeding effort.

This week I’ve located birds in different parts of the Rise and Shine Bushland Reserve. On both occasions they emerged from the undergrowth as a tightly knit pair, a sign they are on their breeding ground. Earlier during winter, I flushed individual Painted Button-quail in the Mia Mia, and once a covey of three that rocketed off in typical style from beneath my feet. Tell-tale ‘platelets’, saucer-shaped depressions created by their foraging activities, have been found more regularly than usual.

When breeding the species is easiest to locate from its distinctive and far-carrying ‘oom’ calls, uttered slowly at first and then gradually quickening. Sexually dimorphic, the female is significantly larger and more richly coloured than the male – a large rufous shoulder patch the most immediately noticeable difference.

Painted Button-quail are a declining woodland bird. Over the past couple of decades there have been years when I didn’t record a single observation. Hopefully that might be about to change.

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Painted Button-quail (female), Rise & Shine Bushland Reserve, 9th November 2022

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Male Painted Button-quail

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Painted Button-quail pair (male at front)

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Female Painted Button-quail

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It’s not a race …or is it?

In the quiet village of Newstead the healthy rivalry between the ‘west bank’ and the ‘east bank’ continues …

Our local Tawny Frogmouths have been sitting on eggs throughout October and the first chicks have now appeared.

Two well-known local pairs have hatched at least one youngster, both are growing steadily.

Perhaps the ‘west bank’ is slightly in front at present, but stay tuned for the final result.

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Tawny Frogmouth and chick, Pound Lane Newstead, 6th November 2022

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Female Tawny Frogmouth

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Tawny Frogmouth and chick (obscured), Panmure Street Newstead, 3rd November 2022

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Male (sitting) and chick, 5th November 2022

Return to the earth

Since their return in early October Rainbow Bee-eaters have been performing brilliant aerial displays above their breeding grounds.

While I’m yet to see any birds inspecting potential nesting sites, horizontal tunnels in exposed clay banks are in ready supply and awaiting refurbishment.

Pairs perching close together on low perches and uttering their gentle trills is a sign that egg-laying is imminent. The sexes are alike – the female is somewhat duller than the male, with shorter and broader tail streamers.

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Rainbow Bee-eaters, Green Gully, 6th November 2022

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Female Rainbow Bee-eater calling

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Male Rainbow Bee-eater

This is no wasteland

The Rise and Shine Bushland Reserve, or ‘The Shine’ as it is affectionally known, is one of the best birding spots in the district. A diversity of habitats are packed into this small reserve – grassy woodland, heathy dry forest and box-ironbark forest. In a wet year such as this, small pools and mini-wetlands are dotted throughout. Once a gravel reserve, a source of road-making material for the Newstead Shire, much of original surface has been stripped away, compounding previous degradation from mining.

One distinctive part of the reserve, that locals will instantly recognise, has expanses of bare gravel with the occasional stunted sapling. Sundews are the dominant plant on this nutrient depleted ‘moonscape’. In my time walking trough the reserve (now approaching forty years) it has been home to at least one pair of Black-fronted Dotterels. This tiny wader is renowned for nesting in what appear the most inhospitable sites. While it typically avoids nesting right beside water, the chosen site is generally not too far away from a dam or temporary wetland.

It was the distraction display (used to lure predators away from the nest or chicks) that alerted me to this bird – then to my astonishment I looked down to see the nest at my feet … in a shallow scrape with two beautifully camouflaged eggs. I beat a hasty retreat and the adult soon returned to incubate.

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Black-fronted Dotterel, Rise and Shine Bushland Reserve, 28th October 2022

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Sitting tight …

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Black-fronted Dotterel eggs

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Distraction display

The Riders

I’ve been keeping an eye on a pair of Australasian Grebes (Tachybaptus novaehollandiae) that have built a nest raft on a little dam in the Muckleford Forest, waiting for the moment they start taking their chicks for rides out onto the water. Sure enough, this week they had their three tiny chicks out and about.

It was quite impressive to see how well hidden the three chicks were under the wings of the parent that was carrying them.

One of the young about to join its siblings under the wings

While one parent had the chicks snuggled under wings, the other was out foraging and bringing food back to the little clutch.

Some food for the little ones.

The young would stay well hidden except when food arrived or when time came for the parents to swap roles. It was great to watch the smooth changeover – a few chattering calls and the young ones slide off the back of one parent and climbed up onto the other.

Climbing into position.
Getting excited about some food.
And into the water
On still waters