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.
Golden-orb Weaver, Mia Mia Track, 27th March 2022
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.
Speckled Warbler (female)
Speckled Warbler (male) … ferrying food, 7th March 2022
Speckled Warbler (male) calling
White-eared Honeyeater, 27th March 2022
I was keen to pay another visit to the tiny Buloke remnant, in search again for Singing Honeyeaters. Sure enough the birds were still there, at least five individuals active in the canopy. From there I travelled further west to another favourite remnant, along Plumptons Lane at the edge of the plains country.
A Singing Honeyeater was heard, but my attention was drawn instead to a small party of Yellow Thornbills, a species very much at home in Buloke. Nearby, Harlequin Mistletoe Lysiana exocarpi, could be seen on a number of the mature Buloke trees. This striking mistletoe is widespread throughout Australia, from southern Victoria to the tropics and across the arid centre, and is known to parasitise a wide range of shrubs and trees. It will even become an epiparasite on other mistletoes including the local Box Mistletoe Amyema miquelii.
Singing Honeyeater, Moolort Plains, 27th February 2022
Buloke seed capsules
Buloke veteran and parent
Buloke provide a food source and living space for ants and a myriad of other insects
Yellow Thornbills are a feature of the bird fauna in Buloke remnants
Harlequin Mistletoe flowers
Harlequin Mistletoe berries
The parasite and its host
Bulokes are affectionately known as the ‘wind harps of the plains’ … the sound of the breeze passing through their foliage defies a suitable description.
This remarkable tree is home to a myriad of other species, from the Buloke Mistletoe to spiders, beetles, butterflies and wasps. Birds also, are drawn to this abundance – I’ve often encountered a party of Yellow Thornbills, Weebills or Brown-headed Honeyeaters foraging through the foliage of an isolated Buloke in search of insects.
Yesterday afternoon I stopped, as I often do, to have closer look at a small patch of Buloke at Baringhup West … three trees in the corner of a wind-swept paddock. Immediately I heard a distinctive call … pirtt pirtt, from high up in one of the Bulokes. A Singing Honeyeater Gavicalis virescens, one of a small party of four as it turned out.
I’ve seen this species before on the plains, but rarely. Its stronghold is the dry inland, extending to coastal regions in Victoria. These birds are, I suspect, part of a remnant population that was once widespread across the volcanic woodlands of central Victoria.
Buloke stand, Moolort Plains, 5th February 2022
Ripening seed capsules
A buloke tree is a diverse and complex ecosystem
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.
Brown-headed Honeyeater, Muckleford State Forest, 17th January 2022
White-naped Honeyeater (adult)
White-naped Honeyeater (juvenile)
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.
Fuscous Honeyeater, South German Track, 1st January 2021
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.
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.
Yellow-tufted Honeyeater, Muckleford State Forest, 29th December 2021
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.
Yellow-tufted Honeyeater, Muckleford State Forest, 12th December 2021
Rufous Whistler (male)
Red-rumped Parrot (male)
Woodland insectivores have been active in recent weeks.
Brown-headed Honeyeaters are currently feasting on lerp … also favourite tucker for Buff-rumped Thornbills.
Golden Wattle is flowering wonderfully at present, which in turn attracts a bevy of insects to feed on the flowers and foliage. If you look closely at the first three images of the Buff-rumped Thornbill below, a juicy green caterpillar can be seen to the right of the thornbill. Moments after I captured the images the caterpillar was snatched from its hiding place amongst the wattle flowers. The Buff-rumped Thornbill then returned to searching for lerp amongst the Yellow Gum saplings.
Brown-headed Honeyeater, Welshman’s Reef, 25th August 2021
Sadly I’m not a really early riser, but occasionally I’ll make a supreme effort – usually rewarded in terms of bird observations.
In the first part of the day birds are generally easier to locate and observe. This Grey Shrike-thrush was seen last weekend in the Muckleford State Forest (within 5km of home). Part of an early morning chorus that included White-eared and yellow-faced Honeyeater, Scarlet and Rose Robin, it was allowed a close approach as it sat preening amongst the Golden Wattles after bathing. The forest floor is replete with fungi at present – the spectacular orange of Tremella … either mesenterica or aurantia stands out like a ‘traffic light in the bush’.
Grey Shrike-thrush, Muckleford State Forest, 18th July 2021
Tremella sp … not sure which one
I was pleasantly surprised last weekend to encounter two Fan-tailed Cuckoos in the Muckleford Nature Conservation Reserve. I had excellent view of the first bird after it flew to a nearby branch, where it was joined almost immediately by a second individual.
Both birds were silent and moved on after a few minutes perched in the early morning sunshine. I did hear a brief ‘fan-tail’ trill at a distance a few minutes later.
Fan-tailed Cuckoos are regarded, quite rightly, as late winter migrants to the box-ironbark country. The story is a bit more complicated as they can be seen in any month, although it is unclear if some individuals remain all-year round or if these might be birds from further south. Their silence outside the breeding season is why they largely go unnoticed, until their distinctive calls are heard again from August onwards.
The story with Eastern Spinebills has some parallels, but in reverse. Arriving in good numbers in the autumn they disappear to the high country to breed in late winter, although they are apparently resident in nearby locations such as Maldon and Yandoit. The movement patterns of Australian birds are complex and new insights are continually emerging. Seasonal conditions also play a significant role in what happens from year to year, even for species with fairly well-established movement patterns.
Fan-tailed Cuckoo, Muckleford Nature Conservation Reserve, 29th May 2021
Eastern Spinebill (male)
Grey-shrike Thrush, Mia Mia Track