Perhaps a smidgeon earlier than usual, White-winged Trillers have arrived back from their northern vacation.
First hearing their distant rattling calls, two individuals were then spotted right in front of me near Mia Mia Track. The pied bird is a sub-adult male, retaining vestiges of the brown immature plumage. The other is an immature female, the pale barring on the flanks a distinctive feature. Trillers belong in the cuckoo-shrike family Campephagidae – the White-winged Triller is scientifically known as Lalage tricolor (formerly sueurii). Trillers, like cuckoo-shrikes, have a penchant for caterpillars.
The origin of Lalage is vague, deriving apparently from a reference to an unidentified bird, by the Greek grammarian Hesyschius. The epithet sueurii, now replaced by tricolor, was named for Charles Lesueur (1778-1846), a French draughtsman and zoologist who was part of the Baudin expedition to the South Seas in the Geographe from 1800-1804.
White-winged Triller (sub-adult male), Mia Mia Track, 10th September 2020
White-winged Triller (immature female)
I wish I was more of an early riser … sadly I’m not.
On the rare occasions that I make the effort it is almost always richly rewarded. Yesterday was a foggy start in the Muckleford bush as bird calls rang out around me – Eastern Yellow Robin, Pallid Cuckoo, Black-chinned Honeyeater and Golden Whistler were stand-outs.
As the first rays of sun broke through the fog, a few birds … including the Fan-tailed Cuckoo pictured below, soaked up the warmth before beginning their morning foraging.
Birds are almost always easier to observe and photograph at this time of day, allowing a closer approach and often performing some interesting antics.
Tunnel Track, Muckleford State Forest, 5th September 2020
Galah and nest hollow
Back in April 2017 I encountered a Rose Robin (identified as an immature male) at Rotunda Park in Newstead. While I haven’t seen one there since I made a visit yesterday afternoon on a hunch. Over the past fortnight I’ve spent some time with a magnificent male Rose Robin in the Muckleford bush and I thought … maybe I might get lucky at Rotunda Park.
Sure enough a female Rose Robin was soon spotted in the wattles along the drainage line. While I have a very limited data set I suspect this small, migratory robin favours dense, moist gullies during its winter sojourns in the box-ironbark country. Furthermore I have a theory that it is resident in favoured locations during its visits.
The female Rose Robin is not nearly as spectacular as the male, however, it has its own charm as evidenced by the images below. The fait pink wash on the breast was more obvious from certain lighting angles.
Female Rose Robin, Rotunda Park Newstead, 29th August 2020
Male Rose Robin, Muckleford State Forest, 24th August 2020
Distinct pale orbital ring
Small white forehead patch
Pale grey upper parts and relatively long white-sided tail
Faint pink wash on the breast
There have been a couple of local reports but I’m yet to see or hear my first Pallid Cuckoo for the season.
However, Black-eared Cuckoos have certainly arrived in good numbers again this year, which means I’ve got four out of five of our local migratory cuckoos on the list before winter is finished.
Locally the favoured host for the Black-eared Cuckoo is the Speckled Warbler, although in this instance a Golden Whistler foraging in the Golden Wattle understory was disconcerted by the arrival of the cuckoo which spent some useful minutes picking off caterpillars nearby.
Black-eared Cuckoo, Tunnel Track, Muckleford State Forest, 22nd August 2020
Male Golden Whistler
I couldn’t resist another opportunity to feature the Rose Robin first observed last week in the Muckleford bush.
It was quietly foraging amongst the Golden Wattle, occasionally dropping to the ground to snatch an insect from amongst a carpet of Nodding Greenhoods Pterostylis nutans and Dwarf Greenhoods Pterostylis nana.
A true rose garden!
Rose Robin (male) and Golden Wattle, Muckleford State Forest, 22nd August 2020
Rose Robin calling
Male Rose Robin
During spring-time in the Newstead district it is possible to hear all five of our migrating cuckoos calling simultaneously … if you are lucky!
Shining and Horsfield’s Bronze-cuckoos, Black-eared Cuckoo (also in the bronze-cuckoo genus), Pallid and Fan-tailed cuckoos are at their most vocal during September. Currently both species of bronze-cuckoo are about and lots of ‘fan-tails’. I’ve heard Black-eared Cuckoos a couple of times only but yet to observe a Pallid Cuckoo this season.
This Shining Bronze-cuckoo was one of a number spotted last weekend in Green Gully. This species parasitises the nests of a variety of small woodland birds, especially thornbills and fairy-wrens.
Shining Bronze-cuckoo, Green Gully, 16th August 2020
Feasting on Cup-moth caterpillars in Grey Box
Fan-tailed Cuckoo calling
What a delight to be able to photograph a Rose Robin in the local bush …especially a spectacular male.
Rose Robins are regular migrants to the box-ironbark country, arriving in small numbers from late autumn and departing for their breeding grounds in the tall, wet forests to our south by late winter. They are not at all common locally – over the years I’ve only seen a handful. This male was found in a damp gully with Yellow Box and flowering Golden Wattle to the north of Bell’s Lane Track. As I observed the bird the calls of Flame Robins (also heading south), Scarlet Robins and even a Red-capped Robin provided the accompanying soundscape.
Male Rose Robin, Muckleford State Forest, 20th August 2020
Many thanks to Nevil Amos for the tip-off.
As I wandered along a side-track in the Mia Mia at the weekend the unmistakable sound of Olive-backed Orioles could be heard coming from a couple of different directions. A common spring migrant, this is something of an early record as they generally arrive in the first week of September. As I tried to track down the birds calling in the trees nearby I spotted this individual ‘skulking’ in the undergrowth. This one was uttering a selection of different notes, softer and including some mimicry for which orioles are renowned.
Orioles are considered by some to have few equals as a mimic – the breadth of their repertoire is impressive … Whistling Kite, Crimson Rosella, Noisy Friarbird and Grey Shrike-thrush to name just a few of the species that have been noted being impersonated by this oriole. One of the theories put forward to explain their mimicry is that it allows them to feed in mixed flocks with more aggressive birds, such as large honeyeaters and figbirds.
Olive-backed Oriole near South German Track, 16th August 2020
Moments later another early arrival appeared quietly overhead, just above the canopy – a Square-tailed Kite back in one of its favourite haunts. Spring is in the offing!
The ibis is often referred to colloquially as the farmers friend, on account of the wonderful service it provides feeding on insect pests in pastures. Many species of native birds perform a similar wonderful role, including cuckoos.
This Fan-tailed Cuckoo was observed last evening, feeding on caterpillars in a paddock beside the Loddon River. Over a period of twenty minutes or so it captured perhaps a dozen, each time descending from a low perch to snatch the caterpillar from a leaf, returning to its perch on each occasion to devour its prey. It then rejoiced with a series of trills before eyeing off its next victim. I originally misidentified the caterpillars as one of the Heliothis species of moths – they are actually Brown Pasture Looper Ciampa arietaria, typically found on capeweed and Erodium but also a pest of young crops and clover pastures.
Let’s hear a cheer for Fan-tailed Cuckoos!
Fan-tailed Cuckoo with , Loddon River @ Newstead, 25th July 2020
Sitting at my desk over the past fortnight I’ve heard the regular trills of a Fan-tailed Cuckoo (possibly from a few different individuals) coming from the direction of the Loddon River to our west.
Last evening I went in search of the ‘perpetrator’ and found a couple of individuals in one of my favourite spots along the river (pictured below). Cuckoos have arrived early this year – Shining and Horsfield’s Bronze-cuckoos are already about as well, perhaps a fortnight earlier than their usual arrival dates. I’ve yet to observe Pallid or Black-eared Cuckoos but will be on the lookout for them in coming weeks.
Loddon River @ Newstead (iPhone panorama), 22nd July 2020
Fan-tailed Cuckoo (adult male)