Category Archives: Migrants

Down to earth

Rainbow Bee-eaters have been back with us for over a month now, spending most of their time in the air over their breeding grounds.

During November the birds can increasingly be seen perched lower down around prospective nesting sites, trilling enthusiastically and occasionally dropping to earth. Tunnel refurbishment is underway and egg-laying will commence shortly.

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Rainbow Bee-eater, Joyce’s Creek, 5th November 2021

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Plains notes

As spring unfolds Galahs and Long-billed Corellas are busy feeding in patches of thistles on the Moolort Plains. The flowers set seed quickly as the weather warms and the birds are ready to feast. Both species are feeding nestlings in nearby woodland areas, happy to fly some distance in search of nutritious morsels.

Brown Songlarks, spring migrants to the open country, have arrived in good numbers this year. Their rousing display flights are an enjoyable sight.

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Galah feeding on thistles, Joyce’s Creek, 31st October 2021

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Long-billed Corellas

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Australasian Pipit

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Brown Songlark display flight

Not a woodpecker

Woodpeckers belong to a diverse family of birds, the Picidae, along with ‘famous’ members such as the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. Species in this family are renowned for their habit of excavating holes (used for roosting and nesting) in tree trunks, using their robust bill. I’ve been fortunate to observe woodpeckers on a couple of occasions, once in Alberta (Canada) and also in Morocco. Woodpeckers aren’t found in Australia.

Sacred Kingfishers, like many woodpeckers, also excavate nest sites, although in my experience this almost always entails refurbishment of an existing hollow in a tree limb or a tunnel in an earthen bank. Locally I’ve observed them return over multiple years to the same site for breeding. Pairs will become very noisy and active around the nest site at this time of year, flying in repeatedly to inspect the site and often digging with their bill to remove material from in and around the hole.

Rarely though, at least from my recollections, do they build a completely new nest in a limb from scratch. However, last weekend I watched a pair at Yandoit appearing to be doing exactly this in a horizontal limb of a Candlebark (E.rubida). The core of the limb was decayed and both adults were busily removing chunks of material and making good progress. I’ll keep an eye on this site over coming weeks to see what eventuates.

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Sacred Kingfisher, Yandoit, 24th October 2021

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Prospecting for a nest site

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All in good time …

I’ve been puzzled as to the late arrival this spring of Sacred Kingfishers.

Most years a few birds arrive in the first half of September with the main influx well and truly here by early October. In the past I’ve even recorded the odd individual in August. Despite some serious searching of their regular haunts in recent weeks I hadn’t spotted a single bird … or heard one for that matter. Their distinctive calls are easy to recognise and carry quite a distance – they are hard to miss once they arrive. Finally, last weekend, I came across a pair on the margins of the Sandon State Forest, alerted initially by the calls of the pair as they were investigating potential nesting sites in a massive Yellow Gum. It’s great to have a them back.

The Sacred Kingfisher is a breeding migrant to central Victoria – it spends the cooler months in northern Australia but graces us with its presence from now until at least March.

I’d be interested in whether readers have also noted its late arrival this year … it could just be that I’ve been ‘asleep at the wheel’.

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Sacred Kingfisher, Sandon State Forest, 17th October 2021

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The pair – suspect that is the female at left

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Making that familiar ‘kek-kek-kek’ call

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Great to see you back!

Warming up

It’s been an unusually cool start to spring in central Victoria. I suspect this has been welcomed by the birds with good evidence of breeding at present.

I heard my first Rainbow Bee-eaters on Sunday, calling high overhead at the Rise and Shine Bushland Reserve, while Sacred Kingfishers remain elusive. There have been a few local reports of the latter but I’ve failed to see one yet in the ‘usual’ spots. Pallid Cuckoos have become vocal in the past week or so, but I’m yet to see a Black-eared Cuckoo. The next month promises to be an excellent time to enjoy nature in the Newstead district.

Apologies (not really!) for the Hooded Robin overload on this post … a favourite woodland bird of mine.

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Dusky Woodswallow, Green Gully, 10th October 2021

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Eastern Yellow Robin incubating – in sapling Long-leaf Box

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Eastern Yellow Robin with Cup-moth caterpillar

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Hooded Robin (female)

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Orioles in the Mia Mia

Olive-backed Orioles are back in force for spring breeding.

I recently came across a nesting pair in the gully line alongside Mia Mia Track. This area is a favourite breeding ground for the species, with this nest in a typical site.

The raggedy cup-shaped nest has been suspended amongst the foliage of a Grey Box sapling, about 3 metres above the ground.

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Olive-backed Oriole, Mia Mia Track, 23rd September 2021

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The nest is a deep, cup-shaped structure …

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… suspended in a Grey Box sapling

A good year …

The local bush is oblivious to the pandemic.

With abundant winter and early spring rain there is a riot of colour at present, dominated by flowering wattles – especially Rough Wattle Acacia aspera.

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A riot of colour, Mia Mia Track, 5th September 2021

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Rough Wattle

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Downy Grevillea

The highlight of this walk was a flock of Black-faced Cuckoo-shrikes, perhaps a dozen or so, moving in a loose party through the canopy and feasting on caterpillars. A number were observed with large, green larvae that they had captured. They would bash the larvae on branch before consuming them in a series of gulps. I’m not able to positively identify the larvae but they most likely belong to the family Saturniidae, of which the Emperor Gum Moth is a well known member. Moths in this family often pupate for more than a year, emerging when conditions are suitable.

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Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike with Emperor Gum Moth caterpillar

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… mournful trilling

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Fan-tailed Cuckoo with caterpillar

The chance effect

A wonderful aspect of birding is the unpredictable nature of it all.

I often start a ramble with a reasonable idea of which species I might see, as well as a small list of birds that I hope to encounter. Every trip is different.

Last weekend in the Mia Mia I was on the lookout for cuckoos, especially Pallid Cuckoos, spotted earlier in the week along Bruce’s Track – my first sightings for the season.

While there was no sign of Pallids, other cuckoos were calling – Fan-tailed, Shining Bronze and Horsfield’s Bronze. This Fan-tailed Cuckoo was observed moving surreptitiously through the understory … perhaps in search of caterpillars but possibly also looking for an opportunity to deposit an egg in the nest of a host … such as a Chestnut-rumped Heathwren. As I approached the cuckoo two heathwrens scuttled from a patch of nearby Gold-dust Wattle. Their subsequent behaviour, perching to view the intruders and some gentle contact calling suggest we were both on their breeding ground.

Click here for a terrific local story about the association between these two species. Heathwrens are difficult birds to find and photograph, so to capture one feeding a cuckoo is a great feat.

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Fan-tailed Cuckoo, South German Track, 28th August 2021

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Chestnut-rumped Heathwren

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Starting to move

The arrival of Olive-backed Orioles usually marks the appearance of warmer spring weather around Newstead. I heard my first for the season, near South German Track, on Saturday.

The brilliant red iris of the adult oriole is a striking feature, contrasting with the plumage which can make this species hard to see amongst the foliage as it searches for caterpillars and other insect prey. Olive-backed Orioles are an interesting bird. They spend most of the year with us, departing when the last of the autumn fruits are done. I last spotted one in early May, feasting on figs near the Loddon River. I’ve no real idea of where they go over the cooler months – there are a few isolated local reports during June/July but the main influx of birds occurs in September. At this time they are quite vocal and I suspect more birds over-winter than we realise – remaining silent and therefore easily missed.

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Olive-backed Oriole, South German Track, 21st August 2021

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Mistletoebird (male), Mia Mia Track

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Little Pied Cormorant, Bell’s Lane Track

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Balancing act

Like many small woodland birds, Striated Thornbills can be incredibly acrobatic in their search for food.

The individual pictured below was spotted gleaning insects from the foliage of White Box Eucalyptus albens. In the first three images you may just be able to make out, near the thornbill’s tarsi, some white web-like material. This is a remnant of a psyllid casing.

Thornbills are one of a host of woodland insectivores that forage assiduously on this material, which is known as lerp. Lerp is a crystalline honeydew that psyllid insects produce in abundance throughout eucalypt woodlands and forests. The sugary casing acts as a form of protection for the soft-bodied pysllids, however, there is some complexity going on here with the casing a clear attractor for avian foragers.

Two other insectivores were also about in the company of the thornbills, an immature Golden Whistler (note the rich brown in the secondary flight feathers) and a splendid male Rose Robin. Both of these are cool-season migrants that will move south to breed in a week or two, although a few Golden Whistlers do breed locally in some years.

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Striated Thornbill gleaning insects from White Box foliage, Muckleford State Forest, 8th August 2021

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Rose Robin (male)

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Golden Whistler

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