Category Archives: Migrants

Scarlet deficit no more

After nary a Scarlet Robin all through summer the species has been following me around on the past few visits to the Mia Mia.

This lovely pair were sharing a new territory with a pair of Red-capped Robins … a nice combination.

The Collared Sparrowhawk arrived on the scene, pursuing a honeyeater before perching for a few minutes in a nearby Grey Box. The square-tailed silhouette of the raptor in flight confirmed the identity.

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Scarlet Robins, Mia Mia Track area, 5th April 2021

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Male Scarlet Robin

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Female Scarlet Robin

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Collared Sparrowhawk, Mia Mia Track, 5th April 2021

April signs

April is the time when Golden Whistlers arrive in numbers to the box-ironbark country, as they disperse from their breeding grounds at higher altitudes to the south. Immature birds dominate the early influx, with the spectacular males lagging by a few weeks. Colloquially known as thickheads (the first image below explains why), the female is rather nondescript, lacking the fine streaks of its woodland counterpart, the Rufous Whistler. Close inspection reveals the lemon vent, a diagnostic feature. Also returning are small numbers of Scarlet Robins, largely absent during the heat of summer, after breeding locally during spring. Their movements are something of a mystery to me as they are found year round further north, although reporting rates are higher during the cooler months.

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Female Golden Whistler, Mia Mia Track area, 3rd April 2021

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Female Golden Whistler in full voice

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The yellow vent is diagnostic

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Male Scarlet Robin

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Female Scarlet Robin

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Female Red-capped Robin

Transition time

Over the past week I’ve heard Fan-tailed Cuckoo, Sacred Kingfisher and Rainbow Bee-eater, all three are spring migrants about to head north, as well as Pied Currawongs, autumn migrants, arriving from the hills in good numbers. A single Swift Parrot was also spotted departing the backyard Yellow Gums, chased by a Red Wattlebird. ‘Swifties’ are back from Tasmania and I’m hoping to have a good look for them over the weekend in the Muckleford bush.

Last evening on a drive across the plains I came across a pair of Blue-winged Parrots, feeding on seeding grasses. This species is always a delight to encounter. It arrives in small flocks during autumn, after breeding further south, either in Tasmania or coastal forests in Victoria. More commonly seen on the plains country it also can be found in box-ironbark forests and woodlands.

Earlier I’d come across a young Wedge-tailed Eagle, standing aside a road-killed Red Fox. Quite a sight as it departed with ravens in pursuit.

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Wedge-tailed Eagle (immature), Locks Lane Moolort Plains, 25th March 2021

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Blue-winged Parrot, Clarkes Road Moolort Plains

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Currawongs on the move

Pied Currawongs, arriving around town in recent days from the southern ‘highlands’, are making themselves known with their distinctive calls. They appear to have arrived a few weeks earlier than usual this year.

Meanwhile, in the surrounding bush, the resident Grey Currawongs have become more active and obvious than was the case during the heat of summer. Both species of currawongs are omnivorous; taking a variety of fruits, seeds and invertebrates as well as small birds, eggs and nestlings. Grey Currawongs are said to forage mostly on the ground but the birds pictured below were spotted in the early morning sunshine, searching for insects and spiders under eucalypt bark. At this time of year they form small, loose feeding parties – announcing their presence with characteristic ‘clinking’ calls in flight. A distinctive feature of the Grey Currawong is the pincer-like beak, lacking the hooked tip of its pied relative.

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Grey Currawong, South German Track, 20th March 2021

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Tree Martins in the forest

Tree Martins are warm season visitors to the district. They usually arrive in early spring, often overlooked as charismatic counterparts such as Rainbow Bee-eaters and Sacred Kingfishers grab our attention. They typically nest in tree hollows, using both live and dead trees – sometimes in small, loose colonies but often solitary. Unlike the mud-nesting Fairy Martin they generally lay their eggs on a bed of leaves, occasionally augmented with mud.

Tree Martins are most obvious in autumn as they gather in large, post-breeding flocks in the forest, especially near water. Last evening by my favourite bush dam a flock of 100+ birds gathered to chase insects before dusk. They are an enchanting bird, dipping low across the surface of the water or hawking above the canopy in search of prey. From time to time the birds would gather on the ground, picking up dry leaves or pebbles for no apparent reason. I’ve also seen this behaviour from Fairy Martins.

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Tree Martin, Muckleford State Forest, 18th March 2021

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The wonder of autumn rain

A somewhat unanticipated, but very welcome event … we enjoyed 8mm of rain yesterday morning. Within minutes of its gentle onset, swarms of insects emerged, including flying ants of various varieties.

Once the rain had stopped, but under still leaden skies, I paid a visit to the Rise and Shine Bushland Reserve. There was lots of bird activity … the bush always comes to life when rain follows a dry spell … and insectivorous species were especially active. Black-faced and White-bellied Cuckoo-shrikes, Restless Flycatcher and Dusky Woodswallows were joined by numerous Olive-backed Orioles in their hunt for insects.

I was struck by this juvenile Olive-backed Oriole that I first spotted catching winged ants from the ground. It was being followed by two immature and inquisitive  Crimson Rosellas, prompted apparently by the foraging success of the oriole. Over the course of a five minute cameo the rosellas followed the oriole to a succession of perches but at no stage did they make any attempt to interfere. I can only surmise that they were hoping to share the oriole’s success but I’m not clear on their strategy, if indeed they had one!

Rosellas are mainly fruit and seed eaters, but they are known to take insects, especially larvae – this behaviour though is a first for me.

Olive-backed Oriole catching flying ants, Rise and Shine Bushland reserve, 8th March 2021

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Immature Crimson Rosella

Residents and visitors

Mistletoebirds are with us year round. Extensive areas of Yellow Gum around town are replete with mistletoe and the birds breed happily from early spring into the autumn, feasting on the ripening berries and then feeding the fruits to their youngsters. From time to time they’ll visit one of the bird baths – the immature male pictured below was in the company of a female. The young males have a pale gape and traces of the bright red adult plumage on the breast.

Silvereyes on the other hand are more complicated. This species can be observed throughout the year but not always the same population of birds. A confusing array of subspecies have been described from across Australia and beyond. Buff-flanked birds, like the one pictured in the first two images below, are generally regarded as belonging to the Tasmanian sub-species lateralis, which migrates to the mainland in autumn. This seems to be an early arrival.

Silvereye, Wyndham Street Newstead, 8th March 2021

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Mistletoebird (immature male), 7th March 2021

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Two out of three … drat!

This post records a pretty spectacular incident that I witnessed earlier in the week.

Approaching one of my favourite spots, a small bush dam along South German Track, a flurry action unfolded directly above me.

Three different birds were involved, sadly I only scored 2 out of 3!

I spotted the largest bird first, a White-necked Heron, looking decidedly nervous. Directly above the heron, perhaps at a distance of about 50 metres, was a Peregrine Falcon, readying itself to dive.

Of course I missed the shot … perhaps distracted by the appearance of a Square-tailed Kite which entered at stage left, at pretty much the same height as the heron. The kite, like the falcon, also seemed interested in the heron. While a Square-tailed Kite might happily take a nestling heron, a flying adult would be well outside its usual prey range. A Peregrine on the other hand will happily take large birds such as herons, ibis and the like, even when they exceed the body weight of the falcon.

As I was lining up on the falcon it veered away, disappearing in seconds via rapid level flight to the north. In the meantime the heron soared upwards in a series of tight circles, while the kite slowly meandered just above the canopy until I lost sight of it after a minute or so.

The entire ‘performance’ lasted for no more than 90 seconds … the image of the stooping falcon remains, for now, only in my mind’s eye.

Square-tailed Kite, Mia Mia area, 1st March 2021

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White-necked Heron

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Tipping into autumn

It’s been a terrific summer … softened by La Nina, with a good dose of post Xmas rain followed by a cool February.

This was my last summer visit to the Mia Mia and I was well rewarded. There were lots of Rainbow Bee-eaters assembling before they head north, their acrobatics amongst the Yellow Gums a sight to behold as they feasted on flying insects.

The begging call of a juvenile Sacred Kingfisher led me to two youngsters, their parents keeping a watchful eye at a safe distance.

Yellow-tufted Honeyeaters are making ‘hay while the sun shines’. As I photographed one gathering nesting material a Chestnut-rumped Heathwren bobbed past in the background. It then proceeded to unleash a short burst of song, including some mimicry that included snippets of ‘tufty’ calls.

Juvenile Sacred Kingfisher, South German Track, 28th February 2021

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Yellow-tufted Honeyeater gathering nesting material … wallaby-grass seeds I think!

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III … mimicking Yellow-tufted Honeyeater

Now showing in the Mia Mia

Rainbow Bee-eater, Mia Mia Track, 20th February 2021

Red-capped Robin (female)

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