Category Archives: Migrants

Tis a curious bird the currawong

Pied Currawongs are clever and curious birds.

This one was photographed this morning at the bird bath. Initially I was puzzled as to why it would be attempting to pierce the ice-crust that had formed overnight (it was ‘feels like’ minus 5C).

Then I noticed the shape on the surface of the ice – a currawong pellet, regurgitated by a previous visitor I would assume.

Pied Currawongs are omnivores, feeding on seeds, fruits, insects and small vertebrates when they can get them. In the town gardens over winter there is a wide variety of suitable tucker. The pellets are ejected a short time after feeding, often within 30 minutes or so and contain the hard remains of the recent meal. Beetle wing-cases and sometimes small bones can be found mixed in with plant material.

You may have noticed and wondered about these objects appearing in the garden at this time of year.

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Pied Currawong @ the bird bath, 5th June 2021

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Pied Currawong pellet

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Cuckoos and spinebills

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.

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Fan-tailed Cuckoo, Muckleford Nature Conservation Reserve, 29th May 2021

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Eastern Spinebill (male)

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Grey-shrike Thrush, Mia Mia Track

So predictable!

After yesterday’s post on the return of the male Rose Robin I thought it worth checking the other spot where I’ve seen this species over recent years, Rotunda Park in Newstead.

Sure enough, a female Rose Robin was easily located amongst the wattles at the western edge of the Park – exactly the spot where I observed a female on the cusp of spring 2020.

Rose Robins have a particular habit, while perched, of lowering their wings and cocking their tail, and then twitching them simultaneously. The second last image below is a poor depiction of this distinctive behaviour.

What I find truly remarkable is that such a small bird can seemingly return to exactly the same location in successive years.

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Female Rose Robin, Rotunda Park Newstead, 30th May 2021

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A creature of habit

Last winter I was fortunate to encounter a male Rose Robin in the Muckleford Nature Conservation Reserve. The birds was present for a number of weeks in the same spot, a moist gully dominated by Yellow Box, White Box and a dense understorey of Golden Wattle.

I was not at all surprised, on a visit yesterday, to again observe a male Rose Robin!

While I have no evidence to prove my case you would have to think it is the same individual. My 2020 sighting was in mid-August, although the bird had been observed there some weeks earlier. I suspect this one will be resident for the winter.

Rose Robins breed further south, migrating in small numbers to the box-ironbark over the cooler months. Like the other Petroica robins, Rose Robins are insectivores but tend to be more aerial in their foraging behaviour.

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Male Rose Robin, Muckleford State Forest, 29th May 2021

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Here we go again …

To some folks, currawongs are a bird of evil intent … not for me.

They are curious, alert and adaptable birds that have an ill-deserved reputation on account of some aspects of how they ‘make a living’ … preying on small native songbirds for example.

Every autumn, flocks of Pied Currawongs arrive in Newstead, on migration from higher altitudes along the Great Dividing Range. Each year the numbers seem to increase and in fact this year I was even hearing the occasional bird over summer. Their beautiful calls are very different to that of our resident and mainly solitary Grey Currawong.

Home gardens are a favourite for the species, with winter fruiting shrubs such as this privet a favourite food source. Yesterday afternoon more than a dozen Pied Currawongs were gathered at any one time to feast on the berries. No doubt they are responsible fo spreading the seeds of this exotic but locally this doesn’t seem to be causing a problem.

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Pied Currawong, Newstead, 27th May 2021

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We live in interesting times

In recent days I’ve started hearing the distinctive calls of Eastern Spinebills in the home garden. The onset of ‘wintry’ conditions in late April/May is the stimulus for this wonderful migratory honeyeater to depart from the ranges to pay us a visit in the foothills.

The bird pictured below was visiting the birdbath and managed to stay still momentarily before descending to drink.

Later in the day I came across more spinebills, this time amongst the River Red Gums and Blackberry at the Loddon River Reserve. Eastern Yellow Robins arrived to compete in the ‘fashion stakes’ while in the canopy overhead Olive-backed Orioles were feeding and calling. … might they remain over winter I wonder?

The calls of a Noisy Friarbird on the other side of the river were a nice conclusion to my visit – this species visits in small numbers at different times of year, presumably on passage to more favoured locations.

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Eastern Spinebill in the home garden, 9th May 2021

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Eastern Spinebill @ the Loddon Reserve

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Eastern Yellow Robin

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Olive-backed Oriole

My notebook

Apologies in advance for more images of honeyeaters.

This blog is, in part, a daily (almost) diary of happenings in the natural world around Newstead. White-naped Honeyeaters have appeared in large numbers in recent weeks to join the usual throng of Yellow-tufted and Fuscous Honeyeaters, while a few Yellow-faced Honeyeaters are about as well. Dusky Woodswallows remain for now, before departing north in May, while the first flurry of Flame Robins witnessed recently was a taste of things to come. Olive-backed Orioles are still raiding the fig tree at the river reserve, from where I heard the calls of a Powerful Owl just before dusk earlier in the week.

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Fuscous Honeyeaters, Mia Mia Track, 25th April 2021

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Yellow-tufted Honeyeater

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Yellow-faced Honeyeater

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White-naped Honeyeater (adult)

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White-naped Honeyeaters – male below and immature above

A cricket team …

… of waders has arrived at Cairn Curran.

Seven Red-capped Plovers and four Red-necked Stints. I’d almost given up hope of seeing any migrating waders this autumn, so what a wonderful surprise.

The stints are about to embark on another international tour, all the way to the Siberian tundra where they will breed over the northern hemisphere summer. One of the birds pictured below is moulting into breeding plumage, quite a contrast from the grey and white garb that most individuals have during their time in Australia.

I suspect this party has travelled in convoy from coastal saltmarshes to our south. The Red-capped Plovers may well remain during the cooler months if feeding habitat expands around the shores of the lake. No overseas travel for this little wader.

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Red-necked Stint, Cairn Curran Reservoir, 17th April 2021

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Red-capped Plover (male)

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Red-capped Plover (female)

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An early arrival

Yesterday’s bitter southerly was a taste of winter. I’m not quite ready for it just yet!

It’s not all bad however, as we can look forward to the arrival of a suite of birds from other locales, that choose to spend the cooler seasons in the box-ironbark country.

One of these species is the Flame Robin which typically arrives locally in late April. Yesterday afternoon I spotted a handful of ‘brown birds’ along Mia Mia track and then glimpsed a couple of lovely male birds in their company. I’ve been expecting them, but suspect these individuals are heading further north to the riverine plains.

Watch out in coming weeks for Eastern Spinebill, Swift Parrot and Rose Robin.

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Flame Robin (adult male), Mia Mia Track, 11th April 2021

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Yellow-faced Honeyeater

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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