Just ‘closing the loop’ on Spotted Harrier observations on the Moolort Plains.
The three youngsters featured earlier this month have been honing their flying and hunting skills. Spotted Harriers not fast but they are very acrobatic and can wheel and dive rapidly when required. They are also adept at chasing and hunting down prey; such as small birds, reptiles and insects, on the ground.
Typical harrier hunting behaviour involves low-level quartering over cereal crops and stubble, interrupted (when food is abundant) by regular short descents to the earth to snatch their prey. The initial strike is not always successful and the raptor is quite happy to chase down its quarry ‘on foot’.
The youngsters were having a terrific time practising their acrobatics over the sun-drenched paddocks, while a little later I watched one of the juveniles prancing in the shade emulating the ground-foraging behaviour of the parents … there was no obvious prey in sight but it won’t be long before the technique is more serious.
Juvenile Spotted Harriers, Moolort Plains, 18th January 2020
Juvenile harrier ground hunting
Hunting on the wing
As I suspected the Spotted Harrier clan on the plains includes no less than three juveniles – a wonderful result.
The youngsters are doing well it seems , chasing food on the ground and from the air. The adults have been absent during my visits … I suspect they are watching their offspring and the photographer from a distance.
Spotted Harriers lay two to four eggs in a clutch, although to raise three healthy juveniles is, I reckon, a little unusual and a sign of an abundance of food this season.
Juvenile Spotted Harrier, Moolort Plains, 15th January 2021
Constant calling is a feature of young Spotted Harriers
That ‘owl-like’ face!
While this is not exactly the famous kingfisher shot that many nature photographers crave, it might be the best I ever get!
This Sacred Kingfisher has been coming in to a nice perch above a small bush dam on South German Track … a perfect vantage point from which to spy a frog for its nestlings. The images below are in sequence … moments after I took the first shot the kingfisher swallowed the frog and then plunged in after another.
While I’m pretty confident on the bird ID I’d be happy for any suggestions specific to the unlucky amphibian!
Sacred Kingfisher with amphibian prey, South German Track, 2nd January 2020
Another sortie #1
No success this time!
… for a myriad of native wildlife.
A pair of Sacred Kingfishers is currently occupying this fine hollow in a veteran River Red-gum. The lack of ‘whitewash’ around the entrance indicates that the eggs are yet to hatch, or at least they may have just done so. As the nestlings grow the adults perch at the entrance to deliver food and leave a tell-tale trail of excreta below the opening.
As I sat, entranced by the kingfishers, a small bird caught my eye as it fluttered, like a large moth, to perch beside another hollow above me. It was an Australian Owlet-nightjar (often confusingly referred to as the moth-owl … it is neither a moth or an owl!). It must have been sitting quietly nearby observing me before deciding to decamp to its roosting hollow for the day.
I was intrigued to notice the projections at the end of the rictal bristles around the face of of the owlet. I’ve never noticed these before but suspect they are a type of filoplume. The bristles are thought to aid the nocturnal navigation of the owlet as it hunts for insects in its favoured habitats – woodlands and forest. The plume-like projections looked very delicate and perhaps they only persist for a short time on the newly replaced bristles?
Australian Owlet-nightjar, Loddon River @ Newstead, 30th December 2020
Sacred Kingfisher @ nest site in River Red-gum
In a summer notable for the almost complete absence (so far) of White-browed and Masked Woodswallows, Dusky Woodswallows are more than compensating.
‘Duskies’ commenced nesting in mid-November, usually the time when their migratory cousins appear in large numbers throughout the box-ironbark country. The first youngsters are now facing a perilous period post-fledging – it takes them a week or so to become capable aerialists and during this time they perch, often noisily, waiting for their parents to arrive with food. Surely many are ‘picked off’ by predators, such as currawongs, kookaburras and raptors, as nature takes its course.
This group of four was observed earlier in the week along Sullivans Track in the Muckleford bush. The adults were arriving with food every few minutes – cicadas, wasps and bees, captured on aerial sorties high above or taken from the ground nearby. Initially three of the four were huddled close together but over a period of thirty minutes or so they became separated as each youngster made short, faltering flights to test its newly acquired powers.
Dusky Woodswallows are partially migratory in my experience. The majority of birds have left the district by late autumn, but I have seen the species in all months – either small numbers are resident or these may be birds from further south spending the winter in warmer climes. Dusky Woodswallows are the only woodswallow to include Tasmania as part of their normal range.
Juvenile Dusky Woodswallows, Sullivans Track, Muckleford State Forest, 29th December 2020
Juvenile Dusky Woodswallows have distinctive blotchy plumage to provide some camouflage during a vulnerable part of their life-cycle
Adult arriving with cicada prey
The appearance of the adults nearby elicits a frantic burst of wing fluttering from the juvenile
Wing and tail stretching by the juveniles was observed regularly – this aids the rapid development of their flight feathers.
… another cicada!
Xmas in Newstead is Musk Lorikeets raiding the backyard plums … Rainbow Bee-eaters feasting on a variety of flying insects for their nestlings.
Musk Lorikeet, Wyndham Street Newstead, 25th December 2020
Rainbow Bee-eaters @ Newstead Cemetery
I’ve ‘known’ this old Yellow Box for more than three decades.
At various times it has been home to nesting Laughing Kookaburras, Brown and White-throated Treecreepers and Sacred Kingfishers … in some years simultaneously. I’m sure the tree is also home to bats, sugar gliders and who knows what else!
This season it’s the kingfishers that have returned to breed once again. An early morning visit showed that spiders (wolf spiders I think) were the favoured tucker. I witnessed at least 10 visits over the course of an hour where spiders were delivered to the nestlings. I find it remarkable that the kingfishers are dining out on prey that is completely invisible to me as I stumble through the bush.
Yellow Box, Rise and Shine, 12th December 2020
Sacred Kingfisher with spider prey
Arriving at the hollow …
The other parent … possibly the male
This time with a grasshopper
The Brown Falcon caused quite the commotion last evening at the Newstead Cemetery, scattering a small party of Southern Whiteface (7 in total) and making the Rainbow Bee-eater look twice.
I suspect the quarry was a rabbit kitten … lets hope so!
Brown Falcon, Newstead Cemetery, 7th December 2020
In some respects, at least on the bird front, it’s been an unusual start to summer.
While some migrants, for example White-winged Triller, Sacred Kingfisher and Rainbow Bee-eater, have long since arrived and commenced breeding, some others are yet to appear – notably Rufous Songlark, White-browed and Masked Woodswallows.
A small mixed flock of White-browed and Masked Woodswallows was observed over the Mia Mia about six weeks ago but that has been my only glimpse so far. I’m wondering whether the fact that conditions are much improved further north might be the reason …
Musk Lorikeet pair at nest site in a River Red-gum, Loddon River @ Newstead, 1st December 2020
Eastern yellow Robin, Mia Mia Track, 6th December 2020
Dusky Woodswallow on a nest in a sapling Grey Box, Mia Mia track, 6th December 2020
Rainbow Bee-eater in the morning sunshine, Sandon State Forest, 6th December 2020
The calls of the Olive-backed Oriole have been ringing through the local bush since August – they seemed to arrive quite early this year.
Their genus name Oriolus from the Latin oryolus, refers to the Golden Oriole Oriolus oriolus (Latin aureolus, golden), while the specific name sagittatus refers to the arrowhead-shaped streaks on the underparts (Latin sagittatus, shot with arrows).
In an apt twist, one of their myriad of calls … oree-oree-ole is onomatopoeic.
The Olive-backed Oriole is one of a number of local birds that play a key role in the control of foliage eating insects, such as the Cup-moth caterpillar (Doratifera), which can run rampant through eucalypts woodlands in some years. It doesn’t bear imagining what the bush would look like without orioles, cuckoos, cuckoos-shrikes and their companions.
Olive-backed Oriole (in monochrome), Rise and Shine Bushland Reserve, 24th November 2020
With Cup-moth caterpillar