… 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 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
Nestling Laughing Kookaburras certainly keep their ‘parents’ busy. An assortment of food was being ferried to these youngsters – yabbies and a variety of skinks delivered at regular intervals.
Laughing Kookaburras are cooperative breeders, generally living in small family groups with the offspring of previous seasons assisting the parents to care for the young. The family group by the river includes at least one helper.
Laughing Kookaburra with a yabby, Loddon River @ Newstead, 14th November 2020
… this time a small skink
… then a larger one
Arriving at the nest site
There are at least two pin-feathered nestlings in the hollow
Rainbow Bee-eaters and Sacred Kingfishers are competing for my attention at present.
Both are well advanced in their breeding cycle, with both species inspecting, and in some cases, establishing nesting sites at present.
This sequence shows a territorial pair along the Loddon River up-stream of Newstead. It was interesting to observe the bill-rubbing behaviour from the male – bees and wasps, two of their favourite foods, are rubbed against the perch to remove the stings and venom glands. In this case the male has no prey in its bill so I wonder if this is simply an habitual behaviour to remove any semblance of toxins from a prior catch.
Rainbow Bee-eater (male), Loddon River @ Newstead, 8th November 2020
Bill rubbing behaviour
Enjoying the gentle breeze
Male (at left) and female (at right)
Potential nest site inspection
This series of cameos involves two pairs of Sacred Kingfishers on the Loddon River at Newstead.
The first set, pair #1, shows two separate instances of courtship feeding – the first with what I think is a robber-fly, the second with a small skink. Courtship feeding occurs during egg formation, laying and incubation and can provide a valuable source of nutrients for females. Many birds engage in courtship feeding.
In this case the female uttered a string of harsh ‘alarm-like’ calls when it spotted the male nearby, after which the male flew in to perform a rapid exchange of food. Male and female Sacred Kingfishers can be hard (perhaps impossible) to distinguish unless you observe this type of behaviour.
Sacred Kingfishers, Pair #1, Loddon River @ Newstead, 8th November 2020
While I have occasionally witnessed courtship feeding in Sacred Kingfishers, I’d never before observed them mating. In this case, pair #2 were feeding along a stretch of the river with both birds returning to a succession of perches. I watched on in amazement as the male returned on one occasion to mate with the female. The image series below shows some exquisite details of this remarkable event. Just prior to the mating the female flew in to the river bank below my feet to work on the nest site – traces of mud can be clearly seen on the beak of the female.
Nearby a pair of Rainbow Bee-eaters were starting to inspect potential nest sites … more on that another day.
Pair #2 … downstream
There are a number of ancient River Red-gums on the floodplain at Newstead.
This one is known well by the locals – people and birds alike. Back in 2013 I wrote a short post about Laughing Kookaburras using a perfect hollow in this gnarly veteran to raise their brood. At that time (30/11/2013), on the other side of tree a pair of Sacred Kingfishers were feeding young.
Here we are, just short of seven years later, and the hollow is occupied again. My memory is hazy on the details, but most years it provides a nest site for kookaburras and homes for myriad other fauna.
Laughing Kookaburra home in a River Red-gum, Loddon river @ Newstead, 25th October 2020
Laughing Kookaburra about to launch towards the nest hollow
Touch down #1
Touch down #2
The area around the hollow is worn from a multitude of landings
Watchful as always
It’s wonderful to see Sacred Kingfishers returning from their northern sojourns.
They’ll start scouting out potential nesting sites in coming weeks. Meanwhile Magpie-larks are well advanced with their breeding activities.
Sacred Kingfisher, Loddon River @ Newstead, 10th October 2020
Magpie-Lark (male) feeding fledglings
I drop in often to the Loddon River Reserve, where the Newstead Landcare Group has been undertaking terrific habitat restoration work for almost a decade.
It’s a great spot for small birds with abundant understorey – the mix of native to exotic slowly but steadily shifting as a result of wonderful volunteer effort.
Red-browed Finch, Loddon River Reserve, 4th October 2020
Superb Fairy-wren couple
A satisfied ‘peep’ from the male
My search for a Sacred Kingfisher last evening went unrewarded.
There was, however, a nice consolation prize.
On arriving at the pile-fields south of the highway bridge on the Loddon a distinctive shape flew up from beside the stream. A Nankeen Night-heron, disturbed from an early start to an evening of hunting along the river.
Distant views were good, but a careful approach to its perch was rewarded with some excellent close-up shots. This species occurs in small numbers along the river, often roosting in small colonies amongst the River Red-gums. This one is an adult – the distinctive white plume (actually two intertwined feathers) arising from the nape is evident in some of the images below. The facial skin in this individual is pale green – it can become light blue during breeding.
Nankeen Night-heron, Loddon River @ Newstead, 25th September 2020
No story today … I’ll let the kookaburra speak …
Laughing Kookaburra, Loddon River @ Newstead, 9th August 2020