To the people of the Kulin Nation, to which the Dja Dja Wurrung People belong, the Wedge-tailed Eagle is Bunjil.
“Bunjil is the creator being who bestows Dja Dja Wurrung People with the laws and ceremonies that ensure the continuation of life”*
Whenever I see one of these magnificent birds, such as this old adult on the plains, I reminded of how special this ancient land is.
Wedge-tailed Eagle, Moolort Plains, 14th March 2017
* Source: Dja Dja Wurrung Clans Recognition Statement
Sadly, the aboriginal names for many of our native species are not well-known … the Brown Falcon Falco berigora is a notable exception.
This beautiful, if sometimes clumsy falcon, is widespread across the continent. Usually flighty, this one posed nicely for the camera … as I sat admiringly in the car!
Brown Falcon, Moolort Plains, 13th March 2017
Postscript: For more information on the origin and use of the word berigora click here
A few times over recent years I’ve been asked to identify the bird pictured below.
Typically seen perched in a shady tree, such as a River Red-gum or an exotic willow – or disturbed into flight, the Nankeen Night-heron is a common local resident, albeit in small numbers. This one is a juvenile and strong evidence that it has recently fledged from a local nest. The best place to see night-herons is along the Loddon River between Newstead and Cairn Curran – most excursions will yield a few birds and while I’ve never found a nest I’d be confident that they breed in this area.
Juvenile Nankeen Night-heron, Newstead, 5th March 2017
The local Willie Wagtail was not happy!
The juveniles differ from the adults by the heavily streaked and spotted plumage – the adults are cinnamon coloured and sport several slender white plumes arising from a black crown. They will often roost in small groups and emit a series of croaking calls when disturbed. Nankeen Night-herons are largely nocturnal, feeding along waterways and around dams for small fish, frogs and invertebrates.
Many thanks to Rod and Wendy for alerting me to this one, currently ‘renting’ a Weeping Willow on the outskirts of Newstead!
While on the subject of herons it’s been pleasing to see good numbers of White-necked Herons over past months. It’s not unusual to see this striking species in the same habitat as Nankeen Night-herons and the more common White-faced Heron, but they inhabit some pretty different habitats as well – this one was observed in the middle of a bare paddock on the Moolort Plains.
White-necked Heron, Moolort Plains, 5th March 2017
With gathering storm clouds last evening the raptors were alert and watchful. This Brown Falcon was spotted at a high perch on my way out to Picnic Point.
Brown Falcon, Moolort Plains, 10th February 2017
Storm clouds over Muckleford Plateau, 10th February 2017
White-faced Herons tend to be a solitary species, although it’s not unusual to see a modest gathering when food is concentrated, perhaps in a flooded paddock or on the margins of a wetland.
To capture twenty-three in one frame though, is in my experience at least, worth a mention.
White-faced Herons, Lignum Swamp, 4th January 2017
White-faced Heron at Lignum Swamp
Chestnut Teal Anas castanea are more striking than Grey Teal, or at least the male is. Depending on the angle of prevailing light the head of the male can appear black to bottle-green (the true colour) while that of the female is similar but darker in hue to a female Grey Teal. The underparts of the male are a rich chestnut, with a white flank (just visible in the second image below). After breeding the males assume an eclipse plumage and look much like a dark female. In flight the overall markings are very similar to Grey Teal but the birds look generally darker. Chestnut Teal form tight pairs, but often associate with large flocks of Grey Teal and are less common in our district – it can be a challenging business to sort out who’s who!
Chestnut Teal pair (male at left), Bell’s Lane Track, 16th March 2016
Chestnut Teal in flight over Walker’s Swamp, 2nd January 2017
Maler Chestnut Teal over Walker’s Swamp
Chestnut Teal ‘pair’ with male below – the top bird is possibly a female Grey Teal
Grey Teal for comparison – note the pale neck and throat
It’s been a brilliant breeding season locally for ducks. One species that has especially profited is the Grey Teal Anas gracilis – I’ve found them breeding at Cairn Curran, along the Loddon River, across the Moolort wetlands and on the plethora of small farm and bush dams throughout the district. I suspect some pairs have raised more than one clutch.
Grey Teal family, Locks Lane Moolort Plains, 22nd January 2017
Four juvenile Grey Teal accompanied by an adult (at back)
It has to be said, but at rest Grey Teal are a little drab. The sexes are identical and are a uniform mottled grey-brown all over, apart from a distinctive white throat. The adults have a bright red eye which separates them from juvenile and immature birds, as shown in the images below. Like all birds the delicate patterning of their plumage can only be appreciated up-close.
Juvenile Grey Teal
Adult Grey Teal
In flight there is more to look out for – a white wedge on the upper wing, with a dark green speculum. The underwing is grey-brown with a distinctive white ‘armpit’. Grey Teal are in many respects similar to the Chestnut Teal – a duck that is less common locally but can often be seen in mixed flocks. I’ll cover the differences between the two species tomorrow.
Grey Teal in flight