Category Archives: Newstead Cemetery/Gr. Gully

Xmas feast

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

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Rainbow Bee-eaters @ Newstead Cemetery

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Fairy Martin sequence

Fairy Martins are a feature of summer at the Newstead Cemetery.

The culvert under the bridge provides a handy site for their suspended bottle-shaped mud nests, while the surrounding farmland is a haven for flying insects – perfect fare for a young Fairy Martin.

Fairy Martin (juvenile), Newstead Cemetery, 8th December 2020

One of the parents arriving with food

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Pardalotes getting busy

Numerous pairs of Striated Pardalotes are nesting at present at the Newstead Cemetery.

Some pairs are using abandoned Fairy Martin nests, competing with House Sparrows, while others are feeding young in earthen tunnels along the gully.

Lerp* is by far the favourite food, along with small insects, ferried to the youngsters at regular intervals by the parents.

Striated Pardalote with lerp, Newstead cemetery, 8th December 2020

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This one appears to have snared an insect larva

At the nest tunnel

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* Lerp is the crystallised honeydew produced as a a protective covering by psyllid insects. These sucking insects are found in great abundance and variety on a host of native plants and are a crucial food source for native birds, especially honeyeaters, lorikeets and pardalotes.

Commotion

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

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Southern Whiteface

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Rainbow Bee-eater

There and back … always in October

I’ve been tardy with this post.

A text from Janet, at 6.15pm on Wednesday 14th October, alerted me to the arrival of Rainbow Bee-eaters back at one of their favourite haunts – the Newstead Cemetery. Coincidentally … or perhaps not … I was on Mia Mia Track at the time, listening to a small flock of White-browed Woodswallows high overhead.

It was a warmish evening with a gentle northerly, perfect conditions and timing for the the reappearance of these wonderful migrants. Here are the arrival dates (approximate) of Rainbow Bee-eaters back in the Newstead district over the past decade or so … no obvious pattern, but I’ll look again at the climate records for this period.

  • 2010 – 27th October
  • 2011 – 22nd October
  • 2012 – 19th October
  • 2013 – 13th October
  • 2014 – 21st October
  • 2015 – 5th October
  • 2016 – 16th October
  • 2017 – 29th October
  • 2018 – 27th October
  • 2019 – 23rd October
  • 2020 – 14th October

Male Rainbow Bee-eater, Newstead Cemetery, 21st October 2020

Female Rainbow Bee-eater

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A gentle request … The Newstead Cemetery has become a favourite for birders and photographers in recent years.  The site is surrounded by private farm land. Please show respect when visiting.

Mistletoebirds at Green Gully

Mistletoebirds are active and vocal at present.

I was alerted on the weekend to a breeding pair at Green Gully.

Local resident Paul, an astute observer, has thoughtfully set out a small basket of superfine merino wool that the female Mistletoe bird is happily relocating into a nearby nest, suspended in a small Grey Box sapling. The wool has been used to form the superstructure of the nest, while spent Golden Wattle flowers have been incorporated with other material such as cobwebs to make this marvellous home.

As we stood observing the ‘comings and goings’ a flock of five Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos passed overhead, travelling north-east … almost certainly the same party seen the previous day in the middle of the Moolort Plains.

Mistletoebird (male), Green Gully, 11th October 2020

Female Mistletoebird gathering nest material

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The almost complete nest, suspended in a Grey Box sapling

The female shaping the nest … the ‘escape hatch’ will be sewn together next

Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos … from the plains to woodland

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The worrisome whiteface

The Southern Whiteface is a small woodland insectivore. It’s found across most of the southern half of continental Australia, usually in open woodlands that contain scattered shrubs and grasses.

When we arrived in the district in the mid 1980s I can recall it being moderately common and reliably found in many local areas of suitable habitat. Nowadays it has become scarce, and I’m not clear why it has apparently declined. I worry that its days may be numbered.

A small group has made a home in the environs of the Newstead Cemetery, moving between the surrounding woodland and the grassy expanses of the grounds, where small shrubs and native grasses are apparently to their liking. This group has been in this area for a number of years now – I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of other local spots where Southern Whiteface is resident.

A lovely species, the white tufts either side of the bill render it instantly recognisable up-close. I hadn’t really appreciated (or perhaps had forgotten!) the subtle lemon tones to the underparts.

Southern Whiteface, Newstead Cemetery, 4th October 2020

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Meanwhile Fairy Martins are busily gathering mud pellets for their bottle-shaped nests, either being newly constructed or refurbished nearby.

Fairy Martins gathering mud-pellets

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It’s the little things

Each and every ramble in the bush is almost certain to present a tiny challenge and a cameo or two.

Not all Brown Treecreepers are the same, the sexes can be separated by their upper breast patterning – females have rufous and white streaking while that of the males is black and white. A minor difference but certainly notable.

A Jacky Winter in full voice displays the outer white tail feathers (retrices) – a distinctive feature of this woodland songster.

Brown Treecreeper (female), Green Gully, 15th September 2020

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Brown Treecreeper (male)

Jacky Winter calling

Woodland musing

For a while now, decades in fact, I’ve been an interested observer of landscape change in the Newstead district and more generally across the box-ironbark country.

Three overarching observations:

  1. Significant areas of farmland, prime grazing land last century, are now largely de-stocked and actively regenerating – especially with eucalypts and native grasses.
  2. This farmland sits within a mosaic of  ‘bush’ – forest and woodland, much of which is public land in varying states of recovery. The legacy of repeated clearing (many areas were harvested for timber multiple times since the 1850s) is often reflected in regenerating eucalypt thickets where the stem density may be 10 to 100 times greater than it was pre-clearing.
  3. Bird populations know what’s going on … there are distinct patterns of species richness and abundance that reflect the past history of land use and management.

What is happening in central Victoria is not unique, in many parts of the world agriculture is retreating from areas where it was once pervasive, a phenomenon described as land abandonment. In my experience the greatest variety and numbers of birds tend to be found in areas where the original fabric of veteran trees has triggered natural regeneration of understorey plants and this is happening where farming practices are changing and land is recovering with or without direct intention.

The three habitat images below exemplify this:

#1 woodland bird habitat (private land) – large old trees, natural regeneration and patchiness – ideal for Jacky Winter, Hooded Robin, Diamond Firetail and Swift Parrot

#2 woodland bird habitat (public land) – woodland thicket with fair to middling understorey – not as bird rich as #1 but has potential … just wait 100 years or so to see this realised.

#3 woodland bird habitat (private land) – woodland thicket with minimal understorey – maybe a Brown Treecreeper or two and the odd Scarlet Robin … this too has potential but would most likely benefit from some active management (fire, thinning, planting etc) … and time!

There are layers of complexity too – while #1 woodland bird habitat is good it could be even better with replenishment of missing shrubs, grasses and forbs.

Jacky Winter, Green Gully, 5th September 2020. This species does best on the margins of intact bush and open country – especially abandoned farmland.

#1 – Woodland bird habitat ***

#2 – Woodland bird habitat **

#3 – Woodland bird habitat *

Eucalytpus regrowth is an important part of the story – it is ideal breeding habitat for a range of woodland birds, such as the Yellow Thornbill (pictured below), Mistletoebird and Weebill. Black-chinned Honeyeaters also enjoy this habitat.

Yellow Thornbill nest in eucalyptus regrowth

The tail end of a Yellow Thornbill

Peeking out from the beautifully woven nest of grass, moss and synthetics

Black-chinned Honeyeater

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To read more about land abandonment here is an interesting article from the Yale School of the Environment.

Strength in numbers

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a lone Varied Sittella.

Always in family groups numbering anywhere between about five and a dozen, these restless, chatty insectivores are found in all woodland habitats around Newstead – I’ve even had the occasional group drop by our garden in the cooler months.

The series of images below show a number of their characteristic features and behaviours …

  • they climb both up and down tree trunks and branches in search of insects
  • the splash of vibrant orange when they open their wings
  • their propensity for gathering in small sub-groups

Varied Sittellas occur across the most of continental Australia – pretty much wherever there are woodlands. There are various races, locally the races chrysoptera and pileata intergrade across a broad hybrid zone. Both of these races have distinctive orange wing-bars, a feature that is white in their northern counterparts. The local birds always look more like chrysoptera than pileata but I’ll save that story for another day …

Varied Sittella, Green Gully, 16th August 2020

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