Category Archives: Rise and Shine

In their element

The following set of images share one thing in common.

In each case the photographer was observing the habitat and the birds suddenly appeared. I was fortunate to enjoy a brief interlude with each bird in its element.

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Stubble Quail (male), Moolort Plains, 24th January 2023

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Magpie-lark

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Little Grassbird – recently fledged

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Purple Swamphen @ Lignum Swamp

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Crimson Rosella (immature), Rise and Shine Bushland Reserve, 25th January 2023

Out from the shadows

It’s been a good week for Painted Button-quail.

A cryptic species, at home in the box-ironbark, populations fluctuate along with the seasons. This year I suspect we’ll see an ‘uptick’ in numbers as conditions are ideal for a successful and extended breeding effort.

This week I’ve located birds in different parts of the Rise and Shine Bushland Reserve. On both occasions they emerged from the undergrowth as a tightly knit pair, a sign they are on their breeding ground. Earlier during winter, I flushed individual Painted Button-quail in the Mia Mia, and once a covey of three that rocketed off in typical style from beneath my feet. Tell-tale ‘platelets’, saucer-shaped depressions created by their foraging activities, have been found more regularly than usual.

When breeding the species is easiest to locate from its distinctive and far-carrying ‘oom’ calls, uttered slowly at first and then gradually quickening. Sexually dimorphic, the female is significantly larger and more richly coloured than the male – a large rufous shoulder patch the most immediately noticeable difference.

Painted Button-quail are a declining woodland bird. Over the past couple of decades there have been years when I didn’t record a single observation. Hopefully that might be about to change.

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Painted Button-quail (female), Rise & Shine Bushland Reserve, 9th November 2022

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Male Painted Button-quail

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Painted Button-quail pair (male at front)

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Female Painted Button-quail

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Echidna encounter

Always a delight to encounter a Short-beaked Echidna.

On this occasion we met on one of the side tracks at the Rise and Shine Bushland Reserve, detecting each other at much the same time.

The echidna burrowed for safety beside a large Long-leaved Box as I sat patiently by. After a few minutes it surfaced cautiously and continued on about its business.

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Short-beaked Echidna, Rise and Shine Bushland Reserve, 5th November 2022

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This is no wasteland

The Rise and Shine Bushland Reserve, or ‘The Shine’ as it is affectionally known, is one of the best birding spots in the district. A diversity of habitats are packed into this small reserve – grassy woodland, heathy dry forest and box-ironbark forest. In a wet year such as this, small pools and mini-wetlands are dotted throughout. Once a gravel reserve, a source of road-making material for the Newstead Shire, much of original surface has been stripped away, compounding previous degradation from mining.

One distinctive part of the reserve, that locals will instantly recognise, has expanses of bare gravel with the occasional stunted sapling. Sundews are the dominant plant on this nutrient depleted ‘moonscape’. In my time walking trough the reserve (now approaching forty years) it has been home to at least one pair of Black-fronted Dotterels. This tiny wader is renowned for nesting in what appear the most inhospitable sites. While it typically avoids nesting right beside water, the chosen site is generally not too far away from a dam or temporary wetland.

It was the distraction display (used to lure predators away from the nest or chicks) that alerted me to this bird – then to my astonishment I looked down to see the nest at my feet … in a shallow scrape with two beautifully camouflaged eggs. I beat a hasty retreat and the adult soon returned to incubate.

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Black-fronted Dotterel, Rise and Shine Bushland Reserve, 28th October 2022

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Sitting tight …

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Black-fronted Dotterel eggs

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Distraction display

Teamwork

For the Varied Sittella …one of our most distinctive woodland birds, breeding usually requires teamwork.

The gentle calls of this species, often in the background, are amplified in spring as family parties work together to firstly build the nest and then gather food for the nestlings.

The nest, usually constructed in a narrow fork, is a miniature work of art. The shallow, cup-shaped creation is constructed from slender strips of bark and cobwebs … always beautifully camouflaged against the surroundings.

Family groups can range in size from single pairs to 10 individuals, including offspring from the previous breeding season. There is typically a dominant adult male and female, with ‘helpers’ contributing to nest construction and rearing of the young. Apparently the sub-dominant group members may oscillate between neighbouring groups during the breeding season, while family groups organise into larger clans once breeding is complete.

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Varied Sittella, nest-building, Rise and Shine Bushland Reserve, 20th October 2022

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Easily fooled,

… that’s me, not the kingfisher.

I’ve been staking out a pair of Sacred Kingfishers in the Rise & Shine for a few weeks now.

Last season a pair nested in an exquisite hollow (image #2 below) in a Long-leaved Box and I was convinced they were using the same site again.

One of the adults arrived with a freshly caught skink and as I waited expectantly for it to disappear into the hole, it darted, much to my surprise, into a different hollow in the same tree. Both adults made a number of visits during my short vigil. I suspect the young have just hatched, based on the lack of white-wash around the hollow entrance.

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Sacred Kingfisher with a freshly caught skink, Rise & Shine Bushland Reserve, 20th December 2021

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Last season’s nesting site

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Arriving with a wolf spider

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Departing with a fecal sac

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Not quite sharp!

Warming up

It’s been an unusually cool start to spring in central Victoria. I suspect this has been welcomed by the birds with good evidence of breeding at present.

I heard my first Rainbow Bee-eaters on Sunday, calling high overhead at the Rise and Shine Bushland Reserve, while Sacred Kingfishers remain elusive. There have been a few local reports of the latter but I’ve failed to see one yet in the ‘usual’ spots. Pallid Cuckoos have become vocal in the past week or so, but I’m yet to see a Black-eared Cuckoo. The next month promises to be an excellent time to enjoy nature in the Newstead district.

Apologies (not really!) for the Hooded Robin overload on this post … a favourite woodland bird of mine.

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Dusky Woodswallow, Green Gully, 10th October 2021

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Eastern Yellow Robin incubating – in sapling Long-leaf Box

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Eastern Yellow Robin with Cup-moth caterpillar

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Hooded Robin (female)

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I wonder …

… how often, if ever, a Peaceful Dove falls victim to a Yellow-footed Antechinus?

Last week in the Rise and Shine I was intrigued to see a flock of six foraging doves within a few metres of an actively hunting antechinus.

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Peaceful Dove, Rise and Shine Bushland Reserve, 9th May 2021

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Yellow-footed Antechinus

In a good light

While it’s always a sad farewell to daylight saving, an advantage of this time of year is that my rambles tend to coincide better with the ‘golden hour’ before dusk.

Last evening at the Rise and Shine a cavalcade of honeyeaters thoughtfully shared this time with me as they visited a bushland pool. I’ve been making repeat visits to this site in search of Yellow-plumed Honeyeaters, occasional visitors from the mallee country to our north, but no luck so far this autumn.

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Brown-headed Honeyeater, Rise and Shine Bushland Reserve, 7th April 2021

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Brown-headed Honeyeater flock drinking

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Yellow-tufted Honeyeater

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Yellow-faced Honeyeater

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White-plumed Honeyeater

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White-naped Honeyeater

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Fuscous Honeyeaters drinking

White-naped Honeyeater

The White-naped Honeyeater is a distinctive local species – adults have a striking orange-red ‘eye-lid’, which is actually bare skin above the eye. This feature is characteristic of Melithreptus honeyeaters – local species of the genus include the Black-chinned Honeyeater (adult has blue eye skin) and Brown-headed Honeyeater (adult has cream eye skin). 

White-naped Honeyeaters can be encountered year-round locally, but they are something of a blossom nomad and, at least in my experience, are more abundant when Grey Box and Yellow Gum are flowering, which is typically from March until the end of winter.

At the Rise and Shine earlier in the week they were the most common visitors to this small bushland pool, outnumbering the Fuscous and Yellow-tufted Honeyeaters. 

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White-naped Honeyeater, Rise and Shine, 31st March 2021

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Female Spotted Pardalote

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Fuscous Honeyeater

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Immature Crimson Rosella

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White-winged Chough