Category Archives: Sandon bush

Easily distracted

It takes something a little more than the ordinary to distract me from watching Sacred Kingfishers.

This Yellow-footed Antechinus did the trick as I watched its athletic foraging antics. This species is equally adept on the ground – clinging to a near vertical earthen bank, as it is when searching for prey amongst the branches of a Grey Box.

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Yellow-footed Antechinus, Newstead area, 5th January 2021

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All in good time …

I’ve been puzzled as to the late arrival this spring of Sacred Kingfishers.

Most years a few birds arrive in the first half of September with the main influx well and truly here by early October. In the past I’ve even recorded the odd individual in August. Despite some serious searching of their regular haunts in recent weeks I hadn’t spotted a single bird … or heard one for that matter. Their distinctive calls are easy to recognise and carry quite a distance – they are hard to miss once they arrive. Finally, last weekend, I came across a pair on the margins of the Sandon State Forest, alerted initially by the calls of the pair as they were investigating potential nesting sites in a massive Yellow Gum. It’s great to have a them back.

The Sacred Kingfisher is a breeding migrant to central Victoria – it spends the cooler months in northern Australia but graces us with its presence from now until at least March.

I’d be interested in whether readers have also noted its late arrival this year … it could just be that I’ve been ‘asleep at the wheel’.

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Sacred Kingfisher, Sandon State Forest, 17th October 2021

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The pair – suspect that is the female at left

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Making that familiar ‘kek-kek-kek’ call

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Great to see you back!

What’s happening and what’s not

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

Let the games begin

For much of the year these two species, the Yellow-footed Antechinus and the Rainbow Bee-eater, maintain a more than adequate social distance.

Rainbowbirds, of course, are in northern Australia from late March until early October. It’s only when they return to central Victoria to reoccupy their breeding tunnels – usually from mid November until about Xmas, that they resume contact with one of their arch enemies.

Yellow-footed Antechinus are restless hunters of insects, lizards and if they get the opportunity, eggs and nestling birds. At present Yellow-footed Antechinus have young – if you are lucky you might see a female playing ‘piggyback’ with its brood.

They will happily forage on the vertical faces of erosion gullies, typical sites for Rainbow Bee-eater nests. Each summer I watch the contest between these two amazing animals as the bee-eaters chase the antechinus away whenever they venture near an active nest.

In times past other predators would have also been a concern – Eastern Quoll (to roosting birds), dunnarts and other antechinus species – sadly all now locally extinct or rare. I imagine the Brush-tailed Phascogale may also pose a threat, but they are much less abundant than their smaller cousin … and I’m not sure they could squeeze into a bee-eater tunnel!

Rainbow Bee-eater, Sandon State Forest, 27th October 2020

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Yellow-footed Antechinus hunting

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Time travel

This set of images provides a window to the past and the largely forgotten woodland landscapes of central Victoria.

The Silver Banksia Banksia marginata, also known as the Honeysuckle, was once common throughout the district – the Moolort Plains and floodplains of the Loddon River and its tributaries were a stronghold for this wonderful plant.

Now on the brink of regional extinction, it has encouragingly been included in restoration plantings over recent decades – only time will tell if these efforts inspire a natural comeback.

A Spotted Pardalote in a Honeysuckle would have once been a common sight, searching for insects along with other daytime visitors – various honeyeaters and lorikeets chasing nectar. Feathertail gliders, sugar gliders and pygmy-possums would have feasted on the rich flow of nectar during the hours of darkness.

Spotted Pardalote (male) in a planted Silver Banksia, Providence Gully Sandon, 18th July 2020

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To learn more about the magnificent Silver Banksia …

Robin hotspot

Late yesterday I came across a real ‘robin hotspot’ at the southern boundary of the Sandon State Forest. I don’t visit this area often enough.

Along with a flock of Flame Robins, there were three male Scarlet Robins and a pair of Hooded Robins, all moving between the bush and adjacent farmland.

Eastern Yellow Robins could be heard calling and pair of Speckled Warblers made a brief appearance. I can recall seeing Red-capped Robins at this location some years back.

Adult male Flame Robin, Sandon State Forest, 5th May 2020

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Female Flame Robin

Adult male Scarlet Robin

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New Year treats

The New Year ushers in another crop of Rainbow Bee-eaters.

At various sites across the district these remarkable migrants are busy ferrying an array of different treats to hungry nestlings.

Rainbow Bee-eater with dragonfly, Newstead area, 31st December 2019

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This time with a cicada

… and a Common Brown Butterfly

Approaching the nest site with a dragonfly

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… and departing

Smorgasbord

Rainbow Bee-eaters are renowned for their varied diet of ‘flying things’. This set is from the last day of 2018.

Rainbow Bee-eater with ‘March fly’, Sandon State Forest, 31st December 2018

This time with a cicada

… and lastly with what I think is a bee

Happy New Year and 2018 reprised

Best wishes for 2019 to all readers of Natural Newstead. Thank you for the kind comments over the past year. Here is a selection of some of my favourite images – one for each month of 2018.

Southern Boobook, Wyndham Street Newstead, 23rd January 2018

Red-capped Robin (female), Rise and Shine, 18th February 2018

Great Egret @ Cairn Curran, 14th March 2018

Male Flame Robin, Mia Mia Track, 25th April 2018 … first of the season

Silvereye feeding on Ruby Saltbush in the home garden, 25th May 2018

Yellow-footed Antechinus, Rise and Shine, 23rd June 2018

Hooded Robins, Newstead Cemetery, 28th July 2018

Eastern Spinebill, Wyndham Street Newstead, 12th August 2019

Blue-winged Parrot, South German Track, 8th September 2018

Sacred Kingfishers, Mia Mia Track area, 20th October 2018

Nankeen Kestrel, Moolort Plains, 1st November 2018

Rainbow Bee-eater, Sandon State Forest, 31st December 2018

Just in time!

I was concerned that in my absence over Xmas the 2018/19 crop of Rainbow Bee-eaters may have fledged and left their nesting tunnels.

Not so. The adults are still busily bringing prey to the youngsters and I think it will be a few days before they take flight.

Rainbow Bee-eater with dragonfly, Sandon State Forest, 29th December 2018

Male at top with Dragonfly

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Male with Robberfly