Category Archives: Spring Hill and the Mia Mia

The passing parade

On these baking days the best strategy is just to sit and wait and the birds will come to you … especially if you can find a quiet bushland pool.

Brown-headed Honeyeater, Muckleford State Forest, 17th January 2021

Common Bronzewing

Diamond Firetail

Spotted Pardalote (female)

Yellow-tufted Honeyeater

Superb Fairy-wren (male)

Yellow-faced Honeyeater

Grey Teal

Visitors to the waterhole

Just a selection of visitors to a small, drying waterhole in the Muckleford bush at the weekend.

I’m on the lookout for Black Honeyeater and Yellow-plumed Honeyeater – no luck so far but late summer is the time when these dry-country specialists are likely to turn up.

Rufous Whistler (male), Muckleford State Forest, 9th January 2020

A splendid colour-banded Eastern Yellow Robin

Black-chinned Honeyeater

Yellow-faced Honeyeater

Striated Thornbill

II

The waiting game

Sitting by a pool of water with the camera is one of my favourite pastimes.

The ‘trick’ is to be observant and patient, as many species of birds will soon become accustomed to your presence and resume their natural patterns.

Honeyeaters, of which we have a multitude of local species, are without doubt the most frequent visitors and locally its Yellow-tufted and Fuscous Honeyeaters that tend to dominate proceedings.

From time to time something special appears, perhaps a Yellow-plumed Honeyeater or Black Honeyeater if you’re really fortunate. In the sequence below I’d estimate that over a period of two hours there were 200+ visits from Yellow-tufted and Fuscous Honeyeaters before the Black-chinned Honeyeater dropped in. It was well worth the wait! This species is by no means rare locally, I hear it on most visits to the bush, but it is seriously outnumbered by other honeyeaters and always a delight to observe.

A couple of days later at the same spot, a real highlight – a juvenile Black-chinned Honeyeater – evidence of successful local breeding.

Fuscous Honeyeater, South German Track, Muckleford State Forest, 3rd January 2020

Yellow-tufted Honeyeater

II

Black-chinned Honeyeater

Juvenile Black-chinned Honeyeater, 5th January 2020

Frogs on the menu

While this is not exactly the famous kingfisher shot that many nature photographers crave, it might be the best I ever get!

This Sacred Kingfisher has been coming in to a nice perch above a small bush dam on South German Track … a perfect vantage point from which to spy a frog for its nestlings. The images below are in sequence … moments after I took the first shot the kingfisher swallowed the frog and then plunged in after another.

While I’m pretty confident on the bird ID I’d be happy for any suggestions specific to the unlucky amphibian!

Sacred Kingfisher with amphibian prey, South German Track, 2nd January 2020

Another sortie #1

No success this time!

A good sign … and a puzzle

Yesterday afternoon I walked in the Mia Mia … hoping to get a drenching from the promised thunderstorms.

The rain stayed away, but thankfully we received 20mm overnight.

The good sign was a juvenile Red-capped Robin, found in the Rough Wattle to the west of Mia Mia Track and in the company of Buff-rumped Thornbills and Superb Fairy-wrens. Juvenile robins, like quite a number of the songbirds, are distinguished by blotchy patterning that serves as excellent camouflage. Young ‘red-caps’ are much paler, smaller and slimmer than juvenile Scarlet Robins which breed regularly in this area but then appear to depart over summer.

Nearby I spotted an adult male Red-capped Robin … with a couple of puzzling features, firstly the gape colour (yellow rather than black at the base) and also the general appearance of the head feathers (quite pale ear-coverts and light brown overall rather than the usual jet black).

Immature male Red-capped Robins resemble the female (see here), often with a reddish wash across the breast – young birds are known to breed in this plumage.  The adult male pictured here is, I think, more likely to be an older bird (some adults retain a pale gape) showing signs of feather wear and possibly moulting into fresh plumage.

Juvenile Red-capped Robin, Mia Mia Track, 2nd January 2020

II

III

Red-capped Robin (male), Mia Mia Track, 2nd January 2020

II

III

List: Crested Bellbird, Brown-headed Honeyeater, Fuscous Honeyeater, Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike, Striated Thornbill, Weebill, Peaceful Dove.

Face to face with ferals

I’ve had two feral encounters in recent days.

First, with a Red Fox cub in Providence Gully. It loped across the road in front of the car and then its curiosity allowed me to capture a couple of hasty images before it trotted off. An adult fox would not have allowed such an opportunity. Red Foxes are significant pests, preying mainly on rabbits but also on native fauna including possums, gliders, dasyurids such as antechinus, as well as ground dwelling birds. I see them regularly during my rambles.

Red Fox cub, Providence Gully, 30th December 2020

II

The second observation was that of a House Cat, most likely of the feral persuasion – this time deceased!

The skull, lacking the lower mandible, was found in an area that is important for White-throated Nightjars. This ground nesting bird is a regular migrant to the Muckleford bush and would be vulnerable to cat predation. While cats feed mainly on mammals – like the Red Fox rabbits are a major part of their diet – they also take Sugar and Feather-tailed Gliders and birds. I very rarely see feral cats in the bush, although I’m sure they see me regularly.

Cat skull, Mia Mia Track area, 30th December 2020

II

A perilous time to be a woodswallow

In a summer notable for the almost complete absence (so far) of White-browed and Masked Woodswallows, Dusky Woodswallows are more than compensating.

‘Duskies’ commenced nesting in mid-November, usually the time when their migratory cousins appear in large numbers throughout the box-ironbark country. The first youngsters are now facing a perilous period post-fledging – it takes them a week or so to become capable aerialists and during this time they perch, often noisily, waiting for their parents to arrive with food. Surely many are ‘picked off’ by predators, such as currawongs, kookaburras and raptors, as nature takes its course.

This group of four was observed earlier in the week along Sullivans Track in the Muckleford bush. The adults were arriving with food every few minutes – cicadas, wasps and bees, captured on aerial sorties high above or taken from the ground nearby. Initially three of the four were huddled close together but over a period of thirty minutes or so they became separated as each youngster made short, faltering flights to test its newly acquired powers.

Dusky Woodswallows are partially migratory in my experience. The majority of birds have left the district by late autumn, but I have seen the species in all months – either small numbers are resident or these may be birds from further south spending the winter in warmer climes. Dusky Woodswallows are the only woodswallow to include Tasmania as part of their normal range.

Juvenile Dusky Woodswallows, Sullivans Track, Muckleford State Forest, 29th December 2020

Juvenile Dusky Woodswallows have distinctive blotchy plumage to provide some camouflage during a vulnerable part of their life-cycle

Adult arriving with cicada prey

The appearance of the adults nearby elicits a frantic burst of wing fluttering from the juvenile 

II

Wing and tail stretching by the juveniles was observed regularly – this aids the rapid development of their flight feathers.

… another cicada!

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

Eagle-eyed

Warmer weather has provoked a flurry of activity in the local bush.

Small woodland birds, such as the Silvereye and Scarlet Robins pictured below, were seen foraging for insects in the Mia Mia this morning. The Silvereye extracted the caterpillar from amongst the foliage of a Gorse-leaf Bitter-pea, while the female Scarlet Robin pounced on a colourful Cup-moth caterpillar that she spied on the ground.

Lots of birds calling, including my first Painted Honeyeater for the season, Black-eared Cuckoo and White-winged Trillers, along with Crested Bellbirds.

Silvereye with caterpillar
Male Scarlet Robin
Female Scarlet Robin …
… with Cup-moth caterpillar #1
… with Cup-moth caterpillar #2

A curious and enchanting bird

Dusky Woodswallows have been back for a few weeks now. I came across a small party last evening in a nice patch of White Box and Yellow Box along a drainage line south of Bell’s Lane Track.

The birds were mainly foraging for insects on the ground using tree trunks and dead saplings as observations posts between sorties. Musky Caladenias Caladenia gracilis were showing up well in the same spot.

Musky Caladenia, Bell’s Lane Track area, 23rd September 2020

Dusky Woodswallow

II

III

IV