Category Archives: Spring Hill and the Mia Mia

Autumn highlights in the Mia Mia

These images were captured nearly a week ago in the Mia Mia.

Birds are quiet and sparsely distributed at present but there is magic to be found on every outing.

Yellow-tufted Honeyeaters, Mia Mia Track, 13th May 2018

Female Scarlet Robin

Male Scarlet Robin

Weebill

This parrot is no more*

A quiet drive through the Mia Mia yesterday afternoon got off to an exciting start.

This accipiter – I’m pretty sure it’s a Brown Goshawk, was spotted in characteristic post-kill pose, guarding an unlucky male Red-rumped Parrot.

The raptor was on the ground with one wing extended in a curtain around the parrot as it made a feeble attempt to escape. It ceased to struggle and the goshawk made off with its prey.

Nature red in tooth and claw as Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote in 1850.

Brown Goshawk with Red-rumped Parrot prey, Mia Mia Road, 12th May 2018

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* With apologies to Monty Python’s Flying Circus!

Eastern Yellow Robins … evolution in action

Eastern Yellow Robins are in the news again … for good reason.

(From the Connecting Country website)

Monash University is conducting an amazing study on the genetics of a local woodland bird, the Eastern Yellow Robin right here on our doorstep in the Muckleford and Newstead forests. Lana Austin from Monash University is living in the Newstead area and coordinating volunteers for mist-netting of Eastern Yellow Robins, and wild observation of banded robins. Lana introduces the project below.

Information evening and local bird banding project

Eastern Yellow Robins. A common woodland species. Not endangered. No fancy breeding displays. Easy to spot. So why is Monash University putting so much effort into following every move of these birds?

Well, it turns out they are more remarkable than once thought.

Recently we discovered two unexpected genetic lineages in our familiar robins. These lineages lie neatly to the east and west of the Great Dividing Range. While they are genetically distinct, even with the best pair of Swarovski binoculars the two lineages look exactly the same to the human eye.

Here’s where it gets really interesting. Along the east and west boundary there are sites where the two genetic lineages coexist (e.g., Muckleford State Forest, Crusoe Reservoir, Bendigo). So, they are hanging out together but maintaining ‘genetic purity’. This means that while we can’t see the difference, the birds can.

We are witnessing the Eastern Yellow Robins split into two species!

This raises some interesting questions. How do the robins know that a potential mate is the same genetic lineage? What happens when they mate with a different lineage? Would they prefer to mate with a different lineage, or not at all? How successful are the hybrid offspring?

Later in May (date being finalised), Lana will be giving a presentation as she unpacks what is known (and not known) about the Eastern Yellow Robin. Volunteers are most welcome to join the field team from the 5-10 May on their colour banding project. Email lana.austin@monash.edu for more information.

For info on the Eastern Yellow Robin Project website click here

Eastern Yellow Robin, Mia Mia Track, 4th May 2018

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One of the colour banded robins photographed on 4th May … the partner of the unbanded bird pictured above

This Buff-rumped Thornbill watched on with interest

Close encounters of the heath-wren kind

Chestnut-rumped Heath-wrens are cryptic and sometimes curious woodland birds.

Most views are fleeting and obscured by foliage, such as the first image below.

But … if you are patient and lucky the reward can be wonderful views of a charismatic and distinctive bird.

Male Chestnut-rumped Heath-wren, Mia Mia Track, 4th May 2018

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During autumn …

… keep an eye out for mixed-species feeding flocks.

Often at this time of the year the quietness of the bush can suddenly change to a gentle wave of sound as mixed flocks of insectivorous birds move together in search of food, uttering contact calls as they go. The species pictured below were in the company of Varied Sittellas, a Grey Fantail and Grey Shrike-thrush. Mixed-species feeding flocks are a nice example of mutualism, where different species benefit from essentially cooperative behaviour. There are various arguments about the benefits (and costs) of the strategy, largely around a reduction in predation risk through increased vigilance, that is, more eyes that can spot predators and raise an alarm and increased foraging efficiency. There could, of course, be a cost to this with a larger flock more likely to be obvious to predators. Another potential cost is that parasitic cuckoos may be alerted to opportunities, although from my experience it is more often observed in autumn, when food is scarce in our dry woodlands and the cuckoos have departed after local breeding.

Immature or female Golden Whistler

Striated Thornbill

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White-throated Treecreeper (female)

What a cracker!

This autumn, the are between South German Track and Mia Mia Track is proving to be bountiful indeed.

Common and not so common woodland birds are almost guaranteed on each visit. The following species were admired and photographed with a background chorus that included Crested Bellbird, White-browed Babbler and Black-chinned Honeyeater.

Dusky Woodswallow, South German Track, 25th April 2018

Yellow-tufted Honeyeater

Hooded Robin

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Chestnut-rumped Heath-wren (male)

One thing leads to another …

Returning home yesterday afternoon along Mia Mia Track I stopped briefly to listen for Swift Parrots. I had heard a small flock earlier in the day leaving the Yellow Gums above the Recreation Reserve in Newstead.

No sign of ‘swifties’ but I did hear the sweet melodies of a Red-capped Robin nearby. Moments later there was a quite a commotion as the Red-capped Robin, an adult male, was sighted tumbling towards the ground in combat with a larger bird – a male Flame Robin. Red-capped Robins, despite their diminutive size, are strongly territorial and can be very aggressive towards intruders of their own species as well as other robins. I’ve seen similar behaviour between Red-capped and Scarlet Robins.

Anyway, this is my first Flame Robin of the season – a marvellous sight!

Male Red-capped Robin, Mia Mia Track, 25th April 2018

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

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