Category Archives: Spring Hill and the Mia Mia

Autumn observations

The calls of Pied Currawongs, autumn migrants to the district, have been echoing around town for a few weeks now.

Another familiar cool-season visitor, the Eastern Spinebill, has now arrived. I’ve been hearing the odd one since mid-April and visited a favourite haunt yesterday, Rotunda Park. Sure enough, three immature birds were flitting about in the Newstead Landcare plantings. As is the usual case, the young birds arrive first, followed a few weeks later by the adult spinebills. Look out for them in local gardens over winter.

Earlier in the day I enjoyed close views of a trio of Eastern Yellow Robins, one with colour bands, in the Muckleford bush. A male Scarlet Robin was also sighted, along with White-throated Treecreeper, Golden Whistler, White-naped Honeyeater, Grey Shrike-thrush, Speckled Warbler, Brown Thornbill and a Grey Currawong.

I’m still hearing a Shining Bronze-cuckoo calling around town (at Dig Cafe last Friday) and some White-breasted Woodswallows were seen at Joyce’s Creek the same day.

EYR1

Eastern Yellow Robin, Tunnel Track, Muckleford State Forest, 8th May 2022

EYR2

II

Scarlet1

Scarlet Robin (male)

Bracket

Bracket fungus on Grey Box

ES1

Eastern Spinebill (immature), Rotunda Park

ES2

II

Subtle shift

There has been a changing of the guard in recent days.

I spotted my first Flame Robin for the autumn two days ago, a female, arriving furtively to drink at a small bush dam. A number of Golden Whistlers also visited the water, a beautiful male avoided my camera. In the distance an Eastern Spinebill was calling, the first I’ve heard since last winter.

Around town in recent days both Shining Bronze-cuckoos and Fantailed Cuckoos have been calling, most likely birds heading northwards on their annual passage, although a few individuals remain in the box-ironbark over the cooler months. Meanwhile the usual array of honeyeaters complement the picture, as the subtle shift to winter beckons.

FlameRobin

Flame Robin, Mia Mia Track, 22nd April 2022

GoldenWhistlerrt

Immature Golden Whistler

WhiteNapedHE

White-naped Honeyeater

WhiteNapedHE2

II

YellowfacedHE

Yellow-faced Honeyeater

YTHE22April

Yellow-tufted Honeyeater

YTHE22April2

II

Autumn insectivores

Mixed feeding flocks of insectivores are a feature of autumn in the box-ironbark.

During a brief pause in the rain earlier this week I came across a small gathering along Spring Hill Track.

In the company of the Grey Fantails and Scarlet Robins were a Golden Whistler, Buff-rumped Thornbills, a Yellow-faced Honeyeater and a Grey Shrike-thrush. One of the fantails delighted as it sought insects through the foliage, fanning its tail repeatedly in an effort to disturb potential insect prey.

GreyFantail1

Grey Fantail, Spring Hill Track, 20th April 2022

GreyFantail2

II

GreyFantail3

III

ScarletRobin1

Male Scarlet Robin

ScarletRobin2

II

ScarletRobin3

Female Scarlet Robin

Along the track

While there is nothing out of the ordinary, the local bush is alive with birds at present.

A handful of Tree Martins remain, the lingering warm weather slowing their departure north. Musk, Purple-crowned and Little Lorikeets are enjoying the flowering Grey Box, while Scarlet Robins are back after ‘going missing’ over summer.

GF1

Grey Fantail, Mia Mia Track, 15th April 2022

Scarlet1

Scarlet Robin (male)

Scarlet2

II

Tufty1

Yellow-tufted Honeyeater

YFHE1

Yellow-faced Honeyeater

A lesser known migrant

Autumn has arrived and so we say farewell to a number of breeding migrants for another year. In recent days Rainbow Bee-eaters have departed, along with Sacred Kingfishers a little earlier in the month.

A less well-known migrant, the Tree Martin, can be seen at present gathering in large feeding flocks in the Muckleford bush. This dainty aerialist breeds locally in tree hollows – the red gum swamps of the Moolort Plains are a favoured place as well as the intact bushland around Newstead.

The flocks, comprising adult and immature birds, can number in the hundreds, with the birds feeding above the canopy as well as sweeping down over water in search of insects. From time to time they will perch in small groups on exposed branches, amongst the foliage or alighting fleetingly on the ground where they will pick up dry leaves … possibly a habit associated with their breeding behaviour. Whilst these images were taken earlier in the month the birds are still around – the first cool days of April is when they typically head north.

TM1

Tree Martin, South German Track, 3rd March 2022

TM2

II

TM3

III

TM4

IV

TM5

V

TM6

VI

TM7

VII

TM8

VIII

TM9

IX

Summer favourites

Breeding migrants both … they will be with us for a few short weeks still, before heading north again.

The Square-tailed Kite is an adult … twas in the company of a youngster (not pictured).

The Rainbow Bee-eater is a juvenile … a successful fledgling from this summer’s breeding effort.

STK5

Square-tailed Kite, Mia Mia Road, 2nd February 2022

STK4

II

STK2

III

STK1

IV

STK3

V

RBE1

Rainbow Bee-eater

RBE2

II

Aftermath

After the frustration of watching storm clouds skirt around Newstead on numerous occasions in recent weeks they certainly landed with a vengeance last Friday afternoon … 75mm of rain in 3 hours of mayhem.

The first image was taken at the top of the Mia Mia Creek catchment, just as the most intense storm was passing through. The remaining images were captured the following day as I undertook a ‘mini-tour’ of the Mia Mia catchment.

I am always astounded at the impact of extreme storm events on our landscape that is ostensibly ‘forested’, yet a thousand times removed from its ‘original’ condition.

Storm1

Mia Mia Creek at 7pm on Friday 28th January 2022

Storm3

… the morning after along Mia Track

Storm2

#2

Storm4

#3

Storm11

#4

Storm6

#5

Storm5

#5

Storm10

$6

Storm7

#7

Storm9

#8

Storm8

#9

Sparrowhawk trifecta poses a puzzle

I set off this morning to inspect the effects of last afternoon’s storm … 75mm in a two hour burst. More on that in an upcoming post.

As I strolled along Mia Mia Track the distinctive call of a Collared Sparrowhawk grabbed my attention, followed by the agitated call of a second individual nearby.

It didn’t take long to locate three individuals, two of which were juveniles with small songbirds in their talons. One of the prey items was easily identified – a Yellow-tufted Honeyeater, while the other young sparrowhawk had a slightly larger catch … possibly a young Red Wattlebird.

The third sparrowhawk was in similar garb to the juveniles but appeared to be an older immature bird, the slaty-grey upper parts retaining just a semblance of rufous edging on the wing coverts, with this feature more pronounced in the juvenile birds. The parent, which I think was the female, on account of its larger size, later captured a meal for itself … a Scarlet Robin I suspect.

Upon returning home a spot of research revealed that Collared Sparrowhawks sometimes breed before they attain their full adult plumage. This article gives a fabulously detailed account.

This blog post from 2015 has a nice image of an adult Collared Sparrowhawk.

SH1

Collared Sparrowhawk – juvenile with prey, Mia Mia Track, 29th January 2022

SH2

II

SH3

The second juvenile with a Yellow-tufted Honeyeater

SH4

The third bird – I suspect the female parent … still in immature plumage

SH5

Collared Sparrowhawk … ever alert

SH6

One of the juveniles in the act of dismembering its prey

SH7

II

SH8

The female again, this time with what appears to be a Scarlet Robin … note the slaty-grey upper parts, lacking (largely) rufous margins to the wing coverts

SH9

Agitated juvenile

SH10

Collared Sparrowhawk showing the distinctive elongated middle-toe

A varied diet

This family of Australasian Grebes has provided much enjoyment during the heat of summer. Now deserted by their parents, the five juveniles have been happily independent at their birth-place, feeding on a variety of freshwater life, including tiger leeches, yabbies and caddis-fly larvae.

I’d never previously observed one capture a leech, but two of the young did so during this session. Each instance involved violent shaking of the struggling leech for a number of minutes until it was subdued enough to swallow.

Caddis-flies are small insects that spend most of their life-cycle as aquatic larvae, making their home in a protective case – in some cases the larvae weave silken cases that incorporate sand-grains and plant material, or as is the case with the variety pictured here, inside a hollow plant stem. The larvae move about inside these portable cases, protected as they feed on decaying planet material. The strategy is clearly not 100% successful as a hungry grebe demonstrates.

Grebe1

Australasian Grebe (juvenile) with leech, Muckleford State Forest, 19th January 2022

Grebe2

II

Grebe3

III

Grebe4

IV

Grebe5

This time with a caddis-fly larva

Grebe6

II

Grebe7

III

Grebe8

IV

What’s been happening this week?

In a nutshell … it’s been hot!

My excursions have been limited and targeted. Just like the birds I’ve been making repeated, short visits to the water.

BHHE

Brown-headed Honeyeater, Muckleford State Forest, 17th January 2022

EasternRosella

Eastern Rosella

Fuscous

Fuscous Honeyeater

Swallows

Welcome Swallows

Tufty

Yellow-tufted Honeyeater

WEHE

White-eared Honeyeater

WNHE2

White-naped Honeyeater (adult)

WNHE1

White-naped Honeyeater (juvenile)

WNHE3

II

YFHE

Yellow-faced Honeyeater

RW

Red Wattlebird