Category Archives: Spring Hill and the Mia Mia

Scarlet deficit no more

After nary a Scarlet Robin all through summer the species has been following me around on the past few visits to the Mia Mia.

This lovely pair were sharing a new territory with a pair of Red-capped Robins … a nice combination.

The Collared Sparrowhawk arrived on the scene, pursuing a honeyeater before perching for a few minutes in a nearby Grey Box. The square-tailed silhouette of the raptor in flight confirmed the identity.

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Scarlet Robins, Mia Mia Track area, 5th April 2021

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Male Scarlet Robin

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Female Scarlet Robin

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Collared Sparrowhawk, Mia Mia Track, 5th April 2021

April signs

April is the time when Golden Whistlers arrive in numbers to the box-ironbark country, as they disperse from their breeding grounds at higher altitudes to the south. Immature birds dominate the early influx, with the spectacular males lagging by a few weeks. Colloquially known as thickheads (the first image below explains why), the female is rather nondescript, lacking the fine streaks of its woodland counterpart, the Rufous Whistler. Close inspection reveals the lemon vent, a diagnostic feature. Also returning are small numbers of Scarlet Robins, largely absent during the heat of summer, after breeding locally during spring. Their movements are something of a mystery to me as they are found year round further north, although reporting rates are higher during the cooler months.

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Female Golden Whistler, Mia Mia Track area, 3rd April 2021

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Female Golden Whistler in full voice

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The yellow vent is diagnostic

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Male Scarlet Robin

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Female Scarlet Robin

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Female Red-capped Robin

The joy of autumn rain

While some parts of the continent at present are experiencing almost unprecedented amounts of rain, here in central Victoria we are enjoying the Goldilocks effect … not too little, not too much … but just about right.

This morning I tipped 37mm of rain from the gauge … a perfect autumn break as far as the bush is concerned, which made for some interesting sights yesterday afternoon in the Mia Mia.

I was also pleased to come across some autumn flowering orchids, including Parson’s Bands and what I think is one of the Midge OrchidsCorunastylis sp, but not sure which one.

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Autumn downpour, Mia Mia Track, 21st March 2021

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Midge Orchid – please help with species identification if you can?

Currawongs on the move

Pied Currawongs, arriving around town in recent days from the southern ‘highlands’, are making themselves known with their distinctive calls. They appear to have arrived a few weeks earlier than usual this year.

Meanwhile, in the surrounding bush, the resident Grey Currawongs have become more active and obvious than was the case during the heat of summer. Both species of currawongs are omnivorous; taking a variety of fruits, seeds and invertebrates as well as small birds, eggs and nestlings. Grey Currawongs are said to forage mostly on the ground but the birds pictured below were spotted in the early morning sunshine, searching for insects and spiders under eucalypt bark. At this time of year they form small, loose feeding parties – announcing their presence with characteristic ‘clinking’ calls in flight. A distinctive feature of the Grey Currawong is the pincer-like beak, lacking the hooked tip of its pied relative.

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Grey Currawong, South German Track, 20th March 2021

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Tree Martins in the forest

Tree Martins are warm season visitors to the district. They usually arrive in early spring, often overlooked as charismatic counterparts such as Rainbow Bee-eaters and Sacred Kingfishers grab our attention. They typically nest in tree hollows, using both live and dead trees – sometimes in small, loose colonies but often solitary. Unlike the mud-nesting Fairy Martin they generally lay their eggs on a bed of leaves, occasionally augmented with mud.

Tree Martins are most obvious in autumn as they gather in large, post-breeding flocks in the forest, especially near water. Last evening by my favourite bush dam a flock of 100+ birds gathered to chase insects before dusk. They are an enchanting bird, dipping low across the surface of the water or hawking above the canopy in search of prey. From time to time the birds would gather on the ground, picking up dry leaves or pebbles for no apparent reason. I’ve also seen this behaviour from Fairy Martins.

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Tree Martin, Muckleford State Forest, 18th March 2021

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Tipping into autumn

It’s been a terrific summer … softened by La Nina, with a good dose of post Xmas rain followed by a cool February.

This was my last summer visit to the Mia Mia and I was well rewarded. There were lots of Rainbow Bee-eaters assembling before they head north, their acrobatics amongst the Yellow Gums a sight to behold as they feasted on flying insects.

The begging call of a juvenile Sacred Kingfisher led me to two youngsters, their parents keeping a watchful eye at a safe distance.

Yellow-tufted Honeyeaters are making ‘hay while the sun shines’. As I photographed one gathering nesting material a Chestnut-rumped Heathwren bobbed past in the background. It then proceeded to unleash a short burst of song, including some mimicry that included snippets of ‘tufty’ calls.

Juvenile Sacred Kingfisher, South German Track, 28th February 2021

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Yellow-tufted Honeyeater gathering nesting material … wallaby-grass seeds I think!

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III … mimicking Yellow-tufted Honeyeater

More robins … a good thing

A mild and favourable summer has extended the breeding season for bush birds.

As I was strolling in the Mia Mia during the week a small bird exploded from near my feet to alight on a branch above me … secreting itself motionless in the shade against the trunk.

A juvenile Eastern Yellow Robin, one of two youngsters accompanied by their parents that I had heard piping moments earlier. The young would be from eggs laid early in the New Year – incubation is around 14 days and then about the same until fledging. Juvenile birds often leave the nest early from where they will be fed by the parents for perhaps a month or more until they become independent. This youngster is well advanced, traces of the yellow emerging from the spotted cloak on the throat and belly.

Juvenile Eastern Yellow Robin, Mia Mia Track area, 25th February 2021

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One of the parents

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Now showing in the Mia Mia

Rainbow Bee-eater, Mia Mia Track, 20th February 2021

Red-capped Robin (female)

Chestnut-rumped Heathwren

Passing through

I can’t recall seeing a Fan-tailed Cuckoo since late in the spring. They’ll have been around in small numbers, but remain silent once breeding is finished.

Yesterday afternoon in the Mia Mia they were everywhere. Over the course of an hour I must have seen at least a dozen birds, an indication that their northward migration has commenced. A few remain during the cooler months but they are rarely observed. A fellow north-bound traveller  is the Olive-backed Oriole – this immature bird was in convoy with cuckoos.

The true highlight however, was a brief encounter with some Chestnut-rumped Heathwrens. Over the past year or so I’ve occasionally heard this cryptic and elusive songster without so much as a glimpse. This species is resident all year in the Muckleford Bush, but is something of a maverick, shifting locations from year to year to meet its particular needs.

Fan-tailed Cuckoo, South German Track, 19th February 2021

Not calling … just hot!

Juvenile mouthing into adult plumage … I think!

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Chestnut-rumped Heathwren … the elusive one

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Mia Mia close-ups

As the summer days slowly shorten birds and mammals gravitate towards any places of precious water in the bush.

It’s a good time for close-up portraits of some of our most familiar and charming species.

Black Wallaby, South German Track, 16th February 2021

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Fuscous Honeyeater

Yellow-tufted Honeyeater

Common Bronzewing