Category Archives: The Home Garden

Acanthiza nana

Instalment #3 on the identification guide to central Victorian thornbills. Today it’s the turn of the Yellow Thornbill Acanthiza nana.

This species is arguably the most nondescript of our local thornbills, the lack of distinctive markings are what makes it relatively easy to identify.

In my view there are two handy spotting characters, firstly the boldly streaked ear-coverts – a feature  shared with the Striated Thornbill, and secondly the russet wash on the throat and chin. This latter feature renders an overall ‘golden’ hue to the bird and is unique to this species of thornbill. It is the lack of streaking on the crown and breast that sets A. nana apart from both the Striated Thornbill and the Brown Thornbill.

A close-up look reveals that the iris is actually olive coloured – it tends to be described as dark in the field guides. The second image also shows off the black sub-terminal band on the tail – quite narrow in this species, but a more or less obvious feature of all the thornbills.

Yellow Thornbills tend to be canopy feeders, although this can include foraging in low shrubs – the third image below shows a Yellow Thornbill feeding in planted saltbush in our garden. While I often encounter them in box-ironbark woodlands they can also be found in scattered remnants on the Moolort Plains, as well as our home garden where they appear to be resident.

I have difficulty separating the Striated and Yellow Thornbill on the basis of calls but that is largely due to my own incompetence … check a good field guide for a description of voice!

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Yellow Thornbill, Wyndham Street Newstead, 13th June 2021

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Tis a curious bird the currawong

Pied Currawongs are clever and curious birds.

This one was photographed this morning at the bird bath. Initially I was puzzled as to why it would be attempting to pierce the ice-crust that had formed overnight (it was ‘feels like’ minus 5C).

Then I noticed the shape on the surface of the ice – a currawong pellet, regurgitated by a previous visitor I would assume.

Pied Currawongs are omnivores, feeding on seeds, fruits, insects and small vertebrates when they can get them. In the town gardens over winter there is a wide variety of suitable tucker. The pellets are ejected a short time after feeding, often within 30 minutes or so and contain the hard remains of the recent meal. Beetle wing-cases and sometimes small bones can be found mixed in with plant material.

You may have noticed and wondered about these objects appearing in the garden at this time of year.

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Pied Currawong @ the bird bath, 5th June 2021

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Pied Currawong pellet

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Here we go again …

To some folks, currawongs are a bird of evil intent … not for me.

They are curious, alert and adaptable birds that have an ill-deserved reputation on account of some aspects of how they ‘make a living’ … preying on small native songbirds for example.

Every autumn, flocks of Pied Currawongs arrive in Newstead, on migration from higher altitudes along the Great Dividing Range. Each year the numbers seem to increase and in fact this year I was even hearing the occasional bird over summer. Their beautiful calls are very different to that of our resident and mainly solitary Grey Currawong.

Home gardens are a favourite for the species, with winter fruiting shrubs such as this privet a favourite food source. Yesterday afternoon more than a dozen Pied Currawongs were gathered at any one time to feast on the berries. No doubt they are responsible fo spreading the seeds of this exotic but locally this doesn’t seem to be causing a problem.

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Pied Currawong, Newstead, 27th May 2021

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Easily overlooked

The Southern Whiteface is a species that has featured occasionally on the blog over the years.

While it’s a distinctive bird, it can be easily overlooked, as I experienced again yesterday afternoon.

A few weeks ago one ventured into our garden but I was too slow with the camera to document the sighting. It’s the first time I can recall seeing one in ‘Newstead Central’, although it can be found reliably at the Newstead Cemetery and a few other locals spots. I’ve oft thought that it is one species that may be suffering a local decline.

Yesterday, an hour before dusk, I was strolling on the block below the house, watching a small flock of Yellow-rumped Thornbills, living up to their colloquial moniker of ‘butter-bums’. A number of other birds of similar size and hue were feeding with them and it took a moment to register the fact that they were lacking in the yellow rump ‘department’.

What a delight to to see a small flock of Southern Whiteface in the centre of town.

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Southern Whiteface, Wyndham Street Newstead, 2nd May 2021

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Residents and visitors

Mistletoebirds are with us year round. Extensive areas of Yellow Gum around town are replete with mistletoe and the birds breed happily from early spring into the autumn, feasting on the ripening berries and then feeding the fruits to their youngsters. From time to time they’ll visit one of the bird baths – the immature male pictured below was in the company of a female. The young males have a pale gape and traces of the bright red adult plumage on the breast.

Silvereyes on the other hand are more complicated. This species can be observed throughout the year but not always the same population of birds. A confusing array of subspecies have been described from across Australia and beyond. Buff-flanked birds, like the one pictured in the first two images below, are generally regarded as belonging to the Tasmanian sub-species lateralis, which migrates to the mainland in autumn. This seems to be an early arrival.

Silvereye, Wyndham Street Newstead, 8th March 2021

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III – this individual appears to lack the buff flanks of the bird in the first two images

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Mistletoebird (immature male), 7th March 2021

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Trust me …

… this pale smudge is a Grey Goshawk (white morph), an exciting observation for Newstead.

Earlier this morning I glanced up from the garden and spotted a white shape, soaring in tight circles, pursued by two ravens. It took a moment to register that this wasn’t a corella or cockatoo … then I raced back inside for the camera. By this time the bird was rapidly becoming a speck as it drifted north towards Welshmans Reef.

The images below are no better than record shots, but the identification is 100% certain.

Grey Goshawks are rarely observed away from their stronghold, the wetter coastal forests in areas such as the Otways. There have been a number of local records over the years, with three observations in the Mia Mia (1/12/1999, 1/1/2000 and 1/4/2002). For me though this is a local first.

The Grey Goshawk comes in two distinct colour morphs, grey or white, with the white morph more common in southern Australia. In Tasmania, where the species is relatively common, all birds are white morphs.

Grey Goshawk, Newstead, 14th February 2021

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Common garden varieties

The home garden never fails to surprise with its rich variety of birds.

Living, as we do, in a small village surrounded by bushland to our north and east with farmland to our west and a river in between is part of the ‘secret’.

The Common Bronzewing is resident, as are the Eastern Rosellas – the Silvereye is most likely passing through, while Australian Hobbies roam far and wide across the district as they prey on small birds. It’s pleasing to see the product of a successful local breeding event paying a fleeting visit.

Common Bronzewing, Wyndham Street Newstead, 1st February 2021

Eastern Rosella

Australian Hobby (juvenile)

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Silvereye in Lightwood (Acacia implexa)

Xmas feast

Xmas in Newstead is Musk Lorikeets raiding the backyard plums … Rainbow Bee-eaters feasting on a variety of flying insects for their nestlings.

Musk Lorikeet, Wyndham Street Newstead, 25th December 2020

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Rainbow Bee-eaters @ Newstead Cemetery

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Pardalotes in the garden

Both Spotted and Striated Pardalotes can be heard calling as I write this post. They both breed happily in and around the gardens in our street, as well in surrounding bush and farmland.

The Spotted Pardalote typically digs an earthen tunnel – this pair started their nest some weeks ago and both sexes are apparently incubating at present. Striated Pardalotes also use earthen tunnels, however they tend to select vertical faces rather than sloping sites preferred by their spotted ‘cousins’. Striated Pardalotes also regularly use tree hollows for nesting.

Footnote – for a brilliant article about pardalotes (by John Woinarski, Professor (conservation biology), Charles Darwin University) click here.

Spotted Pardalote (male), Wyndham Street Newstead, 18th November 2020

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Male at the tunnel entrance, 27th November 2020

Female at the tunnel entrance – same day

Many things …

… are happening in nature at present.

On the other side of the river, on Pound Lane, Tawny Frogmouth chicks are growing steadily. In these images the male is sitting – one fluffy youngster obvious, the other obscured.

Meanwhile in Wyndham Street we’ve been visited by Sacred Kingfishers, my only recollection of them this close to home in 20 years. A single bird has been calling for at least a week and was joined by another yesterday afternoon. It will be interesting to see what happens next.

Rainbow Bee-eaters arrived about a week ago … stay tuned for tomorrow’s post.

Tawny Frogmouth with nestlings … two in fact, Pound Lane Newstead, 20th October 2020

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Sacred Kingfisher in Wyndham Street