Category Archives: The Home Garden

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

Whistlers on song

It’s spring and the voice of the Rufous Whistler can be heard throughout the bush and around town.

This wonderful songster has a range of calls – during the breeding season it can often feel like it’s singing continuously, with both male and female vocal. The Australian Bird Guide describes a variety of calls … a ringing EE-chong sometimes with a chip to finish, a clear, ringing phrase resembling with ring and with ripple, and repeated joey-joey-joey. The calls are instantly recognisable but I’ve always struggled with most phonetic descriptions!

The sexes are very different in appearance, as is apparent in the images below. While the male is of a richer hue, the female Rufous Whistler is also a striking bird.

Rufous Whistler (adult male), Wyndham Street Newstead, 27th September 2020

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Rufous Whistler (female)

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Night birds

It’s been a rich few days for nocturnal birds.

Numerous pairs of Tawny Frogmouths are nesting around town at present. A pair on Panmure Street have selected a large horizontal branch in a veteran River Red Gum on which to construct their meagre arrangement of sticks. Some eucalyptus and peppercorn leaves have been added as adornment. The male is sitting in these images, which is the norm – at night both sexes share incubation.

Tawny Frogmouth on nest in River Red Gum, Panmure Street Newstead, 5th September 2020

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Just after dusk last evening a Southern Boobook arrived silently in our back garden, allowing a few minutes of wonderful close-up views.

Both frogmouths and boobooks are common around town, but their nocturnal habits render them invisible to us humans for much of the time.

Southern Boobook in the home garden, 7th September 2020

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Wattlebird factory

Our home garden is essentially a wattlebird production line.

The combination of Yellow Gums (offering a healthy supply of nectar and lerp) and denser shrubs (offering multiple safe nesting sites) are the reason we have numerous families of Red Wattlebirds in the home garden year round.

Nesting commences in early August and during spring the constant calls of begging Red Wattlebirds can be heard from dawn until dusk. The youngsters gather together on exposed perches while the parents convey bills full of insects at regular intervals to the eager mouths.

These two recently fledged nestlings were being fed every few minutes, right on dusk.

Red Wattlebird … almost fledglings, Wyndham Street Newstead, 4th September 2020

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Young and adult Red Wattlebirds

Each bout of feeding is somewhat chaotic