Breaking the monopoly …

The bird baths in the front yard are being monopolised by Rainbow Lorikeets and Galahs at the minute … I’m wondering whether I might even need to drain them for a while to encourage the lorikeets in particular to move on …

Galah, Wyndham Street Newstead, 11th March 2017

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Rainbow Lorikeet about to descend to the bird bath

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Watching the ‘Blue Crane’

I once held a White-faced Heron in my hand, astounded at how small and delicate this seemingly large waterbird actually is. Growing up in the Western District this species was often known erroneously as the ‘Blue Crane’. I hadn’t heard this moniker for years until recently – reminding the observer, in a minor outburst of pedantry, that this beautiful bird is actually a heron. Our only local crane is, of course, the Brolga.

White-faced Heron, Loddon River @ Newstead, 9th March 2017

Earlier this week I watched three White-faced Herons on the Loddon, ‘fishing’ from a giant fallen River Red-gum. Unusually they allowed some close observation as they clambered around the fallen limbs searching for small fish and other prey in the water below. As I sat quietly a White-necked Heron languidly cruised past and an adult Nankeen Night-heron flapped overhead en route to its evening hunting spot. A nice trio for minimal effort!

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Autumn by the Loddon

I like autumn – the long, still days and lingering warmth are welcome, when followed by cool nights and a touch of crispness in the mornings.

Down by the river everything seems to have slowed a little but there are still some wonderful offerings if you are patient. A family of Crested Shrike-tits (only the female is pictured here), were making merry snatching insects from the lerp-inested leaves of a forest of River Red-gum saplings – a product of the 2010/11 floods. I didn’t actually see them taking any lerp but suspect that was on the menu, or at least the magnet for other insects providing a meal for the shrike-tits.

Crested Shrike-tit (female), Loddon River @ Newstead, 7th March 2017

Gathering bugs from amongst the red gums

An adult Nankeen Night-heron sporting two magnificent crown plumes, peered down from above – it stepped momentarily into the sunlight which gave me a chance for some terrific views before it flew off.

Nankeen Night-heron, Loddon River @ Newstead, 7th March 2017

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In flight with a Red-rumped Parrot

Moulting season

by Patrick Kavanagh

I was intrigued to find one of the few remaining Eucalypt Tip-wilter Bug Amorbus sp. nymphs having just gone through a moult to the next instar. I’ve seen so many of these this year and lots of their withered, vacated exoskeletons, but this is the first time I’d seen the soft-skinned occupant leave the old skin behind. I was struck by the utterly different colour of the fresh skin to either what had gone before and to what it would look like when set. The insect also seemed only able to hang down as its legs had no strength in compression. I was pleased to find another specimen nearby to show what the next instar would look like.

Eucalypt Tip-wilter Bug, Strangways, 3rd March 2017

Tip-wilter bug moulting

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I also found one last Acacia Horned Treehopper and noted that it seems to have none of the white honeydew secretion that I’d seen on others of this species and as a result, no protective retinue of ants.

Acacia Horned Treehopper

There still seem to be a few Myllocerus weevils about. When I’ve looked up information about this species, as well as many others, much is related to our local invertebrates being “pests in eucalypt plantations”. And here they are co-existing in our bush and in no way a pest, presumably because the diversity of our bush provides a balance of predators which the monocultures of plantations lack.

Myllocerus Weevil

What is that bird?

A few times over recent years I’ve been asked to identify the bird pictured below.

Typically seen perched in a shady tree, such as a River Red-gum or an exotic willow – or disturbed into flight, the Nankeen Night-heron is a common local resident, albeit in small numbers. This one is a juvenile and strong evidence that it has recently fledged from a local nest. The best place to see night-herons is along the Loddon River between Newstead and Cairn Curran – most excursions will yield a few birds and while I’ve never found a nest I’d be confident that they breed in this area.

Juvenile Nankeen Night-heron, Newstead, 5th March 2017

The local Willie Wagtail was not happy!

The juveniles differ from the adults by the heavily streaked and spotted plumage – the adults are cinnamon coloured and sport several slender white plumes arising from a black crown. They will often roost in small groups and emit a series of croaking calls when disturbed. Nankeen Night-herons are largely nocturnal, feeding along waterways and around dams for small fish, frogs and invertebrates.

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Many thanks to Rod and Wendy for alerting me to this one, currently ‘renting’ a Weeping Willow on the outskirts of Newstead!

While on the subject of herons it’s been pleasing to see good numbers of White-necked Herons over past months. It’s not unusual to see this striking species in the same habitat as Nankeen Night-herons and the more common White-faced Heron, but they inhabit some pretty different habitats as well – this one was observed in the middle of a bare paddock on the Moolort Plains.

White-necked Heron, Moolort Plains, 5th March 2017

Woodswallows, wasps and dragonflies

For the past fortnight a small flock of White-breasted Woodswallows has been gathered at Joyce’s Creek. This species, a breeding visitor to the Newstead district, is almost always found near water.

I’ve found them breeding in small, loose colonies at various places around the lake in recent years. After they’ve fledged the juveniles stay with their parents and ‘learn’ the craft of a woodswallow – aerial gymnastics in pursuit of flying prey. The rim of the lake makes a terrific training ground, with a multitude of flying insects – some of which are no match for a woodswallow. I witnessed adult woodswallows snatching dragonflies and wasps from the air as the youngsters either flew with them or begged for attention from their perches nearby.

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White-breasted Woodswallows, Joyce’s Creek, 2nd March 2017

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Juvenile White-breasted Woodswallow

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Adult with a dragonfly caught on the wing

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Adult and juvenile (with wasp)

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Juvenile White-breasted Woodswallow with wasp

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All species of woodswallows are renowned for their ‘huddling’

Autumn bird photography workshop

This is not an April fools joke … Chris Tzaros and I will be conducting another of our bird photography workshops on Saturday the 1st April.

There are still a few place available in the morning workshop (7.30am – 12.30pm) – for more details and registration click here.

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Swift Parrot (Chris Tzaros)

For this workshop we’ll be on the lookout for Swift Parrots that have hopefully arrived to enjoy flowering Yellow Gums in the nearby Muckleford bush.

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Great Egret @ Cairn Curran (Geoff Park)

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Southern Boobook (Chris Tzaros)