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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Autumn evening in the Mia Mia

What a brilliant autumn evening in the Mia Mia.

No sign of Rainbow Bee-eaters, although I did see a flock of 10 earlier in the day flying south-east over Newstead. Their migration will be shortly commencing in earnest. Black-faced Cuckoo-shrikes in loose parties, including a number of immature birds being fed by adults. Grey Currawongs calling – the first flocks of Pied Currawongs have arrived a few days back, although I can recall hearing single birds back in late February. Chestnut-rumped Heathwrens eluded the camera, but their ventriloquial song alerted me to their presence. A large flock of Tree Martins, perhaps 50+ birds were swirling overhead, occasionally dropping into the canopy to snatch insects from the blossoms.

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Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike (immature), South German Track, 17th March 2021

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Black-faced Cuckoo-shrikes – adult at right post food delivery

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Restless Flycatcher

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White-browed Babbler

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My imagination

A glorious evening along Joyce’s Creek last night.

I was chasing what was probably an illusion, having heard a call the previous evening that sounded suspiciously like an Australian Little Bittern, a species that is a definite possibility for the area, but a genuine rarity nonetheless.

The ‘bittern’ was silent, but I was soon surrounded by Golden-headed Cisticolas, chasing insects in the dense rush-beds beside the creek. Not a bad consolation prize.

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Water Ribbons in Joyce’s Creek

Golden-headed Cisticola, Joyce’s Creek, 16th March 2021

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In fading light

Last evening I ventured out to a favourite spot, where Joyce’s Creek flows in to Cairn Curran Reservoir.

Dusk was approaching and birds were few … Australian Pelicans and Australian Shelducks at a distance about all that was on offer. I’d been hoping to see some migratory waders, perhaps a Red-necked Stint, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper or something more exotic. Now is the time of year for these species to return to their breeding grounds in the northern hemisphere, Cairn Curran is often used as a stopover for these birds that have spent our summer along the Victorian coast.

No luck with waders, however, first an Australian Pipit flushed from under my feet to pose happily on a thistle. A few minutes later, and closer to the highway bridge, a Golden-headed Cisticola appeared for a moment to perch, legs askew in classic fashion. By this stage the light was fading fast … monochrome is a better representation of what remains in the mind’s eye.

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Australian Pipit, Cairn Curran Reservoir, 15th March 2021

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Golden-headed Cisticola

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Watching over me …

Perhaps Australia’s most common nocturnal bird … guaranteed to brighten up your day.

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Australian Owlet-nightjar, Rise and Shine Bushland Reserve, 8th March 2021

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‘Ante’ antics

I never tire of watching Yellow-footed Antechinus as they go about their business. These tiny, fearless carnivores are always on the move, in search of insects, small reptiles, birds eggs and even nestlings if they get the chance. I encounter them on most visits to the Rise and Shine, one of a number of local hot-spots for the species.

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Yellow-footed Antechinus, Rise & Shine Bushland Reserve, 8th March 2021

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The wonder of autumn rain

A somewhat unanticipated, but very welcome event … we enjoyed 8mm of rain yesterday morning. Within minutes of its gentle onset, swarms of insects emerged, including flying ants of various varieties.

Once the rain had stopped, but under still leaden skies, I paid a visit to the Rise and Shine Bushland Reserve. There was lots of bird activity … the bush always comes to life when rain follows a dry spell … and insectivorous species were especially active. Black-faced and White-bellied Cuckoo-shrikes, Restless Flycatcher and Dusky Woodswallows were joined by numerous Olive-backed Orioles in their hunt for insects.

I was struck by this juvenile Olive-backed Oriole that I first spotted catching winged ants from the ground. It was being followed by two immature and inquisitive  Crimson Rosellas, prompted apparently by the foraging success of the oriole. Over the course of a five minute cameo the rosellas followed the oriole to a succession of perches but at no stage did they make any attempt to interfere. I can only surmise that they were hoping to share the oriole’s success but I’m not clear on their strategy, if indeed they had one!

Rosellas are mainly fruit and seed eaters, but they are known to take insects, especially larvae – this behaviour though is a first for me.

Olive-backed Oriole catching flying ants, Rise and Shine Bushland reserve, 8th March 2021

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Immature Crimson Rosella

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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Mistletoebird (immature male), 7th March 2021

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