birds

Late nesters run a risk

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An Eastern Spine-bill is on high alert as it checks to see if anyone is watching!

This is one of several species nesting late this season. While having the advantage of many nectar bearing plants and thousands of insects to feed on there is always the risk of summer weather extremes that can kill the chicks or destroy the nest.

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After laying 3 eggs in a flimsy nest on the outer edge of a banksia rose, just 2 metres from where our dogs sleep, all eggs hatched successfully and the chicks were growing rapidly. But, then along came a thirty five degree day that had the parents desparately trying to provide shade by sitting over the nest. By evening the nearly  fledged chicks had spread out from the nest, hanging on to branches, trying to catch a breeze. Only one chick remained in the nest.

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An overnight cool change saw the temperature drop to 18 degrees with strong wind. Sad news in the morning – 2 dead chicks on the ground below the nest and one hanging upside down lifeless from the nest. I untangled its foot from the nest and felt a little movement from its leg. I remembered the story of “Thumbelina” from Sunday morning radio when I was a kid – something about a swallow that nearly died from cold and how it came back to life with a bit of kindness. So, I carried this little bird in a lightly closed fist, blowing warm air on it for half an hour as I felt stirrings of it coming back to life.

Shaving one handed, eating breakfast one handed, typing one handed,  I nursed the little Spine-bill all morning. We fed it lightly with a mixture of fresh honey and water during the day and that night I held it warm on my chest ’til morning.

We were excited to see the parents feeding in the shrubs around our house and as the chick was hungry and now quite vocal we thought we would put it back in the nest and observe. Within five minutes the first tentative parent came to the nest and fed the chick. The chick was soon following the parents for more food, hopping through the branches.

Later in the day we picked it up off the ground again and put it back in a bush for the night. The next morning it was in the company of the parents again and seems like it will survive and get stronger from here. Fantastic news as we love the sight of the mature birds hovering in front of flowers extracting the sweet rewards with their long tongues.

Unexpected Visitor

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Over the last couple of weeks, we have been excited to see a bird that we have not encountered in the 20 years we have been keeping records in Spring Valley Road, Flowerdale. The Satin Bowerbird (Ptilonorhynchus violaceus) pictured above, normally resides in the higher rainfall areas of the Kinglake National Park and nearby Mt. Disappointment. This individual was spotted one morning taking advantage of pieces of bread normally scooped up by the tribe of magpies that call our property their territory.

We were kept entertained by the hopping antics and the strange noises this bird makes for 2 weeks. It seems with the advent of temperatures over thirty degrees, our unexpected visitor has returned to the cooler gullies of the surrounding forests.

The last time we were alerted to Bowerbirds in Flowerdale was by Chris Cobern from the Upper Goulburn Landcare Network. You can read further at this link; Ol’ Blue Eyes and the Power of the Bower. If you are in Flowerdale or surrounds, you may have seen the Bowerbird also. Let us know.

 

 

Who needs a rooster when you have a Kookaburra?

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For the last few weeks Heather and I have been observing with great interest the activities of a pair of Kookaburras. Normally this pair nest in a hollow of a large Candle Bark Gum (E. rubida) which we call the Hotel,  on account of the many hollows it contains and the variety of fauna that use these spaces as nest sites. We have seen at least two generations of fledgling kookaburras leave this site successfully.

One afternoon in late August, we were surprised to see the Kookaburras checking out every small hollow in the pin oaks and claret ash in our backyard. We wondered what had occurred and on checking, found that Long Billed Corellas had taken over the nest hollow of the luckless Kookaburras. We have noticed that the Long Billed and Short Billed Corellas have moved in to our locale in increasing numbers since the 2009 bushfires.

Watching the Kookaburras searching for a new site, we decided to put up a nest box that might suit them. We found they ignored this and chose instead a possum box which we had thought would be too deep for them to use. However this box had been used by the Indian Myna the previous season before they were evicted. Their nest material had filled the possum  box with rubbish having the effect of halving the depth.

It wasn’t long before the Kookaburra pair were observed mating and about a week later (on the 10th of September) the first egg was laid. By the end of a week three eggs comprised the clutch. In the second week we noticed one egg with a dimple caused by a wayward claw. This was soon enough jettisoned from the nest box as unviable.

The birds proceeded to incubate and 2 checks hatched between 7th and 9th of October. With feed ranging from starling and myna chicks through to mice and skinks and some balls of premium mince, the chicks grew rapidly. They finally left the nest box on the 6th of November.

The parents appeared to coax them out of the box by decreasing the feeding visits and cackling from a nearby branch to let the young know they had some enticing morsel for them.

Since leaving the nest, the parents have picked up the pace of the feeding routine and encouraged the chicks to follow them to various hunting posts. For the last few weeks we have been woken at around 5:30 most mornings as the parents alert the chicks that they have arrived with breakfast. We’ll have that for a few more weeks to about mid December until the chicks can fend entirely for themselves.

I’d take the sound of the Australian bush any day over the crowing of a rooster in the false dawn.

 

Ol’ Blue Eyes and the Power of the Bower

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For all those doubters, – the art of ‘Romance’ is not dead in Flowerdale. In fact there are males that go to extremes to prove they are worth a second glance.

Flowerdale is an interesting region with the Mt. Disappointment and Kinglake National Park at the southern end and drier, denuded or open woodland hills to the north. That means that birds of the shadier, moister gullies can sometimes be found at the southern end of Flowerdale.

In this case, it is the Satin Bowerbird (Ptilonorhyncus violaceus).

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Note the grass bower on the forest floor to the left of the photo. Blue plastic is visible in front of the bower.

On a recent holiday break, Chris Cobern came across the Satin Bowerbirds unmistakeable bachelor pad in the bush. Typically strewn with blue baubles (plastic strips and bottle tops) this hopeful romantic had constructed a bower of dry grass and saliva on the chance that a passing female might see the merits of his decorative endeavours and enter his bower while he entertained her with a song and dance routine. What this individual lacks is the full satin black/blue plumage of a mature male which can take up to seven years to develop. So he is not likely to win over a mate just yet as females in the area will visit several bowers and choose the male with the most decorated lovenest, and best courtship routine. The winner takes all, often stealing trinkets from the bowers of less experienced males. A successful courtship ends with a brief mating within the bower. The female then heads off  to build a nest some metres above the ground, where she brings up her brood on her own. Often a successful male will attract a number of females to mate with.

Satin Bowerbirds are likely to be seen around the Flowerdale township. Let us know if you come across their bowers

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The Great Escape

The calendar date for the first day of Spring means little to the creatures of Flowerdale. Mid- way through August, insects become more noticeable and with them the return of the honeyeaters. The New Holland Honeyeater frequents our garden  throughout the year but within a couple of weeks the Brown- headed, Yellow- faced and White- eared honeyeaters have all joined the fray to dine on insects and nectar from early spring flowers.

Another migrant returning has been the Black Faced Cuckoo- Shrike. All the cuckoos are back with the knowledge that their hosts are beginning to nest. We have the full compliment this year, Horsfields, Shining Bronze, Fan- tailed and Pallid cuckoo. Last year the Fan-tailed cuckoo seemed to be around in numbers, while we haven’t had Pallid Cuckoos in numbers since the 2009 fires. This spring the Pallid Cuckoo is back in strength. These arrivals usually see the departure of the Robins to higher altitude and moist gullies.

Spring also heralds rapid plant growth and is usually the time I take to the hedge trimmer. Getting stuck in to the Westringia that shelters my vegie garden from southerlies, all was going well,  until…. a tiny little bird flicked out of the hedge narrowly missing the trimmer blade. When I looked at the trimmings on the ground, I found the dome shaped nest of the little bird, slightly damaged with its entrance cut off by the blade.IMG_5915  The nest contained two eggs and one that had spilled on the ground. None appeared to be cracked and after careful insertion of the nest back into the hedge, I left the scene in the hope the parents would return and settle on the eggs again.DSC_0309

Several days later I was able to observe the birds coming and going from the nest and have seen them feeding the occupants. IMG_5931Watching and listening to the call of one mate to another, I am identifying these little birds as Brown Thornbills (Acanthiza pusilla – roughly translated as ‘tiny thorn bush dweller’). This species is common on our farm all year round and widespread in the southern half of Australia. They forage on insects in the lower to middle storey of woodland areas. The young develop very quickly and I expect they will leave the nest in a couple of weeks.

Cute Chicks!

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Over the last month on my visits to the Flowerdale Men’s Shed, I have noticed a pair of Masked Lapwings (a species of Plover) frequenting the cricket oval nearby.

This morning the pair became quite agitated even to dive bombing my car. The reason soon became apparent when out of the corner of my eye I caught something scuttling into the fence. Closer inspection revealed this chick that I caught on camera. At probably only a couple of days old and unable to fly, the only defence this chick has from predators is its ability to remain perfectly still and blend in with the leaf litter around it. Great camouflage!

Spot the chick!

Spot the chick!

The aggression of the parents crying an alarm call and wheeling around to gain enough height for another dive is designed to distract and confuse a predator, the annoyance driving it away. When this doesn’t work they land nearby and attempt to lead the predator away before resuming their aerial attack.

This bird is found throughout eastern Australia and has naturalised in New Zealand where as kids we called this bird the Spur winged Plover. This is owing to the spur found on the carpal joint of each wing. These fearless birds are known to strike smaller predators with the spur during a diving attack.

The King is Back

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Since arriving in Spring Valley Road, Flowerdale  seventeen years ago, Heather and I have taken a very keen interest in revegetating and restoring our landscape. The hill country which forms 50% of our property has been fenced off and thousands of local trees and shrubs planted over the years. As the landscape has been improved we have noticed many bird species visiting or residing on our block. We have sighted 108 native bird species in that time. Some have been rare sightings like the Hooded Robin (Melanodryas cucullata). Other birds have been infrequent.

Up until 2 years ago we had only seen the King Parrot (Alisterus scapularis) on our property in 2002. This parrot is always present foraging along the King Parrot Creek that runs through the Flowerdale Valley. The Creek in fact was named by Hume and Hovell on December 7th 1824, after sighting king parrots during their exploration through the area . It seems  in the last 2 years that the King Parrots have been moving up the Spring Creek and taking advantage of fruit trees and native revegetation in our valley. It is now a more frequent sighting announcing its arrival with a high pitched whistle. When feeding it is silent, lest it be discovered destroying your favourite fruits. Losing all my pomegranates was worth the company of these strikingly beautiful and relatively fearless birds.

 

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Yellow and Black

 

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A simple but stunning livery, these birds look amazing in flight. The bird pictured is a male ; indicated by the pink eye ring. In the female the eye ring is grey.

The Yellow – tailed Black Cockatoo (Calyptorhynchus funereus – so named for it’s sombre feather ware) has drifted into our area with lazy wing beats, announcing it’s arrival with a creaking call. Coinciding with the appearance of this bird are the first decent rains of Autumn. I have observed flocks of up to seventeen birds in the last week.

The Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo has incredible strength in it’s beak. It is able to break bark off trees (frequently wattles) and extract borer grubs to feast on. The main item of interest on the menu at the moment are unopened green pine cones, which the Cocky prizes open with little trouble in search of the seeds forming inside. Take a hard hat when walking under pine trees as the birds almost seem to drop them on purpose. If startled they often fly off carrying a pine cone with them.

Like all cockatoos, they need nest hollows high up in large eucalypts to raise one or two young. The young follow the adults for some months begging for a feed. They appear to be nomadic in our area, unlike the Sulphur -crested Cockatoo and the Long-billed and Short-billed Corellas which are permanent residents doing very well with the assistance of horse owners feeding grains to their nags.

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Eagles vs. Hawks

Linda, a keen member of the King Parrot Creek Environment Group, sent in the following observation;

Ron & I saw a very interesting thing early this afternoon.

Ron has tied a t-shirt up on the boundary fence at the top of the hill- Ron is a raucous one- eyed Hawks fan, (ed.)

We thought the t-shirt was flapping like a bird until we got the binoculars and saw it was an eagle. We then thought it was caught on the fence, somehow with the t-shirt and were getting ready to go up to free it.

It seemed to be pulling at the t-shirt, then low and behold it flew off with the t-shirt! Would it be building a nest this time of the year?

Great observation Linda. These fantastic birds are enthralling to watch. The Wedge -tailed Eagle includes carrion as part of it’s diet. Perhaps it confused Ron’s Hawthorn jumper for carrion. Nesting begins from next month and the nest usually comprises sticks. I don’t think Ron’s shirt was taken to line the nest, but may have attracted the curiosity of the great bird. I’m not superstitious, but I wouldn’t back the Hawks for this year’s Premiership, the West Coast Eagles might be the way to go.

Wildlife carers Rick and Claire snapped a photo of an unusual critter;blind snake

Looking like a good size worm, this blind snake (Ramphotyphlops ssp) is rarely seen (nocturnal and is non-venomous. This is my kind of snake! Well maybe not, as on further research the blind snake defends itself by vomiting up it’s last meal and or releasing a foul odour from it’s anal glands! The Blind Snake therefore is classified under F.A.R.T. – foul aroma releasing thingy.