Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Autumn Pond

It is autumn now in Canberra - a very fine time to be there. The above photograph received an honourable mention in a recent fun photography competition ran by the local radio station ABC 666 - the judges loved the images, and the stories sent in with many of the pictures. My image is of a sculpture in Commonwealth Park, set in a small pond surrounded by non-native deciduous trees, which add the colour. I inverted the photograph to show what I see when I look beyond the obvious straight image.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Lord Howe Island

I have just spent a week on Lord Howe Island; birding, walking and snorkeling. The snorkeling was wonderful; easy as there are bays or lagoons on either side of the island so there is always somewhere to go unaffected by the wind.

The Lord Howe Island woodhen which was once restricted to breeding on the summits of the high hills can now be met foraging around the picnic spots on the headlands - a measure of the successful breeding programme.

The summit of Mt Gower is often covered with cloud/mist forest and epiphytes such as these orchids are abundant. Out at sea is the striking rock of Ball's Pyramid.

Mt Gower is also the main centre for the breeding providence petrels which breed only on Lord Howe Island. Tens of thousands nest in burrows and they can be called in, landing with fluttering wings at one's feet.

Providence petrels continually fly around the sky between Lord Howe and Ball's Pyramid.
Most of the birds had finished breeding for the season while I was there, although there were still large chicks in a some of the red-tailed tropicbirds' nests. I could spend hours watching these marvelous birds from the cliffs of Malabar hill.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Merlin papers

I have two scientific papers published in the march issue of Scottish Birds, the journal of the Scottish Ornithologists' Club. http://www.the-soc.org.uk/

A young merlin grips tightly to a piece of prey - the remains of a meadow pipit

The first paper describes what merlin in the Isle of Lewis eat in the breeding season. This is mostly meadow pipits, the most abundant bird of the moorland where the merlin live. The Lewis peatlands, are one of the best breeding habitats for moorland waders in Britain, with high numbers of dunlin, golden plover and greenshank, and although the merlin do eat dunlin in particular - the smallest of these waders; the smaller pipits, skylarks and wheatears are their main prey.

A brood of four merlin chicks huddle quietly in their nest set on the ground.

The second paper discusses the high density of merlin on the island, which is one of the highest in the world. This is likely because there is abundant food, as described in the first paper, and possibly because there are no indigenous terrestrial predators such as foxes, which are the main causes of nest failure on the mainland. The main predator of merlin in Lewis is the golden eagle. Merlin nest on the ground in the moors where eagles hunt and the white merlin nestlings must be easily seen and killed. Yet despite this predation, the merlin rear young from most nests, and these are ample for maintaining the high numbers of breeding pairs each year.

Four merlin chicks and one unhatched egg - better concealed than the nest above as it is under heather, out of view of hunting eagles overhead.

A typical merlin nest site in Lewis - set on heather clad bank adjacent to the wide flats of the peatlands.

For more information contact stuart@canberra.net.au