Saturday, 24 December 2011

Bird banding

    Last weekend I was at helping to catch and band birds at a study site in the forest near Moruya in south- 
    east New South Wales. The project is run by Micheal and Sarah Guppie, and Anthony Overs. Above is
    one of the main study species, a Variegated Fairy-Wren (adult male).

    The breeding season is almost over so there were many young birds such as the juvenile White-naped
     Honeyeater on the right above, whose plumage is much duller than that of the adult on the left. 

     Another of the honeyeater species was the New Holland Honeyeater, a bird which favours to feed on
     the nectar of banksias. These birds have splendid detail in their facial plumage.

      Below is an adult male Mistletoebird, which has a wonderful red breast and the sheen on its back is a
      rich deep metalic blue, appat from on the primaries and central tail feathers which are dull grey-brown.

       Another shining bird was the Shining Bronze-Cuckoo. Even the bars on its breast have a greenish

    And one of the last birds we caught was a Black-faced Monarch Flycatcher, an adult as identified by
    its fully black face markings.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Papuan Frogmouth

While at Iron Range I kept an eye out for frogmouths, a very careful eye. There are two species in the rainforest there, Papuan and Marbled. This Papuan Frogmouth was sitting on a nest on a lateral branch about 15m up - it was the lowest branch in a tall tree. He merged so well with the bark of the branch and mixed in with the epiphytes, he was very difficult to spot.

Then as I watched him, I quickly noticed a pair of Figbirds coming in to feed their young in a nest less than a metre from the frogmouth. And not only that but there were a pair of Noisy Friarbirds building a nest about a metre above him (to the right). See below. Both pairs of passerines were very active and busy all the time I was there. Had they deliberately selected to nest close to the frogmouth, for protection? Frogmouths will pull themselves up into a dramatic threat display posture if a predator approaches. They hold their mouths wide open, 180 degrees almost, and spread out their wing and head feathers as they rear up. They more than double their apparent size and hiss loudly. Enough to see off a predator smaller than themselves? The main predator in the area would likley be the Canopy Goanna.

This bird was sitting over a single chick of about two weeks age. It would leave the nest in another two weeks. Enough to cover the Figbirds nestling period, but not that of the Friarbirds.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Atlas Moth

I found this Atlas Moth fluttering low over the road through the rainforest at Iron Range while driving along after watching frogmouths at night. Its wingspan was almost 30cm. 

The four panels in its wings shone in the light, but were translucent 'windows' as can be seen above where the dark of night can be seen through one and the hand of the person holding it can be seen through another.

Its feathered antennae indicate that it was male, and they are about an inch long. Its large eyes sparkle in the camera flash. And those legs are large and strong, the whole animal was strong and vigorous. It might have been injured by a passing car, but it seemed to be able to fly alright.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011


During an overnight stop at Musgrave on the main road through Cape York I watched a pair of Tawny Frogmouths hunting. They were typical in their behaviour, by looking for prey from a perch on a low branch then swooping down to catch insects on the ground. However, they were much smaller than the birds in south-east Australia where I study them, about half the body size. The female, below, identifiable by the rufous colour on her wings, was especially small.

In the nearby Lakefield national park, I found this Papuan Frogmouth. He was roosting in a shady, thickly-leaved tree, and I was surprised when he flew away as I approached. Frogmouths usually sit very still and rely on their camouflage to conceal them from potential predators. He was immediately identifiable by his massive head and bill, and thick eyebrows. A very impressive bird.

Monday, 5 December 2011


The rainforest of Iron Range is rich in kingfishers and we caught several of a few species in the mist nets. The Azure Kingfisher above and the Little Kingfisher, below hunt fish in the small slow-flowing creeks. And although they look bright and boldly coloured when in the hand, they are very easily overlooked when they perch quietly on low branches above the water, often in deep shadow, low down as they are under the rainforest canopy. 

One of the more flamboyant kingfisher species is the Buff-breasted Paradise Kingfisher, below. These birds have spectacular long white tail-streamers which flash as the birds swoop through the lower layer of the rainforest. And these birds are migrants from Papua New Guinea. They all had freshly-grown flight feathers, including their tails, which must have been grown before they flew across the sea to Cape York.

The Buff-breasted Paradise Kingfishers hunt terrestrial animals on the forest floor. And like the other species they are difficult to see except for the white flash of their tails and backs as they dash through the trees.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

On the road north

Northern Queensland is crocodile country - and they are there, lying quietly, watching.....

I kept a list of birds seen on the trip and there were 222 altogether. Here is a selection of some seen on the way north.
 Plumed Whistling Ducks Dendrocygna eytoni

 White-bellied Sea-eagle Haliaeetus leucogaster

 Squatter Pigeon Petrophassa scripta

 Australian Bustard Ardeotis australis

Golden-shouldered Parrot Psephotus chyrsopterygius
These parrots are rare and vulnerable to extinction as they live a specialised life. There might be about 2000 of these birds in the wild, eight of them in this one tree. They are restricted to nesting in cavities in termite hills which they did each year, and they feed in grassy wooded savanna which is often burned. If their habitat is lost, so will they.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Bush Stone-Curlews

During the past two weeks I have been in northern Queensland, on a trip to the Iron Range national park where I was part of a group banding birds. On the way north I flew into Cairns and went bird-watching in the local botanic gardens and adjacent cemetry - a well known haunt of Bush Stone-curlews Burhinus magnirostris.
These birds forage and breed quite happily on the short turf and bare patches of earth between the gravestones. Once a familiar bird in southern Australia, the stone-curlews are now rare wherever there are red foxes. These are European predators which were deliberately introduced by man over a hundred years ago. The foxes have not yet colonised the far north-east and the stone-curlews find sanctuary in this cemetery.

 A pair of stone-curlews lead their chick through the tombstones.

A group of six stone-curlews pass the middle of the day under the shade of a tree. They are nocturnal birds and their calls at night have an eerie beauty.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Bearded Dragon

This handsome male bearded dragon was out displaying today. He has a sulphur-yellow colour to his head, legs and upper tail, and a dark grey throat which he extends while bobbing his head. Another one I watched last week was doing this on the top of a high broken branch. Very spectacular.

 They have sharp spiked scales on their head, legs and along their flanks.

The spikes around their face are particularly long and sharp, all for defence and not only from predators, but from other male dragons.

In a previous blog page I showed a fierce fight between two male dragons. Here we can see the value of the spiked scales, even on the eyelids. Many of the scale tips are broken, he has some missing from his upper lip and chin, and there is a hole in his throat. All this was probably inflicted by an opponent in a fight with another male. Their teeth are obviously sharp and strong.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Brown Snake

This brown snake was out hunting today, the first I have seen this year. He was right next to a bird-watching hide at Kelly's Swamp in Canberra. I only saw two or three snakes last year, while I used to see two or three per day before the drought. Although it was a wet rainy year last year, their numbers had crashed during the previous several years of dry conditions, when there were few mice or frogs. The mice and frog numbers are high this year so hopefully the snakes will have a better time too.  

Brown snakes kill more people in Australia than any other snake, because they are common in suburbia and cleared woodland where people tend to walk. This one was well behaved though.

He was about three and a half feet long.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Fall from nest

Two tawny frogmouth chicks fell with their nest as it dropped out of a branch fork during heavy rain last night. They are only about three weeks old and would have been in the nest for at least another week. Even then they are dependent upon their parents for another month after that. 

Fortunately their father gathered them onto a log by morning where they were sitting, all nice and warm and dry. And safe from foxes and hopefully cats.

The chicks were well dried and warm although it was still raining.

They offered a splendid photo opportunity.

The adult female sat quietly in a tree 30m away, watching all the time.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Tawny Frogmouths 2011

The first of the tawny frogmouth chicks have fledged, or rather left the nest. They are dependent on their parents for another month yet, as they fly around their territory in short flutters between trees.

 A male frogmouth sits with a chick recently out of the nest - one metre away in the fork on the right.
This was on the 14th October.

 A female frogmouth watches over her mate on the nest fifty metres away in the next tree.

Two female frogmouths roost together while a male sits on chicks in a nest nearby. Who is the mother of the chicks? Is the second female tolerated because she is a daughter from  last year's nest. The birds are identified as females by the red/rufous on the their neck and epaulets. The males are more uniformly grey.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Bearded Dragons

I came across these two bearded dragons today, they were so engrossed in one another that they ignored me while they continued their little test of strength.

They were really focused on one another for several minutes before they started fighting, probably because they were very similar in size.

 They snapped at one another's heads, trying to lock a grip on their opponent.

 And they were quick; very, very quick...

 Then one gave in and simply ran off down the track.

Leaving the victor to pose in triumph.