Sunday, 23 December 2012

10,000 UP

Yeh, the 10,000th visitor has just read this blog. Thank you everyone of you who has checked in for a look. That makes it all worthwhile. It is good to share experiences and news, and it's good fun.

Meanwhile, the other day while sitting on the veranda  I was thinking that I hadn't seen any sparrowhawks, or evidence of their kills, in the garden yet this post-breeding season. And what happened yesterday while I was out talking to the chickens, a beautiful hen Collared Sparrowhawk came swinging in through the shrubbery, over the chickens' heads and grabbed a House Sparrow. She then flipped over and into the neighbours' garden where she mantled her prey.

She stood there for a few minutes with the sparrow in her grasp, ensuring that it was definitely dead before she began to pluck it. Never releasing her grip all that time, she clearly held it tight in a constricting hold, so that it died of suffocation.

She was a stunning full adult, with a slate-blue back and head, rich red collar and belly stripes. The females usually take larger prey  such as Starlings or Common Mynas, and the smaller males take the sparrows and wrens. But, now she knows the sparrows are around the chicken house, where there are always food scraps, she will be back. And others will pass through too I'm sure.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Silk Tree

The weather is hotting up for summer now, so I am spending more time around the house. And when coming home yesterday I noticed that our Silk Tree Albizia is now not only escaping out of the back yard but seems to want to come into the front door.

Having spread its branches through the fence, it is now reaching over to the doorstep, but we like it, so it is welcome. These trees grow to fifteen metres or so in height up in Queensland, where there are native species. But here in Canberra they are not native and pretty rare. Our one came with the house when we moved in and it is a bit bonsai-ed as it is growing in  a walled section on the patio.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Backyard Chickens

We keep a small flock of chickens in the back yard, partly for eggs and partly as pets. However, I also use them for foraging behaviour experiments, and as they are all individual, this makes it easy to make good observations. here is a selection of portraits of the current flock members, they are all bantams.
Hiver, a white Silkie
Teal, a Pekin
Hermione, another Pekin
Thompson, with a P, her twin Thomson, without a P, looks identical but isn't.
They are Plymouth Rocks - very swift afoot

Nancy, a new young Wyandotte
Chalk and Cheese, the two new young Light Sussex twins
Islay, a young buff Silkie

Islay,  close up of her face

A good bath

There is nothing like a good bath for a girl to feel and look good

Hiver in her dust bath, looking a bit grubby
Really getting into it, dirt flying all over the place

Hiver all dry and fluffy after her bath
Doesn't she look good now!

Friday, 14 December 2012

More book reviews

There have recently been a couple more reviews of my book Eagle Days including one in the Scotland on Sunday photographed below.

And another in the BBC Wildllife Magazine saying,

  'captures the experience of following a truly wild bird wonderfully, and plenty of other wildlife is seen in the pursuit. This stimulating book will make readers want to head for the Highlands themselves.' Derek Niemann.

All the reviews have been favorable and I find it interesting to see the different topics and aspects which the reviewers have caught onto and chosen to highlight. I deliberately wrote the book with a weaving text, integrating the life of eagles as much as they are themselves integrated with the Scottish Highlands and all they encompass. We all see things differently. If only we all cared for eagles.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Cover shot

The recent edition of the Australian Field Ornithologist has used one of my images for the cover shot. The bird featured is a White-faced Robin Tegellasia leucops, and together with another shot in the main text it illustrates a species whose display behaviour is described in an article by John Rawsthorne and Richard Donaghey. 

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Double Pink feeding her chick

Double Pink is a very well marked bird, and those markings
 blend in so well with the woodland background
The colour-banded Tawny Frogmouth, Double-Pink, which was rescued and successfully released back to the wild by the RSPCA, and her partner have lost one chick. It probably fell from the nest - they are terrible fidgets those young frogmouths - and then scavenged by a Red Fox, which is a common feral predator in the Canberra area.

However, the good news is that they still have one chick, it is fit, healthy and almost ready to fledge. Click on the link below to watch her at the nest with her chick.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

A close call

The colour-banded Tawny Frogmouth has two chicks, not one as first thought when they hatched. It is always difficult to see just how many there are when they are small and covered by an adult. But now they are more than two weeks old, beginning to fidget and are ever inquisitive - peering over the edge of the nest to what is going on down below and all around.

Which is just as well, for while I was watching them today, there was a chorus of alarm calls, mostly from Noisy Miners, screeching nearer and nearer. When I looked around at what the frogmouths were watching I saw a Brown Goshawk flit through the trees, around the frogmouths' nest tree, and then gone. It was hot today, about 33 degrees, so the frogmouths had been sitting quietly with their bills open to catch a breeze and cool down. Then as the alarms went off, they clipped their bills shut, half closed their eyes, and gently eased into their broken-branch pose. Once the danger was passed they gently relaxed and opened their bills again. The adult never heeded me much, but the chicks seemed to think I was fascinating, staring at me continuously.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

A Quiet Vegetarian

Shingleback eating flowers
While out in the woods today I came across this little guy, a shingleback lizard. I see these animals most days I am out in the local woods, but usually I just say hello and walk on by, leaving them in peace. They are such quiet, passive animals, and almost completely vegetarian.

I could see this one from way off as I walked along a dirt road. It was struggling to pull down the long stems of a feral weed, a crucifer of some sort, to get at the flowers. But as it has such short legs and toes it could barely bend the stems over. So I pulled a few flower stalks and presented them to it. The shingleback took them straight away, no fear. I carried on chatting to it and gathered a heap of flower heads. Soon it was  eating out of my hand, it's lips touching my fingers as I held the stalks so it could pull off all the rich protein-filled parts of the flowers. 

A marvelous experience, to be trusted like that. 

Monday, 26 November 2012

Tawny Frogmouth fledging dates

There has been some discussion between members of the local Canberra Ornithologists' Group on the apparent synchronisation of the Tawny Frogmouth fledging dates in the Canberra area this year. So I have plotted these and those of the previous years on the graph below and ran some simple statistical tests on the figures. As not all birds have fledged in 2012 yet, the expected dates have been calculated for use now as some people have been asking for these figures. These dates will be corrected when possible and more precise analyses published at a later date.

The mean fledging date has been in mid-November every year, ranging from the 13th in 2009 and 2011, to 22nd November in 2010, although that year the mean date was late due to the influence of several late fledgings from re-lays after first breeding attempts failed. The median dates, from each year in order from 2009-2012 were 12th, 16th, 10th and 15th November. A simple ANOVA test for differences between years, not using any birds fledged from re-lays, showed no difference (P = 0.217, F = 1.51, n = 29,30,25,24).

The earliest fledging was on 14th October 2011 and the latest was 7th February 2010. 

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Colour-banded Tawny Frogmouth has chicks

Double Pink, she has a pink band on each leg, sits quietly on a branch all day while her mate looks after the chick.
She is a mum - Double Pink, the colour-banded Tawny Frogmouth, which I reported on previously as a bird rescued by the RSPCA and successfully re-established in the wild and paired with a mate, now has chicks. She and her partner lost their first clutch of eggs, probably to a brush-tailed possum, then they quickly found another nest site and she laid another clutch of eggs. Although it looks like she only laid one egg in the second nest, as I can only see one chick in the nest below dad. It is he who sits on the eggs and young all day, while she hides close by in another tree. The chick is about two weeks old now from what can be seen of  it - a small fluffy white ball of down. Hopefully they will succeed in rearing this one. I'll post any more news as it comes in.

A white downy chick sits quietly and snugly under its dad, Double Pink's mate

Thursday, 8 November 2012

White-winged Trillers

Last weekend I was out west helping Mark Clayton and several other bird-banders catch a variety of birds with mist-nets at Charcoal Tank Nature Reserve, West Wyalong, New South Wales. The species we caught most of was the White-winged Triller Lalage sueurii, an interesting species as the male and female have different plumages and when young or not breeding the males resemble the females. Which makes it all very tricky when one has to identify, age and sex each bird. I have pulled several images of various birds in these plumages and give a few pointers for identifying them. Although it is Spring, the birds were in flocks on passage and in all sorts of plumages, pre-breeding.

Adult male in breeding plumage
Pied, with a fully grey rump and all black bill
Same adult male

Adult female in breeding plumage
Light tawny body feathers, with fully grey rump
and a dark bill with a pale base to the lower mandible
tips to the primary coverts are cinnamon coloured

Immature female
Pale brown body feathers with a scalloped grey rump
tips of the primary coverts are whitish

Immature male
The bill resembles those of the females,
but it is beginning to grow dark adult male primaries
scalloped rump

Adult male in non-breeding plumage
The body feathers are pale brown, the bill is dull black with no distinct pale base to the lower mandible, the rump is scalloped grey, the feathers having buff tips

Bird faces

White-winged Chough

I have added a few more images of bird faces to my website portfolio. These were all taken quickly with high-speed image capture while others were banding the birds, and they were immediately released afterwards. This gives an opportunity to see birds face-on, which is unusual when they are free, walking, perching or flying. There is such a variety of faces. 

Peaceful Dove

Laughing Kookaburra

Dedication and Commitment

This male frogmouth has now been sitting on his nest for ten weeks. Unfortunately he must be covering infertile eggs as the normal incubation period is about four weeks. I don't know how many eggs he has, but it seems particularly unfortunate as he is in a relationship with two females, as he has been for the past two years when they have raised three and two chicks. I haven't had a camera up at the nest to see which birds are doing what proportion of the night-time incubation, but hopefully they will give up on the eggs soon and they can all get on, and build themselves up back into condition. There was another pair which incubated a dud egg last year (after losing a partly-developed egg over the side of the nest early on) and they didn't give up until the end of November.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Colour-banded frogmouth update

The colour-banded Tawny Frogmouth which I found earlier this year is still alive and well. However, since the last posting on her, and as many people have asked for an update, I checked on her again today.

The first nesting attempt she and her partner made failed, when the eggs were predated - probably by a possum. However, as there is no evidence the case is still open. That was two weeks ago, and now they have moved to a different nest site, using an old Pied Currawong nest. Hopefully, this attempt will be more successful.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

The Tawny Frogmouth chicks have fledged

(approx. 4min., 10 Mb)

The Tawny Frogmouth chicks which featured in the previous videos have now fledged. On the night of the 29th October, under a big fat full moon, they emerged from under the adult male who had been covering them all day. They quickly scrambled along the nest branch and seemed so, so pleased to be able to move around in the dark. There was lots of wing-stretching and flapping and eventually the eldest took a short 'first-flight' across to another branch. As the light dimmed, the magpies and currawongs finished their dusk chorus. Then all that could be heard was the hoarse coughing and wheezing that the chicks made as they jostled for position or begged for food whenever an adult flew in with a morsel of prey (still unidentified).

(approx. 2min., 5Mb)

By dawn, there was only one chick left at the nest and the male flew in to protect it as the sun cast the first pink beams onto the birds. The other two chicks were sitting on a branch below the camera, safe, next to the female. Frogmouths incubate their eggs as soon as the first one is laid, so the youngest one was about two days younger and less developed than the others. But it would be gone the next night. All the while the other local birds were chattering and whistling in their dawn chorus.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Frogmouth killed by cat

While checking the Tawny Frogmouth nest sites I came across these remains below one of the nests.

This is the wing, and plucked feathers of a male Tawny Frogmouth, which has been killed by a cat while incubating eggs in a nest above. The wing has been bitten off, as have the larger flight feathers. The ends of the shafts can be seen to be snapped, rather than pulled out - indicative of a mammalian predator (it could have a been by a reptile, e.g. a goanna, but there are none in the area). The only other mammal which plucks its prey this way in the Canberra region would be the red fox, but as the bird was killed on its nest up a tree, I suspect it was more likely a cat. Brush-tailed Possums probably take frogmouth eggs and chicks, although I don't think they would be capable of catching an adult. If anyone has better knowledge I would like to know.

This pair of frogmouths had a part-built nest for several weeks, and only laid a day or so before the male was killed. Several pairs have failed in their breeding attempts already this year, some not even laying eggs, and some home ranges seem to be abandoned. Scarcity of food? It has been a cool, dry Spring, so perhaps there are fewer invertebrates for them to eat.

Life is tough enough without feral cats.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Tawny Frogmouths feeding two-week old chicks

The tawny Frogmouths which were featured in the previous film, now have three chicks over two weeks old. And they take a lot of feeding.

Here the female, the smaller and less boldly -marked bird, offers a small prey item to the chicks.

The oldest frogmouth chick is now eighteen days old, the other two one and two days less as they do not all hatch in one day. In the attached film, they can be seen to be very hungry at the beginning of the night when the female first brings in some food. They call very quietly in a hoarse whisper, and they compete for the food she brings by stretching up to her bill. In the early part of the night, when still lively, the chicks spend much of the time wriggling and shuffling, wing flapping and stretching. And during the first part of the night the adults were mostly away from the nest, although perhaps close by, but they never brooded the chicks during the main feeding period. 

All the food items were the same, unidentified, but long, thin and with tiny legs - centipedes?

The adult birds were totally silent all night. The background sounds are magpies and currawongs calling at dusk, then several species of frog calling during the night.

When the male first left the nest after his day-long stint, he brought in a sprig of vegetation to add to the nest, the chicks dismissed that as no use for food.

There were 129 food items brought in over the whole night, about 43 for each chick. Most were brought in during the first three hours at a rate of one every two minutes on average, but at times the birds brought in prey three times in a minute. Eventually, about one-o-clock, the chicks began to look sleepy and feebly lifted their heads for food. Then the female shuffled over and brooded them. From then on, the birds only brought six or seven items per hour, and they brooded the chicks for longer sessions as dawn approached. 

(approx. 4 minutes and 10Mb)

The female settles to brood the chicks after a long three hours 
of almost continual supply of food to the chicks.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Trachydosaurus rugosus

While on the recent trip out to western New South Wales we came across several Shingleback lizards.

A shingleback, or stumpytail as they are frequently called, throws out its tongue
 in threat display on being steered away from the roadside for its own safety.

These lizards spend much of their time resting among low ground and leaf litter, 
and when lying still their spiny scales resemble those of pine cones, even though 
there are none of those in the area.

They are quiet animals, feeding mostly on plant parts, flowers, seeds etc. 
And despite their threat display they have no real bite to be aware of.

Unique in reptiles, they live in pairs, closely in spring during the mating season, 
and still in the same general area for the rest of the time. Mark Clayton found 
these two resting under an old sheet of corrugated iron.