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.

Round Hill trip

 Splendid Fairy-wren Malarus splendens adult male

Last weekend I went out west with a few friends, surveying birds in some National Parks in and around the mallee of New South Wales, centred around the Round Hill National Park. The trip was organised (very well) by Mark Clayton, and other members were, Suzie Bond, Steve and Pru Holliday, Kim Sebo and Jennifer Hine.

There were high numbers, thousands, of Masked Woodswallows Artamus personatus  and White-browed woodswallows A. superciliosus chattering in huge flocks above us when at most of the sites. And there were hundreds of Black Honeyeaters Certhionyx niger and Pied Honeyeaters C. variegatus feeding on the flowering trees and shrubs, especially the Eremophila. We didn't see any Malleefowl Leipoa ocellata - they are scarce due to predation by cats and foxes- but we did record most other local species, such as Gilbert's Whistler Pachycephalata inomata, Chestnut Quail-thrush Cinclosoma castanotus, Southern Scrub-robin Drymodes brunneopygia and the stunningly blue Splendid fairy-wren Malarus splendens.

 Southern Scrub-robin Drymodes brunneopygia
male singing from a low branch in the mallee scrub

The dark streak through its eye with the contrasting white flick is a diagnostic feature, 
as are the pair of off-white wing bars, and the way the bird lets its wings hang down.

Chestnut-rumped Thornbill Acanthiza uropygialis 
carrying food, a small moth, into its nesthole to feed chicks.

Emu Dromaius novaehollandiae feathers caught on barbed wire where a bird has jumped over a fence.