Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Great flying at the cricket 

The Foxcopter hovers over Manuka Oval
As part of their TV coverage of the Prime Minister's XI v West Indies cricket match at the Manuka Oval, Canberra yesterday, Fox Sports were flying their new Foxcopter. This is an eight-rotor helicopter drone which carries an HD camera, and the whole is controlled to line up overhead pictures of the game. What a wonderful machine it is, it was very competently and safely controlled - and it produced great pictures.

When the machine first took off for a tour around the ground airspace during the afternoon session, an Australian Hobby Falco longipennis gave it a fly-past, probably to investigate this strange new flyer in its territory. There was never any danger of conflict or collision however as the bird was never closer than about 70-100m. 

Later, when the sky darkened, the new stadium lights were switched on and moths soon fluttered around them as it became darker. Then just as it became truly dark, a Hobby, probably the same bird, began hawking moths from in front of the lights. It disappeared into the shadows behind to eat its prey, and this was repeated several times, with the vast majority of the crowd unaware of the wildlife flying display above them.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Tawny Frogmouth breeding success

An average brood size of two Tawny Frogmouth chicks
I have been monitoring the breeding success of Tawny Frogmouths Podargus strigoides in Canberra, Australia, for several years and have found that the pattern is fairly constant. About half the breeding pairs rear two young to fledging; a few rear three in any year and about a quarter rear one chick. The proportion of pairs which fail to rear any chicks is about 24% on average over the years, ranging from 17 – 34% (Figure 1). I do not disturb the birds to record clutch size, but it is known to range from 1-3.

Figure 1: The number of young reared per breeding pair of Tawny Frogmouths in 2006 - 2012.

In recent years I had thought that more birds were failing to rear young, but this is just the impression gained as I have added more pairs to the study in the past few years. Although I have been recording more failures, this has been in proportion with larger sample sizes, there is no statistical difference (χ2 = 3.8, df = 6, P = 0.43). The main causes of failure, which are usually the loss of whole clutches or broods, are predation by unknown species, but likely Brush-tailed Possum or Brown Goshawk. One male was taken off the nest by a feral cat. A few nests have been blown out of their trees by strong winds.

Figure 2: The number of Tawny Frogmouth pairs which failed to rear any young in any year is proportional  c24%, to the number studied (r = 0.899, P = 0.003).
Further study will aim to determine whether there are any differences between the breeding success of frogmouths in grassy woodland, dry sclerophyll forest or suburban remnant woodland; or if there is any difference between years of drought and high rainfall. Fortunately the study has already covered these criteria.

A male Tawny Frogmouth protects his chick

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Another cover shot

I received a copy of this book through the post a few days ago and it features another of my images on the front cover. The book has been written mostly by Adam Watson who has used his old notes on birds in his native north-east of Scotland from as far back as the 1940's for comparison with bird numbers in the same area today.

One of the largest differences has been the deep and widespread decline of the Capercailie, featured here on the cover: a magnificent bird, the largest grouse, one of those species which exudes character, and is indeed part of the character of the pinewoods.

The book is full of details on species, which give an insight to how different species have reacted to changes in the landscape, mostly man-made. Not all have declined, some have increased, and possible reasons are dicsussed in the book. Above all, these notes come from a time when there were very few ornithologists recording such data. There is no substitute for original notes made at the time

Friday, 11 January 2013

Cheese-plant   Monsteria deliciosa

The cheese-plant in the garden is flowering with several blooms. Hopefully they will develop into fruit and I can have a taste of the delicious custard apple /pineapple type flesh. The plant has thrived since we cast it out of the veranda when it became too big. Now it lives happily in its frost-free rain-forest under an evergreen canopy by the pond.

Friday, 4 January 2013


The stick insect climbs onto Terry's hat
When mist-netting birds last weekend I came across this little beauty in one of the nets:

A Pink-winged Phasma Podacanthus typhon.

After I safely took her out of the net and we took a look at her, she instinctively climbed up whatever was near, in this case it was Terry. Then once she had explored around his hat and could not climb any farther, and had not found any green foliage to hide in, she opened her wings and flew off. And what marvelous wings she had - bright pink, wow!

It looked like she was a female as her abdomen was swollen, perhaps gravid. She can lay eggs without mating, by parthenogenesis, and if she does so, the offspring wold be all female. If she did mate the sexes would be mixed.

For further information on stick insects have a look at the following link:

She opens her wings to fly off

She merged well with eucalypt leaves

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Birds are returning after the drought

Adult female Turquoise Parrot
Last weekend was spent mist-netting birds out at the Weddin Mountains. John Rawsthorne organised the banding and we caught about three-hundred birds, an indication that birds are coming back in numbers a couple of breeding seasons after the drought. We caught several Turquoise parrots, in a mix of adult females and young birds of the year. So they have had a successful breeding season.

Chestnut-rumped Heathwren
We also caught four Chestnut-rumped Heathwrens, which I haven't seen in the area for several years. Two birds were adult and two were young of the year - the one illustrated is a young bird as it has buff tips to its coverts and its tail is all new in uniform length. Adults have no buff tips and they were moulting their tails, the outer feathers being shorter than the central ones.
Yellow-tufted Honeyeater
Most of the birds caught were honeyeaters; about a hundred each of White-eared and Yellow-faced, a few Yellow-tufted, Brown-headed and White-plumed, and single Fuscous, Black and Black-chinned. The Black Honeyeater is a bird of the farther west, drier country which had bred in the area earlier in the season but had now moved on. The Yellow-tufted and Black-chinned were evidence that the species were now breeding in the area after being absent for several years. Their food plants have probably been flowering well in surrounding places which have held numbers in refuge during the drought.

Yellow-faced Honeyeater
The flocks of Yellow-faced and White-eared Honeyeaters were largely composed of young birds. Some of these were in early stages of their first post-juvenile plumage moult and others were further on, signifying that there were probably two cohorts of young birds; one from nests initiated early in the breeding season and the other of birds from second broods. So there has been a very successful breeding season in the area in 2012.

Black-chinned Honeyeater
The netting site at the Weddin Mountains is a long-term study site, so it will interesting to see what birds are recruited into the breeding population in 2013.

Happy New year.