Thursday, 31 October 2013

Frogmouths in the sun

A Tawny Frogmouth basks in sunshine
Ever wondered what tawny Frogmouths do when we aren't watching, and they don't adopt their broken branch pose? Following on from the previous post, I thought I should add some images of how frogmouths hold themselves when not in alarm, as usually seen by humans.

Typically, they sit on the sunny side of trees where they can bask in the sun. Frogmouths can go into torpor during the day when they are not active and exposure to maximum sunshine, especially in winter, helps them thermoregulate. When sitting in the sun, they hold their breast up towards and face onto the sun. And they tilt their head back and fluff out their feathers, which are held tight against the body when in branch-pose.

Well shaded eyes
Frogmouths don't hunt by day and they hold their eyes closed when their head is angled towards the sun or when approached. But at other times when they are looking around, generally watching, their eyes are well shielded from the sunshine by thickly feathered eyebrows. As their eyes are likely better tuned to night vision, this probably aids their daylight vision, by shading them from bright direct light.

Quite frequently, they will bend their head right back and over a shoulder, spreading the feathers on their neck and breast wide open. This seems to be to allow maximum sunlight or heat reach their skin. In the photograph below, the bird has tipped her head to her left and her bill tip and nasal bristles can only just be seen protruding from the fluffed up plumage.

Maximised sun basking
A close call

A Tawny Frogmouth sits on its nest, hiding from me, not the Crimson Rosella 
Tawny Frogmouths are well known to adopt a branch-pose to hide from potential predators, as they usually do when approached by a human. So it was illuminating to watch what they do when an animal predator approaches them.

Yesterday, this bird was unconcerned when a Crimson Rosella landed on its nest branch, but quickly slipped into the angled pose as I drew nearer. Then while I was looking for the female roosting a few trees away, she began to call in a low oom oom. This is most unusual as they do not normally call at all when approached. And then she started to fidget, leaving her branch-pose and shifting along her perch. Her eyes were wide open, they keep them closed when approached as part of their concealment, and I was wondering what was up, when I heard a cawing back beside the nest.

The female frogmouth in alarm
Two Australian Ravens were hopping about in the tree next to the nest, staring at the bird on the nest, which was back in a branch-pose. She had obviously seen them approach the nest well before me and was anxous as to what to do. For frogmouths are loath to fly in daylight, yet she seemed to want to help chase off the ravens from her nest.

Two Australian Ravens investigated the frogmouth on the nest
The male by then had his hackles partly raised, and his bill was slightly open. I suspect that he might have been giving a low hissing call as the ravens drew closer. I am sure they had identified him as a bird on a nest, but perhaps his partial threat display was enough to make them unsure. We can't tell, but they flew away to join the rest of the roving flock which they were part of. Hopefully not to return. 

Fortunately they flew away

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Fledging Frogmouths

A Tawny Frogmouth fledgling basks in the sun
The first Tawny Frogmouths fledged at the weekend, with one chick leaving the nest a day before its siblings, which left the next day. So, a brood of three from the earliest nesting attempt of the year, by the same pair which laid earliest last year and reared three chicks then too.

Meanwhile its dad continues to brood two chicks in the nest on the next branch
The female was sitting low in a branch and was most un-noticeable. Then once they had all fledged the whole family moved into an adjacent tree. They will continue to move around their home range from now on, roosting in a different spot most days.
And mum watches on in-obtrusively

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Yellow-faced Honeyeater - a banding control

Yellow-faced Honeyeater : 026-11399

When I was out helping Richard Allen and others mist-netting birds for banding  a week or so ago at the Weddin Mountains in New south Wales, we caught a Yellow-faced Honeyeater Lichenostomus chrysops which had been banded previously elsewhere. We now have the information on where that was. The bird was banded and identified as a first year (1) female in 2011, in the Warraderry State Forest. So it is now a three-year old (3) and has moved 29 km from the initial banding site.  

We use the shape of the alula tip as an aging guide, and we had already designated the bird as an adult (1+) on the basis that it had a pointed alula. Young birds have rounded tips on their alulae.

This is only the 18th record of a banded Yellow-faced Honeyeater moving over twenty kilometres, although for a widespread and abundant breeding bird of south-east Australia, which is known for its spectacular north-eastern orientated migration flocks, little is known on how far they migrate other than birds winter in eastern Queensland. Some birds also spend the winter in the south east, so which birds travel and where. As there are so few records from banding, perhaps attaching tracking devices to some birds would help answer this question. This is a common species yet we do not know its full life story. If a suitable system could be developed, the methods could be adapted to address similar questions on endangered species. For it is important to know where rare birds migrate, or even move locally, in order to conserve their habitat requirements in all parts of their range. Work of this type is well established in other countries and is providing enlightening results.

The bird had moved between two large areas of forest,  with a large area of farmland separating the sites 
Thanks to Richard Allen for organising the banding trip, Graham Fry for first banding the bird and David Drynan of the Australian Bird & Bat Banding  Scheme for the speedy interpretation and return of the data.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Possums on the roof

A very large youngster - soon to be made to walk and climb on its own 
There were footsteps on the roof last night and then someone scratching at the dining room window. It was our local possum, a Common Brushtail Possum  Trichosurus vulpecula, checking out the food tray we put out for the birds during the day. She had a joey on her back as she scrabbled up and down the drainpipe. It was well-grown, about six months old and ready to be, if not already, weaned. Certainly quite a load on her back if she has do a lot of climbing. The youngster should be off and walking, climbing on its own any time soon, but will still be dependent for perhaps another year before it is cast out of the home range.

Mum raids the birds' food tray
As there was nothing left in the feeding tray we put out a slice of bread and raspberry jam. Mum sniffed it from the roof and came straight down for it. Snatched it, and climbed back onto the roof to eat it. meanwhile the joey had to climb up on its own, perhaps for the first time. It wasn't very agile on the overhang moves. But they won't take long to master.

A special treat of jam on bread -only the best organic for them

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Lemon Cap orchids

Lemon Cap Orchid  Stegostyla cucculata
I have been out and around Black Mountain quite a bit recently, but have not found as many orchids in flower as I had hoped. The most abundant species over the past week has been the Lemon Cap Stegostyla cucculata, a small plant, about a foot high stem, with a pale white flower. 

A hoverfly approaches the flowers
These plants might be easily overlooked by we humans, but the insects can find them, no problem, probably by following the scent - a citrus one in this case. I was lying down, focusing the camera lens on this one when I saw a hoverfly come into my peripheral vision. It was quick, and precise as it touched down on the petals and took a feed of nectar from the flower. Then was off. All done, the hoverfly was fed, the plant was pollinated and I had a photograph. All happy. Wildlife in action.

And promptly lands on the petals to feed

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Fledging time

A full-grown Wedge-tailed Eagle chick stands on the edge of its eyrie
Yesterday, while out helping the with a university survey of woodland birds I was fortunate in being posted to a site near where a pair of Wedge-tailed Eagles have a nest. The single chick in the eyrie was well grown and ready to fly. And what a wonderful launch-pad from which to make one's first flight.

The eyrie is set high in a Blakely's Red Gum
Meanwhile the adults soared around overhead and up over the adjacent hilltop, dipping down to watch me as I walked on out of the area. No doubt they had been watching me all the time.

An adult flies overhead - keeping an eye on me

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Secure, secured and a snake

An echidna resting between logs
Today began with a bit of frost and the animals were a bit slow to get going. I took part in a local university woodland bird survey soon after dawn and was finished by about nine. After that I went and checked on a couple of Tawny Frogmouth sites.

I always keep my ears as well as my eyes tuned, to the sounds of the bush, and while walking quietly through the woods I heard the distinctive scuffling of an echidna. It was about fifty metres away and I watched as it walked over to a log and promptly burrowed into the litter. And that was that, off for a nap. If I hadn't heard it I doubt if I would have seen it, so well hidden between the logs and leaf litter.

They really tuck tight into corners or hollows
I wonder if any predators would find it in such a secure hiding place, or if any would bother to try and open those spines for a meal?

Who would want to tackle these spines
Then just a hundred metres on, I heard a commotion at an old fence which runs through the wood. Eastern Grey Kangaroos are common - abundant - in many of the Canberra woodlands, and a joey had managed to twist a leg through the wires of the fence. Its mother was standing right over it as it tried again and again to free itself. But it was firmly secured. So, over I went to try and free it, at the likely cost of a few hefty kicks for my trouble. Then no, I was safe. As I approached from its front, the direction the joey had been travelling in and persisted in trying to get away from the fence, it quickly turned to flee from me. And as it did so it twisted itself free, bouncing through the trees non the worse.   

A mother Eastern Grey Kangaroo stands over her joey - stuck in a fence
It was quite a large joey and I really didn't fancy a kick from those hind legs, with claws on the end.

The joey's hind leg was trapped through wires of the old fence
My walk wasn't over though and I carried on looking for frogmouths. That involves lots of time spent looking up trees, trying to pick out the birds from the branches they resemble so well. Fortunately, I always keep an eye on the ground too, as that can save one's neck. By watching the ground I find droppings or feathers which indicate that any otherwise non-noticed frogmouth is up above. Then oops, after spying up a tree I turned and took a few steps, and just noticed an Eastern Brown Snake exactly where I was about to drop my left foot. The snake must have been slow to warm up after the cold night, for I don't usually first see them so close, but luckily I didn't hurt it. Although it didn't like me about to tread on it, so it shot away down its burrow about a body and a half's length away - not quite two metres.

An Eastern Brown Snake - not the one I found today, that one was too quick off the mark to photograph

Friday, 11 October 2013

Brood of three

The male Tawny Frogmouth covers the chicks during the day
The pair of  Tawny Frogmouths which nested earliest in my study area in Canberra now have three well-grown chicks, about three weeks old.

I recorded their activity remotely last night on a Bushnell trap-camera set on an adjacent branch, and they seem to be bringing in moths to the chicks. Certainly small wingless tubular bodies and one very small frog. There are lots of Bogong moths Agrostis infusa in Canberra at the moment as they migrate from their breeding grounds to the hills south of the area. So there is plenty food for all five birds.

Click on this link if you would like to see footage of the three chicks jiggling for space on the nest.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

A local speciality

Black Mountain Leopard Orchid Diuris nigromontana 

The orchid flowering season is now well on the way with several local species in bloom. There are over sixty varieties in the dry schlerophyl forest on Black Mountain, in the centre of Canberra, and this one is special. For it grows nowhere else in the world but in the area around Black Mountain. It stands about twenty centimetres tall, growing between tufts of grass and shrubs, and I have seen several little colonies in the past few days. The rich yolky yellow is quite obvious among the dull grey grass stems.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013


Adult male Pied Butcherbird - there is a reason for the glove, see below
Last weekend I was on a bird-banding trip to the Weddin Mountains, run by Richard Allen. There were seven of us altogether to set up and maintain vigilance over the numerous mist nets we had placed throughout a patch of wooded, partially-cleared pastureland adjacent to the nature reserve. Most of the birds in the area seemed to be local breeders, which was reflected by the catch of adult birds of a wide variety of species, but no high numbers of any one species other than White-plumed Honeyeater, which were abundant and breeding. One pair had a nest in the tree branches above the banding station. And we also found nests Spotted Pardalote, Speckled Warbler, White-winged Chough and Pied Currawong. 

The glossy black hood and wide white collar indicate that this is an adult male bird,
some of the bird's black feathers have faded to brown under almost
 a year of sunlight since it probably moulted and grew that set  
Butcherbirds are never abundant in any area as the pairs guard their territories well, excluding all others. So it was doubly opportunistic for us to catch two species, Pied Butcherbird Cracticus nigrogularis and Grey Butcherbird Cracticus torquatus. And as they were breeding, we had a chance to compare and note features of the two species' full adult plumage. The Pied Butcherbird illustrated here is an adult male, the distinguishing features for an adult being: the blue-grey bill with a black tip, juvenile and  immature birds have grey/brown bills through to dull blue, each with a dark grey tip; his hood is black rather than brown/grey of an immature bird. Adult females have less white on the outer wing coverts, less glossy black in the hood and grey on the back. 

Butcherbirds have a well defined hook on their bill tip
The Grey Butcherbird is very like the Pied and could perhaps be most quickly described as a similar bird, but of of duller plumage. As its name describes, it is grey overall. The adult male has a black hood, but white throat unlike the Pied's black bib. As with the Pieds, these adults also have blue bills with black tips, while the young birds have grey-brown ones with darker tips. The bird illustrated here is an adult female as she has a grey-brown hood and a distinct patch of off-white feathers in the lores, complete between the eye and bill; the male has a distinct white spot on the lores which does not extend to the eye.  

Adult female Grey Butcherbird
Great care should be taken when handling butcherbirds of any species as they can bite...

The hook on the tip of a butcherbird's bill is well adapted for gripping

Tuesday, 1 October 2013


A cluster of Green-comb Spider Orchids
While mist-netting birds at the weekend, out at the Weddin Mountains, NSW, we found ourselves walking through  woodland understorey grassland, with numerous orchids in the sward. The first species I noticed was the Green-comb Spider Orchid Caladenia tentaculata which was growing in small groups of several flower spikes in several locations. All the flowers looked fresh and newly opened.  

A jewel in the grass
Other species which were frequent if not quite abundant included Purplish Bearded Orchid Calochilus robertsonii (Below), Blue Fingers Cyanicula caerulea, a species of greenhood and one or two species of sun orchid Thelymitra. I was too busy catching and banding birds to take enough photographs of all the species, so I grabbed what images I could on passing and sent them to Denis Wilson who kindly helped to identify them. He has some great illustrations on his own blog at .

A spectacular little flower