Tuesday, 23 March 2021

Southern Highland Wildlife

A week of rain has sent the rivers flowing high in south-east Australia, but the wildlife persists.

Raindrops hang from the lace-work leaves of Narrow-leafed Conesticks Isopogon anethifolius a common shrub on the sandstone cliff edges.

The tight flower heads of the Hairpin Banksia Banksia spinulosa glisten with water.

The unique form of the Mountain Devil Lambertia formosa flowers hold up nectar for the insects and birds.

Mosses, ferns and lichens rich in saturated colours.

A caterpillar of a Common Gum Snout Moth Entometa fervens creeps along a twig, unnoticed by birds. Its feet and the sides of its belly are covered with `hairs' to help conceal the movement. Thanks to Suzi Bond for the ID.

When it realised it had been spotted, it reared up into a threat display, showing its horns, two bright blue bands and upturned tail.

A face on view, but I still cannot make out what or if it is mimicking anything that might frighten away any potential predator.

Down in the gullies, the Superb Lyrebirds were singing. I saw two calling from branches rather than their display platforms on the ground. Neither gave full displays, they seemed to be just marking their territories by their songs.

This bird was quite confiding, as I watched him from a nearby path. He seemed to be quite content to go about his business, stretching out his tail and preening between bursts of song.

They are such magnificent birds, with such magnificent feet.

Saturday, 20 March 2021

Waterfalls in the rain

There has been heavy rain in eastern New South Wales in the past week, the Illawarra Escarpment is wet, the air is misty and the colours are rich.

The higher of the double drop Belmore Falls is about 100m. These are in the Morton National Park. 

The mist is good for the plants, from mosses to trees, that cling to the cliffs.

Glimpses are good.

Full views are good too, as here at the Carrington Falls in the Budderoo National Park.

The Carrington Falls continue in cataracts down the tree-lined gorge.

The ground was vibrating with the force of the water.

Mosses and ferns cling to the walls between the main steams.

And there are trees growing on the wall of the falls.

Wednesday, 27 January 2021

Papuan Frogmouths

A female Papuan Frogmouth Podargus papuensis sits in her daytime roost, watching out, as she was when I first detected her.

Then she smoothly adopted her concealment pose as I approached. By stretching out her neck and flattening against the branch, she looks just like another piece of branch.

In the two previous posts I described some of the birds that we caught when on a mist-netting bird survey in the Kutini-Payamu National Park in Cape York, northern Queensland, Australia. As I study Tawny Frogmouths in the Canberra area, I was always on the look out for frogmouths while on the trip. These are some photographs of the birds that I did see, there were probably many more that I missed, as they are rather tricky to spot.

A male Papuan Frogmouth peeks around a branch where he is sitting on his nest. The male frogmouths attend the nest during the day. The females, like the one above, spend the day roosting nearby, usually in a different tree.

The same male from a different angle, against a clear sky, which makes him a little more easy to spot. He was high in the rainforest canopy, about 20 m up, and these photographs were taken with a long lens. There are a lot of trees and many many branches to scan when looking for these birds. He is also a little more obvious as he is standing over the nest rather than sitting low on it in a concealment pose. It looked like he had very small chicks beneath him.

This is another male on a nest, which John Rawsthorne found while watching a flock of honeyeaters feeding on nectar in the flowers next to the frogmouth.

A pair of Papuan Frogmouths sitting through the day on a shady branch of a paperbark tree.

The same pair from a side-on view. They had chosen one of the lower more open branches in the canopy, but stayed in the shade. Their eyes were closed when I first found them as they were quite relaxed.

However, when I approached, they opened their eyes and seemed to scrutinise me. Was I a threat to them.

Neither bird adopted a concealment pose and they settled down, but the male still watched me through narrowed eyelids.

The female was a bit more cautious, and continued to watch me with wide eyes. Photographers might think that I was using flash to take these shots, because the birds are so well lit, for birds that live in shady trees. But no, I never use flash to photograph birds in daylight. I do not like the unnatural lighting effect. This bird is lit from underneath naturally. They were perched over water and the sunlight was reflected back up onto them.

It wasn't an aggressive stare, more watchful. Her face is not fully lit as it would be with flash. Rather, the reflected light has picked out details and the double highlight in her eye shows the sky and the reflected sun below centre. A very unusual effect, with delightful results.

Delightful birds.

Tuesday, 26 January 2021

Kutini-Payamu Kingfishers

Any readers of the previous post with a bit of knowledge of the birds of the Kutini-Payamu (Iron Range) National Park in Cape York, north Queensland will have wondered why there were no photographs of any of the kingfishers that occur there. Well, that is because they are such spectacular birds that I have placed them here in a separate post.

Perhaps the most spectacular kingfisher in the area is the seasonal migrant, the Buff-breasted Paradise-Kingfisher Tanysiptera sylvia. This bird migrates south from New Guinea when the wet season approaches in November and it breeds in the forests of north-eastern Queensland. Despite their long tail feathers, they specialise in nesting in holes they dig into ground termite nests. How do they look after such long tail streamers.

Buff-breasted Paradise-Kingfisher. A profile of a bird's head showing the detailed feathering of the crown, and the typically curve-edged shape of their bill. 

Buff-breasted Paradise-Kingfisher. A pointed end view of the bill.

Little Kingfisher Ceyx pusillus. The flamboyant Buff-breasted Paradise-Kingfisher is probably the most readily seen kingfisher in the forest, and the Little Kingfisher is probably most difficult to see. They only weigh 10-16 grams and that bill which looks so large on the bird by proportion is only 30 mm long, about a quarter of the total body length. They also have very short tails, like most true fish-eating kingfishers, and not like that of the Buff-breasted Paradise-Kingfisher, which hunts terrestrial prey.

Little Kingfisher. And yes, they really are that blue. A blue which complements the pure white of the breast. Stunningly beautiful birds.

Little Kingfisher. Another pointed end view along a bill. I wonder why they have those two headlight white spots between their eyes and their bill. They must have a purpose.

Azure Kingfisher Ceyx azureus. The other true kingfisher that occurs in the study area. This is a more widespread species whose range extends down the east of Australia as far as Victoria.

Azure Kingfisher. This pointed end view shows two pale orange-buff spots between the eyes and bill. Again, what is their purpose. Everything in nature has evolved for an advantageous reason. 

Yellow-billed Kingfisher Syma torotoro. another trans Cape York - New Guinea species, which in Australia, only occurs in the Cape York peninsula. This is one of those kingfishers that seems to have a very large head compared with the whole body. These birds are another dry ground hunter, well not in the wet rainforest, and they dig nests in arboreal ant nests. 

Yellow-billed Kingfisher. That bill is about 40 mm long and although the crest appears to be big too, that is all feathers and less structural. 

Yellow-billed Kingfisher. The pointed-end view. The bird's crest is blowing off centre in the wind.

Yellow-billed Kingfisher. A rear head view. Compare this with the previous shot from the front. Those two dark spots on the back of the head look so like eyes. Are they a method of protection from potential predators. If a goshawk were to see that it might re-consider attacking a bird that seems to be looking straight at it.

To end this page here is a short video of the Buff-breasted Paradise-Kingfisher display. The male is calling, he has pure white tail streamers. The female flies in, she has pale blue edges to her tail streamers. Click to open the video in full screen. The call and the depth of the foliage in the film give a fine feeling for the ambiance of the rainforest.

I would like to again thank Jon Coleman for organising this trip as part of a long-term study, back in late November-early December 2020. 

Bird Banding in Cape York, Australia

Although many people elsewhere in the world have been in some form of lock-down or another due to Covid, I have been busy in the field most of the past year as Canberra has been relatively free of the nasty bug - so far. In consequence, I am only now catching up on cataloging last year's photographs. This set is from a bird-banding trip to Kutini-Payamu (Iron Range) National Park in Cape York, north Queensland, that was organised by Jon Coleman, back in late November - early December. This was all done as part of a long-term study by various people over the years of the birds in rainforest in the area, so it was good to be able to fulfill this year's effort and maintain the continuity of the study. The first survey in this study was done in 1990, and a total of 5988 birds have been banded, including 712 birds in 2020. And 54 birds were re-trapped in 2020 from earlier capture in previous years. 618 birds have been re-trapped in the whole study. I do not aim to detail all the species banded/ringed in this post, merely portray a selection of species that we caught, some of which are only found in that part of Australia.

Frill-necked Monarch Arses lorealis, a flycatcher which in Australia is restricted to the wet forests in Cape York. Like many of the species caught in this study, this species' range is between far north-east Australia and New Guinea.

This is an adult male, females have pale lores and do not have a black chin.

White-faced Robin Tegellasia leucops. One of the more commonly seen rainforest birds in the study area. Mostly because they hunt in typical robin style of perching on low branches then pouncing on prey on the ground. It might be commonly seen, but only locally, as in Australia it is restricted to the Cape York peninsula.

White-faced Robin. Yes it has white face.

White-streaked Honeyeater Trichodere cockerelli. A true Cape York bird as it endemic to the area. We watched these birds feeding on nectar from flowers in the high canopy of the forest.

White-streaked Honeyeater. As with so many birds, the details that can be discerned when in the hand give a different impression of the bird seen in the canopy. Here the elaborate spiky white feathers on the throat show how the streaked effect is formed. And those subtle yellow tufts are exquisite. 

Tawny-breasted Honeyeater Xanthotis flaviventer. This is another trans Cape York - New Guinea species, although it isn't restricted to rainforest as it can be found in other wooded habitats. The wavy white line below the eye is a diagnostic feature on this otherwise generally brown coloured bird.

Grey Whistler Pachycephala simplex. This is another species whose range extends over northern Australia and New Guinea. Small green-grey birds are easily overlooked in a forest.

Magnificent Riflebird Ptiloris magnificus, adult female. There are three species of Riflebird (members of the BIrds of Paradise family) in Australia, all separate in their ranges and this is the most northern one, which ranges between Cape York and New Guinea.

Chestnut-breasted Cuckoo Cacomantis castaneiventris. A cuckoo of dense rainforest, hence in Australia mostly confined to the Cape York peninsula, close to its main range throughout New Guinea.

Little Bronze-Cuckoo Chalcites minutillus. This of the minutillus sub-species as recognised by the wide black and white markings on the outer tail feathers. This sub-species ranges across northern Australia, the archipelago of Indonesia and New Guinea, and south east Asia.

Little Bronze-Cuckoo. The tail pattern is diagnostic between the various species of Bronze-Cuckoos. The metallic lustre on the bird's back and coverts show why they are named Bronze-Cuckoos. 

Lovely Fairy-wren Malurus amabilis. Adult male on the left, female on the right. These birds inhabit the edges of the forest, sticking to the scrub along the edges of clearings. They are known hosts of the Chestnut-breasted Cuckoo, above.

Yellow-breasted Boatbill Machaerirhynchus flaviventer, adult male. 

Yellow-breasted Boatbill, adult female. 

Yellow-breasted Boatbill - this shows why they are named boatbill. This is a flycatcher and I have watched them catch insects in the air, but I do not know the advantage of the unusual bill shape.

Noisy Pitta Pitta versicolor. This is a common species of rainforest or wet forest gullies all along the eastern fringe of Australia, but that does not detract anything from the privilege to see them up close. They are predominantly green, yellow, brown and black so easily missed when foraging on the forest floor. Although the lustrous blue on their wings and rump shine must shine when they flash them.

Shining Flycatcher Myiagra alecto, adult female. 

Shining Flycatcher, adult male. 

Shining Flycatcher, adult male. The blue plumage shines in the dappled light of the forest, especially that on the crown and throat.

Shining Flycatcher, adult male. The bright orange of the inside of the bird's bill is so vibrant in contrast to the shining blue of its plumage that it must be an important component of their display.

I find the colours and forms of all birds fascinating, when considering their purpose, and in the dark understorey of rainforest, little details help the birds shine and be seen by their con-specifics. 

I always see something new when I visit rainforests, and on this trip I saw rather a lot. My thanks to Jon for organising the trip.