Thursday, 21 October 2010

Masked plover

Today I found a recently dead Masked Plover by the roadside, after it had obviously been killed in a collision with a car. These birds are common around Canberra where there are many grassy expanses adjacent to the city streets. It is often chicks which are road casualties. This adult had probably been herding its chicks away from the road when it was killed as I had seen the family party at the same place yesterday.

The adult birds have distinctive yellow wattles on their faces, hence their name. And an alternative name for them is Spur-winged Plover, by which they are equally well named.

The spur is in the equivalent position as our thumb, and could be regarded as a highly adapted thumb-nail/claw. It is firm and rigid and would certainly be a deterrent to predators or competitive birds.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Return after fire

The frogmouths which had abandoned their nest after a fire have returned. They have either come back to continue incubating the eggs, or they have relaid a new clutch in the same nest. I will know which when they hatch, by dating the incubation period. Perhaps if they have returned to the old eggs, they might not hatch if they were chilled at night or overheated in the sun during the day when uncovered.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Bird banding at Moruya

Last weekend several of us from Canberra went down to Moruya to catch and band birds in a patch of forest. This was to individually mark birds with colour bands so that Michael and Sarah Guppy can follow the breeding biology and habitat use by a range of passerines. The bird above is a Red-browed Finch.

Micheal and Sarah have been studying these birds for several years, and it is all done on their own land so access is easy and the whole project is very well organised. We quickly set up a base station in the forest and started catching birds.

One of the more abundant and studied species is the Superb Fairy-wren, a male is shown here being delicately measured.

Another study species is the Brown Thornbill - the bird shown here clearly shows how readily the birds can be individually identified by the unique combination of colour rings which each bird is given.

We caught 146 birds altogether of numerous species, and we had two Olive-backed Orioles in one net. The sexes are very similar, but can be distinguished. The male, here on the left, has slightly more green about his throat as can be seen in these photos.

This spectacular bird with a bald head and splendid Elizabethan ruff is a Noisy Friarbird. They mostly forage high in the canopy so it was unusual to catch one. Although these features are readily seen in the field, when in the hand they can be studied more closely. Why do they have a bald head? They are members of the honeyeater family, so this could perhaps help keep their plumage clean of sticky nectar? And look how they have retained eyebrows - a sensible adaptation to keep the rain out of their eyes? What is the purpose of that horn on top of the bill? And when did you last see a birds ears so clearly? Great birds.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010


Several species of orchid are now in full flower on Black Mountain in the middle of Canberra. There are over 50 species known for the local patch of dry hilly forest. Here are a few shots of the more abundant species.

A group of Wax-lipped orchids, stand erect with single flowers.

A colony of Nodding Greenhoods stand on a mossy gully bank. Many of the smaller green orchids are easily overlooked.

A single Nodding Greenhood.

A cluster of Pink Finger Orchids. Their flowers dot the ground all over the forest.

A Black Mountain Leopard orchid. A species thought to be unique to the ACT region, but locally common and many are now in flower.

Monday, 4 October 2010


While out looking for frogmouths today, I came across three echidnas, two males and one female. She was having a siesta with her head tucked under a log, the males were sniffing around, following her scent trail - its the mating season.

Echidnas are quite furry animals really, with a layer of fine hairs beneath those sharp spines.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

And now fire
Two days ago I noticed smoke rising from a patch of bush where I new there was a frogmouth nest. The park rangers were burning ground litter in the wood to reduce fire danger to the nearby suburbs. They did well, and the ground cover was only lightly burnt when I went in the day after. And no trees were damaged or canopy burnt. However, there must have been intense smoke during the burning and a bit of heat and flame - enough for an incubating frogmouth to desert his nest. This might not have been too much of a problem if they could safely leave their eggs during the day, but only fifty metres away was a pied currawong nest with young. They are predators of frogmouths eggs and young. The exposed white eggs of a frogmouth, left unguarded would have been an easy meal for the currawongs.

A few flames still licked on the day after. The frogmouth nest is up below the canopy.

This was the male sitting on the nest before the fire.

Now the nest is empty and abandoned. The currawongs were feeding their young in their nest while I was visiting the site. There was no sign of the frogmouths.