Thursday, 30 December 2010

Owlet nightjar

The weather is warming up now with a predicted high of 35 degrees tomorrow. The cicadas are singing loudly, very loudly, and most of the birds have fledged their young. Two late frogmouth nesting attempts have failed. I suspect the eggs were infertile as the birds had been sitting on them for longer than the usual incubation period with no sign of chicks hatching. There are chicks in two other nests and one pair are sitting on their third clutch of eggs having failed to rear chicks from two earlier attempts.

While checking one of these nests, I walked past a tree where Anthony had owlet nightjars last month. And there was a bird sitting at the entrance to one of the holes. It ducked back a little more into the hole as I approached, but stayed there looking out. These birds favour trees with multiple holes or with other suitable holes in trees within fifty or a hundred metres. If flushed by a predator they dart from one to another, with a confidence that says they know exactly where they are going.

I left this bird at peace and wondered at its plumage and posture. The big black eyes look so like knot holes in the tree and the stripes on its head blend well with the crack lines. Perfect camouflage. Or have they adapted a plumage pattern similar to that of sugar gliders which are common in the same habitat, and so gain benefit of less predation. The central stripe over the head, round face and large eyes all fit. Perhaps potential predators are less likely to attack a glider, e.g. a sparrowhawk which only take birds.

Friday, 17 December 2010


Yesterday it was goshawks, today a female collared sparrowhawk came into the garden, caught a house sparrow and promptly ate it. A few days ago a male sparrowhawk was hunting the sparrows in the garden, chasing them into the dense canopy of the trees. We were playing cricket at the time only a few metres below them.

Sparrowhawks are regular visitors to the garden and they probably nest in someonelse's garden nearby. The goshawks are mostly in the woods. Both species are feeding large young now so there will be a heavy demand for them to provide food. As we have free range chickens in the garden sparrows come in to feed on the chicken food. It is usually the male sparrowhawk which catches the sparrows and smaller birds such as young starlings. The larger female usually catches Indian mynas, crested pigeons and rosellas - crimson and eastern.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

GoshawksA female Brown Goshawk sits on a branch near her nest and young screaming sharp alarm calls.

Many of the Tawny Frogmouths have failed at their breeding attempts this year and some have disappeared from their nest areas. I suspect that in territories where no further nests were built the missing birds might have been killed and eaten by the Brown Goshawks. So I have been noting the distances between goshawk and frogmouth nests. The vacant frogmouth territories are about 100-200m from the nearest goshawk nests and there are wider distances between frogmouth nests in areas where there are goshawks.

One frogmouth pair have failed twice this year and I noticed a Collared Sparrowhawk nest in the tree next to the second nest. Sparrowhawks are smaller than frogmouths, but aggressive, so perhaps they disturbed the frogmouths enough for them to fail at their nesting attempts. That pair of frogmouths are now on a third clutch of eggs about 150m away from the previous nests.

While I was measuring the distances between these nests the goshawks were very defensive of their nests and young. They repeatedly swooped at me. Their speed is astonishing and it was interesting to be in the situation of a small bird being attacked. These birds are efficient killers.

The female goshawk launches off to attack me.

Her flight is straight and deliberate.

Her eye contact was fixed, determined and focused on me.

It was only in the last metre or so that she pulled out and skimmed over my head. Thankfully they did not attack me with open talons as they would a small bird, her feet are dropping into partial attack position, but the sharp claws are turned in. She was too close and quick for the camera to focus.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Banding birds at Moruya

Last weekend I was helping Anthony Overs catch and band birds in the escarpment forest at Moruya. Michael and Sarah Guppy are working on a long-term project studying the local birds' breeding behaviour, so several banders went down to catch as many as possible and band them with individual combinations of colour bands. Michael, Sarah and Anthony have been doing this for several years and by marking the birds this way they can determine which bird is paired with which, where they nest and how many chicks they rear. The Yellow-faced Honeyeater above is the most abundant honeyeater in the forest, and there were many birds with flying young.

The adult male Scarlet Honeyeater below, the only one we saw, was probably passing through the area with flocks of other birds post breeding. There were also many adult and juvenile New Holland Honeyeaters.

The adult male Spotted Pardalote below, is another common bird in the forests. They are unusual in foraging in the canopy, perhaps a hundred feet up, but nest in self-dug burrows in a broken bank of exposed soil.

We caught several larger birds too, including Noisy Friarbirds, a Satin Bowerbird, a Crimson Rosella, a King Parrot and the adult Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike below.

The last bird we caught on the Saturday evening was an adult female White-headed Pigeon which was lured down to seed.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Rain and more rain

It has been raining every day and most of each day for the past five days, and the same on all nights. So I have been out checking on the frogmouths as several broods have been due to fledge this week. The brood below looked ready to leave the nest a few days ago, but they are still there, probably reluctant to fly while it has been raining. There are two chicks, one out of view and they are too big now for the adult birds to cover them during the heavy rainfall. Although they are still only half-grown and quite downy, they seem to have faired OK and are now hopping about on the nest branch and ready to fly off. The adult female is now sitting on the nest branch, having spent the past two months sitting in nearby trees. They seldom roost in the nest tree itself, probably to reduce attraction of predators to the nest. Then they often come in close to the nest to roost as the chicks near fledging.

The pair shown below have been less fortunate. They had two chicks the last time I saw them before the rain, now they have lost them. It might have been the weather that caused this, or a predator, I don't know and there were no signs or corpses below the nest tree to indicate what had happened. Now the birds are sitting on branches tight underneath larger branches. This gives them shelter from the rain which can be seen running off the bark of the branch above the female. The male is above her on a separate branch, his tail cutting into the top right of the photograph. This was this pair's second nesting attempt this year, the first having failed to predators, probably a possum.