Saturday, 30 November 2013

Fan-tailed Cuckoo egg in Scrubwren clutch

A Fan-tailed Cuckoo egg with two of  Large-billed Scrubwren
I was down in the Shoalhaven area a few days ago and while out for a walk through some riverside forest I found a Large-billed Scrubwren Sericornis magnirostris nest. I saw the adult bird flush as I walked by and was surprised to discover that it had built its nest inside an old nest of a Yellow-throated Scrubwren Sericornis citreogularis - on subsequent research I discovered that this is common behaviour of the species. Then when I inspected the eggs there was a cuckoo egg amongst the scrubwren clutch. The egg were likely from a Fan-tailed cuckoo Cacomantis flabelliformis  - as scrubwrens are common hosts of these birds eggs and young, and there were a few of these around the area, but no other cuckoo species.

The cuckoo egg is noticeably larger than those of the scrubwren
There were two scrubwren eggs, but whether there had been three and the cuckoo had taken one out is not known. The cuckoo egg was quite a good mimic of those of the scrubwren, although slightly larger and more spotted overall, and a little lighter in background colour. The scrubwren eggs also had more defined rings of spots around the broad end, especially one of the eggs. There was a faint ring around the cuckoo egg, but not very distinguishable.

The cuckoo egg has a faint ring of spots on the broad end like those of the scrubwren eggs,
but much more general speckling
The nest was a simple relined structure inside the old Yellow-throated nest which looked old as the leaves in the structure were dried and deteriorating. 

The clutch was in an old Yellow-throated Scrubwren nest
The nest was set about head height, c 190cm, and typical of a Yellow-throated Scrubwren in being suspended from a the end of a thin branch over an open patch of forest floor -in this case a footpath, although often they are hung over stream lines.

The nest was suspended over a human track through riverside forest 

Friday, 29 November 2013

Red Bellied Black Snake

Never blinking concentration
While walking with Lachlan through Tidbinbilla Nature reserve in the Australian Capital Territory yesterday, he noticed one, then a second and even a third snake lurking in the undergrowth between the path and the waterside of a small lake. They were all Red-bellied Black Snakes Pseudechis porphyriacus, one of my favourite species of snake in Australia as they have a rich shiny black top side and a fiery red belly - and I have never seen an aggressive one.

A glimpse of the beautiful red belly of the snake as it slipped over a path
The first one glided onto and across the path to drop into a patch of marsh where it carried on hunting for frogs, lizards or whatever else it might eat. The colour on its belly was more easily seen as it crossed the open path than when it slipped through the grasses.

Hunting in the waterside grass
That one was about a metre and a half long and the others about two metres, perhaps one female and two males. But why are people obsessed with the length of snakes, their size does not make them more dangerous (unless they are very large pythons which could kill a human if given a chance). These Black Snakes are very venomous, yet they were quietly getting on with their life and as we left them alone, they left us alone. No one has been recorded as being killed from a bite by any of  this species. 

There was an appropriate visitor sign in the reserve which said 'the only good snake is a live snake' and I for one agree. We just need to be careful if they are around. 

This one would lift its head up to see, or scent for prey, but I don't know why it spread its hood as I didn't approach it.
This is usually a sign to back off, so I did anyway.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Around Eden

Humpback Whales - mother and calf
Last week I went on a trip down to Eden on the south coast of New South Wales, primarily to go out on a boat trip to see the last of the whale migration pass by, and also to see some local birds of the area - on land as well as at sea. And we had splendid close-up views of two mother and calf pairs of Humpback Whales. They were quietly cruising across the bay outside the fishing port of Eden.

Short-tailed Shearwater - note feet protruding beyond the tail
Although the boat trip was primarily aimed at whale-watching, we saw several species of seabirds including the most numerous -Short-tailed Shearwater Puffinus tenuirostris. While the whales were on their way south to the Antarctic for the southern summer, these birds were on their way back to their nesting burrows on offshore islands around Australia, having just returned from as far as the Bering Straight where they spend their non-breeding season.

A few shearwaters landed behind the boat in anticipation of bait being thrown out - as done on some birdwatching trips
I will post more detailed accounts of birds seen on the trip later, but for now I draw attention to what for me was the bird of the trip - the Southern Emu-wren Stipiturus malachurus. I like these birds because of their tiny size, generic wispy tail and overall adaptation to life in grassy heaths. They can be difficult to find in amongst the grasses, but it is well worth listening out for their thin trilling calls. A seemingly simple, yet marvelous bird.
The distinctive silhouette of an Emu-wren
Both form and colour are unique, as is their character.

An adult male Southern Emu-wren in full colour - a rather smart bird

Friday, 22 November 2013

Black-eared Cuckoo

It has been a rather hectic past few weeks, what with the Tawny Frogmouths fledging and doing a bit of general bird-watching around the south east of New South Wales and the ACT. I'll post as much as possible over the next few weeks, but meanwhile here are some shots of a Black-eared Cuckoo Chalcites osculans, which was caught during a regular study of birds at Charcoal Tank Nature Reserve, on the 9th November.

The trip was led by Mark Clayton as usual and in over eighteen years of study this was the first of this species caught there. The Black-eared Cuckoo is a national widespread bird, but rather uncommon and can be difficult to find by birdwatchers. So I felt it appropriate to add a few pointers on the bird's plumage to help others identify one if they do ever have the fortune to come across one.

The distinctive face of a Black-eared Cuckoo
There is no mistaking the bird as a cuckoo in Australia, but a couple of us with experience of northern hemisphere birds considered it as resembling a Northern Wheatear, due to its soft orangy plumage and dark eyestripe.

This bird had a rich pale orangy breast - a deeper colour than the expected buff
The under-tail barring is characteristic of the Bronze-cuckoo genus Chalcites.

The coverts on the wing were well worn and faded
The bird was quiet in the the field when we saw it and in the hand after it was caught, which might explain its elusiveness.

There was very little contrast between the underwing coverts and the faint wing bar across the primaries, secondaries and tertials
I did not see the underwing bar as being particularly noticeable in the field, nor in the hand. But the white tips to the tail caught my eye immediately.

The light grey rump contrasted with the back, wing and tail.
And the tail showed distinctive fault bars.
The overall glossy sheen on the back and wings was like those on other Bronze-cuckoos, although not so bright, nor green as in the other species.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013


Male Plains Wanderer - difficult to see in grassland, even under spotlight
Last week I was out with Peter Cosgrove on a bridwatching trip organised by Philip Maher and led by his colleague Robert Duncan. We looked around for honeyeaters, chats and waders in the late afternoon before driving over some grasslands looking for Plains-wanderers Pedionomus torquatus with a spotlight. These birds are not nocturnal, but they are easier to see at night for during the day, they crouch when approached and become very difficult to see. At night they stand still when under a torchlight.

The female is brighter coloured with a distinct collar and rufous bib
Other birds seen during the night trip were Banded Plover Vanellus tricolor, Inland Dotterel Charadrius australis, Stubble Quail Coturnix pectoralis, Little Button-quail Turnix velox and Australian Pratincole Stltia isabella. 

Stubble quail - female
All in all, a very successful trip and thoroughly recommended for anyone who would like to experience a night out with the birds in the Riverina area of New south Wales.

Australian Pratincole