Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Varied Sittellas

A Varied Sittella Daphoenositta chrysoptera walks down a branch

I have been out doing the rounds of the Tawny Frogmouths over the past week, and will be doing so for the next few months as the breeding season runs on from now. Although it is still winter in Canberra, the birds are beginning to nest and the frogmouths are in pairs beside their prospective nest sites. Some have even began to build, adding a few sprigs to forks in the branches.

Meanwhile, many of the passerines are still in mixed winter flocks, flitting through the woodland canopy. And while I was out, I was passed by a flock of Varied Sittellas as they worked their way through a wood. There were twelve of them in the party, it took me several attempts to count them as they shifted position so often and quickly.

Although their colouring blends well with that of the dead limbs they climb on,
their quick jerking movements and constant twittering betray their presence.

Sittellas fill a similar niche as European nuthatches, searching for invertebrates in dead wood, mostly by climbing down the branches rather than up like treecreepers. They are also known as barkpeckers, which is very apt, as they chip away at the dead bark, opening up cracks with their seemingly delicate, but obviously strong little bills. The bottom mandible is curved, allowing them to probe deep into holes.

They are comfortable in all postures

Sittellas are cooperative breeders, the whole group helps to build one nest and feed the chicks when they hatch, but that will be a few weeks yet. For now, they will work together as a team, searching for food in the dead branches. This is one of those species that would be lost if all the standing dead timber were felled. Tidying up dead wood is not good for nature.

They even perch on top of branches like other birds

One bird which likely has eggs now is the Wedge-tailed Eagle, and a single male bird glided over the canopy while I was with the Sittellas. A sign that his partner was probably on the nest incubating eggs.

A Wedge-tailed Eagle slipped overhead

The sittellas were noisy, constantly chittering as they had to be to keep in contact with one another. The eagle was silent as it soared alone. And the frogmouths sat quietly in the winter sunshine, patiently waiting for Spring.

Meanwhile, the Tawny Frogmouths sat quietly in their sunny winter roost

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