Best bird photography day ever – 70 species seen with 33 new species for me.

Get a full bottle, this will take a while. In fact, we probably need an intermission.

Fruit-dove, Rose-crowned2

Went out as sole customer with Del from Fine Feather Friend Tours. He turned out to be a birdspotting genius, as well as knowing more about the impact on far north Queensland of WWII than I could even dream at.

Was a full day tour, and I could not recommend Del more highly. He not only knew the south Daintree area intimately, he spotted so many of those irritating little brown birds and at a glance got the species and usually the gender.

I will stick largely to those new ones, although there were a couple of highlights with species already seen.

This shy chap is an adult male, rather exotically named, Double-Eyed Fig-Parrot. The race is McLeay’s (he has a few birds up here named after him), being found in a small area on the east coast just around Cooktown to Cairns. The male has the red at the base of the cheek. There are two other small populations, one on the south Qld coast, and one in far north Queensland coast.

Friarbird, helmettedThe Helmeted Friar bird (race yorki) is unique to the Qld coast from Gympie to the top of the Cape. There are two other small populations at the top of the Northern Territory.

Woodswallow, White-breastedThe White-Breasted Woodswallow, the largest of the the family, is found over the eastern half of Australia, but would be on the northern-most edge of its habitat around here.

Picking Kingfishers apart can get tricky, this one being the Sacred Kingfisher, found over most of the country except for the middle desert areas and Tasmania doesn’t like the crossing apparently.

The very common Straw-necked Ibis looked remarkably healthy, with electric plumage glistening in the sun.

Ibis, Straw-necked

It wasn’t even 8am.

Moving on to some town river areas, taking close notice of the ‘swim here and be eaten’ signs, the Striated Heron looked similar to the Nankeen Night Heron. This is a juvenile, being very similar to the Nankeen juvenile, with a more patterned chest and more yellow on the lower bill.Heron, StriatedHeron, Striated2

We saw male and female Olive-backed Sunbirds in a couple of places, one with a precarious nest hanging from an electrical cable. The male and female both go out to search for a suitable nesting site.

Sunbirds m left nest searching

The male has the black flashing on the throat. The female below is in the precarious nest and the male was catching insects off the ground lights.

Sunbird nest, fem insideSunbird nestSunbirds m left

sunbird mSunbird m hunting

Other birds on the rivers included the Radjah Shelduck, which apparently not being able to read, were wandering around oblivious to their carnivorous and nefarious neighbours. They are found only on the northern coastlines.

Shelduck, Radjah

Another precarious nest had been built by a White-breasted Cuckoo-Shrike above a car park.

Cuckoo-Shrike, White-breasted

The Australian (Richard’s) Pipit is found all over the continent, including a race in Tasmania. This is an adult race australis, on the northern edge of its range.Pippit, Richard's

 

Given it is sugar cane country, Black Kites were ubiquitous.  I have seen plenty of these in other parts of northern Australia. The key to telling the Black from the Whistling kite, is that the Black Kite has a bit missing at the end of its tail (a bit concave), and the Whistling has a whole tail.

Kite, Black

The Great Egret is a noble beast, significantly bigger than other Egrets, and with three fused plates at the base of the neck, to stop its neck falling off with the weight.Egret, Great

One of the small birds I might well have missed unassisted was the Leaden Fly-catcher. This is a male.

Flycatcher, Leaden

A sighting with gold stars is the rarely seen Rose-crowned Fruit-Dove. It was down on the coast, its habitat actually extending along the coast from Sydney across to Broome; a striking looking bird.

 

My guide was right up with the preferred bushes for honeyeaters, and I saw half a dozen new species.

In order first, we have the Graceful, McLeay’s, Dusky, Yellow, and White-throated.

 

 

 

Honeyeater, White-throatedAnother new one was the Bridled Honeyeater. Their behaviour was fascinating. They were lying spread out with wings raised on bare dirt in the sunshine. The state of the pieces of dirt showed that this was a much repeated activity in the same spots.

Honeyeaters, Bridled

Even more remarkably, Lewin’s Honeyeaters and Bridled Honeyeaters were lying side by side, snuggled up in the sunshine.

Honeyeaters, Lewin's and Bridled

There were also many Blue-faced Honeyeaters, very common around Townsville as well.

Honeyeater, Blue-faced

We saw several nests including another precarious one – that of the imaginatively named Big-billed Gerigone – and also the Varied Triller, the Great Brown Babbler and the Blue-faced Honeyeater.

Gerigone, Big-billed nest

Youi will see how this nest, hanging from a piece of coathanger, has the entrance cunningly protected with the shielded entrance from below making it much harder for snakes to get in from above.

Nest, Varied TrillerNest, Great Brown Babblernest, Blue-faced honeyeater

The latter is particularly clever. Although it is hard to imagine a more dangerous place than right in the middle of high voltage electrical cabling and resistors, the tree ants which eat the eggs are apparently reluctant to carry the epithet, “tree and electrical cabling ants”, and stick to the trees.

Under some large trees having a cuppa, I managed to snap a wide range of birds.

The Varied Triller:

Spectacled Monarch:

Yellow-billed Boatbill:

Boatbill, Yellow-billed

Little Shrike-Thrush:

 

Shrike-thrush, Littleand Grey Whistler (these tend to go in and out of foliage at the same level):

Whistler, Grey

In the distance, we saw a couple of Topknot Pigeons, my first sighting of these rather odd looking birds, even though their range is right down the east coast, but too far away to photograph.

Again my guide demonstrated his outstanding knowledge by stopping on the roadside to find Red-winged Parrots, very very hard to spot even when you knew where they were.

Parrot, Red-Winged

Another rarity, which took some hiking into savannah land, was the Black-throated Finch. Found only in far north Queensland, this one below is an adult race atrophygialis.

Finch, Black-throated 2Finch, Black-throated 3Finch, Black-throated

Much more common, and I have seen them in many places, but well camouflaged, were Double-Barred Finches:

Finch, Double-barred

My expert guide was most surprised to see the well-named Squatter Pigeon, which spends most of its time solidly down on its heavy legs, sitting on a single electricity wire – we surmised it must have been alarmed by an oblivious pedestrian.

Pigeon, Squatter

Another fascinating creature is the Orange-footed Scrubfowl, found only on the most northern coastal areas. It makes huge mounds for its nests, a process which involves both partners systematically scratching every leaf, twig and any other debris in a straight line forward and back to the nest. Even more remarkably, typically both are in the same straight line. They leave the scratching site scrupulously clear of any useful mounding material.

The last distant sighting was a Striated Pardalote, in fading light and a bit too far for a decent photo.

Pardalote, Striated

On the day we saw 70 different birds species, 33 of them new sightings for me. So, a remarkable day of bird photography,  impossible without the expert guide, and full of learning and growing amazement at the still poorly understood world of birds.

 

Michael Monaghan August 2019

 

Daintree birds and forest

I was privileged to spend half a day with a bloke who has some of the oldest plants varieties on the planet on his land. Fascinating to see Cyclad that were thousands of years old, massive trees that are still unidentified, and lots of birds.

The highlight, and rarely seen, were male Victoria’s Rifle Birds, both unusually out in the open (albeit very high up in the canopy), starting to lay their territorial claims for when the ladies arrive.

 

Riflebird, victoria's m6Riflebird, Victoria's m5Riflebird, Victoria's m4Riflebird, Victoria's m3Riflebird, Victoria's mRiflebird, Victoria's 2We heard at least five different male Victoria’s Rifle Birds over a few hours.

Very common are the Australian Fig-birds, fairly ubiquitous where there are palms.The male is the brighter one with the red eye patch.

Figbird, Australian femFigbird, australian mFigbird, Australasian m raceflaviventrisAs with the Riflebird and the figbird, this is the first sighting of the Lovely Fairy-wren, the male having the fuller blue face, and the female the white spot at the beak base.

Like many bird and butterfly activities, the local experts are saying that things are happening earlier than is normal. The Ulysses butterfly above is not normally around at this time of year.

 

Michael Monaghan August 2019

 

Deep in the Daintree

Smoking ceremony - Yalanji tribeOne of the best ways to understand the Daintree is to take a Dreamtime walk at Mossman Gorge with an indigenous host  who knows what is there. We went deeper into the forest past where the mass of tourists go. I learned lots about how the Yalanji lived for so many generations in sympathy with their land.

Shield, tray, cot - Yalanji tribeNuts, quandongDigger - Yalanji tribeThe first item is a shield/food tray/baby carrier; the second is a nut which is toxic unless ground and cooked, with the quandong; and the third cricket bat looking object is a digging stick.  We also saw the different boomerangs, the narrow lean returning one for the open country, and the thick club like one for bush-stunnings.

If I ever get stung by Stinging Nettle, I now know what to do in a probably vain attempt to forestall the heart-attack. You move the caught body part calmly back in the direction in which it came, grab some berries off the bush (without being re-nettled) and eat them, then pull the plant out (without being re-nettled), crush the roots and chew like crazy. By this time, the crazy bit is apt, but if you don’t have a heart-attack (then) you might survive for a life-time of pain. Or, you could know about these critters and keep away. Then there are the other stinging nettles which also have life time pain implications, and to make it a bit trickier, have false and real stinger plants growing side by side.  Just as well the crocs will take you out as you run for hospital.

 

Stinging NettleWas a truly beautiful forest though, with vegetation vying for survival:IMG_3039 (3)IMG_3036 (2)IMG_3035 (2)

IMG_3033 (2)And lots of fungi of course:

 

The Daintree River is glorious with so many massive volcanic boulders guiding its path and its purity.

 

 

Michael Monaghan August 2019

Townsville area birds

view

The Townsville Common – a nostalgic borrowing from the mother country – is  a great spot for birding, but because it involves leaving this aspect, not a lot got done.

Oh, and there was also the awesome Australian Chamber Music Festival, with over 20 concerts in 10 days.  I was sure, and I wasn’t the only one,  that Rachmaninoff’s Elegiac piano trio No 2 (lamenting the death of his mentor, Tchaikovsky) was the best thing I had ever heard live.  Timothy Young was passionate and brilliant on the piano, as was Timo-Viekko Valve on the cello and Liza Ferschtman on violin.

Last year was the first time I had seen a Spotted Bowerbird, with its bower slap bang in the middle of a car park. Along the clipped hedges of the Strand, this year’s bower find was substantially more elaborate. The male spent some time moving things just a bit to there, oh will she be happy with that – maybe just a bit back that way ad nauseam.

I had my first sightings of the Brown Honeyeater, in town, and the Brown-backed Honeyeater, in the Common.

It was also my first sighting of the Rufous-throated Honeyeater, again in the Common.

 

Honeyeater, Ruffous-throated 2Honeyeater, Ruffous throated

Rainbow Bee-eaters were also plentiful, zipping into the stagnant pools for the mozzies and dragonflies – foolishly they were all dressed up to look like bees.Bee-eater, RainbowIn the Common, there were dozens of Forest Kingfishers, darting from their tree vantage points into the grasses for insects.

Kingfisher, Forest3Kingfisher, Forest2barrKingfisher, ForestOther tree birds included the seriously ubiquitous Willie Wagtail, Grey Fantail, Double-barred Finches, Bar-shouldered Doves and Torresian Crows.

Back at the Townsville hotel, every evening at about 5, half a dozen Blue-faced Honeyeaters came in to bathe in the swimming pool and have a chin-wag about the day’s honey eating.

Honeyeater,Blue-faced2The bay is great for the birds of prey and this young Osprey spent a long time fishing, albeit with no apparent success.

 

There were, in the Common, also lots of Little Egrets, stalking unsuspecting prey, and Australian (Sacred) Ibis. There are thousands of both Sacred and Straw-necked Ibis around these parts.

Egret, Little2IMG_2909 (2)

IMG_2792 (2)

Michael Monaghan August 2019

Wetlands in winter – a compilation.

Ducks, Pink-eared

 

Winter at the Wetlands is quieter of course, but still lots going on. The Pink-eared ducks are more common in winter, and this pair made sure there were no easy targets for the icy water and winds. (A brilliant line in a 1926 government publication aimed at encouraging people to come to the new Capital: “the wind, coming from the south, is shrewdly searching!”).

This juvenile female Wood Duck looked and sounded plaintively lost. If you look closely, especially at the first photo, you can see its little beak babbling with a plaintive “mummm?”

 

 

What I thought, a few weeks ago, was a first sighting of a Yellow-plumed Honeyeater, rather on the edge of the normal habitat, turned out on a better sighting the other day to be a Fuscous Honeyeater, also though my first sighting of this bird.

The Black-winged Kites are nesting again, and the search for food has been quite prolonged.

Kite, Black-shouldered

The Grey Teal had sole use of the preening log, probably because it would be freezing up there.

Teal, GreyMy first sighting of Spotted Doves, an introduced species, and a bit outside its normal coastal habitat:

Bronzewing, Common

As always there were plenty of Fairy Wrens. There were also plenty of Silvereyes and White-browed Scrub Wrens:

 

Away from the water, my first sighting of a White-naped Honeyeater, and some Spotted Pardalotes:

 

Unusually, perhaps also lost, was a single adult male Red-rumped Parrot:

 

Parrot, Red-rumped ad m

Commonly seen at the Wetlands, the Australasian Darter and New Holland Honeyeater:

 

Finally, a juvenile Grey Butcherbird enjoying a scarab grub:

Butcherbird, Grey (juv)Butcherbird, Grey (juv)2

 

Michael Monaghan

July 2019

 

Little Grassbird

You’ll hear them, but you will never see them. That seems to be the conventional wisdom. But I did see them, and, admittedly serendipitously, one of many random photo attempts came out.

 

Grassbird, Little

This is taken on a walk worth doing at Point Cook, between Geelong and Melbourne, on the edge of the Bay. It was a very cold and extremely windy day, so birds were uncommon. But well worth going back to on a nicer day.

https://parkweb.vic.gov.au/explore/parks/point-cook-coastal-park

The ubiquitous White-faced Herons featured. I believe there is a global system they have in place, to ensure there is a least one at every water hole. This appears to be in breeding plumage.Heron, White-faced br

Michael Monaghan

June 2019

Box-Ironbark forests near Chiltern, NE Victoria

IMG_2299 (2)The Chiltern Mt Pilot National Park, in central north eastern Victoria, displays the remnants of the Box-Ironbark forests which dominated this area before the English saws and axes arrived.

Over 2000 years ago, an artist painted with red ochre this image of a thylacine (tasmanian tiger). It is extraordinary that it could still be visible – if only just.

IMG_2308 (2)IMG_2307 (2)The canopy is very high in the rejuvenated forests, the last bushfire was only a few years ago, and the birds were about but generally right up there.

I didn’t see the rare Regent Honey-eater, but did see a few White-naped ones

There were several Robin families, with the Scarlet Robin (the crimson chest is less complete than for the Flame Robin) and the Eastern Yellow Robin:

There were several Brown Tree-Creepers, confusing the issue by creeping across the forest floor, rather than up a tree. I have not seem them so closely before. This looks like a non-breeding male; unusually in this species, the female is more colourfully striking than the male.

I saw several parrots which I have not seen before, but they were all too quick for the camera.They looked like Turquoise Parrots.

Definitely my first sighting was of a Crested Shrike-Tit. It had clearly been to cockatoo school to learn how to attack bark

IMG_2303 (2)IMG_2299 (2)IMG_2298 (2)IMG_2295 (2)Other things of interest in the area include the memorial to Major Thomas Mitchell who, unlike many ignorant European explorers, didn’t actually “pass” here, but went past here; and the Chiltern Golf Course, which seems to  have, from accounts of a number of other observant travellers, a wise policy of ensuring no actual golfers ever harm the well manicured course.IMG_2226

Michael Monaghan

June 2019