Townsville area birds

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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.

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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

Getting away from the water at the Wetlands

Went for a wander in the forested ridge near the Jerrabomberra Wetlands. Lot of activity, and as is often the case, a couple of trees apparently full of Silvereyes turned out to contain myriad species.

The Silvereyes were plentiful:

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There were so many you could miss the many other birds in the mix.  Two Honeyeaters which I had never seen before, and both of which were well on the edge of their normal habitat, were the White-naped Honeyeater, and the Yellow-plumed Honeyeater.  The latter was very hard to pick, especially given it is right on the edge of its habitat, but the darker bit on the end of the yellow beak certainly suggests a young Yellow-plumed Honeyeater.  After all that, having seen more playing about today (mid July) I think it is a Fuscous Honeyeater, extremely similar but more likely to be here.  Today’s photo added below.

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Honeyeater, Fuscous

The adult male Spotted Pardalots are certainly very colourful.

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Many other familiar birds were about including Red-Rumped Parrots, Pied Cormorants, Superb Fairy Wrens, White-browed Scrub Wrens (below), and Australasian Darter (also below).

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Michael Monaghan

June 2019

Canberra and astrophysics

Have got into a few space related things lately.

First, the Mr Squiggle coin issue exhibition at the Australian Mint. Overseas people would do well to research this iconic Australian tv show of the 60s, noting the sophisticated dialogue: for example, Blackboard’s intellectual contribution was “Hurry up, hurry up” in a scary deep voice, as poor bewildered Mr Squiggle (being a man from the moon) tried to draw his picture (nose pencils were notoriously unreliable back then) under the comforting guidance of Miss Pat.  In more considered moments, he (Blackboard) just says “Hrrmmp.”

 

Next cab (well rocket) off the rank was a tour of the Mount Stromlo Observatory, in Canberra. The tour was led by the famous astrophysicist and cosmologist, and most entertaining, Dr Bradley Tucker.

The Observatory, one of our proudest government services, was started back in 1911 with the Oddie Telescope, jointly funded by the newly created federal Government and private astronomers. Much to the Government’s surprise, when they offered to part fund the telescope, fully anticipating that the rest would never be raised, the astronomers already had pledges of enough to provide their half. Like most things up there, it was destroyed in the 2003 bushfire. This was the first federal government funded building in the Canberra region.

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After the bushfire, the decision was taken to move the telescope function to Coonabarabran, some 700km away, and build more cutting edge facilities on Mt Stromlo. The telescope data still comes back to the mountain for analysis.

There is a laser which operates 24/7 destroying space junk, of which, apparently, there is a shitload. The laser can be seen physically changing position to shoot the next target, and at night time one can see the beam firing in the dark. It doesn’t seek to destroy the object directly, which would lead to millions more items whizzing around the planet at 4000kph. Rather it hits the front of the object, which leads it to stand “upright”, then gravity draws it back into the earth’s atmosphere, which burns it up. Neat what.

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Another facility provides GPS, and this about to be upgraded via a new satellite, in the next few months. Extremely accurate positioning will be available.

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The new focus is on building and testing satellites. Amazingly satellites are now the size of a standard tissue-paper box. There are vibrating tables, severe heat/cold testing chambers and other testing facilities, all maintained in astoundingly dust free conditions.

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Any doubt about how hot the bushfire was is dispelled by the fact that the lead and aluminium melted, 300°C and 650°C respectively.

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As in all bushfires, some things somehow escaped, but not much.

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Next space related trip was to our Museum of Australian Democracy (better know as old Parliament House).

There was an exhibition about things which happened there at the time of the first lunar landing, in 1969, in which Australian radio telescopes (Honeysuckle Creek, Tidbinbilla and Parkes) played such a key role. Anyone who hasn’t seen The Dish should do so forthwith – a brilliant example of Australian comedy; just remember it was Honeysuckle Creek, not Parkes; and, sorry for serious disillusionment, no they didn’t really play cricket on the telescope dish.

Amongst the oddities were extracts from Hansard, demonstrating the novelty of space things; such as if we get the tv signal from a russian satellite, will it be in russian.

I only recently heard that there is a giant radio-telescope near Canberra – MOST, which stands for Molonglo Observatory Synthesis Telescope. It is of course pretty obvious from that description what it actually does so I will leave it there. I went to an exhibition on the scope in the Queanbeyan Library. It is quite an important installation, and has recently detected strange radio wave signals from way out there.

It consists of two “wings”, each about a kilometre long, with collection and analysis facilities in the middle.

 

Today, in a variation (sic) on a theme, I went up Mount Stromlo to a series of chamber music concerts. They were part of the Canberra International Music Festival, and featured three world premieres plus some Bach. Luckily some concerts were indoors to enable thawing, or we would have had 200 frozen bodies up there. The two violinists, who asked for volunteers to blow warm air on their hands, were thrilled when it started to sleet and we all “had” to pop inside for the final concert. Great idea though, and, if it had been on any other day of the last few weeks it would have been still and 19°C.

 

 

Michael Monaghan

May 2019

Going where no man (well not recently) has been before

IMG_1833Last week I went on a very interesting tour of the Old Parliament House in Canberra. The tour was built around the lunar landing of 1969, and the activities in Australian government concerned with that event.

We heard some astonishing, but not surprising, excerpts from the Hansard – the records of the parliamentary debates. eg Mr Speaker, if we are receiving tv signals of the landing via Russian satellites, will they be in, well, Russian! General laughter based on embarrassed ignorance.

We visited several sites within the building featured in the brilliant lunar landing film “The Dish”, including the use of the Clerk of the Senate’s office to be the Prime Minister’s office, hoping no one notices that the carpet is red, when the PM’s would be green.

A clear highlight was to be able to go onto the roof, which provided a rare opportunity to see behind the iconic statues facing out from the front of the building, as well as other connections.

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Michael Monaghan

April 2019