Monday, 13 February 2017

Birds coping with the heat wave

The past weekend in the Clarence Valley, as in many other parts of Eastern Australia, has seen the temperature rise to the low forties.  This has put a strain on the electricity supply with everyone running their air conditioners and fans at full power.  There was a blackout last night, presumably due to the excessive demand.

Birds don't have the luxury of air conditioners but their feathers are good thermal regulators and they adopt behaviours to reduce heat stress.  One behaviour is to sit on a perch with wings drooped and spread and with the bill open and the bird panting.  Yesterday our bird bath was the centre of attention with an immature male and and adult female Australian King-Parrot spending many hours perched on its rim.  They weren't seen to drink or bath but just sat there above the cool water.  I suspect that they did drink when I wasn't watching.  A whole line-up of other birds came and went as they sat there, not moving.  A Noisy Friarbird took charge and chased off two Lewin's Honeyeaters but they quietly returned when the aggressive Friarbird had moved on.  The Little Wattlebirds, that usually own the bird bath, were in and out as the larger parrots and pugnacious Friarbird seemed to make them a bit shy for once.  A Willie Wagtail popped in for a drink.

A Lewin's Honeyeater baths as the King-Parrots sit nearby (3 photos)

An Olive-backed Oriole drank at a water dish nearby and two or three Grey-crowned Babblers came in to the bird bath for a drink.  They don't usually visit the bird bath so the extreme heat must have influenced this behaviour.  A Little Friarbird also tried its luck against its larger relative and successfully managed a short drink.

Immature male and adult female Australian King-Parrots sitting on edge of bird bath

This morning three Bar-shouldered Doves walked in to the water dish and drank.

Hopefully these heat wave conditions will subside soon but with the predictions about the effects of climate change we are likely to be in for some regular bouts of extreme weather on a regular basis.

Saturday, 18 June 2016

Trip to Bingara

On Saturday June 11 Val and I drove to Bingara to attend the Myall Creek Massacre Memorial on the Sunday June 12 with some of our family.  We travelled from Coutts Crossing to Grafton and then along the Gwydir Highway to Glen Innes, where we had a 'cuppa' stop and then on to Inverell.  From Inverell we travelled to Delungra and then turned off towards Bingara.  Before arriving at Bingara we passed the Myall Creek Massacre Memorial site.  West of Grafton we found a road-killed immature  Superb Lyrebird.  The habitat was dry open forest so it is unlikely that the bird was killed at that site.  It was most likely carried by a vehicle from the Gibraltar Range, to the west, and dropped off the vehicle at this point in unsuitable habitat.  A dead Superb Lyrebird was found some years back in the car park of Shopping World, in the middle of Grafton.  It had obviously been transported from somewhere in the ranges.

Road-killed immature Superb Lyrebird

We stayed at the Riverside Caravan Park and after booking in explored the town.  I have been in the area frequently in the past 5 years deploying and retrieving cameras for the National Parks & Wildlife Service's Wildcount project but hadn't spent much time in the town.  It is an interesting town with many old and historic buildings including the Roxy Theatre.

Bingara viewed from the lookout

Along one back street we found a yard full of Wallaroos, obviously a wildlife carer's home.  On the nature strip of another street were 2-3 Spotted Bowerbirds.  They were eating the flatweeds in the lawn.  I didn't check the species of weed but they looked like Catsears Hypocheirus sp.

Spotted Bowerbird feeding on flatweeds Bingara

The Myall Creek Massacre Memorial was a moving and uplifting event as it remembered a shocking massacre but has resulted in a wonderful act of reconciliation.   Check out the website ( if you want to know more about this part of Australia's history that is often swept under the carpet.

Indigenous dancers at the ceremony

On the return trip we travelled via the Copeton Dam and had lunch near the dam wall.  Red Wattlebirds, White-plumed Honeyeaters, Superb Fairy-wrens and a White-browed Scrubwren joined us.   Leaving the Dam area we found a freshly road-killed Grey Shrike-thrush.  The orange-buff eye-brow indicated that it was an immature bird.

All in all a weekend with mixed emotions with the enjoyment of visiting such a nice piece of Australia and seeing some of the local wildlife while remembering the tragic past history of colonization.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Silver lining in clouds

This week's east coast low that battered the coast of eastern Australia with dramatic and damaging effects has also brought some benefits.  The extremely dry conditions experienced for many months across much of eastern Australia had caused the local Clarence Valley wetlands to dry up.  Wetland birds had been concentrating on the small remnants of water sitting in a few wetlands or around farm dams, which themselves were beginning to dry out.

Deadmans Swamp full after the rain

Deadmans Swamp, Coutts Crossing

The low brought with it hundreds of mm of rain in 24 hours causing most local wetlands to fill.  The water flowing into the Orara River flooded out over the paddocks at Coutts Crossing.  The Orara River drains areas behind Coffs Harbour so the rise in the River included local runoff and runoff from the Coffs Harbour hinterland.

On Sunday afternoon an adult female Black-necked Stork was foraging at Deadmans Swamp, Coutts Crossing, along with a number of White-necked and White-faced Herons, two Royal Spoonbills, a flock of Straw-necked Ibis and others.  At Brothersons Swamp I photographed a Yellow-billed Spoonbill that was roosting with a group of Royal Spoonbills.  On our walk on Monday we couldn't reach Brothersons Swamp as the Orara River had broken its banks.

Adult female Black-necked Stork at Deadmans Swamp

Yellow-billed Spoonbill and Royal Spoonbill loafing in dead tree Brothersons Swamp

Yellow-billed Spoonbill preening, Brothersons Swamp, Coutts Crossing

Royal Spoonbill, Brothersons Swamp

                               The cloud formations at the tail end of the low decorated the sky.

Clouds over Coutts Crossing on Sunday

Brothersons Swamp - full to the brim on Sunday

Black Swans enjoy the water at Brothersons Swamp

On Monday the floodwaters had backed up from the Orara River and flooded the small bridge over McIntosh Creek.

Flood waters covering the bridge at McIntosh Creek

By Wednesday the River had receded but the water remained in the wetlands.   The bridge at McIntosh Creek was again passable.

Bridge at McIntosh Creek after the flood

Whether this dump of water will encourage our local Black-necked Storks to breed this season will become apparent in future months.  Prior to the east coast low the chance of them breeding was virtually zero.

Sunday, 14 February 2016

A fruity meal

Common Eggfly

After 30 years of developing our local native plant garden at Coutts Crossing, north coast New South Wales, the ecological benefits are very obvious.  Planting and regenerating local native plants means that the local fauna is pre-adapted to these plants and many species, in particular the insects, rely on a narrow range of native species for their life cycle to play out.  Common Grass Yellow (Butterflies) lay their eggs on the leaves of the Coffee Bush or Dwarf's Apple Breynia oblongifolia and other butterfly and moth species use other local plants species.

Caterpillar of moth Psilogramma menephron in backyard, Coutts Crossing

Adult male Eastern Koel perched on fruits of a Bangalow Palm with a Native Grape in front

In recent weeks a number of these local plants have been fruiting and this has attracted the frugivorous (fruit-eating) birds to the garden.  These include the Eastern Koel, Australasian Figbird, Olive-backed Oriole, Lewin's Honeyeater, Satin Bowerbird, Brown Cuckoo-Dove, Mistletoebird and White-headed Pigeon.  The main fruiting plants have been the Bangalow Palm Archontophoenix cunninghamiana,  Cockspur Thorn Maclura cochinchinensis, Red-fruited Rice-flower Wikstroemia indica, Cheese Tree Glochidion ferdinandi and Native Grape Caryratia clematidea.

Adult male Eastern Koel eating a Bangalow Palm fruit

 The red fruits of the Rice-flower are toxic to humans but have no detrimental effect on birds.  There are a few old-wives tales (or maybe old-husbands tales to be politically correct) concerning the toxicity of wild fruit.  One states that if a bird eats a fruit it is not poisonous to humans - this is certainly incorrect with the Rice-flower being a good example.  Another states that all red fruits are toxic but the fruits of the Walking Stick Palm are red and are very sweet and tasty to humans and are not toxic.  In determining the potential toxicity of wild fruits there is no easy rule to follow.  You have to rely on a knowledge of other people's experience such as whether the fruit was consumed by aboriginal people or what has been written in the various books on wild fruits.

Immature Australasian Fig perched in bottlebrush searching for fruit on nearby vines

The stage of ripeness can also be a factor in the toxicity of fruits and closely related species may also vary in their effects.  Most Lilly Pillys are edible but I know of a group of people who became ill after eating the fruit of a particular species in northern New South Wales.

Immature Australasian Figbird eating the fruit of the Cockspur Thorn

Adult male Mistletoebird

Monday, 25 January 2016

Invertebrates overlooked

Female Red-backed Spider from Levenstrath
Although they make up the majority of animal species on earth the invertebrates are often overlooked when biodiversity and conservation are considered.  The invertebrates are interesting and valuable in their own right but are also important items in the food chain of many vertebrate species.  They are also essential to the pollination of plants and may have detrimental impacts as well, especially when humans have interfered with the natural balance, such as eucalypt die-back which is often caused by beetles and curl grubs.

The term bug is often applied to all insects and their relatives but this term properly applies to insects with sucking mouth parts, both carnivorous and herbivorous - order HEMIPTERA (half-wings).  Apparently 'bug' is an old English word for any strange creature which was small and, generally, unpleasant (Insects of Australia, John Goode), so we have come the full circle.  

 I have photographed a number of invertebrate species at home and at other local sites recently.  The following are photos of some of them.

If anyone knows the specific names of the Huntsman-like spider, the lacewing or the king cricket I would be keen to know.

Longicorn Beetle Rhytiphora sp., Coutts Crossing
Hedge Grasshopper, Coffs Harbour, missing hind legs apparently due to predator (?cat attack)

Cluster of Cotton Harlequin Bugs on Native Rosella Hibiscus heterophyllus, Coutts Crossing  

Giant Panda Snails mating, Bindaree National Park

caterpillar (? Salma pyrastis) on Native Rosella, Coutts Crossing

Male Blue Skimmer Dragonfly, Coutts Crossing

Lacewing, Coutts Crossing

St Andrews Cross Spider, Coutts Crossing

Cuttlefish Bone, Wilsons Headland, Yuraygir National Park

Spider (? Huntsman) Woodford Island Nature Reserve    

King Cricket, Woodford island Nature Reserve   
Leech, Woodford Island Nature Reserve   
Garden Orb-weaving Spider, Woodford Island Nature Reserve    

Golden Orb-weaving Spider, Woodford Island Nature Reserve

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Second AOC field trip to wetlands North Adelaide

Barker Inlet Wetlands
On Sunday November 29 Brian Walker led a small group from the AOC (Elliot Leach, Janice Mentiplay-Smith and Val and me) on a tour of wetlands at North Adelaide.  Our first stop was at Barker Inlet Wetlands where the highlight was seeing approximately 55 Banded Stilts.  I had only seen the species once before, a single specimen at Lake Nearie near Wentworth, New South Wales, many years ago.  An Australian Spotted Crake ran into cover and then proceeded to emerge again to give us all great views.  A single Black-tailed Godwit and a group of Black-tailed Native-hens were other species of interest.

Flock of Banded Stilts Barker Inlet Wetlands

Banded Stilts at Barker Inlet Wetlands

The next location was at Magazine Road Wetlands (Dry Creek) where some Long-toed Stints had been seen earlier in the week.  We checked out every small Sharp-tailed Sandpipers and finally Elliot saw a bird that he was happy was a Long-toed Stint.  It certainly was smaller than the other Sharp-tailed Sandpipers and the markings were quite different.  It would have been a new species for both of us but after doing some research after the trip Elliot realized that it was, in fact, an unusually marked Sharpie!!  That species is quite variable and often causes identification problems.  Twenty Wood Sandpipers were a highlight though.  I had only seen the species twice before and both times involved single birds.  A group of twenty Black-tailed Native-hens scurried for cover as we walked around the track.

Moving on to the Whites Road Wetland (Bolivar) Brian told us that the White-winged Fairy-wren occurs there.  He showed us the general area where they occur and I spotted an adult male perched on a fence post.  It is a beautiful little gem of a bird.  An Eastern Great Egret made a meal of a crayfish working it in its bill for some time, attempting to swallow it and then moving it out to its bill for further crushing.  It eventually swallowed it whole.  Thirty Chestnut Teal, 6 Pink-eared Ducks and a Yellow-billed Spoonbill and a Royal Spoonbill were on and around the sand flat in one of the ponds.

Eastern Great Egret eating crayfish Whites Road Wetland (Bolivar)

At St Kilda Elliot and I found out the hard way how soft the mud was in a drain adjacent to the saltworks.  The water in the saltworks was covered in Banded Stilts and we both wanted to get some photographs.  There were a couple of access points above the drain but we wanted to sneak up on the birds in the hope of getting some great photos so took the more direct route.  As I sank into the black ooze I was hoping that there was a bottom to the drain.  Luckily there was but I still had my boots and the bottom of my jeans totally caked in black ooze. Elliot followed me in and collected even more black ooze than I did.  We spent quite a while washing the ooze off our boots and jeans and we were worried about staining the seats of Brian's immaculate vehicle but a plastic floor mat and another piece of plastic prevented any problems.   There would have been 300+ Banded Stilts at the site - an incredible spectable.  I managed a few photos but lacking my spotting scope and camera adaptor the shots were fairly distant.  Nevertheless I was happy with a few of them.  A we were cleaning up a restored tram rattled past on the opposite side of the road.

Large flock of Banded Stilts at St Kilda saltworks

Banded Stilts St Kilda

Banded Stilts St Kilda

Restored tram, St Kilda

Not too far from the saltworks we parked near a very popular fun park which was full of children and their parents.  We walked in the opposite direction to check out the birds in the bay.  Another flock of Banded Stilts was foraging just offshore and 3,000+ Black Swans were scattered around the bay.  Six Sooty Oystercatchers, 10 Common Greenshanks and 20 Whiskered Terns were other birds of interest.

Brian and Elliot off to find some good birds!!! St Kilda

Flock of Banded Stilts on mudflats at St Kilda (Black Swans in background)

Little Pied Cormorant, St Kilda
Black Swans in flight and on the water, St Kilda

After a longish half day with the excitement of nearly drowning in black ooze Brian dropped us back to our respective places of accommodation.  Another really enjoyable trip.