Monday, 10 February 2014

Cicadas, Christmas Beetles and Birds

It has been a summer dominated by cicadas and Christmas Beetles and the local eucalypts and corymbias are showing signs of stress.  Some trees have had most of their leaves consumed by beetles, mostly Christmas Beetles of the genus Anoplognathus, and some smaller trees such as the Red Ash and Creek Sandpaper Fig have been attacked by small beetles known as 'Jumping Beetles'. Christmas Beetles can cause much damage as their natural numbers can be exceeded in areas where forests have been cleared or partly cleared and lawns or grass paddocks have taken their place.  The larvae are the greyish curl grubs that feed on grass roots.  Because there is a greater supply of grass roots than was normal in the past more larvae survive and become adult beetles.  The unnaturally high numbers of adult beetles grazing on eucalypt leaves can strip trees bare.  The New England Dieback that has occurred on the NSW northern tablelands is thought to be due a number of impacts, but consumption of leaves by the beetles is a major cause.

Christmas Beetle Anoplognathus sp. 
Christmas Beetle Anoplognathus sp.

Black Nail Beetle Repsimus manicatus

'Christmas Beetle'

                                          Jumping Beetles on Creek Sandpaper Fig
                                                                   Coutts Crossing

Up until a few days ago the incessant call of ciacdas was all pervading, even into the evening.  A number of species occur locally including the Yellow Monday Cyclochila australasiae ,  Razor Grinder Henicopsaltria eydouxii, Psaltoda pictibasis and others that I am having identified at present.  P. pictibasis is found east of the Great Dividing Range and in NSW there are records from only Tabulum, Iluka and Port Macquarie.  The latter locality requires confirmation.  So my record at Coutts Crossing is a new locality for the species. Cicadas emerge from the soil during the summer after spending years underground feeding on the sap from plant roots.  The larvae climb up onto tree trunks and other objects, and shed their nymphal cases (exuviae).  A small post at the edge of our driveway has a cluster of nymphal cases at the top. Once fully emerged and the wings open and dry out they fly to a tree to feed and breed.  

Psaltoda sp. cicada emerging from Nymphal case Coutts Crsossing
Cicada nymphal cases on stump Coutts Crossing
   Yellow Monday Cyclochila australasiae and
nymphal cases Ebor Falls
Cicada Psaltoda pictibasis Coutts Crossing 
Razor Grinder Henicopsaltria eydouxii  Orara River Coutts Crossing

                               Floury Baker Aleeta curvicosta Coutts Crossing

                       Double Drummer Thopha saccata Nymboi-Binderay National Park

Identifications provided so far have been by Ian Buddle, Max Moulds, Frank Pierce and Lindsay Popple .

For the past few mornings cicadas haven't dominated the sounds of the bush as they have been doing for some time.  The cooler weather seems to have quietened them down and the fact that they provide a rich source of food for many bird species means that their numbers may be dwindling due to predation.  For the past few mornings, the chattering of Spangled Drongos and the calls of Noisy Friarbirds, Little Friarbirds, Noisy Miners, Blue-faced Honeyeaters and Little Wattlebirds have dominated.  Large numbers of these birds have been feasting on the beetles and cicadas.  At least 10 Spangled Drongos, including dependent young being fed by adults, were present but as they are very active this estimate is probably understating the real number present.  A flock of 13 Blue-faced Honeyeaters and a number Noisy Friarbirds, including an adult feeding a juvenile, were also present.
A family of Pacific Bazas, an adult and juvenile Olive-backed Orioles and a couple of Dollarbirds have also joined in the feast.

Monday, 3 February 2014

A recent trip to Tucabia and Lawrence

I try to visit the local wetlands as often as possible to check up on our local Black-necked (Satin) Storks and to see what other wildlife is around.  Warren Thompson and I ventured to the Coldstream Wetlands, near Tucabia, and to Lawrence last Tuesday.  For a hot dry summer's day we were pleasantly surprised with our tally of species recording 116 birds, 4 mammals, 2 reptiles and one frog species.  Cicadas were ever present making it difficult to hear many bird calls.  It has also been suggested that the constant sound of cicadas causes many birds to remain silent although it would be hard to know if any were calling due to the noise.  In addition, by the time of the year that the cicadas are really going strongly, many birds would have finished breeding and calling may be reduced for this reason.

We started at Coutts Crossing, where we live, and travelled to South Grafton, where I had to drop off my vehicle for a service.  Warren was the driver for the day so I was happy to go where he wanted to go.   On the trip into town the flock of Magpie Geese were at the dam at the former poultry farm but I didn't stop to count them but conservatively estimated that there were 60+ present.  A few days later I counted 120+ at that site.  Adjacent to the Pacific Highway at Clarenza we found four more Magpie Geese perched in a dead tree.  There were also Grey Teal and Pacific Black Ducks there and an Australian Reed-Warbler and a Tawny Grassbird were calling.

Four Magpie Geese at Clarenza
We travelled up a back road at Clarenza and stopped near a small creek.  This site usually produces a good variety of birds and it didn't disappoint this time.  We added Rainbow Bee-eater, Dollarbird, White-throated Gerygone, Spangled Drongo (3), the vulnerable Varied Sittella (5) and twenty-one other species.  After photographing an adult male Brown Falcon we reached the wetlands at Swan Creek and began to add waterbird species such as Eurasian Coot, Hardhead, White-faced Heron and Australasian Grebe to our list.  We also heard Golden-headed Cisticola, which was present at many of the wetlands that we visited during the day.  

Adult male Brown Falcon

An adult Nankeen Night-Heron flushed from a thickly foliaged tree and landed in a dead tree.  While it was there a White-necked Heron landed in the same tree.  As they perched there the Night Heron was craning its neck and watching something high above.  When I looked up a pair of Wedge-tailed Eagles was gliding above.  They are always a great sight.  This would have been the pair that occupied the nest that a 'bird watcher' had fallen from and severely injured himself last year.

Adult Nankeen Night-Heron

Adult Nankeen Night-Heron watching Wedge-tailed Eagles

White-necked Heron
On to the Coldstream wetlands where we encountered our first Brolgas for the day.  There were five off towards Collett's Swamp and two near the Avenue Drain.   A sub-adult female Black-necked Stork was loafing on the edge of the drain where two Pacific Black Ducks, two White-necked Herons and a White-faced Heron were foraging. 


                             Sub-adult female Black-necked Stork with White-
                             necked Herons, White-faced Heron and Pacific
                             Black Ducks

The drain was covered with the native Giant Waterlily Nymphaea gigantea.

A visit to the northern section of the Crowsnest Swamp provided views of abundant birdlife congregating in the drying wetland.  A number of Eastern Great and Intermediate Egrets, Australian Pelicans, Pacific Black Ducks, 5 Australasian Shovelers, Grey Teal, Royal Spoonbills, 28 Glossy Ibis and a few Australian White Ibis were there.

                                  Mixed waterbirds at Crowsnest Swamp

We had lunch at a TSR on the Coldstream River and a few White-throated Needletails flew low overhead.  Then on to Tucabia to check out the flying-fox colony.  It was quite a sight with 5,000+ Little Red Flying-foxes camped in a reserve along the River.  It was great to see these much maligned, but incredible, animals up close. Unfortunately I heard on Sunday morning that a local had torched the camp last night and not only have the bats gone but the riparian vegetation is badly damaged.  This type of criminal behaviour is based on ignorance and fear.  The authorities are investigating this act of mindless vandalism.  Usually what happens in these situations is that the poor bats, that are struggling to find enough suitable habitat left for them, will be pushed into a location where there is more conflict with humans, as happened at Maclean.


Little Red Flying-fox colony at Tucabia
Little Red Flying-foxes
After a visit to the Lawrence egret colony swamp, where we observed 20+ Freckled Ducks, 36+  Pink-eared Ducks and a female Musk Duck we headed home along the Lawrence Road where we came across a flock of 21 Brolgas.  As I was photographing the Brolgas I notice a raptor in a dead tree.  It was a sub-adult Peregrine Falcon, moulting from its brown immature plumage to its grey adult plumage.  Five more Brolgas were seen a short distance further south.  An adult Eastern Osprey and a Brown Goshawk made the day's tally 116 bird species.

                                              Adult Brolga south of Lawrence

                                              Sub-adult Peregrine Falcon

We recorded 12 species that we didn't record on our two previous trips (on 14 & 21 November 2013) but dipped on 35 that we did get previously.  The total number of bird species recorded on the three days was 151.

The total list for 28 January 2014 is shown below with  ‘T’ = threatened, * = introduced; 

Birds: Magpie Goose (T), Plumed Whistling-Duck, Musk Duck, Freckled Duck (T), Black Swan,  Australian Wood Duck, Pink-eared Duck, Australasian Shoveler, Grey Teal, Chestnut Teal, Pacific Black Duck, Hardhead, Australasian Grebe, Hoary-headed Grebe, White-headed Pigeon, *Spotted Dove, Crested Pigeon, Peaceful Dove, Bar-shouldered Dove, White-throated Needletail, Australasian Darter, Little Pied Cormorant, Great Cormorant, Little Black Cormorant, Pied Cormorant, Australian Pelican, Black-necked Stork (T), White-necked Heron, Eastern Great Egret, Intermediate Egret, Cattle Egret, White-faced Heron, Little Egret, Nankeen Night-Heron, Glossy Ibis, Australian White Ibis, Straw-necked Ibis, Royal Spoonbill, Yellow-billed Spoonbill, Eastern Osprey (T), Black-shouldered Kite, White-bellied Sea-Eagle, Whistling Kite, Brown Goshawk, Swamp Harrier, Wedge-tailed Eagle, Nankeen Kestrel, Brown Falcon, Peregrine Falcon, Brolga (T), Purple Swamphen, Dusky Moorhen, Eurasian Coot, Black-winged Stilt, Black-fronted Dotterel, Red-kneed Dotterel, Masked Lapwing, Comb-crested Jacana (T), Caspian Tern, Crested Tern, Silver Gull, Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoo, Little Corella, Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, Rainbow Lorikeet, Scaly-breasted Lorikeet, Musk Lorikeet, Australian King-Parrot, Eastern Rosella, Laughing Kookaburra, Sacred Kingfisher, Rainbow Bee-eater, Dollarbird, Superb Fairy-wren, White-throated Gerygone, Yellow-rumped Thornbill, Brown Thornbill, Lewin’s Honeyeater, Yellow-faced Honeyeater, Noisy Miner, Little Wattlebird,    Scarlet Honeyeater, Brown Honeyeater, White-throated Honeyeater, Blue-faced Honeyeater, Noisy Friarbird, Little Friarbird, Striped Honeyeater, Varied Sittella (T), Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike, Golden Whistler, Rufous Whistler, Australasian Figbird, Olive-backed Oriole, White-breasted Woodswallow, Grey Butcherbird, Pied Butcherbird, Australian Magpie, Spangled Drongo, Grey Fantail, Willie Wagtail, Torresian Crow, Magpie-lark, Jacky Winter, Golden-headed Cisticola, Australian Reed-Warbler, Tawny Grassbird, Little Grassbird, Welcome Swallow, Fairy Martin, Tree Martin, *Common Myna, Mistletoebird, Double-barred Finch, Red-browed Finch, *House Sparrow.

Mammals: Northern Brown Bandicoot, Eastern Grey Kangaroo, Red-necked Wallaby, Little Red Flying-fox.

Reptiles: Short-necked Turtle, Garden Sun-skink.

Amphibians: Eastern Dwarf Tree Frog.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Elusive Rufous Scrub-birds very elusive

Following my recent post on our search for the elusive Rufous Scrub-bird in Gibraltar Range
National Park I received an email from Penny Drake-Brockman from Gloucester. 

She wrote "Interested to read your short report on search for the scrubbird in your
local range.  Maybe their not calling was due to the drought - is that
area very dry?  Hunter Bird group had little response from the
scrub-birds at Gloucester Tops this year (surveys in September/October)
and put this down to it being very dry - this has happened in the past.

I went up to Gloucester Tops mid November with some birders, and we only
heard the Munro Hut bird (which is the one that is usually most easily
heard) make a few chips, and one other further along the Careys Peak
Track - with no calls from many other previously recorded sites.   When
surveying up there in other years when we've had sufficient rain, I've
heard them loud and clear at many sites."

Penny is right about the rain.  We have had a particularly dry spring and summer.  We have had a few storms but many of the local wetlands have dried up. 

I am glad to know that it is not just the Gibraltar Range Scrub-birds that have been hard to locate.  Hopefully this is just a temporary glitch and they will be back to their vocally loud selves next year.

                                                    Rufous Scrub-bird habitat Gibraltar Range National Park