Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Grey Shrike-thrushes have moved on to greener pastures

Two days ago was the last time I heard the Grey Shrike-thrush and it found itself a new mate. The male brought his new mate into his territory but it did not last long. The 2 birds (there may have been 3 birds calling out but I could be mistaken) left the area a few hours later and have not been heard from since then.

The interesting thing about this is the original bird (most likely the male) appears to have abandoned his territory over his chances of successfully mating with this new female. The pair of birds have left an area where a plentiful supply of food is so they can breed in peace and quiet without any disturbances from dogs and humans and predator birds. The male is a quick learner and obviously does not want to go through that heartache again with the first mate he found. He is willing to sacrifice everything for this new female mate. Obviously the drive to breed is stronger than anything else in the animal kingdom.

With the male adapting and learning by his mistakes, and taking into consideration the needs and fears of the female, they will successfully breed wherever they choose to make their new home. I am really sad to see them go but as they have a really good chance at successfully breeding and raising a family I am happy to see them leave together, knowing he has finally found a mate and has learnt from his past mistakes.

But the question is where would this pair of birds move to that has a similiar supply of food? Out in the bush surrounding Tenterfield the insect life is not as abdundant as it is in town. The Eucalypt trees are still recovering from a long term drought and insects are not as prolific as it is in someone's garden. Maybe the insect population out in the bush is enough to sustain them and enough to raise future hungry chicks with.

Grey Shrike-thrushes are not noctural birds therefore they could not easily stay awake and hang around street lights to catch an endless supply of insects that are attracted to those lights if they remained in Tenterfield. I miss these birds already, as well as their songs, but birds have to do what birds have to do to survive and reproduce successfully. I wish them luck. I hope to one day see these birds hanging around the area again.

Crested Pigeons being affected by sterility

I was hoping to see little babies of the Crested Pigeons this month but the female who was sitting on eggs has abandoned the nest altogether. Not only did she abandon the nest she wrecked the nest too. This occurred about 3-4 days ago. Either the male or the female is sterile because no chicks hatched whatsoever. I don't know which gender of Crested Pigeon is sterile.

It's strange but no Crested Pigeons have successfully hatched eggs in Tenterfield, as far as I can tell, for at least 5 or more years now. As soon as the adult population dies out naturally Crested Pigeons will become extinct in the area. This may be the first ever recorded species to actually go extinct. There is only one solution to this problem  to prevent this species from going extinct, and that is the introduction of fresh blood with younger and fertile birds.

For the last few days I have not seen or heard Crested Pigeons anywhere nor have I seen any fledglings. Did they leave the area? Where did they go? I have no idea!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Willie Wagtail Rhipidura leucophrys

I forgot about adding this little bird to my list. There are not many of them in Tenterfield anymore. I'm not sure just how many there were in town before birds started disappearing around 2004 - 2006.

The Willy Wagtail is an insect eater. It catches insects either in flight or walks around and disturbs insects in the grass by flapping it's wings. This species is known for it's tail wagging movements. It is a black and white bird with a black throat and has white eyebrows and whisker markings. A breeding pair usually form a life long bond and will stay together with each other.

The Willy Wagtail is one of the very few birds that sings for most of the night. This occurs mostly in Winter but can continue into Spring. The males have been heard singing around midnight until just before dawn. Then it has a break whilst the sun rises and then starts singing again about 10 - 30 minutes later.

Their night time calls have been recorded by me but I had to delete most of them due to poor audio quality and an inaccurate sound recording recorded by my mobile phones. Their songs of a night time tend to change and can be slightly different each night. The male and female of this species is almost identical.

The main predator of the Willy Wagtail is the Torresian Crow which will steal and eat their eggs and their young nestlings. The Willy Wagtail numbers were I live have not increased due to predator attacks of their nest, year in and year out.

One of the first videos I took of a Willy Wagtail. It was preening itself on the
fence but did not make a noise. It's a Torresian Crow's call you hear in this video.

Common Starlings Sturnus vulgaris

It has taken me a while to identify this bird species as they generally look slightly different to the normal Common Starlings. The ones in Tenterfield are mostly black in colour. It is really hard to see the other colours that is commonly seen on a Starling, on a cloudy day. These birds are mostly heard before they are seen, and you can easily mistake them for being a Common Blackbird. The birds in the first video I believe are juvenile birds mostly. If you look carefully and pause the video a lot, you can see a bird on the far left that has circle colourations on it's body and has a light brown wing. These are the markings of a Common Starling. Right at the end of this first video the birds were alerted to a Torresian Crow coming in to get the pasta, so the Starlings flew away.

The video above was recorded today - 29 October 2012 around 12:30PM
 
The video below is mostly of the alert sound created by Starlings. I originally mistook this bird I recorded for a Satin Bowerbird.
This video was taken on Miles Street looking over the horse stables
and into the Tenterfield Showgrounds. I saw a big black bird fly into the area
where the Starlings were, and then a sort of fight broke out.

Common Starlings are somewhat common throughout Tenterfield and flock together in large numbers. They can be seen on power lines, flying into large trees, or on the ground where there is wide open spaces. They eat grass seeds. What else they eat I have yet to research. Apparently Common Starlings build their nests under the rooves of humans' houses and apparently have lice and spread lice too. Maybe that's where human children get head lice from; as Starlings are commonly sighted hanging around schools? It's just a thought.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Peacock

For years now there has been a Peacock in Tenterfield somewhere. I am not exactly sure where it is or if it someone's pet, but it does sound like it is either in the Tenterfield Park area or on neighbouring property to that location. I have only ever heard one Peacock calling out, somewhere directly behind Seven Knights' Service Station - on the east side of Rouse Street, one (or two at the most) blocks back from the main road and slightly to the right. This puts it right in the vicinity of the Tenterfield Park area. Yet, I have been to the Tenterfield Park many times and have never seen or heard a Peacock there.

The peacock is not heard calling for most of the year. It is only heard during breeding season which is Spring here in Tenterfield. I have tried getting an audio recording of this bird's call from my place but my camera and mobile phones don't pick it up. I'm roughly 2kms away from the bird!

For the passed few days this Peacock has been consistently calling out to attract a mate. This has been happening from about lunch time onward until just after dark each day. One day I will track the location of this Peacock down when it is calling out and take photos and audio recordings of it. It's got to be here somewhere.

My neighbour's friend at Drake actually has Peacocks and having observed those ones I have learnt Peacocks can actually fly. They roost at the top or near the top of very tall trees each night. I've actually seen a male Peacock fly up into a tree with it's full tail feathers and all. It is a surprising sight to see. Peacocks cannot consistently fly like other birds can. They can only fly short distances before they begin to lose altitude and gravity sets in.

The exact species of this Peacock is unknown and won't be known until I photograph it.

How to do an Eastern Spinebill population count in your area from poor quality videos

Let's say you have an Eastern Spinebill visiting your garden and you never see any more than one bird at a time. The chances of it being the same individual is about 50%. I actually thought there was only one individual visiting my garden but apparently there is at least two including one female. Taking videos of these birds is very helpful to help identify any different birds by their markings, which I will explain in a minute. Not everyone is going to have a really expensive camera nor take photos of these birds that come out crystal clear. Chances are your photos and videos will be blurry, out of focus or you just can't see the whole bird as it hides behind branches whilst feeding. These birds rarely keep still and are always moving about. But even if you do manage to get a clear shot it will probably be out of focus or blurred because you're trying to keep up with the bird by moving the camera. This is normal, and to date, this is what all my videos of these birds have come out like.

Image 1 Notice the white triangle on it's chest
Image 2 A near frontal view


Image 3 A side on view
I actually recommend just taking videos of these birds because not only do you pick up the sounds they make, you can also take a screenshot of the bird if it is crystal clear at any point in the video. I also recommend that you ignore the eye colouring of each bird, as when the sun light is shining into their eyes, their eyes turn white in colour which can be seen with the naked eye and it is picked up in video footage and photos. In the shade their eyes turn their natural colour, which I think is red or reddish brown. I'm not really sure actually.

Having Grevilleas out the front of my place is an added advantage as Eastern Spinebills feed on the nectar of the Grevilleas at least 3 times a day but only for a few minutes each time. They move on as quickly as they arrive. Studying these birds has told me that only sometimes do they call out. During the breeding season they call out a lot. It appears that they are keeping in contact with each other, as to where each other are. However, I have found a way to actually do a population count on this species but it involves taking videos every time I see these birds.

The most reliable way to do a population count is to check the birds' dark band markings that go from the back of their head down toward the chest. The formation of this dark band appears to be uniquely different with each individual bird despite the bird's age and gender. This dark band marking is similiar to our fingerprints - no fingerprints of 2 humans are the same. The same can be said for these dark band markings of this species. When studying your own videos of this species try to take screenshots of a near frontal view (see image 2) and a side view (see image 3) of each bird in the video. By getting a near frontal shot of the bird you will be able to tell how wide the dark band is and if there are any other unusual markings on the bird around the side of the throat and upper chest area. (See image 2 again)

In the last two photos we are looking at the same bird (see the dark band marking indents that go inward from the outside into the white area of the throat? They look like coloured in arrow heads. However, the bird in the first photo does not have these markings, and actually has a white patch of feathers that are on the outside (left and lower) of the dark band marking. It makes a triangle patch of white feathers between the dark band and the buff coloured chest/upper abdomen feathers. The dark band is also narrower in places and at the bottom it heads into the white coloured feathers of it's shoulder area. The bird may also have a white feather markings on it's right wing but this could be a trick of light.

The circular marking on the throat is usually, I've found, not a good indication at first, in identifying individual birds. As each circular marking is different it is really hard to get these birds to keep still so you can take a photo of their throats. When a bird has just left the nest the juvenile will not have this circular marking yet. They just have a buff coloured throat. As the bird matures the circular marking is formed. However, it will be a good way to tell how old the bird might be by studying how well formed the circular mark is on the bird's throat.

The brown nape coloured feathers also changes with maturity, so this is not a good way to identify individuals of this species. The brown nape coloured feathers eventually spreads down the back of the bird.

Anyway, by studying your own video footage you can clearly identify how many individual birds are in the immediate area using this form of identification alone.

Eastern Spinebill juvenile sighted today

I woke up to the sound of either a Starling or Indian Myna in the tree next to my bedroom window. The bird woke me up. Upon getting up I opened up the front door and just stood there looking out into the neighbourhood, and lo and behold I saw a juvenile Eastern Spinebill sitting in one of my Dwarf Grevilleas. I was less than 6 feet from the bird. This was only less than 10 minutes ago (around 12:40PM) - yes I slept in. I stayed there watching the little bird as it kept perfectly still as it had it's back to me. I spoke to it then suddenly it moved, then scratched itself. Less than 5 seconds later it called out and a moment later it's parent called out and flew into the Dwarf Grevilleas as well. Then the juvenile stretched it's wings as if it was yawning whilst it's parent had some nectar from a Grevillea flower then the adult flew off across my front lawn to the right. The juvenile remained in the Grevillea.

I decided to get my camera so got up (I was squatting at this point) and walked into my bedroom. The moment I got back to the front door the juvenile flew away.

There is no doubt that this was a juvenile Eastern Spinebill. It was 3/4 the size of the parent bird. It had buff coloured throat feathers and dark coloured feathers on it's wings, similiar to the parent and a parent bird responded to it's call. What a delight it was to see a juvenile Eastern Spinebill upon waking up.

The juvenile may have already eaten nectar from the Grevilleas when I opened up the front door, but it looked like the parent bird was showing the juvenile where the nectar plants are, whilst the juvenile followed the parent around. As the juvenile remained in the Grevillea plant whilst the parent bird fed elsewhere, my Grevilleas appear to be a safe place for juveniles to hang around in. The adult seemed to trust me to leave it's chick in the plant, knowing I would not disturb it.

So, the 28th October is when you will definitely begin to see juvenile Eastern Spinebills here in Tenterfield. I have no idea where the adult birds nested, but they did nest and managed to raise one chick which will grow into an adult bird, hopefully.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

UPDATE: Grey Shrike-thrush has left the area

A few days ago the remaining Grey Shrike-thrush was last heard calling from a gum tree in the Tenterfield Creek, and has not been heard from since. I guess birds can only take so much before they leave, and I believe this bird left to find a new mate. I guess it wanted to mate, lay eggs, etc but didn't successfully do that here. A lot of factors may have been taken into consideration, including a bird-chasing dog; the barking of a dog next to the nest; too close proximity of nest to humans; and a very nervous mate. An appropriate natural nesting site probably would've been preferred over an artificial one as well but obviously none were available.

With a lack of natural nesting sites available, and the other factors taken into consideration, the birds obviously had no choice but to move on. Well, that's what I originally thought. Today I heard the bird again from about 5PM onward. It obviously travels a bit around the place to locate another mate then comes back home to rest for a while.

Going on this one fact alone, I would say this Grey Shrike-thrush has made this area it's home, and as such has a territory. It is good to still hear it about the place but only time and experience will tell if it successfully raises a family here.

UPDATE: White-faced Heron still on nest and it's a female

I took some photos yesterday of the White-faced Heron's nest, and over the course of about 5-7 days it has grown in size. It is really strange as I have never seen the White-faced Heron feeding in the Tenterfield Creek, not even for 10 seconds, since it started nesting. I've yet to see it away from the nest. I've spent hours at a time at my neighbour, Carol's place, and not once have I heard this bird call out - except once - the last day it rained here in Tenterfield. In the immediate area of the Heron's nest are Australian Magpies, Laughing Kookaburras and Pied Currawongs as well as Torresian Crows (well one anyway) - all of which eat eggs and chicks (not sure about the Magpies though).


The picture above clearly shows that there is a bird still on the nest. It apparently is the rear end view of the bird. At first I thought another much larger bird had moved into the nest but after doing some research about White-faced Herons nesting, I learnt that the eggs hatch in about 25 days and it takes a further 40 days before the chicks are fledged. But how long it takes from mating to when the eggs are laid I do not have a clue.

Just looking at this photo means the adult bird does get off the nest to make the nest bigger and to eat. But as I am yet to see a second adult bird in the immediate area, anywhere, it makes me wonder if this bird actually feeds during the night time as well to help eliminate any predators from getting the eggs or chicks.

After mating happens the nest is built higher and bigger over time prior to the eggs hatching. The nest could double in size in a matter of just 2-3 weeks.

Rereading the posts I have written about this White-faced Heron, it started checking out the gum tree for a nesting site around the 1st of October. I have absolutely no idea when the eggs were laid, perhaps a week later? I'm only guessing here. However, on the 7th October the Heron was sitting on eggs constantly. Between the 1st and the 6th October I don't know what happened. However, on the 13th September two adult birds were seen together. I'm assuming this was the day they mated, as the second adult bird was never seen again after the 17th September.

In summary:
  • Late August to 13 September 2012: lots of vocalization happened. Bird calling out esp. near sunset.
  • 13 September: a second bird was sighted hanging around the first one
  • 17 September: one of the adult birds left after mating had occurred during the previous 4 days
  • 01 October: remaining adult checks out a gum tree to build nest in
  • 07 October: only females lay eggs therefore it is a female
  • 07 October: one adult had made a nest and is sitting in the nest
  • 27 October: still sitting on nest and no sign of chicks on nest yet. Not that I can see inside the nest, going on angle and height the nest is from the ground.
It must be really rough on this bird to build the nest, lay the eggs, lay on the eggs as well as feed herself. And soon she will be feeding her chicks. In conclusion this remaining bird must is a female.

But why is she raising a family by herself? What would cause this to happen? It's a mystery that only she knows the answer to!

FOOTNOTE: When I observed the 2 herons together it is the male who fluffs up his or has fluffy plumage. The female who is nesting here now apparently didn't fluff up her plumage at all during the times I observed her with the male.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Torresian Crow numbers dropping dramatically

The genetic diversity for the Torresian Crows in Tenterfield is entirely limited to it's own family members within one family group or possibly two. I'm starting to think all the Torresian Crows of Tenterfield are related to each other. The Torresian Crow that visits my place does not have a mate as far as I know. Just this year it's only offspring had left the area, and the remaining parent is always seen by itself. After quite a few years it still has white eyes. The blue-eyed crows left a long time ago.

Currently Torresian Crows, at least 2 pairs, are breeding (at the bottom of ST Joseph's Primary School and Jubilee Park) but offspring being born and actually survive is not good. About every 3 or so years I see a new generation of Torresian Crows but only one of which survives until it is old enough to fend for itself. The food demand for the chick/juvenile offspring is incredibly high until it is old enough to fend for itself.

Tenterfield's current population of this species mostly consists of younger generation birds - either children or grandchildren of older Torresian Crows. But here lies the problem - there is no other Torresian Crows, that I am aware of, that come into Tenterfield to increase the general population of this species. If there are others nearby they do not come into Tenterfield at all.

All that exists of this species in Tenterfield is less than 10 birds now. They seem to mostly inhabit the south-west corner of Tenterfield. These birds have been known to travel all across town searching for food when they are not breeding. They spend most of their lives near the Tenterfield Creek. They are a resident species of Tenterfield but some of them have already left the area completely. Torresian Crows are not a well liked bird in town but soon even they will eventually leave the area or die out as there is simply not enough food around to feed many chicks with. The crows that are here do not look hungry even though they scavenge through the rubbish bins. Nature is taking it's course with this species and I believe no-one will miss this species in town when they are gone (except me).

Pied Currawongs disappearing quickly from Tenterfield

There used to be a fair few (about 15 or so) Pied Currawongs here in Tenterfield that left town for a while then came back I think earlier this year. However, for about the last month or so, I have only heard and seen just a few individuals which I believe to be young ones that have not bred yet.

It is a crying shame to lose this species as they are such a lovely species even though they eat birds' eggs and young nestlings. Large numbers of this species used to inhabit Tenterfield as little as just 7 years ago. Now only one or two individuals remain. In time, perhaps as little as 6 months from now, this species will have left Tenterfield as well. It only takes 6 months for an entire species to disappear from this area if the conditions and their food source do not improve.

Grey Butcherbird Cracticus torquatus

I need to see if I have any pictures of this species on my computer. About 12 months ago there were Grey Butcherbirds here in Tenterfield, albeit very small in numbers. I remember seeing just one pair of them and they did breed and only had one offspring. As soon as the juvenile was old enough to fend for itself the adult birds disappeared and I never saw them again.

The juvenile bird became an infrequent weekly visitor until one day it never returned and I haven't seen it since. I have not seen any Grey Butcherbirds since about January/February of this year, and they were resident birds.

Restless Flycatcher update

July 2012 was the last time I heard a Restless Flycatcher in the area when I saw only 2 of them together. It, along with it's mate, has since disappeared. I have been to many different locations in Tenterfield since July and have not heard this species at all. It's call is very distinctive. As far as I can tell it is not at the Tenterfield Park either.

I am guessing this is yet another species that has left the Tenterfield area. I will be placing this species under the "species that have left Tenterfield" from now onward should I happen to come across any old or new videos I have of this species.

White-plumed Honeyeater Lichenostomus penicillatus

The White-plumed Honeyeater is a rare visitor to Tenterfield. I believe I have not seen this bird before or have not paid attention to it's calls before. I'm just not sure about this species as to whether it is a resident bird species or not. Either way I have yet to see any more than one individual of this species. below is a video I took of my first sighting of this species. The sighting occurred at my neighbour Carol's place on the 6th October 2012.

All I know about this bird species is it is shown eating something from the new growth of the tree it was seen in. I'm not even sure of the tree species it was in.

UPDATE: Grey Shrike-thrush nesting nearby

It's only bad news really. The pair of Grey Shrike-thrushes that were attempting to nest at my neighbour Carol's place, in the bottom half of the water fountain by her back door, have abandoned the nest and separated as a couple. The mate, more than likely a female, has not been heard from for probably 5 days now.

I was over visiting Carol yesterday and discovered the nest was empty. I took some photos but no eggs were even laid in the nest. The photos did not come out clear enough to add here. The nest was a crude attempt at building a nest, and was full of sticks and leaves, and some lichen and cobwebs by the look of it.

The male was spotted calling from trees when I was there, like he was trying to attract a mate. His song seemed desperate and urgent. The poor little fellow, I think he misses his mate.

As Grey Shrike-thrushes are not normally seen or heard in Tenterfield it may be some time before another bird comes along. His voice is loud, and for a very good reason. If you are the only one of your kind within a 10km square area you'd want to be heard too. Surrounding Tenterfield is lots of trees but generally Tenterfield is an open plains area mostly inhabited by willow trees and the odd gum trees. The entire area is not ideal for most bird species actually.

Why this bird simply didn't move away from the area with his new mate is beyond me. Why he didn't find a more appropriate nesting site is again another mystery. Having a large dog suddenly start barking and is known for chasing birds is not an ideal location for building a nest in that vicinity. It's stressful for birds especially if you are a newbie to the area.

Has it become so bad for birds that they are forced to inhabit areas in close proximity to human habitats? Where else are birds going to breed or sleep when there are barely any plant life outside of people's homes? Tenterfield is not designed for birdlife, and the areas in town outside of people's homes are mostly barren of plant life and generally are open spaces with lots of grass everywhere.

The Tenterfield Creek is also barrren, mostly devoid of trees and other plant life. I am surprised that the birdlife in Tenterfield is clinging to what little habitat there is here. The birds surely must be desperate to stay here, else they all would've left by now.

The Grey Shrike-thrush was the same, desperately clinging to life in what little plant life they could find. Obviously there was enough food in the area for them to stay but simply not enough plant life to breed in. Whether the male Grey Shrike-thrush finds another mate or moves elsewhere is anyone's guess right now. It will take time, if he chooses to stay here. However, locating more of it's own kind is almost next to impossible here in Tenterfield, as the male depends upon them passing through town before he can hopefully find a mate. His best choice is to leave town and try and find a population of his own species elsewhere and start again from there. As sad as it will be to see him go, there really is no other option for this species in Tenterfield.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Haven't heard this bird call in about 7-10 years

Oh, how time changes everything. Just before it got dark tonight I was out the front potting up some willow tree cuttings that had taken root when suddenly I heard this bird call that I haven't heard in Tenterfield for years. I have absolutely no idea what species makes this bird call. I also can't remember the last time I heard this exact same bird call either, but it must be at least 7 - 10 years ago. It is not the sort of call you forget either, considering I heard it all the time in the past. It is the sweetest, softest, and gentlest call you'll ever hear a bird make.

The bird call sounded like it was on the west side of town about a kilometre from me. It brought back memories of hearing this bird song all the time in Tenterfield. It soothed my soul hearing it again. This bird song is the one that made me fall in love with Tenterfield in the first place.

I can't help but hope this bird will stay in Tenterfield now. It's call was my only source of comfort for my soul which I miss hearing. As this bird was heard as it was roosting, hopefully it will hang around Tenterfield tomorrow long enough for me to get a recording of it's call. I hope it just isn't on it's way through to somewhere else, as a lot of birds have been doing lately.

Unfortunately I did not get a video recording of the bird call. My new digital camera doesn't pick up low pitch (soft) sounds about 1 km away, so it would've been pointless anyway trying to record it. Hopefully tomorrow I will hear the bird call again. If it is about a km away I will be going to try and record it's call up close.

I'm going to be checking the bird calls of the species I haven't added posts about. I'm hoping this species is on my list and can finally identify it after all these years.

Red-rumped Parrot Psephotus haematonotus

The two Red-rumped Parrots I saw today I actually thought were the Turquoise Parrots that I saw recently. I first came across a female Red-rumped Parrot which flew out of my neighbour Carol's bird feeder and flew into a nearby tree. It looked similiar to the juvenile Turquoise Parrot in colouring. Then I spotted a bird which I first thought was a female Turquoise Parrot which I took video footage of. I thought, originally, the mother and juvenile Turquoise Parrots were in Carol's garden but did not know where the male was. Inspecting the video later on tonight I noticed that the second bird I saw had red colouring on or near it's rump. The video footage itself is very blurry and out of focus, and am only keeping it for the sounds the male bird made.

Ironically, both the female Turquoise Parrot and male Red-rumped parrot are identical in appearance, except for the red colouring on the rump/near the rump of the male Red-rumped Parrot. The female Red-rumped Parrot looks identical to the juvenile (fledgling) Turquoise Parrot. That is why I initially thought the Red-rumped parrots were Turquoise Parrots. Both species are so closely identical to each other it is really hard to tell them apart unless you take video footage of them or see them closer up than I did.

Even though I am guessing these birds are Red-rumped Parrots I am just guessing. As my digital camera refused to focus on anything today, and it has a lighting problem, I am still using it because it has a better zoom that my mobile phone. Also, my digital camera, a GE 14.1 megapixel PJ1 records bird sounds accurately more than my mobile phones do. It looks like I need to replace my digital camera already.

Below are 4 screenshots from the video I took of the male Red-rumped Parrot today. The video was taken after sunset but before it started getting dark.




Friday, October 19, 2012

Updates: species nesting and breeding

Over a period of about 1 & a 1/2 weeks I have observed some changes with some of the birds nesting in Tenterfield. The Red Wattlebird which I thought was the only one left in Tenterfield has started begging for food for it's young about 5-7 times a day. As soon as it has eaten a bit of the food I give it (sometimes), it flies away with a large mouthful of food. Not long afterward it is back again wanting more food. The adult bird, it is the one with the left-bent tail feathers, continues to fly down to the creek where the nest is to feed it's young. So, obviously, it has a mate who is also taking care of it's young, which appears to be constantly sitting or very near the nest. I saw it's mate out feeding herself/himself tonight just before it got dark just after sunset. Today and yesterday the food begging has slowed down a great deal to just 2-3 times a day.

Yesterday when I gave a bit of meat to the Australian Magpies, the adult male flew off with some of it in his beak. He only does this when chicks need to be fed. Going on passed experiences I would say the chicks have hatched less than 4 days ago. Very little food, that I can tell, is being given to the chicks at this time and it was only once yesterday that food was taken to the chicks, but they have hatched nonetheless. Also, the adult male Magpie has been seen more in it's old territory than it's new territory. I'm guessing that the 2 days of rain we had recently brought back the Magpies to their old territory (south side of Douglas Street).

Much earlier in the day (yesterday) my brother Daniel told me he saw 2 crows attacking an Eastern Brown Snake in the paddock opposite the nest of 2 Torresian Crows, on the other side of the road. Daniel did not know if the crows had killed the snake or not and he had no idea that the crows were even nesting. I had to go out yesterday, and before I turned the corner of Douglas and Francis Streets to go onto Francis Street, I saw a crow on the road feeding on a dead rabbit. On closer expection of the rabbit the eyeball was missing. The crow had eaten it. How disgusting!

Turning the corner I tried to see if the snake was dead or not but could not see any signs of a snake. However, on the way home I was actually swooped by these same two Torresian Crows. Well, if you can call it swooping. One of the birds flew from the Tenterfield Creek in the showgrounds area to a gum tree on the ST. Joseph's Catholic Primary School property, at the bottom left of the oval as I got within range of their tree. One of them was sitting on a nest prior to the attack. With 2 birds in the tree one flew over my head about 20-30 feet above me, then sort of lifted it's tail up, flapped it's wings then continued to fly normally. They made no noise when they swooped me. Just before the attack, or during it, I heard a sound that was quiet but weird. It sounded similiar to the noise you hear of dew on an electric fence, creating a slight clicking charge sound. It was a softer sound to that of an electric fence and it was more of a clicking sound than anything else. The second bird swooped me moments later. They both flew onto the Rural Fire Service boudary fence and just sat there doing nothing as I continued to walk passed the area. I was probably less than 150 -200 metres from the said gum tree.  This might actually explain why, several weeks beforehand, I saw a Laughing Kookaburra trying to ransack something in the same gum tree before it was chased out of the tree by one of the crows. Perhaps the kookaburra was trying to take over the crows nest to use it for itself to nest in? I doubt the crows would've had laid eggs back then but I could be wrong.

For probably a week now the Masked Lapwings have stopped swooping. I'm guessing that the juveniles have learnt how to fly and can now flee danger should any come the chicks' way. I am certain that at least 2 breeding pairs of Masked Lapwings have bred this October. The pair that was hanging around the paddock on the corner of Francis and Miles Streets (opposite the showgrounds) that would not move from that paddock have moved on as well. I believe they were nesting too but I avoided that paddock when going on foot into town as they were getting very aggressive in the end. The Lapwings spend most of their time hanging around the Tenterfield Creek or within several hundred metres from the creek.

For the passed 2 days the grey Shrike-thrushes have gone very quite. I have heard one of them calling out at dawn but generally they are quiet throughout the rest of the day. I barely hear a sound from them now. I believe they are sitting on eggs, as of this morning they were still in the area. Within the last 24 hours both birds were seen flying away from their new nest to the creek in a southerly direction. There have been no other sightings of either one of them around my neighbour Carol's back door and I have not seen them flying around my immediate area in the last 4 days.

The Crested Pigeon who was nesting has not been heard lately either. It is still quiet and it has been seen feeding so hopefully there will be chicks running around the place soon. I have checked today if her eggs have hatched or not but can't tell as the female, I think, is still sitting on the nest.

Lastly, to the White-faced Heron... It appears at first glance that the White-faced Heron's nest has been abandoned. As the nest is about 50 feet off the ground it is really hard to see what is on the nest. I also have to move away from the tree to get the right angle just to see any kind of activity on the nest. My hands shake if I hold a camera almost above my head. So, I need to take lots of photos of the nest hoping at least one of them will be crystal clear and not shaky.

Just before sunset tonight I took a few photos of the White-faced Heron's nest, and all are blurry. But the photos reveals that the adult bird is not sitting on eggs anymore and that the eggs have hatched, or at least that's what it looks like. The photo below, despite it being blurry, reveals an adult White-faced Heron doing something similiar to kneeling or standing up in the nest. The bird is to the side of the nest as well. This is a promising sign actually as I have never known White-faced Herons to actually nest in Tenterfield itself.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

How to tell if birds are breeding in your area.

I have studied a lot of birds in Tenterfield over the years, and this post is a collection of my observations of many different species during their breeding season. I hope it will be useful to anyone who reads it.

Different birds breed at different times of the year, as we all know. Most bird species in Tenterfield breed from August to December of each year, basically during the warmer and wetter period of Spring. Being in a drought still, raising chicks is much higher demand work than non-drought seasons. Survival rates of offspring is dramatically reduced by the absense of a lack of food for the young, developing chicks, and as such breeding seasons are altered by weeks, months or even years. To the extreme side of nature some species may opt out of breeding for a few years until the rains returns. There are so many possibilities that could happen that birds must not only guarantee their own survival but the survival of their chicks if they decide to breed at all.

Okay, let's say you want to know which birds are actually sitting on eggs right now. Firstly you must have some knowledge of the birds' behaviour visiting your area (or garden) prior to reading this information. For example, how often they visit your garden, what they eat, where they eat, and who they eat food with. In the early stages of breeding most adult male birds tend to get aggressive toward other males of their same species. They might also attack other species to chase them away from a nesting area they have chosen. Their songs begin to change at this stage as well.

Territorial birds will always be on high alert for invading rival families trying to steal their territory or mates, and an all out war will commence as a result, with both family groups attacking each other. Both males and females, young and old will get involved.

The very first sign in the birdlife's breeding behaviour though is seeing a second bird hanging around the first one, or suddenly seeing many more birds of that same species, or mated pairs rebonding with each other via song. Birds congregate together during the breeding season to form "mates" or "breeding pairs" and to reestablish their territories as breeding pairs. When they come together they will fight, argue and chase each other. It will be noisy and unless you are deaf or constantly wear headphones whilst playing loud music in your ears, you cannot miss this loud vocalization of the birds. After a few weeks the congregation of birds will separate into pairs of birds and will go their own way. You may only see a few pairs of birds hanging around the immediate area after that happens.

To the actual nesting of breeding birds, their behaviour changes from "Eat, rest, socialize" to "Eat, build nest, Eat, and resting less than normal". Their spent energy is higher than normal finding a suitable nesting site, then spending more time building their actual nest. At the same time more food is needed for them to eat. When nest building birds are not relaxed. They are always on alert and have a lot to be worried about - predators mostly. You might see one of the adult birds (or both) disappear for a while (or altogether). Resident birds that suddenly disappear for days on end is a sign of them breeding - as long as it is within their known breeding season.

However, when birds are sitting on eggs, everything changes, again. Birds are at a very high alert stage as they must protect their eggs at all cost. They must do everything to protect their young from predators, even if it means swooping humans. Birds seem to know that humans are carnivors, and as such treat us as predators just like any other predator bird or animal. (Food for thought: Have you ever seen a Masked Plover or Australian Magpie swoop a sheep, cow or horse?) Just having one stolen egg, or one unhatched egg could mean the end of their chances to breed for that season, or year.

Egg sitting consumes a lot of energy. If both parents are sitting on the eggs rosters are taken. It can actually be very deceiving with birds that are egg sitting because you may only ever see one bird hanging around of that species, whereas in fact there are really 2 birds. Unless you can identify the male from the female with a particular species, you may not be aware that both adults are sitting on the nest. This is also the time when birds go quiet. Birds do not want to be found by predators, when they are egg sitting. Predator birds that eat the eggs of other birds, like the Torresian Crow, will begin to hang around more often, in a chance to steal eggs from nesting birds. But egg stealers seem to target nests in the preliminary stages of just after an egg has been laid, as the egg is fresher and the yolk is still intact. Eggs are stolen and eaten for their high protein content. Egg sitting birds need to eat more at this stage. They need their energy to lay on the eggs and have the strength to counter-attack a predator's attack. Both birds, usually, depending upon the species, experience increases in hormone levels throughout the entire breeding season, and react to threats to their eggs and young under the influence of high hormonal levels. When a bird is sitting on eggs, it will try as lay as horizontally flat as possible and will keep perfectly still if a predator is nearby.

After the eggs have hatched, things change again with the birds behaviour. With the constant demand for food to feed their young as their top priority some species will turn to human handouts for additional food to help feed their young and themselves. It is normal for some species that demand food from humans to beg for food from us at this time of the year. Finding food to feed growing chicks is no easy task. Australian Magpies, for example, feed their young five times a day. With handouts from humans, that's 5-6 trips to the nest by 5 times per day. That equals to about 25-30 mouthfuls of food for just 2 chicks per day, on average. That does not include the food they need to eat themselves, which is more than what they would normally eat when they are not breeding. The parent Australian Magpies also need to feed themselves, and as a result (from the human perspective) looks like the Magpies are starving hungry all the time. If they begin to eat the food themselves, sort of nibble on it, then fly away with some of it in their mouth, you know for certain they are feeding their young. Other species will be seen feeding more times than normal, in a non-stop feeding cycle for most of the day.

However, this is usually the time of year when the big predator birds and reptiles are also breeding, as they depend upon the life cycle of a good supply of juvenile birds to feed their own young with. As sickening as that is to us humans this is just the reality of nature for birds.

EVERYTHING MUST EAT OR IT WILL DIE.

Grey Shrike-thrush Colluricincla harmonica

For a few months now I have been trying to identify this particular species. The grey Shrike-thrush is a mostly grey coloured bird with brown wings and about 24cms on average in size. Despite it's ordinary appearance it has a beautiful call that is heard over the top of smaller birds in the area. It is easily identified by it's call.

This species spends a lot of time eating insects. The bird in this video below is , I believe, a juvenile that has reached breeding age. I do not know much about this particular species as yet. However, there is one resident bird in the immediate area which is trying to get the attention of a mate. This individual (see video below), seems to be building a nest even though this seems to be a part time job at the moment for this bird. It frequently visits the chosen nesting site several times a day, and adds new nesting material to it. This nesting behaviour only began on or just before the 8th of October. It's main concern at the moment is luring it's mate to the nest which seems to be frightened of humans and dogs. It's mate is shy and timid and easily spooked. It's mate is willing, or appears to be willing to mate with it, but appears to not be keen on the chosen nesting site 6 feet from my neighbour Carol's back door. The main reason why it's mate flies away is because it is spooked by the presence of humans looking at it, my neighbour's dog suddenly barking, and the fact my neighbour's dog keeps chasing the birds away despite being told not to do that.

This species eats insects from climbing roses and rose bushes in general. It also eats insects from around the house and underneath verandahs which includes on windows if they can get to the insects. It also has been observed eating something on a Wisteria flower vine. I'm not sure if Wisteria flowers produce nectar or not or whether it is something else, but the Grey Shrike-thrush was attracted to the flowers when it was in flower. Intertwined with the Wisteria is a climbing rose, in my neighbour, Carol's garden.

Nesting material, at the preliminary stage, appears to be mostly plant material, like leaves of gum trees. It will add new nesting material to the nest 2-3 times a day before mating has occurred.

The song of the Grey Shrike-thrush, in the immediate area, first started out fairly quiet but as September approached it's voice got louder and louder. It's mate's voice is a lot quieter, probably half as loud (in Hertz). With the unique echoing effect of Tenterfield's landscape this bird can easily be heard within at least a 4km area of it's location in every direction. It makes a variety of different calls with an easy to identify sound that sounds like a whip crack.or a "whit-will" sound.

I have read that some species of birds (which includes the Grey Shrike-thrush) have increased their songs' loudness in cities so they can be heard over the top of traffic, etc. This individual's song is quite loud, as loud as a Willy Wagtail in the middle of the night but not quite as loud as a Torresian Crows call. I would say, though, it is almost as loud as a Red Wattlebird's call. This makes me wonder if this particular individual bird originally came from a city, perhaps Brisbane?

Sunday, October 14, 2012

An exception to the rule: one White-faced Heron nesting by itself

I've read on the birdsinbackyard.net and other bird websites that both parents build the nest, incubate the eggs and raise the young. Well, in Tenterfield, that is not the case at all. What I have seen is when breeding season occurs, two adults come together more than likely just to mate. After a few days or a week they go their separate ways. One of the adult birds remains and does all the hard work of building the nest and sitting on the eggs all by itself.

You see, I have observed this behaviour quite closely over the last few weeks. I take note of how many White-faced Herons there generally are in the area, and that total adds to just one individual when it is here. This species is very noticable and is the biggest bird around in the immediate area of where I live. Its a bluish grey colour and it has a white face, hence it's name. And because there is only one individual ever sighted 99% of the time, seeing two of them together means its breeding season.

About a few weeks ago I saw a White-faced Heron checking out a gum tree over the Tenterfield Creek. Over the course of a few weeks I only ever saw just one White-faced Heron going to that tree, and a nest started being built in that tree. It was a really large nest being built but several times I could not identify the bird species coming from the nest. Every time I was near that section of the creek I took photos of the nest from two different angles. In about 3/4 of the photos I took I only saw the nest, nothing else. I actually avoid the area to give the bird some privacy, and also I scare off any Torresian Crows that are hanging around the tree or immediate area (as they steal eggs from nests even with birds sitting on them). There's about 15 Torresian Crows to one White-faced Heron. Sometimes, I feel, birds need a helping hand, especially in instances like this, to guarantee the offsprings' survival. Other people may feel differently about this than I do, and that's fine but if the Torresian Crows had their way they'd eat all the other bird species' eggs leaving no eggs to hatch at all.

Anyway, back to the photos I took. When I uploaded them to my computer and looked at them I discovered there was indeed a White-faced Heron sitting on the nest. Its true though that their nests are generally hanging over a water course, whether a creek, dam or lake and is high in a gum tree on an outer branch. When I first spotted the two White-faced Herons together but only recorded one on video feeding along by the creek, this was about the last time I saw two of these Herons here. There has only been one Heron in the area ever since that time.

On the 11th October 2012 we had very strong gusty winds and a very heavy downpour of rain. It would have been about an inch of rain we got over a 24 hour period. The next day was slightly a little bit better but the strong gusty winds remained but we had more drizzle than rain and the sun started to try peeking out through the odd thinned cloud. Yesterday was a perfect day: it was sunny, warm but not overly hot, and the breeze was gentle with not a cloud in sight.

The White-faced Heron's nest withstood the gale force winds and remained intact. The Heron itself, as far as I could tell, remained on the nest for 2 days straight (48 hours) protecting it's eggs from the rain until the rain and wind passed. Just before sunset on the second day I heard the White-faced Heron call out. Was the bird calling out to another bird or was it just relieved and singing with joy that the storm was ending? Only the bird itself can answer that question!

Below are some photos of the White-faced Heron's nest taken over the course of a week. Click to enlarge each photo.

The bird's back as it is about to
sit on it's nest.
You can just see it's beak and the
top of it's back.
Another view of the Heron on it's nest.
I think it has spotted me.
The nest looks empty but more side
twigs have been added.
Still on the nest.

Turquoise Parrot Neophema pulchella

The Turquoise Parrot is a bird species you rarely see in Tenterfield but yesterday I was out the front of my neighbour's house and a Turquoise Parrot family landed in the tree. Actually at first I didn't know they were Turquoise Parrots. They were well camouflaged in the tree. I also thought there were two separate species that flew into the tree. There was already a Australian Magpie in that same tree. I had to research which parrot species I video recorded and it was hard to identify the species using the poor quality videos I took, but finally concluded they were Turquoise Parrots, as this species is supposedly sighted in the area. I identified the species by not only the colouring of the birds but also noticed the male had a small narrow band of reddish/brown coloured feathers on his wings, which I glimpsed sight of in the very last video I took.

This family group may be a new colour variation as they all appeared to have a very light coloured underside, from their rectum to the tips of their tails. Either that or the two parent birds were very, very young and still developing their full colouring.

Below are a few screenshots from 3 of the 4 videos I took of this Turquoise Parrot family. There were only 3 birds to the family group: a mum; a dad; and a junenile of what gender I do not know. Click each image to enlarge it.





I first saw and heard what later turned out to be the juvenile, which is mostly what I got video recordings of. I don't know how old the juvenile is but it looks fairly young and does not appear to have developed a yellow belly yet. Moments later I heard more rustling in the tree; movement near the juvenile, and movement higher up almost directly above these first two birds.

When looking into the tree with the naked eye the juvenile looks just like a grey bird. The other two birds were more noticably greener with a yellow belly - when I could actually see them. The two adult birds blended very well into the tree's foliage making it very difficult to see them. In fact the only time I could see them was when they moved and I saw a flash of yellow and green. That's all I saw of the adults. I have left the videos below unedited because the juvenile appeared to be the only bird making any kind of sound. I didn't want to change anything in case I accidentally removed some of the sounds the juvenile was making.


One of the adult birds.


Mostly of the juvenile. I don't know what is wrong with this video but it keeps freezing.




The one thing I do know about this species is if they come in close proximity to humans they hide in the foliage, keep perfectly still, and do not make a sound. These birds blend so well into their surroundings that it is actually impossible to spot them in a tree with the naked eye. If this bird species is spotted  it is probably better to start video recording them rather than try and take photos of them. To find them anywhere in the wild is based purely on knowledge of their idea of food, and as they migrate to locate food, it is even harder to locate them in the wild. My best advice is if you know they are in the area at a certain time of the year, look in the trees that they'd most likely be in, and see if you can listen for any movement in the branches. If you see a flash of bright yellow and green, it is bound to be this species. They also have been spotted feeding in bird feeders much earlier in the year, usually moving on within minutes of landing at a bird feeder.

Yesterday, these birds were also seen in a Wattle tree as well as hiding in a Pine tree. I could not tell if they were actually feeding on the premature wattle seeds or not but they hung around the wattle tree for a while before they moved on.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

What the heck is this bird feather from?

Walking home today from shopping, my daughter and I were walking along Francis Street toward Douglas Street (north side of intersection), when I saw a few feathers on the ground. I picked up a daggy old feather that had fallen off a bird. At first sight I thought it was an Australian Magpie feather, as when they fall out they are brown in colour (the all black ones). Nearby was an actual Australian Magpie feather which I also picked up. But as I was walking and looking at this feather I suddenly realized it had a metallic green sheen all over it (on the topside of the feather). WTF?

A noticable sheen but it's not the right colour green.
In full daylight this feather looks black with a metallic green sheen. In the shade the feather is actually brown as shown in this image above. I've tried my best to take a photo of the metallic green sheen but the actual green colour (in comparison to the image above) is actually a brighter mid green. The sheen covers the entire feather on the topside but is more prominent on the narrowest width of the feather in the sunlight and when trying to photgraph it. The feather itself is 16.5cm long and is an incomplete feather. It is missing feathery parts at the bottom of the feather. It has also been broken and is falling apart just below where the feathery part of the feather should begin. The feather was not there a few days ago, as I had already checked that area for feathers.

There are a few entirely black birds here in Tenterfield but none of them have an actual metallic green sheen in their wing feathers.

When we got home, we went to visit our neighbour, Carol, and I showed her the feather. She told me of some green metallic looking birds she had seen last year/summer in her garden. Carol had told me this sighting before but I forgot about it until when she told me about it again, tonight. Carol described the birds as being the size of Rainbow Lorikeets and they looked similiar in shape. They were eating grass seeds? on her lawn, and were actually on the ground. She saw them from above as she was looking out her kitchen window. The birds all looked green in colour, all basically the same coloured green colour but had a metallic green sheen on them.

This is just complicated now. I do not know of any all green coloured parrot that has a green metallic sheen to it, that lives in Australia. Nor do I know if a green feather, when it falls out of a bird, actually turns brown before it falls out the bird. I do know an all black feather will turn brown before it falls out. I've seen it happen on Australian Magpies. If I knew that then I could perhaps find out if this feather belonged to a parrot-like bird.

One more mystery to solve!

A possible new Eastern Spinebill species



I had a welcome visit of an Eastern Spinebill to my Grevilleas today which I captured on video. The above video is not of that sighting/visit. A few minutes later (what I thought was the same bird) the bird returned. But to my amazement as I looked out my bedroom window I saw a tiny version of an Eastern Spinebill, roughly 10cm in length (give or take one centimentre). I could not believe how small this bird was!

At first I thought it was a juvenile but after comparing this video with previous Eastern Spinebill videos I had taken through my bedroom window, I saw this bird has full adult plumage and it's colouring is identical, as far as I can tell so far, to that of a regular Eastern Spinebill. Pausing the video I also saw this bird has a shorter and flatter bottom half of it's bill. It's bill looks straighter than a normal Eastern Spinebill's bill.

I am still excited about this discovery, but I don't want to state that it is an actual new species as the two Eastern Spinebill species have too many similiarities, and I still need to study this bird more to see if there is something uniquely different with it. I also need clearer footage of this particular bird so I can properly identify it.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Black Swan Cygnus atratus

A sighting that I heard and saw between 5 and 12 Black Swans flying overhead yesterday was extremely rare. I was walking home from the shops with my daughter and my brother. We were on Francis Street heading toward Douglas Street behind the ST. Joseph's Primary School at the time of this sighting. The swans were flying from the Tenterfield Dam in a north-west direction just after the sun had set and was getting really dark. They were hooting as they were flying. They were flying at a low altitude, perhaps 3-5 power poles in height from the ground. It is extremely rare to see swans in Tenterfield unless you go to the Tenterfield Dam. The only times you will see a swan in Tenterfield itself is if they are flying overhead in a north-west or south-east direction. Apparently in northern Australia, outside the breeding season (June-January of each year) Black Swans fly great distances in flocks after dark.

I tried getting a video recording of the swans but my camera was too slow to start up.

Australian Wood Ducks now absent

For about a week now I have not seen any Australian Wood Ducks anywhere in Tenterfield. I cannot remember if they migrate elsewhere but I do remember these particular ducks not being in Tenterfield before and then they showed up again but can't remember what time of the year this happened in the past.

There have been a few seasons that I remember where Australian Wood Ducks have actually bred in Tenterfield. I remember seeing little ducklings along the Tenterfield Creek with their parent for at least 2 or 3 seasons, last year being the last season I saw them. My neighbour, Carol, told me she counted 17 ducklings all up with 2 adults watching over them.

Their breeding season up here is apparently "after the rain", which is more than likely in Summer/Autumn sometime. But due to the ongoing drought which is still not breaking, if the ducks had any sense they would leave town, as well.

UPDATE: 2 october 2012 - The Australian Wood Ducks have returned. Obviously they disappeared for a little while but returned yesterday afternoon.
 
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