Thursday, January 31, 2013

MEGAFAUNA - The 45cm Grey Butcherbird is actually a Pied Butcherbird

MEGAFAUNA MEANS REALLY LARGE. However, it seems that some species of birds are getting larger and during the month of December 2012 I have seen 3 individuals of 3 separate species that are larger than normal. This post is about my first sighting - of a large Grey Butcherbird juvenile.

I was out the front taking photographs two days ago when I spotted a bird on the fence across the road. So I took a photo of it. It's of the oversized Grey Butcherbird again. That's what I first thought but looking at the bird now I've re-identified it as a Pied Butcherbird. The photos below shows how the bird has developed it's grey colouring over the passed month. It's colouring is not the same as in the video I took of it when I first spotted this bird back in December 2012. It's feathers are a really dark grey now and it's head is turning very dark grey too.

Click the photos to enlarge them.

Screenshot from video taken 18 December 2012.
The bird on a standard Hills Rotary clothesline.
This is what the bird looked like when I first
saw it.
The large Pied Butcherbird in the misty rain.

It is a sight to see this bird because it is so huge. With ex-tropical cyclone Oswald been and gone over Tenterfield, this and many other birds began to come back to the area 2 days ago (29 Jan. 2013) in the late afternoon. I only saw this Butcherbird for a few moments and didn't have the chance to take a second photo of it. I am happy to see this bird again as I know it has been hanging around the area since it first got here in December 2012.

Grey nor Pied Butcherbirds rarely beg for food from humans. They used to but not any more. Obviously their dependence on humans for food is obsolete and as a result nature has resumed it's course. With nature taking over and the birds fending for themselves and trying to find food the result is a much larger Pied Butcherbird species.

Whilst adding the first picture to this post, that the bird was on the clothesline in the photo, I decided to measure the length between each line whilst writing up this post. Then I came up with a more accurate length of this bird in real time. The Pied Butcherbird is approximately 1 and 3/4 lengths of one section of the clothesline when it's head is upright. One length is the distance between two horizontal green cords of the clothesline - that you hang clothes from. I'm actually guessing the bird is just under 1 and 3/4 lengths of the clothesline actually. The length between 3 cords (2 gaps in the clothesline where you'd hang clothes) is approximately 20.5 inches (give or takes 1-2 cms - the clothesline was wound up and I had trouble reaching it). Half that is 10.25 inches, half that is 5.125 inches, and half that again is 2.5625 inches.

The bird is approximately 3/4 of the total length of 20.5 inches. Therefore the Math is:

  10.25 inches
    5.125 inches
 + 2.5625 inches
  17.6875 inches (or about 45 cms) in length.

When the bird has it's head stretched out horizontally it is approximately 52 cms in length. N.B. The bird is not fully mature and am uncertain if it is still growing.

Pied Butcherbird details found on BirdsinBackyards website:

Minimum Size: 33cm
Maximum Size: 38cm
Average size: 35cm
A better screenshot from video taken 18 Dec. 2012.
The Grey Fantail in question that tried attacking it.
Now, if you think I am pulling the wool over your eyes and exaggerating on this bird's size, then come to Tenterfield and see it for yourself. It might take you a long while to find this particular bird as it moves around a lot but eventually you will see it. I am not exaggerating about this bird's size. I may be out by a few centimetres but that's about it. Pied Butcherbirds are not naturally about 45-52 cms in length, here or anywhere else in Australia but this particular bird is!

This is the beginning of climate change adaptations of birds in New South Wales. How large Pied Butcherbirds will become in the future is anyone's guess.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Supercell storm strikes Tenterfield - lots of birds missing - presumed dead

Back on the 12th January 2013 a supercell storm struck Tenterfield with the ferocity of a tornado making it impossible for birds to find appropriate shelter in time. Around this time there were baby birds of Eastern Spinebills; Western Silvereyes; and possibly even babies of the small Honeyeater species that were still in the nest or had just fledged. The Western Silvereyes I only recently identified as that species. How they got here is a mystery considering they are only supposed to exist in Western Australia.

Nature can be cruel and in this situation was much more cruel than any act of human. How are baby and adult birds of the smaller species suppose to survive when something similiar to a weak developed tornado strikes the area pelting everything with 7-15cm hail? It is really sad to know lots of baby birds died in that storm, and will never have the chance to grow up and have a family of their own.

The storm brought more than 20 minutes of hail (along with rain) to Tenterfield. Since the supercell passed I have only heard one family member of the 4 Western Silvereye species that only recently moved into the area, and as quickly as it appeared it vanished from the area. Both chicks and one of the parents are presumed dead from being struck by hail. I have not seen any Eastern Spinebills or any smaller birds since the supercell storm passed, except for a House Sparrow or two and a few common Blackbirds.

Here is what my brother and I took of the supercell storm whilst we had the chance.

Watch the Masked Plover in this video running to find better shelter from the hail.

How on Earth are small birds capable of surviving such an act of nature when there is very little thick shelter for them to hide in? Tenterfield is a town that lacks the thick, dense foliage of plants that birds can hide in, in the event of hail and heavy rain. If birds are to survive in this area they need shelter from storms. Many smaller bird species will not use human buildings for shelter. If everybody just plants 2 thick, dense bushes or trees close together in their backyards the birds will have a much better chance of surviving bad hail storms. It is up to us humans to provide that additional shelter for the birds as nature is slow at regenerating vegetation. So if you are reading this post, please consider the needs of the much smaller species of birds and plant a few thick, dense shrubs/trees in your backyard.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Red Wattlebirds in Tenterfield begin breeding at 4-5 weeks of age

Having studied the local Red Wattlebirds and identifing individuals through photography and videos for about 6 1/2 months now I recently started asking myself questions about these birds. I've noticed that over a 6 1/2 month period something odd was happening around my neighbour Carol's place with these birds.

Currently I'm observing the fifth observed generation (from before the 14th August 2012 to the first week of December 2012) Red Wattlebird that is probably a male as it is hanging around the area, as if making the area it's home.

This is what has been happening: The first generation male made the area his home, then found himself a mate. In all the commotion of finding himself a mate his parents showed up then disappeared after a few days to a week. He bred with his mate and they had a chick. He nested in a nearby area. At close to 1-2 weeks later when the chick/s had fledged the parents disappeared from the area. The one juvenile stayed in the area by itself, alone, until almost it was 1 months old. Then it found itself a mate. Not long later the parents came back to visit and the 1 and a bit month old bird seemed very excited by seeing it's parents. A while later, maybe a week, the parents disappeared never to be seen again (if my memory serves me correctly).

This whole process repeated itself exactly with the second generation male, and third and fourth generation males leaving (currently) the fifth generation chick which now remains and which is slightly larger than it's parents. However, this fifth generation male has been disappearing from it's territory lately. I'm guessing it is looking for a mate right now.

The strange thing about all of this is I have never heard of any bird species that only raise one brood in one area/nesting site then leaves the area only for it to repeat itself with the next generation son. I do not know where the parents go after they have their first lot of offspring, nor do I know if they reproduce again. But I have a theory (see image below).

My theory of what male Red Wattlebirds do and
where they go during the breeding and non-breeding
Maybe, with this particular "family" of Red Wattlebirds, their firstborn children are raised in this area, and their secondborn children are raised in another area, and the thirdborn children are born in even another location, etc? This seems like the most logical explanation to me as to why the parents don't stay in the area and maintain a territory nor have any more children here. But why they don't raise another brood here is the real question to be asked. And why are they breeding at just one month old, every month, is a question that needs an answer. In other parts of Australia Red Wattlebirds breed only once or twice per season, not close to 4 times per season.

After having gone through all the posts and notes I've written up about the local Red Wattlebirds I have discovered they breed, at first, at the age of one month old. They only appear to have one offspring, although they may lay 2 or more eggs. At the age of 14 days old the fledged chick is 9/10ths fully grown and is already living by itself. By one month old it is attracting a mate and ready to breed and breeds successfully within the next two weeks in the immediate area of where it was born. It does not use the same nest it was born in rather it makes a new nest.

I have been fortunate to study each new offspring being born, raised and fledged in the immediate area. However, Red Wattlebirds are not common to Tenterfield. I only know of four individuals that temporarily live in Tenterfield - in the immediate area of where I live; the two parents; and the one offspring with it's mate. I am uncertain if other Red Wattlebirds live in other parts of Tenterfield but if they do then the number count would be identical to that of my area - just 4 individuals over the course of one month - or 3 if a chick has hatched - or 2 if the parents are nesting - or 1 if the chick is alone before it starts breeding.

I have never heard of any bird species that is physically and sexually mature at the age of just one month old, as is the case for Red Wattlebirds in Tenterfield. I find it ironic that the number of Red Wattlebirds in Tenterfield remains constant. I have not seen them "defending their food sources from other honeyeaters" as what appears to happen in other places in Australia. There are also no rivals with Red Wattlebirds in the immediate area, yet new chicks are able to find themselves a mate every time without fail. The whole area of the Northern Tablelands must be full of Red Wattlebirds but their numbers so widely scattered that it's impossible to do a population count.

This leads to many questions being asked. like "Once a Red Wattlebird has children do they have more children the following month?" "Do the parents always keep in contact with their male offspring?" "Is it possible that the male Red Wattlebird parent form knowledge of their grandchildren and great-great grandchildren, etc through the visiting of their male offspring?" "Do they know of their family lineage?" "If this occurs with the male offspring what happens with the female offspring?" "Why are male offspring being visited by their parents yet the female mates are not visited by their own parents?" "How long do Red Wattlebirds actually live for in the wild?" "Why do male Red Wattlebirds put so much emphasis on calling out to it's parents in the first place?" "What caused Red Wattlebirds to breed in this strange manner in the first place?" "Is this increase in their breeding cycle a part of some sort of adaptation or evolution instigated by climate change?" "Do these particular birds migrate at any point in their lives?" "Does this mean that they have shorter lifespans than Red Wattlebirds that breed less frequently?"

The breeding cycle of the Tenterfield Red Wattlebirds is a mystery. All I know is that going on what I've read about Red Wattlebirds on the Internet on bird websites, the local birds should not be breeding as often as they do. But they are and I think I will never know why. If you think you might know the reason why they are breeding at intervals of about every one and a half months then please leave a comment below.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

MEGAFAUNA - A 45cm Grey Butcherbird chick lost and alone

MEGAFAUNA MEANS REALLY LARGE. However, it seems that some species of birds are getting larger and during the month of December 2012 I have seen 3 individuals of 3 separate species that are larger than normal. This post is about my first sighting - of a large Grey Butcherbird juvenile.

My first sighting of this bird was on the 18th December 2012 at 9:03AM when I took this video. The bird happened to land on my neighbour Carol's clothes line then was attacked by a young Grey Fantail. Grey Butcherbirds are 24-30 centimetres in length and Pied Butcherbirds are on average 32cms in length. Pied Butcherbirds are common in Tenterfield and they are relatively small but Grey Butcherbirds are not common here anymore. They are both smaller than the local Australian Magpies.

This young juvenile bird was much larger than a standard sized Grey Butcherbird. It was the size of a Laughing Kookaburra - 45cms in length. This larger than normal young chick has been flying around the area frantically calling out to it's parents and continued to do so for more than a week afterward. Why it was separated from it's parents is anyone's guess. It is, I believe, still in the area as of 10th January 2012 (today). The bird appears to be able to fend for itself but it does not like being chased by smaller birds. I have not seen an adult Grey Butcherbird in the area since this video was taken on the 19th December 2012. The last time I saw an adult Grey Butcherbird was about 12 months ago.

N.B. 31 January 2013 - This is actually a Pied Butcherbird not a Grey Butcherbird.

MEGAFAUNA - A larger than normal male Australian King Parrot

The female is on the left, male on the right. I only had one opportunity to
take a video or photos of this male. I opted for taking a video of him.

MEGAFAUNA MEANS REALLY LARGE. However, it seems that some species of birds are getting larger and during the month of December 2012 I have seen 3 individuals of 3 separate species that are larger than normal. This post is about my second sighting - of a large male Australian King Parrot.

On the 19th December 2012 at 7:53AM two Australian King Parrots landed in my neighbour Carol's bird feeder. I recognised the female as the daughter of the mated pair in Tenterfield. There are a total of 4 Australian King Parrots in Tenterfield now - a mum and dad, a daughter and a son. (As of today - 10th January 2013 there are none as the children have left the parents and are finding mates of their own or are probably nesting with their new mates.) All Australian King Parrots photos and videos I have, until the 19th December 2012 are of this particular family and of the generations before them. They all have been the standard size for a King Parrot, no larger than about 41 - 43cms in length.

However, when I first saw the male I was gobsmacked at the size of him. My mouth dropped at seeing him as Australian King Parrots are not supposed to be this large. He was at least 10-15cms longer than the female and was very lean. The female was fully grown and a standard size (roughly 42cm long) for a King Parrot. This bird was at least 55cm in length, if not more.

The male King Parrot was obviously not from Tenterfield rather from a nearby area close to Tenterfield. From whence he came I do not know. All I know is the male was huge bordering on the size of much larger Cockatoos. In all my time living in Tenterfield I have become familiar with the maximum size a King Parrots grows to. But seeing this male has made me think. It has made me think that Australian King Parrots can grow to much larger sizes perhaps in just a few generations.

What made the female choose this large male is anyone's guess. Maybe he was the only male around that wasn't taken? Maybe the female chose him because he was a larger than normal bird? Maybe the birds know something we humans don't and are chosing to mate with larger birds of their own species to help survive better in their environment.

The most interesting thing to see will be the offspring of these two birds. In time, hopefully, the parents will return to the area with their offspring.

MEGAFAUNA - Laughing Kookaburra with 30cm long tail

MEGAFAUNA MEANS REALLY LARGE. However, it seems that some species of birds are getting larger and during the month of December 2012 I have seen 3 individuals of 3 separate species that are larger than normal. This post is about my third sighting - of a Laughing Kookaburra individual.

This particular Kookaburra was first observed flying across my neighbour Carol's paddock in a south-east to north-west direction then landed in the Pine tree near where I was standing. The time and date observed is displayed on the photos themselves. It sat on a low branch about 6-7 feet above the ground. The bird landed in the tree about 20 feet from where I stood. It was alone and seemed to be avoiding other kookaburras in the area. It was silent never making even one cackle. It flew very low to the ground as it flew across the paddock, no higher than 10 feet off the ground.

I had to look twice at this bird as it was exceptionally long from head to tail. When I first saw this bird I didn't know what it was so I started taking photos of it and realised it was a Laughing Kookaburra. The kookaburra in flight had an exceptionally long tail (tail feathers) that were around 30cm in length. The local Kookaburras don't have that long a tail which made me think it wasn't a Laughing Kookaburra at first.

I did not want to make the kookaburra fly away by getting closer to it - which is what I would've had to do to get a photo of it's tail. The kookaburra only just flew into the tree and I did not want to scare it as it seemed pretty relaxed with me nearby just watching it. It did keep looking at me though. I was with my daughter and Carol's dog. The Kookaburra may have been keeping an eye on Carol's dog rather than me.

I have not seen this particular kookaburra before so I can safely say that it is from a nearby area, and possibly looking for a mate as it is not a juvenile. As it was silent and seemed to be avoiding other kookaburras this tells me it may possibly be a male. The local kookaburra family were about a kilometre or two away in an east to slightly south-east direction when these photos were taken.

I was in the right place at the right time for this kookaburra to show up and get these photos. The kookaburra sat there in the tree barely without moving for at least 10 minutes before I moved on.

The strange thing about all of this is not the kookaburra itself rather the length of it's tail. I have never seen a kookaburra with a exceptionally long tail, or any bird with an exceptionally long tail or body, and this was the third sighting of evolution in the making in one week. First a grey butcherbird, then a male Australian King Parrot and now a Laughing Kookaburra.

How widely spread (in New South Wales) this is with Laughing Kookaburras getting bigger is unknown right now. I have not read anything yet about Australian native birds getting bigger or smaller. Am I the first to record this phenomenon? Maybe this is a nearby local adaption to the weather and environment due to the ongoing drought?

I can't wait to see the offspring of this kookaburra to see how big they grow! I just hope this kookaburra stays in the area.
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