Sunday, June 30, 2013

From up high at Woolamai - Albatross!

No quality photos here but I am posting anyway because seeing albatross gives me a bit of a buzz!

At its highest point the Cape Woolamai headland is about .... well I'd guess 112 metres above sea level.

There is the opportunity when walking the circuit trail to get distant views of gliding seabirds and soaring raptors. When identifying birds at this distance the tendency is to rely on the "jizz" of the appearance and the behaviour as well as local knowledge of what is generally seen. Initially they all look like a hazy white speck.

On my walk last weekend (22nd June 2013) the first hazy white speck became Australasian gannet.

I got a little excited when following this next hazy white speck ....

... because when it turned and looked like this I knew we were talking albatross:

A small fishing boat gives some idea of the distances involved, firstly seen out at sea through the iphone.

Now through the camera's long lens ...

... and a heavily cropped view of the bird waiting for scraps shows that classic albatross profile.

I believe that the albatross are Shy albatross (Thallasarche cauta), one of the mollymawks. Knowing very little about pelagic birding I am quite out of my depth here. I can see that there are some taxonomy issues with Thallasarche cauta with some giving it the official common name of White-capped albatross. Other reading indicates that White-capped albatross is best reserved for the New Zealand based Thallasarche steadi. Suffice to say that there have been recent taxonomical changes and that the birds look very similar. It is all quite bewildering!

When later reviewing the day's photos I spent several minutes looking for what this "lifer" must be. I didn't remember noticing anything unusual through the view finder but became convinced that this good-sized black-headed gull-like seabird was something new!

When sanity prevailed I realised that it was the shadow cast by this Pacific gull's wing which created the striking sooty head!

Pair of Sooty oystercatcher
Pacific gulls at home on the hostile coastline

It helps to have calm and bright conditions. The image below shows some walkers enjoying the view looking west along the southern coast of Phillip Island. For those interested in motor sports (any takers?) the Phillip Island Race track can be seen on the cliffs opposite - current home to the Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix. Phillip Island is one of those places where achieving balance between development and conservation is a constant struggle.

Bird on!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Blue-winged parrots, Cape Woolamai

According to the field guides this bird is considered "common" in southern Victoria. (Tasmania and the Bass Strait islands are also its strongholds.) This was just the second occasion I have identified Blue-winged parrot and I enjoyed the event immensely!

Blue-winged parrot Neophema chrysostoma 22 June 2013, Cape Woolamai
I had ventured to Cape Woolamai on a spectacular, sunny and still winter morning. One of the first species I came across was this flock of 21 small parrots feeding and circling intermittently to make minor changes in position.

Great location! Looking back from Cape Woolamai towards Woolamai Surf Beach and further along the southern coast of Phillip Island, Victoria. See the location geotag for a map of this amazing place.
20 of the 21! Blue-winged parrot

Blue-winged parrots demonstrate similarities in appearance and behaviour with their near-extinct cousins the Orange-bellied parrots. They both breed in Tasmania and have groups that migrate to the mainland. Blue-winged parrots are most likely to be seen on the mainland from April to September. What is less clear is whether the Victorian birds are also migratory and move with the Tasmanian birds or whether they are more sedentary - the Tasmanian birds leap-frogging them so to speak.

I gather that the parrots are seen in various habitats. They nest in tree hollows of forested areas, feed on grasses in the mornings and may be seen roosting during the day on fences and the like.

I find it fascinating to make birding observations and have these experiences fit with the information later read in field guides. My first sighting of Blue-winged parrot was of a single bird perched on a dead tree branch in October 2012. This was at the forested bushland reserve called Oswin Roberts Sanctuary also on Phillip Island.

Now I am curious to know whether this was close to a nesting hollow. Where do these Cape Woolamai birds fit in - have they flown across Bass Strait or are they permanent locals?

It all fosters the desire to keep getting out there and having another look!

Blue-winged parrot, Oswin Roberts Reserve Phillip Island, 14 October 2012
Sharing with Wild Bird Wednesday

Bird on!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Bellbird Dell

Bellbird Dell is a linear bushland reserve in Melbourne's outer east. It is conveniently located within 100m of the home ground my son's soccer club (Whitehorse United). As the pre-match warm-ups are becoming longer I took the opportunity to spend half an hour checking out the locals!

Pacific Black Duck (Anas superciliosa) I do like it when they show their "green bits"!
Rock wall reflections on still water make for an icy appearance
No need for chiropractic work here

Duck's reflecting everywhere 
The above photo as seen on Instagram (upside down to explore the reflection & cropped for the 1:1 format!) 
Budding birders! This is the same pond in August 2003. My kids have grown. I wonder how long a duck lives?
I must say Anas superciliosa sounds a little Harry Potter to me! I did enjoy finding a little magic and charm in this common and readily observed species!

Australian wood-duck (Chenonetta jubata) often graze on land. Hence their other common name Maned Goose. This pair were having a swim in one of the Dell's man made wetlands. Here the male has tired of pond weed and seeks something a little more terrestrial.

"And what kind of beast are you!?" Male Eastern Spinebill.

Eastern spinebill, Red wattlebird and Noisy miner were the predominant honeyeaters. The spinebills were interested in the flowering correa. Correa reflexa is a shrub indigenous to the area. The distribution of these particular plants suggested to me that they were part of a revegetation exercise.

Correa reflexa - sometimes referred to locally as Native fuscia 
Common Bronzewing Phaps chalcoptera Bellbird Dell, 16 June 2013
Not an uncommon pose for Common bronzewing (as they walk away, contemplating flight)
Female Common bronzewing ruffling feathers up in the canopy.
Laughing kookaburra are often seen or heard
The name Bellbird Dell refers to the Bell Miner bird Manorina melanophrys. Once common in eastern Melbourne the sound of bellbirds in the canopy is now not often heard. I have only visited the Dell on 4-5 occasions and have not heard them. They do not appear on the Eremaea bird list for Bellbird Dell. They can still be heard not far away at Koomba Park.

Dog-walkers, cyclists, walkers, joggers ..... birders.
Birders spoilt for choice!
Morning drizzle clearing, Bellbird Dell, Vermont South
A glowing review of Bellbird Dell can be found in this Youtube video by Steven1256 ...

Cutting across the middle of Bellbird Dell is another government-owned linear reserve which had been earmarked for freeway construction (now aborted). It is feared that this land will be opened for residential development without giving due concern to environmental factors.

On one recent Sunday morning the Friends of the Healesville Freeway Reserve (or see their Facebook page) held a community day "promoting the cause". Here is a newsletter featuring this event and the overwhelming community response.

Looking at this aerial shot, it does not take much imagination to recognise the potential benefit for suburban fauna if those light green areas could be made dark green!

Google Maps screen grab showing the revegetated Bellbird Dell running North-South and the abandoned freeway reserved land running east west. Bell miners still reside in pockets of Koomba Park which can be seen at the right. 
For those interested, follow the links above to find out what action can be taken including lending support to a petition.

Bird On!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Roos & Rosellas

Here is a final "wrap" following a recent afternoon visit to Candlebark Reserve on the Yarra River in Templestowe, one of Melbourne's bushier suburbs.

The trail passes between the Yarra River and Petty's Orchards. I was surprised to find a large mob of wild Eastern Grey Kangaroo lounging among the rows of apple trees.

With the impressive scientific name Macropus giganteus Eastern Grey Kangaroo may feel they have every right to recline wherever and whenever they like!  

iPhone shot of a wintry day in the orchard 
"But where are the birds?"
"Yeah, where are the birds?"
"There are usually birds here somewhere."
"There's one over here mate!" pointed out a massive male roo gesturing towards a Magpie-lark
And there was certainly plenty to interest a birder on this slightly grey day (see also two other posts from this same afternoon featuring Rainbow lorikeets and Australasian darter). Rosellas in particular were providing some colour...

Eastern rosella (I suspect the male at right), also in Paddy's Orchards but taken from the Yarra Trail 

Eastern rosella enjoying seeds from winter grasses
Crimson rosella. Unclear from this photo but "left-handed" is usually the case!
Read more about "handedness" in birds here.

Crimson rosella developing adult plumage (will lose the green and become a magnificent crimson and blue parrot) 

Australian king-parrot
Next are some images of the many Common bronzewings that I came across. I was getting frustrated as I kept inadvertently flushing these guys without seeing them first. Finally I started getting a few shots shown here. The last two are more in keeping with the adult male plumage (small thumbnails, but some nice colours here if you care to click for the larger versions).

Noisy miner on the orchard fence
A young-looking Grey butcherbird 
I don't think I've held my camera to the introduced European starling before - but my, what colour!
Back to the river for some water birds. We have here Little black and Little pied cormorants, Wood duck and Dusky moorhen (swimming with the milk bottle).

A large feral domestic duck-thing and a Chestnut teal

This bend appears to be a favoured roost for cormorants and darter.
I have also seen Azure kingfisher here. I will be back!!
The remaining shots show a little of the locale. The trail is part of the Main Yarra Trail which caters for pedestrians, dog walkers and cyclists. Yes, there is company!

The views depict the good and not-so-good of suburban bushland. One continually comes across rubbish (particularly in the river), weeds, and erosion. On the other hand there is evidence of improvements to accessibility with good trails (including boardwalks) and areas with fresh plantings of native vegetation.

Wombat hole at left (there were many!). Yarra River at right

Sharing with Wild Bird Wednesday

Bird on!