Monday, 23 December 2013

White-winged Choughs – expanding red eyes.

White-winged Choughs (Chough is pronounced chuff) are birds of dry open eucalypt forests and woodlands. Highly social birds with fascinating group behavior they spend much of the day fossicking in ground litter for food. At this time of year the young are out of their large mud bowl nests, following the adult birds of their extended family group about, begging incessantly to be fed.
The white patches on their wings are only visible when the wing is opened in flight or when displaying or grooming.
An adult White-winged Chough - note white wing panels in flight feathers.
Adult choughs have a red eyes, the iris is orange, while young birds have a brown iris.
Adult bird excavating hole in soil under ground litter to uncover insect larvae. Note the red eye.
This is a juvenile White-winged Chough note white eyebrow. The iris is brown however a small section of the eye ball visible in this photo shows the eye ball surrounding the iris is pink as in adult birds.
The choughs on our property are used to humans and are quite confiding, allowing close approach for observation and photos.
I have noticed in the past that the red eye of adults sometimes appears larger than normal and until now had not given it much thought or looked closely to see how this is achieved. Choughs are highly excitable birds sometimes responding to disturbances within or external to the group by spreading their wings, fanning their tail and also by enlarging their red eyes.
This is the adult bird feeding in photo above. It has moved on and found an insect and suddenly become excited by my presence. The red eyes have been enlarged, wings and body feathers spread and tail fanned. The display is meant to look threatening.
The following two enlarged shots show first a calm bird feeding with normal eye appearance and then an excited bird with an enlarged red eye.
Enlarged photo of adult bird from feeding shot above showing close up of head and the normal elliptical eyelid position of a calm bird.
A close up of the excited bird displaying in photo above. The wing, body and tail feathers have been contracted however the eye lids remain expanded showing an enlarged eye with an orange iris and pink surrounding eye ball. Its display has distracted it from eating the small beetle it caught before becoming alarmed by my presence. 
One field guide states that the outer eye ring flushes brighter red giving the impression that there is a colour change to the eye. The above photos show that rather than the eye changing colour, the bird achieves an enlarged red eye by uncovering the eye by expanding the surrounding eyelid. The eyelid is normally held in an elliptical shape and is opened out to a circular shape when the bird becomes excited. 
The field guides describe a red eye and from a distance the eye does appear to be red however on closer examination the iris is orange and the surrounding eye ball is pink.
If you have ever wondered about the Chough’s expanding red eye, now you know how it is achieved. For those readers who already knew this I hope you enjoy the photos.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Nest theft, recycling or deliberate destruction?

This morning I was checking out birds in a mature woodland on our property. The grassy woodland is dominated by Gippsland Grey Box with other species mixed in such as Forest Redgum, Red Stingybark and Red Box. There were lots of very vocal birds present including Dusky Woodswallows, White-winged Trillers, Jacky Winters, White-throated Gerygones, Bell Miners, Rufous Whistlers, Grey Shrike-thrushes, Grey Butcherbirds, White-winged Choughs, Grey Faintails, Willie Wagtails, Yellow-rumped Thornbills, Spotted Pardalotes and a number of Honeyeater species ……. and a koala tried to sleep through the din.
Suspended from the slender stems of a Red Box about 2 metres above the ground, I came across a nest. The nest was fresh and intact and looked to be the type constructed by a number of honeyeater species, a deep suspended cup made from bark and fine grass fibres bound together with cobwebs.  As I approached for a closer look, a White-naped Honeyeater approached the nest and inserted its head into the cup and then withdrew and flew off. I thought, great, I have found an active nest and one of the adult birds has just made a visit to feed young.
The intact Honeyeater nest photographed just after the White-naped Honeyeater left.
A White-naped Honeyeater - this one was photographed at Mallacoota.
Hoping the White-naped Honeyeaters would return and provide some photo opportunities I moved to the cover of a low leafy side branch of a nearby tree with a good view of the nest and good sunlight angle and waited.
Shortly a Honeyeater approached the nest. Before I could consider if this was the owner of the nest, perhaps the White-naped Honeyeater seen at the nest a few minutes earlier, this bird commenced to rip material from the nest and to my surprise I realized it was a Brown-headed Honeyeater. It worked with haste – as you would expect from a guilty thief anxious not to be caught. The bird took material from one of the two sections that suspended the nest from the tree stem, causing the nest to swing open. The nest then remained suspended by two tenuous connections on one side of the nest. The bird soon departed with a bill full of bark fibres.
A Brown-headed Honeyeater has arrived at the nest and removed material causing the nest to tilt and open.
The bird then worked its way around the nest - for what purpose I do not know?
The bird then took some nest material in its bill and departed.
With no action for five minutes or so I departed the scene for lunch and returned later to see if any more material had been removed from the nest, see if the birds were still active and see if I could find the new Brown-headed Honeyeater nest.
The state of the nest when I departed for lunch at noon.
The state of the nest when I returned an hour or so later - it is now hanging precariously from two slender threads.
On my return, as luck would have it, I did not have to wait long for some action. This time two Brown-headed Honeyeaters approached the nest. Apparently both male and female share the nest building work and also in this case the presumed theft of nesting materials.
The first bird at the nest soon ripped some material off and departed. The nest was now only attached to the stem by two very frail looking strings of fibre.
Two Brown-headed Honeyeaters returned shortly after I commenced watching the nest again. The first bird took some material and left.
When the second bird jumped onto the nest the first string of fibres broke, followed closely by the second and the nest fell to the ground.
The second bird jumped onto the nest - one slender thread broke, then the second and the nest fell to the ground.
I was too slow to capture a shot of the second bird when it flew down and ripped some material from the nest and departed.
The second bird flew down and removed some material from the nest on the ground. Fortunately I noted the bee-line direction both birds took as they departed the scene so I then headed in that direction to see if I could find the new nest.
There was still some nest material wrapped around the stems and both birds made a couple of trips to gather this. I did not see them go to the nest on the ground again.
While looking for the new nest, both birds flew close past me on one of their return trips with a White-naped Honeyeater in hot pursuit. The White-naped peeled off and I watched the birds fly up into a dense canopy of eucalypt leaves where I spotted the well concealed nest. The new nest was about 80 metres from the ransacked nest and much higher, about 10 metres above the ground.

The Brown-headed Honeyeater nest well concealed in the dense canopy of a young Grey Box.
It is hard to be sure whether the ransacked nest belonged to the White-naped Honeyeater. However I did see it earlier at the intact nest and again later, chasing the two Brown-headed Honeyeaters returning to the nest they were constructing with material from the ransacked nest. Based on this it seems reasonable to assume that the nest did belong to the White-naped Honeyeater. The nest certainly conformed to the type of nest this species builds.
So I think this was a case of deliberate theft rather than recycling.
Materials from old or abandoned nests are sometimes recycled either by their owners or by other species. In this case the nest did appear to be a fresh, recently completed nest. The downy feather lining looked to be very fresh and unused. I would have to say that the location of the nest, more or less in the open, left it very vulnerable to attack by predators.  So if it had been used there would have been a high chance of it being plundered, either for eggs or young, by birds such as Currawongs, Butcherbirds or Kookaburras.
Construction of the Brown-headed Honeyeater nest looked to be well advanced and certainly could not have been constructed to the stage I found it in with materials only from the White-naped Honeyeater’s nest.
So it would appear that the two Brown-headed Honeyeaters have destroyed the nest of another species for the sake of a small quantity of material they have used to put the finishing touches to their own nest.
Interesting behavior, not easy to explain?
If they were interested in obtaining a maximum amount of material from the nest while it remained suspended above the ground, minimizing the risk from predators, then removing fibres critical to the attachment and suspension of the nest is not a good approach.
Perhaps the Brown-headed Honeyeaters saw the proximity of nest of a closely related Honeyeater as a threat or competition and this may explain why they destroyed the nest for such a small quantity of material.  Their approach to removing material from the nest was certainly the quickest way to destroy it.
Whatever the case, it seems I happened to stumble upon the intact nest just as the Brown-headed Honeyeaters made their first visit either to steal materials, with destruction of the nest an unintended consequence of their action, or to steal material with the deliberate intention of destroying the nest?
I don’t think recycling of material from an abandoned nest applied in this case.
The progress of evolution is marked by such daily dramas – the lesson from today for the White-naped Honeyeater would be to build the next nest in a less obvious location.

Post script:

Received the following email response from a friend with comments and references to nest material theft among honeyeaters which you may find of interest:

Hi Avithera,  Cannot recall the species but I've seen this over the years as well.

A web search picked up mentions of this.  See this blog for example ...

And at least one paper in the Journal Corella ...
LEY, A.J., D.L. OLIVER & M.B. WILLIAMS. (1997). Theft of nesting material involving Honeyeaters (Meliphagidae). Corella21: 119--123.
Thieving of nesting material in 10 honeyeater species and six other passerines is described, in the Bundarra-Barraba region west of Armidale, New South Wales during a study of Regent Honeyeater's biology in 1995-96. Theft of nesting material was from both active and inactive nests. The contribution of theft to nest parasite transfer (e.g. lice) and to nest failure in Meliphagidae is discussed.

Reckon that HANZAB would have mention as well under the relevant species accounts ...

Have a good day!


Thursday, 21 November 2013

Large numbers of Whiskered Terns in Gippsland

The Wiskered Tern (Chlidonias hybridus), aka Marsh Tern, is found in Africa, Europe, Asia and Australia. There are three sub species hybridus (Eurasia), delandi (Africa) and javanicus (Australia).
Adult Whiskered Tern in breeding plumage - note full black cap, red bill and legs and the dark grey under parts.
Adult bird - Whiskered Terns have a slight V in tail only visible when the tail is closed.
The name Whiskered Tern is derived from the white band seen here between the black cap and the grey under parts. Not a very obvious whisker in my opinion - I think I prefer the earlier name Marsh Tern.
The Whiskered Tern is widespread across Australia during the non breeding season and a rare vagrant to Tasmania. It breeds erratically according to seasonal conditions, but generally from September to December, in southeastern Australia. 
The Whiskered Tern frequents inland waters. It is not a marine species, however it can sometimes be found in estuaries and wetlands near the coast, such as the Gippsland Lakes, particularly the adjacent wetlands. A gregarious species, these terns feed, roost, travel and nest together, mostly in small flocks, however occasionally large flocks containing a thousand or more birds are encountered. They are certainly a nomadic species however some are thought to be migratory moving from the Top End to Indonesia and Asia and back again.
In East Gippsland, we see small parties of Whiskered Terns over our wetlands from time to time. This year we are seeing more flocks than normal and larger flocks. Conditions in East Gippsland are generally good this spring with plenty of water in our wetlands. Inland Australia is drying out following a run of wet years when many water birds took advantage of the favourable conditions to breed up. So perhaps it is not surprising that we are now seeing larger than normal numbers of Whiskered Terns in suitable near coastal habitats as many species head for the coast when inland Australia dries out.
I discovered a larger than normal flock of Whiskered Terns on Wednesday the 6th of November near Hollands Landing, a very small fishing hamlet on McLennans Straits at the western end of Lake Victoria. Returning from a Gippsland Lakes Important Bird Area (GLIBA) survey in the Sale area I decided to detour in to Hollands Landing to check out the birds there – it is a good location for water and shore birds, including migratory wader species.
From Bengworden Road, a back road between Sale and Bairnsdale, driving along Hollands Landing Road I came across a large number of white birds flying low over the flat sheep and cattle paddocks.  It soon became obvious they were Whiskered Terns, well over a 1,000 birds, and they were coursing low over the paddocks. From time to time birds would dive into the long grass. They were clearly feeding. For me this was odd as I had always seen them feeding over water in the past. Like all terns their diet consists mainly of small fish taken by diving into water. Checking some field guides and other reference books later I found that feeding over dry land was not mentioned so I assume this behavior is at least a little unusual.
The bird in the lower foreground has just caught an insect on the ground - see next shot.
Note the small food item in this bird's bill.
In this shot a bird's wings are just visible above the top of the long grass.
It was a marvelous spectacle to stand by the side of the road and watch such a large number of birds in action. In every direction I looked I could see terns over the adjacent paddocks. As they coursed around and back and forth over the paddocks, they alternated between dispersal to chase food and aggregating into strung out flocks. They seemed to randomly follow a leader for a short while and then the flocks would break up again and birds would spread out over a paddock and look for insects in the head down position typical of all terns.
A small section of the leading end of one of many groups in the area. The birds wheeled around and coursed back and forth before breaking up and dispersing over a paddock to hunt. At some undisclosed signal they would gather again to repeat the cycle. They are hard to count however there are nearly 90 birds in this shot alone with another 200 or 300 birds out of the image behind them. And this was only one of many similar sized groups in the area.
As I watched them and took the opportunity to take some photos now and again as random chance brought some of them close enough for photos, the landowner, out checking his stock on a motor bike, came over for a chat. He was interested to know what species of bird they were, as he had not seen them before. He said they had turned up two days earlier (the 4th).
The birds were still feeding over the same paddocks 14 days latter on the 18th of November when a group from Birdlife East Gippsland visited Hollands Landing as a regular Monday outing and to conduct three GLIBA surveys there. The farmer mentioned above has had a valuable service performed by these birds as a thousand birds or more must have converted a lot of pasture eating insects into fertiliser over the 14 days.
Many of the birds were in breeding plumage with black caps, red bills and feet and dark grey under parts. When in non-breeding condition the under parts are white, the forehead white and the bill and feet are blackish.
I wonder if these birds have recently bred or are going to breed? Perhaps the latter as there did not look to be any juvenile birds in the flock – it is not that easy to pick as adult birds in non-breeding plumage look similar to juveniles?
An adult in non-breeding plumage.
Another view of a non-breeding bird - note there is no black cap, just some blotchy patches of black feathers. And the under parts are mostly white though a little blotchy.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Owlet-nightjar – a lucky find

This morning I was with a small group from BirdLife East Gippsland conducting a bird survey for the Gippsland Plains Catchment Management Network in woodland in the Forge Creek Water Reserve near Paynesville. Two in the group noticed a bird flush from somewhere near the ground and fly up into a tree above. Another member of the group spotted the bird in the tree, an Australian Owlet-nightjar.
The Australian Owlet-nightjar flushed during a bird survey in the Forge Creek Water Reserve today.
The whisker like feathers on the face stand out in this shot against the sky. Do these act like cat whiskers or sensors to protect the bird's eyes from injury from flying insects at night?
Note: The photos can be enlarged with a left mouse click and the mouse wheel can be used to scroll through the images as a slide show.  
These small nocturnal birds are widespread across the Australian mainland and also found in Tasmania. They are common in suitable habitat, especially woodlands, where there are suitable tree hollows in which to spend the day roosting. Also holes in embankments and cliff faces may be used. In winter they often sun themselves at the entrance of their roosting hole.
While these birds may be common it is far from common to see one. When they are seen it is mostly when they are found sunning themselves at a hollow entrance or when they are flushed, as the bird was today. Finding them at night with a light is almost impossible for unlike most nocturnal animals, which have large light reflecting eyes, Owlet-nightjars, while they do have large eyes, do not reflect torchlight at all. I was lucky enough to find one at night with a torch so I can testify from first hand experience that they have no eye shine at night.
Therefore the group’s excitement at finding this rarely seen bird today was understandable and the two photographers in the group took full advantage of the rare opportunity while the bird posed within camera range.
The bird flew a short distance to a new perch. Note raptor like claws. Does this bird catch prey at night on the wing in its beak or with its feet, or both?
In spite of its name the Owlet-nightjar is not related to Nightjars. The nearest relatives are thought to be swifts and while this may seem surprising I think they do have some similarities. Before I became aware of the relationship with swifts I saw an Owlet-nightjar at Gluepot in South Australia one night swooping a number of times by our camp site, chasing moths attracted by the light and I was left with the feeling that this bird looked like a swift. 
Other names used in the past for the Owlet-nightjar include Little Nightjar (as mentioned above they are not related to nightjars), Fairy Owl (they are not related to owls) and Moth Owl, a partly appropriate name as their diet does mainly consist of nocturnally active insects caught on the wing, including moths and beetles.
Looking out from a hollow this very cute face could look like a small possum such as a Sugar Glider.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

A cuckoo in the garden

An unmistakable birdcall alerted me to the presence of a cuckoo in our garden this morning. The call was a series of ascending notes, sometimes described as semi-tones, indeed this bird has been called the Semitone-bird or Scale-bird. The bird calling in our garden was of course a Pallid Cuckoo.
NOTE: Photos can be enlarged by left click of mouse on photo and then mouse wheel can be used to scroll through the photos as a slide show.
The adult male Pallid Cuckoo calling in the garden today. I have interrupted his calling.
Satisfied I am no threat he resumes his scales.
His energies were not completely focused on attracting a mate. He stopped calling to swoop down and grab a moth and then he moved to another tree to beat the moth a few time on a branch before swallowing it. Hairy caterpillars, grasshoppers, beetles and other insects make up the diet of Pallid Cuckoos.
The moth consumed he resumes calling.
The call, repeated over and over again, was coming from a male Pallid Cuckoo, a male because only the male makes the ascending call. The female, if and when she replies, only issues a single harsh note. Another name for this cuckoo is the Brainfever-bird, as it sometimes continues calling for long periods, including occasionally at night, which can drive some people mad, or at least it can become seriously annoying, especially if it is keeping you awake at night.
Another apt name for this species is Harbinger-of-Spring as it is a strong seasonal migrant to southeastern Australia where its return each Spring is announced loud and clear by the call.
The name cuckoo, applied to some 12 cuckoo species in Australia, derived from the cuckoo found in Europe, which makes a call sounding like “cuckoo”.  It is one of those onomatopoeic words where the sound of the word imitates the sound of the thing or action being described, as for example in the words hiss, buzz and bang.  In the case of the European Cuckoo the bird’s call is the sound “cuckoo”.  However in spite of bearing the name cuckoo not one Australian species makes a call that sounds anything like “cuckoo”.
Most Australian cuckoos, but not all, are nest parasites meaning they lay their eggs in the nest of another species leaving the unwitting hosts to raise their young. The Pallid Cuckoo is a “nest parasite” and some 50 species are potential hosts for Pallid Cuckoos with Yellow-faced Honeyeater being one of the most common victims, which is possibly not surprising given the Yellow-faced Honeyeater is also a strong seasonal migrant returning to southeastern Australia every Spring in large numbers to breed. 
Yellow-faced Honeyeaters are a common victim of the Pallid Cuckoo's nest parasitism. This bird has been having a bath.
The male Pallid Cuckoo is a grey bird with some brown hints. The female is a mottled rufous brown, a colour not needed for sitting camouflaged on a nest but very handy for sneaking in undetected to lay one egg in the nest of an unsuspecting pair of host birds while they are distracted by her mate. She removes one egg so the owners of the nest will not notice any change. When hatched the young cuckoo will eject the other eggs or hatchlings from the nest leaving only the cuckoo for the hosts to raise.
The male Pallid Cuckoo.
This is a juvenile or young male - note spots on wing covert margins. This photo was taken in Sturt National Park NW NSW.
The female Pallid Cuckoo - note the mottled brown and rufous colour. Photo taken on Wangarabell Road north of Genoa far East Gippsland.
The challenges of reproduction have seen many different methods evolved across various species to bring forth the next generation, however nest parasitism is one of the more fascinating solutions. 
The male Pallid Cuckoo called on and off in and around the garden throughout the day. I listened to see if a female answered his call. Just on dusk he was still calling when I heard a female respond with her one coarse note. Perhaps he did not call all day in vain?

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Great Crested Grebes on the Gippsland Lakes

Australia has three resident grebe species, the Australasian Grebe, Hoary-headed Grebe and the Great Crested Grebe. A fourth grebe, the Little, is a rare visitor (vagrant) to Australia.
The Great Crested Grebe. This bird is found across the Old World including in Australia and New Zealand.
Australasian Grebe - much smaller than the Great Crested. Prefers fresh water.

Hoary-headed Grebe - non breeding. Large numbers can be found in shallow areas of the Gippsland Lakes.
Grebes belong to a group of waterbirds known as Podicipedidae, which means “rump-footed” due to their feet being located near the end of their bodies. This feature gives them great swimming ability, both on the surface and underwater.
Note the legs which are located well towards the end of the body - this gives them great speed for catching fish under water. Also note the powder puff tail feathers which is common on all three grebe species.
Unlike most aquatic birds grebes don’t have webbed feet. To aid swimming their feet are lobed – each toe has a stiff flap on either side. Coots also share this very unusual feature. Grebes can only shuffle when walking so it is not surprising that they are highly aquatic animals rarely seen on land. Their nests are constructed from aquatic vegetation in shallow water.
The lobed foot, unique to grebes and one or two other waterbird species, is clear in this shot. Also note the wing and white panel of feathers.
This bird was preening and scratching its head with the lobed foot - the lobed foot might be good for swimming but for walking and preening it may not be too efficient?

 Grebes are rarely seen flying and when alarmed they usually dive and can swim long distances under water to safety. However they are strong flyers and can cover vast distances when required. The long flights are undertaken at night.

Their diet consists mostly of fish and aquatic insects, which are caught underwater.
All three species are found on the Gippsland Lakes, adjoining wetlands and rivers.

The Australasian Grebe prefers fresh water habitats so it is not often found on the saline Gippsland Lakes.

The Hoary-headed Grebe is happy in saline water habitats and can be found at times in very large numbers on shallow sections of the Lakes. Rafts of up to 300 to 500 birds are not uncommon.

The Great Crested Grebe is a more solitary bird and single birds or pairs may be found on the Lakes, often well away from shorelines. From time to time small groups may shelter and rest together when very rough conditions on the Lakes force them into sheltered locations.
This was the case recently when there was a group of up to twenty Great Crested Grebes regularly resting together in McMillan Strait between Paynesville and Raymond Island. They were resting close to the Raymond Island shoreline and so could be approached closely and photographed from a vehicle. It was a good opportunity to get some photos of this species and spend some time observing them at close range.
There were 14 birds present the morning I paid them a visit. They spent most of the 40 minutes I watched them sleeping with their heads on their backs and their bills tucked under their necks. While they gave the appearance of being asleep I noticed on close observation that their eyes were often open and that they were paddling to maintain their positions against the wind and currents.
This is the sleeping or resting position, the position which all 14 birds spent most of their time in over the 40 minutes or so I watched them. Is this bird asleep?
Now and again one would wake up and undertake some preening, giving me the opportunity to get some shots of this beautiful bird. They have long necks and dagger bills with a sharp point, no doubt an effective weapon for catching fish. Their head is particularly stunning, sporting a dark crest and black tipped chestnut ruffs, which can be held flat or erected for displays of aggression and during their elaborate and extraordinary courtship rituals.
Males and females are very similar in appearance. The females are slightly smaller. Sub adults or immature birds take time to develop the full colour on the crest and ruffs.
The mature bird at top left has erected the ruffs as an aggression or threat display to the immature bird on right which came too close. It is swimming rapidly away from the mature bird and its ruff is flattened, perhaps as a show of submission?
 Here are a few more shots of the Great Crested Grebe.

Great Crested Grebes are not always present on the Gippsland Lakes so when they are here and there is an opportunity to see them up close it is not to be missed. Oh and how did I know the birds were there? A good birding friend who lives on Raymond Island let me know and even provided a cup of tea (but no biscuits!) – thanks RM.
I need to find a breeding pair and get some courtship photos now?????

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Spring Camp at Marlo

BirdLife East Gippsland, a branch of BirdLife Australia, holds two birding camps each year, one in autumn and one in spring. This year the spring camp was based at Marlo, a small town on the Victorian coast at the mouth of the Snowy River.
The camp was organized and managed by Merryl and Ian Wright, and activities were led by our expert local birding guides, Marlo residents and members Jacquie and Len Axen.  From Monday 14th  to Friday 18th October, twenty-nine birders attended with most staying in a caravan park at Marlo.
A wide diversity of rich habitats was visited over the four days including the Orbost Wastewater Treatment Lagoons, Snowy River Estuary and adjoining wetlands, the coast with both sandy beaches and rocky headlands at Cape Conran, coastal woodlands and forests, heathlands, the Yerrung River Estuary and the Cabbage Tree Palms Reserve.

Yet another storm front approaching the Snowy River entrance from the south west. This is a great place to scope birds, including waders, and if you are lucky whales heading south to Antarctica.

Late afternoon view from French's Narrows looking west along the Estuary towards the Snowy River Entrance and Marlo.
For each of the sites visited, the bird species and the number of birds were recorded. This data is sent to BirdLife Australia for inclusion in the Atlas database. A total of about 136 bird species were recorded over the four days, a good total given the highly variable and at times wild and wet weather with very strong winds and big seas along the coast.
So the conditions were not always ideal for bird photography, however the bird photographers in the group were afforded some good opportunities over the four days.
Here are a few of my shots from the camp.
Striated Thornbill:
A small group of thornbills in coastal woodland tested our identification skills. The birds turned out to be Striated and not Yellow Thornbills.
Striated Thornbill in Coastal Tea-tree at Marlo.
Rufous Songlark:
There was a further identification challenge with Australasian Pipits and Rufous Songlarks present at the Orbost Treatment Lagoons with a further possibility of an introduced Eurasian Skylark. The Rufous Songlark in the photos below was calling in flight between rests on fence posts. This bird finally settled long enough for a close enough approach to get a couple of shots, with one flight shot. The flight shot was captured by waiting for the bird to fly from the top of a fence post.
Rufous Songlark at Orbost Wastewater Treatment Lagoons.
The bird is calling as it ascends from the fence post.
This image has been cropped from the photo above. Note the rufous rump which gives this Songlark its name and is one key to identification of this species.
Caspian Tern:
A Caspian Tern entertained us on the Snowy River Estuary at Marlo one afternoon by diving and catching a good sized fish. It then flew around with the fish until it decided to join two Pied Oystercatchers on a sandy beach close to us where it dealt with the significant task of arranging the fish head in its mouth before it was swallowed whole. When a large fish is caught and can’t be swallowed when the bird emerges from the dive at the water’s surface, other birds often give chase in the hope of stealing an easy meal. In this case the Tern was safe from the Oystercatchers, as large fish are not part of their diet.
Caspian Tern looking for a safe place on the beach to swallow its meal.
White-bellied Sea-Eagle:
There are good numbers of Sea-Eagles along the Gippsland coast and we saw several birds over the four days, some sub-adults and others fully mature. The bird in the following shot, a sub adult, was captured as it flew over French’s Narrows, at the eastern end of the Snowy River Estuary.

It takes five years for Sea-Eagles to reach full maturity.
Horsfield’s Bronze-Cuckoo:
We heard many Shining and Horsfield’s Bronze-Cuckoos in various habitats over the four days. They are hard birds to see and even harder to photograph. The one in the following shots was hunting for caterpillars in heathland at the back of the primary coastal dunes near French’s Narrows. Also in the same area, and on one occasion in the same bush, were a pair of Striated Fieldwrens and pair of Superb Fairy-Wrens and nearby, a White-fronted Chat. 
Horsfield's Bronze-Cuckoo found in heathland between the Snowy River Estuary
and coastal dunes near French's Narrows.

I watched the bird as it went from one stunted Coastal Wattle to another
finding caterpillars in each bush it visited.
Striated Fieldwren:
We managed to find several pairs of Striated Fieldwrens in the heathland between the Snowy River Estuary and the primary coastal dunes east of the Snowy River entrance. They were hard to approach and reminded me of grasswrens the way they ducked into dense low shrubs and sometimes ran between clumps of vegetation.
The Striated Fieldwrens were hard to get close to for a photo.
Spotted Harrier:
While trying to photograph Striated Fieldwrens I noticed a raptor approaching from the east. It flew low, closely following the undulating dunes, often disappearing from view as it drew closer. It finally came into view and within camera distance, so close to me that I only had a few seconds to get one shot and see that it was a Spotted Harrier before it was past me and flying into the sun.

These birds have a characteristic hunting flight style where the bird appears to almost float weightless on outstretched wings using the slightest breeze with very few wing beats. The broad dark brown tipped flight feathers obvious in the photo may partly explain why this bird gets such good lift with seemingly so little effort.
Spotted Harrier - note the broad knife blade shaped flight feathers with dark brown tips.
Sharp-tailed Sandpiper:
A lone Sharp-tailed Sandpiper still partly in breeding plumage and probably not long back from the northern hemisphere breeding grounds was found feeding by a small creek outlet pool at the top of the Sailor’s Grave beach, East Cape Conran. It allowed fairly close approach as it fed, no doubt ravenous after a long trip. On the beach nearby were three Sooty and one Pied Oystercatcher, a lone Hooded Plover, a couple of Pacific Gulls and a small party of Little Black Cormorants resting on the beach.
A lone Sharp-tailed Sandpiper feeding in a fresh water pool at top of beach at
Sailor's Grave East Cape Conran.
Musk Lorikeet:
In the caravan park, noisy groups of Little and Red Wattlebirds and Rainbow and Musk Lorikeets fed and fought over nectar-rich blossoms in the Callistemons.
Muck Lorikeet feeding on a Callistemon flower in caravan park at Marlo. Flowering native shrubs and trees we plant in our gardens and public places are magnets for
nectar feeding birds such as honeyeaters and lorikeets.
The same bird having a very brief rest from nectar feeding. Does a high sugar diet
explain why Lorikeets are such energetic and rowdy birds?
Thanks to Merryl, Ian, Len and Jacqui, we all thoroughly enjoyed another successful BirdLife East Gippsland birding camp with good company, a scenic location, many types of habitat and plenty of bird species.