Sunday, 30 June 2013


Mistletoebirds are a fascinating example of co-evolution of a bird with parasitic plants. These plants are collectively known as mistletoe. There is a range of species with each having a limited range of host trees. For example some species live on eucalypts, some on acacias, some on melaleuca and so on. 
The Australian Mistletoebird feeds almost exclusively on mistletoe berries and has a digestive system modified to deal with the special and limited diet. Apparently, for the first couple of weeks of their lives nestlings are fed exclusively on an insect diet.
The Mistletoebird extracts the berries from an outer protective skin and the soft sweet fruit mass surrounding the hard seed is consumed in the bird’s digestive tract. The seed when voided is sticky and is deliberately wiped by the bird onto its perch. In this way the Mistletoebird spreads new mistletoe plants. So Mistletoebirds and mistletoe plants are dependent on one another.
There are no Mistletoebirds in Tasmania and as far as I am aware no mistletoe plants either which is strong evidence for the codependency of this group of parasitic plants and animal species on the Australian mainland.
I don’t know if mistletoe is spread exclusively by Mistletoebirds, there may be other animal species involved. I have noticed that mistletoe seems to grow strongly along forest margins and other edges.  Is this because mistletoe grows best with plenty of light or is it because Mistletoebirds prefer to live along edges?
At Byron Bay I photographed a male Mistletoebird removing the skin of a mistletoe berry. This species of mistletoe was growing on a melaleuca tree.
This male Mistletoebird is perched in a mistletoe plant on a melaleuca tree. There are two berries just above the bird. Note the strong black bill.

The bird has just snapped a berry off from the branch it is perched on.

The bird is beginning to squeeze the skin off the berry.

The soft inner fruit is starting to emerge from the outer skin.

Finally the bird turns the fruit around and grasps the soft inner part which it is after. Shortly after the seed was consumed, a Brown Honeyeater chased the Mistletoebird away.

Friday, 28 June 2013


After experiencing heavy rain in many locations along the NSW coast we decided to escape the wet weather and come north to Byron Bay. However it seems the rain may have followed us here.
We have been seeing good numbers of fish raptors, White-bellied Sea-Eagles, Brahminy Kites and Ospreys in our travels so far.
Ospreys are a rare sight in East Gippsland however further north they are a relatively common along the coast and in some inland waterways. In early 2012 a young Osprey took up residence in Duck Arm on the Gippsland Lakes. The bird was unlikely to find a mate this far south so it was inevitable that it moved on, but not before a number of local birders managed to see it and get some photos. Here are a few shots of the bird with a fish it is eating from the head end first.
Photo taken from a boat on Duck Arm, Gippsland Lakes

Moving to a quieter spot to finish the meal.

This is young female based on the dark neck collar. The bird is still grasping the half eaten fish.
During our brief stay in Sawtell (just south of Coffs Harbour) we were treated to an Osprey making several dives for fish, all unsuccessful, at the Sawtell entrance. Too far away for any photos unfortunately. Two things were of interest here.
One: Ospreys when catching fish will hit the water talons first and become semi immersed before they take off. Other fish raptors, such as Sea-Eagles, do not enter the water and instead snatch fish from near the surface while in continuous flight. The Osprey we watched hit the water and became semi immersed each time it attempted to catch a fish.
The second point of interest: very close to where the Osprey was diving, less than 15 metres, there were a large number of Crested Terns and Silver Gulls roosting on a sand spit. Also among them was one Little Egret. To my surprise neither the Terns nor Gulls showed much concern for the Osprey. The Terns stood up and shuffled a little and then settled again. The Gulls didn’t seem to move at all. The Little Egret did however depart the sand spit. I took this behavior to indicate Ospreys were not seen as a threat by Terns or Gulls and this may be because they are not a food item for this species of raptor?
Driving through the Northern Rivers region we saw numerous White-bellied Sea-Eagles, Brahminy Kites and Ospreys. During a lunch stop at Wardell, a small hamlet on the Richmond River, I noticed a tall treated pine pole on the opposite bank of the river with an unusual structure on top. On closer inspection it turned out to be a nest and perching platform for Osprey with two Osprey in residence, one on the nest and one on a perch below eating a large silver fish – see photos below.
Note the large power pole to the right of the Pacific Highway bridge.

Note one bird on the nest and the other bird eating a large silver fish.
Given the proximity to a large power pole visible in the photo to the right of the Osprey pole I wondered if the pole was there to provide an alternative nesting platform to the adjacent power pole. A Google search soon revealed this to be the case – see link:
Nesting poles are provided by the energy companies to achieve a win-win outcome – protection of power distribution assets and improved breeding opportunities for Ospreys. We have come a long way – once the solution to this problem may have been to shoot the birds. Ospreys on the NSW coast north of Sydney have increased from around 10 pairs in the early 70's to about 100 now.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

From home to Jervis Bay NSW

Our final packing for three and a half months away was completed in the rain – 116mm over three days to Saturday 15th of June – our departure day. Driving east, the Nicholson, Tambo, Snowy, Bemm, Cann and Genoa Rivers were all in minor flood. The watery world had expanded, delivering disaster for some and a food bonanza for the birds. Ducks were busy exploring their new habitat along with egrets and spoonbills. Ibis, currawongs, ravens and magpies were busy in the sodden paddocks picking up small animals brought to the surface by saturated ground.  Once we crossed the border the rain eased and stream flows were normal in southern NSW. However the cold and very windy weather persisted all week with frequent showers of rain. Not great birding weather and especially not great for bird photography.
Our first stop was a two-day visit with our oldest son at Millingandi. He and his partner live on a small property in a rural area out the back of Pambula. We recorded 40 species of birds on the property over two days. The highlights were a Peregrine Falcon and Rose Robin. I was hopeful of photographing the Rose Robin however it disappeared as an Eastern Yellow Robin perched before me in a brief show of late afternoon sun – so in spite of having plenty of EYR photos I couldn’t resist snapping one more of this very cooperative and photogenic subject. Here is the result with a couple of cropped versions to show detail around the head.

From Millingandi we headed to Narooma where we caught up with my brother and his partner. They were visiting family who live in Narooma so we had another couple of days socialising and eating with a few walks around the Narooma water front in between rain showers and family engagements. We set up our van in a caravan park on the waterfront. One morning while having breakfast, I watched about 46 Bar-tailed Godwits loafing, and a few feeding, on the sand/mud flats less than 100 metres away. If only all our campsites could be this good? Photos here were of the Little, Intermediate and Great Egrets plus one flight shot of a Crested Tern.
Looking north from the Narooma entrance sea wall - big seas have persisted for our trip so far.
This Crested Tern was hunting just inside the Narooma entrance - a wise choice given conditions out at sea.
A Little Egret sheltering in mangroves less than 70 metres from the Princes Highway and Narooma shops.
Great Egret showing gape extending well behind the eye - a good identifying feature for this species.
This Intermediate Egret was looking for a meal from a jetty where boats offering fishing charters, whale watching and nature tours out to Montague Island were moored on the Narooma waterfront.
From Narooma we drove north to our next stop at Jervis Bay and set up the van in a caravan park in Huskisson – too cold and wet for us oldies out in the Booderee (Jervis Bay) National Park at the Green Patch camp ground – no power for the small fan heater. Cold and very windy weather with frequent showers persisted as we explored the park on the south side of Jervis Bay on Thursday 20th June. My bird of interest here was the endangered Eastern Bristlebird, a ground dwelling species found in dense heath. I suspect their main threat is inappropriate fire regimes; both too much and too little fire can be a problem.  We heard five Bristlebirds in three locations, however none showed. There were lots of honeyeaters, especially New Holland, and Little Wattlebirds on the Telegraph Creek walking trail, and I managed a few shots of the White-checked Honeyeater. From Murray boat ramp I watched a Black-browed Albatross in Jervis Bay being chased by a White-bellied Sea-Eagle. From Governor Head I photographed an albatross which I was not able to identify in the field. However this was easy back in the van with enlarged photos on the laptop and a field guide at hand (see photos below).
Point Perpendicular and edge of Bowen Island viewed from south side of Jervis Bay.
White-checked Honeyeater on the Telegraph Creek nature trail near Green Patch, Booderee NP.

White-browed Scrubwren foraging on edge of road at Green Patch. At one point this little fellow came over and hopped around my feet - way too close for a photo.
This albatross was seen between Governor Head and Bowen Island. It was a good distance out and ID with bins and no field guide to hand was impossible for me. However a few photos enlarged on laptop later with the field guide open allowed the species to be identified.
I decided this was a Black-browed Albatross based on black across top of wings and back, black tail, under wing leading edge very wide and black and bill is a uniform yellow. Also this species is common in the area.

Some of these albatross were seen in Jervis Bay and I saw one chased by a Sea-Eagle.

On Friday 22nd we caught up with friends from BirdLife East Gippsland who moved to the Jervis Bay area a year or so ago. They took us out to the Beecroft Weapons Range on the north side of Jervis Bay. This area is not always open to the public especially on weekdays. The weather improved later in the day.  Managed a few bird photos however nothing very exotic. We drove through lots of Bristlebird habitat but once again they eluded us.
Found some Pacific Black Ducks and a pair of Chestnut Teal resting in a small creek near Currarong Village. The water had a high tannin level and was very reflective. I like the swirling patten of the grass on the water and blurred wings with head in sharp focus.

Same bird as above after its stretch.

The pair of teal were hiding in a dead Casuarina that had fallen conveniently into the water.

The female of the pair above. The water was as good as a mirror.

Azure Kingfishers are one of my favourite birds. This bird was on rocks at Honeymoon Bay on the north side of Jervis Bay. Conditions here are close to marine. This kingfisher is happy in both fresh and salt water environments.

One of a pair of Masked Lapwings asserting ownership of a sea weed strewn rocky platform at Honeymoon Bay.

This Lewin's Honeyeater at Honeymoon Bay allowed close approach as it sheltered in a vine thicket while it looked out for a raptor that had just flown over the tree canopy above. All of the honeyeaters in the area had sounded alarm calls when the raptor appeared so the normal frenetic activity had come to a rapid, though temporary, halt until all was clear.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Post script to "An autumn morning birding at Jones Bay"

As I returned to my vehicle from the sand islands I spotted a Black-shouldered Kite perched on top of an old navigation pole feeding on a kill. I thought, here is a photo opportunity if I can use the car and a wattle tree as a cover to get closer. So I bent low and crept up. I managed to get into position without scaring off the bird, which was preoccupied with its meal. However when I went to snap some shots the auto focus was not working and then I noticed the image stabiliser was also not functioning. It was then I noticed the camera battery was flat. So I backed behind the wattle and changed the battery. When I worked back into position again the bird had gone. Ahhhh! - the frustrations of bird photography?

As I walked back to the car I noticed the bird had flown to a young Redgum beside the Mitchell River, just 50 metres from the car, where it was perched on its meal and feeding. So I was still in the hunt. I worked my way, with no cover at all, very slowly towards the tree and the feeding bird, stopping often to ensure the bird was comfortable. Over the next 10 minutes or so, and 20 shots or more, I found I was nearly by the tree and very close to the feeding bird. It was then that I realised I had completely missed a second BSK perched about 4 metres above the bird I had been photographing. To my surprise I found this second bird was also feeding. Both birds had caught rats - the tail is visible in some of the shots.

I then started taking some shots of the second bird which was bigger than the first and therefore probably a female.

I went back to taking shots of the smaller male and while so occupied heard the female squawking and realised she had flown off. When I looked to see what the fuss was all about the female was attacking a Whistling Kite and still holding its partly eaten rat. At first I thought the female must have been chasing the WK away from its territory, however during a close encounter between the two birds the BSK dropped the rat and as it fell the WK effortlessly swooped and caught it in flight. That was the end of the encounter. The BSK returned to the tree, minus its meal, and the WK flew off with its stolen meal. The male BSK continued eating. I think the WK had approached with the intention of grabbing an easy meal and it succeeded. So in the end I think the BSK was trying to protect its meal and not its territory?

I have found in the past that raptors on a kill and busy feeding will sometimes allow close approach, provided of course you work your way towards the bird/s slowly, stopping often so they can be satisfied you are not a threat. That morning I got to within about 8 metres of the two birds while taking lots of photos and standing in the open - no cover at all. It should be noted however that this pair of BSK’s occupy a territory that has frequent human visitors, mostly fishing, and therefore they are relatively tolerant of people.

What a way to end a two hour walk in Jones Bay? Amazing luck and a bunch of nice photos - here are a few - I hope you enjoy them.

This is the male Black-shouldered Kite with its kill - I assume an introduced rat.

This is the female, also with a rat - she is either hungrier, a faster eater or started earlier than the male?

I am only about 6 metres away however she continues feeding while keeping an intense ruby red eye on me.

Back to the male who is demonstrating the effectiveness of the raptor bill for ripping flesh.

At this point the female has lost her meal to the Whistling Kite and is perched nearby. The male continues feeding safe from the WK.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

An Autumn morning birding at Jones Bay


An early morning view from the Eagle Point Bluff across the Mitchell River to Jones Bay
Swans on Jones Bay - looking north to foothills north east of Bairnsdale.

Jones Bay is one of my favorite local birding spots. Located on the Gippsland Lakes just south east of Bairnsdale the diversity and abundance of water birds here can be very high at times. For example BirdLife East Gippsland Important bird Area survey have recorded for a single count between two and three thousand Black Swans and Eurasian Coot numbers in excess of 8,000 birds. Also large numbers of cormorants, ducks, grebes (all three Australian species), gulls, terns and pelicans are usually present. And of course with this many meal opportunities raptors are often about, including Whistling Kites, Swamp Harriers, Little Eagles and White-bellied Sea-Eagles.

The Gippsland Lakes, and some of the adjoining wetlands, is a designated Ramsar wetland and the area is also and Important Bird Area (IBA). Jones Bay, and Macleod Morass immediately to the west, is a State Game Reserve.  

Jones Bay was formed by the Mitchell River silt jetty, one of the longest silt jetties in the world. The east bank of the silt jetty, just east of Eagle Point Bluff, was breached by a flood and now a new silt jetty is forming in Jones Bay. A series of about six low lying sandy silty islands has formed which are ideal water bird habitat both for feeding and resting/roosting, In addition floods have deposited a large number of dead trees in the shallow bay which are well used by many water birds.

On the autumn morning in question I was targeting waders on the sand islands, which I accessed by foot, using waders to cross the shallow water between islands. The waders included Bar-tailed Godwits and Red-necked Stints (both migratory species - the ones I saw were birds that have not flown north to the Arctic Tundra to breed), Red-capped and Double-banded Plovers and Red-kneed and Black-fronted Dotterels. The Double-banded Plovers breed in New Zealand and the South Island race come over to Australia for the winter. 

The following photos were taken one morning on the sand islands and include a number of flight shots. A few of the photos were taken on another morning a couple of weeks earlier. I have set out the photos in species groups and added comments and observations as captions to some of the photos.

I think the photos illustrate what a great spot the sand islands are for birding, especially for waders. This was autumn - there should be a greater diversity of species about over the summer period when the migrants have returned from breeding.

Bar-tailed Godwit 

This lone Bar-tailed Godwit flew in while I was photographing some Crested Terns and seemed happy with our company, giving me some opportunities to take some close shots including this sequence of flight shots.

With a barred tail and slightly upturned pink bill with dark tip this is definitely a Bar-tailed Godwit.

This shot of the bird preening shows the barred tail for which the bird is named.

Red-necked Stint

There were about 30 Red-necked Stints on the islands. They were mostly busy feeding however they are a very confiding wader allowing close approach for photos. Given the time of year I assumed these birds were not flying north to breed this winter.

These small waders are very active feeders along the shore line. They mostly feed on the shore however sometimes they feed in the water - see shots below. This bird was feeding along the shore towards me however when it reached the limit of its comfort zone it had to run past me.

Synchronized wading.

Feeding in the water.

Lots of flight shots were required to get a few in focus.

Red-capped Plover

There were about 30 Red-capped Plovers on the sand island in company with the other small waders.

Male Red-capped Plover

Juvenile Red-capped Plover

Male Red-capped Plover.

Two males.

Double-banded Plovers

There were about 20 Double-banded Plovers in their drab non breeding plumage.

This is a male Double-banded plover in breeding plumage taken at Byron Bay in late July 2012.

Most of the birds on the sand islands in Jones Bay were non breeding plumage birds, a few still had a little colour.

Double-banded Plover

Black-fronted Dotterel

There were two Black-fronted Dotterels on the sand island. This very attractive small wader is mostly found along fresh water shore lines so I was a little surprised to find a pair in Jones Bay which is usually salty though it can be fresh for a short time following major floods.

The Black-fronted Dotterels, and the Red-kneed, were very nervous and hard to get close enough for good photos.

Red-kneed Dotterel

There were also a pair of Red-kneed Dotterels present and like the Black-fronted these birds are also generally found in freshwater wetlands. They too were also very nervous and hard to approach, which may have been due in part to the lack of cover on these exposed sand islands and of course my presence.

Not a great photo but included as it shows the Red-kneed in flight.