Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Double-eyed Fig-Parrots and some Queensland endemic honeyeaters

From Mission Beach we moved to Deeral to access a day trip out to Normanby Island in the Frankland Group National Park to do some snorkeling on coral reefs. The trip involved a half hour cruise down the scenic Mulgrave River and a short run out to the islands. There were not many birds to report on the river run, a few egrets (Great, Intermediate and Cattle), Masked Lapwings and kingfishers (Sacred and Forest) plus six Eastern Curlews in flight. Out at sea there were very few sea birds in this area, which is inside the Great Barrier Reef; in fact only one Silver Gull was sighted. On Normanby Island I saw only Bar-shouldered Doves and Varied Honeyeater. The honeyeaters and doves turned up for lunch. They have learnt there are scraps to be picked up when fifty odd people have lunch al fresco on a tropical island. Also on the shoreline of the island were three Beach Stone-curlews (see Fraser Island post for photos of this species), a couple of Sooty Oystercatchers, a Reef Egret and an Osprey. Still it was a great day out and a good way to see some magical coral and some of the many and varied animals that live on coral reefs.
Leaving Deeral we climbed steeply through rugged and very scenic country up to the Atherton Tableland passing through Atherton and Mareeba on our way to Kingfisher Birdwatchers Lodge at Julatten where we have been for the past three days. This is a good base to explore a range of birding habitats, especially tropical rainforest, savanna woodlands and wetlands. For more information about this renowned birding location I suggest a visit to the Kingfisher Birdwatchers Lodge web site:
Birding highlights captured with photos over the past five days or so include some honeyeaters endemic to Queensland and a pair of Double-eyed Fig-Parrots constructing a nest hollow.
The Fig-Parrots were found one morning when I was looking, with no success, for the Blue-faced Parrot-Finch. 
The female Fig-Parrot was constructing a nest hollow exactly as shown in the Morecombe Field Guide. She was chewing a hole in the side of a dead rainforest tree branch some 10 metres up. The wood was obviously soft as she ripped out a good quantity of chips during the ten minutes I observed the pair. It seems that the female does all of the work, while the male perched on the end of the limb about a metre away, no doubt fulfilled a very important guard duty role, as the female is vulnerable with her head inside the slowly deepening hollow. While I watched them the male spent most of the time hanging upside down from the end of the limb. I am not sure how this position enhances surveillance however it may be that it gave him a better look at me standing below with a large camera trained on them.
During this time the male uttered short calls to the female. At the end of the session the male walked down the top of the limb to the female where he appeared to inspect progress and then proceeded to pass food to her. This looks as if the birds are kissing. He did this five times and then returned to the end of the limb. It was then that they both flew off together. I returned to the tree once that afternoon and three times the following day but did not find them there.

The Double-eyed Fig-Parrot is Australia's smallest parrot. The name double-eye comes from a PNG race which has a dark spot near the eye giving the appearance of two eyes. There are three races within Australia.
The following photos unfortunately are not sharp due to distance and lighting however I thought they were good enough to show the nest hollow construction activity and interaction between the two birds.
Note female Double-eyed Fig-Parrot on left of dead limb at hole under construction and the male at end of limb on watch duty.
The male hung upside down while on guard?
The female takes a break from nest excavation and checks me out before resuming work.
The female back at work. Another shot shows her further into the hole so it is a little deeper than her position indicates in this shot.
The male coming to inspect progress.
Is he complimenting her on progress?
They are not kissing. The male is feeding the female.
Apart from the Hooded Parrot and sadly the now extinct Paradise Parrot which excavate nest hollows in termite mounds, Double-eyed Fig-Parrots are the only Australian Parrots that excavate nest hollows. The other parrot species use existing hollows, though they may enlarge them or improve entry a by chewing out wood.
Due to its location and sheer size Queensland is the most bird rich state in Australia and has the largest number of endemic birds, that is bird species found only in Queensland. Many of the endemic species are honeyeaters and we have managed to find some and photograph a few.

The Bridled Honeyeater is a large honeyeater. We found them in a variety of habitats.
The Macleay's Honeyeater. I found this species very approachable. Note the pollen on the bird's head. They obviously help fertilise the plants they feed on. This one is feeding in a hybrid grevillia at Kingfisher Birdwatchers Lodge.
I found this species very attractive so couldn't resist including another photo.
This is one of the Varied Honeyeaters that joined us for lunch on Normanby Island.
The Graceful Honeyeater feeding in an exotic South American tree growing in the orchard at Kingfisher Birdwatchers Lodge. I found this wary species hard to capture with a shot as they only seemed to stop moving for a second or two.

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