Sunday, 4 May 2014

Summer Migrants in East Gippsland

The annual migration of species such as shorebirds (waders) and swifts from their northern hemisphere breeding grounds is well known. For many species, the migration is from as far north as the high arctic to Australia, where they spend summer to avoid the extreme northern winter. Also many of us are familiar with the migration of northern hemisphere land birds, for example warblers and hummingbirds, even if we have not witnessed this directly ourselves, as the annual event is woven into western history and literature and has featured in many television nature documentaries.
The annual movement of birds south was a strong marker of the coming severe winter for people living in high northern latitudes where in the past surviving winter was a real test and the return of birds in spring must have been, and no doubt still is, a welcome marker that the long cold winter was over for another year. 
In Australia where we are located in lower latitudes compared with northern Europe, Canada and much of North America, our climate is far more temperate and therefore the winter driver of bird migration is far less obvious. Even so, in eastern Australia many bird species migrate each year, moving south in summer and north in winter. There is also, for some bird species, an annual movement to and from higher altitudes along the Great Dividing Range and in Victoria and NSW, to and from the alpine country where snow can cover the ground for several months each winter.
The annual cycle of influx and exodus of birds coincides with the spring and summer breeding period and many of our summer migrants breed during this time. For most species the migration is restricted to mainland Australia however some species cross Bass Strait to Tasmania during their annual migration (see last post – Silvereyes), and others leave Australia altogether, crossing Torres Strait on their annual migration journey.
This post covers some of our East Gippsland summer breeding migrants, the terrestrial species or land birds.
During the spring and summer seasons we always see a great increase in bird activity and this is mainly due to birds taking up breeding territories. During this time they are very active and vocal, defending territory, attracting mates, driving off competitors, nest building and feeding and raising young. The influx of our summer breeding migrants adds greatly to the number of species and abundance of birds and the frenetic avian activity.
When our summer breeding migrants depart in autumn their absence contributes to the general sense of quiet and low level of activity, it becomes much harder to find birds and there is, for keen birders, an inevitable sense of anticlimax during late autumn and winter. Some of us avoid this by heading north with the bird migrants.
Adding to the sense of quiet many sedentary species no longer tied to breeding territories become locally nomadic, often moving in loose mixed species flocks, so finding birds in late autumn and winter often means lucking onto small nomadic parties of birds. In between these encounters patches of bush can often seem completely devoid of birds. 
So here are some (most) of our East Gippsland summer breeding migrants. Most have gone now for another year and we can only look forward to seeing them again next spring when they come south again to breed and in so doing brighten our spring. Those of us who head to northern NSW and Queensland in winter may catch up with some of our summer migrants there.
Sacred Kingfisher - resident in northern Australia and a summer breeding migrant to south eastern Australia.
The beautifully coloured Rainbow Bee-eater excavates a nesting burrow in sandy soil.
The Dollarbird is a summer migrant to Australia from NG and Indonesia. Some reach south eastern Australia where they breed.
The Pallid Cuckoo's distinctive call is a sure sign of Spring. A nest parasite this summer migrant arrives with many of its host species such as Honeyeaters, Flycatchers and Woodswallows.
The Brush Cuckoo another nest parasite and summer migrant is less common in East Gippsland than the Pallid Cuckoo.
The White-throated Gerygone is an elusive bird frequenting tree canopies. The beautiful call often gives away its presence.
The Yellow-faced Honeyeater is one our most common and numerous Honeyeaters over summer. Large movements of birds heading north in Autumn are often seen in East Gippsland. Some birds overwinter in the south.
The Rufous Whistler's impetuous, spirited spring song gives a clear indication that this migrant species has arrived for another summer breeding season.
The Golden Whistler has both sedentary and migratory populations. In addition to north south movements some birds are altitudinal migrants.
The Black-faced Monarch another somewhat elusive species often found by hearing call - a summer breeding migrant in East Gippsland.
The Leaden Flycatcher along with the Satin is a regular summer breeding migrant to south east Australia.
It is always a pleasure to find a Rufous Fantail, an uncommon summer breeding migrant in the south.
The White-winged Triller is another uncommon summer breeding migrant to south eastern Australia.
The Dusky Woodswallow is a regular summer breeding migrant to East Gippsland. Other Woodswallow species are nomadic and pay us a visit sporadically, usually when inland Australia is in drought.
The Australian Reed-Warbler, a denizen of dense reeds is more often heard than seen. A summer breeding migrant with some birds remaining over winter, however they are hard to detect in dense reeds as they rarely call during the non breeding season.