Thursday, 30 April 2015


In East Gippsland we are lucky to have three of Australia’s five flycatcher species in the Myiagra genus, the Satin, Leaden and Restless. The other two Myiagra species are the Shinning and Broad-billed Flycatchers found only in tropical northern Australia. In northern Australia the Satin, Leaden and Restless are sedentary or locally nomadic and in the southeast, particularly in East Gippsland the Satin and Leaden are summer migrants and the Restless is more or less resident all year round though some what nomadic outside of the breeding season.
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Restless Flycatcher, the males and females look the same.
The stunning male Shinning Flycatcher photographed on the Daintree River in northern Queensland.
The female Shinning Flycatcher looks very different to her mate above.
Male Satin Flycatcher calling to a female perched nearby.
Male Leaden Flycatcher - can look very similar to the male Satin Flycatcher in some light.
A female Leaden Flycatcher - the female Satin Flycatcher looks nearly identical to the female Leaden.
On a recent BirdLife East Gippsland outing to Buchan and the surrounding area we came across four or five Restless Flycatchers hunting insect prey along a quiet rural road. After many days of cold, wet and overcast weather the sun was out at last and birds were making the most of the conditions. No doubt hunger drove them to catch up after a lean period.
The flycatchers were using the farm fences along the road to perch and look for prey in the grass.  At times they hovered above the grass while making their distinctive grinding, churring sounds that are thought to disturb insects into movement.
The grinding sound is the basis of an old common name for this Flycatcher, “Scissors Grinder”, still used with affection by some to name this attractive bird. I think the name restless is also a good name, which well describes this very active and seldom still species.
Some of the birds were so intent on chasing prey that they tolerated reasonably close approach by a number of photographers in our group.
Restless Flycatcher hovering above grass looking for insect prey, this is typical foraging behaviour.
Looking at me!
Looking for food.
Another location on fence, another angle, still looking for food.
A wonderful bird and a joy to watch.

Saturday, 25 April 2015


Fawthrop Lagoon is located within the harbor city of Portland on the west coast of Victoria. The lagoon and surrounding wetland habitat has been developed partly as an urban park and the remainder has been conserved as water bird habitat where a good range of water bird species, including migrant shorebirds, may be found.
The lagoon discharges via a tidal creek into a protected industrial harbour where large ocean going cargo ships come and go, transporting aluminium (ore and smelted ingots), timber and grain. Portland is, in part, an industrial city.
On a visit to the park we noticed a family with young children making their way over a footbridge to a small island. Before they had crossed the bridge a flock of a dozen or so Mallards swam with obvious purpose and expectation to meet the family as they came off the bridge. A similar sized flock of Pacific Black Ducks followed close behind the Mallards.
The Mallards are coming! Four males and one female, part of a flock at
Fawthrop Lagoon Portland, hopeful of a hand out.
The children were soon throwing pieces of stale bread to the ducks, a scene that can be witnessed in urban parks all over the world, because Mallards have a wide distribution across the northern hemisphere and they have been widely introduced in many countries in the southern hemisphere including New Zealand and Australia where they were first introduced from England in the 1860’s.
Mallards as a duck species (Northern Mallard(1), Anas platyrhynchos) have adapted very well to urban environments and no doubt this behavioral trait is partly why so many domesticated duck species originated from Mallards.
At the park in Portland, the slightly larger and certainly bolder Mallards outcompeted the Pacific Black Ducks (Anas superciliosa) for the bread scraps and soon enough the supply of bread was exhausted and the hectic activity subsided as the family departed. As I moved up with my camera for some photos the Mallards swam towards me boisterously quaking for food – smart birds, they soon realised I was not a bearer of food and turned silently away.
As for most introduced species I have to admit my enthusiasm for photographing the Mallards was not great, though I concede they are an attractive bird, especially the brightly coloured males.
The attractive male Mallard complete with distinctive curled tail feathers.
The blue speculum, wing-mirror, is covered.
My interest soon perked up when I noticed what might have been a hybrid bird among the Mallards and remembered that the Mallards are a potential threat to our native Pacific Black Ducks as they can cross-breed with them and therefore there is a risk over time for corruption of the Pacific Black Duck gene pool. I later discovered that the Pacific Black Duck is a Mallard and the female Mallard bares a striking resemblance to the Pacific Black Duck including the facial markings.
The female Mallard is very similar to the Pacific Black Duck - see next photo for comparison.
One of the Pacific Black Ducks in flock accompanying the Mallards at Fawthrop Lagoon.
Note the dark mark on the bill tip, Mallards also have the same mark on their bill tip.
After checking field guides, I decided that the bird was a female Mallard and not a hybrid and I further concluded that the birds in the following photo were juvenile Mallards and not hybrids.
Juvenile or immature Mallards - note the blue wing-mirror is visible on the closest bird.
Whenever exotic species, plant or animal, have been introduced, whether deliberately, inadvertently or self introduced, they nearly always turn out to be a problem as they always disrupt ecosystems, sometimes subtly and sometimes disastrously. The Mallard probably fits the subtle end of the impact spectrum, however since their introduction in the 1860’s Mallards have become widespread in Australia, especially around human development. It is thought that Australia’s harsh drought prone conditions have limited the spread of Mallards here. In New Zealand where the climate and conditions are far more benign the Mallard has become far more widespread and some NZ banded Mallards have been found in Australia showing that they are capable of moving long distances to new locations and becoming resident there when conditions suit them.
The biggest threat posed by introduced Mallards in Australia appears to be hydridisation with our native Pacific Black Ducks!
(1) Regarding “Northern”, Ian Fraser and Jeannie Gray in their book, Australian Bird Names, A Complete Guide (p17), say “It is unclear what delineating purpose is served by the relatively recently adopted Northern descriptor.”

Whether the name Mallard or Northern Mallard is used, it is the same bird/species.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Purple-crowned and Musk Lorikeets

Autumn conditions following a very dry summer has meant bare paddocks and very few flowering plants and trees across western Victoria and in south east South Australia. In response the birds have been scarce.
On arrival at the Lake Albert Caravan Park in Meningie, a small town near the Coorong and Lakes Albert and Alexandrina, we were greeted by the loud screeching calls of lorikeets when we got out of the car to set up the van.
The lorikeets were feeding in small gums loaded with large red flowers. The gums were planted around the caravan park and elsewhere as street trees, in and around the town. I first thought it was Little Lorikeets based on the calls, however on checking I was pleasantly surprised to find Purple-crowned Lorikeets, a species of lorikeet we don’t see in East Gippsland. The last time I saw Purple-crowned Lorikeets was several years ago in southwest Western Australia.
Having struggled on this trip to find many birds to photograph I soon had the camera out to grab some shots in the welcome sunny conditions. As usual the lorikeets were hard to capture as they moved quickly about through the dense foliage from flower to flower, never stopping long and rarely presenting a clear view.
Eventually I managed a few acceptable shots with many “deletes” off the camera. During my session some Musk Lorikeets turned up to feed so my time was then divided between photo opportunities for both species. I was expecting to see Rainbow Lorikeets, however to my surprise none appeared.
Purple-crowned Lorikeet
The purple crown can often look blue and is described in some field guides as blue or purple.
Busy feeding, the tongue is inserted briefly into a flower for the nectar and then the bird moves on to the next flower.
It was hard to get a clear view of the birds free of shadows.
Now and again a bird would stop feeding to check on me!

Musk Lorikeet
Musk Lorikeet sipping nectar.

The Musk Lorikeet withdraws from the flower showing the orange bill and tongue. The lorikeets must insert their tongues into thousands of flowers during the course of a day's feeding.
The much larger Rainbow Lorikeet has undergone a range expansion following new habitats created by the widespread planting of Australian native trees in urban areas. Many trees are selected for their attractive flowers, and many of these are also nectar producers, providing an abundant food supply for nectar and pollen feeders such as lorikeets and honeyeaters.
You never know when or where you might come across interesting native birds to photograph and sometimes it is in urban areas and cultivated habitat. In the dry conditions around the Coorong, these lorikeets were enjoying the food source provided by the initiative of humans to plant trees.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Gannet Colony – Portland Victoria

The Australasian Gannet is a common and well-known seabird along the southern half of the Australian coast and in New Zealand. Strikingly beautiful birds, their pursuit of small fish is spectacular to watch as they dive into the sea at great speed, headfirst like arrows, and completely submerge.
Australasian Gannet at Point Danger.
In Australia Gannets breed at six offshore locations including rocks, islands and a navigation platform in Port Phillip Bay, and since 1996 one (the only) mainland location at Point Danger near Portland.
The mainland colony is an overflow from the nearby offshore colony at Lawrence Rocks where it is estimated 6,000 pairs of Gannets currently nest each year. This colony at Point Danger really only works through human intervention, that is by the maintenance of a predator (fox) exclusion fence.
A committee of management supported by a number of volunteers and organisations manage the site. The first fence erected was a metal chain-wire mesh fence, the same as that commonly used as security fencing. This fence, while still in place, has now been replaced by a more effective and easier to maintain plastic electric fence, which encloses a far smaller area of the point.
Mainland Gannet colony at Point Danger, Portland. The main 6000 pair colony is located on Lawrence Rocks visible out to sea. Note a section of the electric fence in foreground.
A large notice board at the end of the road access provides a good description of Gannets and the Point Danger breeding colony.
Impressive information board at viewing area on Point Danger.
In recent years some closely related Cape Gannets from Africa have turned up at the colony and interbred with the local species much to the delight of Australian bird twitchers.
When we visited the colony in early April at the end of the August-March breeding season, there were about 60 Gannets present including about 6 juvenile birds.  There were no immature birds present so it is assumed these have taken off to an independent life away from the colony. Research has shown young birds after leaving the colony head west, some travelling as far as the Tropic of Capricorn on the WA coast, returning to their birth colony after 3 to 4 years away.
These photos taken at the colony include some flight shots of one bird that circled the colony many times before finally landing. I can imagine this would be a testing exercise when the colony is full and every available nesting site is occupied by a potentially hostile breeding pair defending their precious space. However there was plenty of room when we were there. Perhaps the circling bird’s tentative approach was ingrained or it may have simply been enjoying effortless flight on a moderately stiff onshore breeze?
There were mostly adult birds resting at the colony.
There were about 6 juvenile birds in the colony. The soft charcoal plumage is striking.
I am not sure if these birds are flying yet, they look fully fledged and capable.

This bird circled the colony many times before coming in to land.
The same bird as above. Note the streamlined bill and body and imagine the wings tucked in
and the bird spearing through the ocean surface at great velocity.
The bird finally came in to land - this is the start of the approach - into the wind of course.
Landing gear out with subtle wing control in the brisk wind to maintain correct attitude.
Touch down, a perfect landing with a number of birds looking on.
Once landed, and as the large wings were folded away, the bird looked back as if to see
how the resting birds reacted to the show!
While the Point Danger Gannet colony is, in the context of the overall Australian Gannet population and the much larger breeding sites, a somewhat irrelevant and artificial anomaly, it is a good place to easily observe breeding gannets up close. It is an interesting tourist site that helps inform people about our magnificent wildlife and is an excellent example of what can be achieved by a diverse range of groups/organisations working together to protect our native fauna.
If you happen to be in the Portland area during spring or summer a visit to the Gannet colony at Point Danger is definitely worthwhile.
PS. Some information gleaned from here and there regarding A Gannets:
They tend to mate for life and live for 30 years or more.
New Zealand A Gannets migrate across the Tasman Sea to Australia when they greatly outnumber the Aussie birds (I am sure the Kiwis would love this fact).
They are sedentary, migratory and dispersive while some are present at colonies all year. It is unclear how all these options work across the whole population and at the individual level, over time and over the life span of an individual.
Are all birds sedentary, migratory and dispersive at some stage in their lives or is it just that some individuals mostly stay and others move?
Gannets are birds of coastal waters and do not range far out to sea and across oceans like albatross and other pelagic species.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Ruddy Turnstones at Port Fairy

Griffith Island is a significant Short-tailed Shearwater breeding site located on the edge of the historic Port Fairy township. The geology of the island and surrounding region is dominated by volcanic activity. Tower Hill and Mt Eccles, which both have lakes within their craters, and Mt Napier, are all extinct volcanoes located a short distance from Port Fairy.
While walking around the island we came across some Ruddy Turnstones working their way along black basaltic rocks beside the ocean.
 Ruddy Turnstones making their way along large basalt rocks beside the ocean
as waves splashed up.
Ruddy Turnstones, Arenaria interpres, are widespread across the world. Subspecies interpres is found in Australia and breeds in eastern Siberia and Alaska.
Rarely found on tidal mud flats, these birds have evolved to exploit sandy and rocky ocean beaches. They can be found all around the Australian coast, which is where they are most often seen, though some may move inland. They are well described in Shorebirds of Australia as  medium sized, stocky shorebirds with distinctive plumage, short legs and wedge shaped bill “.
As the name implies, when feeding they are often seen  using their stout bills to turn over stones, shells and seaweed to reveal invertebrate food beneath. Their distinctive shape and plumage colour plus the dull orange short legs makes this shorebird species easy to identify – they are unlikely to be confused with any other species.
One bird pauses on a rock.
The birds were interested in the seaward side of the rocks and were mostly out of sight.
However as waves broke they appeared on top when a few photos were possible.
I was just getting excited about capturing some more photos of the Turnstones on the striking black rocks when something spooked them and they were off in a flash at speed to some point further along the shore.
Moving on with the walk around the island, I found a lovely small rock-enclosed sandy beach with about 20 Turnstones busily feeding among the beach-washed seaweed.
Looking along the rocky shore towards the Port Fairy Lighthouse and an enclosed sandy beach.
The enclosed sandy beach where we found about twenty Ruddy Turnstones feeding.
The birds were excavating the sand nearly to the full depth of their bills. They must have been finding food because they all kept this up with great energy. At this late stage in the Australian summer season, these birds, if migrating north to Siberia or Alaska, will need all the fat reserves they can store for this long and arduous journey. Not all birds migrate as some non-breeding birds, including some birds in breeding plumage, over-winter here.
I approached the feeding birds slowly in stages and stopped at a relatively close distance and waited. They soon settled and as they fed some birds worked their way even closer to me giving plenty of opportunity for photos and close observation.
Some of the Turnstones feeding.
A closer view of a group foraging. While their movements seemed somewhat random they did generally all move in the same direction and more or less stayed together.
All of the birds in the group were excavating the sand in search of food. No turning, just digging!
This bird was showing more breeding plumage than most of the others.
Same bird as above.
Another bird, this one I think has non breeding plumage. First and second year birds and birds in partial moult all add to the range of colour options that might be encountered.
This bird is tilted forward as it digs in the sand making it look even more stocky than normal.
This bird may be a sub-adult?
They all had sand on their bills which were inserted nearly full length into the sand.
This one has just swallowed a food item.
They all continued to feed as if there was not a moment to be wasted.
After a while a few moved to the water to wash their bills.
This shot shows the bill has a slight upturned appearance from some angles.
The session watching and photographing the Ruddy Turnstones ended when some people came onto the beach. Most noticed me photographing the birds and moved quietly by at a distance but some paid no attention at all.
After a few weeks of photographing birds in overcast conditions it was a joy to finally find an attractive species in full blue-sky and sunlight for a change. I hope you enjoyed the images.
PS. We returned to Griffith Island just after sunset to see if any adult Short-tailed Shearwaters were coming in to feed the young in their burrows. We watched until well after dark but only saw six or so birds come in - there would be thousands in the peak of the season. We may have been there too early and maybe more might have come in well after dark, or perhaps the few we saw were just the late breeders and the bulk of the adult birds have already departed, leaving the young to fend for themselves?