Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Scarlet Honeyeater - brilliant red nomad

The Scarlet Honeyeater (Myzomela sanguinolenta), is a blossom nomad, with some populations sedentary in the north of their range, and others migrating south in the summer.
In recent years the number of Scarlet Honeyeaters in East Gippsland has increased enormously with a very large influx of birds following a major flowering event, when most eucalypt species across East Gippsland all flowered in one season. Even though eucalyptus flowering events have been far more moderate since then, good numbers of Scarlet Honeyeaters are still coming to East Gippsland each spring.
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Male Scarlet Honeyeater perched on a Wonga Vine tendril.
The female Scarlet Honeyeater has far more somber plumage.
The Scarlet Honeyeater at 10-11 cm long is our smallest honeyeater followed closely by the Black Honeyeater at 10-12 cm.
Despite the vivid red of the male, they can be surprisingly hard to find high in the forest canopy even when you can hear the loud, clear, distinctive and pleasant calls. Fortunately we have a resident pair in our garden at present and they spend a lot of time feeding in a callistemon heavy with yellow flowers and nectar, making them relatively easy to see and photograph.
The same tree also attracts Red and Little Wattlebirds, New Holland and Yellow-faced Honeyeaters, Eastern Spinebills and large numbers of introduced honeybees. When the loud and aggressive wattlebirds move in, the smaller honeyeaters leave but they soon move back once the larger birds depart.
The Scarlet Honeyeaters are somewhat shy feeders, not often coming out to the open outer edges of the callistemon to feed. So capturing photos is not easy and much time and patience is required.
Female feeding on callistemon flower nectar.

The Female regularly interrupts her feeding to check that all is safe.
Male feeding in callistemon.
The male also often stops feeding checks safety.
The brilliant red extends all the way down the back.
After many frustrating attempts to obtain some photos of the feeding pair, the male took a break out in the open on a Wonga Vine tendril to have a preen of his head feathers giving an opportunity for some close up portraits against moderately strong backlight.

Ruffled head feathers – the feathers around the head and neck were being preened during this session.
The male departing – is he poking his tongue at the photographer, a rude gesture in response to being harassed while feeding? 

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Tawny Frogmouths nesting

The Tawny Frogmouth nest according to Morcombe is,  a very rough, untidy, loosely constructed platform of large sticks lined with a few leaves in a fork from 2 to 15 metres up”. Morcombe describes a nest I recently photographed very well.
Tawny Frogmouth on nest. The rough collection of sticks looks at risk of falling from the fork.
The male incubates by day and the female by night, so the bird in the following photo must be a male.
Male on nest incubating eggs - is he resting on the dead branch or just in the normal "dead limb" pose parallel to the branch?
As Frogmouths are nocturnal and feed at night, presumably the male must feed the female during incubation if she is on the nest at night.
Another view of the bird on the nest.
The female was roosting in a tree close to the nest.
The female half opened her eye to see what the photographer was up to.
The male very slowly rotated his head to follow my movement as I looked for other clear views of the nest.
Frogmouth clutches range from 2 to 5 eggs. The eggs take about 30 days to hatch and the young leave the nest aged about 4 weeks, so there is some time to follow the progress of this nesting pair and hopefully get some photos of the young birds on the nest.
I photographed two young birds with parents close by at the same site in February 2015 so it is likely that the nesting pair in the above photos are the parents of last season’s birds seen in the following photo.
Two young birds roosting close together.
In this cropped photo some downy feathers are just visible confirming these are recently fledged birds.
Adult birds roost close together in the lead up to breeding, the breeding season runs from August to December.
A different male and female pair of Tawny Frogmouths roosting together on the 11th of September 2015 at another site. I think the smaller bird with some brown colour on the right is the female.
As they are not tree hollow dependent nesters, this probably helps explain why the Tawny Frogmouth is such a wide-ranging nocturnal species compared with owls that require relatively large nest hollows in old trees.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Silver Gulls

The Silver Gull is one of our best-known native birds. Love them or hate them you have to admire their bold and adventurous spirit that has seen them adapt very well to human settlements and range far inland from their preferred coastal habitats.
A gregarious species, they are also highly quarrelsome and some birds seek through aggressive display to assert dominance in groups, especially where there is competition for food. A good place to see this behavior is in a park, preferably in close proximity to take away food shops, where left over fish and chips or other food is being fed to a group of Silver Gulls. There is inevitably one cranky adult bird that puts on an aggressive display in an attempt to force other birds away. The bird is often so engrossed in the aggressive activity that it misses out on food opportunities.
Recently on the beach at Point Lonsdale I came upon a lone adult Silver Gull with a very brilliant scarlet bill and legs and decided to take a photo.
Adult Silver Gull on beach at Point Lonsdale.
While still looking through the camera viewfinder the bird commenced a display I have seen many times before and which I take to be an aggressive display to assert dominance over other gulls.
The neck is arched and a harsh guttural call is made.
The neck is further arched and the call becomes more strident.
However in this case the bird was alone, so what was the point of this display?
Then the display changed to a bow like position with the neck arched in the opposite direction.
Then suddenly another gull landed and the cause for the display became obvious. The display had commenced while the second bird was in flight and some distance off.
The first bird stopped displaying and the new arrival started to display.
The first bird with its head held high and keeping its back to the display going on behind.
The second bird’s display continued.
Then suddenly the first bird spun around and pecked the second one on the back. With that decisive aggressive act the new comer departed.
I am really not sure what to make of the behavior captured in the above shots however it does appear to demonstrate the Silver Gull’s quarrelsome nature, seen here even when food is not involved and there was plenty of space available on the beach for both birds.
An alternative explanation for the behavior may be that the first bird was a female, the male and female look the same, and the second bird was a male coming in to try and woo the female, no doubt gulls have no trouble telling female from male, and she warned him off and eventually had to peck him to make clear she was not interested in his advances?
It is often hard to know what birds are up to!
A little later an adult Silver Gull cruises by the Point Lonsdale lighthouse where a photo taken from slightly above was possible.