Sunday, 31 July 2016

Crow eats Cane Toad

The deliberate release of Cane Toads to control beetles in Australian sugar cane crops has been a complete disaster. For starters the toad, which does not climb, did not have any impact on the problem beetles which were high up on the sugar cane out of reach of the toads. Then, without any limitations in Australia their numbers exploded and their range spread across the tropical north of Australia. Their spread is nearly complete as they are now in WA and the eastern end of the Kimberly.

Being poisonous the toads have killed and driven to local extinction large numbers of reptile species such as large snakes and monitors and other animals such as quolls. In my view the Cane Toad has been a serious human error and an ecological tragedy of enormous scale – it makes me angry whenever I think of it, which is often when I am visiting the Top End or Tropical Queensland.

While camped at Gunlom in Kakadu National Park we witnessed a Torresian Crow hunting and eating Cane Toads. I have seen reports of native animals learning to avoid the poison glands and eat Cane Toads.

One morning we had a very close view of a Crow which flew in to a small water hole below our camp site and shortly after flew off with a Cane Toad in its bill. The toad body was about 50mm long (excluding legs) and clearly visible as the Crow flew off. Later another, or quite possibly the same crow, returned to the same water hole where it found and killed a toad. It then proceeded to eat the toad by flipping it onto its back and eating out the body and legs from the underside. 

Apologies for the quality of the photos.

Click on images to enlarge.

The crow has killed the toad and flipped it onto its back. There is blood about the throat area of the toad.

The crow is removing flesh from the between the back legs of the toad.

Close up of Cane Toad shortly after being killed and partially eaten – back legs are on the right of the photo.

It is good to know that at least some native animals are learning to eat Cane Toads. It is not surprising to me that an intelligent corvid species has done so. At present we must hope our native animals can adapt to the Cane Toad however let’s hope a permanent solution can be found to eradicate the Cane Toad.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

This and that from here and there in the Top End

This is a brief post on birds photographed on our travels since the last post, “Umbrawarra Gorge”.

Birds are never easy to come by and photograph, especially the rarer species. Adding travel and all that entails, increases the degree of difficulty for finding and photographing birds. Also time constraints and limited internet services in some places make preparing and uploading posts a challenge. However, here are some photos of birds encountered here and there in our travels.

This Forest Kingfisher, one of three together at Fogg Dam, was very confiding allowing close approach as it perched on the hand rail of a boardwalk.
It was so confiding we were able to pat it on the back. I am not sure why this bird was so confiding?
An Intermediate Egret on a small body of water with Red Waterlilies at Fogg Dam. Due to the dry Wet Season there was very little water at Fogg Dam and therefore the number and abundance of water bird species was very low compared to normal years.
There were about six Comb-crested Jacanas on the same patch of water as the Egret above.
This group of four Wandering Whistling-Ducks were hard to spot feeding in muddy water among the Red Waterlilies at Fogg Dam. Some Jacanas were working around the Ducks picking up food the ducks disturbed.
One of the four Wandering Whistling-Ducks after a spot of preening following the muddy foraging.
A female Broad-billed Flycatcher. We found these in the same location at Fogg Dam in 2009. Both the male and female Broad-bills are hard to tell apart from the female Leaden Flycatchers.
This shot shows the bill of the bird in the photo above – I think it is broad enough for a Broad-bill.
Two of us walked right by this Common Tree Snake on the board walk at Fogg Dam without seeing it as it passed us by going in the opposite direction to us. It is a non-venomous snake so no harm, but a reminder to be more snake alert in the field when focused on birds.
A Grey Whistler, another Top End species – Fogg Dam.
We made a brief visit to Howard Springs not far from Darwin to try and find and photograph the Rainbow Pitta – we found one here in 2009. We had nearly completed the loop walk around the Monsoon Forest along the creek when this one was spotted foraging on the track ahead.
The bird moved from deep shadow to bright patches of sunlight, making it difficult to achieve good exposures.
This shot, while the focus is soft, shows the red vent and blue shoulder patch.
Double-barred Finch near Wangi Falls in Litchfield National Park. A common but attractive finch.
Spangled Drongos are moderately common in the Top End – Litchfield NP.
A Varied Triller – Litchfield NP.
A male Shinning Flycatcher – Litchfield NP.
Brown Goshawk, Wangi Falls, Litchfield NP.
The Northern Rosella in Litchfield NP – moderately uncommon up here with only a few pairs seen so far.
Silver-crowned Friarbird at Edith Falls.
Blue-winged Kookaburras are fairly common – this is a female, note the banded rufous tail (the males have blue tails), - at Katherine Gorge.
Rainbow Bee-eaters are very common in the Top End so I had to include a photo of one – Katherine Gorge.
We have seen the odd pair of Red-winged Parrots flying over head in a number of locations. This male was feeding with a female on seeds at Mataranka.
White-bellied Cuckoo-Shrikes are common – this one is beating a mantis into condition for swallowing – Elsey National Park near Mataranka.
Sandstone Shrike-thrush, Gunlom, Kakadu National Park.
Yellow Oriole, Gunlom, Kakadu NP.
Great Bowerbird having a drink on a creek above the falls at Gunlom.
Juvenile Gouldian Finch in the same location as the photo above. The flock of about 15 to 20 birds was too nervous to come down for a drink from the dense foliage of a tree above the creek – only two of the juvenile birds came down briefly before they departed to drink elsewhere on the creek.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Umbrawarra Gorge

Unbrawarra Gorge Nature Park is a small reserve located about 25km SW of Pine Creek. A short walk along a tributary creek of Stray Creek (Umbrawarra Creek?) takes you into a small red sandstone gorge. The birds were prolific with many species of honeyeaters attracted to large orange grevillea flowers and the water.

Click on photos to enlarge.
Juvenile Banded Honeyeater. Note the yellow pollen on face and base of bill.
Unbrawarra Gorge at the swimming hole.
Many honeyeaters came in to this small patch of water among rocks to the side of the main creek, a much safer place to drink, bathe and preen with an overhead tangle of vegetation.
A very young Banded Honeyeater. There were many juvenile honeyeater species in the Gorge indicating recent breeding.
Dusky Honeyeater, a common honeyeater in the Top End.
White-throated Honeyeater – similar to a White-naped Honeyeater which has a red crescent over eye.
Bar-breasted Honeyeater.
A small flock of Crimson Finches were exploiting the long grasses among Pandanus Palms along the creek. This is and adult male.
There were a few Chestnut-breasted Manakins in company with the Crimson Finches.
Umbrawarra Gorge is well worth a visit if you are in the area.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Hooded Parrots at Pine Creek

Hooded Parrots are endemic to the Northern Territory. They have a limited range and Pine Creek is a well known place to find them. The closely related Golden-shouldered Parrot is confined to a limited range on Cape York. Both occupy savannah woodland and nest in tunnels they excavate in termite mounds.

The Hooded Parrot generally breeds from April to June. We found that after the breeding season in early July a flock of about at least 100 birds were regularly coming into Pine Creek on dusk to drink and roost overnight in trees within the township.

Finding birds out in the vast woodlands would be a long shot so the easy option is to wait for the birds to come into town for a drink. Also during the breeding season, pairs would be widely dispersed and may not come into town. The large flock we saw contained many juvenile birds – the juvenile males look like females so in the flock we saw the adult males were well outnumbered by plain green birds.

Male Hooded Parrot in for a drink at a leaking sprinkler in Public Gardens near the Lazy Lizard Resort Pine Creek.
Female Hooded Parrot at the same sprinkler as the male in the photo above.
Male and female Hooded Parrots perched in a tree waiting to drink at pop up sprinklers on a nearby lawn.

Other species came in for a drink at the leaking sprinkler.

Little Friarbirds are very numerous everywhere we go in the Top End.
Rainbow Lorikeets – the red collared sub species found in the Top End.
I am not sure why this sprinkler was so popular, it was in a moderately busy location?
Blue-faced Honeyeater – another common bird up here.
Same bird - another pose.
Ditto above.

It would have been preferable to find some Hooded Parrots in a more natural setting for photos. On the other hand, it was great so see a potentially vulnerable native bird species that appears to have built up a good population based on exploiting the Pine Creek township water and safe roosting sites in the town’s gardens. Also this is a win/win situation as a good number of visitors come to Pine Creek to see the Hooded Parrot.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Mataranka - Elsey National Park

From Alice we headed about 1,000km due north up the Stuart Highway to Mataranka with one overnight stop in Tenant Creek. We camped at the 12 Mile Yards camp ground in Elsey National Park for two nights. The park and camp ground are located on the Roper River with great birds in savannah woodland and riparian habitat. From Elsey NP the Roper River runs due east along the southern edge of Arnhem Land to the Gulf of Carpentaria, a rough distance of about 300km to its discharge into Limmen Bight. Even at Elsey the river is 100 metres wide in places.

We recorded 34 species during our brief stay in the camp ground and on a 4km walk to Mataranka Falls on the Roper River. The highlight bird was a Pacific Baza, a life tick for us, found by luck in dense melaleuca foliage where it had just caught a large species of mantid. The bird flew to a nearby small tree where it ignored us as it removed the legs and wings of the mantid ahead of eating it.

Pacific Baza with large mantid ready to eat following removal of legs and wings.
The bird did not seem too concerned about our presence as it removed wings and legs from its prey. The distinctive small crest can be seen in this photo – this species is/was also known as the Crested Hawk.
At about this point the Baza departed to consume its succulent morsel away from our prying eyes.

Here is a selection of other photos captured at Elsey.

Little Woodswallows are common in the Top End.
A Lemon-bellied Flycatcher, another Top End species.
White-bellied, or Little, Cuckoo-shrikes were common however like their close cousins, the Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike, their calls were a little different to the ones found at home in East Gippsland.
White-gaped Honeyeater, another Top End species.
Bar-shouldered Dove - along with the Peaceful Dove the call of these two doves are the sound of the Top End for me.
A narrower section of the Roper R at Elsey NP.

Mataranka Falls – a tufa formation.
Freshwater Crocodile on the Roper River. Salt Water crocs are possible here – signs were clear, “No Swimming”.
Saltwater Crocodile traps are common at popular tourist locations where an attempt is made to intercept Saltwater Crocs.

From Elsey we moved up to the small settlement of Pine Creek to look for the Northern Territory endemic Hooded Parrot.