Sunday, 26 March 2017

Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoo

Two recent chance encounters with Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoos (Calyptorhynchus funereus), one at home and one in nearby forest, moved me to do a post on this species as a follow on from my last post featuring the Glossy Black-Cockatoo (Calyptorhynchus lathami), the other species of Black-Cockatoo found in East Gippsland.

Unlike the Glossy, the Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoo is relatively common in East Gippsland though encounters are mostly by chance, given this bird is locally nomadic and perhaps also a seasonal migrant, probably moving to higher altitudes in spring and summer and returning to the foothills and coastal forests to spend autumn and winter. That said, they can be found in our district at any time of year and I suspect we do not have a clear and certain handle on their movements.

About 35 years ago now I witnessed a flock of well over 100 Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoos at the northern end of Flinders Island where I felt at the time they were gathering for a flight across to the mainland. I suspect at least some birds of this species migrate between Tasmania and mainland Australia.

We sometimes see lone birds and pairs or threes are common and sometimes flocks of five to ten birds. Larger flocks in our area are rare. Yellow-tails pair bond for life and usually one chick is raised, so two parents with a dependent-young is a common encounter.

The Yellow-tails are weakly dimorphic with the most obvious difference between adult males and females being the red eye-ring on males and grey on females. Also, the yellow spot on the ear coverts is dull on males and brighter yellow on females and the male bill is blackish and the female’s whitish.

Please click on photos to enlarge.

In this photo the male is on the left and the female on the right. The main differences between the male and female are obvious - eye-ring, bill colour and the depth of the yellow ear patch.

The female has flown and the male is about to follow her. 

The above photos were taken in our garden of a pair with a third bird (possibly a young one - not photographed) as they perched briefly in an old peppercorn tree as they passed through on their local nomadic travels.

The following photos were taken of a lone male in nearby forest.

Lone male Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoo. The bird sat quietly for a while as I snapped away.

And then it started to stretch ahead of departing.

Having stretched the bird is about to fly.

The Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo (along with its fellow-species) is an iconic Australian bird and its unmistakable and far carrying call, sometimes described as “why-lar” or “wee-lar” (Pizzey & Knight) or “a prolonged kee__________ow . . . kee_________ow” (Forshaw and Cooper), always elicits an emotional response in me, and I suspect in others.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Glossy Black-Cockatoo

Glossy Black-Cockatoos (Calyptorhynchus lathami) in Victoria are confined to far East Gippsland.  Within this area they are further confined to forests with good stands of Allocasuarina littoralis (Black She-oak), the cones providing seeds for this specialised feeder.  This strong association, between bird and tree, has given rise to one of its other names, Casuarina Cockatoo. More information on this bird can be found at:

Finding Glossy Black-Cockatoos in East Gippsland is a little like looking for a needle-in-a-haystack or rather a Black She-oak grove. The Morcombe field-guide provides a good description of their behaviour, “Small parties, commonly up to 10 birds, spend most of the day quietly feeding in the foliage of casuarina trees, the only sound being the busy clicking of bills as they demolish the hard, woody seed capsules.”. So, the best method to find them is to drive slowly along forest tracks where there are abundant stands of Black She-oak and hope that some birds are feeding near the road and they flush as you approach. Stopping in particularly good patches of casuarina to look and listen will also increase your chances of finding some.

Sightings of Glossy Blacks west of the Snowy River is somewhat rare and their most westerly occurrence (possibly vagrant) is in forest not far north west of Lakes Entrance. Most recorded sightings in East Gippsland are around Mallacoota where there is relatively good access to forests and a good number of observers compared with the remote country west to the Snowy River.

By good luck we recently managed to flush a pair from a food tree beside Lagoon Track in State Forest south west of Newmerella and not far west of the Snowy River. Glossy Blacks are confiding birds and when flushed from food trees will often just fly a short distance to a higher vantage point in a eucalypt and then sit and watch the intruders. Such was the case for the pair in the following photos. Unfortunately, I was forced to take photos looking into the sun however I had plenty of time to make camera adjustments to deal with the light conditions and further adjust images on the computer later.

Please click on photos to enlarge.

The female Glossy Black-Cockatoo in the Black She-oak which the pair flushed from – note the abundant seed cones.

The male (left) and female (right) Glossy Black-Cockatoos flew from the feeding tree to a perch nearby.
The Male Glossy Black-Cockatoo.
The female Glossy Black-Cockatoo – note the patches of yellow around the neck and face.

Note the small rounded crest visible on the male at the right.

They settled down to some grooming.

Glossy Blacks pair bond for life and stay close together. 

Glossy Black pairs often groom one another and no doubt search for and remove parasites, especially around the head and neck area, which can’t be reached with their own bills. It is moving to watch this behaviour and from a human perspective it is hard not to see them as “love birds”. The following photos show some mutual grooming.

Highly specialised feeders, Glossy Black-Cockatoos are vulnerable as they depend on a few species of Allocasuarina, and during the breeding season, suitable old trees with nest hollows in proximity to a suitable food source. In the ACT and SA (there is a small isolated population on Kangaroo Island) they are listed as Endangered and in Victoria, NSW and Queensland they are listed as Vulnerable.

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Mud glorious mud!

There are many types of Wetlands and most are complex ecosystems and most require a drying phase as part of their life cycle to promote rejuvenation. As water levels vary the micro habitats within wetlands change, presenting new foraging opportunities for birds suitably equipped and adapted to take advantage of the changing conditions.
As the season changes in East Gippsland from a dry summer to, so far, a dry autumn, Macleod Morass near Bairnsdale is drying out in some sections exposing large areas of mud with stranded and exposed fish and macro invertebrate life forms. This creates new opportunities for other organisms to grow by exploiting the changing conditions.  

Late last week I spent three hours from just before sunrise observing birds feeding on a mud flat at Macleod Morass. The following photos and captions give an insight to the birds exploiting this ephemeral environment.

Please click on photos to enlarge.

A section of the mud flats at Macleod Morass. The white birds are Black-winged Stilts.

Five species of waders including Black-winged Stilts, Red-kneed Dotterels, Black-fronted Dotterels, Masked Lapwings and Sharp-tailed Sandpipers were exploiting the muddy conditions.

The Black-winged Stilts were the “stars of the show” with at least 40 actively foraging for tiny organisms on and in the mud and the remaining shallow sections of water. The Stilts have had a successful breeding season judging by the good number of juvenile birds in the flock.

There are two adults and five juvenile birds in this photo.

Adult Black-winged Stilt.

Note the mud on the raised foot.

Juvenile Black-winged Stilt.
Long leg stretch.

The juveniles at times looked like they were still coming to grips with their incredibly long and spindly legs. 
The young birds managed to stay pristinely clean in the muddy conditions, just like their parents.

Standing on this piece of pipe was an attraction for a number of birds.
The Black-fronted Dotterels stayed well away – too far for photos.

A Black-winged stilt dwarfs two Red-kneed Dotterels.  

Clearly in overall size, but especially in bill and leg length, the Stilt and Dotterel are equipped very differently. The range of water depths these two species can exploit varies greatly.

The Black-fronted Dotterels were on the mud for the whole three hours I was there. They foraged intermittently and loafed and preened in between. The Red-kneed Dotterels by comparison only arrived on the mud from a nearby dry resting area after I had been there for about 1 ½ hours and then only stayed for about half an hour. They seemed far more nervous and prone to take flight compared to the Black-fronted Dotterels.

Juvenile – immature Red-kneed Dotterel.
Something has spooked the Red-kneed Dotterels and this lot have come together and are alert with heads stretched high.

How this Red-kneed Dotterel has managed to have a bath without being plastered with mud I don’t know.

Sharp-tailed Sandpipers, or should that be Mudpipers, feeding on the mud flat.
About fifteen Grey Teal were working their bills hard in the mud without let up while I was there.

The bird above looked up briefly when it heard my camera shutter.
The Purple Swamphens were one of the heavier birds on the mud flat though they were mostly just crossing over and not feeding in the mud.

There were large numbers of Magpie-larks foraging on the mud. A heavily cropped version of this image shows a tiny fly in the bill.
This male White-fronted Chat was the smallest and lightest bird feeding on the mud. About six were feeding along the margins of the mud flat.
The male above looks up in response to the sound of my camera shutter.
The female White-fronted Chat.
Even a fox appeared on the mud flat nosing about for food.

An Australian White Ibis has captured a stranded eel. I saw ibis capture 3 eels in this way in this section of drying wetland.
It took some time to arrange the writhing eel in a position where it could be swallowed.
The eel had no chance and is now beyond escape. 

Drying wetlands can be a rich source of food for a variety of water and other bird species and a place well worth spending time, especially if you get there just before dawn and watch the area light-up and come to life as the sun rises.