Sunday, 27 August 2017

Topknot Pigeons

We recently found a flock of 50 - 60 Topknot Pigeons (Lopholaimus antarcticus) at the Cave Beach picnic and camping area in Booderee National Park south of Jervis Bay in NSW. The large grey pigeons were there to feed in the Lilly Pilly trees that were heavily laden with fruit.

Adult Topknot Pigeon – the sexes are the same.

We see smaller numbers of Topknots in East Gippsland in rainforest at the Cabbage Tree Palms Reserve near Marlo and at Fairy Dell near Bruthen where Lilly Pilly are once again the main attraction for these rainforest fruits specialists. Rainforest gullies in the Gippsland Lakes area are the southern limit of their range though, as per a note in Pizzey & Knight Birds of Australia field guide, good numbers turned up in Tasmania in the dry summer of 1994/5. It seems almost incredible that these large rainforest pigeons would fly across Bass Strait, though they are strong fliers.

I have always found Topknots to be very wary birds and hard to photograph. I suspect they have been hunted in the past for food as they are large plump birds and probably good eating. Topknots are easily identified at a distance by their large pale grey appearance and at closer range their very distinctive and rather weird swept back head feathers which are grey in front and rich rufous at the back. Also, when seen from behind, the dark charcoal tail crossed with a whitish band and fanned when landing is also a distinctive ID feature.   

There are about 30 birds in this photo, part of the flock of at least 55 birds. They flushed and flew across Ryans Swamp and landed in tall forest trees – too far away for photos and in an area hard to access.
Even in a long distance shot the dark flight feathers and fanned dark tail with distinctive white cross band is obvious.

I had given up hope of any close photos when we found two birds perched in the canopy of the trees above the picnic area where there were Lilly Pilly heavy with fruit. Still not ideal for photos however better than no close ups at all.

One of two Topknots perched above the Cave Beach picnic area. The breast and neck feathers have a spiky appearance.

Topknots have an unusual upside down mushroom shaped dark mark as part of the iris. Just why this has evolved is hard to say?

After they moved a little, we found the two Topknots perched in the upper branches of a dead tree. Flocks of Topknots will often perch above the rainforest canopy in dead trees. One soon departed, however one remained giving a few photo opportunities in the afternoon light before it was dive-bombed by a Pied Currawong.

The angle of the head in this photo clearly shows the back of the rusty rufous hind crest.
The head feathers are amazing with the swept back front feathers looking like they need a comb and hair spray to keep them in place.

It was a rewarding experience to unexpectedly cross paths with the nomadic Topknot Pigeons at Cave Beach in Booderee NP.

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