Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Collaborative bird observation

CONE-Welder is a Networked Tele-Robotic Observatory, where visitors use a robotic webcamera to help researchers document the presence of subtropical birds, collecting data that may help determine how birds are being affected by global warming. Established at the Welder Wildlife Refuge in South Texas, it is a collaborative research project led by the Welder Wildlife Foundation, the Smithsonian National Zoological Park, Texas A&M, UC Berkeley and the National Science Foundation.

It is set up as a game, with 902 registered players. There are competitions as to who has the most correct IDs, the best photos , the most species photographed etc.

The Networked Bird Observatory Blog has details on how to participate plus records of the birds captured by visitors. As well as rare birds for the area, such as the scissor-tailed flycatcher and the black-bellied whistling duck, site visitors have recorded an aligator, a bobcat, and a couple of snakes.

Monday, December 21, 2009


Our very hot day in Dubbo was followed by an evening storm, followed by steady rain. I headed out along the Newell Highway south hoping that the weather would clear. There is open TSR all along this highway which features many reputedly great birding spots.

I turned in at Rifle Range Road, and walked the track that ran parallel with the highway. Black Cypress and Casuarina were spangled with rain drops. Along the path was evidence of birds, probably Glossy Black Cockatoos, having fed on the seed pods. An Eastern Yellow Robin followed me along the path. Honeyeaters browsed high in the trees, but it was too dark to identify them. Brown-headed Honeyeaters have been seen here recently.
The rain started coming down in earnest so I retreated to the car. After two separate vehicles had stopped and asked if I was OK I decided to drive on, to save other kindly country folk from getting drenched winding down their windows to offer un-needed assistance.

I pulled off again at Tink's Lane, however water gushed in rivulets down the dirt road and the rain showed no sign of easing. I drove on to the gravel pit where Speckled Warblers are regulars, but if they were there I couldn't see them for a curtain of water. I decided to check out the Mountain Creek Travelling Stock Route for future reference, and indeed it did look promising, but I didn't get out of the car.
Headed back into town, I reached Western Plains Zoo just on 9:00 as it opened, and the rain began to ease. The Zoo is an open range zoo, with animals contained in large areas by wet and dry moats with no cages in sight. The zoo has an active breeding program for endangered international species, and a breed and release program for a number of threatened Australian species.
A 6k road loops through the zoo, and a network of paths criss-crosses the natural bushland of the site. The permanent water, freely available food and secure nesting sites makes the zoo a haven to many wild birds.
A group of White-browed Babblers were chattering in the African area, searching the leaf litter for grubs and pecking at cracks in the tree bark and fence rails.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Western Plains

Before the arrival of Europeans, Malleefowl were common across the interior of Australia. Today they are classified as 'endangered'. While predation by the introduced red fox and habitat destruction are factors in its demise, climate change is playing a major role. The Malleefowl builds a mound of leaf litter and other organic matter, and after rain mixes the material to encourage decomposition, and digs a chamber for the eggs. The female lays around fifteen eggs, one at a time over a period of weeks. The eggs are covered with sandy soil. The birds then monitor the temperature of the mound, digging away the sand if the rotting vegetation is getting too hot, or adding more if the soil temperature drops. Rain is a necessary trigger for egg laying, so our current drought has had a major impact.

Western Plains Zoo has been actively involved in the Malleefowl recovery program since 1990, when it assisted with incubation and rearing of eggs from wild Malleefowl mounds, to produce chicks for release. After this initial release, some birds were kept to form the first captive breeding pairs, which would in turn produce chicks for future releases. Chicks hatched and reared at Western Plains are released regularly with over 500 chicks released to date. Many of the birds have been released at Yathong Nature Reserve, a huge 107,241 hectare reserve south of Cobar which features extensive areas of mallee.

When the chicks hatch they dig their way out of the mound, a process that can take 10 to 12 hours. They are on their own from the moment they hatch, fending for themselves. The parent birds are not involved in caring for their young, and as the chicks hatch one at a time, they have no contact with their siblings either.

Friday, December 18, 2009


Red-Rumped Parrot

In Dubbo for a couple of days birding the travelling stock routes of the central west, I arrived to 43 degree heat and strong winds. It was even hotter in my room so I switched the air con to max, and left for a walk while it did its thing.

From the Visitors Centre in Bligh Street, I walked across the Emile Serisier Bridge over the Macquarie River and along the river path under the River Red Gums. The path runs all the way to the zoo, but I crossed back over on one of several footbridges. There were several large groups of red-rumped parrots feeding in the grass, and one baby being fed in the high branches of a tree.

Bird List:

Red-Rumped Parrot
Eastern Rosella
Sulphur-crested Cockatoo
Little Corella
Australian Raven
Willie Wagtail
Magpie Lark
Australian Magpie
Eastern Yellow Robin
Maned Duck
Little Black Cormorant
Superb Fairywren
White-browed Scrub Wren

Wednesday, December 16, 2009



I came across this perfectly posed mistletoe bird in a patch of dense wattle scrub. I was walking with the Sigma 50-500 lens, with settings for the bright sunlight that we had been in moments before. I took several shots on the 'custom' position that I had set up for birding but this was giving me underexposed images. My flash unit was back in the car, and it was a bit much to hope that he'd wait long in this position. So I just flicked the dial to full automatic, allowing the on-camera flash to pop up. This was slow-speed flash and there was sufficient ambient light to give a blurred outline to the moving bird.
He jumped noticably when the flash went off, and stopped singing to concentrate on me; birds are affected by flash light. However flash when used as a fill to reduce shadows and add a catch light produces wonderful bird images.
Secrets of Digital Bird Photography offers a range of tips on the effective use of flash in bird photography.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Poppethead Park

Noisy Miner

Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo
The neighbours had a party last night - no worries, the dull roar of the music and conversation I could sleep through. But at 3:00 the guests started leaving in a constant stream of shouted holiday greetings and beeping of car horns. By the time they were all gone there was no chance of further sleep. So I packed up the dogs, grabbed tea and muffins at the golden arches and drove the 45 mins to Kitchener for sunrise.

In the park as we pulled up were choughs, eastern rosellas, starlings, maned ducks swallows and noisy miners. We walked the loop around the pond, seeing a rose robin, thornbills, superb fairywrens, mistletoe birds singing loudly, and honeyeaters high in the trees. Whip birds were calling from deep in the bushes. Pacific black ducks, domestic ducks, coots and cormorants were on the water.

The bush is crisscrossed by dirt bike tracks so we followed these at random, no mx-ers were up yet. Black cockatoos, storm birds, satin bowerbirds and koel tried to outdo each other in vocal challenges. A white-throated tree-creeper deliberately circled a tree trunk staying out of camera range. Red wattle-birds fed on a silky oak. Noisy miners staked out a flowering gum. Bar-shouldered doves searched out seeds on the ground.

Hunter Wetlands Centre

Eastern Great Egret
Maureen and I went out to the Wetland to see the exhibition of photographs in their recent competition. Pleased that our images had passed the first cut, we wandered around the many great pictures on show, then unable to decide between them, Maureen voted for my fairywren, and I voted for her swallow babies - conveniently hung side-by side.

Most of the egrets were now sitting on their eggs, though some birds were still putting final touches to the nest. There are far fewer birds than in recent years, though the ibis numbers seem to be growing. In addition the ponds at the wetlands are rapidly drying up, with the melalueca swamp where the egret colony is, now just black mud. There were several dead ibis young in the mud, and any baby bird who found itself bogged would exhaust itself before reaching firm ground. 80% of New South Wales is now officially drought stricken, with a further 15% borderline. A mere 5% of the state is unaffected by drought.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Walka Waterworks

Great Crested Grebe

Hoary-headed Grebe

Australasian Grebe

Out and about early, I headed out to Walka Waterworks in the hope of catching some waterbirds with their reflections. The recent reports of a Black Honeyeater in the grevilleas along the track provided an added incentive.

In Newcastle the day had begun clear and still, but clouds began to gather as I reached Maitland, and after less than an hour ambling along the track I'd lost most of the light and the wind had started to pick up, so a day's outing became a two hour walk.

Yellow-faced honeyeaters were everywhere, dollar birds were giving their distinctive calls from the top of a eucalypt, over twenty hardheads floated out in the middle of the pond, and reed-warblers played hide and seek at the water edge. Grebes were there in good numbers.

Bird list:

Pacific Black Duck
Australian Shoveler
Chestnut Teal
Australasian Grebe
Hoary-headed Grebe
Great Crested Grebe
Little Black Cormorant
Great Cormorant
Little Pied Cormorant
White-faced Heron
Royal Spoonbill
Purple Swamphen
Eurasian Coot
Masked Lapwing
Rainbow Lorikeet
Eastern Rosella
Laughing Kookaburra
Yellow-faced Honeyeater
Noisy Miner
Red Wattlebird
Australian Raven
Welcome Swallow
Australian Reed Warbler
Willie Wagtail
Grey Fantail
Superb Fairywren
Yellow-rumped Thornbill
Yellow Thornbill
Rufous Whistler
Australian Figbird
Magpie Lark
White-winged Chough
Australian Magpie
Common Miner

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Stockton Channel

White-breasted Woodswallow

It was a rather gloomy morning, an hour after sunrise and there was no light to speak of. But that didn't dampen the spirits of this woodswallow who performed his wing-stretching, tail-wagging courtship display for some minutes. The girls, however seemed more interested in an insect breakfast than love making.

Steve has put together a slide show of a sequence he captured at Belmont Lagoon.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Coyote vs. Roadrunner

Bill Schmoker captures a Coyote vs. Roadrunner encounter during a New Mexico road trip, and proves the value of the car-hide.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Tighes Hill

The Grey Butcherbirds have again raised young in my yard. Two babies were hopping about this morning making their first attempts at feeding themselves.

I love having these guys around. Apart from the fact that they clean up all those huge spiders that like to construct their webs across the paths, butcherbirds have one of the most melodic songs of all Australian birds. They sing in harmony too - with the song started by one bird and completed by another, so perfectly coordinated that it sounds like a single bird.

The young birds remain in the territory for around a year, helping the parents raise the young of the following year before establishing families of their own.

They get their name from their habit of storing uneaten food (lizards, mice, birds) in the forks of branches or impaled on thorns. They have adapted well to city living and are common in the suburbs.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Wickham Park

Australian Koel

Channel-billed Cuckoo

The inhabitants of Wickham must have been awake early this morning with large groups of both these birds in the fig trees in the local park. They generally start up their loud distinctive calls around 3:00 am.

Though hearing them is easy enough, they stay high in the huge, dense fig trees along Maitland Road and seeing them is not so easy. A photo usually involes standing in the traffic, or shooting straight up over your head.

Both the koel and the channel-billed cuckoo migrate from Indonesia, and probably further north for the summer, arriving in October and leaving again in March. They are both brood parasites, that is, they lay their eggs in the nests of other birds and leave them to raise the chicks. The koel tends to parasitize the red wattlebird, the magpie lark and figbirds, while the cuckoo uses the nests of ravens and magpies.

Both species seem to be increasingly common in urban areas, perhaps because of the proliferation of berry plants, which has also increased the numbers of their host species.