Sunday, February 28, 2010

Nelson Bay Pelagic

692_1 Flesh-footed Shearwater Puffinus carneipes
273  Wedge-tailed Shearwater Puffinus pacificus
Grey-faced Petrel Pterodroma macroptera gouldi
Arctic Jaeger Stercorarius parasiticus
Up at 4:00 to walk the dogs before heading up to the marina at Nelson Bay to meet up with 13 other HBOCers for a trip out to the continental shelf.
It was a perfect day, weather-wise, but it was still a challenge for photography with the birds flying side to side and the boat bobbing up and down. Once out past the heads we started chumming and gathered a flock of shearwater or muttonbirds, at first they were mainly Wedge-tailed, but as we got further out they were joined by equal numbers of Flesh-footed. A number of Short-tailed Shearwater followed our tuna-oil slick, but it was running straight into the sun, so no photos. Also seen were one Hutton's Shearwater, plenty of Pomarine Jaegers, and one Wilson's Storm Petrel - none being particularly cooperative where photographers were concerned.

Three Grey-faced Petrel came through regularly, stopping for their share of the treats. Two Arctic Jaeger flew past on a couple of occasions, with one landing on the water at a distance from the hubbub behind the boat. Silver Gulls close to shore, and Great Crested Tern, but none of the rarer terns. An Australian Gannet flew past at a distance and a Whistling Kite and a Peregrine Falcon flew up from the headland.

A Storm Petrel flew past the front of the boat and hung around for some time, well in the distance. Fourteen pairs of binoculars trained on the horizon couldn’t narrow the ID beyond ‘either White-bellied or Black-bellied’ though being summer, it was agreed that it was more likely to be a White-bellied Storm Petrel.

We chose the day of a huge game-fishing competition, so even out to sea there were plenty of boats with burley but we didn’t see the northern birds that we hoped would have come down with the warm currents. Getting back to the dock protesters from Friends of Fish had gathered to disrupt the Game Fishing 'weigh-in' so I didn’t hang around, though the penguins that are often in the harbour would have been a nice end to the day.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Walka Waterworks

I went back to the waterworks to see if there were any tiny grebes riding on their parent’s backs. There weren’t, grebes were still sitting on nests. It was a beautiful morning to be out, however. Just a touch of coolness in the air hinting that autumn is just a few days away, and perfectly still. I took quite a few shots of ducks, grebes, coots, and their reflections in the glassy water.

It was a day for watching birdwatchers apparently:

112_1Eastern Grey Kangaroo, Macropus giganteus 


Grey-headed Flying-fox, Pteropus poliocephalus

Walka Waterworks


Superb Fairywren Malurus cyaneus

Many of the birds in the Hunter Region are in moult at the moment. It is great to watch the visiting waders adopt their breeding plumage before heading back to Siberia – always hoping that one in full colour will pose for a photograph before heading off.

And the local birds are moulting into their basic (or eclipse) plumage at the end of their breeding season. Females, immatures, and non-breeding male Superb Fairywrens are a plain fawn colour with a lighter underbelly. Females and immatures have a fawn tail, while males have a dull greyish blue tail. The bill is brown in females and juveniles and black in males after their first winter. The male in breeding plumage has a striking bright blue forehead, ear coverts, mantle, and tail, with a black mask and black or dark blue throat.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Hunter River


Australian Kestrel Falco cenchroides

The name kestrel is given to several members of the falcon genus, distinguished by their typical hunting behaviour which is to hover over open country and swoop down on prey, usually small mammals, lizards or large insects. Other falcons are more adapted to active hunting on the wing.

Australian Kestrels are often seen hovering over road reserves and paddocks.  Once they have their prey in sight, they plunge head first toward the ground, pulling out of their dive at the last moment to strike with their feet.

This female has a regular territory along the river from Kooragang Dykes to Walsh Point.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Walka Waterworks

Mum feeds baby a largish fish, which it swallows whole.
A moment of serenity.
Paddling as fast as he can.
One last piggy-back.
Great Crested Grebe, Podiceps cristatus

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Kooragang Island

Motacillidae, or pipits and wagtails, are a large widespread family, however Australia has only the one endemic species of pipit, the Australian Pipit (Anthus australis), and wagtails are known only as intermittent migrants. This bird used to be classified as Richard’s Pipit (Anthus richardi) but was recently declared a separate species. This was much to my relief as I resented the fact that Richard had his own pipit.
We see the pipits regularly as they like the same mown grass areas as I like walking with the dogs. The birds and dogs generally ignore each other, though the birds rarely let me come close if I’m carrying a camera. I should get Thommo a camera to record close-ups for me.
They are primarily terrestrial and pursue insects by running or low flying and snatching them from the air. They inhabit grasslands and similar low vegetation as diverse as alpine meadows, low heaths and parkland from coastal situations to the arid interior.
“Unlike larks, they have a conventional passerine pessulus in the syrinx, effectively 9-primaried wings, and acutiplantar tarsi inn which with the back-sides are covered by an unbroken sheath and the acrotarsium by fused scutes. They also have a fully double humeral fossa, thin ectethmoids, clavately tipped maxillo-palatine processes, fully perforate naris and a more conventional temporal region in the cranium.” So now you know. (R. Schodde, CSIRO Australian National Wildlife Collection, Canberra, ACT, Australia)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Newcastle Harbour

20100216_132_1 20100216_149_1Common Tern, Sterna hirundo 

The early sun was behind this group of Common Terns feeding on a school of small fish in the harbour, so while they aren’t great images for ID purposes, I kind of like the effect.

The species is a non-breeding migrant to Australia, where it is widespread and fairly common on the eastern coast during summer. The subspecies occurring in Australia is predominantly Sterna hirundo longipennis. Reportedly “In non-breeding plumages, adults differ from those in breeding plumage by: white forehead and lores that merge to dirty white and black-streaked crown and black half-cap on the rear crown, nape and ear-coverts, and with a large black patch in front of the eye; pale grey rump merging into white uppertail-coverts; and a conspicuous black cubital bar and a dusky secondary bar on the upperwing and a dusky wedge on the outer upperwing. The underparts are also white. The bill is black, occasionally with a red tinge at the base, and the legs usually black or black faintly tinged with red.”

Common Terns are recorded in Queensland from September, and usually arrive in NSW from late September to October. They leave again in mid-April.

The number of birds wintering in in NSW are thought to be increasing, with greater numbers in some areas where they were previously scarce or absent. For example, in Sydney Harbour National Park, Common Terns were seldom reported before 1970 but more recent counts are typically of up to 60 birds.

Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (2010). Sterna hirundo in Species Profile and Threats Database, Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts, Canberra. Available from: Accessed Tue, 16 Feb 2010 10:02:05 +1100.

Sunday, February 14, 2010


10,000 Birds reports on romantic ornithomancy, the practice of reading signs from birds. Especially significant today as the first bird an unmarried woman sees on Valentine's Day is an omen of her future husband's character. If she spots a swan, she could wed a writer or a dancer and he will be very loyal to her, while seeing a kingfisher first promises a partner with inherited wealth. The first bird I saw today was an Australian Raven ....

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Blackbutt Reserve

20100210_107_1 20100210_164_1

We came across a number of birds sunning themselves. A rail was standing with its back to the sun with its feathers rustled up to expose the skin below, noisy miners were in a full sunbathing posture with wings and tail feathers spread out to maximize the area open to the sun. The bronzewing pigeons were lying on one side with one wing raised to the sun. The reasons for sunning, and benefits to the bird are a matter of supposition. Obviously, in many cases the birds get warmth from the sun which reduces the amount of metabolic energy they have to expend in order to maintain a constant body temperature of around 40 degrees C.

However, it's summer here. Some birds do sunbathe in temperatures which are quite hot, and they end up over-heated as they can be seen panting. Therefore, some scientists have theorised that the sun's warmth is important in helping dislodge feather parasites. Others suggest that the ultra-violet in sunlight helps turn some precursor molecule in the preening oil into vitamin D and that the birds need this vitamin. It is known that these precursor molecules exist in preening oil and that ultra-violet light will stimulate the conversion into vitamin D. What is not known is how well this happens on the bird's body and how important the amount of vitamin D created would be to the bird.

Blackbutt Reserve


20100210_59_1  20100210_56_120100210_99_1

I’ve been aware of the Powerful Owls that roost in Blackbutt Reserve for some time, but knowing they are there and seeing them are two different things. Today the mosquitoes were horrendous, I had sprayed with insect repellent but they were biting all of the spots I’d missed and surrounding us in buzzing clouds. We decided to just walk the path through the rainforest and then go somewhere in bug-free sun. When we came across him he was hugging the tree trunk, with branches in front of him, but we edged past to where the light was better and he followed us out along the branch and turned around.

Powerful Owls are Australia’s largest owl, with the male standing around 67cm. It’s a generalist hunter, preying on a range of species depending on what is available. The main prey is Ringtail Possum, but this may be supplemented by other arboreal possums, gliders and bats and occasionally birds such as magpies and currawongs. Ground dwelling mammals are rarely taken.

They are forest dwellers which rely on areas of old growth forests that contain mature, live, hollow bearing eucalypt trees that can be hundreds of years old.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Blackbutt Reserve






I took my sandwich to Blackbutt Reserve and enjoyed some rare sunshine for an hour, before heading back to work. It was nice to have birds approaching me, rather than flying away too :-)

  • Black Swan
  • Australian Wood Duck or Maned Duck, pair
  • Pacific Black Duck
  • Swamp Hen
  • Australian Wood Duck or Maned Duck, male

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Stockton Sandspit

20100206_218_1 Godwit


Little Tern (Big Silver Gull)

Another three or four weeks and we will lose our summer visitors. The godwit are starting to colour up into their breeding plumage, and the little tern are dispersing from their breeding sites.

Nobby’s Breakwall

sooty tern Sooty Tern – photo Allan Richardson

In what may be part two of the Parasitic Jaeger/Arctic Skua story, a sighting of a Sooty Tern was posted to the HBOC list at around midday on Feb 3rd. Later that day others saw this bird, injured, on the rocks on the breakwall. Next morning there were no sightings of a Sooty Tern well or ill. The Parasitic Jaeger, during its breeding season in the Arctic, feeds on small mammals and passerines, but during its winter off the coast of Australia it gets most of its food by attacking gulls and terns and forcing them to disgorge their stomach contents. This bird may have been the victim of such an attack.

The Sooty Tern is a threatened species. It is a pelagic species that forages offshore and birds are usually only observed onshore during breeding season or when they have been forced there by stormy weather. They are seen more often in the tropics, but follow warm currents southward. (The sea of Newcastle is a balmy 23c at the moment.) They follow migrating tuna, feeding off the fish that the tuna drive to the surface.