Monday, February 27, 2012

Owl pellets. Gross!!

The kids noticed these at Silverleaves recently and correctly identified them, I believe, as owl pellets. Hannah being an avid reader of the book series Guardians of Ga'Hoole was able to remind me that owls regurgitate their undigested food (bones, feathers, fur) in the form of these pellets. A little further reading informs me that many birds produce such pellets but that due to the features of their gastrointestinal tracts, it is owls and hawks/falcons that produce the most noticeable pellets.

I am guessing that the bird responsible for these pellets is a small owl, possibly Southern boobook. I am certainly familiar with it's well-known mopoke call but have not seen one in the wild since I've been listing my sightings!

Ahhh! One day!

Owl pellet showing a presumed mouse mandible with teeth,
a long bone and fur

I don't have large hands! The pellet was about 3cm long.
I washed said small hands vigorously after reading somewhere
that it is best not to handle pellets due to infection risk!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Peregrine falcon vs Whistling kite

A few slow birding days (too hot, too windy, too tired) so I would like to recount an hitherto unposted experience from 18 October last year.

This episode occurred at an otherwise pretty miserable looking place called Kow Swamp in northern Victoria (I believe it can be a birding paradise if the conditions are right, you have a boat or are prepared to wade). The course of events was as follows:

Viewing and photographing Whistling kite in flight while parked at the Lions Club picnic area.

Whistling kite (Haliastur sphenurus)
Drove away from picnic area but had travelled no further then 400m when surprised by an imposing looking bird in a roadside tree-top.

Peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus)

Falcon flies off - "So much for that!" I think. I jump back in the car vaguely aware that the Peregrine has gone in the same direction as the road.

I have travelled another 200m when I notice the kites are again close. As I am photographing, the peregrine re-appears and stoops on the kite who takes defensive action.

Closely cropped view of the kite reaction.
My interpretation of this episode is that the Peregine was aggressively reinforcing "his patch". It was fast and impressive flight.

An Eremaea poster describes Kow Swamp as a:
Large freshwater storage lake between Echuca and Kerang with drowned trees and swampy margins.
You can see a list of recorded species at Eremaea's Kow Swamp page.

Typical Kow Swamp view
Australasian darter (Anhinga novaehollandiae)

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Blackie Lake disappointment

A pair of Sacred kingfisher have been hanging around the lake over summer. A fellow birder (thanks Trevor) had shown me where they had nested in previous years and they seemed to be hanging around the exact same nesting hollow.

Sacred kingfisher (Todiramphus sanctus)
Blackburn Lake Sanctuary, 2 Feb 2012
When wandering around the lake yesterday I passed said nesting hollow and heard the sound of young birds. With much anticipation I found myself a "perch" at a respectable distance and waited. I must confess to being disappointed when this fellow stuck his head out!

Rainbow lorikeet (Trichoglossus haematodus)
I never saw the kingfishers actually enter any nesting hollow but I have just read that some astute observers reported nesting and young birds at the lake in November.

That makes me feel better!

A few other locals follow. I don't see Black-faced cuckoo-shrike frequently at the lake so I enjoyed seeing this bird yesterday.

Black-faced cuckoo-shrike 
Always obliging
Little pied cormorant 
Duck Yoga 
These guys have been hanging around a bit lately
lowering the tone of the neighbourhood.
Australian white ibis
Wha...what happened? What's that?
Maybe 20th wedding anniversaries
do weird things to a bloke
P.S. - I enjoyed creating my new blog background which is a photoshopped variation of a shot taken at one of my favourite spots, Deen Maar in Southwestern Victoria. The original can be seen in one of last year's Deen Maar posts.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Yellow Robin vs Sparrowhawk

While on the subject of duelling between bird species I came across this fellow at Hull Rd Wetlands the other day. I was drawn into the under storey of a copse of trees by the incessant calling of this juvenile Eastern Yellow Robin (Eopsaltria australis). It was one of those moments when the call was loud but difficult to localise until I had almost walked into him. I took a few pictures and moved on as he continued to call from the same perch.

I was particularly bemused by this vulnerable situation because the reason I was close to the trees was because I was tracking this Collared sparrowhawk (Accipiter cirrocephalus). We had surprised each other (unfortunately this was the only picture I managed) less than three minutes earlier. I am sure that the juvenile robin would have been easy pickings!

The reserve is right on the suburban boundary and is linked to bushland via linear parks and creeklands so there are a good number of species present. A couple seen on the same day follow:

This uncooperative Superb fairy-wren would not
venture in front of the pleasingly presented foliage!

I have seen kookaburra
on each visit.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

NHH v Eastern Spinebills

With names that are reminiscent of sporting franchises the battle for garden supremacy between these two remained intense at Phillip Island this weekend:




From my corporate box viewing facilities (yes, bedroom & bathroom windows) I must report that on today's performance the New Holland honeyeaters are currently on top. They were hard at the ball, flew in twos and threes supporting each other and marked their opponents tightly. The Spinebills only had a few moments of strong possession but seemed to lack confidence and were too readily pushed off the ball for my liking.

The results:

NHH 1 - 0 ES
New Holland honyeater
Phylidonyris novaehollandiae

NHH 2 - 0 ES

NHH 3 - 0 ES

NHH 3 - 1 ES
A comeback perhaps?
.... but that amazing red eye looks nervous
Eastern Spinebill, Acanthorhynchus tenuirostris

NHH 5 - 1 ES
A final showing in the late arvo
clinches the game
A cropped close-up
Much more stunning than camera flash "red eye"!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

New Holland honeyeaters

Phillip Island again. The first six images were taken at Silverleaves on the weekend (again using bedroom and bathroom windows as a hide - they're really, really clean these days!!). The remainder also taken at Phillip Island in the last year.

I'm reasonably happy to have them around except that they are aggressive and I've seen them chase off the Eastern spinebills (which are a more handsome bird in my opinion!).

It is no surprise that the New Holland honeyeater got its european name as far back as 1790 when a large chunk of Australia was still called New Holland.

New Holland honeyeater (pollen all over its face)
Phylidonyris novaehollandiae

This little bird may have bitten off more than
it can chew! Phillip Island Eco-Resort

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Grey currawong, bird with an image problem

These guys seem really unpopular with other species. That goes for their pied counterpart as well. It may be because small birds feature on the menu!

It is my impression that in a given region you will generally find one or the other species of currawong but only occasionally both. In the bushier areas of Phillip Island (the first three pictures are from Silverleaves taken earlier today) we tend to find the Grey currawong, Strepera versicolor.

Probably still developing adult plumage.

Looking for a feed in the late afternoon sun

The clothesline provides a good perch!

Popularity is a problem when you have a bill like this
Again Silverleaves but 31/7/2011

Adult bird (left) was removing a feed from the crevice
Silverleaves 1/1/2011

The Grey currawongs of Kangaroo Island (above & below)
are darker in appearance, less likely to have white wing patches
and can only be reliably distinguished from Pied currawong
by their distinctive call.

Strepera versicolor, race melanoptera
Duck Lagoon (Kangaroo Island, SA) 17/04/2011

Thursday, February 9, 2012

"Handedness" in birds

Left-handedness, left clawedness, left talonedness? The terms don't really roll off the tongue!

Now many birds only use their feet for mobility but I had heard that parrots were prone to being "left-handed".

While watching this swamphen the other day at a reserve called Wurundjeri Walk in Blackburn South I started wondering about other bird groups:

Purple swamphen, Wurundjeri Walk
Porphyrio porphyrio melanotus 

Left foot

Left foot

Ahhh, right foot!
Ron Dudley's blog (Utah, USA) has amazing photos demonstrating his observed Handedness in Short-eared owls.

An old and small study of zoo birds described in this piece "Left handedness in parrots" concludes that to varying degrees parrots are at least 75% left-handed.

A BBC Earth News report details the findings of some Sydney researchers in Parrots preferred left-handedness and includes this observation:

"Young Sulphur-crested cockatoos all end up being left-footed, but when they first come out of the nest they are equally clumsy with both." 
Dr Culum Brown, Macquarie University, Australia

This study goes a little further and researched whether bird-handedness held clues for the development of human handedness.

It appears that some species of birds, parrots in particular do determine a left or right handedness. It just so happens that in many parrots left-handedness is more common than right handedness.

White-cheeked rosella, Platycerus eximius
Wurundjeri Walk, 9th Feb 2012

Crimson Rosella, Platycerus elegans
Wee Jasper, NSW, 5th July 2009
A left-footed Osprey, Pandion haliaetus?
Osprey handedness is also debated - No conclusions I'm afraid!
...or right-footed?
Both birds (or the same bird 30 minutes later) were
photographed at Caloundra, Qld, May 2011