“While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.” (Genesis 8:22 KJV)
“While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.” (Genesis 8:22 KJV)
In February we had the Satin Flycatcher as bird of the moment. This is a generally uncommon member of the Monarch Flycatcher (Monarchidae) that I’d had trouble photographing until one obligingly turned up at my bird bath last October. Here is another member of the family that is also elusive, the White-eared Monarch. It’s generally rather uncommon and it tends to stay out of sight in the foliage of tall trees so spotting it is hard and photographing it is more so.
Its movements are not well understood but it tends to move from the highlands to coastal areas in winter and is mainly a winter visitor in the Townsville region. In Where to Find Birds in North-east Queensland Jo Wieneke particularly recommends the Nelly Bay end of the Nelly Bay to Arcadia walking track along Gustav Creek on Magnetic Island, where the trees are not very tall, for this and other Monarchs and Fantails.
It so happened that we were staying on Mandalay Avenue within walking distance of the start of the track last July for the weekend workshop of the North Queensland Recorder Society so I checked out the walking track before the workshop began. Sure enough, I found all the species listed in the the ebook including a couple of pairs of White-eared Monarchs so the photographic drought was at an end.
The birds I saw on that occasion were all adults. The juveniles look confusingly different with plumage in varying shades of grey rather than black and white so I’ve included a distant photo of a juvenile taken from a boat on the Daintree River north of Cairns. If nothing else it illustrates the difficulty of finding these birds in thick foliage.
It’s geographical range comprises the ranges and coasts of eastern Queensland from Cape York to just south of the New South Wales border north of the Tweed River. It’s rarer in the southern part of the range so North-eastern Queensland is the best place to look for it.
For the taxonomists, it is the only Australian member of a small genus whose other members are the striking Golden Monarch (C. chrysomela) of New Guinea, which is orange-yellow and black, and the White-naped and Tanimbar Monarchs (C. pileatus and C. castus, sometimes treated as a single species) of the Moluccas and Lesser Sundas east of New Guinea. These latter two look much more like the White-eared Monarch than the Golden Monarch both in colour and patterning, posing an interest problem for the bio-geographers.
Since publishing Diary of a Bird Photographer Volume 2 I’ve merged Volumes 1 and 2 and plan to publish the combined work at the end of this year, including all the 2019 Birds of the Moment. My more immediate aim was to produced a combined taxonomic index making it easy for me to see which species have been covered since 2002 and which are candidates for future BIrds of the Moment. This combined volume will be a free update to purchasers of Volume 2. Sales so far have been slow so if you want to encourage me with the Bird of the Moment, I’d encourage you to show your interest and take advantage of this offer.
A couple of purchasers have expressed a preference for the earlier bank transfer and Dropbox download, so if you rather do that too, just let me know Ian@birdway.com.au or firstname.lastname@example.org and I can also arrange download through the website as an alternative to Dropbox. I’ve had inquiries about giving the ebooks as gifts: contact me if you wish to do so.
Ian’s comment, in the first paragraph, caught my interest. “It’s generally rather uncommon and it tends to stay out of sight in the foliage of tall trees so spotting it is hard and photographing it is more so.” It brought to mind the verses of trusting in the shadow of God’s protection.
“How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God! Therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of Your wings.” (Psalms 36:7 NKJV)
“He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.” (Psalms 91:1 NKJV)
Ian’s “Moment” wasn’t so long this time. Thanks, Ian, for another interesting article about a beautiful bird.
Ian’s last Bird of the Moment was about the Gentoo Penguin.
As I’ve finally published Volume 2 of the ebook Diary of a Bird Photographer, please bear with me as I begin with a commercial. It is a compilation of the more than 240 Bird of the Week/Moment episodes sent out in the period 2010 to 2018. As these episodes grew in contents over the years, the ebook ended up as a hefty tome of 130,000 words and more than a thousand photos,with the fixed format pdf version running to more than 1,100 pages.
Like its popular predecessor Volume 1 it is designed for ease of use with many internal links, external links to relevant websites particularly additional photos on the Birdway website, and a comprehensive alphabetical index to bird species. Volume 2 contains a new taxonomic index in case for browsing the episodes by members of particular families such as Barn Owls or Honeyeaters. Read more about it by clicking on the image below or its caption to take you to page on the Birdway website.
When I retired and wrapped up the Birdway company, I could no longer sell ebooks through the Apple or Google book stores and I started selling them by gettiing intending buyers to contact me for bank account details. This was inconvenient for everyone concerned – particularly for payments in other than Australian dollars – so I have now started selling them through the Payhip website. Payhip takes payment by credit card or PayPal so you can pay and download the books immediately. The new Diary Volume 2 is priced at six Australian dollars. You can visit the Payhip Birdway Store by clicking on the image or caption below.
The cover photo of me on the ship the Spirit of Enderby on the trip to the Sub-Antarctic Islands in 2011 brings back great recollections of a memorable voyage, the highlight of which for many of us was the visit to Macquarie Island and its four species of penguins. Two of these, King Penguin and Royal Penguin feature as birds of the week in Volume 2, but here is one, the Gentoo Penguin, which hasn’t been honoured in these pages with its fifteen minutes of fame, to quote Andy Warhol.
On the morning of our day on the island, the King and Royal Penguins provide us with endless amusement on the main beach on the sheltered eastern size of the island, number 3 on the Google Earth screen capture below. At lunch time we went to the Research Station, number 1, at lunchtime to meet the personnel and we find the Gentoos in reasonable numbers in their preferred breeding habitat, the tussocky grass just south of the station.
Gentoos look to me quite small and dumpy in illustrations and photos, but they are fairly large, with a length up to 80cm/32in and weighting between 4.5-8.5kg/10-19lbs. Unlike the curious King and Royal Penguins they don’t take much notice of us and stand or lie around looking rather bored. Adult Gentoos, first two Gentoo photos, have a white eye ring, a white patch over each eye and a white line joining the two patches across the top of the head. Their plumage is blackish and the bill and legs are brightly coloured, red or orange.
Most of the Gentoos have finished breeding bur their are still a few juveniles in the breeding area, like this rather woolly individual on the left below below. Unlike other Penguin species, Gentoos will relay if the first clutch is lost, so maybe this has happened here. Gentoos are unusual in that the parents continue feeding the young for up to two months after they have fledged.
Unlike the Royal and King Penuins on the sheltered eastern beach, the non-breeding Gentoos show a preference for the exposed beach on the western side of the island. The beach in this photo faces northwest and is shown and number 2 in the Google Earth image above. This beach is also popular with the Macquarie (Imperial) Shags which are busy ferrying seaweed as building material for nests on a rocky headland. The thick-skinned Elephant Seals are also at home on this beach and you can see their prostrate forms in the photo below.
Immature Gentoos are to be seen wandering around on this beach either full of the joys of Spring (next photo) or pretending to be Elephant Seas (following photo). You can see that their plumage is browner than that of the adults, the white supra-orbital patches and eye-rings are incompletely developed and their bills and feet are less brightly coloured. Gentoos take two years to reach sexual maturity but I suppose, given their proximity to the nesting colony, that these ones are older juveniles from the current breeding.
The Gentoo is the most northerly of the three species in the genus Pygoscelis and its circumpolar range is mainly north of Antarctica, breeding on Sub-Antarctic islands in the southern Indian and Atlantic Oceans. The only place it breeds on Antarctica itself is on the Antarctic Peninsula south of South America. The other two members of the genus, the Chinstrap and Adelie Penguins, have more southerly ranges particularly the Adelie. The specific name papua, odd for a Sub-Antartic species, does in fact refer to the natives of New Guinea as J.R. Forster, who named it in 1781, as he thought erroneously that they had curly feathers.
The fourth species of Penguin on Macquarie is the Southern Rockhopper Rockhoppers indeed, they are not to be found on the easily accessible part of the island where we spend the day. In the afternoon we return to the ship in the Zodiacs and do a detour via the rocky headland shown as number 4 on the Google Earth image to have a look at them.
I’ve been leading a fairly sedentary existence since my last visit to Europe three years ago. Editing Volume 2 of the Diary has given me itchy feet, so a visit to South America this coming October is being planned.
“All flesh is not the same flesh: but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fishes, and another of birds.: (1 Corinthians 15:39 KJV)
They may swim in the sea, but those Gentoo Penguins are still birds.
Thanks again, Ian, for another Bird of the Moment. They are always a welcome surprise when they arrive. Glad you were able to complete your second volume of the Bird Photographer Diary. We have produced many of those Bird of the Week articles here over the years. We have been enjoying your adventures around the world as you seek our Avian Wonders.
Now this really is a bird of the moment given the recent floods in Townsville generally and Bluewater in particular where I live. On Tuesday morning I went down to the area below the flood bank to check out the damage from the third flash flood that had occurred the night before. Compared with neighbours who have had their houses and businesses flooded I have got off very lightly but nonetheless the mess made by the floods is a bit sad: carefully nurtured native trees torn up or flattened and lots of flotsam such as trees, branches, tangled fence wires and other debris.
Between floods there has been a persistent knee-deep pond at the bottom of the flood bank below the house (above) and to my delight I found this Australasian Grebe had taken up residence, a good place to be as small fish normally get trapped in this area after floods. It was still there when I returned from the house with my camera.
In the second grebe photo, it has just surfaced after a dive and you can see the way grebe legs are attached at the very rear of the body. Very good for swimming and diving, the original outboard motor, but fairly useless for walking on land. Unsurprisingly grebes stay almost permanently on water and build floating nests.
The grebe didn’t seem very pleased to see me, third grebe photo, so I left it in peace and when I went down the back again on Wednesday it had moved on and the water levels were dropping.
The colours don’t show very well in the current gloomy overcast weather but my visitor was in breeding plumage: generally dark grey with a rufous patch behind the cheeks extending onto the sides of the neck. The fourth grebe photo shows a different bird in breeding plumage just before sunset which, if anything, exaggerates the colours but we are allowed a little artistic license.
The fifth grebe photo show one in non-breeding garb. Not only has the plumage changed but the bill is pale too and the patches on the gape look smaller and have lost their yellowish hue. Both sexes are similar in appearance in breeding and non-breeding plumage.
The Australasian Grebe has a prolonged breed season, August to April, and breeds opportunistically in response to good aquatic conditions. In the tropics they may breed at any time of the year. When breeding they prefer wetlands with well vegetated shores for cover. At other times they occur on a wide variety of mainly fresh permanent or semi-permanent wetlands and, as I’ve just discovered, on temporary floodwaters. They have benefitted from the building of small reservoirs and dams on farmland.
I haven’t got a photo of a nesting Australasian Grebe but above, sixth grebe photo, is one of the very closely related Little Grebe of Eurasian and Africa, which featured as bird of the moment in 2012.
The seventh grebe photo shows a family of Australasian Grebes. The young birds, typically for grebes, are beautifully patterned and in the eighth grebe photo you can see the striped head and neck and red gape patches. Gape patch colours are clearly important in the life of grebes. Presumably red means ‘feed me’ and you can guess what yellow means.
Grebes may lose out in the walking stakes and prefer diving to flying when disturbed. They, however, are remarkably strong fliers and can move long distances, usually at night. There is some uncertainty about seasonal movements of the Australasian Grebe in Australia but birds appear to move to the coast from arid regions during drought. It is widespread in Australia, though rare in Tasmania and also occurs in New Guinea, Timor, Java, the Solomons, Vanuatu and New Caledonia. The species colonised New Zealand in the 1970s.
For a long time it was treated as a race of the very similar Little Grebe (above) but the ranges of the two species overlap without interbreeding in New Guinea. The Little Grebe occurs across Eurasia from Ireland through Europe, South and Southeast Asia to Japan and south to Java and Northern New Guinea. It also occurs widely across sub-Saharan Africa to South Africa and east to Madagascar.
We are fortunate to appreciate the gifts that nature gives us. I went into town on the same day my welcome visitor arrived and was treated to the sight of a large flock of Royal Spoonbills feeding in a flooded park at Bushland Beach and a Wedge-tailed Eagle soaring over the highway near Black River on the way home.
“If a bird’s nest happens to be before you along the way, in any tree or on the ground, with young ones or eggs, with the mother sitting on the young or on the eggs, you shall not take the mother with the young;” (Deuteronomy 22:6 NKJV)
Well this newest addition from Ian surprised me. Maybe he is going to get back into the “Bird of the Week” routine like he used to produce. I have always enjoyed these newsletters from Ian. Very thankful that he gave me permission years ago to re-post them here.
I have always enjoyed Grebes here. Of course, ours do not look like the ones he gets to see. Ian said, “Unsurprisingly grebes stay almost permanently on water and build floating nests.” One would have to wade out to the nest in the verses I chose.
Bird of the Moment: Satin and Leaden Flycatchers by Ian Montgomery
One day last October, I was doing the dishes in the upstairs kitchen and checking, as one does, bird activity in the two bird baths below when this unusual one arrived. I keep my binoculars on the kitchen window sill for moments like this and I was astonished to see that it was a male Satin Flycatcher, very rare in North Queensland.
Happily it stayed around long enough for me to grab the camera and get a few photo both at the bird bath and, second photo, in a nearby shrub before it flew away. Satin Flycatchers are notoriously difficult to distinguish from their close relatives Leaden Flycatchers but in the right light and at the right angle – i.e. from above – the overall satiny blue sheen is unmistakable.
Leaden Flycatcher last featured as bird of the week/moment in 2003 with this one photo below, so now is a good opportunity to review it and the question of distinguishing the two species. Graeme Chapman wrote an article – ‘Mixed Up Myiagras’ – on identifying Monarch Flycatchers in the June 2003 issue of Wingspan, the Birds Australia magazine and I’m going to quote extensively from that.
The key field mark for distinguishing Leaden and Satin Flycatchers is the shape of the demarcation between the dark throat patch and the white breast and belly. In the male Leaden Flycatcher (above) the line curves upwards where the dark throat patch meets the wing producing a right angle or slightly acute angle in the white part. In the Satin Flycatcher, see the next two photos, the demarcation curves downward at the sides where it disappears below the wing and there is no sharp angle, rather a curve through a decidedly obtuse angle.
This is perhaps easier to see in the photo below, where the bird is obligingly lifting its wing as it preens.
To add to the problem, male Leaden Flycatchers have a bluish sheen on the throat patch and to a lesser extent on the head. Given the refractive, iridescent nature of such colours in feathers (optical structure rather than pigment) the actual colour produced depends on light conditions and angle. The Leaden Flycatcher in the photo below looks quite bluish (thought the back and wings are greyer) and could easily be mistaken for a Satin. Here the angle of the white area comes to the rescue and this bird is definitely a Leaden.
I haven’t mentioned females or juveniles yet: they’re even harder than the males. Females and juveniles of both species have reddish buff breasts but these are very variable in intensity and lack the clear demarcation with the white breast that comes to the aid of identifying males. In general, female Satins are darker overall than Leadens and have a bluish sheen on the head. But be warned, the heads of female Leadens can be slightly bluish too as in the photo below. I regret that I haven’t got a photo of a female Satin.
If all else fails, habitat, location and time of year are important. Satin Flycatchers breed in moist forests; in Tasmania (from which Leadens are absent) and Victoria this includes both inland and coastal forests but in New South Wales the Satin occurs only in damp wooded gullies in the high country along the Great Dividing Range. Given the problems of identification, there is uncertainty whether they breed in Southeast Queensland and Graeme Chapman couldn’t confirm breeding there.
John Young reported finding breeding pairs in Northern Queensland in highland rainforest (two pairs near Paluma, December 1984, and one pair at Wallaman Falls, November 1991) but it isn’t known whether this is part of its normal breeding range or even the same race as he reported the birds as being larger and darker than southern ones and the eggs being 20% larger.
Leaden Flycatchers occur in a wide variety of wooded habitats and may be found breeding in the same areas as Satin Flycatchers.
Timing is important as the Satin Flycatcher is a migrant and winters mainly in New Guinea. The late Andrée Griffin lived in Paluma, about 40km from my place as the flycatcher flies, for many years and kept careful records of birds. She reported to Graeme Chapman that Satin Flycatchers arrived there each year on their way south at the beginning of October and were seen for about a fortnight. That date coincides well with my record of 12 October and Len Ezzy, a local birder, recorded one a week later at the Townsville Town Common. In 2016, I thought I saw a female Satin Flycatcher having a bathe in my pool on 22 September, but she didn’t hang around while I got the camera.
For those of you who have heard the news about flooding in Townsville in general and Bluewater in particular on Wednesday, I’m happy to report that my house is high up enough above the creek to have been spared so far, unlike some unfortunate residents farther down the creek. Upper Bluewater has had over 900mm of rain in the last three days and it is hard to imagine it ever exceeding that. This is what Bluewater Creek looked like from just outside my house shortly after the flood peaked on Wednesday. The creek is normally invisible from here in a gorge about 200 metres away where the distant trees are.
Greetings – Ian
Ian’s Birds of the Moment come in quite unannounced. Never know when to expect something from “down under.” Yet, everytime, Ian has a very interesting bird/birds to introduce us to. Thank you, Ian for stopping by with another set of beautiful avian wonders.
The verses below remind us that the Lord provides for his critters and birds. In this case, the “hills” might have been a bit over filled.
“By them [streams] the birds of the heavens have their home; They sing among the branches. He waters the hills from His upper chambers; The earth is satisfied with the fruit of Your works.” (Psalms 104:12-13 NKJV)
Bird of the Moment – Grey Falcon by Ian Montgomery
Here is a special bird of the moment for the festive season. If you asked Australian birders to nominate the most sought after diurnal raptor, you’d probably get a choice of two: the Red Goshawk of the Hawk and Eagle family (Accipitridae) and the Grey Falcon of the Falconidae. Rex Whitehead, my birding pal in Mount Isa had told me about a nesting pair of Grey Falcons in the Winton district so I came back to Townsville that way at the end of the camping trip in May.
The Falcons were nesting high up on a very tall communications mast. Rex had told me that they were in its vicinity only from before dusk until shortly after dawn and I took his advice and camped near the base of the mastto maximise my chances of seeing them. Sure enough they arrived in the evening but I got only poor shots of them flying in and perched in shadow on the mast.
I got up early and was rewarded three or four minutes after sunrise by the male flying around calling (first photo) in preparation for mating with the female (second photo) who was perched on the mast near the nest.
This behaviour was repeated two more times over the hour or so. The third photo shows the third mating attempt at a different location just over an hour after sunrise and the fourth photo shows the male flying away four seconds later.
The sexes are similar, though the females, as is typical for raptors, are larger. The male has a shorter tail which supposedly makes it look longer winged in flight but I didn’t get any photos of the mainly sedentary female for comparison. The fifth photo shows the female in the same position as during the third mating (third photo) but the male is sitting in the nest.
Grey Falcons are supposed to use the old nests of other raptors or corvids (ravens and crows) preferably high up. In the arid areas where they occur, tall trees are few so in recent years they’ve taken to nesting in communication masts.
About two hours after sunrise, the birds disappeared as quietly as they’d arrived the previous day and I didn’t see them fly away. This pair had just bred successfully with two young fledging, so it was encouraging to see them preparing to do so again.
The Grey Falcon is an Australian endemic sparsely scattered over the drier inland areas of mainland Australia except the southwest, eastern and southern coastal areas and the wetter parts of northern Australia. The breeding range has contracted since the mid 20th century to drier areas north of 26º S. It’s population is estimated at less than 1000 mature individuals and it is classified as vulnerable. Threats include habitat clearing, egg collecting and the taking of young for falconry so I’m sure you’ll understand why I’ve been a bit vague about the actual location of the mast.
Christmas seems to be a time for unrestrained gaudiness, dare I say meretriciousness, in decoration so here is my gaudiest photo from 2018 – taken from my back verandah – to get into the spirit of things. I wish you a joyful, safe and happy festive season and a peaceful and fulfilling 2019.
“I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness.” (John 12:46 KJV)
Thanks, Ian, for showing us one of Australia’s endemic birds. When I first saw the rosy colored Falcon, I thought you had made a mistake. Lighting makes a lot of difference.
I especially love your Christmas addition of that lovely Sunbird.
Merry Christmas, Ian, and all of you that are reading this post.
A long time, as usual these days, since the last Bird of the Moment, but I haven’t been entirely idle in the meantime. I’ve been busy both revising the ebook, Where to Find Birds in North-east Queensland, and compiling a second volume of birds of the week/moment covering 2010 until the present. More about those in a minute, but here is the Red-browed Pardalote, a species I wanted to photograph for Where to Find Birds in North-east Queensland and which I mentioned in the previous two Birds of the Moment, the Masked Finch and the Black-breasted Buzzard.
I finally tracked it down at McNamara’s Road between Mt Isa and Camooweal with the help of my Mt Isa birding pal Rex Whitehead and another Mt Isa birder Karen who took me to a couple of spots on this road where they had found the Pardalote shortly before. McNamara’s Road, about 68km from Mt Isa on the Barkly Highway going towards Camooweal is a famous site for the Carpentarian Grasswren though I have spent many hours there on a number of occasions, including this one, without finding any.
We had more success with the Red-browed Pardalote helped by the fact that the dominant tree here the Snappy Gum doesn’t get very tall so when you hear the characteristic call of the bird, a mellow rising, accelerating piping of five or six notes, you know that they aren’t too far above the ground.
It has, for a Pardalote, a large, rather chunky bill, second photo, and the white spots on the black cap distinguish it from the local race of the Striated Pardalote (uropygialis). It has distinctive mustard-coloured wing bars and in flight, third photo, shows a yellowish-green rump.
Back to ebooks. The second edition of Where to Find Birds in North-east Queensland has gone through a number of iterations and refinements since I first put it up on the website in August of this year, and the latest version went up yesterday both in epub and pdf formats.
This is a free update to owners of the first edition but to access it you need a Dropbox link to the folder. If you bought it since January 2017, you should receive a separate email with a link to the folder. If you don’t receive this email, perhaps because your email address has changed, let me know: mailto:email@example.com.
If you purchased it prior to January 2017, you would have done so through Apple, Google or Kobo and I won’t have your email address. So write to me and I’ll send you the link: mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org.
“So God created great sea creatures and every living thing that moves, with which the waters abounded, according to their kind, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.” (Genesis 1:21 NKJV)
Ian’s Birds of the Moment always come as a surprise. When he was doing them weekly, they were part of the scheduled post here. So, now that he surprises us, and thankfully he does, we will just double them up with what else has posted that day.
Always glad to see what amazing beauties from our Creator he finds. This Red-browed Pardalote is a beauty, at least in my eyes. I love his cap. Reminds me of a pirates bandana. :)
You may remember in the last Bird of the Moment, in April I went to Cumberland Dam near Georgetown in Northern Queensland in the hope of photographing Red-browed Pardalotes but came away instead with photos of nesting Masked Finches. In May I set off on another, longer trip to Mt Isa with several species in my sights, in addition to the Pardalote.
The distance from Townsville to Mt Isa is about 900km/560miles, so I split the journey by staying for a couple of nights at Kooroorinya Reserve, a little gorge 50km/30miles south of Prairie. Kooroorinya’s main claim to fame is that it hosts the annual Oakley amateur horse race and they were preparing for the race during my stay. The satellite image below shows the race track, the Prairie-Muttaburra Road and the oasis created by the gorge in very dry country, which holds water for months in the dry season after the creek has stopped flowing.
A Townsville birder had found nesting Little Eagle and Black-breasted Buzzard there. The Little Eagle is uncommon in North Queensland, and the Black-breasted Buzzard is uncommon generally. So I search diligently along both sides of the creek looking for the nest of raptors. I found several unoccupied nests but these could have been built by Whistling Kites, which were common in the area, and I didn’t initially see any sign of Little Eagles or Black-breasted Buzzards.
It wasn’t until I returned to the campsite near the race track that I saw this Black-breasted Buzzard in the distance perched in a dead tree on the far side of the creek. I went back round to get a closer look at it and when I approached it flew down into a tree with lots of foliage and a nest, just visible in the lower left hand corner of the second photo of the Buzzard. In this photo you can see the characteristic black breast that gives the bird its name, and the short unbarred tail, not as long as the folded wings, which you can see behind the tail.
I left the bird in peace in case it was actually nesting, though laying doesn’t usually start until June. Later that afternoon as I was birding along the creek – there were various birds including Budgerigars – I saw it, or maybe its mate, soaring past in its characteristic hunting mode and exhibiting the striking under-wing pattern with the large white panels at the base of the primary flight feathers.
Black-breasted Buzzards are versatile feeders and will eat mammals, birds, reptiles, carrion and even large insects. I suppose in the arid interior, you eat what you can find. They show a preference for young rabbits, nestlings, lizards and eggs. They will tackle the large eggs of Emus, breaking them either by pounding them with the bill or dropping stones on them. Have a look at this http://www.arkive.org/black-breasted-buzzard/hamirostra-melanosternon/image-G138753.html if you don’t believe me (or even if you do, it’s a great photo of a juvenile BB Buzzard caught red-handed!).
Black-breasted Buzzards are large. They can have a wing-span of up to 1.56m/61in and can weight more than 1,400g/3.1lbs , making them the third heaviest Australian raptor after Wedge-tailed and White-bellied Sea-Eagles. The species in an Australian endemic, the sole member of the genus Hamirostra (‘monotypic’) and apparently related to the Square-tailed Kite, also the sole member of its genus Lophoictinia. Its range includes most of mainland Australia except the higher rainfall areas of eastern and southern Australia and is more common in the north.
I didn’t find any Red-browed Pardalotes (or Little Eagles) at Kooroorinya, so the search continued.
It is amazing when we search for a particular bird, at times we do not find what we sought, but many times another bird presents itself so that we still have be productive in our birdwatching adventure. This is the case with Ian. He has gone off on searches for birds and has ended up sharing a different avian wonder with us.
I couldn’t help but remember two verses which have to do with searching. In Ian’s case, he was searching for the Red-browed Pardalotes. Yet, this verse has to do with searching for the Lord and finding Him.
“Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:12-13 NKJV)
See more of Ian’s Articles:
If you can remember that far back, the last bird of the moment was Eastern Grass Owl [http://www.birdway.com.au/botw/botw_584.php] found during a spot-lighting trip to the Townsville Town Common led by local night-bird expert and pillar of BirdLife Townsville Ian Boyd.
At the time, Ian was refusing to be discouraged by pancreatic cancer, an attitude that we all admired until his death on 23rd of February. Typically undaunted he gave a presentation on his favourite topic, Night Birds at the BirdLife Townsville AGM on the 10th of February although he had less than a couple of weeks to live. Isolated by flood waters in Bluewater, I couldn’t attend the funeral on 1st March so here is a photographic tribute to him instead.
I got to know him well during his last year or and am left with some precious memories of searching for night birds with him. So let’s go birding together while I share three special occasions with you.
The first was when a birding friend and photographer from Mt Isa was visiting Townsville and wanted to photograph a Rufous Owl. I contacted Ian Boyd and he took us to an active nesting site on a hot afternoon at the end of October. There he showed us the two adults which we photographed (one of them is in the first photo) and our visitor from Mt Isa returned to the site later and got a photo of a fledgling peering out of the tree hollow.
The second was the occasion when we found the female Eastern Grass Owl at the Townsville Town Common which featured as the last Bird of the Moment. At the time our goal was to search for Spotted Nightjars which are supposed to occur occasionally along the Freshwater Track that goes across the grassy, saltbush flats between Bald Rock and the Freshwater hide (see this map:). We drove across the Town Common arriving at Shelley Beach on the northern side at sunset and then drove slowly back in darkness checking for night birds as we went along.
The first stretch of riverine forest on the Shelley Beach Trail produced a remarkable five Owlet Nightjars (second photo) and a single male Tawny Frogmouth (third photo). Male Tawny Frogmouths have silvery grey, strongly marbled plumage. We had only just started along the Freshwater Track when the cry went up ‘Barn Owl’ but we quickly realised that the Tyto Owl beside the track was a female Eastern Grass Owl (fourth photo).
There was no sign of any Spotted Nightjars – we suspect that they are more like to be found in the dry winter months – but at the start of the Freshwater Lagoon Road south of the Freshwater hide, we found a Large-tailed Nightjar (fifth photo). This species is the commonest Nightjar around Townsville and is well known for its persistent, loud ‘chop chop’ call that gives it the colloquial name of Carpenter or Axe Bird.
Finally, along the track between Payet’s Tower and the Forest Walk, a Barking Owl (sixth photo) represented the only remaining Australian night bird family for the evening – Aegothelidae (Owlet NIghtjars), Podargidae (Frogmouths), Tytonidae (Barn Owls), Caprimulgidae (Nightjars) and Strigidae (Hawk Owls). I’m following the IOC and BirdLife International in lumping the Nightjars and Eared-Nightjars into a single family.
We repeated the spotlighting at the Town Common a week later. This time we found one or two Owlet Nightjars along the Shelley Beach Trail, but Tawny Frogmouths were out in force. The seventh photo shows a female; females are often rufous like this one but always have plainer less marked plumage than the males. The eight photo shows a remarkably approachable male Tawny Frogmouth.
This time there was no sign of the Eastern Grass Owl (or Spotted NIghtjars) and the surprise of the night was a Barn Owl perched in a tree along the stretch where we’d found the Barking Owl the previous week (ninth photo). This bird seemed unbothered by our spot- and flash-lights and when it did leave it did so to plunge into the undergrowth after some prey.
That was the last time I went birding with Ian Boyd. He is greatly missed by his wife Robyn, the rest of his family and all us bird watchers who appreciated his generosity, warmth, leadership and enthusiasm. I’ll treasure these great memories of birding with him during his last few months with us. Thank you, Ian Boyd.
What a nice tribute to a good friend and fellow birder. What courage for Ian Boyd to continue on under very adverse conditions. Thanks Ian for the neat birds and a memorial to one of your friends.
“A friend loves at all times, And a brother is born for adversity.” (Proverbs 17:17 NKJV)
“A man who has friends must himself be friendly, But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” (Proverbs 18:24 NKJV)
See more of Ian’s Posts:
Ian’s Bird of the Moment – Masked Finch by Ian Montgomery
It has been some time since Ian Montgomery has produced on of his great articles. I trust you enjoy this latest one. Ian went from a Bird of the Week, to Bird of the Month, and now to the Bird of the Moment. Hew has been struggling with his health. We are always glad when he is able to produce a blog.
Ian, you are in our prayers that things are improving.
Ian’s searching for that Red-browed Paratote reminds me of the verse about seeking and searching with all your heart. In this case, it is a bird that is being searched for, yet we are to seek the Lord. He is the Creator of all these birds. He wants us to find Him and accept His gift of Salvation.
“And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13 NKJV)
Seeing as Bird of the Moment has been such a rarity lately, I thought I’d finish the year on a special note. So here’s a species that I always wanted to photograph, but never thought I would: maybe on the ‘if the god(s) is/are kind bucket list’.
But before that here is my greetings of the season; too late for Christmas but in time for 2018, which is perhaps the more important – longer anyway.
Two weeks ago I went spotlighting in the Townsville Town Common Conservation Park with some local birding experts, including one who has an official key to the locked gates that normally keep vehicles out of the more remote areas of the Park: the saline flats near Bald Rock and a track that runs through some lovely forest along a tributary of the Bohle River to Shelley Beach.
The target species, and rather a long shot at that, was the Spotted Nightjar which sometimes turns up along the grassy, saline flats. Anyway, the forest produced five Owlet Nightjars, some of which posed for photos and a Tawny Frogmouth, also photographed. On the return through the normally accessible parts of the Park along the main track, we photographed a cooperative Large-tailed NIghtjar and a more distant Barking Owl
The highlight of the night was a Tyto owl on the grass beside the track though the saline flat. Provisionally identified as a Barn Owl, we soon realised that it was a female Eastern Grass Owl, a species recorded only occasionally around Townsville, though more common near Ingham, for example at the eponymous Tyto Wetlands. The female differs from the smaller male in having orange-buff underparts and is distinctive but both genders can be distinguished from the otherwise similar Barn Owl by darker upperparts and much longer, slender legs which trail behind the tail in flight. After photographing it, we flushed it to get a look at its long legs and confirm the identification.
We didn’t find any Spotted Nightjars, but no one cared amid the jubilation at getting such good view of the Grass Owl. We returned a week later for another look. That night, the Tawny Frogmouths were out in force and no sign of either Spotted Nightjars or the Grass Owl. Instead we found a cooperative Barn Owl along perched obligingly in a dead tree in woodland beside the main track. Here it is for comparison.
Grass and Barn Owls have extensive ranges and the ‘Eastern’ in both cases refers to Eastern Eurasia and Australasia. Grass Owls also occur in Africa and there is disagreement whether this is is the same species as the Eastern Form. Similarly, the Eastern Barn Owl, Tyto delicatula, is sometimes split from the Western Eurasian, African and American forms, Tyto alba. Anyway, they’re all gorgeous birds and Australia has an unusually rich selection of five species of about sixteen in total worldwide. Four of the Australian ones are here http://www.birdway.com.au/tytonidae/index_aus.php.
We’ve checked earlier records and it appears that most records of Spotted Nightjars in the Townsville District are in winter, June-August. So, we’ll try again next year, and I hope you have a healthy and rewarding 2018 too.Ian
“Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser: teach a just man, and he will increase in learning. The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding. For by me thy days shall be multiplied, and the years of thy life shall be increased.” (Proverbs 9:9-11 KJV)
>Ian, I believe the Creator of this beautiful Eastern Grass Owl has been very kind to your “Bucket List.” Over the years, you have seen and photographed numerous Avian Wonders that you have graciously shared with us.
May your New Year be a great one and, hopefully, your Birds of the Moment/Week articles might come more frequently again.
Surprise, surprise – another bird of the moment at last. The Brahminy Kite last featured as bird of the week in August 2003. In those days you got a single photo and a short paragraph of text, so here is a more thorough treatment. This is one of my favourite Australian raptors and the adults are striking looking birds with their white and chestnut plumage. They’re a common sight along the coast here in North Queensland, and the bird in the first two photos was photographed at Toomulla Beach, about 40km northwest of Townsville and not far from where I live in Bluewater.
The hooked beak is like that of the White-bellied Sea-Eagle, so it’s no surprise that they are adapted to eating fish, for which they both hunt and scavenge and are usually found near water, mainly coastal but also along larger rivers. They have, however, very broad tastes and will eat any flesh that they can catch or find, both vertebrate and invertebrate. It’s not unusual to see them cruising main roads looking for road-kill. With a length of about 50cm/20in and a wingspan of 1.2m/47in , they’re much smaller than sea-eagles (80cm/31in and 1.8-2.2m/71-87in), but their preferred habitat and diet means that they’re are often called sea-eagles by the general population.
The names “Brahminy” and Haliastur indus give a clue as to their geographical range, as they were first described in India. Their range extends from Pakistan in the west through south and southwest Asia to eastern China and Taiwan, and south through the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia to New Guinea and Australia. In Australia its range is mainly tropical from Carnarvon in Western Australia across northern Australia and down the east coast as far as about Myall Lakes in New South Wales, though it is uncommon south of Cape Byron. Its population in New South Wales contracted northwards owing to the use of persistent organochloride insecticides in the third quarter of the 20th century, but there is some evidence of recovery since then.
Immature birds differ greatly in appearance from the adults, third photo, and are easily confused with other raptors such as, in Australia, pale phase Little Eagles or immature Black-breasted Buzzards. Immature birds are also rather similar to their only close relative the Whistling Kite (Haliastur sphenurus), though Brahminy Kites have much shorter, rather eagle-like tails and shorter wings.
You may remember that I visited Slovakia in June 2016 with my sister Gillian. The main birding target was eagles, but despite the best efforts of our guides we had only limited success with such species as Lesser Spotted Eagle Eastern Imperial Eagle and Golden Eagle, and the local raptors didn’t seem at all keen on having their photos taken. So, there was a certain irony when I returned to Bluewater and found that my excellent house minders, Julie and Ed, had discovered a pair of Brahminy Kites nesting in my neighbour’s property, about 100m from my house (fifth photo). The grass is greener, etc. etc.
The birds attended the nest for about three months but disappointingly without success. The nest was high up, about 25m/80ft from the ground, so it wasn’t possible to see into it, so I don’t know what happened. Anyway, you can understand my delight when the birds returned again this year and restored the nest, sixth photo.
At the beginning of last week I finally spotted a healthy looking chick. It survived the unseasonable heavy rain we had last week (150mm/6in in five days) so I set up the camera and tripod, table, chair and coffee near the house and watched them in comfort at an unobtrusive distance for most of Friday afternoon. Sure enough, both adults arrived with food. The first, seventh photo, produced a flying fox (fruit bat), a Black Flying-fox I think, and spent an hour carefully tearing off tiny strips of muscle and feeding to the chick.
I was impressed with the gentle way the parent fed the youngster and itself. Eventually, the chick seemed satisfied, and lost interest in the meal. The adult bird slipped away as quietly as it had arrived – I didn’t see it leave – and I presume it took the remains of the fruit bat with it.
Within half an hour, the other adult arrived with a frog, I think a Green Tree Frog (ninth photo). This adult has whiter plumage and a longer beak than its partner, so they are not hard to distinguish.
The chick seemed satiated and not very interested, so the adult hungrily ate some of the frog itself and after a little while flew off taking the frog with it and went down to nearby Bluewater Creek.
Brahminy Kites usually lay 2 or 3 eggs, and often only one chick survives to fledging. Incubation takes about 35 days, and fledging 7 to 8 weeks. The young birds remain dependent on the adults for a further two months. This chick is about half the length of the adults and is beginning to grow proper feathers, including flight feathers on the wings, though these currently appear as just short quills.
I can see the nest through the trees from my back verandah, so it is easy to check on it. I plan to photograph progress over the coming weeks. A furry mammal, probably road-kill, was on the menu today.
Fantastic photos of the Brahminy Kite. It sure has been a while since Ian had a “Moment” to share another of his interesting post with us. Thanks, Ian. We always enjoy seeing and learning about your birds.
“And the vulture, and the kite after his kind;” (Leviticus 11:14 KJV)
“Then God said, “Let the waters abound with an abundance of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the face of the firmament of the heavens.” (Genesis 1:20 NKJV)