Ian’s Bird of the Moment – Brahminy Kite

Brahminy Kite (Haliastur indus) by Ian

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.

Brahminy Kite (Haliastur indus) by Ian

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.

Brahminy Kite (Haliastur indus) by Ian

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.Brahminy Kite (Haliastur indus) by Ian

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.

Brahminy Kite (Haliastur indus) by Ian

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.

Brahminy Kite (Haliastur indus) by Ian

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.

Brahminy Kite (Haliastur indus) by Ian

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.

Brahminy Kite (Haliastur indus) by Ian

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.

Brahminy Kite (Haliastur indus) by Ian

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 Kite (Haliastur indus) by Ian

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.

Brahminy Kite (Haliastur indus) by Ian

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.

Greetings
Ian


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.

For more of Ian’s Bird of the Week – Moments

“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)

Accipitridae – Kites, Hawks & Eagles Family

Birds of the Bible – Gledes and Kites

*

Bird of the Moment ~ Restless Flycatcher

Restless Flycatcher (Myiagra inquieta) by Ian

Bird of the Moment ~ Restless Flycatcher ~ by Ian Montgomery

Some weeks ago I went to Toonpan a dry pasture area outside Townsville which is good for dry country birds such as Bustards and often produces unusual birds. There were a couple of Restless Flycatchers there hawking for insects and I found out later that this species has never featured as bird of the moment, an omission we’ll rectify now.

They are dapper birds, smart in their glossy black and white plumage and long tail. They bare a superficial resemblance to the similarly sized Willie Wagtail, but the species is a member of the Monarch Flycatcher family rather than the Fantails. The nominate larger type inquieta breeds in eastern, southern and southwestern Australia, but not in Tasmania or eastern Western Australia (the Nullabor). The smaller type nana occurs in northern Australia from northwestern Queensland through the Top End of the Northern Territory to northeastern Western Australia.

Restless Flycatcher (Myiagra inquieta) by Ian

Taxonomists disagree as to whether these types should be treated as conspecific or separate species. I’m treating them as separate ones here, so ‘Restless Flycatcher’ refers to the southern one, and ‘Paperbark Flycatcher’ to the northern one. Both are mainly sedentary, but there is some northward movement of the Restless Flycatcher in winter here in northeastern Queensland it is a winter visitor.

Restless Flycatcher (Myiagra inquieta) by Ian

Restless Flycatchers have a characteristic hovering flight when hawking for insects and this one at Toonpan was doing just this between me and the afternoon sun in the second, third and fourth photos. There were all taken within an elapsed time of one second and in the third one, it is turning away from whatever attracted its attention in the first two. When hawking like this, they make ‘grinding, churring sounds’ (to quote Pizzey and Knight) which are supposed to disturb insects into flight. For this reason, the species is sometimes called the Scissors Grinder.

Restless Flycatcher (Myiagra inquieta) by Ian

The fifth photo shows one of the two birds checking out the vegetation along a barbed wire fence. It’s not, as it might appear, flying towards the fence. Rather it had been perched on the fence seconds before and is making its way down the side of it.

Restless Flycatcher (Myiagra inquieta) by Ian

The Restless Flycatcher builds a beautiful nest of grass, bark and spiders’ webs on a horizontal branch, sixth photo with a usual clutch size of three. The nest is typically decorated or maybe camouflaged with lichen. In this photo, you can see the broad, flat bill characteristic of Monarch Flycatchers.

Restless Flycatcher (Myiagra inquieta) by Ian

Restless Flycatchers are usually found near water. The one in the seventh photo is having a drink from a river.

Restless Flycatcher (Myiagra inquieta) by Ian

Here is the Paperbark Flycatcher, eight photo. The best way I know to separate it from the Restless Flycatcher is by range, though the Paperbark is smaller (17-19cm versus 19-22cm) and supposed to be glossier and have a darker back. The calls are supposed to be slightly different, though they sound much the same to me.

Paperbark Flycatcher (Myiagra nana) by Ian

The Paperbark Flycatcher also builds a cup-shaped nest on a horizontal branch, ninth photo, but the sources I have don’t mention bark as building material, or lichen as a decoration. As with the Restless Flycatcher, both genders share in nest-building, incubation and rearing of the chicks.

Restless Flycatcher (Myiagra inquieta) by Ian

If we treat Restless and Paperbark as separate species, then the Restless is an Australian endemic, The Paperbark isn’t as it also occurs in southern New Guinea on both sides of the Indonesian-PNG border.

Greetings,
Ian


Lee’s Addition:

“And my people shall dwell in a peaceable habitation, and in sure dwellings, and in quiet resting places;” (Isaiah 32:18 KJV)

What interesting Flycatchers Ian has introduced us to. His “Moment” seems to get longer each time. Maybe one day, Ian may get back to his “Bird of the Week.”  :)

Keep up the good work, Ian. We enjoy your birds whenever they fly our way.

Ian’s Bird of the Week/Moment – Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo

Ian’s Bird of the Week/Moment – Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo by Ian Montgomery

Scarlet Macaw (Ara macao) by Ian

The bird of the week has, regrettably, been so irregular over the last year or so, that I can’t pretend anymore that it’s a weekly event, or even a monthly one for that matter. These days we’re supposed to achieve peace of mind by living in the now, I’ve renamed the series Bird of the Moment.

In the last one on Macaws, I finished with this photo of a Scarlet Macaw feeding on an introduced Terminalia tree in Costa Rica and mentioned that the fruit of same species (T. cappata) is equally popular with Red-tailed Black-Cockatoos along The Strand in Townsville. Here is a pair with the male on the right whispering sweet phrases to the female two days before Valentine’s Day: she looks very receptive. You can see the female has spots on the head, barring on the body and a barred panels in the tail against a background of red and yellow. The male has glossy black plumage and scarlet, unbarred panels in the tail.

Red-tailed Black Cockatoo (Calyptorhynchus banksii) by Ian

These Cockatoos are quite common in the Townsville District and for me, it was love and first sight when I arrived here in 2002. They are spectacular birds, very large (to 65cm/25in in length) with a wonderful leisurely ‘rowing’ flight, long tails and a permanent smile. They are often heard before being seen both when perched and in flight, owing to their haunting, far-carrying, trumpeting calls, which are positively melodious compared with the ear-shattering screeches of their ubiquitous white relatives, the Sulphur-crested Cockatoo. They’re remarkably tame too and seem to enjoy being photographed.

Terminalia sp

Terminalia grow readily from seedlings, and Jo Wieneke gave me some seedlings when I moved to Bluewater in 2013, which I planted with the sole aim of attracting these Cockatoos, above. These belong to a different species of Terminalia with smaller leaves and fruit. The fruit of T. cappata, the ‘Beach Almond’ are about the size of walnuts; these ones are more like smallish, hard, black olives. The three trees all lean to the left, a legacy of cyclone Yasi in 2011, called the ‘Yasi lean’. Since then the trees have tried to correct this defect by growing vertically at the base and the top – easiest to see in the left-most tree – and growing thicker branches on the right-hand side, presumably as a counter-balance.

The trees started flowering and fruiting about three years ago, and I was delighted when they had their first visit from a lone Black-Cockatoo. Last November, the trees had an abundant harvest, and a pair of Cockatoos came each evening at about 4:30 pm (and maybe before I surfaced in the morning) and thoroughly until they had completely stripped all fruit. The birds are wonderfully acrobatic (below) and their preferred way of eating is to snip off a twig, hold it in one foot, stand on the other foot, prise open the hard shell to get at the kernel in the middle and discard both the shells and the twigs.

Red-tailed Black Cockatoo (Calyptorhynchus banksii) by Ian

The shells are quite hard and I cut one open to see what was inside and found the kernel is tiny, so it seemed like a lot of effort for a relatively small reward. In the photo below, the male is using the pointed tip of the upper mandible to extract the kernel from the cracked shell. They drop a lot of unopened fruit and several months later a small flock of cockatoos came round to feed on the ground under the trees.

Red-tailed Black Cockatoo (Calyptorhynchus banksii) by Ian

The coloured panels on the tail are not easy to see except when the birds spread the tail feathers, either when taking off, landing or doing a sudden manoeuvre in flight. Presumably, it is an important signal to other members of the flock. Black-Cockatoos seem to form long-term pair-bonds which are maintained even when they flock, so I wonder whether the variability in the colour of the panels of females (the one below has much red and little yellow) help the males identify their mates.

Red-tailed Black Cockatoo (Calyptorhynchus banksii) by Ian

The next photo shows a male just after take-off and showing his red panels to best advantage.

Red-tailed Black Cockatoo (Calyptorhynchus banksii) by Ian

Here is a female on the beach at Horseshoe Bay on Magnetic Island. She looks as if she’s contemplating a swim – you can see the edge of the water in the background – but it is more likely that she is looking for fruits from the casuarinas growing along the foreshore. In the absence of introduced Terminalia trees, the birds feed on the fruit of native trees including those of Eucalyptus and Pandanus.

Red-tailed Black Cockatoo (Calyptorhynchus banksii) by Ian

The Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo is the most widespread of the five species of Black-Cockatoo, all of which are Australian endemic.s (I’m not including the Palm Cockatoo which belongs to a different genus and occurs in Cape York and across New Guinea.) The other four species are the Glossy (eastern Australia); the Yellow-tailed (eastern and southern Australia and Tasmania) and the Long-billed and Short-billed (both have white tails and are restricted to SW Western Australia). The Red-tailed has five subspecies which differ in size and in the colour of the tail panels in females: the largest, nominate race banksii (Queensland and northern NSW); the large-billed macrorhynchus (Northern Territory and NW Western Australia); the smaller samueli in central Australia; also in (SW Western Australia); and graptogyne (western Victoria and SE South Australia).

Red-tailed Black Cockatoo (Calyptorhynchus banksii) by Ian

The three birds in the last photo belong to the large-billed race macrorhynchus, and presumably are a family with the female on the left and the male on the right. The bird in the centre has female-like plumage but a black bill – females have whitish bills – so is probably a juvenile male; juvenile males take about four years to acquire the adult male plumage. Family bonding would appear to be important and you often see these birds in groups of three.

I’ve been slack about the Bird of the Moment; I have however been working on the website. The latest inclusions include a gallery of Dragonflies and one of Butterflies and Moths, and there are various additions to the bird galleries.

Greetings,
Ian


Lee’s Addition:

“Oh that men would praise the LORD for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men!” (Psalms 107:8 KJV)

Thanks, Ian, for an update. I had begun to think you were not able to provide any more of these great articles for us. You are missed when we fail to hear from you.

It appears that the series of blog posts of Ian’s will be renamed. Starting with his next article, the title will be “Ian’s Bird of the Moment.” It is an appropriate name for the series, as most birdwatchers are watching “birds of the moment.”

Not sure if you readers were aware, but Ian has been dealing with a serious eye problem. That is difficult for such a good photographer to deal with. Glad he is improving so he can keep us informed about God’s amazing flying avian wonders.