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.