Ian’s Bird of the Week – Masked Woodswallow

Masked Woodswallow (Artamus personatus) by Ian

Ian’s Bird of the Week – Masked Woodswallow ~ by Ian Montgomery

Newsletter – 8/14/14

When I was taking location photos along the inland route to Paluma several weeks ago, I came across a mixed flock of a couple of hundred Masked and White-browed Woodswallows. The White-browed featured as bird of the week in 2005, but the Masked hasn’t so here it is. The males in particular, first photo, are very elegant with a sharply defined, very black mask, soft grey back, almost white underparts and a white crescent between the mask and the back of the head.

The females, second photo, are similar to the males with less contrasting plumage, only a subtle crescent, and a buff wash to the upper breast. The yellow specks on the mask and breast of this female are pollen – these primarily insectivorous birds also feed on nectar, particularly in northern Australia in winter.

Masked Woodswallow (Artamus personatus) by Ian
The female in the second photo and the juvenile in the third photo were in a mixed flock of Masked and White-browed that spent a week or so feeding on the locally common Fern-leaved Grevillea near where I live in 2005. The juveniles are similar to the females, but with browner plumage with pale spots and streaks.

Masked Woodswallow (Artamus personatus) by Ian

The ‘swallow’ part of the name comes from their buoyant, gliding flight and not because they are related to real swallows (family Hirundinidae). Rather, they are related to the Australian Magpie, Butcherbirds and Currawongs, usually combined in the one family, the Artamidae. There is an obvious similarity to the Magpie and Butcherbirds in their general form and bi-coloured bills and they are also quite aggressive, Woodswallows being quick to mob raptors in flight. The ‘personatus’ part of the scientific name comes from the Latin persona, meaning mask, a derivation that amused me when I though of show business ‘personalities’.

The White-browed and Masked Woodswallows are very closely related species, even though their respective plumages are quite distinct. They are both very nomadic and occur throughout mainland Australia, though not Tasmania. They often occur together in large mixed flocks. In eastern Australia, the White-browed predominates; in Western Australia, the Masked is more numerous and may occur alone. The two species will even nest together in small mixed colonies and occasionally interbreed.

Links:
Artamidae
Masked Woodswallow
White-browed Woodswallow

Greetings
Ian

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Ian Montgomery, Birdway Pty Ltd,
454 Forestry Road, Bluewater, Qld 4818
Tel 0411 602 737 ian@birdway.com.au
Bird Photos http://www.birdway.com.au/
Recorder Society http://www.nqrs.org.au


Lee’s Addition:

“Even the stork in the heavens Knows her appointed times; And the turtledove, the swift, and the swallow Observe the time of their coming. But My people do not know the judgment of the LORD. (Jeremiah 8:7 NKJV)

What a neat looking bird. I especially like the clean line around his “mask”. We have seen Woodswallows in a zoo, but not this kind and not in the wild. That last photo is a super photo. Thanks, Ian, for sharing with us.

Swallows and Woodswallows are in two different families. Woodswallows are in the Artamidae – Woodswallows Family while the Hirundinidae Family has the Swallows and Martins.

Here is a photo of  White-breasted Woodswallows that we saw at Zoo Miami:

White-breasted Woodswallow (Artamus leucorynchus amydrus) by Lee ZM

White-breasted Woodswallow (Artamus leucorynchus amydrus) by Lee ZM

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Ian’s Bird of the Week – Tooth-billed Bowerbird II

Tooth-billed Bowerbird (Scenopoeetes dentirostris) Court by Ian

Tooth-billed Bowerbird (Scenopoeetes dentirostris) Court by Ian

Ian’s Bird of the Week – Tooth-billed Bowerbird ~ by Ian Montgomery

Newsletter ~ 10/9/13

At the weekend, I followed some friends for an overnight stay at Paluma, the small village in highland rainforest about 60km north of Townsville. and they took me to view 4 display courts of the Tooth-billed Bowerbird near the village that they had already checked out. This species featured as bird of the week three years ago, but it’s an interesting subject and I got better photos this time. In contrast to some of the bowerbirds, it is sombre in plumage and cryptic in pattern but makes up for this with unique behaviour.

Alone among the promiscuous bowerbirds (the catbirds are monogamous), the male doesn’t build a bower to attract females but has a display platform or court, a cleared space on the forest floor with a central tree trunk or stem and it decorates the court with the leaves of rainforest trees, carefully placed lower side up. The central tree in the first photo is smaller than usual, but I’ve chosen this one as there are signs of the bird having chewed through some offending shoot near to it to keep the space clear. The same court is used from one year to another and the courts of different males may be relatively close proximity (50-100m/yards) to each other in what is called an extended lek. and there were four courts along the path where we were.

Tooth-billed Bowerbird (Scenopoeetes dentirostris) by Ian

The males sing a strange, loud and varied song with lots of mimicry from perches above the court. So during the breeding season – September to January – they are quite easy to find. The vegetation in their preferred habitat is dense so hearing them is easier than seeing them and seeing them is easier than photographing them: the second photo is a fairly typical view of one through the foliage.

 Tooth-billed Bowerbird (Scenopoeetes dentirostris) by Ian

When they’re singing, they are fairly approachable and I got quite close to this one before it flew up onto an unencumbered branch above the court and continued singing in full view (third photo). The fourth photo is cropped to show both the toothed edge to the lower mandible and the ridged inside of the upper one, a clever designed mechanism of chewing off leaves. Some while later, at another court we saw a male pick and drop a leaf, which it let fall. It then picked another on and flew off with it in the direction of its court. Apparently, it is not unusual for the birds to steal the leaves of other males, so there is the same competition for accumulating decorations as in other bowerbirds.

Tooth-billed Bowerbird (Scenopoeetes dentirostris) by Ian

I recorded the calls of three males on my phone and included one of the files below.

Last week, I mentioned a pending Snake of the Week and this aroused some interest, so here it is. I photographed this small whip snake seven years ago in a dry area in far Northwestern Queensland near the border with the Northern Territory. We tried to identify it by consulting a weighty tome on the Reptiles of Australia, but failed to find anything that quite matched it and gave up.

Sombre Whip Snake by Ian

Sombre Whip Snake by Ian

Some years later, I bought the 2008 edition of A Complete Guide to the Reptiles of Australia by Steve Wilson and Gerry Swan. It contains an Appendix which starts: “Late in the preparation of this 2008 revised second edition, a timely study of small tropical whip snakes (Demansia) was published. The work formally recognises additional species of these swift diurnal snakes, some of which have been familiar to herpetologists for many years.” So, there you are: the first time I’ve photographed a yet to be described species of vertebrate; it doesn’t often happen with birds.

I’ve been adding Primates http://www.birdway.com.au/primates/index.htm, Lizards http://www.birdway.com.au/lacertilia/index.htm and Snakes http://www.birdway.com.au/ophidia/index.htm to the Other Wildlife section of the website, hence the interest in snakes.

Best wishes
Ian

**************************************************
Ian Montgomery, Birdway Pty Ltd,
454 Forestry Road, Bluewater, Qld 4818
Tel 0411 602 737 ian@birdway.com.au
Bird Photos http://www.birdway.com.au/
Recorder Society http://www.nqrs.org.au


Lee’s Addition:

What a neat bird and description of them. Now we not only get to see them, but hear them also. Thanks again, Ian, for allowing me to share these newsletters.

The snake, is interesting also, though I am not a big snake fan. I know most are beneficial and I don’t go out of my way to kill them, I just keep my distance.

White-eared Catbird (Ailuroedus buccoides) at National Aviary

White-eared Catbird (Ailuroedus buccoides) at National Aviary

Bowerbirds are an interesting group of birds. They belong to the Ptilonorhynchidae – Bowerbirds Family, which has twenty members currently. Looking at the Family page, I realized this is the second time Ian has written about the Tooth-billed Bowerbird. That was in August of 2010.

Fawn-breasted Bowerbird (Chlamydera cerviniventris) Bower at Zoo Miami

Fawn-breasted Bowerbird (Chlamydera cerviniventris) Bower at Zoo Miami

We were able to see the White-eared Catbird at Zoo Miami and at the National Aviary. At Zoo Miami, the keeper showed me the bower of the Fawn-breasted Bowerbird. You can see how he lined his bower with leaves. Unfortunately the birds were off display at the time.

White-eared Catbird (Ailuroedus buccoides) – Photo by Lee at Zoo Miami

White-eared Catbird (Ailuroedus buccoides) – Photo by Lee at Zoo Miami

Bowerbirds by Ian – Photos

Ian’s Bird of the Week

Tooth-billed Bowerbird – Wikipedia

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