Articles by members
A visit to northern Australia
by Margaret and Eric Smith
Margaret and Eric Smith are both BirdLife Australia members who reside in Echuca. This article was written late in 2011.
Fortunate to have long service leave, we had nearly three months, mostly in Queensland. We thought that, with a bit of good luck, we could add 30 birds to our life list and get a tally of 250 for the trip. But serendipitous luck intervened and we are absolutely delighted.
Four days out from Echuca, staying at Kidman’s Camp Resort at North Bourke, we go for a morning wander down towards the Darling River and, in half an hour, spot at least 33 species, including Rufous Songlark, Pale headed Rosella and a whole flock of Red-winged Parrots. We’d already seen some Striped Honeyeaters, Hooded Robins and some very attentive Crested Bellbirds at Gundabooka National Park between Cobar and Bourke.
Then it was off into Queensland, having added a mere one new species to our life list the whole way through NSW. This was not looking very hopeful.
Then we arrived at Bowra Station, a few kilometres out of Cunnamulla. We’d read in our local newsletter of the enthusiastic appreciation of others. There were not a lot of birds in early July 2011, but we quickly snapped a great photo of a Horsfield’s Bronze Cuckoo, very hospitably sitting on an open low branch.
Only a couple of hundred metres away was a vociferous family of Chestnut-crowned Babblers.
Chestnut-crowned Babbler (David Ong)
Quietly driving and walking around next day, we spotted three birds on the ground that quickly disappeared behind some bushes (what’s new?) but, whilst we have no photo, we reckon they were Ground Cuckoo-shrikes – a first. Leaving the next day, we saw a large mixed gathering of Brolgas and Emus near the airstrip between Bowra and Cunnamulla.
Travelling north and then west via Barcaldine beyond Winton, we dropped into Combo Billabong, the reputed site of the events that led to Banjo Paterson’s song. Whilst we were quietly trilling the song looking for any signs of the Waltzing Matilda ghost, there was a pair of Silver-crowned Friarbirds ~ much better than a ghost and a new bird.
As we were arriving at Cloncurry and pulling into Gilbert Park CP in Cloncurry, there was such a noise – quickly traced to a whole clan of varied lorikeets – another newbie.
Deciding it was time to head back to the coast through this big sky country, we were happily trundling along when we noticed a large bird sitting on a fence post. Didn’t seem to match most things, so we stealthily wandered over to where this youngish Wedge-tailed Eagle was not moving for any reason: photo taken at two metres! (The photo is at the top of this page. Ed.)
And not much later there was a suicidal Australian Pratincole sitting in the middle of the Flinders Highway, only deigning to move when we had slowed right down – another first.
Australian Pratincole (David Ong)
Still heading east, we came upon the swamp at Pentland between Hughenden and Charters Towers. What a wetland! We added Cotton Pygmy-goose and saw the best collection of water birds for the whole trip so far. But no Pelicans.
Then it was north up to Undara lava tubes (not to be missed) and the Atherton Tablelands and this is where the fun started. Even before arriving in the Wet Tropics officially, at 40 Mile Scrub NP, we saw both Bridled and Yellow-spotted Honeyeaters. This was looking better.
Over the next five weeks we criss-crossed the tablelands, went up to Cooktown, into the Daintree and down the tropical coast through Cairns and further south, adding more than 50 to our life list. This includes 10 of the 12 Wet Tropic endemics: Grey-headed Robin, Atherton Scrubwren, Victoria’s Riflebird, Bowers Shrike-thrush, Mountain Thornbill, Fernwren, Chowchilla, Pied Monarch, Bridled Honeyeater and Macleay’s Honeyeater. But no pelicans.
Some of the great moments included sitting beside our motorhome at Kingfisher Park, Julatten, and the one and only Yellow-billed Boatbill we saw all trip flew into the tree next to us and let himself be photographed. Or checking some photos at night and finding there were two honeyeaters in that tree, not just the one we had thought and both were new! Or giving up on ever seeing a Blue-faced Parrot-finch, though everyone assured us down that lane near Julatten was a sure thing, and just catching a glimpse on our second visit and there it was nefariously hiding behind a whole lot of greenery – not photographable but definitely identified.
Coming back from Cooktown, we decided to go back to Kingfisher Park and, not long after we arrived, there was a flurry of activity and a young Rufous Owl was pointed out to all eager birdos. Then there was the Collared Kingfisher that sat in the mud for so long it seemed to be stuck there (Tookalea Beach north of Townsville).
Collared Kingfisher (Eric Smith)
Mareeba Wetlands, Abattoir Swamp, Mt Hypipamee, Lakes Eacham and Barrine, Millstream Falls, Kuranda, Cairns Mangrove walk (and you had better believe it when the book says the bugs are ferocious) and Esplanade, Tyto Wetlands at Ingham, and many more – each with a larger or smaller collection of birds.
By the way, we saw our first pelicans at Lucinda, near Ingham, 63 days into our trip!
We’re very grateful to the people who write bird books, to Keith and Lindsay Fisher at Kingfisher Park, and to Del Richards, Carol Iles and Murray Hunt for the tours we undertook, answering our many southerners’ questions.
Some of the birds we saw we like to think were down to hard work and experience, but others were purely serendipitous, just happening to be in the right place at the right. Sure there were some disappointments, but there’s always another trip, maybe at a different time of year (but then we would have to handle the tropical humidity!)
Overall, we saw 297 species, including 88 additions to our life-list! We returned with a renewed sense of the beauty, fragility and massive size of this island continent, with all its diversity. We hope we do our bit to care for country and give the birds the best chance for life.
The Magpies of Victoria Street
by Peter Allan
Branch President Peter Allan resides in Rochester, Victoria≥ For several years he has observed the behaviour of magpies in his street. This article was written during 2009.
Since 2002 at least, Yellow-rumped Thornbills have nested in an old paperbark tea tree on the nature strip next to our driveway in Victoria Street Rochester.
Each year they build a new nest and raise two clutches. One of the earlier nesters, they usually start building late in July, their bulky nests suspended from the outer branches, usually within about three metres of the ground. Except for 2003, they were sited on the most-protected north-east side of the 11 metre tall, dense tree. In 2003 the nest was built at about eight metres on the south-west side of the tree.
Their nests are notable for their bulky size and false cup nest on top of the actual domed egg chamber. No definite reason has been given for this unique habit. Certainly, bronze-cuckoos are not fooled, as they parasitise the thornbills.
The first clutch of three or four eggs is laid by late August or early September, while the second clutch is laid within two to three weeks of the first young quitting the nest. The birds feed mainly on lawns or nature strips or in low shrubs in an area of about one street block.
It is not possible to identify the birds individually and the young are similar to the adults. Usually two or three young fly but they tend to disappear. It is a dangerous habitat, with cars, cats, dogs and native avian predators. Their small size means any victims are easily carried off and bodies hard to find.
They have been one of my favourite species since childhood when we knew them as Tom Tits or Butter Bums. They survived around dairy farms, adapting to conifers and box thorns. Later, in the Western District, I found them nesting under ravens’ nests.
Once the old paperbarks are gone from Rochester’s streets, the thornbills will have to move on.
The demise of Banded Lapwings near Rochester
by Peter Allan
MaFor several yhears, Brfanch President Peter Allan has watched a grouped of Baded Lapwings in the Rochester disgtrict. Whilst many are still observed near Terrick Terrick National Park, those which Peter has observed over the years appear to have perished or have moved on. This article was written during 2009.
Banded Lapwing (D Ong)
Up to eight years ago, I had four groups of Banded Lapwings under regular observation in our district ~ in particular two groups near Rochester. All were on grazing land, three on grazing-cropping farms and the other on a dry paddock of a dairy farm.
Four years ago the dairy paddock was laser-graded, re-sown and irrigated. Two other areas were turned over to cropping about three years ago.
Finally, last year, the rather stony hillside which had supported at least three pairs nesting and up to 20 Banded Lapwings was ploughed and planted to grain. It was re-sown this year. Despite regular searches on these and surrounding properties, no Banded Lapwing has been found.
Nor can I locate any in or near the other three areas.
It appears that Banded Lapwings require short grass in drier fields. Lush growth and crops are totally unsuitable. With so much former sheep country converted to cropping since the fall in wool prices, the improvements to dairy farms and hobby farms intruding onto such areas as Elmore and Raywood, the Banded Lapwing’s days in much of our district are limited.
Other ground-nesting birds may also be affected. Has anyone else noticed a similar pattern?
With farmers selling water rights, hopefully things may change.
* A farmer responded that when water rights are sold, farmers are more likely to plough the land up for crops rather than allowing grassland to regenerate. KS.
A mob of Banded Lapwings near Terrick Terrick National Park during 2009 (D Ong)
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