Tuesday, 19 October 2021

A visit to Mullet Creek

 This little area of rainforest at the junction of Lakeside Drive and Karbeethong Avenue is always interesting.  The highlights of today's outing are covered below.  

Very close to the entrance a pair of Superb Lyrebirds were digging around and finding plenty of food.

One bird is quite obvious but the second is a little hidden on the RHS with just the tail feathers protruding.  A crop might assist!
They were being very vocal.  To my surprise they weren't obviously interacting just being noisy as they scratched around.  I hope this link presents my recording of the sounds.  (When I replayed this to the birds they immediately started to display, so I turned off the replay PDQ.)

Then a Black-faced Monarch appeared.  No other royalty were seen.
As I was leaving I stopped on the small bridge to check for Azure (Ascher?) Kingfisher and was lucky enough to get a couple of reasonable images.

The Kite watcher

Anyone who has read the excellent book "The Kite Runner" will be unsurprised  by what is going on in Kabul at present and not feeling hopeful about the future of that country.  However this post is far more pleasant, and about birds not stick and paper structures.

The story sort of begins in 2020 when a pair of Whistling Kites were very noisy around some Angophora floribunda trees very near our house.  (Incidentally, that species of tree, after which our street is named, is only found, in Victoria in this area.)  Nothing came of that event and they went and bred elsewhere.  In mid-July 2021 Frances saw a bird fly in carrying a branch but we didn't spot any further activity.

On 21 August I noticed a Kite perched in a high and exposed position in the tree and took a photo.  On checking that I had the twig  front of the bird in focus (pity about the bird ...) 

... I noticed the second bird sitting to the right of the frame.  Taking another photo and the second bird was clearly on a nest!  As it was late in the day I have post-edited the exposure of this second image to give a better view of the bird on the nest.
Somewhat later I set up my telescope in the road to allow some friends on an exercise walk to view the birds through my telescope, while they caught their breath.  Initially the bird on the nest was eating something that had been brought in and after a while the other bird joined in and both fed.  (I didn't have my camera or my digiscoping adapter to capture this.)

This seems like an excellent opportunity to study a breeding episode and I intend to update this blog throughout the period.  The length of the period is a little unknown as I am assuming there are eggs in the nest but I don't know when they were first laid.  HANZAB gives the incubation period as at least 38 days.  There will then be about 5 weeks with nestlings!  My intention is to record interesting events and milestones in this post.

From Google Earth the nest is about 25 m horizontally from my observation post on our deck.  Taking an approximate sighting on the nest with a protractor and using the excellent interactive diagram in this site, I was able to calculate the nest as being ~20m above our lawn.

The first updates are from 22 August.
  • As a Kite flew in over our house it was harassed by a Masked Lapwing which I assume to be the non-brooding bird of the pair nested on the lawn of our neighbour on the side away from the Kites nest.  The lapwing nest is about 50 horizontal metres from the Kite's nest.  We foresee interesting times, and probably a lot of noise, when the Lapwing chicks hatch.
  • The Kites usually call as they leave or arrive at nest.
  • Late in the afternoon of 22 August I was getting in some washing and heard much vocalising from the area of the nest.  Then three kites flew out of the copse. One promptly went back to the nest while the other two grappled talons and tumbled, linked together down from ~30 m up to about 2 m above the ground. One returned to the vicinity of the nest, the other to a low branch: after 5 min the intruder flew off.
The wind was very strong throughout 24th August and the nest seemed empty for much of the day. The branch it is on was moving around considerably in the tempest and I wondered if it had been abandoned.  The wind was still strong on 25th  but when I checked at 0708 hrs an adult was locked in position: they must have had a good serve of dramamine!

The adults appeared to have nicked off again later on 25th so I consulted a raptor expert.  Their advice was:
"I couldn’t say or guess whether they have abandoned.  Eggs can take a fair bit of chilling (hot sun is more quickly fatal), but the other thing  is, a parent kite might not be very visible if hunkered down low in the nest and the tail is pointing away from the viewer.  Maybe one is on the nest more often than is apparent, depending  on how well you can see the nest and attending adult.  Or maybe the eggs have hatched and the chicks are big enough (downy and feathering) to be left alone for periods, and are hunkered down flat in bad weather.  I guess time will tell, and you might ascertain more when  the weather is better.  If the nest has failed, the adults will probably have another go soon."
I checked the nest at 0640 (just daylight, and cloudy, but far less windy than the previous 2 days) on 26 August.  Both birds were standing in the nest, apparently eating.  The lighter-coloured bird moved off to preen on a nearby branch while the other settled down in the nest.  On our way back from our walk (about 0810 an adult flew in towards the nest with a Masked Lapwing in hot pursuit.  At about 0920 I saw one adult fly in, and its talons were clearly empty.  It moved to the edge of the nest and appeared to regurgitate 'something' which the incubating bird appeared to eat.  I'm not sure if that is normal behaviour.  Around 1010 I was checking with telescope and the bird on the nest was eating something red and bloody.

On 28 August both birds seemed to spend some time in the nest, which wasn't being blown around as much as on previous days.  The Lapwing chicks had emerged and one of the adults flew up to the Kite nest to squawk at the occupants.

Around 1 September the Lapwing family walked away and were last seen on the far side of the road about 100m away.  Despite this added distance on 3 September I saw an adult Lapwing pursue a flying Kite with the situation being resolved by the Kite barrel rolling and showing its talons to the Lapwing, which decided discretion was the better idea.

The Kites had been spending more time visible on the nest with the better weather from 30 August to 3 September. On 4 September the wind was not noticeable but there was very steady rain.  When I first checked the nest I thought it was empty but then saw a head just visible beside a framing branch.
On 8 September there was a minor ruckus as a Pied Currawong appeared neat the nest.  It was driven away very promptly.

On 14 and 15 September the bird on the nest (or birds as I can't tell whether it is the same ne all the time) seemed very restless, and doing a fair bit on structural maintenance on the next while sitting in it.  I didn't see them add any new twigs, but there seemed a fair bit of shifting existing material around.  They were also quite vocal: mainly quiet calls rather than the well known whistling call.

16 September was much the same as the previous 2 days.  It was interesting to note how much the sitting bird "sank into" the nest.  Even with my telescope focused on the nest it required careful looking to spot some tail feathers at one end and the crown just visible at the other.  It is now at least 26 days since I first noticed the occupied nest: from the information in HANZAB the chicks should hatch by 28 September. (As the birds are so obvious when flying in to the nest I am inclined to think we didn't miss much of the sitting period: but we did overlook the nest building, so who knows.)

The birds were very vocal on 22 September with the sitting bird calling about once a minute and answered by another nearby.  Then a second bird flew in, and they swapped positions, continuing to call.  A third bird then called from some distance away and both birds from the nesting pair took off - presumably to repel the potential intruder.

I don't know what was going on on 23 September.   The nest was vacated early in the morning and stayed vacant all day.  Still empty in the morning of 24 September.  I did see a Kite carry a stick into a different tree in the copse of Angophoras later in the morning.  Around 1018 (timestamp on photo) there was a prolonged aerial battle with a pair of Masked Lapwings.

For about 3 weeks after 24 September the nest remained empty but the Kites were still in the area.  On 12 or 13 October a bird was seen sitting in the old nest.  A second Kite flew in carrying prey and fed it to the sitting bird. Around 0630 on 15 October a bird flew in to the copse carrying a twiggy branch about 50 cm long.  After a pause away from the nest it flew up to the nest and passed the branch to the sitting bird, which stood up and commenced placing the branch in the structure of the nest.  I have no idea what is going on!

On 19 October at 0710 both birds were in the nest, with the lighter bird feeding on something dropped in the nest.

Monday, 18 October 2021

Excellent display of sun (and other) orchids

Today we started with a walk on the Captains Creek Fire trail hoping for some orchids.  It was an amazing display of sun orchids from here 'til breakfast!

Most of the sun orchids were Thelymitra ixioides.  In many places there were 15-20 spikes visible at once.  Wenoticed there were few in the shady gullies.

Lyperanthus suavolens (Brown Beaks) were in a few spots but greatly reduced in numbers compared to a few weeks ago.
Caladenia carnea were along the track in many places.  Note the Kennedia prosrata in the background.
There were still many Caleana major (Large Flying Duck Orchid) along the way.  It was usually the case that one flower would be spotted then looking around carefully 6 or more other flowers would be seen.
The commonest Donkey Orchid in the early part of the walk was Diuris orientis (Wallflower Orchid).  We found it in the traditional pattern (albeit somewhat battered) ...
.. and the less common all-yellow form.
Towards our turn point (just before the long downhill to the Inlet) we found a fair cluster of Diuris sulphurea.
Glossodia major was reasonably common throughout the walk, but the flowers were looking somewhat pale, as though sun bleached.
After returning to the cars we moved to the powerlines heath which was a stunning display of flowers.  We found two additional species of orchids, which I am ashamed to say I couldn't identify.  

This first one appeared much redder in the field but neither of my references mention spots on the commoner red species.  It has been identified by an expert as a hybrid of T. ixioides - presumably with T. carnea.
Another blue sun orchid but with a very large leaf (just visible in the second image below). This has been identified as T. aristata: again the books don't mention the spots!

Birds were as usual not that visible on the walk although quite a bit of song was audible.  Pallid and Fan-tailed Cuckoos were heard.  The bird highlight was a Painted Buttonquail which exploded out of the vegetation as we walked by.

A Lace Monitor trotted across the track before I could get the camera out.  Insects were represented by this grasshopper,

Friday, 15 October 2021

Spoonbills get more interesting

 Spoonbills are always interesting.  I have described a breeding effort by birds of this species at Kelly's Swamp in Canberra in http://canberrabirds.org.au/wp-content/canberra-bird-notes/cbnvol33no3.pdf (starting on p14).  In the Mallacoota area my major interest has been the contrast between recent observations:

  • Royal Spoonbills being common while 
  • I have never seen a Yellow-billed Spoonbill in the area  and 
  • Ebird only has 4 records - 1 in 2020 seen by 4 observers; other sightings in 2007, 1991 and 1981
and comments by Bruce Pascoe, writing in 1979, that the Yellow-billed is quite common while the Royal is occasionally seen on sand bars and the Genoa Flats.  

I have no explanation (so far) for this contrast.

The catalyst for this post was seeing, on 14 October, 4 Royal Spoonbills, apparently gathering nesting material, in the canopy of a large shrub beside the Broome St Lagoon.  This is very clearly visible from the boardwalk.
They were clearly applying their bills to the vegetation.
On the morning of the 15th a good proportion of the flock were feeding in the Inlet nearby.
As we returned, the back-lighting gave an artistic effect.
Backlighting rules!
Meanwhile there is still activity going on in the canopy.
Bills have other uses than gathering nest material.
In this image there are clearly 5 birds up in the canopy.  I am sure they are building nests up there!
On the subject of artistic photos, Frances spotted this reflection in the Lagoon!

Saturday, 9 October 2021

Birds on Quarry and Secret Beaches

 We went to walk on Quarry Beach on the evening of 8 October.  The tide was very low so we got to look at the exposed rocks, which at the Eastern end of the beach were almost devoid of shelled life.  We saw  some playful whales somewhat offshore but I wasn't able to get any photographs.  

At the Western end of the beach some Great Cormorants posed nicely.  While they have made a start I think it will be a while before guano harvesting becomes a commercial prospect.

Due to the low tide we were able to scurry on to Secret Beach by going round the end of the rocks.  An Eastern Reef Egret perched nicely on a rock ...
.. flew towards us ...
... and perched on another rock.
Not knowing how the tide was changing, and not wishing to use the inland route back we soon scurried back!

Wednesday, 6 October 2021

Looking for a spectacle

  Yesterday some visiting birders found (and photographed a Spectacled Monarch at the start of the Narrows Track.  I couldn't get there when they found it but as it is only about the 3rd record for Victoria and the normal range ends about Jervis Bay decided to get down there at dawn this morning.  To add to the rarity, the closest recent record on eBird is near Taree, some 650 kms North!
A comment on FB said one had been seen in Croajinalong about 20 years ago.  Birdata shows it as 21 Dec 1999 at Wingan Inlet.

Cutting to the chase I saw the bird, very briefly but couldn't get a photo.  So that is Bird A Day sorted.

Here follow a few photos from my outing.  The big dead tree was decorated with cormorants.  This was an early image: by the time I left (about an hour later) there were about three times this number.

Also on a lower branch of the tree was a surprisingly exposed Nankeen Night Heron/  It was horribly backlit, but Photoshop Express showed the colours better.

Sunrise was interesting albeit not as garish as some days. 

A Kookaburra was kind enough to pose so was photographed.

Sunday, 3 October 2021

September 2021 Weather Report

 My overall summary for the month is mild temperatures, calm(ish) winds and pretty damp!


We had non-trivial (ie >0.2 mm) rain on 12 days of the month.  Including the trivial amounts gave a monthly total of 91.2 mm.  This is 139% of the median September fall and 122% of the mean fall.  Another way of expressing this is to say that of the 41 previous years of Mallacoota records only 11 had higher September falls.

Not surprisingly, the fall was higher than 2020.
I was somewhat surprised to find that the rate of fall (75.2 mm/hr on the 30th) was the 20th heaviest rate rate I have recorded here (out of 963 daily records for all months).  It is the second heaviest fall (out of 90) in September records.
By the end of September the total for the year was 895 mm compared to a median YTD of 660mm and a mean YTD of 703.  The prorata estimate for the year as a whole is 1198 mm: it seems almost unbelievable that we will end up with less than 1000 mm for the year.


The overall anomaly was 0.3C.  The month started off quite warm but then gradually cooled, particularly in the second half of the month.

The next chart compares the BoM extremes for each day with the long term average for the day.  There were few days in which both minimum and maximum were above or below average (the number of warm days (both above) was particularly low).  The common situation was minimum above average and maximum below 
As should be expected my WeCather Station (WS) shows a similar pattern.

Minimum temperatures

The average minimum temperature at my WS was 8.9C, well above average, but below the value for 2020.  Looking at a time series there is no significant trend in the data.

Maximum Temperatures

The average mamimum temperature at my WS was 17.9C, below the value for 2020 and the long term average (adjusted for the small difference between the BoM Site and my WS) .  Looking at a time series there is no significant trend in the data.


As would be expected in a month with rain on 14 days humidity readings were quite high.

For the 0900 reading values were on average higher than both the average and the value for 2020 (all data from my WS).
For 1500hrs a similar situation applied, with the 2021 reading more significantly above the average.
 I was struck by a very low reading for 1500 hrs on 11 September so plotted the hourly values for 9-11 September.  In the chart I have also shown the hourly temperature readings: the two series are almost  mirror images, with a correlation coefficient of -0.95!


To overcome the very sparse free data on wind ( I presume BoM sees the main users of this data as the airlines, who can pay for it) I have restricted the following charts to the 3 years for which I have WS data.  The first chart is in the standard format (this year, last year, average) for average daily run.  This shows September 2021 to be below both the average and 2020. 
Looking at the numbers it appeared that 2019 was generally the highest of the three years and 2021 the lowest.  The seasonal pattern is generally similar (as far as can be calculated with missing months in 2 of the 3 years.