Winter musings

Jacky Winter on pasture weed backlit

Have you noticed birds singing in the past couple of weeks?  21st June was the solstice — the shortest day of the year if you’re south of the Tropic of Capricorn, and a significant time in nature. The shift from days getting shorter to days getting longer triggers certain changes in animals and plants. For some Australian birds, nesting behaviour begins soon after the winter solstice. Birds that didn’t migrate may already be re-establishing their territory and this means an increase in birdsong (territorial singing as opposed to the generally shorter calls). Some birds start building their first nest of the season, heralding the frenzy of breeding activity that lies ahead. Others are still in their wintering grounds. Continue reading

A meal fit for a kookaburra

Kookaburra with rat 1099

I first noticed this kookaburra because a Grey Butcherbird was sitting on the branch above, watching it intently. Not much escapes a bird’s attention. The kookaburra had caught a rat and was struggling to stay in balance with such large prey dangling from its bill.  Continue reading

Drama at the cabin

Brown Tree Snake 0527

It was a sultry night, especially for March. Tiny flying insects kept landing on my laptop’s screen, attracted to its light as I sorted through the day’s photos. I’d settled into my cabin for the night on an isolated bush property in the Capertee Valley. The rocky escarpment rising steeply behind formed an imposing presence, even in the darkness of a moonless night. Continue reading

Before the migration: introducing the Yellow-faced Honeyeater

Yellow-faced Honeyeater in Leptospermum

A spectacular annual migration will begin in late March as Yellow-faced Honeyeaters start streaming northward up the coast and tablelands of south-eastern Australia. The waves of travelling birds will continue for 6-8 weeks on suitable fine-weather mornings. Already, observant birders might have noticed small restless groups moving about. Continue reading

The claustrophobic birds that nest in dangerous places

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Driving along a quiet gravel road in the country, you notice a small bird with sleek, pointed wings fly up in front of the car. Luckily, you don’t hit it. The following day the same thing happens, in exactly the same place. You stop the car and look at the spot it flew from. At first you’ll see nothing. But if you search carefully you might find two or three well camouflaged eggs in a scrape on the shoulder of the road. With their elaborate pattern of flecks and lines, they look just like the stones they sit amongst. Continue reading

Why do some currawongs have striped tails?

Every year around January or February, someone usually asks me about a strange currawong they saw with a striped tail. If you’re familiar with currawongs you’ll know they don’t normally have stripes or spots down the tail, in the way that cuckoos and kookaburras do. So what’s the story with the ones that appear in summer, tail all stripy like the bird in the photo below? The explanation is quite simple.

Pied Currawong with striped tail due to moult

Continue reading

The lure of the bottlebrush

When I visited a farm in November to survey the birdlife, I expected a tranquil afternoon in nature. But nature had other ideas.

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Musk Lorikeet feeding in Callistemon citrinus

I walked onto the survey site to be greeted by clamour and movement everywhere. The cackling of dozens of Noisy Friarbirds filled the air with a chaotic din as they chased each other in and out of the bushes. Emerald green Musk Lorikeets scrambled through the foliage, randomly exploding into flight with breakneck speed and a sudden screech. Their young followed, calling wheezily, insistently. Wings fluttered and tails spread in an irresistible signal for their parents to feed them. Continue reading

Function and artistry: an assortment of birds’ nests

Spring is a season of intense activity — not only for our fauna and flora but for me, as this is when I’m busiest leading tours, walks, and carrying out bird surveys. It’s frustrating that the season when I have least time to write is the very time there’s the most to write about. On the plus side, I’m outside seeing it all first hand! I’ll try to make up for my recent lack of posts with plenty of summer offerings, including looks at some of the interesting things I’ve seen during the past three months.

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It hasn’t been hard to find birds nesting and feeding young. For many species this continues into the summer months. Australian birds tend to have long nesting seasons (and smaller clutch sizes) compared to cooler-climate northern hemisphere species (see Ford 1989). This allows them to raise two and sometimes more broods, or at least have another try if the first one fails — which happens often. A nest success rate of less than 50% is not uncommon among small birds. This might be due to predation of the eggs or young, parasitism by cuckoos, an unexpected shortage of food, severe weather, bushfire or human interference. It’s amazing small birds manage to reproduce at all when you think of the many dangers they face.

Let’s take a look at some of the nests I’ve found during my travels this season, plus a couple of favourites from last year thrown in. Each is ingenious in its own way.  Continue reading

In the dead of winter, the forest is full of life

The woodland was silent. Frost clung to earth and grass stems in every patch of shade not yet touched by the sun’s rays. My fingers felt like blocks of ice, only less useful; I was wishing I’d remembered to wear gloves. I shoved my hands in my coat pockets with my notebook, pen and phone. These three items, along with the binoculars around my neck, are the tools I use to carry out bird surveys (the phone mostly for its timer, as these surveys are strictly 20 minutes duration). Continue reading