Monday, 23 January 2017

Filling in a few hours

I put the Jetta in for a service at Langes in Queanbeyan today.  I had 4 hours to fill in so decided to go and hike up through Cuumbeun Nature Reserve to check for Chestnut-rumped Heathwrens.  My guess was this was about an 8km round trip. Checking on Google Earth it works out to 8.6kms (plus a few deviations)
Running the cursor along the route the low point was 570m AMSL and the high point 770ms so a fairly honest stroll.  Adding to the effort was the therms - about 18C at the start but closer to 30C by the time I finished.  About 1.5l of water was drunk as I went.

This is what is laughingly called the Old Sydney Road.  I think it is supposed to be a main fire trail up into the Reserve: that is one of the less eroded bits - I certainly wouldn't like to take a laden fire tanker up there.
 There was very little left in flower.  The everlasting daisies (Xerochrysum viscosum) sort of add a bit of very dry colour, and at one point I noticed some Eucalypt blossom.  The Bursaria spinosa which is still flowering well at home was all well and truly finished.
 Cassinia longifolia was really the only species still in flower
 ... apart from one patch of about 30 specimens of this strange blue-flowered plant.
 It produces a flower straight out of the ground with no leaves that I can see.
 I really have no idea what it might be.  With 4 petals it shouldn't be a lily or orchid.  My guess is that it is an escapee that has set up a colony, although I think its about 2km from the nearest house.

This photo, from about the high point, looks across Queanbeyan to Mount Jerrabomberra with the Brindabellas just visible through the heat haze.
On the few occasions that I ventured off track I was unsure where to look.  My heart said look in the tree tops for birds.  My head said look on the ground for reptiles (didn't see one). Of course, what one really had to look out for was Jewel spider webs about 1.5m off the ground.
 I count 21 strands in this web: no wonder they stick when you unwisely walk through them.

The main haunt of the Heathwrens is close to this dam, but they weren't there today.  Or at least not where I went (see reference above to reptiles - and think about walking through tussocks of grass).
 Despite the absence of Heathwrens I wrote down 35 species of birds which wasn't too bad.  Contenders for Bird of the Day were

  • Spotted Dove (boooo - but it was right at the bottom of the hill);
  • Brown-headed Honeyeater  - good bird, but they do turn up at home and are easy to pick up as very vocal; and
  • Horsfield's Bronze-cuckoo - the winner:probably not uncommon but difficult to spot when not vocalising.   This one flew into a tree just above my head and scoffed a caterpillar.
We often come across sights which make us wonder what is the story behind this?  Here we have a pram chassis, which someone has transported a kilometer horizontally and 100m vertically and then abandoned it in the bush.  

Presumably it had wheels when transported but why abandon it?  Was there a baby in it at the time?  If only I could write novels!

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Learning from your Mum

As we headed off this morning on the dog walk we noticed some wrestling going on in a neighbours paddock.  (Sorry about the photo quality: iPhones don't do long distance stuff too well.)
 Sorry also about the design on the jump.  The neighbours have close ties to Dorset!

I suspect the caption on this next shot could be "Let back in their Mum, its too hot to hop!"
 Mum's response was a quite justified whack round the ear.
You will have noted how terrified the roos were of the small dog.

Saturday, 21 January 2017

More birdbath

The red birdbath outside the kitchen window has been getting a lot of action recently.  So here are some more photos,

This may be the Yellow-faced Honeyeater that is nest in a rose bush off our deck (about 10m from the bath).
 A Silvereye.  For some reason this species (possibly always the same bird) clings to the perch-twig and stretches down to drink from there.  Others always go down to the rim of the bath.
A couple of shots of an assembly of Silvereyes and Grey Fantails.

 An adult Grey Fantail about to take a drink.
 This bird got me going a bit as it was very brown.  However it doesn't have bright rufous on the tail or black markings on the breast so its a juvenile Grey Fantail and not a Rufous Fantail.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Clouds after a bloody hot two days

As I was driving home from a run today the thermometer in the car showed 39.5oC.  However a hopeful sign was that clouds were building up, getting close to lenticular formation. This article offers a fair - if somewhat US-oriented - explanation of their genesis.

 This was more like a wave cloud, but I think formed through much the same process.
At home much pf the sky was covered with general stratus cloud, with some high level cirrus visible through the gaps.
 An unusual shape.

Monday, 16 January 2017

Bird-A-Day Update(s)

As well as the formal Bird-a-Day competition/game/challenge/whatever I started a personal effort on July 1 last year.  That was done with slight malice aforethought knowing that we were heading off on a 6 week trip to Atherton on July 2.  Largely as a result of that trip I made it through the rest of 2016 and into 2017.

As a commentary on the difficulty of doing BaD from Carwoola it is interesting to compare my house-block list from Carwoola with that of another birder from the Atherton area.  My home list (after 10 years) is 109 species.  The Atherton list (after a few more years, but ...) is 200.

I did run a top-up version of the formal effort adding new birds as I saw them, but missing out days between.  This got me up to 245 birds (dropping out of competition on 23 June with 175 species).  The January effort is covered here and other than some brief mentions for comparative purposes won't be further covered in this.

So, as from January 1 2017 I was running two database tables: my personal one for the second half of 2016 and the formal one for 2017.  I ran out of luck today for the former so here is the situation for both efforts.

2016 July-Start

The geographic extent of my birding was not too bad for someone who didn't get out of the country, and only got on a plane once, during the year.
The extremes were North - Daintree; East - Sydney; South - Mallacoota; and West - Adelaide.  Most of my birding however,was  around the site marked "Home".  According to the checklists on eBird, during the second half of 2016 I compiled 161 (43%) of my 377 checklists within about 50kms from home.  By State:

ACT  41
NSW close  121
NSW other 12
QLD 122
SA 4
VIC 77
I will confess surprise at how few sheets were from "NSW other".  Then I refocussed on the time period, realising most of our trips away have been to Victoria.

Overall I managed 196 species for the July start.  Allowing for the 28 days we stayed in Atherton this suggests that had we stayed home (or at least only taken short trips) I would probably have done slightly less well than in the Jan effort.

Disregarding claptrap such as "all birds are equally good" the best bird was the Tawny Grassbird seen at Jerrabomberra Wetlands on 11 Jnauary 2017!  Only my second sighting ever and a new bird for the area.  My best flock is still the 700+ Brolgas near Mazeppa NP QLD in July.

As usual I scored each bird according to a somewhat subjective BaD rarity rating for the location and season, and a rather more objective index derived (by methods for which I can't remember the detail) from eBird.  The lack of detail doesn't matter: this analysis isn't going to crash the Dow Jones, start a war, stop climate change or cause the Trumpeter to become rational.  The first chart compares these two measures for this period.

This is more or less the normal pattern as I am "forced" to use the common yard birds at the end.

Comparing my performance in the first and second halves of the year (OK, the latter includes a few days from 2017) is interesting.  Beginning with the BaD rarity score (bigger is better):
I think what it means is that when I am at home, in the first few days (as in the Jan 2016 case) I am able to chase unusual birds for the area but when travelling I don't know the territory well enough to twitch, but all the birds are eligible for ticking.  I used field guides to assess the BaD ratings while in Queensland.

Moving to the Index scores.
The start for the January exercise was given a major boost with Paradise Shelduck (Index score 0, as it was an Australian first - found by someone else) but once things settled down the two series were pretty similar until the final stages.  The last few birds for the January start were all very common birds in the area whereas for the July start there were some very 'good' birds found right up to the end and the very high scoring species were spaced out.

2017 effort (early)

The start of 2017 has been a good one with the Tawny Grassbird also featuring as BaD code 7 and several of the unusual birds from the the Hoskinstown Plain marsh keeping BaD scores up and the Index down.  The most frustrating day so far included:
  • Whiskered Tern (code 6) - selected
  • Spotted Harrier (code 5)
  • Brown Songlark (code 5)
  • Baillons Crake (code 6)
 Here is a chart comparing the first 16 days of the last three efforts.
This shows that the current essay is very similar to last years January effort and somewhat better than thé first few days of July 2016.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

But wait ... there are more invertebrates

... and some steak knives!!!
Possibly due to the warm weather there continue to be a diverse lot of insects around.  Interestingly, so far there have been very few Plague Soldier Beetles (Chauliognathus lugubris).

I will begin with butterflies, of which there have been both high numbers and  - by my standards - wide diversity.

The first is a Common Grass Blue enjoying a daisy rather than the grass ...
 .. and a Meadow Argus (ditto).
This rather tatty specimen is a Yellow Admiral - they are not frequent visitors to our garden..
Possibly part of the reason it is tatty is that it was getting attacked by a male Common Brown butterfly.  (The Admiral is on the bottom in this very poor quality snap).
Staying with the moth family (of which butterflies are a subset) a woolly bear was encountered on Widgiewa Rd one morning.
Using the 'road' as a link we also found a Botany Bay Weevil on Whiskers Creek Rd.
I didn't want to leave it to get squashed but found it to have a rather firm grasp on the road chips.

Having got into Coleoptera (ie Beetles) here are some more.  This first one is a monster - about 50mm in length.  Surprisingly I couldn't definitely identify it, but one image from the Museum of Victoria suggested Temognatha variabilis (note species name) and brisbaneinsects commented that this species was the largest beetle they had seen.  So that is my working ID.

In another part of the same clump of Bursaria was a more colourful than usual Pintail Beetle.  I suspect it is Mordella leucostista.
The remaining photos are a miscellany, mainly showing the diverse shapes of insects.

Firstly a true bug Stilostethus pacificus.
That oversubscribed taxon "Unidentified".  In this case I am not game to guess beyond Class level, but I am sure its an insect of some sort.
 I am sure this is a dipterid (only two wings), and possibly a Bee-fly.
Another fly, but from the Order Mecoptera in this case a Hanging Fly - possibly Harpobittacus  sp.
A damselfly - rather unlurid for this family, but it has its wings folded along its back.
Just to keep the arachnophobes on their toes here is a colourful member of the Areneidae (Orb-weavers).

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Tawny Grassbirds visit Canberra.

On 29 December 2016 a Canberra birder, Kim Larmour, reported a Tawny Grassbird from Jerrabomberra Wetlands NR.  This was thought to be a first for the ACT and the twitching hordes have duly descended to confirm Kim's observation.

Another birder has subsequently discovered 5 earlier reports of this species in the Atlas of Living Australia.  They were supplied through 2 other - reputable - organisations.  However on following up with those organisations 4 records have been found to be erroneous and the 5th an historic record, of eggs, seen as likely to be very dubious at best.  So Kim Larmour's 'first' stands.

I made a couple of unsuccessful visits to the general area, misunderstanding where she had seen the bird.  One of the subsequent observers made reference to one of the established hides ("blinds" in North American parlance) from which the bird was visible with a spotting scope.  So on a third visit I took myself off to that hide.  There I met another pair of birders who had seen the bird that morning and explained exactly where it was seen.

It was a bit off the beaten track but on heading back in that direction a somewhat unusual call was heard while I was on said beaten track.  (Kim Larmour is familiar with the species from elsewhere and had recognised the call, leading her to the bird.)  Sure enough there was the bird.
In fact there were clearly two of them.  One seemed to be out in the open most of the time while the other was lurking, and calling, from within the vegetation.  This led me to speculate in my report to ebird about the possibility that the birds were breeding.  Subsequently:
  • one member of the COG chatline has hypothesised that the call (recorded by another birder while I was there) sounded like "a scolding call"; and
  • another member of the chatline reported seeing one bird fly into the reeds with what might have been a white caterpillar in its beak.
  • some members reviewing the video shot yesterday suspect a brood patch is evident.
...  all of which might indicate a breeding event.  I have now updated my eBird to report to include their breeding code "Probable: Pair in suitable habitat."

I have extracted part of the species map from eBird.
Prior to researching this post I had assumed that the limit of the distribution of the species was the area just South of Wollongong (some 150kms NE of Canberra as a sensible bird flies).  However the map from eBird also shows the following sightings which have been endorsed by eBird moderators. In chronological order these are:

  • 2010 August: point 2, McLeod Morass
  • 2013 December:  point 1 Lake Cargelligo WTP
  • 2014 March- April: point 3 - Seaford Wetlands
  • 2014 May: point 3 - Braeside
  • 2014 October - December: point 3 - Liverpool Rd Retarding Basin
The species account in HANZAB indicates the species has been reported infrequently from scattered locations away from the coast in NSW (eg Maquarie Marshes).  Unconfirmed reports from near Canberra and Albury are mentioned.  One vagrant record is cited for Tasmania.  The accounts simply states " Vic: No records." 

I take two points from this:
  1. the species reaches places outside the 'normal range from time to time; and
  2. the bird (all the Vic checklists have been of a single bird) in these other outlier reports has not stuck around for more than a few months.  The Seaford Wetlands (126 eBird checklists) and Lake Cargelligo WTP (199 lists) are intensively well covered by eBird so if such a vocal species was lurking there it would have been reported.