Rare azure kingfisher makes an appearance on Bruny

This azure kingfisher is a very rare little bird for Bruny Island and believed to be the first ever identified here. Photo Kim Murray

Watching this truly beautiful little bird diving for its dinner in a stunning Bruny Island waterway this week was a thrilling experience.

There is a Tasmanian endemic species of azure kingfishers and it is on the vulnerable and endangered species list and is usually only found on the west and south-west coasts. To see it on Bruny is super special.

Whitebait don’t stand a chance. Photo: Kim Murray.

While there have been rumours circulating for some time it is thought that this is the first azure kingfisher diemenensis ever recorded and photographed on Bruny Island. According to the books the Tasmanian species differs from its relatives in Australia by being slightly bigger.

The location of the bird, that quite likely has a mate, is a well-kept secret as it is not only on private property, but the property owners do not want it disturbed.

At first I was amazed at how small it was, a little humped over bird, with barely a tail. It sat motionless for long periods on sticks overhanging the water and does that head bobbing some other birds share, such as the masked lapwings.

Then it dived head first into the water and with deadly accuracy returning to its roost to consume its prey.

It wasn’t until I got home and saw it on a big screen that I appreciated its detailed colouring, the various blues, some irridescent, and the subtle purple tinges and the collar and eyespots and the bright red legs with two forward toes.

The sweet taste of success

So, I’ve been neglecting my Bruny Island Birds blog probably because it’s winter and getting out and rambling in search of avian friends is a little challenging…

But today, from the comfort of my kitchen, I caught sight of an eastern spinebill supping nectar from a grevillea. I have seen him there often in the past month, but he’s very timid and is usually driven off by a new holland honeater that patrols the grevillea 24/7.

Today he caught the new hollandie off-guard and made a feast before he was attacked and put to the wing, being chased by the snapping NHH for about 200m.

Anyway, I liked the images I got and here is one.

Was it love that was in the air?

Last week while driving back to Lunawanna from Adventure Bay I glimpsed two wedge-tailed eagles flying low near the turnoff between the two locations.

As I pulled into a lay-off I realised there were actually two pairs and maybe even a fifth bird involved in an aerial display that involved the occasional clash of those terrible talons with which the raptors are armed.

The two pairs continually circled each other and occasionally one would fold its wings as though entering one of those wedgie dives that once you have seen you’ll never forget.

The courtship or battle went on for about half a hour interspersed with occasional intervals in trees from where they called back and forth.

It all made for some interesting images, although at the limit of my lens.

Being a member of the Australian Bird ID facebook page I decided to throw up a few images and ask if anybody knew what was happening.

Well, the images received hundreds of likes and ignited a debate about love and war. In the end everybody admitted they were only guessing, but it was an interesting discussion.

What do you reckon?

 

An enlightening search for a honeyeater

The best of my bad batch of images of the tawny-crowned honeyeater at the Bruny Island lighthouse.

While not being particularly religious in a churchy sense it is the wild flora surrounding the Bruny Island lighthouse that always makes me feel as though I am visiting God’s Garden.

The plants grow in profusion and the cruel wind that cuts through for much of the year in effect prunes them so each is like a miniature of others growing in less spartan surroundings.

So I was enthusiastic when my birding buddy Rod suggested we go there in search of the tawny-crowned honeyeater.

My guide on the Port Davey excursion to see the orange-bellied parrots, Mark Holdsworth, told me that these birds appeared at the lighthouse about this time of the year for a short stay.

Cameras ready we set out for the climb through GG to the lighthouse, distracted at first by a family of quail, the stunning ocean panorama, a flame robin or two and ubiquitous new Holland honeyeaters.

Then, out of nowhere came a pair of those never-before-seen let heard-of tawny-crowned honeyeaters. They alighted on the tallest of the low wind-stripped shrubs and gave us just enough time to raise our weighty lenses and fire off salvoes of hopeful shots.

That was when we discovered a particularly annoying behaviour of the TCH. They fly for a good 200m when you aim a camera in their direction.

After trudging for kilometres for an hour or so we gave up trying to get within shooting distance. Rod consoled himself with a shot of a dusky antechinus that bopped across the track near him, and I guess I just revelled in another visit to that fabulous wild garden on the doorstep to Antarctica.

 

Sighting of rarely seen Lewin’s Rail

lewin_railIt has been rumoured for some time that a pair of the shy and retiring Lewin’s Rails lives not far from Abel’s Cabin, and today I proved the rumour to be correct.

Since I got word about the pair some months back, when I have driven past the spot, I check out all the gulls, oyster catchers, plovers etc in the hope of spying a rail.

My patience paid off today when up against a reed bank I glimpsed a wee bird I had never before clapped eyes on. And what a sight!

I think what I saw was a pair of immature rails because they had very little of the characteristic chestnut colouring and no red bills and their bodies seemed way to small for their feet, which may well be how they are as they spend their lives padding about on the edges of swamps.

These two were right beside a very busy road and were out in the open about 3pm, which is apparently very unusual as they are rarely seen because of their flighty nature and when they are it’s very early morning or dusk. But today, it was very overcast and drizzly.

Anyway, here is one. They are not rare or endangered, just rarely seen. There is a Tasmanian subspecies, one of seven found throughout Australia.

Learning being bird skills

strong_billed_chick

An immature strong-billed honeyeater after a dip at The Pond is watched-over by one of its family members.


It’s early Autumn and many of the new season chicks on Bruny Island are learning how to be independent. Some still follow parent birds squawking for a feed while others have been independent feeders since day one.

Those masked lapwings I wrote about earlier are still with their parents, but now they are nearly the same size and their flying prowess is just about equal. The parent birds have laid off the overly protective behaviour, but they still can’t help giving those annoying alarm calls that the teenager chicks now simply ignore.

I have a place I often visit that I call The Pond. It’s not far from home and it is the source of many bird images.

This week I snapped this rather awkward-looking immature strong-billed honeyeater with a parent bird taking a swim at The Pond. The colouring is quite amazing. Most of the birds that frequent The Pond are there to bathe and often go through lengthy personal hygiene routines and take multiple swims.

The strong-bills are obsessive and love diving and splashing. I love watching them.

Strong-bills are endemic to Tasmania and the Bass Strait islands. Down at The Pond they hang out with their cousins, the black-headed honeyeaters and sometimes Tasmanian thornbills.

They arrive in family groups of four or five, often at the same time of day, and they take their good time with their ablutions. Interestingly the aggressive New Holland Honeyeaters, that rule The Pond as their own domain, don’t bother them.

I saw a strong-bill nest recently suspended among gum leaves. A week later I saw it again on the ground, all smashed. It was so beautifully made with leaves and moss all woven together the shape of those baskets Aboriginal women weave.

Like the swagman, Matilda is a dying breed

obp_chick1

This is Matilda, one of the few orange-bellied parrot chicks that survived in the breeding grounds in the deep south of Tasmania this year.

Too few of the hatchlings were raised by the 17 birds that managed to make the journey across Bass Strait to Melaleuca this Spring and the stunningly beautiful birds are plunging inexorably towards extinction.

While there are about 330 OBPs in captive breeding programs conducted by the Tasmanian government at Taroona and zoos at Adelaide and Melbourne, the wild bird population has fallen below the number considered critical for survival and there are serious concerns that we may never see them at Melaleuca again.

I spent last week at Melaleuca, Port Davey and Bathurst harbour on a ‘bucket list’ trip, flown in by Par Avion and well looked after aboard the wonderful Tasmanian Boat Charters’ vessel Odalisque.

Within minutes of arriving we were watching OBPs being fed as part of the rescue plan and then our guide, former parks ranger and authority on OBPs, Mark Holdsworth, got us up close and personal with Matilda.

As part of Mark’s volunteer activities he climbs trees and retrieves hatchlings every three days from breeding boxes, then gingerly brings them back to ground level where they are weighed and measured.

When the oohing and aaring and photographing subsides the colourful chicks are returned to their homes.

Mark has also spent this season searching locations in the inhospitable country surrounding Melaleuca in the hope of finding a wild group, but alas, he now believes there are none.

While earlier it was planned to introduce eggs from the captive breed in the end hatchlings were introduced and few survived, some abandoned and others died from a disease carried in the auxiliary feed. It was the last thing these little parrots needed, but spreading disease to the wild population was always a fear.

The crowd funding for the program is still running and is more than double the target of $60,000. You can find it here:
https://pozible.com/project/operation-obp

obp

In the “mythical” pink

pink_robbin
My birding photographer mate Rod is determined to shoot a pink robin and we have covered some territory in search of this elusive bird.

He once saw one at the top of Mt Mangana and we stop there in the hope that it may reappear. We have done that half a dozen times on excursions, even trudged several kilometres through dense bush, but alas, no pinks.

I had taken to jokingly referring to them as the “mythical pinks” until one day recently, while sitting near a pond for nearly an hour half way up the mountain, Rod whispered the magic word: pinks.

He had seen, but unconvincingly snapped, what he thought was a pink robin that had disappeared into the thick bush. So we sat for another half an hour until we both decided enough was enough.

Making our way down Rod was out front and I turned to the left and there, about 2m from me, was a mythical pink. I slowly raised my camera while quietly calling to Rod.

The pink just sat looking at me as I snapped away. Rod, Rod I called and he turned, cursed the pink was too close to focus with his monster lens, and then it was gone.

“I guess you got some nice shots then,” said Rod through clenched teeth.

Life can be a bastard some times…and beautiful at others.

Lapchicks survive to squawk another day

lapwing_chickOne month on and a lot has changed in lapwing country. Two of the original four chicks have survived and are acting like typical adolescents. The above image is one of them, now nearly as big as their parents.

The ‘take cover’ squawking of the parents is endless, but now the chicks act with indifference to the parental warnings and continue wrenching worms out of the ground.

I’m not sure if they have taken to the wing yet, but I have seen some young lapwings flying awkwardly and for a lapwing that sort of flying is either adolescent or anathema.

Our little world in Lunawanna is abundant with chicks of all sorts at the moment, demanding food from daybreak to dusk.
beautiful-firetail3This fluffy beautiful firetail chick was groomed fastidiously by a parent bird. I took these images in the bush near our home shortly before Christmas and turned one into a Christmas card for some select friends.
beautiful-firetail-chick2

Beep, beep, cheep, cheep.

turbo_chick
Talking about chicks . . . How about this one? The offspring of what is known colloquially as Turbo Chicks this sure-footed youngster is a baby Tasmanian Native Hen.

You only see them in Tasmania as they became extinct on the mainland with the arrival of the dingo and if there was no other reason to come to Tassie, these birds would be it.

tasmanian native hen and chickThey can’t fly, but their lack of avian prowess is more than made up for with by their land speed. And even at this young age they can run like Usain Bolt!

During the mating season the birds can be seen chasing each other over the hills and dales like road-runners and at night when the real mating starts the noise can be really sleep-depriving. The hens sure enjoy a good roostering.

I encountered this family of mum, dad and four chicks at Adventure Bay on the east side of south Bruny yesterday. Capturing them was a work of art because the parenting skills of the adults matched that of the masked lapwings of previous posts.

If you click the smaller image you will get a good view of mum, chick and a wallaby observer.