A mother’s chick is another’s dinner

161206pied_oystercatcher_chick2wAnother species that is currently attempting to multiply on southern Bruny Island is the pied oystercatcher.

161205sea_eagle_juvwThis week I took the image above of a fortnight-old chick at the top of Little Taylor’s Bay on the south island.

Initially there were two, but the couple are now down to one offspring.

A few minutes later, as I was turning to go home, I caught sight of this immature white-bellied sea eagle perched in a tree overlooking the tidal flats seeking its dinner.

It was about 300m from where the oystercatcher chick was gamely stumbling over rocks trying to find sustenance before nightfall.

Life can be tough, even on Bruny. The magnificent young sea eagle is, according to all accounts, a regular along the tidal flats of Little Taylors that is on the right as you head out to the lighthouse along the appropriately-named Lighthouse Road.

Lapwing chicks: and then there were two . . .

On the subject of irrational likes and dislikes of creatures I’d like to record my changing emotions towards masked lapwings.

Sure, there’s not a lot to like about these birds, known locally as plovers.

Famous for building nest (if you can call them that) in inappropriate locations, a couple of their species decided this Spring to breed on our lawn.

Now every time we open our door we are met by alarming squawks of which there seems to be at least two varieties: The first shorter ones are alerting their young to danger and to immediately take cover. The second are meant for we humans and are unmistakable warnings not to approach.

The lapwings will take to the air and swoop. They are armed with strong bills and also prehistoric spikes on their wings like some throw-back to when they were dinosaurs.

But in their defence I would have to say they are outstandingly good parents (though the chicks probably would disagree because of the incessant nagging to “take cover”).

They split care of the chicks between them. Three for mum and one for dad. The parents never stand together. They are always about 20m apart giving them a broader area over which to detect perceived danger.

One will take to the air if their danger alarms are not heeded and the swooping begins, often the parent manoeuvring to attack with the sun behind. It’s an alarming experience.

Our pair hatched four chicks about three weeks ago. Today’s count is two. My bet is one of our locals cats (feral or neglected) got the first and yesterday probably a forest raven the other.

From Day One the chicks are self-sufficient. Not once have I seen a parent feed a chick, as do other birds for weeks. The cute chicks are out there drilling down into wormholes and slurping down big grubs right from the get go.

But, apart from the full-on parenting skills of their parents, they are sitting ducks, so to speak. Swamp harriers are said to time their arrival on Bruny to coincide with the lapwing chick arrivals and certainly raptor activity is increased at this time.

I must admit that I have become quite attached to these little chicks that are occasionally paraded across the lawn by parents squawking at us as though they own the place. Perhaps they do…

Questioning base instincts

Late Spring on Bruny Island and the aggression borne of parental protection is peaking.

As a lover of birds I sometimes question my like for most and dislike for some, a concerning avian racism.

Once I was asked to do a survey on sparrows and the last question was: Do you like sparrows? I questioned my database for quite some time and eventually deleted all the negative stuff and came down to: They are just like the rest of us; here doing our best.

In Australia we are surrounded by what is referred to as introduced species: swallows, starlings, blackbirds, European goldfinches for example. Since my epiphany on swallows I have come to refer to them as migrants, most of who have come by boat.

The other day, while sitting around my pond in the bush (more about that in future posts) with some visitors from Britain, a family of six black-headed honeyeaters alighted in the shrubs right above our heads.

Young ones and their parents, chittering away and chasing each other as they do. One stopped and stared down at us from a twig. I told the guests that he was saying to his family: “Oh look, Brits over-wintering on Bruny.”

As I began writing this first post for Bruny Island Birds there was a commotion outside. Wattlebirds and dusky wood swallows were bombarding a forest raven that was carrying off what appeared to be a chick.

My wife was shouting abuse at the “f-ing crow” and back to me came the avian racism. Those bloody arrogant crows (read forest ravens). Then I remembered the image I snapped last week (above) as a forest raven put its life on the line defending its young.

I remind myself again: Most of us are here just doing our best, raising kids or whatever.