Monday, January 23, 2012

Australian Crake Porzana fluminea.

This week I’ve been tracking down a verified lurker. Crakes and rails are small to medium-sized birds which have secretive habits and tend to live among thick scrub and reed beds, making them tricky to find at times. A report from Jenny Marshman this week set me on the trail after she saw a pair of Australian Crakes (pictured) and its chicks, scurrying across Barrett Drive into a culvert opposite the casino.

Only the size of a small quail, this is a rare sighting of this species out in the open. The water levels at the sewage ponds are too high for these short-legged waders and Ilparpa Swamp is completely dry, so some of these birds will be taking refuge in the thickly reeded culverts along the Todd. Keep an eye out when you’re riverside this week, as you may be lucky enough to spot them early in the morning and perhaps one of the closely related Buff-banded Rails that have also been reported in the area.

Out at AZRI, Jesse Carpenter had great views of a Black Falcon and a lone Plumed Whistling-duck consorting with the wood ducks on the SAT ponds. At the sewage ponds this week the big news was a lone Australian Pelican that flew in on Monday, along with a quartet of Glossy Ibis.

One of the largest flocks of White-faced Herons I have ever seen were hanging around the Ilparpa area with 46 birds counted at one point. This seems to be a sign that some of the desert waterholes might be drying up and we could be looking at an influx of a few waterbirds over the next few months. Keep those reports coming!

Happy birding!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Perentie Varanus giganteus, eating a Spinifex Pigeon Geophaps plumifera.

We have a spectacular start to a year of birding updates with this stunning image from Alice Springs ecologist, Sabine Gonelli. Just after Christmas she was lucky enough to find this Perentie gorging on a plump Spinifex Pigeon near the car park at King’s Canyon, Watarrka National Park. Among the largest lizards on Earth at well over 2m in length, the Perentie would make short work of even much larger prey than a Spinifex Pigeon.

Spinifex Pigeons are a much sought after species by many international and interstate birders visiting the Red Centre, and the King’s Canyon Rim Walk is probably one of the most reliable (and picturesque) spots to find them. Closer to town, you’ll have no trouble tracking down one of these stunning birds at Alice Springs Desert Park, and they can usually be seen on the walk up Mt. Gillen.

While I’ve been gallivanting all over the countryside, the sewage ponds have re-opened to the public and there have been some interesting bird movements around town. Horsfield’s Bronze-cuckoos and Channel-billed Cuckoos have been calling every morning around Braitling, and out at Connellan the Pallid Cuckoos are well and truly back. Brown Honeyeaters seem to have done very well last year and are moving in to many areas where they haven’t been seen in a while.

The other interesting sound about town has been budgies. These haven’t been seen around town for a little while now but a few reports are starting to drift in. Huge flocks, tens of thousands of birds strong, have been photographed recently in areas of outback Queensland and Western Australia so no doubt we will start to see a few of these irrepressible desert nomads in the near future.
Happy birding!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Plumed Whistling-ducks Dendrocygna eytoni.

Just as many Centralians thrilled to the sight of the total lunar eclipse last weekend, many birdos have been delighted by the spectacle of some Plumed Whistling-ducks that have taken up temporary residence at the sewage ponds recently. They’re not usually resident around Alice Springs, but they are frequent visitors. This flock of about 15 birds have been showing their beautiful plumage around the sewage ponds and Ilparpa Swamp for the last few weeks.

These birds are more commonly seen in wetter parts of The Territory, but may be seen anywhere there is a decent body of open water like a dam, claypan, or ephemeral swamp. Apart from their distinctive plumage, they can be identified in flight by their whistling call which they often emit as they take off.

Another unusual visitor lobbed in during the week, in the form of a lone Australian Pelican that was sighted by contractors at the sewage ponds during the dog incurred closure to the public.

During a drive down south of town I was lucky enough to have an early morning ramble through a mulga wonderland of bush birds including the ever elusive White-browed Treecreeper, Inland Thornbills, Major Mitchell’s Cockatoos, Western Gerygones and a single Black Falcon.

More exciting vagrant news has arrived from Broome, where Adrian Boyle has reported a find of a Cinnamon Bittern being munched on by a Brown Falcon. The bird had been recently killed by the falcon and was still in excellent condition and has been sent to the museum as a specimen. This is a species usually found from Timor Leste up through SE Asia and now joins the Eurasian Hoopoe and Stejneger’s Petrel as another first record for the Australian bird list.
Happy birding!

Thursday, December 8, 2011


Mistletoebird Dicaeum hirundinaceum, doing what it does best - scoffing mistletoe.

Lots of folks around town are putting their decorations up so it made sense that our bird picture this week should be something a bit festive. This brightly coloured bauble is a Mistletoebird. This is the male bird, and with such bright colours and a piercing call, they are usually not too difficult to find.
As the name suggests, the bird has a strong association with the mistletoe plant. This is a partly parasitic plant that is very common in tree around Alice Springs. Have you ever noticed a clump of leaves in a tree that don’t seem to match the rest of the tree? That’s mistletoe. There are a few different species but they usually have these little berries that Mistletoebirds just can’t resist. In the action of expelling the undigested seed the bird leaves it lodged in the tree’s bark and propagates the next generation of mistletoe – a satisfying symbiosis.
Bit of bad news this week with feral dogs again appearing at the sewage ponds in Alice Springs. Power & Water have had to take the tough, but very wise, decision of closing this facility to birdwatching access until they can be removed. It is hoped that this may be within a couple of weeks, but it will depend on the success of the control program – I’ll keep you posted.
I was lucky enough to visit Helen Miller this week who has a very happy family – she has had as many as 7 Boobooks roosting in her yard at one time over the last few weeks. The Western Bowerbird around my place has taken to imitating a Channel-billed Cuckoo that has taken up residence in the area which has made for some interesting alarm calls. Lastly, Crimson Chats have been reported just 20kms down the Old South Road.
Happy birding!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Australian Owlet-nightjar

Australian Owlet-nightjar Aegotheles cristatus.

The undisputed highlight of a trip down to Yulara this week was a daytime encounter with an Australian Owlet-nightjar. Only the size of a small pigeon, this secretive night bird is difficult to get a good look at. It was pure luck that I caught this bird sunning itself on an exposed perch, warming up after a cool night foraging for insects among the dunes.
The stiff bristles around its face serve a few purposes; protecting the eyes, helping the bird locate airborne prey on dim nights, and breaking up the outline of the bird when it wants to blend in to its surrounds.
Perhaps surprisingly, this is the most common and widespread of our nocturnal birds, but it often goes unnoticed due to its small size and secretive nature. They roost and nest in tree hollows and, if approached too closely, they will flush silently from the hollow to any of a number of nearby hollows prepared as secondary roosts. It’s recently been shown that they are a strongly terrestrial forager in many parts of Australia and a portion of their diet is made up of ants.
Collared Sparrowhawks have been reported by Portia in Eastside this week in a possible face-off with Channel-billed Cuckoos. There are a few pairs of these raptors nesting on Eastside that may succumb to the nest-infiltrating behaviour of the cuckoo. Glossy Ibis seem to be congregating around The Centre with a flock of 34 residing at Ilparpa Swamp and scattered individuals seen at Traeger and Blatherskite Parks.
The other big news is that Mark Carter has reported the first confirmed sighting of a Phoenix in Alice Springs. The juvenile Wedgie that was feared burnt in its nest in the Mt. Gillen fires of some weeks ago has been seen keeping the ducks on their toes down at the sewage ponds earlier in the week – a great relief.

Common Sandpiper

Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos.

The Common Sandpiper is one of the long distance migrants currently at the sewage ponds fattening up for the next marathon flight. These tiny birds (about 20cms long) are just one of a host of species that visit from the Arctic north during our summer. Also feeding and resting in Alice Springs at the moment are Black-tailed Godwits, Marsh Sandpipers, Wood Sandpipers, Sharp-tailed Sandpipers, and the occasional Red-necked Stint. These are fairly specialised birds that are most easily seen at large bodies of water like our sewage ponds.
Alice Springs is currently seeing an influx of different migrants of the more short distance variety. In the last few weeks the reports have been trickling through of Channel-billed Cuckoos, Rainbow Bee-eaters, and Sacred Kingfishers. These are less regular migrants which can sometimes be found year round if the conditions have been suitable in the inland. Normally they will spend our winter up in PNG and parts of south-east Asia. The bee-eaters are often the first to arrive back on their southward journey.
The Channel-billed Cuckoos, also known as rainbirds or stormbirds, herald the arrival of the wet in the Top End and when conditions are right will make it as far inland as Alice Springs. Many residents of Alice Springs are now being roused from their sleep by this raucous visitor on most mornings.
 Sacred Kingfishers are often present over summer in small numbers around permanent bodies of water. This year they seem to have done well and are being seen commonly right across the region. Their early morning kek-kek-keks will be familiar to many Centralians.
Sightings of note this week include 4 Emus at Kulgera by Richard Waring, Rainbow Lorikeets seen at Melanka Park by Mark Carter, and a flock of 20 Glossy Ibis were at Ilparpa Swamp.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Peregrine Falcon

Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus.

If you look up the word peregrine in the dictionary, you find it has a wealth of meanings. The etymologies are through Middle English to Latin, and all have to do with wandering, being from a foreign land, or having an unsettled lifestyle. Hence, the name of our bird this week is quite fitting, although the Peregrine Falcons here in Alice are anything but unsettled. They are quite at home in the rocky ranges with occasional forays to areas like the sewage ponds to hunt down water birds, honeyeaters, or their favourites, pigeons. The wandering name of this bird has to do with its successful occupation of every continent on Earth except the frozen Antarctic. It is known for holding the record for animal speed and can effortlessly accelerate to over 300km/h in pursuit of airborne prey.
There have been a few curious events this week. A Pelican and a Hoary-headed Grebe were handed in to wildlife carers in Coober Pedy who had to appeal to Australian Seabird Rescue experts in Ballina NSW for advice.
The Channel-billed Cuckoos are back in force and there are two pairs of Collared Sparrowhawks on Eastside who are guarding their nests from the noisy marauders very carefully.
Farther afield from The Alice, it has been a historic week for Australian birdos. Two firsts for the Australian list have shown up in the space of one week. This is enough to get twitchers everywhere scrabbling for their frequent flyer points to try and get a look at these birds before they move on. First, a Stejneger’s Petrel (a type of pelagic seabird native to Chile) appeared in the waters off Southport, Queensland. As if this wasn’t enough, birders on the other side of the continent found a Hoopoe at Roebuck Plains Roadhouse outside of Broome, WA. The origin of this bird is uncertain. The species is found from Africa, right through the Middle East, across the Sub-continent and through much of South East Asia; wherever this bird calls home, it’s been a long and stormy ride to get where it is.