Friday, November 26, 2010

Red-capped Robin

Red-capped Robin, Petroica goodenovii.

Well, wouldn’t you know it? I leave town for one week and it’s the biggest week in Alice birdwatching in yonks. This beautiful little Red-capped Robin, caught during a morning of bird banding earlier in the week, suddenly seems very ho-hum by comparison.

Two amazing Red Centre rarities have shown up at the sewage ponds in Alice this week. First up - a couple of Pied Heron – a coastal and northern species we’d much more expect to see on the Mary River than around these parts.

Then some sharp-eyed birdos managed to pick out an Australian Painted Snipe lurking around some of the weedy areas. One of the most cryptic and sneaky species in the country, this bird is not often seen out this way, so lets hope it hangs around until I can get back and have a gander.

Neither of these species are first records for Alice but they are both seen so infrequently that it warrants great excitement and hearty congratulations to everyone involved in these sightings.

In the meantime I’ve been down in SA doing a few surveys around Lake Cadibarrawirracanna, Coober Pedy, and parts further south. As expected, the birding has been exceptional with flocks of up to 40 Banded Lapwing in some areas, up to 1000 Banded Stilt, and Inland Dotterels are everywhere down this way. At one point I had 18 Australian Crake at Coober Pedy and some of them approaching within arm’s reach.

Other highlights include plentiful flocks of Orange Chat and Blue Bonnets along the highway and a single Rufous Fieldwren at the sewage ponds in Coober Pedy.

Happy Birdwatching until next week, and somebody please nail down that Painted Snipe until I get home!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Diamond Dove

Diamond Dove, Geopelia cuneata.

On the subject of common birds, they don’t get much more common than Diamond Doves at the moment. Nonetheless, these stunning birds were a bit tricky to find going back a year or so. Their current numbers are entirely due, again, to our fantastic rainfall which is beginning to approach the all-time record.
The rain this week has made bird-watching a bit difficult for a few visiting birders, but when the rain eased there were plenty of pools about for scenes like this, where the dove is joined by another common denizen of the desert, the Zebra Finch.
With the rain continuing it seems many more lurking waterbirds are making their way cross-country to take advantage of the profuse vegetation around The Centre. In addition to the reports below, I’ve had quite a few reports of unusual waders, crakes, and quails being seen. I’ll get back to you on those once I’ve had a better look.
‘Til then, Happy Birdwatching.
Sightings this week: 
-          Peregrine Falcon are being seen regularly now in and around Heavitree Gap as the pair nesting here seem to have fledged their youngster
-          Painted Finches in flocks up to 22 birds have been seen along the road to Santa Theresa (when it hasn’t been underwater)
-          Grey Honeyeater, a single bird seen on the ridgetop walk at John Hayes Rockhole in the Eastern Macs, on a very wet Sunday.
-          Straw-necked Ibis in a flock of 40 just past Native Gap on the Stuart Highway north of town
-          not really a bird sighting, but frogs are everywhere at my house this week, making a racket in the gutters and downpipes. Send me your photos and we’ll see if we can establish how many species there are around town.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Pied Butcherbird

Pied Butcherbird, Cracticus nigrogularis.

Many thanks for all the emails you’ve sent this week. In particular there have been many requests for more coverage of common local species, rather than just the blow-ins and unusual sightings.
With that in mind I caught up with this young Pied Butcherbird right in the middle of his lunch this week, out near Wigley’s Waterhole. He’s wrestling here with a juvenile snake but I didn’t get close enough to check what species. Suffice to say that the Butcherbird prevailed and got his meal in the end.
 The Pied Butcherbird will be well known to most Alice residents as the bird with a fondness for beginning its song well before sunrise. The bleary-eyed among us might curse this habit on some mornings, but I love it.
Closely related to the Australian Magpie, bird-music lovers will hear the resemblance in their songs. The far-carrying strains of avian jazz that this maestro summons on those cool desert mornings, have a mesmerising quality to them. These pre-dawn recitals drifting through my bedroom window are one of my favourite parts of life in The Alice.
Sightings this week: 
-          Grey Falcon – I saw another of these desert nomads just beyond the rail overpass on north Stuart Highway earlier in the week
-          Red-chested Button-quail – This cryptic northern species has been creeping in to our neck of the woods and has been sighted along sections of the Tanami Road, and also at Emily and Jessie Gap Reserve, east of town
-          Australian Pelican – On the Sandover Highway, someone spotted a lone bird sitting on a roadside sand bank
-          Common Greenshank – Visiting Canberra birder, Frank Antram had some luck with these birds at the sewage ponds and also counted 28 Glossy Ibis

Friday, November 5, 2010

Australasian Darter

Australasian Darter, Anhinga novaehollandiae.

The question flooding my email inbox this week, was from birdwatchers on the east coast asking, where are our birds?!? It’s no secret that the inland lakes and river systems have been brought back to life in spectacular fashion. This is attracting most nomadic species and many intercontinental migrants, to stay here in the outback a bit longer before dispersing toward more traditional coastal habitat.
Around the desert we are seeing many more waterbirds than usual, with cormorants, herons and ducks now a common sight in culverts and roadside ditches along the highway. The Australasian Darter pictured here was at Lake Mary Ann in Tennant Creek, where he is hanging out with 25 of his friends.
The historic rains have helped prolific breeding in some areas and much banding has been done, to help us understand our dynamic inland bird populations. Keep an eye out for birds with bands or coloured flags on their legs, take note of which legs they are on and which colour they are, and email me the details to pass on to the relevant authorities.
Lastly, Swift season is back, so keep your eyes to the skies during stormy weather for these enigmatic birds which are often seen surfing storm fronts across the outback.
Happy birdwatching!
Sightings this week: 
-          Pheasant Coucal, a genuine rarity in The Centre was seen by The Redheads, 2 km down Namatjira Dve from the eastern intersection with Larapinta Dve
-          Visiting Adelaide birder Steve Potter had some excellent close views of Dusky Grasswren out at Ormiston Gorge
-          3 Golden-headed Cisticola were very noisy at the sewage ponds in Tennant Creek
-          80 Australian Pratincole, foraging on the lovely new airstrip at Ali-Curung community
-          Nankeen Night-heron, spotted by David Hartland at the Yulara waste water facility