Friday, December 24, 2010

Dusky Grasswren

Dusky Grasswren, Amytornis purnelli.

This weeks bird was found on top of Mt Gillen to the west of town, but most of the big bird news has again centred on the swamp.

The Dusky Grasswren pictured is a major drawcard for bird tourism in Alice Springs and is common throughout the Eastern and Western MacDonnell Ranges. Most of the other members of the Grasswren family are very shy and elusive and live in much less accessible parts of the country.

In contrast, our Dusky Grasswren can be seen with minimal fuss, quite close to town. It’s a bird not much bigger than a mouse which often prefers to hop and run around among the rocks rather than fly. For all its drabness, it is a bird full of character and boldness and I’ve seen experienced birdwatchers mesmerised by its antics. Small and unassuming, but clearly one of our iconic local bird species.

But on to this weeks round up…

-          Mark Carter has had tremendous success at Ilparpa Swamp with 3 Crake species down among the reeds in one afternoon, surely some sort of record for Alice - Spotless Crake and Australian Crake with a more unusual sighting of the tiny Baillon’s Crake.

-          Also at Ilparpa a Long-toed Stint and a Ruff mixing in with other long-distance visitors.

-          The enigmatic Flock Bronzewing have made another appearance, this time well south of town, with a small flock at Salt Creek near Erldunda.

-          A Pheasant Coucal was reported just south of Aileron on the Stuart Highway

Merry Christmas to all in the desert bird watching community and fingers crossed for some special Christmas birds turning up. Thanks again for your input.

Keep those reports coming in! 

Friday, December 17, 2010

Straw-necked Ibis

Straw-necked Ibis, Threskiornis spinicollis.

This week’s bird will be familiar to most, and in fact familiar to many around the world. Varieties of Ibis are found throughout Asia, Africa, and parts of Europe and the Americas, as well as here in Oz. There is the colossal Giant Ibis of South-East Asia growing to over a metre in height.  There is the neon-bright Scarlet Ibis of South America which puts some parrots to shame with its display of outrageous colour. Then there is the Northern Bald Ibis (or Waldrapp) which may be down to as few as 500 birds scattered among its last outposts in Syrian and Moroccan deserts. 
Ibis are well known from ancient Egyptian mythology where the Ibis-headed God known as “Thoth”, acted as intermediary between good and evil, and perfectly mummified Ibis remains have been found in many archaeological diggings. The list of cultures in which the Ibis appears in mythology or scripture is truly amazing; the Egyptians, Greeks, Phoenicians, Mongols, Malays, and countless North American nations all told stories featuring this bird in one of its many forms.
But this is our stunning local, the Straw-necked Ibis, found loafing around Blatherskite Park with his mates this week. This picture makes it abundantly clear why he is so named. With local grasses doing so well this year the Ibis are gathering in good numbers anywhere there is some good open grassland near water.
Sightings this week: 
-          On an evening out Frog-watching in the Western Macs, 3 Eastern Barn Owls in quick succession out on Larapinta Drive
-          Australian Crake seen by the dozen, scurrying around Ilparpa Swamp
-          Also down the swamps, plenty of Stubble Quail splashing about among the reed beds

Friday, December 10, 2010

Willie Wagtail

Willie Wagtail, Rhipidura leucophrys.

A question hitting the inbox in the last few weeks has been about a sweet-sounding bird heard on still nights. It isn’t made by a typically nocturnal bird, but it rings out clearly on moonlit nights, and comes from the Australian Nightingale – well, some people call it that. It’s an apt description, but the rest of us probably know it as a Willie Wagtail.
The fellow pictured in this lucky close-up, was loitering around Commonage Rd earlier in the week. He adopted this curious behaviour of perching and vibration his wings rapidly at his side, while issuing his distinctive ratcheting alarm call.
There are a couple of reasons for this; it alerted his family to my presence. More importantly, it distracted me, for a minute anyway, from his brood of three newly fledged youngsters sitting on a nearby branch.
To the left of his bill you can see silhouetted, the line of stiff rictal bristles that mark this bird as an insectivore. He wags his tail in an effort to stir insects from the undergrowth and then flutters to catch them. The bristles help to funnel the insects into the beak.
Great sightings this week include:  
-          Striated Grasswrens  just south of Barrow Creek
-          Oriental Pratincole at Tennant Creek Sewage Ponds
-          Red-chested Button-quail giving excellent views around Hamburger Creek on the Tanami rd
-          Spotless Crake lurking at Ilparpa and Glen Helen
-          and David Hartland down in Murputja, reports that his APY Lands list has hit 117, including such sought after species as Princess Parrot (couple of times a year), Chestnut-breasted and Banded Whiteface, and Striated and Dusky Grasswrens.
Thanks for the input folks and Happy Birding for another week.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Black Swan

Black Swan, Cygnus atratus.

This week the birds have dragged me halfway across the continent and back again. It’s been all about getting back from Adelaide and tracking down the Australian Painted Snipe which I’m told is still at the sewage ponds. This bird would be, for me, a lifer. The holy grail of any birdwatching outing. A species I have never seen before, making it briefly more special than any other bird.
The mornings have seen me up at 4am to beat the rising sun down to the treatment plant in my failed attempts to lure this bird from its hiding place. As is sometimes the way, my quest began to reach a frantic level of frustration when I had to stop and say to myself, take a deep breath. Look around you.
In the early morning light the ponds were alive with birds of all varieties that I’d been ignoring simply because they weren’t the one I was looking for. Birdwatching often turns into these zen moments of serendipity.
Black Swans trumpeted their welcome to the new morning. As the sun streamed through the white feathers of their wingtips, and they took to flight all around me, it was well worth getting out of bed for. The Snipe will wait another day.
Sightings this week: 
-          4 Swamp Harriers on a drive out to Yuendumu earlier in the week.
-          A Southern Boobook has been calling very persistently at night around the top of Dixon Rd
-          A mysterious Snipe (not the Painted one) lurking at the poo ponds has local pundits still guessing, Latham’s or Pin-tailed?