Thursday, December 8, 2011

Mistletoebird

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!
birdscentral@gmail.com

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.
birdscentral@gmail.com

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.

Friday, November 11, 2011

White-necked Heron

White-necked Heron, Ardea pacifica.

Waterbirds have made up the bulk of the interesting sightings this week around The Centre. The species in the picture is very common at the moment and can be found lurking in many roadside culverts and ephemeral pools. The White-necked Heron is never an uncommon bird, but at the moment is being reported much more regularly. You can pick this bird from the White-faced Heron, also common, by the longer, white neck, and the huge white spots covering the carpal (wrist) joints on the leading edge of the wing.
I’ve been down in the south of WA for most of the week but on the way down, there were a few interesting records. Welcome Swallows continue to breed at Erldunda Roadhouse which is the northernmost population I know of. Crimson Chats were very common along the Lasseter Highway and three Glossy Ibis were at the Mt. Ebenezer Roadhouse. This species has also been turning up at the poo ponds lately where it has been seen with Black-tailed Godwits, Marsh Sandpipers, and other migrant visitors from the Arctic north. Also at the poo ponds, Australian Pratincole have been seen in increasing numbers lately and we are surely due for an Oriental Pratincole any day now.
Still on water birds, Addo reports Black Swans making themselves at home at Boggy Hole where there have also been Pelicans in recent weeks. Bob Read reports that there have been Grey-headed Honeyeaters coming in to feast on blooms in his backyard which is a very unusual record for suburban Alice Springs. Ilparpa Swamp has had some more water and Spotless, Australian, and Baillon’s Crakes have all been reported in the area through the week.
Thanks for all the great reports folks; it’s getting interesting out there!

Pheasant Coucal

Pheasant Coucal, Centropus phasianinus.

The bird in the picture this week may be unfamiliar to a few Centralian bird lovers. Anyone who has been to more northern parts of the NT, from about Katherine up, will know it as a Pheasant Coucal – this one is in breeding plumage.
This is a bird which has recently demonstrated exactly how extraordinary the last couple of seasons have been for central Australia. First a few reports of this species came in from Tennant Creek; then there were a few from Ti-tree and Burt Plain. Another report came in from Namatjira Drive west of Alice and then the icing on the cake – a report of this bird way down at Erldunda, the most southerly NT record of this species in history.
Another exciting northern visitor has appeared this week, the Channel-billed Cuckoo. This huge hornbill-like behemoth has been reported by a couple of people around town. With their immense size, noisy habits, and their ability to attract the attention of other birds in the vicinity, they will surely be turning up everywhere soon. Commonly known as a Rainbird throughout The Territory it seems quite fitting that they have timed their arrival, from as far away as New Guinea, to coincide with a couple of days of midweek drizzle in The Alice.
Another interesting turn-up this week has been a few Flock Bronzewings that have been sighted around Yulara. This enigmatic pigeon has been in huge numbers in sandy deserts 500kms to the east but it is the first time in many years that they have been seen near Uluru. Also around Yulara are increasingly frequent sightings of Pied and Black Honeyeaters – let’s hope they’re headed our way!
Keep your binoculars dry ‘til next week.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Rainbow Lorikeet

Rainbow Lorikeet Trichoglossus haematodus.
This stunning bird is not one I had hoped to encounter this week. This will be familiar to many as the Rainbow Lorikeet, one of the most dazzling of all our parrots. If you head further north in The Territory you will find Rainbow Lorikeets… but not this particular kind. About as far south as Mataranka, we get a sub-species of the Rainbow Lorikeet, which some have even elevated to full species status as the Red-collared Lorikeet. The bird in this picture is the southern and eastern sub-species familiar in backyards from Adelaide, right around the east coast.
There have been increasingly frequent reports of small flocks of these parrots from Old Eastside, Northside, and Larapinta, and this week I found a couple of birds in the Grandfather Tree – the big old River Red Gum at the corner of Parsons Street and Todd Mall.
I’m often accused of banging on about feral birds a bit, and there are some in the community who have a “live and let live” attitude to avian invaders, and they’re welcome to their opinions, but the Rainbow Lorikeet is just that - an invader. This is a hardy species that will breed quickly and push to the margins any of our native birds that are smaller or less aggressive.
They’ll surely add a splash of colour to Todd Mall, but it’s a brash, gaudy sort of colour, completely at odds with our surrounds. It’s bird bling gone crazy and simply no match for the subdued pastels of a Galah, the tidy colour scheme of a Port Lincoln Parrot or the spangled evening gown sported by the Red-tailed Black Cockatoo.
Please let me know where else these birds are being seen, and have a very birdy weekend!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Horsfield's Bronze-cuckoo

Horsfield's Bronze-cuckoo Chalcites basalis.

Red Centre Bird Week has been and gone, but the birding is still heating up around The Alice. Our bird this week is Horsfield’s Bronze-cuckoo which can be heard commonly around town at the moment as it searches for another bird’s nest to sneak its eggs into. Richard Waring and I caught up with this crafty species out on the Tanami Rd during the week.
The Waring family figured prominently in Bird Week with Richard, Banjo, and Moses winning the 24 hour Twitchathon with a stunning list of 91 species. Their team, The Buff Budgies, travelled day and night around central Australia to eventually win the event by 2 birds – congratulations!
An honourable mention must go to Twitchathon adjudicator Mark Carter who, though ineligible to win the event, conducted the first carbon-neutral Twitchathon by doing the entire 24 hours on bicycle. Despite this apparent handicap he and team mate Gareth, though suffering a couple of scraped knees along the way, managed to equal the score of the winning team. The carbon-neutral category of the event seems set to become more popular next year.
The Alice Springs Desert Park and the birding community of The Alice has put on a great event this year which has attracted a lot of attention from interstate and overseas through social media like Facebook and Twitter. Alice is rapidly becoming one of the premier birding destinations in the country and it is thanks to events like this and the generosity of participants, volunteers and organisers.
To all the staff out at the Desert Park, the Alice Springs Field Naturalists Club, Dick Kimber, Mark Carter, and all the participants in all the activities through the week; as my grandfather would have said, “your blood’s worth bottling!”
Well done, and many thanks.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Nankeen Night-heron

Nankeen Night-heron Nycticorax caledonicus.
Once seen, the Nankeen Night-heron is never forgotten. This creepy little heron is sometimes found lurking secretively around reed beds and thick undergrowth around permanent bodies of water. As such, they’re not seen too often around Alice, but lately they’ve been showing up everywhere. Out at Glen Helen they are roosting in many of the trees along the river and there have been recent sightings at the Telegraph Station near town.
The bird in the picture is the juvenile that was rescued a couple of weeks back and released at the sewage ponds. I checked on him a few days later and he seemed very much at home. The “nankeen” in the name refers to the buff colouring taken on in adulthood. Nankeen is a type of cloth produced from a yellowish cotton which was originally made in Nanjing, China. After a bit of Anglophonic mangling, we ended up with the name nankeen for both the cloth and its characteristic colour. The colour reference is now used in the names of several Australian plants and animals.
Red Centre Birdweek is about to reach its apex with the 24 hour twitchathon kicking off out the front of the Alice Springs Desert Park at 6pm this afternoon. For this event, competitors will have the southern NT as their playground and try to tick off as many different species as possible within the time limit. Event adjudicator Mark Carter will attempt to put the entire field to shame by completing all his birding by pushbike – and there’s a fair chance he’ll out-tick the lot of us.
 It’s never too late to register a team, so grab your binoculars, grab a partner, and get involved! I’ll see you out there.
 Happy Birdweek!
birdscentral@gmail.com

Friday, September 30, 2011

Purple Swamphen

Purple Swamphen Porphyrio porphyrio.

The smoky atmosphere has not slowed the bird action out at Glen Helen Gorge. I was in the Western Macs this weekend, and the upper reaches of the Finke are still well stocked with fish, attracting plenty of waterbirds.
This Purple Swamphen scrutinised me closely as he scavenged dead fish and invertebrates from the water’s edge. Colin and Shelagh out at Glen Helen Resort are having a bumper season and Colin pointed out a tree full of Nankeen Night-herons roosting on the bank opposite the pub. Also at Glen Helen, I managed to catch up with a Dusky Moorhen; this is one of a very small population that are resident in central Australia.
Albrecht Oval has had some birding highlights this week with Mark “Huss” Hussey finding a mob of Straw-necked Ibis. Later in the week, Jesse Carpenter had the good fortune to find a sleepy Spotted Nightjar out on the turf. The west side of town has had some unwanted birds as well with a few Rainbow Lorikeets reported around Bokhara Street.
The young Nankeen Night-heron that was in care last week has been successfully released into Ilparpa Swamp and was last seen happily hunting around like he owns the place.
Centralian Birding activity will reach a peak this week as Red Centre Bird Week fires up. The fun begins on Saturday with a tag-a-long birding trip through the Owen Springs Reserve and the action continues right through the week, culminating in the 24 hour Twitchathon next Friday. To get involved you can contact the Alice Springs Desert Park directly or view the full program of events at the following web address: http://www.alicespringsdesertpark.com.au/plan/pdf/red_centre_bird_week_program.pdf
 Happy Birdweek!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Caspian Tern

Caspian Tern Hydroprogne caspia, at Alice Springs Sewage Ponds.

Alice has had some fascinating visitors this week. First up was a pair of Caspian Terns sighted at the sewage ponds. This is the largest tern on earth with a wingspan approaching 1.5m. These huge birds are known to lurk around inland bodies of water but we don’t often see them here in The Centre.
The terns weren’t the only unusual sighting though – local bird man Mark Carter had a very unexpected encounter with a Pheasant Coucal only a short way up the track from town. We’ve had this species reported quite a bit around Tennant Creek this year but this far south is highly irregular. Also pushing south at the moment are the Masked Woodswallows that have been seen in flocks 300 strong, high over town this week during their annual migration.
The sewage ponds have been hosting a few interesting waders this week as well; a Pacific Golden Plover and a couple of Red Knots have been seen by a number of birders. These birds have all still got some of their breeding plumage and have just touched down after non-stop flights from perhaps as far away as China and North Korea.
Lastly, a single Nankeen Night-heron is currently in care after being found by the pool at The Chifley resort! This is another uncommon species around Central Australia. You would normally have to head to Boggy Hole or 2 Mile Waterhole to track one of these down. He’ll get looked after by the very best wildlife carers in Alice before being released once he regains his strength.
 Happy Birding ‘til next week!
comebirdwatching@gmail.com

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Flock Bronzewing

Flock Bronzewing Phaps histrionica, Old Andado Homestead.
The Old Andado Track (south-east of Alice) was the destination for my birding efforts this weekend. Along with a bumpy old ride, my companions and I found some spectacular bird life including this Flock Bronzewing who sat on the road very obligingly for a picture. Normally a bit tricky to find, these birds are currently common around Indinda Swamp near the Old Andado Homestead. During our stay there were often flocks of up to 100 birds circling around our heads. Other common birds in the region were Eyrean Grasswren, Banded Whiteface, Chiming Wedgebill, Orange Chat, and Cinnamon Quail-thrush; a great trip!
There have been a couple of impressive reports this week. Local birder Richard Waring took some great photos of White-browed Treecreeper out on Larapinta Drive. This species is right on the northern edge of its distribution here and is notoriously difficult to find.
Gilbert Swamp, just south of Tennant Creek, has had two reports of Painted Honeyeater this week. This is an exciting find as this bird is usually found considerably east of here. Not commonly reported in the NT at all, it is exciting to hear some reports coming through.
A few different cormorants have been seen at the poo ponds this week, but the highlight was perhaps an Australasian Darter that chose to stop over for a few days and hang out with the ducks.
More ominously, I found a few feral Spotted Turtle-doves during a walk along Ragonesi Rd on the south side of The Gap – they’re spreading. Residents in Eastside have reported a small flock of Rainbow Lorikeets in the area over the past few weeks which would be another unwelcome invader.
 Happy Birding ‘til next week!
comebirdwatching@gmail.com

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Southern Boobook

Southern Boobook Ninox novaeseelandiae. Photographed by Matt LeFeuvre.

Fires, controlled and otherwise, have continued this week making Alice a smoky old town. Many might sympathise with this Southern Boobook, snapped by marine biologist Matt Le Feuvre near town last week. Matt has caught this beautiful little owl at its daytime roost, and the smoke seems to be playing havoc with his eyes.
There have been some interesting sightings from near and far this week. A visiting photographer friend turned up with some spectacular shots of 20,000 Flock Bronzewings near the Queensland border on the Plenty Highway. Alice Springs expats Terry and Jo Brennan-Kuss were up from Coober Pedy for the weekend and reported hundreds of Inland Dotterels and more Flock Bronzewings along the road to William Creek. 
A Curlew Sandpiper was identified by Barb Gilfedder among other waders at the Alice Springs sewage ponds. This is a common migrant visitor from the Arctic region, but not seen too often in Central Australia.
The big question for the week is – who has lost a Princess Parrot? Birdwatchers around Central Australia are waiting for confirmation that one of these scarce (in the wild) parrots seen on Northside, was indeed a wild bird and not an escaped aviary pet. If anyone is missing one of these birds I’d love to hear from you.
Lastly, Centralian birdos are crossing their fingers and hoping that fires to the south-east of town along the Deep Well Road haven’t pushed into a well-known population of Rufous-crowned Emu-wrens. The fires came perilously close to this area and these tiny birds are not safe yet.
A big thank you to all the regular and volunteer fire-fighters who have been working so hard in the last few weeks to protect not just people and property, but valuable habitat for our birds and other unique wildlife.   
Happy birding!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Weebill


Weebill Smicrornis brevirostris.

Welcome to the week of birds in Central Australia. Our bird this time around is perhaps the smallest in Australia. At between 4 and 5 grams the Weebill (pictured) has few rivals in the super-lightweight division of the Australian bird list. This tiny yellow bird may go unnoticed by many, but its garrulous call will be familiar to most. This is a common bird anywhere there are eucalypts that might house the lerps and other small insects which make up so much of its diet. The old telegraph station is a favourite haunt, as is the Olive Pink Botanic Gardens.    
There’ve been some interesting reports from far and wide this week. Big Trav up in Tennant Creek saw 5 Pheasant Coucals down on Peko road – a spectacular, and unusual sighting this far south.
A bit further up the highway, folks at Banka Banka Station have seen plenty of Brolga passing through the area, most likely dispersing from a frenzy of waterbird activity up at Lake Woods at the moment.
Visitors to Ininda Swamp near Old Andado report plenty of water still around those parts and a few Letter-winged Kites still in the area.

Closer to home, water birds have been the order of the day in Alice Springs with Little Pied and Little Black Cormorant both reported along with Australasian Darter this week. Also at the sewage ponds have been Straw-necked Ibis, Common Greenshank, Intermediate and Eastern Great Egret.
Birds of prey nesting around town at the moment include, Brown Goshawks, Collared Sparrowhawks, Black-breasted Buzzards, Peregrine Falcons, and Wedge-tailed Eagles; it should be an exciting time ahead as these youngsters get airborne.
The Budgies seem to be coming back strongly also, and several decent flocks of these uber nomads have been spotted around town over the past week.
Happy birding!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Tawny Frogmouth

Tawny Frogmouth Podargus strigoides.
The Tawny Frogmouth is a rare example of a bird which is both iconic and frequently overlooked. It is found throughout Australia and has close relatives right through south-east Asia.
It is an amazingly successful bird across a wide variety of habitats and climates. Not often observed due to its impressively cryptic habits, it’s more common than many of us might believe. The chances are that you are rarely more than a few hundred metres from one of these birds – even right in the middle of town. Frogmouths have demonstrated a remarkable capacity for adapting to life in urban environments – and they’re sneaky.
Unfortunately, many of these birds have been showing up dead on our roads in recent months, the victim of unavoidable collisions with late night motorists and the debilitating effects of accumulated rodent poisons.
This week has seen some exciting reports across town. The big news was a flock of 50 pelicans that was circling over town late last Thursday afternoon – are they here for a fishing trip out in the West Macs?
Orange Chats (a lifer!) have been reported at the poo ponds by Moses Waring – at 7 years of age one of the youngest birders doing the rounds at the sewage ponds this season. Among the migrant birds, Sharp-tailed, Wood, and Common Sandpipers have all been passing through and there has been a single Common Greenshank at the poo ponds as well this week.
Going back to nocturnal birds, have you worked out your team for the annual Tiwest Nightstalk yet? This national hunt for the nocturnal wildlife treasures of Australia begins on the 1st of September, so it is time to get scheming! Check the website below for details and keep on sending me your interesting bird reports from wherever your binoculars take you this week.
Happy birding!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Wood Sandpiper

Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola.

It’s an exciting time of year for bird lovers in the southern hemisphere. Most of our local birds are either sitting on eggs or have recently hatched a brood of squawking youngsters. While resident birds are busy breeding there is one group of birds who have no interest in such activities; for now.
Migrant birds have started to arrive from their breeding grounds in the northern hemisphere and among them is our bird of the week, the Wood Sandpiper. At around 55g, it is astonishing that such a tiny frame can sustain all the requisite bits and pieces for sustaining life. Add to this that this delicate-looking creature has just flown here all the way from the Russian Far East and it boggles the mind.
The Wood Sandpiper has been shown to be capable of making this trip in just a few hops of up to 4,500km stopping for just a few days along the way to rest and feed. With few exceptions it will make this staggering round trip every year of its life and may live well beyond 15 years. That’s not bad on a diet of insect larvae and molluscs!
Over the summer you can marvel at these amazing birds at the Alice Springs Sewage Ponds where they spend their holiday season loafing with other migrant species. A few other migrants have been spotted lately including Common Sandpipers and Red-necked Stints, all of whom have completed a similar ultra-marathon flight to get here.
Lots of people have been emailing me their stories of nesting birds in the back yard. Have you got an interesting or unidentified bird nesting in a tree at your house? Send me your pictures and stories and that’ll be the topic for next week’s ditty.
Happy birding!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Australian Pelican

Australian Pelican Pelecanus conspicillatus.

There can be few more majestic birds than the pelican. With their huge bills and broad wingspan an airborne flock can look like a squadron of bombers as they fly in formation across outback skies. Pelicans have fascinated me ever since Mr. Ponder, Mr. Percival, and Mr. Proud first waddled into my imagination from Colin Thiele’s masterpiece, Stormboy; if you’ve never read it, you’re missing out.
It’s not a bird that you would instantly associate with the desert but pelicans are fond of breeding in our inland waterways. Lake Eyre in 1994 saw one of the largest pelican breeding events ever recorded and ecologists estimated that in the following years 3 out of every 4 pelicans anywhere in Australia had been born at Lake Eyre.
In Central Australia pelicans can often be encountered at significant bodies of water like Mary Ann Dam and Lake Woods to the north and Boggy Hole closer to Alice Springs – I’ve even had a report of a bird found resting atop a sand dune out on the Sandover Highway.
You may see them in small flocks flying high overhead. While they often do breed inland, pelicans tend to spend more of their time in coastal regions where there is a more reliable supply of fish. It has been suggested that the small flocks we sometimes see, are actually scouting parties. It’s theorised that they come from coastal colonies to inspect the state of inland waterways. If the rains have arrived and the conditions are right they will spread the word and the colonies duly arrive at places like Lake Eyre for the massive breeding events that we have witnessed in the past.
The highlights of Alice Springs birding this week has been 3 Freckled Ducks, 2 Baillon’s Crake, and the first Wood Sandpipers on their return migration from the Arctic all at the sewage ponds at Ilparpa.
Happy birding until next week.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Australian Ringneck

Australian Ringneck, Barnardius zonarius.

The Australian Ringneck, pictured, could fall into the same category as the Galah as one of our most underrated birds. Common throughout most of Australia except the wet tropics and Tasmania, these colourful, brash birds are never far away. Here in Alice Springs you are rarely more than a stone’s throw from a group of Ringnecks. They’re common up and down Todd Mall, and the Todd River, usually obvious by their clattering calls.
It’s a bird that exhibits a great amount of regional variation which has earned it different names around the country. Folks in WA call them Twenty-eight Parrots in reference to the way the birds sound in the south-west. There’s the Mallee Ringneck down further south which has much more green and turquoise about the head. Then to our east you will find the Cloncurry Ringneck which is much paler overall. The variety that we see around Alice Springs is known as the Port Lincoln Ringneck and can be found all the way down to that part of SA. Despite all these regional colours and different names, genetic research has shown that all of these parrots are the same species.
This week I managed to track down a bird which is more familiar from south of the border, the Cinnamon Quail-thrush. These birds are showing up in increasing numbers along the Maryvale Rd, Deepwell Rd, and the Old Andado Track. The Orange Chats have now well and truly colonised the sewage ponds and this week we had a visit from a pair of White-necked Herons as well. Richard Waring had success tracking down last week’s bird, the Sacred Kingfisher, in the Hugh River west of town.
Happy birding until next week.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Sacred Kingfisher

Sacred Kingfisher, Todiramphus sanctus.
This week the bird in the picture arrives with a swag of mythological associations. This is the Sacred Kingfisher. The shimmering blue-green of the plumage and the buff coloured eyebrow separate him from the more common, Red-backed Kingfisher. This bird has been referred to as “sacred” as far back as the 16th century when early ornithologists noticed the great reverence the bird was held in through much of the Pacific.
Its previous generic name, Halcyon, was a reference to ancient Greek mythology. Ceyx, the King of Thessaly, drowned during a long sea voyage. On hearing of his death, his wife Halcyone, turned into a kingfisher. Hearing the kingfisher’s loud lamentations, the gods brought her drowned husband back from the dead as another kingfisher and the couple were reunited. They created a floating nest for their eggs out on the sea, and Halcyone’s father Aeolus, the god of wind, kept the sea calm so as not to tip his daughter’s eggs into the sea. This is where we get the term “halcyon days” referring to a time of calm and peace. The name Ceyx, is also now used as a scientific name for a different group of kingfishers.
You should keep an eye out for the Sacred Kingfishers as they arrive back from their northerly migration in the coming weeks. Another bird which is on its way back from spending winter in the warmer climes up north is the Rainbow Bee-eater. Mark Carter has reported the first of these birds returning this week to add a splash of colour as we head towards warmer weather.
A bit of maintenance occurring at the sewage ponds will mean a few changes to water levels, but no changes to birding access.
As always, send your sightings to- comebirdwatching@gmail.com
…And happy Birding!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike

Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike, Coracina novaehollandiae.

Kyah Gillen, at 12 years old, could be one of Alice Springs’ youngest birders. Kyah reported the bird in the picture this week, a Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike. These birds are fairly common around most of the suburbs of Alice but seem to be particularly abundant around northside this year.
Some people know this bird as a “Shufflewing”, owing to its habit of shuffling its wing feathers back into position every time it lands. Some folks have suggested that it looks like it’s performing “The Macarena”, for those of us unfortunate enough to recall that particular pop monstrosity. You might find Black-faced Cuckoo-shrikes nesting this year in a shallow saucer nest which looks much too small for a bird of this size.
Kyah had some other interesting sightings this week, including an unfortunate White-plumed Honeyeater which had been caught by a Collared Sparrowhawk.
Feral Spotted Turtle-doves continue to run rampant over the town, but genuinely intriguing this week was a report of two Brown Cuckoo-doves around Plumbago Crescent. This is a species more at home along the east coast and would be the first record for the NT if confirmed.
The first of the returning migrants has been sighted, fittingly, by the president of the Field Nats, Barb Gilfedder. Barb and some friends found a lone Common Sandpiper at the poo ponds after its epic journey from distant parts of far eastern Asia.
Lastly, I had a great encounter with a small flock of Varied Sitellas along the eastern boundary of the AZRI block during the week. These frenetic little birds are never common to bump into, but always fun to watch as they land on a tree trunk and spiral their way downwards, feeding as they go. Great stuff!
Happy Birding!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Grey-headed Honeyeater

Grey-headed Honeyeater, Lichenostomus keartlandi.

It’s been another big week for birding in The Centre. The Alice Springs Field Naturalists Club conducted their quarterly wader count at the poo ponds on Sunday. Thanks to all who turned out to help, and that data will be forwarded on to the Shorebirds 2020 project by the tireless Barb Gilfedder, who also organised the whole shebang.
On the weekend I caught up with some sizeable flocks of Grey-headed Honeyeaters feasting on blooming hakeas atop Mt. Gillen. If you ever wondered why we don’t have hummingbirds here in Australia, then the answer is in the photo this week.
Honeyeaters have evolved to fill a similar niche in our ecosystem as hummingbirds in other parts of the world – pollinating plants. These blokes are high-octane nectar feeders, but aren’t averse to taking the occasional insect or two. The slightly powdery effect on the forehead of this bird is the pollen from the hakea that it has picked up in its travels and will transport all around the neighbourhood.
Honeyeaters are the largest group of Australian birds by a fair margin, and many of them can be found here in The Centre. Just recently, there has been a report of a Yellow-tinted Honeyeater in the area around Tnorala. This northerly species would be an interesting addition to the list of Centralian vagrants in this season of plenty.
Another interesting report of an albino Brown Falcon came from Mark Carter while birding out on Deep Well Road earlier in the week. That’s one bird that should certainly stand out so keep your camera handy if you’re birding out that way.
Other sightings of note; a much-beleaguered Barn Owl has been roosting in the Ghost Gum behind Office National despite the best efforts of local Butcherbirds, and some huge flocks of Spinifex Pigeons frolicking in the thick spinifex atop the Heavitree Range. The Peregrine Falcons continue to entertain early commuters passing through Heavitree Gap.
Send your sightings to- comebirdwatching@gmail.com
Happy Birding!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Black-faced Woodswallow

Black-faced Woodswallows, Artamus cinereus.

Some Centralians struggle with the frosty nights we get in winter. While that is quite understandable, imagine if you only weighed as much as a Woodswallow. At around 35g, woodswallows aren’t even close to some of our smallest birds (some are as tiny as 5g) but with so little meat on their bones, the cold presents a very real danger. These little birds are not-too-distantly related to the crows and ravens – some of the most intelligent birds known. They exhibit this intelligence in their communal solutions to problems like the cold.
You can often see these little birds huddling together against the cold in the early morning or late afternoon. This photograph, of Black-faced Woodswallows, has 16 sharing the shelter of their friends and family but you might see them huddling in much larger flocks of 50 birds or more.
Cooperation in woodswallows doesn’t end with body warmth either. These birds will help each other raise young and defend nests against predators. Some woodswallow species are also known to be accomplished mimics in addition to having their own slightly scratchy song.
The Centre has produced some great sightings of Flock Bronzewing this week. It seems any decent body of open water to the north of town is a chance of attracting this knockout of the pigeon world. Usually in the hour before sunset they have been reported at Kunoth Bore, McGrath Creek, Hamburger Creek, and Warburton Memorial. One visiting birder had some fleeting views of Grey Honeyeater and Varied Sitella about 40kms along the Tanami Rd. Spotted Harriers are still around in good numbers with some accompanied by youngsters from a successful breeding season.
Happy Birding!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Little Black Cormorant

Little Black Cormorant, Phalacrocorax sulcirostris.

These wonderful blue-eyed birds might come as a surprise to some birdwatchers. Cormorants are primarily fish-eaters so they might seem slightly out of place here in the desert.
This is the Little Black Cormorant, and anyone who has been out to visit the waterholes and rivers in the ranges this year will realise there is no shortage of fish for these blokes. These birds can usually be found in spots along the Finke - all the way from Ormiston Gorge through Glen Helen, Finke Gorge and beyond. More recently they’ve even been spotted splashing around in puddles in the Todd River bed in town.
Cormorants don’t have as much oil in their feathers as other waterbirds. This reduces their buoyancy and allows them to dive underwater for their prey. This means that their feathers don’t repel water like a duck’s, necessitating the ritual of standing on posts and tree stumps at the water’s edge drying their wings before flying again – just as I found these two doing at the sewage ponds here in Alice.
Sightings this week: 
Brown Quail – A frequent sighting by firies as they flushed from the long grass during burning off at Simpson’s Gap and along the Todd River
Banded Lapwings – Currently a regular visitor to the poo ponds hiding among the Masked Lapwings
Peach-faced Lovebird – Another small flock of this dreaded feral was seen out on Lyndavale Drive during the week
Diamond Doves – Possibly our sexiest little native dove has been in flocks of up to 80 birds along the roadside out on Colonel Rose Drive
Crested Bellbird – lots of this shy species being seen as juveniles start to grow up and disperse from the family territory.
Happy Birding!

Friday, June 24, 2011

White-faced Heron

White-faced Heron, Ardea novaehollandiae.

A bumper list of interesting sightings this week is due to the efforts of many local birders and the sudden influx of a number of birding tourists from interstate. With the swamp areas south of the sewage ponds once again flooded, there have been a number of reports of “lurking” species among the reed beds.
Spotless Crake is a bird which is yet to make it onto my Centralian list but several folks have found this species lately around the bushy areas of the poo ponds. I still haven’t been able to track this species down, but I did find hordes of their, usually shy, cousins the Australian Crake. These birds have been dancing around in the open with the Buff-banded Rails in the afternoons.
The Spotless Crake was proving so difficult to find that I almost didn’t notice the White-faced Heron in the picture. These birds are common enough around watery areas near Alice, but it’s always good to get a close look.
Sightings this week: 
Orange Chats – Are now a regular sighting at the poo ponds and a few other areas to the south of town.
Flock Bronzewing – Still being seen in flocks of up to 150 birds around Burt Plain at sunset.
Buff-banded Rail, Australian Crake, Spotless Crake – All these species are being seen in the early morning and late afternoon by patient observers at the sewage ponds.
Square-tailed Kite – An unconfirmed report of this species at the sewage ponds should have local birdos on their toes and checking all raptors carefully.
Grey Falcon – Fleeting reports of this species are still coming from the river end of Heath Rd
Australian Bustard – Has been reported at Kunoth Bore just a short drive up the Tanami Rd.
Happy Birding!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Nankeen Kestrel

Nankeen Kestrel, Falco cenchroides.

To all those Centralians with lots of rodents around your homes, this week’s bird should be right up your alley. The Nankeen Kestrel, frozen in mid-air for 1/400th of a second, is a specialist mouse hunter. It is no surprise that they have been doing very well this year.
This bird is unmistakeable when it is seen hovering like this over an open field. The broad, black band across the bottom of the tail distinguishes it from any other bird of prey around Alice. In a stiff breeze, the kestrel can remain almost motionless as those powerful eyes scour the ground for any tiny movement that could be a mouse scurrying under a bush.
These birds are common around Alice at the moment and can be seen along the Todd Riverbed, the poo ponds, and out along Colonel Rose Drive. They’re often sitting in the exposed upper branches of trees in the morning, soaking up the warmth of the rising sun and surveying their territory for good hunting spots.
Sightings this week: 
Grey Falcon – More sightings of a mega-rarity, this time two birds out on the Mereenie Loop just west of the Areyonga turn off.
Flock Bronzewing – These birds are being seen in flocks of up to 150 birds around Burt Plain at sunset.
Pictorella Mannikin – This stunning little finch was reported in small flocks along the Tablelands Highway by ecologists Angela Stewart and Holger Woyt.
Buff-banded Rail – A report of this species from Meg Mooney on eastside confirms the continued presence of this charismatic lurker.
Happy Birding!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Australian Bustard

Australian Bustard, Ardeotis australis.

The boom season here in the centre has delivered another unusual feathered visitor. The Australian Bustard (Ardeotis australis) has been hunted out in most areas around human settlement. Fortunately, they are still found in scattered populations around Central Australia but rarely close to town.
Local marine biologist (yes, they exist in Alice Springs!) Matt Le Feuvre was heading down Colonel Rose Drive last week when he found this bloke standing beside the airport side of the road. This is a spectacular discovery. These birds are famously cryptic and adept at freezing in long grass and becoming almost invisible. Luckily, Matt was paying attention and managed to snap this photo before he flew off – a great effort.
For those of you hanging out for an answer to our mystery corvid picture last week – I’ll put you out of your misery. I had a truckload of emails, and I am aware of at least a couple of wagers hinging on the identity of the bird - a juvenile Little Crow, Corvus bennetti. The sharp-eyed birdos out there pointed to the smaller size of the upper mandible and the proportionately longer tarsus (lower leg).
Well done one and all, and thanks for your participation! If you got the correct answer you have well and truly earned the right to crow about it… sorry, I couldn’t resist. Happy birding ‘til next week.
Sightings this week: 
Horsfield’s Bronze-cuckoo – Plenty of these about at the moment, particularly south of the ranges.
Scarlet-chested Parrot – Some of these beautiful desert nomads have been reported out near King’s Canyon.
Little Eagle – Drew Pendavingh had a few close encounters with this species along the Lasseter Highway this week.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Little Crow

Little Crow, Corvus bennetti.

Brace yourself folks. This week we traverse the controversial territory of corvid identification. That’s right, all those black birds that everyone sees and dismisses as “crow”, could actually be one of five or six different birds depending on where you are.
Here in Alice you are fairly safe with “crow”. On geographic boundaries we are fairly safe in discounting the Forest Raven, the Little Raven and the occasional ship-assisted vagrant House Crow.
The two common species here are the Torresian Crow and Little Crow but we do sometimes get the Australian Raven, but how to tell the difference? A simple trick is to watch the bird until the wind ruffles the feathers around the neck. If the down at the base of the feathers is white, then you’ve got one of the crow species. If the down is a muddy, grey-brown colour then it is a raven.
Based on the white down visible between the neck feathers on our bird this week, I’d say it’s safe to call it a crow – but which one? It’s definitely a juvenile as both crow species have a white eye when in adulthood. Other than beak size, often the best way to distinguish between the two is on behavioural characteristics like wing flicks, body position while calling and the sound of the call itself.
Welcome to the world of serious birdwatching. The first person to email the correct species gets bragging rights in next week’s bulletin.
Sightings this week: 
Grey Falcon – This legendary species has been seen again south of town on the Stuart Highway around Salt Creek.
Black-chinned Honeyeater – Never easy to find, this little beauty is in good numbers in Serpentine Gorge at the moment.
Happy Birding!