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!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Common Bronzewing

Common Bronzewing, Phaps chalcoptera.
This colourful and rather portly bird is the Common Bronzewing. Despite its name – it isn’t that common. In fact if you want to get a look at one of these one of the best ways is to cruise along the Stuart Highway north of town in the last hour before sunset. Either that or head out to Kunoth Bore at sunset and you should find plenty coming in for an evening drink at the waterhole.
It’s easy to pick from our other two common pigeons because it doesn’t have the crest of the Spinifex and Crested Pigeons. I photographed this bloke at King’s Canyon and he was easy to find there by the mesmerising, “ooom- oom-oom-oom”, sound that was booming out across Kestrel Falls.
Sightings this week: 
-          Rainbow Lorikeet has been seen in town and we can only hope that it is a lone bird as this is a species which has aggressively colonised other parts of the country
-          Channel-billed Cuckoos, juveniles of this species seem to be turning up everywhere! This points up to a few late hatchlings finally making it out of the nest and making a nuisance of themselves until they are ready to head north for the dry season
-          Red-capped Robins have been a bit more obvious with the onset of the cooler weather. There have been several sightings in parks and gardens right in the middle of Alice
-          Orange Chats have resurfaced at the sewage ponds and are being reported in large flocks to the south of Alice
-          Eastern Koel an unconfirmed sighting of this species has keen birdos on their toes – anyone out there got photos of this bird in Alice? It could be a first folks!
Happy Birding!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Black-tailed Native-hen

Black-tailed Native-hen, Tribonyx ventralis.

The Black-tailed Native Hen or Barcoo Bantam, is a fascinating and relatively unknown outback bird. You might go years without seeing one in the bush and then suddenly you might see flocks of dozens flitting across floodways in outback tracks across the inland.
This is a bird perfectly adapted to the boom and bust economy of our deserts. In good years they have been recorded in flocks up to 4000 birds or more. They surge across the ground, flicking their little tails and making short dashes at incredible speed – but eventually covering vast distances.
When the feed and water starts to dwindle so will these great irruptions and the birds fade back towards the coast or whatever permanent water supplies remain inland.
In Alice your best chance at seeing one of these is the sewage ponds where we have a small breeding population which are usually present year round.
Sightings this week: 
-          Red-tailed Black Cockatoos have been coming in close to town along the Ross Highway near the camel farm
-          Australian Crake continue to be seen by dedicated birdos at the sewage ponds and Ilparpa Swamp. Some of these birds have juveniles with them.
-          Purple Swamphen also enjoying breeding success with many young ones seen at the sewage ponds through the week
-          Slaty-backed Thornbill, a prized Centralian bird has been reported a few times this week in mulga along the Santa Theresa Road including a couple of active nests
-          Orange Chats have been making a bit of a comeback lately with sightings at the sewage ponds and in spinifex on the Ross Highway and Santa Theresa Road
-          Black-tailed Godwits, still feeding up at the sewage ponds in preparation for a late departure on one of the epic migrations of the animal world all the way to Siberia. These birds are showing beautiful breeding plumage – a rare sight for Centralian birdos.
Happy Birding!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Grey Butcherbird

Grey Butcherbird, Cracticus torquatus.

It’s been a massive week of birding folks. Gary Oliver has hit town on his quest to set the Australian record for the most bird species photographed in one year – with so many birding hotspots, The Red Centre was a must visit destination. He’s already tracked down a few local rarities and will shortly be on his way to the Top End.
Staff and Students at OLSH Bath Street have had an amazing bird encounter. A huge bird, with a massive bill, was found flapping around in the schoolyard. Was it a baby eagle or maybe an exotic Hornbill of some sort? Experts from Alice Springs Desert Park came to the rescue. The bird was a juvenile Channel-billed Cuckoo which had fallen from its nest during flight practice. This is a bird at home in the Top End or New Guinea, but they are known to be in Alice in small numbers.
The Channel-billed Cuckoo is what ornithologists call an obligate brood parasite. This just means that it sneaks in and lays its eggs in the nest of a different species of bird – usually a crow. Then the egg hatches and the massive chick turfs the crow’s own eggs out of the nest. The crows don’t notice the subterfuge and will dutifully raise the chick which ends up being many times larger than the unsuspecting ‘parents’.  This is a spectacular discovery, so congratulations to all the lucky OLSH birdos.
The bird in the picture this week is a Grey Butcherbird singing his heart out. This close relative of the Australian Magpie is usually uncommon around Alice but a few are being reported at the moment.
Sightings this week: 
-          Australian Crake at Ilparpa Swamp
-          White-backed Swallow on the road to Santa Theresa
-          Rufous-throated Honeyeaters at Kunjarra (The Pebbles)
-          Ground Cuckoo-shrikes seen lurking around the airport and AZRI estate
Happy Birding!