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.