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.