Thursday, December 8, 2011


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!

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.

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.