Monday, January 23, 2012

Australian Crake Porzana fluminea.

This week I’ve been tracking down a verified lurker. Crakes and rails are small to medium-sized birds which have secretive habits and tend to live among thick scrub and reed beds, making them tricky to find at times. A report from Jenny Marshman this week set me on the trail after she saw a pair of Australian Crakes (pictured) and its chicks, scurrying across Barrett Drive into a culvert opposite the casino.

Only the size of a small quail, this is a rare sighting of this species out in the open. The water levels at the sewage ponds are too high for these short-legged waders and Ilparpa Swamp is completely dry, so some of these birds will be taking refuge in the thickly reeded culverts along the Todd. Keep an eye out when you’re riverside this week, as you may be lucky enough to spot them early in the morning and perhaps one of the closely related Buff-banded Rails that have also been reported in the area.

Out at AZRI, Jesse Carpenter had great views of a Black Falcon and a lone Plumed Whistling-duck consorting with the wood ducks on the SAT ponds. At the sewage ponds this week the big news was a lone Australian Pelican that flew in on Monday, along with a quartet of Glossy Ibis.

One of the largest flocks of White-faced Herons I have ever seen were hanging around the Ilparpa area with 46 birds counted at one point. This seems to be a sign that some of the desert waterholes might be drying up and we could be looking at an influx of a few waterbirds over the next few months. Keep those reports coming!

Happy birding!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Perentie Varanus giganteus, eating a Spinifex Pigeon Geophaps plumifera.

We have a spectacular start to a year of birding updates with this stunning image from Alice Springs ecologist, Sabine Gonelli. Just after Christmas she was lucky enough to find this Perentie gorging on a plump Spinifex Pigeon near the car park at King’s Canyon, Watarrka National Park. Among the largest lizards on Earth at well over 2m in length, the Perentie would make short work of even much larger prey than a Spinifex Pigeon.

Spinifex Pigeons are a much sought after species by many international and interstate birders visiting the Red Centre, and the King’s Canyon Rim Walk is probably one of the most reliable (and picturesque) spots to find them. Closer to town, you’ll have no trouble tracking down one of these stunning birds at Alice Springs Desert Park, and they can usually be seen on the walk up Mt. Gillen.

While I’ve been gallivanting all over the countryside, the sewage ponds have re-opened to the public and there have been some interesting bird movements around town. Horsfield’s Bronze-cuckoos and Channel-billed Cuckoos have been calling every morning around Braitling, and out at Connellan the Pallid Cuckoos are well and truly back. Brown Honeyeaters seem to have done very well last year and are moving in to many areas where they haven’t been seen in a while.

The other interesting sound about town has been budgies. These haven’t been seen around town for a little while now but a few reports are starting to drift in. Huge flocks, tens of thousands of birds strong, have been photographed recently in areas of outback Queensland and Western Australia so no doubt we will start to see a few of these irrepressible desert nomads in the near future.
Happy birding!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Plumed Whistling-ducks Dendrocygna eytoni.

Just as many Centralians thrilled to the sight of the total lunar eclipse last weekend, many birdos have been delighted by the spectacle of some Plumed Whistling-ducks that have taken up temporary residence at the sewage ponds recently. They’re not usually resident around Alice Springs, but they are frequent visitors. This flock of about 15 birds have been showing their beautiful plumage around the sewage ponds and Ilparpa Swamp for the last few weeks.

These birds are more commonly seen in wetter parts of The Territory, but may be seen anywhere there is a decent body of open water like a dam, claypan, or ephemeral swamp. Apart from their distinctive plumage, they can be identified in flight by their whistling call which they often emit as they take off.

Another unusual visitor lobbed in during the week, in the form of a lone Australian Pelican that was sighted by contractors at the sewage ponds during the dog incurred closure to the public.

During a drive down south of town I was lucky enough to have an early morning ramble through a mulga wonderland of bush birds including the ever elusive White-browed Treecreeper, Inland Thornbills, Major Mitchell’s Cockatoos, Western Gerygones and a single Black Falcon.

More exciting vagrant news has arrived from Broome, where Adrian Boyle has reported a find of a Cinnamon Bittern being munched on by a Brown Falcon. The bird had been recently killed by the falcon and was still in excellent condition and has been sent to the museum as a specimen. This is a species usually found from Timor Leste up through SE Asia and now joins the Eurasian Hoopoe and Stejneger’s Petrel as another first record for the Australian bird list.
Happy birding!