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In October 2003 my team-mates and I were filmed dashing around the countryside as participants in the NSW Twitchathon. The result is now a 52-minute film by Gina Twyble and Greg Woodland of Luminous Films which has been accepted for screening at this year's Sydney Film Festival! Chasing Birds follows three teams the Whacked-Out Woodswallows (that's us in the pic above), Hunter Home Brewers and Hunter Thickheads during the crazy 24 hour race...
Following the screening there will be a question and answer session from the audience. The film is also expected to be aired on TV later this year.
Sunday 15th June 2008 at 12.15pm at Dendy Opera Quays Cinema, East Circular Quay.
BIRD NOTES: autumn 2008Some quick updates on what's around.
24th May: The Spotted Quail-thrush were out in force for the Cumberland Bird Observers Club visit to the Megalong Valley. Normally a shy and elusive bird, everyone had prolonged views of both male and female at the Megalong Valley Reserve (pony club), where they were particularly vocal. A female was also seen well on the Six Foot Track. Other highlights included Red-browed Treecreeper, Crested Shrike-tit, Scarlet Robin and Diamond Firetail.
More recent rain in mid-May and plenty of lerp in the Capertee Valley, and the result is an increasing number of Regent Honeyeater and Swift Parrot sightings. Yellow-faced Honeyeaters flying west through the Blue Mountains throughout autumn also point to 2008 being a good "inland year". Visit Lynda Hyde's blog for the report of her Regent-Swiftie surveys in the valley, 16th May.
4th May: The highlight from the tree-planting weekend in the Capertee Valley was at least 4 Regent Honeyeaters feeding on lerps, calling frequently and giving a group of 16 volunteers great views while a flock of about 9 Swift Parrots flew over in a tight group near Port Macquarie Road.
Yellow-faced and White-naped Honeyeaters and Silvereyes were migrating steadily though the mountains in the rain and heavy fog that blanketed the area through the second half of April. Usually I see very little migration on overcast or rainy days but this season has been an exception. I guess they don't have much choice in the matter. Silvereyes are particularly noticeable at the moment and can also be heard migrating in the dark early hours of the morning.
16 April: Had awesome views of a Square-tailed Kite flying low over houses at Pitt Town, near Windsor.
15 April: Woken in the middle of the night by a noisy late-migrating Channel-billed Cuckoo my last for the season. (I'm pretty sure I didn't dream it!)
12 April: This morning at 10am, saw 4 White-throated Needletails flying west over Katoomba. This is possibly the latest I've seen them usually the last ones come through around the end of March or 1st April. In general there have been relatively few needletail sightings this season.
A flock of 16 Gang-gang Cockatoos seen this morning in west Katoomba.
The honeyeater migration is now in full swing with thousands of Yellow-faced and a few White-naped Honeyeaters moving through yesterday and today.
11 April: Treated to the beautiful sight of 12 Glossy Black-Cockatoos enjoying the morning sun on the powerlines at Kings Tableland. Large numbers of migrating honeyeaters flying along Narrow Neck.
11th April: Regent Honeyeaters return to the Capertee Valley! Lynda Hyde reported 7 Regent Honeyeaters drinking at her birdbath today. In Lynda's words: "The valley is positively humming at the moment!" Visit Lynda's blog Bird Hyde for photos and more info.
2 April: A very busy mixed flock near Blackheath, 16 species together including Rockwarbler and Rose Robin.
30 March: Report received via Blue Mountains Bird Observers that an Emerald Dove had flown into a window at Woodford on 30th March. Initially dazed, later recovered and flew off. As far as I'm aware this is the first Blue Mountains record of this species excluding the Colo River/Hawkesbury area.
2930 March: Robins arrive in Capertee Valley: Red-capped and Scarlet Robins seen. Weebills building a nest. Many finches about.
29 March, continuing through April: A pair of Bassian Thrush very easy to observe on the lawn at Leura Cascades picnic area. It's always good to see these beautiful birds.
27 March: The first migrating flocks of Yellow-faced Honeyeaters going north over Katoomba.
March 2008: The mistletoe is flowering well in the Capertee Valley and attracting large numbers of Noisy Friarbirds.
|It's been a good breeding season for many birds such as this pair of Zebra Finches in the Capertee Valley. Photo by Lip Kee Yap.|
The drought breaks....or does it?What a difference some decent rain makes! The rivers and creeks which for the past few years were merely dry channels are flowing strongly. Paddocks that were once brown and dusty are now green and bursting with rampant growth of grasses, flowers and weeds. We've had widespread rain, and lots of it, some parts of the country suffering devastating floods in recent months. Spectacular storms have been a regular occurrence this season.
It doesn't take long for a multitude of tiny creatures to respond to the conditions. First it was the flies! Spring 2007 was one of the worst fly seasons I can recall. All my international visitors quickly learnt the "great Aussie salute" (a nonchalant wave of the hand in front of the face, designed to stop the flies landing). Some of them adopted the habit of wearing a fly net, which is great if you're not trying to use binoculars. I don't know if they believed me when I tried to assure them it's not always that bad. Of course, the situation in the Blue Mountains was much better than the warmer Capertee Valley, and that was nothing compared to the flies out in western NSW! At least bush-flies don't bite, they're just supremely annoying! Still, by the time 2007 neared its end everyone was relieved to see the fly numbers dwindling.
Beautiful orb-weaving spiders have also been numerous, especially during late summer this year. The well-named Golden Orb Weavers spin a huge web that shines like gold in the sunlight. Suspended in this web is a large female whose abdomen can be almost the size of a wine cork and legs that could encircle a small bird (though I've never seen them prey on birds), often sitting there at face-level to make things interesting for whoever's walking in front through the forest usually me! Despite their large appearance they're not dangerous to humans. The web is a complex 3-dimensional creation which, in addition to the female, houses a number of tiny male spiders each with its own small web within the larger structure, forming a veritable spider-city suspended between trees.
Moist earth, flourishing vegetation, plentiful invertebrates. It all serves to illustrate that rainfall does influence the ecology very quickly, and the bird populations shouldn't be too far behind.
After six long years of hardship for farmers and the environment alike, people are referring to the current La Niña as "drought-breaking". The area of NSW drought-declared has now been reduced to 46%, compared with more than 90% a year ago. However, let's not get too comfortable too quickly. According to the Bureau of Meteorology Drought Statement (4th March 2008): "The deficiencies ... have occurred against a backdrop of decade-long rainfall deficits and record high temperatures that have severely stressed water supplies in the east and southwest of the country. Several years of above average rainfall are required to remove the very long-term deficits."
At least we're on the way.
-CP, 10th March 2008
BIRD SIGHTINGS: springsummer 20078The spring and summer just past was a busy one for me with much time spent in the field and good numbers and diversity of birds, with the exception of honeyeaters. A lack of significant flowering especially in the Capertee Valley meant that most nectariovores were a bit harder to find than usual. With luck, the current La Niña conditions might see an improvement soon.
Since my last update in early October, more migrants arrived including the Dollarbird at Coxs River (by 12th Oct) and Satin Flycatchers at Lithgow (by 10th Oct) and at Katoomba (16th Oct). A male White-winged Triller was back at Wentworth Falls Lake by 9th October. Channel-billed Cuckoos were very numerous in the mountains throughout October and November, while Black-eared Cuckoos, which had arrived in late August in the Capertee Valley, were still calling on 9th Dec and again on 26th Jan.
One of the most interesting sightings I heard about was a new species for the Capertee Valley in the form of a Red-backed Kingfisher seen by NZ birder Bruce Keeley at April Mills' property "Binalong" in October. This is normally a bird of areas much further west, although interestingly, there was another October report of this species well east of its normal range on Birding-Aus with a bird seen along Upper Colo Road, north of Windsor.
Between September and December much excitement was generated by the first breeding record of Square-tailed Kites in the Blue Mountains. The nest was clearly visible from the backyard of local bird observers Sandy and Lyle, across a forested gully in the lower mountains. Sandy and Lyle kept tabs on the birds' progress and kindly allowed a stream of birders to call in and have a look. The female parent was sitting from 5th September, and by 22nd October there were 2 chicks which fledged successfully in the first week of December.
[CLICK HERE TO SEE NEIL KIRBY'S PHOTOS OF THE NESTING KITES]
Flame Robins have a preference for recently burnt forest and the bushfire of late 2006 created some ideal habitat around the Grose Valley. Many of my visitors had the thrill of seeing a very obliging and beautiful male which established a territory near Evans Lookout for the spring. It would often feed on the road surface in the early mornings or sit high on an exposed branch to sing. We last saw it on 7th December feeding a recently fledged young. However in more recent weeks there's been a mysterious absence of sightings of these beautiful birds in the mountains.
Evans Lookout was also the place where we had some great views of Gang-gangs and Glossy Black-Cockatoos. The former species we were able to watch closely as it extracted and fed on the seed kernels from Persoonia (Geebung) fruit in a low shrub by the roadside. On 10th February we counted 18 Gang-gangs here. Glossies are specialist feeders on Allocasuarina seeds and at Evans Lookout it's A. littoralis, the Black She-oak, that they favour. In mid-December one particular female was seen with an extraordinary amount of yellow in her plumage (much more than the usual amount for an old female).
It was here also that we were surprised to see a White-throated Treecreeper eating a large, venomous Red-back Spider on 8th February.
Before 2006 I'd never had any records of Cicadabirds in higher parts of the Blue Mountains, but this spring like the previous, they turned up in a couple of unexpected places: Blackheath Rhododendron Garden on 16th Oct and Kings Tableland on 29th Nov. Southern Emu-wrens are stunning little birds which usually require a bit of time and effort to see. This season we tracked them down at North Lawson Swamp and Kings Tableland. We continued to hear and see the Sooty Owl at my favourite spotlighting site, and a very good record at Katoomba was a White-throated Nightjar, heard at dusk on 30th October, but not since. This nightjar is also a regular summer migrant in the Capertee Valley and was heard there last month.
It's been a big year for both Rufous and Brown Songlarks with high numbers in their typical habitats in the Capertee Valley throughout spring, but also appearing in more unusual locations. A Rufous Songlark displaying in song-flight in swampy heathland at Shipley Plateau on 10th Oct was noteworthy. This species is only an occasional visitor to the Blue Mountains (as opposed to the open woodlands and grasslands of the Capertee Valley and west of the mountains). And in November and December, two pairs of Brown Songlarks were found along Coxs River Road, becoming my first record of this species for the Blue Mountains in 27 years.
Stubble Quail were numerous in November and December, often being heard in the Capertee Valley as well as closer to the mountains on Coxs River Road. Also in the Capertee Valley: on 21st October we saw a single Budgerigar in amongst a large flock of White-browed Woodswallows at the river. Plum-headed Finches were seen in many parts of the valley throughout spring and summer, and another highlight was a Diamond Dove near the junction of Port Macquarie Road.
The Capertee Valley's star bird, the Regent Honeyeater, has had a really tough time during the last 6-7 years. With very little quality eucalypt flowering they simply don't breed, or breeding attempts fail, and except for a couple of false starts and an OK breeding season in 2005, haven't had a really good season since 2000. Last year, 2007, was particularly poor in terms of eucalypt flower. In August they turned up for the tree planting weekend and the monthly survey at one site on the river, but didn't stay long. In September there was a handful of birds in the northern part of the valley, at a location not previously known as a usual breeding site. When the stringybark blossom there finished, the birds promptly disappeared and there have been almost no records in the valley since. (Instead, some did nest outside the area: near Cessnock in the Hunter Valley.) This is the first year since I've been involved with the project that I haven't personally seen a Regent after early October. It's times like this I can't help wondering if perhaps their numbers are even lower than estimated certainly the drought would have added to their plight. Let's hope, for their sake and ours, that they're not beyond the point of no return.
It's often more interesting to note what hasn't been seen than what has. Another unsettling trend this season has been the scarcity of White-throated Needletails. Usually by January I've had the pleasure of watching a few flocks sailing overhead but this year not a single swift or needletail until 26th Jan; others are reporting a similar scarcity of sightings this year. Here in the Blue Mountains we usually get a peak of numbers around FebMarch, so please keep a look out and report any sightings (date, time, place, numbers and weather) to Mike Tarburton or to Blue Mountains Bird Observers who will forward the details on.
It's been fun looking back over the last few months a combination of my most memorable experiences in the course of my work, and a few really interesting sightings from others. Here's to the next few months.... 2008 holds promise of being the best year since 2000.
The loud calls of Rufous Songlarks are a dominant feature of the Capertee Valley soundscape throughout spring and summer. Photo by David Stowe.
Capertee Valley Tree Planting in 2008This year's Capertee Valley tree planting weekends will be on 34 May and 1617 August. Volunteers are needed to help us replace habitat for the endangered Regent Honeyeater and other woodland species. The May planting will be on a property on Crown Station Road which will link and expand nearby habitat (which is also a good site for Turquoise Parrots and a variety of honeyeaters). It's always a great weekend the Saturday night dinner being a highlight and there's usually the opportunity to join others in a birdwatching session on the Sunday.
If interested, please register in advance so that you can be allocated accommodation and sent directions to the planting site. To register or find out more, contact Tiffany Mason on email: Tiffany.Mason@environment.nsw.gov.au or phone (02) 6332 7643.
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