<![CDATA[Birds, flowers, insects - FIBS Blog]]>Mon, 02 Dec 2019 00:01:55 +1100Weebly<![CDATA[It takes a village]]>Sun, 01 Dec 2019 09:44:02 GMThttp://wildnsydney.com/fibs_blog/it-takes-a-villageI saw this chick sitting on the grass at Balls Head Reserve recently, looking singularly unimpressed with life:

At first, I wondered if it had been abandoned, but given the group nesting habits of Noisy Miners, I hoped an adult would soon come to the rescue. Sure enough, a couple of minutes later, one arrived with a bit of lerp:

It quickly stuffed the lerp into the chick’s maw:

The adult stepped back to survey the chick before leaving:

A few minutes later, another adult arrived. First it checked on the all-round status of the chick:

 Satisfied, it hopped around to deliver its lerp to the other end of the chick:

The adult then departed, ignoring the chick's apparent protest:

The disgruntled chick seemed to throw a little tantrum:

However, it didn’t need to wait long. Tim Low (in Where Song Began) states that noisy miners bring a rapid stream of small food items to their chicks, and I witnessed a steady flow of adults arriving with their food parcels.

Then an adult arrived that clearly hadn’t read the bit in Mr Low’s book about food items being “small”.

It seemed the chick was willing:

But I soon began to wonder if the chick’s eyes were bigger than its stomach:

Even the adult was beginning to have its doubts:

It was clear something would have to give:

The chick had the solution, however. It would make room!

The next sequence reminded me of a boring church service with the minister droning on, when your torpor is broken by the baby in the next row grunting and going red in the face.  Any parent knows exactly what the baby is doing.  Here, the equivalent was the chick raising its rear end high, watched by the adult bird, which also knew exactly what was going on.  After a few wriggles, the chick squeezed out a large white parcel wrapped in what looked like gel packaging. The adult dutifully picked up the package and flew away with it.

After this display of the superiority of noisy miner nest hygiene over human nappies, the chick finished swallowing its green monster (you can just see a green leg sticking out of the chick’s beak in the pictures above).  It was soon ready for its next titbit:

I didn’t want to leave the chick exposed in the open, with currawongs and kookaburras around. There was no obvious nest that it could have fallen out of, but I had noticed a second chick on the ground some distance away.  It was in a much more sheltered position, under a small tree. This chick was also getting adult attention, and I got a few quick shots of it:

So, after some internal debate about intervening or not, I compromised and put the first chick close to where the second one had been under the tree, and left them to it.
According to Tim Low’s Where Song Began, noisy miners operate in quite large groups, with individual birds able to switch between flocks.  Mating is promiscuous and not subject to any pair bonding. Similarly, where there is a nest with young in it, all of the group share in the feeding – even those birds that are not closely related to the nestlings. Up to 22 different birds have been seen feeding one brood of chicks. Miners in the group also share in defending the nest. Low surmises that this widespread sharing allows smaller food items, including lerp, to be supplied in a steady stream by the numerous helpers. One miner group can have several nests within its territory.

Currawongs and butcher birds will normally predate any available chicks, but it seems they generally leave noisy miner nests alone for fear of being targeted by the adults. This explains why I referred to the chick’s feeders as “adults”, not “parents”, and why I was less worried than I might otherwise have been about leaving the chick in the care of its “village” of adults.

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<![CDATA[Waterhole Protocol]]>Sun, 24 Nov 2019 10:49:03 GMThttp://wildnsydney.com/fibs_blog/waterhole-protocolWhen walking in Ball’s Head Reserve recently, I stopped beside a small stone pool fed by a tap.  A Brush Turkey had just arrived for a drink.

Almost immediately, a Pied Currawong flew into the bush behind the pool to wait for its turn.

​Meanwhile, the turkey continued to drink.  I was intrigued to see that it could drink without raising its head to tip the water down its gullet. (I’d previously thought that only pigeons could do this.)

​By the time the turkey had finished, a second currawong had arrived. As the turkey stepped back, the first currawong flew down to check the water, and perhaps also to reassure itself that I wasn’t going to approach when it was so near the ground:

Apparently satisfied, it hopped over to the pool’s edge and began to drink:

Unlike the turkey, it could only drink with the assistance of gravity:

Thirst quenched, it went into the water for a quick dunk and spruce up.....

… before jumping out to allow the other currawong to have its turn:

The second bird swallowed a few beakfuls of water before hopping in for its own bath:

This rapidly became a splashier affair than the first currawong’s!

After a bit, it surfaced for air:

​That’s when it saw two joggers approaching and flew off.

The polite behaviour of these three birds was a pleasant contrast to the confrontations I’ve described in recent posts. However I believe it’s not so unusual to see “best behaviour” etiquette among wild animals when they’re drinking at a waterhole, particularly in a drought. I saw something similar last year at a water tank at Hill Top. At first, a number of bees were drinking. Several Red-browed Firetail Finches showed up, and duly waited their turn, even as more bees turned up.

When the bees were all done, the finches moved in:

After they were finished, a waiting King Parrot took its turn.

By then the light was fading, and there were no more drinkers.
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<![CDATA[More confrontations]]>Sun, 17 Nov 2019 11:52:43 GMThttp://wildnsydney.com/fibs_blog/more-confrontationsLast week I wrote about the confrontations I witnessed on a morning walk. A few days later I didn’t even need to walk anywhere.  The drama began when a couple of Channel-billed Cuckoos (Scythrops novaehollandae) flew overhead, with their usual raucous cacophony.

​The cuckoos split up and one of them circled back for a second even louder lap overhead.  The sunlight on the inside of its gullet can be seen through its throat feathers, and its tail feathers are already pretty ragged even though it’s still quite early in the season.

Then the cuckoo’s head jerked up as it looked back:

There was a Pied Currawong on its tail!

The cuckoo swerved away and headed for the shelter of a tree:

It was joined by the second cuckoo, followed by another currawong and several noisy miners. For a couple of minutes the air was thick with currawong abuse and beak-snapping, interspersed with the “mee-mee-mee” of the noisy miners and protesting squawks from the cuckoos trying to shelter in the branches. As more miners arrived, it became too much for the channel-bills, and one fled, pursued by two noisy miners.

It looked as though one miner was about to land on the cuckoo’s back:

This was the last view before the trio disappeared behind the jacaranda:

The second cuckoo followed, pursued by a torrent of abuse from this currawong before it too disappeared behind the jacaranda:

Currawong evensong, perhaps crowing over the day’s defeat of cuckoos:
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<![CDATA[Confrontations]]>Sun, 10 Nov 2019 06:33:32 GMThttp://wildnsydney.com/fibs_blog/confrontationsOn Friday, I went for what I thought would be a quick walk. As it happened there was quite a lot of wildlife, all too busy watching other wildlife to pay me much attention. Fortunately, I had taken my camera along "just in case". 

The wildlife interactions began pleasantly, with this Grey Butcherbird feeding a juvenile too lazy to pick up food for itself:

Then things began to get a bit snarky.  An Australian Pelican flew over—so high that my next photo had to be heavily cropped.  I would’ve thought this pelly was too high to worry any Magpie, but no, there was one in pursuit on its port wing. However, it did no more than issue an “I’m watching you” warning (the magpie equivalent of a mild caution.)

Back nearer the ground the bees were behaving busily and peacefully. They included this Carpenter bee:

She was heavily dusted with pollen:

Another smaller bee (I think a Lasioglossum) was also both dusty and peaceful:

Then the mood darkened, as a sinister shape appeared in the Hibbertia foliage:

The next time I looked, the mantis had caught a bee:

With typical insect insensitivity, the mantis immediately tucked into the still-struggling bee:

I went on with my walk, only to witness a Masked bee (Hylaeus) darting at a much larger Honey bee on a bottlebrush:

It seemed to work, as the honey bee moved on:
.. leaving the masked bee in control of the bottlebrush:

The aggressive spirit spread to a nearby fig tree where a Pied Currawong was diving at a Channel-billed Cuckoo:

This currawong was furious, its attack much more determined than that of the magpie.  I’ve rarely seen a cuckoo perturbed by a currawong assault, but this one was clearly a bit rattled:

Eyes blazing, the currawong went past to prepare for its next assault:

The cuckoo wisely moved into the middle of the fig tree, and I took that as the signal to go home for breakfast.
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<![CDATA[Hobbies]]>Sun, 03 Nov 2019 10:33:52 GMThttp://wildnsydney.com/fibs_blog/hobbiesLast weekend I was in Boorowa, about 330 km SE of Sydney, in a group walking a patch of river red gums on the edge of Castles Creek. There was a high wind, such that the eucalyptus leaves were flying horizontally, not hanging vertically as they usually do. We noticed what seemed to be a very wind-blown bird of prey high up in a tree on the other side of the creek:

It was too small to be a peregrine falcon, but as we approached we recognised it as a dejected-looking Australian Hobby or Little Falcon.

After a few minutes it took off:

After circling briefly, it returned to a nearby perch. We had also moved in the meantime, giving us a different perspective.

Five minutes later we heard a rapid ‘kee-kee-kee-kee—‘ and a second Hobby flew into sight:

It flew past the first hobby into another part of the tree where we couldn’t see it.  Eventually we moved on into the grove of trees, but on the return leg, 40 minutes later, we saw that the first bird was still there, still looking windblown:

I was really pleased to have seen these two birds as it was over eight years since I’d seen a Hobby. The previous occasion was on the opposite side of the continent, just inland from the 3.5 billion year-old stromatolites at Jurien on Shark Bay. There, the Hobbies were nesting at the top of a eucalypt, and again, the wind was blowing strongly,  making photography a bit tricky. It was also about 25°C warmer.  (Spoiler reminder for vegans – Hobbies are carnivorous hunters.)

The first thing I saw was a young bird, distinguished by the brown patch at the back of its head:

Then a parent arrived with its next meal:

It moved up a branch, giving me my clearest view of it—and also of the large bugs on the branch:

Here’s a close-up from another frame:

The parent hopped onto the nest, and there was a flurry of activity mostly hidden from me by the nest:

A few seconds later the parent reappeared, no longer carrying any food. The show was over, so I left them to it.

The Australian Hobby (Falco longipennis) is our smallest falcon. It is a separate species from the Eurasian Hobby (Falco subbuteo) for which it is named, but they are much the same size and have similar habits. Prey is mostly small birds, but also insects and small bats, generally taken on the wing. They can be fierce little hunters, and have been known to take birds as large as rosellas.

Hobbies are found throughout Australia and Tasmania, but are not particularly common in any part of their range. The name Hobby dates at least back to the Middle Ages, when falconry was a common sport, but it is not related to “hobby” as a pastime or leisure activity, rather it derives from an old French name for the bird.

Footnote: I was in Boorowa helping a Willoughby council group doing wildlife counts at farm sites revegetated under a joint program between North Sydney Bushcare and Boorowa Community Landcare. Last year’s trip is described here.
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