Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Courting Cuckoos

In April I had the great pleasure of attending the Birds SA Easter camping trip. Our destination was Caroona Creek Conservation Park, a little known park just north of the more popular Red Banks Conservation Park, and north-east of Burra, SA. The park is a mixture of saltbush and chenopod mallee, along with the jutting rock faces of Tourille Gorge.

Caroona Creek Conservation Park

I won't bore you with all the details, but suffice to say it's a stunning place, especially since they'd had good rain in the prior two months to our visit. Bird life was quite abundant, although somewhat patchy as it has a habit of being out in the mallee. After a couple of days of hearing what I believed to be a Black-eared Cuckoo (Chrysococcyx osculans), I finally came across one. Much to my delight, this bird also lead me to a second Black-eared Cuckoo and I felt very privileged to be able to witness and photograph (albeit poorly) what could only be courtship between the two birds.

Given that there is no sexual dimorphism in this species, for the sake of simplicity of this account, I'm going to call the first bird male, and the second bird a female. I have no idea how accurate this assumption on my part is.

The male bird was looking for things to eat, in this case, it turned out to be hairy black caterpillars that he pulled (or attempted to) from the leaves of the mallee trees.

Looking for caterpillars

Attempting to remove a caterpillar

A bit of extra effort required...

After having caught the caterpillar, I had thought that he would have eaten it. This is when he began courting the female bird (which I hadn't yet noticed). He held the caterpillar in his beak, bobbed his head and tail, and made repeated soft calls, which can only be described as a shorter, softer version of the normal advertisement call.

After a bit of effort on the male's part, the female finally approached and he held the caterpillar out to her.

Handing over the meal

There seemed to be a bit of reluctance in giving up his hard won caterpillar

Once he had, I suppose the female thought she got a pretty good deal, and just took off. Seems the male has his work cut out for him in attracting this lady.

It was a pretty exciting experience, especially since it was the first time I'd even seen Black-eared Cuckoos. So to see two engaged in this behaviour was certainly a treat (and explains why I stuffed up so many camera settings).

As a side note, from what I could determine from online resources, the caterpillar appears to be a species of day-flying moth, possibly the Mistletoe Moth (Comocrus behri). Source:

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

New Experiences

Well a lot has happened since my last post. I spent a week and a half in Victor Harbour in October last year (missed the whales by a week), managed a few lifers while down there, and got to see a few species I hadn't seen in many years. A real treat. I visited the Goolwa barrage and poo ponds, Hindmarsh Island, and for the first time in my life, the Murray Mouth. It was fantastic to see it flowing out to sea with all those waders present. My fiance and I also took a boat ride with Big Duck Boat Tours and had a fantastic time, highly recommended.

 Eastern Reef Egret, Egretta sacra, Encounter Bay, SA

Silver Gull (Chroicocephalus novaehollandiae) savouring a fishy morsel, Encounter Bay, SA

View of the Murray River Mouth

Cape Barren Geese (Cereopsis novaehollandiae) and their friend, a White-fronted Chat on Hindmarsh Island

November saw me camping down near Naracoorte at a friend's property. I was confused by possible Forest Ravens, but was lucky enough to see a pair of endangered Red-tailed Black Cockatoos (about 30 minutes before we left to head home). While down there we also visited Bool Lagoon which is a stunning site. Such an expanse of water and so many birds, Magpie Geese and Australasian Bittern were new birds for me there.

Red-tailed Black Cockatoo, Calyptorhynchus banksii ssp. graptogyne, near Naracoorte, SA

I've had a bit of a slow start to 2014. While out on an owling trip in January with some friends, I managed to roll my ankle jumping out the back of the ute. Despite the injury, I pushed on to get a nice image of a Stubble Quail, first time I had seen the species. We also saw plenty of Barn Owls, a Southern Boobook, Brown Goshawk, Tawny Frogmouth and a couple of Owlet-nightjars.

Tawny Frogmouth (Podargus strigoides) with a mouse

Male Stubble Quail (Coturnix pectoralis) near Owen, SA.

Barn Owl, Tyto delicatula

The ankle injury left me out of action (except for a couple of outings to a wetland I only just discovered existed which probably made the injury worse). This was also well worth the effort as I managed to finally see Pectoral Sandpiper and Long-toed Stint, along with getting some amazing shots of White-winged Fairy-wrens. I'm hoping to write up a proper entry describing this location at some point, as it's somewhat a part of the Greenfields network I've previously posted about.

Female White-winged Fairy-wren

Pectoral Sandpipers, Calidris melanotos, at Whicker Road (Magazine Creek) Wetlands, SA

Male White-winged Fairy-wren, Malurus leucopterus

Female White-winged Fairy-wren

So after a couple of expeditions, I kept off of my foot as much as possible and only now, 3 months later, am I finally getting out and about again. It's a great feeling to be seeing and photographing birds again. I've been going a bit crazy, but who am I kidding, it was far too hot to be out looking for birds anyway. While I love summer, 45 degrees is not my ideal weather for tramping through the bush.

The past couple of weeks have seen me revisiting my local patches and on a few outings with the Birds SA group where I got to reconnect with a few species that I haven't seen/photographed in some time.

Male Chestnut Quail-thrush (Cinclosoma castanotum) calling, at Swan Reach Conservation Park, SA

Here's hoping for a bird-filled 2014.