Tuesday, 28 January 2014

January Wildlife Report

North Lakes Town Park
'Lifers', Migrants and Climate Change.

It's been a great start to the year for wildlife watching in South-East Queensland, especially for bird life. As this is therefore a 'bird heavy' post, I've shared this with 'Wild Bird Wednesday', Stewart Monckton's excellent weekly collection of bird blogs that you should check out if you haven't already. This month I saw two new 'lifers' (ie. species I've never seen before) in the one location - the Moreton Bay Shire suburb of North Lakes. Sighted there earlier in January was a White-browed Crake (Porzana cinerea), a tropical species usually only found in the far north of the continent. Birdwatchers raced to the area after the bird was reported, in order to get
a glimpse of this highly irregular vagrant. Unfortunately the bird had moved on immediately after that initial sighting, but while I missed out on one Crake species, I did enjoy great views of another  - the Baillon's Crake (Porzana pusilla) - that was a first for me.

Baillon's Crake, North Lakes

Also swimming about on the same lagoon was one of Australia's rarest waterfowl (and my other 'lifer') - the primitive-looking Freckled Duck (Stictonetta naevosa).

Freckled Duck, North Lakes

Azure Kingfisher (Alcedo azurea), North Lakes

I'm not sure why such uncommon waterbirds should be so easily found in this recently-established housing development. It is possible that they were already here before the bulldozers and concrete-mixers moved in, and careful landscaping and environmental management has allowed them to persist. The area is also well-known for being one of the few busy suburbs of Brisbane where Eastern Grey Kangaroos (Macropus giganteus) still roam freely, though car-strikes are an increasing problem. Anyone wishing to know more about the wildlife of North Lakes, or what they can do to help regenerate the environment there, should look up the 'Mango Hill & North Lakes Environment Group' on Facebook.

Elsewhere in Brisbane, migratory summer visitors are making the most of the sunshine.

Eastern Curlew (Numenius madagascariensis), Wynnum

Dollarbird, Alexandra Hills

While scouting out an Alexandra Hills location for a frog survey, the open eucalypt woodland there came alive with the spirited cackling of Dollarbirds (Eurystomus orientalis). This migratory species is a member of the Roller family, a group of birds named after their twisting, turning flight habit. Probably the most famous representative of this group is the Lilac-breasted Roller (Coracias caudatus), a gorgeous multi-coloured bird often seen in the holiday photographs of those returning from an African safari. In good light, the Australian species is a colourful bird too, though the block-headed silhouette alone is distinctly recognisable.

Shining Bronze-Cuckoo, Lota
Other summer migrants don't reveal themselves in such a free and easy way. In the woodland shadows right now lurk several Cuckoo species, usually noticed by their whistling calls and dipping flight. At Melaleuca Environmental Park earlier this month, these clues led me to a good view of a Shining Bronze-Cuckoo (Chrysococcyx lucidus) as it made a meal out of a caterpillar. Cuckoos keep to the shadows because other birds harass them greatly - understandable, given the parasitic nature of most species. This time of year sees young Cuckoos leave the nest they were raised in, usually to be fed by their host parent for a few more weeks to come. A brilliant example of this was seen on the Sunshine Coast recently, where this fledgling Australian Koel (Eudynamus orientalis) had its every need and whim attended to by Magpie-Lark (Grallina cyanoleuca) parents.

Juvenile Australian Koel being fed by Magpie-Lark, Tewantin; Photo by Allan John Sonerson

Migration is not an easy or risk-free undertaking in nature, and in the case of highly mobile animals like birds, accidents do happen. Franklin's Gull (Leucophaeus pipixcan) is usually an American species that moves seasonally between North and South America, yet an individual bird has turned up in South-East Queensland. Reported by Doug Armstrong on the shores of Lake Barambah, the bird has put many birdwatchers into a frenzied migration themselves, heading out to the South Burnett region to find the rarity.

Franklin's Gull, Lake Barambah; Photo by Steve Murray

Other migratory shorebirds seen this month include a large mixed flock of Red-necked Stints (Calidris ruficollis), Ruddy Turnstones (Arenaria interpres) and Common Terns (Sterna hirundo) at Scarborough Boat Harbour.

Red-necked Stints, Ruddy Turnstones and Common Terns, Scarborough

Picnic birds; Scarborough

Around the rim of the harbour, a picnic area turned up more than just the usual suspects, by way of Australasian Pipits (Anthus novaeseelandiae) and a family of Buff-banded Rails (Gallirallus philippensis).

Daily temperatures have been excruciatingly hot on some days, soaring up to 38C (100F). At this time of year, wildlife-spotting is best undertaken around dawn or dusk, when the heat is at its most bearable for animal and human-kind alike. On one such early morning walk around Melaleuca Environmental Park in Lota, a European Hare (Lepus europaeus) almost bounded in to me as I quietly observed a Goliath Stick Insect (Eurycnema goliath) in a flowering shrub.

Goliath Stick Insect, Lota

Noisy Friarbird (Philemon corniculatus)
Pt Lookout
Of course, the other way to beat the heat is to head to the beach, so I've also been spending time on North Stradbroke Island. The hot weather mixed with intermittent storms resulted in a terrible bush fire there earlier in January, where sixty percent of the island was left scorched. Signs of this destructive event were evident during my trip to the island, with many trees blackened by the flames between Dunwich and Point Lookout. Wildlife on the perimeter of the island was spared, and this Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) on Point Lookout was in fine health when I visited.

Osprey, Point Lookout

While heatwaves and bush-fires in and of themselves aren't indicative of the phenomenon we call 'Climate Change', us nature-observant folks may see it manifest in other ways. In recent years, some migratory birds appear in our cities outside of their usual 'timetables' for example, or tropical species establish themselves in latitudes formerly considered more temperate. An example of the latter was noted during my time on North Stradbroke, when I stopped to explore the rockpools off Frenchman's Head. The video I filmed there reveals several fish species, including tiny Convict Tang (Acanthurus triostegus), Grey Demoiselle (Chrysiptera glauca), a Peacock Rockskipper (Istiblennius meleagris) and several dominant Banded Sergeants (Abudefduf septemfasciatus). The Sergeants are tropical fish recorded from as far south as the Great Barrier Reef, yet here in a rockpool outside of this documented range is a population that appears to be engaged in territorial breeding behaviour. It will be interesting to note which species expand or reduce their range in the coming decades, in response to climactic fluctuations we are likely responsible for.


Until next month, enjoy Wild Brisbane!

Frenchman's Head, North Stradbroke Island



18 comments:

  1. Wonderful post! I love the osprey.

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    1. Thank you! Yes it was a sight to behold!

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  2. A very interesting post, love the bird feeding pic how amazing is that !! .
    All the best Gordon.

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    1. Thanks Gordon! That bird feeding pic was found on a great wildlife photography Facebook page based here in S.E. QLD called 'A.J.S. Pixography' - check it out if you can! :)

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  3. Absolutely amazing shots. Oooo's and Ahhhh's from over here other than the Freckled Duck who made me laugh!

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    1. Thanks Em! You'll be amused to know the other name for the Freckled Duck is 'Monkey Duck', because it climbs up to its nest through river branches instead of flying.

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  4. Really love the Crake. Great pictures

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    1. Thanks Adam, I was really happy with that one! Crakes aren't usually known to sit in the open sunlight and show off their feathers :)

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  5. Some of my favorites are the Crake and the Kingfisher. Wonderful collection of birds.

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    1. Thanks Eileen - they were both taken in the one spot at North Lakes, so you'll have to visit there sometime! :)

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  6. Incredible series of pictures. The one picturing an Australian Juvenile Koel being fed by a Magpie-Lark takes the cake !

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    1. Thanks Ramakrishnan! If you are on Facebook, you should check out more of that photographer's work at 'a.j.s pixography' - wonderful stuff!

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  7. A very informative read Chirstian. I like your description of the Freckled Duck as primitive looking- you're right. It's interesting that thestill being fed juvenile Koel has so many adult feather already but being ighly conspicuous otherwise it makes good sense to become unobtrusive? The stick insect does indeed look goliath and I'm wondering how big they grow?

    A nice post.

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    1. Thanks Phil! The Koel actually looks like it is a male as it has random dark feathers coming out on its body. The pretty pattern you see here is just a cryptic juvenile colouring to help it hide in the mottled shadows of a tree - the adult male is glossy black all over. The juvenile does look conspicuous on a driveway though, i'll give you that! The Stick Insect was about 20cm long but they can get even bigger!

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  8. Your photos are lovely. There is nothing like the Australian wildlife! I am now feeling homesick!

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    1. Thank you! There's nature to soothe the soul everywhere, so wherever you are, just keep your eyes and ears open! The birds are here waiting when you come back :)

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  9. Great set of pictures - the Koel and the MPL is a great picture.

    Hope joining in WBW was not too scary!

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

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    1. Thanks Stewart, it was a great experience! :)

      The Koel photo was taken by Allan Sonerson who runs a great Facebook page called 'A.J.S Pixography' so check it out if you get a chance!

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