Wednesday, 30 July 2014

July Wildlife Report

Yellow Bittern Hysteria!


Australian Little Bittern, North Lakes

Earlier this month, a report went up on the 'Eremaea' website: a Yellow Bittern (Ixobrychus sinensis) had been sighted at North Lakes. For those not yet initiated into the world of vagrant bird sightings, this is the feathered equivalent of a wild mongoose or monkey suddenly appearing in Brisbane of its own accord. Considered the first ever verified sighting of a live Yellow Bittern on the Australian mainland, this species usually has a home range across Asia, extending as far south as Indonesia. Little did we know, this little bird was set to tear the bird-watching community apart!

I got my first taste of 'Yellow Bittern hysteria' when I went to try find the bird myself. Arriving at the Wallaroo Circuit pond at 8am on a weekday, I was surprised to find around twenty other birdwatchers there. A rarity of this kind often attracts the more intense 'twitchers', and sure enough, the conversations down by the water did seem to involve lots of 'sizing up' ("What do you mean you've never seen a Rose-crowned Fruit-Dove?!?") and clique ascertaining ("There was an email chain about the White-browed Crake earlier this year... you didn't see it?"). The bird in question was actually a no-show that morning, but I did get my first ever look at an Australian Little Bittern (Ixobrychus dubius). Usually a secretive bird of the reed-beds, this individual allowed excellent views in the early morning sunlight, in much the same manner that a nearby Baillon's Crake (Porzana pusilla) did earlier this year. Clearly North Lakes has some magical effect on waterbirds!

As for our Indonesian visitor, I read a report later that day that the Yellow Bittern had appeared out of the reeds after I left, but over-zealous photographers had accidentally scared it off onto a nearby golf course. These birders then allegedly trespassed onto the green, whereupon the bird flew away further again and the golf course Manager asked its pursuers to vacate the premises. That's when The Great Bittern War of 2014 broke out, with sternly worded emails and emotional posts appearing all over a particular bird-watching website, and people aligning themselves with either the outraged conservationists or the misunderstood photographers. The Yellow Bittern reappeared the next day at the original location but has since moved on to another Brisbane wetland, the details of which I am sworn to secrecy over. After my observations with this incident, I have learned that it is not wise to earn the wrath of or fall out of favour with bird-watchers!

Little Eagle being harassed by a
Torresian Crow (Corvus orru), Chandler
The funny thing is, these Bitterns weren't even my bird-watching highlight for the month. That honour fell to a gorgeous Little Eagle (Hieraaetus morphnoides) seen circling above the mangroves at Tingalpa Creek Reserve. Featured just last month on this blog, the opportunity to witness such a powerful yet compact raptor in the wild for the first time was wonderful! Other great sightings recently include a pair of Eastern Reef Egrets (Egretta sacra) at Cleveland Point, and a Black-shouldered Kite (Elanus axillaris) at Leichardt Park, near Ipswich. Seen the same day as the latter bird was this confident male Australian Brush-Turkey (Alectura lathamii) in the video below. He is a resident of Denmark Hill Conservation Park in the inner suburbs of Ipswich, and is raking the forest floor to build a giant nesting mound for the local females to lay eggs in. I find these birds fascinating, as they are one of the few birds left in the world that still nest in the same way their dinosaur ancestors did.


All this birding madness has encouraged me to turn my attentions elsewhere this month. One of my best days out happened when I decided to survey the plants growing along the Logan River, from near its headwaters up by Mount Barney, all the way down into Moreton Bay. Both the vegetation and the water visibility were at their most pure at the former location, where the river is crossed by the Seidenspinner Bridge.

Logan River, Mount Barney. INSET: Broad-leaf Apple (Angophora subvelutina)

At this location were several trees and plants I did not see further down the river, such as Triangular Clubrush (Schoenoplectus mucronatus) and River She-Oak (Casuarina cunninghamiana). Exotic weeds and trees became more prevalent along the Beaudesert reach of the watercourse, particularly the Castor Oil Plant (Ricinus communis). 

Logan River, Beaudesert. INSET (above): Slender Knotweed (Persicaria decipiens),
INSET (below): Red-browed Firetails.

Logan River, Jimboomba. INSET: Black Bean

The mature Weeping Bottlebrush (Melaleuca viminalis) trees overhanging this location allow large flocks of bush birds to utilise the river shore for feeding and bathing, while still having protective cover close at hand. Most numerous during my visit were Red-browed Firetails (Neochmia temporalis) and Superb Fairy-Wrens (Malurus cyaneus), each adding splashes of vibrant colour to the sandy banks.

Further down at the Jimboomba reach of the river, the vegetation along the watercourse was thicker and wilder. It was here that I found a beautiful Black Bean (Castanospermum australe) growing, a native tree that thrives in well-watered environments including rainforest. The scrub either side of the river was filled with the melodious song of the Scarlet Honeyeater (Myzomela sanguinolenta), and I was content to just pause and absorb the visual and aural beauty for a while.

Logan River, Woongoolba. INSET (below): Sea Blite (Suaeda australis),
INSET (above): Brahminy Kite (Haliastur indus)

My last viewing of the Logan River was near where it empties into Moreton Bay. The vegetation along this stretch was composed strictly of those varieties that can handle exposure to salt and tidal inundation, and included three species of Mangrove. The area was also a raptor hotspot, with four juvenile White-bellied Sea-Eagles (Haliaeetus leucogaster), two Ospreys (Pandion cristatus), two Whistling Kites (Haliastur sphenurus) and a family of Brahminy Kites (Haliastur indus) all being seen in fairly close proximity to one another. The overlapping of several habitats here perhaps gives these birds rich pickings when it comes to small animals and carrion. After so much recent bird drama however, I was happy to stick my head back down and study the saltmarsh plants around me instead. 

Hopefully 'Yellow Bittern hysteria' calms down next month, and in the meantime, there's always the friendly bird-folk to check in on at 'Wild Bird Wednesday'!

Banded Toadfish (Marilyna pleurosticta), Strathpine



34 comments:

  1. the great bittern war of 2014 - oh, my! :D

    loved the bush turkey! such a cool bird!

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    1. Glad the Turkeys have a fan in you Theresa - most gardeners here hate them for raking up gardens!

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  2. super post; I enjoyed your humorous account of the seeking Yellow Bittern. Reminded me of movie The Big Year (seen it?) Loved all the location shots too; you've got it all happening Christian.

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    1. Thanks Carole, I haven't seen that movie but I am aware of it and it's on my ever-expanding 'to do' list! :)

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  3. hopefully you will get to see the bittern someday. the logan river images are gorgeous.

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    1. Thanks Felicia, I definitely enjoyed my day out along the river.

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  4. I had a chuckle over your first-hand account of the search for the Yellow Bittern. Yes, I had read about it on 'that' web site! btw I have never chased a rarity and don't intend to!
    Your photos are beautiful - especially the one of the upper reaches of the river.

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    1. Happy to see someone else kept a cool head during all this madness, Mick! Thanks for the kind compliments :)

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  5. HI Wonderful and humerous account of the 'Twitchers' and sorry you did not see it but hopefully you will some day Loved the short video of the Brush Turkey. Loved seeing these birds when I visit Australia.

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    1. Thanks Margaret, yes the Turkeys are very unique birds!

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  6. How nice I found you. I will visit AU and Brisbane and up north in September. It was great to see your images and read about it.

    http://www.nfbird.blogspot.se/2014/07/vitkindad-gas-branta-leucopsis-barnacle.html

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    1. That's great, if you'd like any advice on particular locations and species, let me know!

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  7. Wow! That kind of chaos defeats the purpose of birding! What a mess. I'm glad you got a photo of the bird. The raptor photo is also excellent. Interesting to read about what is available in your area right now, and I LOVE your photos! beautiful!

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    1. Thanks Marie, I agree and it did take the shine off birding for a day or two. Glad you enjoyed your visit! :)

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  8. Wonderful photos from the river. It's very beautiful there.

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    1. Thanks Gunilla, I hope to go back sometime!

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  9. Cool capture of the Bittern, they are neat birds. Love the turkey video.. Lovely scenery and photos!

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    1. Thanks Eileen, I'd never seen one before and I agree! :)

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  10. Wonderful photos and even better commentary! One-ups-manship is a game played by hobbyists of all sorts. Sorry it had to cause the Great Bird War of 2014.

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    1. Haha, yes Janice, it was certainly a fast learning curve on 'one-ups-manship'! Thanks for the compliments :)

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  11. Very interesting Christian! I'd love to see the Yellow Bittern. What a sight!
    I should investigate the Logan River again. I've only really looked around the Jacobs Well area and mostly seen Whistling Kites.

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    1. Thanks Liz. I checked out the Jacob's Well area and was a little disappointed that the nature reserve there doesn't seem to have any tracks to explore?

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  12. I don't often follow reports to chase rare birds but your post has given me the itch to do so again.Thanks for that!

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  13. Nothing beats a bit of hysteria! Well nothing except decent birding that helps generate conservation related data!!

    The puffin is a great bird - if the truth be told the flying birds in my shots were gliding - so no rapid wing beats, but I'm glad you liked them.

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

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    1. Yep, I do like the 'eremaea' website for the data it generates, both on a personal level and a wider one too!

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  14. That Bush Turkey is so funny and really interesting about its nesting habits. As for your Bittern fever, I did laugh. We have to be really careful here about Red Kite sightings as it creates a similar effect. We had starlings flocking here one year and people would appear at dusk in their 4x4s with binoculars and cameras, some even tying to count them!

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    1. Glad you enjoyed the post, Em! I also find the Brush Turkey amusing, but then it's not digging up my garden I guess! If it were, I'd probably still feel lucky though :)

      Bittern Fever seems to have subsided now - good luck with Red Kite Madness!

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  15. Only twenty twitchers? Goodness, the equivalent here in the UK would attract a thousand or more in the first 24 hours and then even more in the coming days. And I like your description of the “sizing up” that took place, the reason I stopped twitching many years ago, plus the bad behaviour of birders and photographers, and then the inevitable aftermath. It all sounds so familiar.

    As you both describe and picture, your local patch birding was more satisfying and rewarding away from such madness, especially with your ability to home in on less birdy things.

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    1. It was an eye opening experience for sure. I did find the twitchers to be friendly, just... intense! It was an interesting moment for me to, as I'd always considered myself a hard-core birdwatcher, but it allowed me to define myself in a new light as a naturalist, especially with my expanding interests in other natural fields.

      I've heard that UK twitchers are a breed apart entirely!

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  16. Great account with lots of interesting stuff. The rabid twitchers are not good for birding and often cause otherwise friendly landowners to become hostile.

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    1. Thanks David. Mercifully the drama has settled down now! :)

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