30 December, 2008

Broome W. A.

I recently made a trip to Broome in Western Australia to help in the count of shorebirds. South of Broome lies Roebuck Bay and 80 Mile Beach, two of the most important shorebird habitats in Australia. Our team was comprised of 26 people,mostly volunteers.
It was at 80 Mile Beach that it was realised that the population of Oriental Pratincole was greater than the estimated 700 000 when 2.88 million of the birds turned up one year. We did not see that number but they are the dominant bird in the foreground. As the tide comes in it forces the birds into small groups along the shore. This makes counting easier than when they are dispersed across the mudflats. The difficulty lies in the dense flocks hiding smaller birds. At the site above I missed 96% of the Sanderlings on the first count. When the tide receded the birds spread out a little and we could recount. This produced higher numbers of all the smaller birds. We were glad that the bigger bird counts were the same; it boosted our confidence. The aim is to count each bird once.Hundreds of thousands of waders leave the muddy flats of Roebuck Bay as the 8 metre tides flood the rich muds. They roost on sandy beaches, rocky headlands and even behind the mangroves.
Some areas such as Gordon Bay had not been surveyed before while the well known and richer sites are counted twice a year.
Sometimes an onshore wind increases the height of the tide in this wide shallow bay. This makes prediction of roosting sites difficult and this flock is getting away. A quick count of the overall numbers and a rough allocation of proportions was all that could be done and then hope we can find then elsewhere.
I learnt a lot about identification of not only waders but tern subspecies. The Gull-billed Tern above comes from Asia.
We had workshops and this excursion to a freshwater wetland acted as a training session.
I was pleasantly surprised that most of our counts came in within 5-10% of the median figure but each of us had the odd count which was way off the mark. Except for missidentification the miscount was always under the true total. The birds move, they hide and some come in while others leave.
We had professionals and amateurs from China, Korea and Australia. The Koreans and Chinese were most interested to see where "their" birds go during the northern winter. All of us are most concerned about where our birds will feed between their southern feeding grounds in Australia and their breeding areas in Siberia and Alaska. Wetlands around the Yellow Sea are being "reclaimed" to produce industrial and commercial land. This has already put hundreds of fishermen out of work and is robbing the birds of their staging posts during their long migration.
Once the data are collected it is necessary to enter and store it for later analysis. These experienced counters could manage four plus species at once and still handle totals in the thousands.
Two kilometres is not very far to walk but...
through soft sand...in forty-two degrees (in what shade?) and with lots of flies...
it is thirsty, tiring work.With a little protection, some good management and the nations of the East Asian, Australasian flyway honouring the agreements they have signed, generations to come will also be able to enjoy the wonders of thousands of shorebirds wheeling through the sky: seeing the flocks turn from grey to white as they alter direction and observe the colours of the birds change as they develop their bright breeding plumage.

27 December, 2008

Time flies, true Flies and other 'flies.

It is almost the end of the year 2008. Like most years it seems to have gone very quickly until I look back on all that I have done and then I wonder how I managed to fit all that into just one year!
This is a great time of year for insects. Here a few I photographed in the last few days. The Bristle Fly above did not seen bothered by my thumb. Yes Mum, I have cleaned my nails, I was working in the garden!
Here is a painted Grasshawk which patrols my vege patch.
This one was rescued by Maria from a spider's web the day before. I know spiders have to live too but it was early morning and the spider was strictly nocturnal so the dragonfly was facing a long slow death.
Now they are coming in squadrons.
The Tau Emerald is not such a common sight in the garden. I am not sure what his mate is below.The three below dragonflies were photographed at Mt Hypipamee on Christmas Day. I do not know their names. the last one did not make it out intact.

Christmas Beetles

Early Rains Bring out the Flowers and Insects.

Many trees are flowering on the Atherton Tablelands at the moment. The Queensland Maples, Flindersea brayleyana, look like giant cauliflowers in the rainforest. The River Cherries, Syzygium tierneyanum, flower either among the leaves or along the branches and sometimes both. Beetles are important pollinators in the Australian rainforests and while most are small there are some large colourful ones too.

The large beetle in this picture with the green lyre design is the small beetle in the picture above that. Below are a pair of Flower Longicorn beetle, Aridaeus thoracicus, which presumably gain some protection from their superficial similarity to wasps.

04 December, 2008

Tawny Frogmouth Family

WHO DO YOU THINK YOU'RE LOOKING AT!?The Tawny Frogmouth of north Queensland is smaller than its southern relatives. The female may be a reddish brown on the wings and in streaks on the breast. The young birds and male are mostly grey. They are named for their wide mouths.

As members of the Podargidae their nearest relatives are the Nightjars/Nighthawks in Caprimulgidae.

There is one in the picture below.
Here she is a bit closer.
Can you see how many young are with their father in this picture?
There are four, dad and three young. Here are two of the young ones.

Frogmouths mate for life and live in their territory of 20 -80 hectares throughout the year. They will often nest in the same tree or near by in successive seasons. Both birds share the building and incubation duties. As in many species of birds the male often sits on the nest during the day but remember this is a nocturnal species so the behaviour is really an unusual one. The nest is a flimsy platform of twigs in a horizontal fork. Usually two pure white eggs are laid about three days apart.

Greatest activity occurs in the hours after dark and before dawn. Food is large nocturnal insects and other invertebrates, taken from low branches or the ground in gliding dives.
The young bird in the first picture was making a hissing noise and moving its head from side to side, looking like Grover from Sesame Street. As this was a threat and alarm behaviour we moved back before it could start snapping its bill at us.