Wednesday, June 27, 2012
Saturday, June 23, 2012
On the way back to Brisbane from Lamington, on April 8, 2011, the ladies dropped me off for a few hours' birding in very different habitat from the rainforests of the national park: the eucalypt woodlands and coastal mangroves of the Coombabah Lakelands Conservation Area on the southern edge of Moreton Bay. While they went off shopping, I had a very pleasant couple of hours on the excellent half-kilometre trail and mangrove boardwalk that lead to a bird hide on the edge of the reserve.
The short trail crosses four progressively wetter types of habitat as it descends to the hide: dry sclerophyll forest, swamp oak wetland with stands of casuarina, a band of saltmarsh marking the reach of the highest tides, and the mangroves themselves.
Eucalypts dominate the sclerophyll forest, including stands of Blackbutt (Eucalyptus pilularis or similar) - distinctive trees with rough bark sheathing the lower trunk that gives way, as if it had been stripped off, to smooth white bark higher up.
More widespread - because it penetrates into the swamp oak stands as well - is Queensland Grey Ironbark (Eucalyptus crebra).
One of the most striking plants of the swamp oak wetland is the Swamp Banksia (Banksia robur), whose large coarse leaves are very different from the narrower fronds of the banksias I photographed in the heathland south of Sydney.
Matrushes (Lomandra spp.) may look rather like coarse grasses, but they are actually relatives of asparagus and the Cordyline trees we saw in New Zealand. They are important components of the undergrowth in the sclerophyll woodland. Aboriginals used the fibrous leaves to weave baskets and dilly bags (a sort of carry-all handbag).
The upper photo shows a clump of brilliant orange fungus that I cannot identify. I am not even sure if the bottom picture shows a fungus, but I think it does.
This huge mass of elkhorn fern (Platycerium bifurcatum) looks
Once the trail hits the tide line, it gives way to a boardwalk traversing the mangrove forest.
The mud is studded with the aerial roots, or pneumatophores, of the widespread Grey Mangrove (Avicennia marina). The various plants called "mangrove" are often only distantly related, with quite separate adaptations for surviving in the salt-laden, oxygen-starved mud where they grow. In Avicennia the pneumatophores are the lungs of the plant, involved in gas exchange with the surrounding air.
Where there is water, there are likely to be water birds: in this case, a pair of Australian White Ibis (Threskiornis molucca)...
...and a Royal Spoonbill (Platalea regia).
In the mangroves I found a few curious Grey Fantails (Rhipidura fuliginosa)...
... and a handsome male Leaden Flycatcher (Myiagra rubecula), a member of the monarch family (Monarchidae). The Leaden is a migrant in southeastern Australia, so this might be a bird on passage.
In any case, he was extremely cooperative!
I enjoyed the trail so much that when Mui Ling, Alicia, Sue and Eileen came by to pick me up I insisted that they should see it for themselves. In particular, I wanted to show them a bird I had just found - one that even a non-birder could be amazed at.
I had tried to turn up a Tawny Frogmouth (Podargus strigoides) at Lamington without success, so I was delighted to find this one, sitting quietly on a limb waiting for darkness to fall (the bright red eyeshine is a reflection from my flash unit, not the way its eyes normally look by day). Frogmouths are weird and striking creatures, looking rather like badly-drawn owls (though they are in fact nightjar relatives). I have sought the Tawny's Malaysian relatives in vain, so despite my Asian birding experiences this was the first wild frogmouth I had seen in many a year. The ladies were suitably impressed.
They were impressed even more, I admit, by the glorious sunset over Moreton Bay, from the bird hide at the end of the trail. I can't really blame them for that, can I?
Sunday, June 17, 2012
Our cabin campout at Lamington proved to be a good place to watch wildlife without actually moving. In fact, it was difficult to get around without tripping over Australian Brush Turkeys (Alectura lathami) - well, OK, that's a slight exaggeration, but only a slight one.
At mealtime they were definitely all but underfoot.
When they weren't stalking about the campground looking for likely morsels, we could easily find them sacked out for a sunbathe on the nearby lawn.
Dinnertime was usually too late for the Brush Turkeys, but just right for this curious Common Brushtail Possum (Trichosurus vulpecula) - the same animal that has, with our help, made an utter nuisance of itself in New Zealand. We shipped it there in the mistaken belief that it would support a local fur industry. In the event, so much money has been spent trying to eradicate the New Zealand possums that it is hard to believe that it took several introduction attempts to get them established in the first place.
Other visitors to the campground were more interested in the surrounding trees, and what they had to offer, than in anything we humans might be doing. The clear highlight, for me, was a bird that flew in right over our dinner table on our last morning: a female (or perhaps a young male) Paradise Riflebird (Ptiloris paradiseus), most southerly of the birds of paradise.
The female may lack the velvety black plumage and iridescent blue-green breast shield the adult male acquires after perhaps as long as seven years (I was lucky enough to see a male bird earlier in the forest, but not lucky enough to photograph it), but she is an interesting creature all the same.
The tremendous range of display plumages in the birds of paradise has diverted attention from another radiation in this remarkable family - their variation in bill shape and feeding habits. While many birds of paradise are short-billed fruit-eaters, riflebirds have particularly long, almost curlew-like bills and act rather like giant treecreepers, hunting for their insect food on moss-covered tree limbs. That's what our bird proceeded to do, and it stayed with us, doing it, for quite some time - much to my delight.
For other birds I had to stretch my legs a bit - though, often, not for long. I could hear the squawks of the spectacular Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo (Calyptorhynchus funereus) from our cabin door, and after only a bit of a chase caught up with them feeding and preening in a nearby tree.
Other birds I found at the forest edge included Lewin's Honeyeater (Meliphaga lewinii)....
... Several attractive Eastern Yellow Robins (Eopsaltria australis), relatives of the New Zealand robins and tomtits - once familiar garden birds, but now hard to find in urban Sydney at least...
... And a little group of Red-browed Finches (Neochmia temporalis).
Some other birds I only found along the forest trails (not including, unfortunately, my 'target' bird at Lamington, the shy and elusive Rufous Scrub-Bird (Atrichornis rufescens), a creature I also missed in 1972). Two species of scrubwren were common in the undergrowth, the Yellow-throated (Sericornis citreogularis) and the more abundant and widespread White-browed Scrubwren (S. frontalis), the bird in these photos.
From high above me in the forest canopy I could occasionally hear a wailing sound, like the complaint of a cat being slowly strangled. It took a local birding guide I met on the trail to identify it as the voice of the Green Catbird (Ailuroedus crassirostris), and with a little effort I finally got a (poor and distant) shot of it. The Green Catbird is a bowerbird (of which more below), but unlike most other members of its utterly remarkable family it is monogamous, and does not build a bower. Instead, males are content to woo their females (and their females to accept them) on a cleared display ground, decorated with leaves, on the forest floor.
Even more peculiar, perhaps, than the catbird was another bird I met several times in the darker patches along the forest trails. The Australian Logrunner (Orthonyx temminckii) is a member of a tiny family, with only three (or just possibly four) living species, that lies somewhere near the root of the oscine (that is, 'true' songbird) family tree.
It is an odd creature. It has weak, rounded wings and seldom flies. Unlike most songbirds, the female is the more colourful gender (these are males; she has a bright orange-rufous breast) - admittedly, the birds may not see it that way, as the female still has the job of building her nest and raising her young on her own, though the male brings her food to pass on to her offspring. Logrunners have spine-tipped tails used, unusually among birds, to brace themselves against the ground while they scratch through the leaf litter.
Unlike its birds and mammals, Australia's butterfly fauna is, by and large, very similar to that of Southeast Asia. The Common Crow (Euploea core) is not a bird, but a butterfly - one of the Danaiinae - and a common species from India to Australia.
The most famous of the Danaiinae, the Monarch (Danaus plexippus), lives in Australia too, though here it is usually called the Wanderer. Strangely enough, it is not found in continental Asia; instead, it seems to be a recent arrival in Australasia, first noted in Australia around in 1871 or so. It seems that it success here dates from the introduction of milkweed, it's food plant. Perhaps migrant Monarchs regularly found themselves blown across the Pacific for centuries before, but without milkweed their caterpillars would have had nothing to eat.
After dark, the mammals came out to the lawns below the lodge, and Alicia and I went out in search of them, flashlights in hand - not just the possum that prowled around our campsite, but Long-nosed Bandicoots (Perameles nasuta) and Red-necked Padamelons (Thylogale thetis) like this one - shy, smallish, nocturnal forest wallabies.