Saturday, 4 January 2014

4th day of the new year

For bird watchers with a penchant for keeping lists of the birds they’ve seen, the new year is a fertile and busy time. While freely admitting that I’m a dedicated list-keeper (if not a twitcher by my strict definitions – the furthest I’ve ever travelled for a particular bird was from Canberra to Tuross Heads), I’m not fanatical about adding to those lists as quickly as some might. By the end of January 1st I had a respectable but by no means exceptional 73 birds on my “2014 List”. By the end of day 3 I’d added a further 15 species for a List total of 88. So when Saturday dawned, 4th day of the new year, I upped and went just that little bit further from Canberra than my dedication to attending work on Thursday and Friday had allowed.

I went out to a small woodland reserve adjacent to Uriarra Village near the start of Brindabella Road. There had been recent records of Pied Butcherbirds from the area, a species which I have not yet seen in the ACT and is therefore of great interest (i.e. I need it for my “ACT List”) despite being very common in many other places in Australia.

While picking up some nice birds, including a pair of nesting Leaden Flycatchers, the wind had picked up and it wasn’t quite as productive as I had hoped. List total augmented to 98.


Male Leaden Flycatcher on nest duty. The nest was about 4 m above the ground and too high to see if it contained eggs or nestlings, but I suspect eggs as neither the male nor female bird brought food when they approached the nest.

A couple more stops along Uriarra Road for not many birds (the wind was not being helpful) and I headed for Stony Creek Reserve near Uriarra Crossing where just six weeks ago the place was alive with White-browed and Dusky Woodswallows, Painted Honeyeaters, sittellas, Speckled Warblers and other nice birds. It couldn’t have been more different! None of the above was seen. To be fair, I did eventually tally 25 species for the site and it was nice to pick up Mistletoebirds and Rainbow Bee-eaters to bring my List up to 104.

One young bee-eater had learned well and returned to a high exposed bare branch in quick succession with a cicada and then what appears to be (from the not brilliant photograph I did manage to get) some sort of wasp – both common items for this species which does also eat bees!


Perhaps part of the young bee-eater’s success was due to the prevalence of insects around (if not birds L) and perhaps because of this my attention shifted. The shrilling of cicadas was constant and there were lots of Christmas beetles about too, steadily doing their best both to defoliate the local eucalypts and to perpetuate the species.


Christmas Beetles (Anoplagnathus species) often remain in mating pairs for far longer than the actual act of copulation requires! The male (on top, although because they are upside down he is on the bottom of the photo) has an identifiably longer ‘snout’ (the clypeus) than does the female.


Down by the Murrumbidgee, there were small gatherings of dainty damselflies of a sort I don’t recall seeing previously, glowing orange in the sunny patches beneath the casuarinas. These are Orange Threadtails Nososticta solida; they occur along streams, rivers and riverine pools throughout eastern Australia.


Also living up to its name was a Scarlet Percher Diplacodes haematodes, brilliant in the morning sunshine. These are widespread across Australia (as well as extending to Timor, PNG, Vanuatu and New Caledonia) and frequent streams and rivers as well as still waters.

The tapering plain red abdomen and yellow infused wing bases
of this Scarlet Percher indicate it is a male.

On the river itself, rafts of water striders skimmed effortlessly in the shallows, leaving their distinctive shadows on the muddy bottom. Water striders, or pond skaters, (Family Gerridae) are true bugs (Hemiptera) adapted to life on water. They can sit on the water due to a combination of surface tension and their long legs being covered with very fine hairs which help spread the load. They propel themselves with the middle pair of legs. The individual in the photo below has no wings but I’m not sure what this means as there is a high degree of wing variation in gerrids, with some species having forms either with wings, with reduced wings or with no wings.

The shadows produced by the dimpling of the water surface
where their feet make contact are more obvious
than the ‘true’ shadow cast by the insect’s body.


And robber flies were everywhere, buzzing noisily about, chasing each other, and landing on any available substrate – bare sand, rocks, driftwood, dead blackberry brambles or the narrowest grass stem. These robust flies (Family Asilidae) are voracious predators and it was a little surprising not to see any of the many clasping some unfortunate insect meal.


Yellow-winged Grasshoppers Gastrimargus musicus regularly fled from in front of me, clicking away some 5 metres or so to a new well camouflaged position on flashing yellow wings. These are always difficult to relocate in thick vegetation and tend to flush again before you’re close enough to see them let alone lock a camera lens onto them, but the grasshopper below (sorry – I don’t know what sort it is) was more obliging.


Lots of Cabbage White butterflies about too, but they didn’t inspire any photographic activity this time, and a few Meadow Argus butterflies which appeared particularly bright orange rather than the somewhatbrowner form I’m more used to.

And then it was time to get home, via the shop to pick up some milk, for a very late breakfast…