Sunday, 12 October 2014

Buddigower Banding - an unsprung Spring?

The weather was unseasonably warm and the bush very dry. The last time I had been out there banding, exactly four years prior, the place had been awash with wildflowers and everything seemed fresh and vibrant. This time it all seemed a little tired.

Buddigower Nature Reserve is in central New South Wales, just 7 km further along a dirt road from the Charcoal Tank Nature Reserve (12 km south of West Wyalong) where we have a regular bird banding site. We generally only get to Buddigower about every three years, and this time the gap had been four. Apart from the core group of eight banders, there were also five COG members (COG = Canberra Ornithologists Group) along for the ride on this Labour Day long weekend (3-6 October).

I’d been in Melbourne for work on the Friday so couldn’t get out to Buddigower until later on the Saturday afternoon. But this did mean we were travelling in daylight and along the way we stopped for a couple of reptiles on the road to ensure they didn't become road-kill.

A Shingleback Lizard Tiliqua rugosa (Scincidae)
was persuaded to remove itself from the middle of the road.

And a beautiful Sand Monitor (or Gould's Goanna) Varanus gouldii (Varanidae) welcomed us to Buddigower

while always keeping a close eye on us. 

When we arrived at Buddigower, Karen and I set to to get a few nets up before dusk, in the same area we had banded those four years previously, then went about the business of setting up camp. It seems Mark and his crew, who had set up on the Friday afternoon, hadn’t done so well, with less than 20 birds banded for the day.

The dryness may well be the first sign of the predicted el Niño cycle. Whatever the case, there wasn’t much flowering; certainly not the main woodland eucalypt species, nor the widespread understorey of cassinia bushes. But there were several acacias still in flower. And a few isolated cassia bushes, as well as a scattering of Calytrix, Thysanotus, and some everlastings, added splashes of colour (mainly yellow) to the otherwise fairly muted landscape.

Currawang Acacia doratoxylon (Fabaceae-Mimosaceae)

Streaked Wattle Acacia lineata (Fabaceae-Mimosaceae)

A cassia (probably Cassia nemophila) (Fabaceae-Caesalpiniaceae). In the early morning the surrounding bushland was redolent with the scent from these bushes, smelling like freshly prepared garam masala!

Common Fringe-myrtle Calytrix tetragona (Myrtaceae)

Twining Fringe-lily Thysanotus patersonii (Anthericaceae)

A 'Yellow Buttons' everlasting (Chrysocephalum sp. either apiculatum or semipapposum)

There were certainly birds about. They were quite vocal, and fairly active, but mostly they kept to the canopy so we had little success at the nets. At our site, Karen and I managed just 23 birds for the weekend: 7 White-browed Babblers, several Eastern Yellow Robins (including a presumed family party of mum, dad, and a stripe-headed juvenile in the first net on the first round), 3 White-eared Honeyeaters, a couple of Red-capped Robins, a Variegated Fairy-wren, a very obstreperous kookaburra (with its mate egging it on from the sidelines), a trio of Grey Fantails and a Willie Wagtail. The juvenile robin, as well as a few birds with brood patches, were the only signs that some birds at least were breeding. The Rufous Whistlers, Weebills, Inland Thornbills, Western Gerygones, Jacky Winters, Grey Shrike Thrush and Mistletoebirds were constant and welcome vocal companions but all stayed resolutely away from the nets.

White-browed Babbler Pomatostomus superciliosus (Pomatostomidae)
one of the seven caught was a re-trap from the 2010 trip.

Male Red-capped Robin Petroica goodenovii (Petroicidae)

This little Inland Thornbill Acanthiza apicalis (Acanthizidae) came to investigate why the Red-capped Robin was making such a fuss while he was being photographed immediately prior to release.

The middle of the day was hot. 36 degrees hot! More than the predicted 32, which would have been bad enough, and well above the long-term average for October (about 24ºC). The birds quietened down, but the mad-dog non-Englishman (me, in this case) continued his vain pursuit of them - in vain.

The insects, however, seemed to be enjoying the conditions. Several butterflies (Meadow Argus, Australian Painted Lady, Caper White, and a tiny grass blue) were around in small numbers. One Meadow Argus had taken a liking to, indeed laid claim to, a three square metre patch of track and was flushed each and every time I passed to check the net. Grasshoppers of several species gave me some great opportunities to play with my new macro lens, as did several robber flies, and the occasional dragonfly hummed by (possibly an emerald or emperor?) or perched on exposed twigs (Wandering Percher).

Australian Plague Locust Chortoicetes terminifera - brown form.

Australian Plague Locust Chortoicetes terminifera - green form.

Grasshopper 'type B' - red & grey form.

Grasshopper 'type B' - orange form.

The 'type B' grasshoppers would wave their front legs about
in what looked like some kind of semaphoric signalling 

and had gnarly 'old man' faces.

Robber fly 'type A' - male

Robber fly 'type A' - female.
The dense cluster of bristles in front of the face is called a mystax;
it helps to protect the fly against the struggles of any incalcitrant insect prey.

At first I thought this was a weird-looking robber fly (Asilidae) but on looking it up determined that it is in fact a species of Apiocera, from the family Apioceridae - closely related to Asilidae but one I've never come across before. Woo-hoo!

With evening, the temperature dropped slightly and the spiders came out to prowl, their eye-shine, reflecting back from the ground in front of our head-lamps, as bright as the stars above. More scope for a bit of macro experimentation. While I focussed on the larger spiders for photography, it was evident there were very many young spiders about, clearly following a major recent hatching event.

A wolf spider on the prowl.

Ain't she beautiful!

Another wolf spider hiding in its burrow - this one has very dark chelicerae compared to the first one.

I managed to induce it out of its burrow by scratching the ground with a small twig...

and got a great face on photo before it scuttled back down its hole. 

Another night-time discovery provided, for me, the highlight of the trip. There had been a Spotted Nightjar calling sporadically the previous two evenings, but on Sunday night a brief bout of spotlighting by some of the group located a nightjar nesting on the ground not far from camp (thanks Kathy), while its mate continued to call in its distinctive and eerie way as it swept over the tree-tops or the more distant paddocks. I’d just settled down for a well needed sleep when alerted to the find, but I threw off the sheet and was pulling on jeans in an instant for this opportunity.

Spotted Nightjar Eurostopodus argus (Caprimulgidae) on its nest at night.

Spotted Nightjars lay a single, pale green, speckled egg,
the 'nest' being a simple scrape in the leaf litter.

Next morning, the Spotted Nightjar's camouflage in the dappled sunlight was exquisite. Just as well I knew exactly where the nest was.

Spotted Nightjar Eurostopodus argus (Caprimulgidae) on its nest - what a great bird

So while the bird banding could have been better, and spring breeding isn't perhaps in fullest swing, the trip was undeniably a success. 


  1. Thanks Harvey, lovely photos of that cryptic nightjar.

    The early drying of that part of the continent is troubling.


  2. Woohoo indeed! I've never even heard of Apioceridae (we don't get them in Europe). Great looking Asilidae too, but I imagine it's still a struggle to identify the blighters from photos. I had a quick look and came up with nothing.

    Kathy sent me a photo of the nightjar -- they are amazingly cryptic, aren't they.

  3. All images excellent. Hopefully we'll get a decent dump of rain there and here in the near future!


  4. Thanks all, for kind comments. A decent fall of rain would be wonderful, but I'm not holding my breath!