Sunday, 24 November 2013

Wader mystery revisited

I posted a photo of two small wading birds, photographed at Mungalla Station near Ingham Qld, a fews weeks ago (see Mungalla Station part 2).

In this post, I had assumed the bird on the far left was a Red-necked Stint and wondered what the apparently smaller bird just to its right might be. The sizes can be judged relative to the Sharp-tailed Sandpipers on the right.

Since then, I have re-examined the original images and run them past a few colleagues and the longer we look at them the less sure we are.

The main problem is that the legs are not black. I initially passed this off as due to mud but closer examination makes this questionable. The legs appear to be a dull yellow. As you can see from the image above, the late afternoon light gives an exaggerated yellow in the photograph so I went back to the original raw files and neutralised the colour-balance. Here are the only 4 images I took of these two birds with no other manipulation (apart from colour balance neutralised).

Click on the images to show full size (100% resolution of original images, heavily cropped)

And here's the "smaller" bird by itself taken just a few minutes before the sequence above.

So, any suggestions for what species they may be?

Update 25 Nov:
Thanks to all those who emailed me on this. Consensus of opinion is that the two birds are Red-necked Stints, most likely first year birds with worn plumage (it's a long way from Siberia your first time!)

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Lorikeets go to University

Visiting Deakin University's Waurn Ponds (Geelong) campus last week, I couldn't help but notice the high-pitched chattering of a flock of small lorikeets in the the car park. I was without camera so could not capture the activity but I made sure to have the camera in the car this morning and made a brief detour on the way through Geelong to see if they were still there...

…and they were. At least twenty Purple-crowned Lorikeets were feeding among the eucalypts in the car park. Like most parrots, they are extremely affectionate birds.

Purple-crowned Lorikeet, Waurn Ponds

It was impossible to count and difficult to photograph them because they were rarely still and most often sitting or feeding in the tops of the trees and among the dense foliage.

Purple-crowned Lorikeet, Waurn Ponds

Occasionally one or two would come out to provide a better view.

Purple-crowned Lorikeet, Waurn Ponds

The resident Red Wattlebirds were persistently and aggressively defending their territory, taking the odd moment to grab feed of their own

Red Wattlebird, Waurn Ponds

and even squabbling among themselves.

Red Wattlebird, Waurn Ponds

Also feasting on the flowers were several Rainbow Lorikeets,

Rainbow Lorikeet, Waurn Ponds

In this one, the bird took off just as I hit the shutter.

Rainbow Lorikeet, Waurn Ponds

They are seriously quick because the next frame is completely empty (@7fps). I also like this shot because it shows the difference between the take-off techniques of parrots from passerines. Shots I've taken of small passerines show they jump into the air before opening their wings, where this bird is clearly still holding onto the branch while it's wings appear to be in full flight.

Rainbow Lorikeet, Waurn Ponds

The other common residents, New Holland Honeyeaters, hung around, unusually quiet…probably happy to not be the the primary focus of the wattlebirds.

New Holland Honeyeater, Waurn Ponds

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Centenary Lakes, Cairns Botanical Gardens

After returning from our day on the outer reef, there was just enough time for a walk around Freshwater Lake at Centenary Lakes, part of the Cairns Botanic Gardens.

Straight out of the car, we spotted an Intermediate Egret feeding on the other side of the Freshwater Lake (not terribly exciting for the locals but Intermediates are rare in southern Vic so I'm always happy to see one and the setting was beautiful)

Intermediate Egret, Centenary Lakes, Cairns Qld

and a small flock of Radjah Shelduck right on the near shore

Radjah Shelduck, Centenary Lakes, Cairns Qld

These cormorants swam past, synchronously diving and coming up for air…I wonder how they do that...

Little Black Cormorant, Centenary Lakes, Cairns Qld

A small island at the end of Freshwater Lake is a roosting site for a wide range of birds

Australian White Ibis, Little Black Cormorant, Black-necked Stork,
Centenary Lakes, Cairns Qld

including an immature Black-necked Stork prowling around. We walked slowly around the lake to get closer to the other side of the island and the stork. The shadowed foreground and backlight made photography challenging but resulted in some interesting shots.

Black-necked Stork (immature),
Centenary Lakes, Cairns Qld

On the way, we also spotted several freshwater turtles sitting out on small islands (I haven't had the chance to try to identify these to species yet).

As we continued further around the lake a Little Pied Cormorant was spotted sitting on a branch over the lake.

Little Pied Cormorant, Centenary Lakes, Cairns Qld

It was almost impossible to get a good angle to photograph through the surrounding vegetation. By the time I found one, the sun was just dropping below the treetops behind me

Little Pied Cormorant, Centenary Lakes, Cairns Qld

but fill flash worked well to bring the snap back into the image and it allows a better exposure of the background.

Little Pied Cormorant, Centenary Lakes, Cairns Qld

The setting sun played nicely with reflections on the settling water in the middle of the lake just as this Pacific Black Duck swam past.

Pacific Black Duck, Centenary Lakes, Cairns Qld

Another Radjah Shelduck was captured standing pensively on the lake shore. Again, I tried to improve it with flash but, in this case, I am not sure which I prefer.

Radjah Shelduck, Centenary Lakes, Cairns Qld

and so we came to an end of our FNQ experience - 50 new species photographed in some fabulous locations with some great friends and the opportunity to meet some new ones - a quick taster for more trips north as soon as the bank and leave balances will allow.

Michaelmas Cay: Boobies and Terns

Continuing our Far North Queensland experience, we took a day trip to the outer reef with Seastar Cruises. We chose this operator because they are a small, local, family-owned business, they operate a small boat (giving a more personal experience), they have two stops: one at Michaelmas Cay and one at Hastings Reef AND they are happy to drop birdwatchers on the island at Michaelmas Cay while others snorkel around the surrounding reef. We had a magnificent day and thoroughly recommend their services.

Michaelmas Cay is a small, coral sand island and the first thing you notice on approaching is the number of birds flying around.

Michaelmas Cay, Qld

Landing is restricted to a small section of the island, leaving the rest of the island to it's avian inhabitants.

Michaelmas Cay, Qld

We were told to look out for Brown Booby that frequently sit on the service boats moored just didn't take much looking...

Brown Booby, Michaelmas Cay Qld

Landing on the island and surrounded by birds :-)

As close to paradise as I am going to get... (photo courtesy of Joanne Smissen)

The most abundant birds on the island are Common Noddy and Sooty Tern.

Common Noddy + Sooty Tern, Michaelmas Cay Qld

They have very different behaviours. The Common Noddy seem happy to sit on the beach by the shore

or on the rope barrier and dune front, allowing close approach

Common Noddy, Michaelmas Cay Qld

but are very fast flyers that rarely hover making them more challenging to capture in flight so these are the best I could manage

Common Noddy, Michaelmas Cay Qld

Sooty Terns, on the other hand, are glorious flyers, frequently hovering in the breeze,

Sooty Tern, Michaelmas Cay Qld
some managing the most extraordinary contortions

Sooty Tern, Michaelmas Cay Qld

and feeding by skimming the water surface

Sooty Tern, Michaelmas Cay Qld

but they roost behind the dunes away from the public access beach so are almost impossible to photograph on the ground,

Sooty Tern, Michaelmas Cay Qld

although this juvenile didn't follow the 'rules'.

Sooty Tern (juvenile), Michaelmas Cay Qld

In addition to lounging around on boats, Brown Booby breed on the island.

Brown Booby, Michaelmas Cay Qld

A few pairs could be seen from the viewing area. This pair was close and had a young chick.

Brown Booby, Michaelmas Cay Qld

They also paid a lot of attention to each other.

Brown Booby, Michaelmas Cay Qld

There are lesser numbers of other species of terns on the island including Crested Tern, Lesser Crested Tern, Bridled Tern and Black-naped Tern but these hang out mostly on the lee-side of the island (that you cannot get to). I did manage to get one shot of a Crested Tern

Crested Tern, Michaelmas Cay Qld

and just as we got back to the boat I managed to scramble a couple of shots of distant Black-naped Terns

Black-naped Tern, Michaelmas Cay Qld

Perhaps the highlight of the day was this frigatebird. It appears to be a female Lesser Frigatebird just coming into adult plumage but the white throat/chest patch is ambiguously part way between Lesser and Great Frigatebird in shape so I am not convinced...happy to take advice from others more familiar with these species.

Lesser(?) Frigatebird, Michaelmas Cay Qld

...and as we departed for Hastings Reef, one last shot of the sand bar at the end of the island with the Cairns coast in the background.

Michaelmas Cay, Qld

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