Thursday, 17 December 2015

In-between fieldwork: Laughing kookaburra

Laughing kookaburra (Dacelo novaeguineae) - love them! They are loud and bossy, but also manage to appear very cuddly.

Very entertaining to watch, I had so much fun watching them dig for worms and eat them up like they were spaghetti.

We do have some issues with the ones on the study side as they are very used to people. This means that when we are mist-netting in order to catch superb fairy-wrens and ring them we have to be really careful and watch out for kookaburras. They will come very close to people and the nets and might try to grab any birds that fall into the net. They just sit there and wait!

Thursday, 3 December 2015

In-between fieldwork: Koala

Koalas in Canberra are extinct, which is a great shame. Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve used to have a few captive koalas, but from what I have been told all but one of them died in the big 2003 bush fires. Poor things.

Some koalas have been translocated back to the reserve recently and I saw those. They have a little house there, where some of them sleep. They live up to the cuteness standards.

I was also lucky enough to see one of them awake and climbing around. At one point he was hanging using only his arms,flailing his legs around - pretty funny sight!

Thursday, 26 November 2015

In-between fieldwork: Dusky Woodswallow

Dusky Woodswallow (Artamus cyanopterus). I couldn't get much closer, but they spent ageeees preening each other and I got several very cute shots of this pair. If you think that they don't look quite right for a swallow you won't be surprised to read that they are actually more closely related to currawongs and Australian magpies than they are to swallows.

I even managed to see a nest, bowl-shaped and made of twigs, tucked behind a bit of bark. No photos though as I didn't want to bother the birds.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

In-between fieldwork: Magpie-lark

Magpie-lark (Grallina cyanoleuca). Odd critters, very boldly behaving, not scared to come up to people. Foraging in open grass a lot. Kind of reminding me of little dinosaurs.

Males and females can be distinguished by markings on their heads. Pay attention to the black stripes across the eyes. Males have a horizontal black stripe:

And females have a vertical black stripe and also have white throats:

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Update: "in-between fieldwork" every other Thursday

Me again. I have decided that for now In-between fieldwork posts with Australian wildlife will appear on Thursdays (completely arbitrary).

I'm currently scheduling posts for every other Thursday to gauge how much material I have and will go from there - if there is lots left over I might bump it to a weekly Thursday post. Either way, if you are mainly interested in the photos hopefully this will make it easier for you to know when to pop back :]

Thursday, 5 November 2015

In-between fieldwork: Australian king parrot

Those guys were easiest to spot in the late afternoon. There were some trees on my way home where they seemed to forage a lot. Their roost must have been somewhere else, as I never saw them stay there for the night and they were never there during my morning cycle down.

I've seen them eat some nuts and buds and their feet are surprisingly agile, they could handle even very small pieces of food well.

In the above photos you can see females. For easy comparison a profile of a female below - mainly green bird with red belly.

While male plumage is much redder and the red spreads all over the bird's head, neck and nape. Wings are green.

Friday, 30 October 2015

In-between fieldwork: Black-fronted dotterel

Black-fronted dotterels (Elseyornis melanops) are not very common around Canberra and I only managed to see a pair during my visit.

They were very easy too spook and didn't allow me to approach at all, every time I tried to take a step in their direction they would strut off hurriedly. They were moving around quite nervously and most of my photos came out rather blurry.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

In-between fieldwork: Australian pelican

The Australian pelican (Pelecanus conspicillatus).  Beautiful and so very big, wing span of over two meters and bill around 45 cm long! If I'm not mistaken that's the species with the biggest bills. Very majestic too and not particularly fast-moving, so taking photos was a bit easier.

This guy kept spreading his wings and posing for me!

Friday, 23 October 2015

In-between fieldwork: Red-necked wallaby

The red-necked wallaby (Macropus rufogriseus) - see the red just above the shoulders? I think that black nose and paws, and that white stripe around the mouth can be used to distinguish the red-necks from other local wallabies too. Although to be perfectly honest I find it rather tough to tell some of those guys apart.

Cute, right?

...and they had the biggest pouches I have seen so far. Some of the pouches were pretty much resting on the ground while females foraged.

In-between fieldwork: Yellow-tailed black cockatoos!

Yellow-tails black cockatoos (Calyptorhynchus funereus) were my must-see in Australia. Those guys are absolutely stunning creatures! They seem quirky, fly beautifully and softly for such a big bird, have heaps and heaps of charm... Even their calls are lovely (which is fairly unusual for a parrot!).

I was lucky enough to see them earlier in my trip with one of the local birders. Unfortunately, we accidentally spooked the birds, they flew across the river and even though we could still watch them from a distance I couldn't get decent photos.

This was the only ok-ish one I got:

Since then I have been on a hunt for the yellow-tails. There is just something about them - seeing them once simply wasn't enough. Such beautiful birds. Despite the efforts and assistance from aforementioned birder I haven't managed to see them again. Until today.

Yay! Finally today I have stumbled on a bigger flock and managed to get some photos. I've been bouncing of the walls with excitement the entire afternoon :]

The conditions for taking photos weren't great, but I'm quite happy with what I got, especially considering that I'm leaving Australia soon and this was my last chance to see the yellow-tails on this trip.

More photos to come in the future :]

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Fieldwork: Almost there!

I have a couple of more trials to do on Saturday morning and then I should be done with collecting data for this season. Two months went past really quickly. I'm glad I extended my stay too, I would have been short of time otherwise.

I thought I'd show you another one of my pretty boys. Say hi to Timor (TMR):

He is a curious little guy :]

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

In-between fieldwork: Eastern rosella

Those little colourful guys are not as common as Crimson rosellas, yet are fairly easy to see, I think I've seen a couple of them at least every other day. They are easier to spook than the crimsons though and don't seem to hang out in big groups.

Eastern rosellas (Platycercus eximius) seem to prefer open spaces and grasslands, and I've seen them mainly foraging on the ground.

Those photos don't show them off though, so I've been trying to catch them when they are perched on branches. Aren't they beautiful?

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Update on the "in-between fieldwork" posts

I have seen quite a few things in-between fieldwork so far* and I still have two weeks to go. I realise now that if I want to post a good chunk of it (and I'd love to have a record of it here and be able to share it with my friends) I will have to space it out a bit more.

I will upload photos when I get a moment, but I might schedule the posts to get published in the future so that you don't get too overwhelmed. Hope you enjoy the photos at least to some extend!

*Australia's wildlife is awesome

Saturday, 17 October 2015

In-between fieldwork: Painted button-quail

Stumbled across this little guy digging in the ground, while spinning around - quite a funny sight! They are apparently not the easiest things to find, so I'm pretty pleased this one decided to come out and say hello :]

Painted button-quail (Turnix varius), male.

EDIT: Those circles in the leaf litter made by the bird spinning around are called platelets. I learn something new every day!

Saturday, 10 October 2015

In-between fieldwork: It's mine!

This morning there was a whole bunch of galahs and gang gangs having a heated debate over who gets a nest cavity. I took a few photos before starting the fairy-wren trials, but the noisy debate continued for quite a while right above my head!

Thursday, 8 October 2015

In-between fieldwork: Red wattlebird

While superb-fairy wrens are just starting to lay eggs many other species have been at it for a while. One of them is the red wattlebird (Anthochaera carunculata).

Cute proof:

Red wattlebird chicks

They don't stay this cute forever though. This is what they will look like when they grow up.

The adults seem to be pretty aggressive towards smaller birds, including fairy-wrens. They keep chasing them around and swooping at bushes full of little birds. I don't know whether this is a seasonal behaviour linked to the breeding season or whether they act this way the whole year around.

If you can't quite work out where their name comes from here is a shot where you can see the red wattles.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

In-between fieldwork: Tawny Frogmouth

Finally! I have been looking for those guys for a while now. I have been told more or less where to look in the Australian National Botanic Gardens (ANBG). It turns out that they are actually on the other side of the lawn than I thought... Typical!

The tawny frogmouths (Podargus strigoides) look a little bit like owls and are nocturnal, which means that they snooze during the day. They can be very still and well camouflaged (resembling bits of tree bark) so it's easy to miss one. I have only managed to find one and will definitely try to find the other one (there is a pair at ANBG). I'd love to see chicks! I can only imagine how cute those would be.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Fieldwork: Never work with animals

I think it's probably even more true for wild animals.

It's not even that the little buggers are not doing what I want them to do, they are simply not doing much at all. During multiple focal watches absolutely nothing happens, the birds just forage and preen themselves.

This means that data collection has been going rather slowly and I started to get a little bit stressed - what if I don't get enough data? I know it's not the end of the world, but I feel committed: I'm investing hours and hours of my time here (including on weekends) and feeling a little bit of pressure that I don't have much to show for it. I'm still learning a lot while I'm here, but something tangible would be nice, especially that this time would have been otherwise spend on results-producing analyses.

I know that I can complete my PhD without these data... Yet, somehow, I know it will feel just a little bit like a failure if I don't get the data. The impostor syndrome is hiding just around the corner, pocking it's ugly head out.

Decision has been made - I'm going to extend my stay by a couple of weeks, till the end of October. Hopefully that will be enough. I shall find out I guess! Now onto flights re-booking and accommodation-searching.

To illustrate how slow and late everything in the field is - some of our males are still not through their moult!

Look at that scruffy face!

Thursday, 1 October 2015

In-between fieldwork: Sulphur-crested cockatoos

Those guys are super sociable and love to play. It can be soooo much fun to watch them interact with other, jump around, investigate things, swing... They even seem to play while flying!

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

In-between fieldwork: Powl

"Powl" is how the local birders refer to their powerful owl. I find the abbreviation oddly cute.

The powerful owl (Ninox strenua) is Australia's biggest owl species. It's big, with big claws.

Meet Powl. Look at those claws!

When it looks at you it seems to be measuring you with its gaze, and I could swear it's wondering whether it could take you on. Can I eat it? it seems to ask.

Powl sees you.

Those owls are normally found in forests, yet Powl lives in a park neighbouring a bowling club. Powl lives alone and it is currently not known whether it's a boy or a girl. I like to refer to Powl as "she" (I can blame it on owl being a feminine word in my mother tongue).  She might be a bit lonely, but she is probably not struggling for prey around this area.

Powl with dinner. Can you spot the possum?

The lovely COG birders have introduced me to Powl and I have been visiting her every few days with hope of getting some decent images I could share with you. She is snoozing peacefully most of the time I see her and I've got lots of "bum" shots. She likes to tuck her head into the feathers and can be fairly tricky to spot when sitting completely still high up in the trees, between all the foliage and branches, but as with all bird photography patience and perseverance seems to be the key to success.

She can be cute when she wants to. I bet that's how she lures the unsuspecting prey into the park.

Monday, 28 September 2015

Fieldwork: Displays

My fieldwork centers around male courtship displays and their variability. Only males that have finished their moult, i.e. only males that are "fully" blue, display. I've been even told that there have been males that started displaying immediately after they shook off their last brown head feathers.

grWM after a moult - fully blue.

Males display to their social partners, but they will also travel to other territories in order to display to females resident on those territories. Displays are a form of an advertisement - they never result in immediate copulation, but males can promote themselves and maybe, just maybe, the females will be impressed enough to choose them as their extra-pair partner during one of their forays.

While displaying male attempts to hide his brown wings and belly from female's view - he tucks those parts under the black feathers. Black creates the perfect background for the iridescent blue of the head and cheeks. Male then raises and fans the blue feathers - his head looks a bit odd during the display, as if it were flattened. Makes me think about cartoon cats squished by pianos.

GnwG displaying - isn't he handsome?
Nice view of the fanned and flattened blue feathers.

Males often chase the females, either in addition to the display or sometimes instead of it. I think the reaction of the female and that of the resident male plays a role here - maybe if the male can't display "in peace" he chooses to chase? It could also be that less experienced males chase more - we are not sure at the moment. One thing I do know is that those chases can be really intense and take IDing of the birds to a whole new level. Dear fairy-wrens, please stop the chasing and display gallantly.

In a small proportion of displays males carry yellow petals or small yellow flowers. This makes the male very easy to spot - I guess getting attention is exactly what he wants! It also looks unbelievably cute. I'm still trying to get a good photo of this, but since it's fairly rare and the wrens are hard to photograph as it is I'm not doing so great. My best one so far is below and you can just about see the yellow flower... It's really there, I swear!

GnwG with a yellow flower in his beak.

Another interesting aspect of the display is the "seahorse" flight. Again, it doesn't happen all the time, probably because it is energetically costly. I watched a few males do it and they only manage it for a short distance after which they land in a bush and pant with their beaks open, poor little fellas. The nature of this flight is hard to explain, but the name makes perfect sense if you see a fairy-wren do it - they really look like seahorses!

Let me try to describe it. A male attempting the seahorse flight flies in a straight line bobbing up and down, undulating, changing his body position from horizontal to vertical and back. The female would be able to see the back of the male, so he tucks in all the brown feathers, exposing only the black and blue to her. While in vertical position the tail is pointing downward and the bird looks hunched up. The shape and the undulations make them look like seahorses. It is an odd and awkward sight, it doesn't look like something a bird is meant to do. I have never seen a photo of the seahorse... I might try drawing a sketch if I see the flight a few more times.