Channel-billed Cuckoos raised by Pied Currawongs

Channel-billed Cuckoo fledgling 3 being fed by Currawong Yungaburra 3Jan2017
Pied Currawong (left) feeding a juvenile Channel-billed Cuckoo

Observing the behaviour of Cuckoos, their young, and host birds is fascinating. Cuckoos parasitise nests of other birds, laying their eggs in nests of suitable birds, taking no part in incubation or parenting.

Channel-billed Cuckoos are Australia’s largest cuckoo, migrating to the north and east of Australia from New Guinea in spring to breed. They must lay their eggs in nests of large birds so that the  host parents are up to the job of feeding the young. Pied Currawongs, Australian Magpies, crows and ravens are usually the chosen hosts.

According to BirdLife Australia, Channel-billed Cuckoo hatchlings don’t evict the hosts’ young like all other cuckoos – they simply demand all the food, and their massive size ensures they get it (thus, the hosts’ biological chicks perish).

Channel-billed Cuckoo fledgling 1 preening Yungaburra 3Jan2017
Juv Channel-billed Cuckoo preening

While out with Birdwatchers of Hervey Bay at Arkarra Lagoons on 28th December 2016, we witnessed two Channel-billed Cuckoo fledglings being fed by a pair of Torresian Crows. This caused quite a bit of interest as the birdwatchers present (including me)  had not previously seen a nest of two surviving cuckoos.

During the next week while Grahame and I were on a birdwatching trip to far north Queensland, we witnessed the same observation, with the host parents being Pied Currawongs.

It was an amusing and unusual spectacle, so we relaxed on our camp chairs in a park watching this odd family with very stressed and overworked parents. I’m sure my toddlers weren’t this much trouble!

Channel-billed Cuckoo fledgling 2 being fed by Currawong Yungaburra 3Jan2017

Rufous Fantails nesting

Rufous Fantail 02 Paluma Range 17Jan2017 Nesting

Two large trees were down over the forest road preventing us from continuing the drive we’d planned from Paluma on top of the Paluma Range. As Grahame manoeuvred our vehicle away from the road-block, a pair of Rufous Fantails put in a surprise appearance.

Although we’d seen Rufous Fantails often before, this was the first nesting we’d observed. The nest is very similar to that of the Grey Fantail with a small, very tight and neat cup with a ‘tail’ of about 10cm underneath. Both parents-to-be incubated the eggs, swapping over, and feeding close by.

Rufous Fantail 01 Paluma Range 17Jan2017 Nesting

A spectacular bird with it’s bright orange/tan fanned tail, it flitted about with amazing agility. But with all the rainforest in which to build a home, they chose a spot just a meter off the road. With all the impending noise and ruckus of chainsaws and workers removing the fallen trees, I do hope the fantails cope with the disturbance at their front door.

I was thrilled to briefly watch the behaviour of the fantails. If the road had not been blocked by fallen trees, we would not have seen this delightful activity. Grahame was rapt to get some photos of a bird that is usually too quick to be snapped well.

Rufous Fantail 03 Paluma Range 17Jan2017 Nesting

Large-billed Gerygones nesting

Large-billed Gerygone 01 Rollingstone 15Jan2017 Nesting

We discovered Big Crystal Creek a day before we left our camp at Rollingstone, and wished we’d checked it out sooner. What a fabulous spot for watching birds.

While Grahame camouflaged himself as good as was possible considering the heat and humidity keeping an eye on a Noisy Pitta’s nest, I sat and watched a pair of Large-billed Gerygones building their nest – an untidy slender pendulum hanging low from the outer foliage of a medium-sized tree.

One gerygone (pronounced jer-igg-onn-y) worked on securing the top of the construction to the twig it was hanging from, while the other put finishing touches to the porch, and did some interior decorating. There was nowhere for me to hide, so I just sat back and enjoyed the activity. The birds were obviously working to a schedule, not bothering about the spectator. They worked frantically.

Large-billed Gerygone 02 Rollingstone 15Jan2017 Nesting

This was my first positive identification of the Large-billed Gerygone, so now I can add this interesting little bird to my list of identified species. Lovely.

Large-billed Gerygone 03 Rollingstone 15Jan2017 Nesting

 

White-browed Robins nesting

White-browed Robin 04 Tyto Wetlands Ingham 14Jan2017

When a birdwatcher finds a bird that only occupies a small section of the country, it’s always exciting. And if they are nesting, WOW! We’ve previously seen the White-browed Robin only once, at Tyto Wetlands near Ingham in north Queensland. Not fleeting sightings, but there certainly wasn’t opportunity to observe them at length.

On our recent visit to Tyto Wetlands, however, we had the privilege of watching a pair of White-browed Robins finish building their nest. It was a beautiful construction – a tight little cup decorated on the outside with strips of paperbark hanging on spider silk.

White-browed Robin 01 Tyto Wetlands Ingham 12Jan2017 Nesting

The combined heat and humidity really tested us, but the mosquitoes nearly drove us mad. To watch the birds working, we needed to sit in the shade, and that’s where all the mossies were. We didn’t hang around long, and despite the heat, we sat in the sun to recover because the mossies were all in the shade.

A couple of days later, I saw another pair of White-browed Robins south of Ingham at Big Crystal Creek Picnic/camping area. They didn’t exhibit any breeding behaviour, simply feeding themselves.

Memorable sightings.

Bush Stone-curlews breeding

My first encounter with Bush Stone-curlews was a rather unsettling one. Picture this: camped with our two young children in a floor-less tent in an unpowered camping reserve (no lights), and in the middle of the night I wake to a frightening sound akin to that of a wailing old woman. I shine a torch over the kids to check that they’re alive and well, then wriggle down into my sleeping bag hoping we all survive the night.

Daylight came, and I asked a fellow camper about the screaming in the night. “A Curlew”, he says. “A strange bird that sleeps by day and screeches by night.”

I consulted my bird guide: drawn out mournful wail or screech mainly at night. Mystery solved. And thankfully we were fortunate enough to get an up-close look at the culprit to put a face to the call.

Bush Stone-curlew 1 Yungaburra sitting on eggs 3Jan2017
Wet and bedraggled Bush Stone-curlew sitting on eggs

Since that meeting, I’ve always been rapt and amused to set eyes on the odd, gangly-legged Bush Stone-curlew performing what it believes to be a disappearing act – it’s bulbous unblinking eye all that betrays its existence as it blends into the surroundings.

A summer trip to Far North Queensland this year scored several Bush Stone-curlew breeding observations, and ‘captivating’ hardly seems descriptive enough.

We also discovered that these peculiar birds can aggressively ward off intruders with a raspy hiss and dramatic defensive posturing to rival a far bigger and scarier beast. So well-camouflaged are these birds as they sit on their eggs, that we didn’t see mother curlew as we strolled around Yungaburra until she reared up at us like a raging bull, startling the daylights out of us. I reckon she could probably see off a wayward dog or cat that got too nosy. I hope so.

Bush Stone-curlew 2 Yungaburra protecting eggs 3Jan2017
Defensive pose – eggs centre far left

Further into the Atherton Tablelands (at Mt Malloy), we happened upon a pair of curlews with a pair of chicks. What adorably peculiar babies, body prostrate on the ground with bill pointing out the front of the flattened fluff-ball body, and fat knobbly legs stuck out the back. Both parents wandered off innocently, bobbing up and down diverting attention away from the youngsters. We admired the chicks for a few moments, and then left the family to carry on.

Bush Stone-curlew 3 chick Mt Malloy 6Jan2017
Fluffy chick ‘hiding’

Bush Stone-curlew 4 chick and adult Mt Maloy 6Jan2017
Adult bird standing over chick both extremely well camouflaged

As always, I felt privileged to get a glimpse into the breeding habits of our native birds – albeit unwelcome from the birds’ point of view.