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).
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Grahame and I have taken ourselves off on a birdwatching adventure. All keen birdwatchers can behave a bit on the eccentric side now and then, and driving up to far north Queensland in the wet season hoping to observe and photograph a bird that has flown in from New Guinea to nest, might seem somewhat odd to the person with more popular hobbies.
But we were reasonably sure we’d encounter other intrepid birders in the wet, humid tropics hunting down the exact same species with binoculars and telephoto-lens cameras. And of course, we did.
Dripping with sweat, and as uncomfortable as hell, we propped ourselves behind a tree and tried to pretend we were invisible. Birds are smarter than that, though. They were suspicious and wary, but Grahame got a few quick shots, and I got excellent sightings.
The Buff-breasted Paradise-kingfisher.
They burrow into a terrestrial termite mound in tropical rainforest, so their habitat has diminished over time, and is always fragile.
They’re such brilliant birds with their red bill and legs, and bright blue and contrasting white and orange/tan plumage. And so fascinating to watch. I think they’re well aware that they’re near the top of the list of spectacular birds, posing this way and that, showing off both profiles. When the paradise-kingfisher flies off, its long white tail trails behind like a length of toilet paper caught in its pants. Comical.
When it alights on a branch, it swings its tail back and forth, back and forth, just like the pendulum on an old grandfather clock. And in tempo with ticking time too. You could almost expect the bird to chime ‘ding-dong, ding-dong’.