Christmas Bells

Christmas Bells
Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Small Birds in a "mixed feeding flock"

The phenomenon of a "mixed feeding flock" is interesting. Many species of bids - usually small birds, gathering together, in harmony, while all feeding. Its great when you find yourself amongst such a group of birds, for often they are happy to allow you to stand there, while they ignore you, whilst getting on with their tasks in hand.

Male Superb Fairy Wren (Blue Wren) preening,
while a Silvereye sits peacefully, just a few inches away., That amounts to perfect photographic conditions (hopefully the weather is OK). Today there was a bit of mist around, and so grey skies meant a washed out background, and low light conditions. But the birds were cooperative enough.

Silvereye ( Zosterops lateralis )
The reason for the name is obvious.
These birds are not related to Honeyeaters, but they often go to flowers, but more to find insects than nectar. They absolutely love berries, especially small ones, like Privets, and also are partial to ripe blackberries. They swarm in great numbers especially in autumn, when they migrate.
This guy was in for a bit of acrobatic work, while looking for aphids and other tiny insects.
Then it fluffed out its feathers, after a scratch and a shake. Finally, back to work, hunting for insects, at ground level, amongst some dandelions.
Meanwhile, a Grey Fantail was flitting from branch to branch.
These birds catch their insects on the wing, just as the Swifts do.
But their manner of doing it is entirely different.
To continue the aeronautical theme from the last few posts about the Swifts,
these birds are like Tiger Moth (aeroplanes), contrasted with the Swifts being like F 1-11s.
Their wings are rounded, their tail huge - all for gaining aerobatic control.
Its all about precision, low-speed flying, for these guys.
Incidentally, they have large eyes, and a broad beak, to increase their chances of catching tiny insects on the wing. They seldom fly straight. Usually they do loops in the air, grab an insect, and fly back to the perch. When they land they then jump left, right, around, always on the look out for the next insect meal. Although not shy, they do not wait around for the photographer to frame the shot, or anything like that. Shoot it, and hope is the rule for these fellows.A baby Eastern Spinebill turned up, checking out the backs of leaves, looking for tiny insects or spiders. These birds are primarily nectar feeders, but like most Honeyeaters, they are opportunists. This bird has a very pale base of the beak, and no "V-shaped football jumper" markings on its front. Follow the link under the name above, for COG Bird Photo Gallery shots of adults, to see what I mean about Football Jumper markings.

This bird rejoices in the scientific name: Acanthorhynchus tenuirostris. Those names mean, literally - thorn (or spine) nose, thin beak. Not a bad name for a "Spinebill".

Here are 3 members of a Wren family group. The other youngster would not get into the frame, for me.
Here the male and female Super Fairy Wren are sitting together - cropped image from above.Finally, a Lewin's Honeyeater (Meliphaga lewinii ) (fairly well camouflaged), which was also hunting insects. This is one Honeyeater which also likes to eat berries - as it is relatively large, and we have many native and weedy berries in Robertson. All these images were taken within a few minutes of eachother, in my front yard. Most were taken from one standing position -just looking to the left, then the right.

I did not get a shot of the Brown Thornbills or the Golden Whistler, which were also present, but which did not show themselves, unfortunately.


mick said...

Very nice indeed - but I am not good at these "bush birds" and was wondering what they all were - when I discovered you had labeled your photos. Thank you! I have lots to learn.

mick said...

Uh-oh! I came back for another look and you had added in words! A very interesting post!

Denis Wilson said...

Hi Mick
I made an accidental "click" and the draft disappeared. I then realised I had posted the images, before I had written the text. I normally work the other way around.
Anyway, you got the full story eventually.
These little birds are pretty easy to distinguish. But Thornbills and Scrubwrens and Warblers are harder, especially in dark forests and scrub. One tends to rely on calls and also habits - eg, what level of forest they feed in (tree tops, or low down). Best to go out with some other birders, and you will soon learn the tricks of the trade.
I am sure you will get the hang of them. After all, I ma sure you could teach me how to distinguish Sandpipers and Terns, which all look pretty much the same to me.

Gouldiae said...

G'day Denis,
Nice post.
We get a lot of small bird mixed species feeding frenzies down here too. I recall once walking the bush for several hours and not seeing too much, having a cuppa back at the car and watching Pardalotes, (x2 species), Thornbills x2, Grey Fantail, Blue Wren and Treecreepers all feed in a flock for half an hour before moving on.

Denis Wilson said...

Hi Gouldiae
Nicely expressed.
Those mixed feeding flocks are great fun, when you find yourself amongst one. It also explains why, as you have noted, you had been walking around the bush, seeing few birds, if any. Then Bingo, suddenly you're amongst them.
From my memory, they tend to occur after breeding season, when the birds are less territorial in their behaviour. So, from high summer onwards, especially common in autumn in my observations.

Duncan said...

what a feast of birds in your garden Denis, it's a red letter day when I see a Lewin's.

Denis Wilson said...

Hi Duncan
Actually it is wet, heavy bush country around my place, so "Lewins" are common here - the only resident Honeyeater, (apart from the Spinebill).
Interesting grammatical challenge writing the plural of Lewin's - (Lewin'ses? - surely not!). That possessive apostrophe is very annoying.

Anni said...

I love these photos. These little creatures are close to impossible to photograph because of their quick movements - at least for an amateur photographer!