Christmas Bells

Christmas Bells
Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Some of the wild birds of Black Mountain

Black Mountain is on the edge of the centre of Canberra (if you get what I mean). It is one of the two dominant hills of Canberra, and is the one with the TV tower on it - if you have ever been to Canberra. Lake Burley Griffin (an man-made lake) now washes the southern slopes of Black Mountain. It starts to rise a mere 3 Km from Civic Centre. Much of it has been left undisturbed, fortunately. The Botanic Gardens where yesterday's photos were taken, are located at the base of the hill. Near the top of the mountain, there is a parking area, from where a track leads off, which provides a circuit, some 100 metres lower than the summit. Black Mountain Nature Reserve is one of the jewels of Canberra Nature Park

This circuit passes through mixed Eucalypt forest - Stringybarks and Scribbly Gums mostly. It is a dry, open forest, with grasses and small shrubs. It is very steep and rocky. The rocks are classed as white quartz Black Mountain Sandstone.

The Crimson Rosellas love the hollows in the old trees. So too, no doubt, do possums and other creatures. This bird was standing guard over its nesting hollow, from a convenient perch on the neighbouring tree. Click to enlarge image.
Grey Fantails are very common in this patch of forest, chasing insects in the air, as they dodge through the trees and shrubs. I managed to catch this little guy stationary - for just an instant. These poor images are more typical of my success - or lack of it - with Grey Fantails. These birds are known to child birdwatchers as "Crazy Fans" -because they are so seldom still.Having seen the clear image of the bird, hopefully you can recognise it, in flight. 1/300th of a second is not enough to freeze this little fellow's wings.

This is the shot I really wished had worked - but it is close-enough that I will publish it anyway. The professional photographer Bloggers will not approve - but here goes. The Fantail earns his name from this spread of feathers. The bird is actually stationery, on the side of the tree, but it is fanning its tail, which accounts for the blurring.

The Pied Currawong is a dominant predator in this forest. They eat fruit and berries in winter, but feed their chicks on a high protein diet of grubs and spiders and baby birds - in season.
This is why they are so dangerous for small birds. Inquisitive eyes and a huge beak, capable of inflicting terrible damage. Click to enlarge - if you are feeling brave.By contrast, the female Australian Magpie (actually collecting food scraps from the restaurant at the Botanic Gardens - the day before) has a much smaller beak than the Currawong.
This bird was my favourite of the walk along this track on Black Mountain.
A Flame Robin (Petroica phoenicea). I managed to quietly track it (I could hear it's melodious trill call), and eventually I got a couple of clear photos. The diagnostic features of this species are - the colour of the red - (flame red, not scarlet), the very large patch of white on the wing flash, the red goes a long way down the abdomen (not just on the chest) and there is no black bib under the beak - the red goes all the way up to the beak. Sometimes shadows make that last point hard to determine.Here it is in full blown-up detail.
Comparisons with other "red chested" Robins.

The Scarlet Robin has a black throat, a darker red chest, and a larger white patch over the beak.
Gouldiae has a very fine image of a male Scarlet Robin on his Blog.
The Red-capped Robin is similar to the Scarlet, but has a red patch over the beak. Duncan, at Ben Cruachan had several wonderful images of one of them some months back.

The Pink Robin and Rose Robin are both distinctively different in the colour of the red on their chests. The Rose Robin breeds in rainforests and the high, cool mountains of the NSW and Victorian Alps, but they pass through places like Canberra in non-breeding season. The Pink Robin is a winter migrant from Victoria and Tasmania. Neither of these '"wet forest" birds has the prominent white wing flash which my Flame Robin shows.

All of these comments relate only to the male birds. The females are predominantly small, pale brown birds, with little colour on their chests. They need to be distinguished by the wing markings (if any, they vary from buff to white), the colour on the chest (if any), the white edges (if any) on the tail. In truth, one is often lucky enough to see a male robin with a female, which makes the identification easier.

The Birds in Backyards site has some useful notes to help tell them apart.
Pink Robin - a wet forest specialist, but moves through to other habitats in winter
Rose Robin - primarily breeds in Tasmania, Victoria and far south coast of NSW, and moves to drier country in winter.
Flame Robin - primarily an alpine breeder, but it is a "vertical migrant" - coming down to lower altitude habitats in winter.
Scarlet Robin - the classic "Red breasted Robin" of Eastern Australia. It normally prefers open Eucalypt forest.
Red-capped Robin - it is primarily an inland bird and loves stands of Callitris Pine.


mick said...

A fantail with its tail 'fanned' would be great to catch in fine detail! Just tell me how to achieve it!! I am struggling with the limitations of my camera lens - deep shade and fast moving small birds are impossible right now. The robin is beautiful.

Denis Wilson said...

Thanks Mick
Glad you appreciate the difficulties of getting them in low light. Not to mention actually asking them politely to stand still for more than a second.
I was very happy with the Robin.

Tyto Tony said...

But when was the last time a Currawong attacked a cyclist?