Birds of Broughton Island

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Broughton Island, it is a relatively small island (a touch over 100 hectares) a part of Myall Lakes National Park, off the east coast of Australia. This small island has retained some interesting natural heritage, with having the second largest population of Green and Golden Bell Frogs in the world and also one of the few places to find the critically endangered Storm Petrel. Broughton Island also boasts nesting populations of Wedged-Tailed Shearwaters (also known as ‘Mutton Birds’), and also Fairy Penguins which are occurring on the island close to the northern limit their distribution. Broughton Island provides good coastal habitat and heathland habitat which is used by a considerably large variety of different bird species. The island attracts both sea birds, raptors and even land birds which have retained their permanent positions. This makes it a popular spot for bird enthusiasts where they run annual Broughton Island ‘twitching’ events to count how many bird species are present and see if they can spot any new ones. While I stayed at Broughton conducting bell frog surveys I went to do some twitching in my spare time and this is what I found:

 

1. The first bird to great me on the island is an easy guess considering this is a coastal island: the Silver Gull (Chroicocephalus novaehollandiae) which most people just refer to as the ‘Sea Gull’. They were in a large noisy colony where the fishers huts reside.

Silver Gull (Chroicocephalus novaehollandiae)

Silver Gull (Chroicocephalus novaehollandiae)

 

2. The second bird I quickly realised were in abundance on this island were the Welcome Swallows (Hirundo neoxena). There were dive bombing insects and speeding around the main cabins, occasionally taking a pit stop on a twig or branch.

Welcome Swallow (Hirundo neoxena)

 

3. The next bird I became aware of was the Australasian Pipit (Anthus novaeseelandiae), which were cheekily and quietly jumping and rummaging around the grass and seaweed, presumably looking for invertebrate snacks.

Australasian Pipit (Anthus novaeseelandiae)

Australasian Pipit (Anthus novaeseelandiae)

4. After a heading out to one of the bell frog sites, many small birds were sighted in the Broughton Island heathland. One of them I failed to get a photo of which was the Silver Eyes (Zosterops lateralis) but the other common heathland bird was the Tawny Grassbird (Megalurus timoriensis), which occasionally perched in the open to let out alarm calls as we approached their territory.

Tawny Grassbird (Megalurus timoriensis)

A Male Tawny Grassbird (Megalurus timoriensis)

5. Before leaving the heathlands we keep sighted small ground dwelling birds scuttling in the bushes before we got close. My 300 mm lens proved them to be Brown Quails (Coturnix ypsilophora).

A family group of Brown Quail (Coturnix ypsilophora)

A family group of Brown Quail (Coturnix ypsilophora)

6. When arriving to the beach, the next bird sighted was darting in and out of the seaweed clumps with fast legs. They turned out to be Red Capped Plovers (Charadrius ruficapillus), which are are common occurrence on the coasts of Australia.

Red Capped Plover (Charadrius ruficapillus)

Red Capped Plover (Charadrius ruficapillus)

 

7. Another bird sighted darting amongst the seaweed (albeit somewhat slower and plumper than the Red Capped Plovers) was the  Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres), who took flight if approached to closely and directly.

Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres)

Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres)

 

8. After patrolling making it to the rocky coastal areas of Broughton I stumbled upon a bird which frightened me probably as equally as I frightened it. This dark bird make a shreeking call and darted to a rock almost submerged by the surf. This bird turned out to be a Sooty Oyster Catcher (Haematopus fuliginosus), which were occasionally seen in pairs most likely nesting in the rocky areas of the coast of Broughton Island. https://www.flickr.com/photos/126862220@N06/15905334509/   9. I heard small tweets and chirps within a stand of Knobby Club Rush, and manged to shoot off a few photos. The specific chirps and tweets we heard along with the photo confirmed it as a Golden-Headed Cisticola (Cisticola exilis).

Golden-Headed Cisticola (Cisticola exilis)

Golden-Headed Cisticola (Cisticola exilis)

 

The next few species of birds we witnessed were soaring high above where I managed to capture some of them with the long lens. 10. This comorant flying over head is most likely to be the Great Comorant (Phalacrocorax carbo). Many were seen later on drying their wings on small rock platforms further out in the surf.

10.Great Comorant (Phalacrocorax carbo)

The Great Comorant (Phalacrocorax carbo)

 

11. The next bird saw flying overhead was the Swamp Harrier (Circus approximans) which was the most common raptor we saw during this trip. One of them were even sighted harassing the gull colony which sent all the adults in the air with attempts to try and drive off the raptor. It looked like the harrier had run off with on of the gull chicks!

Swamp Harrier (Circus approximans)

Swamp Harrier (Circus approximans)

 

12. Another impressive raptor was sighted gliding overhead which turned out to be a juvenile White Bellied Sea Eagle (Haliaeetus leucogaster), which was identified using the specific colour arrangements of the feathers as seen from below.

Juvenile White-Bellied Sea Eagle (Haliaeetus leucogaster)

 

 

There were other birds sighted which I didn’t manage to get decent photos of which include  two other raptors: an Osprey (Pandion haliaeetus), and a Whistling Kite (Haliastur sphenurus), plus some extra additions sighted in the heathland including White-Cheeked Honey Eaters (Phylidonyris nigra). In total (including the birds that I didn’t manage to get photos of), I saw 17 birds which isn’t bad for 3 days of twitching. If I kept that ratio of birds to days up I could get all species of birds in Australia within the year!

Australias Ancient Amphibian

Thought to have over 100 million years of independent evolution, the Tusked Frog (Adelotus brevis) is one of Australia’s truly unique amphibians. At first glance you may think it is just like every other frog, however when paying closer attention to the morphology of this frog, there are a few interesting features which set it a part from all other frog species. The most obvious feature is the tusks, hence its name the Tusked Frog. This frog species has small (around 5 mm long) tusks within the mouth on the lower jaw. Males use these tusks for ritual combat and territorial interactions during mating season.

 

A small male Tusked Frog (Adelotus brevis) | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

A small male Tusked Frog (Adelotus brevis) | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

 

This photo below shows the remarkable ancient characteristic of this frog species and is why this frog is call the Tusked Frog.

Adelotus brevis - Tusked frog

 

Generally speaking, the larger the head of the male, the more successful the male will be in combat. Head size is an easy way to tell a part males from female. Males always have a disproportionately larger and ‘boofier’ head than females , who seem to have a disproportionately smaller head! Males are usually bigger than females reaching a maximum of 5 cm snout to vent length, where females reach a maximum of 4 cm.

Another interesting feature of the Tusked Frog is the marbled belly which can have white, black and red patterns. Each individual has a unique belly pattern, and this can be used to tell each individual a part from one another.

 

Belly colouration of a large male | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

Belly colouration of a large male | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

 

This photo emphasizes the ‘boofy’ head of the males:

Tusked Frog (Adelotus brevis) - Male

 

Breeding season for the Tusked Frog takes place from October – December within slow moving streams and ponds, usually associated with rainforest or wet sclerophyll forest. They occur along the east coast of Australia, from north of Sydney to about the middle of the Queensland coast. Although they are not classified as threatened in Australia, these frogs have been suffering declines, especially in the New England Tableland. Reasons for their decline in these areas are due to habitat degradation and plague minnow, hence it is always a relief to hear these guys in a water way!

These guys can be quite hard to locate as they dive bomb the water as soon as there is a disturbance. It is easier to listen for their unique double inflection call (see below). Next time you find yourself near rainforest waters, see if you can listen out for this call, and be blessed by the knowledge that you are listening to a very ancient amphibian!

 

 

 

A Quick Guide to Common Rails of Sydney

Just to make it clear for people who aren’t familiar with aquatic birds, a ‘rail’ is the common term given to birds within the Rallidae family which also include coots and swamp hens. They are birds which are adapting to swim and stalk in marshes and reeds. Most healthy wetlands will attract one of the species of rail which rely on aquatic vegetation for the staple of their diet.

The rails that you are most likely to see are:

  • Purple Swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio)
  • Dusky Moor Hen (Gallinula tenebrosa)
  • Eurasian Coot (Fulica atra)

 

The largest of the rails around Sydney is the Purple Swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio). This conspicuous prehistoric looking bird can be told a part from other rails easily by the size (much larger than the other rails reaching almost 50 cm tall) along with the purple/blue sheen across the neck and belly. The Purple Swamphen requires heavily vegetated wetlands with plenty of sun light. Like the other rails, the Purple Swamphens have a confused and complex mating system. Some times the birds pair up, some times their is co-operative raising of the young by other younger individuals in the family group, where all birds contribute time into egg incubation and nest protection. During spring and early summer you may also witness the antics of the males fighting for dominance, with raucous screams and viscous confrontations. The looser is often chased away.

Some easy spots to see these birds include Audley in the Royal National Park and most of the freshwater wetlands within Sydney Olympic Park.

 

Purple Swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio) | Copyright Lucy Kidson (2014)

Purple Swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio) | Copyright Lucy Kidson (2014)

 

The other rail you are likely to see and which is probably the most common of the three is the Dusky Moorhen (Gallinula tenebrosa). This rail is smaller than the Purple Swamphen, reaching a maximum of 40 cm tall. This bird is easily distinguished from the Purple Swamphen as it lacks the purple/blue sheen and also has a yellow tipped beaked in contrast to the entirely red colored beak of the swamphen (See photo below).

 

Left - Dusky Moorhen, Right - Purple Swamphen | Copyright Lucy Kidson & Chad Beranek (2014)

Left – Dusky Moorhen, Right – Purple Swamphen | Copyright Lucy Kidson & Chad Beranek (2014)

 

The Dusky Moorhen enjoys heavily vegetated wetlands were they forage on aquatic plants. Like the Purple Swamphen, the Dusky Moorhen also has a complicated mating system involving communal nesting. Many of the Dusky Swamphen populations in Sydney currently have babies with them.

Some easy spots to see this very common rail include Sydney Olympic Park, the wetland in Louisa Reserve in Bass Hill, Tudar Road wetland in Bonnet Bay, Audley in the Royal National Park, even Camelia Gardens in Caringbah has recently had some Dusky Moorhens move in and successfully raise babies their! This rail species seems to be one of the first wetland birds to move in to newly created wetlands (not including ducks).

 

Dusky Moorhens in their preferred habitat of heavily vegetated wetlands | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

Dusky Moorhens in their preferred habitat of heavily vegetated wetlands | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

 

Mother Moorhens feeding babies | Copyright Lucy Kidson (2014)

Mother Moorhens feeding babies Persicaria sp. flower buds | Copyright Lucy Kidson (2014)

 

The last rail which is commonly seen is the unique Eurasian Coot (Fulica atra). This rail is easily distinguished from the others as it bears a white beak contrasting with completely black plumage. This bird is perhaps more adapted to an aquatic lifestyle as they have strange webbed feet which is one of their most striking features when you get a closer look. The Eurasian Coot is very adaptable in its foraging and may forage on land, dabble in water or even dive for food. They will eat aquatic vegetation, insects, even birds eggs if they find them. They nest in talls reeds which have died or have been flattened out, where they lay a few young. The young of the Eurasian Coot have a tough life as they are frequently the target of predators such as herons and egrets. Their survival is also at risk from their own parents who are known to be very tough on the hatchlings. If they have no food for them and the young keep begging they will prod their young harshly, sometimes killing them.

 

Webbed feet of the Eurasian Coot | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

Webbed feet of the Eurasian Coot | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

Eurasian Coot (Fulica atra) | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

Eurasian Coot (Fulica atra) | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

 

Some good spots to see this quite common rail species is in Audley, Sydney Olympic Park and Louisa Reserve in Ball Hill.

If you want to see all three of these rails in one day its best to check out the various wetlands in Sydney Olympic Park or the Audley Lagoon in the Royal National Park. Both of these locations have many extra amazing bird life surprises. Hopefully this post has given you enough information to ID some of your local wetland birds!

Eastern Yellow Robin (Eopsaltria australis)

The eastern yellow robin (Eopsaltria australis) is a small insectivorous bird found common in woodlands along the southern east coast of Australia. These small birds are voracious insect predators and display high attentiveness when hunting. They are often easy to spot as they use a particular technique when hunting, where they sit and perch vertically a meter of two on a shrub and wait for a minute, then with a sudden burst of energy, they dive down and capture an insect in the leaf litter.

I have had experiences working in Western Sydney Parklands where they will bravely dive bomb between my legs if it means catching that insect!

 

Eopsaltria australis

Swooping down to catch an insect | Copyright Lucy Kidson (2014)

Swooping down to catch an insect | Copyright Lucy Kidson (2014)

Perched, awaiting an insect | Copyright Lucy Kidson (2014)

Perched, awaiting an insect | Copyright Lucy Kidson (2014)

 

The eastern yellow robin has been implicated with gradual decline with increasing land clearance, they are still found in any healthy thick bush areas, however studies have indicated that there range is constricting in the north. They are decreasing in numbers in the northern end of their distribution which is currently around Armidale, where up there, they are considered rare.

 

Release of an Eastern Yellow Robin (Eopsaltria australis) during a uni field trip at Stroud | Copyright Chad Beranek (2012)

Release of an Eastern Yellow Robin (Eopsaltria australis) during a uni field trip at Stroud | Copyright Chad Beranek (2012)

 

Like many of the smaller birds (such as fairy wrens and willie wag tails), the eastern yellow robin is often eliminated from urban areas due to the disturbance and clearance of forest. These smaller birds depend on dense woodland with a thick shrub layer. When a bush becomes to degraded and has the shrub layer removed, these small birds get bullied and harassed by birds which are adapted living in open woodland areas which have a minimal shrub layer (such as the aggressive noisy miners).

To ensure the smaller birds can still manage in urban areas of Sydney, try planting a nice thick shrub plant. Plants such as Hakea sp. and Busaria spinosa are optimal shrub plants for small birds and offer them good opportunities for nesting sites and protection. A bird bath placed next to a shrub and they are surely to move in if they are in the area!

Mining for Gold; Frogs of Quarries

Scattered around Sutherland Shire are small disused quarries. These sites echo with age from a hundred or more years ago when the generations before us were mining out shale and sandstone to build some of the very buildings we use today. During this mining extraction process, holes the the ground were created, cutting into the bed rock. The sandstone bed rock is impermeable and more often than not, these old mining spots become full of water as the mining works usually cut in a pond like shape into the earth.

As an indirect and unforeseen  consequence, these disused quarries have become perfect habitat for frogs. Some of them being large enough to sustain permanent wetlands and other smaller ones become equally as important ephemeral wetlands (A water body which dries up periodically). In fact, in this day and age, ephemeral water bodies may be especially important for frogs, as their periodic drying removes the water born fungal pathogen effecting frogs world wide called ‘chytrid’.

It’s not just frogs that are able to utilize these quarry wetlands. Water birds, snakes and freshwater macroinvertebrates are able to live and breed in these habitats. A good example of these habitats are the many sand mining quarries found along the stretch of Greenhills near Cronulla, which reach out patchily to Kurnell. There are many smaller disused quarries found scattered throughout the Royal National Park.

A few nights ago, I went to investigate how much diversity of frogs one of these artificially created wetlands harbor and I was astounded and very impressed to hear and see at least 9 species.

 

The Quarry

The Quarry

 

The first noise I heard as I approached the wetland was clicking of the Common Eastern Froglet (Crinia signifera) which you are likely to hear almost all year round in any pool of water, whether its a puddle or a wetland. The next noise I heard was unfamiliar to me at first. It sounded reminiscent of a ducks ‘quack’ but It sounded frog like to me. I followed my ears to locate one and It turned up being the Wallum Rocket Frog (Litoria freycineti). It was exciting to hear them calling in such numbers (around 20 at least) as they usually begin calling in November, so a few weeks early.

 

Wallum Rcoket Frog (Litoria freycineti) | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

Wallum Rcoket Frog (Litoria freycineti) | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

Wallum Rocket Frog (Litoria freycineti) | Chad Beranek (2014)

Wallum Rocket Frog (Litoria freycineti) | Chad Beranek (2014)

Common Eastern Froglet compared to a Wallum Rocket Frog

Common Eastern Froglet compared to a Wallum Rocket Frog

 

I did note that the water in this particular wetland was very warm and could be an explanation for the early arrival of the Wallum Rocket Frog. It could also explain the abundance of metamorphling frogs literally jumping every where. From tiny 5 mm Common Eastern Froglet metamorph, to larger Striped Marsh Frog metamorphs. In warm water the growth and development of the tadpole is spend up which is an adaptation to avoid being stuck in a water body that is destined to dry up.

 

Common Eastern Froglet (Crinia signifera) | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

Common Eastern Froglet (Crinia signifera) | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

Metamorph Common Eastern Froglet (Crinia signifera) | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

Metamorph Common Eastern Froglet (Crinia signifera) | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

 

 

The next noise that became apparent to me (which were also in very high abundance, approximately 30+ calling individuals), were the Smooth Toadlets (Uperoleia laevigata). These small frogs make a dull ‘arrrkkk’ sound, calling terrestrially, sometimes quite a distance from the water.

 

Smooth Toadlet calling from leaf litter | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

Smooth Toadlet calling from leaf litter | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

Smooth Toadlet (Uperoleia laevigata) | Chad Beranek (2014)

Smooth Toadlet (Uperoleia laevigata) | Chad Beranek (2014)

 

After listening carefully I started to tune into the frequencies of some tree frog species who were joining in on the chorus. Calling in much less abundances, the Perons Tree Frogs (Litoria peronii) maniacal cackle could be heard in numbers between 5-10, and also the occasional inclusion of Eastern Sedge Frogs (Litoria fallax), with about 5 individuals contributing.

 

Perons Tree Frog (Litoria peronii) | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

Perons Tree Frog (Litoria peronii) | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

Perons Tree Frog (Litoria Peronii) | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

Perons Tree Frog (Litoria Peronii) | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

Eastern Sedge Frog (Litoria fallax) | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

Eastern Sedge Frog (Litoria fallax) | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

Eastern Sedge Frog (Litoria fallax) | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

Eastern Sedge Frog (Litoria fallax) | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

 

I noticed huge amounts of tadpoles in the water. On closer inspection I could see multiple different species and the occasional dragonfly nymph (a common predator of tadpoles). However it seemed they were the only predator, with no appearances of fish. Perhaps this is a reason why tadpoles are in such high abundances here. I managed to scoop a large tadpole out which I thought could of been a Giant Burrowing Frog (Heleioporus australiacus) tadpole. However it was more likely to be a Striped Marsh Frog (Limnodynastes peronii) tadpole… Speaking of which where are the Striped Marsh Frogs?

 

Probably a Striped Marsh Frog tadpole | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

Probably a Striped Marsh Frog tadpole | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

 

After scanning deciding to head home I did a quick scan of the bank as I was exiting and stumbled across a frog I’m sure you are all familiar with, the Striped Marsh Frog (Limnodynastes peronii). How strange it was to hear not even one calling, and only see 2 this night. Perhaps they don’t fair as well in natural sites, and utilize urban areas better?

We have covered a frog fact Friday on this common frog and can read more about it here: http://gumnutnaturalist.com/frog-fact-friday-the-most-common-frog-of-sydney/

 

Striped Marsh Frog (Limnodynastes peronii) | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

Striped Marsh Frog (Limnodynastes peronii) | Copyright Chad Beranek (2014)

 

After getting ready to head back to the car, I stopped to have one last marvel at the chorus of multiple species of male frogs competing to find a mate. I took recordingg to share it with you. See if you can tease out which species of frogs are calling in the recording!

Recordings:

141011_003 141013_003