Harry Clarke On economics, politics & other things

October 16, 2012

Ornithological trivia

Filed under: birds,golf — hc @ 6:45 pm

I golfed today at the National Course, Cape Schanck – specifically the Moonah.  As I approached the 18th green I noticed an Australian Hobby diving almost vertically into some thick grass presumably after a rodent.  As it hit the deck it was immediately attacked by an Australian magpie who sought a share of the booty – the magpie seemed almost to be waiting for the Hobby attack.  As the two birds tumbled around like a couple of furious wrestlers in the grass I heard “eek-eek” above. I then saw  a second Hobby hovering overhead – presumably the partner of the first – that dived directly onto the magpie.  Now all 3 birds engaged in a wrestling match in the grass for a few seconds.

The magpie is a much bigger bird and it caused the other two so much trouble that they flew off.  The magpie then searched the area for the target, I think without luck. The two Hobbies resumed their hovering for prey only 50 metres from where the fight had occurred.  It seemed as if a squabble with a magpie and a bit of a punch-up was all in a day’s work.  No concerns about a repeat.

I hit a great second shot to the green and finished an indifferent round of golf with a par on one of the tough holes on the Moonah course.  The ornithological punch-up added to the pleasure.

July 14, 2012


Filed under: birds — hc @ 9:57 pm

I have been a recreational birdwatcher for 20 years although these days I am a bit too lazy to be considered a serious participant. I keep my eyes open but try to avoid the excesses.  Nevertheless I have an admiration for those who have devoted their lives to this hobby. People like Mike Carter and Rohan Clarke are knowledgeable people in the field of ornithology.  20 years ago getting a total of seeing 700+ Australian bird species was considered a major achievement – something to target over a lifetime.  Now Mike Carter has a total of 854 species. It is an amazing achievement that in part reflects an intensive exploration of  Australian-classified islands to the north of our continent.   Also an incredible effort on Mike’s part.

Birdwatching is  a hobby that helps to put people in touch with their environment.  It does no harm and is a lot of fun.  I started myself by buying a book of Australian bird species and by trying to see how many I could spot in my backyard and in the surrounding neighbourhood.  It rapidly became an infectious addiction that cooled a bit when my children reached school age and needed a non-absentee dad.  But I may well get back into it now that they are young men and women not kids.

June 7, 2012

New bird for La Trobe University?

Filed under: birds — hc @ 3:27 pm

I walk around the beautiful campus at La Trobe University many mornings simply to enjoy the landscapes and to get some exercise. The last few mornings I have seen Brown quail between the Sports Field Lake and the Austrian Club – actually almost adjacent to the lake. This morning I saw 10 quail on a track that runs done behind a row of factories towards the Austrian Club.  As far as I know Brown quail is a new bird for La Trobe Campus. The Campus itself is a nature-rich area – 90 bird species have been identified in the Wildlife Reserve alone.  The land in question looks a bit scrappy with lots of introduced flora  and the remnant beer cans and refuse of irresponsible users of the area. But there remain pockets of native grassland that are among the best in Melbourne.

I reported the sightings to the campus ranger and some better qualified observers than me will check out the sighting over the next few days. I’ll report back if they suggest a misidentification.

May 15, 2011

Golfing & birdwatching

Filed under: birds,golf — hc @ 11:06 pm

I am a member of a beautiful golf club that is only 10 km or so from the centre of Melbourne.  It lies on flood plains adjacent to the Yarra River. Golf has largely replaced my previous weekend diversion of bird-watching but not entirely. Now I bird-watch – though not very seriously – as I golf.   There is a frequent Peregrine falcon visitor on the course – you don’t have to watch for it as the alarm calls from Noisy minors announce its arrival.   It scouts along the tree lined fairways looking for prey.  I have also seen Brown falcons which are fairly common along the Yarra River. The course also has a large population – up to 50 or so – Gang gang cockatoos that reside at various times of the year and reasonable numbers of Yellow-tailed black cockatoos which, again, you generally hear before you see. I’ve seen Tawny frogmouths and a wide range of water birds including Intermediate and Great egrets.

Today I had a mixed golf round with quite a few good shots but more bad ones. Regrettably this is not a new story.  On the 7th hole my average golfing performance was put to one side when I saw flying at great height above the course a Wedge-tailed eagle, a first for me in this area. That’s a fairly dramatic bird this close to Melbourne although I have seen several further north in the northern extensions of Eltham.   It made my day despite my very average score.  Synergies.

September 10, 2009

Enchanting discoveries

Filed under: birds — hc @ 1:23 am

It is about the size of an adult’s thumb (about 8.4 cm) and weighs 10-15 grams* – the Buff-faced pygmy parrots (Micropsitta pusio) .  The world’s smallest parrot was found in that exotic volcano crater in New Guinea – Mount Bosavi.  It isn’t a new species – it is indeed widely distributed along the northern coastal strip of New Guinea – but 49 new species of animals were discovered in the crater  including a wooly rat the size of a cat, frogs with fangs and a new species of bat.  The volcano has been extinct for 200,000 years and the animals/species inside it have evolved almost separately from other species in New Guinea. (more…)

April 1, 2009

Canaries in coal mines 2

Filed under: birds — hc @ 10:43 pm

Even the zombies who care nothing about their natural environment  should feel some real fear in connection with current changes.  In the US today fully one third of all bird species are ‘endangered, threatened or in serious decline’.  Isn’t this troubling? Doesn’t it raise some doubt about the sustainability of human life on the planet that species which have existed for millenia are disappearing en masse. I am concerned about aesthetic impacts – I don’t want to live in denuded landscapes where our only companions are rats and cockroaches – but there are also survival issues here.

The 2009 US report, State of the Birds, is here.  The video is propagandist and emotional as it should be.

March 30, 2009

Canaries in coalmines & climate change

Filed under: birds,climate change — Tags: — hc @ 2:41 pm

Red finch

Bird observers to some are a weird lot. Fanatical, obsessed with what these others see (or often ignore and don’t see) and dismiss as trite.  The obsession of bird observers with their environment however often feeds into useful science.

US observers have noticed that over 40 years 177 bird species have moved further north in the US.  This has occurred as average January temperatures rose about 2 degrees C.

This study by the WWF collates over 200 studies of bird behaviour and climate change and assesses, among other things, species extinction risks.

A serious consequence of climate change is on the world’s biodiversity.  Biird observers are helping to provide observations that help give them a ‘canary in the coalmine’ role.

February 15, 2009

5 new bird species for H

Filed under: birds — hc @ 9:53 pm

In my 5 days in Cairns during the last week I observed 6 bird species that were new to me.

Laughing gull – a resident of north and south America that is a very rare vagrant to Australia.  It may have taken a wrong turn across the Pacific or followed a ship here.  Here is a good YouTube of an adult laughing.   The bird I saw on The Esplanade Cairns was an immature without the black head.   It was a smudged, greyish gull with conspicuous white eyelips. (I would only have seen this because I had prior notification it was there!)

Terek sandpiper – a migrant from Finland and Northern Siberia with a distinctive up-turned bill.  Seen on occasion at various parts of Australian coastline and even inland but one I have always missed.  Fairly scarce worldwide – here is a YouTube from Hungary.  Again spotted on The Esplanade mudflats.

Lesser crested tern – is probably sedentary to Australia though elsewhere is nomadic. Very orange bill. Here is YouTube of it with other species.   A bit scarce onshore – I saw this on a sandspit near a crocodile-infested estuary near Mossman with Silver gulls, Pied oystercatchers and a few Godwits.

White-throated honeyeater –  I’ll bet I’ve seen this before but confused it with White-naped which has the slightest black chin and, in eastern Australia, a red-eye crescent.  I saw several instances of this in woodlands a bit inland from Mount Molloy with at least 5 other species of honeyeater and with both a male and female Cicadabird. I had not seen a female Cicadabird before.

Buff-breasted paradise kingfisher (yes, it is at Jennifer Marohasy’s site).  On a dirt road heading south about 5 to 6 klm east of Julaten I saw at least 20 observations of adults and juveniles.  One of Australia’s most beautiful birds. Not rare but I have often missed it on previous treks to Cairns because I was there wrong season. Migrates from New Guinea.  Nests in termite mounds – I saw many with one having been subject to goanna attack. This gorgeous YouTube is a good still study.  You are not a fully-fledged Aussie until you have seen this beautiful bird! Orgasmic.

Lesser (Mongolian) sandplover – a migrant from Asia/Mongolia/Siberia.  Not rare in Australia – regularly in the low thousands at certain locations – but often just a few birds and small/difficult to distinguish from Greater sandplover unless alongside them.  Here is a YouTube. Again I spotted several examples of this bird on The Esplanade.

These all get added to my lifelist.

February 10, 2009

Cairns in the wet & birding

Filed under: birds — hc @ 1:38 am

I flew to Cairns this morning – I love this place but its the first time I have visited it in the ‘big wet’.

Without ado I headed that afternoon down to the Esplanade mudflats which were 0.5 km from my hotel. Met a Swedish birder there and then the legendary John Crowhurst as well as super experienced John Searle – these guys know the birds of Cairns as well as anyone. As I learned the time to go to the Esplanade is high not low tide – the migratory waders then feed closer to the shore.

I knew that a Laughing gull had been spotted in north Queensland the previous few weeks (from birding websites I follow) and that it had been spotted on the Esplanade mud flats. Within a few hours I had seen it myself – certainly the biggest addition to my Australian list for several years. The bird has been recorded in Australia about 4 times. It is a vagrant from North America that seldom reaches our shores. It was this young bird between one and two years old that was changing into winter plumage. I was thrilled to see it.

Further down the Esplanade I saw Terek sandpipers and Lesser sandplovers both of which were new to me. During the afternoon I also saw Osprey, Peregrine falcon, Braminy kite, White-bellied seaeagle, Sharp tailed sandpiper, Curlew sandpiper, Common greenshank, Red necked stint, Bar-tailed godwit, Eastern curlew, Great knot, Whimbrel, Reef egret, Cattle egret, Great egret, Grey-tailed tattler, Eastern reef heron, Royal spoonbill as well as the more common birds you expect in this location plus assorted terns. The distinctive calls of Varied honeyeater kept us entertained for most of the afternoon and, when I wandered back into town – after a great seafood meal – I went to the Cairns Casino where, as in my recent past, I found a Bush stone curlew prancing around the gardens. I did a little jig I was so overjoyed. No foxes in the far north mean that remarkable biodiversity can survive.

It was a wonderful afternoon. If you have an interest in nature Cairns is a paradise.

Update: Tuesday morning I went birding between Port Douglas – Mossman – Julatten – Mount Malloy. I have been here many times but never in the wet season so there were some seasonal opportunities. Most importantly I wanted the Buff-breasted paradise kingfisher which indeed we discovered in comparative abundance. This is it.

Apart from that 80 species seen including Osprey, Black kite, Jacana, Lesser crested tern, Black bittern, Cicada bird, Brown cuckoo dove, Emerald dove, Imperial pigeon, Blue-winged kookaburra, Forest kingfisher, Sacred kingfisher, White-bellied cuckoo shrike, Lemon-bellied flycatcher, Little shrike thrush, Black-faced monarch, Spectaculed monarch, Red-backed fairy wren, Little friarbird, Brown-backed honeyeater (new for me), Yellow honeyeater, Yellow-faced honeyeater, Yellow spotted honeyeater, Macleay’s honeyeater, Graceful honeyeater, White-throated honeyeater, Brown honeyeater, Dusky honeyeater, Yellow-bellied sunbird, Double-barred finch, Chestnut-breasted mannikin, Nutmeg mannikan, Metallic starling, Victoria’s riflebird, Yellow oriole, Figbird, Spangled drongo, Great bowerbird, White breasted woodswallow, Black butcherbird and absolutely stunning views of male Red-winged parrots.
We dipped on Red-rumped swallows and Barn swallows which have been seen over the past fortnight but excellent views of Fork-tailed swifts and White-throated needletails.
After going to the Australian Agricultural and Resource Economics opening sessions I decided to reward myself for a good day’s work with a 1.2 kgm mud crab which I devoured with a reasonable chardonnay.

February 5, 2009

Bird photography – Black Grouse

Filed under: birds — hc @ 12:24 am

The winning images of the International Wildbird Photographer 2008 Award were announced this week. They include gentoo penguins, a graceful whooper swan in midflight, and the inside of the huge bill of a dalmatian pelican. The above is a Black Grouse – it won the bird behaviour section. The photo was taken by a Norwegian, Tom Schandy. This is a male doing a gig!

The collection of all past winning photos 2003-2008 is here.

January 20, 2009

First sharkgull spotted in Australia

Filed under: birds — hc @ 2:21 pm

Long believed to be extinct in territorial Australia – but occasionally seen on off-shore islands that do not lie in Australian territorial waters – this great snap of Accipiter selachimorpha (the Common sharkgull) was taken by C. Marter while the bird roosted on the roof of a local eatery near Gosford NSW.  Until this gory discovery missing livestock in the Gosford area had been explained as theft.

The single bird was seen and photographed by C. Marter and seen by most members of the Mid Coast Birdwatchers Guild on 12/1/2009.  The sighting needs to be officially recognised by BARC before it can be added to the Australian lists.

May 7, 2008

Spokesbird for the endangered species

Filed under: birds — hc @ 9:00 pm
Thanks Lena.

February 2, 2008

Bird-watching history made in Australia

Filed under: birds — hc @ 10:03 pm

For the last decade or so I have been a pretty keen recreational bird watcher. I have a pretty good list of pelagic species but a mediocre list of non-pelagic, terrestrial species which, in fact, make up most of the bird species of Australia.

Most people see it as a nerdy activity but I think it is interesting from the viewpoint of learning about the physical environment and it is a lot of fun. I am a member of Birds Australia and the Bird Observers Club of Australia. BOCA, in particular, is an excellent pathway to learning about birds and their identification. They run outings, hold talks and are a very pleasant bunch of people.

In the main the objective of bird watching is to use your powers of observation, knowledge of habitats, bird habits and bird calls to spot as diverse a range of birds as possible. It is very much an activity involving patient, careful observation so that good eyesight and attention to detail is important. Almost all bird watchers keep a ‘life list’ of the species they have ever seen in a particular area or perhaps in the whole country or even the world.

There is a hierarchy among bird watchers concerning the length of this list – obviously the more the better.

Up to 20 years ago the greatest achievement a bird-watcher could aim for in Australia was to see 700 different bird species in their lifetime – a list of all who have done so is here. Until recently only a handful had achieved this target and then it was always after a lifetime of effort.
But the technology of bird observation has improved – the use of ocean-going vessels to track pelagic and remote island species is now common, the bird-watching definition of ‘Australia’ has become enlarged to include offshore islands (such as Ashmore Reef) that are legally part of Australia and the knowledge of Australian bird species and their taxonomy ( see Les Christidis & Walter Boles of, Systematics and Taxonomy of Australian Birds) has increased species numbers.

Information about species whereabouts has improved with several guide books now in print for Australia as a whole and numerous books available for particular areas. In addition, sighting of a rare vagrant species is now quickly spread on the web and via networks of contacts so that hundreds of bird watchers will turn up to see an unusual arrival*.

Some really dedicated bird-watchers or ‘twitchers’ have now pushed well beyond the 700 figure. Indeed, Victoria’s Mike Carter has now seen 801 or 802 ‘main’ and ‘supplementary list’ Australian bird species out of about 852 ‘main’ list bird species that are currently extant**and 34 supplementary list bird species in the new Christidis & Boles taxonomy***. It is a stunning achievement in the bird-watching community. He still has 59 or 60 possible ’main list’ birds to spot.

Congratulations Mike!

Mike seems to be one of the most knowledgeable people generally about Australian birds. I say ‘seems to be’ because he is well out of my league and I am not really in a position to make such judgements – he is a recognised authority on identification issues. He is a bird-watching fanatic but a very knowledgeable one.

Mike is clearly the winner of this ‘numbers’ event though the winner of the ‘speed’ event is undoubtedly Melbourne comic (and nice guy) who a few years ago saw over 700 species not over a lifetime but in a single year. He wrote an entertaining book – The Big Twitch – on this achievement which is fun even for non-birdos.

Myself? I’d half enjoy trying to mimic these guys but have other competing demands on my time and, quite frankly, probably don’t have the requisite skills. I still bird-watch in the local area and take binoculars everywhere I travel – I am going for a one week trip to Thailand tomorrow and they will accompany me for sure – but I certainly don’t seek to break records.

November 25, 2007

Eurasian curlew

Filed under: birds — hc @ 10:48 pm

The Eurasian curlew, a reasonably common northern hemisphere bird but one that seldom gets past southern Asia, was seen and photographed yesterday at Eighty Mile Beach, west of Broome, by members of the Australian Wader Studies Group (AWSG) . Chris Hassell found it and some 20 observers saw it. This is a new bird species for Australia.

November 17, 2007

A ‘new’ bird species for Australia?

Filed under: birds — hc @ 10:15 am

Last year on 10th November I had a wonderful day’s bird-watching around Atherton in Queensland. Late in the afternoon we saw a pair of Painted Snipe at Hasties Swamp. In total I saw 107 species that day the final birds being an elegant pair of Jabiru in the swamp next to Cairns airport.

Today, almost exactly a year later, Allen Gillanders this morning has claimed to have spotted a Green sandpiper in the same Hasties Swamp. The GS likes freshwater swamps.
This discovery, if confirmed, is exciting news for bird watchers – a new bird species for Australia. (Correction : Andrewt states in the comments that a first sighting was confirmed in 1998). There will be a mass exodus of twitchers from all over Australia to Cairns if the sighting is confirmed.

The GS is a migratory wader which breeds in Sub-Arctic Europe and Asia and normally does not get further south in its annual migration that the Malay Peninsula. It has been spotted once in Papua.

By the way Salon has an entertaining review of Scott Weidensaul’s history of bird watching in America ‘Of a Feather’. This is similar in some respects to the Australian history. Bird observers in the US – as in Australia – originally confirmed their sightings by shooting the birds they saw. It seemed ‘reasonable’ because there were so many of them. There aren’t now.

September 6, 2007

Californian condor

Filed under: biodiversity,birds — hc @ 12:01 pm

Its mainly just a great photo. There are only 300 left in the wild. A number recently died after feeding on the carcasses of animals that had been shot using lead bullets. The Californian senate has responded by banning the use of lead bullets in hunting. Good.

July 22, 2007

Backyard birdwatching – 50 species seen

Filed under: birds — hc @ 9:25 pm

I keep a tally of the bird species I see from my home in suburban Ivanhoe in Melbourne. Keeping a watchout is part of the great art of pottering around the garden with no specific purpose but managing to fill in many a lazy day. It is also an outstanding way of confirming my ‘nerd’ status with teenage daughters and disbelieving neighbours.

Remarkably, with the breaking of the drought and the spell of cold weather I have seen 4 new species over the past few weeks – Grey shrike-thrush, Eastern yellow robin, Grey fantail and Musk lorikeet. I had not seen a new species from my home for about a year before that. All of these new birds are reasonably common species in the bush areas around Melbourne but I have never seen them from my house in the 10 years I have kept a tally. The 4 new species take my tally from the house to the half-century mark. My life list of Australian birds seen is a fairly pathetic 550 species.

I think that is amazing outcome for the middle of Melbourne suburbia and a tribute to the conservation efforts of our local Banyule Council who have done such a good job promoting tree planting and nature reserves in the district. The species I have seen are:

1. Australian wood duck (in swimming pool)
2. Pacific black duck (many times, one with ducklings in swimming pool)
3. White-faced heron (flying over)
4. Australian white ibis (flying over)
5. Peregrine falcon (swooping at distance)
6. Masked lapwing (rare)
7. Silver gull
8. Crested pigeon
9. Spotted turtle dove
10. Yellow-tailed black cockatoo (now common, formerly rare)
11. Gang gang cockatoo (once)
12. Sulphur-crested cockatoo
13. Galah
14. Rainbow lorikeet
15. Musk lorikeet (now common).
16. Australian king parrot (rare)
17. Crimson rosella
18. Eastern rosella
19. Red-rumped parrot
20. Fan-tailed cuckoo
21. Laughing kookaburra
22. Superb fairy wren
23. Spotted pardalote
24. White-browed scrubwren
25. Striated thornbill
26. Brown thornbill
27. Red wattlebird
28. Little wattlebird
29. Noisy miner
30. White-plumed honeyeater
31. New Holland honeyeater
32. Eastern spinebill
33. Eastern yellow robin
34. Grey shrike-thrush
35. Grey fantail
36. Willie wagtail (have not seen this common urban bird for 4-5 years)
37. Magpie lark
38. Black-faced cuckoo-shrike
39. Grey butcherbird
40. Australian magpie (white-backed)
41. Pied currawong
42. Australian raven
43. Little raven (flying over)
44. House sparrow (now quite uncommon)
45. Welcome swallow
46. Silvereye
47. Song thrush
48. Common starling
49. Common myna
50. Common blackbird

The mammals I have been, by the way, include:

1. Grey-headed flying fox.
2. Ring-tailed possum.
3. Brush-tailed possum.

March 30, 2007

Endurance test for Godwits

Filed under: birds,environment — hc @ 2:58 am

It has just been discovered that common migratory wading birds, Bar–tailed Godwits, make a 10,000 klm. non-stop journey from New Zealand to the Yellow Sea, refuel for a month and then head off to Alaska. This is an interesting site with a link to a site enabling tracking of flight paths.

The Godwits take 6-7 days to make this mighty 10,000 klm leap, flying 2 kilometers above sea level. They lose half their body weight during this leg of their migration – the juveniles photographed are obese as they start off their journey from Alaska. The annual return flight from Alaska to Australia/New Zealand keeps the Godwits in continuous summer and helps with their food supply. It is obviously an enormous journey but not by any means the longest – Artic terns fly 35,000 klm. journey between the poles each year though definitely not non-stop.

The Godwit record is quite amazing – up until a few years ago the longest intercontinental, commercial aviation flight was about 14,000 klms.

By the way, the Yellow Sea stopover site used by the Godwits and numerous other migratory birds has been seriously damaged by a South Korean land reclamation project. The landfill, perhaps the biggest in human history has destroyed a wildlife habitat of area 2/3 the size of Singapore. I think it is an environmental disaster although some would see this habitat as expendable in the interests of economic development.

Despite being an economist, who teaches students endlessly about the importance of tradeoffs, I find it difficult to justify the destruction of important and intriguing aspects of our natural environment irrespective of short-term economic priorities. The Asian region, with its rapidly growing populations and economies, is a major area of economic opportunity but is, as a result of not restraining these developments, a significant global threat to migratory bird species and biodiversity generally.

March 16, 2007

Make them an offer they cannot refuse

Filed under: birds — hc @ 9:33 am

Cowbirds like cuckoos* are brood parasites. They lay their eggs in the nests of other birds and leave the hosts with the hard job of raising their young. But cuckoo chicks normally** kick the original nestlings out so they can monopolise the food supply. Cowbird chicks however tolerate their nestmates. Moreover, while eggs of cuckoos mimic those of hosts, the eggs of the cowbirds look completely different. What’s going on?

It turns out that the host bird’s real chicks are pawns in a protection racket of a sort the Sicilian Mafia would be proud to have invented. They use guile, ruthlessness and brutality.

The victims of the racket are warblers. These birds don’t reject cowbird eggs even though they look different. The reason is that if the warblers tolerate the cowbird eggs they are allowed to breed with reasonable success but if they were to attempt to get rid of the cowbird eggs the adult cowbirds attack the nest destroying most of the warbler eggs. This was verified by ornithologists who deliberately removed the cowbird eggs from parasitised nests.

Providing food to the cowbird nestling amounts to paying ‘protection money’ which proves to be a good deal from the warbler’s view. On average, they raise 3 of their own chicks when they support a cowbird chick. Yet they raise only 1 of their own if a cowbird egg has been rejected. This also explains why cowbirds don’t need to disguise their eggs to look like those of warblers.
The overall effect is that the cowbirds bully the warblers into ‘an evolutionary state of acceptance’.

The cowbirds’ dirty tricks don’t stop here. Many warbler nests that never have cowbird eggs in them also get destroyed. This is something like ‘farming’. If warblers lose a clutch, they will often produce a second so if a female cowbird female fails to lay in a warbler nest in time for her egg to hatch with those of the host, she can reset the clock in her favour by killing the first clutch.
Thus warblers who lay too early for the cowbirds to cuckold them suffer retribution. The cowbirds spy on the warbler parents, find out where they were nesting anew, and sneak in to lay an egg at exactly the right time.
Even the Mafia never thought of that one.

* That humans suffer intra-specific cuckolding is the basis of the dads’s rights movement. This week the Bulletin features the Liam Magill incident. Liam raised 3 kids believing they were his own only to find up from a paternity test that two of them were fathered by another dads. His wife Meredith Magill, in her own words, ‘messed up big time’ but is angry with Liam for ‘taking it out on the kids’. The kids – even his biological son – also say they hate him. Liam’s initial award of $70,000 damages against Meredith has been overturned on appeal. He will get nothing.

**The Great spotted cuckoo runs a mafia-style protection racket against magpies living in Andalucia, Spain. If a magpie rejects a cuckoo egg laid in its nests, the cuckoo promptly returns to destroy the magpie’s own eggs or kill its chicks.

March 9, 2007

Rediscovering the dodo

Filed under: birds — hc @ 12:19 am

Well not quite. But the world’s least-known bird has been rediscovered in Thailand. The Large-billed reed warbler, not seen since a single specimen was obtained in India in 1867, has been positively identified (using DNA tests on material from feathers) in a Thai sewage farm, by British ornithologist Philip Round who announced the find yesterday. It has not been seen at all for nearly 130 years and has now been seen exactly twice in history.

This was widely-reported as news yesterday (here, here, here) and on birding chatsites like Birding-Aus. That is a puzzle since the find has been known for a while – it is discussed in Handbook of the Birds of the World, Lynx, Birdlife International, 2006, volume 11, pages 574, 626.

Meanwhile, while not quite as dramatic, but of interest anyway, two new bird species have been discovered in Australia in the last week or so – Saunder’s tern and the Javan Pond heron.

Australia’s most distinguished birdwatcher Mike Carter claims to have spotted nine Saunder’s terns on the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, in the Indian Ocean off WA. This is a species similar to the Little Tern but now treated as a separate species.

This will take Mike’s total of Australian bird species seen to 785 – by a good margin the largest number of bird species seen by a single person in Australia and 21 species ahead of his nearest rival, the legendary Fred Smith.

Only a few years ago a total of 700 species in a lifetime was considered an amazing effort. The target is now getting close to 800. In part the growth in the target is taxonomic, reflecting the reclassification of sub-species into distinct species. In part, too, it is pushing the definition of what is ‘Australia’ to its geographical limits. But this does not detract from Mike’s effort – it is an achievement that reflects a lifetime’s efforts in studying and observing birds – Mike is an astonishingly knowledgeable person about birds.

The Javan pond heron (good photos here) was discovered by a university student in Darwin on Rapid Creek Road opposite the pub. This is an abundant bird in Asia but not, as far as I know, seen in Australia before.

Meanwhile, I am stuck in Melbourne writing research grant applications. Whoppee! The highlight of my ‘birding week’ (also observed by Lucy) was a Eurasian coot nest in one of the moats at La Trobe University in full view of an actively-used bridge. The female was sitting on eggs in a nest of lotus blossom stems while the male was chasing away other birds which came within a 10 metre radius as well as furnishing the female with extra lotus leaves to make her wait more comfortable.

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