Friday, June 14, 2013

Circuits and Black Kites

At one point I was tempted to call this blog “The Month of the Raptor.”  It was certainly an amazing month for raptors.  Not only was there the Black Kite Milvus migrans of the title but we spotted eight other diurnal birds of prey during May, some of them real gems in anyone’s reckoning. 
The Whistling Kite Haliastur sphenurus has become almost a commonplace bird, putting in eight appearances on its own.  The impressive Wedge-tailed Eagle Aquila audax managed four showings over May, as did the Black-shouldered Kite Elanus axillaris.  We spotted the Nankeen Kestrel Falco cenchroides on two separate occasions during the month.

The first of the gems was surely the Grey Goshawk Accipiter novaehollandiae on 11 May.  Our first sighting of the bird that morning was in the “open woodland” area of Tarong Power Station; our second of the bird [most certainly the same goshawk] was over Tarong State Forest, as we left the Power Station.  Fay and I have long suspected nesting in the area; we observed a pair back in November 2011.

A week later, 18 May, while further exploring the birding potential of Darley Crossing Road, we were blessed with glorious views of a Spotted Harrier Circus assimilis.  It even outshone the earlier sighting [5 May] of a Swamp Harrier Circus approximans at the Black Creek Dam.
However, the raptor of the month has to be the Australian Hobby Falco longipennis, seen shortly after the Swamp Harrier and a little beyond the dam, atop a tall tree in open woodland.  Initially seen from quite a distance away, we at first thought we might have a Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus but as we drew to within easier telescope views it became patently clear that it was a hobby.  Its presence delayed our morning’s birdwatching by at least ten minutes.  Or at least it felt that long before we forced ourselves away to continue our survey of the area. 

On our return, the hobby was still there, perched in the same tree, affording us the same lingering views.  It was going to be a late breakfast that morning!

The sudden irruption of Black Kite into the area came as a very pleasant surprise.

According to a number of local residents, these “fish-tailed hawks” had, many years ago, been quite a prominent feature of the South Burnett landscape but had gradually declined in number to the point when they were no longer noticed and eventually faded from conscious recall.  Certainly by the time Fay and I became regular visitors to [circa 2001] and then domicile in the area [circa 2005] there were no reports from any quarter of Black Kite.

I came across the first specimen back in August 2011 while returning home from school [Blackbutt].  My brief notes of the time – it is always difficult if not downright dangerous to be overly profuse in one’s scribblings while at the wheel of a car- recorded “On Nanango side of Nukku turn-off.  Being ‘escorted’ by pair of Torresian Crows”.  It was exactly a year later, August 2012, when Fay and I noted the second record in this neck of the woods, at the Cooling Water Dam in the Tarong Power Station complex.  Our notes on that occasion record, “New to PATCH LIST.  Observed being harassed by Whistling Kites [c.f.]”.

The first warning droplets of the impending deluge of Black Kites occurred on 24 Match 2013.  I was on my way into Nanango to buy something or other when I spotted the distinctive forked tail circling the area ahead.  A week later, at Horse Creek [on our way to Wooroolin], we spotted the fourth of our South Burnett kites.  There were another two sightings in April 2013, both in the Horse Creek/Barkers Creek Flats area.  On 20 April we recorded “Stopped to have a good look as the bird flew off towards Nanango.  Forked tail quite clear”.   A week later, 28 April, we spotted the next scout for the impending horde about to descend on the area.  We recorded “Circling overhead.  Further evidence that the species is entering the area.  Initially noted one just outside Nanango; Fay and I observed one near Horse Creek on 20 April 2013”.

It became comparative Black Kite pandemonium throughout May and no doubt, had we been in a position to venture forth more often [school report cards can be a birding bother], we would have recorded Black Kite on more occasions and possibly in greater numbers.  On 6 May, “Near BP Service Station outside Nanango” for the first time we encountered more than the previous solitary bird; three.
On 11 May, at the local Refuse Exchange Station – the “tip” in old parlance- we recorded 20 as a “Conservative estimate of numbers involved.  Apparently making a come-back into the area after a long absence”.  A week later, 18 May, at the same place, we noted 100 as a “Conservative estimate of numbers involved.”
The trend towards higher numbers continues into June.
The prodigal kite saga becomes a little more interesting if one considers that our records centre on Nanango and its immediate environs alone.  There are other Refuse Exchange Stations in the South Burnett region – as there are many farmers currently involved in ploughing land, no doubt being escorted by hordes of opportunistic Black Kites.
May was also the month in which Fay and I created a number of new birding circuits, a la our original Rocky Creek Circuit. 
On 5 May we extended the former Mondure Crossing Road transect to form the Mondure Creek Circuit.  It had been our practice to bird along this stretch of gravel road from its junction with the Burnett Highway [A3] to its further junction with Booie Road and then simply turn back.  On occasions we did turn left here, exploring a little way down before returning home.  This time we took the right-hand turn and followed Booie Road until its junction with the Robin & Lee Road and thus back to the Burnett Highway.
The new Mondure Creek Circuit proved an instant success.  Among the 28 species recorded that day, the jewel in the crown was undoubtedly the Azure Kingfisher Ceyx azureus.  Not only was this our first sighting of the species in the South Burnett region, it was our first sighting of the species since 8 December 1996 at Peachtrees!
A week later, 12 May, we incorporated the Mondure Crossing Road into a second circuit. From off the Burnett Highway we followed Booie Road which eventually sweeps around to the right in almost a right-angled turn until its junction with Mondure Crossing Road and thus back to the Burnett Highway.  While not as immediately successful as the earlier circuit, it clearly has the potential to impress and we will try it again.
Attempts to form a circuit based on Runnymede Road fizzled away when we hit a “No Through Road” sign to the left and knew that the fork to the right was the infamous pass over Mt Stanley.  Nevertheless, later, sharing a glass of Shiraz on the east verandah, poring over local road maps, we found a possible circuit using Walsh Road which runs off Runnymede Road.
Smith Road holds further circuit potential.  We still hold out hopes for the Darley Crossing Road project and of course, a little further afield, we have come across a possible Nukku Road circuit; it looks good on “google maps” buts awaits the opportunity to test it on the ground.
How long is it before I retire?