Long Necked Tortoise
Rain had cleared the park of visitors. Ignoring the prospect of increased leach activity I set off on a walk through the picnic grounds along the Hacking River. In the middle of one of the mown river flats a small geyser of dirt was rising into the air. It was a Long Necked Tortoise, back legs scooping wet soil as it energetically excavated a nesting hole. The tortoise paused as I approached, but soon decided I wasn’t a threat and resumed digging. Soon after it paused, convulsed and resumed digging. Another pause and shudder, and this time I saw an egg dropping into the hole. I left the tortoise in peace and continued upriver.
When I returned forty minutes later there was no sign of the Long Necked Tortoise. A careful search and I finally found the disturbed patch of dirt over the nest. The tortoise had carefully flattened the soil and spread grass and leaf litter across the top. A nicely timed effort by the tortoise, taking advantage of the weather to get rid of the humans, soften the soil and conceal her nest.
Rainbow Lorikeets are so abundant and loud that you soon learn to process their calls into white noise. Working in the kitchen I barely noticed the din from the lorikeets outside until a discordant note caught my attention, a cranky grating call. Through the back door I could see a pair of lorikeets hovering above a branch, clearing upset by something in the tree. I guessed that it was a Lace Monitor searching for bird nests, but the outline was too upright for a climbing monitor. Another grating squawk and the outline was revealed as a Tawny Frogmouth. They don’t normally ‘break cover’ during the daytime by moving or calling. A look through the binoculars explained why it had reacted to the lorikeets. It wasn’t just a frogmouth, but a nesting frogmouth.
The nest was located in clear sight no more than 15 metres from our back door. My first thought that we hadn’t noticed it because it had only just been built. That excuse was quickly refuted when I noticed a half grown chick poking out from under the adult. Allowing for the incubation period, the nest must have been occupied for at least a month and a half. The frogmouth’s booming calls over winter came to mind. There was obviously a good reason why they’d sounded as though they were just outside the bedroom window. So much for well developed skills in wildlife observation!
I look forward to the return of Little Terns each spring. I’d spotted a flock flying a few hundred metres out to sea at Cronulla the week before. They have a very distinctive, buoyant way of flying that can be recognised even when they are just a speck in the distance. Last Sunday I headed out at first light hopeful to find the new arrivals roosting on Merries Reef.
A large mixed flock of seagulls, migratory wades and terns was spending the high tide resting on the reef. There were a couple of hundred terns, divided into roughly equal numbers of Crested Terns, White Bellied Terns and Little Terns. The three species all have distinctive characteristics, although the White Fronted and Little Terns have similar non breeding plumage. It isn’t a problem when sitting side by side as they are easily separated by size. The Crested Terns are largest, then the White Fronted Terns and finally the diminutive Little Terns.
Roughly half of the Little Terns were in breeding plumage. Lots of early courtship behaviours were in evidence. Most involved rapid chases over the flock, usually involving a bird carrying a sandy sprat or other fish in its beak. The bird with the fish would land and wave the fish from side to side, proclaiming ‘look at the fish I catch’. I didn’t see any ‘giftings’ of fish, so perhaps the pairs were still forming or reconfirming their bonds.
The terns who weren’t napping took the opportunity to bath in the shallow water pooling in various spots on the reef. All species shared a common technique, ducking underwater then sweeping heads or wings upwards to fling droplets into the air.
This last week wasn’t one that offered anything remarkable from a wildlife perspective. Nonetheless, a tortoise laying its eggs in the middle of a picnic ground, a frogmouth nesting just outside the back door and the antics of bathing terns did a pretty good job of showcasing the remarkable in the ordinary.
Odds and Sods