The Australian Owlet-nightjar is a relatively common bird throughout much of Australia. With an overall size of 21-25cm it is our smallest nocturnal bird. In fact, the first time I saw this birds I was amazed at how tiny it really was. This individual was perched in full sunlight on a branch of a tree in a neighbour’s garden. This is something they will do occasionally. Normally they roost in the hollows of trees.
Despite being widespread in Australia, I suspect few people will have ever seen one, mainly because of their nocturnal habits. Their size may account for them often being overlooked too. I suspect that quite a few people may have heard this species but have no idea what was making the call. Its chirr-chirr call is a sound many Australians will have heard when out at night, especially in more rural areas, or when camping out bush away from traffic noises. Another common observation of this species would be a fleeting glance of one flying through the headlight beams of cars travelling country roads at night. Most people probably would dismiss it as a very large moth.
Resident in our garden?
At present I am thinking that this species is resident in our garden. Over recent weeks I have heard it calling on many occasions, often an hour or so after sunset. I usually head outdoors, torch in hand, trying to track it down. The fact that their eyes do not reflect torchlight makes the quest just that little bit harder.
More puzzling, however, is hearing the call during the daylight hours, usually just the once and quite close to the house. A little research indicates that they sometimes do this. It has happened three or four times in the last week or so. Whenever I go out pursuing this lovely bird trying to get a photo, I have no idea where to start looking – apart from the obvious tree hollows nearby. It’s all very frustrating.
UPDATE: I finally got to see one in our garden – and get a photo what’s more. To read about click here.
- Great Birding Moments – Spotted Nightjar – an article and photo about a close encounter with another nightjar species.
- Spotted Nightjar
- Birds in Backyards: Australian Owlet-nightjar – this article includes a photo, a painting and a map of distribution.
The photo below shows a related species, the Spotted Nightjar. (Click on the photo to enlarge the image.)
Yesterday we took a non-birding trip to Loxton, about a two hour journey from home. This is the town where I grew up and I still have quite a few relatives living there. The occasion was to celebrate my sister-in-law’s 70th birthday. We see each other so infrequently these days that we make a special effort to attend these family get togethers. An added bonus was seeing my niece and her daughter who came all the way from Perth, Western Australia, for the event. I see them only every two years or so.
The road to Loxton traverses mainly wheat and sheep farming country in the Murray Mallee region of South Australia. Although the winter was drier than usual the country is not looking as poor as some parts of Australia suffering prolonged drought. I had a long talk to my wheat farmer nephew who was quite pleased with the yield this last season despite the poor rainfall.
We didn’t stop anywhere along the route to specifically watch birds, though we did have brief rest for a cuppa on the way. I didn’t make an extensive list as we drove along but merely noted some of the common species seen. Australian Magpies, both Black-backed and White-backed, were by far the most common bird seen. The roadside verges are also a favourite haunt of the numerous White-winged Choughs we saw.
I observed numerous Little Ravens feeding in the paddocks as we drove along, and on the return journey I am sure I saw an Australian Raven. I couldn’t be absolutely certain but it seemed much larger than the Little Ravens we have here in Murray Bridge. Small flocks of Galahs were also seen, either flying overhead or feeding on the grass in the fields. The occasional Common Bronzewing Pigeon was seen sitting on the side of the road.
Probably the highlight of the trip up to Loxton was seeing three Wedge-tailed Eagles soaring low over the road. This species is more often seen gliding many hundreds of metres above the ground; seeing them only a few metres above the treetops is always a delight. Another highlight was a brief glimpse of three Blue Bonnet Parrots flying across the road and scattering into the bushes on the other side of the road.
Another very common species along this route is the Crested Pigeon. It some places they outnumbered the magpies. On many occasions I saw ten to fifteen sitting in a loose flock on fencing wires or on power lines. As we commenced our journey home we saw a flock of ten sitting on the road just a few metres from the main street. They reluctantly few off as our car approached.
On our arrival in Loxton we were about a half hour early for the family lunch at one of the local clubs, so we detoured via the river front. There is a track running along the banks of the River Murray and this is a popular spot for people fishing, swimming, canoeing, skiing and having picnics. The bird life was relatively quiet but I did see plenty of Noisy Miners and Australian Wood Ducks. I heard a Laughing Kookaburra and a Superb Blue Wren. Several small flocks of Red-rumped Parrots were seen flying and I think I heard several Yellow Rosellas. I saw a few Magpie Larks and two Australian Pelicans were swimming on the water.
We had a great time with family and seeing all these birds was a bonus.
I and the Bird is coming to this blog.
That’s right folks – right here on Trevor’s Birding in hot sunny Australia. Get your passports ready for the journey of your life. We’ll be going birding all over the globe. The journey begins on January 24th 2008 but bookings close two days before that.
So if you want to join us on this unparalleled opportunity, bookings will be accepted until January 22nd. Don’t miss out. Bookings can be made via my contact form here.
I and the Bird #66
In the meantime, you can enjoy the latest venue of the carnival over at Born Again Bird Watcher here.
The Australian Magpie has three recognised races – the White-backed, the Black-backed and the Western.
Here in Murray Bridge the common one is the White-backed Magpie.
From time to time I do see a Black-backed Magpie near our home. Yesterday I saw a single bird of this race just up the road from our home, perhaps about 400 metres away. This is note worthy because it is about the furthest west I’ve seen this race here in South Australia. I must keep a sharp eye out and check all those magpies that visit our garden.
- Australian Magpies – a more detailed discussion on the various races of this species, including notes on distribution.
My wife had an appointment in Adelaide on Wednesday. I remained in the car in an adjacent park, fortunate to get a shady park on such a hot day. At one point my attention was distracted from doing the crossword in the paper.
A lady entered the park nearby and released her dog from its leash. The dog immediately sprinted across the grass chasing the half dozen or so Australian Magpies and Magpie Larks. The birds abruptly stopped feeding and flew frantically to nearby trees. They did not return to foraging for more than ten minutes after the dog and owner moved out of the park. During the two hours I was there this process was repeated about a dozen times but in less dramatic ways. Most of the other dogs were much more docile, and some were on leads. At one point another dog disturbed a flock of about twenty Crested Pigeons feeding on the ground.
Dogs on the loose can severely impact the feeding habits of many species of birds. For ground nesting birds, especially on beaches, the impact can be devastating. Eggs can be trampled on and broken and nestlings killed and eaten.
There is little I could have done to protect the birds or to make a complaint to the dog owners in this situation, however. The park is one of very few in metropolitan Adelaide as a designated dog park, meaning that the dogs are able to run freely. This has been an area of contention over recent years because there are so few such parks where dogs can roam freely. In my experience dog owners are very vocal and local councils generally listen to their lobbying.
Very rarely does someone speak up for the birds, and that is a concern.