Archive for the 'Flycatchers' Category

White-crowned Black Wheatear in the Sahara

White-crowned Black Wheatear in Merzouga, Morocco

White-crowned Black Wheatear in Merzouga, Morocco

On our tour of Morocco a few years ago we stopped for breakfast in the garden of an auberge (hotel) on the fringe of the Sahara Desert. We had spent the night in a Berber tent in the desert. It happened to be Christmas Eve – one we will not forget because it was so different. During breakfast, I was able to add quite a few photos of birds hanging around the gardens and buildings of the hotel.

One of the delightful birds I saw and photographed was the White-crowned Black Wheatear (Oenanthe leucopyga). This was a “lifer” – the first time I had ever seen this species in my life. I was so pleased to get several good photos of the bird. At the time, I didn’t know what it was and I have needed to do plenty of research here at home, both for this species, and for many others seen on the trip.

I have discovered that wheatears were once regarded as members of the Thrush family. In more recent times the experts have agreed that they are, in fact, members of the Old World Flycatcher family of birds.

They breed in the stony deserts from the Sahara across northern parts of Africa and as far as Iraq. It also occurs as a vagrant in parts of Europe, even occasionally in Great Britain. It makes a nest in the crevices of rocks or walls.

This species eats mainly insects. It also has a loud song, but the one I saw wasn’t calling.

You can read more about this species on Wikipedia here.

White-crowned Black Wheatear in Merzouga, Morocco

White-crowned Black Wheatear in Merzouga, Morocco

White-crowned Black Wheatear in Merzouga, Morocco

White-crowned Black Wheatear in Merzouga, Morocco

A brave Willie Wagtail

Willie Wagtail

Willie Wagtail

A few days ago I wrote about our feisty Willie Wagtail (click here to read the article). I made some comments about some of the birds I had seen our resident Willie Wagtails chasing off from near their nest. They can get very protective of the nest, the eggs and especially the young once they hatch.

Yesterday I looked out of the window and saw it again attacking a much larger bird. Because of the distance – about 40 metres – I was not sure what it actually was, but it was ducking every few seconds as the Willie Wagtail attacked its head. Fortunately my binoculars were within reach but as I grabbed them the bird flew off to another part of the garden near the front of the house with the noisy Willie Wagtail snapping at its tail.

I went to the sun room and looked out at a  bush nearby. The much larger Collared Sparrowhawk was cowering in bush, trying valiantly to escape from this angry little bird. I was able to get a good view of the hawk before it flew off again, hotly pursued by the Willie Wagtail until it was well away from the nest.

Their resilience and sheer bravery in the face of great odds always amazes me. Quite the inspirational little bird.

The photos on this post were taken some time ago. I should keep my camera handy too.

Further reading:

Collared Sparrowhawk

Collared Sparrowhawk

A feisty Willie Wagtail

Willie Wagtail

Willie Wagtail

One of the most recognisable Australian birds would be the Willie Wagtail (see photo above). It is also one our most endearing birds, a favourite of many people. It loves occupying spaces close to human habitation, especially our gardens. We have a resident pair in our garden and we see them on a daily basis.

I have always known that Willie Wagtails can also be aggressive, feisty little birds. This has been in evidence in recent days in our garden, illustrated by the following incidents when it has attacked other, much larger species:

  • Australian Magpies: our resident Magpies must be nesting somewhere on our five acre property here in South Australia. The male is consistently chasing almost every bird which comes near. Fortunately us humans are never swooped. Last Saturday, however, the roles were reversed. It was the magpie being chased – by a very aggressive and angry Willie Wagtail snapping at its tail as it tried to escape its wrath.
  • Little Ravens: We often have small flocks of Little Ravens in our garden, usually up to about six or so. Yesterday I heard and then saw three ravens in the large mallee trees at the back of our home. As usual, they were cawing loudly. This attracted the attention of the Willie wagtail who rapidly came into the situation and began snapping at a raven’s feathers, tail and head, harassing the poor bird mercilessly.  As soon as one raven flew off with a few caws in protest, the Willie Wagtail would turn its attention to another until all three were well and truly seen off the property.

Wedge-tailed Eagles

I have only observed Australia’s largest bird of prey, the Wedge-tailed Eagle, on one occasion here in over 30 years. It is, however, quite a common bird throughout this part of the country and I have seen the species on many occasions in my travels. It always amazes when the tiny Willie Wagtail – not much bigger than a humble House Sparrow – aggressively attacking the eagle, snapping at it and even pecking at its back while hitching a ride. Such courage – one snap of the eagle’s beak would dismiss the wagtail permanently.

The reason for this aggressive attitude:

Normally the Willie Wagtails are friendly, docile birds. They will allow all manner of birds to cohabit happily in our garden. The reason for this sudden change of attitude is a simple little nest, like the one shown below. The photo below was taken a few years ago because I don’t want to disturb the mother Willie wagtail. She is currently sitting on two lovely eggs. She is not even afraid to come after me when I get near to the nest, snapping near my head until I move a reasonable distance from the nest.

The weeds near the nest will just have to wait a few weeks to be mown. Sigh.

I recently wrote about other birds nesting in our garden (click here).

Baby Willie Wagtails in a nest

Baby Willie Wagtails in a nest

Let’s take a bath Willie Wagtail

Willie wagtail at our birdbath

Willie wagtail at our birdbath

We get a great deal of pleasure from watching the constant parade of birds coming to our birdbath. This Willie Wagtail was really getting into the art of having a really good soaking. It is also situated strategically for great photo opportunities too.

 

Willie wagtail at our birdbath

Willie wagtail at our birdbath

Willie wagtail at our birdbath

Willie wagtail at our birdbath

 

Have the babies flown the nest?

Baby Willie Wagtails just out of their nest

We have a pair of Willie Wagtails who live in our garden. They often come very close to us as we work in the garden, especially when we are weeding or digging the garden beds. They are quite unafraid of us. Every year they build a nest somewhere near the house. Quite often they will even have a second brood of young ones.

This year I noticed them building a nest a few days before we went to Sydney for just over two weeks. I checked on our return and one of the adults was sitting on the nest; I didn’t know if there were eggs or chicks in the nest and didn’t want to disturb the parent bird. Now two weeks later and the nest is empty – in fact, it’s on the ground.

Enough time has elapsed for the eggs to have hatched and the young to have flown. Strange then that we haven’t seen the little ones begging to be fed. I suspect that the nest may have been raided by some form of predator: raven, magpie, currawong, falcon – even a stray cat that has been lurking in the vicinity.

All I can hope is that they decide to nest again – in a more secure location.