Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A banding trip to Iluka Nature Reserve

A couple of weeks back, Suzi Bond and I drove to the north coast of NSW for a few days of bird banding at Iluka Nature Reserve. There is a cooperative site at the reserve that is run by Greg Clancy. Many thanks must go to Greg for hosting us up there, including arranging some rather palatial accommodation at the National Parks training centre at Woody Head.

Iluka NR covers 136 hectares and protects the largest remnant of littoral rainforest in NSW. The rainforest grows next to the beach and is a rich and diverse ecosystem adapted to a harsh environment of salt-laden winds and poor soils. Google it if you want to know more!

The two full days of banding we had both started out a bit damp, but the showers held off for most of the time. The forest is unusual in that the sandy soils (well, sand mostly!) drain quickly, so it's not as wet there as you might think. Still wet enough for leeches, but not quite wet enough for a few of the wet forest bird species such as Yellow-throated Scrubwren and Green Catbird. Where the forest meets the dune vegetation, particularly the coastal banksias, there are plenty of heath birds like Little Wattlebird and Variegated Fairy-wren.

Between us, we caught 76 birds (70 new, 6 retraps) of 13 species out of eight or nine nets in the two days. The Lewin's Honeyeater is the dominant species at the site, we caught 28 of them! Eastern Yellow Robins were close behind at 23 birds. The most interesting retrap was a 14+ Golden Whistler, a female that was developing male characteristics such as a yellow breast and white throat (Greg discussed this on Birding-Aus).

Banding highlights for me were Russet-tailed Thrush, Spangled Drongo and Regent Bowerbird. Suzi added four new species to her banding list and went over the 100 birds banded and 100 birds extracted points in her training.

Some highlights below...

First up, some differences in birds compared to those we see on the south coast. the northern race of the Eastern Yellow Robin has a very yellow rump. (Photo by Suzi Bond)

The Golden Whistler varies considerably. Our local birds have the tiniest bit of yellow on the vent. The northern birds have heaps more yellow.

This Golden Whistler is the 14+ female, developing male characteristics (yellow breast and white throat), possibly due to the breakdown of the gonads.

Brown Gerygone

Lewin's Honeyeater (photo by Suzi Bond)

Large-billed Scrubwren

Little Shrike-thrush (also known as the Rufous Nasty!)

Suzi does the head-bill measurement on the Rufous Nasty

Spangled Drongo (photo by Suzi Bond)

The 'fish tail' on the Spangled Drongo

Despite having all the characteristics of an adult, the Spangled Drongo still had white spots on the underwing coverts that are typical of a young bird (photo by Suzi Bond)

Russet-tailed Thrush
After only catching seventeen of these birds in forty years at the nature reserve, and only two since 1987, we caught two birds in two days!

The diagnostic tail feathers of the Russet-tailed Thrush. The white bit on the outer tail feathers is much longer than that of the Bassian Thrush.

Regent Bowerbird
This is a first year male bird. We had to measure the width and depth of the bill at the nares to determine the sex.

We also managed to catch a few bats late one evening while trying to catch a Noisy Pitta (we failed...) Here is the Northern Long-eared Bat Nyctophilus bifax, a rainforest species. (Photos by Suzi Bond)