Chimney roosting Woodswallows

To: "Canberra Birds" <>
Subject: Chimney roosting Woodswallows
From: "John Layton" <>
Date: Fri, 8 Jan 2010 07:13:42 +1100

We spent a few days over New Year on a nicely secluded cattle property in the Tumbarumba district. Beautifully cool, showery mornings, and on clear afternoons we could see Kosciuszko from the kitchen window. Brats teamed up with other horse mad delinquents and spent their days tearing through the bush like wild Cossacks, returning for meals wet, muddy, ravenous and utterly disgraceful. During one re-fuelling stop they reported a flock of birds issuing from the corrugated iron chimney of a tumbledown hut occupied by a eucalyptus distiller back in the 1940s.


“They looked like little grey wraiths ascending into the overcast ambience,” stated an eloquent girl child.


“What kinda birds were they?” I said, ignoring the eloquence.


“White-Browed Woodswallows.”


“They were probably someone’s pet pigeons gone feral,” I said as the curmudgeonly side of me surfaced.


“Bullspit,” stated the ineloquent girl child, skipping nimbly out of swatting range.


Every morning come the 6 o’clock radio news, a Grey Shrike-thrush alighted on the veranda railing and sang for its breakfast of crushed cornflakes. Perhaps the marketing department at Kellogg could do something with this. I’ve occasionally seen the odd GS-t regularly drooping into country houses for a handout previously. In  an apple orchard 50m from the homestead Flame Robins seemed resident. I understand they will disappear by end of March when they move down country to spend the cooler months further west. One afternoon I counted 26 Little Ravens fossicking about. I was able to identify them visually and aurally. At first I thought they were eating windfalls but no,  seemed to be after live prey. After they moved on I poked about in the damp grass with a stick and disturbed a number of large shiny brown crickets. Hmm.


One evening about sunset we watched an Australian Hobby circling around a dam, also noticed a few dragonflies helicoptering about as well. Every few moments the hobby speared off to a dead tree some distance away but even through the binos we lost sight of it as it landed due to distance and position of the sun. But suddenly it was back over the water.


“Wow, but it’s quick,” I said.


“With respect, I suggest you look again and you may conclude there is a pair of hobbies present,” a flippant young thing said. She was right too. A dark dragonfly with cream and green markings  alighted on waterside reeds and the didactic, entomological junior brat informed us it was, “an Australian Duskhawker, it’s widespread and crepuscular so that’s why we see it  about at this time of day.”


Early one afternoon when skies cleared and the day warmed quickly I saw four Wedge-tailed Eagles soaring, two were juveniles. A first-timer for everyone was an Olive Whistler that called from a slender dead sapling poking out of a clump of tea tree shrubs, but just as we were enjoying million dollar views it dived into the shrubbery and continued calling but didn’t reappear.


John K. Layton.






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