Diary of Natural Observations
by Jill Whiter
White bellied sea-eagle
What to Expect in July-August.
Cold and damp if the predicted wet winter eventuates, but certainly cold, for it is winter after all. The White-eared Honeyeaters will be drifting off to the tablelands, they rarely remain here beyond mid August. Grey Butcherbirds are in full voice and preparing to nest, as are the Magpies and most of the raptors too. White-bellied Sea-Eagles have been calling and displaying since late April and the female is usually well into brooding by August. Now the male establishes his lone hunting routine and a few days of watching his comings and goings will tell you when the female has settled firmly to the nest.
In July we often hear the first calls of the small cuckoos, Fan-tailed, Horsfield's and Shining-Bronze, Pallid and Brush, making an early return to woodland and forest, though I often wonder if they are early enough to parasitise the first thornbill nests, for both Brown and Striated are early starters in the breeding stakes and are often brooding by late July or early August.
An Olive-backed Oriole might slip in quietly in late July, and August brings the return of Noisy Friarbirds and Yellow-faced Honeyeaters, their calls setting the woodlands ringing as they choose mates and establish breeding territories. The first orchids poke their heads through hillside scree and valley loam, and great drifts of yellow and cream wattle brighten the coastal woodlands.
A stiff onshore wind might bring the albatrosses close enough for a land-based observer to get a good look at these powerful and graceful seabirds. Black-browed and Shy are the most likely species to be seen patrolling inshore waters. Look for the Black-Browed's bright yellow-orange bill with its reddish tip, the white head and neat, black brow. The Shy's bill is grey, grading to a yellow tip, it's white crown forms a distinct cap bordered by a narrow, dark grey brow. Quite often they are using the same area as the Australasian Gannets and you have the chance to observe the differences in flight, the way the wings are held, and the different use of wind and wave in pursuit of their prey.
Albatrosses glide superbly for long periods, dipping their wings and drifting close above the waves. The gannets glide too, but never for long and they lack the effortless grace of the albatrosses. Each species has evolved to take best advantage of its way of life and its habitat, the albatrosses to fly great distances over the wild and wind-driven southern oceans, the Australasian Gannets to ply their trade in the Tasman Sea and round Australian and New Zealand coastal waters.