Tale of two nests at Bruthen
In mid-January this year when we returned to our home at Bruthen, East Gippsland after fire evacuations, we were greeted by some very clear but unfamiliar bird calls. A few days later, we had identified the new arrivals, a pair of Leaden Flycatchers. Closely related to Willie Wagtails, the Leaden Flycatcher is similarly bold and vocal. The male is a glossy leaden grey colour above and clean white below. The female has a lovely orange-buff colour in the throat and upper chest.
Above: Male Leaden Flycatcher
Not only were these Leaden Flycatchers a new record for this property, but these were in the advanced stages of nest building in a tree in the centre of our driveway. They both worked at the task, and a beautiful nest it was with pieces of lichen and spider web decorating the outside. They were bravely and very vigorously defending their tree from the much larger resident Wattlebirds and Magpies but apart from occasional scolding, they seemed to cope with our presence well. Of course we did not approach them closely, all photos were taken from a repsectful distance with a long lens.
Above: The almost finished nest, decorated with spider web and peices of lichen
With the nest finished the female settled down to sitting, leaving him to defend the tree – just for a couple of days, then they were gone. The male could still be heard calling occasionally much further from the house but clearly the nest was abandoned. We suspected the female may have been taken by one of our pair of Collared Sparrowhawks, who we discovered also had a nest on our bush block.
Above: The Collared Sparrowhawk is an efficent bird hunter
Collared Sparrowhawks are like a Goshawk and are primarily bird hunters, they are built for rapid accelerations and manoeuvrability through the treetops where they take small birds (up to about the size of pigeons) through ambush and weaving through the foliage. A small Flycatcher sitting on a nest would be an easy target.
Above: One of the adults still had some of the broader imature plumage on its front, perhaps a first time parent
The pair of Collared Sparrowhawks at the nest on our block were feeding a single well feathered chick when we discovered them. One of the adults appeared to still have some immature plumage on its front, so we wondered if it was a first time “teenage” parent? The parents were regularly seen flying over the house yard, carrying small bird prey in their talons with lots of vocalisations. They would land on a branch not too far from the nest tree and proceed to pluck the dead bird, before carrying the “pre-prepared” morsel to the nest to feed the chick.
Above: Adult Collared Sparrowhawk with a small bird under its right foot, ready to be prepared and taken to the nest
A few weeks later in early February we confirmed that the young Sparrowhawk had fledged and was flying strongly between trees chasing a local Bowerbird and telling the whole world very loudly that he/she was hungry. The parents still brought food for a few days more as it ventured further from the nest tree, then the youngster left with them and they no longer returned to our block. Hopefully by now its hunting skills are perfected.
Above: The recently fledged young Collared Sparrowhawk, seen on the left calling loudy and demanding for food.
Oh, and there was some more good news- I later discovered BOTH the Leaden Flycatchers working on another nest actually quite close to the Sparrowhawk nest tree, but much further from the house. I thought they had an interesting preference for neighbours! It was lovely to have them around for the first time and we suspect they may have moved out of fire affected forest near us in November/December and were taking advantage of our unburnt trees to have a late attempt at nesting. I hope they succeeded, we respected their choice of a more remote nest site and did not visit again. Maybe we will see them again next summer!
Jenny Lawrence, April 4, 2020
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