Chris Watson

Birding Central Australia #13

Chris Watson

Willie Wagtail Rhipidura leucophrys

Willie sings and dances

A question hitting the inbox in the last few weeks has been about a sweet-sounding bird heard on still nights. It isn’t made by a typically nocturnal bird, but it rings out clearly on moonlit nights, and comes from the Australian Nightingale – well, some people call it that. It’s an apt description, but the rest of us probably know it as a Willie Wagtail.

The fellow pictured in this lucky close-up, was loitering around Commonage Rd earlier in the week. He adopted this curious behaviour of perching and vibration his wings rapidly at his side, while issuing his distinctive ratcheting alarm call.

There are a couple of reasons for this; it alerted his family to my presence. More importantly, it distracted me, for a minute anyway, from his brood of three newly fledged youngsters sitting on a nearby branch.

To the left of his bill you can see silhouetted, the line of stiff rictal bristles that mark this bird as an insectivore. He wags his tail in an effort to stir insects from the undergrowth and then flutters to catch them. The bristles help to funnel the insects into the beak.

Great sightings this week include:  

-          Striated Grasswrens  just south of Barrow Creek

-          Oriental Pratincole at Tennant Creek Sewage Ponds

-          Red-chested Button-quail giving excellent views around Hamburger Creek on the Tanami rd

-          Spotless Crake lurking at Ilparpa and Glen Helen

-          and David Hartland down in Murputja, reports that his APY Lands list has hit 117, including such sought after species as Princess Parrot (couple of times a year), Chestnut-breasted and Banded Whiteface, and Striated and Dusky Grasswrens.

Thanks for the input folks and Happy Birding for another week.