Chris Watson

Birding Central Australia #57

Chris Watson

Australian Owlet-nightjar Aegotheles cristatus

The undisputed highlight of a trip down to Yulara this week was a daytime encounter with an Australian Owlet-nightjar. Only the size of a small pigeon, this secretive night bird is difficult to get a good look at. It was pure luck that I caught this bird sunning itself on an exposed perch, warming up after a cool night foraging for insects among the dunes.

The stiff bristles around its face serve a few purposes; protecting the eyes, helping the bird locate airborne prey on dim nights, and breaking up the outline of the bird when it wants to blend in to its surrounds.

Perhaps surprisingly, this is the most common and widespread of our nocturnal birds, but it often goes unnoticed due to its small size and secretive nature. They roost and nest in tree hollows and, if approached too closely, they will flush silently from the hollow to any of a number of nearby hollows prepared as secondary roosts. It’s recently been shown that they are a strongly terrestrial forager in many parts of Australia and a portion of their diet is made up of ants.

Collared Sparrowhawks have been reported by Portia in Eastside this week in a possible face-off with Channel-billed Cuckoos. There are a few pairs of these raptors nesting on Eastside that may succumb to the nest-infiltrating behaviour of the cuckoo. Glossy Ibis seem to be congregating around The Centre with a flock of 34 residing at Ilparpa Swamp and scattered individuals seen at Traeger and Blatherskite Parks.

The other big news is that Mark Carter has reported the first confirmed sighting of a Phoenix in Alice Springs. The juvenile Wedgie that was feared burnt in its nest in the Mt. Gillen fires of some weeks ago has been seen keeping the ducks on their toes down at the sewage ponds earlier in the week – a great relief.