A female Pallid Cuckoo - in my front yard!
A female Pallid Cuckoo - in my front yard!

This female Pallid Cuckoo Cacomantis pallidus has been hanging around my front yard for the past week or so and I had the chance to grab a few pix of her this afternoon. She lacks the very distinctive, and often distinctly irritating, call of the male of this species.

What she does share with the male is the propensity for being mobbed by other small birds – particularly small aggressive birds that are common around my place like Magpie Larks Grallina cyanoleuca, Yellow-throated Miners Manorina flavigula and Butcher Birds Cracticus nigrogularis.

Anyway she sat still enough – though she was very watchful for the five or so minutes that I observed her – for me to bang off a few shots ate close range before she flew off.

On Saturday I was up at just after 5am to travel the 50 or so kilometres out of town to join a bunch of other members of the Alice Springs Field Naturalists in a trip to Kunoth Well, a renowned birding site that is one of the few close to Alice Springs where you can regularly see the rare, but rather unspectacular, Grey Honeyeater Conopophila whitei. I did not get to see one on Saturday, in part because I (and a few other kind souls) spent a couple of hours digging and dragging my truck out of gear-box deep bog after I foolishly drove just a few metres off a track and ended up in some of Centralia’s finest red-clay gloop.

And I’m not the kind of OCD twitcher that makes endlists lists or could be buggered going to see a very undistinguished bird just because it is somewhere nearby.

Oh, and thanks to Chris and all the others who lent their trucks, “snatchem” straps and advice on getting my couple of tonnes of truck out of the bog. And no, I didn’t take any pictures…

Here are a few of the other birds I did manage to catch.

Female Crimson Chat, Kunoth Well
Female Crimson Chat, Kunoth Well

We have had an exceptional year in and around Alice Springs this year, with close enough to 500mm falling since the start of the year. Many bird species have had bumper breeding seasons and there are not only a lot of birds around – attracted by the large amount of food that was about earlier in the year, but there are a lot of juvenile birds about. There were a lot of female and juvenile Crimson Chats Epthianura tricolor, a close relative of the Honeyeater and one of three species of Chats found in central Australia – though the Crimson Chats are more common and widespread than the others..

Unfortunately, mainly due to the chilly weather we’ve been having lately, there aren’t all that many insects about and it seems that much of the grass seed that set earlier in the year has either blown away or already been eaten. So I reckon that many of the birds around may be doing it tough. This will of course begin to change once the weather warms up and the insect population increases and the plants start flowering. And because we have had so much rain it looks like both of those events – and all that flows from them – we have all the indications of another great breeding season again in the Alice Springs district and beyond.

So if you want to see some fantastic birds, in great numbers, then get to the centre from around August through to about November.

Here are a few more of the birds you will see – and very easily – around that time.

Juvenile Crimson Chat, Kunoth Well
Juvenile Crimson Chat, Kunoth Well

This beautiful little fellow – for it is only the male Red-capped Robin Petroica goodenovii that has this wonderfully distinctive colouring – was foraging nearby. I tried following him across the open paddock but he kept skipping away so this was the best shot i could get of him. Often you can get quite close to these birds, and they are often in company with Hooded Robins Melanodryas cucullata in thick scrubby country, by “pishing“. But telling you all about pishing and its related technique “squeaking“, well that is for another day.

A stunning male Red-capped Robin
A stunning male Red-capped Robin
A female Brown Goshawk
A female Brown Goshawk

This female Brown Goshawk Accipiter fasciatus was skulking around in the bushes by the dam eyeing off the two Pink-eared Ducks Malacorhynchus membranaceus and the sole Grey Teal Anas gracilis that were paddling about – and anything else that would come within reach of its deadly talons. After a while a combination of the sun’s heat and a light breeze gave her enough moving air to soar and hunt for thermals and she spent some time cruising above us – all brutal and beautiful elegance in total control of its element.

And I’m looking forward to a great year of birds – and all the other wonderful creatures that flock to the centre in a good season.

Here is my neighbour again. One distinctive characteristic of most Cuckoos, including the Pallid Cuckoo, is that they are what biologists refer to as “obligate brood parasites” – meaning that they are evolutionarily  hard-wired to lay her eggs in the nests of other species. And the female Pallid Cuckoo is believe to be a prolific egg-producer, laying her eggs in many nests of a variety of host species. That would explain why Pallid Cuckoos – and cuckoos in general – are the pariahs of the bird world.

the female Pallid Cuckoo in my front yard...at a rather nervous roost...
the female Pallid Cuckoo in my front yard...at a rather nervous roost...

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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