Restoring landscapes across the Mount Alexander Region

Painted Button-quails in the garden

Posted on 29 May, 2018 by Tanya Loos

Connecting Country staff member Bonnie Humphreys has seen small, quail-like birds wandering around her garden for weeks, even on her doorstep. Until now, they’ve escaped Bonnie’s efforts to capture a photo and confirm identification as Painted Button-quail! The two birds seen here were resting quietly together.

Button-quails are a truly Australian group of birds. Although they look a lot like quails, DNA analysis suggests that button-quails are quite distant from all living groups of birds. Their behaviour is certainly very unusual!

Unlike most birds, it’s the brightly coloured female who calls, and attracts a male. They are polyandrous, with one female mating with several males in an area. After mating, the female builds a domed nest near the ground in a shrub or grass tussock, and lays three or four small white eggs. The male then incubates the young until hatching. Once hatched, the tiny little chicks fledge right away and the male feeds them for the next ten days or so. After this, the young button-quails can fend for themselves.

The birds pictured above could be either males, or immature birds. In females, the reddish patch is brighter. However, the depth of the colour red is quite variable according to light conditions and the position of the bird. Hence it’s quite tricky to identify the sex of the bird. (Happy to hear local birder expert opinion on this one!)

Bonnie’s visiting button-quails are a group of three birds, and the Handbook of Australian and New Zealand birds says they are most often seen in small family groups. At this time of year, breeding has finished, so maybe they are just being companionable and foraging together until the female starts her ‘booming’call.

Their foraging technique is also most unusual. Painted button-quails often feed in pairs, in grasses and leaf litter on the ground. They scratch and glean, spinning on alternate legs to create distinctive circular depressions, known as platelets. Platelets are often the only visible sign that the bird is present. The photo below shows the typical look of platelets in bushland with plenty of leaf litter.

There’s been extensive feeding activity in leaf litter and lawn areas at Bonnie’s place. It was hard to capture on camera the sheer extent of the ground being worked over by these enthusiastic little birds.

 

Painted button-quails are a member of the threatened Victorian Temperate Woodland bird Community. They are notoriously difficult to capture during typical (20 minute, 2 ha) bird surveys, so we welcome any sightings and observations. You can download a sightings sheet here, and let us know where and when you’ve seen button-quails, or their platelets.

In 2011, Echidna Walkabout Tours captured this amazing footage of a Painted Button-quail foraging in leaf litter in urban Port Melbourne! Do watch the whole video because at the end the female puffs herself up like a frog and starts calling her booming call. The low frequency call is difficult to hear on the video, but you can see the amazing behaviour!

 

Caught on camera!

Posted on 10 May, 2018 by Tanya Loos

This remarkable photograph shows a Yellow-footed Antechinus bounding up a log with an Australian Magpie in hot pursuit. It was taken by a trail camera – amazing timing!

In this case, the antechinus escaped being breakfast, running so fast all of its paws are in the air! It is great to see the tables turned on these adorable but voracious hunters (see pictures of a Yellow-footed Antechinus preying upon a grey fantail here).

The landholders who sent us the photo said  ‘These wildlife cameras are great! We catch so much and are able to watch so many different animals, birds, reptiles, insects, etc.  and what they get up to each day.’ Lynne and Ric live on a beautiful woodland property east of Maldon, and are keen bird surveyors.

If you would like to see what lives on your property, why not borrow a wildlife camera from us? We are happy to loan wildlife cameras to our members – usually for a three week period. To book one, email tanya@connectingcountry.org.au or phone us at the office on 5472 1594.

Many thanks to Lynne and Ric for the amazing photo.

 

A batty visitor to a phascogale nest box

Posted on 4 January, 2018 by Tanya Loos

Elevated Plains landholder, Richard Pleasance sent us some fantastic video footage of a small bat or microbat visiting his nest box. I posted the footage online to the Field Naturalists Club of Victoria Facebook page and a bat expert identified the bat as a type of long-eared bat;  either a Lesser Long-eared or a Gould’s Long-eared bat, both of which are common in this area. Please click on the link below to view the bat movie – the bat arrives several seconds in…

Bat-video-RPleasance-01-2018

These two bat species live on insects, and use their incredible ears and skills in echolocation  help them locate crickets, moths, grasshoppers and other prey.  Both species roost in a range of locations, such as peeling bark, small hollows and, in the case of Lesser Long-eared bats, disused Fairy Martin nests, old coats or under piles of bricks in sheds!  Come breeding season, the females live in maternity colonies, which may be in hollow trees or sometimes in houses.

A Lesser Long-eared bat, by Matt Clancy

This bat was probably a single male, as they often roost alone. Richard built the box himself, using recycled materials, with the aim of attracting Brush-tailed Phascogales. Below is a photo of a phascogale inspecting the box. According to Richard ‘the box is on a stringy bark located in lovely bush close to a ridge but still a bit protected from weather’ and it faces south east.

A wildlife camera captures an evening visitor…

Richard doesn’t carry out any manual inspections of his nest boxes, preferring to set up wildlife cameras to monitor usage. This is a great option as it is safer than using a ladder to inspect, and minimises disturbance to the creatures within. And there is more! This nest box was also visited by a third species: a Sugar Glider (see below).

What a wonderful fluffy tail!

If you would like to monitor your nest boxes this summer, you could try wildlife cameras. We have a small number at the office to lend to landholders, or you could try another non-invasive technique known as stagwatching. A stag is an old dead tree with hollows, but the stagwatching process may be used to check nest boxes too. Stagwatching involves using the natural light at dusk to check the box usage, simply by waiting quietly by the box for some time. A very meditative experience, provided you cover up adequately against mosquitoes!

To found out more about nest boxes and how to stagwatch, see our website here and download the guide: NestboxFieldGuide

Many thanks to Richard for the wonderful footage and photos.