Extracts from QN News No244

The Red Goshawk by Greg Czechura

GENERAL MEETING REPORT: July 15

Greg Czechura gave the meeting a broad view of the Red Goshawk, covering its taxonomy and name, distribution, size and shape, habits, habitat and hints on how to look for this uncommon bird.  
  The Red Goshawk can be found around the north of Australia, from the Kimberley across  the Top End and down the east coast to about Sydney, although it probably does not occur as a breeding species in NSW.  There was little information on the species for many years, so it has achieved an aura of mystery.  The taxonomists described it first as a falcon, then as a sea-eagle, a goshawk, buzzard and an  Accipiter – confusion reigned.  Its nearest relative is the Chestnut-shouldered Goshawk of New Guinea.  It is part of an unruly group of Australasian raptors that includes the Square-tailed Kite, Black-breasted Buzzard and several New Guinea birds.  Some affinity to the hawk-eagles of overseas has been postulated, and Greg felt that Red Hawk would, in fact, be a good name for this imposing bird.
  Jack and Lindsay Cupper were the first to photograph Red Goshawks.  Several photographs showed characteristics of the bird that bore out Greg’s statement that it was not a goshawk.  These included its size/heavy-breasted body and, in particular, its broad-shouldered wings standing out from the body when resting, in contrast to the smaller, closer and neatly body-hugging wings of the goshawk.
Silvester Diggles described the bird as a well-apportioned, powerful predator.     There are three types of raptor: 1) those that soar, characterised by broad wings with outspread fingers, 2) those that skulk – goshawks and sparrowhawks, with rounded wings and good speed over short distances, and 3) falcons, with their characteristic narrow, pointed wings.  The Red Goshawk fits neatly into none of these – it can exhibit any of these features.  It has a prominent, eagle-like head;  the tarsus is bare (unfeathered) thick, long and yellow and the talons very big.  In flight the big legs are visible, whereas with eagles they are not (being feathered).
  Studies have found that the Red Goshawk requires an area of 180-220 sq km. On taking off, it will ‘power up’ to gain altitude, then glide off in a straight line, covering 3-7 km in that glide.
  The nest is in a tall tree, about 25-30 metres up, on a substantial branch that is more or less horizontal, tucked up against a vertical branch.  It is a large, untidy nest with a lot of air space underneath (for the bird to manoeuvre in).  The male does most of the nest building, laying down a platform of fresh sticks about 1 cm in diameter, 70cm to 1m long, with the small twigs trimmed off it.  When the nest of these sticks is built up, the female, if she approves, will add the smaller twigs, leaves etc.  If she doesn’t, he has to start again elsewhere.  Unlike with other birds, the ground underneath the nests is very clean and clear of faeces splats and food debris – any bones are picked clean.
  Areas where they may be found include Iron Range, Undara, Porcupine Gorge, Lawn Hills and, further south, the Conondales.  These are woodland, open forest areas in the foothills of the main ranges and escarpment country; areas of Eucalyptus tetradonta or E. tereticornis associations.  However, in 19C literature (Diggles) they were collected in Moreton Bay settlement and other areas up the coast.  These areas have of course been cleared, but it led Greg to look in the untouched coastal woodlands of northern Cape York and he found them there.  In winter they seem to come out into the lowland woodland areas.
   They will use stealth to creep up on their bird or animal prey but can also chase a bird or a flock of birds (e.g. lorikeets or currawongs) along a road or a creek.  The areas where they are found are areas of high biodiversity, and in most places there are other raptors in the area, seemingly living without competition.  Clearing of forests is undoubtedly a reason for their decline.  Another significant factor may be the increased presence of Black-breasted Buzzards which are nest raiders, taking nest material and later killing chicks.  The calls of the Red Goshawk are more like a throaty Peregrine call than the squeakier goshawk calls.
  Finally, Greg felt that this bird is an Australian ikon and could be used as such  to flag the importance of conserving woodland habitats.

A Tourist's View of East and Southern Africa by  Joan and Alan Cribb

GENERAL MEETING REPORT: August 19   

At this meeting Joan and Alan Cribb gave us a Cribbs’ eye tourist view of East and southern Africa, concentrating on animals, Joan on the herbivores and Alan on the carnivores and birds.  Countries covered were Kenya and Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Namibia.
   Joan began with the sand dunes of Namibia, where the unusual cone-bearing plant grows, Welwitschia, its two large leaves of over 3 m length forming a large bouquet-shaped clump. Another area near the coast sported a lichen field.  Both these derive their moisture from sea mists.  Then followed a sequence of large animal photographs, with much relevant information about each.  For example, the skin on the large ears of elephants is thin and a cooling device, and the trunk has 100,000 muscles in it, some very small, which makes it so very efficient.  The White Rhino is a grazing animal and has a wide mouth while the Black is a browser of trees and has a narrow mouth.  Hippos can hold their breath for 6 minutes under water. Different species and subspecies of Giraffes and Zebras have different patterns, and these were quite beautiful.  Giraffe tongues are 18 inches long and can cope with huge thorns on the acacias they browse.  Close-up photos showed the size of buffalo horns, Wart Hogs going down on their hair-padded knees to graze, and the ‘smile’ of the Hyrax that lives on rocky hillsides. There is a tremendous variety of antelope and Joan showed slides of the Eland, with 2 twisted horns, the Great Kudu with spiral horns, the Oryx in semi-arid woodland, the Sable Antelope with big curved horns, the graceful Impala, dainty Springboks of the very dry country in southern Africa, Thomson’s Gazelle of East Africa, the Giraffe Antelope with  its long neck, the Dik-dik (the smallest), and the Topi standing lookout on a termite mound.  The more familiar Wildebeest were the last animals shown.
  Alan also began with a little vegetation of which there are two common types: (1) sparsely treed grassy plains, and (2) low, often dense shrubby plants and small trees, dominated by acacias.  One photo showed a mass of galls on a spiny acacia, the galls occupied by ants that derive nectar from the leaves while protecting the plant from browsers. A tse-tse fly on the vehicle window was photographed but otherwise avoided.  The remainder of the talk covered birds and mammals.  Of the birds, we were treated to photographs of many different species of weavers and their nests; hornbills, with a female being walled in to nest, and the largest, the Ground Hornbill feeding on the ground; Guinea Fowls in their natural state; the two species of Flamingoes (the Rift Valley has about 3 million, half the world’s population); the handsome Saddle-billed Stork and the not so handsome, hunched Maribou; the unusual Secretary bird that walks, stilt-legged, in grasslands hunting for its prey and nests on a flat-topped tree; vultures, of which there are 6 species – different species prefer different areas of the carcase and some aren’t fussy about where they delve for it; and the Ostrich that can run 15 km/ hour.  Then a couple of shots of the Nile Crocodile basking.
   Mammals included the common Vervet Monkeys, Baboons that live in troupes; the Bat-eared Fox (two at the entrance of a lair), three species of jackal; Spotted Hyena which are very effective hunters; the cheetah, fastest land animal in the world attaining a speed of 110-120 km/hr if only for a few seconds; leopards that take their prey up into trees and finally, lions that live about 15 years – finishing with a beautiful shot of a group of female lions and their cubs greeting each other.
Superb photographs with a wealth of information in a delightful presentation.

EXCURSION REPORT: Tarome, 8-10 June 2002

This June excursion was held on the Tarome property of Des and Beth Johnson of Aratula.  The campsite was an attractive family campsite beside Warrill Creek off Hinricksen Road.  The grazing cattle ensured that we had a well manicured site, despite the assorted cow pats.  The towering Casuarina cunninghamiana and Melaleuca bracteata above, together with the escarpments of the Main Range to our west, provided a picturesque environment for our camp.  The property is approximately 2,500 acres of hills of varying steepness adjacent to the eastern boundary of the Main Range National Park.  Most of the property is managed for beef cattle grazing, with some paddocks carrying dense stands of native grasses, including Black Speargrass (Heteropogon contortus).
   We discovered on the first morning (Saturday) that there had been enough rain on the Friday evening to render the vehicle tracks on the hilly parts of the property too dangerous to travel in the 4WD vehicles.  Members decided instead to set up camp leisurely and go for a walk up Warrill Creek after an earlier lunch.  A narrow strip of riparian vegetation has been left along the creek which, despite the drought, was carrying a good water flow.  This environment attracts many birds, especially honeyeaters.  This is not surprising as the mistletoe, Amyema cambagei, was in flower on Casuarina cunninghamiana. The Golden Mistletoe, Nothothixos subaureus, was found parasitising the former mistletoe, and high in the crowns of some M. bracteata was a third mistletoe, probably, N. incanus.
This first day was overcast and mild, with low cloud which rolled up and down the Main Range escarpment.  That evening we received some light rain and strong south-west winds – as forecast – but due to our proximity to the mountains, the winds also blew in many other directions as well.
   The clear skies next morning allowed the morning light to brighten up the yellow leaves on the White Cedars against the backdrops of other vegetation on the now blue mountain range.  The whole party set off after breakfast to follow up a side creek known locally as Rocky Creek.  Like Warrill Creek, it was  carrying some clear water and the riparian vegetation was much the same.  The paddocks on this part of the property were not being grazed, so there was a dense cover of grasses which were in good condition despite the season and drought.  More grass frequenting birds, including Golden-headed Cisticolas and Tawny Grassbirds were seen, but it was unfortunate to find plenty of damage by feral pigs.  During the day portions of the group either dropped off or went further afield to pursue their own specific interests.  The majority of members left the creek to have morning tea on a steep grassy ridge and after enjoying the 360  views we joined the vehicle track that we had intended driving but were prevented from doing by the light rain.  This track was followed to its end in a Brush Box (known locally as Pink Box) forest.  Over one more ridge and we descended into the rainforest in Main Range National Park.  This forest has extended about 60 metres into the former open eucalypt forest in the past 40 years.  It is hoped that we may be able to revisit this property in the near future and spend more time in the rainforests below the escarpments.  This day’s walk was exceptionally long for Queensland Naturalists – approximately 9.5 km, not accounting for all the up and down hills on the way.
   Those members who were able to stay for the Monday’s walk continued further up Warrill Creek beyond that traversed on the first day.  The further extent of the walk brought us into more rainforest vegetation but travelling was more difficult due to rock conditions and increased lantana growth.
   The 21 members who were able to take part enjoyed their experiences and are thankful to Des and Beth Johnson for making their property available to us and for joining us on the second night to share some of their experiences and knowledge around the campfires near the old gnarled red cedar (which some members would have loved to have in their own places).
   And for a few more statistics: 124 plant species were recorded by David Hanger, and Ray Leggett listed 55 species of birds that kept us company at various times of our stay at Tarome.            Barry Jahnke

EXCURSION REPORT: Minnippi Parklands, Tingalpa, July 14 2002

Sunday morning started out overcast with patchy drizzle but 22 members arrived early at Minnippi Parklands and the weather improved during the morning.  It was very pleasant to have some young members present, with the Hortons being represented by three generations!  Our focus for the morning was to be on waterbirds and waterplants.
   I have being visiting the area regularly over the past three years and have a bird list of about 125 species.  During the morning we saw 51 species and added a new one to the list as a Swamp Harrier flew over.  As usual, there were a good variety of waterbirds present including Comb﷓crested Jacanas, Black﷓winged Stilts and Black Swans.  We also had some excellent views, through the telescope, of a male Scarlet Honeyeater, which repeatedly returned to its perch on a dead tree, an Olive﷓backed Oriole and a Glossy Ibis.
   Unfortunately Cathy Stephens, the co﷓author of the recently published Wetland Plants of Queensland, was unable to be present due to a bad bout of ’flu.  We had a preliminary plant list of about 60 plants for the area but the enthusiastic efforts of several members and the subsequent determinations by Megan Thomas at the Queensland Herbarium has increased this by a further 27 species.  No doubt there are many more to be discovered here.  Some of the highlights were the Foambark,  Jagera pseudorhus, with good crops of rusty﷓brown fruits and the Milky Mangrove, Excoecaria agallocha and Mangrove Fern Acrostichum speciosum seen along the small boardwalk.  We had interesting discussions on the identity of a eucalypt which later turned out to be a grey ironbark Eucalyptus siderophloia and whether the floating fern was Azolla filiculoides or A. pinnata. It was subsequently confirmed as A. pinnata.
   We finished the outing with morning tea on the lawns, overlooking the lake.  It had taken us nearly three hours to walk the couple of kilometres around the lake  but that’s’s a good Nats pace and I think that we had all found something of interest.  Although it is heavily used by the public, Minnippi is an excellent place for nature in the suburbs.  Unfortunately many of the plants recorded are exotic weeds and there is need for some active care of the native vegetation.
                                                                            Peter Woodall

Book  Review

Kerle, Anne: Possums: The Brushtails, Ringtails and Greater Gliders.      

UNSW Press, Sydney. 128 pp, $39.95.  ISBN 0 86840 419 5
This is a new addition to the Australian Natural History Series published by the University of NSW Press.  The author, Dr Anne Kerle is a consultant biologist who obtained her PhD studying ‘The Northern Brushtail Possum’ and has subsequently worked on studying possum populations from Central Australia to Central West NSW.  She is well known also as a writer for her highly respected Field Guides of Uluru, Kata Tjuta and Watarrka (UNSW Press) and contributions to the text of Mammals of Australia, edited by R. Strahan.  Anne has now written this new book, a first, devoted to describing the natural history of the larger possums of Australia, the Common Brushtail, Mountain Brushtail, Common Ringtail and Western Ringtail possums and the Greater Glider.  These five species are described and discussed in great detail.  Where possible, information is also supplied on the lesser known and habitat restricted possums such as the Scaly-tailed Possum, Common Spotted and Southern Cuscus, Lemuroid, Rock, Green, Daintree and Herbert River Ringtail Possums.
   The book is written and is composed of a brilliant mix of scientific research, historical, general knowledge, observations and habitat requirements, together with the conservation and management of possums in their natural and human environment.
   There is a great deal of accurate information in the nine chapters.  Most chapters have a good selection of black and white photographs, graphic prints, line drawings, Australian distribution maps, graphs, skeleton skulls, paw prints and scat drawings.  A block assembly of eighteen quality colour plates is situated in Chapter 4.
   The outline of the nine chapters is: 1. ‘Brushtail and Ringtail Possums and Their Relatives’, covering what’s in a name, what is a possum and the six families of possums; 2. ‘Possums and People’ –  the extremely important part of the interwoven spiritual and physical lives of Aboriginal people and the last 200 years since the arrival of the first fleet in 1788; 3. ‘Evolution, Form and Function’; 4. ‘The Species of Large Australian Possums’ – Phalangeridae and Pseudocheiridae; 5.’Where Possums Live’ – habitat; 6. ‘Food and Nutrition’ – food choice and digestive systems; 7. ‘Breeding and Life History’; 8. ‘Interactions Between Possums’ – communications and social behaviour; 9. ‘Living with Possums’ – are possums common?, possums in natural and urban areas, predators and parasites.
   Having a personal interest in possums, mainly gliding possums, I have found this book to be very readable, informative and interesting, and it should be a useful addition to the library of any person with an interest in possums or native wildlife, both for personal study and scientific research.
   The only reservations I have about the book are in the production layout.  To extract all the information abut the Common Brushtail Possum, one would need to read at least seven of the nine chapters.  The block use of colour plates would be more useful if distributed throughout the book.
   This book on larger possums will make an excellent addition to the Australian Natural History Series.                    Noel Chopping

Mangroves to Mountains:

A field guide to the native plants of the Logan-Albert Rivers catchment. Logan River Branch SGAP (Qld         Region) Inc.  $45.
This field guide of 384 pages contains over a thousand excellent photographs of the native plants that grow in the catchment of the Logan-Albert River.  Added to this there are photographs of the five broad habitat types encountered: Tidal Wetlands; Freshwater Wetlands; Eucalypt Forest; Rainforest and Mountain Tops.  These five habitat types are colour coded on the page edges to allow quick reference.  In addition, colour coding has been used on the tops of the pages to give a quick reference to the flower colour of a particular plant.
   Each plant photograph has useful information to help a quick identification, i.e. the size the plant grows, time of flowering, soil type, leaf position and characters which help to separate the plant from similar species.  Some line drawings are provided to help with identification when considered helpful by the authors.
   A chapter on rare and threatened plants of the catchment is found at the end of the guide, as well as a glossary of botanical terms and an index of both scientific names and common names when one is recognised for the plant.
   The last three pages have maps of the catchment: 1. showing the catchment area with the rives and creeks, towns and highway; 2. a pre-clearing vegetation map; and 3. 1997 remnant vegetation.
   I field tested this book both in an area of bushland near Beenleigh and in forest at Mapleton and found it a very valuable tool for the recognition of the trees, shrubs and small ground cover plants I encountered.  It is probably the best field guide I have ever used as it is compact and it allows quick reference to the plant you wish to identify by separating plants into their preferred habitat and soil type.  If the plant is in flower, there is a cross-reference from the habitat type to the flower colour for a quick ID.
   As a natural history consultant I find this book an excellent addition to my field library, resulting in a saving in time by achieving a positive ID in the field and an avoidance of taking as many specimens as I have previously needed to do.  This book should prove to be very popular with all bush ramblers who enjoy the south-east corner of Queensland.  It is available from the Jacob’s Well Environmental Centre Advisory Council, 843 Jacobs Well/Pimpana Road, Norwell 4208, ph & fax 5546 2316.  Cost $46.50 includes postage.  Cheques to be made out the Advisory Council.                Ray Leggett
 

NATURE   NOTES

No. 779    Rainbow Lorikeets on a diet

On Friday, 21 June, 2002, at about 4.30 p.m., on a fine, cool, clear day, I noticed about 12-15 Rainbow Lorikeets in a Parkinsonia aculeata tree about 5 m tall, situated in the Mt Coot-tha Botanic Gardens.
   This is an introduced tree that has become a significant weed along watercourses in central Australia.  The tree has pinnate leaves, with very small leaflets about 2-4 mm long.  It belongs to the Cassia family (Papilionaceae).  There were no flowers or seeds present on the tree.
   The birds were quite active, giving the impression that they were feeding on something – possibly a sugary secretion from scale insects or aphids or thrips.  However, a close examination of the plant after the birds had left revealed no sign of any insect or disease present.  It seems that the birds were picking off the individual leaflets and eating them.
   I’ve heard of dogs eating grass for their continued good health; maybe Rainbow Lorikeets stay healthy with a diet of Parkinsonia leaves.    David Hanger
Ed. Note: I thought I had written a nature note a few years ago about Pale-headed Rosellas but I couldn’t find it, so it obviously didn’t progress past the intention stage.  The occasion was of Pale-headed Rosellas coming down to eat the very green and semi-fleshy leaves of a vine that Megan kindly had identified for me.  I have forgotten the full name but it was a non-native  Senecio sp.  The birds came down every day for about a week, two years running.  The plant was not considered particularly desirable in our garden as it tends to become somewhat rampant, but we left it for the birds; however, when they didn’t come to eat it for a few years we pulled it out.  Then last summer I again saw  a pair of Pale-headed Rosellas down on the ground, this time eating the leaves of Gazanias, which they obviously relished as they came back several days in a row, as they had done with the Senecios.  
   It does seem as if David’s point is valid; the birds must be finding something in the leaves that supplements their usual diet.  H.H.