HAWKS AND A SNAKE STEAL THE LIMELIGHT by ANNE WILKINSON
This has been a week of surprises.
First, while a friend was visiting for a cup of coffee, the sound of a heavy bird landing in the big lime tree outside the window alerted us to the arrival of a crested hawk – the first I had seen this year.
We both rushed to the window and there it was, appearing thoroughly at home on a branch that was still slightly swaying.
Also called a Pacific baza, this elegant hawk with the little curved crest, bright yellow eyes, and striped chest feeds mainly on insects, though reptiles, frogs and small mammals also form part of its diet.
The Wildwatch forest, now depleted from Cyclone Yasi, used to be regularly visited by a baza and it was good to see one here again. Of course I wondered if it is the same bird that I used to see. It certainly seemed to know its way around and took very little notice of me.
Perhaps in hoping it is and that it survived the cyclone I am being somewhat whimsical, but questions like these point out how little we really know about our wildlife. How long, for example, is the natural lifespan of such a hawk?
As has happened before, it was here for a couple of days and now appears to have moved on.
But the baza’s appearance was not all that happened that morning.
After saying goodbye to our friend, I went back indoors to be alerted by a terrific racket in the carport. Only too recognizable was the aggravated squawking of a black butcher bird – a bird which was never here on the block before the cyclone.
Thinking a rescue of some small creature might be in order I went out to find the cause of its outrage was a long grass snake gliding along the shelf above the sink. I could hear the rasping of its scales on the paintwork.
The butcher bird had gone but the snake turned rapidly along the windowsill and forced its way into the house through a hole in the flyscreen that I thought I had fixed! Down the wall it went, across the floor and into a room we use as a spare bedroom.
This presented another mystery.
When I was packing up to move out for the builders following the cyclone I had found a large snake curled up in a box of linen in this particular room. We had relocated it to forest several kilometres away but could it possibly be the same one? It doesn’t seem likely. Then again, did we take it far enough?
The snake, incidentally, glowed with a beautiful rich blue bloom.
A visit to our friend Yvonne Cunningham in her beautiful riverside nursery and garden at Coquette Point revealed another unexpected visitor of the creature kind.
Yvonne had already told us of the collared sparrowhawk she had seen for the first time in the nursery and as we walked through this spectacular bird flew over again.
It looked not unlike the Pacific baza but had no crest, though its chest was striped.
It was exciting to see it and Yvonne grabbed her camera as it landed on a branch of a dead tree.
Research proved the breeding season of sparrowhawks, speedy and lethal hunters which often take prey in the air, begins in July, with three young usually being raised.
As their name indicates, these birds are often hunters of other birds. Parrots and cuckoo-shrikes, for example, are included in their diet, as well as smaller birds. They are also “catch as catch can” feeders of small mammals, lizards and large insects.
Like the baza, the adult collared sparrowhawk has bright yellow eyes.
As the sparrowhawk flew over, there seemed to be a rush of activity among smaller birds such as orioles which were flitting swiftly between the shrubs, perhaps made uneasy by its presence.
We stood for a moment among all this activity, reflecting how taking time to watch opens up so many wildlife doors and can, indeed, answer questions.
One thing is certain, there is always a lot going on.
Wildwatch is provided by the Tully branch of the Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland: enquiries to 4066 5466 or 4066 5650. To contact the emergency 24-hour Wildcare hotline, phone 0439 687 272. Phone DERM on 1300 130 372 to report concerns about cassowaries and mahogany gliders.
PIC: Collared sparrowhawk:
SPEEDY HUNTER: The collared sparrowhawk is a beautiful bird but lethal to other birds. This one landed in Yvonne Cunningham’s garden at Coquette Point. Fortunately, she had her camera.
PIC: Pacific Crested Hawk – Mungarru Lodge Sanctuary Daryl Dickson
PIC: Green Tree Snake, Blue Morph – Mungarru Lodge Sanctuary Daryl Dickson