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Bird of the Moment

#581 Night Birds: 1 May 2018

If you can remember that far back, the last bird of the moment was Eastern Grass Owl found during a spot-lighting trip to the Townsville Town Common led by local night-bird expert and pillar of BirdLife Townsville Ian Boyd.

Photo of Name rufous_owl_183768

At the time, Ian was refusing to be discouraged by pancreatic cancer, an attitude that we all admired until his death on 23rd of February. Typically undaunted he gave a presentation on his favourite topic, Night Birds at the BirdLife Townsville AGM on the 10th of February although he had less than a couple of weeks to live. Isolated by flood waters in Bluewater, I couldn’t attend the funeral on 1st March so here is a photographic tribute to him instead.

Photo of Name aus_owlet_nightjar_184612

I got to know him well during his last year or and am left with some precious memories of searching for night birds with him. So let’s go birding together while I share three special occasions with you.

Photo of Name tawny_frogmouth_184615

The first was when a birding friend and photographer from Mt Isa was visiting Townsville and wanted to photograph a Rufous Owl. I contacted Ian Boyd and he took us to an active nesting site on a hot afternoon at the end of October. There he showed us the two adults which we photographed (one of them is in the first photo) and our visitor from Mt Isa returned to the site later and got a photo of a fledgling peering out of the tree hollow.

Photo of Name eastern_grass_owl_184619

The second was the occasion when we found the female Eastern Grass Owl at the Townsville Town Common which featured as the last Bird of the Moment. At the time our goal was to search for Spotted Nightjars which are supposed to occur occasionally along the Freshwater Track that goes across the grassy, saltbush flats between Bald Rock and the Freshwater hide (see this map. We drove across the Town Common arriving at Shelley Beach on the northern side at sunset and then drove slowly back in darkness checking for night birds as we went along.

Photo of Name large_tail_nightjar_184639

The first stretch of riverine forest on the Shelley Beach Trail produced a remarkable five Owlet Nightjars (second photo) and a single male Tawny Frogmouth (third photo). Male Tawny Frogmouths have silvery grey, strongly marbled plumage. We had only just started along the Freshwater Track when the cry went up ‘Barn Owl’ but we quickly realised that the Tyto Owl beside the track was a female Eastern Grass Owl (fourth photo).

Photo of Name barking_owl_184649

There was no sign of any Spotted Nightjars - we suspect that they are more like to be found in the dry winter months - but at the start of the Freshwater Lagoon Road south of the Freshwater hide, we found a Large-tailed Nightjar (fifth photo). This species is the commonest Nightjar around Townsville and is well known for its persistent, loud ‘chop chop’ call that gives it the colloquial name of Carpenter or Axe Bird.

Photo of Name tawny_frogmouth_184678

Finally, along the track between Payet’s Tower and the Forest Walk, a Barking Owl (sixth photo) represented the only remaining Australian night bird family for the evening - Aegothelidae (Owlet NIghtjars), Podargidae (Frogmouths), Tytonidae (Barn Owls), Caprimulgidae (Nightjars) and Strigidae (Hawk Owls). I’m following the IOC and BirdLife International in lumping the Nightjars and Eared-Nightjars into a single family.

Photo of Name tawny_frogmouth_184686

We repeated the spotlighting at the Town Common a week later. This time we found one or two Owlet Nightjars along the Shelley Beach Trail, but Tawny Frogmouths were out in force. The seventh photo shows a female; females are often rufous like this one but always have plainer less marked plumage than the males. The eight photo shows a remarkably approachable male Tawny Frogmouth.

Photo of Name barn_owl_184720

This time there was no sign of the Eastern Grass Owl (or Spotted NIghtjars) and the surprise of the night was a Barn Owl perched in a tree along the stretch where we’d found the Barking Owl the previous week (ninth photo). This bird seemed unbothered by our spot- and flash-lights and when it did leave it did so to plunge into the undergrowth after some prey.

That was the last time I went birding with Ian Boyd. He is greatly missed by his wife Robyn, the rest of his family and all us bird watchers who appreciated his generosity, warmth, leadership and enthusiasm. I’ll treasure these great memories of birding with him during his last few months with us. Thank you, Ian Boyd

Greetings
Ian

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Page revised on 10 December 2018