You may remember in the last Bird of the Moment that in April I went to Cumberland Dam near Georgetown in Northern Queensland in the hope of photographing Red-browed Pardalotes but came away instead with photos of nesting Masked Finches. In May I set off on another, longer trip to Mt Isa with several species in my sights, in addition to the Pardalote.
The distance from Townsville to Mt Isa is about 900km/560miles, so I split the journey by staying for a couple of nights at Kooroorinya Reserve, a little gorge 50km/30miles south of Prairie. Kooroorinya’s main claim to fame is that it hosts the annual Oakley amateur horse race and they were preparing for the race during my stay. The satellite image below shows the race track, the Prairie-Muttaburra Road and the oasis created by the gorge in very dry country, which holds water for months in the dry season after the creek has stopped flowing.
A Townsville birder had found nesting Little Eagle and Black-breasted Buzzard there. The Little Eagle is uncommon in North Queensland, and the Black-breasted Buzzard is uncommon generally. So I search diligently along both sides of the creek looking for the nest of raptors. I found several unoccupied nests but these could have been built by Whistling Kites, which were common in the area, and I didn’t initially see any sign of Little Eagles or Black-breasted Buzzards.
It wasn’t until I returned the the campsite near the race track that I saw this Black-breasted Buzzard in the distance perched in a dead tree on the far side of the creek. I went back round to get a closer look at it and when I approached it flew down into a tree with lots of foliage and a nest, just visible in the lower left hand corner of the second photo of the Buzzard. In this photo you can see the characteristic black breast that gives the bird its name, and the short unbarred tail, not as long as the folded wings, which you can see behind the tail.
I left the bird in peace in case it was actually nesting, though laying doesn’t usually start until June. Later that afternoon as I was birding along the creek - there were various birds including Budgerigars - I saw it, or maybe its mate, soaring past in its characteristic hunting mode and exhibiting the striking under-wing pattern with the large white panels at the base of the primary flight feathers.
Black-breasted Buzzards are versatile feeders and will eat mammals, birds, reptiles, carrion and even large insects. I suppose in the arid interior, you eat what you can find. They show a preference for young rabbits, nestlings, lizards and eggs. They will tackle the large eggs of Emus, breaking them either by pounding them with the bill or dropping stones on them. Have a look at this http://www.arkive.org/black-breasted-buzzard/hamirostra-melanosternon/image-G138753.html if you don’t believe me (or even if you do, it’s a great photo of a juvenile BB Buzzard caught red-handed!).
Black-breasted Buzzards are large. They can have a wing-span of up to 1.56m/61in and can weight more than 1,400g/3.1lbs , making them the third heaviest Australian raptor after Wedge-tailed and White-bellied Sea-Eagles. The species in an Australian endemic, the sole member of the genus Hamirostra (‘monotypic’) and apparently related to the Square-tailed Kite, also the sole member of its genus Lophoictinia. Its range includes most of mainland Australia except the higher rainfall areas of eastern and southern Australia and is more common in the north.
I didn’t find any Red-browed Pardalotes (or Little Eagles) at Kooroorinya, so the search continued.
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