Crested Hawk

bird in tree
Forced out into the sunshine

I heard some agitation amongst birds in my garden this morning and, looking for its source, I saw signs of a commotion high inside the canopy of our huge old mango tree. I grabbed my camera and watched until a large grey bird emerged, harassed by a few smaller birds, and perched on the tip of branch. The smaller birds (probably White-gaped Honeyeaters, from their alarm calls, but I didn’t see them clearly) quickly gave up the pursuit, allowing their victim to sit and gaze around.

It was clearly a hawk – the hooked beak and huge golden eyes were giveaway enough – but it was one I have never before seen in the garden and only glimpsed elsewhere. Checking Slaters Field Guide afterwards confirmed its identity as a Crested Hawk or Pacific Baza, Aviceda subcristata. The guide book calls it “uncommon to rare” in coastal regions from NSW around to the Kimberley. It is our only crested hawk, so exact identification is easy, and it is about the size of a magpie or kookaburra. Bazas are supposed to feed on frogs, insects and fruit in the treetops but I think this one must have been threatening the honeyeaters’ nest.

grey bird on twig
Looking out from a high branch

It stayed around for long enough to move higher in the mango tree and back again, looking all around from each vantage point before (perhaps) deciding that eggs were not on the menu and flying off.

bird on mango tree
Hmm … I wonder …

I saw another, larger bird of prey soaring high overhead before I put the camera away. It turned out to be a Brahminy Kite, another very handsome bird with its chestnut wings and white head, but it was too far away for a good shot; here is a photo of one on Birdway.

Black Kites at Keelbottom Creek

river with gravelly banks
Keelbottom Creek looking downstream from the bridge on Hervey’s Range Developmental Road

There’s a sharp distinction between coastal and inland landscapes in North Queensland, and you don’t have to go far from Townsville to see it: just drive up Hervey’s Range Road and at the top of the range the vegetation changes to reflect the fact that most of our rain falls on the coastal side of the mountains.

Any rain that falls on the inland side of the watershed runs, eventually, into the mighty Burdekin River, and Keelbottom Creek is one of the Burdekin’s many tributaries. It crosses the Hervey’s Range Road about 25 km from the lookout at the crest of the range and the crossing is a popular camping and fishing spot, especially around the end of the wet season . It’s a good spot for a Wildlife Queensland excursion, too, as we discovered a few weeks ago; visit the local branch’s blog for an account of the visit. (Their next walk is to the Town Common but is fully booked, as of the time of writing.)

I particularly enjoyed the chance to photograph the Black Kites (Milvus migrans) soaring above us and returning to perch in the paperbarks:

hawk in flight
Black Kite against the sky
brown hawk in tree
Black Kite at rest
hawk flying from tree
Taking flight

They are one of our commonest raptors – perhaps the commonest – but birds of prey are notoriously hard to identify at any distance. The clues for the Black Kite are the forked tail (well, the outer feathers are at least longer than the centre ones, and that is the opposite of other hawks) and the fact that the tail is often twisted in flight. They are often seen in flocks, which is also unusual for birds of prey. They are not actually black but they are darker than most of the species they could be mistaken for, and their markings are not as prominent (note, for instance, the darker wingtips of the Whistling Kite here).

creek with trees on banks
Keelbottom Creek looking upstream from the bridge on Hervey’s Range Road


Big sky over Ross River

high cloud over beach at Ross River estuary
Big sky over Ross River estuary, looking roughly southeast towards hills between Mt Elliott and Cape Bowling Green

Ross Creek runs along the edge of the city centre and past Reef HQ Aquarium so I know it well. However, I rarely visit the mouth of Ross River on the other side of South Townsville.

I was in the vicinity last week to recycle some old computer gear so I continued down to the end of Boundary Street for a walk on the beach. The river mouth is very shallow, with wide stretches of sand and extensive mangroves. I enjoyed the clouds, and a couple of Whistling Kites soaring above me. One came close enough for a pleasing photo:

brown hawk soaring overhead
Whistling Kite, Haliastur sphenurus

Down at ground level I found a sleek grey and black wasp going about its business. It turned out to be a Spider Wasp (Pompilidae) and you can see it here on Flickr.