The birds

Dear Jemicy M Group,

I’ve been thinking about you and the hard work you are doing on your Jemicy science fair projects on ocean animals. Your roving reporter in Tasmania has a preliminary report (and also some questions…) for you based on her field research! I’ve seen lots of interesting marine life here with the Southern Ocean before me, but, as you can imagine, the birds always catch my attention. On my Flickr page, there is an album of all the Tasmanian birds that have let me get close enough to photograph them, but here are a few highlights of some local water-loving birds:

silver gull Larus novaehollandiae

Silver gull (Larus novaehollandiae): This is a common bird found all around Australia and New Zealand, on both the coasts and inland. It was the first shorebird that I saw on Roaring Beach, and I loved watching how it navigated the surf looking for small invertebrates that were washing up. Its bright red-orange bill and legs stand out against its silvery plumage. The ones I see here seem to start off in a flock in the morning, but by late afternoon they are working the beach on their own. Please note the “novaehollandiae” in the Latin name. It means “New Holland,” and many of the birds here have that as part of their scientific name. See if you can figure out why!

pied oystercatcher Haematopus longirostris

sooty oystercatcher Haematopus fuliginosus

There are two species of oystercatcher here: pied (black and white, Haematopus longirostris) and sooty (black, Haematopus fuliginosus). There is one pair of pied oystercatchers that has been on Roaring Beach consistently for the past month. They stay close to each other, moving along the surf from one end of the beach to the other, flying low and landing on rocks exposed by low tide. Recently another solitary oystercatcher has appeared – a sooty. I watched it yesterday picking up some kind of food – maybe a crab? – from the rocks, then flying out to the tide pools, where it repeatedly dropped the food into one pool after another. It finally flew off with the food before I could get a closer look. What was it doing?

Black-faced cormorant Phalacrocorax fuscescens

cormorant

Many of you will have seen cormorants before around the Chesapeake Bay – diving birds that perch like statues on docks or rocks. These are black-faced cormorants (Phalacrocorax fuscescens), common throughout this region. You often see them standing tall with wings outstretched. Why?

short-tailed shearwater Puffinus tenuirostris

Buller's albatross Diomedea bulleri

On our boat trip around the Tasman Peninsula, as we rounded the cliffs and headed out into open water toward Tasman Island, flocks of short-tailed shearwater (Puffinus tenuirostris) flew past us, skimming the water. They were incredibly agile and beautiful to watch. The boat crew told us that these birds have one of the longest migrations – can you find their migration path? There were several Buller’s albatross (Diomedea bulleri) that accompanied us as well, soaring alongside the boat and keeping an eye out for fish. How long do you think an albatross can soar without landing?

Do you remember when we watched a video of a white-bellied sea eagle (Haliaeetus leucogaster) eating a venomous sea snake? I haven’t seen anything that dramatic here; in fact, it’s rare to get a glimpse of these beautiful birds. There is one that we see occasionally perched in a dead tree high on the cliffs above the beach. I spent an hour one day watching it (through binoculars) being dive-bombed by gulls, very much like the mockingbird-hawk scenario I photographed one time in Maryland. The eagle was at least twice as big as the gulls, but it just huddled in the tree as they swooped and harassed it. The best view I got of an eagle was on our boat trip around the peninsula. A pair was sitting near the shore with something they had caught, and as we pulled in close, the crew joked, “See? We told you she’d have the best perch!” I’m betting that Alex will get that one!

And finally, even though it is technically not a marine species, I have to include the Tasmanian native-hen (Gallinula mortierii) as one of my favorites, because it is one of the few truly endemic species I’ve seen. These flightless birds stroll around in flocks, kind of like chickens, making squawky, hoarse noises. I was so used to thinking of them as chickens, in fact, that I was surprised the day I found one swimming in a river. But they actually are quite at home in freshwater habitats. So, my final question for you is, why did the native-hen cross the road?

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