Aug 9: Making hay while the sun shines

Much of rural Queensland, along with all of New South Wales is currently experiencing drought conditions. Concern is mounting around the nation for farming families, many of whom are currently struggling physically, mentally, or financially as a result. Oxley Creek Common is taking part in the relief effort by having some of the grassy meadows slashed and made into hay bales that will be trucked out west to help the stricken farm animals. As Steve Murray birded the common this morning, he noticed that one ornithological side effect of this activity was the attraction of several raptors to the area, gorging themselves on invertebrates and small vertebrates exposed as the slashing proceeded. Most noticeable was a group of about a dozen Black Kites, but it must have been a heart-stopping moment for Steve when he noticed what looked like two Black Falcons!!!

Once he had confirmed the identity from his pics, he texted me the news. I was at Carindale library working, and not wanting to waste a moment jumped straight into an Uber that took me home, where I transferred to my trusty battered old Mazda. It was only a 20 minute drive to the common, and I was relieved to see the tractor still working the big paddock by the grassy knoll near the red shed (eBird list). But although there were Black Kites everywhere, and a cracking Brown Falcon taking big invertebrates out of the field whenever it felt like it, the stars of the show had gone missing.

All of a sudden, at about 2.45, a commotion broke out among the Torresian Crows, and I heard a shrill raptor call. Two Black Falcons had burst onto the scene and were dashing about over the paddock, ending up circling over my head before drifting further east beyond the pylons. A Brisbane lifer! I simply couldn’t believe I’d connected. After the madcap runaround earlier in the year with various folks (mainly Ged Tranter) seeing Black Falcons at various places in eastern Brisbane and me dipping them at every opportunity, I thought the chance to see this species had gone.

I took in the features of the birds as it’s not a common species, and definitely confusable with Brown Falcon. I wanted to use the chance to make sure I would recognise one if I found one myself. Chocolate brown all over, no hint of eyedrop patterning on the face, soaring only on flat wings, a slim but powerful body, broad wings with coverts darker than flight feathers, unbarred tail. But in many ways, their flight action was the most immediately distinctive feature. Unlike the lazy and ponderous Brown Falcon, these things were energetically dashing about, diving, circling, always moving at high speed, and always seemingly scaring the life out of other birds there. A flock of Torresian Crows continuously harassed the Black Falcons, and the Noisy Miners went crazy when they were near. A brilliant spectacle that is etched onto my retina forever.

At 3pm, the birds flew higher and disappeared off to the west, directly into the sun. They hadn’t returned by 3.25pm when I had to leave, and I felt sorry for Brad Woodworth, who had turned up to look for them just after 3pm. I later heard that the birds returned after 3.30, and showed for Brad and Esther Horton-Van Der Woude, so all’s well that ends well.

With one year tick today (Black Falcon), my year list moved up to 294 species. I spent 48 minutes birding, walked 0 km and drove 29.0 km. My chronological year list is here.

Black Falcon, showing slim body profile, relatively small head, broad wings tapering to narrow points, with coverts darker than remiges, unbarred tail, unmarked face, and feet falling well short of the tips of the undertail coverts.