Goodbye Coomalie…see you in December!

Three months have come and gone since I first landed in the Northern Territory of Australia to being studying the behavioral ecology of red-backed fairy-wrens in the Coomalie Creek region. We have witnessed the progression of the dry season, with both the big and little dams at the farm shriveling to just a fraction of their original size, and the billabong now easily crossable in at least 3 places. All in all it was a very successful season: 108 birds caught and banded, which I thought was a good portion of the birds on the main study site until the penultimate day when I saw at least 12 unbanded birds, including a flock of 6 with 2 bright males and another male molting into bright! Oh well, more birds to catch this coming breeding season…I was sorely tempted to get the netting gear back out of storage and give it one more go, but restrained myself.

On my last afternoon I went down to the billabong and was greeted by contact calls when I had almost reached the platform. YYY et al. were all hanging out in the bamboo closest to the house, and had acquired some new unbanded friends (a slightly spotty male-the only billabong bird with any bright plumage!- and 2 dulls). Since I didn’t have the nets with me, they were of course flying relatively low back and forth between bamboo clumps, and let me get reasonably close. The late afternoon is the perfect time to spend down at the platform, and as I approached I heard the splash of a freshie (I was hoping it would come back out while I was there but had no such luck). Sitting quietly, birds started to appear quietly around the platform to forage, including lemon-bellied flycatchers, a pair of shining monarchs, a little bronze-cuckoo, and an azure kingfisher! It was the perfect last afternoon of what will hopefully be many more to come out here at Coomalie.

As is often the case with field work, this first field season has opened up more questions than it has provided answers, so I am excited to get back in the field this coming wet season and see the division into breeding pairs and what the birds are up to. With birds molting when we first got here and then many molting in July (when we were able to catch them to document it more closely), I will be very curious to come back in future months and learn more about their molt schedule. For the most part, the only really molty birds have been those molting into bright—so when do the dull birds molt?? For now, it is back to the office, with lots of data to sort through, DNA to extract, feathers to spec, and grants to write!

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