Whether a recent sighting of a red-backed kingfisher is a sign of dry inland conditions is hard to tell, but it is quite likely.
A single red-backed kingfisher was discovered at Bo Peep, near Burrumbeet, last weekend. It is the fifth local record since the first in November 1977.
Today’s photo shows why this bird is so named. The rusty back and rump are the main features distinguishing the red-backed kingfisher from the otherwise similar sacred kingfisher.
The latter is a regular migrant here in spring and summer, but the red-backed kingfisher is a vagrant, unpredictable in its southern Victorian occurrences.
The recent bird was present for the whole weekend and was seen by a dozen or more keen bird watchers, some of whom had never seen the species before. Most had not seen it in the Ballarat district. Judging from past local visits, it will probably stay for a week or two and then move elsewhere.
Previous reports have been wide-ranging: at Ballan, Invermay, Pittong and Clunes. These have all involved single birds that perched mostly on overhead wires. There has been no breeding locally.
The red-backed kingfisher is normally a bird of dry inland Australia. It is not a “fisher”, because it needs no standing water for its day-to-day survival. Its main food is skinks, beetles, crickets, grasshoppers and similar ground-dwelling creatures.
It is a migrant to southern parts of its range in spring. The current bird has migrated further south than usual. Regular movements occur to northern Victoria each year.
Because it is similar in size and shape to the sacred kingfisher, it could be easily dismissed as that species.
As well as its rusty back and rump – which are not always easy to see – it has a few other diagnostic features. These include its striped crown, its whiter breast and its very different whistling call.
A few other local bird reports in the past few months might be a result of dry conditions inland. Peaceful dove, black honeyeater and singing honeyeater are examples. There have been more brown songlarks and white-browed and masked woodswallows too.
A collection of six orchid photos from local bushland shows a range of species, from tiny bronze caladenias through to slender, salmon and dotted sun-orchids, yellow rabbit-ears, and pink fingers.
While bush orchids can be found at almost any time of year, mid-October to mid-November is the time for the most variety and the largest number. Unfortunately, the dry winter and spring has rather reduced their number this year.