The boobook owl is found throughout the Ballarat region, from open farmland through to dense forest.
Mature pairs are resident, staying together year-round in their permanent territories, but immature and unattached birds move far and wide during winter.
It is probably one of these unattached birds that has spent a few weeks at Miners Rest. Sheltering in a moderately dense, fine-leaved eucalypt in a backyard, it can be easily viewed each day.
Judging from previous garden sightings of other years, it will probably end its visit soon. Single boobooks typically select a spot in a garden and remain there for several or many weeks. These suburban owls depart as spring approaches, and they never return in following years.
A suburban boobook's main food during winter would be mice, beetles, cockroaches and moths as well as sparrows, starlings and other small birds.
The southern boobook (to give it its proper title) normally roosts in densely foliaged trees, but has been known to roost during the day in hollows. Pairs sometimes perch together during the day, but at other times they may roost separately. No second bird has been noticed at Miners Rest.
Although quite a vocal bird, often heard at night, its status in the Ballarat region is difficult to determine.
It is probably moderately common, despite being infrequently seen.
The boobook is the nocturnal bird that makes the double "mo-poke" or "boo-book" call. The tawny frogmouth's call is different.
The boobook owl is not a large bird, similar in size to a domestic pigeon. Its large rounded head and short tail are distinctive. It usually perches in the upright posture shown in today's picture.
The householders at Miners Rest have been enjoying having their unexpected winter visitor.
The reed warbler is a migrant here, normally arriving at Lake Wendouree in the last week of August, so one in full song was a surprise last weekend.
Its early arrival may be due to the comparatively mild and sunny winter experienced so far.
Nearby is a little raven's nest, now appearing complete, after a few weeks' building. Will this bird lay eggs now, or will she put everything "on hold" as soon as the usual wintry weather arrives?
Fortunately, the nest is not difficult to view, with a sitting bird readily visible in the currently bare and unsheltered treetop.
Little ravens often start building in the last week of June, but chicks do not seem to appear until much later.
NATURE QUERIES ANSWERED
While walking our dog on a recent evening, I thought I heard a blackbird singing. This seems very early.
V.E., Ballarat West.
The first singing blackbirds are often heard in late June or July. Dawn or dusk is the typical time chosen by these early songsters, which sing in a more subdued manner than they do in spring.
This early song is probably territorial, letting other blackbirds know the territory is taken. It is not likely to be an indication of imminent nesting. The full-throated, melodious warbling song will occur in October and November, at which time blackbirds will be nesting.
The early song, while quieter, is a delight to hear, especially in calm conditions at dawn and dusk.
Blackbirds can sing right through until the first week of January.
- Questions and photos are welcome. Send to Roger Thomas at The Courier, PO Box 21, Ballarat, 3353, or email to firstname.lastname@example.org