Learning to be a grown-up!

November 1-4
Had an incredible blow in the weather last night; it hit at 11:00pm right as we were trying to fall asleep. For the last two days, the winds have been strong out of the north, then boom, out of the south. Literally, it switched compass bearing by 180 degrees in 3 seconds. I don’t think I’d ever experienced anything quite like it. I thought our camper trailer might tumble away or that the canvas and tent pole annex might catch air and shred itself to pieces. Fortunately, a couple weeks ago when we made camp here at Emerald Beach I rigged everything to endure a big storm. I had double ropes and stakes on the corners and the peak out front was tied to a tree. Good thing the tree didn’t blow over!

Today, Sara stayed back to work on field notes and I went out alone to check whether or not any of our three radio transmitters that we had left 3 days ago, all in promising spots which were highly visible to a passing bowerbird, had been stolen. Too bad for us, none of them had. So according to our new action plan, I retrieved each and deployed them in three different bowers that are in our study area, one no more than a quarter mile from the other. I gently placed each radio, which is still encased inside a blue soda straw, in the actual avenue of the bower. The idea is that Mr. Bowerbird will move it to his decoration stash on his mat and then in a couple of days, another bowerbird will come along and steal it from him! We have good evidence from these three bowers that there is a bit of stealing going on. Most of our deployed blue tape and bamboo skewer decorations have been accounted for here and there as we check the bower, but not all. There are some decorations that have gotten stolen from our deployment stations and vanished from our limited view. We have a sense that there is another bower or two nearby and we hope to find them.

Yesterday when we were up in the bush I set up the GoPro camera at one bower, turned it on video, and left to do other work. Last night when we finally uploaded the video to the computer we were more than pleasantly surprised for not only was there a bowerbird displaying for nearly an hour and a half, but the male was colored with splotches of green and black! This is a sign that he has finally reached maturity, after having lived on the planet for 5-7 years. We had never seen a green and black bird in all our time in the bush. People say they make the transition to all black in a matter of a couple months and so I guess it is the lucky bird watcher that gets to see one in the wild.

Not only is the footage of this green and black bird exquisite but on the video 2 other birds make appearances. One for sure is a young male for he has a yellow bill and only adult males have that. He must be about 5 years old and will probably turn black in a year or so. The other bird that we videotaped was also green, but it had a black bill and therefore can’t really be distinguished from a female. This bird was very busy helping build the bower as well as sit inside the avenue and seem slightly interested in the male’s courtship antics. What’s really going on there? Do female bowerbirds help with the construction? If both the green birds were males, why didn’t the dominant bird chase them away?

It takes a lot of time and practice for a young male to perfect the art of bowerbirding. We’ve seen black males apparently running some type of apprenticeship in bower building, but we wouldn’t expect this kind of behavior to be sanctioned by the adult during breeding season. The male bowerbird runs a tight ship and intentionally tries to attract females for courtship and breeding and destroy his competition’s chances at doing the same. Males will knock each others bowers down and steal valuable decorations from their rivals. This I guess makes it more likely that females will visit their bower and be interested in their song and dance.

The day is cool, no hints of rain, again. Things seem pretty dry. Hope no more bush fires break out. Probably someday soon I’ll be complaining about the torrential monsoon!

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