We have just returned from ten day road trip to northern New South Wales, and due to the extensive flooding and road damage from recent heavy rains, did not visit all of the birding areas we had planned. We were searching for two of our rarer tall birds, seldom seen in our state, more so in far northern Australia, and we were blessed with a pair of each. Notice the female Jabiru (also known as Black-necked Stalk) has the bright white eye, the male has brown. A White-faced Heron was caught flying off as we approached. These birds stand about 1.1 to 1.3 metres tall, with the male slightly larger. They can be found in most states except South Australia and Tasmania, but are mainly found in any number in northern Queensland and far northern Western Australia. So it was with great excitement when my wife sited them unexpectedly in a wet paddock, on the new Kempsey bi-pass, causing me to quickly pull over on the busy highway.
These beautiful birds glisten in the sun as they look for small reptiles, snakes, frogs, fish, eels etc. They jab their prey with their powerful beak to kill it then swallow it whole. Maybe that’s how they got their name ‘Jab’ iru. Click on pics to enlarge them.
Later that day we stopped near a town where we had seen on eremaea birdline phone app. some weeks ago that Brolga were sighted north of Grafton, so I asked some locals in Maclean and they told me where to look among the sugarcane along the Clarence River (the largest river in mainland Australia, a few days before, flooding the town of Lismore). Lo and behold! my wife again called out with excitement, when we sighted a pair of Brolga in a cow paddock near the sugarcane. We saw many raptors along the river, on the way, but they will be for another time. These elegant birds are known for their beautiful dancing and calling.
The locals told us they do not like being around when it is too wet, but this is the remains of a larger flock which left during the heavy rains. We guess these are male and female. The Sarus Crane is a similar looking bird but has its red extend further down from its face to its neck. It is almost identical otherwise, except smaller. The Brolga stand about the same height as the Jabiru to about 1.3 metres but has a slightly wider wingspan at 2.4 metres. As with the Jabiru, the female is slightly smaller.
We returned a few days later and found the same birds in a nearby paddock in the same area. This time they flew off into the distance. Brolgas are omnivorous, eating bulbs, leaves, seeds, roots, frogs, crustaceans, insects and lizards. They are seldom seen this far south, and this was our first sighting of this bird in the wild.
In the fields nearby was another tall bird which we do not see much in our home areas, the Straw-necked Ibis. We see many of its cousin the Australian White Ibis, which we also saw in our travels and here. This bird is found in small to large flocks in fields eating mainly large insects, especially grasshoppers, aquatic insects, mollusks and frogs.
These birds also have a beautiful iridescent sheen in the sun on their wings. These birds get their name from their breeding plumage which is rough straw-like neck plumage seen remaining in small amounts on occasional birds, as the summer breeding season has passed. Note this in the bird on the right in the following pic, comparing it to the one on the left. These birds are found throughout mainland Australia.
There are taller birds than these including the Spoonbills, Egrets and Heron. We saw all of these on our trip at various times, which will be featured at another time. However, the largest and tallest Australian bird, which is flightless, we also saw several times on our trip in pairs, and that is the Emu.
The Emu stands 1.5 to 2 metres tall and runs extremely fast for long periods of time, dwelling mostly in arid and semi arid regions on grassland plains and farm paddocks, which is where we found ours. One pair left immediately we stopped on the Gwydir Highway, they are just so good runners. The above is female Emu.
Note the difference with this pair, the male at the rear has more exposed facial and neck skin than the female. Below is a male.
Emus are a common sight out west of the ranges in the more arid grassland plains areas, where we were driving, but are found generally throughout mainland Australia, but not Tasmania. The Cassowary is the next largest bird, but was not seen on our trip as it is only found in Far North Queensland, and has been featured in blogs of previous years. This poor female Emu was trapped behind a fence and could not escape. We saw others there in the background and wondered if this was an Emu farm.
As Australians having celebrated ANZAC day last Tuesday, this trapped bird brings to mind the many who suffer unfair incarceration in various parts of the world, purely because of their beliefs and ideologies. Most are loving caring people, trapped by cruel, controlling regimes. Look at the closing photo my wife took of this Brolga in a paddock. We give thanks to God for our freedom, and to those like my dad who gave the best part of their lives to keep it, because they value family life and the loving rule under a God based society, which is rapidly being eroded away, again. As I learnt in my first lecture in history ‘the only thing we learn from history, is that we don’t learn from it.’
But their is a greater freedom than this, which Jesus speaks of and which brings a peace to heart and mind which no man can touch: “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” – John 8:36
Have a great weekend, and some great birding moments. Check out my book if you have not yet done so.