As some of you know, my wife and I recently returned from a roadtrip to northern NSW and a lovely time birding along the Clarence River, the largest river in mainland Australia. We spend a couple of nights staying right on the river and took a cruise along the river from Yamba to the highway bridge, near one of the last working sugar refineries on the river.
Raptors made up the main birds viewed along the river either by car or boat. In fact, one of the best ways to view raptors is by taking a river cruise, as many of them include fish and sea birds in their died. The five types we saw include the White-bellied Sea Eagle, Osprey , Whistling Kite, Brahminy Kite and Little Eagle. The Osprey were our first raptor sighted along the river by the sugarcane fields. Osprey are also known as Fish Eagle, Sea Hawk or River Hawk. Osprey have unique opposing talons, which make for easily holding and killing slippery fish, but they do look awkward landing on flat surfaces.
We found this pair eating their fish breakfast on the edge of the river. Click on photos to enlarge.
As many of my bird blogging friends know, and have posted, Osprey are found throughout the world, and are not limited to Australia. We are familiar with the unusual places they build their nests, including power poles and the like. We passed one such nest on our cruise. Our presence generated immediate response from a nearby parent. I was quite impressed by the engineering design of this particular nest.
Australia’s most prominent native river raptor is of course our second largest raptor, the White-bellied Sea Eagle, a bird I have had a close relationship with in previous years. In a cloudless sky in full sun they magnificent as they glide the thermals over the river. You need to know that these photos are taken from the boat at a long distance.
We also saw a juvenile Sea Eagle with its mottled brown plumage. Sea eagles can be aged during their first three years as they mature, by their plumage. This one is less than a year old.
We were doubly blessed seeing a pair of mature adult Sea Eagles perched by the river and then fly off together.
The next bird we only saw briefly and managed only two shots, this beautiful Brahminy Kite.
The last two raptors can be easily confused when viewing them high in the sky, even when viewing photos of them can be difficult at times, depending on maturity of the bird. The most distinguishing features between the Little Eagle and the Whistling Kite, is that the eagle has feathered legs down to the talons, barred plumage, rounded tail and a dark area over face. Though the wing markings are different, it can be very subtle from a distance. If anyone has contention with my identification please feel at liberty to assist. The Whistling Kite was seen on many occasions to be expected, but the Little Eagle on one occasion.
The Little Eagle shows more white near the wing tips and has a rounded lightly barred tail with a band.
It was interesting to observe several what appeared to be, aerial conflicts between raptors. This one appears to have been between Whistling Kites. It appears a pair were flying together and in flew another which challenged one of the pair, while the other looked on. Eventually the aggressor moved on. Occasionally we would see groups of up to eight kites circling together.
This pair of Osprey had a short fling also.
One of the easiest ways to suspect a raptor is gliding overhead in a forest is to suddenly hear the birds in the vicinity, especially those nesting to go into a noisy frenzy, beginning to fly about and sometimes group or cover their wings over their nests. When ever this occurs I always find a clearing look up and wait, The cockatoo, lorikeet and parrot families usually give the best indication as they incite ‘flock frenzy’ being the noisiest flocks. While we were lodging near the river, each night flocks of hundreds of Rainbow Lorikeets would come to roost in several trees by the river in front of our accommodation. This might give you an idea, as a couple of raptors circled, just before sunset, watching hundreds of Rainbows in various flocks fly in to roost.
As a small flock of White-necked Heron flew over I was drawn to consider the importance of team work in the ‘flock’ concept, and the many advantages for vulnerable individuals of working together as a team or community.
We can achieve so much more as friends and acquaintances committed to one another than living at a rock or island ( as per Paul Simon’s song ‘I am a Rock’). Birds know the value of protection, food finding and flight endurance being involved in the flock concept. Unlike the aggressive kite we saw earlier, it is always to our advantage to be friends and work alongside those who surround us. Acceptance and respect are all important traits for fostering good relationship and they come from a loving heart of integrity which trusts and forgives without giving up.
“Whoever would foster love covers over an offense, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends.” – Proverbs 17:9
“One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” – Proverbs 18:24
Have a great week, and keep looking up, not just to see raptors, but see your life from a greater perspective, so you can look down as you soar the thermals like the eagle, and see the big picture. To close here’s a song from my past taken from Isaiah 40. Check out my website for more birding info.