In our early years of bird watching, becoming birders, my wife and I would excitedly seek out new species which birders term lifers (having been sighted in the wild for the first time). I like to distinguish for my own sake a true lifer from a species I might view for the first time in a zoo or avery. This was the case with the rare and elusive Regent Honeyeater pictured above, notice the leg band. Because many of the birds in the wild now are banded, being ex zoo release birds, it is difficult for you to know if I shot this in the wild, but no, this was shot at Taronga Park Zoo, Sydney. Click on photo to enlarge.
I had photographed this bird many times at Taronga Park Zoo in Sydney, where the birds are bred as a conservation effort in captivity, then banded, and released into the wild in their breeding areas. It was not till last year, that I photographed several non-banded birds in the wild that I was satisfied that I had a true lifer. See below…
As novices, my wife and I excitedly sought out holiday locations with the view of including birding as a vital part of our time-away. Many a committed birder knows the frustration of spending much time and money pursuing particular new or rare birds only to come home disappointed, this occurred many times with the above bird before I finally found it in the wild. Notice the more beautiful plumage and more classic bare skin around eye with the wild non zoo bred bird at the top of the page.
Our mission together was to passionately engage as many new species of our beautiful and varied Australian birds as possible, eventually covering most of our country and surrounding islands. One book initially assisted us in seeking good birding locations, a well written and easy to follow book a friend gave me as a gift one year: ‘Best 100 Birdwatching Sites in Australia.’ by Sue Taylor. This is a book we highly recommend to those, like us, pursuing birding as an enjoyable recreation.
Interesting enough, and long before I received this book, the front cover depicts the location and bird that originally hooked me into birding as a hobby and recreation. Yes, the Red-tailed Tropicbird (my trading logo and avatar) on Lord Howe Island, where I travelled to see this ‘backward flying bird’ as I first called it.
On a holiday to Western Australia, after visiting my son in Perth, we ventured down to the Margaret River region on the bottom South West tip of the continent. It was here that we started to realise and consider something we had not noted previously. My wife, the spotter (binoculars), would occasionally say to me, the shooter (camera), “Take this bird, I think it is different from ours!”. What she meant was the bird in question was also found in our local area, but it had some noticeably different characteristics to the trained eye, which she could observe better with binoculars. As you can see below it can be difficult to note any fine delineating characteristics between the south west WA race longirostris
and the eastern NSW, we see at home race novahollandiae
Back home, processing our birding treasures from the holiday, I discovered from consulting my field guides, my wife was correct. We had opened another exciting door and challenge to our birding experience, taking it to the next level. We had entered the field of seeking the various subspecies or races of particular Australian bird species. A race (subspecies) as it is termed in the ornithology books, is a morphologically distinct group of birds that can interbreed within the same species. This is where the captured still image is vital so morphological details of each bird can be studied in detail at home on the computer allowing race distinctions to be detected allowing correct classification.
These birds look very similar, sometimes identical, but there are differences in appearance, which are usually found groups geographically located by location. For example, I noted the race differences of the Masked Lapwing I featured from my recent Far North Queensland post comparing them to our local Sydney Masked Lapwing race. Primarily, the facial mask differed slightly in each of the two locations, northern Australia and southern Australia.
Good field guides list the various names of the current races, the morphological differences and their geographical location on the map of the country. Notice I used the word current, as ornithologists today are constantly reclassifying birds using more complex and scientific (genetic) means, than previously was the case. Older field guides will vary in the naming of some birds. In Australia several species of bird, found also in neighbouring countries, have been reclassified into new specifically geographic subspecies beginning with the name Australian or Australasian… Two recent examples as Purple Swamphen if found in Australia, is now Australasian Swamphen and the Darter in Australia is now called the Australasian Darter. The species Anhinga anhinga (specie name followed by subspecie/race name) has a subspecies (race) of Anhinga melanogester which is the Oriantal/Indian Darter BUT NOW Australia has its own subspecies Anhinga novaehollandiae. The Latin race name means New Holland (the Dutch name for Australia), since they were the first Europeans to discover it in 1606).
One of the first honeyeaters to be named (scientifically described) was the New Holland Honeyeater (discussed above) as it is one of the most prolific coastal honeyeaters in Sydney and all around the rugged Australian coastal scrublands of southern Australia. This species alone has 5 races within Australia in five geographical locations both on the continent and also Tasmania and its islands. This was the bird I wished I had photographed more when in SW WA, on my wife’s suggestion. Here are photos of three of the 5 races, see if you can see the distinguishing characteristics.
Australia has over 70 species of honeyeaters, more than anywhere else in the world, as well as the world’s largest in size. The great challenge at the next level is to track down and identify (using good observational skills) the various races within each of these species. Then of course, there are the many other bird species with subspecies. It must have been quite an exciting experience for the early European/English naturalists to find so many varieties of similar birds to their homeland birds which only have one species with no subspecies. Here are but a few…
Australia has 19 species of Robin of which these are but a few…
In some cases more than one race of a particular species may exist in the same location as another, making it all the more challenging. An example of this was in our recent trip to Far North Queensland where we saw two different subspecies (races) of Little Shrike-thrush in the same location. They looked quite different morphologically.
For example, when we were birding in Britain we saw A Robin, A Cormorant and An Oystercatcher just to name a few for example. In Australia we have several if not many different species of these birds with the same species classification, and some of these even have several subspecies. In the Cormorant family we share the the Great Cormorant (Black Cormorant) with Europe but in addition have four others unique to Australia, the Little Black, the Little Pied, the Pied and the very rarely seen Black-faced Cormorant from the wild Southern ocean.
To conclude, the scientific approach to birding is that nothing can be taken for granted (assumed) from a distance, only careful observation and attention to detail will reward the astute birder with exciting discoveries and findings at the next level. This observational skill, accompanied with the latest bird field guide will bring an added appreciation for the wonderful variety of creatures even within a single species and how Intelligent Design could only be the origin of such an interdependent complex and beautiful system by a thoroughly awesome and amazing intelligent Creator. Here then is my source of knowledge, wisdom and understanding, as I seek His embrace and His best for my life.
“How many are your works, Lord! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.” – Psalm 104:24
“For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.” – Proverbs 2:6
Have a wonderful week birding! We did not do any birding this week but we do give thanks for the good rain that has blessed us this last few days and hopefully will bring our birds back to breed.
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