Spring, the time when most birds and animals pair off, mate and reproduce their kind. However, the great Australian drought continues into its fourth year causing rivers to dry up, trees and plants to die or give up their leaves under stress, many native plants to die or not flower, many birds and animals to leave their historic nesting areas for localities where they have not been previously reported in current field guides.
This week I took a trip to visit one of Australia’s great birding places The Capertee Valley, which is actually the widest canyon in the world, being 1km wider than the Grand Canyon at its widest point. The canyon is surrounded by the Gardens of Stone National Park, made up of interesting sandstone escarpments, which glow in the sun. Click on photos to enlarge them.
This wonder is a north western extension of the famous Blue Mountains, and has previously been the famous conservation site for the breeding of the endangered Regent Honeyeater, which is Australia’s largest public conservation project. The last few years have seen very few birds breeding beside the now almost dried up Capertee River, where only a few pools remain. Scientists have had difficulty tracing the breeding patterns of this bird, and many others affected by the drought. The forests of NSW are tinder dry, and dying in many places for lack of regular rainfall. I was surprised to find that many of the bird species I found previously in this birding goldmine had left the valley to find food and water and nest elsewhere. While the eastern side of the ranges has been getting rain at times (Sydney), here on the western side of the ranges (Capertee) has had very little or none at all.
The positive is that there are still many birds remaining, of which I will share from my visit in this post. On arrival to the valley I started checking my usual good birding stops and in two tall eucalypts I found both the numerous White-plumed Honeyeater and the less numerous White-naped Honeyeater feeding high in the canopy together on the tree blossom as well as on lerps. The plume is the white mark on the side of the neck and the gape is the white ring around the back of the head (visible in second last photo). They were very active when chasing nectar, especially the White-gaped, which gave me several flight shots.
From a tree next to the flowering one above, I could hear the unusual buzzing sound of the White-browed Babbler, which, like the two honeyeaters is mainly only seen inland over the ranges. It was interesting how many different sounds this bird makes as it communicated to a nearby companion. It is always a treat to find this bird. Disregard the Noisy Friarbird calls in the background.
Just before leaving this Noisy Friarbird appeared briefly, but was unusually quiet, which can be the case when they are alone.
Further along the road as I crossed over the Capertee River I was mesmerized by a flock Fairy Martins flying in circuits over the remaining pools of water beneath the casuarina trees. I managed to fire off some almost decent flight shots of these amazing birds as they started flying around me.
As I made my way further I stopped again, and out of the bush wandered this old Wombat, with a hairless back, making his way back down the road on the wrong side, being very vulnerable to cars. Sadly I had already seen over a dozen road kill from the night before, kangaroo, wallabies and wombats. Wombats are essentially nocturnal, but can bee seen during the day when disturbed. They burrow out their nesting holes under the earth like a mole or groundhog. Walking in their territory can be dangerous at night without good light as many people have injured themselves accidentally stepping into their holes.
Sadly I passed areas where in better years many species of Finch resided, but were not to be found, but it was pleasing to see several family flocks of White-winged Chough foraging about. These birds only fly short low distances and spend most of their time walking about together foraging for insects. They have a very tightly constructed family and are known to take captive young from other Chough flocks. You will see how they got their name from my video clip.
Here is a sound file to give you an idea of their language, it sounds a little like a Catbird having a harsh lower throat squeal. Disregard the Noisy Friarbirds cackling in the background.
Looking up to a bare dead tree, always in the hope of seeing a raptor, this lone Dusky Woodswallow sat in the warmth of the Spring sun. It would occasionally go gliding, in a similar way to the Fairy Martin to catch insects on the fly.
While looking up at this little guy I saw gliding over a kilometer above a huge Wedge-tailed Eagle which I managed to get a few decent shots considering the distance away. These amazing birds with wingspans of 2.3 meters can soar on the thermals at a height of two kilometers and at one kilometer still see a mouse crawling on the ground below as its eye sight is eight times better at seeing detail than ours, with is binocular telescopic vision. This enables it not only to see its prey well, but target with precise accuracy (using triangulation like our eyes) within millimeters when it attacks. I know this for a fact having had one take a very small amount of meat from my hand without touching me at a wild bird show, and boy they are heavy when they land on your arm. They can lift a 5 kilogram animal, a young lamb, young kangaroo, snakes. lizards, ferule cats, foxes, rodents and road kill.
When a bird has its eyes set in the front of its face such as we have, similar to other raptors, Kingfishers and Kookaburras we all share binocular vision and with it the ability to triangulate which allows our brains to determine with accuracy the estimated distance away we are to an object. If you have eyes at the side of the head or only one working eye, the brain is unable to do this with any accuracy. Compare the eye placement of these birds below. Notice the eyes of the Eastern Rosella are on the side of the head, like most birds, unlike the Eagles and other birds of prey, I sighted this pair of Eastern Rosella being attacked by an aggressive Noisy Miner further down the road.
I have previously shared about the aggressive and fearless nature of this bird and how it guards its territory from other Honeyeaters and predators. I have seen Noisy Miners chase away Eagles (which can eat them), cats and dogs (which can also eat them), even people. Their relentless attacks and bites with rapid return, often in a noisy group of between 2 and 6 birds is no feat for a single bird, though Kookaburras sit and take it till they give up while larger more aggressive Red Wattlebirds will retaliate. The Eastern Rosella pair for life, and are under attack because they eat nectar blossom also as part of their diet, which the Noisy Miner want to keep to themselves, particularly in this time of drought.
Nearby I could hear a zitting sound which resembled what I knew to be that of a Flycatcher, as I had seen them around this area on previous visits, and yes it was a pair of Restless Flycatcher. At first I only saw a Willie Wagtail and thought it strange to be making this sound as it is a kind of flycatcher also, and looks similar, but then I saw the pair making their zitting noise which you can hear here:
A small flock of Straw-necked Ibis grazed on a nearby cow paddock, this one is just coming into breeding as it starts to develop its long neck plumes and iridescent body plume sheen.
I came to a place where I heard a lovely bird call with which I was not familiar, but had heard on previous occasions. I looked and looked for about half an hour as it called from within a deep dark eucalypt tree cluster by the road. I prayed and asked God to let me view it, as I had spent too much time in pursuit and then it made an appearance for two seconds and was able to get this one shot off. It was a Grey Shrike-thrush which are known for their lovely variable song. Thank you Lord! It is in the not knowing what it was that kept me there, in case it might have been a lifer.
If this is your first visit to my blog please explore my Website Homepage menu for more birding tips and info. Check out my book “What Birds Teach Us”, a great easy to read gift idea, which continues to get good reviews where people share how it has helped them and how it is a unique book. If you are concerned, it has been carefully written for all cultures and beliefs and does not preach or recommend any particular belief system, but is a counselling tool that encourages good life skills by using the birds and beautiful photos of them to relate to us. People from other cultures and beliefs different to my own, have shared how they love the book. You can purchase your copy here
My meditation for the day came from my challenging experience when I finally arrived after much driving at the gate of Capertee National Park, which is a locked up park, to protect the nesting area of the endangered Regent Honeyeater, along the banks of the Capertee River.
Sadly, the entrance code I had was not the current one, and because I was out of phone range, deep in the forest, and the caretaker was miles away inside the park, I could only wait for a while hoping someone would arrive, but no one did. So I turned around and drove home, the positive side being I arrived home in good time to shop and cook dinner for my wife. I was thankful for the many birds I saw and this incident reminded me of the words of Jesus when he said: I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. – John 10:9 (NIV)
Without the correct entry code one can not enter this portion of the park and see the wonders within. You may remember the long pursuit my wife and I had trying to see these birds in the wild and how my first sighting of an unbanded bird was several miles up this road behind this gate. Just as this was the treasure I hoped to see today, so this event reminded me that Jesus has a treasure much more wonderful which will last forever for those who put their trust in him. Jesus had blazed the trial for me so that I and anyone can discover the true meaning of life. It is through him that we enter into God’s goodness and mercy and experience the freedom and peace of total forgiveness for our sinful selfish nature. With this comes the blessing of a personal relationship with God, so you are never alone or ever abandoned because he loves us and always will, and gives his Spirit to comfort and guide us through life. God’s beautiful life exchange, the free gift of Jesus’ sinless life for our sinful, is expressed in a nutshell: God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. – 2 Corinthians 5:21
Have a wonderful week and weekend! Our prayers go to the many suffering Hurricanes floods, heatwaves, earthquakes and extreme bush fires in many parts of the world. In these turbulent Last Days where many are fearful and have no hope or foundation for their lives, there is hope and peace through faith in Jesus who rightly said even before he was raised from the dead: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33
We are experiencing extreme drought, facing another extreme hot Summer and water shortages. It is time for us all turn to the One who can help and pray and repent on behalf of our nations that are abandoning the same One who can truly help. There is hope and it is offered freely in Jesus words: “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.”
For those interested: My second book is almost past its first editorial phase and I have begun to write a better second edition of the my first book, as the first edition is almost sold out of print and demand for it continues. The second edition will have more features and birds and will be an educational tool which I hope will be embraced by schools and family counselors. I am thankful for this break in my professional career to be given the opportunity to leave this legacy.
NOTE: All photos, videos and music used on this website are photographed, composed, performed by the site owner and remains his copyrighted property, unless otherwise stated. The use of any material that is not original material of the site owner is duly acknowledged as such. © W. A. Hewson 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019.