This week I am showcasing Australia’s most common shorebird The Silver Gull (known to most Aussie’s as the Seagull). This bird is found all over Australia, especially around the coast and islands as well as inland. It is an extremely resilient bird, as seen in the photo above taken of a Silver Gull alone, not on the sands of a beach, but on the dry salt plains of Lake Eyre on inland South Australia. The lake was rapidly drying up, yet this gull was still there, and may have died there, like many birds do as the lake dries up, if it does not head coastward. This bird is found on almost every Australian beach in small to large flocks, and has become accustomed to pestering picnickers and those enjoying fishnchips by the water for a handout. If you throw something to one bird, immediately the whole flock comes begging. The bird sounds like this…
The Silver Gull starts life as an egg. We have always seen each stage of development on the old unused part of Busselton Jetty in Western Australia. A very simple seaweed and grass nest is build in the grooves of the warn rotted jetty timbers, where the spotted eggs are laid.
Each bird will sit contentedly on the nest exposed to the elements, predators and the ocean winds.
Silver Gull nesting
Silver Gull nesting
The good thing is that they have chosen the grey backdrop of the warn timbers because it matches the grey speckled appearance of their nestlings when they are born, and so is a form of camouflage for them. They usually have a clutch of 2 to 3 babies. When the parents fear impending danger they call to the babies to lay low in the nest with heads down, and they usually obey.
Being totally dependent on the parents to feed them, the father sources food from the ocean below the jetty, while mother shows affectionate care for her precious nestlings.
After a year the juvenile starts looking like the parent but remains brown and patterned on the back, again for protection. The legs, beak and eyes remain dark coloured, similar to many other juvenile/immature birds.
By the second year the bird looks more like the adult and with just the eye needing to change to white and the beak and legs to red.
Finally maturity comes, but until then the youngsters fly in the midst of the flock for safety, as you can see here if you look closely, the immatures at various stages.
Soon they are out fending for food themselves. One place they love to be at low tide on the river mud flats is chasing tiny mud crabs, as they scurry across the sand.
As they grab the crab the gull positions it in its mouth by opening its mouth and dropping it in the air and then swallowing it, as seen below.
Here are some flight shots of the bird as they fly toegther.
My favourite flight shot is this one of a juvenile following immediately behind the parent. Here we see the simple trust and obedience of the youngster following the example of its parent. This is why we as parents and grandparents need to always set a good example to our little ones, as they copy everything we do and say, and take it with them into their future life.
We only have two other gulls common to Australia, the Pacific and Kelp Gulls which I will showcase another time. These gulls are found around the southern and south eastern coast of the mainland, and are larger than the Silver Gull, having lipstick like red beak markings. Vagrants from other parts of the world do occur on rare occasions in isolated occurrences, having been blown off course.
“… we have experienced discipline from our earthly fathers and we respected them; shall we not submit ourselves all the more to the Father of Spirits and receive life?” – Hebrews 12:9 (NET)
Have a wonderful week, and if you are new to my blog, check out my birding website from the homepage of aussiebirder.com
“What Birds Teach Us” my current book release, can now be also purchased here online through PayPal or from many other private book stores click on this link to see the list Where My Book Is Sold. It is now available at seven major NSW National Parks (Environment & Heritage Shops). Ask your nearest one if they have it in stock, if they don’t have it in stock, ask them to get it in. Broome Bird Observatory, Echo Point Visitor Centre, Koorong Books and O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat Gift Shop also sells my book, as do several private book shops throughout NSW. You can also purchase your copy here from the side-bar. This is a great gift idea especially as Christmas draws near, a gift that will continue to keep on giving. Read the reviews and purchase your copy on my Birdbook page.
The prevailing drought conditions in the Sydney region, have contributed to a reduction in the number of passerines and breeding waterbirds during summer and also as winter approaches, there are some water birds that have stayed because their habitat has not been so cruelly affected. Again I visited Sydney’s Olympic Park with my wife to have a Sunday picnic and capture some more stunning reflections of of one of my favourite waders, the Black-winged Stilt.
Black-winged Stilt juvenile
A friend asked me why I noted in a previous post that other waterbirds such as the Masked Lapwing, and even on occasion the Red-necked Avocet seen above. The answer is the long slender legs and open stick-like feet. These assist in moving through the water without disturbing it much. The other waterbirds are shorter and have thicker legs and tend to disturb the water more. It is always good to see the Stilt and Avocet together, as I have described in my book. Note the difference in the reflections.
Stilt and Avocet
It was also a delight to see a juvenile Stilt foraging alongside its parent. The Welcome Swallow managed to get into some of my photos and movie footage as they flew over the water.
Many of the Red-necked Avocet flock were sleeping safely in the centre of the shallow lake.
One of my favourite photos is this one, how the legs appear to cross over.
Other waterbirds include this White-faced Heron, probably our most commonly found wader.
We were hoping, as we peered from the Bird Hide, to spot the tiny Dotterels running along the shoreline, but on this occasion they were in the distance together in a small flock. These birds are usually timid toward human approach.
It has been interesting to find the presence of Magpie Lark (PeeWee) foraging by lakes and waterways in recent months. It is something new, possibly the drought may have brought it on. This one even joined in reflecting for me.
As we sat by the lake enjoying our Turkey sandwiches this Australasian Grebe (non-breeding) floated past, so I took some shots in the bright winter sunlight, as my wife noted it looked different. On viewing my photos as home it was found that the head had the striped of a juvenile Grebe remaining, as it is coming to maturity. Immature Grebes have black stripes on a white body, the head is the last part to loose the stripes.
Of course we had to check out the nesting area on the island where on my last post from this area we saw quite immature Pied Cormorant chicks being constantly fed by busy parents. These babies have become immature birds which now look very much like their parents, but are even more hungry and demanding than before, since they are much larger and fill the nest. This parent is so flustered trying to satisfy their appetite that he had to leave the nest and take solitude, peacefully cruising the lake.
Parent flies in and babies peter
They keep trying to get access to parents gullet
the parent has left and they cry
then quietly look for their parent to return
but he was resting in the solitude of the lake
This Masked lapwing was caught flying by…
As on the last visit the non-breeding Superb Fairy-wren were out and about, in the usual places. It is usually easy to find these birds as they are territorial and are found in the same area most of the year. Like many insectivorous birds they circumvent their small territory many times a day in search of insects on small shrubs and trees. The non-breeding male retains the dark blue tail, dark beak and turquoise wing coverts, which can be seen below. The female remains brown with rufous facial mask and lighter beak. The male will begin eclipsing again into his beautiful breeding plumage as Spring approaches, but for now, Winter is at the door.
May I leave you with this beautiful footage of the Black-winged Stilt foraging peacefully together in the lake shallows.
If this is your first visit to my blog feel free to check out the pages in my website aussiebirder.com. Check the menu at the top of the Home page.
This last four weeks of full time work as a scientist are dragging, as I look forward to part-time work or semi-retirement (whatever God grants) allowing me to expand the more creative aspects to my life. I hope to begin assessing the possibility of setting up a small business as a Tour Guide for Bird Tours. I will be checking out the possibility of running Introduction to Birding (Bird Watching) Tour packages in conjunction with Farm Club Australia in the Southern Highlands.
Black-winged Stilt with stages of development.
In the above photo one can observe most of the different stages of development of the Black-winged Stilt, from a brown chick to an adult stilt. As different as they each look to the other, they are all the same species, and will all look similar on maturity. I am challenged by the fact that I need the grace to realize that we are all at different levels and phases of maturity as people, and that despite all our differences and short comings, we are God the Father’s beloved children whom Christ died to redeem and restore. The most beautiful thought is that long before we ever came to know God, he already knew and loved us, long before we were born. This is why love, acceptance and forgiveness in our relationships is so essential, as we all experience the various aspects of life with its struggles and lessons. We each seek to be understood and accepted for who we are.
“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to being.” – Psalm 139:13-16 (NIV)
“And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone.” – Thes 5:15 (NIV)
This week I want to showcase two of Australia’s Oystercatchers, both classified as endangered in the state of NSW but more plentiful in Tasmania. The Australian Pied Oystercatcher and the Sooty Oystercatcher. They are endangered because their beach nesting places are being encroached upon by humans and especially the craze in recent years to drive 4WD vehicles on beaches in National Parks and sensitive bird nesting areas. Sadly there is little or no policing of the laws that protect our birds there.
The South Island Pied Oystercatcher occasionally found on our east coast is a vagrant from New Zealand, which looks identical to the Australian Pied until it is studied while in flight.
The Australian Pied Oystercatcher is found along the coastline of much of Australia mainland and Tasmania. It is classified as threatened in Victoria though secure in most other states. The Oystercatcher name comes from the use of their extremely strong and powerful beak action, which they use like a jackhammer to pry open small shell fish and oysters, which make up much of their diet, including other crustaceans. These birds, are usually found in pairs, as is the Sooty.
The immature Pied has dark eyes, dark legs and a black tipped beak. Click on photo to enlarge it.
The Sooty Oystercatcher is found around the coastline of Australia, and in greatest number in Tasmania, and both Sooty and Pied Oystercatchers are often found together or nearby, sometimes sparking aggression between the two.
There are two distinct races (subspecies) situated in the northern half of the continent and the southern half. The one pictured here is the southern race fuliginosus which we see locally.
Sooty visits Pied
Sooty attacks Pied
The Sooty likewise has an almost identical beak to the Pied being used in a similar fashion, as you can see in the footage below.
These birds, similar to the Pied, are found on ocean reefs at low tide and coastal beaches, and seldom inland unless it is a ocean inlet.
This reef at Botany Bay National Park, is the place where Captain Cook landed in 1770 to take on fresh water from a stream nearby. Maybe he saw these Australian Pied Oystercatchers working the reef as I have seen them here frequently at low tide.
Beside one of the reefs we visited was this field of seashells by the seashore. So many both whole and broken, represent the homes of thousands of small creatures either eaten by such as the Oystercatcher or other shorebirds. They make a pretty picture together.
Have a wonderful week birding. If you have not done so yet check out my website aussiebirder.com for more birding info and interesting photos.
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? ” – Matthew 6:25-34 (NIV)
Last weekend we set off with some of our walking friends to the historic tiny township of St Albans to the annual Folk Festival, an event we love to attend. I have featured this in previous years posts, including the birds we saw there. It was raining a little but it did not dampen the spirits of many who attended. We stayed the night at The Retreat Resort at Wisemans Ferry near the bend in the mighty Hawkesbury River. Next morning after breakie we took a stroll in the reserve situated on the bend of the river near where the MacDonald River joins, and were amazed at the sound of many birds, especially the Noisy Friarbirds (living up to their name) feeding in the high eucalypt trees and lower Melaleuca (Paperbark Trees), which were all full of creamy white flowers.
The raucous call of the Noisy Friarbird could be heard all over the reserve as the small flock busily fed on the nectar from the flowers in the canopy.
While these birds look quite unusual, they are classified as honeyeaters all the same, following whatever blossom they can find. As blossom diminishes during the Winter months, the honeyeaters migrate to where they can find suffient nectar food. While all birds do live on an insect diet, this alone does not produce a healthy honeyeater, though some do eat more insects than nectar. People are often surprised to find that Australia has the largest number of honeyeaters, and wonder where they get all their nectar from. The honeyeaters have a specially designed tongue which laps up the nectar. Another bird feeding with the Friarbirds was the Red Wattlebird, yes, another honeyeater, with a call similar to the Friarbird.
We were excited to see this Blue-faced Honeyeater fly in to a palm.
Tree blossom not only attracts honeyeaters but flower eaters, which eat the nectar and the flower together. Many of our Lorakeets especially and also our Parrots include eucalypt flowers in their diet with native fruits and seeds. These Rainbow Lorikeets were noisily having a wonderful time in the blossom.
Eucalypt blossom being enjoyed
A female Australian King Parrot was also feeding, it lost its head having such a great time.
The most exciting find of the day was this small flock of Musk Lorikeets, a Lorikeet we seldom see. It also was feeding on the flowers with the other birds. This beautiful bird was difficult to see as it was constantly in among the blossom, and was so well camouflaged.
Here they are feeding…
What exactly does this ‘blossom’ look like and this unique tree with papery bark which grows in or by fresh water swamps and rivers?
Melaleuca (Paper Bark Tree)
Paper bark tree showing papery bark layers
Paper Bark Tree Blossom
The Satin Bowerbird, a native fruit eating bird, which eats insects, leaves and flowers, though it is not a honeyeater, was also sighted in the same trees, evading detection as they do, especially the males who are always camera shy. Notice how different the male is to the female. We did not find the bower.
Standing on the river, this small flock of Australian Wood Duck caught out sight both male and female. The male has the dark brown head. The male Wood Duck is one of the most faithful and ever present fathers I have ever seen in the bird world, while raising their young.
And what did little Willy Wagtail, who is purely insectivorous, think about all this hype about honeyeaters?
After a lovely quiet stroll through the reserve, we drove homeward, and as we did we passed tall eucalypt trees that sounded like a whole lot of bells chiming together. Of caourse these trees were full of the elusive and very difficult to spot, Bell Miner or ‘Bellbird’ as most know it. These birds, like other miners, are aggressive to other birds and take over large portions of forest, hence the loud sound of many bells, reflecting off the eucalypt leaves in a unique manner, similar to the Whipbird’s whip sound. Listen to their ringing, it can be quite deafening at times…
Here’s what they look like, birders know how to spot and photograph these difficult birds, which by their colour and rapid covert movement are so well camouflaged. These birds are insectivorous, but their main diet is a leaf insect beneath the eucalypt leaf called psyllids and their lerps (sugary secretions used as protective shelters by the tiny psyllid insects). They also eat nectar, though their beak is not designed for. These birds have a very complex community structure, my book explains this.
Bellbirds by Henry Kendall, a famous Australian poem, more famous for us because it was written not far from where I grew up, so our primary school class had to recite it in unison. The area where I would hear the bellbirds was on the side of a mountain, but it has a highway through it now and you can’t hear them any more. I remember seeing the waterfall near where he would sit, and where there was a rock bearing a plaque in his honour. Click on this YouTube link to see and hear the poem recited.
This old Kookaburra was watching us getting excited about the Musk Lorikeets and looked disgusted that we were not making a fuss over him…
So he just turned his back on us and sat alone in his tree, watching us out of the side of his eye.
It was a great find to see so many birds enjoying winter blossom supplied by our trees. We did see some roos resting and grazing by the road, they did not seem too amused, but made sure we did not approach as they rested in the warm autumn sun.
My thought for the day came from the headless female King Parrot.
This photo is an image of what appears to be a headless female King Parrot. One might suggest it is a fake, and the head was Photoshoppedout. But the one who took the photo knows it is genuine and saw the head return to the bird as it became upright. Many people find it difficult to believe in God, and that he Created them and all we know. This is because they can’t see his head, so they choose to believe that the picture has been tampered with, by stories fabricated from the past. For many it is easier to believe a lie, than that there may be a good explanation for this photo, which they may not have considered. Evolution has never been proved as the means by which life came about, Darwin himself confessed the lack of evidence to support this aspect of his Origin of the Species before he died. Our foundation beliefs affect how we view ourselves, others and how we live our lives. Hope or no hope.
“Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.” – Psalm 25:5
Check out my website Homepage for my latest pics of the Long-billed Corella and also check out my birding info pages. Have a wonderful weekend!
On the Anzac Day Holiday my wife and I left early with a batch of fresh Anzac Biscuits for a drive up into the Southern Highlands to Barren Grounds National Park, home of two of Australia’s most elusive and endangered bird species, the Eastern Ground Parrot and the Eastern Bristlebird. Some of you know I have featured the Bristlebird on previous blogs in past years, including its youngsters, but in all our visits to this important heathland habitat, have never sighted the Ground Parrot. The comforting thought is that most birders have come away disappointed also, and very few have ever had the gift of seeing this bird, and even less of capturing a clear image. Both birds live on the ground beneath the heathland and are very very human shy and the Ground Parrot is usually only seen as a bright green blur streaking away when it is flushed out of the low lying heathland scrub, as it rapidly goes for cover. Jervis Bay National Park is the only other place these birds are known to be found. After a couple of hours searching we found one Bristlebird, but not on the ground where we usually find them, this one was sitting in a low lying bush. The Bristlebird gets its name from the small strong bristles below its beak which are only noticeable on close inspection. Click on photos to enlarge them.
We set out on the Lookout Walk which gave extensive views across the Illawarra Valley and coast.
On our walk we noticed the prevalence of several winter birds mainly the Yellow-faced Honeyeater was in numerous small flocks, constantly moving through.
Next numerous were the Eastern Spinebill, one of my favourite honeyeaters, and so beautiful in the sunlight.
I have never seen so many Red Wattlebirds in one place in such a large flock, also an occasional Little Wattlebird. These birds are also honeyeaters.
The New Holland Honeyeater is also in large number here, flitting about from tree to tree.
I managed only to get one shot of the rarer White-faced Honeyeater and the not so rare Lewin’s Honeyeater
How come so many birds here on the highland heathlands at a time when birds are usually much less on the coast? What are they eating for food, as many of the flowers will not appear till early Spring? There are several spring flowers flowering very early here as well as the usual Bottlebrush, flowering gum, Boronia and also a flowering Grass Tree, attracting birds and bees to its tasty nectar. The Barren Grounds Wattle is even flowering at present!
Very early Wattle
Flowering Grass Tree
Flowering Grass Tree
Eastern Spinebill drinking from Banksia
Very early Boronia
Early Tea Tree
Of course we always see the Eastern Yellow Robyn when we visit here, with his curious observation of us watching him. There are a number of ‘Eastern’ prefixes to these birds, as they are found only in this part of Australia, along the eastern coast. The Robin is mainly insectivorous. The honeyeaters are also, but they are healthier with a diet of nectar included.
After our morning tea with Anzac bickies and coffee on a bench in among the trees, we saw a juvenile Eastern Crimson Rosella. Yes another Eastern!
After a chat with some other visiting birders we met there, and accepting that we would not see the Ground Parrot on this occasion, we drove back down the windy mountain road to Jamberoo and the Minnamurra Rainforest Centre, one of the major sellers of my book, and home to many Superb Lyrebird. It was encouraging to see my display looking so good, and the continuous video I made was playing.
Disply at Minnamurra
We did the rainforest walk loop before lunch and during lunch this male Lyrebird decided to dig two feet away from our table. I want you to look carefully at this video and tell me if you can tell me what is abnormal about this bird.
Notice also the beautiful lace like fibers of the tail. These are spread over his head when he performs his courting dance, a dance he practices daily from a young age.
By now we were quite tired having left early in the morning and walked for so long. We left satisfied that we had an enjoyable time in the warm not so hot autumn sun exploring this important bird habitat, though the Ground Parrot remains on our ‘bucket list.’
The point of interest inspiring thought arising from the day, was this male Lyrebird. Looking at him from a profile perspective, he looks quite normal and our attention is turned more to the birds whole body and digging action, however, when he walks away and we see him from the rear we notice he only has one set of tail plumage and not two. This is important when he spreads his tail over his head, it would also make his walk a little unbalanced. We don’t know why his is missing the second tail section but it does not make him any less of a Superb Lyrebird. This is the same for each of us when people view us and our actions, We are all ‘broken’ people in some way or other but we hide it from the world by the perspective we allow others to see. It takes a lot of courage to allow our vulnerability for others to see and view the real you, where you can share your weaknesses and shortcomings without fear or shame or pride obstruction. This can be not only healing for you but for those you share with, as it gives opportunity for others to open up and share burdens they may have been carrying for many years, but never felt safe to share.
“Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. ” – Psalm 139:23,24 (NIV)
As we move into Autumn and the summer migrants, which are mostly waders, have taken flight north, we are left with our winter birds, and a period of not so many birds. However there are many waders and water birds that stay all year round and breed here in Australia. It had been a while since I was able to get time in Olympic Park, Sydney, to see how the resident waterbirds and waders are, so on Wednesday I took a look, and found this pair of Australian Black Swan alone in a pool among the mangroves. Note the male is the larger of the two. How beautiful and graceful they are when seen up close. These symbols previously peculiar to the state of Western Australia (found in its coat of arms), have been breeding well all over Australia and its surrounding islands now for many years. Click on photo to enlarge it.
It was good to see nests of Australasian Darter and Pied Cormorant in the usual breeding trees, however numbers were drastically reduced, possibly due to the extreme heat of the passing summer and prevailing drought conditions.
The commonly seen waterbirds that are more often seen grazing on grassy areas by water are the Australian Swamphen and the Masked Lapwing.
It has always humoured me when I hear the sound of the Masked Lapwing call in Australian movies, as a representative of Australia’s birds. I think what about Kookaburra, Currawong or Magpie? However, in many movies it is this bird call that is used.
As I walked to the larger lake I came across a most delightful experience where a family of Superb Fairy-wren came out from under small shrubbery to give me an excellent photo moment. What a beautiful gift! The adult male was in non-breeding plumage retaining just a bright blue tail and dark beak. This is called the eclipse stage of the male Fairy-wren. He may transform several times a year to breed, while the female and immature retain their brown tail and light orange beak and lores, only the mature males eclipse. Here is a comparison.
Superb Fairy-wren in eclipse
Superb Fairy-wren (in breeding plumage)
So this what the little family looked like as they moved about on this small bush together. You can distinguish the males from the females by the tail colour and beak and lores.
Female and Male Superb Fairy-wren
2 males, one in full and one in almost full eclipse.
Superb Fairy-wren female
The resident waders were in various stages of activity. Some slept, some preened, but most were foraging. Over the water a large flock of swallow were constantly circling.
The Chestnut Teal are in large number on the lake as usual.
Male Chestnut Teal
4 males with 1 female
But the birds I wanted to see were the three remaining waders who do not migrate. The Black-winged Stilt, Red-necked Avocet and Black-fronted Dotterel. I especially love the reflections these birds generate from the shallow water. The Black-winged Stilt is one of my favourite. Notice the immature Stilts also pictured below.
Black-winged Stilt immature
Black-winged Stilt immature
Immature Stilt balancing on a rock
Immature Stilt balancing on a rock
It is interesting to see the scythe action of the Red-necked Avocet sweeping their uniquely curved bill through the water to sift for tiny brine shrimp. They sweep their bill slightly open just above the muddy bottom of the lake. It is also interesting to watch some Stilts copy this action which is not normally their own. The younger ones having grown up with the Avocets, being companion waders, copy the action.
The Red-necked Avocet, a friend to the Stilt, is also a bird seen in flock here.
Red-necked Avocet in all three stages of activity.
It was interesting to see this collision of the Avocet and Stilt foraging, it shows how serious food foraging is.
The tiny Black-fronted Dotterel was also on the shore foraging.
Of course the best place to view birds without disturbing them is the ‘Bird Hide’. However, this hide is some distance from the water, but it does give a good overall view of the lake, but you need a powerful lens to get good captures.
Lastly, this Noisy Miner was attracted to my car rear vision mirrors, moving from one to the other he tries to find and make contact with the bird he is looking at. Finally, not being able to solve the conundrum he eventually leaves.
This bird’s quest is like our own, we often don’t know ourselves enough to appreciate who we are. We compare and impair the image we have of ourselves and so never really appreciate the beauty of the unique and wonderful creation we are. There is no one in the whole universe who will ever be you. Your DNA is uniquely yours, and so you bring a uniquely beautiful asset into the world in the place where God has placed you, as he has done also for me. How we understand and appreciate this gift will directly influence the way we live our lives and boldly love and accept the person we are. It is this person we must look at in the mirror and realize, we are God’s beautiful child and we are loved dearly by him our Heavenly Father. How we see ourselves affects how we enjoy life, giving confidence and acceptance to achieve great things.
“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. How precious to me are your thoughts,[a] God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand— when I awake, I am still with you.” – Psalm 139: 13-18. (NIV)
Some of you my dear followers know that I am currently considering leaving my full time work as a Senior Scientist to go into part time work as a Eco Tourism Bird Guide. I was recently approached by a person following my blog to operate bird tours and introductory bird courses with Farm Club Australia, situated in the Southern Highlands, south of Sydney. I am currently considering this option and how this will look for my future. I know many of my followers, will be visiting Australia and the Sydney region in the coming years. I hope to put together birding packages which will hopefully make the Sydney region leg of the journey much easier. I meet birders from all over the world, especially from USA, Canada, New Zealand and Britain doing full on birding tours of Australia, and they are often looking for birders with local knowledge to guide them to the birds on their list, as many only have limited time in each city.
Last weekend we drove to the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, part of the Great Dividing Range, and home of some of Australia’s most stunning mountain and valley scenery, for my wife’s favorite birthday celebration tradition. The blue haze over the mountains is due to the eucalyptus oil vapor from the millions of eucalypt trees of various species. This oil also makes the forests very vulnerable and volatile to bush fire, which can rapidly devastate these pristine forests. One of the highlights is the view at Echo Point over the massive Jamison Valley of the famous rock formation called the Three Sisters after an aboriginal legend. My book is sold at the Tourist Information Centre here.
The Three Sisters at Echo Point, Katoomba NSW
Standing on the various lookouts and waterfall vistas in the mountains, bird sounds can be heard, and flocks of birds fly over, including the Yellow-tail Black Cockatoo, which is currently feeding on the native Casuarina and introduced pine cones and Banksia cones. It is always a race to the camera when we hear the classic call of this bird loudly over the town.
Yellow-tail Black Cockatoo
While we were exploring the Valley of the Waters, where numerous waterfalls plummet into the valley from all directions, we saw canyoners coming down through Empress Falls, one of the most beautiful waterfalls here. We actually saw this same group a short time earlier up on top plunging and disappearing into the Empress Canyon which flows into the Empress Falls. We had climbed down to the bottom of the falls where they emerged.
Before our walk we had birthday cake and coffee under the trees near the Conservation Hut, where my step daughter sighted this White-browed Scrubwren, of which only one photo was taken as she sighted a female Superb Lyrebird almost immediately after.
The Lyrebird appeared relatively tame and use to visitors to the Hut, and appeared to be a young bird of only a couple of years old. The female does not have the fancy tail plumage seen in the male, and the rufous neck coloring remains a feature of the bird, whereas the males loose this after their fourth year. After some pursuit it easily mounted the fence and disappeared down the cliff side.
AS we walked down to the Valley of the Waters we came across this Eastern Crimson Rosella feeding on forest fruit, a common sight in the mountains.
This New Holland Honeyeater was also seen along the track.
New Holland Honeyeater
New Holland Honeyeater
One bird which is always a feature here is the Eastern Spinebill, which I have showcased from up here on many occasions. This bird with its long curved beak is able to reach down into tubular flowers such as the native Mountain Devil to extract yummy nectar. The two flowers which feed this bird during the winter months are the Mountain Devil and the Banksia species.
Because of the drought and extraordinary extended heat of autumn, breaking all records, bird numbers were low and new young bird numbers reduced. Though after our walk, as we had lunch at the Conservation Hut, we saw this beautiful male Grey Shrike-thrush, quite tame, sitting on a railing watching the outdoor tables. This bird has a beautiful song, and is known to be curious of humans coming quite close to watch them, having a classic head tilt on observation. mature because of dark beak and male because of white lores.
One of the features we enjoyed in various parts of the mountains was the beautiful warble of the Eastern Magpie. These birds will sit for hours on a branch communicating to other magpies nearby with their melodious warble. In scientific studies it has been noted that the Australian Magpie has one of the most complex and amazing calls of any bird being able to move between two octaves in a less than a second. Watch his throat move as he warbles.
Male Eastern Black-backed Magpie
Male Eastern Black-backed Magpie
Saturday night we had a lovely meal and stayed at the Three Sisters Motel. Early in the morning as the sun rose we all headed down to Echo Point to see the view.
As we walked back around the cliff face we saw many Grey Fantails flashing about catching insects on the fly, but found them difficult to photograph due to poor light and positioning.
I could show you the sunrise on the sandstone walls, but it is better if you come and see it for yourself, and let me show you around. Walking back to the motel we saw these two juvenile King Parrots feeding quietly by the footpath. Immature parrots, like many birds resemble the female till they reach maturity.
This Eastern Crimson Rosella was also feeding in the same tree with them.
I forgot to mention this Grey Butcherbird was the first beautiful bird song we heard as we awoke. This bird is my morning joy where I live also, always singing to me each morning, and enjoying our bird bath. Though our dear dog has passed, we leave her water bowl for this bird as he likes to use it if the bird bath gets emptied by the larger Magpies. This bird gets its name from hanging its victims in the forks of trees or on branch spikes till it is ready to eat them, like a butcher in a meat shop. There song is beautiful, and the song of their more violent Pied cousins even more beautiful, though they are found more further north from the mid-north coast upward.
In our search for the male Lyrebird at our usual spot, we were disappointed, possibly too many tourists were present. We did see this Yellow-faced Honeyeater before we left. Flocks of this bird were continually flying through the valley. This is a commonly seen winter and summer bird.
The last bird I caught before leaving the valley, and checking out my book in the Blackheath National Parks Visitor Centre, was this White-throated Treecreeper, creeping up this eucalypt in bright sunlight. This is unusual, as they prefer to climb the shaded side of the tree usually, but gave me an over exposed view of this female (note the orange spot on her face). This bird climbs the tree making its classic repatative cheep call as it checks beneath bark and in crevices of trunk and branches for insects.
A most enjoyable weekend had by all, so we made our way home back down the mountain to coast and Sydney. Our leg muscles ached for a few days after the strenuous mountain climbing, but we felt so much stronger and better for the weekend in the mountain air. Like the Treecreeper creeping ever upward, we seek the highest point of our lives to give them meaning and a sense of achievement. For many we can not highlight any particular time when this occurred, if it ever did. For some it occurs when they step courageously out of their comfort zone and take the risk of caring and loving and showing compassion beyond the norm of selfish, mundane human existence. To love with unconditional love, expecting nothing in return, but only to know the joy of having been the hands and feet of Jesus, by helping another come to a better place, this is the most blessed attainment in life. Reaching into the lives of people forgotten, broken and disgraced by our society and extending the hand and the heart of their Father God to them. This is the greatest delight and joy one can know.
“Let all that I am praise the Lord; with my whole heart, I will praise his holy name. Let all that I am praise the Lord; may I never forget the good things he does for me. He forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases. He redeems me from death and crowns me with love and tender mercies. He fills my life with good things. My youth is renewed like the eagle’s!.” – Psalm 103:1-5 (NEV)
Last weekend we ventured over the Great Dividing Range to the south west inland city of Wagga Wagga , for my wife’s brother’s 70th. The Great Dividing mountain range runs down the east coast of Australia’s mainland giving two distinct climates coastal and inland, and with it some distinctly different birds. Some birds do better in the hot dry climate than the humid moist coastal climate, preferring west of the ranges. many of our parrot species are found in this region including the Red-rumped Parrot featured above.
Female and male Red-rumped Parrot
This is the predominant parrot, small and robust as it is, and with its notable red rump in view, which is only a feature of the male. The female has a green rump, yet no body named her the Green-rumped Parrot, did they! These small seed eating parrots are often disturbed unexpectedly by passing walkers as they graze silently unseen on the ground on grass seed. They are found in small family flocks. Click on photos to enlarge them.
It was a rainy overcast Sunday morning early, after the party the night before, that I ventured out alone around Lake Albert, a place I have posted several times in previous years. I apologise for any not so clear photos, as some had to be enhanced with touch-ups due to poor lighting. Here is some movie footage of them grazing, there is nothing amazing about it, but it gives a better perspective of this little bird.
One of the features of the inland cities is that they were build on the large rivers that flow from the inland to the coast. The River Gums are a beautiful tree one sees by the Murrumbidgee river as well as along Lake Albert. A great haven for birds.
As I walked around the lake (not pictured here as my birding lens could not capture it), I saw various species of seed eating birds including the Galah, a common inhabitant of the west. These birds like others of the parrot family mate for life, and have a beautiful relationship of caring and preening one another.
A surprise find was this ‘Yellow Rosella’ a subspecies of the Crimson Rosella, which is usually found further southwest.
This Eastern Rosella turned up briefly to check me out before flying off.
Due to the persisting drought conditions inland, it has resulted in many bird species being either missing or in small number and/or not breeding here this year. It was surprising to see how the drought has affected the numbers and breeding of birds both coastal and inland this summer. Though some were not perturbed, such as the Australian Magpie where we saw an example of both immature black backed and white backed sub species.
Immature white-backed Southern Magpie
Black backed immature
Adult black-backed Eastern Magpie
Black-backed Magpie immature
One bird common to most of the mainland is the Magpie-lark (PeeWee, Mud-lark) found usually in pairs. See if you can remember from my previous posts which is the male and female? I will tell you at the end which is which.
pair of PeeWees
A not so popular migratory nomadic introduced bird is the Common Starling, which I could tell by their squeaky call. This dead tree by the lake has always had these birds present when I have visited. I think they breed in it.
This Crested Pigeon is a beautiful specimen and posed for me so well so I had to include it, having one of the best crests I have seen in a while.
One little guy I have always enjoyed seeing here by the lake which we do not see down our way is the Dusky Woodswallow, as he was hunting and devouring a worm.
One of the sad things is that there was a great depletion in water birds since my visit last year. The drought had taken its toll and only a few Pacific Black Duck and Little Black Cormorant were present, along with Australian Swamphen, who were in good number grazing in the cow paddocks nearby. The White-faced Heron flew off before I could catch him on camera.
Little Black Cormorant
This pair of Australian Pelican took the show with their beautiful photogenic synchronous pose.
Finally, the common honeyeater of the inland west is the tiny White-plumed Honeyeater, a very busy bird continually checking leaves for lerps, nectar, insects and blossom. How did you go determining the sex of the Magpie-lark. The female is on the left having a vertical black facial and neck marking and the male is on the right of her, and has a horizontal black facial feature through the eye.
So after a brief walk around the wetland portion of the lake I made my way back to where we were staying to find that everyone was now up and about and ready for breakfast. While they slept I had feasted on the local beauty surrounding the lake and watched the morning sun break on the lake. Sadly my birding lens could not capture this. Apart from the Noisy Minor and the Australian Raven, these were the birds I was blessed to see in that short hour. I am truly thankful that the Lord blesses us with an appreciation of his majestic glory and intelligent design displayed in the beauty and magnificence of his Creation. This always delights me that he shares his delight and enjoyment of all this with me, displaying another beautiful aspect of his abiding love and favor.
“TheblessingoftheLord makes a person rich, and he adds no sorrow with it.” – Proverbs 10:22
“May thefavoroftheLord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us— yes, establish the work of our hands.” – Psalm 90:17
Have a wonderful celebration of thanksgiving for Jesus’ Death and Resurrection.
“He who knew no sin became sin on our behalf so that we might become the righteousness of God through Him.”
Which puts us in a wonderful relationship with God the Father through faith in Jesus:
“In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.” – Ephesians 3:12 (Quotes from NIV)
Check out the rest of my website from my homepage.
It is that unusual time of year again where the seasons are changing, and so are some of our bird species. In Australia most of our birds are permanent territorial birds, but there is a certain amount of migration that takes place, especially with our migratory waders which are leaving for the upper reaches of the northern hemisphere during the next few weeks to breed. As we can see above, this male is already donning his breeding plumage is almost fully colored for breeding before taking his 16,000 km flight to Alaska with his family. We won’t see him again till next Spring, when he with his kind, will return on a 16,000 km direct flight non-stop for 8 days across the pacific Ocean, from Alaska to Australia. The world’s most endurant bird. I love seeing these little guys before they leave with their orange appearance. You can see them with the family which do not show breeding plumage. Yes, this is the little flock I features some weeks ago on my favorite wader beach. I was thankful for half a day to get out and about from my very busy life.
Bar-tailed Godwit in breeding and non breeding plumage
The passerine migrants will be on their way up the top of Australia and into New Guinea and south east Asia, these include the Dollarbird, the Bulbuls, the cuckoos and the Bee-eaters. I drove around to my other viewing place which is more secluded behind the mangroves and was delighted to find one Eastern Curlew and a Whimbrel, quite uncommon in our parts. These birds will take flight also for the north in the coming weeks. A couple of Australian Pelicans rested on the shore with a Masked lapwing, these birds will be staying through winter.
The Silver Gull is a permanent beach resident here, and an immature gull (note the brown dappled plumage) watched the strange Godwit creatures walk past, while its parent flew past.
Immature Gull with Godwits
Silver Gull in flight
As I walked around the waterfront toward Botany Bay hoping for a double bonus afternoon, I saw this beautiful pair of Pied Oystercatcher walking the shoreline. These birds are now classified as endangered in NSW due to their drop in numbers because their breeding places on human occupied beaches are interfering with their breeding patterns. The problem with 4×4 cars is that men like to drive them on beaches, which makes the shore and sea bird breeding areas more access able than ever before. Even when signs warn to take care or not enter sensitive areas, they continue to do so.
With this changing season comes a special treat which occurs each year in Cook Park, Botany Bay. So I walked around to the large grove of unusual pine trees, where last year I blogged the feast of the Cockatoos and Corella as they fed on the pine cones, extracting the seed. Yes! they were there as predicted, which gave me great delight photographing their wild behaviour as Sulphur-crested and Yellow-tail Black Cockatoo along with Little Corella competed for cones. Bird everywhere flying and calling. Cones and pieces of them falling like rain from the trees. One cone landed on my camera, and thankfully it did not damage it.
Yellow-tail Black Cockatoo (male)
Yellow-tail Black Cockatoo (male)
Silphur-crested Cockatoo eating a cone
Yellow-tail Black Cockatoo (female)
Yellow-tail Black Cockatoo (female)
Yellow-tail Black Cockatoo (female)
Yellow-tail Black Cockatoo (male)
Yellow-tail Black Cockatoo (male)
Yellow-tail Black Cockatoo (female)
If you look to the Yellow-tails above you can tell the males apart from the female by the red eye-ring. Notice how the Cockatoo, as with others in the parrot family, can hold, grasp and manipulate the food in one claw and bring it to its mouth while standing on the other leg. This is a unique feature of these birds. The above birds are all flockbirds and were present in their groups. When an alarm went up up from the corellas, the whole place was overcome by the sound of squawking and wing movement for several minutes.
It was a perfect birding afternoon, so I topped it off with an icecream and made my way home, knowing that each season brings its own, and like the cycle of the earth around the sun, so the birds cycle and move around in predictable habitat changes. In most cases they follow their food, and seek breeding places that provide warmth, safety from predators and close nearby fresh water and food suitable for their young. It is important for us humans to see that our life has seasons also, maybe not quite as predictable and cyclic as the birds, but nevertheless, we need to appreciate this fact of life, or fall foul to depression and disappointment. Many of you will have seen this clip I made some time ago but I feel it is appropriate to finish this post with it.
My wife and I took a much needed break from our hectic life to the quiet sub tropical paradise called Norfolk Island, a small island in the south pacific. An Australian territory about 1,400 km east of the mainland. To my surprise the island had remained in a time warp and was very much the same as it was when I visited in 1976, a real ‘laid back and friendly Aussie island lifestyle’. Norfolk Island is famous for its popular seaside tree, the Norfolk Pine which originated from this island, which originally was covered in this tree. This tree is now found throughout seaside areas on the east coast of the Australian mainland. In my next post I will share how this tree is important to the survival of a beautiful sea bird species.
The fronds of this pine unlike those in northern hemisphere point upward, as snow is not a problem here. The tree is depicted on the flag. To understand the political tension here and the three settlements you will need to read elsewhere. Captain James Cook originally claimed it for Britain in 1774 on his second voyage funded by the Duchess of Norfolk (in England), hence the honour of the island name. The first settlement of the uninhabited island was as a penal colony ( see ruins below) later closed leaving buildings intact due to its brutal tortures. Later the English sailors who mutineered the HMS Bounty from cruel Captain Bligh bred with the local Polynesians and settled an uninhabited Pitcairn Island nearby. Queen Victoria later granted them Norfolk to settle in response to their plea for more land. Later, free settlers from Australia and New Zealand came as the the third settlement. There since has been contention with the Pitcairn descendants and the Australian Government over sovereignty.
One of our objectives beside resting and swimming, was to explore the islands rainforest in the National Parks, in search of the rare species endemic to the island. Above is the rare and critically endangered Tasman Parakeet or Green Parrot (to the locals), which we were blessed to see after several days searching, and then on several occasions. The best and easiest place to hear and possibly see this bird is in the Norfolk Island Botanic Gardens, where there are many variety of native island rainforest fruit, fruiting while we were there.
One of the keys to locating the bird is its peculiar call, which gives its position away. The loud kek, kek, kek ,kek can be heard quite a distance away.
The Parakeet is being threatened by loss of habitat, but more so by introduced black and Polynesian rats eating their eggs and young. A program of eradication has been in operation for some time. The other problem is the Crimson Rosella, introduced from Australia’s mainland by former prison officers, being released on their exit from the island. The Rosella outnumber the Parakeet and take their nesting holes.
Norfolk Island Green Parrot
The Tasman Parakeet is more accustomed to human presence than the Crimson Rosella, and tends to forage in the lower lying fruit tree branches, allowing one time to watch them, before they fly off. We watched one feeding on native fruit in the rainforest, so I apologise for the dark footage, as rainforests do not allow much light in through the canopy. We took many trips to the Botanic Gardens before we finally heard this bird and quickly advanced on its location.
The Norfolk Palms are currently fruiting in the mountains of the National Park and this will provide more food for the fruit eating parakeet.
The second endemic bird which is not so threatened as the parakeet is the Norfolk Island Sacred Kingfisher, which looks very similar to our local mainland species. We did not get many good shots of this bird due to the sun gleaming off its shiny plumage. Pictured below is our mainland Sacred Kingfisher alongside the NI sub species, but three of the birds are juveniles with brown plumage and mottled black chest. These birds were quite shy and flew off when they saw you paying them attention.
Sacred Kingfisher (mainland Aus.)
Norfolk Island Sacred Kingfisher
The third bird endemic to the island is the Norfolk Island is the tiny Norfolk Island Gerygone (Grey Warbler to the locals). Similar in appearance to our mainland species with the white eyebrow line, they have not suffered too much from human habitation, except for the black rat infestation, similar to the Tasman Parakeet.
This little bird makes a loud beautiful song which rings through the forest as they communicate to one another. It constantly moves, in a similar way to our mainland variety, and is difficult to photograph such a small bird in a dark forest.
The fourth endemic species was that of the Norfolk Island Pacific Robin. This robin is a subspecies of our mainland Scarlet Robin. The male has the distinctive black head with white forehead and bright red chest, and the female and juveniles brown with a very light orange chest, the juvenile having lighter chest colour and more brown plumage.
Pacific Robin male
Pacific Robin male
Pacific Robin male
Pacific Robin female
Pacific Robin female
Pacific Robin female
Pacific Robin female
These were quite tame birds and very curious of humans, coming quite close to view us, especially tame in the deep forest of the National Park in Palm Glen near Mount Bates. This walk up and down steep ex volcanic mountainside was quite strenuous, and very healthy for us sedentary folk. Our legs knew it the next day. The Norfolk Island Tree Fern also endemic to the island are recorded as the tallest Tree Ferns in the world, growing up to 20 meters in height. So tall I can’t get them all in the picture.
The next endemic species which is also very curious of humans is the Norfolk Island Grey Fantail, similar to our mainland species. When we were deep in the forest at Palm Glen one of these birds flew continuously around me from branch to branch, it was so close I could not get focus. It was quite amusing to watch as I spun around with this bird. In the Botanic Gardens we found a pair of juveniles playing together having recently fledged and still having their fluffy front plumage. They landed right next to us without fear. There call is similar to our mainland species.
A rarer endemic to the island is the Norfolk Island Long or Slender-billed White-eye which has a longer and slightly downcurved beak compared with the mainland Australian Silvereye which is also on the island as an introduced bird. I will compare them on a later post. The white-eye has a dull green plumage with a yellow throat.
Our final endemic species for the island is the Norfolk Island Golden Whistler, which is quite different in appearance (especially the male) to the mainland and Lord Howe Island species. The male and female look alike with the male having a slightly golden chest plumage, and the female much less chest coloring. Their call is commonly heard throughout the forest.
Compare the above male with the mainland male below.
Golden Whistler (male)
Golden Whistler (male) whistling
You will notice I did not edit out me shushing my wife, she often talks while I am doing live footage, it is one of the challenges of bird photography.
Stay tuned for next weeks post as we explore the sea birds that live and breed on the island. Meanwhile today our family mourns the loss of our dear old dog Bella as she lay in my wife’s arms and fell asleep. It was a very sad and emotional day for us all.
“I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying.” – John 11:25