White-throated Treecreeper quietly creeping up the tree
As we move into lock down and the new terms self isolation and social distancing now become part of our vocab, as well as the latest catchphrase: ” Stay Safe!”, like Leut. James Cook, we chart and map new waters and places we have not been to before in this pandemic plague. Since midnight we are now discouraged strongly from venturing out into our local national parks, which are now closed with staff forced to take leave, so this post comes from my wife and I last Friday, where we socially distanced alone in the forest of our local Nasho (i.e. Royal National Park).
Of course from today this is now changed, and many of us are figuring out how to navigate the coming weeks with the government’s imposed changes. This will have some impact on birders and birding blogs. Thankfully this is a time of year when bird numbers and species are fewer in our area. It may mean for some, photographing the birds they can see from their homes, such as these Kookaburras who called on the TV areal next door for the first time ever, having been chased by a coalition of Noisy Miner. Notice the aggression, finally they both left. Now I know why we never see them here anymore.
Last week I mentioned how my wife and I noticed the spooky quietness of an usually noisy bird filled forest as we walked together in the Nasho. However, returning a week later we discovered why. It was not that the birds were not there, they were just not singing or calling to one another, they were quiet, which is customary during non-breeding season for many honeyeaters and whistlers to mention but two. We found small pockets of birds at a time where very few native plants were flowering or fruiting. I spotted this White-browed Treecreeper climbing and foraging in the bark for insects and grubs. It is usual to hear its loud call as it ascends the eucalypt tree, but no sound was heard. Notice his bark flicking technique as burrows for insects and grubs.
You can see why this bird is difficult to see, and usually only detected by its call, so I did well to find it. My wife took the still shots, as my lens is still coming, like a lot of other things including life as we have known it, put on hold at present.
Here is an example of what this bird would normally sound like.
Walking further my wife spotted a male Golden Whistler, who usually sings his heart out while courting and nesting during Spring and Summer, but is now quiet, shy and difficult to find. His female partner turned up also, but she is not as timid, and as per usual, came close, landed and looked at us out of one eye, and left. Here is the male.
Here is the female. Notice as with many birds the mature adult male has the bright coloration, which is the hallmark of the species and the female the more earthy brown, green or grey plumage which affords protection when nesting, giving camouflage protection from would be predators.
As we walked we did hear the call of the Lewin’s Honeyeater which we always hear here, but did not see it. I noticed this tiny yellow object sitting high in an Angophora tree, near a hole, which is a classic of this tree used by cockies, lorikeets for nesting and owls for living. Usually this resident Eastern Yellow Robin would greet us as we passed by and sometimes follow or lead us along the track, but not today.
These unique holes form when the branch dies inside and falls, as the tree repairs itself. This tree known as the Sydney Red Gum has a nickname to the early European settlers as The Widow Maker because when the branch fell, there was no warning of it breaking, it just silently fell out of the hole, killing anyone below.
As we looked through the trees another silent inhabitant, the Eastern Water Dragon, was sun bathing in the warm afternoon sun over the river which follows our track.
We were hoping the Rufous Fantail had returned for Autumn, but no sign as yet. This is the palm forest we usually find them flitting about in.
As we returned, we noticed a flock of Australian Wood Duck, usually seen grazing on grass seed beside the Hacking River. They are very tame and carry on eating while we stand right next to them. These birds pair for life, and have the father assists the mother duck throughout nesting and fledging.
Our last observation was this small family of Magpie, dad, mum and the juvenile. Interesting there is only one this season, as this couple usually have two or three young. A human family are having fun playing together nearby as they social distance themselves, while a Magpie family help themselves to picnic leftovers. Notice the aggressive behaviour of the father to junior.
Magpies in small family groups tend to be successful breeders, as they hold their territory and do not have the complex social structure of the magpie clans that also exist. This magpie family have held this choice area for some years, which is a credit to the male. The next territory is about 100 meters away. Because the pickings are so good here, everyone appears to tolerate each other well.
The juvenile is still learning the craft of Magpie wisdom and would be a product of the last Spring. Most of the young of our large black or pied omnivorous birds have brown plumage with dark eyes and beak. They will undergo changes for the next 2 to 3 years to full black and white adult.
Juvenile Aust. Eastern Magpie
On a different note:
Silvereye trapped in netting (photo by Tony D’Abrera)
You may remember I quoted from Psalm 91 a couple of weeks ago, which Moses is attributed to writing: “Surely He shall deliver you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence…” The Fowler trapped and caught wild birds as an occupation, to sell or eat for food. My brother-in-law Tony in Canberra, showed me this photo of him holding a little Silvereye, which he had found entangled in the netting (seen in background) to protect his fruit tree from birds and bats.
A bird in the hand. You would think this bird was his pet. The bird does not look distressed. This bird was set free from being trapped, which is the direct opposite to that of the action of the Fowler or enemy that seeks to destroy our lives. This is the beautiful illustration of how God saves us, out of the enemies snare, and holds our life in the palm of his hand. Many at this time, in our current circumstances, are turning to Psalm 91 as an appropriate prayer of faith. Another beautiful aspect this photo depicts is how God:
“For I am the Lordyour God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.” – Isaiah 41:13
“You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me…” – Psalm 139: 5,6
“If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.” – Psalm 139: 9,10
This pandemic is an opportunity for many to pray and seek God, who is Love, and has taken the initiative to breach the broken relationship we each have with him by sending his son Jesus to suffer on our behalf, so that we can become his friends again and establish a relationship of peace and trust that enables us to have the hope and assurance that he is with us through this pandemic storm, as Moses declared in Psalm 91 when he describes God to be like a large bird, protecting its chicks under its wings.
Interesting as it is, Jesus referred to the obstinate and rebellious Jews of his day, who trusted in their own selfishness pride rather than in God’s saving power, as chicks:
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.” – Matthew 23:37 & Luke 13:34
There are at present, at this unprecedented time, more podcasts and online presentations by churches and people of faith than ever before in internet history. As we are confined to our homes there is time for us to take a break from our busy lives, reflect, contemplate and explore the meaning of life. You may like to explore my Birder Sanctuary Portal through which one can discover how Jesus, also a birdwatcher, used birds to relate aspects of faith for living the best life possible.
Enjoy your week as best you can. Stay Safe and Stay Sane!
As we globally enter the season of social distancing and voluntary isolation, life as we have known it has changed. Thankfully, we do have our National Parks and Reserves to escape to, to bring healing and some normalization to our lives at this uncertain time in history. Though this also could change in the coming days. My wife and I continue to escape when we can to these havens. Last week we visited Dolls Point to see how our wader friends the Bar-tailed Godwit are doing, as they eat incessantly to fatten themselves for the journey north, which I thought they may have already flown. But with the warm weather remaining longer, they may leave in the next week or two.
As you can see they are at various stages of breeding plumage, with the male in this clan brightest orange and the females now showing a much fainter orange. There are also some not showing any breeding plumage which may be immature.
This Godwit below is possibly a female, showing the lighter breeding plumage. The females are also slightly larger and have slightly longer beaks.
A small company of Light-blue Soldier Crabs marched across the mudflats.
As we watched the Godwits to our surprise my wife noticed this small bright green object, which stood out like a sore thumb on the sand. We knew it was a native bird of our country, and suspected it to be an escaped pet as Green Parakeets are American birds. It appeared quite tame and came right up to us, but was not in any distress, but just rested on the sand with other birds nearby.
One think I have learnt as a birder over the years is that birds of the Parrot family as pretty and innocent as they look, are not to be reckoned with lightly by other bird species. They have one of the most painful bites. Even the Noisy Miner gives respect to the Rainbow Lorikeet here in Sydney. Watch how this much larger Silver Gull responds when he approaches this lovely little Parakeet.
Well if you think that this was an unexpected find, so was the much larger bird resting on the shoreline which caught our attention. Yes, it was a Kelp Gull, a bird we seldom see here on our beaches. The lipstick bottom beak identifies and differentiates it from the total lipstick beak of the almost identical Pacific Gull found in southern Australia.
On Sunday afternoon we walked in our local Royal National Park (or Nasho to the locals) , and found not only sparsity of people but also of birds. It was so quiet, as I kept saying to my wife, “It is so quiet! Autumn is usually quiet, but this is too quiet!” As we walked the streams, creeks and waterfalls were all flowing, which was a wonderful sound we have not experienced for a long time. As searched for the Azure Kingfisher beside the river we were greeted by a family of Pacific Black Duck, which are actually brown, not black as named. Yes, these are my wife’s pics, as I continue to wait from my lens repair.
Pacific Black Duck
Pacific Black Duck
This Dusky Moorhen stood by the water flicking its tail, a feature of some waterbirds, including the Australasian Swamphen. There are several ideas as to why they flick their tail of which I find too diverse to settle on one. We do know it communicates to other birds of the species, some say it may mean a warning or even intention to mate among other suggested reasons… mmm!
Soon after a young pair of Australian Wood Duck were strolling by the river eating grass seed, as this is what many grazing ducks and other passerines are eating at the end of Summer as the seasons change. Also, on this occasion the Kingfisher eluded us and flew some distance down the river.
As we walked quietly along the trail we were surprised there were no scratchings of the Lyrebird, nor any sounds of them. Since the months of smoke from bushfires I have not seen or heard them. It is disconcerting, as at this time of year the male will be preparing his mound and beginning to display for the females and mate, as Lyrebirds nest during the winter, unlike most birds. Suddenly, we heard a chattering nearby. It was a single Red-browed Finch, a fast moving little a seed eater.
I had to slow down this video clip so you could see him.
At this time of year there are the least number of nectar producing wildflowers, which means less birds, as most honeyeaters follow the blossom. Even the Banksia were all finished, and as Mountain Devil is not usually seen in the park, the Bush Fuchsiar flower was present in small numbers, which provided food for the non migratory Noisy Miner, which many find hard to believe it is actually a honeyeater, so here is the proof.
The tingling of the Eastern Crimson Rosella also caught our ear as it proceeded to feed from native berries above our head. On seeing us of course it tried to make itself unseen.
Another unexpected surprise for this time of year was to see a juvenile Black-faced Monarch. These birds usually migrate north to New Guinea and Northern Queensland during our winter months, so this one, born here in the park has not yet left. So we knew the parent was nearby. We saw the parent but it eluded any decent photo. The immature Monarch has much less black on its face. As it matures so the black increases. I slowed down the video so you could see its face before it flew. They are very shy birds, and don’t like their photo taken.
Here you can compare the juvenile and immature with the adult bird. There bright orange underbelly makes them easy to spot. These birds have a beautiful song which often makes them easy to find, but they were not chiming on this occasion.
Black-faced Monarch juvenile
Black-faced Monarch immature
Black-faced Monarch adult
Last of all as we turned to return to our car, my wife saw this Red-bellied Black Snake slithering away beside us on the trail. These are venomous but usually a shy snake,and and seldom cause any problem. They are the most common snake seen in the Sydney area. Unlike other more aggressive venomous snakes, Red-bellies do not need to hibernate through the Winter months. Often to the surprise of many international visitors to the Nasho they can be seen basking in the warm winter sun on the trial. If you approach stamping your feet, usually they will slither into the grass, as they have very poor eyesight and like most snakes have sensory devices on their body to detect ground vibrations. If they stand erect and challenge you, it is usually because they have young with them or you are standing between them and their nest, so just leave.
To top off the walk and having asked God to show us something special in the quiet forest, my wife potted a large entwined object hanging far out over the river, from a dead tree. It was a large Diamond Python, a beautiful harmless snake which many Aussies have as a pet. They are excellent mousers and ratters, far more effective than cats. Though my son’s little Toy Foxy dog was also better than cats as a mouser. It just slept in the afternoon sun, away from any contact. It must have heard the Prime Minister’s speech about practicing social distancing.
One of the important lessons from this virus plague is that it stops us in our busy tracks to consider how we are doing life, and how we might do things better. As from our two outings above, things were different, some were unexpected intrusions or inclusions. How we view change affects our emotional and physical well being considerably. The uncertainty of the untraveled path we are all travelling causes some anxiety for many, but one thing which I have come to know and believe over the years is that there is a Treasure in every Trial to be gleaned out. So I often say to those who ask for help: Don’t Miss the Treasure in the Trial. God may speak to us through our times of suffering and difficulty, and sometimes it is just a nudge to tell us he is there for us so just trust him and lean on him to take you through it. Unexpected change can bring good things into our lives also, we need to be looking for them with an attitude of gratitude as we all take notes in the Master Life Instructor’s school room of life.
Enjoy the rest of your week and stay safe as best you can.
The Red, Little & Yellow Wattlebirds, our largest Honeyeaters
While I continue to wait for parts for my lens to come from abroad, and as the weather begins to cool down, and transition into our most bird less time of yea, my wife and I walked through our favorite reserve in the eerie quietness of what appeared to be a birdless forest. Then unexpectedly came the harsh grating throaty cough-like call of the Red Wattlebird. Ahh! there is a bird here and it is very obvious who it is!
So I decided to showcase this uniquely Aussie bird family, the Wattlebirds of which there are three distinct kinds. However there is a subspecies of the Little Wattlebird, now known as the Western Wattlebird found only in south west WA. These birds make up the largest of our honeyeaters and similar to the Noisy Miner featured last week can be at times just as aggressive. In the photo above sitting side by side you will notice the wattle which is the pendulous appendage hanging from the neck on either side. The Little Wattlebird (also known as the Brush Wattlebird) has such a small wattle that is is not visible, maybe it should be the Invisible Wattlebird. So let’s start:
The Red Wattlebird
This is the most widely spread of the three and most commonly found in the southern most coastal parts of the southern states, except Tasmania.Where there is open dry woodland and forest with flowering trees and shrubs. They have the perfect curved beak for probing flowers for nectar. They also eat insects and berries.
They are very aggressive to other birds when caring for their young. As you can see below the juvenile lacks the red wattle and the red eye, which come with maturity. The Red Wattlebird below is of the south western WA race, photographed by the Swan River in Perth, race woodwardi which has a broader rounder wattle to our local race curunculata.
Hungry baby begging
Baby being fed
The Red Wattlebird will not be harassed, but will defend its territory and food sources against other birds, considering it is the larger honeyeater, and it packs a painful bite to the tail of other birds. It also has technique of diving at very fast speed, toward other birds to chase them off. Being a territorial honeyeater similar in operation to the Noisy Miner they often have brawls with other honeyeaters. The red wattle never grows longer than a 2 to 3 centimeters.
The Yellow Wattlebird
This is Australia’s largest honeyeater and is endemic only to Tasmania. This bird develops quite pendulous wattles and is happier as a flock bird. It likewise feeds on native blossom from eucalypt trees and insects it finds around the flowers. Notice this younger bird with its developing wattle, swallowing a worm.
Now compare this much older bird, and see how those wattles hang.
The Little Wattlebird
The Little or Brush Wattlebird is found mainly on the coast east of the ranges in south east QUE, along the coasts of NSW and Victoria, south coast of SA and parts of eastern Tasmania. The Western race (or Western Wattlebird) is found only in the south west tip of WA. The feature watching this bird is how it hangs its tongue. Australian Honeyeaters have brush-like tips to their long tongues which they can extend quickly from an almost closed beak. The brush-like tip soaks up nectar using capillary attraction and is drawn up into the mouth. They can rapidly move the tongue in and out of their beak, with it only open a very little. Hence the name Brush. However, of the honeyeaters the Little (or Brush) appears to show its extended brush-tipped tongue more often. Watch this video and see.
Note tongue hanging out. This is a feature of honeyeaters when they are busily feeding. They leave the tongue out ready for the next flower.
One of the distinguishing and beautiful features of this bird is its unique chest plumage, which I think looks like a hair brush, but that is not where the brush name came from, it is the brush tipped tongue.
The juvenile lacks this frontal plumage, which develops with maturity, as it looses its orange head plumage.
Juvenile Little Honeyeater.
Little Wattlebirds have an interesting landing posture at times, showing a curved back.
The call of the Little Wattlebird is quite distinguishable to the Red.
I love these captures of a pair of Little Wattlebirds .
To conclude look at this very special photo, can you detect what is special about it…
Yes, a Red Wattlebird is actually sharing the same Bottlebrush flower head as a Little Wattlebird. They are just drawing from opposing sides. Sharing like this is very rare among these birds. Even more interesting is what eventually followed in this next photo, when the Little guy moved the flower with its leg.
The more aggressive and larger Red left the Little to the flower. It makes one wonder whether each realised the other was there, as they were so engrossed in extracting nectar. We normally appreciate sharing is a caring and loving attribute, however with this recent world spreading killer virus COVID-19, even shaking hands and standing in the same room with someone can be a risk, let alone sharing flower nectar. Hand sanitizer and masks are out of stock everywhere, and many are panic buying food in case they have to isolate themselves from the community for either reason. Fear hyped by media dramatizations has gripped many. But in the midst or eye of the storm their is peace for those who want it. A shepherd boy David once wrote, referring to his love for and unflinching trust in his God which brought him peace in many difficult and life threatening situations he experienced throughout his life:
“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” – Psalm 23:4
If this is your first visit to my blog, why not explore my birding website via the HomePage which has had a recent face lift with some additional pages and changes in preparation for the next book release. Learn about the value of installing a Birdbath.
A new Young Birders Page will be available soon targetting 8 to 12 year olds and will have a special place where they can learn about our birds. If you would like to preview it you may, and if you know children who might be interested tell them. This will be geared toward my schools presentations and book sales.
Birding for Beginners is now a more complete compilation of my birding hints and instruction, in one place. It might be worth an explore if you have not explored before.
This is now the second week that my camera and lens has been at the hospital having surgery and joint replacement, so this blog post will be quite different from the usual having all but the above picture photographed from my mobile phone (iphone 5s) whilst walking with my wife yesterday at Carss Bush Park near where we live. It was late afternoon, and the flocks of Sulphur-crested Cockatoo were returning to the park, with loud raucous calls, as they do, to roost in the tall eucalypt trees for the night. At first we saw a small flock of Cockies grazing quite peacefully on the lawn by the path, and a huddle of Noisy Miner nearby, which seemed to be in planning mode.
Several of the Cockatoo flock, were standing a little away from the others, acquired our curiosity, as their behaviour seemed somewhat unusual.
It appeared that the main leader of the flock was having a conference with his peers, and Special Agent Noisy Miner was listening in to gain intelligence for his coalition assembled nearby. What could they possibly be discussing with such serious concern?
Nearby two members of the flock were having a stand off which may have precipitated from a disagreement concerning opinions as to how to address their concerns. Note the Noisy Miner again trying to be covert in the background.
A brief scuttle broke out between a pair of teenagers who wanted to assert their authority and deal with the problem their own way.
A Cocky expert was flown in to give advice on this unusual occurrence that had befallen the flock.
They formed a huddle around him as he shared his wisdom and then out of the corner of her binoculars my wife sighted the reason for the unusual concern, as you can see from the above photograph(top right). A lone Long-billed Corella had joined their flock, and has caused concern, as it looks and behaves quite different to them and has yet not learnt their language. Notice there are now two Miner agents listening in, as interest mounts.
It soon became clear of the centre of interest as the Cockies gathered in a circle around the Corella, watching it with concern and curiosity. They were thinking: ‘It looks like us but is different, and Oh, that bill is so long and dangerous, I would not want to have that in my back’. The Corella showed some concern but continued graizing. Corella, like most birds of the Parrot family pair for life but when they loose their partner through death or separation from a flock they often find safety by joining another flock. However, these Cockatoos are quite familiar with the Little Corella which is often found grazing with them in the Sydney area, but not this Long-billed species. Note the key differences, the longer bill and the pink under chin of the Long-billed species.
A LIttle Corella pair
A Long-billed Corella pair
The Corella is actually a small Cockatoo and therefore would find some companionship with them. This is the reason most birds from the Parrot family in Australia can be taught to talk, as this ability to copy and pick up language is a survival technique for birds such as these, on joining a different flock, where they find safety in the flock. This is especially important as many of our parrot species inhabit dry desert places, where finding water and food often requires a group effort. Finches are likewise arid dwellers who do the same.
The flock were unperturbed by my slow approach to get a closer look. My wife stood back as passersby were amazed at how close these birds allowed me to come to them without stirring. The lonely little Long-bill looked at me, also curious, as the Cockies kept a distance from it.
Bare in mind that most birds no matter how aggressive, including Noisy Miners do not usually attack birds of the Parrot family due the wound they can inflict with their heavy sharp beak, so they like Rainbow Lorikeets (featured last week) have few predators and feed alongside the Noisy Miner. They are also aware that these birds are not carnivorous. Oh! Look! the Secret Agents have reported back to the Noisy Miner coalition (this is the name for highly organised Miner squadron which protect the perimeter of their flock territory). Now the coalition has taken interest in the new visitor, carefully advancing and observing intently, till they are satisfied it offered no threat.
The conclusion appeared to be now settled as the alpha Cocky approached the foreigner and greeted it, welcoming it to the flock. He was accepted as one of them, as he chose to join them and trust them. therefore posing no threat. He now would become a special point of interest, whereby they may learn from this bird new lessons that may be helpful for the flock. Now everyone could take it easy and get on with a peaceful life together.
We can learn so much about life from this little flock as we live in our multicultural world and are confronted with people living and moving about us from many different countries and cultures other than our own. When alone in a foreign land among foreign people, of a different language and culture it can be very scary at first, as it is for the many single young adults who come to Australia to find work. They would feel like our Long-billed Corella, somewhat out of place. Looking for that smile and warm acceptance and respect we all crave for more than anything else throughout our lives. Each one of our human kind, are loved and valued by our Creator. Each one of us requires acceptance, unconditional love, and respect to live a healthy life, regardless of our differences. As the alpha Cockie realised, the multicultural aspect brings with it new knowledge, new foods and new friends. Our Creator Father reminded Israel many times, who were often very prejudiced against non-Jews, calling them Gentile dogs, the reason they need to consider how they treat foreigners in their land, for they had previously experienced it themselves:
“Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt.” – Exodus 23:9 (NIV)
It is an interesting read in Luke 4:24-30 to see the anger that arose among the Jewish leaders when Jesus the Christ made reference to several occasions in their history where God had blessed foreigners and included them as key players in his plans rather than Jews, so much so that they tried to kill him. Jesus identified the fact that God loves us all and blesses all who come to him.
“Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown.I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land.Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon.And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”
Also after Jesus healed TEN men (see Luke 17) from the terrible infectious disease Leprosy when they approached him for healing (which was both illegal and punishable to do at that time, as they were always to stay outside the city), after healing them, this was his comment to the Jewish leaders watching him when ONLY ONE returned to thank him:
“Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” – Luke 17:18
Have a wonderful week! It is so good to get cooler days and rain again! We give thanks to our Most Gracious Creator for his mercy at this time, for answered prayers. Several major fires have finally been extinguished. There is much cleaning up to be done, and much of our wildlife that have escaped the fires are being supported with human assistance for survival as they face starvation due to lost habitat and their injuries are being nursed. We give thanks for caring people involved in their many different capacities.
My 2nd Edition of “What Birds Teach Us” is at the test print stage after final draft was approved yesterday. Check it out here.
If this is your first visit check out therest of my website at my HomePage menu for birding info and lessons we can learn from our beautiful Australian birds
Azure Kingfisher waiting for a meal to appear (a survivor)
We rejoice and give thanks for the recent rain and cooler days we just had, though some areas experienced powerful lightning bolts (which destroyed our NBN router), powerful winds bringing down trees and destroying houses and cars. Our national capital Canberra had a massive hail storm being pelted with golf ball sized hail which destroyed or damaged many cars and houses, taking out many windscreens. Other areas were flooded causing damage and accidents, while in other areas the fires continue their uncontrollable destructive course. Ah well! at least we got rain, as sadly many drought ridden areas got none or very little. This created another serious problem massive 300 km wide dust storms, lifting our choice dry top soil into massive clouds and creating an eerie night for many towns in the middle of the day. Here is a photo of Australian top soil staining the ice, having been blown over 2,000 km (1,200 miles) across the Tasman Sea to New Zealand in 2006 and was deposited on the Fox Glacier on the South Island. On top of all this our holiday season tourist trade has suffered a great loss, as have many businesses burnt down, cattle, orchards and farms wiped out all due to fire devastation, and its not over yet.
Australian soil on the ice of the Fox Glacier
Now to a brighter note, where we live in Sydney, the last week we have had cooler weather, the smoke has cleared and much appreciated heavy rain for a couple of days making the grass green again. While many parts of our burnt nation grieve their losses, we also grieve the many wildlife and forest losses, and the possibility that many birds and some animals may either now be extinct or on the brink of extinction.
Regent Honeyeater critically endangered species
Many of our rarer bird species are found in sometimes in very small pockets of forest making their existence very vulnerable to destructive fires. The truth will be revealed later in the year. For now the urgent cry to governments is to get active to exterminate the ferule foxes and cats which are killing the surviving suffering wildlife. Koalas have been declared, in many parts of our state as functionally extinct. Meaning that due to the extreme and total loss of habitat (eucalypt tree leaves their only food) in large areas, the surviving rescued animals cannot be placed back there, but have to be relocated to the remaining unburnt forests that have the tree leaves they require. The poor creatures do not know what to do or where to go without our help, as you can see below…
As the summer school holidays continue, we had the privilege of having our grandson Jesse stay a few days. With binoculars, camera and hat we made our way into the Royal National Park, which thankfully is one of the unburnt areas of our state. On arrival at the gift shop and cafe Jesse noticed an important item and drew my attention to it.
At first we decided to walk along the river in search of the Azure Kingfisher which we always love to show our grandies, and lo and behold he was just where we looked, fishing for his next meal, so we watched while I captured the sequence below. This is a small brightly colored and very human shy bird found mainly along freshwater rivers and lakes. It is stunning when flying in bright sunlight.
Azure Kingfisher looks over the river
Azure Kingfisher waiting for a meal to appear
Sees fish and takes a dive
down beneath the surface it captures fish
emerges with fish in beak
flies back to tree
rests with fish in beak
quickly consumes fish and sits waiting again
What a treat for Jesse! On our walk along the forest road we noticed how dry everything was, and how we hardly heard or saw a bird, which is unusual for this time of year when the forest is usually full of song especially from the Golden Whistler which was no where to be found. I mentioned that we would usually see the Eastern Yellow Robin about here, and lo and behold there it appeared, a young one.
We saw a juvenile Grey Fantail also. I mentioned to Jesse that both these birds have a habit of following you along the track being very curious, but also hoping we will cause food to appear by our movement along the track.
We were hoping to see and hear a Superb Lyrebird as that would have been a real treat for him but there were no sounds or even signs that they had recently been on the track. Possibly like many of our birds they had fled due to the thick smoke of previous months or the dryness of the drought. As the rainforest floor dries out (something never heard of previously) their food source diminishes causing the, the Bazzian Thrush and the Logrunner to go deeper into the moister forest floor for food. However, as we rested we sighted this most unusual looking bird the Top-notched Pigeon. Take a look at its appearance, its hairdo and makeup. We thought there were only two, but when it flew off another twenty followed. These are native fruit eaters, and may be finding it difficult to find food as many trees are stressed and not flowering or producing this year.
Of course there is always a Superb Fairy-wren on our visit to the Nasho, and it always heard right next to where we park the car, almost on every occasion. He draws us away from his family, with his bright breeding plumage.
We discovered this Eastern Water Dragon female resting on a log. It was not at all concerned by our presence or passers by. The males have a bright red/orange chest which intensifies during breeding season.
One feature which reappeared during Jesse’s stay was that of our Australian Eastern (Black-backed) Magpie, which I continually gave him instruction and quizzes on during his stay. Here are some interesting photos we took of a juvenile Magpie morphing its plumage to an immature. Notice how one side of the bird is changing at a time (last photo). Important changes to look for in identifying juvenile birds is dark eye and beak color, often fluffy marbled bellies and brown or tawny plumage.
Juvenile Aust. Magpie tuning in his senses
Immature Aust. Magpie with morphing plumage
Immature Aust. Magpie from one side
Juvenile Magpie molting to Immature
While Jesse was watching a pair of our resident male Australian Magpies (note: alpha male on right and almost mature male on left). This series was shot by Jesse with his camera, as the Magpies, quite conscious of our interest, continued to perform their ablutions unafraid. This highlights the fact that these Maggies know and trust me as their friend, though he did keep an eye out occasionally.
Meanwhile, Jesse just kept clicking away as the alpha male took his bath and then preened himself before leaving. Those studying this bird, like myself, may have interest in some of these images. The male on the smaller bath just sat and observed the whole time and was not sure if it would indulge itself.
Let us now trace the washing preening sequence Jesse managed to capture. We believe the reason these birds came, being as intelligent as they are, they knew that this water was frsh rain water that had fallen yesterday and not the less desirable town water which has been chemicalized. I know the difference because when I lived on a property some 20 years ago we had only rain water for drinking and washing, and the difference is amazing,
He starts by just standing for a short while in the large bath, which he knows is his.
He then proceeds to wash his beak thoroughly. Remember that Magpies do not hunt their food in trees, they are ground feeders and are constantly thrusting their very sharp steel like beak into the hard earth to find food, so it gets quite dirty. Meanwhile the lesser male continues to stare into the water.
He then follows by fully amercing his front and sides, constantly shaking off water to ensure thorough cleaning in under feathers as well as remove pests and loose feathers etc…
He then lifts his upper wing plumes to wash his back and secondaries…
This takes a little time as he ensures he is fully wet.
He then leaves the water to rub his beak clean on the back of our metal courtyard chairs…
He now looks quite beraggled and disheveled and prepares for the next stage…
The washed male now pokes his beak into his preening gland at the base of his tail where he draws an oily waxy substance.
He now proceeds to run his tail feathers through his beak coating them with the substance, which he does to condition his plumes, waterproofing them and helping strengthen them from becoming brittle.
This process takes a few minutes, where on this occasion he concentrates on his long tail plumes.
Having finished some preening he is ready to leave. But take a look at the complex and neatly packed and folded wing and tail arrangement. Only intelligent design could have created such a marvelous flight machine. He flew into the Frangipani Tree giving me his thank you look indicating that he will be back same time tomorrow for more to be sure, and with his understudy in toe leaves.
Then the Noisy Miner comes for its turn, but only after our neighborhood’s most powerful and dominant bird has left. It is amusing to watch how all the other birds scatter when the alpha male flies in. The Miner checks that it is safe before getting wet.
Here is some live footage Jesse captured. Oh, I forgot, the understudy finally took the plunge just before he left. I think he may have waited as a sign of respect, or possibly still learning how to bathe the Magpie way as all their behaviour is learnt over a 3 to 4 year period.
The Second Edition of Book 1 is with the publisher and almost ready to check its first draft. The following link will take you to a page which I will update as we move closer to launch date. Click here to view information about both the Second Edition of Book 1 and also Book 2.
It was interesting that just before the alpha male got quite wet, the lesser male started communicating to another Magpie in the distance, to which the alpha male joined in briefly. Magpie communication is one of the most complex of any language or call, and some scientists have devoted their life work to studying it. These birds during their warble are able to move between two octaves in a millisecond.
Magpies are known to warble for sometimes over an hour to one another from a distance, in this case the distant call was was inaudible to us humans. Magpie and most all bird hearing is so much more acute than ours, which is why they may fly off at the slightest sound. These birds can be taught to talk human words and phrases, as many of our birds can mimic. It is interesting also that the Magpie made a choice to place communicating above his bathing ritual, which was a most enjoyable experience in fresh rain water. It can not be stressed enough that the priority of good communication is the most important principle to any relationship following that of trust. Like the Magpie we must first prime our ears to silently listen carefully before replying. We need to make sure we understand what is being said, and if we do not ask for explanation. Most relationship breakdowns are over poor communication skills being employed. The most successful and proven way of listening well with empathy and to gain understanding, used by counselors, is Active or Reflective Listening.
Magpies wait for the other communicating Magpie to finish when communicating to another, they do not interrupt but wait their turn (of course when they call together in the morning chorus this is not the case). This is a skill not easily becoming to us men as we tend to want to fix everything with our answer. It is a lesson constantly being learnt by myself and my male friends.
‘Most people don’t listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” –Stephen R. Covey.
‘One of the most sincere forms of respect is to listen to what others have to say.’ – Bryant H McGill
‘We have two ears and one mouth so we can listen twice as much as we speak.’ – Epictetus
‘Everyone should be quicktolisten, slow to speak and slow to become angry’ – James 1:19
Now here we are well into Spring, where we hear the father whistlers sing, announcing to the world they bring, their joy for a new and marvelous thing… new life ready to begin.
Spring is a beautiful time of year to go out birding. There is so much activity and song in the bush as new families are established. For some it is their first season, and others they have lost count, having brought possibly a hundred new lives into the world. This activity is centered around nesting, providing for the nest, protecting the nest and training the new nestlings/fledglings. In this post I will share some of these activities I noticed this week,
1. Nesting: Eggs are laid by female bird and then incubated as she keeps them warm and covers them with her body to protect them. Sometimes the male may help, depending on the specie. In many cases, such as with the Black-winged Stilt which are nesting in Olympic Park, Sydney, the male will keep watch to ward off intruders. The nest is a simple hollow on dry grass next to the lake.
Thankfully, special artificial islands were created for nesting well away from nosy birders, which have proven to be a great success. Yes blue-green algae has been a problem after a hot winter drought.
2. Protecting Nest, Nestlings and Fledglings: There is a lot of aggressive activity at the moment between species that usually co inhabit territories. We saw a few weeks ago the merciless aggression of the Magpie placing a 100 meter no go perimeter around its nest. Here I watched a Silver Gull continuously chase a Blacked-winged Stilt at the edge of the lake. The Gull was protecting its immature youngster but the Stilt was protecting its nest with his mate sitting on it by the lake. Both these birds are bold and can be aggressive. However, in the end the Gull moved its youngster away from the nest and peace prevailed.
After the ordeal, the Gull parents were confronted with a hungry junior, and try to avoid its cries. One of the joys of parenting no doubt! Note the classic bowing and bobbing of the youngsters head, seen in many species of water birds when begging.
The two most intelligent bird families clashed as this immature Australian Raven was attacked and turned away by this Australian Magpie male, obviously protecting its nest. Thankfully it did not see my wife and I as a threat.
3. Feeding the Nestlings/Fledglings: In many Australian species this is done primarily by the male and relatives, as is the training of the Fledgling, especially with the Magpie and Kingfisher. Here a Sacred Kingfisher catches a worm and waits for the juvenile to come to it and then passes it to the juvenile to eat.
Adult Sacred Kingfisher
Juvenile Sacred Kingfisher
4. Training: It is usually the male who models feeding and behaviour, which shows to us humans the importance of fathers being present and being good role models to their children. Children get much of their self identity and self confidence from the dad. These two juvenile Magpies are out on an excursion with their dad. As he feeds them they learn. Note how only one takes the initiative to follow dad and follows in his shadow. It so reminds me of my eldest son during his early years.
juvenile Magpies waiting in the shade.
one goes to folloe dad.
note juvenile is brown and has a dark eye and dull beak.
learning from dad
Here we see the youngsters decision to follow dad pays off as he gets a treat from dad as a reward for his following. I love the fact that no coercion is used in their training, those who want to learn do, and those who don’t there is later on when they are better prepared.
The Australian Wood Duck family is a beautiful example of the perfect family, with both parents faithful for life, devoted to each other and to raising their family together. The father leads the family to safety and to good feeding grounds. This clutch produced 14 live babies, and was one of two that I saw in the Royal National Park this week. The family strayed onto the road so dad and mum led them back down onto the green flats by the river. Thankfully, in this peaceful family, these ducklings learn to forage very quickly and less parental training is required.
As you watch the Wood Ducks come into their grazing area listen and you will hear an immature Laughing Kookaburra practicing his laugh. Unfortunately he eluded me for some time.
As an aside, this flock of Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo flew over at great height. It is always a treat to see this bird, and especially to hear its unique call. Listen as they fly over. You may see some touches of yellow on their ears and tail.
As I have shared in recent weeks some birds develop breeding plumage during their breeding season, and of course the Superb Fairy-wren is no exception, being in full colour which would lure any available female. His lady may already be sitting on the nest somewhere nearby as he hunts for food.
One of the delights of not having to work during the week is I get to see birds that may not normally be seen due to the high people presence in National Parks and Reserves during weekends. This pair of Wonga Pigeon are a good example of stumbling upon a great find. This rainforest pigeon is sometimes seen by the river banks at Wattle Flat in the late afternoon grazing, always the same pair. I love the arrow like markings on their under body. They are so quiet that you could easily miss them.
Wonga Pigeon pair
Finally, to conclude is this series of the very shy Kookaburra flying off:
The importance of good parenting and its ongoing effects well into the life of the child are emphasized in recent research. The child carries the experiences of their upbringing into the rest of their life having a considerable influence on their well-being. This includes physical, emotional, mental, sexual and social health, including longevity. This YouTube video from one of my studies sheds light on this, and the need to instruct our children and grandchildren with gentle kind love.
“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” – Ephesians 6:4 (MEV)
“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, lest they be discouraged..” – Colossians 3:21 (MEV)
“He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect.” – Timothy 3:4 (NIV)
Have a wonderful week! If this is your first time visiting my blog, why not visit my Home Page and check out my birding website for more birding information and encouraging stuff. Yes, there are still more books left for sale to make a positive influence in the life of your special young person and for that Special Christmas Gift. I have just about finished editing my second and third book, but it will be next year for printing.
It was interesting this past week when my wife and I on two occasions, put spending time with friends above being out birding. On these two occasions we were surprisingly blessed to see unexpected birds. We went with one of our dear friends our to the Royal National Park Cafe for lunch, after which we took our friend to see the recent clutch of 14 Australian Wood Ducklings, so she could show her family when they come there this week. While we watched the ducklings feeding off the grass seed, there sounded an alarm from one of the adult ducks, as they heard a noisy commotion in the canopy of a tall eucalypt trees nearby, being caused by none other than a pack of Noisy Miner. First two pair of Wood Duck flew off (always in pairs, as these birds faithfully pair for life).
It was enough to cause Mrs Sulfur-crested Cockatoo to emerge from her nest in the nesting hole of a nearby tree.
Immediately father Wood Duck signals his family and they make their way quickly to the river bank ready for a fast escape, as yet they are unsure of the nature of the impending danger. Click on photos to enlarge.
Soon the whole family were paddling together upstream away from us with their eyes on their parents, they followed obediently behind. Finally they returned to shore some 50 meters away.
This of course made the word raptor come to mind and my wife and I left our friend seated at the picnic table nearby while we investigated. We first of all sighted the Miner pack attacking something deep in the canopy.
It was not long before we heard and saw the raptor: a beautiful Pacific Baza, also known as the Crested Hawk. These birds are quite different to most other raptors in the way they hunt for prey. They are usually not a great threat to birds, as they tend to eat insects and small reptiles. They have this unique way of gliding quickly into a thick tree canopy grabbing insects and reptiles on their way in. Most raptors spy out their prey sitting on bare branches up high from where they can easily observe and pounce, clearly being able to see their prey, but not the Baza.
Watching this diving process gave us a few nice wing shots. The Noisy Miners continued their attack but the Pacific Baza continued hunting regardless. However, eventually the Baza saw us watching and flew away behind the trees. These birds are found in northern and north eastern Australia, but not usually found south of Sydney, though this one was. They are also found in the Pacific Islands and New Guinea, north of Australia.
We had never seen a Baza this close before. The last time you may remember was up in Far North Queensland as it flew over at great height but my photos were not that good due to the position of the sun.
A couple of days later my wife and I went for an afternoon walk in our local park, but did not see much at all, due to the continuing drought. Despite recent rains, there were few birds. A couple of dear friends live in the street near the park, several houses away, so we thought to drop in and see them, as we had not seen them in a while. As we sat chatting out around their pool, sipping wine, we were told that the Australian King parrot may come to feed on the fruiting Loquat tree hanging over their fence in clear view to us.
Australian King Parrot male
Soon the late afternoon sun caught this flash of colour emerging, as a male and then a very shy female Australian King Parrot fed from this tree. Parrots and Cockatoos are mostly fruit and seed eaters, and have the unique ability of any bird, in that they are able to hold the fruit in one claw and bring it to their mouth to eat. The female has more green on the upper parts of her body, as do the juveniles.
Australian King Parrot male
Australian King Parrot male
Australian King Parrot female
Australian King Parrot female
It was another wonderful blessing sitting, sipping and watching them feed as they caught the last light before sundown, being the first evening of Daylight Saving.
Similar to the Crimson Rosella who make a bell like chime call, the King Parrot make a more courser version of their call.
We enjoyed a wonderful evening meal with our friends, leaving feeling very blessed from their hospitality. The thought that came to me from this week was from watching a female Masked Lapwing sitting patiently on her nest in the middle of the paddock between the Cafe and the Hacking River. Now this open field is frequented by young children playing and people walking and other birds feeding, which caused the National Parks people to place a warning sign and markers around the nest, as nesting Masked Lapwing can remain quite hidden behind the clumps of Button Grass. The male was trying to ward off children playing nearby, but was unsuccessful.
Masked Lapwing on nest
These birds are known to attack people and animals by swooping on those who approach their nesting field, similar to the Magpie during nesting season. However, the male’s ploy is to try and draw attention to himself and draw the intruder away from the nest. The male will stand tall and proud with both wing spurs protruding and making threatening alarm calls to scare off any intruders who do not follow his lead.
I might wonder why these birds always nest in the middle of open fields which are frequently traversed by humans, their mowers and animals, and where Raptors can easily see their nest. These Plovers, like other plovers are historically waders, and like their cousins lay their eggs in shallow holes on beaches and river banks. In recent years many of these birds have moved inland to graze on grassy fields where they extract insects and their larvae from just below the soil surface. It is also interesting that despite the vulnerability of the nest, these birds are great survivors and is one of the most commonly seen birds found throughout most of Australia. What might appear foolish actually has much wisdom, as the males have a 360° viewing area around the nest, which is much easier for them, a ground dwelling and feeding bird, to monitor. The proof is in the very successful and secure status of this bird.
“Where then does wisdom come from? Where does understanding dwell?” – Job 28:20
“To God belong wisdom and power; counsel and understanding are his.” – Job 12:13
“Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you.” – Proverbs 4:6
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You will find access to helpful hints and tips for Birdwatchers and Birders, as well as information on how we can learn to do life better from the birds.
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Have a wonderful weekend! I have finally realised and accepted that my career as a Senior Scientist has come to an end, so I am now seeking God to find direction for these years ahead. This last five months has been a wonderful opportunity for me to write two more books (‘Flight of a Fledgling’ for 12+yrs and The improved and enlarged 2nd Edition of ‘What Birds Teach Us’ for 7+ yrs). I will advise here on my website when I am closer to publication. Thank you dear friends for your prayers and valued support as I continue to address my health issues and vocational direction.
One of the advantages of being home writing my second book is that I get to spend more marriage time with my dear wife on her day off. So off we went last Wednesday on a birding date to Royal National Park, our local park, on a beautiful clear warm winters day, after several days of torrential rain (much needed). Though the rain had eroded much of the track, but it was so good to hear and see running water in the creeks again, and hear the sound of birds that had recently fallen silent because of the long drought. While having coffee at the cafe before our walk, this Noisy Miner had quite an organised operation going, checking the tables for crumbs and left overs while keeping watch.
While we sipped our coffee and talked as we enjoyed sitting in the warm winter sun I caught this Currawong sitting above a Kookaburra, which made the Kooka a little curious.
We were so relaxed and thankful that we could have a day together in the middle of the week, it was so special to my wife, as weekends can be busy, plus, the National Park is usually crowded with the noise of families walking and talking loudly as they stroll the walking tracks. We walked on toward the rainforest on Lady Carrington Drive and were amazed how many lone birders were out with their large lenses blazing. The only native nectar flower blooming was Heath Banksia, and honeyeaters were visiting its bright heads frequently. Click on photo to enlarge it.
along the track
Banksia flowers, native nectar source
The only honeyeaters present at this time of year are the Yellow-faced Honeyeater, New Holland Honeyeater, Lewin’s Honeyeater and the Eastern Spinebill. The sounds of the Yellow-faced honeyeater ring out continuously, as large family groups play in the sub canopy of the tall eucalypts.
New Holland Honeyeater
It was a great delight to hear and see the Eastern Whipbird again in his usual area not far from the now flowing creek, we had not seen or heard him for months. The rain makes such a difference. Sadly, he eluded my camera. But this Grey Fantail nearby almost eluded me as it flitted about constantly fanning its tail and checking us out, as they do.
But out greatest delight was to watch this tiny Brown Thornbill chiming its classic tune as it climbed over small trees by the track. This insectivorous territorial bird is not as affected by drought and is found in some of the driest forests.
Over all we had a wonderful time out together enjoying moments of mindfulness as we stopped to take in the rainforest with each of our senses. How I love the smell and aroma of the forest after rain it is so refreshing.
Passing by the remains of a Liquid Amber tree’s fallen leaves, it reminded me of the loving kind and generous people in the past of my life who have now passed on and fallen from the tree. Though they have died and are no longer alive and green, they leave a colorful legacy together, among the many brown leaves, making for beautiful memories and laying down a glorious carpet of path for me to follow and walk upon, as I draw upon their memory with appreciation and thankful praise.
Have a wonderful week, and keep warm!
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The Laughing Kookaburra is Australia’s most iconic bird, and possibly our most popular. It generally is a very placid natured bird relatively trusting of humans, co habitating especially if fed by them. They can become a problem like many Australia’s wild birds if they become regularly dependent on human’s feeding them. It is found throughout the forests of eastern Australia and far south west WA. The ‘Kooka’ as most of us know it, is a territorial bird like many of our birds, and can be found in the same geographical area most of the year, which makes it easy to locate.
Kookas are known for their loud laugh like call, which is often sounded in a family group from sunrise, various times through the day and sunset, where several birds will call together for periods of twenty seconds to several minutes, often being led by one bird. It became known to the early European settlers as ‘The Settlers Clock’ because the birds will sit in a tall eucalypt tree facing east waiting for the first light of the sun and then begin marking their territory, often moving from area to area repeating their call and marking their boundary, warding off other Kooka families. Listen to the morning call of several Kookas…
Listen to this one Kooka as he idles his laugh which usually results shortly after in the group sounding off again.
Here is a capture at sunset…
The same may occur several times through the day, but more importantly just before sunset they may be found facing west and putting out a final call for day as the sun is about to set. Thus in the early days with isolation and lack of accurate Eastern Standard Time for many in the bush, the call of the Kookaburra would wake the farmer in the morning to commence his day, and also alert him to sunset and the need to get back to house quickly to light the lamps for the night.
One of the great delights of living in Australia is the sound of the Kookaburras first thing in the morning. My wife and I always get excited to hear their call when they stray into our area, as we do not have resident ones, possibly due to the extremely aggressive nature of our local Noisy Miners. Kookas are one of the few birds that will tolerate being attacked by Miners, but will move on if too many persistently attack and bite, but not moving too far away.The Kookaburra mainly feeds on worms, insects and the flesh of snakes, lizards, frogs, birds and small mammals, by pouncing on their prey from a branch or perch. They are known for killing their prey with their very thick strong beak by bashing the prey against a tree to kill it. Even if you feed it dead meat it will still go through the process of ‘killing’ it by beating it to death. They are often seen doing this to snakes.
Blue-winged Kookaburra female
Blue-winged Kookaburra male
In Australia we have two species of Kookaburra, the Laughing and the Blue Winged. Though they both have blue on their wings, the Blue Winged has much more, is a slightly smaller bird and is only found in far north Australia. Its call is not at loud and regular as the Laughing Kooka.
Kookaburra are large tree Kingfishers, being a similar bird, of the same genus Dacelo, having amazing better than average binocular vision which allows for very exacting triangulation. The main way to discern the breeding male from the female is that the male has a bright blue colored rump (central back feathers) whereas the female and immature both lack this.
I have witnessed several times a Kookaburra fly through an open air cafe and remove the meat portion of a hamburger while the patron is left holding the bun and lettuce. If you are gardening they will sit on the fence right next to you and silently watch as you dig, then suddenly plunge down right in front of you and grab a worm you did not even see was there.
The Kookaburra makes its nest in the holes found in trees and more often will bore a hole into a termite or white ant mound and make a simple nest there. In a similar way to the Magpie, the whole family may assist in the incubation, building and care of the nest. This Kookaburra is defending its white ant nest hole against an intruding Rainbow Lorikeet.
This juvenile Kookaburra is fed by the parent worms and small lizards, until it is able to fend for itself.
Here are some rare shots of a male Kookaburra diving completely into the water of a fresh water lake. The question it raises is: washing or fishing? I have since wondered if this Kooka is attempting to copy the Cormorants it would have watched fish, diving beneath the water and emerging with a fish. Maybe he was trying his hand (or claw) at it. It was an interesting and rare capture regardless.
In my book ‘What Birds Teach Us‘ I sight the Kookaburra as an example for us of Punctuality due to its predictable sunrise and sunset call. I have lived for years believing the myth that many of us were told when young that Kookaburras can predict rain and as a result I have been both amazed and also let down (embarrassed) from this belief. This myth may have some truth to it, but does not follow for every occasion. I often hear them call when an impending storm of dark Cumulonimbus clouds can be seen on the horizon, this may also be a coincidence.
This may be my last weekly blog post for a while as I consider my future. My job has been terminated and I am currently seeking God as to my next step. Due to the low numbers in local birds (caused mostly by drought) and having not traveled recently I have no new material. I am considering if this is the time to commence writing my second book. Thank you my dear bird blogger friends for your warm encouraging support. I will continue to post occasionally until I am properly sorted.
“Bestillbefore the Lordandwait patiently for him…” – Psalm 37:7 (NIV)
Enjoy your week and please pray for the best outcome for our Federal Election next Month.
This week I am showcasing two of Australia’s most amazing and unique birds, the Superb Lyrebird and the Albert’s Lyrebird, both of which are endemic to the east coast of the Australian mainland. Their name Lyrebird is derived from the long tail plumage or lyrates of the mature males, which resembles the musical instrument by that name. You can imagine the fine lace like plumes to be like strings, as seen above. The more common Superb Lyrebird is found in the rainforests of far south eastern Queensland, all the way through eastern NSW to south eastern Victoria.
The mature male tail plumage takes up to six years to fully develop, making it sometimes difficult to discern the young male from the female which lacks the lyrates and lace plumage. Click photo to enlarge it.
This bird has many similar characteristics with the Satin Bowerbird in its long egg incubation (40-45 days), long period for male maturity (six years), life long practice of males learning to dance and perform mimicry song to impress and win mates. The Bowerbird male also includes lifelong practice at building a bower. The juvenile, similar to the female has a rufous throat, as seen in some other rainforest birds such as the Logrunner.
Female Superb Lyrebird
Female Superb Lyrebird
These birds seldom fly, though they can, but usually only very short distances, as they are territorial and tend not to leave the protection of their rainforest area. Their elaborate tail plumage is more for gliding than for flying any distance. They only fly to escape predators and humans, and to fly over rivers and streams. Under the tall tree canopy of the rainforest they have little need to fly. Most of their time is spent scratching in the leaf litter on the dark forest floor in search of worms and other insects, which is their main diet. This bird is the emblem of NSW National Parks.
In Australia’s early British settlement years, thousands of these birds were needlessly shot by so called ‘Naturalists’ who enjoyed bringing home animals and birds, but many were wasted and a few stuffed and sent back home to museums. Eventually this barbaric practice was outlawed and now the camera is the only shooting allowed. My grandson stands next to a stuffy of the Superb Lyrebird, showcasing my book which is sold in the Royal National Park gift shop. This bird is one of the many included in my book which is for purchase here online through secure PayPal. Many of my readers have already purchased it and have shared delightful reviews.
So from a young age the male practices his courtship dance and song, dancing to his own beat. It is very special to witness this in the wild.
We will share some of the very special moment, when we witnessed for the very first time, a male practicing behind some bush in the Blue Mountains NP. Now we often see them there each visit to Evans Lookout. Listen to the different bird calls of the Currawong, Cockatoo, Whipbird and Parrot. He spreads his tail up over his head as a covering in a similar way to the Peacock and dances and displays continual bird mimicry with amazing accuracy. The courtship ritual involves the male building and earthen mound about 15 centimeters high, which is like a stage where he performs his song and dance for the female. He may have many of these within his territory. This month being Autumn will mean that he will be busily preparing his mounds and fine tuning his choreography for the mating season. It is thought they breed in the Winter months because food sources are more plentiful at that time.
They can copy perfectly chain saws, jack hammers, camera shutters and any sound they hear. Look carefully to the bottom right of the spread tail feathers and you will see the mouth of the Lyrebird moving. I have heard a Lyrebird copy a chain saw, and it was a brilliant and perfect copy. This is the special moment my wife and I witnessed our first Lyrebird concert ever in the wild.
Listen to this sound file of another male sounding off. This is practiced as he puts together his song which he will present to his female hopeful when the times comes. The “Tch, tch, tch, tch” sound you occasionally hear in between the mimicry of other bird calls is his own sound, and this helps me identify him from other birds. This is a beautiful mindful experience, even if you can not see the bird, just to stop and hear its amazing repertoire and appreciate this amazing creature.
In recent years these birds have been decimated by reduction of habitat through land clearing for pine forest plantations and more so by domestic cats, ferule cats and foxes, especially in Victoria’s Sherbrooke Forest NP where these birds were almost completely wiped out by domestic cats. Locals have to chip and cage their cats to own them or heavy penalties apply. You can read more about it here.
Other predators which are often not thought of are reptiles such as this Lace Monitor. I found this one in the Royal National Park climbing a tree, to most likely check for any bird eggs. Surveys have shown that areas which have resident Lyrebirds have a significant reduction in bushfire intensity. It is thought there is some connection with them digging through leaf litter and reducing weed undergrowth propagation.
The Albert’s Lyrebird a much rarer bird and seldom ever seen by most Australians, living deep inside the rainforests found in the mountains bordering NSW and Queensland. The Lamington NP is the easiest place to attempt to see them, O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat, Canungra is the best. Similar to the Superb, they are more timid, and mature males are seldom seen. Here is a juvenile male.
They have a shorter tail than the Superb, with less impressive lyrates. There are differences in the male courtship ritual, which very few have ever witnessed in the wild. They are only found in this very small region of Australia, protected by the dense rainforest and difficult altitude. These birds can effortlessly disappear down almost vertical cliffs and gullies. They can also mimic but not as much as the Superb and have a different sound of their own.
These birds forage in the same way as the Superb by scratching in the leaf litter. They have a lovely chestnut brown wing plumage, and both sexes have the rufous chin.
If you should ever visit The Royal National Park or any of the rainforest regions around the Sydney area you may encounter a sighting, or at least a hearing of this remarkable bird. If you find me there we can share the experience, and a bird’s eye view…
The latest research on bird calls, in particular their repetitive sounds, is that they make their sound exactly the same pitch and strength without variation every time. If a human was to say the same word or sing the same line over and over, the pitch and duration of sound can be plotted to deteriorate and become longer and lower due to wearing out. The lyrebird in its continuous flow of mimicry does not weary or change, but reflects perfectly what it has heard on each occasion. Children are like young birds, they listen and repeat what they hear and see, and with surprising accuracy. This is always a warning to myself to be extra vigilant around children and now especially grandchildren which are sponges for learning to be like adults.
“As children copy their fathers you, as God’s children, are to copy him. Live your lives in love—the same sort of love which Christ gives us and which he perfectly expressed when he gave himself up for us in sacrifice to God.” – Ephesians 5:1 (JBPNT)
“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.” – Ephesians 6:4 (NIV)
“Fathers, do not aggravate your children, or they will become discouraged.” – Colossians 3:21 (NIV)
Thank you for sharing this time with me and our beautiful birds. Have a most enjoyable week, experiencing the changing season. May it bring refreshing change in you as you be still and take it in.
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