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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