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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As we all launch into 2019, many of us are using this time as a waypoint from which to examine our life journey and consider what things we can do better and improve on to make our life happier and safer, and thus more satisfying. A healthy attitude of gratitude and thankfulness is vital not only to our emotional health but also in maintaining a healthy immune system. Peace, love, joy and hope are experienced through good relationships, helping to wave off the unhealthy addictive behaviors and habits which may entangled one throughout the year.
Many use the New Year as an opportunity to ‘turn over a new leaf’. The tiny Australian Logrunner is one unusual and very rarely seen Australian rainforest bird which spends its life turning over old leaves, and as you will see is a very fitting bird to launch my blog into the New Year, revealing pearls of wisdom.
Male (white neck)
Female (rufous neck)
These tiny birds are endemic to the rainforests on the east coast of northern to central NSW and southern Queensland, and spend most of their life foraging in the leaf litter. They seldom fly, and if they do it is only to briefly escape danger. Their main protective features, which make them very difficult to see, other than the poor light under the dense canopy: is their size, their camouflage coloring which blends in with leaf litter and their ability to freeze and remain very still for some time when they sense danger nearby. See what I mean…
This makes detection very difficult, but can give good photographic moments. The movement of leaf litter on the forest floor and their unique call to one another may be the only clue to their presence, as they travel in pairs and small family groups beneath bushes, palms and shrubs.
My wife and I needed a walk on one very hot heat wave day last week, so we walked in the cool of the rainforest in the Royal National Park, one of my favorite places. As we approached the surrounding woodland, it appeared and sounded birdless, to our disappointment. As we walked into rainforest loop track near the creek we saw a tiny object flit across the path and soon discovered this pair. We had never seen Logrunners in this forest before, though they have probably always been there. Most Australians have never seen them or would even know there was a bird by that name. The male has a distinct white throat and the female an orange rufous throat.
These birds have a unique digging action whereby they lean back on their purpose designed tail which is reinforced with stiff spines, and rapidly use their legs to kick leaves out sideways. They often dig down in one spot disappearing into a hole beneath the ground hunting for worms and other insects under the moist leaf litter. They get their name as they are often seen on or near old logs or at the buttress roots of native ficus trees as they make their nests there in holes and by the roots protected and out of sight.
Many people who have purchased my book “What Birds Teach Us” have commented when seeing my photos of the Logrunner, that they never knew of this bird. The lesson I gleaned and share is to ‘choose what you need rather than what you want.’The Logrunner can fly if it so desires to, but it gets all its needs met by staying safe on the forest floor out of sight from the clutches of larger hunting birds. My book discusses the need to be wise in our decision making, being able to discern our true needs from the selfishness of wants, and the dangers of placing ourselves in vulnerable situations which may have future repercussions and possibly cause irreparable damage both to our life and the lives of others. As I shared earlier regarding the unhealthy results of addictive behaviour, it starts with placing desire to satisfy excessive wants above satisfying valid needs. The want may or may not necessarily for some thing evil or immoral but may be simply for food, drink or electronic media etc.
My wife and I have taken this first week to consider areas we can improve on in our relationships and our life style, and correct and make changes to improve our lives for a more satisfying 2019. Stay free of addictive, compulsive and obsessive behaviour by forgiving the people in your past who have hurt you and thus make a new start. Forgiveness therapy enables one to let go of the pain of the past which continues to distort their life and attitude causing depression and vulnerability to bad choices in life. Some may need the help of a counselor to do this but many of us can start 2019 determined and focused on changing our habits with the help of an accountability person. This may be your partner, family member, close friend or therapist, that is, someone you can share your progress with who understands your goal and cares about you. However, you might want to explore the forgiveness that brings complete healing and restoration of relationships, by knowing and accepting God’s free gift of forgiveness offered each man, woman and child through faith in Jesus Christ. You can read more about this here.
“Tell your sins to each other. And pray for each other so you may be healed. The prayer from the heart of a man right with God has much power.” – James 5:16 (NLV)
“So I strive always to keep my conscienceclear before God and man.” – Acts 24:16
May you and your loved ones enjoy a truly satisfying and peaceful New Year. If you would like to explore more of the life skills we can learn from our birds visit my Birder Sanctuary page.
The Satin Bowerbird is a bird we have seen more recently as males attend their bowers and impress visiting females with the hope of mating with as many females as possible. To do this they seek to gain the prestige of having the most beautiful bower and trinkets, performing the most creative dance and singing the most skilful mimicry song. The male is blue-black and the female green and brown with a patterned chest, the juveniles are similar to the female but with less green and more brown in plumage.
Each male has spent weeks tirelessly building each strand of the bower from dried grass and sticks, collecting blue coloured objects (his jewels which match his own beautiful alluring colours) and positioning them in an impressive display. he has spent most of his life practicing building bowers and learning his own dance steps and peculiar song in a very similar way to the Lyrebird.
He knows there are several competing bowers in his local forest, and that these males may come at any time he is absent from the bower, to steal his blue trinkets or to ruin his bower. They all want the prize of impressing and mating with as many of the resident females as possible.
Female looks into bower, will she enter it?
Female examining bower
Female observes male and bower
Bowerbirds are endemic to the rainforest areas of the east coast of Australia and are primarily native fruit and insect eaters (mostly figs). Of our over 45 species of fig there is always one or more fruiting at any time of the year, as well as the fruit from both introduced and other native species. Similar to the Lyrebirds they are low flying birds and capable of mimicking other bird sounds.
The juvenile male looks the same as the female and takes seven years before it gains its mature black feathers and violet eyes. It is the refraction of light on the surface of the feathers that gives the glossy blue-black appearance.
Of our 8 species of Bowerbird (10 if we include our Catbirds which are in the same family) most build bowers and gather trinkets (some collect white or green objects, flowers or fruits to decorate their bower and attract female interest). Simply put, if the male is not smart, artistic and creative enough the female will notice it and fly off to view another bower. Males spend many hours repairing and improving their bowers as they search for blue objects. Researchers have found that when red objects are placed in the bower area, the Bowerbird will either remove them or cover them up.
All through Spring this flight of the females visiting bowers takes place, in a similar way men and women courting and dating, with ladies seeking out and ticking off the qualities they see in their aspiring suitors as they seek to impress. I had the amazingly rare opportunity to film the process of the female entering the bower and the male dancing for her. I apologise for the shaky camera as it is shot at quite a distance from the bower, up under a large tree (bowers are often hidden under trees or bushes). It was difficult to stabilise due to low angle I had to hold the camera.
Considering the the amount of time, great skill and creative effort that goes into the construction of the bower and the wooing of the female my thoughts are drawn to consider the difference between excellence and perfectionism. The pursuit of excellence is a healthy attitude to have because it is based on a realistic and positive understanding of who we are, accepting that we can strive to do better but it is OK if sometimes we make mistakes and or fail to meet our goals, we can learn from these and stay humble. However, perfectionistic attitudes, which are primarily bred in children from a young age, by perfectionistic, legalistic and negative parents and carers demanding a high level of performance and achievement in life, give the impression that one’s value comes from what they do and achieve, and is only acceptable when it is completed with perfection. As they constantly fail to reach their goal, even when they do exceedingly well, they are constantly under the stress of trying to achieve unrealistic goals to please their parents and themselves resulting ultimately in discouragement, depression and a sense of worthlessness. The child raised to exhibit excellence, however, can accept themselves for who they are, like a Bowerbird, as a teenager, he spends many hours practicing to build a bower, which will not be needed till years later. He makes mistakes but tries many times till he finally masters the art. He learns to dance and to mimic, knowing he may not be the best but he will give it his best shot, in the hope it will be acceptable when the time comes.
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters,” – Colossians 3:23 (NIV)
Have a wonderful week and enjoy the birds. We put out a special call to our Aussie conservationists to help save our threatened Koala population click on this link.
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Aussiebirder birdwatches an Eastern Yellow Robin – truly ‘a bird in the hand’
It has been a couple of years since I visited this topic, and I continue to meet many people who ask me to explain the difference, it is timely that I reiterate, but with more information from more of a counselling and lifestyle perspective.
A group of tourists have an unexpected sighting, a family of Tawny Frogmouth
Most people in our community are only familiar with the term Birdwatcher and what that entails. A person who actively seeks out birds to view them and study them as a recreational pursuit.This title or description, to most people, could be used to generically include all who look at birds as a past-time both recreationally and ornithologically. However, to us who pursue birdwatching as a recreational pursuit and have done so for several years or more, birdwatching is but the first stage or introduction, where interest in birds and their presence begins to ignite a delight and desire within us for more…
Glen, acclaimed naturalist, birdwatching a male Regent Bowerbird
We start to include looking at birds as part of our nature/bush walks and family picnic experiences, this begins as the birds make their presence known or demonstrate some unusual behaviour and we start to have an awareness that the birds are there, and for the first time in our life we start looking for them and expecting them to be in particular places because we have seen them in the same places when passing. Picnic areas and car parks are some of the best places one can see and get close to Australian birds, as they have learned that humans have food.
Sulphur-crested Cockatoo at the Royal NP – they know how to get a free feed
However, it is better to feed them their own food if you can.
Hand feeding seed to wild Eastern Crimson Rosella
The Cafes can be good birdwatching places also…
Australian Raven drinking milk at Cafe in the Royal NP
Pied Currawong at O’Reilly’s Rainforest Cafe also drinking milk
For me personally, photographing nature and beautiful vistas was my prime delight for most of my early years, producing My Beautiful Series and the website by that name which many of you may have followed but was recently deconstructed. When my interest turned to birds more specifically, after a visit to Lord Howe Island years ago, in search of the Red-tailed Tropicbird, a whole new interest took my heart. I took less interest in landscape and nature photography and more in photographing birds. I was transitioning into the next stage and becoming a Birder.
A large percentage of Birdwatchers become Birders, a term which is mainly used by Birders themselves to describe their passion or differentiate themselves from others with greater or lesser enthusiasm in the recreational vocation. A Birder is a person who deliberately and passionately pursues birdwatching, particular bird species and bird habitats to actively engage with and view birds in their native habitat. The birder studies the birds and seeks to gain an active practical knowledge of bird species, their appearance, their call, their food, their habitat, their breeding, their migratory patterns and their peculiar characteristics. You could possibly use the term a recreational ornithologist.
For me personally, I call myself a Birder, along with my wife. The change to Birding meant a change in my camera lens from 18-250mm to 100-400mm. It also meant purchasing some books on where to find various birds including several different kinds of Bird Field Guides, taking interest in native bird conservation groups such as Birdlife Australia, joining a local bird observer club and checking on latest local sightings on eremaea birdlines or ebird websites. Many an avid birder, but not me, wear bush camouflage clothing, and purchase camouflaged binoculars, telescopes and camera lenses. Another sign is that the equipment used becomes more expensive some moving to high powered lenses including tripods and telescopes.
I started meeting other people, singles and couples, armed with binoculars and cameras with long lenses like mine. I would usually greet them and get right to the point by asking the question ” Are you a Birder?” or ” Are you into Birding?” The conversation would then include latest sightings and what was seen so far on the current walk. It could include name sharing of Birders we may share in common. You know your family know when all your gifts for whatever occasion have something to do with birds.
It was not till on our Honeymoon that my wife and I first seriously understood the term Twitcher, which is when one takes birding to the next level. When we shared with a lady how we met and found out later we were both Birders she gave us a copy of the movie The Big Yearand said it was a must see for us. If you have not seen it is is as humorous as it is sad, starring the three funny men, Steve Martin, Owen Wilson and Jack Black but depicts a nonfictional story from a 2004 book called The Big Year. In a nutshell a Twitcher is a person who has an active addiction to Birdwatching and has become an obsessed Birder. These people seek out particular birds including rare bird species at any cost to themselves, their relationships and their health. They may devote a whole year to tick off a list and try and see the most birds in that year.
From the movie ‘The Big Year’ available on DVD – 3 Twitchers on their Big Year
The term originated in the 1950s in reference to a British birdwatcher Howard Medhurst who would get showing nervous shaky behaviour when he started thinking of and pursuing a rare bird. His mate would say he is ‘on the twitch’. He is thought to have started the idea of travelling long distances purely for the purpose of seeing a particular bird species. Read this interesting article on the origin of the term ‘twitcher‘. Some have said it comes from the term tick hunter as they would be trying to tick off their list of birds to be seen, These people have taken the joy of birdwatching to an extreme, where it can become a quite competitive task, rather than a delightful enjoyable experience. Watch the above mentioned movie to learn more.
The above mentioned person may need personal counselling to rectify their behaviour when it starts to place important life relationships and care for one’s self and others on a lower priority to their bird quests. Sadly, as the movie shows, as with any addition, the lies that are told, the moody behaviour with its accompanying anxiety, is ultimately destructive, and also to those in relationship with the Twitcher. It is said that the natural hunter instinct of man is enacted in the process.
It easy to get overly passionate about birding – the hunter instinct
I have to confess that there was an occasion where I almost crossed over, and this can so easily occur as we begin to become passionate about our new found hobby, if we do not check our behaviour at regular intervals, or have not been trained to do so. People living stressful lives, driven to achieve, with extreme goal orientation, are more prone to become Twitchers. I pulled back as I saw I was being consumed by my obsession to find new birds, and I listened to my wife tell me the changes that she was seeing in me that were not healthy for our relationship. I thank God I pulled back and saw what she saw, and established guidelines for my behaviour.
I pulled back from almost ‘crossing over’ – almost becoming a Twitcher
I have drawn up my own comparison here for you to consider. I pray this will be helpful, even if only for one Birder on the brink of crossing over for I speak from experience, but not just as an almost victim, but also as a self assessing family counsellor. Please note: My definition of Twitcher may not agree with all who call themselves Twitchers. My main purpose is to highlight healthy from unhealthy behaviour, as the term Twitcher encompasses many displaying addictive behaviour.
Thinks about birds occasionally and does not distract from normal life.
Thinks about birds daily, possibly talks about them, this may only occasionally distract and interfere with normal life, but rarely.
Thinks about birds most of the day and takes up most of their conversation, and may interfere and distract them from normal life on a regular basis.
Seeks birds occasionally when on an outing, not necessarily to reason for the event.
Seeks and pursues birds recreationally on a regular basis, birds being the prime purpose of the outing.
Seeks birds and pursues them as the prime focus of thir life, always thinking of the next encounter and how & where they will view them.
May or may not use or even be aware of an ebird app. This will have little impact on weekend plans unless the sighting is nearby and unusual.
May use an ebird app at least once a week or more to help plan a weekend birding adventure, and may travel several hours or more to location but minimise cost.
Will most definitely use an ebird app and other means to access live and recent sightings. This will help determine their next day. They may travel long distances at great cost.
Weekends away & recreational walks may include bird watching, Binoculars may be optional unless kept in the car. Only done outside work hours.
Weekends away and day trips prime focus on finding birds. Always brings binoculars and camera. Only outside work hours with very infrequent day off during the week.
Any time during the week when rare birds and rare sightings seen, may interrupt normal work week and family functions to pursue birds on a regular basis.
Stress level Low to Moderate – seeing birds adds an interesting dimension to the outing and assists in lowering stress levels. They share their delight with those with them.
Moderate stress level – birding a healthy distraction from busy & stressful life. Excitement or disappointment with pursuit of birds mostly lowers stress levels but can at times be stressful. They love sharing their delight and knowledge.
High stress level – driven with high expectation and personal achievement. Addiction is stressful causing anxiety lacking peace. Hence the ‘twitch’ in Twitcher. Can be very selfish, guarded, not wanting to share.
Birding is an enjoyable experience most of the time. It is good and healthy to be passionate about people we love and things we love to do, but only when we have control of our passion, not allowing it to take control of us. Addiction encourages and paves the way for demonically inspired behaviour, which is physically, emotionally, socially (relationally) and mentally destructive. When I look at Jesus I see a man who was passionate for the good of others (unselfish love), having a totally balanced character, always in control of his person. Jesus was man as God had intended him to be, growing in all 4 aspects of life – healthy mind(pure loving thoughts with emotional stability), body(stature or health), spirit (with God) and relationships(with man). He trusted God’s Holy Spirit to guide him through life.
“And Jesus grewin wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” – Luke 2:52
May your week be peaceful, satisfying, full of joy and enjoyable birding experiences.
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