As Autumn begins, my favorite migratory wader, the Bar-tailed Godwit begins to show signs of breeding plumage as males begin to orange up and the females start to show dark chevron markings on their underside. They have begun a daily gorging frenzy at low tide to fatten themselves up in preparation for the long 16,000 km journey back to Alaska where they will have their next clutch.
Young Godwits during our 2017 Winter chose to miss a year or two of migration to mature.
Many of the young ones that returned last year will stay a year or two through our Winter months to mature, before taking the journey to Alaska. Above is a male in breeding plumage carrying a crab, escaping from a Silver Gull in pursuit. He eventually eludes his pursuer, allowing him to enjoy his find. The female is larger than the male and has a slightly longer beak. The photo below was taken in Spring shortly after their migration to Australia.
To understand why this bird has my heartfelt appreciation you need to understand the nature of its yearly journey back and forth from top to bottom of our planet. In a Godwit’s lifetime it will have traveled the distance from the earth to the moon two and a half times.
This remarkable bird is featured in my book “What Birds Teach Us” for its endurant character, which is an encouragement to us humans, who are often tempted to give up too soon, before completing what can be sometimes a very difficult time in our lives. We need to press on till we achieve our goal and enjoy the delight and satisfaction that achievement brings, even if it is not all we thought it would be, savor sweet success.
As they fly they form their single file flying order
It is interesting that unlike geese, ibis and ducks, Godwits fly single file and not in formation, which makes the journey even more difficult. However, they are the 9th highest flying bird in the world flying above in the thermals of about 6,000 meters (20,000 ft) which assists their flight considerably.
Established flight is single file led by the alpha male.
So a visit to my usual wader viewing beach at low tide, the mud flats of the Georges River in southern Sydney, where the same waders return every year to forage, shows the males are already well into breeding plumage. Note the last photo in the series below showing the chevrons on the body of a female depicting the early stages of breeding plumage. Click on photos to enlarge them. This is what I saw…
This little guy seemed smaller than the others as you can see when compared with this Silver Gull.
A few days later I was able to catch these shots on a sunny day before sunset, catching the westerly perspective of light, highlighting the plumage colour change so much better. It is sad in a way as I know in a few weeks they will be gone from the beach and only a small flock of youngsters will remain. At least they will see me through the Winter till the rest return.
It was also interesting to find a lone Eastern Curlew starting to show similar signs of breeding plumage. This is the largest of our migratory waders and sports a breeding plumage of a mild rufous coloring which is noticeable on this bird. These birds will also do their migratory flight soon to Russia and northern China. Sadly Curlews have a great dread of humans and will not allow you to get anywhere near them. So many have been killed for food in Asian countries on their migration journeys is it any wonder.
Then their is our non migratory wader the White-faced Heron who will be daily found on the same mud flats all year round except while breeding, where it will fly inland to nest high in a tree. This bird is non breeding.
During late August onward it will begin displaying breeding plumage similar to examples below.
White-faced Heron with breeding plumage
White-faced Heron with breeding plumage
Of course there are many other migratory and non migratory waders we see, but these are the only ones I found on this visit which have the most stunning transformations.
It is interesting how this Silver Gull was trying to fit in with the Godwits, but realised he lacked the equipment to penetrate the wet sand to achieve what they were achieving so easily. Notice the middle Godwit looking with interest out of the corner of his right eye, while the gull stands alongside the female Godwit which is in the process of extracting a crustacean from beneath.
Each of us need to feel accepted and loved as a member of a family, community or social gathering, and we succeed in being an authentic member if we can contribute in a meaningful and productive way. With birds the design and shape of the beak or bill is essential for the foraging of their specific food types. The Silver Gull can eat the same food as the Godwit, but must use a different method to do it, such as chasing the crabs on the wet sand, as seen in the following clip..
We are each gifted with different abilities, being equipped with skill sets from different backgrounds. It is not in the copying or imitating of another that makes one an authentic contributor, but the sharing of one’s personal attributes and skills to complement and strengthen the community or family. In this way we should never consider ourselves inferior or lesser than others because we can not do what they do, the way they do it. Examining ourselves to determine where our strengths and weaknesses lie can help us work at doing better the things we do best, and also to be humble and wise enough to know our limitations, thus feeling free to ask for help and assistance when the need arises. That is the underlying strength of good family and community. It is based on love: I give my best of what I can contribute, trusting that you will do your best to return the same commitment in your different but needed contribution to me.
“Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.” – Romans 12:10 (NIV)
“Keep out of debt altogether, except the perpetual debt of love which we owe to one another. The man who loves his neighbour has obeyed the whole Law in regard to his neighbour. ” – Romans 13:10
In the Christian Bible in 1 Corinthians 12, Paul uses the human body as an example of how a loving caring sharing community works as God intended.
Have a very enjoyable week as you watch several bird species and bird numbers change for the approaching season. If this is your first visit to my blog please check out my website Home-Page for more birding tips and healthy life skills.
Last weekend, my wife and I drove to the Hunter Valley Wine Region for our wedding anniversary, where we not only enjoyed beautiful valley views, fine food, tasting luscious wines, but of course as per usual, birding was included. Click on photos to enlarge.
aussiebirder ready to bird
View from our accommodation.
Nearby was the Werakata National Park, one of the feeding areas of the rare and endangered Regent Honeyeater, which my followers would know I have blogged in past posts. The Spotted Gum eucalypt trees were in flower which would have been ideal for them to feed, however we did not see any Regents on this occasion.
But we did see an unexpected family of another inland bird the beautiful Rainbow Bee-eater female with juveniles. The juveniles lack colour intensity, lack the throat band which has not yet formed and lack the tail streamers. This bird lives in hot arid areas and dry forests and spends the Summer months down here, flying back up to Far North Queensland during Winter, after the cyclones of the wet season. The females have two short tail streamers (see below) and the male has longer streamers.
adult female Bee-eater
To our delight as we walked to breakfast, we found a small flock of Musk Lorikeet feeding on the Spotted Gun flowers nearby our accommodation. This bird is found inland and is often difficult to photograph and well camouflaged as they are usually deep in the tree feeding. The blue head cap and the red head markings are usually all you can detect. This birds gets its name from the male which during breeding season emits a musky odour from an oil gland on its rump. This acts as a pheromone attracting females to mate.
Musk Lorikeet feeding
The Eastern Rosella is another inland bird checking the gum trees also. A beautiful but very shy bird.
It was lovely to see several new season juvenile birds and hear their monotonous hunger chirps as the family try to feed them. This juvenile Noisy Miner was getting attention next to our room.
Adult Noisy Miner keeping watch
Juvenile Noisy MIner
One of the best treats for me coming here was to hear again the sound of the Pied Butcherbird, my favourite songbird, which I miss hearing from my years of living up the coast in country NSW. This bird is not found as far south as Sydney, but its cousin the Grey Butcherbird sings his beautiful song to me each morning as he drinks from our birdbath. Listen and watch as this bird’s morning chorus rings through the valley.
One hot afternoon while enjoying a swim in the pool, we heard a commotion in the nearby eucalypt tree as several Noisy Miners were being very noisy and appeared to be looking at something and scolding it in the tree. At first we all could not make it out, but my wife donned her binoculars and sighted the cause of the trouble, a young Lace Monitor was on a branch high in the tree in search for bird eggs. The Noisy Miners harassed him with noise but it was the brave and more brutal Blue-faced Honeyeater that dared to come close, causing the lizard to move away.
Blue-faced Honeyeater are another bird found mainly in northern NSW and also Queensland. As with other Australian honeyeaters competing for nectar, this bird is aggressive and often sports what appears to be an aggressive look which is in it’s favor for warding off adversaries.
While we were enjoying coffee at the Chocolate Factory, we looked out to a distant paddock where my wife sighted a Wedge-tailed Eagle going to ground. It was a long way off and barely visible and spent several minutes down. I walked smartly to the car to retrieve my camera and returned waiting at the fence. Eventually it arose and flew toward me, almost over my head and then into the distance. It appeared to be carrying its prey under one talon, which on close observation appeared to be either a native possum or small fox.
This is Australia’s largest raptor sporting a wingspan of around 2.3 meters (7.5 feet), and it is always a buzz to see them since their numbers were decimated in the last 100 years due to the 5 shilling bounty on their heads. Hundreds of thousands were slaughtered needlessly. Farmers complained that they carried off lambs as prey. This is the most persecuted eagle in the world. Today there is a $8,000 fine and imprisonment in most states for killing this now protected bird as this bounty has since been lifted, and numbers are very slowly returning, but will never be as they were. The eagle can carry up to 5kg (11pds) prey which is heavier than its body weight of 3.5kg. We also spotted a Whistling Kite passing over silently.
On our visit to Hunter Valley Gardens which is the largest floral display in Australia, we were met by many Superb Fairy-wren families bobbing in and out of the beautiful and extensive rose gardens. As roses are introduced species and lack nectar, they do not attract native honeyeaters birds but only the tiny insectivorous Superb Fairy-wren. This bird is a small fast moving territorial bird found in many flower gardens and parks in eastern Australia. Some males were morphing into eclipse after the breeding season, and others were still donning their brilliant breeding plumage which looked spectacular in the sunshine when it came out. The female looks plain brown and has a reddish marking around her eyes.
The other bird we saw many of, but had a challenge to photograph, was the another insectivorous inland bird I posted recently, the Yellow Thornbill.
We enjoyed a wonderful anniversary celebration away in the vineyards, bringing home some very enjoyable wines. One of the vineyards, the Mistletoe Winery, appeared to have giants present though we did not see any on our visit, but she had left her shoes in the garden.
You might consider this above photo to be a trick with perspective, but no the shoes are as large as they appear, by simply observing the branch in the foreground. Yes, it is a sculpture, one of many at this winery. This sculpture reminded me that sometimes the truth can be right before my eyes, but because it does not line up with what I know and understand of it in my world, I may doubt its authenticity, and consider that someone has fiddled the foto and fiddled the facts to make a false observation appear like truth. In this age where deception, lack of trust and loss of integrity is on the increase, it reminds me that I need to be alert and wise to check out the details of boldly postulated assertions, particularly from minority groups, but ever increasingly from government and media. What is so called politically correct or currently socially acceptable may not be truth and therefore good or safe to enter into. With our looming elections in coming months I and all of us need to be able, as difficult as it has become, to discern who is telling the truth, and what the facts really are for the ongoing good of our families and community.
Jesus said: “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd [alert, intelligent, astute, clever, observant, perceptive] as snakes and as innocent [not guilty of causing crime, offense or suffering] as doves.” – Matthew 10:16 (NIV with added meanings)
“Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to determine if they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” – 1 John 4:1
“What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us.” – 1 Corinthians 2:12
Enjoy your week as we eclipse into changing seasons, for some autumn and others spring. It is a time to be wise with our health as the temperatures change. It is also time in the next few weeks for our migratory waders to be on the move again, which I will be sharing more of in my next post.
If this is your first visit to my blog be sure to check out my birding website for more birding info and helpful hints for body mind and spirit. Enter into the refreshing mindfulness of birding, lower your stress levels, and live a healthy happy life.
We seldom go birding on the outskirts of Western Sydney, but with recent sightings of a Red-capped Robin family in Wianamatta Nature Reserve at Cranebrook, on The Northern Road, I just had to go, since this was on my lifer bucket list for this year. This nature reserve in past years, was the sight of a communications receiving station but now the abandoned concrete slabs and old granite roads where buildings and antennae once existed has given way to rejuvenating bushland, managed by NSW National Parks. The main entrance is lined with bird breeding boxes and I believe bird tagging is carried out here at times also.
Sadly the day was dull and showery and I did not sight the Robin, though a National Park ranger told me she had seen it come up to her late last year. However I was blessed to sight from a distance high in a dead tree, a pair of Australian Hobby, which may explain why the trees were quieter than usual. This small falcon is almost the size of a Kestrel, and looks similar from a distance to its larger cousin, the Peregrine Falcon. It preys on birds with vigorous swift flight, snatching them in mid air, and also, like most birds, feeds on insects. I was pleased with the shots I managed to get considering the lack of light and distance from the tree, as they did not let me approach. Click on photos to enlarge them.
It amazes me how raptors and other birds can rotate their head 180° without moving their body.
The noticeable lack of birds was apparent but there were a few good ones which we seldom see near the coast as well as the Hobby, including the beautiful Yellow Thornbill, of which I saw several families, but were difficult to see again due to the poor light. This tiny insectivorous bird can be heard with its high pitched call as it communicates to its mate while scanning the small trees.
I was delighted to see a Double-barred Finch, another bird seen more inland, in the arid areas where it feeds on grass seed. Australian finches are quite remarkable survivers, and are often seen in large flocks further inland, though this guy was alone. I had to include the flight shot as poor as it is, but not wings and legs tucked, he is like a missile in flight.
It was lovely to sight this juvenile Grey Fantail, who did not seem to concerned about me.
Grey Fantail juvenile
Grey Fantail juvenile
Grey Fantail juvenile
Grey Fantail juvenile
As usual there is often a curious bird, if not a Robin, Shrike-thrush or Fantail, it is a Whistler, and in this case what appears to be a lone female Rufous Whistler. Rufous Whistlers are found more in the west and the Golden Whistler more along the eastern coastal forests. I love the curious head turn that the above mentioned birds all do.
Rufous Whistler female
Rufous Whistler female
What about the fresh waterbirds of the westthis is where the rarer species are usually found, in the inland lakes, swamps and lagoons, where the water is still and water weed and aquatic food grows to feed them. Pitt Town Lagoon (Nature Reserve) as it is known, is a popular place north west of Sydney, especially after recent rains where it has refilled again. The local bird observers club have built a bird hide on one side of the lake, but the birds tend to congregate on the other side.
Many of our rarer native duck are very cautious and timid toward humans because of the long history of being hunted by early settlers, before government protection. Sadly this was the only shot I got of the rarer mainly inland dwelling, Yellow Spoonbill. On my approach I have to remain hidden, but as soon as I launch camera, this happens…
Great Egret and Straw-necked Ibis (non breeding)
Pacific Black Duck in flight
Both Straw-necked and Australian White Ibis were present. The name Straw-necked refers to the breeding plumage which is not present on these birds. These birds are not water birds as such but they forage on the banks and in the shallows by pressing their long slender bills into the wet mud for small crustaceans.
Straw-necked Ibis non breeding
Australian White Ibis
Straw-necked Ibis non breeding
Australian White Ibis
Two of the rarer mainly inland fresh water birds present are the Pink-eared Duck and the Australasian Shoveler. Both these birds have wide beaks specifically designed to sift the water for minute aquatic organisms which make up much of their food, including crustaceans and insects.
Australasian Shoveler pair (male on the right)
Female Shoveler in flight
Female Shoveler in flight
Female Australasian Shoveler
gathering of Shovelers
Male Shovelers in flight
They have a dabbling action as they sift the water, often moving in circles, or simply following behind other ducks with bills submerged as they swim and stir up the surface of silt and weed in the shallows beneath. This allows them to sift the food from the unwanted water.
Pink-eared Duck pair
Pink-eared Duck in flight
Pink-eared Duck family
There is always Australia’s most numerous duck, the Grey Teal. The Chestnut Teal was also present in my earlier shots.
The Australian Pelican is an amazing survivor, even out west away from the ocean. Other birds including the rare Freckled Duck and Blue-billed Duck have been seen here as well on occasions as have several species of waders (in my previous posts) and a family of White-bellied Sea Eagle. but not on this visit.
This photo shows a family of Pacific Black Duck in flight, but notice how the iridescent speculum feathers change colour depending on the angle of suns rays striking it. You could get the impression from this photo that the lead male was a different bird specie or a mutant, but in reality it is relevant to the perspective from which you view it coupled with the angle of the sunlight striking the speculum feathers.
Pacific Black Duck
On viewing this capture I was reminded in my spirit that we need to be careful not to make judgments and interpret what we see, without understanding. The modern media and the comments of others can easily colour and change our perspective in regard to a person, their character or an event. The leading Pacific Black Duck (which is actually brown) in the photo above may give us a false impression as to its true appearance seeing a purple speculum instead of the more commonly seen turquoise. However, it is what it is, and if we were to view that same duck in another light and angle it would also appear turquoise like the others.
Pacific Black Duck in flight
Having the understanding about speculums and how the feathers are structurally multi layered allows one to accept what they see, without going off on a tangent. This is a lesson to me to stop and try to understand before passing judgement, and to not believe everything I here or read on face value.
“Teach me knowledge and good judgment, for I trust your commands.” – Psalm 119:66 (NIV)
“Do not bring your servant into judgment, for no one living is righteous before you.” – Psalm 143:2
“You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.” – Romans 2:1
“Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.” – Romans 14:13
One of my youngest blog followers shared this little snippet of truth regarding the difference between a BIRDER and a TWITCHER, as I know many have asked the question, and I have done a post on this in past years. The answer is simply $$$ dollars $$$ meaningthe twitcher unlike most of us birders is wealthy and able to leave their job or home on a bird tip off and travel anywhere in the world, to feed their obsession/addiction, as in the movie The Big Year
Have a wonderful week my dear birding friends, and thank you my dear ones for your kind and thoughtful regards to my health, which is slowly on the mend. Yes I am still working part time and also researching my next book which I have started, but just need time to seriously write it.
If this is your first visit to my blog be sure to check out my birding website for more birding info and helpful hints for body mind and spirit. Enter into the refreshing mindfulness of birding, lower your stress levels, and live a healthy happy life.
This week our attention is drawn to a very colorful bird which many of my followers adore seeing on my blog, the Rainbow Lorikeet, or Rainbows to the locals, a bird we hear daily in small flocks calling to each other in excited raucous communication, feeding from the nectar rich flowers of our Endeavor Bottlebrush tree in our courtyard just outside the back door. This a very old tree and is covered in blooms most of the year. If you want to attract native bird, plant native flowering bushes such as Grevillea, Bottlebrush and Banksia. Thousands of these birds are common and live around the Sydney area and while they are easy to photograph feeding, they are such rapid flyers it is a challenge to get a decent flight shot as can be seen above.
They nest in the hollows of the Angophora costata or Sydney Red Gum, competing with the Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, also in great numbers for the same holes. They do nest in eucalypt trees also if they find a hole. I have seen these birds using their strong beaks to chip away at tree holes to make nest with the lady looking on. These two birds and the Noisy Miner make up the most numerous birds around the east coast Sydney region. They guard their nest from attacks of Kookaburras and Butcherbirds that do the rounds when the nest is not guarded. Both are devoted parents, as do other omnivorous birds.
guarding nest from possible threat
watching the nest
Checking the nest
guarding the nest
nest on Angophora tree
The Noisy Miner is an extremely bold and aggressive native honeyeater which gains control of whole areas and trees by using the ‘pack method’. One or two birds start harassing and physically attacking an intruder to their territory and put out the call for help. Immediately many Noisy Miner will fly directly to the cause, and assist driving the intruder out with continual biting attacks to the unwitting victim. They particularly pick on weaker honeyeaters and pardalotes that also enjoy eating nectar, flowers and lerps. It is the sweet sugary lerps that miners (both Noisy and Bell) relish and harvest. Unlike Miners, Lorikeets and Cockatoo have beaks designed for eating seed, which they extract from seed cones on native Banksia and Casuarina trees.
Extracting seed from a native Casuarina tree
Each different species of eucalypt has its own different specie of lerp producing psyllid. I have shown in previous posts birds licking lerps from the back of eucalypt leaves. Interesting enough, while Noisy Miners have been seen chasing in flock cats, dogs, massive eagles, large meat eating birds able to eat miners and even humans, they do not bother the Rainbow Lorikeet. It appears there seems to be a sort of agreement between them, as I watch them feeding from the same Bottlebrush, both calling to their mates but both sharing the same flowers in turn without aggression. I have read that Rainbows in flock together also can be quite aggressive to Miners and inflict a more savage wound than the miner due to their much stronger hooked parrot beak.
Rainbow Lorikeet feeding on Lilly Pilly fruit
Noisy Miner feeding on Bottlebrush
Noisy Miner feeding on Bottlebrush
One of the features I highlight in my book “What Birds Teach Us” about Rainbows is the fact that they mate with one partner for life. It is almost impossible to tell the male from the female except the male may be slightly larger. It is one of the saddest things to observe when one of the pair is dead by the roadside and the other trying to get it moving. They grieve long and deep. So it is you seldom see one bird but two or three (one being a juvenile). You will see them in small flocks moving from tree to tree, though you usually hear their loud chatter before you see them. They often are hidden in the colorful flowers they feed from. I have sold several copies of the first of the next series as a canvas print and have one on the wall at home. See how they preen and care for each other as true devoted lovers.
My wife and I were concerned a couple of months ago when for several weeks we neither saw nor heard a Rainbow. After some thought, and a search in my field guides I realised that they were all nesting at the same time, well away from our home, usually in the Reserves and National Parks around Sydney where the nesting trees are found. Almost at the same time last month they started appearing and their welcome excited feeding frenzy chatter was heard once more. You might remember the juvenile bird I photographed a few weeks ago with its parent as the feature photo in my post The Mindfulness of Birding.
Notice the juvenile features of dark beak, eye and reduced orange vest.
To give you a good Rainbow experience after recent rain (hey! isn’t that when you see after rain, rainbows?) I will share this video of one feeding only a meter or two from me on the back step. They get so into it that they often don’t notice you as long as you remain perfectly still. Listen to the chatter, the continuous communication from one mate to another, each knowing the voice of the other over the other birds. This again is one of the neurological wonders of our Aussie parrot species, their ability to learn language, even human, as those with domesticated Australian Budgies and Cockatoos already know. They can adapt to different flock languages with this ability which may save their lives in difficult climatic and physical threats.
We can learn that faithfulness in relationship is a very important trait. Sharing and caring together is what God intended for man and woman in a loving and trusting relationship. From this may come offspring, harmonizing and concreting that love into tangible expressions, that will hopefully continue to propagate and grow that same love in the generations that follow. The parent, the child’s most influential person, is the primary mentor, exhibiting through their own loving example between parent and parent.
Birds of a feather
As family counselors teach:
Parents, if you want your child to grow up with healthy self esteem with loving caring affection and a trust worthy obedient spirit, simply and honestly love each other and they will learn from your example and mimic the same, it is not so much what you say that is important, though positive and loving words certainly are, but even more important, is what you do by example in their presence and hearing. The old saying is ‘it is seldom taught, than caught’ or ‘Seldom telt, than felt.‘ (Older English). Children are sponges looking to those who know how to live, so that they to can learn the same, just as birds do. Good parent mentoring coupled to a trusting, obedient child brings blessing to both.
“Grandchildren are like a crown to the elderly, and the glory of children is their parents.” – Proverbs 17:6 (NIV)
“The righteous person behaves in integrity; blessed are his children after him.” – Proverbs 20:7
“In the fear of the Lord is strong confidence, and His children will have a place of refuge.” – Proverbs 14:26
“A new commandment I give to you, that you loveone another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” – John 13:24
Have a wonderful week! I seem to be slowly on the mend. Thanks for your prayers and well wishes, it is heartening and encouraging that you my dear blogging friends express your concern and care for my health.
The last few weeks I have been recovering from an illness which has limited my birding exploits. One area I have been discouraged this season is the shorebirds and waders, as numbers are reducing each year. We know that hundreds are perishing each year during their migratory journeys as humans interfere with their feeding grounds (filling in and developing wetlands for industry and housing), as well as snaring and killing them for food. This is occurring mainly in the Asian countries where these birds stop off for refueling to complete their amazing 12 – 16,000 km flight.
One Critically Endangered species, we are seeing less of each year is the Eastern Curlew (see above). Our largest migratory wader. Is it any wonder it is the shyest of waders, and will take flight when it sees a human moving towards it even at a great distance, sounding its classic alrm call as it goes. This beautifully patterned bird is a delight to capture with camera. The camera is the modern rifle for notching up captures or kills, and our photos are now our trophies, and ‘no animals were harmed in the making of this film.’
How beautiful are these birds. I make my usual viewing visits at low tide to nearby Taren Point Shorebird Reserve on the banks of the huge Georges River which flows into Botany Bay. These mud flats are a rich source of crustacean food for these birds using their long probe-like beaks to penetrate into the wet sand below. Click on photos to enlarge them.
The other reason I have been slack with posting waders this season is the tides, and my ability to catch the low tide when I am not working, they do not often align, so I have to make the most of my days off. The other commonly seen migratory wader in reduced numbers on our river banks this year is the Bar-tailed Godwit. The small flocks are reduced to several pairs.
Bar-tailed Godwit curious
Bar-tailed Godwit in flight
Bar-tailed Godwits in flight
Bar-tailed Godwits in flight
Bar-tailed Godwits in flight
I also use to see occasional Grey-tailed Tattler, but saw none, but did see this uncommonly seen Whimbrel smaller than the Curlew in size and beak.
One common shorebird is always the Grey-faced Heron…
Both the Sooty and the Australian Pied Oystercatcher are seen from time to time, either resting on the beach or prying rock oysters in the river banks.
It was interesting watching this scene play out between a flock of Silver Gull (Seagull) and a flock of Pied Oystercatcher (rarely seen in this number). At first the Silver Gull were resting on the shore and then small numbers of Pied Oystercatcher began gathering nearby. Initially one lone Pied Oystercatcher was sent packing back to his flock…
Gathering the troops the flock of more dominant Pied Oystercatcher marched on the gulls and placed themselves right next to them. No scuffles broke out.
Marching on the gulls
Marching on the gulls
More troops arrive
Some of the Pied scouts discovered fresh water flowing from a storm water drain onto the beach, which attracted the attention of many other birds on the beach, including an immature Silver Gull which felt somewhat outnumbered and alone.
scouting team discover fresh water
fresh water and an immature gull
Pied Oystercatcher drinking fresh water from storm water outflow
Of course we can’t leave out the Australian Pelican, an often seen inhabitant on the river. It is a delight to see them gliding so gracefully, sometimes circling to very great heights, One strange position is seen in a photo below with bill pointed upward, not quite sure what that was about, maybe something was caught in its throat…
Speaking of gliding, on the North Easter which blows cool air off the ocean each Summer afternoon (thank God!) I saw this flock of Silver Gull just hanging in formation for long periods in the strong breeze without moving, it was almost a spiritual experience…
Gulls gliding on NEaster
Gulls gliding on NEaster
The expression on this gull caught my attention and became a favorite of mine…
I moved to another position behind the mangroves and heard noisy cries of what I knew to be Little Terns. They were a fair way out with the tide so I had to wait till I got home to interpret what was happening. It appears a Little tern was being harassed by an immature Crested Tern, trying to steal its freshly caught fish, which it wanted to feed its babies waiting on the beach.
The Australian White Ibis, Royal Spoonbill and Masked Lapwing, are also birds seen here on the river banks from time to time.
Royal Spoonbills WORKING
I am thankful that I managed to see all of the above during the last couple of months of severe weather, unsuitable tides and persisting illness. Wader numbers appear on the decrease, as fewer return from migration to forage the same beach areas each summer. Nothing stays the same.
Each of the above birds have been equipped with beaks and bodies that allow them to extract a particular kind of food from the river and shoreline. Each bird obediently observes and follows the parent as it learns how to forage for itself, and master to tools God has equipped it with. Each different kind of bird is in a parallel and not an evolutionary series of progression. This is obvious to anyone who studies biological science, and follows the latest in neurological studies in birds and their behaviour. As the Bible says God created each after its own kind and just as we see here on the riverbank they share the same area and forage together according to their kind. The facts are right before our eyes. Modernists and charlatans try their hardest to convince the world of a no God world view but it does not answer the questions of life or the purpose thereof nor give a viable or believable substitute.
“So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.” – Genesis 1:21
“He created them male and female and blessed them.” – Genesis 5:2
“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. ” – Psalm 139: 13-14 I suggest reading the whole of Psalm 139.
“Givethanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.” – Psalm 118:1 (NIV)
Recently I did my yearly visit to Lake Wollumboola on the south coast of NSW. It is well known as a breeding place for shore birds, some of which are endangered including Little Tern, Hooded Plover and Pied Oystercatcher. Because these birds nest on the sandy beaches which humans use for recreation (including 4WD vehicles) many nests are destroyed being threatening each year with a reduction in fledglings. It remains incredulous that even National Parks allow large vehicles to tear up the pristine beaches which are supposed to protect many of these nesting birds, but thankfully conservation is occurring here at Wollumboola, with fenced off areas for breeding to occur. Click on photos to enlarge them.
As you can see the drought has taken its toll on the lake, reducing water volume and purity, as well as bird numbers. I only sighted one nesting Little Tern on my visit, faithfully sitting near a number 8 sign, which may mark this nesting as the eighth for the season. It sat alone on the large sand flat which use to be surrounded by water.
Little Tern nesting alone
Little Tern nesting alone
barren sand by lake
Little Tern nesting alone
The Little Tern is smaller and much less common than the Crested Tern seen all along our east coast. It has a black mark which runs across to its eye. When breeding, as these ones are, their bill turns from dark to yellow, similar to that of the Crested Tern. It was very interesting to watch this adult Little Tern wait on the shore alone for some time, to finally be greeted with another adult carrying a small fish which it gives to the other to eat. This is a Tern courting ritual whereby the male catches a fish and plants it in front of a desirable female. If she eats it, he delights and they mate. If she refuses it he takes it to his next choice, and so it continues till he finds a bride. Interesting enough it was just past the normal breeding season for these birds, so maybe it was a late courting or just a loving gesture.
Because the lake has withdrawn such a large distance, I did not try to seek out other nesting areas. But beside the large flock of Crested Tern, Great Cormorants, Australian Pelicans, Australian Black Swan, Royal Spoonbill and Australian Raven were sighted around the lake. A Beach Stone Curlew had been sighted here but as I came in the late morning, there was no chance of sighting this rare night forager, which others had also came searching unsuccessfully for.
Resting Cormorants and Terns
Crested Tern flock from distance
Pelican and Black Swan
Most of my attention now turns to the Terns. The Crested Tern, which gets it name from the black crest on its head. I shared in last weeks post how we can tell the difference between breeding and non breeding. In the safety of the flock stood many immature birds from last seasons fledglings. They stand out by their dark speckled plumage, lacking the smooth grey of the adult. Most breeding has finished for these birds. Here you see the youngsters copying and learning from the parent, from observation and humble obedience.
adult with juvenile
parents and their young
the crest is seen clearly here
adult shows affection to juvenile
As many of us parents know it can be quite a challenge to keep always hungry children from wining and it is no different for the bird community as you can see from this jerky clip (the wind was quite strong on the heavy lens).
One particular parent was really getting upset with this youngster as you will see. Many shore and water birds bob up and down with their head lowered to get attention.
Finally after a scolding they all settle together for a rest, how cute.
Finally, father returns with food for the hungry tummies.
It was lovely observing the constant flying to and fro from the lake with small fish for the young, sometimes several at a time. Here I trace the journey of the parent Crested Tern as it seeks out its youngster to feed it. You will notice the fish changes position in the birds mouth, this is because I saw so many return but only kept best shots, so it is not the same bird in each instance.
The Terns have a huge wing extension which assists in their amazing ability to dive from a height at great speed into the water, swimming deeply to retrieve their catch and emerge quickly. Unfortunately they were not fishing close enough for me to photograph.
It was sad to see a young man with children test piloting his new drone over the protected area governed by National Parks. This is now illegal and he really needed to be playing with his children and giving them his time rather then selfishly playing with his own toy, which could be a threat to the birds.
Finally our message comes from the birds…
It is good to start the year focused on the things that matter. As Stephen Covey was quoted saying ” The main thing is to keep the main thing, the main thing.” So it is with parenting, children want parents more than toys or electronic gear. They need emotional, social and physical interaction and support. Children need to know and feel that they are loved and accepted for who they are. many children suffer for the lack of the same, far into adult life, becoming baggage for all future relationships. Children gain their sense of personal esteem and value from the parent, especially from the father, by how the parent encourages and speaks with them. Just spending time, playing and doing homework with them and attending their school and sport functions speaks louder than any toy you could hand them to passify their need of YOU.
A daily hug and ‘I love you’ is so precious to the heart of a child, as they are sponges for emotional security. Words which build them up, and don’t ever tear them down, both types of word are carried for a lifetime as either blessings or curses from the parent, effecting the child’s future life and even their children to come. So it is said, One good turn deserves another. The very best turn we can do for our children is to love them unconditionally without expectations and to to love their mum/dad. The love you show your wife/husband will reflect in the peace and security felt by the children, and will instruct and encourage them in the same attitude as a model for their life, and for finding a good partner themselves.
‘The righteous lead blameless lives; blessed are their children after them.’ – Proverbs 20:7
‘Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.’ – Proverbs 22:6
‘Discipline your children, and they will give you peace; they will bring you the delights you desire.’ – Proverbs 29:17
‘Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with oneanother in love.’ – Ephesians 4:2
Have a wonderful week and keep cool or warm depending on which part of the world you are in. Our hearts and prayers go out to the many in Townsville, Queensland who are suffering the worst floods and devastation ever. Many have suffered loss, and many birds also would have suffered also, having gathered around the Common lakes for water during the drought.
Following our Australia Day holiday tradition, my wife and I set out early Monday morning to catch the ebb tide on Long Reef Aquatic Reserve, Collaroy (on Sydney’s northern beaches), to once again visit the waders of the rock platform, many of which migrate here each summer from the northern hemisphere. Sadly the day was overcast which detracted from clear colourful shots. The beautiful Pacific Golden Plover (see above) was displaying its magnificent plumage, which would have shone for us had the sun been out. However we launched out onto the massive wide slippery wet rock platform. By the way I will be sharing a pretty amazing and undocumented bird finding by one of my blog followers Cathy Sexton, make sure you do not miss it. Click here to visit page . Click on Photos to enlarge.
Our first sightings were of the usual small flocks of Silver Gull and Crested Tern, and the Pied Cormorant sharing the usual Cormorant rock with a Great Cormorant at the far end of the reef. But we were keeping our eyes peeled for much smaller reef runners which we did not see as yet.
The Crested Tern are the most commonly seen Tern on the east coast, within in the following small flock you will notice an immature with brown specked plumage, which serves as a protective camouflage from the air. You will also notice the difference in breeding (complete black crest) and non-breeding ( partial or spotted front of crest).
Crested Tern (non breeding)
Juvenile Crested Tern
Terns are beautiful in flight as well as when they land and extend their very long wings. It is a joy to watch them fishing as they dive to the water from great height, plunging beneath and rising with fish, but sadly they were only resting on the reef while it was low tide.
Where is he going in such a hurry!
But this was my favorite shot of the day.
Another favorite we always see here in good number is the Sooty Oystercatcher, endemic to coastal Australia breeding on offshore islands and headlands such as Long Reef. Like its cousin the Pied Oystercatcher, they are usually found in breeding pairs and small family groups. It uses its powerful beak to pry open shell fish.
Sooty Oystercatcher with Ruddy Turnstone
Watch the tide there Sooty!
A breeding pair
As we slowly moved to the centre of the reef we started seeing the amazing tiny Red-necked Stint, which gets its name from the red neck it develops during breeding plumage across the other side of the world in Siberia and Alaska where i spends our Winter. It returns each year to the same reef to feed, with its young and without its red neck. These fast moving reef runners as I call them, are extremely timid of humans, and photos usually have to be taken from some distance away, which is challenging to focus on such tiny birds.
We also saw foraging in perfect peace with the other foragers , a small family flock of Ruddy Turnstones, another migrant here for the Summer, breeding on the coasts of northern hemisphere countries. which always look spectacular in flight. While it is difficult to turn stones on a solid sandstone reef, they have no trouble foraging for aquatic crustaceans and insects.
Sooty Oystercatcher with Ruddy Turnstone
Of course the Pacific Golden Plover was present in breeding pairs, another Summer migrant escaping the cold of the arctic tundra of Alaska where it breeds during its warmer months.
We usually see a raptor of two passing over but not on this occasion, however we had an enjoyable time, and left in time for a lovely lunch with some friends.
It is interesting to reflect on the fact that we arrive at the reef exactly one year from our last visit to find the same birds (plus new young) revisited, having flown some 8 to 16,000km to the northern hemisphere and then the same distance returning back with a new family. The unknowing human just sees the same birds, as if they are always here, but come March-April they will be gone. Look how tiny these Red-necked Stints are, compared with this already small Golden Plover.
The yearly migration of so many birds is an amazing feat of endurance and determination, faced with dangers and difficulties. Many die in the process every year due to weather and even more as a result of humans reclaiming their feeding grounds for development. If these birds arrive at a feeding spot they have been using for thousands of years, and they do not get enough to eat to finish the journey, they fall exhausted into the ocean and die. Organisations such as Birdlife Australia and Birdlife International are constantly at work to save our waders, of which several are critically endangered, with less returning every year. Click on the above links and discover exactly what is causing the problem.
We can revisit people we know and meet, and like the migratory birds, we may not be aware of the difficulties and achievements they have had to deal with in their life to survive and prosper since the we last saw them. It is not till we take the time to hear their story that we realize there is so much more to each person. We can easily make judgments on the very little we think we know, and many do, including myself at times, only to discover we did not take the time or effort to uncover their story.
‘Let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance’ – Proverbs 1:5
‘You, Lord, hear the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry.’ – Psalm 10:17
‘Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good,to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone.’ – Titus 3:1,2 (NIV)
A personal friend, Howard, shared this link showing how the Comb-crested Jacana (‘Jesus bird’ because it appears to walk on water) carries its young to safety. I featured these birds in post last year from Far North Queensland. Click here to view.
If this is your first visit, Welcome! and do not go without checking my website Homepage for more birding tips and links, as well as my book release. Have a wonderful week and stay cool through our extreme heatwaves and drought.
As the year begins, and following on from my post last week on Mindful Birding, it is an opportunity to review,and put into action these skills, particularly for those new to birding, the 5 Steps to Better Birding. You will learn how we spotted this rare sighting in an unexpected location, as I share how you can get the most satisfying birding experience. This will be especially helpful if you are a novice birdwatcher becoming a fully fledged birder. Click on photos to enlarge them.
Initially, before you start, it is important to decide what kind of birds you want to find, and best LOCATION where you are likely find them. Local and learnt knowledge is helpful as well as The Australian Bird Guide and Finding Australian Birds both obtainable from CSIRO Publishing.
These books will help locate where particular species of bird are found in Australia and what habitat you are most likely to find them in, Other factors may involve the time of day (low tide for viewing waders, or night time for owls), the time of year or season (for migratory species) and the current weather (very hot, very dry, very windy or very wet conditions can have a negative affect). Otherwise, many of us just do a pot luck bird walk through National Parks, Reserves and State Forests and be thankful for what we might see, often surprised when we find the unexpected bird or birding experience. For our example I will take my daughter and two grand children ( one pictured above) on a stroll through Oatley Park Reserve on a pot luck bird walk. Because many Australian birds are territorial and non migratory, you can usually predict what birds you are likely to see in any given location. The Bird Field Guide will help with the geographic location of each bird (where in which States) including any races (subspecies) that a particular specie may have.
My first instruction to my accompanying family is to quietly listen for bird calls as they walk along the bush track. Most of the time you will hear a bird before you see it. Australia has one of the largest number of songbirds, and many have a very distinctive call which identifies them immediately. One of the skills one gains from mindful listening is to identify each bird one hears from its call. The call can tell you where to look ( nearby or further on, in tree or on ground) as well as what the bird is actually doing at the time. There are Australian birds which are gifted with many different calls, and also the ability to learn and copy the calls of other birds. The Superb Lyrebird and Satin Bowerbird are but two good examples. Listen to this Lyrebird immitate at least 6 different birds, as well as make its own peculiar call.
Eventually, one can identify when mimicry is being displayed by a Lyrebird or other bird, by skillful listening. The greatest aid to the Australian birder is the Michael Morcombe eGuide iphone app. which I have listed on the BirdingInfoTips page of my website half way down the page under Helpful Birding Links. This app allows you to hear the calls of the different birds. Slowly move to where the bird call is loudest, stop moving if the bird stops calling, as it has probably seen you and become cautious, and LOOK for movement in the direction you last heard the call. This is a similar call to what we heard, and what drew us to discover the bird pictured above. We were drawn to a tree by the pond where we could here a strange buzzing sound which I knew from experience was a Satin Bowerbird call. You will need to turn your volume up to hear it.
Be aware that with some birds it will not be their call or song that will draw attention, but careful listening may detect bark being torn and stripped from trees (eg. Crested Shrike-tit, Eastern Whipbird and the Treecreepers), leaf litter being overturned (Logrunner, Whipbird, Bassian Thrush), scratching sounds (Lyrebird, Brush Turkey) or it may be the sound of crunching pine cones and falling debris from the Cockatoo and Parrot family.
One golden birding principle is that ‘If you wait (sitting quietly is best) the birds will come to you.’ Mixed Feeding Flocks (MFFs) are constantly moving through areas of forest and field, and many territorial birds (non flock birds) will also do a circuit and return through the same area several times a day.
You will know the birds arrive by the many birds twittering as they feed and communicate with each other. Our birds are able to learn to communicate in the dialects of bird species other than their own, thus MFFs are common with smaller insectivorous and seed eating birds, and brings the advantages of safety in numbers, and better food and water locating. So wait in a place where you find birds moving, you may find a birdway. Areas that pass near fresh water sources, around lakes and swamps are often the best. Just wait there for a while and LISTEN.
So on hearing the bird, one starts looking in the direction of the call. The most helpful tool at this stage are your eyes and your binoculars. The aim is to look for any movement at all in the vegetation and focus in on it. My grandchildren were spotting the bird high in a tree above the track but we could not see it well.
It sounded distressed because other birds such as Noisy Miners were attempting to attack it, as they are very territorial and this bird was strange to this part of the park, and in fact is not usually seen here at all. My observation revealed what appeared to be a juvenile Satin Bowerbird possibly a fledgling from early last Spring. It is probably checking out the park for food, as these birds are primarily native fruit eaters (figs, berries etc). Both immature sexes look like the female, as it will take seven to eight years for the male to mature to adult plumage but only two to three for the female. Bare in mind also that many birds go quiet and sit in the shade, mainly during the heat of the day. Also particular birds such as the Golden Whistler will go quiet during the Winter (non breeding months) and be heard almost continuously during Spring, making him much easier to find.
This is why early morning and evening are the best times to go birding, as these times are when most birds are calling as they actively feed and move about. Aussie honeyeaters (over 70 species) feed on insects, nectar, small native fruits and lerps. You may notice that particular songbirds sing less when overcast than when the sun is out, they seem to pick up their song as the sun re emerges.
Honeyeaters, lorikeets and Parrots are attracted to flowering eucalypts, Grevilea, Bottlebrush and Mountain Devil, so just wait about 10 to 20 feet from the flowers and birds should visit. Often you will see birds already feeding off nectar rich flowers, so just wait there and watch as different species visit. Birds are easier to see and often more exposed when feeding.
The next step is to LOCATE the bird so you can view it and/or photograph it. My wife is the ‘spotter‘ and I am the ‘shooter‘, so for me if I do not get a photograph of the bird I have not truly seen it. This is the case for many birders, we like to see the treasure we have spotted again at home. The value of doing this leads later to our last 2 steps. If you are using a telescopic lens, the secret is to pull back the focus and view in the general direction of the bird and then gradually extend the lens till you have it in focus. It is most frustrating to attempt to focus from a fully extended lens.
A bird will usually move away when it notices you watching it, so the idea is to remain very still and inconspicuous as possible. If the bird is in full sun, try and remain in the shade as you observe it so that it makes you less noticeable. Also remain very quiet and avoid using flash. I almost never use flash on birds as it alarms them and can affect the eyes of some birds such as owls and penguins. The improved ISO technology on my Canon camera allows me to get relative good photos even in reduced light. As we walked by the pond we found this clutch of baby Chestnut Teal resting.
We quietly passed so not to disturb their rest, though they noticed us they did not scuttle to water as they saw we kept our distance and were not threatening. You will find that each species of bird has a different distance of tolerance to another. For example I wan walk right up to a Magpie or Kookaburra and they will not show fear, where as an Eastern Curlew will sound the alarm and fly off if I get within 50 meters of it. Here is one of my best friends patting a Kookaburra he is feeding. The bird trusts him and permits him to enter his safety zone.
These Chestnut Teal (above) were easy to locate as they were visible, as many waterbirds and waders are, exposed near the water or on it, unlike passerines (tree birds) which can be more challenging to capture hidden in among the dark eucalypt trees. One of the reasons Australian bird photography is more challenging then elsewhere is that our trees are very dense and dark green, not allowing much light through, We noticed the difference when birding in Britain, how the lighter larger leaves allow more light in. Once the bird is in focus the photo can be taken. Sadly, most of the time I have to take Manual shots due to the small depth of field of my lens, to make sure the bird is in focus. Many times, people marvel at how I can get shots in very small windows between trees, and the only way is Manual with much effort. Considering my left eye has greatly impaired vision, I give thanks to God when I get a decent photo. Some birds are almost impossible to photograph due to their fast continuous movement or their ability to remain hidden beneath thick shrubbery. IT can take much patience and many hours stalking these ones before success is procured.
Many birders, similar to myself, have said that the greatest delight is going home after the birding adventure and opening their box of treasures, meaning viewing the photographs they have taken. Photographing birds is a very positive and useful way of logging and recording your bird finds in addition to simply recording your findings in a book. The date, place time of day and species found. Many birders keep year round records of their finds, becoming very tuned in to and mindful to various birding areas and their resident birds. So much so that one can take you to a particular bird with a greater than 80% probability. My log is my photos. Each birding outing is a named and dated folder containing my photo treasures, backed up on several drives. My lifers and better photos are also transferred to my Speciated Bird Album of Australian Birds, which is a massive collection of all the birds I have seen, a folder for each specie, on a 2T drive. I set targets for new birds I want to discover each year (lifers) and plan to visit their areas.
In addition to just viewing the bird photograph, it is a teaching tool familiarizing you with the bird appearance and physical features. I also like to capture sound files and video clips of bird behaviour to help me in learning about the bird specie. Each time I find a new bird (lifer), I have not seen before, I study it up in my Bird Field Guide to find out more about it, its characteristics, location, male, female and immature forms, how and where it nests etc. I will venture back out to attempt to photograph the complete set of male, female and juvenile if it is possible, though this is not always possible as lone birds often drift into our forests. So what do I learn from this juvenile Satin Bowerbird? I identified it as juvenile from my Bird Field Guide where it was described having dark patches on head and neck, less colour on chest and dark grey legs. Compare.
Juvenile Satin Bowerbird
Female Satin Bowerbird
Male Satin Bowerbird
Here by comparing my photos of a mature female with the juvenile I can learn to identify not just the bird itself, but its level of maturity, body shape, beak, how it sits on the branch, its calls and what it feeds on. I eventually will have a mind map of where I can find this bird locally as well as seasonally. The mature male is the most elusive of the family and looks quite different. This is the case with many birds. In many species the male will take longer to mature, and when it does its plumage may change to brighter or different colours to female.
Superb Fairy-wren (male in breeding plumage)
Superb Fairy-wren (female)
Superb Fairy-wren (eclypsing male)
Male Superb Fairy-wren in full non breeding eclipse)
The immature always look similar to the female till they mature as a protective form of camouflage. Most of the colour changes and breeding plumage changes all have to do with signifying to both females and males this bird is ready to breed and bring forth offspring. Some birds go through several plumage changes a year passing in and out of breeding (eclipse), the Fairy-wrens are a good example of this. The male retains his blue tail but looses his beautiful blue and black plumage. So finding this juvenile bird as we did, brought further learning and understanding of this species, and opened the way for more interest in birding to my grandchildren who love to accompany us on our birding adventures. last week’s post showed a juvenile Rainbow Lorikeet I discovered, with its parent. Having them side by side helps highlight the developing characteristics of the young bird.
Have a wonderful week and stay out of the heat!
If this is your first visit to my blog, please take a few moments and check out my website and the interesting pages on birding and life skills the birds can teach us. Also, check out my book. You can explore all this and more from my Home page
As I mentioned earlier birds tend to nest near a source of fresh water and a good food source, and the Bible notes this:
‘The birds of the sky nest by the waters; they sing among the branches.’ – Psalm 104:12
“Look at [study intently] the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” – Matthew 6:26
Strange as it is, it was only the above verse in the forward of my book ‘What Birds Teach Us’ that stopped my book being used in schools and child psychology work, despite many educators loving its unique teaching method. Many local schools have put it in their libraries and some schools have supported it enough to have me come and speak and sell my book as a fund raiser. It shows how the enemy of our souls works through people’s fear and guilt.
How can one statement that gives hope and value to human life be the reason for not using a book which educators have said has great value for our youth? Sadly, this is the Secular Humanistic age we live in, where our freedoms are slowly being stripped away, and our children are being taught to believe in an empty god of science and evolution, being taught to be politically correct in a Post Christian world. The truth is God is not dead, and continues to make himself known to those who put their trust in him.
‘Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right [power] to become children of God’ — John 1:12 (NIV)
This week, by request of Jem, a valued blog follower from Sydney’s northern beaches area, I am retracing the Narrabeen Lagoon Trail walk.
Bodies of water (lakes, lagoons swamps, rivers, creeks and beaches) all offer ideal spots to go birding. In fact when we visit a new area, it is usually one or more of the above we seek out, because we always find that near water, fresh or brackish, there are both waterbirds as well as passerines in the surrounding trees and bushes. Birds are often found in greater numbers near a fresh water source, especially when nesting. Many waterbirds have the ability to drink salty water having been blessed with a built in distillation plant. You may wonder what the above Australian Pelican is doing? I will let you know towards the end of the post because that is where it occurs on the trail.
The local council invested a few years ago in building a quality trail with paths, footbridges, picnic and BBQ facilities, toilets, water fountain, boat ramp and seats at various places around the lake/lagoon (its big enough to call a lake) which has paid off handsomely for them, as many come to walk and use the facilities provided at a small parking cost. My wife and I have enjoyed walking around the lake from Middle Creek Reserve (follow yellow arrows). We did the complete walk and logged the birds along the way that we considered notable.
Our first bird of course is the bird we almost always see first when ever we travel Australia, the Willy Wagtail getting its name from fanning and wagging its tail. Willy is the largest of the Australian fantails and has a beautiful song which has led us astray many times in our early birding years thinking we had discovered a lifer, but we are wiser to its call now. As we passed the golf course we sighted a pair of, you guessed it! Masked Lapwings. Notorious for nesting in centre of mowed fields and park lands. The male stood guard as the female nested.
Masked Lapwing Male standing watch
Masked Lapwing Female nesting
Despite the crazy places they nest, they have a high survival rate and become quite aggressive to any who threaten the nest, or even come within yards of it, including dogs, cats and other birds. They are in the Plover family and are a shorebird by nature but have become one of our most numerous birds being found all over Australia except central WA. As we walked around the trail and over the excellent footbridge we started seeing the lake from the southern end where out in the middle on a sandbar a flock of Australian Black Swan and Australian Pelican were sleeping and resting. Black swan are breeding well here, as they are all over Australia. Like many birds they tuck their face under the feathers and rest their head on their back to sleep, this allows them to rest their neck muscles as well as warm the air they breath, increasing their body temperature.
On another sandbank a small flock of Pied Cormorant were resting.
As we walked into a very small pocket of rainforest near South Creek Reserve we were delighted to find two sort after birds simultaneously on each side of the trail, making it difficult to know where to point the camera. My wife is calling me to photograph a beautiful pair of Variegated Fairy-wren while I am tracing a male Eastern Whipbird, and trying to catch sight of a youngster running beneather the Bracken Fern, which eluded me after much trying. Immature Whipbirds lack the white cheeks. I was delighted that this adult, normally shy and extremely elusive, did not mind too much me checking him out.
Gottagettawayfrom this Aussiebirder guy
The bird is usually spotted due to its whip like call which intensifies its volume as it resonates off the eucalypt leaves in trees around. They use the call to communicate between male and female and to mark territory, so that other Whipbirds stay away. The male whips and the female (if she is present will follow immediately with a quick “Tish tish” You can tell from the call if it is a lone Male, a lone female, an immature or a breeding pair. Listen to the male and female here.
Yes, and the beautiful Variegated Fairy-wren so brilliant in the sunshine, unlike the more common Superb Fairy-wren, the female also has a blue tail like the male.
Also in this little pocket just along from here we heard and located this Brown Thornbill, who’s call you heard in last weeks post, as it merrily makes its way checking trees for insects which make up its main diet. They do enjoy foraging in our native Casuarina pine trees.
Nearbye this Eastern Yellow Robin was at work catching and dismembering a grub it had found. These are birds commonly seen near rainforest trails, and are very curious of humans, often following them along the trail in a similar way to Grey Fantails, hoping we might turn up something edible as we walk.
Tiny Silvereye were also checking for insects in the small trees near the Brown Thornbill.
A very noisy, almost angry squawking sound came from inside a small palm, which turned out to be that of non other than the White-browed Scrubwren, known for this behaviour. They often appear to even have an angry look on their face, especially if you come near their nest
This tame immature Grey Butcherbird was quite cute, and did not seem too worried about us, as I have seen has been the case on several other occasions with immature Butcherbirds, who have not learned to fear humans.
In a darker section where the trees thickly covered the track, another typically rainforest bird the Lewins Honeyeater was trying to keep cool in the shade, but did not like us trying to observe it on this hot January day.
As we moved into the open we found quite a number, several families of our Eastern (Black-backed) Magpie. The Magpie survive well because of their very efficient and organised family structure involving relatives such as aunts and uncles assisting when nesting and training the fledglings. Here are two males, they have a pure white neck back, the seldom seen female (nesting most of the time) has a dirty white neck back. The alpha male may or may not have several ladies nesting at the same time, and it becomes his sole occupation during that time to feed them, as they stay on the nest, and the relatives defend the nests.
Male Eastern (Black-backed) Magpie
Passing by the water again we see this Little Pied Cormorant, another breed smaller than the Pied we saw previously, and the bonus blessing was to see for the first time, the orange (morph) which results from a chemical change staining their feathers due to iron in the water.
The Australian Pelican was also seen cruising along the shoreline.
Along the mudflats of the shoreline the commonly seen White-faced Heron was now in breeding plumage striding carefully about,it finds fast food or should I say food fast. Notice the pic of the extended neck upward, this is a protective ploy to make it look bigger and more threatening when it feels it may be facing danger, after noticing our presence, other Herons do the same.
The Crested Pigeon, our most common native pigeon is found all over Australia, including desert regions, we saw plenty of them at Uluru in the red centre last year, it is also at home here by the lake.
From his tree this Laughing Kookaburra sat watching the passes by and with his very sharp binocular vision was looking for food opportunities that might run across the ground in the form of small reptiles and the like.
After a fishnchip lunch in the small town of Narrabeen we continued our walk over the bridge and along the side of the lake and the Wakehurst Parkway where we saw this beautiful sight. Rainbow Lorikeets love eating the nectar of native flowers such as Bottlebrush and Grevileas as well as native fruits, they have a tongue that is especially adapted to brush the pollen and nectar into their mouth.
As we almost come to the end of our journey the noise of Cicadas becomes deafening, so we stopped to look for one of these noisy male insects giving our its mating call to attract miss right. Watch and you will see how it makes its sound using its abdomen.
Finally we are almost at the end of our journey and we could see across the southern end of the lake to the other side where we were walking earlier that morning, but to our surprise a large Pelican (see my first photo) suddenly took fright and lunged into the air with great effort and a cry of distress, only to land some distance away. Most birds get terrified of raptors because they eat other birds, no matter how large or small. That is often how we know a raptor is flying overhead, by the crazy activity of bird flocks. We were about to receive the icing on the cake blessing from our Most Generous Father for the end of a perfect day. We looked and behold it was!
A beautiful large adult White-bellied Sea-Eagle carrying some prey which looked like a snake, which it dropped and then went searching for. It is very unusual for an eagle to drop its prey as its talons come with a a locking in device. Possibly it did not have firm hold of it and it was still alive and got the better of it. Please be aware these photos were taken a great distance across the lake, to the other side. Eagles are the greatest hunters of all with telescopic binocular vision (up to 10x our own) and can spot a rabbit in over 3km away. Their powerful talons when locked will both instantly kill their prey and hold it secure. They can fly above storm clouds and ride effortlessly without moving a feather for hours on the thermals. If you have been to a Raptor Show you will know that their eye to object accuracy is only a couple of millimeters error, which means they can take a tiny piece of meat out of you fingers while flying past without touching you at all, I have personally experienced this.
Is it any wonder the eagle is used as a symbol of strength and justice in national and state emblems and coats of arms. It is the majestic king of birds, having greatest ability in all areas. Our Wedge-tailed Eagle (our largest eagle) appears on our NSW police force coat of arms. In the Bible God is seen as a great saving eagle who carries to safety those whom he loves and also trust in him. God reminds Israel how he saved them.
“You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.” – Exodus 19:4 (NIV)
Again the eagle is used to depict those who trust completely in God’s grace to bring them through difficult times, so that he will give them renewed strength like the eagles’…
Eagles live long lives, and go through a molting process where they loose all their feathers and look like they are almost dead, then they get a new lease of life with new feathers and beak etc giving them many more years, becoming stronger and more powerful. So God will sustain and strengthen those who delight in him, and look to him for help and strength.
“who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s” – Psalm 103:5 (NIV)
Which resonates in this verse referring to those who trust in God…
“They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green” – Psalm 92:14 (NIV)
I am always amazed and giving thanks for how my Loving Father God keeps me and brings me through so much in life, as I choose to rest in and trust in his strength to carry me above the worries and cares of this world. I finish by sharing a song I wrote in my younger years. It is simply recorded on my computer without any fancy software, so please don’t judge it too harshly. The message is one which I use often to ‘rise above it all’, to soar on God’s thermals and view life from above from his kingdom perspective, and then like the eagle you will have courage, power and peace to conquer – so that your apparent problems become God given challenges you can achieve ‘with the help of his strength and grace.’ shaping and making. Moreover we know that to those who love God, who are called according to his plan, everything that happens fits into a pattern for good. God, in his foreknowledge, chose them to bear the family likeness of his Son [Jesus]. – Romans 8:28 (JB Phillips Trans.)
Explore my website for more interesting hints and tips on birding and life from my Homepage menu.
Also, if you have not yet done so, check out my book on my birdbook page.
Have a wonderful week and Aussies keep cool and praying as we brave these relentless heatwaves and destructive storms. Many birds have already died as a result, including inland freshwater fish and other animals. Pray for a break in the drought.
Mindfulness is the latest therapy and lifestyle enhancement tool to be brought to the modern life improvement stage of counselling. While its various forms have their roots within a variety of belief systems and cultures, it is one of the ways designed to help people get in touch better with themselves, God (their belief system and its values) and the here and now (the present). Mindfulness as a therapy helps one learn to adapt and change unhealthy attitudes to past emotional and psychological injuries.
I personally believe that regular birding (birdwatching), nature/bush walks, what ever that may look like, assists in the process of becoming present and in the moment, connecting with our real self and the reality of the present ’round about us, thus allowing the stress and pain of the past to dispel and loose its power, and allow the new now person to be better positioned to take control of their life, and move forward. The five senses need to be engaged deliberately – feeling, seeing, hearing, smelling and possibly tasting.
Let me share why over the past 7 years or so, my wife and I, have learned to acutely train our senses (as many other birders have) when walking about, and how it develops and brings a level of appreciation previously did not enjoyed. It is interesting that when non-birding friends come walking with us that they are amazed how we can locate and photograph birds and other creatures which they have no idea are actually only feet away. The above photos show a juvenile Rainbow Lorikeet (dark mottled beak and lesser orange chest) with the adult parent. I could have easily walked past if I had not had my ears tuned in to the unusual noises coming from deep within a tree on a very hot day last week. A strange faint squeaking sound drew my attention, and after a minute or two these birds were located.
Another example was from yesterday while we took my grandson birding (binoculated of course) into the Royal National Park. We were trying to find the Azure Kingfisher to show him, which I had shown to two of my other grandsons on previous occasions, but we did not find it in its usual area along the Hacking River. Looking across the river underneath a large bush and well hidden in the dark, my wife excitedly announced a Nankeen Night-Heron, a bird we seldom see due to it being a nocturnal hunter who rests out of sight during the day. Take a look at this clip and you understand what I mean by sharpening our senses to become acutely aware of what is around us.
Visiting another favorite reserve I walk silently along the walking track through the forest. Listening and watching for signs of movement. People passed walking and talking, the occasional one playing with their mobile phone, unaware of what they are missing around about them. This little Brown Thornbill watched them, without them even being aware it was there. This birds classic sound alerted us to its presence, though it took some perseverance to find it.
As I walked pass the shaded ponds I saw this Eastern Great Egret fishing in a mindful pose. It remained completely immobile poised for instant food retrieval. Though this bird stands out and is quite visible, the delight of watching this bird hunt its prey was quite inspiring and brought a sense of thankfulness from my heart to my Creator Father God, through whom I view the world so much more appreciatively. Watch as this bird positions itself for success, we can learn so much from birds.
Eating and Re positioning.
Retrieving and eating.
Here is another…
Finally, the Egret spotted me and stretched its neck high to ward me off. This is what they do to make themselves look larger and more threatening.
As the tide was becoming low I walked down to the mud flats to see if I could see the very elusive and most shy Striated Heron. Most people who look out across the mud flats would not even notice this small bird because its colour blends so well with the mud and most of the time it stands motionless, waiting for its prey. I know what to look for to locate it, and as soon as it sees me it does a runner so I have to locate it very quickly.
However, one bird most people do notice grazing on the mud flat is the White-faced Heron.
That same day I took a look at low tide on the beach where I normally observe my waders. The beach appeared empty of any birds but for Silver Gulls. I was looking intently from some distance to the shoreline but could not see anything. I was about to walk away, and I remembered that I needed to scan very carefully, as my sight is starting to fail me, so I stood and scanned the shoreline and then I found one Eastern Curlew and one Bar-tailed Godwit, a most unexpected find, as Godwits are usually in small flocks. Wader numbers have been noticeably low this year which is disappointing. In this moment I needed to take time to look, and not impulsively glance and leave proclaiming, ‘nothing!’as I quite easily could have done, being affected by this fast moving, always busy, impatient, impulsive, often distracted I want it now age.
The more we seek to expand our appreciation of birds by investing time to stop and learn the art of being still and deliberately connecting with and tuning into our surroundings, the sooner we gain the skills to identify and see birds nearby by hearing their calls and watching their peculiar movement and characteristic shape. Like all learned skills it takes time and commitment, but the fruit of it is much more than just learning about birds. There’s the bush and forest setting, the wild flowers and plants, other native animals and reptiles, the dappling of the sun through the trees, the cool fresh breeze trembling the leaves in the trees, refreshing upon the face and of course the quiet solitude but for the joyful calls of birds. It is all part of one’s mindful experience which many have heard referred to as smelling the roses.
Being alone with myself and God in the forest is therapy and healing for me, restoring and revitalizing my spirit and body. Birding is healthy and assists longevity. Check out my page on the benefits of birding.
God says “Be quiet [and still, so you can tune into to my presence] and know [experience the reality and wonder] of me, your God.” Extracted from Psalm 46:10.
“I will consider all your works and meditate on all your mighty deeds.” – Psalm 77:12
‘Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.’ – Psalm 139:23,24
Have a wonderful week and keep out of the exceptionally hot weather. Next week we will revisit the birds around Narrabeen Lagoon Trail by special request from Jem.
Thanks so much everyone, and in particular, Janette who shared last week via email, how she has been blessed from my book. If you have not checked it out yet you can right now at my birdbook page.