Recently I took my wife for a picnic to the Australian Botanic Gardens in the hope of her seeing the endangered Swift Parrot for the first time. The wind had picked up and the large eucalypts, where I had seen these birds a few days ago, swayed birdless. As we watched we met other birders looking for the same, but none were seen early afternoon. However, we did see this beautiful Wedge-tailed Eagle pass over. I was so glad it was a blue Autumn sky to catch the wing colours. The last shot appeared to me to be the bird just enjoying the glide on the thermals with its face looking upwards. It was fairly high in the sky.
As we waited, of course the sound of the Bell Miner continued unceasingly as per my last visit and the Bowerbirds were busily moving about near the water pond. I managed to get a shot of both male and female.
Male Satin Bowerbird
Female Satin Bowerbird
I managed to catch this flight shot of the female leaving, as they do not like us being around.
Several other birds appeared including Olive Backed Oriole, Red Wattlebird, female Golden Whistler and Yellow-faced Honeyeater but the Rose Robin male was a beautiful flash of pink as it flew over us, but unfortunately no shots were fired as it dived under some small bushes but… still no Swiftys (Swift Parrots). Next came this immature White-naped Honeyeater with parent nearby. As with most immature birds there is brown where the definitive colour of the adult is seen.
We had been told that the Swiftys make an appearance just before sunset on a dead tree, so we went for a drive to another nearby reserve and returned about an hour or so before sunset. We were delighted to watch them flying around the trees and finally landing on the dead tree in full sunlight. I managed to get some fuzzy flight shots from these tiny super fast flying parrots.
It was an extra treat to see several of them landing on the tree in the sun making it look like a fruit tree.
It is extremely difficult to photograph these Swifty’s as they do pull a swifty (an Aussie saying) on you by flying right under the canopy. It is difficult enough to see them as they are so small, but even more so because they blend in with the dark leaves of the very high eucalypt tree. However, just before sunset they all come down to the waterhole to drink and sit in small low trees by the water for a very short time. We noticed later when examining the photos that we had a photo of a Swift Parrot family sitting together in a tree.
waiting to drink at sunset
Swift Parrot family
However, my wife and I waited till just before sunset when the park closes and let the horizontal sunlight reveal the birds. You can see the difference below as they feed on blossom and lerps in all their beautiful colour. What an amazing contrast they make when the sun strikes them!
The Olive-backed Oriole was curious to know what the interest was on the dead tree so it joined them
Of course there is the challenge to capture flight shots which is almost impossible as the speed and unpredictability of these birds is amazing. However, I did get some after many tries.
My wife, as did a gathering of several other local birders, left satisfied they had sighted this lifer. A Black-shouldered Kite was hovering about the park as we left.
Have a wonderful week and remember that those of us who choose to smile and live with a positive happy cheerful attitude are more likely to live longer, stay healthier, being less stressed and able to make more friends. Most of all we can make a positive difference in the lives of the people we meet each day, including strangers.
“A cheerful heart is good medicine” – Proverbs 17:22
Have a wonderful week! If this is your first time to my blog, please check out the pages on my website HomePage on birding and counseling tips.
This special post shares firstly my latest lifer the Swift Parrot (pictured above) and secondly the interesting relationship of the Miner and the Parrot family in regard to harvesting lerps. This post was partly inspired by a young lady I met at The Australian Botanic Gardens, near Sydney, while viewing the Swift Parrot, Natasha who has recently become a birder.
Sadly, the Swift Parrot which is endemic to south eastern Australia including Tasmania, is listed in our state and Tasmania as Endangered, but Critically Endangered in Victoria, due mainly to massive habitat and nesting area destruction, be allowed to continue at an alarming state by the current state government. These small parrots are a challenge to get decent images of due to their colour, their swift and rapid flight and the fact that they usually rest under the canopy of the highest eucalypt trees. Thankfully the ones I saw were resting in a tree near their water source. These birds normally nest in the holes in dead trees and branches and feed on eucalypt flowers, nectar and seeds as well as lerps. In flight they display a beautiful flash of bright red on underside of wings and rump, sadly my flight photos were unsuccessful due to cloud.
I felt so blessed to find this small flock as I had no idea I would find the tree let alone the bird. I followed an Eremaea Birdlines tip off and walking around I found Fred, another birder who had just seen the Swifts as a lifer for him, and he guided me to Raquel a local, who was actively viewing them and had seen them in this place before.
It is interesting how many of us are not aware of the importance of Lerps and the Psyllid insect (also known as Plant Lice, Leaf Insect or Jumping Plant Insect) as a major source of carbohydrate food for Australian passerines. These insects suck sap from the trees like lice. Lerps is like crystallized sugar candy to them, it is the protective coating for the Psyllid insect (pronounced sillid) they are crazy over it, so crazy that some bird species fight to exclude other birds from areas of trees which they claim as their own property. You can read more about Lerps on this link.
Lerps makes up an enjoyable additional of food for many tree birds in Australia including honeyeaters (which includes Miners), thornbills and the parrot family. It is the main diet of the Pardolote which also eats the Psyllid as well as the Lerp coating which makes it vulnerable to attack by other larger aggressive birds, such as Miners who try to preserve the Psyllids to produce more. Note the Spotted Pardolote looking for lerps in photos below. Note also the brown spots on the leaves where the insect is killing the leaf with the leaf toxic substance it emits. Note the white spots, this is the lerps.
When this tiny bird feeds in the darker under canopy it actually looks like a eucalypt leaf which makes it very difficult to see. This an non enhanced shot, but close up, imagine it from a distance.
Sadly the Bell Miner is allowing our forests to die, as the Lerps insect emits a substance that kills the leaf it is on (see article mentioned above), and work is being done to attempt to reduce the threat. As you can see below the colour of the Bell Miner makes it difficult to see in the tree canopy, eluding most novices to birding by their failure to actually see this bird, making such loud chiming noises continuously right next to their ears. It is an amazing experience to stand in a forest over run by Bell Miners, as they dart about patrolling and playing in the under canopy.
Bell Miner feeding juvenile
Caring for young one
watching the young one fly off
Bell Miner in the sun
The Bell Miner (similar to Noisy Miner) are community birds (as mentioned in my book “What Birds Teach Us”) or ‘pack birds’ as they gang up on other bird species and aggressively attack and bite any that enter their territory of real estate, including birds much larger than themselves, capable of killing and eating the Miners. This is partly for protection of their young but also for protection of a sustained food source. Interesting as it is, the Miners both Bell and Noisy appear to have an agreement with the Parrot family which includes Parrots, Lorakeets, Rosellas which also eat Lerps not to attack as much. Here you can see photos of both Bell Miner and Swift Parrot eating Lerps from the back of eucalypt leaves. The Miners have developed a way of licking the lerps without harming the insect.
Swift Parrot licking lerps
Removing lerps from beneath gum leaf
We now know from all our observations and recent neurological research that ‘bird brain’ is now a complement not an insult, as some philosopher once postulated in his ignorance many years ago, demeaning birds, falsely concluding that the size of the brain governed the level of intelligence, but he got it wrong. We now know the number of neurons and and the ability of various parts of the brain to grow and develop due to learning and ability to solve problems, equips birds to be in many ways as intelligent and in some areas even more that humans. This is one of the reasons birds have survived so well, they adapt and plan and map in ways we are only just starting to understand.
You may not like the aggressive Miner family, but you have to hand it to them, they are not unlike humans in the way they govern, protect and administer their environment, providing for their young and future. The way they have learned that there is power in numbers. You may remember this example of the Noisy Miner from a recent post.
youngster male finds food
The youngster stand off
The attack of adult males in defense
One Miner attacks unsuccessfully a larger bird. It puts out the call for troops, and immediately there is a response and many Miners become a Major problem for the bird, which soon departs sometimes sore and sorry. The aggressive bite of the Parrot or Lorikeet can hurt Miners also, and it has been suggested that Miners tolerate them more in their territory because of this, as they also are a flock bird, usually travelling in numbers. As I have shared recently Miners will attack with aggression, courage and boldness even humans, dogs, cats, large raptors and anything they see as a threat. You may remember this photo of a single courageous Noisy Miner relentlessly chasing a huge Whistling Kite, what an example this is to us all of the need to be relentlessly courageous. Such courage enables ordinary people to accomplish great things, greater than they ever thought possible. Though one may not aspire to greatness, one can be great in their own right. This small Noisy Miner put its life on the line to protect the young of the flock and drives away the impending danger of the huge Kite single. We can do great things with God’s help.
“Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.” – 1 Corinthians 16:13 (NIV)
“Be strong and courageous! Do not fear or tremble before them, for the Lord your God is the one who is going with you. He will not fail you or abandon you!” – Deuteronomy 31:6 (NET)
When they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and discovered that they were uneducated and ordinary men, they were amazed and recognized these men had been with Jesus. – Acts 4:13
As I mentioned in my previous post, I am currently unemployed, but have been greatly inspired in the last few days, with the mantle having fallen on my shoulders, to write my second book which many have encouraged me to pursue. My first book is almost out of print due to its wonderful sales record, and the support from those who have loved it, and encouraged others to buy it or place it in their local school libraries. Waking through the night with ideas and having to dive out of bed to write them down has been a challenge, but is encouraging knowing I am being led by a higher power of much more wisdom than myself. My wife is pleased that I have been doing jobs around and to the house while I am more available. Have an extraordinarily wonderful and satisfying week, till my next post, that may be a long week!