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.
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.)
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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.