The extremely hot Australian summer of 2017, as I have shared previously, has had its toll on the presence of passerines (tree birds) during the day. On heat wave days other birders have also commented on the eerie silence of bird voices. Click on photos to enlarge them.
Walking in the Royal National Park in the heat of the day, with only occasional bird sounds, it was amazing to find this Bassian Thrush hiding below a bush in the hot open eucalypt forest and not in rainforest, where it normally lives. This bird seldom flies,and is seldom ever seen by most people, as it lives off insects in the leaf litter on the rainforest floor. It blends in with its environment and so remains perfectly still when it feels threatened. As I walked in the silent forest, I began to see on the tops of tall eucalypts large bunches of beautiful white nectar filled flowers.
Taking a closer look I noticed flashes of colour moving among the flowers, no these were not honeyeaters, but flower eaters, this pair of Rainbow Lorikeets.
The rainbow Lorikeet is a common and plentiful bird here in Sydney suburbs and National Parks, which I hear and see almost every day feeding from the native Bottlebrush and Grevillea flowers found in many of our gardens, including ours. They also eat native forest fruit such as Lilly Pilly and figs. These birds, like most other parrots, mate for life. They are often seen as pairs. When they fly, like torpedoes, with their excited call, they are a flash of colour.
One of the hints for birders is when you see blossom, and you know there is not much to be found, that is where you quietly and motionlessly watch and wait, and the birds will come, and come they did, even in the heat. The Eastern Spinebill made its appearance, with its long curved beak, able to reach into the deepest flower with ease. It is designed for tubular flowers, which other honeyeaters find difficult to access.
Not long after the Lewins Honeyeater appeared cautiously at first, but once the taste of nectar touched its tongue it was disinterested in my presence, but with occasional precautionary glimpses.
The partner of this Lewins Honeyeater was more interested in a spider that was spotted. I call this photo series, I came, I saw and I conquered. I just loved the way the Honeyeater pondered for some time over taking this spider, I waited and waited, and then while I turned away, of course, it took it. Please Note: You will need to click on the first photo below to see what the Honeyeater is looking at.
Not to be left out the very active and much smaller New Holland Honeyeater appeared. I love the serious almost angry expressions on the faces of these birds. These birds are found in the open coastal dry scrubby forests of the National Park, but move inward for the blossom.
Many of our Honeyeaters, unlike the territorial birds, move around over large areas seeking blossom. They can survive eating insects, but they need the nectar to flourish and reproduce in a healthy state. Some, such as the now critically endangered Regent Honeyeater depend on the blossom of certain trees (Mugga Ironbark and White Box) to survive, annually travelling many miles in search of particular species of flowering eucalypts, mistletoe and native shrub flowers, because many of these trees have been depleted by land clearing and past timber requirements.
Even the tiny Silvereye were seen in small flocks moving through the blossom.
The Yellow-faced Honeyeater made an appearance also, but not in the blossom, and it was good to see they were also around, even in the heat.
My Bird of the Week – The Scarlet Honeyeater
The Scarlet Honeyeater was seen moving through the tree tops and sub canopy of the eucalypts in the Royal National Park also. This can make viewing and photographing this bird difficult. While they were not seen enjoying the nectar of the flowers while I was there, they were hunting in family groups for insects, moving from tree to tree. I was surprised to find so many on this day, but they stayed well away, as my experience has concluded that they are people shy, and perhaps that is why they did not come down lower to the blossom I was watching.
It was only the males that I saw, and were quite discernible with the bright red upper body, even from some distance away, that I noticed them. These birds are found in the eucalypt forests along the eastern Australian coast from Far north Queensland to Victoria. I love how, like other honeyeaters, they hang upside down quite naturally to feed.
The immature male shown above has pinkish red only slightly over and around the head. The female (not shown here) looks similar to the immature except she only has slight pinkish red colour under her chin.
It is important to distinguish the Scarlet Honeyeater from the similar looking Red-headed Honeyeater found in the far north of Western Australia and Queensland. Here only the head and neck are red (see above comparison).
So to my surprise in the heat of the day all the above were out and about feeding on the nectar of the flowering eucalypts. However, one bird that I did hear calling loudly, but was and is very difficult to find is the White-throated Treecreeper. Above are both the adult female (denoted by the orange spot on her cheek) and the juvenile. The sound of the Treecreeper creeping up the tree in search of insects is in the following sound file.
People sometimes have difficulty distinguishing its call from the similar sounds of the Eastern Yellow Robin and the Lewins Honeyeater. Notice the regular spaced sounds of the Treecreeper, this helps. They blend in with the tree trunk bark and elude quite easily under the dark foliage. They are often seen as a silhouette hanging from under a branch. The Robin and Honeyeater are usually easy to see at the lower bush levels.
The fast moving tiny Brown Thornbill twittering and hopping through the lower bushes is always a treat to behold and is not to be left out of a very fruitful bird outing, considering the heat. How lovely to see so many honeyeaters, and what a blessing / gift to see a Bassian Thrush in open light, outside of the dark rainforest which makes filming this bird so difficult. I was truly thankful for what I was granted to observe.
I pondered on how easy it is to be discouraged by circumstances be it heat, rain, wind or whatever. How I could have stayed at home and said it is too hot, but on going out in the heat I was rewarded. When I see the total devotion of these Wood Duck parents to their brood, not complaining, just loving and caring. Most complaining comes from being overly self focused. People who brave the difficult and let love for others overcome their fear for self, accomplish and achieve the greatest blessings in life, reaping the joy and satisfaction of not only helping and serving others but of maturing and growing in their own personal character.
“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” – 1 John 4:18
Have a great week! Check out my website, the new pages and my book. I have started writing the sequel ‘When Birds Teach Us (Learning to Fly)’ which will be loaded with beautiful Australian bird photos also, but many more.
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Last weekend my eldest grandson came to stay with us. His father had given instruction to get him away from technico stuff and get him outdoors. He knew that would not be a problem for us birders, so we connected him with our keen teenage birding friend and blog follower, who came with us out on a Sunday afternoon bird walk through Oatley Park Reserve. My grandson made a new friend and really took to birding for the first time, seeing things he would never have known were there in the bush, unless he had made a concerted effort to look for them. Click on photos to enlarge them.
Stepping out of the car, we immediately saw a Noisy Miner nest with baby inside. This is the predominant honeyeater in the park, and a very aggressive bird toward other small and even larger birds. These birds have driven many of our more beautiful small birds away from suburbia.
With binoculars in hand we set off down our favourite walk, looking for the Tawny Frogmouths on the way.
As we walked we saw this pair of Rainbow Lorikeets resting in the shade over the walkway.
And there they were! In the same place we saw them last week, three of them, awake and occasionally checking us out. My grandson was following the lead of his new friend viewing the birds with my wife’s spare binoculars. He would never have known they were there, it was only that we looked for them that we found them. As you can see their feathers camouflage them well, as they remain perfectly motionless, as if part of the tree.
While I was straining my neck trying to photograph these ‘Tawnys’ the sound of a young Kookaburra learning to laugh was heard and visibly a few yards from the Tawnys.
It is always amusing to hear and watch young Kookaburras practicing their call. You will notice the slenderness, white fluffy front, lack of colour in the tail, and the absence of the bushy eyebrows which together with its call tell you it is a youngster.
We walked over the footbridge to the other side of Lime Kiln Bay channel and found a beautifully coloured male Variegated Fairy-wren hopping about a thick bush in search of insects. Because these small birds are always moving it is difficult to get a good shot, they tend to stay amid the protection of the bush.
The final feature of the afternoon was when my grandson, who by now was in the birding spirit, was first to spot a Caspian Tern flying up and down circling the bay. We had to view it through a break in the trees, so we only got momentary views. He did not know what he had spotted, till we checked it out, it was a rare find here. This blurry photo was all I was able to click off. Notice the bright red beak holding a huge fish which it had just caught and was carrying off to eat. My grandson was very pleased he had contributed to our birding adventure.
We were led by the young birder to another park nearby in search of the Powerful Owls (these owls I have featured in a previous blog), but they were not where they were last seen. However we did see and hear this female Eastern Koel in dark form. Light form has more patterning and is more brown and rufous in colour. Thus our afternoon walk concluded, and my grandson had his first exciting experience of birding, learning that many of our birds are there in the bush, but we don’t see them because we are not looking for them.
Two days later, after my grandson had returned home with his parents, I noticed the tides were right for waders, so I raced off to the mud flats at Tarren & Dolls Points.
Again the thought struck me that even though these beautiful amazing waders were sharing the beach with about a dozen humans, no body was even aware they were even there, except myself, who was very interested! People swimming, looking for fishing bait, just walking dogs etc. It was like these amazing little Bar-tailed Godwit were invisible, and I guess that’s the way they would prefer it also. Those mangroves and that beach across the water is part of the huge ‘locked up’ shorebird reserve, from whence these birds have come and will return to roost.
If only they knew how amazing this little wader was, flying non-stop for 8 days across the Pacific Ocean from Alaska in early spring to spend Summer with us, and then returning in early Autumn. It looks nothing special, but is an amazing bird, which my friend once said ‘uh? is that those little brown things I see near the water at low-tide?’ He received a mini lecture from myself which brought amazement to his voice and a second look at these ‘little brown things’. Because they stay away from humans they look small from a distance.
It was lovely to see parent Godwits with their juveniles, which would have made their first migratory flight to Australia, beginning a life of travelling 32,000 km per year, and a lifetime of 2.5 trips to the moon and back. Notice the darker back colouring and the bands of rufous buff on the chest area of the juvenile.
One of the fascinating features of this bird is the way it plunges its head down into the water and mud in search of tiny mud crabs. It is so sudden and deliberate. Some of these holes are the residual of fisherman hunting for bait.
The Silver Gull (or Seagull as Aussies know it) were also present on the beach in a small flock, mainly boldly competing for food handouts from fisherman, the quiet, timid Godwits watched at a distance, wondering what those noisy gulls were doing. But the Godwits did not need handouts…
The above movie clip demonstrates the purpose built nature of the long wader beak, as against the shorter Silver Gull shorebird beak. I love watching the timid fast action Godwits walk among the resting Silver Gulls retrieving crabs from deep below the sand right next to the gulls, and laugh at the fact that the Gulls were resting on their food below them, which they could only catch when it ran along the beach surface.
There he was again!, standing alone on the beach, as he had done several times before, but now developed and matured even more, gaining his dark grey wings, a juvenile Kelp Gull. Another less common bird that no body noticed on the beach, and was probably mistaken for a Seagull, but I was delighted that the bird keeps returning to the same spot on this beach every week or so and I get pictures of it developing through the stages of maturity.
Checking out the Tarren Point Shorebird Reserve across the bay from Dolls Point, I found these Australian White Ibis dropping in to check for food on the mud flats. The funny thing was they were not aware, neither were the Godwits grazing here nearby, of what a an amazing feeding opportunity eluded them only meters away. Can you see it in this movie clip???
One lone Godwit finally stumbled onto this massive crab march across the mudflat and started having a feeding frenzy, but the funniest thing in the above video, is watching the ibis feed, look to the right side of the film clip, and watch the crab swam away undetected by their unsuspecting predators. I laugh each time i see this.
Of course it wouldn’t be complete without a sighting of the lone Eastern Curlew, keeping his distance from me as he does.
‘Son of Mangrove Heron’ had returned to my delight and I watched for some time as he stalked prospective fish, but caught nothing. What I did not tell you is that I had to sneak into an area through mangroves and over oystershells and slime to the hidden mudflats to see this little guy. Again stressing I would not have seen this Mangrove Heron if I did not seriously go out of my way to look for him in his usual habitat.
Here in this secluded quiet spot in Woolooware Bay near the mouth of the Georges River, with the roar of jets coming in over nearby Botany Bay to land several km away at Sydney Airport, these undisturbed birds dwell together in harmony, feeding from the rich waters of the bay. All very different waders: the Mangrove Heron, Grey-tailed Tattler and the Bar-tailed Godwit. Nobody knew they were even there, only the one who took the trouble to look, to seek out and see.
My Bird of the Week: The Silver Gull
The Silver Gull or ‘Seagull’ as us Aussie’s nickname it, is the common seabird that most Australians can see anywhere in Australia and the surrounding islands. The second-last photo above was taken in the desert salt lake in Lake Eyre in central South Australia. These gulls are amazing survivors and have one of the most diverse habitats of any bird. They are usually a flock bird which manage to move and keep formation very closely together. They are known to be bold, gregarious and brave around humans, and are known to beg for food scraps. They are found on beaches as a shorebird where they eat small crustaceans and small fish. They frequent rubbish dumps, and water bodies both salt and fresh. There is a definite pecking order in the flock, as shown by the often aggressive action shown to weaker birds in the flock.
They nest in areas that will match the colour of their chicks. Busselton Jetty in South West Western Australia is a great place to view the nesting gulls and their babies, as we have seen them there each year we have walked the jetty. They are on the small part of the old original jetty left for posterity, beside the current one. The rotting timber holes make ideal nesting pockets. The immature or juvenile gull can be seen to have brown spotting on the wings, later maturing to the silver appearance. When the parent senses danger it makes an alarm call and the baby gulls all duck down in the nest pocket of the timber.
Birder Sanctuary – Closing Thoughts
God has provided many beautiful creatures for us to discover, study and enjoy. One of the delights of birding is seeking them out, and discovering and observing new and different species. But as Jesus Christ has well said, as one who encourages birding with his statement to his disciples: “Look at [study] the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?” from Matthew 6 also made another wise statement: “…and he who seeks, finds” from Luke 11:10.
We can miss so many good opportunities in our lifetime for want of looking and seeking out. Our life is determined by the choices we make. We can choose to flop in front of a TV set and be fed whatever someone wants to tell us, or we can decide to constructively use our precious time bonding in quality time with family and children. Seeking out good advice, good help, good friends and a good life means making wise choices for a good future. It might mean sometimes making unpopular decisions and going behind the Mangroves to find the treasure which no one else seeks or even cares for, but richly rewards its beholder.
We can learn so much from the birds, that’s why I wrote my book ‘What Birds Teach Us’ which highlights peculiar characteristics of some of Australia’s most popular birds and applies these truths to life-skills that will bless us with a happy, healthy, satisfying and productive life. Check it out on my Birdbook page
I have added a new page to my website to assist in the new school year beginning soon. The page is called Intelligent Design and consists of a 22 minute video with a Creationist approach to science issues in primary age children, featuring Australian birds and animals. This is a tool for both School and Home School students.
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