Superb Fairy-wren (male non-breeding or eclipse plumage)
Winter is here in Australia and like us, birds are adjusting to the seasonal change. Some decide to fly north to the warmer climates of Queensland, possibly seeking a good winter holiday package like us in a few days, some fly further north to Asia and Siberia/Alaska to breed and return in early Spring. Others develop breeding plumage, stay and breed during Winter months, while others like the male Superb Fairy-wren pictured above, loose their breeding plumage, stay and do not breed again till Spring. Each bird species has its own unique breeding patterns, which over all are governed by seasonal changes. Just as we change the clothes we wear for each season so do many of the birds.
Many bird species such as the above male, moult to form a plumage similar to the female, during their non-breeding months. This plumage is known as being in eclipse. The tell tail blue tail remains, as his male sex marker when spotting him in the wild. The bright Blue Wren that we all know when breeding is incognito now till Spring for most males of this species, though there are still many breeding late due to our unusually warm Autumn. The Superb Lyrebird, of similar name, however, is most likely seated on its nest or with nestlings as they breed during Winter when more food source is easily available to feed their young from the rainforest floor.
Some birds such as this lone Royal Spoonbill have breeding plumage somewhat out of season, appearing to remain late. The head dress plumage and red forehead markings declare this. The nest would normally be with other similar large shorebirds, such as Ibis, but would be abandoned if we were to approach it. See how it sifts the water for small marine creatures.
These Pied Cormorant in Sydney Olympic Park are breeding out of season also possibly due to a warmer than usual Autumn. Usually there would be between 10 and 20 other birds nesting but only a few nests are active as the others have finished and flown. Late nesting can make breeding more vulnerable to predators, without the safety in numbers rule these birds usually employ, as can be seen as this Australian Raven contests a nesting parent, attempting to get her off the nest to steal her eggs or babies, but she stands her ground or should I say sits her ground and like a true parent ain’t gonna move for no one.
Pied Cormorant staying off Aust. Raven
Pied Cormorant with late nestling
Lastly, this cute little Yellow Thornbill was jumping around the mangroves and casuarina trees beside the lake enjoying its lone adventure. It appeared to be not only just maturing but is an example of one of the many territorial non migratory birds that remain through all the seasons and do not show any marked plumage differences when breeding.
This has been a quick post as I have just left hospital yesterday and have had some health issues to rectify which we have suddenly become aware of, from which treatment will now be ongoing. Thank you to those praying for me and sharing your kind thoughts it is much appreciated. Like these birds we have our seasons in life. The worlds wisest man King Solomon who wrote the books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes in the Bible explained this fact. Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. You may remember The Byrds music group back in the 60s singing a popular Pete Seeger folk song formed from this passage. ‘To Everything Turn, Turn, Turn.’
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:
2 a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, 3 a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, 4 a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, 5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, 6 a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, 7 a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, 8 a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace. (NIV)
The key principle Solomon is sharing is that we need to realize and accept the fact that throughout one’s life there will be times or seasons of good and enjoyable experiences and what appear to be bad or unpleasant ones, both are the normal part of life. It is when we accept this truth we can have peace and draw courage and strength from seeing them as positive and necessary changes for our life, character and maturity, rather than anger and resentment blaming God or anyone else for their unfulfilled expectations. This is what gave me contentment this last week as I felt peace and rest in the midst of the storm my health experienced in this new life season I am presently in. Knowing that there is always Treasure in the Trial. We just have look for it, with wisdom, as you would for any treasure.
“We know that in all things [both good and bad life experiences/seasons] God works for good with those who love him…” – Romans 8:28 [ added and explained by me] (GNT)
Have a great week! My new book is now awaiting a first edit.
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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.
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.