For weeks now we have had heat waves, and it has become the hottest summer for over 50 years. The result is that summer bird numbers have reduced, as birds take shelter from the heat beneath heavy undergrowth, or they simply fly to the mountains for a cooler climate. During the past week the birdbath in my backyard has never been so busy, as exhausted birds take their turn splashing and drinking in the water, which I have had to replenish sometimes several times in one day. This is what it looked like in our large flowering Endeavour Bottlebrush tree 4 days ago. The sound of continuous noisy chatter as several Rainbow Lorikeets feed from the nectar rich flowers.
But today it was just too hot too many hot days in a row, and not a bird can be seen or heard in what is usually a very busy and noisy courtyard.
This was also the case when we recently visited Warriewood Wetlands and Kuringai Chase National Park, north east Sydney area. We were disappointed with low bird numbers and low water levels in the wetlands. The first bird we heard was this immature Channel-billed Cuckoo whining for food. The poor unsuspecting Pied Currawong was making tireless return journeys to feed it as it continuously complained. In the distance I spotted the adult waiting to be joined with its surrogate raised baby.
Yes, the once wet wetlands were now drying out and had become a muddy mess for the remaining waterbirds. Only some sections had water enough for birds to swim.
Thankfully there were some passerines in the trees, despite the heat, and this female Brush Turkey.
My Bird of the Week – The Yellow Thornbill
The Yellow Thornbill is one of our smallest birds found (9-10 cm), mainly along the forests of the east coast of Australia. Like its cousin the Brown Thornbill, which we also saw in the same trees on this occasion, they feed on small insects, such as ants, being frequently seen quickly scanning the branches of the native Casuarina pine trees. But for its beak shape it can be confused with the slightly smaller Weebill, which has a smaller blunter finch-like beak.
Yellow and Brown Thornbills are found in much the same areas, though the Yellow is found also more inland. New birders sometimes find it difficult to differentiate the Brown Thornbill from the Striated, as both have striations on the neck. The eye colour is red for the Brown and grey-brown for the Striated. The Striated has a shorter tail, and usually facial white lines.
Above are the remaining birds seen in the wetlands trees. Next day we visited the Kuringai Chase National Park near West Head and walked the Elvina Trail. Again birds were very scarce, but the wildflowers made up for it, as they were blooming beautiful, especially my favorites the Grey Spider Flower, The Mountain Devil and the tiny Common Fringe Lily.
The beautiful Scribbly Gum eucalypt trees look as if someone has been scribbling over the trunks. The larvae of scribbly gum moths create thes lines as they burrow under the bark of the tree.
As for the birds, they were far and few between, in what usually is a busy times of small missile like bodies crossing over the walking track from bush to bush, but saddly only the occasional Little Wattlebird at first. Now the Little Wattlebird is smaller than the red and lacks any pendulous wattles on its cheeks which both the Red and Yellow Wattlebirds have. Note the white striations on chest area.
Occasionally we saw a New Holland Honeyeater and to our delight, on close examination of my photos, the very similar but rarer White-cheeked Honeyeater was captured feeding also on the native flowers. Can you see the subtle difference of New Holland to White-cheeked?
Sadly, this is all I have for you this week, but next week we return to check out the Royal National Park for some more surprises. My pondering thought this week is that there is always much out there to see, and sometimes the birds need to be few so we can better appreciate the other wonderful facets of Creation we can enjoy such as wild flowers…
and this Swamp Wallaby we saw briefly at Warriewood Wetlands. Several birders were surprised that we saw this creature in the wetlands, but another bonus for us, as we develop an attitude of gratitude giving thanks for the beauty that we are able to enjoy. This is how we stay sane and normal, by grounding ourselves in the Creation, and giving thanks to the One Creator God who made it all, including us.
“For you are great and do marvelous deeds; you alone are God.” -Psalm 86:10
Check out my website, my book and my two new page additions MyBirdSightings and BirdingTours. Have a wonderful week birding!
Last Sunday afternoon my wife and I took a walk through Centennial Park, Sydney to see what avian wonders we could find. The park as usual on a warm sunny Sunday was full of families enjoying the shade of the large paperbark trees and the vistas of the several lakes, all of which were home to many waterbirds.
We were pleasantly surprised to find so many species in a city park with many people. It is noticeable the Australian Black Swan is breeding and multiplying well all over Australia, and not just in Western Australia where it was first identified by European settlers.
One of the interesting observations when walking through such a park is that we birders are actually seeing much more than the average passer through. We are looking and taking in aspects of the scene which many gloss over and never realize. The precious treasures of their national and natural heritage are often hidden from sight, right before their eyes. Such as this family of Little Corella, two adults and two youngsters resting silently in a tree by the lake,where people passed by none the wiser.
There were some other quietly feeding also. The Little Corella, like other members of the parrot family is able to hold its food to its mouth with its claw, this is a unique skill which enables them to break open seed pods while sitting in a tree. Click on photos to enlarge them.
One extensive water-lily covered lake was home for several water birds with young including the Purple Swamphen and Dusky Moorhen, though if you did not look hard into the center of the pad you may not have seen them. We came to a larger lake where we saw many Pied Cormorant nesting.
In the center of one of the larger lakes there were island with trees full of nesting Pied Cormorants. As we watched a British birder came and looked also to the island and asked what the birds were. I explained they were Pied Cormorants one of 5 kinds in Australia. We shared a little laugh when he shared how it is simple in Britain with just one kind called Cormorant. Most of our Australian birds were named after our English counterparts by the European settlers.
It was interesting to watch the throat movements of the nesting birds. Soon after an older pair of birders, visiting from Venice, Italy engaged conversation with us and we had a brief friendly chat as they asked for our help in identifying our birds.
My Bird of the Week – The Nankeen Night-Heron
In the shade below a tree and several logs, my wife the ‘chief spotter’ with her binoculars spotted this beautiful gift, a Nankeen Night-Heron, a bird of the night preening itself in shade away from any attention. We were quite excited to find this not so common bird by daytime.
Some have renaimed this bird the Rufous (Nankeen) Night-Heron because there is little green (nankeen) colouring at all, but more a rufous brown. These birds are found throughout mainland Australia and Tasmania. They are mostly nocturnal and may sit in the early evening motionless for hours surveying the area they will hunt in that night.
Like the Striated Heron they have a hunched back but in addition display several long slender plumes from the back of the head. They make a harsh croaking sound when disturbed. They are found mainly near water in wetlands and inland ponds. They feed on small fish which they catch with rapid movement similar to the Striated Heron ( which I have shown in previous posts).
The Pacific Black duck were represented here also, again unless you catch the moment you may miss the beautiful iridescent sheen of the blue speculum. If you look up while walking through the swamp forest you see hundreds of Grey Headed Flying fox sleeping, though you will smell them before you see them. I did not notice them in the tree tops till I walked under them, looking for birds.
We were standing near this forest by a lake and suddenly this Royal Spoonbill flew in right next to us and started sweeping the edge of the lake.
Amazingly, it did not mind me standing next to it while it worked vigorously sifting the mud . People passed without even noticing it or even interested in this beautiful bird.
Apart from the discovery of the Nankeen Night-Heron, was the next discovery, again by my wife ‘the spotter’ ( I am ‘the shooter’), which no one noticed and you will see why when you see this bird standing next to a White Ibis.
One of our tiniest shorebirds this Black-fronted Dotterel is walking alone on the lake edge with large birds such as Ibis and Silver Gull. It is always difficult to get a good shot with my large lens with a small depth of field, because it is so small.
Following this, a young juvenile White Ibis follows its poor parent, which is trying to get away from its baby’s continual squawking. I have seen this with most shore birds including Silver Gull and Crested Tern.
Two other birds present were the Black Swan which was present in large numbers, but in among these more common waterbirds was a couple of pairs of Hardhead easily missed. This male is quite stunning. Notice the male has the distinct white eye and the female the dark eye. This bird could easily be missed if one did not do a careful check of the mixed bird gathering at the end of the lake. Moving away from the water this pair of Magpie-lark (Peewee) were scrounging by the lake edge. Notice the different facial markings for male and female, again to an uninterested passer by, these would just be two Peewees, which for all intent and purpose looked the same. One of the delights of birding is the learning aspect,which leads to being able to identify birds and their sounds, this always intrigues our non birding friends.
One of the highlights for me personally was a flock of Fairy Martin flying continuously over the lake and the shore, catching insects on the fly. I did get footage but I will only show this one photo, as it is always a challenge to get a decent photo of this fast flying bird which never lands. Again to the unknowing it could just be another Welcome Swallow, but no it has distinct white and brown markings and not orange and blue, and a different tail formation.
My final observations come from around my home where on the same day in the morning I heard the sounds of the Eastern Koel, a summer migrant of the cuckoo family living in nearby pine trees. They are very difficult to see, but can be heard all over the neighborhood. Many have asked “What is that bird?!” and even fewer have ever seen it, or even know what it looks like, even though it lives in their own backyard.
The male could easily be mistaken for a Currawong or Satin Bowerbird (male) except for its red eye and its classic sound. The female and/or juvenile of this bird I featured in my last post last week. These birds plant their eggs in the nests of Currawong, Magpies and Ravens to have there babies raised by them, similar to the Channel-billed Cuckoo. This Pied Currawong was keeping watch, and I wondered if it was the unsuspecting surrogate parent.
Finally to close and make my final point these Spotted Turtle-dove could easily be dismissed by the local resident as Ferule Pigeons, as many think they are all ferule, and introduced from England, But Australia has one of the largest variety of native fruit eating pigeons, doves and turtle-doves, which because they mainly inhabit our uninhabited rainforests, where people seldom go, remain generally unknown to many of the public. This pair attracted my attention on the same morning as they cooed to each other on the power line.
The lesson from all this is that we can look but not see much of what is around us for two reasons, one, because we are preoccupied with other thoughts and intentions so we are looking into our minds rather than outwards to the world around (we need to be ‘mindful’ of our surroundings), two, we do not expect to see anything different and so we don’t.
I am a scientist, and have been from when I was a small child. I carried this into my work life. To my delight and surprise I recently discovered that my famous English ancestor, who has the same name as me, is remembered as the Father of Haematology, and Haematology is what my expertise in the work I recently did. I had a microscope as a child and worked with one for the last 40 years in my working life. One of the skills that is sharpened by birding is that of becoming more mindful. Sadly this new generation are cutting off the world around them and loosing themselves in a cyber world, inside a small hand held box. They even connect their ears to it so all they take in is from this device. The future health problems will be enormous when this abuse works itself out in the bodies, minds and emotions of the addicted. Enormous relational problems are the result as people become disconnected with reality and unable to communicate and see and hear the real and important needs of others and even themselves.
“ Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember?” – Mark 8:18
In life we it is important that I don’t just look but actually see and not just hear but understand the Truth,
“But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear.” – Matthew 13:16
Have a great week birding! Check out the rest of my website for more birding info. Buy my bird book as a gift for your under 12 year old from the sidebar or see my birdbook page, it will delight and encourage them to do life well. Check out my new Bird Sightings page to see where I found my birds in 2017 if you want to check them out.
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