It was interesting this past week when my wife and I on two occasions, put spending time with friends above being out birding. On these two occasions we were surprisingly blessed to see unexpected birds. We went with one of our dear friends our to the Royal National Park Cafe for lunch, after which we took our friend to see the recent clutch of 14 Australian Wood Ducklings, so she could show her family when they come there this week. While we watched the ducklings feeding off the grass seed, there sounded an alarm from one of the adult ducks, as they heard a noisy commotion in the canopy of a tall eucalypt trees nearby, being caused by none other than a pack of Noisy Miner. First two pair of Wood Duck flew off (always in pairs, as these birds faithfully pair for life).
It was enough to cause Mrs Sulfur-crested Cockatoo to emerge from her nest in the nesting hole of a nearby tree.
Immediately father Wood Duck signals his family and they make their way quickly to the river bank ready for a fast escape, as yet they are unsure of the nature of the impending danger. Click on photos to enlarge.
Soon the whole family were paddling together upstream away from us with their eyes on their parents, they followed obediently behind. Finally they returned to shore some 50 meters away.
This of course made the word raptor come to mind and my wife and I left our friend seated at the picnic table nearby while we investigated. We first of all sighted the Miner pack attacking something deep in the canopy.
It was not long before we heard and saw the raptor: a beautiful Pacific Baza, also known as the Crested Hawk. These birds are quite different to most other raptors in the way they hunt for prey. They are usually not a great threat to birds, as they tend to eat insects and small reptiles. They have this unique way of gliding quickly into a thick tree canopy grabbing insects and reptiles on their way in. Most raptors spy out their prey sitting on bare branches up high from where they can easily observe and pounce, clearly being able to see their prey, but not the Baza.
Watching this diving process gave us a few nice wing shots. The Noisy Miners continued their attack but the Pacific Baza continued hunting regardless. However, eventually the Baza saw us watching and flew away behind the trees. These birds are found in northern and north eastern Australia, but not usually found south of Sydney, though this one was. They are also found in the Pacific Islands and New Guinea, north of Australia.
We had never seen a Baza this close before. The last time you may remember was up in Far North Queensland as it flew over at great height but my photos were not that good due to the position of the sun.
A couple of days later my wife and I went for an afternoon walk in our local park, but did not see much at all, due to the continuing drought. Despite recent rains, there were few birds. A couple of dear friends live in the street near the park, several houses away, so we thought to drop in and see them, as we had not seen them in a while. As we sat chatting out around their pool, sipping wine, we were told that the Australian King parrot may come to feed on the fruiting Loquat tree hanging over their fence in clear view to us.
Australian King Parrot male
Soon the late afternoon sun caught this flash of colour emerging, as a male and then a very shy female Australian King Parrot fed from this tree. Parrots and Cockatoos are mostly fruit and seed eaters, and have the unique ability of any bird, in that they are able to hold the fruit in one claw and bring it to their mouth to eat. The female has more green on the upper parts of her body, as do the juveniles.
Australian King Parrot male
Australian King Parrot male
Australian King Parrot female
Australian King Parrot female
It was another wonderful blessing sitting, sipping and watching them feed as they caught the last light before sundown, being the first evening of Daylight Saving.
Similar to the Crimson Rosella who make a bell like chime call, the King Parrot make a more courser version of their call.
We enjoyed a wonderful evening meal with our friends, leaving feeling very blessed from their hospitality. The thought that came to me from this week was from watching a female Masked Lapwing sitting patiently on her nest in the middle of the paddock between the Cafe and the Hacking River. Now this open field is frequented by young children playing and people walking and other birds feeding, which caused the National Parks people to place a warning sign and markers around the nest, as nesting Masked Lapwing can remain quite hidden behind the clumps of Button Grass. The male was trying to ward off children playing nearby, but was unsuccessful.
Masked Lapwing on nest
These birds are known to attack people and animals by swooping on those who approach their nesting field, similar to the Magpie during nesting season. However, the male’s ploy is to try and draw attention to himself and draw the intruder away from the nest. The male will stand tall and proud with both wing spurs protruding and making threatening alarm calls to scare off any intruders who do not follow his lead.
I might wonder why these birds always nest in the middle of open fields which are frequently traversed by humans, their mowers and animals, and where Raptors can easily see their nest. These Plovers, like other plovers are historically waders, and like their cousins lay their eggs in shallow holes on beaches and river banks. In recent years many of these birds have moved inland to graze on grassy fields where they extract insects and their larvae from just below the soil surface. It is also interesting that despite the vulnerability of the nest, these birds are great survivors and is one of the most commonly seen birds found throughout most of Australia. What might appear foolish actually has much wisdom, as the males have a 360° viewing area around the nest, which is much easier for them, a ground dwelling and feeding bird, to monitor. The proof is in the very successful and secure status of this bird.
“Where then does wisdom come from? Where does understanding dwell?” – Job 28:20
“To God belong wisdom and power; counsel and understanding are his.” – Job 12:13
“Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you.” – Proverbs 4:6
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You will find access to helpful hints and tips for Birdwatchers and Birders, as well as information on how we can learn to do life better from the birds.
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Have a wonderful weekend! I have finally realised and accepted that my career as a Senior Scientist has come to an end, so I am now seeking God to find direction for these years ahead. This last five months has been a wonderful opportunity for me to write two more books (‘Flight of a Fledgling’ for 12+yrs and The improved and enlarged 2nd Edition of ‘What Birds Teach Us’ for 7+ yrs). I will advise here on my website when I am closer to publication. Thank you dear friends for your prayers and valued support as I continue to address my health issues and vocational direction.
The Laughing Kookaburra is Australia’s most iconic bird, and possibly our most popular. It generally is a very placid natured bird relatively trusting of humans, co habitating especially if fed by them. They can become a problem like many Australia’s wild birds if they become regularly dependent on human’s feeding them. It is found throughout the forests of eastern Australia and far south west WA. The ‘Kooka’ as most of us know it, is a territorial bird like many of our birds, and can be found in the same geographical area most of the year, which makes it easy to locate.
Kookas are known for their loud laugh like call, which is often sounded in a family group from sunrise, various times through the day and sunset, where several birds will call together for periods of twenty seconds to several minutes, often being led by one bird. It became known to the early European settlers as ‘The Settlers Clock’ because the birds will sit in a tall eucalypt tree facing east waiting for the first light of the sun and then begin marking their territory, often moving from area to area repeating their call and marking their boundary, warding off other Kooka families. Listen to the morning call of several Kookas…
Listen to this one Kooka as he idles his laugh which usually results shortly after in the group sounding off again.
Here is a capture at sunset…
The same may occur several times through the day, but more importantly just before sunset they may be found facing west and putting out a final call for day as the sun is about to set. Thus in the early days with isolation and lack of accurate Eastern Standard Time for many in the bush, the call of the Kookaburra would wake the farmer in the morning to commence his day, and also alert him to sunset and the need to get back to house quickly to light the lamps for the night.
One of the great delights of living in Australia is the sound of the Kookaburras first thing in the morning. My wife and I always get excited to hear their call when they stray into our area, as we do not have resident ones, possibly due to the extremely aggressive nature of our local Noisy Miners. Kookas are one of the few birds that will tolerate being attacked by Miners, but will move on if too many persistently attack and bite, but not moving too far away.The Kookaburra mainly feeds on worms, insects and the flesh of snakes, lizards, frogs, birds and small mammals, by pouncing on their prey from a branch or perch. They are known for killing their prey with their very thick strong beak by bashing the prey against a tree to kill it. Even if you feed it dead meat it will still go through the process of ‘killing’ it by beating it to death. They are often seen doing this to snakes.
Blue-winged Kookaburra female
Blue-winged Kookaburra male
In Australia we have two species of Kookaburra, the Laughing and the Blue Winged. Though they both have blue on their wings, the Blue Winged has much more, is a slightly smaller bird and is only found in far north Australia. Its call is not at loud and regular as the Laughing Kooka.
Kookaburra are large tree Kingfishers, being a similar bird, of the same genus Dacelo, having amazing better than average binocular vision which allows for very exacting triangulation. The main way to discern the breeding male from the female is that the male has a bright blue colored rump (central back feathers) whereas the female and immature both lack this.
I have witnessed several times a Kookaburra fly through an open air cafe and remove the meat portion of a hamburger while the patron is left holding the bun and lettuce. If you are gardening they will sit on the fence right next to you and silently watch as you dig, then suddenly plunge down right in front of you and grab a worm you did not even see was there.
The Kookaburra makes its nest in the holes found in trees and more often will bore a hole into a termite or white ant mound and make a simple nest there. In a similar way to the Magpie, the whole family may assist in the incubation, building and care of the nest. This Kookaburra is defending its white ant nest hole against an intruding Rainbow Lorikeet.
This juvenile Kookaburra is fed by the parent worms and small lizards, until it is able to fend for itself.
Here are some rare shots of a male Kookaburra diving completely into the water of a fresh water lake. The question it raises is: washing or fishing? I have since wondered if this Kooka is attempting to copy the Cormorants it would have watched fish, diving beneath the water and emerging with a fish. Maybe he was trying his hand (or claw) at it. It was an interesting and rare capture regardless.
In my book ‘What Birds Teach Us‘ I sight the Kookaburra as an example for us of Punctuality due to its predictable sunrise and sunset call. I have lived for years believing the myth that many of us were told when young that Kookaburras can predict rain and as a result I have been both amazed and also let down (embarrassed) from this belief. This myth may have some truth to it, but does not follow for every occasion. I often hear them call when an impending storm of dark Cumulonimbus clouds can be seen on the horizon, this may also be a coincidence.
This may be my last weekly blog post for a while as I consider my future. My job has been terminated and I am currently seeking God as to my next step. Due to the low numbers in local birds (caused mostly by drought) and having not traveled recently I have no new material. I am considering if this is the time to commence writing my second book. Thank you my dear bird blogger friends for your warm encouraging support. I will continue to post occasionally until I am properly sorted.
“Bestillbefore the Lordandwait patiently for him…” – Psalm 37:7 (NIV)
Enjoy your week and please pray for the best outcome for our Federal Election next Month.
This week I am showcasing two of Australia’s most amazing and unique birds, the Superb Lyrebird and the Albert’s Lyrebird, both of which are endemic to the east coast of the Australian mainland. Their name Lyrebird is derived from the long tail plumage or lyrates of the mature males, which resembles the musical instrument by that name. You can imagine the fine lace like plumes to be like strings, as seen above. The more common Superb Lyrebird is found in the rainforests of far south eastern Queensland, all the way through eastern NSW to south eastern Victoria.
The mature male tail plumage takes up to six years to fully develop, making it sometimes difficult to discern the young male from the female which lacks the lyrates and lace plumage. Click photo to enlarge it.
This bird has many similar characteristics with the Satin Bowerbird in its long egg incubation (40-45 days), long period for male maturity (six years), life long practice of males learning to dance and perform mimicry song to impress and win mates. The Bowerbird male also includes lifelong practice at building a bower. The juvenile, similar to the female has a rufous throat, as seen in some other rainforest birds such as the Logrunner.
Female Superb Lyrebird
Female Superb Lyrebird
These birds seldom fly, though they can, but usually only very short distances, as they are territorial and tend not to leave the protection of their rainforest area. Their elaborate tail plumage is more for gliding than for flying any distance. They only fly to escape predators and humans, and to fly over rivers and streams. Under the tall tree canopy of the rainforest they have little need to fly. Most of their time is spent scratching in the leaf litter on the dark forest floor in search of worms and other insects, which is their main diet. This bird is the emblem of NSW National Parks.
In Australia’s early British settlement years, thousands of these birds were needlessly shot by so called ‘Naturalists’ who enjoyed bringing home animals and birds, but many were wasted and a few stuffed and sent back home to museums. Eventually this barbaric practice was outlawed and now the camera is the only shooting allowed. My grandson stands next to a stuffy of the Superb Lyrebird, showcasing my book which is sold in the Royal National Park gift shop. This bird is one of the many included in my book which is for purchase here online through secure PayPal. Many of my readers have already purchased it and have shared delightful reviews.
So from a young age the male practices his courtship dance and song, dancing to his own beat. It is very special to witness this in the wild.
We will share some of the very special moment, when we witnessed for the very first time, a male practicing behind some bush in the Blue Mountains NP. Now we often see them there each visit to Evans Lookout. Listen to the different bird calls of the Currawong, Cockatoo, Whipbird and Parrot. He spreads his tail up over his head as a covering in a similar way to the Peacock and dances and displays continual bird mimicry with amazing accuracy. The courtship ritual involves the male building and earthen mound about 15 centimeters high, which is like a stage where he performs his song and dance for the female. He may have many of these within his territory. This month being Autumn will mean that he will be busily preparing his mounds and fine tuning his choreography for the mating season. It is thought they breed in the Winter months because food sources are more plentiful at that time.
They can copy perfectly chain saws, jack hammers, camera shutters and any sound they hear. Look carefully to the bottom right of the spread tail feathers and you will see the mouth of the Lyrebird moving. I have heard a Lyrebird copy a chain saw, and it was a brilliant and perfect copy. This is the special moment my wife and I witnessed our first Lyrebird concert ever in the wild.
Listen to this sound file of another male sounding off. This is practiced as he puts together his song which he will present to his female hopeful when the times comes. The “Tch, tch, tch, tch” sound you occasionally hear in between the mimicry of other bird calls is his own sound, and this helps me identify him from other birds. This is a beautiful mindful experience, even if you can not see the bird, just to stop and hear its amazing repertoire and appreciate this amazing creature.
In recent years these birds have been decimated by reduction of habitat through land clearing for pine forest plantations and more so by domestic cats, ferule cats and foxes, especially in Victoria’s Sherbrooke Forest NP where these birds were almost completely wiped out by domestic cats. Locals have to chip and cage their cats to own them or heavy penalties apply. You can read more about it here.
Other predators which are often not thought of are reptiles such as this Lace Monitor. I found this one in the Royal National Park climbing a tree, to most likely check for any bird eggs. Surveys have shown that areas which have resident Lyrebirds have a significant reduction in bushfire intensity. It is thought there is some connection with them digging through leaf litter and reducing weed undergrowth propagation.
The Albert’s Lyrebird a much rarer bird and seldom ever seen by most Australians, living deep inside the rainforests found in the mountains bordering NSW and Queensland. The Lamington NP is the easiest place to attempt to see them, O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat, Canungra is the best. Similar to the Superb, they are more timid, and mature males are seldom seen. Here is a juvenile male.
They have a shorter tail than the Superb, with less impressive lyrates. There are differences in the male courtship ritual, which very few have ever witnessed in the wild. They are only found in this very small region of Australia, protected by the dense rainforest and difficult altitude. These birds can effortlessly disappear down almost vertical cliffs and gullies. They can also mimic but not as much as the Superb and have a different sound of their own.
These birds forage in the same way as the Superb by scratching in the leaf litter. They have a lovely chestnut brown wing plumage, and both sexes have the rufous chin.
If you should ever visit The Royal National Park or any of the rainforest regions around the Sydney area you may encounter a sighting, or at least a hearing of this remarkable bird. If you find me there we can share the experience, and a bird’s eye view…
The latest research on bird calls, in particular their repetitive sounds, is that they make their sound exactly the same pitch and strength without variation every time. If a human was to say the same word or sing the same line over and over, the pitch and duration of sound can be plotted to deteriorate and become longer and lower due to wearing out. The lyrebird in its continuous flow of mimicry does not weary or change, but reflects perfectly what it has heard on each occasion. Children are like young birds, they listen and repeat what they hear and see, and with surprising accuracy. This is always a warning to myself to be extra vigilant around children and now especially grandchildren which are sponges for learning to be like adults.
“As children copy their fathers you, as God’s children, are to copy him. Live your lives in love—the same sort of love which Christ gives us and which he perfectly expressed when he gave himself up for us in sacrifice to God.” – Ephesians 5:1 (JBPNT)
“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.” – Ephesians 6:4 (NIV)
“Fathers, do not aggravate your children, or they will become discouraged.” – Colossians 3:21 (NIV)
Thank you for sharing this time with me and our beautiful birds. Have a most enjoyable week, experiencing the changing season. May it bring refreshing change in you as you be still and take it in.
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