Spring, the time when most birds and animals pair off, mate and reproduce their kind. However, the great Australian drought continues into its fourth year causing rivers to dry up, trees and plants to die or give up their leaves under stress, many native plants to die or not flower, many birds and animals to leave their historic nesting areas for localities where they have not been previously reported in current field guides.
This week I took a trip to visit one of Australia’s great birding places The Capertee Valley, which is actually the widest canyon in the world, being 1km wider than the Grand Canyon at its widest point. The canyon is surrounded by the Gardens of Stone National Park, made up of interesting sandstone escarpments, which glow in the sun. Click on photos to enlarge them.
Gardens of Stone NP
Capertee River dried up
Capertee River dried up
Largest conservation project
This wonder is a north western extension of the famous Blue Mountains, and has previously been the famous conservation site for the breeding of the endangered Regent Honeyeater, which is Australia’s largest public conservation project. The last few years have seen very few birds breeding beside the now almost dried up Capertee River, where only a few pools remain. Scientists have had difficulty tracing the breeding patterns of this bird, and many others affected by the drought. The forests of NSW are tinder dry, and dying in many places for lack of regular rainfall. I was surprised to find that many of the bird species I found previously in this birding goldmine had left the valley to find food and water and nest elsewhere. While the eastern side of the ranges has been getting rain at times (Sydney), here on the western side of the ranges (Capertee) has had very little or none at all.
The positive is that there are still many birds remaining, of which I will share from my visit in this post. On arrival to the valley I started checking my usual good birding stops and in two tall eucalypts I found both the numerous White-plumed Honeyeater and the less numerous White-naped Honeyeater feeding high in the canopy together on the tree blossom as well as on lerps. The plume is the white mark on the side of the neck and the gape is the white ring around the back of the head (visible in second last photo). They were very active when chasing nectar, especially the White-gaped, which gave me several flight shots.
From a tree next to the flowering one above, I could hear the unusual buzzing sound of the White-browed Babbler, which, like the two honeyeaters is mainly only seen inland over the ranges. It was interesting how many different sounds this bird makes as it communicated to a nearby companion. It is always a treat to find this bird. Disregard the Noisy Friarbird calls in the background.
Just before leaving this Noisy Friarbird appeared briefly, but was unusually quiet, which can be the case when they are alone.
Further along the road as I crossed over the Capertee River I was mesmerized by a flock Fairy Martins flying in circuits over the remaining pools of water beneath the casuarina trees. I managed to fire off some almost decent flight shots of these amazing birds as they started flying around me.
Fairy Martin cruising for insects
Fairy Martins flying together
mouth open catching insects on the fly
As I made my way further I stopped again, and out of the bush wandered this old Wombat, with a hairless back, making his way back down the road on the wrong side, being very vulnerable to cars. Sadly I had already seen over a dozen road kill from the night before, kangaroo, wallabies and wombats. Wombats are essentially nocturnal, but can bee seen during the day when disturbed. They burrow out their nesting holes under the earth like a mole or groundhog. Walking in their territory can be dangerous at night without good light as many people have injured themselves accidentally stepping into their holes.
Sadly I passed areas where in better years many species of Finch resided, but were not to be found, but it was pleasing to see several family flocks of White-winged Chough foraging about. These birds only fly short low distances and spend most of their time walking about together foraging for insects. They have a very tightly constructed family and are known to take captive young from other Chough flocks. You will see how they got their name from my video clip.
White-winged Chough family
Here is a sound file to give you an idea of their language, it sounds a little like a Catbird having a harsh lower throat squeal. Disregard the Noisy Friarbirds cackling in the background.
Looking up to a bare dead tree, always in the hope of seeing a raptor, this lone Dusky Woodswallow sat in the warmth of the Spring sun. It would occasionally go gliding, in a similar way to the Fairy Martin to catch insects on the fly.
While looking up at this little guy I saw gliding over a kilometer above a huge Wedge-tailed Eagle which I managed to get a few decent shots considering the distance away. These amazing birds with wingspans of 2.3 meters can soar on the thermals at a height of two kilometers and at one kilometer still see a mouse crawling on the ground below as its eye sight is eight times better at seeing detail than ours, with is binocular telescopic vision. This enables it not only to see its prey well, but target with precise accuracy (using triangulation like our eyes) within millimeters when it attacks. I know this for a fact having had one take a very small amount of meat from my hand without touching me at a wild bird show, and boy they are heavy when they land on your arm. They can lift a 5 kilogram animal, a young lamb, young kangaroo, snakes. lizards, ferule cats, foxes, rodents and road kill.
When a bird has its eyes set in the front of its face such as we have, similar to other raptors, Kingfishers and Kookaburras we all share binocular vision and with it the ability to triangulate which allows our brains to determine with accuracy the estimated distance away we are to an object. If you have eyes at the side of the head or only one working eye, the brain is unable to do this with any accuracy. Compare the eye placement of these birds below. Notice the eyes of the Eastern Rosella are on the side of the head, like most birds, unlike the Eagles and other birds of prey, I sighted this pair of Eastern Rosella being attacked by an aggressive Noisy Miner further down the road.
Wedge-tailed Eagle binocular vision
Eastern Rosella eye on side of head
I have previously shared about the aggressive and fearless nature of this bird and how it guards its territory from other Honeyeaters and predators. I have seen Noisy Miners chase away Eagles (which can eat them), cats and dogs (which can also eat them), even people. Their relentless attacks and bites with rapid return, often in a noisy group of between 2 and 6 birds is no feat for a single bird, though Kookaburras sit and take it till they give up while larger more aggressive Red Wattlebirds will retaliate. The Eastern Rosella pair for life, and are under attack because they eat nectar blossom also as part of their diet, which the Noisy Miner want to keep to themselves, particularly in this time of drought.
Noisy miner in position, I can see it looming
watching the Noisy Miner out of my left eye
Noisy miner attacks
Eastern Rosella recoil
Eastern Rosella post attack
the colourful undercarriage
Nearby I could hear a zitting sound which resembled what I knew to be that of a Flycatcher, as I had seen them around this area on previous visits, and yes it was a pair of Restless Flycatcher. At first I only saw a Willie Wagtail and thought it strange to be making this sound as it is a kind of flycatcher also, and looks similar, but then I saw the pair making their zitting noise which you can hear here:
Restless Flycatcher pair
A small flock of Straw-necked Ibis grazed on a nearby cow paddock, this one is just coming into breeding as it starts to develop its long neck plumes and iridescent body plume sheen.
I came to a place where I heard a lovely bird call with which I was not familiar, but had heard on previous occasions. I looked and looked for about half an hour as it called from within a deep dark eucalypt tree cluster by the road. I prayed and asked God to let me view it, as I had spent too much time in pursuit and then it made an appearance for two seconds and was able to get this one shot off. It was a Grey Shrike-thrush which are known for their lovely variable song. Thank you Lord! It is in the not knowing what it was that kept me there, in case it might have been a lifer.
If this is your first visit to my blog please explore my Website Homepage menu for more birding tips and info. Check out my book “What Birds Teach Us”, a great easy to read gift idea, which continues to get good reviews where people share how it has helped them and how it is a unique book. If you are concerned, it has been carefully written for all cultures and beliefs and does not preach or recommend any particular belief system, but is a counselling tool that encourages good life skills by using the birds and beautiful photos of them to relate to us. People from other cultures and beliefs different to my own, have shared how they love the book. You can purchase your copy here
My meditation for the day came from my challenging experience when I finally arrived after much driving at the gate of Capertee National Park, which is a locked up park, to protect the nesting area of the endangered Regent Honeyeater, along the banks of the Capertee River.
Sadly, the entrance code I had was not the current one, and because I was out of phone range, deep in the forest, and the caretaker was miles away inside the park, I could only wait for a while hoping someone would arrive, but no one did. So I turned around and drove home, the positive side being I arrived home in good time to shop and cook dinner for my wife. I was thankful for the many birds I saw and this incident reminded me of the words of Jesus when he said: Iamthegate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. – John 10:9 (NIV)
Without the correct entry code one can not enter this portion of the park and see the wonders within. You may remember the long pursuit my wife and I had trying to see these birds in the wild and how my first sighting of an unbanded bird was several miles up this road behind this gate. Just as this was the treasure I hoped to see today, so this event reminded me that Jesus has a treasure much more wonderful which will last forever for those who put their trust in him. Jesus had blazed the trial for me so that I and anyone can discover the true meaning of life. It is through him that we enter into God’s goodness and mercy and experience the freedom and peace of total forgiveness for our sinful selfish nature. With this comes the blessing of a personal relationship with God, so you are never alone or ever abandoned because he loves us and always will, and gives his Spirit to comfort and guide us through life. God’s beautiful life exchange, the free gift of Jesus’ sinless life for our sinful, is expressed in a nutshell: God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. – 2 Corinthians 5:21
Have a wonderful week and weekend! Our prayers go to the many suffering Hurricanes floods, heatwaves, earthquakes and extreme bush fires in many parts of the world. In these turbulent Last Days where many are fearful and have no hope or foundation for their lives, there is hope and peace through faith in Jesus who rightly said even before he was raised from the dead: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33
We are experiencing extreme drought, facing another extreme hot Summer and water shortages. It is time for us all turn to the One who can help and pray and repent on behalf of our nations that are abandoning the same One who can truly help. There is hope and it is offered freely in Jesus words: “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.”
For those interested: My second book is almost past its first editorial phase and I have begun to write a better second edition of the my first book, as the first edition is almost sold out of print and demand for it continues. The second edition will have more features and birds and will be an educational tool which I hope will be embraced by schools and family counselors. I am thankful for this break in my professional career to be given the opportunity to leave this legacy.
Recently I took my wife for a picnic to the Australian Botanic Gardens in the hope of her seeing the endangered Swift Parrot for the first time. The wind had picked up and the large eucalypts, where I had seen these birds a few days ago, swayed birdless. As we watched we met other birders looking for the same, but none were seen early afternoon. However, we did see this beautiful Wedge-tailed Eagle pass over. I was so glad it was a blue Autumn sky to catch the wing colours. The last shot appeared to me to be the bird just enjoying the glide on the thermals with its face looking upwards. It was fairly high in the sky.
As we waited, of course the sound of the Bell Miner continued unceasingly as per my last visit and the Bowerbirds were busily moving about near the water pond. I managed to get a shot of both male and female.
Male Satin Bowerbird
Female Satin Bowerbird
I managed to catch this flight shot of the female leaving, as they do not like us being around.
Several other birds appeared including Olive Backed Oriole, Red Wattlebird, female Golden Whistler and Yellow-faced Honeyeater but the Rose Robin male was a beautiful flash of pink as it flew over us, but unfortunately no shots were fired as it dived under some small bushes but… still no Swiftys (Swift Parrots). Next came this immature White-naped Honeyeater with parent nearby. As with most immature birds there is brown where the definitive colour of the adult is seen.
We had been told that the Swiftys make an appearance just before sunset on a dead tree, so we went for a drive to another nearby reserve and returned about an hour or so before sunset. We were delighted to watch them flying around the trees and finally landing on the dead tree in full sunlight. I managed to get some fuzzy flight shots from these tiny super fast flying parrots.
It was an extra treat to see several of them landing on the tree in the sun making it look like a fruit tree.
It is extremely difficult to photograph these Swifty’s as they do pull a swifty (an Aussie saying) on you by flying right under the canopy. It is difficult enough to see them as they are so small, but even more so because they blend in with the dark leaves of the very high eucalypt tree. However, just before sunset they all come down to the waterhole to drink and sit in small low trees by the water for a very short time. We noticed later when examining the photos that we had a photo of a Swift Parrot family sitting together in a tree.
waiting to drink at sunset
Swift Parrot family
However, my wife and I waited till just before sunset when the park closes and let the horizontal sunlight reveal the birds. You can see the difference below as they feed on blossom and lerps in all their beautiful colour. What an amazing contrast they make when the sun strikes them!
The Olive-backed Oriole was curious to know what the interest was on the dead tree so it joined them
Of course there is the challenge to capture flight shots which is almost impossible as the speed and unpredictability of these birds is amazing. However, I did get some after many tries.
My wife, as did a gathering of several other local birders, left satisfied they had sighted this lifer. A Black-shouldered Kite was hovering about the park as we left.
Have a wonderful week and remember that those of us who choose to smile and live with a positive happy cheerful attitude are more likely to live longer, stay healthier, being less stressed and able to make more friends. Most of all we can make a positive difference in the lives of the people we meet each day, including strangers.
“A cheerful heart is good medicine” – Proverbs 17:22
Have a wonderful week! If this is your first time to my blog, please check out the pages on my website HomePage on birding and counseling tips.
Last weekend, my wife and I drove to the Hunter Valley Wine Region for our wedding anniversary, where we not only enjoyed beautiful valley views, fine food, tasting luscious wines, but of course as per usual, birding was included. Click on photos to enlarge.
aussiebirder ready to bird
View from our accommodation.
Nearby was the Werakata National Park, one of the feeding areas of the rare and endangered Regent Honeyeater, which my followers would know I have blogged in past posts. The Spotted Gum eucalypt trees were in flower which would have been ideal for them to feed, however we did not see any Regents on this occasion.
But we did see an unexpected family of another inland bird the beautiful Rainbow Bee-eater female with juveniles. The juveniles lack colour intensity, lack the throat band which has not yet formed and lack the tail streamers. This bird lives in hot arid areas and dry forests and spends the Summer months down here, flying back up to Far North Queensland during Winter, after the cyclones of the wet season. The females have two short tail streamers (see below) and the male has longer streamers.
adult female Bee-eater
To our delight as we walked to breakfast, we found a small flock of Musk Lorikeet feeding on the Spotted Gun flowers nearby our accommodation. This bird is found inland and is often difficult to photograph and well camouflaged as they are usually deep in the tree feeding. The blue head cap and the red head markings are usually all you can detect. This birds gets its name from the male which during breeding season emits a musky odour from an oil gland on its rump. This acts as a pheromone attracting females to mate.
Musk Lorikeet feeding
The Eastern Rosella is another inland bird checking the gum trees also. A beautiful but very shy bird.
It was lovely to see several new season juvenile birds and hear their monotonous hunger chirps as the family try to feed them. This juvenile Noisy Miner was getting attention next to our room.
Adult Noisy Miner keeping watch
Juvenile Noisy MIner
One of the best treats for me coming here was to hear again the sound of the Pied Butcherbird, my favourite songbird, which I miss hearing from my years of living up the coast in country NSW. This bird is not found as far south as Sydney, but its cousin the Grey Butcherbird sings his beautiful song to me each morning as he drinks from our birdbath. Listen and watch as this bird’s morning chorus rings through the valley.
One hot afternoon while enjoying a swim in the pool, we heard a commotion in the nearby eucalypt tree as several Noisy Miners were being very noisy and appeared to be looking at something and scolding it in the tree. At first we all could not make it out, but my wife donned her binoculars and sighted the cause of the trouble, a young Lace Monitor was on a branch high in the tree in search for bird eggs. The Noisy Miners harassed him with noise but it was the brave and more brutal Blue-faced Honeyeater that dared to come close, causing the lizard to move away.
Blue-faced Honeyeater are another bird found mainly in northern NSW and also Queensland. As with other Australian honeyeaters competing for nectar, this bird is aggressive and often sports what appears to be an aggressive look which is in it’s favor for warding off adversaries.
While we were enjoying coffee at the Chocolate Factory, we looked out to a distant paddock where my wife sighted a Wedge-tailed Eagle going to ground. It was a long way off and barely visible and spent several minutes down. I walked smartly to the car to retrieve my camera and returned waiting at the fence. Eventually it arose and flew toward me, almost over my head and then into the distance. It appeared to be carrying its prey under one talon, which on close observation appeared to be either a native possum or small fox.
This is Australia’s largest raptor sporting a wingspan of around 2.3 meters (7.5 feet), and it is always a buzz to see them since their numbers were decimated in the last 100 years due to the 5 shilling bounty on their heads. Hundreds of thousands were slaughtered needlessly. Farmers complained that they carried off lambs as prey. This is the most persecuted eagle in the world. Today there is a $8,000 fine and imprisonment in most states for killing this now protected bird as this bounty has since been lifted, and numbers are very slowly returning, but will never be as they were. The eagle can carry up to 5kg (11pds) prey which is heavier than its body weight of 3.5kg. We also spotted a Whistling Kite passing over silently.
On our visit to Hunter Valley Gardens which is the largest floral display in Australia, we were met by many Superb Fairy-wren families bobbing in and out of the beautiful and extensive rose gardens. As roses are introduced species and lack nectar, they do not attract native honeyeaters birds but only the tiny insectivorous Superb Fairy-wren. This bird is a small fast moving territorial bird found in many flower gardens and parks in eastern Australia. Some males were morphing into eclipse after the breeding season, and others were still donning their brilliant breeding plumage which looked spectacular in the sunshine when it came out. The female looks plain brown and has a reddish marking around her eyes.
The other bird we saw many of, but had a challenge to photograph, was the another insectivorous inland bird I posted recently, the Yellow Thornbill.
We enjoyed a wonderful anniversary celebration away in the vineyards, bringing home some very enjoyable wines. One of the vineyards, the Mistletoe Winery, appeared to have giants present though we did not see any on our visit, but she had left her shoes in the garden.
You might consider this above photo to be a trick with perspective, but no the shoes are as large as they appear, by simply observing the branch in the foreground. Yes, it is a sculpture, one of many at this winery. This sculpture reminded me that sometimes the truth can be right before my eyes, but because it does not line up with what I know and understand of it in my world, I may doubt its authenticity, and consider that someone has fiddled the foto and fiddled the facts to make a false observation appear like truth. In this age where deception, lack of trust and loss of integrity is on the increase, it reminds me that I need to be alert and wise to check out the details of boldly postulated assertions, particularly from minority groups, but ever increasingly from government and media. What is so called politically correct or currently socially acceptable may not be truth and therefore good or safe to enter into. With our looming elections in coming months I and all of us need to be able, as difficult as it has become, to discern who is telling the truth, and what the facts really are for the ongoing good of our families and community.
Jesus said: “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd [alert, intelligent, astute, clever, observant, perceptive] as snakes and as innocent [not guilty of causing crime, offense or suffering] as doves.” – Matthew 10:16 (NIV with added meanings)
“Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to determine if they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” – 1 John 4:1
“What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us.” – 1 Corinthians 2:12
Enjoy your week as we eclipse into changing seasons, for some autumn and others spring. It is a time to be wise with our health as the temperatures change. It is also time in the next few weeks for our migratory waders to be on the move again, which I will be sharing more of in my next post.
If this is your first visit to my blog be sure to check out my birding website for more birding info and helpful hints for body mind and spirit. Enter into the refreshing mindfulness of birding, lower your stress levels, and live a healthy happy life.