As Autumn begins, my favorite migratory wader, the Bar-tailed Godwit begins to show signs of breeding plumage as males begin to orange up and the females start to show dark chevron markings on their underside. They have begun a daily gorging frenzy at low tide to fatten themselves up in preparation for the long 16,000 km journey back to Alaska where they will have their next clutch.
Young Godwits during our 2017 Winter chose to miss a year or two of migration to mature.
Many of the young ones that returned last year will stay a year or two through our Winter months to mature, before taking the journey to Alaska. Above is a male in breeding plumage carrying a crab, escaping from a Silver Gull in pursuit. He eventually eludes his pursuer, allowing him to enjoy his find. The female is larger than the male and has a slightly longer beak. The photo below was taken in Spring shortly after their migration to Australia.
To understand why this bird has my heartfelt appreciation you need to understand the nature of its yearly journey back and forth from top to bottom of our planet. In a Godwit’s lifetime it will have traveled the distance from the earth to the moon two and a half times.
This remarkable bird is featured in my book “What Birds Teach Us” for its endurant character, which is an encouragement to us humans, who are often tempted to give up too soon, before completing what can be sometimes a very difficult time in our lives. We need to press on till we achieve our goal and enjoy the delight and satisfaction that achievement brings, even if it is not all we thought it would be, savor sweet success.
As they fly they form their single file flying order
It is interesting that unlike geese, ibis and ducks, Godwits fly single file and not in formation, which makes the journey even more difficult. However, they are the 9th highest flying bird in the world flying above in the thermals of about 6,000 meters (20,000 ft) which assists their flight considerably.
Established flight is single file led by the alpha male.
So a visit to my usual wader viewing beach at low tide, the mud flats of the Georges River in southern Sydney, where the same waders return every year to forage, shows the males are already well into breeding plumage. Note the last photo in the series below showing the chevrons on the body of a female depicting the early stages of breeding plumage. Click on photos to enlarge them. This is what I saw…
This little guy seemed smaller than the others as you can see when compared with this Silver Gull.
A few days later I was able to catch these shots on a sunny day before sunset, catching the westerly perspective of light, highlighting the plumage colour change so much better. It is sad in a way as I know in a few weeks they will be gone from the beach and only a small flock of youngsters will remain. At least they will see me through the Winter till the rest return.
It was also interesting to find a lone Eastern Curlew starting to show similar signs of breeding plumage. This is the largest of our migratory waders and sports a breeding plumage of a mild rufous coloring which is noticeable on this bird. These birds will also do their migratory flight soon to Russia and northern China. Sadly Curlews have a great dread of humans and will not allow you to get anywhere near them. So many have been killed for food in Asian countries on their migration journeys is it any wonder.
Then their is our non migratory wader the White-faced Heron who will be daily found on the same mud flats all year round except while breeding, where it will fly inland to nest high in a tree. This bird is non breeding.
During late August onward it will begin displaying breeding plumage similar to examples below.
White-faced Heron with breeding plumage
Of course there are many other migratory and non migratory waders we see, but these are the only ones I found on this visit which have the most stunning transformations.
It is interesting how this Silver Gull was trying to fit in with the Godwits, but realised he lacked the equipment to penetrate the wet sand to achieve what they were achieving so easily. Notice the middle Godwit looking with interest out of the corner of his right eye, while the gull stands alongside the female Godwit which is in the process of extracting a crustacean from beneath.
Each of us need to feel accepted and loved as a member of a family, community or social gathering, and we succeed in being an authentic member if we can contribute in a meaningful and productive way. With birds the design and shape of the beak or bill is essential for the foraging of their specific food types. The Silver Gull can eat the same food as the Godwit, but must use a different method to do it, such as chasing the crabs on the wet sand, as seen in the following clip..
We are each gifted with different abilities, being equipped with skill sets from different backgrounds. It is not in the copying or imitating of another that makes one an authentic contributor, but the sharing of one’s personal attributes and skills to complement and strengthen the community or family. In this way we should never consider ourselves inferior or lesser than others because we can not do what they do, the way they do it. Examining ourselves to determine where our strengths and weaknesses lie can help us work at doing better the things we do best, and also to be humble and wise enough to know our limitations, thus feeling free to ask for help and assistance when the need arises. That is the underlying strength of good family and community. It is based on love: I give my best of what I can contribute, trusting that you will do your best to return the same commitment in your different but needed contribution to me.
“Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.” – Romans 12:10 (NIV)
“Keep out of debt altogether, except the perpetual debt of love which we owe to one another. The man who loves his neighbour has obeyed the whole Law in regard to his neighbour. ” – Romans 13:10
In the Christian Bible in 1 Corinthians 12, Paul uses the human body as an example of how a loving caring sharing community works as God intended.
Have a very enjoyable week as you watch several bird species and bird numbers change for the approaching season. If this is your first visit to my blog please check out my website Home-Page for more birding tips and healthy life skills.
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.)
Explore my website for more interesting hints and tips on birding and life from my Homepage menu.
Also, if you have not yet done so, check out my book on my birdbook page.
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.
Mindfulness is the latest therapy and lifestyle enhancement tool to be brought to the modern life improvement stage of counselling. While its various forms have their roots within a variety of belief systems and cultures, it is one of the ways designed to help people get in touch better with themselves, God (their belief system and its values) and the here and now (the present). Mindfulness as a therapy helps one learn to adapt and change unhealthy attitudes to past emotional and psychological injuries.
I personally believe that regular birding (birdwatching), nature/bush walks, what ever that may look like, assists in the process of becoming present and in the moment, connecting with our real self and the reality of the present ’round about us, thus allowing the stress and pain of the past to dispel and loose its power, and allow the new now person to be better positioned to take control of their life, and move forward. The five senses need to be engaged deliberately – feeling, seeing, hearing, smelling and possibly tasting.
Let me share why over the past 7 years or so, my wife and I, have learned to acutely train our senses (as many other birders have) when walking about, and how it develops and brings a level of appreciation previously did not enjoyed. It is interesting that when non-birding friends come walking with us that they are amazed how we can locate and photograph birds and other creatures which they have no idea are actually only feet away. The above photos show a juvenile Rainbow Lorikeet (dark mottled beak and lesser orange chest) with the adult parent. I could have easily walked past if I had not had my ears tuned in to the unusual noises coming from deep within a tree on a very hot day last week. A strange faint squeaking sound drew my attention, and after a minute or two these birds were located.
Another example was from yesterday while we took my grandson birding (binoculated of course) into the Royal National Park. We were trying to find the Azure Kingfisher to show him, which I had shown to two of my other grandsons on previous occasions, but we did not find it in its usual area along the Hacking River. Looking across the river underneath a large bush and well hidden in the dark, my wife excitedly announced a Nankeen Night-Heron, a bird we seldom see due to it being a nocturnal hunter who rests out of sight during the day. Take a look at this clip and you understand what I mean by sharpening our senses to become acutely aware of what is around us.
Visiting another favorite reserve I walk silently along the walking track through the forest. Listening and watching for signs of movement. People passed walking and talking, the occasional one playing with their mobile phone, unaware of what they are missing around about them. This little Brown Thornbill watched them, without them even being aware it was there. This birds classic sound alerted us to its presence, though it took some perseverance to find it.
As I walked pass the shaded ponds I saw this Eastern Great Egret fishing in a mindful pose. It remained completely immobile poised for instant food retrieval. Though this bird stands out and is quite visible, the delight of watching this bird hunt its prey was quite inspiring and brought a sense of thankfulness from my heart to my Creator Father God, through whom I view the world so much more appreciatively. Watch as this bird positions itself for success, we can learn so much from birds.
Eating and Re positioning.
Retrieving and eating.
Here is another…
Finally, the Egret spotted me and stretched its neck high to ward me off. This is what they do to make themselves look larger and more threatening.
As the tide was becoming low I walked down to the mud flats to see if I could see the very elusive and most shy Striated Heron. Most people who look out across the mud flats would not even notice this small bird because its colour blends so well with the mud and most of the time it stands motionless, waiting for its prey. I know what to look for to locate it, and as soon as it sees me it does a runner so I have to locate it very quickly.
However, one bird most people do notice grazing on the mud flat is the White-faced Heron.
That same day I took a look at low tide on the beach where I normally observe my waders. The beach appeared empty of any birds but for Silver Gulls. I was looking intently from some distance to the shoreline but could not see anything. I was about to walk away, and I remembered that I needed to scan very carefully, as my sight is starting to fail me, so I stood and scanned the shoreline and then I found one Eastern Curlew and one Bar-tailed Godwit, a most unexpected find, as Godwits are usually in small flocks. Wader numbers have been noticeably low this year which is disappointing. In this moment I needed to take time to look, and not impulsively glance and leave proclaiming, ‘nothing!’as I quite easily could have done, being affected by this fast moving, always busy, impatient, impulsive, often distracted I want it now age.
The more we seek to expand our appreciation of birds by investing time to stop and learn the art of being still and deliberately connecting with and tuning into our surroundings, the sooner we gain the skills to identify and see birds nearby by hearing their calls and watching their peculiar movement and characteristic shape. Like all learned skills it takes time and commitment, but the fruit of it is much more than just learning about birds. There’s the bush and forest setting, the wild flowers and plants, other native animals and reptiles, the dappling of the sun through the trees, the cool fresh breeze trembling the leaves in the trees, refreshing upon the face and of course the quiet solitude but for the joyful calls of birds. It is all part of one’s mindful experience which many have heard referred to as smelling the roses.
Being alone with myself and God in the forest is therapy and healing for me, restoring and revitalizing my spirit and body. Birding is healthy and assists longevity. Check out my page on the benefits of birding.
God says “Be quiet [and still, so you can tune into to my presence] and know [experience the reality and wonder] of me, your God.” Extracted from Psalm 46:10.
“I will consider all your works and meditate on all your mighty deeds.” – Psalm 77:12
‘Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.’ – Psalm 139:23,24
Have a wonderful week and keep out of the exceptionally hot weather. Next week we will revisit the birds around Narrabeen Lagoon Trail by special request from Jem.
Thanks so much everyone, and in particular, Janette who shared last week via email, how she has been blessed from my book. If you have not checked it out yet you can right now at my birdbook page.