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.
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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.
You may wonder why this Yellow-throated Miner is my feature photo, well it has a history. When my wife and I went on our first holiday together we were not aware that we both loved birdwatching, but when I saw her get excited seeing this bird I realised and so we shared that we had a common interest, which to this day has been a wonderful hobby we share together as ‘recreational birdwatchers’ or more accurately birders. We were returning to our first holiday place Uluru a.k.a. Ayers Rock. the world’s largest monolith (single rock) sitting in the red centre desert region of central Australia’s Northern Territory [Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park].
Uluru from the air
Most of this rock lies underground but stands 348m high with a circumference of 9.4km. The feature which draws people out to the desert other than the unique bright red pindan dust soil…
…is the colour changes that take place during the day of this very coarse high iron content rock. Here is an example I put together of shots throughout the day…
The other fascinating feature of this desert is the amazing enduring Desert Oak tree, which is able to withstand drought, fire, extreme temperature, poor soils and grows about 10mm a year making some the trees well over 1000 years old. They send down roots over 8 metres to the water table. The juvenile trees look like feather dusters the mature trees have seed cones and look like native pine or Casuarina. The native Australians sometimes use this tree to get a drink of water when they cross the desert.
Desert Oak at various stages of maturity
Where do you stay in the desert you ask? when you can freeze at night and boil by day. We had days of 35°C in Spring with afternoon thunderstorms. My wife loved the fact she could swim in the Sails in the Desert resort pool. Oh yes, it is Voyages Resort in the Desert, since the nearest town is 468 km away in Alice Springs. Beautiful Ghost Gums were planted around the resort attracting many birds, these are native to the coast of NW WA.
The beautiful Ghost Gums of the North West.
Birds you say! What birds live in a desert you ask? and this was one of the reasons we came to find out. The first bird we saw in large numbers around the resort was the Yellow-throated Miner which is just as numerous and aggressive as our Noisy Miner back down on the south east coast. It is the dominant bird here, and looks much like its noisy cousin. It tends to drive other birds away from the flowering native shrubs and Ghost gums. Click on pics to enlarge them.
Interesting enough, the greatest variety of birds were Honeyeaters around the resort. Again you ask: “How can that be your in the desert?” This proves the old adage ‘If you build it they will come’. This applies to our own backyards also, if you plant nectar producing native plants you will eventually attract the birds. Most birds enjoy nectar, flowers and lerps. Australia has the most amazing nectar producing plants and trees which produce lots of high energy (sugar) nectar in the poorest of soils. The next most numerous noisy bird was the White-plumed Honeyeater…
a tiny gregarious inland honeyeater which forms very into groups often seen playing and perching together, calling excitedly to each other as they feed. Honeyeaters often experience a nectar feeding frenzy which is known to cause some aggressive behaviour between and within nectar eating species. Australia has the largest honeyeaters, and the most aggressive birds in the world, including the most dangerous. You might get the impression in some of the next shots that some poor fella is getting nagged at by his lady, but the bird on the left with the pink beak is actually a juvenile bird, most likely complaining to be fed. The black beaked bird on the right is the adult parent.
However, the greatest delight was to hear and see the rarer Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater. This bird can be heard in feeding frenzy high in the Ghost Gum flowers, loudly calling to each other, early in the morning as the sun rises, before the miners have taken over and driven them off. here is some footage of their peculiar call.
I so enjoyed hearing and watching these birds calling in the morning and watching as they busily fed on the tree blossom, calling to one another in constant communication. They have beautiful blue eyes.
When we drove out to ‘The Rock’ (as commonly known by us Aussies), we were both hoping to find some lifers and had asked God to show us to them. One which we were hoping to find was the Grey-headed Honeyeater, which is only found here in the northern inland desert regions of our continent and occasionally on the NW coast. We were blessed to find a pair in the heat of the day near the Mutitjulu Waterhole, which was currently dried up. The brown background is the Rock itself.
I managed to catch one Grey-headed Honeyeater eating lerps from the bottom of a leaf. The lerps can be seen as white crystalline sugary covering of the psyllid insect, which birds love and is one of the main foods for many birds, causing some species (such as the miners) to prevent other birds from accessing by patrolling particular feed trees using aggressive pack like gang behaviour toward other birds. This can eventually cause the death of eucalypt trees as miner birds mostly only harvest the lerps and not the psyllid insect, which other birds also eat, thus causing the tree eventually to be over-run by the insect and die. Pardalotes lessen the stress on our native plants by eating both lerps and psyllids, but these our tiniest birds, are easily driven away, injured and killed by the larger aggressive birds. Many These birds have developed a way of removing the lerps without removing the insect beneath.
Removing lerps from beneath gum leaf
Removing lerps from beneath gum leaf
It is not difficult to deduct our lesson for life from the above action of miners whether they be Yellow-throated, Noisy or Bell Miners, their aggressive controlling possessive behaviour ultimately causes the death of the very source of their food. This highlights the principle of what goes around comes around – a universal principle. Greed eventually consumes the greedy, and the selfish who exclude others and manipulate and cheat for their own gain. Those who follow this course in life will eventually be left alone excluded by others to die a lonely sad and shameful death. Jesus said it well:
“And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?” – Mark 8:26 (NLT)
The antithesis of this behaviour is echoed again in Jesus words which he showed in his own life and death.
“Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity.” – John 12:25 (NLT)
This does not mean we have to hate ourselves, it means that there is more to life than us, there are others who need to live also who need love, sometimes more than we do.
“Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.” – Ephesians 4:2 (NLT)
Have a wonderful week! We are so glad to get rain for a few days, even if winter has returned which will be good for Spring nesting.
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I was greatly blessed to receive a very extensive review of my new book “What Birds Teach Us” in a post by Jen an American blogger who purchased my book here online recently: “Birds, Blooms and all things Beautiful”
You might like read it (click on link above) and also read more reviews and information and purchase your copy through the security of PayPal on my BirdBook page.
Last weekend was the last weekend of the Mudgee Wine and Food Festival held this time each year. Friends living in Mudgee invited us to share the experience with them, so off we went for a wonderful weekend of wine, food and fellowship, where both my wife and I experienced some most enjoyable wineries and their fruits. On the way over the Great Dividing Range we visited Lake Wallace in the hope of spying the Blue-billed and Musk Ducks which are known to live there and can be the most elusive ducks on the planet. Nankeen (Australian) Kestrel sightings occurred on several occasions during the weekend and I managed to get some lovely flight shots, as the light illuminates the spread tail feathers. Click on photo to enlarge.
The Australian Kestrel or Nankeen Kestrel as it was previously known to most, is one of our smallest falcons, about the same size as the Australian Hobby, and feeds mainly on insects as well as small mammals, birds and reptiles. It is seen hovering high over its prey with rapid wing beats before ascending on it from directly above often catching its victim by surprise. The Australian Kestrel below was sighted at Lake Wallace as we were leaving. It had caught something and was eating it high on a power pole in the distance.
We were not disappointed at Lake Wallace, though human shy as they were, the Blue-billed Ducks swam off immediately they sighted us sighting them. My photos were thus taken from some distance. The breeding male has a bright Blue bill. The female is a grey colour and looks almost identical to a female Musk Duck. The reason why this small freshwater duck is seldom seen is that it spends almost all its life afloat and well away from humans, often in the middle or far side of lakes.
The Musk Duck male has the strange large round protuberance from its neck hanging down which it increases in size when fanning its tail during mating season. The duck gets its name from the musk smell it emits from a gland on its rump. Both the Blue-billed and Musk Ducks share similar characteristics: spend most of their life afloat, sleep afloat, swim very low in the water, have tails that fan to impress their mates, shy of humans, both are diving ducks, eat similar food, stay in family groups. The female Musk Duck has a much smaller protuberance, see below. It is not an easy duck to photograph.
Another pleasant surprise was the discovery of this pair of Hoary-headed Grebe an inland grebe which we seldom see. It gets its name from its streaky hair-do.
On the grass we spotted a small flock of Yellow-rumped Thornbill foraging for grass seed and insects. These small birds are mainly insectivorous but will eat seed, and since it is drought insects are not as plentiful.
Small flocks of Yellow-faced Honeyeater flew in and out of trees by the lake with amazing synchronization.
We drove the last leg of the 3.5 hour journey to Mudgee where we were greeted by our friends. Later we made our way to the Putta Bucca Wetlands on the Cudgegong River, but were disappointed as the drought had affected bird numbers here also. Our attention was first drawn to the whistle of the Whistling Kite which was resting on dead tree. The bird soon left after spotting us near the bird hide.
Our most interesting find was this only pair of Australasian Shovelers cruising in the distance. The more colourful male leads the female.
Australasian Shoveler male
Australasian Shoveler pair
Australasian Shoveler pair
Australasian Shoveler pair
Australasian Shoveler female
A pair of Black-winged Stilts were also present.
There were many passerines also in the trees around the wetlands including the main honeyeater found out here, the tiny White-plumed Honeyeater. The white plume is quite distinctive on the side of its neck. These are quite playful birds and are often chasing each other and showing affection to each other, strangely enough often in groups of three.
A most delightful observation was of this loving pair of Red-browed Finch, only just visible through a small clearing in the dense tree foliage as the sun lit their faces up for me to capture these shots. Remember it is Spring here so birds are busy pairing off.
Red-browed Finch pair
Red-browed Finch pair
Red-browed Finch pair
The Red Wattlebird, one of Australia’s largest honeyeaters, made his appearance , but you usually hear its ‘choc choc’ (choking sound) before you see it.
Here’s the call of the red Wattlebird…
This Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike watched us as we left the wetlands area.
The long dry winter following a very hot dry summer has had its toll on our state’s animals, birds and trees. Our farmers are suffering as are their livestock and crops, We have had some rain but not drought breaking rains. When you travel over the Great Divide you get to see how dry it really is. Despite the dry the Golden Wattle blooms in all its glory. It is interesting how we do not notice which trees are wattle as they all look green but when they all flower together in Spring one realises just how many there are. This particular tree at the wetlands caught our attention as every inch of the tree was covered with blossom.
The overall glory of the tree in blossom is due to millions of tiny blossom balls.
This highlights the fact that people notice, remember and favour us when we bloom and shine forth in our encounters and relationships with others, even those we have only met once. My experience has been that God’s favour rests on those who exude joy and loving interest in the people that cross their path. Sometimes its a smile, or a word of appreciating and encouragement, people remember you, even if they do not know your name. This impact is like the blooming wattle, the more we all do this, the brighter the place will become. I once heard the testimony of a Suicide Assist trainer how he smiled at a passing man and it saved his life, as he was on his way to die. This man years later, attended the Suicide Assist course and when asked by the instructor (who did not know or recognise him) in front of the class “Why are you doing this course?” He answered: “Because this man here smiled at me and gave me hope when I had none, as I was on my way to act our my suicide plan.” WOW! We can all make a difference and it costs nothing to do, in fact it strengthens our immune system and makes us healthy people in all aspects of our being.
“Do everything in love.” – 1 Corinthians 14:16
Have a wonderful week! I have been asked to stay on for another month at my work part time, after a two week vacation. God is good!
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