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.
One of my primary goals in life is to leave an appreciation of our natural heritage for our youth. Writing my first book (available here online) was one attempt at achieving this, followed by whetting an interest in family and friends to explore our native birds and also our beautiful bush with its unique trees, flowers and animals. Sharing a pair of binoculars many have had their eyes opened to a beautiful living world they had not known, hidden in the very trees they walk past, as they are introduced to the birding experience.
During the recent school holidays one of my grandsons came to stay and my wife and I took him on a bird walk in the Royal National Park near where we live. This park is affectionately known as the ‘Nasho’. You have seen many posts from this park, but it alive at the moment and the birds have returned because of the recent good rains and Spring, the time to court, mate and nest.
There is much song in the bush. Scientists have recently found that our birds not only sing in Spring to attract and communicate with their mate, but also sing both in and out of season for the love of it. Singing stimulates the release of feel good endorphins in the birds brain, making singing a very enjoyable experience. We heard and saw several male Golden Whistlers calling.
My grandson Joel, started enjoying spotting these birds high in the trees, seeing how beautiful they are, and how the binoculars bring them so close. His father had warned us not to take him birding too long, as he might get bored easy, but we kept asking him and he said he was enjoying the experience with us and we went further into the bush spending several hours exploring together. He saw several Golden Whistlers but only the male, as the female is possibly sitting on the nest. Click on photos to enlarge them.
We need to help our youth discover the benefits of birdingto save them from the tyranny of the electronic devices that preclude them from healthy exercise and an appreciation of their natural heritage. This grounding has therapeutic effects in actually lowering stress levels.It is not just birds we see but the beautiful Spring flowers high in nectar and food for our many honeyeaters.
We were quite amazed to find several flowering Waratah flowers, a rare treat, as many of these plants have been stolen from National Parks for their beauty. This is the floral emblem of our state NSW and its botanical name Telopea speciosissimameans ‘bright red beauty seen from afar‘, and that is exactly what these flowers are, they are iridescent flower heads made up of hundreds of tiny flowers. It is a difficult plant to grow in your garden at home and can not tolerate transplanting or being moved.
NSW Waratah (State floral emblem)
Another large red flower seen in the park is the Gymea Lily a plant indigenous to the Sydney area. It also has many smaller flowers that make up the large flower head. It stands majestically over four metres tall,,,
Most of the birds we saw were honeyeaters feeding off the flowering eucalypt trees. In Australia, unlike Europe, pollination is performed by the birds, not bees. Most of our pollinating bees were introduced. The Australian native bee is very tiny and is not the main pollinator. So it is a buz to see this Lewin’s Honeyeater feeding from flowers along with this Yellow-faced Honeyeater.
Yellow-faced Honeyeater feeding.
Lewin’s Honeyeater feeding on Spider Grevillea
Lewin’s Honeyeater feeding on Spider Grevillea
Lewin’s Honeyeater feeding on Spider Grevillea
The beautiful Eastern Spinebill was moving rapidly around the flowers and calling to its mates. This honeyeater has a long curved beak enabling it to reach deep into tubular flowers such as Bush Fuchsia (seen above) and larger flower heads.
This tiny Silvereye was also getting in on the action but was after insects…
It is always a delight to see and hear the Brown Thornbill, another tiny insectivorous bird as it moves around the tree’s lower canopy making its unique call…
By now Joel has seen and heard many birds and been introduced into a whole new world of discovery which we can only encourage him to continue to explore. Not many young people find it their cup of tea, but our desire is that at least some may be given the opportunity to sample the experience and learn the value of conserving our natural heritage for the future years when they will be the voters.
A highlight of the walk was to firstly hear and then site a White-throated Treecreeper as he was making his way up a eucalypt tree. He found an insect in the bark and proceeded carrying it, possibly collecting food for a nestling. The sound file below lets you know what you hear as he climbs the tree.
The sound of Yellow-tailed Cockatoo passing overhead caused quite an excitement, but we could only see their silhouette as we were deep in the forest.
So the message is, purchase two pair of binoculars, one for you and one for your birding guest then take your family and friends on a bird walk and share your love and knowledge with them. Your passion and love of birding will have a contagious affect on those who walk with you. Our prayer is that children will appreciate their natural heritage from a young age. I have enjoyed talking at seminars and schools in the past promoting this along with my book, and have had wonderful responses from both parent and child. I love talking to people who share my passion to save our youth from addiction to electronic gadgetry and the physical, social and emotional illnesses that accompany this.
Royal Spoonbills WORKING
Royal Spoonbills RESTING
We may need to help our youth strike a balance between work and rest, as spending time with electronic media etc is stressful work involving active mind and eye activity. The birds know how to work and rest but our modern coffee society has adrenal overload helping to bring on many chronic illnesses, simply because they are over stressed and not allowing enough time for rest and sleep. Self control and developing healthy habits, such as taking a walk in the park or bush each week can help to lower your stress level, reducing the chances of both physical and mental illness. Birding takes resting to the next level with endorphin release in the brain as an added enjoyment factor when a bird is sighted and appreciated. This is similar to what a bird experiences when it sings for the pure joy of it. We have the blessed honor of leaving a positive and memorable influence on our youth, a priceless legacy that may be passed on from generation to generation.
“Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom.” – Psalm 90:12
“Discipline your children while there is hope. Otherwise you will ruin their lives.”
“Train a child in the way that he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” – Proverbs 22:6 (NEV)
Have a wonderful week! I have been asked to continue working on my existing agreement to assist training staff before my full-time position is filled, so my second book writing remains on hold.
If this is your first visit to my blog, please take a minute to check out my website Homepage menu and helpful birding and counselling info. Check out my unique book which can be purchased through secure PayPal here online 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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