I was putting out the rubbish bin a few days ago. Our rubbish is collected once a week and it requires a 60 metre walk towing the bin behind – we have a long driveway.
I was in that kind of mood where the brain was in neutral and the eyes weren’t really trained for birding. It happens.
The brain suddenly snapped back into focus as a Black Kite soared low overhead, perhaps only 15 metres above me. Great views. Seemed to have a few feathers missing on the wings. I wonder what caused that? Maybe it’s been in a scrap with another bird.
As I returned to the house two Australian Ringneck parrots were sitting in a tree right next to the house. They just sat there less than 5 metres away, watching me for a minute before flying off. They are regular visitors to our garden. The above photo of one of them at our bird bath was taken last year.
This is one of the reasons I love being a birder; I don’t have to travel anywhere to enjoy my passion. The birds just come to me, insisting that I share my garden and my life with them.
All I can say is – fantastic.
The Willie Wagtail is a resident of our garden here in Murray Bridge. Our house is situated amongst 5 acres (2 hectares) of a mixture of garden plants, orchard, mallee scrub (mallee is a species of eucalypt) and open paddock.
Our resident Willie Wagtails seem to be rather camera shy. I’ve been trying for many months to get a good photo of this species here at home. Whenever I’d try to get close enough they’d be high in the foliage of the tree – or behind a bush – or they’d flit away before I could focus. Eventually I did manage to get a nice shot; the bird is good but the setting is horrible. I wish there was some way of masking out the rubbishy looking drum it has perched on. And look at all those weeds in the background!
The Willie Wagtail Rhipidura leucophrys, a member of the flycatcher family of birds, is one of Australia’s best known and well-loved birds. They are common throughout Australia and northern Tasmania. They are easily recognised as they flit around looking for a feed, tail wagging and fanning out disturbing insects. “Our” Willie Wagtails are a resident breeding pair. They usually have at least one and sometimes two broods each year, usually in spring and summer.
The nest is a cup-shaped bowl about 5-6cm wide and deep. It is usually made from cobwebs, fine grass, feathers, wool, bark and other soft materials. It can be situated as low as a metre from the ground to 10 or even 15 metres high up in a tree. It is often located on horizontal branch but I have seen nests made on a metal strut inside a farm shed. They most often lay 2 or 3 eggs, but occasionally lay 4. To see four almost fledged baby Willie Wagtails in a small nest all reaching out to mum or dad begging for food, one wonders how the nest survives – and how they don’t topple out! The nest seems just right for one baby – three or four is definitely overcrowded. The interesting thing about “our” WWs is that they always nest very close to the house, usually within 15 metres.
One of the most delightful little birds we have resident in our garden is the Mistletoebird (Dicaeum hirundinaceum) shown in the photo above. It is a member of the flowerpecker family of birds.
I was very pleased to have taken a photo of such a beautiful species. The photo shows a male in all of his colourful splendour. The female is less brightly coloured but still lovely.
It is also a very challenging species to photograph because they often feed high up in the canopy of trees and they tend to dart from tree to tree without settling anywhere for very long. Add to that their small size – about 9 -11 cm in length – and you can see what a challenge it is.
As soon as we moved to this current location – more than 20 years ago – I wondered which species would be the first to breed in trees or bushes we had planted. Would it be the Willie Wagtail? What about one of the honeyeater species, perhaps the White Plumed or the Singing? Maybe it would be a Crested Pigeon. or would it be the dainty Yellow Rumped Thornbill? Wrong on all counts.
First to Breed
It was the Mistletoebird that became the official first species to breed in a tree we had planted. Mind you, other species may have been the first, but managed to keep it secluded from my prying eyes. In all we’ve observed 31 different species in or near our garden either nesting or feeding fledged young. This is out of a total of 111 species recorded over 22 years.
I would have missed this important record too, if it hadn’t been for the keen eyes of our neighbour. The tree in question, a eucalypt only about three metres high and with very little foliage to that point, played host to this pair of Mistletoebirds. The nest was at eye level and had been damaged in a storm. The neighbour had repaired the nest with some old panty-hose stocking material. It did the job and the chicks fledged successfully. The beautiful pear shaped nest was made using small soft twigs, grass, spider’s web and an assortment of other soft natural materials.
Distribution and Habitat
Mistletoebirds are found throughout most of Australia except the very dry regions and those areas lacking trees or shrubs. It can be found in all kinds of eucalypt woodland and forest, rainforests, acacia shrublands and even mangroves. Its preferred habitat is any area that supports the mistletoe species, of which there are many different kinds in Australia. We have a few present on our five acre block. They look for the berries of the mistletoe plant to eat. After the sticky seed has passed through their digestive system – usually in 4 to 25 minutes – they wipe it on to the branch of any handy tree or bush. This seed then sprouts and uses the tree or bush as its host.
Apart from eating the berries of the mistletoe plants this species is also known to eat the fruit of other native and introduced plants. We have many Boxthorn plants on our block (I’m trying to eradicate the beasts) and the Mistletoebird would enjoy its fruit as well. They are also nectar eating and will feed on pollen, spiders and insects to supplement their diet.
- The Field Guide to the Birds of Australia (Pizzey and Knight)
- The New Atlas of Australian Birds (Barret et al)
- Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds Vol. 7 (Higgins et al)
My First Blog Entry
Earlier this year we were staying with our son and daughter-in-law in Artarmon, Sydney. One afternoon I was in the kitchen having a drink and noticed that there was something of a confrontation occuring in the back garden. Two Pied Currawongs were trying to ignore several Noisy Miners. The Noisy Miners were objecting to the currawongs coming into their patch. They constantly harassed the currawongs.
In response the currawongs tried to ignore the bombing attacks. This only spurred on the Miners to be bolder in their raids on the heads of the interlopers. After much snapping of beaks and ducking and weaving the currawongs finally got the message and beat a retreat into the neighbour’s garden.
Meanwhile, the kitchen window povided an excellent bird hide. There was enough time to get the camera from the bedroom and then take over a dozen good shots. The beady yellow eye of the currawong in the above photo is quite unnerving.
Yesterday I wrote about great birding moments. When they happen it leaves one with a feeling of elation. To get a good photo of an elusive – or even a common – species is also very satisfying. It helps one to savour the wonderful moment over and over, marvelling that the said bird was in the right place at the right time and posed just right. Perhaps the light was also very good, highlighting the special features of the bird and bringing out the colours brilliantly.
Yesterday the opposite happened to me.
I was inside – it was cold, grey and uninviting outside. I heard a family of White Browed Babblers in the garden outside the office. I crept outside with camera primed. They flew around to the other side of the house and perched at the very top of a wattle (Acacia) tree. No matter what noises I made trying to convince them to come closer, they stayed right up there, sitting in full view but too far away and against the dull grey sky. A very frustrating ten minutes ended when they all flew off rapidly towards the neighbour’s garden. I’m not sure what they were saying about me as they flew, but I am sure I heard a few chuckles as they left.
Below is a photo of another White Browed Babbler taken some time ago in different circumstances. I’m not totally happy with it, but it’s the best shot I’ve taken of this species so far. At least one can identify it; the only shot I took yesterday shows a brown blog against a grey sky!
To see more photos of birds go to my Photo Gallery.
This gallery also has photos of
- animals, insects, butterflies, reptiles
- my travels in Australia, Nepal and Thailand
- trees, plants, flowers, parks and gardens
- my son’s photos on many themes
- my wife’s photos of Australian native plants