It is autumn here in southern Australia and this is the favourite season of ours. We generally have very little wind, a few cloudy days but the majority of days are chilly in the morning with occasional frosts, followed by a sunny day. On lovely days my wife and I love to sit out on our back veranda to eat our lunch. This part of our house is overlooking our garden and the nearby mallee trees. It can be a perfect spot to do some birding without disturbing the birds going about their normal daily activities.
In recent days I have taken to also wearing my binoculars while I eat. I must say that I do more birding than eating in this way. The food eventually gets consumed but the interruptions are frequent. Today was a particularly good day with an interesting range of birds. Possibly the most common species in our garden would have to be the House Sparrows and the Common Starling, two introduced species here in Australia.
We also have many Weebills and Yellow-rumped Thornbills. About a dozen of these beautiful thornbills few past only a few metres from where we sat, calling to each other as they flew. The Weebills are harder to see because they tend to forage in the tree-tops and are sometimes hard to pick up as they move in the foliage. Their call is hard to miss, however. It is a similar situation with both the Striated Pardalotes and the Spotted Pardalotes: hard to see but easy to hear.
Talking about calls, one of the more strident bird calls we experience here is the Australian Magpie-lark, shown in the photos at the top of this post. We had two in the garden today but they hardly made a sound. In fact, the female sat in a nearby tall mallee tree preening itself for most of the time we were sitting there. Not a call to be heard and I nearly missed listing her for my database. Also quite inconspicuous today were the resident Australian White-backed Magpies, heard just over the neighbour’s fence but not actually seen during our lunchtime break.
At one stage I commented to my wife that I hadn’t seen the White-browed Babblers in a while. The local family must have heard my comment because a group of about eight flew past a few minutes later, their mewing calls unmistakeable. In the distance, I could hear several Little Ravens calling, and one of them came quite close, investigating the trunk of a nearby tree and looking under the bark for a few beetles or spiders for lunch.
One of the notable birds missing today was the resident Willie Wagtails. I didn’t see either of them, nor did I hear them. That can happen sometimes and I guess that they were feeding some distance away from the house – perhaps on the other side of the building. Or they might have been out in the paddock because we live on a five-acre block. I was also surprised by the lack of honeyeaters. I saw several White-plumed Honeyeaters and a few Red Wattlebirds, but the usually noisy and bossy New Holland Honeyeaters were nowhere to be seen – or heard. Strange.
Over the last five years, we have been delighted to have a family of Superb Fairy-wrens resident in our garden (photo above). We take great delight in seeing them hopping around, flitting from bush to bush or feeding out in the open. Today the family of five – there may be more – were investigating the puddles of rainwater on the swimming pool cover. Several of them even tried it out by having a quick bath. Who needs to supply bird baths?
Every day we have plenty of parrots in our garden – either landing in the trees or flying overhead. We have a noisy group of Mallee Ringneck parrots (photo above) which we see and hear every day so I class them as a resident species. Today we also had several small groups of Rainbow Lorikeets fly overhead. In recent weeks they have been feeding on the flowering mallee trees, but today they just flew over screeching as they went. The local Galah population often lands in some of our trees but today they just flew over in loose flocks numbering from about six to forty.
At one point I actually put down my food and walked quickly out from the veranda to get a better view of two birds gliding high overhead. At first, I thought they were Wedge-tailed Eagles, mainly because they were so high. On closer inspection using my binoculars, I could see that they were Black Kites (see photo above), common in this area but one species I hadn’t seen near our home for quite some time.
In all, I saw or heard 22 species during the half hour lunch break. This is not a huge number, but it was a satisfying break despite that.
I would love to hear about the birds in your garden – use the comments section.
Yesterday, my wife and I took our two grandchildren, ages 8 and 5, on a picnic. We are currently staying with them here in Sydney during the school holidays. They are very energetic children and they needed to run off a little steam, so we took a picnic lunch, some balls, my binoculars, my grandson’s binoculars(he is starting to develop an interest in birds), our folding chairs, my camera and a thermos for a cuppa. And some treats from our favourite local bakery.
Lane Cove National Park
We drove the short 10-minute journey to this wonderful national park, just a short distance west of Chatswood. We set up for our picnic and enjoyed some barbecued sausages and the treats from the bakery. It was a clear day with the temperature in the mid-20s – perfect for a picnic. After lunch, we involved the children in a few games. These included searching for various natural objects such as finding three different kinds of leaves. They were quite entertained, especially when I suggested some running races. They are both excelling at Little Athletics so they enjoyed making up a short course and getting me to time their efforts while I had my cuppa. Too easy.
Meanwhile, the birding side of things was rather slow. Sure, the obligatory Laughing Kookaburras were perched nearby, just waiting for an opportunity to sweep down and snatch our food (see photos below). Small flocks of Rainbow Lorikeets streaked overhead, or squabbled noisily in nearby flowering gum trees (eucalypts). We heard the occasional Pied Currawong calling, along with several Australian Ravens. Two Australian Black-backed Magpies were quietly feeding on the grassed area opposite us, and I heard a number of Yellow-faced Honeyeaters in the nearby trees, though I did not get a good look at them. All very quiet and peaceful – just right for a relaxing afternoon.
An unexpected bird
Just as I was finishing my cuppa, a small flock of Noisy Miners (a native honeyeater species) started calling very noisily near the top of a nearby tree. I stood up and moved closer, training my binoculars on the spot where a hawk-like bird had landed. It was being severely harassed by the miners. I raised my binoculars and immediately identified it as a Pacific Baza. I had a good view for several seconds, long enough to identify it and to take a few photos before it flew off.
My camera was twenty metres away on the picnic table next to where I had been sitting – so no photos.
In my haste to see the bird, I had clean forgotten to pick up my camera. This is rather sad because I would have loved to have taken a photo of this species. This is only the second time I can recall seeing this bird; the other time was several decades ago in northern New South Wales, well before I started bird photography. I cannot be absolutely sure about this earlier sighting because all of my notebooks are at home, some 1400 km or two days’ drive away.
This species is found along the coastal regions of New South Wales, Queensland, Northern Territory and northern Western Australia. It is quite common locally but on this occasion, I only saw the one individual. This is about the southernmost extension of its range, and they are rarely sighted south of Sydney.
They are one of Australia’s easiest hawk species to identify, with a small crest and bright stripes across their chest. You can see several photos here, as well as more information about the species.
Meanwhile, here are two photos of the Laughing Kookaburras which sat watching our food in the hope of snatching something.
In my last post, I wrote about a recent visit to the Brighton Caravan Park in the southern parts of Adelaide in South Australia. We were staying with several other couples who had also brought their caravans. This lovely park is adjacent one of Adelaide’s best beaches – and there are many wonderful beaches along this stretch of coastline. Our caravan was situated with a good view of the ocean, and only a few steps to the beach.
Over a four day stay at the park, we had many opportunities to just sit a chat with our friends, or gaze out to sea. On the Sunday, we were sitting in the shade of our friend’s caravan having lunch. The park was relatively quiet at that time and a small flock of Crested Pigeons came near to us. They were initially interested in the dripping tap near our van. This tap was attached to the water supply leading to our van. It was quite a warm day and the birds appreciated a little extra water (see photo below).
One of the pigeons decided that it was time to sit in the sun and take advantage of the warm sunlight (see photo at the top of this post). I have seen many birds sunning themselves in this fashion. I wrote a detailed article about this habit here. In this other article, there is a link to a more detailed article on why birds indulge in sunbathing or sunning themselves. In short, it appears that they are trying to rid their plumage of lice.
I guess it also feels nice.
Last weekend we had a few days away in our caravan. It was only a short break of three nights. Hardly time to settle in and enjoy the lovely beachside caravan park at Kingston Park on the southern edge of Adelaide, South Australia. We stayed in the beautiful Brighton Caravan Park, a most welcoming and well set out and well-maintained park. I wrote about this area after a similar visit last year. You can read about that visit here and here and here.
This caravan park is an easy 90-minute drive from our home. We had the delight of sharing the weekend there with six other couples. Over the weekend all the ladies went to a nearby convention while the men sat around chatting, solving the world’s problems and enjoying the magnificent view over one of Adelaide’s premier beaches. There are so many great beaches near to Adelaide that it is hard to choose one over another.
One of the delights of staying in a seaside caravan park is the birding. On Sunday afternoon, several couples went off exploring, another couple went to a birthday party and my wife and I were left alone to fend for ourselves. We both had books to read and we enjoyed the solitude in such a wonderful, peaceful setting. It was a warm day so we sought out the shady side of our van to read, and to enjoy our lunch.
As we were eating, a small flock of Crested Pigeons flew in and landed a few metres from where we were sitting. They were attracted to the dripping tap near our caravan. Some of them even sat in the pool of water on the slab of concrete around the tap. The birds were only about four metres from where we sat quietly, watching them and admiring the colours on their plumage – more about that in another post in a few days’ time.
I had my camera at the ready, so I was able to take quite a series of close-up photos of the pigeons sunbathing, drinking and generally enjoying themselves in front of us. They were obviously very comfortable with us sitting only a few steps away. I guess that there are people around every day, so they become quite tame. This is a species I have found very easy to approach in most locations.
Over the coming days, I will feature more photos of the birds who came to visit our caravan site.
An influx of Lorikeets
Over recent days we have had an influx of lorikeets in our garden, on our property and along the road leading to our place here on the edge of Murray Bridge in South Australia.
Normally, we have the odd flyover of a small group of Purple-crowned Lorikeets. Occasionally they will land in one of our mallee trees for a short feed, depending on the extent of flowering at the time. They rarely stay for more than a few minutes.
From time to time we also have Rainbow Lorikeets shooting across the tops of the trees at speed. They are often gone in a flash, flying like colourful arrows against a blue sky. They, too, rarely come to settle in our trees.
The current influx of Musk Lorikeets is somewhat unusual. It is the first time in over 12 years that I have recorded it here in our garden. (My database records only go back that far; I am progressively working back through them.) Although it is relatively common in this area, I haven’t recorded it in our garden in all those years. In fact, if my memory is correct, I have recorded this species in our garden on only a handful of previous occasions, all of them more than 12 years ago.
Why the influx of Musk Lorikeets?
This leads me to contemplate the question: “Why now?”
The reasons are clear and far from complex. The last six to eight months have been exceptional from a weather point of view. From late mid-winter last July (2016) we have had well above average rainfall. This extra rain has produced one of the best flowering seasons for many years over the recent summer months (December – February). The eucalyptus mallee trees have flowered prolifically, along with many other local species of shrubs and bushes. Being predominantly nectar eating birds, Musk Lorikeets have flocked to this area. I don’t mind; I love having them around.
While I was watching them feeding in a mallee tree near to our house earlier this week, something spooked them. They flew off over our orchard, wheeled around to the north, then east and like green coloured screeching darts came hurtling back to the tree near me and recommenced feeding. As they flew, I estimated that there were some 40 to 50 birds, far more than one usually sees in a flock here. Having said that, I have seen large flocks flying together while visiting my daughter in Clare in the mid-north of South Australia.
I have included below, several photos of some of the trees and bushes currently flowering in our garden. These are what the lorikeets have been feeding on.
- Mallee trees
- Purple-crowned Lorikeets
- Purple-crowned Lorikeets at Brown’s Road Monarto
- Rainbow Lorikeets
- Feeding time at the Zoo
- Close views of Musk Lorikeets