A few weeks ago we had a day out with friends of ours. It was my wife’s birthday and after a wonderful lunch in one of the local hotels, we drove from Murray Bridge down south to Wellington. We had a twenty-minute wait to cross the River Murray on the local ferry; for some reason, we struck a very busy time. Driving off the ferry and heading east towards Tailem Bend for about a kilometre we turned off to the left. Several hundred metres on we came to the Pangarinda Botanic Gardens, one of our favourite places to visit near where we live.
These gardens, formerly known as an arboretum, are extensive plantings over 12 hectares of Australian native plants. This is always of particular interest to my wife – you can visit her site Mallee Native Plant Nursery here. While our visit coincided with the latter part of a very hot and dry summer, there was still a good variety of plants flowering. Late winter and early spring are certainly the best times to visit.
I have also found that wherever one finds extensive stands of Australian plants, there is also a good chance of a pleasing variety of birds. We found a newly installed picnic table to enjoy an afternoon cuppa and some birthday cake. While we sat there enjoying the bright, sunny day and gentle breeze, I was able to make a good list of birds seen and heard.
One of the bird species I quickly saw was the Tree Martin. A loose flock of about 50 or 60 martins were swooping and soaring overhead and over one particular group of eucalyptus trees about 50 metres away. After enjoying our cuppa my friend Keith and I wandered over to get a closer look. We could see that many of the martins were perching on several trees. Now I immediately thought that this was a good opportunity to get some close-up photos of this species. Usually, I only get to see this species on the wing, usually high overhead, not a good way of getting photos of this small species. They also fly very quickly.
I was able to approach to within about 10 metres of the tree and I managed to take a series of lovely photos as shown in today’s post (see above and below). While I have seen individuals and even a small group landing near to each other in a tree or on electricity wires, this is the first time I have seen such large numbers all settling near to one another. I am not sure why they were doing this. Then after a minute or so they would all take off again for a minute or two, before settling in the trees again. Perhaps they were just letting their food settle; there were plenty of insects on the wing that day so it was a feast for them, I guess.
Yesterday was my wife’s birthday.
To celebrate we went out to lunch with friends, and then drove south to Wellington on the River Murray. After crossing the river on the ferry we drove the short distance to the Pangarinda Botanic Gardens (formerly known as the Pangarinda Arboretum). My wife enjoys exploring places where native Australian plants are the feature. You can check out her site about Australian plants here.
We found a shady spot in the middle of the gardens, complete with a table and seats. The garden all around us was alive with birds, especially dozens of New Holland Honeyeaters. We also saw White-browed Babblers, Red Wattlebirds and Little Wattlebirds, along with dozens of Tree Martins soaring on the breeze hawking for insects (photos to come in a few days’ time).
As we were having a cuppa and some delicious birthday cake, we heard an interesting call nearby. It wasn’t long before we spotted a quail-like bird skulking through the garden about 50 metres away. I checked my bird app on my phone and immediately recognised the call of the Brown Quail. I knew that I didn’t have a photo of this species, so I set off in pursuit. I actually managed only two photos which I have cropped and shown here today. They are not brilliant photos, but they are the best I have.
This is the first time I have seen this species, even though they are relatively widespread in the region where I live. They can be quite shy birds, hiding in grasses and bushy areas. I guess that they have found these gardens to their liking and are getting used to people being around quite often. I was amused when my friend Keith started imitating the call – and both birds answered him from nearby. They also answered the call from the app on my phone. Neither Keith’s call, nor that from my phone made them come closer to investigate. At one point one of them did fly low over the table where we were sitting, but it went straight into a bushy area and out of sight.
As far as I can tell from my memory and records, this sighting is a “lifer“, that is, it is the first time in my life I have seen this species.
Further reading (click on the title):
- Mallee Native Plants – my wife’s site about Australian plants
- Pangarinda Arboretum – some flower photos are featured in this post
- Birds and plants of Pangarinda Arboretum – more photos of the beautiful plants in these gardens
- Spotted Nightjar at Pangarinda
- Red-capped Robin at Pangarinda – featuring possibly my favourite photos of any bird
Below I have included several flower photos taken yesterday.
After nearly three weeks visiting family in Sydney and playing with our delightful grandchildren, we are on our way home again. We have reached Narrandera in the Riverina region of New South Wales. This is one of our regular stops on our way to and from Sydney.
We treated ourselves to a wonderful meal for dinner at the Hing Wah Chinese Restaurant in the main street. The food was delicious and the service excellent. I highly recommend this eatery. On our way back to our cabin in the caravan park we nearly hit an owl as it crossed the road in front of our car.
I am not sure what species it was but from its colour – mostly brown – and size it was possibly a Tawny Frogmouth or a Boobook Owl. It certainly did not have the lighter colours of a Barn Owl, and it was too big to be an Owlet Nightjar. It made a good ending to a rather poor birding journey today. Between Sydney and here we saw very few birds, except for a half hour stop for afternoon tea at the Wagga Wagga Botanic Gardens.
UPDATE: at 5:30am the next morning I heard the call of a Southern Boobook Owl just outside our cabin in the caravan park where we were staying for the night. It was good to have my initial identification confirmed.
Over recent years we have often visited family in Sydney, a two day drive from home. Whenever we have the chance we visit local bushland, parks and botanic gardens. Today was one such opportunity. For nearly two hours this afternoon my wife and I visited the Ku-ring-gai Wildflower Gardens in St Ives. My wife is interested in Australian native plants and areas featuring our native plants also attract a wide range of our native birds as well.
Over the years I have had mixed results birding at these gardens. On some occasions the birdlife is so prolific I have trouble keeping up with identifying what I am seeing, writing down a list of birds seen, and photographing birds as they come into camera range. On other occasions the birdlife seems almost non-existent.
During the eating of our picnic lunch I heard only 4 individual birds: Australian Raven, Noisy Miner, Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike and a Red Wattlebird. I actually only saw the last two in that list. It was not a good start. Little did I know how our time in the gardens would end.
After lunch we went on one of the walks through the natural bushland near where we had lunch. This walk has proved quite productive birding on a few occasions. During the walk we saw a few native plants in flower and this sustained our interest. I’ve shown several of these flowers on this post.
Other bird species encountered include an immature Grey Butcherbird, several Silvereyes, Sulphur-crested Cockatoos, Rainbow Lorikeets and a Little Wattlebird. I think I saw a small flock of Red-browed Firetails fly across the road as we left, but they flew too quickly for a positive identification.
Just moments before we were about to leave, however, I had one of those wonderful experiences I have called Great Birding Moments on this site. I saw a male Scarlet Honeyeater – for the very first time in my life! A “lifer”! This has been one species I have wanted to see for a long time but it has eluded me so far. What is more, I managed several very poor photos. I hesitate to show one here because it is not up the standard I like to show here, so please forgive me. I will try to get a better one someday soon.
I should add that this photo was taken in poor light – it was very overcast – against dark clouds and at full zoom on my camera at a distance of about 40 metres. And the bird was sitting at the top of a 20 metre tree. So, all things considered, I was really pushing the limitations of my camera. The image is slightly cropped as well.
One of our favourite places to visit when in Sydney staying with family is the Ku-ring-gai Wildflower Gardens on Mona Vale road at St Ives. These gardens are adjacent to the Ku-ring-gai National Park, another great place to visit. These gardens are about a half hour drive from my son’s home so it is a convenient place to visit when we are in Sydney.
The gardens are typical bushland of the area with some areas set aside for picnic grounds. The Friends of the Gardens group also plant and maintain a few small areas displaying plants of the area but not actually present in the gardens. The group frequently put on a display of plants in flower in the Visitor Centre.
I have found that the bird life in the gardens can vary greatly according to the season and what is flowering at the time. On occasions I have been very disappointed with my list. On our most recent visit in July of this year I was pleasantly surprised. The only downside was getting only one good bird photo – that of the Australian Brush-turkey shown above. So instead, I have included some of my flower photos instead.
Here is a list of the birds I saw or heard, in the order recorded:
- Australian Brush-turkey
- Eastern Whipbird
- Rainbow lorikeet
- Noisy Miner
- Pied Currawong
- Grey Butcherbird
- Striated Pardalote
- Grey Fantail
- Variegated Wren
- Eastern Yellow Robin
- Yellow-faced Honeyeater
- Striated Thornbill
- Spotted Pardalote
- Laughing Kookaburra
- White-browed Scrubwren
- White-throated Treecreeper
- Brown Cuckoo-dove