Last week I had a close encounter with a very uncooperative Eastern Spinebill (see photo above) in the Ku Ring Gai Wildflowers Gardens in St Ives in Sydney. My wife and I enjoy visiting these gardens every time we come to stay with family in Sydney. Usually, there are many Australian native plants in flower. This year, however, it has been very dry in recent months in the Sydney region, so the flowering was not as good as we had expected. I still managed a few good photos, some of which are shown at the end of this post.
When the gardens are in full flower they can be wonderful. The numerous honeyeaters in this part of Australia flock to gardens and national parks like this and the birding can be wonderful. On this occasion, the bird life was very quiet and the Eastern Spinebill and the Little Wattlebird (see photo below) were the only honeyeater species present the day I visited.
Although I saw quite a few spinebills, the only photo I managed was the one above. The bird I managed a shot of turned its back at the crucial moment. It then flew off before I could get another photo. Such is the life of a nature photographer.
On my wanderings around the various paths in the gardens, I managed only a moderate list of birds. It was one of those slow birding days and not much was calling or coming into view of my binoculars. I managed a few photos of an Australian Raven (see photo below) and a very poor shot of two Laughing Kookaburras (not shown here because it was not in focus because they were too far away and then flew off before I could get closer).
Other birds seen or heard include:
- Striated Thornbill
- Eastern Yellow Robin
- Rainbow Lorikeet
- Sulphur-crested Cockatoo
- Australian Brushturkey
- Magpie Lark
- Eastern Whipbird
- Pied Currawong
Interestingly, I did not see any Australian Magpies on this visit. I usually see a few in the picnic areas. Nor did I see any of the resident Swamp Wallabies which often come out of the bush into the picnic areas as well.
Now for something different. Below, I have included some more photos taken in the gardens. These are some of the beautiful native plants flowering at the moment.
On my database, I record the birds I see in our garden, or on our five-acre block, or flying overhead. I have done this every month for well over 30 years now. In more recent times, I have started recording them on a weekly, and sometimes daily, occasions. This has built up a great base of information about the birds we have resident (present every day), regular visitors (every few weeks or months) and occasional (perhaps one or two sightings a year). So far, the tally is over 110 different species. (I don’t know the exact figure because my database is not quite up to date.)
Surprisingly, one of the rarer occasional visitors is the Laughing Kookaburra. This species is widespread throughout southern and eastern Australia and is common in many places. It is a widespread species here in the Murray Bridge region of South Australia too, especially along the Murray River. Despite that, it is a rare visitor to our garden. In fact, until a few weeks ago, our last sighting was just over ten years ago.
The individual which paid us a recent visit did not have a good time. As I was getting some photos – shown on today’s post – a Grey Currawong kept on harassing it until it flew off in disgust at the poor welcoming party. I guess that the Currawong chased the kookaburra away to discourage it from visiting its nest, though I have not seen any evidence of the Grey Currawongs nesting so far this year. The Currawong itself is not slow about robbing the nests of other birds, either.
It is supposed to be spring here in southern Australia.
The calendar says so, but the weather is not cooperating. Since the beginning of “spring” at the start of September, the weather has been anything but spring-like. In fact, it has been decidedly wintery for the whole month. And August was no better. This year both August and September (so far) have been like the winter we didn’t have earlier on. We had more than double our monthly average rainfall in August and this month looks like going the same way.
To be fair – the earlier months this year were very dry. Large parts of South Australia were heading for a drought, along with other parts of eastern Australia which are still in severe drought. The farmers need all the rain they can get to establish their crops and pastures. The environment also needs the seasonal rains. During the earlier parts of winter, we had very cold nights and lovely sunny days. Now we still have very cold nights – and cold showery days as well. It hasn’t been good weather to get out birding.
A sign of Spring on the way?
A few days ago – on a brief few moments out in the garden between showers and wind gusts – I managed to both hear, and then get good views of, a Horsfield’s Bronze-cuckoo (see photo above). This species spends autumn and winter in the north of Australia and migrates south to breed around this time of the year.
The 14 species of cuckoos present in Australia are parasitic breeders. They lay their eggs in the nests of other birds, including thornbills, wrens and a range of other species. The parent cuckoos leave all the incubation, feeding and raising of the young to the host species. You could say that they have perfected the art of “out-sourcing” parenthood.
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.
In my last two posts (here and here), I wrote about a small flock of Crested Pigeons which I photographed last month. This was on a short weekend stay in the Brighton Caravan Park in the southern parts of Adelaide in South Australia. This small group of pigeons came near to us while we were sitting outside our caravan having lunch on one of the days. They stayed long enough for me to quietly go into the caravan to get my camera and then back to my seat to take some photos.
All the time I was shooting them, they sat on the grass only a few metres away. Several of them were enjoying the dripping tap which was connected to the hose leading to our van. It was a warm day and the birds even sat in a small puddle of water on the concrete slab around the tap. For the rest of the time, they were either sitting on the grass sunning themselves, or pecking away at the grass all around our site.
I have found over the years of photographing birds that this species is often very easy to approach. They are generally not all that scared of humans nearby. In caravan parks, they are even easier to get close to than normally because they are used to large numbers of people all around, as well as plenty of car, bike and scooter movements. None of this seems to frighten them, making them easy to observe up close and also to photograph them. All very convenient to likes of me with my camera.
One of the disappointments of this set of photos (and those in the previous two posts), is that the iridescent colours on the wings do not really show up well. When the sunlight is coming in at the correct angle, the colours shine up brilliantly. What does show up in the photos today is the striping on the wings of the birds. At first glance, this species appears to be plain in colouring, but closer up there are subtle colourings and markings on their plumage.