On our most recent trip to Sydney in October, we were primarily there to look after our two grandchildren (ages 8 and 5) during the school holidays. This is a very pleasant duty we enjoy several times a year. They are, however, very energetic children and so there comes a time during our stay when we look for opportunities to have some down time.
Thankfully, my son’s home is only a short drive to some very pleasant parks, including Lane Cove National Park, a mere ten-minute drive away – subject to traffic conditions, of course. On several occasions, we had a few hours to ourselves, so we packed the folding chairs, a picnic lunch, a thermos for a cuppa and some biscuits. I always remembered to take my binoculars and camera with as well.
At one point I noticed a small family of Australian Wood Ducks grazing on the grass near where we had our chairs located. I grabbed my camera and managed a few nice shots of them. At one point, the male of the group stood guard on one of the picnic tables (see photo at top). He was obviously keeping watch over his little family of three young ones.
Although the male was on guard, he didn’t seem all that perturbed that I had approached to within a few metres to take my photos. This national park is very popular, and there are hundreds of visitors daily and probably thousands every weekend, seeing it is so close to the well-populated Chatswood CBD. I have found other species equally unafraid of humans, including some Laughing Kookaburras who snatched some of my wife’s lunch the same day I took the photos on this post. (In a few days I will post an article, with photos of this incident.)
I should add here that this is the Australian Wood Duck, not to be confused with the Wood Duck, a north American species, and quite unrelated as far as I know.
The Australian Wood Duck is a common species found throughout much of Australia, except for the driest parts of the inland. It is usually found near waterways, lakes, swamps and dams, and in parks and ovals, but it also can be see grazing on grasses and pastures quite some distance from water.
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Earlier this week my wife and I took a short three-hour break from being with our grandchildren and family here in Sydney. We enjoy visiting Lane Cove National Park just north of the CBD. It is also the closest park to where our son lives, being only a ten-minute drive away.
We packed our lunch, a thermos, some fruit and my camera and binoculars. Can’t forget the binoculars – it’s only happened to me once in all my many years of birding. I also forgot my camera that day, but despite these drawbacks, I still managed some great birding.
After deciding on a spot to set up our folding chairs overlooking the river, we had a late morning cuppa. We were immediately joined by a Crimson Rosella and an Eastern Rosella perched in the tree above us. I scrambled for the camera, but they flew off before I managed to get the camera ready.
A few minutes later our peaceful relaxation was disturbed by the raucous calls of a small flock of Sulphur-crested Cockatoos flying overhead. I then noticed one of them perched at the entrance of a large hollow in a nearby gum tree. Every few seconds he would screech noisily, raising his wings as he called. Something was annoying him – not sure what.
Within a few minutes, we were joined in our picnic by several Pied Currawongs. They eyed off our mugs and bags looking for something to gobble up. They were not successful. Neither were the Laughing Kookaburras which also joined the party.
Earlier, as we pulled into the car park, I noticed a walking trail leading off up the hill. I remember walking that trail with other family members one Christmas some years ago on another visit. I checked my bird database; it was December 2008. It was time to investigate this track once again. Ignoring the hip and leg pain caused by the intervening years, I steadily climbed the track until I had a good view of the river below.
Numerous small brown birds chirped away in the vegetation, but none posed long enough for photos – and not even long enough for good views through my binoculars. Most of them were undoubtedly Brown Thornbills, a species I have seen here a few times before. The only other good sighting was a very brief view of a solitary Red-browed Finch. Never mind – I managed a few good photos of some flowers and a lovely butterfly. I left by butterfly book home so I can’t identify it.
As we were leaving, I drove slowly through the park to the exit gate. This took us quite close to the Lane Cove river at times. Not far from the gate I was suddenly aware of a male Australian Wood Duck heading aggressively towards our car as we passed by, head down, neck stretched out and I think he was hissing. He looked quite fierce for a few seconds. Pity I didn’t get this on my camera. This reminded me of another incident on the other side of the river a few days earlier. Another male Australian Wood Duck hissed at me in a similar fashion. I understood completely; he was guarding the female and three juveniles feeding nearby.
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Last week we spent several days visiting family in Peterborough in the mid-north of South Australia. The main focus of this trip was a belated Christmas family get together. My son’s family who were over from Sydney for a few weeks was the main focus, but it was also great to catch up with family members on my wife’s side of the family.
The weather was far too hot to do anything other than casual birding in the back yard. The only interesting sighting over the four days was a solitary Little Eagle soaring majestically overhead early one morning. The Peterborough area is an interesting region from a birding point of view. While many of the species seen further south are present, one can also see some of the more arid region birds around the town and in the nearby farming areas. This is about as far south as some of these arid dwelling birds venture.
One spot I always try to check out when visiting Peterborough is Victoria Park. This park, next to the town’s lovely swimming pool and caravan park features an artificial lake (see photo above). On and around this lake I have recorded quite a good range of water birds, one of the few spots in the region with enough water to sustain a small population of such species.
On this occasion we were actually on our way home. We left early to beat most of the heat of later in the day. I only drove though the park and didn’t actually stop. I guess that our visit was no longer than 2 minutes – if that. During that short time I saw the following species:
- White-winged Chough
- Australian Magpie
- Black-tailed Native-hen
- Pacific Black Duck
- Australian Wood Duck
- Australian Magpie Lark
- Crested Pigeon
- Red Rumped Parrot
- Red Wattlebird
- Little Raven
It is not a long list but it does contain two interesting sightings.
While Apostlebirds are quite common in the eastern parts of Australia, they are relatively rare in South Australia. They can only be seen in a handful of places. I have recorded them in the following locations:
- Taplan (SE of Loxton),
- Gladstone (mid-north of SA),
- Laura (just north of Gladstone)
- Stone Hut (just north of Laura)
- Appila (north of Gladstone)
- Peterborough (various locations around the town and district)
- Dawson Gorge (NE of Peterborough)
Several other locations have been reported by other birders in recent years. Peterborough is one of the more reliable spots for this species in South Australia. Over recent years I have seen the species in at least five spots around the town. You can read more about this species – go to the further reading section below.
On my recent visit to Victoria Park in Peterborough I saw about 5 Black-tailed Native-hens. I have seen this species on quite a few visits to this park. While the species is not rare it is unusual to see them in such a dry region as this. I suspect that these birds may actually be a resident breeding species. In some places, if the conditions are right, they can breed rapidly and within a short space of time number in the hundreds and even in the thousands. On previous visit to this park I have seen 20 – 50 birds.
- Apostlebirds in Peterborough
- Apostlebirds by the dozen
- Apostlebirds at Taplan in the Murray Mallee
- Apostlebirds in South Australia
Over recent days I have written about and showed photos of the various birds seen on a visit to the Western Plains Zoo near Dubbo, NSW. All of these birds were actually naturally occurring species; none of them were a part of the actual species on display. The wild birds knew how to benefit from the facilities – like the artificial lake near the visitor centre shown above. They also are quick to feed on any unused food put out for the animals.
Today’s post features to Hardhead – also known as the White-eyed Duck. It is found throughout much of Australia in suitable habitat, such as lakes, swamps, large bodies of water, ornamental lakes and even brackish coastal swamps. It is rare in the drier parts of the interior. Although I have only see this species in small numbers, the field guides suggest that it is occasionally seen in large groups numbering in the thousands. It is often dispersive, moving to areas after good rain.
- White-eyed Duck or Hardhead – together with some comments on the possible origins of the name.
One of the lovely features of the Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo, New South Wales, is the large artificial lake next to the visitor centre. I think it is wonderful that visitors can come to this part of the zoo without paying the entrance fee. This is particularly valuable to casual passers-by who do not have the time to spend a whole day in the zoo. (Two days are recommended to see everything and entrance fees are valid for two days.)
It is also great for local people who just want to have a picnic on the grassed area next to this lake. From the picnic area visitors get a good view of two exhibits: one with monkeys and another with lemurs. I will post photos of the lemurs in a few days.
The artificial lake featured in today’s post had a good range of water birds present. I am assuming that all of these birds are actually wild birds, and not a part of the zoo’s collection; a bonus add-on, if you like.
Featured in today’s photos is a Pink-eared duck, also known as a Zebra Duck because of the striped effect of the feathers. This species is a fairly common one in most of eastern Australia and much of Western Australia. It is rare in Tasmania and mostly absent from the drier interior. It is a highly nomadic species.