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.
Last week I wrote about the Tree Martins I saw and photographed at the Pangarinda Botanic Gardens near Wellington in South Australia. We were having an afternoon relaxing in the gardens to celebrate my wife’s birthday. You can read about the Tree Martins here.
While we were having a cuppa and some birthday cake with our friends I was taking note of all the birds I saw and heard. It was a lovely sunny day with a cooling breeze making the afternoon very pleasant indeed.
During the afternoon we saw and heard many birds, including plenty of New Holland Honeyeaters, both Red and Little Wattlebirds, Rainbow Bee-eaters, White-browed Babblers and even several Brown Quail. Go to the reading list at the end of this post for a link to the article about the quail.
While we were sitting at the picnic table having our afternoon cuppa a Whistling Kite soared overhead a number of times. I managed to get one reasonable photo, the one shown above. I still have yet to master the art of taking photos of birds in flight. The other shots are either too blurry, or too far away to be useful.
Whistling Kites are quite common along the Murray River in South Australia. The botanic gardens at Wellington are barely 500 metres from the river and possibly even closer to some of the reed-covered banks nearby, so I was not surprised to see one overhead. In fact, this species is common throughout most of mainland Australia where suitable habitat exists. Their preferred habitat includes open woodlands usually near water, along creeks, rivers, lakes and swamps where there are suitable nesting and roosting trees. They occasionally can be seen in Tasmania too.
A few days ago I wrote about our feisty Willie Wagtail (click here to read the article). I made some comments about some of the birds I had seen our resident Willie Wagtails chasing off from near their nest. They can get very protective of the nest, the eggs and especially the young once they hatch.
Yesterday I looked out of the window and saw it again attacking a much larger bird. Because of the distance – about 40 metres – I was not sure what it actually was, but it was ducking every few seconds as the Willie Wagtail attacked its head. Fortunately my binoculars were within reach but as I grabbed them the bird flew off to another part of the garden near the front of the house with the noisy Willie Wagtail snapping at its tail.
I went to the sun room and looked out at a bush nearby. The much larger Collared Sparrowhawk was cowering in bush, trying valiantly to escape from this angry little bird. I was able to get a good view of the hawk before it flew off again, hotly pursued by the Willie Wagtail until it was well away from the nest.
Their resilience and sheer bravery in the face of great odds always amazes me. Quite the inspirational little bird.
The photos on this post were taken some time ago. I should keep my camera handy too.
Earlier this week we drove from our home in Murray Bridge to Sydney, a two day drive of over 1300km. It is a long and interesting drive. Our purpose is always to stay with our son and spend time with him and our two grandchildren.
Along the way we usually stop for morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea. I like to choose spots where I know I have a reasonable chance of seeing some birds. This does not always work; sometimes the weather conspires against good birding, like when the wind is blowing and I have trouble identifying the birds calling.
I also keep a sharp eye out as we are driving along, listing the birds I see. I should add that I only add to my list when my wife is driving, though even when I am behind the wheel I have been known to dictate lists to my wife – who obligingly scribes for me.
On this current trip I saw an interesting case of brave bird behaviour. As we neared the town of Narrandera a Wedge-tailed Eagle flew very low over our car. These are magnificent birds even when seen soaring high up in the sky, but at close quarters they are truly impressive. What made this sighting even more interesting were the two Australian magpies hotly pursuing the much larger eagle. There is obviously no love lost between these two species.
This is not an isolated or unique occurrence. I have seen smaller birds harassing much bigger species like the wedge-tail. I have even seen the comparatively small Willie Wagtail tacking a Wedge-tail Eagle. The eagle could easily swallow the wagtail in several gulps. It would be just a snack to the much larger bird.
One of the species we often have visiting our garden, or soaring overhead, is the Black-shouldered Kite, shown in today’s photos. Over recent weeks we have had frequent visits by an individual displaying juvenile plumage. This is not the first time that this species has been observed breeding in the vicinity of our home.
Yesterday’s visit proved fruitful for me. Normally the bird will perch on the dead branch at the top of a mallee tree at the house. This gives it a good view all around. Usually, when I creep outside with my camera it flies off immediately, much to my annoyance and frustration. Yesterday was different; it posed for my camera while I took about 20 photos. Great – especially with the deep blue summer sky as a backdrop.
It wasn’t allowed to perch there unchallenged for long. I noticed that the resident White-plumed honeyeaters were chirping their warnings to all around, and the Red Wattlebird (shown below) was brave enough to actually swoop the kite and snap its beak nearby. Eventually the harassment was too annoying, and the kite flew off.
If you enjoyed this article, you might enjoy reading the following:
- Brown Falcon at Monarto Zoo
- Wedge-tailed eagle overhead
- Black Kite, Mannum
- Surprised by a kite – a humorous encounter with a Yellow-billed Kite in Ethiopia