Whenever we visit our son and his family in Sydney, we try to spend at least a few hours in the Ku Ring Gai Wildflower Gardens. These gardens are about a half-hour drive from his home. The gardens feature a section which has been planted with Australian Native Plants, and the remainder of the gardens is natural scrubland.
There is an excellent new Visitor Centre, manned by helpful, friendly staff. Attached to the centre, there is a small nursery with Australian plants for sale. Groups may organise guided tours of the gardens and sections can be hired for functions, such as children’s birthday parties. To hire the facilities, contact the Ku Ring Gai Council. There are also many walking and cycling tracks throughout the gardens, many of them wheelchair friendly.
On our most recent visit, we had morning tea in one of the picnic areas before going on one of the walks. Later we explored another part of the gardens before moving to a third area for lunch. In all of this time, I had my binoculars and camera at the ready. These gardens can be frustrating at times. On occasions, the garden is filled with birdsong and I have found it hard to keep up with making a list of species seen or heard.
This time, however, although I could hear a few birds, many of them remained frustratingly out of view of my binoculars, as well as hard to find with my camera. Small birds, feeding the upper canopy of tall trees and bushes, make it very hard to get any good shots at all. Although I managed a few photos, I am not happy with any of them. I will just have to go back on our next visit to Sydney.
One of the birds I was able to photograph was the one above. It is a very poor shot and I think that it is a Striated Thornbill, a common species in these gardens. I hope that I can get a better shot on my next visit. In order to get one, the birds will have to sit still a lot longer than they do now. Perhaps someone could train a few for me.
Just after taken the photo of the thornbill, I saw what I think is a Yellow-faced Honeyeater feeding in the tree high above me (see photo above). I was looking almost directly straight up, and the bird stayed high in the foliage. I can just make out the yellow patch on the face next to the eyes.
While I had a frustrating time photographing the birds, some of the flowers were far more cooperative. While there was not all that much flowering, I still managed a few good shots (see above and below).
As a bonus, I managed a nice shot of a Varied Sword-grass Brown butterfly.
Go to the bottom of this post to see links to other posts about these gardens.
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.
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
Over recent days we have had both hot weather and lovely weather. This is normal for mid-summer days here in South Australia. For any new readers, I live about 80km or an hour’s drive south-east of Adelaide. Summer temperatures are usually in the high 20s or low 30s (30C is equal to 86F). During our worst summer days, temperatures can soar as high as 45C (113F), but thankfully such days only occur a few times every year.
Over recent weeks, many days have been in the mid-20s, which is very pleasant. On such days I love to open the large window next to my writing desk and let the fresh air into my office. If there is a breeze as well, that is an added bonus. One of the side benefits of this arrangement is the easy access to the bird life in our garden. I don’t even have to get up out of my chair to watch the birds. They come to me.
One one occasion, a friendly Australian Magpie (see photo above) sat on the rail of the pergola on this side of the house. He was in full view from where I sat. He suddenly stopped his carolling – our magpies are wonderful songsters – realised I was there and leant forward to get a better view of me. When I chatted with him, thanking him for the visit and the song, he answered me. How lovely.
On several occasions over the last week, one or two Peaceful Doves have alighted in the branches of a nearby tree, coo-ing persistently for about ten or fifteen minutes before moving on elsewhere in our garden. Their soft calls are very peaceful, so they are aptly named.
Only yesterday I had to stop what I was writing and look out to the garden bed next to my office window. A small family of White-browed Babblers were playing around in the bushes there, scolding each other as they scurried here and there. They were joined in this game by several New Holland Honeyeaters, their screeches usually a warning sign that a hawk or eagle is about. I think they were just having fun with the babblers. Even a couple of House Sparrows joined in the fun.
One species we don’t always have around is the Rainbow Bee-eaters, a delightfully named bird with their many-coloured plumage and their liking for catching and eating bees and other flying insects. I smile when I see one sitting in a nearby tree, banging a bee against the branch to dispatch the sting of the bee before swallowing it whole. Yesterday two or three could be heard out of my window while I worked, and later I saw two gliding overhead. Delightful birds, and we miss them when they fly north for the winter.
For many years we never had wrens resident in our garden. They were only occasional visitors from up the hill. Then five years ago on our return from an overseas trip, we were greeted by two Superb Fairy-wrens, one of two local species. They have been a resident breeding species in our garden ever since, producing several broods over those five years. They are so secretive about their nests that I have yet to find one. They have plenty of good bushes around to build their nests. From time to time they will also come by my office, their twittering, tinkling calls easy on the ears as they hop along near my office window, jumping up occasionally to snatch a fly or mosquito silly enough to hang around too long.
I don’t need to have the window open to hear our resident Mallee Ringneck parrots screeching outside as they fly from tree to tree, or over the house, or just sitting in a nearby tree wagging their tails joyfully. This tail wagging is probably a mating display. They have raised several broods successfully in recent years, their nest hollow being only 30 metres from my window.
What birds do you have in your garden?
Please tell me in the comments.
Never did I imagine that it would be so popular. It consistently is one of the ten most read articles on this site, and with nearly 300 comments from readers, it has obviously struck a chord with my readers.
A few days ago, one of my readers – Sue – wrote a wonderful account of the Common Blackbirds in her garden, along with comments on honeyeaters and their interactions with her pet cats. I found this account so fascinating that I have published it here in full so that more readers can enjoy her experiences.
Great massive Blackbird thread!
I thought I would add our Blackbird experience for your consideration.
We have a medium-sized block in Kensington, Adelaide, so I have a bit of garden surrounding the old villa. We have two cats, which live entirely inside with the amenity of a professionally built, fully netted enclosure on one side of the house from verandah to fence.
The honeyeaters were the first to find a way into the enclosure, by dropping through the ceiling netting which has a slightly larger grid than the wall netting, to get to the citrus trees inside. They were always faster than the one cat who has any real hunting ability. Their other advantage is that cat is deaf – so if he doesn’t see them, he doesn’t know they are there.
Then the resident pair of blackbirds learnt the same trick. For them the strip of garden along the fence and the mulched area around the compost bins are a rich source of forage. They are also faster than the cats. And they also enter and exit at speed, despite the bird seeming too large for the net.
The enclosure has vine growing over it. The vine is trained underneath on wires, and grows up through the net.
Honeyeaters chose to nest in the vine above the net. They raised a chick, then moved to the bamboo for the next round.
This summer the blackbirds have built a nest in the vine IN the enclosure, UNDER the net. They fledged one enormous chick just before Christmas and to our delight have gone another round with two, possibly three, hungry chicks being fed as I type.
We were worried how the baby might get out safely, but we actually saw it fledge over a weekend. It was encouraged out of the nest, to hop around the branches, then encouraged up through the net. We have seen it in the rest of the garden with its parents several times.
Mrs B doesn’t worry even when I am watering right under her. Previous behaviour for the blackbirds, the honeyeaters and even the wattlebirds is to nag me in the garden for the rain wave sprinkler then enjoy the ‘rain’. It’s not just Aussie humans that like running under the sprinkler in the hot weather.
This year the rosellas have the small hole in an old peppercorn tree, and the lorikeets had the large hole in the same tree, and were both successful.
The rest of the garden is not cat free, and there are definitely cats, rats, foxes, as well as possums and the annual koala, using it at times, but the complexity of the cat enclosure and the presence of the cats seems to keep the (non-resident) predators away from it.
In a highly artificial urban environment, we would all prefer if native species could thrive, but sometimes the imports are better suited to holding a niche. Compared to mynahs, the blackbirds seem to be a lesser of two evils. And lorikeets have proved to be pretty dominating over the smaller rosella..
Happy bird encounters, all… Sue
Thank you, Sue, for a wonderful description of the birdlife and wildlife in your suburban garden. I wish more cat lovers would be as responsible as you are with a special enclosure.
- Common Blackbirds – the article which started it all
- Do Blackbirds swoop? How to deal with aggressive bird behaviour – another article with over 100 comments from around the world.
- Keep your cats inside – an article I wrote some time ago about the problem of cats to the Australian environment.
- Great birding moments #7 Koala