Earlier this year I went for a Saturday afternoon drive to the Lowan Conservation Park near Bowhill north-east of my hometown of Murray Bridge, South Australia. I needed to get out of the house after some cold wintery weather, and my daughter had never been to this park. She had just returned home after teaching for the last two years in Ethiopia. The day promised to be sunny and calm, ideal for a picnic and a spot of birding. Over the years I have visited this small park in the mallee areas of our state on a few occasions and it sometimes throws up a few birding surprises.
As we had afternoon tea – a cuppa and some treats from our local bakery – we sat in the afternoon sunshine. My daughter had her current book to read (Tim Winton’s The Shepherd’s Hut) and I had my camera and binoculars at the ready. Flitting around in the nearby mallee trees was a Jacky Winter, one of our flycatcher species. It’s called a Jacky Winter possibly due to its call which sounds a bit like it is saying ‘jacky winter, jacky winter.’ At least, that’s what it sounds like to me. Another common name is ‘Peter Peter’ and that is probably a closer rendition of its call. Whatever the origin of the name, the bird is a generally unassuming little bird which can often go unnoticed in the Australian bush. More often it is sighted quietly sitting on a branch, a tree stump or fence post watching the surrounding grass intently, just waiting to snatch up a tasty morsel – a passing insect or two.
On this visit to the Lowan Conservation Park, I had good views of this bird, but I had trouble getting my camera focussed on this individual. It kept flitting around, catching afternoon tea and calling all the time. Every time I would try to focus – off it would go again. The only time it sat still enough for a shot in focus it was in the shade – see the photo above.
So that you can get a better view of this species, I have posted several photos taken two years ago in the Murray-Sunset National Park in north-west Victoria. These shots include the beginnings of a nest consisting mainly of a spider web.
The White-browed Babbler is a common bird species around where I live in Murray Bridge, South Australia. They could almost be considered as a resident species in our garden and on our five-acre block of land, but we don’t see them every day. Frequently – but not every day. Their range must be larger than just our property.
A few days ago my wife and I had been out for the morning. I drove down the driveway and we stopped in the car for a few minutes to enjoy the warmth of the sunshine. It was a cold, blustery day with occasional showers. As we sat there chatting, we noticed a White-browed Babbler hopping along the driveway in front of the car. It had a few small twigs in its beak and was pecking at the ground, collecting more twigs. As it flew towards us, it looked like it had whiskers sticking out from its beak.
The bird flew immediately into the Grevillia bush next to the car. We immediately realised that it had been carrying nesting material. After a minute or so, we saw it fly out of the bush to another spot in the garden where it started collecting more twigs. While it was gone, I went to the bush and easily found the partly made nest. I did not linger long because the nesting building bird was on its way back to the nest.
Over the next few days, the Babblers in our garden busily kept working on the nest. I had another peek into the bush the day before we left on our four week trip to Sydney. The nest then looked complete, but I did not want to hang around too long to check whether any eggs had been deposited in the nest. If there are eggs in there, they will probably hatch out before we return home. We may be just in time to see the new hatchlings when we return.
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.
On our return trip from Sydney last year, we didn’t take the direct route home to Murray Bridge. Instead of taking two days to get home, we took a circuitous route through north-western New South Wales. We drove through Lithgow, Capertee Valley, Mudgee, Dunedoo, Cobar and Broken Hill. We saw some parts of the country we had never visited before, which is always an interesting way to travel.
On our first night away from Sydney, we stopped at one of the caravan parks in the town of Mudgee. We arrived late in the afternoon. After we had unpacked and settled into the cabin, we sat on the front deck of the cabin enjoying the balmy evening and a nice cuppa. As we were sitting there I had my notebook and binoculars at the ready, as well as my camera. My attention was soon drawn to a Galah perched in a nearby tree. This tree was about 30 metres from where we sat.
I noticed that the Galah was not attempting to fly away, but it was interested in what was happening further down the trunk. Another Galah, presumably its female mate, had emerged from a hollow there (see photos below). It looked as if the female was preparing the hollow ready for nesting. This was last Septemeber, right about the time they begin preparing nesting hollows for their next brood. I have no evidence that this pair went ahead and had a brood of young because we moved on elsewhere next morning.
The Galah is one of Australia’s most recognisable parrots. We have many colourful parrots in Australia – you can see photos of some of them by doing a search on this site. I have written frequently about parrots over the years and have included many photos of them. Some of these posts are included in “Further Reading” below.
I am writing this while visiting my son and family in Sydney. We do this several times every year and really enjoy the times we spend with our two grandchildren. It always affords me good opportunities to see birds here, on the journey over from South Australia, and during the return trip. On the first Saturday we were here, my son was washing the car in the back yard and I was there chatting with him. I also had an eye on the children performing on the trampoline. We all stopped what we were doing when we heard a bird call. My first thought was, “Is that terrible noise actually a bird call?
I could see the two birds in question in the street tree a few metres away. Although they were high up in the tree, I had a clear view of them. i didn’t have my camera with me – it was in our locked car 30 metres away – nor did I have my binoculars – which were also in the car. It didn’t matter; I instantly identified the birds as Channel-billed Cuckoos. This was the first time I had actually seen this species, so it counted as a lifer.
I was able to watch them for about a minute as they called raucously. Various other species were mobbing them, trying to get them to fly away. These included Noisy Miners, Rainbow Lorikeets, Australian Magpies, Pied Currawongs and several Australian Ravens. These latter three are all hosts to this cuckoo species, so I am not surprised that they were keen to see them off elsewhere.
During our four weeks here in Sydney I have seen this species several more times, and heard them calling around here on many more occasions. I have learned that although they are not a nocturnal species, they will often call during the night during the breeding season. That must be very annoying to anyone trying to sleep. Thankfully, we do not have this species where I live in South Australia.
You can learn more about this parasitic species and see a photo of it on the Birds in Backyards site. There is also a short sound recording of the call.