A few days ago we went to visit Lowan Conservation Park, a relatively small patch of mallee scrub about 40 minutes drive north east of our home in Murray Bridge. This park can be very rewarding to the birder – or it can be extremely frustrating. It usually depends on what trees and bushes are in flower.
We arrived mid afternoon in bright sunshine with a gentle south westerly keeping conditions pleasant. We drove slowly through to a nice spot in about the middle of the park for an afternoon cuppa. As we stopped there were about 150 Dusky Woodswallows overhead, their lovely calls filling the sky. Within minutes they had moved on. (For a photo of a Dusky Woodswallow taken elsewhere click here and scroll down the page.)
All else was fairly quiet. A few Weebills called nearby and a Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater called a distance away. I could also hear a Magpie calling and a Grey Shrike-thrush called somewhere in the scrub nearby. During the twenty minutes break for our cuppa we didn’t see a bird. I had been hopeful of seeing a Chestnut Quail-thrush because we parked a few metres from where I had seen two of them on a previous visit. No luck there.
While she was taking the photos I wandered off into the scrub for about thirty metres. A sudden flash of colour in the low bushes nearby attracted my attention. For about ten seconds I had a great view of a male Splendid Fairy-wren in full breeding plumage. This has to be one of Australia’s most beautiful birds. I’ve only managed to see one on a few occasions. This area is one fairly reliable spot to observe this species.
The excitement of this sighting was shattered a little when I realised that my camera was in the car! By the time I’d collected the camera it had flown elsewhere and it wasn’t calling, so I couldn’t track it down. I tried to attract it by making kissing sounds (this usually works with wrens) but to no avail. So I haven’t a photo to show off. Instead you will have to be content with someone else’s photos here.
UPDATE: on my recent holiday in New South Wales I managed to get some reasonable photos of this beautiful species. Check out “A Splendid Result”
This post was updated on July 6th 2015.
Last Saturday my wife attended a workshop at Mt Pleasant in the Adelaide Hills. The workshop was to help her to identify some of our native grasses, a particularly challenging task. To read about what she learned click here.
While she was at the workshop I drove a few kilometres up the road to Cromer Conservation Park. I’d never been there before so I was keen to explore this small park. It is only about 50 hectares in area but it certainly packs a great deal into its pocket size. As soon as I left the car at the start of the walking trail my attention was drawn to the numerous flowers everywhere. In fact, I was so distracted taking flower photos that I temporarily forgot about the birds.
Eventually my attention drifted back to the birds and to the walking track through the park. This was formerly a two wheel track but over the years it has grown over with plants, leaving a single walking track for the most part. The area is open eucalypt woodland with a significant understory of ground covers, small to medium bushes. Many were in flower. The park is surrounded on two sides by farming land, while Mt Crawford Forest (Radiata pine) is situated on the the other two sides.
The bird life is varied and interesting, though only having about two hours to observe, my list is far from complete. A Laughing Kookaburra flew across the road as I arrived, along with several Australian Magpies. Adelaide Rosellas flew through the trees landing occasionally but never in a spot allowing a good photo. Striated Pardalotes were present in good numbers, their calls a constant backdrop sound. Tree Martins swooped for insects just above the treetops.
One of the real delightful sightings was of a number of Eastern Spinebills, a species of honeyeater. I tried to get close enough for a photo but they are restless little critters. They also have a great skill in getting a bunch of leaves, a few twigs or and branch between themselves and my lens. Another day, perhaps. I also had good views of several Buff Rumped Thornbills, not a species I have seen very often.
I spent about fifteen minutes waiting for several Superb Blue Wrens to come into good photographic view, including a male in full colour breeding splendour. Eventually he did come into view – sort of. The above photo show him peeping nervously through the leaves of a bush. If you click on the photo you will get a better view of this beautiful creature. Again – someday one will come up in clear view, full sunlight and right in focus.
One of the delights in many parts of Australia is having birds hopping around your feet while having a picnic, or when camping in the bush. Sometimes they even hop on to or sit on the table where you are trying to have a cuppa and biscuits, or perhaps lunch. Scattering a few crumbs usually encourages the whole neighbourhood to come pay a visit. I’ve even had various species eat off my plate – and on one surprising moment, a butcherbird even flew past and snatched a sandwich from my hand as I was moving it towards my mouth!
Superb Blue Wrens are one of the most common birds in picnic grounds, park and gardens in eastern and southern parts of Australia. The male is stunning in its iridescent colours. During our picnic recently at the Mt Lofty Botanic Gardens in the Adelaide Hills we saw several females and several uncoloured males. So at the moment I do not have a photo of a male in all his splendour.
Last weekend we attended a native plant sale at Geranium. This is a small town of only about 80 residents. It is about an hour drive from Murray Bridge and is situated in the heart of the Murray Mallee. It is set in a wheat and sheep farming district and so much of the land has been cleared for this purpose. Along the road sides, however, there is a rich remnant vegetation strip and this provides a reasonably adequate habitat for a range of mallee loving birds, especially when it is in flower.
The area is dominated by honeyeaters. Over the last decade I have recorded the following honeyeater species in or near Geranium:
Brown Headed Honeyeater
New Holland Honeyeater
White Plumed Honeyeater
White Eared Honeyeater
Yellow Plumed Honeyeater
Spiny Cheeked Honeyeater
Purple Gaped Honeyeater (rare)
The common birds of prey include the Black Shouldered Kite, Nankeen Kestral, Little Eagle and Australian Hobby. I am not sure of the status of the magnificent Wedge Tailed Eagle in this district. Down through the years since settlement this species has been seen in a negative light by many farmers who have shot them to prevent loss of lambs from their sheep flocks.
The Crested Pigeon is very common throughout the region as is the Common Bronzewing Pigeon where the habitat is suitable. The delightful tiny Peaceful Dove must also occur in this region but I have not personally recorded it. Around the town, especially the wheat storage silos, the introduced feral Rock Pigeon is present in the hundreds. They are also present around farm sheds.
The most common parrot in this area would have to be the Galah. Flocks of hundreds can often be observed throughout the Murray Mallee districts. Little Corellas may also be present though I have not seen any near Geranium. The large Yellow Tailed Black Cockatoo may also be a vagrant but not resident due to a lack of suitable food trees. Sulpher Crested Cockatoos may also occur in this district but I haven’t seen any. Purple Crowned Lorikeets are common, and Rainbow Lorikeets have been recorded. Other parrots resident in or near Geranium include:
Red Rumped Parrots
Blue Winged Parrots
My total number of species for this area stands at 56 species. Here is a list of some other birds I have recorded in the district:
The most unusual sighting I have made in Geranium is a single Cattle Egret feeding on the school oval.
We are staying in the caravan park next to Encounter Bay, Victor Harbor. This is just over an hour’s drive south of Adelaide, South Australia. During the night our sleep was disturbed by frequent showers. Rain on the roof of a caravan can be quite disturbing. By breakfast time the rain was quite steady.
A Walk becomes a Sit
My friend Keith and I had intended going for a walk this morning, probably around Granite Island. There is a causeway to the island and from the caravan park it takes several hours. The views are quite spectacular on the seaward side. The large waves crashing over the granite rocks would have made for some great photography. The rain did not ease until late in the morning. Instead of a walk, Keith and I sat in the van talking, having cuppas, eating chocolate cake and hot cross buns and reading the paper.
After lunch Keith and I were so exhausted from the morning’s frenetic activities that we both had to have a nap. Life’s so hard. Later we sat around talking with some of the others we knew who were staying in the same caravan park.
A Bird Walk
Late in the afternoon I went for a birdwatching walk to the beach and along the nearby river. I took my camera with me and was able to take some good shots of several species of birds and also some good shots of several yachts at anchor in the bay. Just a few metres from our van there was a small lagoon, perhaps the size of several tennis courts. This lagoon was well populated with birds feeding in, on or above it.
The most prominent species was Chestnut Teal. There were some 30-40 of them. This was a species I hadn’t managed to get photos of as yet. One photo shows three of these ducks all diving for food simultaneously; all you can see is their tails sticking up in the air. They were accompanied by about 30 Silver Gulls swimming around on the surface of the water. Hawking for insects above the water were numerous Welcome Swallows. Several Magpie Larks and a solitary White Faced Heron patrolled the water’s edge for whatever they could find to eat.
Also on the water’s edge was a single bird I couldn’t positively identify. I wouldn’t let me get close enough for a photo or a good look through my binoculars. By its shape, colour, size and habits it could possibly have been a Sharp Tailed Sandpiper.
The Inman River forms the south west boundary of the caravan park and often provides some good bird watching. Several Masked Lapwings, a few more Silver Gulls and two Wood Ducks were seen immediately. Waiting quietly near some bushes on the bank revealed some Pacific Black Ducks, Silvereyes in the bushes and I heard some Superb Blue Wrens in the nearby bushes. A Caspian Tern patrolled up and down the river while a Willie Wagtail flitted around on the lawn nearby.