Two days ago I wrote about the birds we saw at the hippo enclosure when we visited the Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo recently. One species I didn’t mention was the Superb Fairy-wren because I wanted it to have its own post. Today’s photos feature a male bird in full breeding plumage plus one shot of a female (see below).
There were several birds, both male and female, hopping around the viewing platform at the hippo enclosure. I tried hard to get a few photos but they were constantly on the move. This is typical of this species; it makes effective photography a real challenge.
As we returned to our car – the open range zoo is a “drive yourself” experience – a male Superb Fairy-wren was fluttering around the car next to ours. The photo above shows him on the roo bar at the front of the vehicle. He was very agitated and ignored me only a metre or so away from him. He then flew many times at his reflection in the car’s window (see photo below).
A number of Australian bird species display this aggressive behaviour. Thinking that their reflection is an enemy attempting to take over its territory, the male bird will attack its own image many dozens of times. Not only do they attack the reflection in the windows of a car, they can also be attracted to the outside mirrors, shiny hub-caps, shiny bumper-bars and any reflective surface. A few years ago our resident Willie Wagtail was attracted to the mirrors on our car. Day after day for periods up to a half hour it would attack the mirror, leaving a very unpleasant residue on each mirror in the process.
Some of the species which display this behaviour include Australian Magpies, Willie Wagtails, Magpie Larks, finches, honeyeaters, and ravens and crows. A few years ago we had a Little Raven in our garden which was annoyed by its reflection in our bedroom window glass. Every morning around dawn it would come and peck loudly on the glass. Being suddenly woken in this fashion at such an early hour was not very pleasant, and we were pleased when it moved on and no longer came knocking well before our normal time of rising.
This post is #34 of a series called Great Birding Moments. I think the title is self explanatory. Sadly, it is over six years since the last in this series, so I think I will have to rectify that in the coming months. You can access a list of the articles by clicking here.
I think that the hippopotamus is a fascinating animal, but I will resist the temptation to write about it. After all, this site is about Australian birds, so… here we go.
The hippo enclosure a the Western Plains Zoo near Dubbo in New South Wales is a huge one – much larger than enclosures you will see in most zoos. It gives the animals plenty of room to move and live in a more natural environment than would otherwise be the case in captivity. As a part of this provision, the hippos in this zoo have a large water feature to enjoy – it’s really a small lake and they must feel really at home.
Being a water feature, it naturally attracts water loving birds. Two which were hard to overlook were the Little Pied Cormorant and the Little Black Cormorant, both shown in photos below. I’m not sure how many fish they would find in the murky water of the hippo lake, but there they were.
As we were watching the cormorants and the hippos I noticed a Sulphur-crested Cockatoo perched high in the branches of a nearby tree. I’m not sure if the cockatoo was checking out the availability of water from the hippo lake, or looking for a hollow to make a nest. Perhaps it was on guard, ready to warn the flock feeding on the ground of approaching danger.
I was amazed at the danger this Australian Wood Duck had placed itself into. It was quietly grazing on the grass in the African Wild Dog enclosure at the Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo, and with its back to the pack sunning themselves about 30 metres away. They are cunning hunters and quite capable of sneaking up on an unsuspecting, tasty meal like a duck. I guess that they are well fed and have no need to chase after wildfowl, or any other birds which stray into their enclosure.
This reminded me of a guided tour we had a some years ago through our local Monarto Zoo, just 10km from my home here in Murray Bridge. The tour bus was slowly moving through the cheetah enclosure when the guide announced that the cheetahs loved running at full speed and catching the local ravens or magpies before they could get airborne again.
I decided then that I would never try to outrun a cheetah!
The various species of banksias are often well favoured by our native birds and especially our many honeyeater species. Banksias are often bushes or small trees with dense foliage, ideal for many of our smaller birds like finches, thornbills and the like because the leaves provide shelter from predators such as hawks and eagles. The dense leaf cover also provides ideal protection for nesting sites.
Banksias are also good producers of nectar in their many large flowers. The flower shown in the photo above is on the smaller side; many are much bigger. The Yellow-throated Miner, one of the many honeyeater species in Australia, obviously loves this one. The photo was taken in the grounds of the Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo, New South Wales.
After leaving Sydney and our family with some sense of sadness – the grandchildren wanted us to stay – we travelled to Dubbo. As we entered the rural city we unfortunately had a little bingle in our near new car. Trying to negotiate a round-about I side-swiped another car. I must admit I was at fault; I was in the wrong lane. Happily no-one was hurt, just a little shaken, and both cars were still drivable. I exchanged details with the other driver for insurance claims and we were on our way again 20 minutes later. (Postscript: back home some weeks later the car looks like new again. Our local repairer did a great job.)
By the time we had settled into our cabin in the caravan park it was dark, so any bird watching in the area had to wait. We had a delightful dinner with cousins of my wife that evening, and next morning we gathered at the local crematorium for the funeral of a cousin. While it was a sad occasion, we were pleased to be able to catch up with so many of the family. After lunch together we had a few hours of daylight left, so we drove the short distance to the Western Plains Zoo on the southern edge of Dubbo. This zoo was set up many years ago as an adjunct of Taronga Zoo in Sydney. We had long desired to visit but this was our first opportunity.
We didn’t enter the zoo proper – just the picnic area near the entrance. There is no charge to visit this lawned area. The extensive picnic grounds look over an artificial lake (see top photo above). There are two islands in the lake, each one home to some animals. The closest caters for a family of Ring-tailed Lemurs (see photo above) while the other is home to a group of Black-handed Spider-monkeys (see photo below).
It was feeding time for the monkeys and lemurs, so we sat there in the calm, balmy evening light watching the animals on the islands. As we watched I was able to get a few photos of some of the local bird life, including the Sulphur-crested cockatoo (see photo below) who was obviously a regular visitor to the islands to benefit from any food scraps the animals might overlook. The ropes in the photo are actually there for the entertainment of the lemurs. They also make good perches for a cockatoo.
Just below the cockatoo was a Purple Swamphen, also on the lookout for a free handout. These two birds are wild birds which have come in to the zoo grounds because there is abundant food for the taking. Both probably also check out the picnic grounds for food scraps left behind by people visiting.
The Australian White Ibis (see below) is another species which takes over picnic grounds in search of an easy meal. This individual was alone at the time, but when the zoo is crowded it is probably joined by many more. On our visit the next day we saw large numbers of this species, some of them nesting in the grounds of the zoo (I will show photos of this on another post soon).
In some parks in many places in Australia, the White Ibis has become a serious pest species, harassing people having a quiet picnic by snatching food from them, even to the point of jumping on to a picnic table loaded with human food. Being 65 – 75cm (about 2 feet) in height they can be very intimidating to young children, especially if the children are walking around with food – an ice-cream for example.
Another bird which can be intimidating is the Black Swan (see photo below). This was the only individual we saw that evening, but it came towards where we were sitting in a very determined manner, then waddled up the bank and right up to about a metre from us. When we produced no food it started grazing on the abundant grass all around us. This is another species which is a pest in some parks and picnic grounds. Their beaks can give a nasty bite and their wings, if used, can give some unsuspecting person an nasty whack.
Don’t feed the birds
I’ve written on this topic many times before, but it is worth saying it again, just to educate new visitors to this site. PLEASE DO NOT FEED OUR NATIVE AUSTRALIAN BIRDS. Human food is actually dangerous and even deadly to many of our birds. Added to that risk is what is happening with birds like ducks, ibises and swans: they look to people for free handouts and very quickly become major pests.
If you want to encourage Australian native birds into your life – and into your garden – provide 3 or 4 or more bird baths for them. Plant Australian native plants so they have their natural food, places to shelter and sites for their nests. Read more about this topic here and here.
Of course there are many birds which do not bother people and just get on with their lives. One such species is the Great Cormorant shown below. It is just having a break from searching the lake for fish, frogs and tadpoles.
So this was our first taste of the zoo. We returned the next day for a whole day visit. Photos of the birds we saw – and a few animals too – in the coming days.