Over recent post I have written about some birding I did while visiting family in Peterborough in early March. Peterborough is in the mid-north of South Australia and is just over three hours drive from home in Murray Bridge which is south-east of Adelaide. We were staying with family and while there my wife attended a quilting seminar.
Early one morning during our stay I headed off to do some birding before the heat of the day. One of the places I often visit while in the town is Victoria Park. This park has an artificial lake and is adjacent to the caravan park and the swimming pool. It is one of several quite reliable places to see Apostlebirds.
Apostlebirds are quite common in some other states, especially New South Wales. In South Australia, however, the species is uncommon. It can only be found in about a dozen or so locations in the whole state. Recent observations could indicate that it is becoming more common and is extending its range.
There appear to be several family groups in and around the town of Peterborough. These groups can be fairly mobile over quite a range covering most of the town and the immediate environs. One of the most reliable spots seems to be around Victoria Park where I took these photos, and in or near the grounds of the hospital.
As we were approaching the town late in the afternoon of the previous day, we encountered a heavy downpour as we drove along. I actually had to reduce the car’s speed to drive safely. The next morning, there were still quite a few puddles left around town, including a few large ones in the park. The Apostlebirds were having a great time paddling in the water, as were several other species. I didn’t stay long enough to see if they took advantage of the puddles to make one of their mud nests. I guess that this group didn’t really need to because they have a constant supply of mud from the edges of the lake only 20 metres from where these shots were taken.
Over the last few days we have been visiting family in Peterborough in the mid-north of South Australia. This is where my wife grew up and over the years we have visited on many occasions. This area has many of the bird species seen in the southern parts of the state but being near to the edge of the northern, drier parts of South Australia, there is a range of dry-land species as well.
The Apostlebird is not common in South Australia and I only know of a few locations where they can be reliably observed, Peterborough being one of them. Because our visit coincided with some very cold weather I didn’t venture out birding much during our three day stay, except for once when it cleared up and the sun emerged, albeit weakly. I will write about that excursion in a day or two.
As we were about to leave this morning, we lingered in the morning sun in the back garden checking out a few plants. Suddenly we observed a small flock of 6 Apostlebirds in a fruit tree just over the side fence in a neighbour’s garden. The birds just sat there preening their feathers for about five minutes before flying off again.
My sister-in-law works in the local hospital and often observes these birds in the grounds of the hospital. On one occasion recently she rang us to tell us that the Apostlebirds had visited her garden and were hopping around her as she watched.
This behaviour is consistent with my experiences elsewhere; they can be quite gregarious and quite unafraid when approaching humans, especially when food is on offer. When camping in the Hattah-Kulkyne National Park (NW Victoria) on a number of occasions years ago we experienced this species hopping onto our picnic table trying to have a share in our food. The photo above shows several birds I saw in the Western Plains Zoo car park in Dubbo, NSW, just a short distance from where several picnicking groups had been.
Our sighting in Peterborough this morning was a lovely end to a relaxing few days with family.
Apostlebirds are not all that common in South Australia. In fact, they are confined to a few locations in the mid-north of the state plus one site I know of near the eastern border south of Renmark. In parts of New South Wales, however, they are widespread and common in many places. They are also very confiding birds and will happily share their little patch of bushland – if you share some of your morning or afternoon tea.
On our recent visit to the Western Plains Zoo at Dubbo I was surprised at just how common they actually are, but then there is plenty of food for the taking, both in the animal enclosures and in the picnic areas where human food scraps are in abundance. It is not surprising then that I was able to get at least several good photos during our visit.
Apostlebirds are not the most photogenic birds found in Australia, being only dull grey with some black patches. What they lack in colour they certainly make up for with their gregarious nature. Because of this nature they certainly are one of my favourites and I always look out for them wherever we travel.
Over on Trevor’s Travels I have been writing about the Taplan Railway Centenary celebrations I attended in October last year. Taplan is – or should I say – was a small rural community centred around the railway line running through the Murray Mallee region of South Australia. The town hardly exists and the railway line was removed in 1995. I grew up on a wheat/sheep farm there, went to the local primary school and still have many great memories of the area. I get back there far too infrequently, despite my nephew still working the family farm.
While the ceremonies were in full swing a family of Apostlebirds came hopping around the gathered crowd, including the dignitaries. I wasn’t quick enough with my camera. After the celebrations were over, my brother insisted on taking me to visit the old farmhouse where I grew up. I am pleased I did; a small group of Apostlebirds were fussing around in the chook yard there having a drink from the chickens’ trough.
I have reported these sightings because they are significant. While this species is common to very common much further east, there are only a few populations here in South Australia. This is one of them. My brother tells me that they have always been around the old farmhouse and nearby, but my memory must be failing as I can’t remember them from my childhood. Sigh.
Whenever we camped at or visited Lake Hattah in the Hattah-Kulkyne National Park in Victoria we always looked forward to seeing the family of Apostlebirds occupying the camping ground. They are gregarious and noisy, often bossing other species out of any food scraps we may drop on the ground.
As we drive over to visit our family in Sydney we start looking for this species along the road between Hay and Narrandera. On most trips we get good views of them crossing the road in front of our car as we speed along.
As a result of these regular sightings we have become rather attracted to these interesting birds. Part of this fascination is that they make a bowl shaped mud nest; very few Australian birds construct their nest with mud. The other fascinating aspect of this species is that they are relatively uncommon here in South Australia.
For some years I have known of a family living around the gardens and grounds of the Peterborough Hospital in the mid-north of the state. My sister-in-law is the cook at the hospital, and she has told me that these bold birds will even come onto the veranda and into through the doors of the wards which open onto the veranda. Over recent years we have visited our relatives a number of times, and despite searching the area I have failed each time to see these birds – except once many years ago.
Many years ago I did manage to record Apostlebirds near the township, but this was in the early 1980s and again in the 1990s. Even earlier than that I saw them during a family picnic at Dawson Gorge, about 30km north-east of Peterborough.
In recent months, however, there have been a growing number of reports of this species in other spots in the mid-north, including Gladstone, Laura, Stone Hut and more recently at Watervale. On a recent visit to my daughter in Clare we went for a drive through this area. As we drove through Gladstone, I was pleased to see two Apostlebirds fly across the road in front of the car.
It seems that this species is expanding its range here in South Australia.