Magpies up close and personal

I was working at our picnic table on our back veranda yesterday. I was marking a brilliant essay written by one of my uni students; she obviously listened well to my lectures and absorbed all the important points. Either that – or I’m a good teacher. The house was cold after a frosty night and the table was bathed in beautiful winter sun. I decided to take advantage of the sun while it lasted.

Half way through my work one of our resident Australian Magpies – a brilliantly coloured male – flew in, perched on one of the chairs and then onto the table where he proceeded to strut around in front of me, not more than a half metre from where I sat. He was obviously looking for bread crumb scraps left over from our lunch.

He stayed for several minutes before a juvenile bird joined us, sitting on the BBQ a few metres away. A sudden squawk from other magpies in the orchard startled them both into action, and they flew off rapidly in that direction.

Pity I didn’t have my camera with me.

Never mind – a similar incident happened to us last year near Mildura when we were having a roadside picnic. On that close encounter, the birds did score a few crumbs from our biscuits – and nearly nabbed a whole one from the biscuit tin left open on the table. The photo below was taken on that occasion.


Australian Magpie (black backed)

Bathing beauties

Mallee Ringnecks bathing

We have a small flock of Mallee Ringneck parrots on our five acre block. On most days we will see 2 to 4 of them, sometimes more. We love seeing them in and around our garden – except when they attack our ripening pears.

This autumn and early winter we have had above average rainfall for this time of year. Over recent weeks it has rained on many occasions and our gravel driveway quickly gathers the rainfall, forming several puddles. A few days ago I noticed two of the parrots enjoying a splash in one of the puddles. The muddy water (see photos below) seemed to them to be preferable to the nice clean water in the bird baths nearby.

Mallee Ringnecks bathing

Mallee Ringnecks bathing

Mallee Ringneck

Are the magpies getting ready to start nesting?

Australian Magpie

Australian Magpies are one of the most recognisable of Australian birds. They are common over large parts of Australia.

They are also highly territorial, and in the breeding season they can be very aggressive towards other magpies, other bird species, and, on occasions, towards humans. Their swoop – usually from behind and usually unexpected – can be quite terrifying to some people. They have been know to even draw blood if contact is made with vulnerable parts such as the head. Cyclists seem to attract swooping magpies far more than pedestrians, for some reason.

About this time of the year, however, they generally have not yet started nesting. Now is the time to reinforce their territorial claims, chasing one another in wild, noisy conflicts. I witnessed the start of this only a few days ago in our mallee scrub. Our five acre patch of scrub is the junction of three different magpie territories; the boundaries are fiercely defended. On the positive side, “our” resident magpies never swoop, for which we are thankful.

On my evening walk yesterday I heard the distinctive warning call of a male magpie, one whose territory is about a kilometre from our home. I looked up, and was interested to see a partially constructed nest in the tree over head. This particular bird is aggressive towards humans, so I’ll have to be careful walking along that part of the road in the coming weeks.

Australian Magpie

Australian Magpie


We have baby Grey Currawongs in the garden

Grey Currawong in our garden

Over recent days we’ve had at least two juvenile Grey Currawongs frequenting our garden. They seem to be independent of the parents and are quite happy to poke around trying to find food for themselves.

I find it a bit odd to call them “babies” as they are as big as the adults already, but are still covered in downy feathers and are not all that confident flying. One recently landed on the gutter of our veranda and I was able to approach to about 2 metres away before it flew off in a clumsy way to the nearest tree. They are still to develop the far reaching piping call of the adults, their call still being a guttural squawk.

A few days ago one ventured too close to some juvenile Willie Wagtails just out of the nest. The Willie Wagtail parents swooped the Currawong mercilessly, banging onto the back of the poor bird until it flew away to a safer spot.

Birding around Mannum, South Australia part 3

Murray River at Mannum, South Australia

A few weeks ago I spent an enjoyable afternoon birding in and around Mannum, about 20 minutes drive north of home. It was a beautiful spring day with bright clear sky, a gentle breeze and plenty of birds. I sat for a while in the Mary Ann Reserve on the river front, watching and photographing the birds on, over and near the Murray River.

I was rather puzzled by the behaviour of several species of birds in and over the water. Several Little Pied Cormorants and Little Black Cormorants were swimming around in the one spot about 30 metres out into the water. I can only assume they were fishing but I didn’t actually see one catch a fish. Over head several White-necked Herons and one Great Egret flew around low over the water sometimes almost landing and snapping at the cormorants in the water. A Silver Gull even joined in, harassing the heron as they flew (see photo below).

Great Egret, White-necked Heron, Little Black and Little Pied Cormorants

White-necked Heron being harassed by a Silver Gull

Bogey bird

The White-necked Heron was an interesting sighting for me. It’s been one of my bogey birds over the last 25 years. I went from 1987 to 2001 without seeing a single one of them. Then only one – with another 6 year wait to see another one! Unbelievable. In fact in more than 35 years of birding I’ve only ever seen this species about 20 times. Then on this day at Mannum I saw 4 all flying around in close proximity. Unreal.