Last week I had the privilege of talking about Australian birds to two community groups here in Murray Bridge, South Australia.
At the first meeting, a church group, I had an audience of eight. Despite the small number, my talk was well received and the photos shown much enjoyed.
On the following morning I spoke to the Mobilong Ladies Probus Club, this time to 108 ladies. Again the talk and photos were well received, and they laughed at my jokes which is a bonus. On the down side, I went a little over time so there was no time for questions.
I have done this presentation to nearly a dozen community groups now so I’m getting a name for myself. I’m prepared to speak to any group about my passionate interest.
I’m even prepared to travel interstate – if a plane ticket is provided! (Hey – no harm in hinting!)
Quite a few of the photos shown on this site are of birds at one of the bird baths we have in our garden. Providing water by means of a bird bath is one of the most effective ways of attracting birds to your garden – and keeping them coming back.
Near the end of spring here in Australia is an ideal time to add a bird bath to your garden. The days are warming up and the hot weather is on the way. Our native birds appreciate a reliable source of water. Installing one or more sources of water is also an excellent way of observing our birds close up.
On this morning’s gardening show on ABC radio here in South Australia (Adelaide 891) the host Jon Lamb interviewed a guest speaker on the principles to follow with bird baths. I took some written notes and share them here:
It will take some weeks for the birds in your garden to get used to a new structure in your garden. Now is the time to install it, knowing that by the time the really hot weather comes the birds will be used to it. Our bird baths have been in place now for four or five years, so our resident birds are quite used to it. Within minutes of adding water they are there enjoying themselves. Two weeks ago I added another just outside my office window; so far only 2 species have visited it.
Birds use the same water they bathe in to also drink from, so it is important to regularly clean the bird bath. Change the water every few days adding fresh water. If the bath becomes stained, scrub it clean but use no chemicals doing so. In fact, it is probably wise to scru each bird bath at least fortnightly; weekly if you can.
Depth of water:
Most of the smaller birds that will come to your bird bath will not be strong swimmers. The bird bath must be shallow, or have shallow areas so if a bird gets into trouble it can safely get out. Steep sides are to be avoided. I have placed a small brick or stone in each of our baths, and the birds use this for perching on when using the bath, or drinking.
Choosing the right location for a bird bath is essential. You can have one out in the open and it will be used, but it is far better to locate it near thick shrubbery, so the birds can quickly escape if a predator like a hawk is hovering nearby. They feel much more secure if they have a quick escape route and will therefore be happier about using your bird bath. It is also suggested that you choose a shady spot as the water can get very hot and uncomfortable on very hot days if it is in full sun.
We get a great deal of enjoyment watching the passing parade of birds coming to drink and bathe. We consider sitting in our sun room watching the birds is a “good” waste of time, right up there with taking time to “smell the roses’. In addition to the location considerations I’ve already mentioned, locate one of your bird baths where you can see it from a room in your house, or perhaps a veranda or pergola area. This will give you countless hours of enjoyment of our feathered friends.
More ambitious gardeners may incorporate a pond to provide water for the birds. If the water is deep, be sure to provide shallow parts, or add a log partly in the water, or stones or pebbles for the birds to perch on without the danger of drowning.
Trevor’s Birding is five years old today.
It has been an interesting journey. This site now boasts over 1100 articles about Australian birds with nearly 4000 comments from readers. It is read in over 100 countries by about 1000 readers every day.
This site ranks regularly in the top 50 birding websites in the world and continues to grow in popularity.
Thanks to all of my regular and loyal readers. Thanks also to those who bother to leave comments and questions; you are very much appreciated.
Now for the next 5 years!
Sydney Trip May 2010
On our recent road trip to Sydney to visit family we were very pressed for time on the journey over. Murray Bridge to Sydney is nearly 1400 km and can be achieved in two days of constant driving. My wife and I like to take journeys like this at a leisurely pace, enjoying the towns, national parks and interesting road side vegetation areas. This time we were on a tight schedule so there wasn’t much time for birding, nor photography.
So I had to be content to make lists of birds seen “on the run” as we drove along.
After stopping at Ouyen for lunch on our first day we continued east through Manangatang, Piangil and crossed the River Murray at Tooleybuc. From there we went on towards Balranald where we stopped briefly to refuel. About an hour later we stopped for a toilet break at the Ravensworth Rest Area, then on through Hay to Narrandera where we stayed in a motel for the night.
It was a rushed day but I still managed some interesting bird observations, listed below.
Black-shouldered Kites: these appeared to be in abundance along this stretch of road. I’d heard that some areas were experiencing a mouse plague, along with many locusts. Though we saw few of either of these pests, it could account for so many kites.
Nankeen Kestrels: these were also in abundance along this road.
Black Kites: only a few seen, though I can’t recall seeing them in this area on previous trips.
Wedge-tailed Eagles: only two seen during the whole day, though I’d expect to see more.
Australian Magpies: very common all along this route. It this area it is the Black-backed Magpie subspecies you see.
Australian Ravens: very common everywhere.
Pied Butcherbird: a saw several of these during the afternoon, either sitting in a tree on the side of the road, or flying over the road. (The photo above was taken on a different trip in this area.)
Parrots: small flocks of Galahs and Sulphur-crested Cockatoos were seen where there was suitable habitat. Major highlight was a small flock of Blue Bonnets. A major disappointment was not seeing any Major Mitchell Cockatoos.
Other species: most of these were seen in large numbers and are quite common where suitable habitat exists:
- various honeyeaters, with plenty of Noisy Miners
- Yellow-rumped Thornbills
- White-winged Choughs – very common
- Crested Pigeons – very common
Everyone interested in birds needs at least one field guide to help with the identification of the birds being seen.
I have several. Ten, in fact. Six of them are Australian field guides, plus I have one covering the birds of South East Asia, one of the Indian sub-continent and two for the British Isles and Europe.
Now I have another one! This field guide is being published TODAY.
Field Guide to the birds of Australia 8th edition
by Ken Simpson and Nicolas Day
(with Peter Trusler)
Ease of use
Many years ago I was given the first edition of this very popular field guide. It has remained largely on my bookshelf in my office, referred to from time to time but never taken out into the field. This was because of its bulky size and being in hardback couldn’t really be called a “field guide” as it was too big to carry around. Recent editions have been far more portable, and this new edition is excellent: convenient size, portable, and at 826 grams just the right weight.
There are many fine features in this edition. There are so many I can only highlight those I think are worth mentioning.
There are 132 full page colour plates throughout which illustrate every bird found in Australia. The publisher’s use of the word “comprehensive” on the cover is no idle boast. Each colour plate shows about five or six different species, most shown in typical poses to help identification. Birds most often seen in flight, such as eagles and sea birds like terns, are also shown in flight. The colour rendition of each species appears very good in most cases, especially those I am very familiar with. One page I’d take exception to is the plate showing White-eyes and Silvereyes, as the birds I’ve seen in this group have far more vibrant colours. The ‘red’ robins suffer the same fate, along with some of the fairy-wrens. On the other hand, the rendition of the cuckoos, parrots doves and pigeons are very colourful and well done. The birds of prey (owls, hawks, eagles and kites) are brilliant.
Opposite each colour plate where the birds are illustrated is the text page. Each species has a short description of the bird, including sexual and race variations. The text also includes details of size, juvenile plumage, voice and preferred habitats. Breeding information is included in a separate section. The text is the part of this guide of which I am most critical. For my needs it is too short, too concise. In many cases I will need to go elsewhere in my library to find the information I need. For the casual bird watcher it is quite adequate. I concede that to expand this section to please me would probably add 20-30% more pages to the volume making it less portable in the field. The authors must have had some tough decisions to make along the way.
Next to the text they have included some 900 black and white sketches showing identification features hard to include in the text. This is an excellent feature. The text section is complete with a small map showing normal breeding and non-breeding distribution. Another excellent feature of the maps is to delineate the range of each race of the species, along with extra notes on some species where deemed necessary.
A separate section details comprehensive breeding information. This includes a brief description of the nest, number and colour of eggs, incubation periods and what the hatchlings look like. It includes fledging periods and some notes about the care of the young until independence. Each species also has a bar graph showing typical breeding seasons.
Special note must be made about the 21 pages of vagrant species included at the end of the colour plates. These pages show sightings of species not normally present in Australia (ie vagrants) but which have been officially accepted on to the Australian list of birds. Some have only been seen the once, others on only a handful of occasions.
Other features: these are too many to review here. All I can do is add a list:
- A water resistant cover – useful on wet days in the field.
- Help for beginners on how to observe a bird.
- Where birds live – a useful, informative section on variations in habitats.
- Australian island territories checklists
- Hints for birdwatchers
- An extensive glossary of words used by birders.
- A list of bird-watching organisations.
- Core library – an extensive list of publications the authors suggest for keen birders to build up their own reference library.
We are so blessed here in Australia with so many excellent birding field guides. Each has strengths and weaknesses, so the choice of which to buy becomes an agonising one. I have no hesitation in recommending this new edition because of the comprehensive coverage of Australian birds in a compact, easy to use volume. An truly incredible amount of information has been packed into its 381 pages. The publisher claims to have sold over 500,000 copies in earlier editions. This new, completely revised 8th edition will continue that trend and sell many more copies in the future.
While I would like more information in the text this is just a personal need; not everyone needs the detail I require. For the vast majority of people with a passing interest in our birds, this is an ideal guide to have on the bookshelf or in the car or rucksack when travelling. At a RRP of $39.95 it is also very affordable.
Disclosure: The publicist of Penguin Books Australia kindly sent me a review copy a few weeks ago. Thanks Leisel.