Sydney Trip June 2011
On the last day of our holiday earlier this year we left Mildura and headed south towards Ouyen. We had planned to visit one of our favourite places for lunch: Hattah-Kulkyne National Park. This park has two distinct habitat types: mallee and spinifex in large parts of the reserve, and the extensive array of small to medium lakes lined with River Red Gums. These lakes fill regularly when the nearby River Murray is in flood. Our family has had a number of enjoyable holidays in the camping ground at Lake Hattah.
On this occasion we stopped at a suitable point along the old Calder Highway, a dirt road leading through the northern section of the mallee and spinifex habitat. While the birding was a little on the slow side I was delighted to catch several glimpses of two Chestnut Quail-thrushes crossing the road nearby. The male obligingly posed long enough for a reasonable photo (see above). This can be a secretive species and not easy to capture on a photo.
Chestnut Quail-thrushes are widespread in suitable habitat in central and western New South Wales, northern South Australia and Western Australia. The photo below is indicative of its preferred habitat.
Sydney Trip June 2011
Yesterday I wrote about having a short stopover at the Malleefowl Rest Area on the road from Balranald to Mildura. We stopped to have a cuppa and afternoon tea in a patch of mallee scrub just off the highway.
While we were enjoying our break several Blue Bonnet parrots flew into a tree nearby and I was able to get some good photos of this colourful bird. At about 30cm in size this is one of our smaller parrots. While it is widespread in the mallee areas of Victoria, NSW and South Australia, it is generally not common anywhere. A small isolated population can also be found in SE Western Australia.
While I said that it is widespread in mallee habitats, it can also be found in several other habitats, including saltbush areas, grasslands, farmlands, mulga and acacias. I have yet to record this species on our home block but I have seen it within about 30 kilometres from our place.
As I was driving past the Pinnaroo Primary School recently I spotted a lovely mural painted on the wall of a classroom. The mural illustrates various aspects of the local farming activities and the environment. I’ve shown it in the photo above – click on it to enlarge.
From a birding viewpoint I was pleased to see the Malleefowl shown prominently as a part of the painting. Pinnaroo is in the heart of mallee country in South Australia.
The Malleefowl is an amazing bird unique to this part of the world and is classified as a vulnerable species in Australia. It is about 55-61cm in size (like a smallish turkey) and quietly feeds on seeds and berries in the mallee scrub, or on wheat seeds in farming areas.
The male Malleefowl builds a rather odd nest. It is a mound of dirt, leaves, sticks and bark and can be from 2 to 5 metres in diameter and up to 1.5 metres high. He will work this mound like a compost heap over the summer months, the rotting vegetation and sunlight heating up the mound. Over many months the female lays about 5 to 30 eggs in tunnels in the mound which are then covered over. The heat inside the mound is kept at almost exactly 33C throughout the incubation period which can last many months. On hatching, the young struggle through the dirt of the mound before running off through the scrub, independent from the beginning.
This species can be found nesting within 20km of my home, yet I’ve only ever seen one in the wild on a handful of occasions. One memorable occasion occurred a few years ago when I saw 6 birds in a period of 10 minutes. You can read about that encounter in an article called What kind of a duck was that? (Click here)
Below I have also included photos of two Malleefowl nests I have found in different parts of South Australia.
Almost every day we have two or more Mallee Ringneck parrots in our garden or nearby. We love to have these colourful parrots flying around and feeding in the trees, grasses and bushes around our house. The only time they are not welcome is when they take to our ripening pears and other fruits. In many cases they eat the unripe fruit, so I hope they gets some pains in their little stomachs for damaging our fruit.
In recent weeks two of them have been hanging around one of the trees near the garage. This is an old growth mallee which could well be over a century old. Being so old it has developed several hollow branches. They have been fussing around one of the larger hollows, sitting on the branch, walking along a nearby branch, entering the hollow and sitting in it. Are they a pair? And are they preparing to nest in this hollow?
We can’t be certain that this is a genuine breeding attempt. We will just have to keep an eye on the situation – and have the camera at the ready.
The Singing Honeyeater is a common species in suitable habitat throughout much of Australia. It tends to be absent only from the eastern coastal areas, most of Victoria (except the south coast), and the far north of Queensland and the Northern Territory. It’s preferred habitats include mallee scrubs, mulga, roadside vegetation, orchards, vineyards and gardens. It tends to be rather solitary in habit. On occasions I have seen small loose flocks of up to four or five birds, usually where the vegetation is dense, for example, coastal dunes.
Resident Breeding species
The Singing Honeyeater is a resident breeding species in our garden. Their numbers never seem to go over about four or five on our 2 hectare (5 acre) block of land. The dominant plant species is mallee scrub (click here for a photo). They were perhaps more numerous more than ten years ago, but in recent times the New Holland Honeyeaters have become the dominant – and very bossy – species.
Updated November 2013
The resident Singing Honeyeaters are regular visitors to our bird baths. I don’t think I’ve seen them actually bathing in the water; they just tend to come for a drink. Next to the bird bath is a sprawling bush called Eremophila glabra. In the photo this plant has the bright red tube-shaped flowers. (Click on the photo to enlarge). The honeyeaters frequently stay for five minutes or more feeding on these flowers. A quick return trip to the water for a drink and then they are off to feed elsewhere.
In the photo you will observe a black hose in front of the bird. This is part of our watering system. We have installed many hundreds of metres of similar hoses throughout our garden and orchard. Wherever there is a plant we place a dripper. Each dripper then allows a steady stream of drips to the plant when the tap is turned on. We have timers on each tap which then turn off the water to the dripper hoses after a set time, usually one or two hours.
Many Australian gardeners have recently moved to this system because of the severe drought we are experiencing. Many areas are on severe water restrictions. In some places you cannot even use dripper systems like this one. We have certainly done our bit to conserve water because we’ve been using drippers for over 20 years. Most people are only installing them now.
Plants in our garden
For more photos and information about the plants in our garden and in our district go to Mallee Native Plants Nursery, my wife’s blog about our beautiful Australian plants.