After nearly three weeks visiting family in Sydney and playing with our delightful grandchildren, we are on our way home again. We have reached Narrandera in the Riverina region of New South Wales. This is one of our regular stops on our way to and from Sydney.
We treated ourselves to a wonderful meal for dinner at the Hing Wah Chinese Restaurant in the main street. The food was delicious and the service excellent. I highly recommend this eatery. On our way back to our cabin in the caravan park we nearly hit an owl as it crossed the road in front of our car.
I am not sure what species it was but from its colour – mostly brown – and size it was possibly a Tawny Frogmouth or a Boobook Owl. It certainly did not have the lighter colours of a Barn Owl, and it was too big to be an Owlet Nightjar. It made a good ending to a rather poor birding journey today. Between Sydney and here we saw very few birds, except for a half hour stop for afternoon tea at the Wagga Wagga Botanic Gardens.
UPDATE: at 5:30am the next morning I heard the call of a Southern Boobook Owl just outside our cabin in the caravan park where we were staying for the night. It was good to have my initial identification confirmed.
I was delighted a few evenings ago to hear an Australian Owlet-nightjar calling in the garden. It’s really nice to observe that it is still around.
A few months ago we would hear this delightful nocturnal bird calling during the day. That’s right – during the day. It would come out of its hollow and sit in the sun for a half hour or so, calling occasionally.
Being a nocturnal bird I had not thought I’d ever get a chance to photograph this species, so it was a double delight – actually seeing the bird AND getting a reasonable photo.
The last few days have been quite warm here in Murray Bridge, South Australia. So far our summer has been quite mild, with temperatures in the low to mid 20s (70-80 F). This little heat wave has come as a bit of shock to the system.
Last night we were enjoying our new veranda in the cool of the evening. Nothing worth watching on television so we switched it off. Nice just to sit and talk. As we talked we heard the unmistakable call of an Australian Owlet-nightjar. This delightful little nocturnal bird is more often heard than seen. We hadn’t heard or seen this species here at home for some months, so that was an added bonus.
About a year ago we had an Owlet-nightjar roosting in a hollow limb in a tree near my office. Several times every morning he would come to the entrance of the hollow, call several times, enjoy a few minutes of sunshine and then go back to sleep in the hollow. I miss that regular interruption to my daily routines.
The photo shows this bird at the entrance of the hollow.
The Australian Owlet-nightjar is a relatively common bird throughout much of Australia. With an overall size of 21-25cm it is our smallest nocturnal bird. In fact, the first time I saw this birds I was amazed at how tiny it really was. This individual was perched in full sunlight on a branch of a tree in a neighbour’s garden. This is something they will do occasionally. Normally they roost in the hollows of trees.
Despite being widespread in Australia, I suspect few people will have ever seen one, mainly because of their nocturnal habits. Their size may account for them often being overlooked too. I suspect that quite a few people may have heard this species but have no idea what was making the call. Its chirr-chirr call is a sound many Australians will have heard when out at night, especially in more rural areas, or when camping out bush away from traffic noises. Another common observation of this species would be a fleeting glance of one flying through the headlight beams of cars travelling country roads at night. Most people probably would dismiss it as a very large moth.
Resident in our garden?
At present I am thinking that this species is resident in our garden. Over recent weeks I have heard it calling on many occasions, often an hour or so after sunset. I usually head outdoors, torch in hand, trying to track it down. The fact that their eyes do not reflect torchlight makes the quest just that little bit harder.
More puzzling, however, is hearing the call during the daylight hours, usually just the once and quite close to the house. A little research indicates that they sometimes do this. It has happened three or four times in the last week or so. Whenever I go out pursuing this lovely bird trying to get a photo, I have no idea where to start looking – apart from the obvious tree hollows nearby. It’s all very frustrating.
UPDATE: I finally got to see one in our garden – and get a photo what’s more. To read about click here.
- Great Birding Moments – Spotted Nightjar – an article and photo about a close encounter with another nightjar species.
- Spotted Nightjar
- Birds in Backyards: Australian Owlet-nightjar – this article includes a photo, a painting and a map of distribution.
The photo below shows a related species, the Spotted Nightjar. (Click on the photo to enlarge the image.)