December & January are quiet months for birding but it's always nice to get out in the countryside on crisp sunny days such as the one we experienced on the Axarquia Group's visit to Alhama de Granada and El Robledal. We all had excellent views of Water Rail at Alhama plus most of the woodland species at Robledal. I post just a couple of shots from the day of a Nuthatch at Robledal and a Water Rail from Alhama.
I intend to return to El Robledal soon to try to get a better shot of the many Jays that we spotted there. They were as usual very skittish, not allowing me to get close enough for a decent image, so I will try again soon.
I also post a shot of a Robin from Alhama on a crisp, frosty day as it seemed so appropriate to this festive period.
A recent visit to the Charca de Suarez with Bob, Derek and Barbara yielded a good view of this Bluethroat from the Laguna del Trebol hide....
..............and a group of Wigeon on Laguna del Lireo looked particularly stunning in the low sunlight.
More recently a trip out to the Osuna area with many other ABS birders was excellent with good sightings of many good birds. I missed out on the Great Bustards but enjoyed views of Peregrine Falcon, Red Kite, Common Buzzards, Marsh and Hen Harrier plus many other interesting species....
... not least the numerous Southern Grey Shrikes and Spanish Sparrows which were prolific along the dirt road by the railway line.
In the lagoon, which was full after the recent rains, we wondered what it was that spooked all the wading Flamingos, causing them to take flight all at once. Barbara and Gerry Laycock were the first to spot the cause, a Peregrine Falcon, the silhouette of which which can just be seen above the flying flamingos in the shot below.
Shortly afterwards the Peregrine came to rest on the bridge on which we were parked, so I took the car a bit closer and managed to get a reasonable photo before it spooked and took flight again.
This Red Kite was seen frequently quartering the damp fields along the track. At one point it passed low overhead so I jumped out of the car and grabbed the shot seen here.
Flamingos were not the only waders in the lagoon, a large group of White Storks were also enjoying the wet conditions. The dead one below did not appear to have any obvious sign of injury, there was some speculation that it may have been struck by a passing train but it I thought it was a bit far from the railway line for that, anyway it was a sad sight to see.
At our final stop in the area looking over the wall onto a small lake I managed to grab a quick shot of one of the flock of Common Waxbills that was flitting about in the reedbed.
On the way home we made a stop at Fuente de Piedra, expecting to see plenty of birds taking advantage of all the water. As it happens the Reserve was virtually empty, the birds have not arrived since the recent rains. I don't remember ever seeing so few birds here even in the driest of times.
Elena & I tried Sierra Loja for one of my nemesis birds, the Ring Ouzel on Sunday, but it was like Piccadilly Circus up there. Hundreds of runners & hikers racing up the hill from Los Abades, the big motorway services place at the bottom. In addition to the runners with their drink stations, first aid points, photographers etc. there were also mountain bikers all over the mountain, and up at the top a convoy of quad bikers tearing the place up, so as you can imagine the birds were not happy with all that company. However we did reconnoitre & discover where the Ring Ouzels were feeding and decided to try again on Tuesday. I'm very pleased that we did.
As I was climbing up and down steep hillsides trying futilely to get close to the wretched ouzels in the hawthorn bushes, Elena noticed that they were all drinking from some puddles on the road way below us. So I clambered down and we crept up as close as I dared in the car to the said puddles, and there they were, dozens of'm. Well done Elena. Here's a view looking back along the road in question, the puddles being behind me as I took this shot.
I was using a 1.4 extender on my 500mm lens and managed to get some very good shots of the birds drinking from the puddles, I didn't quite realise until now just what a handsome species the Ring Ouzel is. I like those silvery edges to the breast feathers below that white ring around the throat. Very nice.
I must say they all looked very healthy and well fed, which is not surprising as the hawthorn trees up here are laden with berries this year which might also explain why the birds were so numerous.
In addition to all the Ring Ouzels there were quite a few Redwings sharing the watering hole. Always a pleasure to see them, quite small in comparison to the Ouzels but very attractive thrushes in my opinion.
A few other species were also at the party. here's a Rock Sparrow showing us the yellow spot on his throat. This is mentioned in the Field Guide but this is the first time I have got to see it.
Rock Buntings were also partaking, as were Linnets, Goldfinches, Chaffinches and one or two Mistle Thrushes.
I was pleased to get some photos of the Mistle Thrush as I find them extremely skittish and wary of human presence in Spain. They seem to be much easier to get good views of in England for some reason.
Here are a few more shots of the Happy Hour at the watering hole. It was a very happy hour for us two anyway. The weather was perfect, the views spectacular and the birds all very obliging. What more could we ask for.
122 species positively identified. (90 photographed). Probably saw many others but did not identify them, swifts & hirundines in particular. Species in italics have been seen before, otherwise 114 were lifers.
I finally said goodbye to my sister & family in the Northern Rivers, flew to Sydney & drove out west across the Blue Mountains to the Capertee Valley. I had read about this place in Sean Dooley's great book "The Big Twitch". I was here 40 years ago on a horse riding holiday with my first wife and I was keen to see if it had changed. I was also looking forward to the isolation and to seeing a different set of birds. It is supposedly one of the best birding locations in Australia. Second only perhaps to Kakadoo National Park.
I needn't have worried about the place changing, it seemed the World has passed it by. I stayed at Binalong, April Mill's amazing property which turned out to be the best birding spot in the area. It's hard to describe this place, you have to be there and experience it. For example I had tree frogs living in my toilet. A bit disconcerting at first but they would just hang on during a flush, so what was I to do?
Here is a view of the property from the outside which gives an idea of the environment and landscape here at the Capertee Valley. Apparently the World's widest and second largest valley after the Grand Canyon. There are no shops, cafes, petrol stations or any facilities closer than Capertee village, which is many miles away.
I started birding early the following morning and was pleased to get some nice shots of the White-plumed Honeyeater below. This was not one I had seen before.
The next bird in the garden I had seen before but I think this is the best shot of the Black-faced Cuckoo Shrike. He is very suspicious of me and is trying perhaps to appear menacing. Well he didn't scare me at all.
It was very nice to see Zebra Finches in the wild, in their natural habitat instead of in a cage which is where I had seen many in the past. Cage birds are very popular in Spain and these are one of the easiest to keep apparently.
This is the first and only Grey Butcherbird I saw. There were plenty of its Pied cousins but this one is a lot less common and it was another lifer for me.
Strangely this was the only Nankeen Kestrel I saw on my trip, surprising because it is supposedly quite common, just a matter of luck I suppose.
I like the name of this one, Jacky Winter is quite a familiar bird to most people in Australia and they have given it a very Australian name. I can't imagine the British giving names like Jacky Winter and Willy Wagtail, we are far too stiff and formal for that.
The next bird was present at Binalong in considerable numbers, and what a beauty it is. The White-browed Woodswallow is a stunner. All Woodswallows have very soft, rich looking plumage with subtle dusky colouring. This is perhaps the best looking of them all.
In fact I admire this bird so much I will post a few shots, it is so photogenic and I managed to get quite close.
It's difficult to choose which White-browed Woodswallow shots to post as I took so many. This one on a fence post is a good close-up.......
.....as is this one perched on a thistle in soft light. I like them all.
I actually photographed three different Woodswallow varieties at Binalong. These two below are Dusky Woodswallows........
And another Dusky Woodswallow. Again note that lush, soft looking plumage.
Here is the third one, a Masked Woodswallow. This was the only one of these that I saw, apparently they are more common out West, so I was quite lucky with this one.
This rather nondescript bird is a Rufous Songlark. It seemed fairly common in the fields and light woodland around here but I don't remember seeing it up in the Northern Rivers area so it's another one to add to my Australian list.
Similarly this was a new one to add to my tally and in fact this one was the only Hooded Robin I saw on my trip so I was glad to get it.
The Double-barred Finch below was a great sighting. Australian finches are really spectacular and this is definitely one to remember. Superb black, white and grey patterns and very nicely spotted wing primaries make it a very handsome little bird, very exciting to see in the wild.
The Diamond Firetail is another dazzling endemic Australian finch, This very small one is also kept by cagebird enthusiasts and it suffered serious declines in the wild. It has recently been taken off the vulnerable list however as the decline has been arrested. Still it is only common in certain locations such as Capertee and I consider myself lucky to have seen and photographed it.
The Red-browed Finch is the one I saw most often. It is common only along the East Coast of Australia but there seem to be a lot of them. They always appeared to be in flocks of around twenty or so individuals. It is another common aviary bird but I enjoyed seeing them in their natural habitat.
This colourful little bird below is actually not a finch but a Pardelote. This is a separate native Australian family of four bird species, of which the Striated Pardelote below is the most widespread and numerous. I was pleased to capture an image, albeit slightly obscured. I had hoped to see the more spectacular Spotted Pardelote up in Lamington N P but missed out on it unfortubately as it is quite special.
Pardelotes are Eucalyptus forest specialists. They may be seen in other trees but they are never far from the Eucalypts that they nest and feed in.
The bird below is a Chestnut-breasted Finch. Quite a remarkable bird to look at in chestnut, black and silver. I actually took this photo up in the Northern Rivers area but didn't think it good enough to post. However as I'm focussing on Australian finches and the like I will put it in. It was a really nice sighting but I couldn't manage a clear shot at it so this will have to do.
The following are are four birds that I picked up in the grounds of Binalong. The photographs are not great but I include them for the record. The first is a White-winged Chough, there was a resident flock of about ten birds around the grounds. They are only very distantly related to our Red-billed or Alpine choughs. They are in a separate family of two species known as Mudnest Builders, the other species being the Apostlebird. They are not strong flyers but spend most of the time foraging on the ground in the leaf litter. They were called choughs because of the close physical resemblance to that species. They build interesting looking flowerpot shaped nests of mud and grass and one group may steal and raise nestlings from another group because there is more security in numbers with these ground foraging birds.
The Common Bronzewing is a large, imposing looking pigeon, quite common but a very wary bird difficult to get close to. I had to sit quietly in the car for some time before this one came within range and even then it was not a clear shot. Pity as it's a very striking looking species.
The White-winged Triller is a small member of the Cuckooshrike family. Not uncommon in woodland but another one very hard to get close to. The Peaceful Dove is a small pinkish pigeon that creeps around on the ground. It is still common but is suffering from competition from the introduced Spotted Dove, which is unfortunate.
I post another shot of a Superb Fairy-Wren taken at Binalong, because it's a good one. Below is an Australasian Pipit, a bird of open country such as grassland and pasture, roadsides and light woodland. Very similar in appearance to Richard's Pipit, but a separate species.
I rarely mention the animal life but there are lots of Kangaroos all over the place, wallabies, various large Lizards and an occasional Wombat are all that I remember.
The Capertee Valley is one of the few places that the critically endangered Regent Honeyeater is still seen. There are massive conservation efforts going in to try to save this flagship species from becoming extinct. It is a very spaectacular bird that was once common throughout much of Australia but fragmentation of its habitat has decimated the population. Extensive tree planting is ongoing and surveys show that the decline has been arrested but there is a long way to go to save the species. I hoped to catch sight of one but was not lucky. April told me that it is seen on the property sometimes and she gave me maps of the locations that I would have a chance, I was not there long enough though as I decided to cut and run when the weather turned bad. rain was forecast for the foreseeable future after I had been there for just three nights so I decided to pack up & head back to Sydney & the flights home. It had been an amazing holiday and I hope to return someday. It would be great to come back & see a thriving population of Regent Honeyeaters, I will be following their fate online.
Here are a few more photographs from various locations in and around the Northern Rivers area. The shot below of a Pacific Baza was taken at Broken Head Nature Reserve, a beautiful spot where the forest truly meets the sea. This was one of a pair just off the beach in a section of forest sloping down to the white sand. I think it is an extremely handsome little raptor with very bright yellow eyes, a clear brown-&-white barred breast and a very jaunty crest balancing the strongly hooked bill. I watched these birds flying over the forest and swooping down suddenly in a streamlined v-shape into the canopy to prey on stick insects, tree frogs, lizards and sometimes small birds. Spectacular.
The Galah, sometimes known as the Rose-breasted Cockatoo is extremely common in virtually all parts of Australia. It is one of those birds that has benefited from human habitation and the clearing of woodland for grazing, disastrous for most birds but not this one. They are highly intelligent and adapt well to captivity if suitably stimulated and cared for, then they can live for 70 - 80 years.
The large Brush Turkey is fairly common in woodland reserves. i am somewhat surprised that it survived the early colonisation of Australia as it looks like a christmas dinner on legs. It did in fact become almost extinct in the 1930's but it has since recovered and is now very easy to see wherever it is protected from hunting.
This one is called a Little Wattlebird which is a bit of a misnomer as it has no wattles. The other member of its genus do but not this one. It is another Honeyeater but a slightly nondescript one except for its strangely streaky plumage. I found them along the sandy heathland above the beach.
The Dollarbird is an old favourite from S E Asia. It is so named because of the conspicuous light blue coin shaped spots on its wings that are distinctive in flight.
Being from the Roller family the Dollarbird is quite colouful and fairly easy to photograph as it likes to sit in exposed positions, waiting to spot and pounce on prey on the ground.
Rainbow Bee-eaters (merops ornatus) are the only representative of the Bee-eater family in Australia. Somewhat similar in appearance to our European Bee-eater (merops apiaster) but paler in colour and with two tail feather extensions, longer in the male than the female.
Rainbow Bee-eaters migrate North during the winter after breeding in Southern Australia. They reach as far as New Guinea and some Southern Islands of Indonesia.
Here's another member of the Cuckoo family, the Pallid Cuckoo. This is another brood parasite which is not specific in which species' nest it will lay its egg. It may choose members of the Honeyeaters, or Robins or the Willy Wagtail.
One interesting fact about the Pallid Cuckoo is its feet which are zygodactyl. That is two toes point forward and two backwards, quite unusual.
The Pallid Cuckoo shares a characteristic with several other Cuckoo species such as the Fan-tailed Cuckoo (below) in that they have yellow eye rings.
The Masked Lapwing vanellus miles is a very common species, in fact it can be seen in any open pasture or light woodland and is colloquially known just as "Plover". There are two subspecies and the one shown below is sometimes described as a separate species known as Black-shouldered Lapwing, vanellus novaehollandiae.
Lamington National Park is in Queensland on the border with NSW. It averages 900 meters in elevation and is an important section of preserved rain forest which once covered all of this part of Australia. It is an area of high bio-diversity and the ancient Antarctic Beech forest remnants are absolutely spectacular, huge ancient trees some as old as 5000 years, all coated in green mosses and lichens, truly magnificent. Unfortunately I came across this armed only with my 500 mm birding lens so sadly was unable to capture the landscape.
I met a ranger at the information centre as I arrived just after daybreak. he was a birder and advised me to walk part of the Lower Bellbird Circuit which he considered one of the best for birding. Just opposite the start of the trail I spotted this large male Koala in some roadside eucalyptus trees. I remember being surprised at how big it was. I had seen Koalas when I was last in Australia about 40 years ago, and somehow thought of them as cuddly little teddy bears, but this guy was much larger than I remembered or imagined. Sadly Koalas are becoming scarce as homo-sapiens drives virtually all other life forms to extinction, so I was very happy to see at least one of this charming bear species. Another generation might not have the opportunity.
My first bird photograph from the park is probably my favourite Australian bird species, the Eastern Spinebill. This is a very exotic looking bird, one of the Honeyeater family that has a long downcurved bill perfect for extracting nectar from flowers by lapping with its brush-tipped tongue. It has large bright red eyes and a long, sleek black, white and buff coloured body. It was flitting around and occasionally hovering in some flowering trees and was extremely difficult to photograph as it never stopped moving for an instant. It reminded me of a very large Hummingbird. Really impressive.
My next sighting was this stunning Crimson Rosella. I think this is the most beautiful of all the parrot species I saw in Australia. The crimson and blue plumage is truly outstanding, only exceeded in beauty perhaps by the Scarlet Macaws I that watched in Costa Rica.
The wet forest habitat of Lamington is perfect for this species and it was quite numerous up here, whereas I didn't see any at all down below these mountains. I do believe though they frequent gardens and will visit feeders in many areas not at higher elevations.
The Grey Shrike-thrush is a fairly common bird that I saw in a variety of habitats. It is perhaps Australia's most loved songbird, being matched only by the rare Albert's Lyrebird in tone and melodic quality.
No prizes for guessing the name of the next bird. The Silvereye has a conspicuous ring of white feathers around the eyes. It is one of a very large group known as White-eyes, scientific Zosteropidae. They occur throught sub tropical Africa, S E Asia and Australasia.
White-eyes, or Silvereye in this case, are all small and very attractive little birds often pictured in oriental artwork and decorative illustrations. One can see why.
I didn't need to come to Lamington to see a Pied Currawong, it is a very common species right across Eastern Australia, but I quite like this photo of one on the Bellbird Trail. It had spotted me and was looking suspiciously down upon me as I pointed my camera up at him.
The Brown Cuckoo-Dove is a large rusty-brown pigeon with a long tail. It lives in rain forest all along the East coast of Australia and is quite a handsome bird to see perched on a horizontal branch over a forest trail.
Here's another look at the colourful Golden Whistler which I had photographed before, but it was quite numerous here in the forest, and very easy to find as it was making its distinctive whistling call constantly.
The female Golden Whistler lacks the male's bright yellow and black plumage, but I quite like the shot below with a large fern as background offsetting the birds very large, shiny eye.
Lewin's Honeyeater is a common resident of woodland and rainforest along the Eastern seabord of Australia. easily recognised by its large white half-moon earpatch.
It took me a while to identify this little woodland bird but by a process of elimination I have decided it must be a Pale-yellow Robin. This species is endemic to Australia and is only found in just two fairly small areas, one in N. Queensland and the other here, in SE Queensland and NE NSW, where it is relatively uncommon.
I actually took these photographs in Booyong Reserve near Ballina, not at Lamington. It is only found in lowland tropical and sub-tropical rainforest and I think I was lucky to get it. I have seen it described as rather nondescript, but I don't agree. I find it is a very attractive little lemon-yellow and olive-green bird with a very expressive face and large eyes. Not nondescript at all.
On my way down from Lamington I spotted this superb Pheasant Coucal in a field by the roadside. I was able to stop and photograph it though the car window. This bird is actually a type of Cuckoo, but unlike other Australian cuckoos it is is not a brood parasite, it makes its own nest. In fact the male builds the nest, incubates the eggs and feeds the young. Admirable, a thoroughly modern male.
This is a male Satin Bowerbird. He has uniformly black plumage which strongly diffracts light to produce a deep blue metallic sheen.
Both males and females have beautiful violet-blue-pink eyes which I believe is unique amongst birds.
To attract a mate Males build specialized stick structures called bowers which they decorate with blue, yellow, and shiny objects, including berries, flowers, and many plastic items such as ballpoint pens, bottle caps, drinking straws and clothes pegs. As the males mature they use more blue objects than other colours. The bower seen here is therefore probably the work of an older male. Females visit these and judge them to choose which male they will allow to mate with them. In addition to building their bowers, males carry out intense behavioural displays, ie dances to woo their mate.
It should be pointed out that bowers are not nests, they are sculptures built and decorated purely with the intention of attracting a female. The female actually builds the nest before she decides which male she will accept for mating. She will then go on to lay and incubate the eggs on her own.
Here is the object of all that male attention. The female Satin Bowerbird is mainly greenish/brown in colour, lighter underneath with distinctly reticulated or scalloped patterns, and with the same very striking blue/violet eyes.
The Satin Bowerbird is endemic to Eastern Australia. A ringed specimen is known to have lived for twenty-six years in the wild, the longest life span of any known passerine species.
The coastline here is mile after mile of superb sandy beaches with rocky outcrops and river estuaries. I visited many locations from Ballina up to Tweed Heads and saw some wonderful birds and scenery. The common gull of Australia is the Silver Gull, fairly small and dainty I think it is very attractive as gulls go.
I photographed this Australasian Darter at Tweed Heads, one of the best birding locations of all. Not just for marine birds but a host of other species in the trees and meadows fringing the winding river estuary.
The Greater Crested Tern was one of a colony at Flat Rock, close to Byron Bay. It's a very large and impressive tern, completely dwarfing the Little and Common Terns which were also present.
The Terns were in company with flocks of Red-necked Stints, a common Australian wader...
...and fortunately for me a couple of Sooty Oystercatchers were foraging in the rockpools. This is an Australian endemic and is listed as vulnerable to extinction so I was very pleased to see it. There are estimated to be only around 4000 of the nominate form, and another 7000 of the slightly smaller Northern form in existence. They are only common around the coasts of Tasmania and the Bass Straits Islands, so this was a good sighting.
Unlike its cousin the Sooty Oystercatcher, the Pied Oystercatcher, another Australian endemic prefers sandy coastline to rocky shores. It feeds on bivalve mollusks and other invertebrates and uses a variety of methods to break open the shells. Both Oystercatchers are very handsome birds with bright orange bills and irises.
The Australian Pelican is a fairly widespread species in Australasia and has the distinction of having the longest bill in the bird kingdom. I find it is one of the better looking of the pelicans with black & white plumage, pink bill and large, clear eyes.
The Eastern Osprey, pandion cristatus is considered by some taxonomic authorities to be a different species to our Western form, pandion haliaetus. It is slightly smaller and found from Sulawesi to the Pacific Solomon Islands including Australasia. I took this photo on the end of the breakwater at Ballina, the bird very obligingly stayed on the Lifting ring allowing a good close-up shot. I like the light in this photo.
Together with the Osprey I watched this Brahminy Kite cruising up and down the length of the long breakwater, I am not sure if they will take live fish, being more of a scavenger, but they have been known to steal other birds prey, perhaps he was hoping the Osprey might drop something.
The Birds of Tweed Heads
Tweed Heads is a city on the Tweed River in north-eastern NSW, next to the border with Queensland. The first European to see Tweed Heads in 1882 said of it "A deep rich valley clothed with magnificent trees, the beautiful uniformity of which was only interrupted by the turns and windings of the river, which here and there appeared like small lakes. The view was altogether beautiful beyond description".
Since then of course most of the forest has been cleared but the area still retains a natural beauty because of the winding river. I spent a very pleasant few hours walking around the tree-lined banks spotting a good variety of birds as I went.
Australia's largest bird family is the Honeyeaters, and they were well represented here. The first one I noticed was the rather plain Brown Honeyeater (above), This was unexpected as it is well outside its range acording to my field guide, but there it was with that distictive yellow patch behind the eye.
After that rather plain example I spotted a spectacular Blue Faced Honeyeater which is quite a stunner. Long and sleek with royal blue cheeks in a black & white striped head. What I remember most about it though was those large, staring and slightly mad eyes. I can honestly say it "Snaked" its way around in the trees.
There were many habitats along my walk, riverbank, woodland, meadows, mudbank and even some mangroves where I was very lucky to capture a fantastic Mangrove Honeyeater, another very attractive bird with large, clear slightly blue eyes. It is endemic to Australia, and in fact to just this section of the east coast of Australia.
How's this for a great looking bird, the White-cheeked Honeyeater. A very active bird, so hard to photograph as it constantly flits from flower to flower gathering nectar with its long tongue and curved beak. Such a large bird also requires protein in its diet which it gets from eating crickets and spiders.
If you look closely you can see the long tongue projecting from the bill ready to scoop up nectar or honeydew.
This strange looking bird below is a Noisy Friarbird, another member of the Honeyeater family, but known as Friarbird because of the tufts of hair along the chin and under the eyebrow on an otherwise naked head. It is also very noisy when in a group roost.
Like other honeyeaters they feed on nectar but supplement this with insects and fruit. Below is a close-up showing the prominent hump, or casque, on the upper mandible.
The Fan-tailed Cuckoo below is a quite handsome looking bird with large eyes and a yellow orbital ring. It is slate-grey above with dull rufous/chestnut underparts.
This scaly/speckled one is a juvenile Fan-tailed Cuckoo. I am trying to imagine this bird being raised by a tiny Fairy-wren or Thornbill as these are the nests used by this brood parasite. Not only is there a massive size difference but the nest of a fairy-wren for example is a tiny, domed structure in which this big youngster simply would not fit. Nevertheless, that is what happens somehow.
The Leaden Flycatcher below is a female. I did see the males which differ substantially, lacking the orange breast but sorry I missed a good shot because they are a great looking bird. Can't win'em all.
Here's a Sacred Kingfisher. This is another forest species, doesn't only eat fish. Likes bugs, small animals & even small birds, anything that moves that it can swallow basically .
After birding on the Farm I started to explore nearby bird-rich locations discovered on the internet. The closest was a small rainforest reserve close by at Booyong a little further along Wilson's River. The Reserve is very dense primary rainforest which once covered this entire area, very little remains. Trails can be walked inside but as is often the case most birds are seen around the edges. This Sulphur-crested Cockatoo sat and watched as I entered the dark forest trail.
Rainforest is my absolute favourite birding habitat. The light is usually terrible, birds are often scarce and hard to get a clear shot at in dense undergrowth, all very challenging but It is therefore very satisfying to get a decent image of birds that most people never see. This little Rufous Fantail for example, one of a pair that followed me around and put on a superb display in the murky light. I was using flash, it was the only way to get anything at all, but I was pleased with the result.
Rustling sounds from the forest floor are the first indication of the presence of this curious bird, the Australian Logrunner. It spends its time in pairs on the ground scraping away the leaf litter in search of insects and grubs, always in dense undergrowth. I was again pleased to get a recognizable shot using flash.
These two were all I managed to capture inside the forest. I did catch sight of a fabulous Regent Bowerbird but not good enough to get a usable photograph. Pity, it is a very spectacular bird. nevertheless I sat opposite the entrance trails and observed the following,-
The Eastern Yellow Robin is quite a common little bird, similar to the British Robin in that it is not shy, in fact is one of the easiest birds to photograph. It is not related to the European Robin however, being in a different bird family.
The White-browed Scrub Wren is also quite numerous but much harder to photograph. It's one of those that never stops moving and being an LBJ (little brown job) is quite inconspicuous.
The Golden Whistler on the other hand is much easier. Being larger and mostly bright yellow it is easier to see, plus it advertises its presence with it's constant, whistling song. A very attractive and jolly little chap.
Golden Whistlers are strongly sexually dimorphic, that is the males and females are markedly different. The female (below right) is greeny-brown and nothing like as colourful as the male.
The Grey Fantail is similar to its Rufous cousin in shape and size, just not so colourful. I saw this species around the edges of woodland rather than inside the forest.
There were many more species lurking inside that dark rainforest that I did not manage to photograph. For example the magnificent Regent Bowerbird and I also heard and caught sight of Green Catbird, Rose-crowned Fruit Dove, and possibly Bar-shouldered Dove, although not sure of the latter. Anyway although very small Booyong is an excellent little Reserve with high biodiversity.
While at Booyong I spotted a flock of large, dark and very eerily noisy birds flying overhead. They flew with a very deep, slow and fluid wingbeat so I realised they were something interesting. I headed off in that direction and sure enough found a group of Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos in a tree plantation, on private land but fortunately not too far from the road.
I had been really keen to see Black Cockatoos. Quite apart from their beauty they have a mystical quality and the Yellow-tailed variety is the largest of Australia's parrot species. Spectacular in sight and sound and beautiful in flight, it was exciting to see and hear them in the wild. This particular species is not one of the rarist but it is in decline due to habitat loss. I hope it does not go the way of the Australian Paradise Parrot which is either extinct or very nearly extinct due to habitat destruction to make way for cattle pasture.
About one hours drive NW of the Farm is the Nightcap Mountain Range National Park, it contains Boulder Creek Dam which provides the region's freshwater. It also happens to be an outstanding reserve for wildlife and birds in particular.
The first interesting birds that I picked up were these stunning Scarlet Honeyeaters feeding on nectar from a large waterside flowering tree.
The Scarlet Honeyeater is the smallest of Australia's Honeyeaters, which is a very large and diverse group. In other parts of the World it is known as the Scarlet Myzomela but I prefer the more descriptive name of Honeyeater. They do in fact occasionally hover in front of a flower to probe for nectar with the long, curved bill in a similar fashion to Hummingbirds and Sunbirds, but they also feed on insects. They were quite difficult to photograph high up in the canopy of a tall flowering tree, with the added complication that they never stop moving for an instant. Perseverence is required.
Every time I visited wooded areas I heard the distinctive and unmistakable sound of the Whipbird. There is no mistaking this noise. Starting with a peeping whistle & culminating in the loud cracking of a whip. The trouble had been in seeing the bird that makes this incredible sound. Well today I got lucky, a pair of Eastern Whipbirds appeared out of the thick undergrowth onto an open patch of grass and I was able to get a shot and actually watch them making their call. The whole body shakes as the whip cracks, it must take a lot of energy to keep producing that sound.
Ravens are quite common in Australia and there are three varieties. They are not easy to distinguish between each other and a couple of other Crow species, they all have white irises and are quite glossy, but I believe the one below is an Australian Raven. It is the only one with long hackles (Loose feathers) below the neck which were prominent when the bird was calling.
This next one however I think is a Forest Raven. Not just because of the thick wooded habitat but I observed it closely and heard its wonderful cawing call, deep, gravelly and far-carrying. A fantastic sound.
A feature of the Reserve here is a superb waterside boarwalk which passes through woodland along the banks of a creek winding its way down to the reservois. I spent some time here watching a startling blue Azure Kingfisher successfully catching fish from its overhanging perch. The light was not very good but I did get some recognizable shots.
I also squeezed off a few shots of a Little Pied Cormorant perched on a log below me. Not easy to get clear shots through the overhanging trees but this was the best of the bunch. I am always pleased to see new birds to add to my life list.
Figbirds were moving around in the trees, the male is easy to pick out with that red patch around the eyes......
.....but the female is completely different. Grey-brown with a speckled breast, it looks like a thrush.
There were plenty more birds to watch here but many I had already seen elsewhere. In my search for new and interesting species I needed to vary the habitat & seek out new environments.
While Elena was away selling her flat in Russia I flew to Australia to visit my sister Anne & family in Australia. Anne & John live near Ballina/Byron Bay in NSW in an area known as the Northern Rivers. It's beautiful country, not unlike parts of rural England with rolling hills of woodland interspersed with rich cattle pasture and mixed farmland.
Here are a couple of shots of sister Anne & John on their lovely farm.
And here are another pair of residents. This Tawny Frogmouth pair once frequented the veranda but seem now to prefer roosting in a large tree by the chicken house. They are of course active by night but during the day are not at all perturbed by us getting really close, being used to their friendly landlords by now.
The female (I think) below has adopted a typical "I'm just a tree" pose.
I sepent my first full day looking around at some of the bird life on the farm, and there was plenty to see. Laughing Kookaburra's are common in Australia and are easilly seen, often just one bird one its own perched in an exposed position waiting to sight a lizard or similar prey to pounce on. This is typical feeding behaviour of Kingfishers which is what the Kookaburra is, it just doesn't eat fish.
The Superb Fairy Wren is an attractive and very common little bird, overlooked perhaps because it is so tiny but any close examination of any low bushes or tall grass will usually reveal these little gems flitting about after insects, never still so not easy to photograph.
A stretch of Wilson's River runs through the farm and the first bird I saw down there was a stunning White-bellied Sea Eagle, a fairly common raptor in this part of Australia. The white-bellied sea eagle is revered by indiginous people in many parts of Australia, and is the subject of various folk tales throughout its range. They are very susceptible to human disturbance, particularly around nest sites, so numbers are declining quite considerably as a result.
Whilst down at the river I also spotted a pair of roosting White-breasted Woodswallows. These quite small and attractive birds are not related to swallows or hirundines at all, in fact their closest relatives are the crow-like Butcherbirds, Currawongs and Australian Magpies. Very strange.
Here for example is an Australian Magpie, not much similarity is there...
...and this imposing looking, crow-like bird is a Pied Currawong. Again how different is that from a Woodswallow but the taxonomists assure us they are cousins. Named by indigenous Australians after the sound of its distinctive call the Currawong was very common on the farm. .Anne also fed a Pied Butcherbird daily from a bowl on the kitchen window inside the covered veranda. It was very tame. I could not focus the camera that close so in fact did not get a shot of it at all, but it is almost identical in appearance to the Magpie. Not at all like a Woodswallow!
Another familiar sight from the kitchen veranda was a pair of Rainbow Lorikeets feeding on some tall flowering rush stems in the garden. A true parrot these lorikeets are a very colourful and spectacular sight.....
......as are the Eastern Rosellas which could also be seen from the kitchen veranda foraging on the ground in the grass and occasionally flying up onto a fence post as seen here.
Crested Pigeons were another very attractive bird that could be seen every day hanging around the chicken house, obviously after the grain that John scattered around for his choocks. When startled, the crested pigeon takes to the air with a distinctive whistling 'call', the source of the noise can be attributed to the way the air rushes over a modified primary feather found on the wings. It diverts attention of ariel predators away from birds remaining on the ground.
One of the most common Australian birds is the Willie Wagtail. Not related to the true wagtail family it is named after its habit of waving its long tail up and down while foraging on the ground for insects or seeds. A very familiar sight wherever there are parks or gardens, it has adapted well to human habitation.
While walking around the extensive pasture on the farm I spotted quite a variety of water birds, not least this White-necked Heron.......
...and often numerous Australian White Ibises.
Purple Swamphens and Pacific Black Ducks wandered around the place like they owned it, behaving like domesticated chickens even though they are wild birds, White-headed Pigeons were seen a lot and Noisy Miners were prolific, another of those birds that have benefited from human presence.
Australians are naturally obsessive about invasive alien species, the Indian Mynah being a case in point, but this Noisy Miner is an endemic species that has exploded in numbers since humans have affected the landscape. They are aggressive and greedy territorial gangsters, driving many other species out and almost complelely taking over. Research has found culls of noisy miners can dramatically increase the number of other birds by up to 40 times and the number of species by 10 times in some areas. "There is just no question that if we could control the noisy miner we could have a huge biodiversity impact straight away," said professor Roberts, an eminent ecologist.
I watched this pest in action and noted that where Noisy Miners exist there are very few other birds present, particularly small species. A scourge on biodiversity in Australia.
One little bird species that has not been driven out completely by the wretched Miners is the Fairy Wrens. There are not many but their habitat is grassland and very low thickets, not the haunt of the Miner, so some have survived. The one below is a Red-backed Fairy Wren, a little charmer that I saw in the paddock on the hill above the house.
The farm is 80 acres of natural beauty, with a river and two dams (ponds), and wooded areas. I remember identifying at least 30 species here as follows,-
White-bellied Sea Eagle , Tawny Frogmouth, Pacific Black Duck, Wood Duck, White-necked Heron, Straw-necked Ibis, Great Egret, Cattle Egret, Dusky Moorhen, Willie Wagtail, Jackie Winter, Welcome Swallow, Australian Raven, Torresian Crow, Pied Currawong, Pied Butcherbird, Australian Magpie, Crested Pigeon, White-necked Pigeon, White-breasted Woodswallow, Superb Fairy Wren, Red-backed fairy Wren, Noisy Miner, Masked Lapwing, Purple Swamphen, Magpie Lark, Eurasian Coot, Laughing Kookaburra, Eastern Rosella, Rainbow Lorikeet,
There are undoubtedly many more but I am not able to identify everything I see. John assures me that he often flushes quail on his morning walks but I wasn't that lucky. It was a great place to be for anyone, let alone a birdwatcher from the other side of the World, so needless to say I thoroughly enjoyed myself.
Retired seafarer living in Frigiliana, a white village in Malaga Province in southern Spain. Married to Elena. Keen bird and wildlife watchers.
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