Little Pied Cormorant
Australian Wood Duck
Pacific Black Duck
Eastern Great Egret
Australian White Ibis
Australian Brush Turkey
White-bellied Sea Eagle
Superb Fruit Dove
Brown Cuckoo Dove
Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo
White Cheeked Honeyeater
Eastern yellow Robin
Pale yellow Robin
Double Barred Finch
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 .