I went over to Caleta de Velez hoping to see the reported Icelandic Gull which had been seen regularly around the fishing harbour for a few weeks now. I wondered if I would recognize it amongst all the other gulls which include Black-headed, Yellow-legged, Lesser Black-backed, Mediterranean, and a few Audouins. In the event I needn't have worried, it was quite different in appearance from any of them and easy to spot as it sat on the beach amongst a group of mainly Yellow-legged Gulls.
I had to photograph it through a heavy steel wire fence which obscured some of the light coming into the lens, but the results are ok as record shots of a very unusual visitor to the shores of Andalucia. This bird breeds in the Arctic regions of Canada and Greenland and normally only Winters in the North Atlantic, sometimes as far south as the shores of Britain and N E United States, so it is a very unexpected visitor here, one worth recording.
It differs quite substantially in appearance from the other Gulls around, very pale plumage with white wings & no black anywhere except on the tip of the bill. The bill is small and narrow giving the bird a slightly dove-like appearance. As gulls go it is quite attractive.
I imagine the exceptionally cold winter this year has something to do with its presence in Andalucia. We have experienced some extremely cold winds from the North all across Europe and the Atlantic, so it is likely to be the reason for this very unusual but welcome visitor.I wonder how long it will remain but think it might get a bit too warm for it quite soon. Personally, I hope so.
Due to physical health issues I only spent three days birding in Columbia. I am an independant birder, I don't go on expensive birding tours but try to do it myself. No doubt I would have much longer lists from a tour with full time guides, but it's the independant element that makes it fun for me, plus I have a healthier bank balance as a result. Of the sixty or so birds that I remember positively identifying more than thirty were lifers, they are the ones in bold type below.
I came to Columbia to see my daughter Louise, her husband Wade, and my Grandson Arlo. They were here having a break from the severe Canadian winter. I thoroughly enjoyed my week with them, highlights being a five hour bike tour of old Bogota and a couple of days in an old colonial town called Villa de Lerva, where we went horse riding, and quite interestingly came across Jeremy Clarkson looking a bit grumpy and scruffy as he wandered into the main square with his film crew in tow.
As the week progressed I started to become very tired and just a bit unwell. As it happens this had nothing to do with Columbia, it was caused by some dermatology treatment I had been prescribed in Spain just before departing for Bogota. Unbeknown to me the cream I was applying (Zyclara/Imiquimod) has quite severe side effects which were accumulating as I continued to apply it.during my holiday. By the time I left the family to go birding I was very definitely not well and was getting getting progressively worse, but I thought it was temporary & continued on with my plans.
Columbia has more bird species than any other Country and should be a birder's paradise. However it is a big place and the birding hotspots are widely separated and often difficult to access. In the event I decided to focus my efforts on just one location, the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. I took a short flight from Bogota to the Caribbean resort of Santa Marta & made my way by shared taxi up to the small backpackers town of Minca in the foothills of the mountain range.
The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is an isolated mountain range separated from the main Andean chains that run through Columbia. Reaching an altitude of 5,700 m just 42 km from the Caribbean coast it is is one of the world's highest coastal ranges. It is a compact group, relatively small in area and completely surrounded by lands with elevations below 200 m. Because of its isolation it is rich in endemic species which have evolved separately from those found in the main Andean Mountains. I stayed in Minca for a couple of nights & did some birding around the place, but my final destination was much higher, at the legendary eco lodge of El Dorado..
The drive up to El Dorado can only be undertaken in a serious 4x4 and to call it a road would be a misnomer, it's more of a protracted gap in the jungle, and is not for the faint-hearted taking 2.5 hours to cover about 15 kms. I was picked up at 6 am and at 8:30 we arrived and I went straight out with my guide for the day looking for those endemic species.
My main target here was the White-tipped Quetzal, a handsome member of the Trogon family which is endemic to just this area and a small nearby section of Northern Venezuela. We got lucky, within a hour we had a handsome male perched quite still in a tree fairly close, what a bird!
Later that day we had equally good views of a female Quetzal. She lacks the bright shiny green head and breast plumage and the pointed tail extensions of the male, but a stunning bird nonetheless.
There were other spectacular birds to be seen. The Strong-billed Woodcreeper for example is one of the largest and heaviest of the Woodcreepers, and there are many. It is perhaps three times the size of the Montane Woodcreeper which was also foraging in the same tree giving a great comparison.
Here is a very attractive bird, the Golden-breasted Fruiteater is another species endemic to this area of Northern Columbia and a small part of neighbouring Venezuela. I had photographed a similar species in Ecuador, the Orange-breasted Fruiteater but this one is different, having evolved separately in this isolated Sierra.
The Crimson-crested Woodpecker is a very large campephilus which makes an imposing sight when seen close at hand. It is about the same size as the Powerful Woodpecker which I had photographed in Ecuador. It is slightly larger than the Lineated Woodpecker with which it can be confused in its range, but the white lines on the back clearly meet in a "V" formation so this is definitely Crimson-crested. Another lifer!
The Red-billed Parrot is a fairly common Andean species and this one sat rock still in its hole for some time, watching us and assessing whether we posed a threat or not. Eventually it and its mate flew off with much loud squawking.
More Santa Marta Endemics
Although I was only here for a very short time I picked up quite a few of the species endemic to this area. Here are some examples.
These two are fully endemic species, the Santa Marta Mountain Tanager and the Santa Marta Brush Finch. They only exist in this relatively small area and cannot be seen anywhere else. I was fortunate to get good views of both.
And another endemic species, the Yellow-crowned Whitestart. Again it only exists here in this small mountainous region of Northern Columbia. Not a particularly imposing or distinctive bird but one only seen by visitors to this rather inaccessible place.
I have seen quite a few Emerald Toucanets previously, but the Santa Marta Emerald Toucanet is a separate species endemic to just these mountains of Northern Columbia. It is a form of White-throated Toucanet - (aulacorhynchus albivitta) but is classed as a separate species (a lautus)
Black-chested Jays are very vocal and are not welcomed by birders as they tend to scare off other more interesting species, such as the Quetzal and Masked Trogon. However they are quite a handsome bird with bright white eyes & strong black and white plumage.
There are two Guan species very common around El Dorado, the Band-tailed Guan and the Sickle-winged Guan. For some reason I failed to get a shot of the Sickle-winged, they were just so easy that I didn't bother, silly as now it's too late.
I like Tanagers, they are generally colourful birds and about 240 species have been described although some are being reassigned to other families as DNA studies progress. They are all New World birds and 60% live in South America, many in the Andes. One could spend a lifetime watching Tanagers, similarly there are people who want to see every type of hummingbird. They each hold a certain fascination and one can see why.
At El Dorado I was pleased to pick up a few new species from each family. Above is a nice Bay-headed Tanager, and below is a Violet-crowned Woodnymph. Very colourful examples of each genus.
The Hummingbird below is a Brown Violetear, not one of the most colourful varieties perhaps but it's not gaudy or too bright, the violet patches contrast well with the more subdued browns.
Here are two new Tanager species that I have not seen before. The first is a Black-capped Tanager. I particularly like the metallic sheen on those breast feathers, reminiscent of chain-mail armour on knights of old.
The next one is a Blue-headed Tanager. I had to ask for an ID on Facebook for this one as the illustration in my Field Guide is absolutely terrible, looks nothing like the real thing. Quite a stunner. It was one of the few birds that came down to the fruit feeder at the Lodge and I was quite fascinated to see those fancy yellow trousers. This is a relatively large Tanager and one that is quite distinctive, strange I couldn't ID it from the Field Guide (Birds of Ecuador) but that illustration has to be the worst I've ever seen.
The Blue-naped Chlorophonia is a very colourful little bird that is widely distributed around but not within the Amazon Basin. Clorophonias were once thought to be related to Tanagers but science now places them as true finches, ie Fringillidae.
Black Hooded Thrushes were fairly common around El Dorado, but lower down the mountain, in Minca, they were completely absent. They live above 800 meters and up to 2600 m.
In Minca it's the Pale-breasted Thrush that is the common one. Up at the higher reaches however they are entirely absent.
Here's an interesting species that I photographed on a bird watching walk with "Jungle Jim's" Tours in Minca. This was a three hour walk around and above the village, starting at 6 and finishing at around 9 am in time for breakfast. The Black-backed Antshrike was definitely the best bird of the walk. The one below is a nice shot of a female
And here we see it with its breakfast, a nice juicy flying insect.
The male Black-backed Antshrike is more striking than the female with a jet black head with black & white wing coverts and white flanks.This is another species that is only found on the Caribbean Slopes of Columbia and NW Venezuela, so I was very pleased to pick this one up.
Here's another small, mainly black species but this time a much more widespread and common bird, the Black Phoebe. This is one of the sub-species known as the White-winged Black Phoebe which has considerably less white on the undersides and is sometimes considered a separate species from the nominate form.
The Bi-coloured Wren below is very common around Minca, in fact I photographed this one in the grounds of the Hostal I was staying in, the "Hotel" Minca. I use speechmarks as this place calls itself a hotel but is in fact just another backpackers hostal, grossly overpriced and pretentious. Anyway the Bi-coloured Wren has a very sweet song which was a delight to hear.
Here's another bird I photographed in the village of Minca. This is a Red-Crowned Woodpecker which was foraging in a tree in the main street. A young girl asked me what I was looking at with my binoculars so I let her try them. She liked the experience and we spent a pleasant half-hour watching birds together. It's nice when a young person shows an interest in the World around them and the living things that share this planet. I hope she has a good life.
The next two are also birds that I saw in and around Minca, on the morning walk with Joe as I recall. The first is a Rufous-capped Warbler, an attractive little warbler indeed.
The next is a Yellow Oriole. I showed Joe this shot and he seemed quite surprised that I had seen and photographed it, I think he was a little peeved that he had missed it himself. Anyway it's the only one I saw in my brief sojourn in Columbia.
The Social Flycatcher is a very common but I am assured that this one is a Vermillion-crowned Flycatcher. Something about it being a southern variety having been split into a separate species from the nominate Social Flycatcher. It looks exactly the same to me. Before scientists started analyzing DNA etc birding was much simpler. A great Grey Shrike for example was just that, now look at it, Great Grey, Southern Grey, Iberian Grey and others. They are all just Grey Shrikes to me. Just as this is just a Social Flycatcher.
Here is another Flycatcher, the Olive-crowned variety, but I prefer it's alternative name, the Olive-crowned Fruit Tyrant. Quite a mouthful. This one was taken near El Dorado on the road up through the mountains from the Lodge.
Sometimes it proves impossible to identify a bird that one has photographed well. here's a little brown job with no real distinguishing features except for that colourful and clearly striped bill. I have checked every Finch, every Seedeater and every other bird that might remotely answer this conundrum, but I cannot find anything like it. So it remains a UFO.
The Rufous-tailed Foilage Gleaner is not a particularly uncommon species, but like all Foilage Gleaners it is hard to photograph, being inconspicuous and highly active. Orange-chinned Parakeets are a very widespread South American species which I have photographed before.
This is a Rufous-tailed Hummingbird. A very widespread and common hummingbird but worthy of inclusion as it's not a bad photo.
And this one is a Steely-vented Hummingbird, another common species.
This I believe is a Mountain Violetear, otherwise known as a Lesser Violetear . However I am not 100% sure of this, there are so many hummingbirds, but it just seems the most likely candidate as I scrutinise the Field Guide to birds of the area..
This Thick-billed Euphonia was taken near El Dorado but it could have been anywhere really, quite a common and widespread species.
The Black-capped Tyrannulet on the other hand is a little Flycatcher which inhabits forest edges above 1800 meters in elevation. I include this poor photograph for the record, it was identified for me by my guide. Also for the record a very poor shot of a Black-throated Tody Tyrant, included as it was another lifer and because it is relatively quite rare, again only found above altitudes over 1800m.
The Lesser Goldfinch photo below was taken in the Botanical Gardens in Bogota.
As was the Rufous-collared Sparrow. Very common birds but not if you live in Europe.
Also in the Botanical Gardens I came across this chap foraging around the edges of one of the ponds. It's obviously a Moorhen or related species but I can't pin it down. It doesn't appear to conform with any description of birds of this family found in Columbia. Perhaps it is a feral or imported bird, I just have no idea.
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.