Dainty drop-in

Although there is no standing water in my yard, the wetlands lagoon nearby attracts waterbirds who occasionally drop in to my garden to see what my vegetation might hold.

This elegant creature is a White-faced Heron, apparently common enough all over Australia, but not seen by me anywhere else I have lived.

It flew in for a brief visit, had a good look about and seemed to decide against what was on offer. The long brownish feathers on the chest and those sweeping grey ones on its back are called ‘nuptial plumes’.

Its legs look too spindly to support it, and as it high-stepped around, it undulated its very long neck in ripples back and forwards, as if swallowing something.

Its very perfunctory check of my back yard was clearly a negative result, except for the pleasure it brought me to see it!

Water wanderers

After my last odd waterbird visitor, the Royal Spoonbill, I thought I had spotted another strange long-legged, long-beaked bird down there in the wetlands.

But when it settled its ruffled feathers and assumed a more familiar stance, it revealed itself to be not really odd at all.

Perhaps oddly out of place, as there are no cattle here, and I think it is the quite common Cattle Egret.

I have usually seen it in groups around cows in paddocks, some often perched on the backs of cows.

Native to Africa and Asia, they were introduced to Australia in 1948 – as was I! – and have spread successfully into new territories, including America.

Equally common, and perhaps equally out of place, was this Long-necked Tortoise, seen wandering in my dry back yard, heading uphill from the wetlands.

As it still had damp mossy patches on its back, it can’t have been lost or misguided for long.

I stood very still as It looked about carefully, fixing my feet at least with those gimlet eyes.

Then it turned itself about and, very purposefully and surprisingly swiftly, headed downhill towards the water. 

There is a low old paling fence to be negotiated but, as I later saw, it found the worn parts and dug away until it was on the watery side where it belonged.

But why had it left and what led it to think there’d be water up here?

These wetlands are a boon in attracting wild creatures; after all, water is life.

Solo Spooner

A glimpse of white down there in the wetlands, seen from my deck as I was hanging out washing; triple blink. What on earth could that be? Camera grab, race down to the yard, tiptoe to my fence.

The strange creature’s spoon-shaped bill said ’Spoonbill’ of course, although I have never had one visit me, here or elsewhere.

But it seemed to have a neck that could swivel 360 degrees. Cleaning its feathered back? Or scratching?

Apart from acrobatic ablutions, that long beak is used for sweeping shallow waters for food.

The black bill and legs and the red eyes tell me it is a Royal Spoonbill, confirmed by the impressive crest of head plumes I glimpsed earlier.

With the crest lowered, it looks more like a bearded elder, with hair hanging over its collar. And did it just yawn?

The weird and wonderful denizens of and visitors to even my little patch keep me in touch enough with the wild to survive in a town. Almost…

Parrot parties

Now that my bottlebrush tree is flaunting hundreds of bright red brush-like blossoms, the Rainbow Lorikeets are holding parrot parties. Like all lorikeets, they have a specialised ‘brush-like’ tongue to be able to feed on nectar, but these are the only lorikeets to have a blue head.

Their brilliant colours warrant their name. They are not, however, blessed with a sweet song, and as they feed in flocks, the combined shrill screeching makes me greatly miss the musical calls of my Mountain’s Crimson Rosellas.

My other visiting parrots have been the Galahs; rarely seen here on the coast, they are very common, often in huge flocks, in open country.

Only two came to see what my yard had to offer in the way of food. I assume they didn’t find much to their taste, as they were only here for a day.  Surprising, given their wide range of feeding habits: seeds, grain, fruit, blossom, shoots, as well as insects and their larvae.

I am always grateful not to be a haven for Sulphur-crested Cockatoos, given their raucous screeching, but Galahs are not much better, their calls described by my bird book as ‘loud whistles, strident shrieks and screams’!

But two temporary Galahs can be appreciated.

Early black beauties

Alerted to look up from my desk by whirling aerial activity outside, I saw about six Welcome Swallows flying round and round the back yard airspace.  It looked as frenetic as when the young first fly, but I haven’t noticed any nests on my verandahs or eaves.

There seemed to be other birds in the mix.

When some peeled off to perch, I spotted a Willy Wagtail, who typically did not stop still long enough to be more than a blur.

Then I gasped at this unmistakable fishtail shape.

A Spangled Drongo!

I know; in Australia it sounds like a joke…

I have only seen this bird twice before. It is the only Australian species of drongo, and it is most handsome, with its iridescent feathers, blueish spangle, and bright red eyes.

Today there were two, so I hope they will nest nearby.

Like swallows, they can catch insects on the wing.

However, my bird book says they are migratory, ‘arriving in October and leaving in March’.  We are still in August. Like the fire season, is August the new October?

One of the other dapper black-feathered birds in the yard at the same time was an Australian Magpie-Lark, female I think.

I have usually called them Pee-Wees (after their call) and berated them for attacking my windows, but now I have hung feathers in corks outside, they do not bother with those reflected birds.

As they mostly catch their insects on the ground, they were not competing with the flying food frenzy above. So they are back ready to nest too; theirs is of mud, and has been in the Jacaranda tree in the past. Hmm; but will they find some mud in this drought?

I will keep an eye out for all nesting activity.

Prodigal Frogmouth?

From my kitchen window, I spotted an unusual blob in one of the casuarinas in the yard.  We’d had a windy night, so it could be a broken-off branch.

In fact it was both. The Tawny Frogmouth had wedged itself behind a broken limb, and was there for two days.

Then it appeared in the slimmer neighbouring tree, actually the tree where the ‘nest’ had been in 2017, from which two babies had hatched, to my great delight. The prodigal returns?

Next morning it had moved to a fork in the same tree, but seemed much fatter. Fluffed up to keep warm?

From the front, I was not sure if it was one or two birds. It looked very broad; was it pregnant, returning home to lay those eggs? But if so, where was the nest or stick platform? Inadequate as that had seemed, it had served its purpose, but had long since broken up.

As the sun warmed the yard,  it moved from the fork and perched on a broken branch. Definitely one bird. And definitely fat.

I’ll be keeping a close eye on any stick activity in that home tree.

Sleepy Brush morning

In the reclaimed Brush at Wingham, Brush Turkeys abound. In daytimes, they are usually seen scratching amongst the leaf litter.

Today I entered the Brush on the still-dark side. It was too early for their routine, and I caught them napping. This was the first time I had seen them roosting on branches.

Neither of these looked happy at being disturbed.

You can see from the overall shot how dark it was in their part of the Brush — and why the photos are not great! 

But a little further on the daylight had penetrated to the ground and other Turkey families were at it already.

Amongst the gloom I was struck by this Strangler Fig in a very real pose of strangling. Can I watch that with my Jacaranda?

As a farewell treat, the early sunlight perfectly highlighted this small spiderweb in my path.

High rise neighbours

I am bordered on two sides by tall trees – casuarinas, camphor laurels and cadaghi (Corymbia torelliana), with lower growing myrtles and pittosporum and melaleucas. I hear heaps of birds that I rarely see.

One I have often heard – or thought I had – is the Powerful Owl (Ninox strenua). Its mournful, slow ‘woo-hoo’ has wafted up from the forest to my verandah and my study windows so many times but I have never been able to locate it in time to see it. And I am a visual person, so evidence of the eyes is what will convince me.

Now I have been not only been able to see it, but manage one discernible photo image, much zoomed, before it took off.

No doubts: a Powerful Owl!

More commonly seen in the higher rise branches is the White-headed Pigeon, but these look like a pair: the male (on the left) and the less dapper, or less vividly contrasting plumaged female, which I have not seen before.

Oh, I am so fortunate that I still have this proximity to an arboreal high rise and its inhabitants!

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