Pelican display

Common around these waterways, our Australian Pelicans are always amazing birds to watch. I never tire of watching them take off, or land on their watery runways, wings out as brakes.

On a breezy day, most of this flock were curled in on themselves, hunkered down and looking backwards with their large eyes, in the disconcerting way they do.

 But then I saw the large area of pink on one; what was it doing? Was it airing the inside of its bill? Was it yawning?!

Then it seemed to lay the soft lower bill pouch, inside out, flat across its chest. None of its fellows looked surprised, so it must happen often enough.

This display happened very quickly before it returned its head and bill to a more usual position.

Snapping away almost blindly, it was only when I looked at the photos at home that I saw that one of its erstwhile dozing mates had woken up.

Then it did  this … but what am I looking at? What is it doing?!

Our Pelicans have the largest bill of any living bird. I accept that they are extraordinary birds; after all I saw…and loved  and wept at… the film Storm Boy, decades ago.

But the mystery remains of what else it does with its bill other than use it as a mating display, a scratcher, a trawling net, or to catch and temporarily hold prey.  Why does it turn it inside out?

No information site yielded an answer, so I will be greatly pleased if somebody can tell me!

Tough and tricky

The cliffs here are rough and rugged; not sheer drops, but lurching staggers and slides.

One has a stern Old Man of the Sea orating to the endless waters.

As you walk along the clifftop paths, lined with Casuarinas and Banksias, their sharp drop-away edges are usually hidden, until suddenly a bare opening seduces you to edge closer, to slip down its loose gravelly slope.

We don’t, watching for whales from well back…

But is from here that we see across to the next cliff, and spy a large bird busily feeding on something; what, we can’t see, even with the help of my camera zoom. The bird is totally preoccupied, does not even look over to our voices.

I think it is an Osprey, that most specialised fisher raptor, so its dinner is likely a fish, caught in one its spectacular feet-first plunges into the sea. 

The water here is so clear that its hunting would be easy. Perhaps it has its large stick nest somewhere in that rugged cliff face. Binoculars needed, I remind myself.

It’s not only the rocks that act tough and take on strange shapes. Termites have given this dead Banksia a head to surpass any of May Gibbs’ Banksia Men.

A vine forms a perfect circle before beginning its climb to the light. Why?

I know Spotted Pythons exist; is this a Mottled Python, or more muscular vines tricking us with their beautiful intertwined shapes and lichen blotches?

Next post I must praise the many wildflowers out now in this Kattang Nature Reserve, but as you see, have had trouble getting past its more solid features.

I love them all.

Ain’t Nature grand?

Kid stop?

Hearing a lot of chattering outside my window, I saw two green parrots on a far branch opposite. Lorikeets, I assumed as there had been a lot of those about in weeks gone by. But these were too big, surely?

Leaning past my desk to look down, I could see the bird water dish along the fence. It had only before attracted a sole Peewee, or that I had noticed.

Now there was a mighty flurry and fluttering of seven of these same green parrots, jockeying for turns at sipping the water, swapping places on the fence, teetering and balancing on the wire.

There were nine of them all up. But what were they?

Then my memory of my Mountain Kingies started to rev up. These looked like female King Parrots, which are mostly green except for the red lower breast and belly… were they young ones, who have similar colours to the females? The young have brown irises instead of grey, but I was too far away to see such detail.

There I was used to having plenty of the more colourful males about, with much more red on head and front…and an occasional female.

Never had I seen a whole gang like this.

One of them might have been developing the male colours, as it had a paler green strip along its wing.

They took off very quickly. Had it been a brief pit stop for the whingeing kids? ‘Mum, I’m thirsty!’

Mental note: keep that bird water dish full! Who knows what else it may attract?

Kooka competitors

From my desk I could see these two on high alert for movement on the ground. They seemed to have divided the territory.

One scored before the other and got the worm. It had the better territory, as the ground was more cleared that side.

Its mate still kept watch on its own side, but with somewhat ruffled feathers…

On a new branch, the loser seemed to be rethinking that allotted territory… ‘Should I turn around and compete for it?’

Yes.  And what’s more it appeared to be even more determinedly alert and ready to dive. I wished it luck!

Diamond Head rocks

I have confessed my fascination with — and ignorance about — rocks before.

Cliffs are just bigger rocks.

At one end of Diamond Head Campground Beach these two striking sentinels called me closer.

But when I reach them I see one is a cliff, part of the land, and one is but part of a past cliff, so can I call this one a rock, albeit a very big rock? 

And did you spot the kookaburra poised at the top? On sentry duty on a sentry rock.

To reach that stunning slit to the sea, you have to make your way over a sward of tumbled rocks large and small, deceptively not fixed, ready to cause a grandma to twist an ankle.

Reaching the safety of sand again, I look back and marvel at how lucky I am to be near such a place of natural wonders.

I pass a nonchalantly lazing kangaroo mother and joey by a picnic table. This is a national park after all…

The beach isn’t bad either…

Diamond Head rocks!

Not sacred nor scarce

In these seemingly permanent wet times, the grounds here are either soggy or full-on watery. The most frequent bird visitor is thus a wader, the Australian White Ibis (Threskiornis molucca). Those long curved beaks are perfect for these shallow waterlogged areas.

Usually I see them only on the ground, while the kookaburras and lorikeets own the trees.

But the other day this one flew up to perch outside my windows and peep in.

Then, to its apparent surprise, it was joined by another one. Not for long; I was glad it took off again, as it seemed to have only one leg, not great for balancing.

They are sometimes called the Sacred Ibis — or were. Until the droughts of the late 1970s drove them eastwards they were rarely seen in our cities. They bred in the Macquarie Marshes, where now they are rare.

These days they are so common and in such numbers that they have become a pest, to the point of needing to be culled in some areas like Sydney’s Centennial Park. Tourists complained of their smell!

They are now more commonly called ‘Tip Turkey’ or ‘Bin Chicken’ as they have adapted to scavenging in rubbish bins… or swiping a sandwich from an unwary picnicker.

Because of that dining practice, their pure white is often tinged a rather grubby brown.

So not sacred and certainly not scarce!

Cats – the enemy, not the musical

My Mountain wildlife refuge was 90 minutes from a town, so too far for lazy folk to drive up into the forest and dump their unwanted pets… like cats.

In my decades there I never saw a feral cat, and only once did I see a wild dog. No danger of confusing the latter with a dingo, as sadly, after the government’s bounty on dingoes, and ‘the dogger’ visiting the area, I no longer saw our regular big ginger one or heard the distinctive howling from up the far valleys.

I did have Spotted-tailed Quolls, even nesting in my shed, so maybe they kept the cats away. Small mammal and reptiles and birds abounded, so the thought of my fascinating fellow wildlife being creatures being devoured by an invasion of cats is appalling.

My most plentiful parrot was the Crimson Rosella, beautiful and musical.

Cat eating a crimson rosella. Copyright C Potter

The Bimblebox Nature Refuge seems a long way from towns in our coastal hinterland NSW terms but it is surrounded by ‘farms’: large scale cleared grazing properties where it mostly seems neither trees nor Nature, distances nor environmental responsibilities matter much.

A farmer like my late father would say of Bimblebox, ‘It’s just bush.’ It was the accepted rural attitude. When Dad visited my mountain forest block in the 70s he said, ‘It’d look all right if it was cleared a bit; especially with a few fat Herefords on it…’

And the price of cattle is high right now, so what price a small and rare Squirrel Glider possum which needs old tree hollows for its nest?

I want to share these thoughts from Ian Hoch, at the ‘coalface’ caring for Nature at Bimblebox. Those who have read the Bimblebox book will know that Ian is a philosopher and poet as well as deeply committed to caring for the Refuge… to doing that hard work it daily involves. Last time I shared was mostly about efforts to halt the exotic flora invasion.

Below he talks about the feral fauna, on seeing this Frogs Friday infographic featuring the Squirrel Glider. The ending will resonate with me forever…

The Cat Wars

Enigmatic this little fella; don’t think he’s supposed to be here. I found one dead up on the netting and pretty sure it was Sonya (Duus) who sent it away to be identified as a Squirrel. Didn’t have the white tip which distinguishes him from the Sugar Glider.

From what I read and understand, these more delicate and vulnerable mammals were doomed from the day Cook claimed possession and liberated his pigs on Cape York and explains why Conservancy and Heritage go to all the trouble with exclusion fencing.

I’m as sick of finding bird feathers around water troughs as I am tired of shooting and trapping cats. All my efforts only create a temporary void for another tabby. After 150 years, predator and prey must have established an equilibrium of sorts with the native species either cat- savvy or exterminated, and populations of both being sustained by availability of food and refuge. 

I don’t know what to do about it but do know (as child of a cat lover mum) that top of menu for moggies is small birds and gliders. The rarer the tastier. A fluffy tail usually the only reminder of the delicacy that was. 

I have to fence roos and rabbits from this native plant nursery to tackle the same problem in the floral realm. The sweetest species don’t get a chance to reproduce. Especially those already on the edge of their range and resilience.

You might say hardly makes any difference, we’ve never really noticed their presence nor lament their loss and that’s true until you’re holding a Sugar baby or watching them glide in the moonlight between tall ghost gums, and it’s then you know what you’re missing.

I’ve seen 3 or 4 other elusive marsupials that I don’t think are listed on those sham EIS. And whether they’re listed or not is hardly the point. As the designation implies — we’re a nature refuge. The idea is to maintain habitat for wildlife for its own sake, not just for the things we happen to notice.

At the same time we wouldn’t kid ourselves these ephemeral or vulnerable species will be here for much longer. Or not without our concerted efforts to cater for them. 

Huge counter influences are at play out there now (at sister property Kerand) in the wake of the regional scale, near complete transition to full-on production. We’re in that shakedown period  and in 20 years we’ll know what’s been able to cope, and so far it doesn’t look too promising. At Kerand, it’s likely to have been 90% reduction in 50 years. I think that’s called decimation.

Can’t see how we can avoid the same from happening here. Or not at this rate. Not without ridding the place (or select parts) of pigs and cats and rabbits, buffel and secca. Ironically and cruelly those highly adaptive foreign species, unburdened by co-evolutionary checks and balances, are just way too strong for the unique niche and specialist natives.

It’s been that way the world over for centuries. Just so happens the tail end of the colonial frontier has swept through the central west in our lifetime. The ecodynamics are in continuous flux, goes on by the minute – and much we never know. Foxes and deer and goats and hares and cane toads have all come and gone from here but pigs and cats and rabbits found a perfect home and pick the eyes out of the local smorgasbord. 

As I understand, cats are at their most populous and gargantuan right across the arid zone. They’ve evolved into pumas and devastate what’s left of all those wee dainty bopping bundles of fluff that live out there in the spinifex.

We might yet get to appreciate the bunny and the tabby, and not torment ourselves with reminders of squirrel gliders.

Pumas indeed! A feral cat carrying a sand goanna in its mouth. Picture: Emma Spencer

Waterbird welcome

I have yet to get my head around the different range of birds I will be treated to here. 

By the sea, I expect seagulls of course, but fussing about in formation on the wet sand at Diamond Head were flocks of these small birds that I know should be Little Terns on this part of the coast. But they look more like Fairy Terns, given the lack of black in front of the eye.

Any ideas?

And then, on the waterlogged riverside where I now live, from a distance… and without my glasses… I saw what seemed to be a flock of white sheep grazing.

With glasses, I saw they they were White Ibis, poking about with their long curved bills in the grass where caravans would normally be parked.

Early next morning, in fine drizzle, they were back, but this time in the company of several Royal Spoonbills, who flew off as soon as I and my camera came too close. So apologies for the fuzzy pic from too far away, but it gave me a thrill to see other waterbirds here.

From the river’s edge, I could see a flock of Pelicans far out on an oyster platform, preening and stretching their wings.

Not that I need my bird reference books for Pelicans, but I did for Terns, and thankfully they were on high shelves, so not ruined by the flood. 

Only yesterday I sought my Australian native flower I.D. books for extra info on the Bimblebox Frogs Friday Bluebell… and realised they had been on the next shelf down, so had become sodden pulp.

I daresay I will have more such jolts… oh dear, my fungi books were there too…!

Deck extras

The late afternoon sun lit up these exquisite decorations on my deck railing wire.

The artist missed a few of the joining spots but otherwise turned my wire netting into a diamond-paned leadlight.

I am so admiring of the symmetry and discipline… and grateful for the beauty.

The actual deck railing supports my passionfruit vine but also proved useful as a brief vantage point for this solo King Parrot. 

It didn’t stay long, but flew to the aerial clotheslines you see here, gathered together the front two lines and perched on them both at once! 

Then it flew down to my vegie garden for the less wobbly perch of a tomato stake.

Such a beautiful and bright parrot. This rear view shows the deep blue feathers that are often unnoticed.

I am a big fan of multi-functioning, so I’m very glad to see my deck useful for the wildlife.

Colour fooling

Trees are green, right? At least our native non-deciduous ones are. Except when they’re pink.

These plentiful local paperbark trees right now are so totally decked in new leaves that from a distance the whole tree appears pink.

While the flora are playing tricks with colours, so are the fauna. 

Hearing a very noisy and unfamiliar bird outside, and another answering it, I of course went out to try to see what was making the racket. Usually I fail, but this time the caller broke tree cover and flew to the power lines on the street.

It was joined by another.

The two birds remained apart… and now silent. But what were they? Brown-headed birds are many, but that blue tinge on the breast feathers should be a clue…

Search my bird books as I might, thinking maybe some sort of Wood Swallow, I could not pin it down. I had to seek help from real birdwatchers.

When the answer came back, I realised I would never in a million years have got it.

A juvenile Dollar Bird (Eurystomus orientalis)!

Bird books, be they illustrated with photos or drawings, are no substitute for the variability of birds in real life, especially throughout their development into adults.

That apparently distinctive blue tinge does not show or get a mention on the juveniles in my books.

I had never seen a Dollar Bird, young or old.  The very colourful adults are migratory, so that is perhaps why.  I read that they 

‘indulge in spectacular swooping, diving and rolling in the air’. So I am sorry they did not stay to entertain me, but they certainly did intrigue me!

Borders open

Hearing a new bird call, I searched the trees in my back yard. The call was familiar, yet not one I’d heard for some time.

It was a monotonous repeated call, the sort that might drive you crazy.

I located its maker, a lone Koel, unmistakable visually even if I’d momentarily forgotten which bird makes that sound: ‘koo-eel, koo-eel’ ad nauseam.

Its blue-black plumage, long shapely tail and red eyes mark it as a male Koel. And its arrival means the borders are open, as this migratory bird comes south from New Guinea from September onwards. It likes our humid coastal areas and rainforest fringes.

Part of the Cuckoo family, it shares the typical ‘parasitic’ habit of getting other birds to raise their Koel young by placing their eggs in a host’s nest.

So the Koel need not build its own nest, and has time to perch in people’s yards and announce that Spring is here and the borders are open!

Sanctuary?

When I spotted an odd long-legged bird in the lower corner of my yard, of course I went for the camera. Then I noticed that this bird was not walking, but hopping.

As I got closer, it seemed to have been injured, perhaps attacked by a dog?

Why had it not flown off from the dog?  Perhaps its wing was also hurt.

But how had it got into my yard, and was it now stuck here?

That question was soon answered, as the wary bird flew up to perch on the fence.

Clutching with the claws of one foot, the other a mere balancing prop, I was surprised it could stay there.

As it took off, I hoped it would find somewhere safe to take refuge until its injuries mended.

I checked my book: I had been visited by a Sacred (White) Ibis. The adjoining wetland draws occasional surprises in waterbirds.

A few days later, it was back, still hopping. Had it but known I have no dog, it would have realised that here was a safe place, a sanctuary. But again its visit was brief.

Should I put up a sign? ‘Dog-free zone. All wildlife welcome.’