Surprise visits

I knew there were Tawny Frogmouths in the bush beside me, but hardly expected one to come calling on me.

Yet one night, as I descended the stairs and the sensor light in my carport came on, there it was. On my van’s awning canister.

My favourite bird then gave me the benefit of its profile of bristly ‘whiskers’.

The other visitors came on a wet day, levering themselves along, looking about but only between grazing. Not too wary.

I miss my macropods of the Mountain, so seeing these two Eastern Grey Kangaroos was a treat.

One came very close to my deck and as we locked eyes I thanked him for visiting my patch, reminding me of the real world where animals are represented by more than dogs!

Elegant native ducks

Lovely weather for ducks, as they say!  Enough to keep me indoors even if my radiation burnt face didn’t.

A Maned Wood Duck couple patrol the grounds here, but they are wary, hard to catch with my camera, even if I was to be quick enough to nip out in between cloudbursts. Sudden dumps of wind-driven rain interspersed with sparkling sunshine seem to be the current pattern.

The photo is of the female, but they are both handsome. The ducks reminded me of the piece about them in ‘Mountain Tails’, so here’s the sketch of the couple and a short extract:

‘…through the reeds I spotted a pair of Wood Ducks. I crept towards them, and got closer than usual, but they sensed me coming and waddled off into the mist. Keeping their heads averted as if I didn’t exist, they were muttering to each other at the disturbance. I’ve noticed that they rarely do look at me.

‘This shy and very elegant native duck is my most consistently resident waterbird.

‘The male has little patterning on his pearl-grey body, and a chestnut-brown head, with a black strip, a feathery mane, at the back of his head. His folded wings create bold dark stripes down his back. While he gets the smart tuxedo treatment, she has a more delicate feminine patterning. She’s a softly spotted greyish-brown, with white stripes across her brown head; since her mane is also brown, it’s only noticeable in profile, as an odd shape. Hence they are sometimes called Maned Wood Ducks. Until they are grown up, the young ones of both sexes look like their mum.

‘Occasionally the couple fly over to the small dam below my house yard, but they hardly get to land on the surface, trailing arrows of ripples behind them, before the bossy magpies hassle them to leave. After a lot of protesting squawks on their part and insistent cries from the maggies, the pair take wing, back over the treetops to where they belong. No outsiders allowed in the magpies’ local pool. They will allow the ducks to fossick amongst the tussocks around the dam wall for a time, but not to go in.’

A forest for birds

Before entering this forest of the Henry Kendall Reserve I am bemused by the sparkles of sunshine beside opposing calm, the mysteriously varying ways of water movements.

The forest itself is equally varied, with many large and imposing spreading trees.

Others rise tall and straight limbed.  By the busy chatter of birds, darting tantalisingly close and away, too swift to photograph, the forest is a rich residence for wildlife.

It’s the sort of forest walk where you more often than not find yourself craning upwards to see what’s going on up there. A lot, from the noise!

But lower and nearer details occasionally catch my eye, like this textured casuarina bark…

Or this mossy hidey-hole, a dark refuge into which I do not intrude. Thankfully, this whole forest has life of its own, from birds to whatever lives here!

Home birds

I have rarely seen a Sacred Kingfisher, but this gorgeously coloured bird was perched near the mangroves of the river where I live, just when I happened to walk down to see what the low tide was presenting.

From my window I often see its cousin, the Laughing Kookaburra, the largest kingfisher in the world. This morning there had been two to welcome me home.

There are almost always Pelicans to be seen here, perched on oyster racks or mud banks. The degree of flexibility of their long necks is as impressive as the accuracy with which they can use their bill tips for the cleaning going on here.

This White-faced Heron was a solitary wader through the mud and shallow water, and keen-eyed watcher.  I love that the longer feathers on its back and chest are called ’nuptial plumes!’

Long-necked and long-legged, it was most elegant in its wading, double-imaged in the almost still water.

So I am back home on the coast, where the birds are perhaps no less bizarre than in the Desert Uplands.

Bizarre birds

In Central Queensland, emus are not an uncommon sight. But no matter how many I see, or how often, they always strike me as most bizarre.

Stately, yes. Self-contained, yes. And bizarre.

I’d stopped as this one high-stepped it across the road, not looking at me or my large white van.

Then it turned and unhurriedly retraced its steps back across the road, tail feather bustle bouncing, chest feathers extension flopping like a sporran, head on that gawky long neck rigidly ignoring me.

Bizarre!

Back on the coast, amongst rainforest instead of Desert Uplands, the camp had no emus, but plenty of Brush Turkeys strutting about.

Yet this one kept lying on its side as if shot down, one wing up, breast feathers exposed. It did it in a few places, and after each would get up and wander off to repeat the performance. Playing dead? Asking to have its tummy rubbed? Or just letting the sun warm that chest?

In between those two places I passed this tree in a bare paddock, full of galahs decorating it like coconut ice queens.

Not bizarre, but very pretty.

Peewee power

Hearing a mighty fuss in the trees outside my study window, I checked. A very agitated Peewee was fluttering and noisily protesting all around a tall tree which a goanna was trying to climb.

Its antics were clearly bothering the goanna. I suppose the small Peewee felt safe, even at such close quarters, as the goanna had to keep its claws holding on to the bark rather than swiping at the annoying bird.

The Peewee won, with the goanna giving up the attempt to go further up that tree, and beginning the awkward about-turn.

Peewees are famous for their noisy and fearless defence of their territory, often against much bigger birds. Or reptiles!

You may have seen them attacking their own reflections in windows or car side-mirrors, thinking themselves to be enemies.

Goannas’ downward climbs don’t look very safe or easy, with those claws needing to defy gravity for the heavy body.

In fact, their manner of changing direction in tree branches looks quite precarious altogether.

Having made it, this one seemed to simply want to rest, supported by the branch, and right way up. 

As the Peewee warrior was nowhere in sight or earshot, that branch must not be deemed a threat.

The goanna was permitted to rest in peace.

Early rising

While I used to easily see dramatic sunrises on my Mountain, here I am more likely to catch the gentle pearly colours of early morning clouds, or the mist rising above the mangroves to blanket the mountain on its way to join those clouds.

Reflections in still water are an added bonus.  I spot a solitary pelican sedately cruising over the glassy surface.

And then maybe it sees me, because it takes off with long deep flaps of those massive wings. And, always amazingly to me, that heavy body becomes airborne.

I apologise to it for disturbing the peace, and for perhaps causing its early rising.

Purple protector

This handsome, vividly coloured bird was very active and evident round my campsite at Ganguddy/Dunns Swamp in the Wollemi National Park.

I knew it was a Purple Swamphen, with that very distinctive red front shield and beak.

It kept strutting about on those extremely long feet and making short screeches. It seemed agitated.

At first I thought this log was the cause, looking so like a reptile, and then I spotted the real one.

And yet the goanna did seem to be on the run from the bird’s harrying screeches.

‘Safe to come out’, the purple protector must have signalled, as soon the rest of the family emerged.

Later I saw the mother and chicks down by the water and the reeds they must love. Dad was off ahead… checking for goannas, no doubt.

Dunns Swamp is actually a dammed river, and has vast stretches of reeds, where those Swamphens likely nest.

Walking by the water, I can see by the incredible number of picnic tables and fireplaces that this is a popular place. Kayaking tours were offered. It would be unbearable for me in holiday times, but campsites were tucked amongst trees and there were few campers in such damp weather.

I only managed brief walks between showers, so was delighted to see quite a few colonies of this mauve Fringed Lily (Thysanotus tuberosus) in the boggy riverside walk. I hate giving it the full Common name, as ‘Common’ implies less than the fragile beauty it is.

Wary Wongas

One of my favourite native pigeons is the Wonga Pigeon, but it so shy … ‘exceptionally alert’, my bird book says… that it is rarely still long enough to take a photo of it. I do hear its repetitive soft ’coo-coo’, and there is plenty of tree and shrub cover here for this rainforest bird, so its frequent presence is not surprising.

Its beautiful markings are mainly on its front, and as I usually see it on the ground here, I only get the grey back and the white part of its head, with just glimpses of the striping.  They never seem to turn to face me, so seeing this one up higher was a treat. Look at those pink legs and feet, often hidden in the grass when they are on the ground!

I have mostly seen two foraging on the ground here, moving their plump bodies swiftly across the patch, bobbing heads back and forth like chooks. However, I read they are solitary except in breeding season.

Last week I briefly saw three, so I am wondering if they have a young one, but they moved too fast for me to tell if one was more brownish than grey, as the immature are.

A few months ago one sat in the sunny grass for ages; I had wondered if she was silly enough to lay eggs there, as it gets mown, but perhaps she was just sunbathing.

Whatever a wary Wonga gets up to, I am a very happy observer.

Tree visitors

My back deck is high amongst the paperbarks, and close to them.  I had not expected to come so close to a tree climbing goanna, but for once it was not waddling across the grass below, where I see one almost daily.

So close, I could admire not only the intricacy of its patterns and colours, with that surprising blue tinge, but its face, its ear and eye. Even its claws had camouflage dots!

When I first spotted this one it seemed to be lolling on a branch, not gripping or climbing, but that soon changed.

It turned around rather awkwardly and began climbing down one branch…

… to head up another. Sometimes it went to the perilously thin ends of branches before turning. Searching for birds’ nests and eggs?

The birds were certainly alarmed, chattering and flying about.

As they were a little further away, in a tall eucalypt…

But that odd thick shape I could see there turned out to no threat. To my great delight it was one of my favourite birds, a Tawny Frogmouth.

And from the lingering fluffy feathers I think it may be still young… unless they are just my camera’s blur from using the zoom.

I am heartened to think there may be a family of them about and will keep an ear out for that distinctive repeated ‘oom’.

I didn’t hear those ‘ooms’, but later that very afternoon, nearing dusk, I saw that the ‘lump’ up there on that branch was bigger.

I could not get a very clear view but it was definitely an adult and two young Tawny Frogmouths. The young look much fluffier than my earlier sole bird, so was that the father, the apparent fluff just my camera, or the wind?

The father often cares for the fledglings, so perhaps my visitor was a father sussing out where to bring his young to rest, or just taking a break from childcare before the kids caught up with him.

All three were gone next day, but what a treat, however fleeting! My first Frogmouths in this new place… 

When I moved into my last place (that was flooded), within weeks a Frogmouth had two chicks hatch in a nest in a she-oak in my yard and I could watch them growing and being raised. Such a privilege!

Wildlife welcome

House-sitting for a week on a property that is designed to welcome wildlife, I was treated there to the songs of some of our most melodious birds, like this Pied Butcher Bird, whose young was heading to join it.

The other glorious songs came from possibly my favourite songster, the Grey Shrike-Thrush.

All day honeyeaters jostled and swung as they fed in the native small trees and shrubs planted to attract them.

To my great nostalgic delight, a family of Eastern Red-necked Wallabies grazed unconcernedly below.

On the young banksia tree one bloom stood out, demanding attention in its rich green amongst the creams and browns.

On the verandah a large skink sunned itself. I had thought it to be one I was used to, an Eastern Water Skink, but the colours were too dull. Perhaps at a different stage of its life? I’d appreciate any further clues…

So I had my wildlife  treats… as well as reminders of how very slow young kookaburras are to get their adult laugh right, and how very repetitive are their efforts!

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!