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!

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!