Electric raptors

Drivers along the Lakes Way just south of Forster have been doing doubletakes as they pass this aerial edifice.

After watching my Willy Wagtails’ teeny effort, this massive pile of branches seemed hardly birdlike.

I only had time to zoom in on the remaining parent. I’d been thinking a White-breasted (or White-bellied) Sea Eagle, but this has to be an Osprey. They are raptors like Eagles, Kites, Harriers and Goshawks, but are a class of their own.

No doubt the absent parent was off patrolling the nearby waterways. Ospreys are highly specialised fish hunters, having spines on the soles of their feet to help hold a slippery fish, as well as needle-sharp talons.

I haven’t seen it but they are also spectacular fishers, plunging into water feet first to seize a fish, sometimes going right under.

One of my bird books (‘Australia — Land of Birds’,Trounson) reckons their eggs are considered amongst the most beautiful of all — ‘cream, boldly blotched and dotted with rich brown and chocolate’ —  and much prized by collectors in the past.

So it is not surprising that Ospreys choose to build beyond collector or little boy climbing height — with the extra security of a high-voltage hit to the daring.

Wagtail babies

As expected, when I returned from a few days away, the Willy Wagtails’ chicks were hatched and hungry. Silent though, unlike the demanding magpie baby in the tree near my bedroom.

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It was soon clear there were three little mouths to be stuffed, and given that they were constantly opening and shutting, I was amazed that the parents managed to get any food down those throats.

Both mother and father were finding food at frantic pace; sometimes the offerings seemed inappropriate, like a whole moth that the parent kept trying to fit in one after another of the tiny beaks. It failed, and flew off, I assume to eat the moth itself.

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The feeding worked rapidly, the babies fattened and fluffed and soon were jampacked in that tiny nest.

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A few days later, it was clear that one baby was top bird; there is always one. This one began stretching wings, standing on top of the others, almost falling out.

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Then came the morning when he stretched them so far that he did, landing on the timber and wondering where he was — and how far down he might fall.
At some stage he discovered he needn’t fall, as he could fly — and did.

It was a worrying time for the parents, trying to protect both the nest babies and the newly departed one. They were chattering warnings at me incessantly. And they were still feeding the whole three.

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Next morning I spotted him in a ti-tree at the other side of the house, looking cold — and probably wondering why he’d left that warm nest. He went back to visit the neighbourhood but didn’t fly up to the nest. I was impressed that he’d found his way.

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Then one more of his siblings made the break.

Mother tried to encourage the last one out of the nest, but no. So now the parents had three separate nursery sites.

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So at last the littlest of the litter had the nest to itself.

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As night fell, I saw that the two braver ones had returned briefly to be near their sibling, to encourage, embolden? 

‘Come on, you can do it; you just flap your wings and it works; you can’t stay there by yourself forever…’

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They were discovered next morning huddled together back on the same ti-tree branch. The night had been cool.

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As the day warmed them all up, the last baby decided to join them. Given they were not vocalising much I am surprised that it found them. The parents were still keeping watch, and still feeding.

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By mid-day the two bolder babies were flying and moving between ti-trees, especially as two honeyeaters were giving strong messages that this was their tree, causing much panicked chattering and swooping from the parents. 

But the last baby clung to that branch despite all, looking frail and frightened.

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Incoming birds

It being Spring, the Willy Wagtail mum has been busily readying last year’s nest for the 2016 brood.
The nest had looked perfectly serviceable, as it was as neat and symmetrical as she had originally made it.

However she seemed driven to add another layer, which brings it alarmingly close to the verandah roof.
While this is insulated, I fear for the babies if we get more summer-like early heat. 

Mum is now on the nest more than off, so I assume she has laid eggs. Dad spends his time dive-bombing magpies to keep them away.

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The other new regular visitor is a King Parrot, solo and talkative.

He has been sitting on my vegie garden’s bamboo posts and — I swear — chattering to me.

I have taken to standing at my back door and chattering back.

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He does not fly off when I go to fetch the camera.

Next time I will dare to step closer than the verandah and get a sharper shot.

Kookaburra pair

I have a lot of Kookaburras here — often called more fully Laughing Kookaburras, rarely called by their scientific name, Dacelo gigas.

As they do live in family groups, comprising several generations, that’s not surprising.

There are enough big trees left along the creek sides that they must have found enough nesting hollows to keep the family safe.

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My bird book notes that they ‘spend much time on conspicuous perches scanning ground for prey’. 

They are part of the Kingfisher family, but my sort ‘fish’ mainly for worms or whatever else meaty that dares to pop its head up in the short grass. Snakes, lizards, rodents insects — even small birds; that massive beak is very effective.

Here they have favourite perches — the shed roof, star posts, corner posts, several useful horizontal tree branches, but they are usually solo on these perches.

However, lately I’ve been seeing a pair, sitting as close as they can, swapping views from front to back, sharing the scanning?

Are they brothers, sisters, parent and grown child? The latter do stay around to help defend territory, feed new broods and care for fledglings. 

Kookaburras live for about 20 years and hang about in the same area; they also mate for life.

I can’t tell male from female but my book says the males often have a blue patch on the rump. As if I’m likely to get a glimpse of that…

Where green rules

When you move to a new area, life is busy setting up your own place and you only take time off for regional sightseeing when you have visitors.

Tapin Tops National Park near Wingham is one regional sight I’ve been meaning … and meaning…to see. Last week I did.

It’s high, with the access a well-maintained but steep and winding road up — and down — and up again.

As there are 20 dfferent forest types mapped for this Park, it’s a varied experience.

From the Dingo Tops Rest area there are several walks; the Red Cedar Walk was the standout for me.

It’s steep too, a plunge into a world of vibrant green and tall trees, soaring gums and rainforest trees festooned with ferns and orchids, moss and lichens.

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The spectacular patterns of really tall tree ferns rose above us, silhouetted against dense vine-clad slopes.

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You have to watch your step as it’s all steep, but stopping for the knees to take a break is also good to take in the closer views of the intense green life here, like this delicate ferny vine winding its way skywards.

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Or strange ferns that appeared to be growing from the bark of their host tree but turned out to be also vines.

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While the trees were stunning, the ground level life of the sinuous buttressed roots and their mossy decorations were my favourites.

This green intensity was even more evident on the creekside (and wet-feet-through-the-creek) walk from the Potoroo Picnic area. We didn’t make it to the actual Potoroo Falls as a tangle of fallen trees blocked the way.

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This was a walk for close contact and surprising details, like this huge fallen tree, totally covered in thick dew-beaded mosses.

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Or this vine, curving and curling above and around the path, with bright orange hopeful roots reaching for the ground.

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Little Run Creek itself is small and pretty and gurgly, inviting a prolonged sit and listen. While doing that I spotted this row of ball bearings, seemingly permanently fixed at the base of the rock; on closer inspection they turned into a chain of bubbles stuck in position for all the time I watched.

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I’d been hoping to see a lyrebird or hear a dingo while up there, but that lack was more than compensated for by meeting a koala ambling across the road on the way out.

Black and white

I am used to seeing splashes and dashes of black and white at a distance, in the tall trees along the creek, for the White-headed Pigeons feed there often.

Near the house I am used to the Magpies and Butcherbirds strutting about in their dapper black and white outfits and singing their own praises.

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I am not used to seeing a flock of large unknown black and white birds feeding on the creek flat. I counted 22! From the house they looked as big as pelicans, but clearly weren’t.

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They were keeping their heads down, their beaks poked well into the grass, which was also long enough to hide their legs, so I was at a loss to work out what they might be.

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The camera zoom finally found me a couple who had ventured into shorter grass. Long beak, long legs.

Ibis of a sort, but which?

They had to be Straw-necked Ibis, the most common in Australia. I could see the greenish sheen on their backs, and even if I couldn’t really see straw-coloured tufts on their chests, there were tufts.

Being vagrants, they were gone by evening.

But I am always grateful for even fleeting visits from wild creatures.

The size of the beak…

My friend Christa lives by a river and keeps her camera handy for whatever wildlife may visit.

Her rotary clothesline gets used as a perch by various odd birds. Sometimes she spots and snaps them and shares them with me.

This little sequence is so good that with Christa’s permission I am sharing her photos with you.

She was alerted to this event because a Sacred Kingfisher flew smack into her large picture window facing the river.

Rather dazed, it flew to the higher position of her clothesline.

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This must have been considered trespassing on their safe territory, threatening their young, as three Willy Wagtails soon arrived. Only one stayed to warn off the trespasser, who perhaps looked less scary in its dazed state. Not that Willy Wagtails ever seem to be scared of any bird, no matter how big.

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If you’ve ever heard a Wagtail carrying on in this mode, its incessant chittering would wake up anyone from a daze!

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And it did.

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‘How dare you threaten ME! I’m a Sacred Kingfisher. I am sacred, I am beautiful, and I have a very BIG beak!’

Taking it easy

I do miss my plentiful Crimson Rosellas, but today I saw my first King Parrot visitor for the summer fruit season here.

Always stunningly attired, this was one was also most relaxed, with no cats or dogs about.

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So much so, that for the first time I think I saw a parrot yawn…!

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But the mammals are getting pretty cruisey here too; the male wallaby who delighted my Air BnB guests this morning returned this evening to loll about near the house and clean his tail and ears.

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They are just starting to behave like my mates back up the Mountain.

I am so pleased. 

Northern wildlife

Last week I travelled north to Queensland’s Atherton Tableland for a wedding. It was a laborious trip, sleeplessly overnight by train to Brisbane, and then by plane to Cairns. My friend Inge met me there and drove me back to her house near Lake Tinaroo.

It’s actually two pole houses, sensibly built in the middle of the two acre bush block, so the wildlife love it — and so do human visitors.

Sitting on the verandah at each bookend of the day, I saw many of the locals ambling through her garden.

I was told that this male (above) is a Bridled Nailtail Wallaby, of which there is a healthy group here, but the species is much diminished in locality and size and is now rare in  much of its former range.

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Apart from thirsty macropods, Inge’s bird baths and feeders attract many avian species.

Dozens of Red-browed Finches bustled about the feeder tray, alternating eating with cooling off in the nearby bird bath, flapping and splashing themselves and each other.

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The adjacent tap provided a perch for a procession of birds. several of which were unusual.

A bird-cluey friend thinks this is a Leaden Flycatcher, looking more blue and less flat-headed than my bird book shows.

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This rather intimidating bird is the magnificent and absurdly named Spangled Drongo. Its iridescence and spangles are not so obvious here as its vivid red eye, nor is its mermaid-forked and scalloped tail. This Drongo is the sole Australian species, and is migratory.

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Northern Yellow Robins are as cute as those down south, and as inquisitive. This one fancied the iron sculpture in Inge’s garden.
 
The Tableland itself proved to be amazingly diverse, from lush red soil agricultural plains to ancient volcanoes and dramatic waterfalls, from rainforest to dry scrub; tropical fruits and vegetables were offered at roadside stalls and at markets in the many quaint and often historic towns, like Yungaburra and Herberton.

I’ll be back with more time to explore… like the crater lakes…

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By the way, Inge is gearing up to offer the house above, from which I watched all this wildlife, for AirBnB stays.

Critter bank

As my house is on a cut-and-fill into the hillside, there is steep bank behind it, the view from my kitchen window.

I am gradually clearing it of weeds and making small terraces, pockets of soil for hardy vegetables like pumpkins to spread over its clay sides.

I am mulching it as I go. It is an inhospitable slope, habitat only for ants and spiders so far as I have seen.

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Last week I was distracted from the washing-up by a dark motionless shape there. What was it and was it alive or dead?

Sneaking out, camera in hand, I was delighted to see it was an Eastern Water Dragon (Physignathus lesueurii).

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An extraordinary creature up close, fiercesome of eye and fabulous of pattern, spiked and ridged and scale-armoured like a mini-dinosaur.

On my old mountain, his little cousin the Jacky Lizard was my favourite reptile.

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On top of the bank is grassed, mown by me and the wallabies.

It backs up to the weedy wilderness beyond the fenceline, which includes Lantana, a favourite habitat for the Water Dragons, I read.

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I am still charmed by these wallabies, and heartened to see them visiting me daily now and being far less wary. If they move off, it is only a little way.

Having been through this courtship process at my old property, I know we will eventually be happily cohabiting.

Avian adolescence

The three baby Willy Wagtails grew so very fast that in less than a week they were treading on top of each other in their tiny nest, and taking turns to flap their wings.

Hearing a prolonged — well, perpetual — chattering from the verandah, I went out to see both parents in a right tizz, and not wanting me there at all.

The reason was a young one, wedged in under a roof batten, a few metres from the nest.

I went inside to ease the panic and hope for the best. It seemed far too soon for a baby to be out.

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Ten minutes later the chattering was coming from two directions.  The baby had flown out to the vegie garden edging, so one parent had to keep watch out there, which it did from the top of the water tank.

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The airspace out here was being guarded even more vehemently, with a baby on the ground.

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But two more remained in the nest, so the parents had to patrol two nurseries.

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Not for long. Next day the nest was empty and the whole Wagtail family was doing aero wheelies out the back and taking their ease in the ti-trees.

Less than a week from eggy nestlings to daredevil teens!

October storms

September was wet enough, but appropriately gentle.

October is delivering its rain in tropical tantrums, with sunshowers and rainbows and start-stop deluges.

This double rainbow appeared on the very first day of the month, to announce how things were going to be.

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A week later and we were treated to another fulsome beauty. Sadly, no pot of gold has ever been found by me, however hard I’ve looked.

The plants love the frequent drinks — not that they need extra encouragement to grow here. Weeds like dock are over my head already.

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This wallaby approves of the state of my ‘lawn’ at least.

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The swallow family don’t seem to mind being alternatively drenched and baked. Like me, they have to make the best of what the gods deliver…