Brunswick Heads revisited

It being such a picturesque boat trip (as well as being the title of one of those great late night unheralded ABC quirky comedies), I decided to repeat last year’s trip along the Brunswick River. Thanks to Byron Bay Eco Cruises was a lovely informative couple of hours.

Pied Oystercatchers were quite plentiful. I just read that the oldest known Pied Oystercatcher has just died aged 33 years. It lived on the same beach in Gippsland that whole time. There is another banded Oystercatcher in Tasmania that would be slightly older than this, although since it has not been seen for 2 years it may also have died.

Oystercatcher, Australian Pied

There is just one pair of imperious White-bellied Sea-eagles, with one youngster (the last photo):

Sea-eagle, White-bellied ad mSea-eagle, White-bellied 2Sea-eagle, White-bellied

Hard to distinguish at a distance, the Eastern Osprey has “dirtier” wings and a tell-tale grey streak behind the eye:

Osprey, Eastern ad m

The adult Brahminy Kite, usually solitary and covering a large territory, features a strong contrast between the rich brown wings and the white chest:

Kite, BrahminyKite, BrahiminyKite, Brahiminy ad

The Little Egrets were in the mangroves just above water level, possibly having a nest nearby. They are distinguishable by the thin black bill with yellow at its base to just behind the eye.

Egret, Little (3)

Australasian Darters are called ‘snake birds” because when swimming their body is below the water and their long striped neck, held vertical, moves back and forwards.

Darter, Australasian

And finally my first sighting of White-headed Stilts:

Stilt, White-headed

A lovely relaxing couple of hours on a scenic and interesting river.

December 2019

Michael Monaghan

Some new birds in northern NSW

Ballina is in far north New South Wales, and is, for now at least, north of the worst of the firegrounds. Strong easterlies have helped keep the air relatively smoke-free.

Lots of water, with the Richmond River and North Creek wandering through an ample delta to the sea.

One interesting spot is Flat Rock Beach, the stand-out feature, luckily for the name, being a big flat rock. Always lots of waders and Ospreys.

Osprey, Eastern juvOsprey, Eastern 2

 

It is always worth taking shots of the waders, and studying the image. As in similar situations, I thought they were all the same, but it turns out I have, possibly, at least three different birds: Sanderlings, Ruddy Turnstones, and Sharp-tailed Sandpipers. I am confident the middle one is a Turnstone, but the jury is still out on the first and third. Watch this space.

Sanderling Ad non brTurnstone, Ruddy non brSandpiper, Sharp-tailed

These fellas are certainly enjoying the rock pools on a hot day:

 

One of the birds in the top right photo is, I noticed, banded. Studies are showing that these birds breed somewhere up in the Arctic Circle, and come down here for the summer.

Some first sighting to take my number of species in Australia, with photos of all bar three, to 271. The Scaly-breasted Lorikeet and Pied Butcherbird are two of these, the former being noisy but very shy and hard to see, the latter being the opposite.

Lorikeet, Scaly-breasted adultLorikeet, Scaly-breasted2Lorikeet, Scaly-breasted

Butcherbird, Pied Imm r nigrogularisButcherbird, Pied juv

Another hard to spot bird in the bottlebrush was a Brown Honeyeater, featuring a longish slightly down-curved bill, and a small yellow triangle behind the eye. This looks like an old adult female, with the paler feathers under the eye, and a slight yellow gape (leading to the side of the beak).

Honeyeater, White-eared juv r. leucolis

To round things off there were various usual suspects, starting with the Little Egret, being the only egret which chases prey, wading through the water:

Egret, LittleEgret, Little (2)

.. a Little Pied Cormorant, looking like it might be very young:

Cormorant, Little Pied

… the ubiquitous White-faced Heron:

Heron, White-faced

..and an introduced Spotted (Turtle) Dove, presumably looking for another for its Xmas song role, the partridge already ensconced in the pear tree:

Dove, Spotted (Turtle)

Lastly, along the river grass, plenty of Eastern Water-dragons:

Waterdragon, Eastern

Other abundant, but much photographed, birds include Rainbow Lorikeets, Masked Lapwing, Noisy Miners, Galahs, and, rarely photographed but much heard, Eastern Koels

 

November 2019

Michael Monaghan

Focussing on the tulips

Even though I have my own nice tulips, I dropped in to Canberra’s amazing Floriade to see what I could do with some extreme settings.

I took some super close ups with an extender lens, some super low f-stop shots, and then some high f-stops for the mass shots.

Like birds, flowers are amazing in their intracacies.

IMG_3894 (2)IMG_3896 (2)IMG_3900 (2)IMG_3901 (2)IMG_3903 (2)IMG_3904 (2)IMG_3905 (2)IMG_3907 (2)IMG_3908 (2)IMG_3909 (2)IMG_3912 (2)IMG_3918 (2)IMG_3920 (2)IMG_3924 (2)IMG_3925 (2)IMG_3927 (2)IMG_3928 (2)IMG_3929 (2)IMG_3934 (2)IMG_3936 (2)IMG_3936 (3)IMG_3943 (2)IMG_3951 (2)IMG_3952 (2)IMG_3958 (2)By the way, the fluff from the Plane Trees was so bad, that, even if you had started to revise just on the weekend, it is clearly too late, and I regret you will fail the exams.

 

Michael Monaghan

October 2019

Winter at the Wetlands

Still quiet, and cold, at the Jerrabomberra Wetlands, but signs of spring activity are apparent.

Out of respect for their privacy, I didn’t photograph the Welcome Swallows welcoming each other warmly for spring. Well, I did, but the photos aren’t good enough to post – they are all blue.

Very large numbers of Pink-eared Ducks have been there, including this raft-like group, going around in a circle, feasting on something in there.

Ducks, Pink-earedDucks, Pink-eared2

Pink-eared DucksOther ducks, as well as the omnipresent Pacific Black Ducks, have been Hardheads, usually in close pairs:

Hardhead

Superb fairy-wrens were gathering in several different spots, in their dozens. Seemed to be a good mix of male and female, and some males in the process of putting on there best mating clobber.

Fairy-wren, mFairy-wren, Superb fFairy-wren, Superb m

An Australasian Darter (‘snakebird’ because of the way the neck and head moves when swimming) was drying its feathers, looking a bit pissed off at the pace, because there wasn’t much sight of the sun, and it was still around 4°.

 

 

Still warming up were a Spotted Dove and a Black-faced Cuckoo-Shrike.

 

 

At one stage, dozens of Silvereyes (race Westernensis) flew noisily in the large trees higher on a dry ridge.

 

 

If you were wondering how the Red-rumped Parrot got its name, you are about to find out. The lighter shaded bird is the female. The first male seems to have its wing and tail in a rather contorted position, accentuating the red more than normal.

Parrot, red-rumped m2Parrot, Red-rumped mParrot, Red-rumped f

The next few weeks should see the Wetland and forest livening up to prepare for Summer, which hopefully won’t be the hottest on record, again.

Michael Monaghan

August 2019

Best bird photography day ever – 70 species seen with 33 new species for me.

Get a full bottle, this will take a while. In fact, we probably need an intermission.

Fruit-dove, Rose-crowned2

Went out as sole customer with Del from Fine Feather Friend Tours. He turned out to be a birdspotting genius, as well as knowing more about the impact on far north Queensland of WWII than I could even dream at.

Was a full day tour, and I could not recommend Del more highly. He not only knew the south Daintree area intimately, he spotted so many of those irritating little brown birds and at a glance got the species and usually the gender.

I will stick largely to those new ones, although there were a couple of highlights with species already seen.

This shy chap is an adult male, rather exotically named, Double-Eyed Fig-Parrot. The race is McLeay’s (he has a few birds up here named after him), being found in a small area on the east coast just around Cooktown to Cairns. The male has the red at the base of the cheek. There are two other small populations, one on the south Qld coast, and one in far north Queensland coast.

Friarbird, helmettedThe Helmeted Friar bird (race yorki) is unique to the Qld coast from Gympie to the top of the Cape. There are two other small populations at the top of the Northern Territory.

Woodswallow, White-breastedThe White-Breasted Woodswallow, the largest of the the family, is found over the eastern half of Australia, but would be on the northern-most edge of its habitat around here.

Picking Kingfishers apart can get tricky, this one being the Sacred Kingfisher, found over most of the country except for the middle desert areas and Tasmania doesn’t like the crossing apparently.

The very common Straw-necked Ibis looked remarkably healthy, with electric plumage glistening in the sun.

Ibis, Straw-necked

It wasn’t even 8am.

Moving on to some town river areas, taking close notice of the ‘swim here and be eaten’ signs, the Striated Heron looked similar to the Nankeen Night Heron. This is a juvenile, being very similar to the Nankeen juvenile, with a more patterned chest and more yellow on the lower bill.Heron, StriatedHeron, Striated2

We saw male and female Olive-backed Sunbirds in a couple of places, one with a precarious nest hanging from an electrical cable. The male and female both go out to search for a suitable nesting site.

Sunbirds m left nest searching

The male has the black flashing on the throat. The female below is in the precarious nest and the male was catching insects off the ground lights.

Sunbird nest, fem insideSunbird nestSunbirds m left

sunbird mSunbird m hunting

Other birds on the rivers included the Radjah Shelduck, which apparently not being able to read, were wandering around oblivious to their carnivorous and nefarious neighbours. They are found only on the northern coastlines.

Shelduck, Radjah

Another precarious nest had been built by a White-breasted Cuckoo-Shrike above a car park.

Cuckoo-Shrike, White-breasted

The Australian (Richard’s) Pipit is found all over the continent, including a race in Tasmania. This is an adult race australis, on the northern edge of its range.Pippit, Richard's

 

Given it is sugar cane country, Black Kites were ubiquitous.  I have seen plenty of these in other parts of northern Australia. The key to telling the Black from the Whistling kite, is that the Black Kite has a bit missing at the end of its tail (a bit concave), and the Whistling has a whole tail.

Kite, Black

The Great Egret is a noble beast, significantly bigger than other Egrets, and with three fused plates at the base of the neck, to stop its neck falling off with the weight.Egret, Great

One of the small birds I might well have missed unassisted was the Leaden Fly-catcher. This is a male.

Flycatcher, Leaden

A sighting with gold stars is the rarely seen Rose-crowned Fruit-Dove. It was down on the coast, its habitat actually extending along the coast from Sydney across to Broome; a striking looking bird.

 

My guide was right up with the preferred bushes for honeyeaters, and I saw half a dozen new species.

In order first, we have the Graceful, McLeay’s, Dusky, Yellow, and White-throated.

 

 

 

Honeyeater, White-throatedAnother new one was the Bridled Honeyeater. Their behaviour was fascinating. They were lying spread out with wings raised on bare dirt in the sunshine. The state of the pieces of dirt showed that this was a much repeated activity in the same spots.

Honeyeaters, Bridled

Even more remarkably, Lewin’s Honeyeaters and Bridled Honeyeaters were lying side by side, snuggled up in the sunshine.

Honeyeaters, Lewin's and Bridled

There were also many Blue-faced Honeyeaters, very common around Townsville as well.

Honeyeater, Blue-faced

We saw several nests including another precarious one – that of the imaginatively named Big-billed Gerigone – and also the Varied Triller, the Great Brown Babbler and the Blue-faced Honeyeater.

Gerigone, Big-billed nest

Youi will see how this nest, hanging from a piece of coathanger, has the entrance cunningly protected with the shielded entrance from below making it much harder for snakes to get in from above.

Nest, Varied TrillerNest, Great Brown Babblernest, Blue-faced honeyeater

The latter is particularly clever. Although it is hard to imagine a more dangerous place than right in the middle of high voltage electrical cabling and resistors, the tree ants which eat the eggs are apparently reluctant to carry the epithet, “tree and electrical cabling ants”, and stick to the trees.

Under some large trees having a cuppa, I managed to snap a wide range of birds.

The Varied Triller:

Spectacled Monarch:

Yellow-billed Boatbill:

Boatbill, Yellow-billed

Little Shrike-Thrush:

 

Shrike-thrush, Littleand Grey Whistler (these tend to go in and out of foliage at the same level):

Whistler, Grey

In the distance, we saw a couple of Topknot Pigeons, my first sighting of these rather odd looking birds, even though their range is right down the east coast, but too far away to photograph.

Again my guide demonstrated his outstanding knowledge by stopping on the roadside to find Red-winged Parrots, very very hard to spot even when you knew where they were.

Parrot, Red-Winged

Another rarity, which took some hiking into savannah land, was the Black-throated Finch. Found only in far north Queensland, this one below is an adult race atrophygialis.

Finch, Black-throated 2Finch, Black-throated 3Finch, Black-throated

Much more common, and I have seen them in many places, but well camouflaged, were Double-Barred Finches:

Finch, Double-barred

My expert guide was most surprised to see the well-named Squatter Pigeon, which spends most of its time solidly down on its heavy legs, sitting on a single electricity wire – we surmised it must have been alarmed by an oblivious pedestrian.

Pigeon, Squatter

Another fascinating creature is the Orange-footed Scrubfowl, found only on the most northern coastal areas. It makes huge mounds for its nests, a process which involves both partners systematically scratching every leaf, twig and any other debris in a straight line forward and back to the nest. Even more remarkably, typically both are in the same straight line. They leave the scratching site scrupulously clear of any useful mounding material.

The last distant sighting was a Striated Pardalote, in fading light and a bit too far for a decent photo.

Pardalote, Striated

On the day we saw 70 different birds species, 33 of them new sightings for me. So, a remarkable day of bird photography,  impossible without the expert guide, and full of learning and growing amazement at the still poorly understood world of birds.

 

Michael Monaghan August 2019

 

Daintree birds and forest

I was privileged to spend half a day with a bloke who has some of the oldest plants varieties on the planet on his land. Fascinating to see Cyclad that were thousands of years old, massive trees that are still unidentified, and lots of birds.

The highlight, and rarely seen, were male Victoria’s Rifle Birds, both unusually out in the open (albeit very high up in the canopy), starting to lay their territorial claims for when the ladies arrive.

 

Riflebird, victoria's m6Riflebird, Victoria's m5Riflebird, Victoria's m4Riflebird, Victoria's m3Riflebird, Victoria's mRiflebird, Victoria's 2We heard at least five different male Victoria’s Rifle Birds over a few hours.

Very common are the Australian Fig-birds, fairly ubiquitous where there are palms.The male is the brighter one with the red eye patch.

Figbird, Australian femFigbird, australian mFigbird, Australasian m raceflaviventrisAs with the Riflebird and the figbird, this is the first sighting of the Lovely Fairy-wren, the male having the fuller blue face, and the female the white spot at the beak base.

Like many bird and butterfly activities, the local experts are saying that things are happening earlier than is normal. The Ulysses butterfly above is not normally around at this time of year.

 

Michael Monaghan August 2019

 

Deep in the Daintree

Smoking ceremony - Yalanji tribeOne of the best ways to understand the Daintree is to take a Dreamtime walk at Mossman Gorge with an indigenous host  who knows what is there. We went deeper into the forest past where the mass of tourists go. I learned lots about how the Yalanji lived for so many generations in sympathy with their land.

Shield, tray, cot - Yalanji tribeNuts, quandongDigger - Yalanji tribeThe first item is a shield/food tray/baby carrier; the second is a nut which is toxic unless ground and cooked, with the quandong; and the third cricket bat looking object is a digging stick.  We also saw the different boomerangs, the narrow lean returning one for the open country, and the thick club like one for bush-stunnings.

If I ever get stung by Stinging Nettle, I now know what to do in a probably vain attempt to forestall the heart-attack. You move the caught body part calmly back in the direction in which it came, grab some berries off the bush (without being re-nettled) and eat them, then pull the plant out (without being re-nettled), crush the roots and chew like crazy. By this time, the crazy bit is apt, but if you don’t have a heart-attack (then) you might survive for a life-time of pain. Or, you could know about these critters and keep away. Then there are the other stinging nettles which also have life time pain implications, and to make it a bit trickier, have false and real stinger plants growing side by side.  Just as well the crocs will take you out as you run for hospital.

 

Stinging NettleWas a truly beautiful forest though, with vegetation vying for survival:IMG_3039 (3)IMG_3036 (2)IMG_3035 (2)

IMG_3033 (2)And lots of fungi of course:

 

The Daintree River is glorious with so many massive volcanic boulders guiding its path and its purity.

 

 

Michael Monaghan August 2019