Categories
Birds

Wing Mirror.

During our stay at Paika Station, a plucky male Superb Fairy-wren, nesting in the hedge in front of our cottage, took great exception to his own reflection in the wing mirror of the car.

Obviously, he was unable to distinguish his reflection – in both the mirror and the window – from potential usurping males. He would attack his reflection tirelessly for minutes at at time, and come back every 10 minutes or so to try again. As can be seen from the photos, he often left droppings behind during these frenzies.

He seemed to be expending so much energy in this behavior that we became worried he might die of exhaustion. We tried to cover the mirrors, but the reflections in the glass of the windows were also enough to arouse his aggression. He even fought his reflection in the window of our cottage at one point.

We hope that when we left, this little guy settled down.

Categories
Birds

Major Look.

On our tour of Lake Mungo and the Walls of China, we were lucky enough to see our first Major Mitchell’s Cockatoos (Lophochroa leadbeateri) in the wild.

German, our guide, spotted them from a frankly amazing distance. As we got closer, the pale pink was unmistakable.
They are smaller and much quieter than their cousins the Sulphur-crested Cockatoo.

Major Mitchell’s (named after an explorer of inland Australia) are found in arid and semi-arid areas of the inland, in all Australian states except Tasmania. They need wooded habitats – or at least lightly-wooded – as they lay eggs at the bottom of a vertical tree hollow, usually on a bed of rotting wood. They prefer habitats where eucalypts and acacias dominate.
3 to 4 eggs are laid, with both parents incubating. Chicks are fledged in about 4 months.

They are omivorous, and will eat the seeds of grasses, shrubs and trees. They will take small roots and bulbs, as well as insect larvae and grubs. They mostly forage on the ground – sometimes in groups of other cockatoos like galahs and corellas – but will also eat in the branches of a tree. The one we saw in the tree was taking great delight in a Paddy Melon (Cucumis myriocarpus).

These birds are sadly now listed as Vulnerable in New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria.

Categories
Birds Walk

Mungo Au Go Go.

Arriving at Paika Station, we dropped our stuff for a quick turn-around, and were picked up for a guided tour of Mungo National Park, and the famous “Walls of China”.

First stop was the historic Homebush Hotel, 27kms north of Balranald, one of NSW’s “true” outback pubs, which has been operating since 1878.
Our tour of four people were the only patrons – but the publican told us that 500+ visitors were expected on the weekend after the funeral of a popular local identity!

After a quick beer, we were driven the 120km north to “Lake” Mungo with a few roadside stops along the way.

At Mungo, we stopped at the Visitor’s Centre, and took a look at the historic Woolshed. This shearing shed was part of the old Gol Gol Sheep Station from a time before this was a National Park. It is made from local Cypress pine using the “drop-log” technique (a technique thought to have been introduced to Australia by Chinese immigrants). Ironically, it was the intense grazing of the enormous flocks of sheep, and the felling of so much local Cypress that led to the erosion which revealed and created the formations we were about to see.

High in the sky, a Black Kite circled, but our attention was grabbed by this Singing Honeyeater (Lichenostomus virescens) who posed for us near the old water tank, looking suitably “outback”.
The Singing Honeyeater is one of the most widely occurring honeyeaters in Australia (though absent in Tasmania), but is rare in eastern NSW.

Not only is Lake Mungo part of the Willandra Lakes World Heritage area, and the site of important archaeological finds, it is also culturally significant to Indigenous Australians. It is a sacred site and burial ground, and the discovery of many middens and footprints mark the area as an important meeting place for First Nations people.
As well as the discovery of the 42,000 year old burial of Mungo Man, the burnt remains of Mungo Woman have been found, and are the oldest record of human cremation found anywhere on Earth.
Legend has it this stone memorial to Indigenous Guide Leslie Taylor (1966 – 2003) was planned to be erected elsewhere, but fell off the truck at this location. This was taken as a sign that the monument should rest here.

The “Walls of China” is a low, curving line of sandy hills – a Lunette – that arcs around the eastern shore of the dry lakebed of Mungo. A lunette is defined as a single, massive dune ridge of sand and clay blown up from a lake bed. The lunette at Mungo is approximately 20 metres high, 200 metres wide, and extends for nearly 30 kilometres. Wind and rain erosion has carved the lunette into dramatic formations and features.
The system is as fragile as it is beautiful. Today, visitors cannot walk out onto the lunette unless they are part of a guided tour by a registered tour operator.

We had booked the Sunset Tour, as this is famously the best time to view and photograph these formations. With record rainfalls bearing down on South West NSW, our booking had to be changed twice, but due to the organizational and driving skills of Amanda, we were fortunate enough to make the one window available for the Sunset Tour before the rains closed the Park for many days.

Trying to eliminate my own shadow from a pic…

A bird highlight was seeing a pair of Major Mitchell Cockatoos (see “Major Look”). Our guide also identified some furtive and fast moving Rainbow Bee-eaters (Merops ornatus) which we weren’t able to photograph, but Welcome Swallows were making their homes amongst the dunes in plentiful numbers:

As the sun dipped lower and lower still, the light was changing minute to minute, bathing the formations in an everchanging range of colour. As German our guide said – cameras love these colours!
At the risk of sounding all New Age and Herbal… it really was a magical and strange location to be in at sunset. You’d have to be pretty hard-hearted not to be affected by it.

Categories
Birds Flora

Through Canola to Coota.

Leaving Jugiong, we headed to Leeton – with a stop off at Cootmundra – along the so-called “Canola Way”. The yellow-flowering canola fields were stunningly picturesque.

At Cootamundra, we walked along the Heritage Bird Walk. We saw the Red Wattle-bird:

The Yellow Thornbill (Acanthiza nana):

A new bird to our cameras – the Noisy Friar-bird (Philemon corniculatus):

And furtively keeping to distant trees, a Sacred Kingfisher:

Categories
Birds

Jugiong Jaunt.

The first overnight stop on our trip to South West New South Wales was the tiny town of Jugiong (population 260 approx.) 338 kilometres south west of Sydney.

Since the mid 1990s, Jugiong has been totally bypassed by the Hume Freeway, and nowadays survives as a tourist spot thanks to its two attractions: the Long Track Pantry, and the Sir George Inn.

On our night and morning there we snapped some of the local birdlife.

Crimson Rosellas (two juveniles):

A new bird for us – the Blue-faced Honeyeater (Entomyzon cyanotis):

The juveniles of this species are easily spotted by the yellow-green skin around the eye, and the lighter grey on the the bib:

In the same flowering tree, Red Wattlebirds:

A Yellow-faced Honeyeater (Lichenostomus chrysops)

A female Superb Fairy-wren:

And of course the males:

The Yellow-rumped Thornbill (Acanthiza chrysorrhoa):

The male Rufous Whistler (Pachycephala rufiventris):

A Red-browed Finch:

A nice place to overnight when heading west…

Categories
Birds

Sparrows!

Why the excitement about a such a familiar and abundant introduced species, that some consider pests?

Well, when I was a small kid growing up in Sydney’s South-West, House Sparrows (Passer domesticus) were truly abundant. I would say that four out of every five birds I ever saw was a sparrow. For a time when I was very young, to me the word “bird” meant sparrow.
But for decades now, House Sparrows have been very rare in the Sydney Basin, out-competed by Noisy Miners. So much so that when we travelled further west, the House Sparrows we saw sparked a real nostalgia in me.

The House Sparrow is sexually dimorphic. The male has a highly-patterned head and bib:

His bib becomes fuller and blacker when breeding. The ones we saw at Jugiong NSW were probably not in breeding mode yet.

The female has a much less patterned head, and though her wings are patterned similarly to the male, she tends to be duller and greyer overall. But no less pretty:

The House Sparrow was deliberately introduced into Australia circa 1860. Although its occupation of Sydney has dwindled dramatically, by all reports it is extending its range rapidly west, wherever man lives. It has been sighted in the Torres Strait Islands too.
In Northern Territory and Western Australia there are active control programs to limit their numbers.

Categories
Birds Flora Reptiles Walk

In Living Curra.

In Sydney’s Royal National Park, the Curra Moors Loop Walk is a 10km trek through heath and coastal sandstone cliffs. A rough and challenging walk normally, after the surreally heavy rains of Eastern Australia’s third consecutive La Nina, the muddiness made this walk quite a dance of fancy footwork! But we had heard that there would be a great display of wildflowers at this time. We were not disappointed.

Coral Heath (Epacris microphylla):

Drumsticks (Isopogon anethifolius):

A King Parrot and his mate posed obligingly for us:

Kunzea:

Native Iris (Patersonia occidentalis):

Dotted Sun Orchids (Thelymitra ixioides):

There were many, many New Holland Honeyeaters around… and they seemed to like the Gymea Lilies (Doryanthes excelsa):

Plenty of lizards:

The Parrot Pea (Fabaceae):

A White-browed Scrub Wren put on a display of singing for us:

In the fading light of afternoon, a Brown Thornbill:

There really was a plethora of gorgeous flowers on display:

But of all the wonderful wildflowers, the Waratahs (Telopea
speciosissima
) were naturally the most spectacular:

 

Categories
Birds

Most Ingenious ParraDucks.

The word on the street was there were 13 newly-hatched ducklings on the Parramatta River in the area around Buttons Bridge. This we had to check out. After spotting them on the western bank the day before, we returned the next day with camera to find them on the eastern bank. No apologies for the number of photos, but strap in for an epic. It was cuteness overload!

The Australian Wood Duck (Chenonetta jubata) is a medium-sized grazing duck native to Australia. It is the only living member of the genus Chenonetta (New Zealand’s Finsch’s Duck – Chenonetta finschi – became extinct in the 1870s).
It is widespread throughout Australia, apart from the extreme tropics and the most arid parts of the interior.

Most bird guides state that 9 to 11 eggs are laid, but we have seen figures that suggest 14 to 17 is common. There have been reports of a brood of 30, but it is unclear whether this was due to “Creching”. All 13 of these little ones are in this shot:

The ducklings were achingly cute:

The lesson today seemed to be getting into and out of the water in difficult locations. The female led the ducklings to part of the bank with a stonewall drop of a couple of metres, and they stood around in some trepidation.

Through a tragic fluke of inattention, I missed the mass jump into the water, but all 13 brave ducklings made it without incident!

The handsome couple took their charges on a swim across the river….

The siblings all stuck pretty tightly together…

Then it was an about-face, and a swim back…

Mum led the ducklings downstream under the bridge. She had a test in mind.

She led them a slightly challenging exit point, and left them to it:

One duckling made it fairly quickly and joined Mum on the bank:

A few resolute kids stuck at it for a while, giving it all they had:

Mum called them on….

…and a few more determined kids made it up :

The remainder considered their options, and whether through a flash of inspiration, or from some clue from the mother’s calls, they made their way back upstream to an easier landing place:

Mum guided them the rest of the way:

Further foraging cuteness ensued:

Fed, and tired after their ordeal, the ducklings joined their mother on a warm dry mound of twigs for a sleep:

One by one they squeezed themselves in and around her:

Believe it or not – this is a photo of 14 Australian Wood Ducks!

So wonderful to see these behaviours first-hand in an urban green space like Parramatta Park.

Categories
Birds

Lutino Rainbow.

Walking the backstreets of Pearl Beach, Central Coast NSW, we happened to spot a yellow flash land in a yellow banksia. We thought that maybe the sun had just caught a Rainbow Lorikeet at a strange angle, but as we came nearer, we were amazed to see it was a rare “Lutino” Rainbow Lorikeet!

Being unprepared, and with the sun at a bad angle, the photos are not among our best, but sightings of these birds in the wild are rare enough to warrant us posting them.

Unlike the Yellow Morph King Parrot (refer Hello Yellow Jan 2, 2022), the Lutino mutation in Rainbow Lorikeets is not a naturally occurring one. It originated about 20 years ago when breeders crossed an extremely rare naturally-mutated Lutino Scaly-breasted Lorikeet with a Rainbow Lorikeet. Since then breeders have been refining the mutation in Rainbows.

So we can only assume this guy is an escaped pet. Given that there is a breeding aviary that specializes in colour-mutated Lorikeets on the Central Coast of NSW, our mate here may well have staged a break-out from there! He was in the company of a handful of other Rainbow Lorikeets, and seems happy enough feeding himself in the wild, so we don’t think there is any cause for concern.

Categories
Birds Mammals Reptiles

Sydney Zoo.

Sydney Zoo was opened in 2015 in western Sydney. Bramanda visited and spent far too much time watching the Otters. But here are some of the other wonderful animals we saw.

Asian Elephants (Elephas maximus)

The beautiful African Painted Dog (Lycaon pictus):

Spotted Hyena (Crocuta crocuta)

Giraffes (Giraffo camelopardalis)

African Lion (Panthera leo)

Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus)

The Red Pandas (Ailurus fulgens) were sadly very reclusive on our visit:

The Tufted Capuchins (Cebus apella)

The Sacred Baboons (Papio hamadryas)

A sleepy Chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes)…

…and other sleepy critters!

Capybara (Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris)