We journeyed to Dangar Island, a small (31 hectare) forested island in the Hawkesbury River in Sydney’s north, to try to find the rare Yellow-morph of the Australian King Parrot. After a lovely breakfast at the island’s only cafe, we took a circuit of the island – a walk of 3.2 kilometres. We obviously chose the wrong direction, as we had all but arrived back at our starting point before we found our target.
The male Australian King Parrot’s wings are normally a rich dark green:
Bird experts believe that a genetic condition called Leucism is what makes the feathers of some birds more pale (or even white). The population on Dangar Island has this genetic condition – locals tell us there are a number of yellow-morphs on the island. One local told us she has seen four, another reckons about half the males have the morph. We have seen photos of other yellow-morphs where the condition even affects the bright red of the head, but on the guy we found that is clearly not the case.
Here is a comparison of the yellow-morph male and a “normal” male:
Another male was feeding in the same area. (The two had a brief altercation, but nothing serious).
The females that we saw did not seem to exhibit any abnormal colouration:
We were very pleased to get so many shots of a Yellow-morph.
Dangar Island is listed on a number of sites as a “birding hotspot”. On this visit, however, apart from the excitement of the Yellow-morph, we found it to be a bit of a birding NOT spot. Very few other species appeared – and none that were not common all over Sydney.
Dangar Island itself is an interesting place. It has a population of approximately 300 (which swells in Summer holidays), and is Sydney’s only private-car-free suburb (there is a fire-truck and a Council ute). Judging solely by the residents’ houses and gardens, there seems to be a bit of a bohemian vibe on Dangar:
Walking to Yagoona Railway Station through O’Neill Park, I happened upon this tiny fellow.
He had obviously fallen from the nest. I doubt that his parents had been trying to move him to a fledging branch – he looked too young, and could barely keep his eyes open.
As I got close to him to take photos, I was surprised that there was absolutely no alarm calls or swooping from his parents or extended family. I took that to mean that they had given up on him as a lost cause.
I couldn’t bear to leave him to the local cats, so I lifted him to a low branch – from where he promptly fell to the ground again.
When I lifted him to a higher and wider branch, he sat there happily enough. It was only at this point that his family began to make a commotion. Had they previously considered him beyond any help – but now that he was off the ground and relatively safe, did they start to believe he could now be saved? I like to think so…
One dark night, after a few days of continual rain, I arrived home and could make out a Masked Lapwing (Vanellusmiles) standing in the middle of the street. As I moved closer I saw there were two, surrounded by dark, rapidly moving… things. I realized there were five chicks with them. The parents were giving their alarm calls as I approached, and they led the chicks off the road and onto the muddy, churned up grass verge in front of a building site. Though common enough birds, this was unusual. I could do nothing in the dark, other than hope the family was OK. Throughout the night, they continued to give their noisy, harsh contact and alarm calls – which The Australian Bird Guide wryly describes as “not always delighting insomniacs”. I was keeping myself awake with thoughts that perhaps one of their chicks had fallen into a drain!
Early next morning, Mum was still on the verge in front of the construction site, in the rain.
Perhaps they lived on the local Golf Course – 150m away – and the incessant rain had flooded their usual home? Lapwings like to gather and live near the margin of water, but seldom wade and prefer to feed on dry land. Again, I counted five chicks. Lapwings generally lay 3 to 4 eggs, so I took that as hopefully indicating they were not hanging around in distress over a lost chick. I checked the two nearest drains and could not see a chick. Dad was nowhere to be seen, but the chicks wandered around amongst the mud and wet grass happily enough.
The tiny chicks were almost too small to focus on in the grey, overcast light. But as with all chicks everywhere, the cuteness was overpowering:
As the rain came down again, the chicks took shelter beneath their Mum’s wings. (These shots clearly show the black-tipped, yellow wing spurs that the adult lapwings have).
After the shower passed, I was able to get in closer for some more cuteness…
Then with strident, grating, aggressive alarm calls, Dad came charging back down the street…
Later in the day, they had left the area as mysteriously as they had appeared. But it was wonderful to finally see the chicks of this familiar bird.
From eggs to nearly full-grown in three months, these Tawny Frogmouth chicks grew up so fast! We visited on six or seven occasions.
5 Sep: While walking in Glades Bay Park Gladesville, we spotted a Tawny Frogmouth (Podargus strigoides) sitting on the nest. The nests of the Frogmouths are famously shoddily-built: more of a loose collection of twigs and leaves dropped onto a horizontally-forked branch, and they are frequently apt to disintegrate. It is the male that incubates the eggs during the day:
Tawny Frogmouths are often confused with Owls (“strigoides” actually means “owl-form”), but are more closely related to Nightjars. Owls take prey with their muscular feet and sharp talons, whereas the Tawnies’ feet are weak by comparison, and they take prey exclusively with their beak. Owls have fully-forward facing eyes, while Tawnies’ large yellow eyes – while superficially similar to Owls’ – are on the sides of their head. The Tawnies’ diet is comprised of nocturnal insects (especially moths), worms, slugs and snails. Small mammals, reptiles, frogs and birds are sometimes caught and eaten. Mostly they pounce from a perch to prey on the ground, but we read that they will sometimes take moths in flight.
A month later we went back…
4 Oct: Dad was on the nest, his large yellow eyes eyes open and alert.
And now we glimpsed the two chicks – nothing more than balls of white fluff under their father at this stage, and only the tops of their heads visible:
Tawnies mate for life. Male and female share the nest-building. Breeding period is between August and December, but there are reports that they will also breed in response to heavy rains (such as we’ve had this summer?)
9 Oct: Five days later we were back. No signs of the chicks at first:
Until one of the little fellas popped his head out for air:
Tawny Frogmouths are most famous for their camouflage – and justifiably so. It really is quite remarkable. The blacks and greys (and sometimes browns), together with the elaborate mottling replicate to bark and bare wood of many trees almost perfectly. Their habit of perching with their heads held up at an angle, eyes closed and absolutely still means they are often taken for a broken branch until they move or open their eyes.
23 Oct: The two chicks were now getting to a size where they could not fit under their parent so well. One had the forward vantage point, the other was squeezed out under the parent’s right side. They were now sporting more plumage. Gone was the white fluff, and the first signs of their camouflage was appearing. Certainly in some shots, the front chick blended so well with his father that he looked like a pair of eyes set into Dad’s abdomen!
Mum was lower down on the same tree, and such was her stillness and camouflage that we didn’t spot her until a passer-by pointed her out.
Returning a fortnight later, the nest was abandoned and mostly disintegrated. There were no signs of the family in the tree, and we assumed we’d seen the end of the story. But a couple of hundred metres along the path, eagle-eyed Amanda spotted a parent and one of the youngsters roosting in a Jacaranda:
As we left, we saw another Tawny sitting on the nest in a different part of Glades Bay Park. Sadly, the next time we came back, this nest had fallen apart – there had been a lot of rain in the intervening period.
Tawny Frogmouths are found all over Australia including Tasmania, and are secure in every state. They are found in almost every environment except dense rainforest and treeless deserts.
While they are categorized as “least concern”, research featured in the “State of Australian Birds 2015” report shows an overall decline for Tawny Frogmouth numbers across all but one of the regions in which they occur. Factors include feral cats (Tawnies are quick to swoop on prey on the ground, but aren’t real quick at getting back to a perch, leaving them vulnerable to predators), and removal of habitat due to development and more frequent bushfires. Another factor seems to be exposure to pesticides and rodent poisons, particularly in populations that occur in urban areas.
2 Dec: Returning for the final time we did not see them until we had turned to leave, when once again, Amanda – bird-spotter extraordinaire – spied them roosting low (a lot lower than usual) in a tree. Impossible to say whether this was the same parent/chick combo as we’d seen a month previously, but one thing was clear: the “chick” was very nearly fully-grown.
Just a fortnight before my Mum passed away, we sat together on the front porch of the house that she lived in for 66 years, and watched the handsome Australian Ravens and Currawongs, that she fed daily, visit her front garden.
The last photo I took of Mum…. 1930 to 2021. RIP xxxxxx
We’d spotted Magpie-larks ( Grallina cyanoleuca – aka Peewees) nesting and breeding in the small pocket of mangroves under the south pylon of Meadowbank rail bridge last summer. But on that occasion, there was just a single chick. Returning to check on a nest we recently saw being built (see Close toHome1, Sep 7), we were delighted to find a family of three chicks. We first noticed the male on the nest:
He flew off, but perched nearby to keep an eye on us. The female took his place on the nest almost immediately, so we were fairly certain there was a chick.
Returning a week later, we could clearly see there were three chicks in this hatching! At this point they were still so young that their wing feathers had hardly developed, and they looked a bit like skeleton birds!
When the female returned for feeding, they all sat up!
One chick seemed more advanced than the other two. We assume he or she had hatched first:
These birds are fiercely territorial, especially at breeding time. The male kept a close eye on the humans with the cameras.
He took a dislike to one particular jogger, swooping at her as she passed, and again when she returned.
When we next returned, all three chicks were close to fledging.
The adult female returned, the chicks still dependent on their parents for feeding.
The adult male was never far away, keeping an eye on his chicks, now that they had left the safety of the neat little mud nest.
Even (or maybe especially?) at this late stage, the parents were extremely defensive of their chicks. The female made a show of flapping and giving the pee-pee-pee-pee alarm call:
The male joined in too, and it was not long before he was swooping Brad.
We did not want to distress them any further after they had successfully raised three chicks to fledging stage. Wishing the kids luck, we left them in peace.
The Eastern Rosella (Platycercus eximius) is a quiet, wary, mid-sized parrot common in eastern Australia from south-east Queensland to eastern South Australia (with sub-species extending south into Tasmania, and further north to north Queensland). They inhabit lightly-treed forests, forest edges, open parks and grasslands, and are right at home in suburban gardens and wildlife corridors. They will forage in trees (particularly eucalypts) for insects, flowers and nectar, but are more usually seen feeding quietly on the ground, on grass and fallen seeds. This guy was feeding in the grounds of Concord Hospital.
The Eastern Rosella is perhaps the most colourful and distinctly-marked bird in Australia. Its red head, white cheeks and beak, yellow lower breast fading to green on the abdomen, dark green tail and bluish wings and lateral tail-feathers make it absolutely unmistakable. Their black wing-feathers fringed with yellow-green make for an effective camouflage pattern however, and they can be surprisingly hard to spot in foliage and long grass.
Eastern Rosellas nest in tree-hollows, ideally a metre deep and preferably in eucalypts. However, they are relatively enthusiastic users of nest-boxes and other artificial sites as well. I recently came across this couple scoping out every possible nook and cranny in a suburban house in West Ryde. The female chooses and prepares the nesting site, and this lady was leaving no crack or gap uninvestigated:
I assume this is the male looking on from the fence…
Even this claustrophobic gap was inspected. I’m thinking that if Easterns are being forced to consider spaces like this, perhaps we need to build or buy one or two Eastern-specific nest boxes.
Eastern Rosellas face competition for more than just hollows. The Noisy Miners’ diet is essentially the same as the Easterns’. Plus Noisy Miners are just inherently belligerent!
And finally, a handful of Eastern Rosellas we saw on a trip to Cowra and environs in 2020.