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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.

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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 Walk

Hello Yellow.

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:

What sort of bird lives in this nest?

Categories
Birds Walk

Warriewood Wetlands Walk.

On another visit to Warriewood Wetlands and the adjacent Irrawong Falls we spotted a number of species.

The Little Pied Cormorant (Microcarbo melanoleucos):

The Little Wattlebird (Anthochaera chrysoptera):

The White-cheeked Honeyeater (Phylidonyris niger):

The Superb Fairy-wren (Malurus cyaneus):

Dusky Moorhen chicks (Gallinula tenebrosa):

The White-browed Scrub-wren (Sericornis frontalis) :

The Eastern Whipbird (Psophodes olivaceus) – not great pictures, but the best that we have ever been able to get!

The Bell Miner (Manorina melanophrys) – collecting lerp which is clearly visible in the second shot:

Also a juvenile Bell Miner who posed so well for us:

An Eastern Great Egret (Ardea modesta) fishing:

Then across to Irrawong Falls:

An Eastern Yellow Robin (Eopsaltria australis):

A Silvereye (Zosterops lateralis):

Then on a side-trek to Turrimetta Headland, another Silvereye giving a loud, lengthy and conspicuous song:

Categories
Birds Walk

Power Walk.

On a recent walk along Terry’s Creek, Epping, we were fortunate enough to have a family of Powerful Owls (Ninox strenua) pointed out to us, and we’ve been back a few times since to check on them – our first encounters with Australia’s largest owl.

The Terry’s Creek Walk is a bushland walk between Eastwood and Epping Railway stations (in reality, there’s about 1.2km of suburban road to walk before getting to the trackhead at Albuera Rd). It follows Terry’s Creek, a small waterway that flows into the Lane Cove River, through a narrow patch of remnant Blue Gum High Forest.
The forest is hemmed in on both sides by suburban houses, so is not the quietest walk. A local bushcare group are doing great work, however the northern bank of the creek is the more natural: the southern bank, closer to the backs of houses, has a lot more weed and other exotics – a lot of privet especially.

There is a population of White-throated Gerygones along Terry’s Creek. A very small bird, they feed on insects and arthropods gleaned from leaves and bark, seldom foraging on the ground. They build pear-shaped nests of bark and spider’s webs suspended from the outer foliage of trees.

The Powerful Owl is endemic to east and south-eastern Australia, from south-east Queensland to south-west Victoria, mostly east of the Great Dividing Range. It prefers to hang around sheltered gullies in wet forests, especially along watercourses, so Terry’s Creek is the ideal location.

It is not uncommon to find a pair and their young roosting together, or at least in close proximity, and so it was on our first visit. Two parents and two chicks were roosting in dense cover – so dense it made photography difficult. The adults are a strongly-barred with grey-brown and white chevrons; the juveniles are a downy white with a contrasting dark mask.

On our first visit, as we emerged back into the open area of Forrester Park, we encountered a man from the local liquor store who was attempting to release an Echidna back into the bushland (it had somehow wandered into the store!). The Echidna had very definite ideas about how he would like to return to the bush – he insisted on burrowing out the back of the cardboard box rather than simply ambling out the open front of it!
He returned to wild happily enough.

At Terry’s Creek, the big drawcard for bushwalkers with young families is the falls:

The Powerful Owl can live for 30 years, and mates for life. They breed in winter, May to June. The male builds the nest, usually in a large, near-vertical hollow of an old tree. The female incubates the eggs. The juveniles will stay with the parents for several months, and may stay in the parents’ territory for a year.
When we returned a week later, we only saw two of the four owls – one parent and one juvenile.

Powerful Owls feed mostly on arboreal mammals – possums and bats. We have read that they may also take magpies or cockatoos.
General consensus is that the Ring-tailed possum seems to be preferred, and it seems that an increase in possum numbers in urbanized areas is also leading to an increase in Owl numbers.
Everything we have read seems to say that it is nearly always the case that a Powerful Owl will be spotted clutching the remains of the previous night’s prey in its talons. We did not witness that unfortunately. But maybe when there are two youngsters present, there is no left overs to hang onto!
On our next visit there were again only two owls present. Impossible to say if they were the same two from the week before. The younger bird seemed more alert and curious about us (and other path-users). We did not stay in the area too long in case we were spooking him and keeping him from dozing.

The adult seemed less concerned about our presence.

It was a delight to finally get to see our first Powerfuls.

Categories
Birds Walk

Fit For a King.

Only about 4.5% of Sydney’s once-extensive Blue Gum High Forest still remains – some estimates say that’s only about 200 hectares. Of the scattered remnants (the largest is only about 20 hectares), our local patch at Darvall Park, Denistone is a vital environment for birdlife: in particular, King Parrots (Alisterus scapularis).

Part of Darvall’s attraction For the King Parrots is the variety and density of fruiting plants. Native quince, blueberry ash, lilly pilly and cheese tree all grow here, giving the Kings fruit all year round.

More importantly though, it’s the average age and height of the trees that appeals to the Kings. A characteristic of Blue Gum High Forest is the tallness of the trees (the Bush Walk through Darvall is called the “Tall Timbers Walk”). The bluegum, white mahogany, turpentine, rough-barked apple, grey ironbark and blackbutt that form the canopies of the pockets of High Forest can all reach towering heights.

Like a lot of parrots, Kings nest in hollows. They are a relatively large parrot to begin with (approximately 35 – 40cm in length). Add to that fact that they prefer a deep hollow, and trees old enough and tall enough to develop suitable hollows are becoming very rare.
(We have read in various sources that King Parrots like a entrance as high as 10 metres while the eggs may be laid as little as a metre off the ground – 9 metre deep hollows in trees cannot be that common!)

On a recent visit, this male watched on as the female inspected a potential nesting hollow:

She seemed initially happy with it:

Then the male had a look:

They both flew off, but a little while later were back. We took this to mean they were intending to move in and settle down!

There is a healthy population of Kings in Darvall Park. A little further along we spotted this male. We could not see whether he was defending a hollow in the crook of this tall gum, or whether perhaps water had pooled there and he was drinking. But Kings are relatively un-spookable, so he was happy enough for us to approach and let us get some nice close-ups.

The Ryde Bushcare group are doing a truly fabulous job in this small but ecologically important pocket of land – fighting, and making significant headway towards clearing it of lantana and privet, to the very real benefit of local birds, and especially the Kings.

Of course, there are many more bird species that utilize this enclave as well: Laughing Kookaburras, Corellas, Sulphur-crested Cockatoos, Ravens, Magpies, Currawongs, Rainbow Lorikeets, and even Satin Bowerbirds and Eastern Whipbirds. Thanks to the efforts of the Bushcare volunteers, it’s a bit of a birding hotspot.

Categories
Birds Walk

Tarban Footprints.

It was not just Red-browed Finches we saw on our short walk in Riverglade Reserve, Tarban Creek.

A White-browed Scrub Wren (Sericornis frontalis):

Chestnut Teals (Anas castanea) – the female and the male:

The Eastern Long-necked Turtle (Chelodina longicollis)

An Eastern Water Skink…

Male Superb Fairy-wrens, in various stages of breeding plumage:

Categories
Birds Walk

Close to Home 2.

More random birds and animals we’ve seen on our regular COVID Lockdown constitutionals.

An Australian Wood Duck on the canal wall:

A male King Parrot:

A Rainbow Lorikeet feeding near a busy roundabout:

A Little Pied Cormorant:

A Butcherbird:

A pair of Skinks bravely sunning themselves at the edge of a busy footpath:

A Crested Dove:

White Faced Herons:

A Striated Heron in the distance:

A Magpie took a drink from the gutter:

A Kookabuura in the local park:

And another at Looking Glass Bay:

Silver Gulls:

A male Magpie-lark:

In the local park, more hollows were being spring-cleaned – Rainbow Lorikeets and Sulphur-crested Cockatoos:

An Eastern Rosella shares a TV antenna with a Crested Dove and a pair of Noisy Miners:

A Noisy Miner:

Three-part harmony from a trio of Kookburras at Looking Glass Bay:

A dapper Galah posed for us:

A male King Parrot among curly foliage:

Categories
Birds Walk

Close to Home 1.

With gyms closed and outdoor exercise limited to our Local Government Area or a 5km radius from home, we took to routinely walking around nearby parks, ovals and the riverbank , for exercise and sanity.
Here’s just a few birds that we’ve seen on our doorstep this lockdown.

There’s a small population of Common Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) in the nearby park:

On the dry and dusty local soccer fields, these Australian Magpies were playing at arm-wrestling:

A Great Egret (Ardea alba):

A Tawny Frogmouth (Podargus strigoides) spent a few days sleeping in a tree over our driveway:

A Red Wattlebird (Anthochaera caunculata):

A Sulphur-crested Cockatoo chowed down on some fruits:

A bad-hair day for this Kookaburra:

Rainbow Lorikeets:

This Silver Gull looked down his nose at us:

A Female Magpie-lark had started her mud nest:

We took a break on a bench under a Moreton Bay Fig, conveniently full of Australasian Figbirds (Specotheres vieilloti), males and females:

A Spotted Dove (Spilopelia chinensis):

Another female Magpie-lark:

Categories
Birds Walk

Megalong Meander.

While on our mini-break in the Mountains, we took a drive down into Megalong Valley. We stopped at Coachwood Glen to stretch our legs on the short loop-walk through a patch of rainforest.

In the dense tree ferns near the end of the loop were a family of Brown Thornbills (Acanthiza pusilla). Only one of them was obliging enough to pose for photos though:

We drove on, parked at Megalong Cemetery, and walked the two-and-a-bit kilometres via Six Foot Track to Dryridge Estate Winery, where we planned to have a spot of lunch.

A Jacky Winter (Microeca fascinans). Sometimes called “Stumpbird”, “Post Sitter” or “Postboy” for its habit of perching on exposed fence posts or signs.

A Yellow-rumped Thornbill (Acanthiza chrysorrhoa):

The Yellow-rumped Thornbills were feeding in a large flock, but were moving so fast and so frequently that photography was a real challenge. As is often the way with small seed-eating or insectivorous birds, they often associate in mixed-species flocks when food is abundant. As well as a Jacky Winter or two, there were also a number of Double-barred Finches (Taeniopygia bichenovii):

After a relaxing wine or two with our cheeseboard lunch, we headed back to where we had left the car, racing the approaching rain. An Eastern Rosella perched among the vines to see us off.