Australia May 2022 : The Birding – it’s Different! (Part 3)

The Other Birds

Parts 1 and 2 described some of the more common “black and white” and “vividly coloured” species, which make up a large proportion of the birds that are found in the area of Victoria where our son has settled.

In this Part three I will be showing some of the other common birds to be found, the ones that don’t fall into one of those categories but which are likely to attract your attention because of their uniqueness or simply because they are plentiful or easily seen.

And to start off, let’s take a look at one of Australia’s most iconic birds and also one of my favourites –

Laughing Kookaburra Dacelo novaeguineae

The Kookaburra has adapted well to urban environments, particularly those with areas of large eucalypts and if you think it looks a lot like a kingfisher, you would be spot on – it is in fact the largest member of the kingfisher family, outsizing even the Giant Kingfisher from Africa, but its “fishing” exploits are confined to dry land with its diet including insects, small mammals and even other birds.

The name is a loan-word from the Wiradjuri people who called it a guuguubarra which in turn is an onomatopeic version of the sound of its call. The call is loud and distinctive, ringing through the trees and sounding rather maniacal – listen to the calls at this link :

https://wildambience.com/wildlife-sounds/laughing-kookaburra/

For interest, I looked into the scientific name of the Kookaburra – Dacelo novaeguineae – and learnt a couple of totally useless facts, nevertheless fascinating if you are into that sort of thing.

Firstly Dacelo is an anagram of Alcedo, the latin word for kingfisher – which was the genus name originally given to the species. As an aside the genus name of two South African species of kingfisher is Alcedo, while 5 of the other 8 South African kingfishers fall under the genus Halcyon

As to the species name novaeguineae, the laughing kookaburra was first described and illustrated by French naturalist and explorer Pierre Sonnerat in his Voyage à la nouvelle Guinée, which was published in 1776. He claimed to have seen the bird in New Guinea. In fact Sonnerat never visited New Guinea and the laughing kookaburra does not occur there. He probably obtained a preserved specimen from one of the naturalists who accompanied Captain James Cook to the east coast of Australia

Well, I warned you that it’s useless (yet fascinating) information! Just shows that scientists are a quirky bunch at times.

Laughing Kookaburra Dacelo novaeguineae, Raymond Island Victoria

Noisy Miner Manorina melanocephala

Like the Laughing Kookaburra, the Noisy Miner is found mostly in the eastern parts of Australia and, like so many species of this vast country, it is an endemic. The first thing that strikes you about this bird is its somewhat cross-eyed appearance – mainly due to the yellow coloured bare patch of skin behind the eyes

And the name? Well I did try and find the origin of Miner but could not come up with anything other than a suggestion that it is another form of Mynah, which we know all too well in South Africa. There is a resemblance so let’s assume that is the case. As for the Noisy part of its name, it is just that – a noisy bird that lives in loose colonies and vigorously defends its feeding area.

Noisy Miner Manorina melanocephala, Sale
Noisy Miner Manorina melanocephala, Raymond Island Victoria

Red Wattlebird Anthochaera carunculata

It’s named for the red wattles just below its cheeks, not visible in my photo so you’ll have to use your imagination. A member of the extensive honeyeater family of birds, this is one of the largest and possibly noisiest as well, using its harsh, grating cough or bark to announce its presence in the neighbourhood. It’s the avian equivalent of that aggressive hell’s angel type who roars through the suburbs creating a cacophany of sound.

Red Wattlebird Anthochaera carunculata, Wurruk, Sale Victoria

Australasian Swamphen Porphyrio melanotus

I was amazed during our first visit to Australia some 3 years ago and again during our recent visit, to find this Swamphen in places you would least expect, particularly if you are accustomed to birding in southern Africa. Where we are used to swamphens being shy and retiring, seeking refuge among reeds at every opportunity, the Australian version, which is very similar in appearance, can pop up just about anywhere and is hardly fazed by humans. This one approached to within a couple of metres of our picnic table next to the lake where we were enjoying a take-away lunch.

Australasian Swamphen Porphyrio melanotus, Sale Victoria
Australasian Swamphen Porphyrio malanotus, Wurrk, Sale Victoria

Masked Lapwing Vanellus miles

As Lapwings go, this is a particularly handsome one, often seen on larger lawns and in fields, feeding in its slow, deliberate fashion across most of Australia. This species used to be called the Spurwinged Plover as, like many lapwings, the wings are armed with spurs at the carpal joint that are used to defend their territory in breeding season.

Masked Lapwing Vanellus miles, Wurruk, Sale Victoria

Superb Fairywren Malurus cyaneus

Now I know what you’re thinking …. what’s so “superb” about this attractive but dull-looking bird? The answer is in two parts – the female lacks the bright colouring of the male, while the male, brightly coloured in the breeding season, loses the bright colouring in non-breeding plumage, other than its tail which remains blue.

Interestingly, they have a communal group breeding system where one pair in the group raise up to four broods in a season, while the rest of the group members look after the young.

This is one of the most common of the small birds that I have come across on my walks and in the garden and are found across the south-eastern parts of Australia.

Superb Fairywren Malurus cyaneus (Non-breeding plumage), Sale Common NCR

New Holland Honeyeater Phylidonyris novaehollandiae

Not the best photo, but this is s a bird that chooses to perch on the very top of tall trees, and with the sky often being overcast yet bright it presents a real challenge to get a reasonable image. Without any exposure adjustment the image is likely to be so dark as to be unrecognisable.

My approach is to adjust the exposure compensation on the camera by up to +2 full stops – in this case it was +1.3 stops which I found wasn’t enough, so I added a further +0.4 stops while editing. Apologies if this is getting too technical, but this is one of the simplest ways of improving your photos, as I have found that almost every situation calls for some exposure compensation – plus or minus – and all modern cameras have this function available.

As to the bird itself, this is one of the huge family of Honeyeaters that are major pollinators of many of Australia’s unique native plants, feeding on the honey-flora flowers and in the process pollen is deposited on their head and transferred to the next plants they visit. They are common in south-west and south-east Australia and often come into the garden.

New Holland Honeyeater Phylidonyris novaehollandiae, Wurruk, Sale Victoria

Other Flying Things

And now for something else that’s aerial ……. – is it a bird, is it a plane? ….. no it’s Superm….. sorry it IS a plane! That red colouring had me thinking for a moment it was my favourite superhero with his famous red cape! Oh well…..

Actually this is one of the six Pilatus C-21 aircraft that make up the Roulettes aerobatic team – they perform at air shows across the country and seem to spend a large part of the day practising over Sale as there is almost always one of them buzzing around overhead

One of the Pilatus C-21 aircraft making up the RAAF Aerobatic Team

References :

The Complete Guide to Australian Birds by George Adams

Wikipedia (Laughing Kookaburra)

9 thoughts on “Australia May 2022 : The Birding – it’s Different! (Part 3)”

  1. I ENJOY the so-called trivial facts relating to the etymology of names of plants, birds and animals, so thank you for that digression 🙂 This is another fascinating post – love the conclusion!

    1. Those “scientific” names seem intimidating at first but then you realise that scientists are interesting and quirky like the rest of us! What I like about the names is that they are the same the world over, no matter what they are known as in the local language

  2. I also enjoy finding out how things got their names, so thank you Don for doing so much research! These are pretty interesting birds too – how many Australian birds have you ticked by now?

    1. My Aussie list according to the Birdlasser app is 79 after our recent visit. It doesn’t seem like much but the numbers of species just don’t compare with what we are used to in SA, where I can find that many species during a morning’s atlasing. My birding there has been confined to the area where we were staying in Victoria and our visits have been in winter, so possible species are much reduced as there is a lot of south-north seasonal migration. Nevertheless an exciting place to bird!

  3. I always enjoy your posts… Thanks Don! I visited my brother in Melbourne in the Dandenongs, travelled to Otways and Apollo Bay but this was before I was a birder. So many wonderful and interesting species visited their garden on the edge of a forested area. Luckily you have double pleasure from your visit.

    1. We visited those same places – Dandenong, Apollo Bay – during our previous visit – you can find my blog posts on our Great Ocean Road trip among my older posts from 2019 if you’re interested. Glad you enjoy the posts Ivonne.

  4. Stunning report Don. Love your trivia.
    Our Australian list in 2014 was over 100 but were lucky enough to spend a day with a friend who is a retired ranger and had access to some lovely birding spots that we would otherwise have missed. We also visited Sydney, the central coast and did the Great Ocean Road so were in more regions than you.
    Australia has so much to offer. We would love to visit again.

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