All posts by Don Reid

South African nature enthusiast with a passion for Birding, Photography and Travelling to interesting places to discover more about Southern Africa and the World

Australia May 2022 – Bright and Beautiful (Part 3)

Bright Area

A late lie-in and a slow time getting ourselves ready meant we only started our Bright “discovery” around midday with a drive around the town to orientate ourselves, stopping at the river and the park to take in the scenery

Bright is known as a tourist and holiday destination with a focus during autumn on the multitude of European trees that turn streets into multi-hued avenues and add a bright splash of colour to many gardens and parks.

Bright Victoria
Autumn colours, Bright Victoria
Bright Victoria

We enjoyed driving slowly along some of the streets to take in the splendour and to add to the pleasure a few significant birds crossed our path.

The first of these was a Crimson Rosella, scratching in leaf litter at the side of the road, coming up with what looked like acorns or nuts and holding them parrot fashion in its claws while consuming the “meat” of the nut.

Crimson Rosella Platycercus elegans, Bright Victoria

Next up was an unexpected sighting of two small birds that were both new to my Australia list – we were leaving a riverside spot where we had parked, when I spotted movement out of the corner of my eye. I braked, reversed and saw several small birds drinking at a puddle some distance from the road – too far to be certain what they were, even with my binoculars, as they were moving about and flitting back and forwards between the puddle and the nearby bushes.

So I did what I usually do in this situation – I grabbed my camera and rattled off a number of shots before the birds dispersed, which gave me a chance to study what I had “captured” and put a name to them.

As it turned out there were two species – both lifers for me :

Red-browed Finch Neochmia temporalis, Bright Victoria
Silvereye Zosterops lateralis, Bright Victoria

And if you are a Saffer and think the Silvereye looks familiar, that’s because it is remarkably similar to the White-eyes found in Southern Africa, which carry the same genus name of Zosterops

Just for good luck a Superb Fairywren popped up onto an exposed twig for a moment

Superb Fairywren Malurus cyaneus, Bright Victoria

Our motel didn’t offer breakfast, so we got by on rusks and coffee in the room, but were by now feeling decidedly peckish, so we parked in a side street and walked through the village where we came across an ideal looking restaurant with tables set outside on the pavement and ordered their tasty bacon and egg wraps and cappuccinos.

Bright Victoria

That gave us an opportunity to decide what to do for the rest of the day and we chose to not try and cover too much of the surrounds, but to limit ourselves to a trip to a neighbouring area that looked interesting.

Before setting off again, we walked along the main street, admiring some of the well-kept older buildings and a church surrounded by handsome trees and popping into a couple of the shops for a quick browse (well, that was the idea, but Gerda’s browsing is a slightly lengthier affair which usually has me wandering about outside looking for birds)

Bright Victoria

Wandiligong

With most of the afternoon at our disposal, we drove around Bright a bit more, then visited the tourist info centre where a very helpful and friendly lady marked various spots on the map for us to explore.

One of them was Wandiligong, an old village where gold was mined in the mid 1800’s, which we thought was worth a visit and was literally just “down the road” from Bright – an easy 6 kms along country roads.

What we found was not a small village as such, but rather a sprinkling of houses and other buildings with a lot of character and heritage spread over an attractive landscape of forests and mountain ranges, set in a picturesque valley

The whole town is now registered with the National Trust as a classified landscape and features historical buildings such as the Manchester Unity public hall (built in 1874), the general store, several churches and a number of quaint cottages. We spent a very pleasant hour or more meandering up and down the roads through the area, stopping to photograph some of the buildings that caught our eye.

The old Public Library in Wandiligong
Wandiligong Public Hall
The Primary school dates back to 1870
Wandiligong Primary School
An old church in Wandiligong, Victoria

It was heading to late afternoon so we returned to our Motel in Bright for a bit of relaxation at the end of an interesting day

Mount Beauty

The next day dawned sunny and we followed a similar pattern – after a light breakfast self-caterd in our room we heade back along the road to Harrietville, then turned off towards Mount Beauty. The road took us through yet another seriously twisty pass which topped out at 895 metres, which is where we had our own tea and a muffin, while enjoying the view down to the valley below and across to distant mountains topped with snow.

Once we had descended into the valley we entered Mount Beauty – driving around we were a little disappointed as it did not seem to live up to its name and came across as just another town. Driving around the town, it seemed to be ‘closed for lunch’ so we stopped at the info centre which suggested ‘The Bakery’ may be open. We had not seen it so followed their directions and found it tucked away in a side street – their pie and salad was just what we needed and the service friendly so things picked up again

There was not much else to see so we headed back up the pass and down the other side towards Bright. At the T-junction with the main road a roadside stall had been set up – the first time we had come across such a thing in Australia – so we stopped to have a look at the farm produce on offer. The lady running the stall kept up a continuous stream of conversation, some of which we actually understood, and she offered us samples of strange (to us) fruit to taste. In the end we played safe and bought a bag of walnuts from her.

Roadside stall, Bright Victoria
Roadside stall, Bright Victoria

Canyon Trail

There was still time for another walk along the Canyon trail before the sun disappeared. There were many ducks on the river and the late afternoon shaded light made for some interesting photos.

Canyon Walk, Bright Victoria
Pacific Black Duck Anas superciliosa, Bright Victoria
Maned Duck Chenonetta jubata (Male), Bright Victoria
Maned Duck Chenonetta jubata (Female), Bright Victoria
Maned Duck Chenonetta jubata (Female), Bright Victoria

That brought another most pleasant day in Bright to a close. I will be adding a further instalment on our road trip, covering the trip back to Sale – not nearly as epic as the initial trip to Bright but with a few interesting ‘sightings’, not necessarily birding related …

Australia May 2022 – Bright and Beautiful (Part 2)

Omeo to Bright

Just to set things straight, this is not the start of a washing powder commercial – how did it go ? “OM(E)O washes your clothes brighter than BRIGHT” or whatever the wording was..

In this second instalment of our road trip along the Great Alpine Road in Victoria, Australia we travel from the small town of Omeo where we spent our first night, to the town of Bright.

Now Bright is just 110 km from Omeo – piece of cake I hear you say – but 110 km has never felt so long – or so epic!

We left our rust-ic cottage in Omeo at 11am and ventured into the town for a brunch of toastie and coffee at the only restaurant that seemed to be open. Suitably fortified, we headed onto the main road, which the Aussies saw fit to call the Great Alpine Road, passing the first of many electronic warning signs about possible frosty conditions and ice on the road.

Omeo, Great Alpine Road

Here I must mention that, before our departure from Sale, we had asked around about the expectations of snow at this time of year along our route and the universal answer had been “no problems, mate” or words to that effect. I’ve learnt to take that expression with a pinch of salt so wasn’t really expecting “no problems”. Nevertheless, the regular warning signs caused a heart flutter or two as we proceeded along the road, but being halfway through May, snow did not seem a possibility…..

The road had again become seriously twisty for long stretches as we climbed into the mountains, with patches of wet road causing me to drive even slower, with those warning signs now firmly embedded in my mind.

On our route was the curiously named Dinner Plain, a small town which turns into a busy ski resort in the winter months. Apparently in the late 1800’s a horse drawn coach service operated in the summer months along the newly opened road between Omeo and Bright. The coach would stop for a midday meal at this spot, which became known as the Dinner Plain.

As we approached Dinner Plain, the first signs of recent snowfall appeared, with a layer on the road verge and lightly covering qthe bare branches of the roadside trees.

Great Alpine Road, Dinner Plain

Climbing higher still, the snow got more obvious, and we could now see the snow actually falling.

Great Alpine Road, Mt Hotham

We were starting to get a little panicky by the time we headed into another ski-resort town called Mount Hotham, with heavy snow falling and a thick layer of snow everywhere except for the road itself.

Great Alpine Road, Mt Hotham

The electronic warning signs along the road were now stating “2WD vehicles to fit snow chains” which of course we didn’t have and even if we did, we wouldn’t have known how to fit them. Unsure about what to do, I stopped at what looked like a tourist information office, put on a waterproof jacket and got out of the car into snow which seemed to be blowing sideways into my face, then trudged through a thick layer of snow to a side door and eventually found a pleasant young lady to tell her our plight, ending with what probably came across as a mildly hysterical “I’ve never driven in snow before!!”

Great Alpine Road, Mt Hotham

She was a lot calmer than I was and phoned ‘someone who will know’ – soon coming back with the response that ‘no chains are required at the moment’ adding that we should just proceed very slowly, especially around bends as ice could easily be present on the road.

So, we continued on our way, very cautiously and very slowly on the wet roads, with low cloud both sides all but blotting out any view there may have been and reducing visibility to a short stretch of the road itself.

After what seemed like a long time, and with some relief, we realised that the road was now descending, and the snow was diminishing, until it was all clear again and we soon found ourselves approaching the next small town, a beautiful place called Harrietville with trees in autumnal colours and a coffee shop that turned out to be the perfect spot for a soothing cup of tea accompanied by a jam donut.

Harrietville, Great Alpine Road
Harrietville, Great Alpine Road
Coffee shop in Harrietville Victoria

As we drove out of Harrietville a group of Maned Ducks crossed the road and pottered off into the surrounding grass.

Maned Duck Chenonetta jubata, Harrietville Victoria
Maned Duck Chenonetta jubata (Male), Harrietville Victoria

With more than enough excitement and tension for one day, we were thankful that the last 20 kms or so to Bright went smoothly and quickly and we headed to the Bright Colonial Motel, which I’m pleased to say was more in keeping with what we were expecting – a modern place with spacious rooms and a private courtyard all to ourselves.

Bright Colonial Motel
Bright Colonial Motel

As is my habit when arriving in a new place, I went for an exploratory walk along the main road then down to the nearby river where I found a pathway called the Canyon Walk and proceeded along it, coming across lovely views and a small suspension bridge which I crossed to explore the other side. A number of ducks on the river added to the beauty of the spot.

Canyon Walk, Bright Victoria
Canyon Walk, Bright Victoria
Canyon Walk, Bright Victoria
Canyon Walk, Bright Victoria

What had struck us as we entered Bright, and something we had been told about, was the array of trees along the roads, all in a multitude of shades of autumn colours – our day had suddenly BRIGHTened up no end!

Autumn colours, Bright Victoria
Bright Victoria

And on that rather corny note, I’ll be telling more about Bright and the surrounding towns in the third and final post on our road trip….

Australia May 2022 – Bright and Beautiful (Part 1)

Road Trip!

It was a very windy and nippy morning when we set off from Sale, Victoria on our 5 day road trip into the mountains north-east of Sale, with our main destination being the town with the charming name of Bright, situated on the scenic Great Alpine Road in the Ovens Valley.

The first leg of our trip was a comfortable 200 kms to the curiously named Omeo, a small town on the Great Alpine Road in the Shire (you have to love these old English terms still used in Australia) of East Gippsland. Omeo comes from an Aboriginal word for hills, which in the event was more than appropriate.

We eventually left Sale just after 12 pm and followed the A1 main road to Bairnesdale, where we had a burger and coffee lunch, then branched off on the B500 which took us onto the Great Alpine Road.

Bright trip

The road soon became twisty and slow as we approached the mountains and even more so the further we travelled, at times feeling like one of those funfair rides as my arms were constantly swinging the steering wheel back and forth through continuous bends. This alternated with stretches of more sedate road where we could admire the roadside scenery and make better progress.

Great Alpine Road map

The road skirted a river for many kms and at one vantage point I stopped for a photo

Tambo River, Great Alpine Road

We passed through several small towns – Bruthen, Ensay and Swifts Creek – the latter town was lined with attractive trees showing their autumn colours and I could not resist another stop to take a photo or two.

Swifts Creek, Great Alpine Road

Omeo

We reached Omeo around 4 pm and took a short drive through the village before heading to Homeo Alpine Cottage which we had booked for the night through one of the booking sites. The name and description of the accommodation had conjured up a charming cottage set in a pretty garden in our minds, but the reality was just the opposite as we stopped outside and viewed our accommodation with some trepidation.

Homeo Alpine Cottage, Omeo, Great Alpime Road

From the road it looked more like a shack than a cottage, set in a garden that was bordering on unkempt. The word rust-ic came to mind and we wondered how we were going to ward off the chilly air in this cold looking place.

Rust-ic comes to mind….

Nevertheless, we found the inside old-fashioned yet quite comfortable, especially once I had lit the fire and switched on every available heater in the house and we started to relax and enjoy our latest “unexpected surprise”. Later we dined on bread rolls and cheese and watched a Netflix series while getting ourselves warm and comfortable under lots of blankets as the temperature dropped quickly.

The lounge – Homeo Alpine Cottage
The main bedroom

Next morning we left the cottage feeling more positive about it and ventured into Omeo for a brunch of a toastie and coffee at the only restaurant that seemed to be open. But not before being “challenged” by three Australian Magpies which seemed bent on blocking our way to the car and one even perched on the mirror in a pose that said “don’t mess with me”. I kept an eye on them while loading the car and we got away without further ado.

Australian Magpie Cracticus tibicen, Omeo Victoria

On the way to the village we came across a flock of Australian King Parrots at the roadside, apparently feeding on something and when I reversed to have a closer look, we found that there was a dead (probably roadkill) Sulphur-crested Cockatoo which was the centre of their attention. So it seems Aussie parrots are not averse to eating one of their kind!

Australian King Parrot Alisterus scapularis (female), Omeo Victoria

Omeo itself is a pleasant small town with some interesting old buildings, many of which were rebuilt after devastating bushfires

Omeo, Great Alpine Road
Omeo, Great Alpine Road
Omeo, Great Alpine Road

The Golden Age Hotel stands in the middle of town and has a long history involving fires

Omeo, Great Alpine Road
Omeo, Great Alpine Road

The next post will cover the next leg of our trip to Bright, Victoria – a memorable one indeed!

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)

Sea Fever

I don’t remember when I first heard the poem Sea Fever by John Masefield – it may have been at school, but more likely it was quoted by my mother, who was fond of reading and writing poetry and even had one of her own published in a book of poetry when she was in her 80’s

During our visits to Mossel Bay we often drive down to The Point, at the “sharp” end of the peninsula on which Mossel Bay is located, get a take away coffee at the little kiosk and just sit and watch the sea, the birds and other sea life. Depending on the season, there’s often a whale to be seen far out, usually just a plume, a tail or a part of its back visible, or a few seals in the surf just beyond the rocks, and the wonderful sight of a school of dolphins passing by. Oh, and the people too of course. It’s very therapeutic.

The poem Sea Fever came to mind after our latest visit to The Point – the sky and the sea were in a multitude of shades of white, grey and blue, set against the brown of the rocks and looked particularly moody, so I walked first along the lower pathway then onto the rocks to get a sea level perspective and used my Iphone to take a number of images

Sea Fever – John Masefield

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,

And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;

And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,

And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide

Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;

And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,

And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,

To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;

And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,

And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.

Note : The image in the heading of this post was taken from the newish restaurant just below the St Baize Lighthouse with a unique view of The Point

Road Block – Again!

When I go out on an atlasing trip, as I did as usual last week, the whole point of the exercise is to see (or hear) as many birds as possible. I was coming to the end of my survey in a pentad a few kms south of Oudtshoorn, known for its ostrich farming, and was feeling quite relaxed after a successful morning’s atlasing with 64 species recorded in two separate pentads – a reasonable total for late winter in the Klein Karoo

As I rounded a bend in the gravel road, I saw two farm hands in the road ahead of me and they gesticulated in a way that persuaded me to come to an immediate stop. Only then did I see what their concern was, as a third farm hand came down the road towards me, “guiding” a small group of young ostriches. I watched as the three corralled the trotting birds towards an open gate just in front of me and the ostriches followed instructions and headed into the field.

Now I’ve experienced “road blocks” caused by various farm and wild animals, even large birds on occasion, but this was definitely a first, being blocked by a flock of the largest bird in the world, albeit of the tame farmed variety. Such is atlasing – always a surprise!

Australia May 2022 : The Birding – it’s Different! (Part 2)

I started my previous post by saying that the casual, non-birder observer could easily come to the conclusion that Australia’s birds fall into three basic groups –

  • black and white or shades in between
  • vividly coloured birds
  • a variety of smaller, often nondescript birds

The author of The Complete Guide to Australian Birds, George Adams, has this to say in his introduction –

Australia is one of the world’s ten mega-diverse countries and is fortunate to have a rich diversity of birds and an unusually high number of endemic species found across its many, equally diverse and beautiful landscapes. The jabbering of parrots, the laughter of Kookaburras, the song of the Magpie or the trilling warble of Fairy-wrens all bestow a real sense of ‘place’ that is uniquely Australian.


Part 1 described some of the more common “black and white” 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 2 I will be showing some of the other common birds to be found, in particular ….

The Vividly Coloured Birds

Australia is probably best known for its variety of brightly coloured birds, and rightly so! They seem to occur just about everywhere, especially where their favoured habitat occurs – mostly forests of various kinds, but also anywhere else with trees such as gardens, farmlands, woodlands and the like.

Crimson Rosella Platycercus elegans

Corellas are small, ground-feeding cockatoos but are not averse to foraging in eucalypts for insects, seeds, fruit, nectar and larvae.

This endemic species has several colour forms across its range, which includes eastern and south-eastern Australia. Mostly crimson with blue patches on the cheeks as well as some of the wing and tail feathers, it stands out wherever you find it – in the image below it was scratching amongst a thick layer of fallen leaves and had found an acorn or seed of some kind.

Crimson Rosella Platycercus elegans, Bright Victoria

The immature version shows little crimson, which is replaced by dull green, making it far more difficult to spot

Crimson Rosella Platycercus elegans (Juvenile), Wurruk, Sale Victoria

Australian King Parrot Alisterus scapularis

The only endemic parrot with a red head, this is another standout species – the image shows a female with its somewhat duller colouring, with the red limited to the belly, nevertheless unmistakeable. I had seen King Parrots during our previous visit in 2019, but was not able to photograph one, so this opportunity was not to be missed when it posed briefly on a fence before flying off with the rest of its small group.

Habitat is forests, parks and gardens and its feeding preference is the outer foliage of trees where it looks for fruit, nuts, nectar and blossoms. They are found in eastern Australia.

Australian King Parrot Alisterus scapularis (female), Omeo Victoria

Rainbow Lorikeet Trichoglossus moluccanus

Surely one of the most colourful birds you’ll see anywhere, they are easily spotted as they fly around the neighbourhood in small flocks, screeching as they go, then chattering while feeding in the trees. Lorikeets are arboreal feeders that have brush-like tongues for extracting nectar from flowering eucalypts. Favoured habitats are forests, parks and gardens.

Rainbow Lorikeet, Raymond Island, Victoria

Galah Eolophus roseicapilla

More sedately coloured than those above, the Galah makes up for any lack of bright colouring by gathering in flocks, sometimes large ones as will be seen in some of the images below. The Galah occurs across Australia and is usually a ground feeder, taking seeds, herbs and roots or spilt grain and cereal crops.

Galah, Philip Island (race albiceps occurring in southeast Australia, has a white crest and crown)
Galah’s, Bright Victoria
Galah’s, Bright Victoria
Galah’s foraging on the lawn in Wurruk, Sale

Eastern Rosella Platycercus eximius

This is another species that eluded my attempts to photograph it during our previous visit, so I was particularly pleased to get some decent images during an outing to Raymond Island (more about that outing in a future post). It is confined to the south-eastern parts of Australia where it is regarded as common.

As vividly coloured as the Rainbow Lorikeet above, the white throat and bill of the Eastern Rosella stand out against the bright colours of the rest of the bird. Preferred habitat is open eucalypt woodlands (where I found this one), grasslands, parks, gardens and farmland. A ground feeder of grass and fallen seeds, it is surprisingly well camouflaged when among foliage.

Eastern Rosella Platycercus eximius, Raymond Island Victoria

Sulphur-crested Cockatoo Cacatua galerita

Perhaps I’m pushing my luck including this all white bird under the general description of vividly coloured birds, however it is a spectacular bird that makes its presence known in no uncertain manner with a harsh raucous screech that comes straight out of a horror movie. They move about in small flocks, inhabiting forests, woodland, cultivated lands, parks and gardens and feed mostly on the ground on grass seeds, herbs, berries and fruit.

South Africans of a certain “vintage” will remember this bird well as it featured in adverts for NBS building society

Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, Wurruk, Sale Victoria

So what’s left? Having covered the “black and white” birds in Part 1 and the “Vividly coloured” birds in this Part 2, there are still a number of other birds to mention under the heading of “the others” – watch this space…

Reference : The Complete Guide to Australian Birds by George Adams

Weaver at work (Again) – Winter 2022

When we returned to our Mossel Bay home recently we were once again thrilled to find the Cape Weavers (Ploceus capensis/ Kaapse wewer) working diligently at building nests right outside our upper floor living area. It was a repeat of the scene of a year ago, which I featured in a post at the time (https://wordpress.com/post/mostlybirding.com/10946)

They are a source of entertainment from dawn to dusk and leave me feeling quite exhausted just watching their frenetic activity as they build one nest after another, hoping to impress the female weaver who “pops in” for an inspection at fairly regular intervals.

We have had up to four male weavers nest-building at a time and currently there are at least two vying for the attention of the female, whose arrival is greeted by a display by the anxious males, who hang below their best nest and display.

The display is nicely described by Roberts VII Multimedia Birds of Southern Africa as follows :

Once nest initiated, male displays at nest by ruffling feathers, shivering partly spread wings, swivelling body and singing. If female enters territory, male displays either hanging below nest or perched alongside; may also pluck leaves from near nest. If female enters nest, male responds with high-intensity wheezing song, either while hanging below nest or during circular display flight. Female apparently tests nest strength by pulling at material inside nest, then, once male leaves nest entrance, sits in nest chamber looking out of entrance; chases off male if he approaches at this stage

The images I took of one of the males show some of the above behaviour

The male will even get upside down in order to impress the female …

Great fun to watch!

Australia May 2022 : The Birding – it’s Different! (Part 1)

The casual, non-birder observer could easily come to the conclusion that Australia’s birds fall into three basic groups –

  • A majority that are various combinations of black and white or shades in between and can be found hanging about just about anywhere – in trees, on lampposts, in the garden, in town, at the sea – you get the picture
  • A lot that are vividly coloured birds, that in any other country would most likely be sitting in a cage in someone’s kitchen saying “hello – polly wants a cracker” or suchlike
  • The rest – a variety of smaller, often nondescript birds that don’t seem to seek the limelight as much as the above two groups and take some effort to find as they skulk in the bushes and trees

That’s a gross simplification of course, so to put it into some perspective, this is what the author of The Complete Guide to Australian Birds, George Adams, has to say in his introduction –

Australia is one of the world’s ten mega-diverse countries and is fortunate to have a rich diversity of birds and an unusually high number of endemic species found across its many, equally diverse and beautiful landscapes. The jabbering of parrots, the laughter of Kookaburras, the song of the Magpie or the trilling warble of Fairy-wrens all bestow a real sense of ‘place’ that is uniquely Australian.

Having just returned from our second visit to Australia (the first was in pre-pandemic 2019) I can associate with his description of the birding experience that this fine country has to offer.

The only problem is, with Australia being such a vast country, and considering that our two visits to date have been restricted to a relatively small part of one state – Victoria, in the south-east corner of Australia – means we have hardly touched on that rich diversity.

The majority of this massive continent and its birdlife therefore remains a mystery for the time being, with my only knowledge of it gleaned from the abovementioned guide.
Farmlands, Wurruk, Sale Victoria

However, having spent a total of some two and a half months during the two visits we have made to Sale, Victoria where our son and family have settled, there has been ample time to observe the neighbourhood birds and those in other places we visited, in the process getting to know some of the common birds quite well.

Which brings me back to those three basic groups, starting with …..

Black and white – and shades in between

Starting with the “all-blacks”, one of the most obvious and widespread is the Australian Raven Corvus coronoides, loudly pronouncing its presence with its “aark” call and often seen from a distance gliding across the landscape

The Common Blackbird Turdus merula, a much smaller species of thrush size and common in the UK and Europe, favours gardens – the female is a mottled brownish colour

Largest of all, the Black Swan Cygnus atratus, (yes, even the swans are black in Australia) which looks all black when swimming but shows white flight feathers when flying

Australian Raven Corvus coronoides, Sale Victoria
Common Blackbird Turdus merula, Sale Victoria
Black Swan Cygnus atratus, Sale Common, Victoria

The “black-and-whites” make up a large proportion of the birds seen generally, with the Australian Magpie Cracticus tibicen leading the way (by a couple of furlongs) – it is just everywhere and the family in Aus were quick to mention how aggressive it can be especially during breeding times. I was quite intimidated by one during our road trip along the Great Alpine Road (more about that in a future post) when I found one perched on our rental car’s mirror one morning, giving me a glaring look of “Who’s car is this anyway?”

They do have a very different song, curiously tuneful and sounding like it’s being produced by some sort of electronic instrument.

One of my favourites is the Magpie-lark Grallina cyanoluca, a glossy black-and-white medium sized bird which spends most of the time foraging on the ground, often in gardens. Also known as the “Peewee”, presumably based on its liquid call, it is neither Magpie or Lark but is related to Flycatchers, which it shows by its buoyant fluttering flight when chasing insect prey

Another favourite is the Pied Currawong Strepera graculina, which looks like a slightly smaller edition of the Magpie, although it has less obvious white colouring confined to a white band on the wings and a white-tipped tail. The voice is a distinctive, ringing “cur-ra-wong” which is why it carries the unusual name

Australian Magpie Cracticus tibicen, Sale Victoria – “Who’s car is this anyway?”
Magpie-lark Grallina cyanoleuca, Sale Victoria
Pied Currawong Strepera graculina, Sale Victoria

Also in this category are the two common Ibises, both of which are combinations of black and white and both occur in flocks of anything from a handful to a hundred or more. One morning I counted over 20 on the lawn of our son’s house, enjoying a temporary “wetland” caused by recent heavy rains.

Firstly, the one that has the impressive name of Australian White Ibis Theskiornis molucca, but is colloquially known as the “Bin Chicken” due to its habit of scavenging from rubbish bins in the cities. They make a grand sight at dusk when they fly in numbers in V-formation on their way to roost for the night.

The second Ibis has the interesting name Straw-necked Ibis Theskiornis spinicollis, but the reason for this name is not immediately obvious until you zoom in on the photos taken and notice that, indeed, the neck does have a straw-like appearance

Australian White Ibis Theskiornis molucca, Sale Victoria
White Ibis as depicted on the cover of a children’s book in the bookshop
Straw-necked Ibis Theskiornis spinicollis
The “Straw” that gives it the name

A bird which I had only a glimpse of during our 2019 visit but which afforded me some cracking views this time around is the Grey Butcherbird Cracticus torquatus. “Honey, I shrunk the magpie” comes to mind as it has all the features of the larger Magpie, scaled down to about half the size. In fact the Magpie and Butcherbirds belong to the same genus so the similarity is easy to understand. The Butcherbird name derives from its habit of impaling prey for later consumption, much like we see in South Africa with the Fiscals (which are also referred to as butcherbirds)

Grey Butcherbird Cracticus torquatus, Sale Victoria

That covers the black and white birds that are most often seen – excluding the smaller birds and water birds which I will introduce in further posts. That leaves the “vividly coloured birds” and “the rest” for a follow up introductory post on my Australian birding experience

Straw-necked and White Ibises together

Gone, but not forgotten; Finding the Laughing Gull

Earlier in the year I wrote about my “Once in a birder’s lifetime” experience of finding a new species for the Southern African region, namely a very far off course Laughing Gull which stayed in Mossel Bay for a week before disappearing again.

I’m pleased to say that my post, with some tweaks, has been recently published as an article in the May/June 2022 edition of African Birdlife magazine, reproduced below –

Now how am I going to top this find?