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.
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.
The road skirted a river for many kms and at one vantage point I stopped for a photo
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Omeo itself is a pleasant small town with some interesting old buildings, many of which were rebuilt after devastating bushfires
The Golden Age Hotel stands in the middle of town and has a long history involving fires
The next post will cover the next leg of our trip to Bright, Victoria – a memorable one indeed!
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 :
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
The Complete Guide to Australian Birds by George Adams
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.
The immature version shows little crimson, which is replaced by dull green, making it far more difficult to spot
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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 RavenCorvus coronoides, loudly pronouncing its presence with its “aark” call and often seen from a distance gliding across the landscape
The Common BlackbirdTurdus 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 SwanCygnus atratus, (yes, even the swans are black in Australia) which looks all black when swimming but shows white flight feathers when flying
The “black-and-whites” make up a large proportion of the birds seen generally, with the Australian MagpieCracticus 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-larkGrallina 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 CurrawongStrepera 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
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 IbisTheskiornis 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
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 ButcherbirdCracticus 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)
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
Ahhh, 2020 is already moving ahead apace and I am just finalising my “My Birding Year” post for the past year …. how time flies as you get older!
Before getting into a summary of my birding exploits for 2019, I asked myself – what were my birding expectations at the beginning of the year and how far did I go in achieving what I set out to do? I decided that they were …..
Atlasing – my first priority nowadays and I aim to atlas one day per week – I generally managed to do so and my species list atlased for the year reached 426 spread across southern Africa, a more than satisfactory outcome in my book – not for personal glory but rather an indicator that my atlasing efforts were well spread across many parts of the country
Birding outside southern Africa – knowing we would be visiting Australia for the first time in April and May was an exciting prospect and the country and its bird life were an absolute treat
Lifers – most birders are driven by the desire to add new lifers to their lists and I am no different, however I have found that this aspect of birding is becoming less important with my focus shifting to citizen science activities such as atlasing. Nevertheless I cannot deny being thrilled each time I added a lifer – I saw just one lifer in southern Africa during the year but made up for that with 68 new birds added to my “world list” from our Australia trip
Photography – I find bird photography in particular to be an ongoing challenge and am always on the lookout for that special one (photograph, not Jose Mourinho the manager of my favourite football team).
Rather than get into a lengthy month by month description as per previous years I thought I would let the photos do most of the talking with a short note here and there to add some background
As with recent years, it all started in the Southern Cape, around Mossel Bay and further afield
Marievale Bird Sanctuary remains one of the best and most pleasant places to bird in Gauteng with its well-kept hides and fluctuating water levels
A short stay at Pine Lake Resort near White River was an opportunity to bird the resort itself and to do a day trip to nearby Kruger Park
Mabusa Nature Reserve is a quiet, less visited reserve some 100 kms from home and I love spending time atlasing there
Then in April came our first trip to Australia, covered in some detail in earlier posts so I don’t want to repeat myself – suffice to say we had an exciting time discovering what this fine country is all about and finding many new, often spectacular, birds. This is a selection of some of the standout birds that I found (or they found me, I’m never sure) …
Back home over the winter months, I focused on atlasing an area north-east of Pretoria, which proved to be challenging at times, having to contend with the traffic on tar roads and the dust on the gravel back roads
A last-minute booking saw us spending a week in Kruger Park – the best place to do some quality birding
More Gauteng atlasing followed during the winter months
We do look forward to our week at the Verlorenkloof resort in Mpumulanga, and with reason – it’s a perfect place to combine relaxation with some excellent birding
On one of my atlasing outings, I spent a pleasant morning at Rietvlei Nature Reserve, not far from home
I joined a team of 3 other keen birders for the annual Birding Big Day at the end of November. We ended up with 184 species for the day and a pleasing 50th place countrywide. There was only time for a quick snatched photo of the team heading through bush at one of our many stops
We closed out the year in Mossel Bay, where Sugarbirds visit our garden
Concluding the summary of the birds seen during our trip to Australia earlier this year, listed by general habitat ……
Fields and Farmlands
Whether out walking or on a drive, we found that open fields, parklands and farmlands attracted numerous species, most likely looking for that tasty worm or insect as they moved in small and large groups across the terrain
Eastern Cattle Egret (Bubulcus coromandus) – this common bird only arrived in Australia in 1948 but is now widespread over most of the country except the northwest and interior (which is vast). Looks identical to the Western Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis) of southern Africa and has the same habits.
Masked Lapwing (Vanellus miles) – there is something about Lapwings that makes them one of my favourite groups of birds, and this attractive species is no exception. I think it has to do with their pleasing proportions, their neat appearance and the fact that they spend much of their time at ground level, like all respectable humans do. The Masked Lapwing has distinctive yellow wattles, much like the Wattled Lapwing (Vanellus senegallus) and White-crowned Lapwing (Vanellus albiceps) of southern Africa. It’s distribution is mainly over the eastern half of Australia. According to the reference book the one found in Victoria and photographed here is the subspecies novaehollandiae, told by the black hind neck and sides of the breast, as well as smaller wattles
White-faced Heron (Egretta novaehollandiae) – the most commonly seen heron in Australia, this species is found near water according to the reference books, but the few times I saw it was in fields such as the photo following.
Australasian Swamphen (Porphyrio melanotus) – now you may be wondering why I have shown this species under “Fields and farmlands” rather than lakes and rivers. Being used to seeing its southern African cousin skulking amongst waterside vegetation, I expected to have only fleeting glimpses of this species, if at all, so it was a surprise to encounter groups of them in parks and fields, walking about in the open and as common as our Hadedas.
Australian White Ibis (Threskiornis molucca) – found across most of Australia, this Ibis is equally at home in and near water or in parks and pastures. Said to be nomadic, with young birds dispersing, usually northwards, up to 1200 km
Australian Raven (Corvus coronoides) – a common endemic, this raven is similar in appearance to the other all black ravens and crows that make up the family Corvidae. I was able to narrow this one down by looking at distribution, habitat and the finer details such as the shaggy “beard” that sets the Australian Raven apart.
Straw-necked Ibis (Threskiornis spinicollis) – An endemic and Australia’s most common Ibis, which we can vouch for as we saw it in numbers wherever we travelled in Victoria.
Cape Barren Goose (Cereopsis novaehollandiae) – this endemic Goose has a limited distribution on offshore islands and the adjacent mainland in the far south of Australia. We came across it on Philip Island during our visit to the site of the Penguin Parade
Raptors, Swallows and others
Laughing Kookaburra (Dacelo novaeguineae) – an endemic and well-known species, the Kookaburra belongs to a grouping of 7 dry land “tree kingfishers” with the Laughing Kookaburra being the largest of them. Pairs produce an iconic chorus of loud “laughter” in the mornings which is unmistakeable and eerie at the same time as they are not always visible. They are mainly found in the eastern third of Australia as well as the southwestern corner – their natural habitat is forest edges, woodlands and parks but we saw them a few times perched on roadside telephone wires.
Black-shouldered Kite (Elanus axillaris) – so that’s why the southern African Black-shouldered Kite (Elanus caeruleus) was recently renamed Black-winged Kite! Presumably to differentiate it from the Australian species of the same name but different genus. The look and habits of this endemic are very similar to the one we know from SA, hovering and dropping onto prey, which is more often than not the introduced house mouse
Welcome Swallow (Hirundo neoxena) – the only swallow I saw and in small numbers except for one afternoon when a hundred or more were foraging for insects over Lake Guthridge in Sale, swooping and diving above the surface of the water
Whistling Kite (Haliastur sphenurus) – common over most of Australia, I had several sightings of this handsome raptor, often in effortless wheeling flight over farmlands and wetlands. The photo below was taken while walking on Sale Common, just after I saw the Kite landing in a tall tree
Grey Butcherbird (Cracticus torquatus) – Yet another endemic species, widely distributed over Ausralia except for the northern third. I came across this species just once while walking to the local supermarket – it was calling from within a dense tree and all I had was my cellphone to capture an image, thus the poor quality photo. Their name comes from their habit of hanging larger prey in a tree fork, then dismembering it with their sharp hook-tipped bill (much like some of the Shrike family of southern Africa)
Grey Shrike-thrush (Colluricincia harmonica) – we had just the one sighting of this common species during a drive out of Apollo Bay. It popped up onto the fence where it waited for me to get my camera in position, then just before releasing the shutter it flew down to the ground and off into the nearby bush leaving me mildly frustrated yet glad I had seen it
Azure Kingfisher (Ceyx azureus) – another one that eluded my camera – we were on the Sale Canal cruise when I was the first to spot it down river, the azure colour standing out against the green background. Next moment it flew up to the boat and perched on an open branch just long enough for everyone on the boat to see it, then flashed off upriver leaving me holding my camera in despair. Classed as moderately common, it is found along the northern and eastern parts of Australia
Nankeen Night-Heron (Nycticorax caledonicus) – this mostly nocturnal species (asleep but wary during the day as you will see from the photo below) occurs over most of Australia, roosting in colonies near water. They leave the colony in unison and forage during the evening and before dawn for fish and other aquatic prey
Willie Wagtail (Rhipidura leucophrys) – the name wagtail is a tad misleading as it is in fact classified under the Fantails and is the largest of the fantail family. They are well-loved and for good reason with their chirpy attitude and cute sideways wagging of the fanned tail – they would have easily taken to the Twist dance of the 60’s (which is also the only one I could master). Apparently fearless in defence of their nest, they will take on all-comers and are often seen chasing away eagles
Wedge-tailed Eagle (Aquila audax) – we had just one brief sighting of this eagle as it soared above the road while driving to Philip Island. It is classed as common and its distribution covers all of Australia. The largest of Australia’s raptors, it is easily distinguished by the wedge-shaped tail
The Colourful Birds (Like, Everywhere!)
Australia is famous for its colourful species such as Parrots, Cockatoos, Lorikeets and such like, and rightly so – they are literally everywhere, often in surprising numbers and are a feature of birding in this amazing country. It’s also an interesting fact of nature that the more colourful the bird, the less attractive their song seems to be – not always true of course but many of those that we encountered produced the most grating, unattractive calls.
Rainbow Lorikeet (Trichoglossus moluccanus) – this was the first of the colourful birds that we saw and we enjoyed almost daily sightings of them in the suburbs
Galah (Eolophus roseicapella) – this common endemic is a ground feeder and all of our sightings were of it walking about on lawns, when not in flight to the next grassy area
Little Corella (Cacatua sanguinea) – classed as locally common, we came across large flocks on a few occasions, as shown in the featured photo at the top of this post. They are found over most of Australia and are also ground feeders
Crimson Rosella (Platycercus elegans) – a common endemic which is confined to the southeastern corner of Australia and favours tall eucalyptus trees. The crimson colouring is quite breathtaking in its intensity and combined with the rich blue on the wings and tail makes for a spectacular bird
Eastern Rosella (Platycercus eximius) – another common endemic and like the above, confined to the southeastern corner of Australia. Despite the vivid colours it is surprisingly well camouflaged when among foliage – we had just one clear sighting on Raymond Isand
Australian King Parrot (Alisterus scapularis) – this endemic parrot is found in the southeastern parts of Australia and migrates to coastal plains in winter from its favoured habitat of mountain forests, parks and gardens
Sulphur-crested Cockatoo (cacatura galerita) – this noisy and conspicuous species is impossible to overlook, occuring in large flocks and often foraging on the ground or gathering in trees in surburbia. South Africans of a certain age (let’s leave it at that) will remember the NBS adverts that featured this bird demonstrating how it can raise and lower its bright yellow crest
And that concludes the pleasurable task of listing all the birds seen during our visit to Australia – roll on the next visit!
Continuing the summary of the birds seen during our trip to Australia earlier this year, listed by general habitat ……
Lakes and Rivers
Sale in Victoria, our base for the time we were in Australia, is blessed with a sizeable lake – Lake Guthridge – which is bordered on the one side by a main road and on the other by parkland and botanical gardens. A smaller lake – Lake Guyatt – adjoins it and the nearby river and Sale Canal all add to the abundance of water within walking distance of the house, providing plenty of opportunity to view the birds that favour these habitats.
Eurasian Coot (Fulica atra) – A familiar species, almost identical to the Red-knobbed Coot we know so well in SA, the only obvious difference being the absence of the red knob. Found over most of Australia, there were huge flocks on Lake Guthridge at times
Dusky Moorhen (Gallinula tenebrosa) – Another very familiar looking species, with small differences between it and the Common Moorhen of southern Africa, such as reddish instead of yellow legs and the lack of the white wing flashes. Australian distribution is limited to the eastern half of the continent.
Black Swan (Cygnus atratus) – An Australian endemic, this is a species that has been successfully “exported” to South Africa and for years we had a pair on one of the small dams in our residential estate in Pretoria, brought there by one of the well-meaning residents. Good to look at but I am never comfortable having exotic species in places that they don’t belong. So it was a pleasure to see so many of these elegant birds in their natural environment and the sight of a group of them flying off to their roost at dusk, long necks outstretched, black bodies contrasting with white underwing will long remain in my mind.
Pacific Black Duck (Anas superciliosa) – this is the most abundant of Australia’s ducks, found in pairs or small flocks on most open waters. The iridescent speculum shows in flight or, if you are lucky as I was, while preening
Chestnut Teal (Anas castanea) – Australian endemic, common in southwestern and southeastern Australia, we encountered this distinctive medium-sized duck regularly on lakes and rivers
Blue-billed Duck (Oxyura australis) – I only had one sighting of this distinctive Australian endemic during our visit to Raymond Island, but that was enough to have it imprinted on my mind. Said to be moderately common, it is found mainly in southeastern Australia. It is a completely aquatic diving duck almost unable to walk on land and remains well out from shore
Maned Duck (Chenonetta jubata) also known as the Australian Wood Duck – Yet another endemic, this duck is unusual in that it prefers walking about on the grassy banks of the river or lake rather than taking to the water. We had several sightings of these ducks and never saw them in the water
Australasian Grebe (Tachybaptus novaehollandiae) – a small cute Grebe found over most of Australia but restricted to sheltered fresh water
Freckled Duck (Stictonetta naevosa) – such a cool name for a duck! It could easily be the name of a pub in one of those cosy villages in England. I was probably lucky to spot this endemic duck on the lake fringes on the last day of our visit to Australia, as the book gives its status as “Rare” with patchy distribution across eastern Australia
Australasian Darter (Anhinga novaehollandiae) – widespread across Australia and moderately common, it is also known as the “snake-bird” for the same reason as its African cousin – it swims with body submerged and its snake like head and long neck visible
Australian Pelican (Pelicanus conspicillatus) – A species which is hard to miss and surprisingly common on larger bodies of water, swimming and dipping in unison in their characteristic manner. Despite their large size, but perhaps because of their 2,3m wingspan, they are adept at riding updrafts of warm air to heights of up to 3000m and travelling long distances.
Yellow-billed Spoonbill – (Platelea flavipes) – A common endemic, found across most of Australia. Like all spoonbills it wades in shallow muddy waters, slowly sweeping the water with its spatula-like bill for fish, shrimps and crustaceans
Eastern Great Egret (Ardea modesta) – On the face of it this egret is identical to the Great Egret that we know from Southern Africa, but the books show its species name as ardea modesta, whereas the SA species goes under the name ardea alba, so clearly the boffins have decided there is enough evidence to separate it. Strictly speaking the SA species should perhaps be known as the Western Great Egret.
Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) – largest of the Australian cormorants and also widespread on rivers, dams, lakes and estuaries
Little Black Cormorant (Phalacrocorax sulcirostris) – common on inland waters across most of Australia
Little Pied Cormorant (Microcarbo melanoleucus) – smallest of the Australian cormorants, often abundant on lagoons, dams and lakes
We spent most of our time inland but a week-long road trip included the Great Ocean Road and Philip Island near Melbourne, which afforded some opportunities to find species which prefer coastal habitats
Silver Gull (Chroicocephalus novaeholandiae) – the most common gull in Australia, this striking bird is found along the coast as well as on inland lakes
Pacific Gull (Larus pacificus) – classed as moderately common, this endemic gull is found along the southern and eastern coast of Australia. We had just one sighting of a juvenile gull
Australasian Gannet (Morus serrator) – I was excited to find this species offshore at Cape Otway Light station, having previously seen its African and North American “cousins”, all very similar looking. It was too far offshore for a decent photo so I have added one from the reference book
Sooty Oystercatcher (Haematopus fuliginosus) – I was hoping to see this species during our Great Ocean Road trip and was thrilled to find a pair on a rocky stretch of the coast. It is classed as moderately common and found along Australia’s coastline
Crested Tern (Thalasseus bergii) – The only tern seen during our trip happened to be one that I am very familiar with, as it is the most common tern seen when we spend time at our Mossel Bay home
Little Penguin (Eudyptula minor) – I have written about the “Penguin Parade” in previous posts so won’t repeat that here. Suffice to say that this species is a major tourist attraction and money-spinner for the authorities that control the viewing experience on Philip Island.
Our trip to Australia was primarily to spend time with family, but being the avid birder that I am, I was particularly looking forward to seeing and identifying as many Australian birds as circumstances would allow. Keen birders will know that thrill that comes with visiting a new part of your home country and it is doubly so when you visit a new country, specially one known for its variety of birds.
My first thrill was being presented with a fine Australian Bird book by Stephan and family on arrival and I was soon into it, marking up with a green highlighter all the birds that could reasonably be found in the State of Victoria.
For the first few days birding was limited to what I could pick up in the small garden and the surrounding neighbourhood, as well as on short trips into town. Once I got to know the area better I took longer walks to the local parks and lakes which expanded the birding opportunities greatly. Thereafter it was a matter of “taking my (birding) chances” when they arose.
So, just to sort the 68 bird species that I saw into some sort of order, I decided to list them by general habitat, starting with……
Gardens and suburbia
Common Myna – It just had to be the first bird on my list – that brashest of all species, strutting about the garden and stealing Maggie’s food (she being the family pet dog). They occur in abundance all along the east coast of Australia and are a declared pest, having been introduced in 1860 in a failed attempt to control insects. Little did they know……. The bird book actually suggests that you “destroy nests, trap and dispose of birds where possible” which is what a lot of people in South Africa would like to do!
Pied Currawong (Strepera graculina) – a much more pleasant species with a pleasing voice – known for and named after the melodic “curre-wong” sound that one hears from afar. Common endemic which occurs along the east coast and inland areas of Australia, forming flocks in winter.
Common Starling (Sternis vulgaris) – another species introduced into Australia, also in the 1860’s and also declared a pest, (We could learn from the Aussies). Abundant in the SE of Australia (No photo)
Red Wattlebird (Anthochaera caranculata) – an attractive species that we came across in parks, woodlands and gardens in several places. A common endemic and the largest honeyeater in Australia, which occurs from east to west along the southern side of Australia. Nomadic, with small to large groups following flowering events. This bird reminded me of the Cape Sugarbird which comes into our garden in Mossel Bay, both in appearance and actions. It’s named for the red wattles that hang on the sides of its face but are not always noticeable.
New Holland Honeyeater (Phylidonyris novaehollandiae) -I first came across this bird in the park and subsequently saw it a few times in gardens. I was immediately entranced by its bold colouring and active nature. A common endemic whose reliance on nectar makes it protective of its chosen source and it will energetically chase other birds that may venture too close. That intimidating eye should be enough warning on its own!
Eurasian Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus) – another species introduced in the 1860’s, its distribution is limited to the south east corner of Australia
Australian Magpie (Cracticus tibicen) – widespread and common, this distinctive large bird is found in suburbia and just about everywhere else. It has a variety of calls, often melodious and complex. There is a “computer-generated sound” quality to their calls at times
Magpie-lark (Grallina cyanoleuca) – One of my favourite visitors to the garden, where it forages for insects on the ground, this striking bird is common across Australia.
Spotted Dove (Streptopelia chinensis) – introduced from China, this dove is present in coastal eastern Australia.
Common Blackbird (Turdus merula) – yet another introduced species from the 1850’s but its distribution is limited to the south east corner of Australia. Visits the garden and, typically thrush-like, forages amongst the leaf litter. Not easy to photograph as they are very skittish.
Crested Pigeon (Ocyphaps lophotes) – I enjoyed the few sightings of this species which looks unlike any other dove/pigeon with its prominent thin upright crest. Occurs over most of Australia and an endemic to boot!
Common Bronzewing (Phaps chalcoptera) – we had just one sighting of this handsome pigeon, while viewing Koala Bears on Raymond Island. An Endemic, it occurs across Australia but is a shy and wary species
Parks, fields and farmland
Superb Fairy-wren (Malurus cyaneus) – the familiar “Blue-wren” of southeastern Australia, this endemic species can be tricky to see as it works its way briskly through dense thickets. One has to be patient and follow its movement until it hops into view, usually briefly. In non-breeding plumage it is far less colourful but still an attractive species to see
Brown Thornbill (Acanthiza pusilla) – endemic species that forages in mid to upper foliage and also requires some patience in order to get a photo. Distribution covers the southeatern coastal and inland areas of Australia
Noisy Miner (Manorina melanocephala) – the name is apparently based on its raucous “pee-pee-pee” call but I never heard it call despite several encounters in parks. Endemic and a vigorous defender of territory.
Grey Fantail (Rhipidura albiscapa) – a common endemic which occurs over most of Australia, this species did its best to elude my binos and my camera as it actively made its way through the lower canopy, frequently fanning its tail (Photo from Complete Guide to Australian BIrds)
Eastern Spinebill (Acanthorhynchus tenuirostris) – another common endemic, this is one of the more distinctive and handsome birds that I came across and found to be quite accommodating in perching in an open position for a reasonable photo. Found in the southeastern parts of Australia, its fine, long, down-curved bill identifies it as a nectar feeder.
The second part of The Birds of Australia will cover the birds of Lakes and Rivers, Coast and Sea – not to be missed!
After our trip from Apollo Bay to the Twelve Apostles the previous day, we were looking forward to seeing more of the “real” Great Ocean Road and, looking at our route for the day, it showed the B100 following the coastline all the way from our starting point of Apollo Bay to Torquay then heading inland to Geelong.
We left Apollo Bay by mid-morning and made our way very slowly along the B100, stopping frequently at spots with views of the beaches and rocky areas, or anything that looked interesting. The day also lent itself to indulging in some birding as we had the best part of a day to travel not many kms and the coastal habitat, the relaxed pace and fairly quiet road meant there were plenty of opportunities to stop at short notice to check out the surroundings.
One of our first stops had nothing to do with birding – I had pulled in at a roadside parking area where a school bus and trailer was parked. There was a group of young people in wet suits in the waves and we realised that this was a school outing to learn how to surf – how cool is that!
Soon thereafter, the sandy beaches gave way to a wide expanse of flat exposed rocks – I thought this looked like ideal habitat for a certain species and I tried a birding ploy that had worked for me before, although not guaranteed – I casually mentioned to Gerda that this looked perfect for Oystercatchers, in the hope that the birding gods would hear me. Lo and behold, even I was surprised when minutes later I spotted Sooty Oystercatchers (looking uncommonly like our African Black Oystercatchers) at a distance and pulled off the road, turned around and raced back to park at the first safe spot next to the road.
They were working their way across the flat rocks but were too far away for a decent photo, but my luck got even better as I noticed another pair much closer and was able to take some reasonable shots as they continued their busy way. Not far from them was a Pied Cormorant in the process of swallowing a small fish, so the stop was doubly productive.
Just a few kms further the beach changed again – this time to a rock and boulder strewn expanse and, when I stopped to have a closer look, we noticed carefully stacked columns of varying sized stones forming cairns at one end of the beach. It seems someone started stacking these columns and others continued, for no particular reason other than creating an interesting feature.
By 1pm we reached Lorne, having travelled all of 42 km in two and a bit hours! I turned off to have a look at the Lorne Pier and fortuitously found our lunch spot for the day right next to the pier – aptly named Lorne Pier Seafood Restaurant. There was a light drizzle and strong wind whipping up the sea which, combined with a rainbow that suddenly appeared, made for a pleasing scene.
We were soon ensconced in the warm restaurant and ordered two different fish dishes – Gerda had Barramundi, I had John Dory, both beautifully fresh and perfectly prepared – we were so glad we had found this place. One of our favourite TV series is Australian Masterchef where Barramundi and John Dory fish feature quite frequently in the dishes prepared by the skilled contestants, so it was quite exciting to be enjoying these tasty fish dishes ourselves in such an appropriate location.
In front of the restaurant was a small beach with many seabirds present – mainly Greater Crested (Swift) Terns and the ubiquitous Silver Gulls that I had come across in a few spots.
The immature Silver Gull below shows a few differences from the adult – dark eyes rather than light, remnants of the juvenile brown colouring on the upper wings
After lunch we drove slowly through Lorne and up the hill to Teddy’s Lookout high up on the ridge overlooking the twisty coastal road and headland we had passed earlier.
Passing through Lorne we found the Grand Pacific Hotel and just had to stop and admire its beautiful architecture.
We noticed a number of well looked after older houses in Lorne, such as this one with its elaborate decorative trims
Moving on, I upped the pace to avoid getting to our destination in Geelong too late. The coastal road continued in the same twisty fashion and before long we were passing through Anglesea, then Torquay, a larger town, after which the traffic became heavier as we headed to Geelong on the outskirts of Melbourne. Our accommodation for the night was Bindaree, a beautiful old house amongst many others in the area.
Tomorrow we head to Philip Island, a ferry trip and a few hours drive away.
Continuing our road trip through Victoria, we had spent the night in Sassafras in the Mount Dandenong area outside Melbourne and the following morning, after continental breakfast in our room, we set off to Apollo Bay, a distance of about 250 kms from our overnight stop. Ordinarily, this distance would be a comfortable half-day drive for us, but in this instance it meant finding our way through Melbourne’s inner city suburbs, then taking the M1 highway around the south of the city and further eastwards. I had to avoid the more direct tolled highways which required an electronic tag or special account, neither of which were available to us
Closer to our destination we turned off the highway and found ourselves on narrow country roads with pleasing scenery, whereafter the road became seriously twisty as it wound its way through forested hills, so much so that the constant turning had me feeling somewhat light-headed. Thankfully, we eventually crested the last hill and saw the sea far below and we were soon enjoying the last stretch of the trip along rugged coastline up to Apollo Bay. 250 kms has never felt so long!
I stopped at the first opportunity to stretch and take in the coastal views, which included the first of many surfers we were to see on the Great Ocean Road and a pair of Maned Ducks at a small pond in the sand
After checking in to our comfortable accommodation at the Stay Inn, we followed the advice of the B&B owner and enjoyed a memorable dinner that evening of freshly grilled salmon, chips and coleslaw at the Fishermen’s Co-op at the small harbour. Seating was at a “rough and ready” table outside in less than comfortable weather but the superb food made us forget everything else.
We got chatting to the guys at the next table – just another example of how friendly we found the majority of Aussies to be – one was from Melbourne, the other his cousin visiting from Israel and they demolished 3 platters of seafood between them while our jaws dropped at the sight of whole crayfish being so casually eaten.
Next morning we awoke to cold, overcast weather which brought squalls of rain at regular intervals. We took our time enjoying the continental breakfast provided in the room, hoping the weather would improve. Our room overlooked the front garden which provided a lively source of entertainment as numerous birds visited the bird-friendly plants.
New Holland Honeyeaters, which I had come across in Sale, were true to their name and reveled in the nectar-producing plants while Eurasian Tree Sparrows searched the grass and pathways for seed.
I was fascinated by the cutely named Willie Wagtail which popped up briefly, a perky bird elegantly coloured black and white and with a broad tail that he wagged vigorously, but from side to side rather than the up and down of other wagtails.
After breakfast, with the rain letting up, we drove through the village – I soon spotted a sign pointing the way to “Scenic Route” and headed along the indicated road into attractive countryside with green fields, plenty of picturesque cattle and the odd river – all adding up to a totally idyllic scene – whoever had decided to call it a scenic route knew what they were about (in fact that’s something we noticed frequently – Aussies do seem to know what they’re doing)
Apart from the many Cattle Egrets amongst the cattle, there were Maned Ducks at the river and a lifer in the form of a Grey Shrikethrush sat briefly on the fence – too briefly for a kodak moment. There was also a Little Pied Cormorant perched on a tree stump in the river
It happened to be our wedding anniversary and the rest of the day was taken up with a drive to the famous Twelve Apostles, which did not turn out quite as we had imagined – but that’s another story……..