A meal fit for a kookaburra

Kookaburra with rat 1099

I first noticed this kookaburra because a Grey Butcherbird was sitting on the branch above, watching it intently. Not much escapes a bird’s attention. The kookaburra had caught a rat and was struggling to stay in balance with such large prey dangling from its bill.  Continue reading

Ghost Fungus: the sequel

Omphalotus nidiformis at twilight
Omphalotus nidiformis at twilight. Click to enlarge.

Last year I wrote about the cluster of bioluminescent Ghost Fungus (Omphalotus nidiformis) growing on a dead tree in the backyard of the house where I live (see Glow-in-the-dark fungi). This year we had an exceptionally wet March creating great conditions for fungi of all sorts. And guess what — those ‘ghosts’ were back in droves! But strangely, I didn’t recognise them at first. Continue reading

Drama at the cabin

Brown Tree Snake 0527

It was a sultry night, especially for March. Tiny flying insects kept landing on my laptop’s screen, attracted to its light as I sorted through the day’s photos. I’d settled into my cabin for the night on an isolated bush property in the Capertee Valley. The rocky escarpment rising steeply behind formed an imposing presence, even in the darkness of a moonless night. Continue reading

Before the migration: introducing the Yellow-faced Honeyeater

Yellow-faced Honeyeater in Leptospermum

A spectacular annual migration will begin in late March as Yellow-faced Honeyeaters start streaming northward up the coast and tablelands of south-eastern Australia. The waves of travelling birds will continue for 6-8 weeks on suitable fine-weather mornings. Already, observant birders might have noticed small restless groups moving about. Continue reading

Encounter with a Striped Marsh Frog

The rain has washed away the stifling summer heat. Everything’s glistening and frogs are moving around, finding new habitat. The other day, as I walked along a quiet residential street in the Blue Mountains, I noticed a rather winsome frog sitting on the road. By lucky coincidence I had my camera with me.

If anyone was watching through their window I don’t know what they must have thought, but you can’t get a ground-level photo of a frog without lying flat on the ground.

Striped Marsh Frog from ground level

Continue reading

The claustrophobic birds that nest in dangerous places

black-fronted-dotterel-1200

Driving along a quiet gravel road in the country, you notice a small bird with sleek, pointed wings fly up in front of the car. Luckily, you don’t hit it. The following day the same thing happens, in exactly the same place. You stop the car and look at the spot it flew from. At first you’ll see nothing. But if you search carefully you might find two or three well camouflaged eggs in a scrape on the shoulder of the road. With their elaborate pattern of flecks and lines, they look just like the stones they sit amongst. Continue reading

Why do some currawongs have striped tails?

Every year around January or February, someone usually asks me about a strange currawong they saw with a striped tail. If you’re familiar with currawongs you’ll know they don’t normally have stripes or spots down the tail, in the way that cuckoos and kookaburras do. So what’s the story with the ones that appear in summer, tail all stripy like the bird in the photo below? The explanation is quite simple.

Pied Currawong with striped tail due to moult

Continue reading

Butterfly pas de deux

y-spotted-blues_6756_1200x800
Candalides xanthospilos (Yellow-spotted Blue). Click to enlarge.

Last week I found myself at the ballet. It wasn’t exactly a traditional ballet; it took place in the open air. The venue was a forest in the lower Blue Mountains, the stage was a blade of grass, and the dancers stood less than 20 millimetres tall. The plot, however, was a classic love story and the choreography was perfect. Continue reading

The lure of the bottlebrush

When I visited a farm in November to survey the birdlife, I expected a tranquil afternoon in nature. But nature had other ideas.

musk-lorikeet-callistemon
Musk Lorikeet feeding in Callistemon citrinus

I walked onto the survey site to be greeted by clamour and movement everywhere. The cackling of dozens of Noisy Friarbirds filled the air with a chaotic din as they chased each other in and out of the bushes. Emerald green Musk Lorikeets scrambled through the foliage, randomly exploding into flight with breakneck speed and a sudden screech. Their young followed, calling wheezily, insistently. Wings fluttered and tails spread in an irresistible signal for their parents to feed them. Continue reading

Function and artistry: an assortment of birds’ nests

Spring is a season of intense activity — not only for our fauna and flora but for me, as this is when I’m busiest leading tours, walks, and carrying out bird surveys. It’s frustrating that the season when I have least time to write is the very time there’s the most to write about. On the plus side, I’m outside seeing it all first hand! I’ll try to make up for my recent lack of posts with plenty of summer offerings, including looks at some of the interesting things I’ve seen during the past three months.

striped-honeyeater-at-nest

It hasn’t been hard to find birds nesting and feeding young. For many species this continues into the summer months. Australian birds tend to have long nesting seasons (and smaller clutch sizes) compared to cooler-climate northern hemisphere species (see Ford 1989). This allows them to raise two and sometimes more broods, or at least have another try if the first one fails — which happens often. A nest success rate of less than 50% is not uncommon among small birds. This might be due to predation of the eggs or young, parasitism by cuckoos, an unexpected shortage of food, severe weather, bushfire or human interference. It’s amazing small birds manage to reproduce at all when you think of the many dangers they face.

Let’s take a look at some of the nests I’ve found during my travels this season, plus a couple of favourites from last year thrown in. Each is ingenious in its own way.  Continue reading

Some wildflowers of Western Australia

banksia-coccinea-4348

How lucky was I, being asked to guide a birding tour to the south-west of Western Australia in September this year. As it happens, the region is also famed for its rich and diverse flora, and we were visiting in the middle of wildflower season! Continue reading

Migration of the Painted Ladies

austpaintedlady4791
Australian Painted Lady (Vanessa kershawi), also known as the Blue-spotted Painted Lady. Wingspan approx. 5 cm (2 inches).

Masses of orange-brown butterflies are currently moving through the Blue Mountains, and no doubt other parts of south-eastern Australia. These are Australian Painted Ladies, Vanessa kershawi, flying south (or south-west) on their spring migration. Continue reading