It’s one of the paradoxes of birding that you often see more birds when conditions are dry, at least in the near-coastal regions where the majority of us live. The reason is that many of Australia’s nomadic birds leave the driest areas during drought and move toward the coast to take refuge in better watered areas. As ephemeral lakes and rivers dry up, water birds are forced to congregate in the remaining permanent waterholes, often travelling hundreds of kilometres to do so. Bush birds leave their usual territories as there are few insects and scant flowering in the parched conditions. Sedentary birds might fail to breed or even die, but those species with a tendency to move long distances can end up almost anywhere in the country. Continue reading →
Have you noticed birds singing in the past couple of weeks? 21st June was the solstice — the shortest day of the year if you’re south of the Tropic of Capricorn, and a significant time in nature. The shift from days getting shorter to days getting longer triggers certain changes in animals and plants. For some Australian birds, nesting behaviour begins soon after the winter solstice. Birds that didn’t migrate may already be re-establishing their territory and this means an increase in birdsong (territorial singing as opposed to the generally shorter calls). Some birds start building their first nest of the season, heralding the frenzy of breeding activity that lies ahead. Others are still in their wintering grounds. Continue reading →
Time has slipped away and I realise it’s eight weeks since my last post. Be assured this is not due to apathy, but a combination of circumstances including the hospitalisation of a close, elderly family member, not having ready access to my books and photo files (for reasons too complicated to explain here), and juggling the additional responsibilities with tours and blocks of field work, preparing presentations, and all the extra travelling. As soon as things settle down again I’ll be writing and posting more often, including some of the topics I’ve previously promised to follow through on (I still haven’t forgotten those Western Australian orchids!). I have other half-finished articles mostly written in cafés on my laptop, just waiting for a final fact-check, edit and photos. Like a Wandering Albatross egg, they’re having a long incubation!
Nature provides a rich, never-ending supply of things to write about, so my blogging schedule ends up being whenever I have time to create the words and pictures. I deliberately don’t promise a regular timetable of posting because I know life often intervenes. I admire those people who can produce good posts in the blink of an eye, but I’m certainly not one of them. It is however one of my goals to become more like that. Continue reading →
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 →
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 →
When I visited a farm in November to survey the birdlife, I expected a tranquil afternoon in nature. But nature had other ideas.
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 →
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.
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 →
The woodland was silent. Frost clung to earth and grass stems in every patch of shade not yet touched by the sun’s rays. My fingers felt like blocks of ice, only less useful; I was wishing I’d remembered to wear gloves. I shoved my hands in my coat pockets with my notebook, pen and phone. These three items, along with the binoculars around my neck, are the tools I use to carry out bird surveys (the phone mostly for its timer, as these surveys are strictly 20 minutes duration). Continue reading →