Call of the whipbird

The birds in Australia make strange noises, and the call of the Eastern Whipbird is one of the strangest.

A sound bite:

Common name: Eastern Whipbird

Scientific name: Psophodes olivaceus

Approximate length: 30 cm

Date spotted: 10 March 2018 (Early autumn)

Location: Manly Dam National Reserve, New South Wales, Australia: 33°46’36.5″S 151°15’16.0″E


Ringtail possum in nest

When walking through the Australian bush near Sydney, you see many nests in the trees overhead. They’re not all made by birds. Ringtail possums build and live in nests too. A possum nest is called a drey.

Today I spotted this rather untidy-looking nest in a tree above a path:

When I got closer and zoomed in with my camera, I saw this cute character peering out of the nest:

I continued on my walk. About half an hour later, on my way back, I noticed that the possum was still peering out of the nest but had changed to a more comfortable position:

Possums are sociable creatures, often sharing their nests with other members of the family. If you zoom in on the above picture (open it in a different tab of your browser then zoom in) I think you can see the curled up back of another possum inside the nest.

Here’s another view of the nest, with the possum sticking out of the top left of the nest:

What a cute face!

Australian Miner auditions for The Birds and Psycho

This little Australian Miner landed on a branch near me and started that incessant eep-eep noise that they’re renowned for. It’s as if the bird is auditioning to do the soundtracks for two Hitchcock movies at once: The Birds and Psycho.

Well? Do I get the job?

How about if I spin my head around. You know, like in The Exorcist?

No? OK then, on to the next audition…

Common name: Noisy Miner, also called Australian Miner

Scientific name: Manorina melanocephala

Approximate length: 26 cm

Date spotted: 3 March 2018 (Summer)

Approximate location: Allambie Heights, NSW, Australia: 33°46’23.3″S 151°15’43.1″E

Call of the Glossy Black-Cockatoo

Today I spotted a group of Glossy Black-Cockatoos, and I recorded a video so you can hear them chatting to each other. For two consecutive weeks I’ve seen a group of these birds at Manly Dam Reserve. I guess they’re the same birds each time, though on opposite sides of the dam. According to my bird book, this bird is reasonably uncommon, perhaps declining in number.

It’s a short video. As I was recording it, a bush ranger drove up and startled the birds. They flew off and came towards me, which gives you a good view of the orange-red flashes in their tails.

Last week’s post has still pictures of  a Glossy Black-Cockatoo, probably from the same group.

Common name: Glossy Black-Cockatoo

Scientific name: Calyptorhynchus lathami

Approximate length: 50cm

Date spotted: 3 March 2018 (Summer)

Location: Manly Dam National Reserve, near Sydney: 33°46’49.2″S 151°15’04.1″E

Glossy Black-Cockatoo spotted near Sydney

Quite exciting! According to my bird book, this bird is reasonably uncommon, perhaps declining. It’s a Glossy Black-Cockatoo, and I saw three of them for the first time ever this morning.

The raised crest gives the bird a typical look of parrot curiosity:

In this photo, the bird did a bit of grooming and showed the orange-red flares in its tail feathers:

In our area we see a lot of the white sulphur-crested cockatoos. Occasionally the yellow-tailed black cockatoos pay us a visit, when their favourite trees are in flower. I’ve never before seen any of these glossy black cockatoos.

From underneath, the tail feathers look entirely yellow, white, and black:

In the photo below, you can see more of the orange in the tail, and the small crest on the bird’s head:

From the rear, the orange is more visible:

Another frontal view:

Common name: Glossy Black-Cockatoo

Scientific name: Calyptorhynchus lathami

Approximate length: 50cm

Date spotted: 25 February 2018 (Summer)

Location: Manly Dam National Reserve, near Sydney: 33°46’36.5″S 151°15’18.2″E

Tree, moon, wind, and a serendipitous fruit bat

There’s no bird in this post. Just a restful scene of tree branches, a moon, a freshening wind, and a surprise appearance by a fruit bat in the gloom. I think the wind dislodged the bat from its perch in the tree.

Red-browed finch on Casuarina tree

A few of these pretty little red-browed finches were feeding on a tree as I passed this morning. This one sat still long enough for me to snap a picture. I think the tree is a Casuarina, also known as a swamp she-oak.

Common name: Red-browed Finch

Scientific name: Neochmia temporalis

Approximate length: 12 cm

Date spotted: 4 February 2018 (Summer)

Location: Manly Dam National Reserve, near Sydney: 33°46’36.6″S 151°15’16.4″E

Cicada, what a noise!

The cicadas are out in full force this summer. A week ago, while walking in the bush on a hot morning, I was suddenly doused in spray of cool drops from the trees above. It seems cicadas do pee. Copiously. A quick check of the internet assured me the spray is harmless. You can basically view it as sugar water that’s passed through a cicada.

However, the occasional dousing is not the most noticeable characteristic of cicadas. The thing most people notice about them is their singing. Song is not exactly the right word. What a noise! Only the male cicadas sing. This video shows how they pulsate their abdomens to make the noise:

They are large insects, about the thickness of an adult person’s thumb, and interesting to look at. I think they’re quite attractive, in an outdoorsy sort of way:

They have an impressive life cycle. The adult cicada is the winged insect we see, and it lives for only a few weeks. But the nymphs, which are the form of the creature that hatch from the eggs, live for around seven years, underground. A previous post of mine has pictures of the empty husks left behind when a nymph transforms into the winged adult.

This picture shows the underside of one cicada as well as the top of another:

I think these are Black Prince cicadas (Psaltoda plaga). I found them at Manly Dam National Reserve, near Sydney: 33°46’37.6″S 151°15’09.4″E.

The cicadas in my previous post were Floury Bakers (Aleeta curvicosta), noted for singing upside down.

This blog is primarily about birds, and cicadas aren’t birds. But they’re nearly as big as some birds, and they’re part of our local birds’ ecosystem. In fact, the larger birds have a feast during cicada season. One of my first memories of Australia is of coming across half a cicada buzzing aimlessly on a path through a bushy area. The insect was bright green, the first green one I’d ever seen, and the sight filled me with sadness. So I’m happy to see them when they come, even though their call is a little intrusive!

Red Wattlebird nest may be in peril

My previous post introduced the nest that a pair of Red Wattlebirds have built in a tree fern in my garden. Things are looking a little perilous for the nest. The tree fern has put in a growth spurt, its new fronds lifting parts of the nest into an untidy jumble.

This is what the nest looked like yesterday. Notice the new, brown fern fronds unfurling in the midst of the grey matter that forms the birds’ nest:

Compare that with the photo I took a week earlier, on 22 December, as shown in my previous post:

The parents still seem attentive. I’ve seen them flit in and out of the nest. Here’s one of them grabbing nourishment yesterday, from the nearby Banksia that seems to be their principle source of nourishment while nesting. The ghastly noise in the background is the cicados, who are out in full force this summer:

Birds are quite handy with their beaks and feet. I hope they manage to push the nest and eggs into a safe place as the fern tree grows.

Common name: Red Wattlebird

Scientific name: Anthochaera carunculata

Approximate length: 35 cm

Date spotted: 29 December 2017 (Summer)

Location: Allambie Heights, near Sydney, Australia

Red Wattlebird nesting in a tree fern

Red Wattlebirds are the second largest honeyeaters in Australia. They’re noisy, aggressive, and sleekly pretty. And now we have a couple nesting in our garden.

I’d noticed recently that a Red Wattlebird was more aggressive than usual. It started swooping at me when I was hanging up washing. At the best of times, hanging the washing is a precarious activity in my backyard. It involves a bit of rock climbing and a skilled balancing act. Add a fierce bird, and things get interesting.

A few days later, I noticed the bird land on a high branch, take a careful look around while trying to appear nonchalant, then duck quickly into the top cover of a tree fern. Interesting. So I got out my zoom lens to take a look.

The nest is in the right-most tree fern in this photo. I’ve put up my washing line on the left, for local colour:

(In case you’re wondering: the house up above belongs to the neighbours. Mine is below, not in the picture)

A closer view of the tree fern:

Even closer, you can see the nest with a bird’s tail pointing out to the right:

Occasionally the parents leave the nest unattended. I haven’t spotted any movement, so I think the eggs haven’t hatched yet:

The birds have picked up some of the Spanish Moss from our garden, and used it to decorate the nest. This is our supply, handily positioned just a few metres from the tree fern:

Sitting on a nest is demanding work. One of the parents emerged for a good stretch:

And a bit of grooming:

Then dived down to sip some nectar from a Banksia tree, which we’ve also positioned just a handy few metres from the fern tree. In this picture you can see the two red wattles below the beak that give the bird its name:

Here’s a picture of one of the local Red Wattlebirds on a nearby tree a few days earlier. It’s likely to be one of the nesting birds, though I don’t know for sure:

Common name: Red Wattlebird

Scientific name: Anthochaera carunculata

Approximate length: 35 cm

Date spotted: 22 December 2017 (Summer)

Location: Allambie Heights, near Sydney, Australia