Darter drying wings then taking off

At first sight I thought this bird was a cormorant, but it’s actually a darter, also known as a snake bird because of its long, snake-like neck. Darters are related to cormorants, and also to boobies and gannets. They swim fast under water, hunting and impaling fish with their formidable long, thin beak.

Like cormorants, they sit on shore with their wings spread to dry. After I’d been watching this one for a few minutes, it decided to take off and fly over the water. It’s interesting to see how low it flies, with the wing tips actually tapping the water as it goes.

This pose reminded me of the ballet, the Dying Swan:

Darter posing as Dying Swan

Here you can see the characteristic chestnut colouring at the base of the darter’s neck:

Darter posing as Dying Swan

Common name: Darter

Scientific name: Anhinga melanogaster

Approximate length: 90 cm; wing span: 1.2 m

Date spotted: 12 February 2017 (Summer)

Location: Manly Dam Reserve, New South Wales, Australia: 33°46’49.6″S 151°15’05.7″E


Two chirpy Variegated Fairy-wrens

Followers of this blog will know that I’m building up a collection of pictures of fairy wrens, bit by hard-won bit! They’re tiny little birds that like to flit around the undergrowth, granting observers tantalising glimpses but not much more.

These two female Variegated Fairy-wrens were out in the open for a few seconds, which has to be some kind of record. They’re chirping sociably to each other as they hop along next to a bush path.

Common name: Variegated Fairy-wren

Scientific name: Malurus lamberti

Approximate length: 13 cm

Date spotted: 12 February 2017

Season: Summer

Location: Manly Dam Reserve, New South Wales, Australia: 33°46’47.9″S 151°15’02.7″E

Purple Swamphens tending a nest

A pair of Purple Swamphens busily tends a nest. This video shows the changing of the guard, as one parent arrives to relieve the other from nest duties.

Sometime later, the bird on the nest had been calling for some time, perhaps growing lonely or bird. The roaming parent suddenly started flapping its wings and making a big fuss about approaching the nest. But then it veered away and continued foraging, apparently not yet ready to resume nest sitting.

I don’t know if there are eggs in the nest yet, though the way the bird moves around in the second half of the video makes me think it’s carefully positioning itself over an egg or two.

Common name: Purple Swamphen

Scientific name: Porphyrio porphyrio

Approximate length: 50 cm

Date spotted: 29 January 2017

Season: Summer

Location: Manly Dam Reserve, New South Wales, Australia: 33°46’35.4″S 151°14’49.1″E

Willie Wagtail attacks Raven

Australian Ravens are big, fierce birds. Willie Wagtails are round little balls of fluff with a faintly ridiculous habit of waving their tails around. But don’t let appearances deceive you. Willie Wagtails are plucky, if reckless. This one took objection to the spot a raven had chosen for a perch, and pestered the larger bird until it flew away.

The characters:

  • Willie Wagtail (Rhipidura leucophrys),  approximate length 20 cm
  • Australian Raven (Corvus coronoides), approximate length: 50 cm

Date spotted: 29 January 2017

Season: Summer

Location: Manly Dam Reserve, New South Wales, Australia: 33°46’35.0″S 151°14’48.5″E

Mystery bird at Manly Dam

This bird puzzles me. It’s about the size of a Red Wattlebird, and I’m thinking it’s some sort of Honeyeater, but I can’t find a match in my bird book. Perhaps it’s a juvenile.

Does anyone have any ideas what it is? I saw it today at Manly Dam Reserve near Sydney (on the map: 33°46’37.5″S 151°14’49.5″E).

Mystery bird at Manly Dam

Here’s the uncropped version of the same picture:

Unidentified bird at Manly Dam

Update on 24 April 2017: Carol Probets identified the bird as a young Olive-backed Oriole, in a comment on this post.

Common name: Olive-backed Oriole

Scientific name: Oriolus sagittatus

Approximate length: 25-28 cm

Date spotted: 29 January 2017 (Summer)

Location: Manly Dam Reserve, New South Wales, Australia: 33°46’37.5″S 151°14’49.5″E

Magpie serenade

Two magpies hopped onto a branch and serenaded each other as I walked past.  They had to battle a fairly fierce wind, as you can see from the ruffled state of their feathers.

Common name: Australian Magpie

Scientific name: Gymnorhina tibicen

Approximate length: 40 cm

Date spotted: 26 January 2017

Season: Summer

Location: Long Reef near Dee Why, New South Wales, Australia: 33°44’21.1″S 151°18’30.8″E

Reflection symmetry and a coot

Manly Dam was quiet and calm when I strolled along its shores early this morning. I was struck by the patterns made by these reeds and their reflections in the water.

Reflection symmetry - reeds in the water

It’s a little mind boggling, isn’t it? Where does the real reed start and end? The finest of abstract art. Here’s the same set of reeds but with more around them:

Reflection symmetry - reeds in the water

A different configuration:

Reflection symmetry - reeds in the water

Another shape to bend your mind:

Reflection symmetry - reeds in the water

Bubbles had reflections too:

Bubbles on the water

Since this is a blog about birds, I should probably include one. 😉 This Eurasian Coot was enjoying the morning quiet:

Euarasian Coot

Here’s the bird again, tucked away in the centre left of this mass of reflections:


Common name: Eurasian Coot

Scientific name: Fulica atra

Approximate length: 35 cm

Date spotted: 22 January 2017

Season: Summer

Location: Manly Dam Nature Reserve, New South Wales, Australia: 33°46’27.9″S 151°15’05.5″E

Masked Lapwing’s face looks like a Lego model

I spotted two Masked Lapwings at Manly Dam, near Sydney, Australia, this morning. They’re also known as Spur-winged Plovers. They can be quite aggressive, especially in nesting season. The name “spur-winged” is apt, because they have hooks on their wings, one on each, which they use as weapons, stretching the wings then dragging back to wound their enemy. But these two were quietly going about their business, pottering around the edges of Manly Dam.

Their faces make me think of a model put together with Lego. They’re so perfect, and yet they seem not quite real.

Masked Lapwing

They have lovely knobbly knees and big pink feet:

Masked Lapwing

In this video, one of the birds advances tentatively, testing each step:

Here’s a zoomed out shot showing the two birds in their environment:

Masked Lapwing

Common name: Masked Lapwing, or Spur-winged Plover

Scientific name: Vanellus miles

Approximate length: 37 cm

Date spotted: 15 January 2017

Season: Summer

Location: Manly Dam Nature Reserve, New South Wales, Australia: 33°46’58.8″S 151°15’18.4″E

Cicadas singing

Not a bird this time, but a beetle that makes bush walking painful to the ears in the summer months around Sydney. The piercing noise of cicadas is familiar to most Sydney-siders. In this video, you can hear them all round you, and see one close-up pulsating its abdomen to make the noise.

The insect is quite large – about the length of your thumb – and has transparent, lacy wings:


Their huge eyes make them look super cool, as if they’re wearing sun glasses:


An interesting fact: 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 while back, I came across these cicada husks. When the nymph is ready to transform into the winged insect, it climbs up from the underground onto a bush or tree trunk and sheds its skin. These are the resulting empty husks:

Cicada husks

Kookaburra baby cackling and feeding

The kookaburras around our neighbourhood are very noisy at the moment. A couple of juveniles drop by regularly to practise their cackling skills. They’re cute and funny.

In this video, you can see one youngster crooning to himself, and another behind the branches. In the background, other birds chime in to show him how it’s done. A parent comes by a couple of times too, to feed the ever-demanding little one.

Common name: Laughing Kookaburra

Scientific name: Dacelo novaeguineae

Approximate length: 47 cm

Date spotted: 31 December 2016

Season: Summer

Location: Allambie Heights, New South Wales, Australia