Blog Archives

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

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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

Black cockatoos in love

These two Black Cockatoos seem very much in love. They’re carefully grooming each other’s heads. Other birds in the tree are making the crooning noise that I’ve heard before around this time of year. I suspect it has a lot to do with spring and the mating season.

You’d need to trust someone, to let them near your head with a beak this size!

Common name: Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo

Scientific name: Calyptorhynchus funereus

Approximate length: 65 cm

Date spotted: 3 September 2017 (Spring)

Location: Manly Dam National Park, NSW, Australia: 33°46’46.5″S 151°15’00.4″E

Peek at a male Fairy-wren

I’ve had a bit of luck recently spotting Fairy-wrens darting through the undergrowth. You can usually hear them chirping, rustling, and trilling, but it’s rare to see one stay in one spot long enough to film them. Here’s a male Variegated Fairy-wren showing off his spring plumage:

Common name: Variegated Fairy-wren

Scientific name: Malurus lamberti

Approximate length: 13 cm

Date spotted: 3 September 2017 (Spring)

Location: Manly Dam Reserve, New South Wales, Australia: 33°46’52.6″S 151°15’08.2″E

Australian Miner in dawn chorus

I’ve often wondered which bird makes that series of piercing calls that are so characteristic of the Sydney dawn. Now I know. It’s the common Australian Miner. This bird makes a lot of noise during the day too, though the daytime calls are different to this dawn song.

Common name: Noisy Miner, also called Australian Miner

Scientific name: Manorina melanocephala

Approximate length: 26 cm

Date spotted: 31 August 2017 (Early spring)

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

Song of Figbirds and a scary story

In a previous post I showed pictures of some Figbirds that have recently taken up residence in a patch of trees on my route to work. The birds make a lovely variety of noises, so I took my camera in again to make some videos with sound.

Here’s the scary bit of the tale. There I was, head in the clouds, filming the birds, when a man suddenly started shouting and swearing at me. He ran across the park towards me and stopped right in my face, uttering all sorts of expletives. “What the f*** are you doing? Get the f*** out of here!” and so on.

I was totally amazed and rather scared. He started making chopping motions with his hand, saying repeatedly that he was going to smack me, and then that he’d smack the camera out of my hand. At first I thought he might be concerned I’d been photographing him, though that’d be odd since I was quite clearly aiming very high in the trees.

Next he started pointing wildly at the camera. “What’s that? That’s not a camera. That’s a zapper. You’re harming the birds. I see you. You’re hurting the birds.” And so on. So, some sort of mental illness, I guessed.

I was scared that if I turned around, he’d hit me on the head. I said calmly that it was just a camera, not a zapper, but that I was going anyway. He continued windmilling his arms, and I still didn’t feel safe to turn my back to him. I said again that I was going. He was still being very aggressive. So I said, “I’m going to go now. Not because I’m doing anything wrong, but because you’re a horrible man.”

Well, that may not have been the wisest thing to say, but it did bring him up short long enough for me to turn and walk away fast. Then he became totally apoplectic, jumping up and down and shouting with fury. But I was safely away, though I do confess I kept turning around and checking he didn’t follow me for quite a while.

Anyway, here are the videos. In the first one, you’ll see a couple of female birds and hear the other birds all round them:

The second video shows a male Figbird making a slightly different call:

The third video shows a few birds in the rain. This is when the man ran across the park and threatened me (though there’s none of that in the video):

Common name: Figbird

Scientific name: Sphecotheres viridis

Approximate length: 28 cm

Date spotted: 31 August 2017 (Early spring)

Location: Pyrmont, Sydney: 33°52’06.5″S 151°11’52.2″E

Making ripples

Early morning at Manly Dam, near Sydney. I think the bird is a Eurasian Coot, but it’s too far away to be sure. One thing I’ve noticed is that whenever I publish a more philosophical type of post on this blog, there’s a coot in there somewhere.

Grey Fantail fluttering and waving its tail

Every now and then, while walking in the bush near Sydney, I see a bird fluttering up and down a tree and waving its tail in a merry dance. These birds move fast and don’t stay in one place for long. It’s hard to take a photo, especially as they’re usually deep in the undergrowth.

Today I managed to video one of these showoffs. As you’ll see, I had to follow the bird in its random jaunts to various branches of the tree. Now that I had a video, I could identify the bird. It’s a Grey Fantail, according to my bird book. Specifically, I think it’s one the alisteri race, which is the most common in the Sydney region.

Common name: Grey Fantail

Scientific name: Rhipidura fuliginosa

Approximate length: 15 cm

Date spotted: 13 August 2017 (Early spring)

Location: Manly Dam National Reserve, New South Wales, Australia: 33°46’16.1″S 151°14’47.5″E