Blog Archives

A coot and a metaphor

At first there’s nothing but the universe. The water and the sky. Then suddenly, there you are, in the middle of it all.

Common name: Eurasian Coot

Scientific name: Fulica atra

Approximate length: 35 cm

Date spotted: 23 April 2017 (Autumn)

Location: Manly Dam Reserve, New South Wales, Australia: 33°46’27.7″S 151°15’05.9″E

White-bellied Sea-Eagle at Manly Dam near Sydney

Yesterday I spotted a White-bellied Sea-Eagle flying along the shore of Manly Dam. It flew up and down the shore a few times, and across the water, then landed at the edge of the water in a baylet, with its legs in the water.

I was on the opposite side of the dam, so I couldn’t get a close look at the bird. I did take some photos and videos, but they’re fuzzy and unsatisfactory, although they’re good enough to satisfy me about the identification of the bird. So I decided to record the sighting here, and hope I get to see this beautiful bird again soon.

Common name: White-bellied Sea-Eagle

Scientific name: Haliaeetus leucogaster

Approximate length: 85 cm. Wing span: 2.2 m

Date spotted: 22 April 2017 (Autumn)

Location: Manly Dam Reserve, New South Wales, Australia: 33°46’35.2″S 151°15’08.0″E

Square-tailed Kite at Manly Dam near Sydney

This magnificent bird was sitting quietly in a tree, occasionally squinting down at the path, when I passed by. It’s a Square-tailed Kite – a large bird, at approximately 55 centimetres from head to tail (half a metre) with a wing span of  1.4 metres.

Square-tailed Kites are classified as rare in my bird book. Also, they’re not often seen around Sydney. I identified this one by the white markings around the face, and the characteristically long wing tips. When folded, they’re significantly longer than the tail, as you can see in the photo below:

This video shows the bird having a good grooming session, feathers flying:

In the next video, the bird moves its head back and forward in a slightly eery way, perhaps scanning for prey:

Common name: Square-Tailed Kite

Scientific name: Lophoictinia isura

Approximate length: 55 cm. Wing span: 1.4 m

Date spotted: 15 April 2017 (Autumn)

Location: Manly Dam Reserve, New South Wales, Australia: 33°46’35.3″S 151°15’13.3″E

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


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

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

Kookaburras cranking up for a cackle

You’ve probably heard kookaburras in full voice, cackling and hooting raucously. I think the sound they make when they’re preparing for a full-voice yodel is funny and cute. It happens in particular when there’s a group of birds. They chunter at each other, perhaps in warning or perhaps companionably. They sound a bit like rusty saws in a dusty attic.

These two were in a tree high above my lounge window:

I encountered this disreputable, slightly dangerous looking character deep in the bush:

Common name: Laughing Kookaburra

Scientific name: Dacelo novaeguineae

Approximate length: 47 cm

Date spotted (second video): 26 December 2016

Season: Summer

Location (second video): Manly Dam Nature Reserve, New South Wales, Australia: 33°46’50.4″S 151°14’59.6″E

New Zealand Dotterel

I’m travelling in New Zealand, so this post is a departure from my usual subject of birds in Sydney. While walking on Hahei Beach on the North Island, I came across a roped off area protecting a brood of New Zealand Dotterels.

Dotterels are native New Zealand birds, with a conservation status of nationally vulnerable. They’re also called New Zealand plovers, or tuturiwhatu.

This video shows one of the chicks exploring its environs. The shot then zooms out to show the gorgeous surrounds, and zooms back in to the mother or father bird and another little chick.

Here’s a still shot of the chick exploring:

New Zealand Dotterel

The adult bird perches watchfully on a log:

New Zealand Dotterel

Common name: Northern New Zealand dotterel

Scientific name: Charadriiformes charadriidae

Approximate length: 25 cm

Date spotted: 7 December 2016

Season: Summer

Location: Hahei Beach, North Island, New Zealand

Latitude/longitude: 36°50’10.2″S 175°48’10.3″E

Yellowhammer near Cathedral Cove, New Zealand

As mentioned in my previous post, I’m not in Sydney today. I’m travelling in New Zealand, and spotted a couple of pretty little Yellowhammers at the Cathedral Cove carpark. The Yellowhammer is not a native New Zealand bird. It was introduced into New Zealand from Britain in the late 1800s.


Common name: Yellowhammer

Scientific name: Emberiza citrinella

Approximate length: 16 cm

Date spotted: 7 December 2016

Season: Summer

Location: Cathedral Cove car park, Te Whanganui-A-Hei Marine Reserve, North Island, New Zealand

Latitude/longitude: 36°49’59.0″S 175°48’00.7″E