Blog Archives

Black Swans are back

It’s been a while since I’ve seen Black Swans on Manly Dam. Now they’re back, and four of them at that. Black Swans are native to New South Wales, Australia.

The call of a Black Swan is a soft hoot, a little like an apologetic cuckoo clock. You can hear it about 6 seconds into this video:

In the next video, the swans are caught in the converging melee of waterbirds when someone throws some scraps into the water. Again, the swans hoot about 6 seconds into the video:

This swan slides a bit of green weed through its beak, presumably to scrape off slime and small creatures as food:

Reflecting on reeds:

Common name: Black Swan

Scientific name: Cygnus atratus

Approximate length: 120 cm

Date spotted: 7 July 2018 (Winter)

Location: Manly Dam National Park, New South Wales, Australia: 33°46’58.3″S 151°15’18.7″E


Little Wattlebird calling, mate unimpressed

A male Little Wattlebird does its best to impress (or intimidate) the bird sharing its branch. The other bird is unimpressed. In fact, its reaction seems to be, “Oh, please, are you really going to keep doing that?”

The call of a Little Wattlebird is strange. It often starts with a click-clack, as if the calling mechanism is turning over before getting into full gear. Then out comes the harsh bray that’s characteristic of the male bird. It seems to take a fair bit of effort to make this noise, as you can see in the video:

I went back to the same spot a day later, and snapped a picture of this male Little Wattlebird. It’s probably the same bird, given their fierce territoriality:

Common name: Little Wattlebird

Scientific name: Anthochaera chrysoptera

Approximate length: 30 cm

Date spotted: 7 July 2018 (Winter)

Location: Manly Dam National Park, New South Wales, Australia: 33°46’36.9″S 151°15’10.4″E

Olive-backed Oriole chirruping and looking for bugs

It was the unusual chirruping that made me look up into the trees and see this Olive-backed Oriole. At first I thought it was a Wattle Bird, but the sound it made was unusual. So I snapped a few shots and took them home to examine them on the big screen.

In the video, you can hear the sound the bird makes:

This is the first view I had of the bird. Very well camouflaged!

Here the bird looks with gimlet eye at a termite nest (out of shot above its head) no doubt hoping for some food to wander by.

This is a general picture of the trees in the area – the bird’s habitat:

Common name: Olive-backed Oriole

Scientific name: Oriolus sagittatus

Approximate length: 25-28 cm

Date spotted: 8 April 2018 (Autumn)

Location: Manly Dam National Park, New South Wales, Australia: 33°46’25.6″S 151°14’56.8″E

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

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

Willie Wagtail sings to beauty at dawn

It’s early on a cold morning in Pyrmont. A little Willie Wagtail perches on a bollard and sings its heart out. Shades of silver dapple the water. Sydney Harbour Bridge decorates the skyline. All the requisites for an atmospheric scene are present and correct.

Apologies for the low quality of the picture. I was using my mobile phone to film the scene, and had to zoom because the bird was so small. However, this little Willie Wagtail has a big voice and a big heart.

In this second video, a Willie Wagtail harasses a Currawong, chittering and swooping at it. The birds are in the same place as the previous video, so it’s probably the same Willie Wagtail. It’s a common sight in Australia, to see the little birds chasing away the big ones.

Despite their name, Willie Wagtails are actually fantails rather than wagtails. The latter tend to waggle their tails up and down rather than side to side. However, Australians chose the name Willie Wagtail and it stuck.

Here’s a still photo of the same bird, also taken with my mobile phone, so also not wonderfully in focus.

Common name: Willie Wagtail

Scientific name: Rhipidura leucophrys

Approximate length: 20 cm

Date spotted: August 2017 (Winter)

Location: Pyrmont, Sydney: 33°51’57.3″S 151°11’47.9″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

Eastern Whipbird nesting, calling, and showing its colours

Eastern Whipbirds make the oddest noise. As their name implies, their call sounds a little like a whip cracking: p-p-peeeuuw pheuw-pheuw. Actually, to me, it sounds more like a laser gun in a child’s science fiction game.

I have two videos to show you. The first is cool because right at the beginning, the bird is in the sun, and you can see all the olive colour in its feathers. Usually, the birds are more like dark blobs because they stick to the shady parts of the bush. In the video you can also see the bird make its characteristic call.

At the beginning of the second video, the bird is tending a nest. I didn’t see that until I got the video home and looked on the wider screen. There’s more of the calling too, which takes a lot of energy. The little bird almost leaps off the branch with the effort.

Common name: Eastern Whipbird

Scientific name: Psophodes olivaceus

Approximate length: 30 cm

Date spotted: 13 August 2017 (Early spring)

Location: Manly Dam National Reserve, New South Wales, Australia: 33°46’36.9″S 151°15’16.7″E