Blog Archives

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

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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

Figbirds in Pyrmont, Sydney

A group of birds has caught my attention on my way to work this past week. They collect in some trees in Pyrmont near the Sydney Maritime Museum, uttering soft “chweeeep” calls to each other. I took some photos and looked them up in my bird book. It turns out they’re Figbirds, which I’ve never seen before.

Here’s a female Figbird showing off its streaked underbelly:

This one is also a female, with a pretty brown head:

Looking down at me with curiosity:

Ready to fly away:

This is a male Figbird, with the distinctive red patch of skin around the eye:

And a shot of the male’s olive-coloured front:

Common name: Figbird

Scientific name: Sphecotheres viridis

Approximate length: 28 cm

Date spotted: 22-23 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

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

King Parrots on the pavement

A pair of King Parrots surprised me today. They were quietly feeding on a grassy pavement as I walked by. At first they took a careful look at me, then they decided I was harmless and went back to their browsing. The photos aren’t great quality, because I had only the camera on my mobile phone with me.

The male of the pair has a red head and chest, and dark green on his back. The female bird has a green head and softer red colouring on her chest.  The video shows them feeding quietly then flying off with a characteristic chirp.

It wasn’t me that scared them away, but rather a big bird flying overhead. The big scary bird turned out to be just a currawong, so the parrots came back quite quickly. Here they are together:

Here’s the male, showing the pretty colouring and markings on his back:

Common name: Australian King Parrot

Scientific name: Alisterus scapularis

Approximate length: 44 cm

Date spotted: 7 July 2017 (Winter)

Location: Allambie Heights, New South Wales, Australia: 33°46’13.2″S 151°15’41.1″E

Rainbow Lorikeets and a flowering grass tree

A grass tree (Xanthorrhoea) perches precariously on the edge of a cliff in our garden. Every couple of years, the grass tree throws up a flower spike—much to the delight of the Rainbow Lorikeets in the area. Here’s a closeup of a couple of the birds on the flower spike:

Here’s the grass tree on the cliff, with the flower spike shooting up. The grass tree is the one with long, thin, spiky leaves at the base of the flowering spike, not the fleshy big-leafed succulents that surround it:

You can only fit so many lorikeets on a flower spike at once. So, the trick is to line up on the nearest power line and take turns. This video shows the interaction between the birds as they wait in line:

Evidently the nectar from the flowers on the spike is deliciously sweet. Australian Aboriginal people use it to make a sweet drink. Europeans used to burn it as incense in churches. The birds feel it’s worth waiting in line:

It turns out you can fit quite a few lorikeets on a flower spike:

Common name: Rainbow Lorikeet

Scientific name: Trichoglossus haematodus

Approximate length: 30 cm

Date spotted: 7 July 2017 (Winter)

Location: Allambie Heights, New South Wales, Australia