Busy birds

I have managed to take a better photo of the Macleay’s Honeyeater – its not perfect but I am improving!  The birds enjoy our well sheltered bird baths but it does make photography more challenging in the low light.

20140606_Wild_Wings_Swampy_Things_Macleay's Honeyeater on birdbath

Macleay’s Honeyeater after enjoying a bath

Victoria’s Riflebirds have been seen feeding all about the property recently, all those sighted (so far) have been female or immature birds and most commonly eating fruit of the Bleeding Heart tree, Homalanthus populifolius.   However, we have also watched a Victoria’s Riflebird  feeding on the fruit of the native Costus,  Costus potierae,  which we have planted in our house garden.  Yellow-spotted Honeyeaters have also been eating the Costus fruit, so this plant is not only an attractive ornamental but a useful food plant for the birds.

Victoria's Riflebird, female or immature

Victoria’s Riflebird, female or immature

This male Double-eyed Fig Parrot was sitting on a branch close to my vegetable garden.  It had been feeding on the fruit of Red-leaf Fig, Ficus congesta. 

20140606_Wild_Wings_Swampy_Things_DE Fig Parrot

Double-eyed Fig Parrot race macleayana, male.

While this particular tree had obviously been visited by a number of fruit eating birds, it is not often the fruit of choice.  Many times we see the fruit quite untouched when other, more desirable, fruit is in abundance.  Red-leaf Figs are common pioneer species in areas of regenerating rainforest and provide a reliable source of food at times when the fruit of preferred species is unavailable.

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Red-leaf Fig, Ficus congesta. Detail of fruit on tree trunk.

After several different ‘poses’ on the branch this gorgeous little parrot stretched his jaw open wide, probably necessary after much processing of the tiny fig seed, although I confess it did look to me like a yawn.  And then he moved up higher in the tree out of sight and our photo session was over.

Double-eyed Fig Parrot stretching his jaw

Double-eyed Fig Parrot stretching his jaw

After ‘the wet’

So much colour outside our kitchen window!  After what seems like a long wet season,we are not the only ones enjoying some sunny days and our garden is busy with many birds and butterflies.   Golden Penda, (Xanthostemon chrysanthus) is a very popular ornamental native species which has been extensively planted in our region and it is now flowering prolifically, leaving a carpet of golden yellow stamens lying on the ground beneath each tree.

20140523Wild_Wings_Swampy_Things_Dusky honeyeater on Penda

Dusky Honeyeater frantically feeding

20140523Wild_Wings_Swampy_Things_Macleay's honeyeater in Penda

Macleay’s Honeyeater – the eye only just visible in the flowers.

Its a wonderful time of the year to be out in the garden, not too hot and there is lots to do but also much to gaze at and I’ve dashed back to the house for my camera on several occasions.  The Macleay’s Honeyeater just won’t stop for moment in its feeding frenzy so I’ve had lots of trouble getting a shot that is even partially in focus.

20140523Wild_Wings_Swampy_Things_Cruiser female on Costus

Female Cruiser (Vindula arsinoe)

20140523Wild_Wings_Swampy_Things_male birdwing on Costus

Male Cairns Birdwing (Ornithoptera priamus)

The flower in these photos is a native Costus (Costus potierae) which looks very similar to the exotic Costus speciosus but can be identified from the latter by the hairy upper leaf surface.  Costus potierae can be found in Cape York, some of the Torres St Islands and N E Queensland but it only occurs very close to sea level.  The white flowers attract many butterflies and small birds while the beautiful red bracts provide a brilliant colour accent amongst the verdant garden foliage.

20140523Wild_Wings_Swampy_Things_Ulysses on Costus

Ulysses butterfly (Papilio ulysses)

The flashes of blue from several Ulysses flying around is impossible to capture in a still photo – this splash of blue gives the general idea.

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Yellow-spotted Honeyeater

Yellow-spotted Honeyeaters are probably our most commonly sighted bird species and I was delighted that this one posed so nicely while deciding on where to fly next.

 

Feathered Friends

In recent months at least two pairs of Black Butcherbirds have produced 3 offspring in the vicinity of our house garden.  Of course the adults have been very busy hunting - frogs, lizards, snakes and fledgling birds are all on the menu – which means that the diminutive Sunbirds, like many of our small birds, are faced with quite a challenge to find a sufficiently camouflaged nesting site.

20140117_wild_wings_swampy_things_sunbird_immaturemale

In our early years here, prior to our revegetation efforts, the rather sparse garden supported very few birds so we delighted in the Sunbirds nesting close to the house, often on our verandah.  Sunbirds build beautiful hanging nests with a side entrance and they will suspend them from anything that takes their fancy.  The plastic coated clothes-line proved impossible (thank goodness as it would have been most inconvenient) but any rope left hanging was irresistible to them.

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In recent years, as our general bird population has increased, it has become too risky for the Sunbirds to use such an exposed area as the verandah, which is regularly patrolled by Butcherbirds who have taken advantage of many unwary frogs and lizards.  Although we don’t find sunbird nests near our house now, they are breeding successfully and this year we have been enjoying the sight of a young male who has been feeding on Heliconia ‘Sexy Pink’ which is adjacent to our outdoor shower – we have also observed him drinking from the shower rose when a few drips remain.

20140117_wild_wings_swampy_things_sunbird_immaturemale2

This is the only Heliconia allowed to grow in our garden, which is in the residential exclusion zone of the Wild Wings & Swampy Things Nature Refuge.  It does take some maintenance to look its best but it is not as rampant as some varieties  …. and the flowers’ popularity with the Sunbirds makes it worthwhile.

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Hopefully the young fellow will manage to avoid predators and live long enough to gain the glorious colours of a mature male.

WW20101011_Wild_Wings_Swampy_Things_Birds_Olivebacked Sunbird

Cool pool rewards.

Since we converted our salt-water chlorinated swimming pool to a fresh-water swimming pond 6 years ago it has gradually become a more inviting habitat for many local creatures as well as being a delightful place to cool off during the summer months.

Fresh-water swimming pond with fish and plants.

Fresh-water swimming pond with fish and plants.

I walked into the pool garden this afternoon and was amazed to find a male Macleay’s Spectre hanging, in a typical pose, on the strap-like leaf of a Louisiana Iris that is growing in a pot on the steps.  This extraordinary Phasmid is widespread in parts of New South Wales and S.E. Queensland and it also inhabits North Queensland rainforests ‘though as you can imagine they are not easily found. After taking a few photos I invited it on to my finger so I could move it onto a shrub in the garden as it looked so vulnerable on the edge of the pool.  After waiting more than 20 years to find a Macleay’s Spectre on the property I didn’t want it to indulge in unnecessarily risky behaviour.

Macleay's Spectre (Extatosoma tiaratum tiaratum)

Macleay’s Spectre (Extatosoma tiaratum tiaratum)

In order to take a better photo of the head I had to gently encourage the insect to the top-side of the branch where it ‘froze’ in position no doubt trusting that its amazing camouflage would protect it from attack. After the photo session I watched as it made its way further into the protection of the twigs and leaves.

20131217_Wild_Wings_Swampy_Things_Macleay's Spectre -close-up of head

Macleay’s Spectre head detail

Another delight in the pool garden this afternoon was the discovery of this exquisite nest which I am fairly certain has been built and used by a pair of Graceful Honeyeater although  as the nest is now abandoned I can not be sure of the owner/builders.

Hanging nest in Callistemon.

Hanging nest in Callistemon.

Chiltern – Mt Pilot National Park

Chiltern-Mt Pilot National Park is somewhat fragmented and the camping areas marked on the map are not widely advertised however,  we did find a lovely quiet spot where we enjoyed a few days on our own.  This lovely pond was a few metres from our camp ….. beautiful reflections in the still water.

Reflections

Reflections on the pond

There was more activity on the water surface than was first apparent! This pair of Australian Emperors were flying ‘together’ while the female laid eggs in several locations around the pond.

Australian Emperor - Hemianax papuensis

Australian Emperor – Hemianax papuensis

Awake with the birds on our first morning, we set off early on the Tuan Track walk, collecting a leaflet provided by the Friends of Chiltern National Park on our way.  It is a lovely walk  and the weather was perfect with some sun to warm us and only a gentle breeze.

Tuan Track

Tuan Track

With the aid of the descriptions in the leaflet we were able to not only appreciate the change in vegetation as we progressed along the track but also identify a few species.  It was also interesting to note the dominant bird species associated with particular flowering plants and along different sections of the track.

Dillwynia phylicoides

Dillwynia phylicoides – thanks to Eileen Collins from Mt Chiltern NP Friends for help with identification

Diuris sp. - Donkey Orchid

Donkey Orchid – Diuris sp.

Petalochilus carneus - Pink Fingers

Pink Fingers – Petalochilus carneus

Cat's claw Grevillea - Grevillea alpina

Cat’s claw Grevillea – Grevillea alpina

Other highlights of our few days exploring the variety of tracks in this national park included a morning walk at the Yeddonba Aboriginal site.  A very pleasant stroll along their well set out ‘self-guided’ tour gave us a different perspective and a chance to imagine how the country looked before our European ancestors cleared much of the beautiful forest.

We then drove on to the Mt Pilot section, parked the car for a short walk up to the summit and Allen spotted this delightful creature snoozing in a dead Callitris.

Koala woken briefly by our conversation.

Koala woken briefly by our conversation.

A short stroll to the summit revealed 360 degree spectacular views.

Easterly view of Mt Pilot range

Easterly view of Mt Pilot range

Looking north from the summit

Looking north from the summit

Enormous granite boulders on the summit support a surprising variety of vegetation that manages to not only survive but thrive in the extremes of summer heat and winter cold.

Leptospermum sp. with bee

Leptospermum sp. with bee

Some plants have found shelter between granite boulders or have taken root in cracks of the boulders but the most entrancing ‘miniature garden’ grew around a large pond which had formed in a dip in the rock.

Summit vegetation

Summit vegetation

Mossy garden in the granite

Granite rock-pool garden

After exploring the summit for a while we returned to the carpark to enjoy our morning coffee as well as the sight of a Scarlet Robin followed by a chestnut-rumped Heath-wren.   We kept our eyes out for a glimpse of a Spotted Quail-thrush – no luck there but we did find a lovely patch of Greenhood orchids.  We are not certain of which Greenhood but someone may be able to help us.

Greenhood Orchid

Greenhood Orchid – Pterostylis curta (thanks to Denis Wilson for identification)

Then we drove on to Woolshed Falls with its impressive granite race leading to the main falls – extensive paving with granite steps makes for very easy access to the viewing areas.

Granite race - Woolshed Falls

Granite race – Woolshed Falls

Woolshed Falls

Woolshed Falls

As we quietly enjoyed our picnic lunch we heard the unmistakeable creaky calls of some Gang-gang Cockatoos who alighted not far from us and sat in the tree  apparently undisturbed by us walking around trying to get a better angle for a photo.

Male Gang-Gang Cockatoo

Male Gang-Gang Cockatoo

Female Gang-Gang Cockatoo

Female Gang-Gang Cockatoo

On our last day in Chiltern-Mt Pilot  we were finally rewarded with a good sighting of a Turquoise parrot which, although not a first for us, was another on the list.
This is my final entry for our 2013 camping excursion – it was a wonderful journey, we did cover a lot of ground and there are many places to which we would like to return.  We have been considering calling it our ‘parrot trip’ as we saw many species of parrot, new to us.
And so we travelled on to the Brisbane environs where  we enjoyed some special time with grandchildren for a couple of weeks before travelling home up the coast.

Yanga National Park

Yanga National Park was opened to the public in 2009 after being purchased by the NSW government in 2005 on a “walk in – walk out’ basis at a cost of $30 million.  Some of that expenditure has been recouped by selling off those parts of the original property that were unsuitable for inclusion in a national park.

Yanga Lake, along with a vast frontage to the mighty Murrumbidgee River made this area now known as Yanga National Park a valuable pastoral property but it was also vitally important to the local indigenous population.
Excerpt from information in the cook’s cottage at Yanga homestead.
Yanga Lake:  when full Yanga Lake is 1,246 hectares in area, has a maximum depth of 5 m and is 24 km around the perimeter.  It consists of two connected sub-basins forming what was referred to in the 19th century as a ‘spectacle’ lake.  Current scientific information suggests that it formed around 128,000 years ago.  The regular filling and draining of the lake, stimulating plant growth and attracting animals and birds, in addition to the abundance of fish, turtles and yabbies in its waters, would have made Yanga lake an ‘oasis’ for Aboriginal people for 40,000 years.
The lake became a reserve ‘ for the preservation of game’ in 1909 and was notified as ‘sanctuary for birds and animals’ in 1922.  It was an important recreational area for the local population around Balranald as well as providing a living for a number of fishermen who held licences to fish the lake.

Infrastructure remaining from the days of the pastoralists is the most obvious history on the property.   The evidence of occupation by the original inhabitants exists but certainly doesn’t  have the visual impact that European settlers inflicted upon the country.  However, many aboriginals were employed at Yanga and so they are also part of the pastoral history.

William Wentworth became a major landholder in the Balranald district from the mid – 1840s to the early 1850s – during that brief period he occupied almost all of the land in  the present Yanga National Park.  Agents or  ‘run-hunters’ took up land on his behalf and superintendents managed his stations.
By the 1850s a series of runs had been converted to a leasehold of nearly 300,000 acres – Yanga Station had more than 150 km of Murrumbidgee river frontage as well as the benefits of Yanga Lake.

Yanga Lake fills when there is a sustained flooding of the Murrumbidgee River – in 1913 a control weir was constructed to retain water after flooding.  Yanga homestead overlooks the lake;  such is the position of the homestead it is possible to watch the sun rise and set over the water. 

Original section of Yanga homestead constructed from slabs of  Red Gum.

Original section of Yanga homestead constructed from slabs of Red Gum.

Yanga homestead - dropped log construction using Cypress pine logs.

Yanga homestead – dropped log construction using Cypress pine logs.

A major local community asset since the establishment of Balranald, the lake has been used for swimming, camping, wildlife-watching, wind surfing, water-skiing, canoeing and sailing.  There was even a yacht club, which hosted a national inland regatta in the 1950s.
Since the purchase of Yanga as a National Park a bird hide has been constructed on a peninsular not far from the homestead.  It is a large, quite well-designed structure, able to accommodate many bird watchers, although at the time we visited there were not any birds visible.

Bird hide on Yanga Lake

Bird hide on Yanga Lake

The woolshed, able to hold 3,000 sheep under cover is simply enormous.  Videos of the final shearing in November 2005, along with interviews conducted with some of the employees, are available via touch screen at various locations within the shed.  They give a wonderful insight into shearing operations at Yanga Station  and with further information displayed they bring the history alive.

Yanga Woolshed1

Sheep pens stretching into the distance

Shearing stands

Shearing stands – there were 10 on each side of the shed

The shed, being close to the banks of the Murrumbidgee,  was ideally situated for the transport of the wool bales by paddle steamer.  In the 1922 shearing season 75,016 adult sheep and 18,370 lambs were shorn, producing 2002 bales of wool.  The shearing season involved intense activity for less than a month but at other times of the year the shed was made available for woolshed dances including the local B & S Ball (bachelor & spinsters).  Apparently many people headed to Yanga Lake for ‘the recovery’ the following day.

Wool classer's cottage with a lovely river view from its verandah.

Wool classer’s cottage with a lovely river view from its verandah. The mess hut is visible behind the cottage to the left.

Shearer's quarters akin to small cells, no shady verandah for the really hard workers!

Shearer’s quarters akin to small cells, no shady verandah for the really hard workers!  There was a communal wash room in a separate building.

Our own accommodation,on the banks of the Murrumbidgee, looking across to Red Gum forest on the opposite bank, made a pleasant camp. Although the bird life was not prolific we did enjoy watching a Square-tailed Kite circling overhead but no photo to show.  Colourful parrots were the main attraction in the camping area.

Yellow Rosella at the end of the day with the light fading.

Yellow Rosella at the end of the day with the light fading.

Red-rumped Parrot

Red-rumped Parrot

Our original itinerary did not include Yanga National Park,  but after our stay at Gluepot it seemed like a good direction to travel in and we are very glad that we did.

Excellent camp site

Camp site with a lovely view

 

Gluepot – August Part 3

Birdlife Australia manages Gluepot reserve and bird watching was initially the main attraction, yet so far my dissertations have featured only a couple of species.  This is mostly due to some difficulty in producing adequate photographic illustration.   As the weather cleared and the wind dropped bird activity certainly increased – we saw Chestnut-crowned Babblers, Crested Bellbird, Mulga Parrots, and Mallee-Ringnecks.  We found both White-winged Fairy-wrens and Splendid Fairy-wrens,  Allen got a few glimpses of a Red-lored Whistler but it certainly didn’t wait for me to get a good look.  Honeyeaters included Brown-headed, White-fronted, Spiny-cheeked, Yellow-plumed (in great numbers), White-eared and Striped.  Many, many thornbills; Inland, Chestnut-rumped, Brown, Yellow, Yellow-rumped and Slender-billed Thornbills – where ever we went there seemed to be some Thornbills busy feeding amongst the foliage, most often in the Mallee Gums.  The advantage of bird watching in the Mallee is that the average height of the trees is much less than we are accustomed to in the rainforest and it makes identification so much easier.
CSC_0020A well numbered spread of tracks lead to varied and interesting locations around Gluepot;  there were many places to explore not far from our camp at ‘Bellbird’ however we did travel over to old Gluepot in the SW of the reserve to look at the remains of the original homestead.  The most interesting part was the cellar, presumably a cool store for food, which still appeared in relatively good condition.
Cellar at old Gluepot homesteadOn our return to camp  a flock of  Miners crossed the track in front of us.  A rapid halt and we were out of the vehicle trying to get a definite identification as this flock of 20+ moved through the trees.  Not being a gambler I wouldn’t put money on this but they did appear to be Black-eared Miners although with the difficulties presented with the hybridization of the species with Yellow-throated Miners we can’t really be certain.
Flowers are not always very obvious until you look closely – this Westringia rigida – Stiff Westringia is a good example.  Not the sort of form you would look for in a garden plant but on closer examination there were some rather lovely flowers.
Westringia rigida - Stiff WestringiaWestringia rigida - Stiff Westringia
Now for a couple of splashes of yellow ……….the lovely Senna artemisioides ssp. filifolia followed by Zygophyllum aurantiacum - Shrubby Twin Leaf
Senna artemisioides ssp. filifolia

Zygophyllum aurantiacum - Shrubby Twin LeafAnd a magnificent Mallee sunset on the eve of our last day was a fitting end to our first Gluepot visit.

Gluepot Sunset-002