Tag Archives: birds

Afternoon tea

Line-up on the pool fence

Strange fruit

They start to gather a couple of hours before sunset, when the shadows start to lengthen and the light takes on that late afternoon glow. Sometimes there’s a line-up on the pool fence, sometimes it’s a couple of stalwarts clicking their claws at the feeding table. When I appear the tension ratchets up. As I pour the juice into the two bowls a couple of the bolder ones will sidle up, one red eye fixed on me, to steal a sip before the crowd arrives. But they’re already gathering, landing just outside my field of vision in a flurry of sound. I step back and there’s a rush, everyone trying to get their beaks into the juice. They drop down from the fox tail palm above the table, or the trees on either side where they’ve been waiting patiently. Bossy boots and his missus try to claim both bowls as their own, but while it works for small groups, the pair is overwhelmed by sheer numbers.

Afternoon tea time

A flurry of golden wings

The din is incredible, a cacophony of screeching that reverberates in my head. There’s more than thirty birds trying to reach two bowls of juice. They argue, push, shove, take off for a break or try to fit in, a sea of heaving green backs and golden wings. The light from the lowering sun is at just the right angle to make their wings shine golden, like bad impressions of angels. Drops of apple juice sparkle in the air. I swear half of it isn’t drunk at all. There are too many birds, too close together, so we toss out other enticements – apples cut in half, or a slice of multi-grain bread. That gives them something else to fight over, and lessens the crush at the table.

Sometimes one smarty-pants sends up an alarm signal and they take off in force, only to return in minutes as they realise it’s a false alarm.

Alarm call!

It’s almost hovering, looking for a spot to land

We’re out of juice (This Winky s/he only has one eye)

It’s over in ten or fifteen minutes. The juice is gone. Some hopeful souls bend over to look under the table to see if more is forthcoming. Others repair to the bird bath for a drink of water or a splashing soaking. Yet others return to the trees for a preen, with each couple doing that hard part at the back of their partner’s neck.

As the warmth of the day fades they’ll leave in groups of six, or four, or two, heading North to the trees along the foreshore or the major road, where they’ll roost for the night. There are a few more raucous fly-bys with their mates, a bit more pushing and shoving for the best roosting spots. Then after the last light has drained from the sky, the noise ceases for another night.

 

It’s time for the bats to venture out.

The perils of house-hunting

It was a long, hot, dry summer in Hervey Bay this year. In some respects the arrival of Cyclone Debbie was a blessing. Don’t misunderstand, I have the deepest sympathy for all those people who endured the lady’s fury. But Hervey Bay is too far south to feel the full fury of a tropical cyclone, and when Debbie became a deep low, bringing high winds and flooding rains to the Sunshine and Gold Coasts and into NSW, we were protected by Fraser Island. We didn’t mind the rain, though. We had just had the driest summer since we’ve lived here, and summer is supposed to be our wet season.

Be that as it may, the weather has cleared, all the plants heaved a huge sigh of relief, and the birds abandoned us. If you’re one of those people who think feeding birds is a bad thing, rest assured they still prefer their natural food. The callistemons are in bloom, and we hear the birds; we just don’t see them. When the flowers die off they’ll come back for a spot of apple juice, or a nibble at an apple, or some multi-grain bread.

One thing about an absence of lorikeets is that we can be visited by some of the shyer species. We have nesting boxes in our trees, and although one is a long-time abode of a possum, one is empty. A pair of pale-headed rosellas have been eyeing it off. She goes for a look, while he waits below, giving advice.

There has been a pair of rosellas around as long as we’ve lived here, and every few years they’ll be looking for a nest. The first year we lived here was interesting. The house had one of those pot-bellied space heaters, with a round metal chimney up through the roof, fitted with a raised cap like a Chinaman’s hat. That sort of arrangement was perfect for birds who nest in hollowed-out branches in trees. The female bird slipped under the gap between the raised ‘hat’ and into what she would have thought was a log – and slid right down to the bottom. We couldn’t reach her in the stove – she was above a flue. What to do? Pete got up on the roof and took off the cap, but the bird had nothing to climb up, and of course couldn’t fly. So we lowered down a thick rope with a knot on the end, hoping she would cling to it and we could draw her up. The male bird was watching all this from a nearby vantage point, no doubt worried out of his little bird brain.

It took a couple of goes. She caught on quite quickly, and Pete drew her up almost to the top. But she let go too soon. The next attempt was a success. As soon as she could spread her wings she and the hubby were off.

We always thought the heater was a waste of space. I think we lit it twice in all the years before we got rid of it when we replaced the roof. The nesting boxes are much safer, of course, designed specially for birds of that size. Lorikeets have used this one in the past. I’d love it if the rosellas took up the tenancy – but lorikeets are aggressive little shits, so I doubt if it will work out.

In other news I had a brush with melanoma. Like most Australians my age who grew up in the surf and the sand, spraying our bodies with coconut oil to work up a lovely golden tan, I’ve got plenty of age spots and moles. One large spot on the side of my jaw appeared to be falling apart, so I went to see the doctor. He said it was a squamous something-or-other and not to worry. But since I was there, he checked the collection on my back. Nothing nasty. Then (as a bit of a joke) I pointed at a tiny spot on my left arm just above my wrist. It was circular, not lumpy or misshapen, about the size of a pin head, but it was black – therefore unlike any of the other blemishes on my skin. The doc’s body language changed remarkably. “I think we should take that out,” he said. Who was I to argue? So we made a time and he punched this thing out, so small it didn’t need stitches, and sent it off for pathology.

The wound required 8 stitches. It has healed nicely

You know it’s not a good result when the surgery rings you to make an appointment. I was told that tiny spot would have become a melanoma, which is the most dangerous form of skin cancer. He thought he’d got the lot, but he suggested he remove a bit more skin to be certain. There would be a scar. So now I have a scar above my left wrist. But I don’t have a melanoma. Fair trade if you ask me.

And I wrote a review of the latest Star Wars novel, Thrawn. It’s over on my other blog if you’re interested. Here’s the link.

 

Riding the sky rail

Swingin’ up over the rain forest

One of the fun things to do in Cairns is to take a ride up into the tablelands on a cable car, and come back down again on a vintage train after you’ve pottered around at the quaint little town of Kuranda. (or vice versa – here’s all the info) Kuranda is one of those very touristy places, with cafes and restaurants, and markets filled with didgeridoos, T shirts, postcards, artwork, tea towels, stuffed kangaroos… you get the picture. But it also has some other attractions, such as a bird sanctuary, a butterfly house, and a wildlife exhibition where you can get your picture taken holding a koala (for a price, of course). Here’s the Kuranda website.

Tropical Cyclone Debbie wasn’t even a twinkle in a meteorologist’s eye at this stage – but there’s a reason they call it rain forest. There’s always a risk of a shower. So far so good, though. We caught the cable car up to Kuranda, gliding up the mountain over the rain forest, admiring the view over Cairns to the Coral Sea. Helicopters were used to put all the pylons that support the cables into place, causing minimum disruption to the landscape.

A walk through the treetops

We hopped off the cable car at Red Peak, the journey’s highest point, and took a walk along a board walk through the top of the rain forest. Tour guides take groups along and explain the ecology, and you can admire the view for as long as you like before you jump back into a car to continue the journey to the viewing platform for Barron Falls. I was really, really looking forward to that. I’d seen some pictures online from just a few weeks before, showing the falls thundering down into its gorge.

Barron gorge with a bit of waterfall. That’s the train on the opposite side to give some context.

So yeah, I was very, very, very disappointed. Oh well. Ma Nature runs according to her own rhythms. And the dam at the top of the falls did the rest. On to Kuranda.

After we’d pottered around the markets for a while, we headed for the bird sanctuary, a large, free-fly aviary with an assortment of native and exotic birds, many of them very friendly, especially if you brought in food (sold by the sanctuary). We were warned before we went in that the birds would be attracted to jewellery, buttons on caps and the like. It’s true… it’s true. One parrot immediately landed on Col’s baseball cap and pulled off the button at the top. One bird landed on Pete’s shoulder, and several other people had birds sitting on their arms or shoulders.

At one stage as we walked around most of the birds suddenly stared upwards. Sure enough, a wedge-tailed eagle soared high above the sanctuary. They were safe, of course, but old habits remain.

Here’s a selection of pictures.

This Alexandrine made a beeline for Col’s hat

Male red tailed cockatoo

Female red tailed cockatoo

Deep in conversation with a Columbian sun conure

A cattle egret showing off

A male eclectus parrot (native Australian)

Female eclectus parrot. This is one of those rare occasions where the female is brighter than the male

A koala doing what koalas do best

I expect somebody is going to ask to see the picture of me holding a koala. There isn’t one. Few places today allow tourists to handle koalas since it’s believed it stresses the animal. Think about it. You’re a sedentary, mainly solitary creature. You spend between 18 and 22 hours per day sleeping, and quite a lot of the rest eating. You’re carried out by someone you know, and you’re handed over to a complete stranger who probably has no idea what to do with you and maybe giggles excitedly while somebody else pokes a camera at you. Phew. That’s over. You seek refuge with your usual handler. And then a new stranger comes along and you have to do it all over again. So no. Not me.

Mind you, there are a number of koalas at the few places that allow strangers to handle the animals. I expect there’s a rotation so one koala only features in a few shots at a time, and they would be carefully supervised by handlers. I also appreciate that offering the opportunity might make money to help with conservation, but I can’t help but feel it’s a bit like sacrificing some koalas for the many. Koalas are now endangered because humans have encroached on their habitat. We need to give them room to live safely away from dogs and cars. Here’s a bit of info about koalas.

We had lunch with rain squall accompaniment (we were inside, watching from a veranda), and after we’d bought a few T shirts, we caught the train back down to the valley. It’s an old train with antique carriages where the air conditioning is you opening the windows. It was like being in a sauna as the train crept down the steep gradients. We stopped for ten minutes at Barron Falls, which was just as disappointing from this side as it had been from the other. All the way, we learned about how this railway line had been built in the 1880’s, opening in 1891. Here’s a little of the history. OH&S hadn’t been invented then. All the tunnels (there are fifteen) were dug by hand after initial blasting, and the workers were expected to bring their own tools. Same with bridges and track. There are spectacular views across Cairns of course, and the train stopped for a few moments so we could take photos of Stoney Creek Falls – which almost made up for Barron Falls. (Did I mention how disappointed I was?)

Stoney creek Falls – right next to the railway line. Photo taken from the train.

One of several tight curves on the track. This one’s on a bridge.

The sun was setting when we got back to Palm Cove. It had been a Big Day Out.

A week on the wild side

It’s pretty well known I’m keen on birds. We don’t have any domestic pets, so our yard is a safe haven for many bird species. They’re part of daily life, adding colour and movement to the environment. But sometimes accidents happen, and sometimes very special things happen. This week was packed full of unusual events.

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Blue-faced honey eater about to land

One of the blue faced honey eaters decided to fly into the garage through the people door, and found itself stuck, with nowhere to go. So it flew toward the garden. But there’s a window in the way. It panicked, fluttering around on the glass. Fortunately, I noticed. The bird wasn’t interested in being shooed toward the door (which it couldn’t see), so I caught it in my hands. It squawked a bit, but latched onto my finger as it would a perch and sat quite calmly as I carried it out to the garden. It didn’t say thank you or anything, but it was quite remarkable that the bird allowed me to catch it. I felt privileged.

Young magpie begging

Young magpie begging

A day or two later, on my evening prowl around the yard, I noticed commotion from the rather decrepit shade house. The shade cloth has split at the top, so birds can get in. They can also get out, of course, but accidents happen. The culprit turned out to be a junior magpie. Once again, the bird thought it should be able to get out at the end of the shade house. The shade cloth is only thirty percent, so while not transparent, you can see through it. I went into the shade house, leaving the door open. But the magpie was in no mood to be rescued. I tried to coax it – the birds are territorial, so junior knew me – but I had to settle for herding it until it could see the open door at the other end of the shade house. It was off, and outta there. Job done. Yay me.

Rainbow Lorikeet

Rainbow Lorikeet

And then a day or two later I was standing outside the back door watching the lorikeets flutter around the bird table. They’re used to me being there with the camera against my face. It’s a great place to try and catch a good photo of them in flight. (Thank goodness for digital cameras – if we were still using film I would have given up. I might get a two percent return rate. If I’m lucky.) Anyway, here I am with the 70-300mm zoom lens pointed at the birds. Fully zoomed, it’s quite long. A bird flew towards me. I expected it to disappear and fly up to the roof. To my amazement. the lorikeet landed ON the lens, and just sat, looking at me. A moment later its mate joined it. I was gobsmacked. On reflection, I think they were just curious. Twice a lorikeet has come inside when the back door was open. It landed on the back of a chair, had a look around, then flew out again.

I love my avian mates. Except the crows. I would probably like them, too, if they didn’t make such a row at the crack of dawn.

Today is election day here in Australia. I’m not sure I’m thrilled about the two major parties, but with our preferential voting system, voting for a minor party often means you end up voting for a major, anyway. Really, I think our Western society model is breaking down and needs to be replaced. We seem to have a choice between supporting business, or letting the trade unions rule the roost. Anyway, I’ve done my hard-won democratic duty. We’ll see tomorrow.

The bird bath is always popular

About THE most useful thing any backyard can offer the local birds is a place to bathe. This bird bath is in a protected location, with a tree nearby for grooming and drying. It’s also well off the ground, so local cats won’t be an issue. I keep the water clean by emptying the bath and giving it a light scrub before re-filling to get rid of algae. That’s done pretty much daily. You’d be surprised at how much dirt and loose feathers a bunch of birds will leave behind.

And because I do that, I get to enjoy this.

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This is a bonded couple bathing together

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Much splashing about

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They duck right under the water

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When one is finished, the other will get into it

How to create a photo sequence in Photoshop

I posted an old picture in Facebook today – a sequence of shots of a hunting osprey. People asked how I did it, so here it is. I haven’t used the hunting osprey – it’s not one of my best efforts. So we’ll deconstruct this one of a pelican landing on a beach.

Pelican landing copy

The camera was in sports mode so it took a series of photos in quick succession. Bear in mind this is a time sequence. Some of those actions actually took place physically much closer together.

Background

I picked one of the pictures for the background to the shot. I needed lots of beach.

Layer1

Layer1 I cropped the pelican, its shadow and part of the background

Layer2

Layer 2 Once again, I cropped the pelican and its shadow. Notice this is the same bird as the one in the background. The bird in the background gets covered.

Layer3

Layer 3 The pelican was cut using Photoshop’s magic extractor. I kept the shadows.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All the layers were originally rectangles. After I’d placed them, in some cases I had to remove some of the beach to reveal parts of the bird in the layer underneath.  After that I used the merge and repair tools to disguise the edges of the layers. That’s why the picture in layer one has such jagged edges. Layer one is covering the bird in the background, which is why I had so much beach in it.

So there you go. I have fun doing these.

Nature in the raw #photo

Note the fighting on the table

Note the fighting on the table

There’s nothing quite like watching wild animals doing what they do. I’m privileged to live in a bird rich neighbourhood. If you come here often you’ll know about my local rainbow lorikeets. They come to the pool fence not far from the kitchen window to partake of apple juice, and sometimes fruit like apples and pears. Yes, they’re cute and colourful, but they’re also aggressive little buggers, so there’s always a lot of pushing and shoving and beaks and claws.

But then, even when there’s no food available, the birds feel comfortable to do what they do. They almost always arrive in pairs and though males and females look alike, you can pick the males from their behaviour. The males quite often put on dominance displays. They fluff themselves up, arch their necks and strut. More often than not, they’re doing that to impress their lady friend because they’re feeling amorous.

Like this.

How about it, sweetheart?

How about it, sweetheart?

You can see she’s receptive. She has her legs spread wide, ready to carry his weight. So he hops on and has his way, using his wings for balance. Most birds don’t have penises, so really, they’re just rubbing their bits together. It  doesn’t last for long, though it may happen several times. Eventually, she’ll get fed up with his advances and snap at him to tell him she has a headache. Or a backache.

Amorous lorikeets

Making whoopee

 

 

 

Wanna make something of it?

Wanna make something of it?

 

 

 

 

 

The other place you get the aggressive eye contact and arched back is when the boys have a standoff. Here’s one. You can tell it’s all different.

But whatever they do, they are endlessly entertaining. It’s a pleasure and a privilege to have them share their lives with me.

Qucik! Everybody scarper!

Quick! Everybody scarper!

Pictures from the magic pool fence

I’m fortunate enough to live on a property where there’s room for a swimming pool. One of the downsides of having a pool in Australia is it has to be fenced. At least one and a half metres high, unclimbable, with self-closing gates. It’s a legal requirement to reduce the incidence of toddlers drowning in swimming pools, and non-compliance leads to fines. Yeah, yeah. We’re not forced to fence dams, or the ocean, or even garden ponds. We don’t get visits from people with small children and our property is fenced, but that’s irrelevant.

Hey ho. Rant over.

The upside of having the pool fence is that it’s not far from the back of the house and the local birds like to use it to perch. So we built a little feeding platform on it, where we put out bowls of apple juice for the lorikeets, and sometimes some seed for the seed-eating birds. It works like magic, folks. Here’s a few pictures to prove it.

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This is what happens when the alarm call goes up

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Long-billed corella looking handsome

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A young blue-faced honeyeater (that green patch becomes blue as the bird ages)

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A sulphur-crested cockatoo laying claim to the bird seed. That’s a full grown lorikeet he’s bullying

Wet crested pigeon

A crested pigeon in the rain

Jockeying for position

Jockeying for position

Happiness is a new camera #photo

When you get past a certain number of years on the timeline of life you don’t wait for birthdays to give yourself presents. I’ve had a Canon 550D camera for several years now, and it has served me very well, but I’d started to yearn for something better. My favourite subjects are moving birds and whales and there had been a few times when I’d thought I’d captured a stunner, only to find it was slightly out of focus, or fuzzy around the edges.This is an example. It looks great small, but blow it up to full resolution and it’s not quite there.

sea eagle

So when I discovered that a lot of photographers who published their work in National Geographic used the Canon 5D Mark III I went into lust overdrive. After a few sleepless nights I thought what the hell? You can’t take your money to heaven (or hell, for that matter). So I used some of my writing earnings and became the proud owner of a 5D.

It’s a whole new learning curve, but here are a few shots I’ve taken with it so far. I think it’s worth it already.

Hold on tight

Hold on tight

Coming in

Coming in

butterfly on rosemary

butterfly on rosemary

 

 

 

Another day, another dawn #photo

Some of you will know I’m a keen photographer. Of late a new influx of crows has disrupted our sleep. I was awake before dawn, listening to these noisy bloody birds, so I thought I might as well get up and head for the beach to catch the sunrise. The days have been calm, and I was hoping for dead flat water and beautiful reflections. But the northerly wind, forecast to strengthen later in the day, had already whispered across the water. The tide was a little higher, too.

IMG_8900Still, there’s always a picture opportunity. I was delighted to see my old mates the Brahmani kites back on the sand bar at the creek. The light was low, and the bird wasn’t in a chatty mood. Seems he didn’t want to share breakfast.

 

 

Sunrise, when it happened, was through a bank of thin cloud.

sunrise photo

And there’s always somebody trying to hog the spotlight.

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