Tag Archives: birds

A timely rescue

Picture of a Noisy Miner Bird bathing

Noisy Miner Bird bathing

We’ve had a long dry spell of late. The grass is brown and crunchy underfoot, the trees are shedding leaves and everything seems to want a drink. A pair of Pacific black ducks pops into our swimming pool not long after dawn for an early morning splash and the bird bath is a busy spot for everybody. Not that all the smaller birds use the bird bath. It’s set up next to the swimming pool and a few birds prefer the Big Blue. Blue-faced honey eaters and noisy miner birds in particular, prefer the risky but obviously satisfying thrill of bathing in the pool. It doesn’t always work out. I’ve had to rescue quite a few over the years, some lucky enough to attract my attention before they were completely sodden. Some… well, drowning comes at the end.

IMG_4229

Sitting in her towel nest

I’ve seen kookaburras using the swimming pool for a bath but that was many years ago, when we had another long, dry spell.  They’re big strong birds, the largest of the king fishers, so they tend to handle the deep water pretty well. But not always. I’d been reading inside and went out to check the letterbox. On the way back I noticed a bird in the pool, sitting on the flexible pipes that run from the skimmer box down to the automatic pool cleaner. The kookaburra had been in there for a while, its soaked wings dragging in the water.

I approached slowly. Kookaburras have a formidable beak and the bird had opened it. But she didn’t struggle when a scooped her out, lifting her with her body cradled in the palm of my hand. Her wings hung down, absolutely soaked and she had no energy. Usually, if a bird hasn’t been immersed for too long I can put them into a tree, where their claws will automatically latch onto the branch without them being conscious of it. But this bird was past even that. So we dabbed her dry with a towel and then  I sat in a chair with her propped up in a towel-nest on my lap. That way she was protected from other birds who might attack a predator in a weak state, and the warmth of my body would help her to recover.

I sat like that for about half an hour, aware of her body moving as she breathed, until she began to stir a little. Then I set her up in her towel nest on the chair to give her a chance to decide what to do next without having the great big human to contend with. I kept an eye on her, though. After another ten minutes she moved to the arm of the chair and then up onto the canvas back.

On the back of the canvas chair

On the back of the canvas chair

Ten minutes later, she’d moved to the clothesline in the sun and breeze, moving her wings to dry the underparts. And then she was gone, off to tell the family about her frightening experience.

Drying her wings on the clothesline

Drying her wings on the clothesline

Two days later, three kookaburras turned up on the pool fence, happy to accept some meat scraps. Life’s hard for the predators at the moment. The worms are buried deep in the dry soil, the frogs and lizards are in hiding. I think they were happy to accept some help. Oh, and two of them went for a quick bath in the pool before they went home to bed.

I’ve called the kookaburra ‘she’ but I really don’t know. There is no discernible difference between the sexes, as far as I know.

And yes, it felt good to know I’d done a small thing to help the wild creatures in my neighbourhood. Very good.

 

Ord River buzz

A lake ArgyleThe highlight of our visit to Kununurra was a trip on the Ord River. After all, without the Ord River, Kununurra wouldn’t exist. The town was created in the sixties, when one of the visionary Duracks, who originally opened up the area, persuaded the Government to dam the river. If you’ve been following my journey, you’d know that year-round water is a huge problem up here. There’s the Wet and the Dry, and the Wet is very, very wet and the Dry is very, very dry. In between there’s fire, which clears the land ready for the next wet. But traditional crops like wheat, cotton and sugar cane don’t grow like that. So a dam was built and Lake Argyle was created. You can read all about it here.

It’s hard to give an idea of size when talking about lakes and things. I’ve often heard descriptions involving Olympic sized swimming pools and football fields. But sometimes even they become insignificant. In Australia we have our own term of measurement – Sydney Harbours. Sydney Harbour holds a big lot of Olympic swimming pools (don’t ask me how many) so we have an idea that’s an enormous amount of water. Lake Argyle holds about 15 Sydney Harbours in normal times. At the height of the 2011 floods it held 44 Sydney Harbours and the flow over the diversion dam that feeds the irrigation area is also measured in Sydney Harbours.

Yes, there’s irrigation, but the other use for all that water is hydro electricity, which requires steady water flow over the turbines. So the line of isolated waterholes that used to mark the course of the Ord River in the Dry is now a fast flowing, all year river.

That’s it for context, folks. Let the journey begin. We caught a bus up to the main dam, stopping for a scenic glimpse of the lake. From there, we piled onto a jet boat – very fast, with very shallow draft to get over the shallow, rocky bits, but able to drift very comfortably in the deep bits. And off we went. The very knowledgeable driver stopped often to let us take pictures of wildlife and reflections.

A rock wallaby3

A rock wallaby watches us from high on a vertical rock wall. They are very agile little critters.

A reflections6

Red rock, blue sky, water. Gorgeous.

A reflections5

We stopped for afternoon tea. This was taken from the river bank in late afternoon light.

A reflections1

Paperbarks line the bank.

A pelicans

A pair of pelicans enjoy the sunlight

A croc

A Johnson river crocodile basks on a reed bed

Guys, this was the bestest trip. Loved the boat, loved the river, loved the red rock almost glowing in the sunlight, loved the reflections, the bird life, the crocs, the botany lessons. If you get a chance, go do it. And at the end, back at Kununurra, we watched the sunset from the boat.

A sunset1

How does Superman fly?

Osprey flyingI used to love Superman when I was a kid. I enjoyed the TV series, when Superman wore what looked like woolen undies over his tights and I quite enjoyed the movies. The special effects were much better, of course. Chris Reeves didn’t look like he was standing, one fist out, in a wind tunnel.

I’ve no particular interest in seeing Man of Steel, but the release of this new movie, in which several of the core assumptions percolating through from the comics have been ignored, has got me to thinking.

What is Supe’s most amazing power? I have to tell you, for me it’s his ability to cause selective myopia in all humans. You know what I mean. He puts on a pair of clear glass specs and nobody seems to be able to work out that Clark Kent (mild mannered reporter) is really Superman. As an aside, I recall reading a comic where Superman insisted that the photo of him the Burmese government used for a stamp had to be side on, not facing the camera. And why was this? Because the stamp might be post marked ‘Rangoon’ and the double O might have formed glasses over his eyes. Gosh.

Anyway, back to Superman’s powers. How does he fly?

Think about it. What flies – or floats in the air? Gas rises in air if it has a lower density than the air. So hot air, helium, hydrogen, smoke, water vapour etc. Birds fly by flapping their wings, creating an area of lower pressure above their wings http://askabiologist.asu.edu/how-do-birds-fly. That’s what aircraft do, too. I guess magnetism is a contender if you don’t want to fly too high. Rockets have explosive propulsion at their rear, using brute force to overcome gravity. Of these, rockets are the only ones able to pass beyond the planetary atmosphere. As the atmosphere thins and becomes colder balloons burst, water vapour condenses, jet engines have nothing to push against. Yet Superman can ‘fly’ in space – without a protective suit or breathing apparatus. Unlike Ironman, who has the suit and jets and things.

So okay, let’s accept Supe can levitate. That current magician, Dynamo, claims to be able to do that and some mystics have been reported to be able to achieve the feat. But getting up there is only part of the deal. Then you have to move. Birds and planes can glide and change direction by changing directions. They can go faster by applying more energy. But balloons are at the mercy of the wind. And while winds can be brutally fast, they’re not as fast as Superman. (faster than a speeding bullet, in fact and with more power than a locomotive). So now somebody will trot out the Alien card. Sorry, it doesn’t work for me. Kal El looks just like us. I’ve never seen any suggestion he’s a shape change, like the Thing. But hey! Maybe that’s the deal! He can be anything he wants to be, yet we’ll all see this well built hunk of a man with a rippling cloak, even when he’s emulating a speeding bullet. Cool. Somebody whould write a story.

It’s a bit of fun, folks. Tell me who has your favourite super power. Or explain to me how YOU think Superman flies?

The mystery of the nest box

Loss of old trees has meant a loss of nesting hollows for many Australian animals. My husband and I have tried to do our bit by putting up nest boxes in a few places. We’re still waiting for the microbats to find their little house, high up in the eaves. The other boxes were built for medium sized birds, like lorikeets and rosellas. One nest box with a larger opening has been occupied by the local possum, but we have two up-market apartments still vacant. One is next to where the possum lives, so I expect that’s ruined the neighbourhood. But the one on the other side of the pool, attached to a palm tree, is a mystery.

A pair of rosellas showed some interest, then the box was ignored. Until recently. One day, I thought something had moved in, but I checked with binoculars and it was just the light striking the inside of the box. But wait a minute – the entrance hole had been chewed. It wasn’t flaking paint and if you looked closely, you could almost see claw marks.picture of nest box

What was it?

Not parrots or day birds. They went up there, for sure, because the palm was in flower, and everyone loves palm nectar. The birds would sit on top of the box, but I never saw anything going in, or coming out, and there was no wear on the perch. Sure, the possum went up there to feed at night, but she wouldn’t fit in that hole. Besides, there was no sign of hair on the wood.

An owl? Microbats? I’ve looked for droppings, but there’s nothing. Besides, the box doesn’t bother the birds at all. They’ll sit on top to take nectar from the palm flowers.

picture of 2 parrots looking at nest boxThis morning, a pair of lorikeets showed some interest. Here they are, inspecting the premises. One bird spent a lot of time actually putting his head in there. One picture seems to show he was unimpressed and maybe a bit fearful – but he put his head in, again.

picture of Lorikeets inspecting nest boxpicture of bird reacting to next boxpicture of bird with head in nest boxIt’s absolutely intriguing. Sure, we could get a ladder and look in through the top, but that’s not very neighbourly, is it? And who knows? Maybe we’ll get to hear the clitter-clatter of tiny claws some time. Wouldn’t that be nice?

By the way, any suggestions regarding the tenants would be welcome.

Always check your battery BEFORE you go out

picture of Brahmani kite in coniferA walk down the beach is about my favourite form of exercise, one I’m privileged to be able to indulge regularly. These days, I always have my camera by my side, ready for a photo opportunity. But this day was… well, I have to say it, ordinary. Grey and dull, with small waves chopping up the surface. The wildlife seemed to have stayed in bed, even the seagulls and terns which regularly patrol the shallows. The thing is, though, you never can tell what may arise. Many’s the day when I thought ho hum – and then something magical occurred.

Like this.

On the way back, I spotted one of my regular photographic subjects, a Brahmani kite, perched in a conifer. There he is at left. It was a different environment from their usual haunts and these majestic birds are always worth a photo, so I approached, camera ready. I took two shots, then Pete called out “look behind you” at the same time that I heard whistles from the trees beside me. The kites had a nest and the second parent bird was bringing in a fish to the nestling, a few handspans above my head. Oh, wow. I spun around, firing shots. One, two, three… bloody hell. The camera refused to work! The second bird took off, joining its mate as they circled down to the (invisible) nest. Bugger bugger bugger. The camera’s battery was flat. (Insert a string of profanities of your choice)

Picture of kite with fishOh well. It was a joy to behold and I got a few nice photos out of it. And I knew where the nest was.

Birds grow very quickly and this young Brahmani kite was no exception. On our next visit, two days later, we saw him launch from the nest, chased by an irate blue-faced honeyeater. The parent bird had landed on rocks exposed at low tide and waited for the youngster to make its way out there.Picture of young kite being chased by a honeyeater

As you can see, the young bird’s plumage is very different to the elegant mature bird – but it would have been camouflaged in the nest.

And the moral of this story is… patience is a virtue. And make sure your battery’s charged before you go out.

Picture of kite landing on rocks

Picture of adult kite with youngster on rocks

With the rain comes the rainbow birds

Picture of Birds on a fenceWe’ve had a lot of unseasonal rain lately, causing a change in our bird visitors. Every garden has its locals and our’s is no different. We have a colony of noisy miner birds, a bunch of butcher birds that come over regularly for pieces of bacon rind, a few pee wees, crested pigeons and turtle doves, all on the scrounge for bits of bread or fruit. Sometimes (maybe once every ten days or so) we’re visited by rainbow lorikeets, who like a piece of left over bread. There’s one couple (they usually come in pairs) that seem to be regulars. We can tell by their behaviour, not appearance. They’re not afraid of us and they see off any intruders of their own kind as if our yard is their territory.

When it rains, the lorikeets come in numbers. I guess it’s harder to find nectar and seeds when the water is trickling down between your feathers. And I expect they get cold, too.

So… when it rains we have scenes like this.

 

They become quite aggressive. After all, free food is a scarce commodity.

 

Yesterday, I decided to test how trusting the birds really were. And here’s your answer. I offered my piece of bread to the pair I thought were our regulars, they accepted, then everybody came to join in. Wild birds all, just some of the thousands upon thousands around the town. It was a blast. And a privilege.

When the universe tugs at your lead…

I hadn’t intended to write a photography blog so soon after my debut yesterday. But sometimes the universe jerks your lead and you just have to go along with the tug.

I went to the beach this morning, my trusty camera in hand. It looked like a nice day and I hoped I might catch up with a few of my feathered friends. Some of them have become friends, although I’ll forgive you for not believing me. Some, I swear, love to have their picture taken and seek me out when I arrive.

Eagle with snake in its talons

Today the Brahmani Kite was out on the tidal flat at Tooan-tooan creek but he’d caught a sea snake for dinner and was soon off to a safer haunt, no doubt to a perch above the creek where he often goes.

So I wandered on, up the beach. In the distance a bird bathing in the shallows caught my eye so I went to see. It was another friend, one of the pair of ospreys, a largish sea eagle. I’d been hoping to catch up with it this morning but I hadn’t anticipated the treat I had in store.

Osprey bathing

He flapped around in the shallows just like any duck, getting the water through his feathers, preening between dousing.

Osprey Drying wings

When he’d had enough, he set about drying his wings, flapping them about while he stood in the water

The osprey leaps into the air

Then he was off. A mighty leap into the air with a massive down beat of those powerful wings

Osprey flying

He swept away, over the beach and around the bay to search for lunch, I guess.

I’m so lucky to see these things. Share by all means – but acknowledge my copyright.