A garden full of birds

grey-brown bird

White-gaped Honeyeater

The Dry season always brings more birds to our garden. We’re well into it now, with no rain at all in the last month, and yes, we have birds. This morning, in a total of perhaps an hour in the garden, I saw Helmeted Friarbirds, Blue-faced Honeyeaters, White-gaped Honeyeaters, Brown Honeyeaters, Peaceful Doves and a White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike, all of which are residents or frequent visitors (links take you to previous posts about them).

brown bird in tree

Probably a young Little Friarbird

There’s always something different, however, and today I saw not only a Figbird, an infrequent visitor, but what I think must have been a juvenile Little FriarbirdPhilemon citreogularis.

In some of the other photos I took it is clear that this bird, about the same size as the White-gaped Honeyeater above, has bare grey cheeks and a strong patch of yellow under the chin. Its back was a plain mid-brown. Friarbirds, of course, are members of the Honeyeater family, Melphagidae, so the points of resemblance to our other honeyeaters do point towards my ID. If that’s really what it was, it was my first sighting of the species in my garden.

I also saw a hawk and a White Ibis this morning but they were so high overhead that I can’t really claim them as “in” my garden. Still, seeing ten species this easily isn’t too bad, and adding to my running total of well over 50 is always pleasing.

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Athens

dry hills

The view from Athens airport

Flying into Athens for the first time felt a bit weird because the landscape was so much like that of Townsville: the bright sky, the nearly-bare hills and the parched vegetation we could see from the plane created a near-deja-vu experience: “We flew all this way and nothing has changed?” (The airport itself didn’t do much to alleviate that, either, since it was much more like ours than Dubai’s or Singapore’s.)

The coast near Piraeus

The coast near Piraeus

A tourist-bus ride around the city and down to the port of Piraeus showed us that the city is indeed different but that its setting is rather similar. The hills beyond Piraeus could almost be the hills beyond Ross Dam, were it not for the encroaching suburbs.

Looking down from the Acropolis

Looking down from the Acropolis with the Roman theatre in the foreground

Athens even has its own Castle Hill, rising from the centre of the old city and providing wonderful views; it’s not as big as our Castle Hill but is a little better known. The locals call it “The Acropolis”.

The Acropolis Hill rising above Monastiraki

The Acropolis Hill rising above Monastiraki

One of the things we only really learn by visiting a place is how big it is: walking around a building or a city gives us a far better sense of it than looking at photos.

The Acropolis Hill is big enough to dominate the skyline anywhere in the central city but small enough that an energetic tourist can walk right around its base, stopping to look at all sorts of ruins and museums, in a day – and we did just that, simply by rambling at will until it became clear from our map that it was easier to keep going than to back-track.

Part of our walk, up to a lookout on the top of Areopagus Hill, turned out to be a route popular with locals. We continued down and around the Southern side of the Acropolis Hill, past the Roman theatre to the new Acropolis Museum a short distance away from the hill, back towards the hill to see the (classical Greek) Theatre of Dionysus (see Wikipedia), and finally around the Eastern end of the hill and back into Monastiraki for dinner. This map shows the territory and this page in my “Gallery Crawl” section presents more about the Acropolis itself.

Athens

Locals and tourists enjoying the view from the crest of Areopagus Hill

amphitheatre

Theatre of Dionysus, fourth century BC

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Crested Hawk

bird in tree

Forced out into the sunshine

I heard some agitation amongst birds in my garden this morning and, looking for its source, I saw signs of a commotion high inside the canopy of our huge old mango tree. I grabbed my camera and watched until a large grey bird emerged, harassed by a few smaller birds, and perched on the tip of branch. The smaller birds (probably White-gapped Honeyeaters, from their alarm calls, but I didn’t see them clearly) quickly gave up the pursuit, allowing their victim to sit and gaze around.

It was clearly a hawk – the hooked beak and huge golden eyes were giveaway enough – but it was one I have never before seen in the garden and only glimpsed elsewhere. Checking Slaters Field Guide afterwards confirmed its identity as a Crested Hawk or Pacific Baza, Aviceda subcristata. The guide book calls it “uncommon to rare” in coastal regions from NSW around to the Kimberley. It is our only crested hawk, so exact identification is easy, and it is about the size of a magpie or kookaburra. Bazas are supposed to feed on frogs, insects and fruit in the treetops but I think this one must have been threatening the honeyeaters’ nest.

grey bird on twig

Looking out from a high branch

It stayed around for long enough to move higher in the mango tree and back again, looking all around from each vantage point before (perhaps) deciding that eggs were not on the menu and flying off.

bird on mango tree

Hmm … I wonder …

I saw another, larger bird of prey soaring high overhead before I put the camera away. It turned out to be a Brahminy Kite, another very handsome bird with its chestnut wings and white head, but it was too far away for a good shot; here is a photo of one on Birdway.

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Townsville update

It is six weeks since this blog has mentioned Townsville or any other part of North Queensland, but plenty has been happening whether I have been there for it or not. I still want to write a little more about Europe but, first, here is some local news.

Strand Ephemera 2015 coincided, deliberately or not, with the Australian Festival of Chamber Music. Locals with day jobs trying to get to the AFCM may have had trouble squeezing in a visit to the Strand but I’m sure our visiting AFCM aficionados loved the free show. I hope to put up some of my photos soon; for now, visit this page for more about Ephemera.

Umbrella Studio has a small (stairwell space) exhibition with an environmental theme, Mapping Climate Change. I know that the opening this evening (with two other shows in the Studio) will be the first chance to see it, but even its FB page doesn’t seem to show a closing date … better get along soon to make sure you don’t miss it.

Meanwhile, Wildlife Queensland folk (including me) have enjoyed another of their (our) regular field trips, this time to the beach near AIMS. The branch blog has a full report here and information about the next trip, to Rowes Bay at low tide on Sunday 30 August, here. For more environmental news in the region – cassowaries, the passing of Felicity Wishart, a coal and climate change forum, etc, see the home page of WQ Townsville.

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Lefkada

village

The village of Karya, nestled in the hills of Lefkada

Lefkada is a large island just off the west coast of Greece. I hadn’t heard of it until friends moved there a couple of years ago, although I had known and loved its nearest neighbour, Corfu, ever since I read Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals as a child. Our friends settled in Karya, a village in the mountains above the island’s main town and we visited them there in late June before going on to Italy (previous posts).

The weather was gorgeous and we enjoyed a couple of long walks, one down the hill to visit their donkey and the other up the hill just because it was a nice thing to do. There were some spectacular views:

Meganisi

Looking south-east over the coastal village of Nydri to Meganisi and the mainland.

olive trees

Olives on the terraced hillside above Karya

Our host pointed out that what we were seeing was essentially a ‘man-made landscape’ after so long a period of human occupation. Olive trees dominate the vegetation, a pine forest on the mountain side was planted within living memory, watercourses have been channelled and diverted over the whole history of habitation, and every cultivated plant which the climate suits has gradually spread over the whole island while every useful or decorative local plant has been cultivated and bred for its fruit or flowers. The distinctions between ‘native’ and ‘exotic’, and between ‘natural’ and ‘artificial’, which are so clear in Australian landscapes, are almost invisible in Lefkada.

That’s largely true in the rest of Europe and large parts of Asia, too, of course, but particularly true in the eastern Mediterranean because of its very long period of continuous occupation – the archaeological museum in Lefkada, for instance, displays local finds which date back to the Paleolithic period.

The lovely early summer weather meant that I came back from our walks with a good collection of insect photos, some of which are now in an album on Flickr; clicking on the sample below will take you straight to it.

insect

A colourful katydid on Lefkada

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