Birds in Eungella National Park

grey bird
Grey Shrike-thrush, Colluricincla harmonica, posing for his portrait on the end of the picnic table

One of the delights of my visit to Eungella National Park was the bird-watching – there were so many birds, and so many of them were new to me.

yellow-breasted bird
Eastern Yellow Robin, Eopsaltria australis, in the picnic ground

Yellow Robins were always in sight around the picnic grounds and other open spaces. They are a little smaller than the Shrike-thrush.


A few more photos of these two species – click on the thumbnails, as usual, for larger versions.

grey bird with large spider
Grey Shrike-thrush, Colluricincla harmonica, with a huntsman it had just plucked from the rafters of the picnic shelter
grey bird at picnic table
Grey Shrike-thrush raiding my plate for crumbs
grey and yellow bird
Eastern Yellow Robin in characteristic pose, perched sideways on a tree-trunk

close-up of bird with red face and yellow neck
Scrub Turkey, Alectura lathami, on my picnic table

It’s one thing to have a mynah-sized Shrike-thrush timidly approach the picnic table for a few crumbs. It’s quite another to have such a big, bulky bird as a Scrub Turkey strut into the shelter to hop onto the seat opposite me and then onto the table itself with the clear intention of making off with anything that took its fancy, but it did give me some fine close-ups.

black and white bird on log with wings spread
Little Pied Cormorant, Phalacrocorax melanoleucos, drying off after fishing in the river
blue and buff bird on log in river
Azure Kingfisher, Alcedo azurea, on the same log as the cormorant, highlighting the gorgeous bird’s diminutive stature

Yellow Robins and Kookaburras liked the trees along the river banks but these two are genuine water birds. The Azure Kingfisher, a little smaller than Forest or Sacred, was my first; Slater’s Field Guide describes the species as an “uncommon resident along creeks, rivers and mangroves” in northern and eastern Australia.

small grey bird on twig
This tiny bird (10cm, wren-size) is a thornbill, most likely a Buff-rumped Thornbill, Acanthiza reguloides

With this little bird I move into the “unknowns” – birds not seen clearly enough for a good photo or even proper identification. There were honeyeaters in the bottlebrush trees around the camping ground, Sulphur-crested Cockatoos in the distance, a swamp-hen or one of its relations on the river, a dove or pigeon that I only saw as a silhouette against the sky, and half-sightings of birds in the rainforest gloom. One of these may have been a Pale-yellow Robin, Lemon-bellied Flycatcher or another thornbill; another was probably a Spectacled Monarch.

I will take this opportunity to recommend an excellent resource for amateur bird-watchers (and that does include me!), the Bird-finder on the Birds in Backyards site. Just go to http://www.birdsinbackyards.net/finder, click on a few characteristics such as approximate size, colour/s and overall shape, and the clever software will come up with a list of possibilities with thumbnail images and links to species pages. It’s particularly useful when you have no idea which family your bird may belong to, since sites like Ian Montgomery’s Birdway and field guide books like Slaters’ are organised, logically enough, by family and genus.

Seals and Cormorants on Bruny Island

During my recent Tasmanian holiday I spent most of a day on Bruny Island, off the south-central coast of Tasmania (map). Its two halves are separated by a remarkably high, narrow isthmus and the northern part of the island is mostly farming land while the southern part is mostly wilderness.

bay, jetty, powerboats
Adventure Bay with boats like ours

The eastern coast, facing the D’entrecasteaux Channel, is protected but the south-west coast is exposed to the rigours of the Southern Ocean and is dramatically rugged, with high cliffs, sea caves, rocky islets and off-shore rock stacks. We took a small-boat cruise from pretty, tranquil Adventure Bay down to the islets off the southern tip of the island, hugging the coast on the way down to see the scenery and the wildlife and travelling almost straight back.

Bruny Island cliffs
Beyond the bay – Bruny Island cliffs

From a wildlife point of view the highlights of the cruise were the Black-faced Cormorants and the Fur Seals, both of which are restricted to southern coastlines.

black and white birds on rock slope
Black-faced Cormorants in a typical cliff-side roosting area
birds on rock
Close-up of Black-faced Cormorants

The Black-faced Cormorant, Phalacrocorax fuscescens, is the least common of Australia’s five species of cormorant and I have put a couple more photos of them here.

The Australian Fur Seal, Arctocephalus pusillus doriferus, has close cousins in South Africa (another sub-species of A. pusillus), New Zealand and Antarctic waters (other species in the same genus), as per this page on the site of the federal Department of the Environment and this one from the Australian Museum.

seal colony
A typical haul-out location, a flattish rock platform
seal at ease on a bed of kelp
At ease on a bed of kelp
two large seals facing each other
Chat or challenge?
rocky islet with seals
A dozen seals have chosen the platform at the foot of this crag as a resting place

Winter in Townsville

Mt Stuart
Looking across Ross River to Mount Stuart

When we returned from our holidays, just three weeks ago now, we came back to winter weather. The whole town looked dry – any grass that hadn’t been watered regularly was dry and brown, and shrubs and trees looked parched. Townsville does tend to look dry compared to most places, most times, but more so in winter because we can go months without significant rain. This year, for instance, we had 30 mm in May but have had only 5 mm in the two months since then. There have been grass fires as usual; notice the burnt area of riverbank in the foreground of the photo above.

I took that shot from parkland near Ross Creek, a spot I have previously posted about here and here. Here are more from that visit two weeks ago:

line of black birds on sandy bank
A flock of Cormorants on the bank of Ross Creek

We are seeing more birds as they move from inland areas towards the coast. The flock of cormorants above is a bit unusual in two ways: there are a lot of birds and they are all of the same species, Little Black Cormorants, Phalacrocorax sulcirostris. They are more commonly seen in mixed flocks with Pied Cormorants, Darters, etc. When I got too close to this lot, they went for the safety of the water:

Cormorant splash
Cormorant splash

There was also a flock of pigeons, doing exactly what they evolved to do in the environment they evolved to inhabit – foraging for grain in grassland. It’s a much better place for them than urban roof-tops and window-ledges!

Pigeons in grassland
Pigeons in grassland

Birdwatching with the Conservation Volunteers

View across the Common from the elevated hide. Cattle Egrets in foreground
View across the Common, with Cattle Egrets in foreground

Conservation Volunteers Australia has a new summer programme (pdf here) of excursions open to everyone and we went along to one this morning – birdwatching on the Town Common. A CVA worker met us at the park gate and took us or led us, by mini-bus or our own cars, to the bird hides where members of the Bird Observers Club were waiting with identification checklists and telescopes.

It was my first visit to the bird hides on the Common and I was impressed by their siting and construction. From the first of them we saw Pelicans, Black Cormorants and a young Jabiru quite close to us, with the adult Jabiru and some Brolgas in the distance. Here are Black Cormorant (represented by a neck sticking up out of the water) and Pelicans fishing together. The Cormorant are divers while the Pelican spear from above, so each scares prey towards the other – a win-win strategy, except from the prey’s point of view.

Pelicans and Cormorant
Pelicans and Cormorant fishing together

From the second, elevated, hide we saw dozens of Cattle Egrets and a scattering of other birds – Glossy Ibis, Jabiru and Brolga, Honeyeaters, Grebes – as in the top picture. I didn’t use my checklist but I know I saw several more species, too.

The children with the group enjoying ticking off their checklist and some of them were very good at spotting birds for us. Right at the beginning, while we were waiting at the gate for the group to assemble, one of them pointed out a family of Tawny Frogmouths – adult and two well-grown chicks – in a pandanus palm ten metres from the road.