Great Egret

Great Egret, Ardea alba, fishing in Ross River
Gotcha! Great Egret, Ardea alba, fishing in Ross River

The nearest part of Ross River is only two blocks from home and a bike path and a strip of parkland extend several kilometres both upstream and downstream so it’s always good for a walk with a friend and/or a camera.

Waterbirds are common along the river banks. This Great Egret flew in from the direction of Mount Stuart to land in the shallows for a spot of fishing before dark. You can call it either a Great Egret, Ardea alba modesta, or an Eastern Great Egret, Ardea modesta, depending on which authority you prefer to accept. Either way, it is the largest of the four (sub)species and is found from Australasia through SE Asia to India, while the others are found in Africa, Europe and the Americas.

Great Egret, Ardea alba, in Ross River shallows
Ready to try again.

We have several smaller species of egret: Cattle, Reef, Little and Intermediate. All are slim white wading birds but only the Intermediate is large enough to be readily confused with the Great, which stands nearly a metre tall. They often do stand tall, too, e.g. here is my egret looking around before starting to hunt.

Swallows in flight

Swallow in flight
Welcome Swallow (Hirundo neoxena) in flight

I mentioned a while ago that I had found occasions to visit the Ross River parklands late in the afternoon. While I was there I amused myself by seeing whether I could get photos of swallows in flight. The challenge, of course, is that they are so fast and so unpredictable as they hunt on the wing; but a lot of them were in the air and I found a zone which they frequently passed through, set my focus on the centre of the zone and waited … and missed most of my shots.

But a missed shot with digital camera costs nothing but time, and I had plenty of that, so the occasional successes, like the one above, made it an enjoyable challenge.

Ross River parklands

View of Ross River meanders at dusk
Ross River at dusk

In the past week I have found several opportunities to wander along the Ross River parklands near home in the late afternoon or early evening. Much of the stretch between Aplin’s Weir and the Bowen Road bridge is similar to what you see in the photograph above: a relatively narrow channel meandering between grassy mounds which are often under water in the Wet season, with a high bank on the Mundingburra side.

I wrote about the Sea Eagles and other birds not long ago, but there are insects to be seen as well. This afternoon’s haul was fairly typical for the time of year and time of day: one skinny green-brown sap-sucker (Hemiptera) on a shrub, one beautiful Glasswing perched head-high on a grass head, lots of tiny blue-brown Lycaenid butterflies ankle-high amongst the grass, and one orb-weaving spider hoping (no doubt) to catch some of them.

Glasswing butterfly
Lycaenid butterfly
Family: Lycaenidae

Sea Eagles along Ross River

I took my camera down to the Ross River parklands a few days ago and was amazed by the bird life. (It’s funny how every photo looks like a bird when your lens is a telephoto!)

In the space of an hour or less I saw a White-faced Heron, a Plover, Welcome Swallows, a Rainbow Bee-eater, Magpie-larks, Peaceful Doves and a Cuckoo-shrike – but they all seemed insignificant after I saw the pair of Sea Eagles patrolling along the river.

Sea Eagle perched in tree
White-bellied Sea Eagle, Haliaaetus leucogaster

They are very big, powerful birds – something you only really see at close range, which is a rare privilege. Slater’s Field Guide gives their body length as 76 – 84 cm, as compared to the Brahminy Kite at 45 – 50 cm; only the Wedge-tailed Eagle (90 – 100 cm) is bigger.

The very red dragonfly

After my Morning on Mount Stuart I arrived in town at morning tea time. It was too nice a day to sit indoors without good reason and I still had some coffee and fruit with me so I stopped off in the parkland beside Ross River, looking back up to Mt Stuart (the lookout mentioned in my previous post is at the foot of the radio towers).

View of Mt Stuart from Ross River parkland
View of Mt Stuart from Ross River parkland

The insects were enjoying the sunshine as much as I was: innumerable tiny grass moths, so many that a dozen would fly up at every footstep; a couple of larger moths, Utetheisa and Nyctemera; half a dozen species of butterfly, including the Bush Brown and Eurema I had seen on top of the mountain; a couple of kinds of spider; a native bee, Amegilla sp., with its distinctive blue tail; green ants (I felt them before I saw them!); and several dragonflies.

One of the dragonflies was the reddest possible – bright red abdomen, thorax, face, eyes, and even some of the veins in its wings. Another, about the same size, was a dull orange-tan. When I got home I discovered that it was the female of the same species (the fine dark line down the abdomen, with wider blotches, was the confirmation). Here they are, then – the Scarlet Percher Dragonfly, Diplacodes haematodes, male and female. As usual, clicking on the pictures will take you to a larger image.

Bright red dragonfly, Scarlet percher male, on dry grass
Scarlet percher male
Scarlet percher dragonfly, female, on dry grass
Scarlet percher female