Billabong Sanctuary

Waterbirds on the edge of the lagoon at Billabong Sanctuary
Waterbirds on an island in the lagoon

One of the nice things about having an out-of-town guest is having an excuse to revisit local attractions. Billabong Sanctuary is one I hadn’t been to for years, until yesterday. It concentrates on Australian, especially northern, wildlife, and the fact that it is centred on a large lagoon makes waterbirds a constant presence even if the large reptiles – you know, the snappy logs (and if you don’t know, you will have to wait) – are the main attraction to most visitors.

The photo above gives a hint of their numbers. Most of the bigger birds in it are the familiar White Ibis and the smaller ones are mainly Whistling Ducks, but I am sure there are other species amongst them. I saw so many different birds in our half-day at the Sanctuary that I will put them in another post, but I will leave you, for now, with the one that made me laugh:

Looks like a black and white feathered football
– ? –




Rainbow bee-eater

Rainbow Bee-eater perched on power line
Rainbow Bee-eater, Merops ornatus

The Rainbow Bee-eater is a beautiful bird whose closest relations in Australia are Kingfishers and Kookaburras. (There are other bee-eaters overseas, but not here.) It is rather smaller than the Kookaburra but has similarly predatory habits – as its name suggests, it specialises in flying insects, which it takes on the wing.

I have seen them quite often in parklands near home but this, the first good photo I have obtained, was taken from my front gate; the bird was perching on our power line to eat his prey. (I saw him spit out the crackly bits afterwards, too, but just missed the shot!)

When I uploaded my picture of the Brown Honeyeater I mentioned the need for longer lenses for bird photography, and this and my recent Flying Fox photos are proof – taken with a borrowed 50-250 zoom lens, they show much more detail than I could have obtained with my 100mm lens.

More about bee-eaters: Birds in Backyards or Wikipedia.

Afterword: Well, I posted the above on Saturday morning and then decided to go down to Pallarenda and the Town Common because it was far too nice a day to spend indoors. While I was walking back along the track through the Common late in the afternoon I saw another Bee-eater fly in to perch in a tree ahead of me. He was kind enough to stay for his portrait, too. It was already a good day, but that made it even better.

Brown honeyeater

Brown Honeyeater in bottlebrush tree
Brown Honeyeater in bottlebrush tree

We have a lot of birds in our garden, attracted by the constant supply of flowering plants and the tangles of shrubby plants to hide in. Hibiscuses provide both, year round, but the bottlebrush is also a great refuge for shy little birds like this Brown Honeyeater, Lichmera indistincta (Meliphagidae), and we have a resident population.

I find the birds harder to photograph than the insects, because they are warier. A longer lens would help, and I have just borrowed a 55 – 250 mm zoom to see how much better it is. Expert bird photographers like Ian Montgomery would rarely use anything as short as 250 mm, of course (‘Start with a 400,’ he told me when I raised the question once, if I remember correctly), but I’ll work my way up gradually.