Sunday, 21 June 2020

Superb Fruit Dove - Again!

female Superb Fruit dove
Here on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland it is generally rare to have rarities. And, as a result, it is rare to have the opportunity to twitch.

  TWITCH (v)

To go chasing after a rare bird, or a bird that is not on your life-list.

But recently in our 'Zone of Happiness' * two different pigeon species have been located and it has created somewhat of a stir.

The two birds?

The first a Superb Fruit Dove. This bird is generally an uncommon bird on the Sunshine Coast in Summer. It was located at Gardner Falls near the Blackall Range village of Maleny. The bird, surprisingly, was easy to find as it was feeding low in a variety of the introduced Privet bushes. When you examine the pictures you will note that the bird could prove difficult to find while feeding in the foliage, particularly if high.
Fruit dove Feasting on the fruits of an introduced tree

The second is a Torresian Imperial Pigeon located near the David Lowe Way. Now this bird is a long way from its normal distribution; some 1000 kilometres further north one should travel before this is an expected specie. Non birding locals claim that this bird has been flying around for nearly twelve months while it has remained embarrassingly invisible to the birding community.

So I felt obliged to twitch the pair.

First target was the Superb. On a semi soaked Saturday I waited much of the day until the rain had subsided before I set out. Braver folks had set out earlier and I saw their successes through the pages of Facebook. It was an anxious first fifty minutes after arrival; the alleged easy bird was playing stay unseen and it was definitely winning. Finally I found it feeding in a small shrub across the creek. Several poor shots later it stood up and flew thankfully to my side of the creek where I enjoyed plenty of good views!

So first target - SUCCESS!

Superb 'having a moment'
Sunday morning was surprisingly fine so I ventured down to the Twin Waters area where the TIP [Torresian Imperial Pigeon] had been recorded. The strategy was simple; stroll the suburbs and keep eyes open, especially concentrating on any potential feed trees, conspicuous roost sites in tall trees, TV antennas and powerlines. Adorned  with binoculars and camera I had not strolled for long when I was first accosted by a local. "You lookin' for the big white bird?" After a bit of a chat he acknowledged that the TIP has, in fact, been a resident for many months, and it had gone 'thataway', a direction being demonstrated with a flick of a wrist. 'Others have been looking too", he added [perhaps unnecessarily].

Another lady, upon seeing me yelled out she had seen it this morning. 'Sat atop that TV antenna,' she claimed. 'I photographed it before I had my shower,' she added just a little insensitively.

The third local came marching out at me almost in a 'get off my lawn' sort of attitude.. He was fine though demanding to know if I was searching for a big white bird. Yes, he had seen it. Many times and he helpfully pointed out the exact tree it had been perching politely in.

So, I was in the right place.

I saw Crested Pigeons, Spotted Doves, Noisy Miners, Brown, Scarlet and Blue faced Honeyeaters, Welcome Swallows, Figbirds, Pied and Grey Butcherbirds, Rainbow and Scaly breasted Lorikeets, Magpies and Pied Currawongs, White breasted Sea Eagle, Brahminy, whistling and a distant Black Kite, Rainbow Bee-eaters   but not the bird I was looking for... Nobody likes a Dip.

DIP (n)

A rare bird that a birder missed seeing.


* Zone of Happiness - an area defined on the Sunshine Coast Birdlife page on Facebook. The entire area of interest. Search for it on Facebook!

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Saturday, 13 June 2020

Bring on Birding - Additional joys!

Bar bellied Pitta - one of the great birds seen in Cambodia

There are more reasons for birding than were previously mentioned [and I am sure every time my brain drifts in this direction there will be other reasons].

Another is the fact that mastery is never, ever, achieved. The study of birds, therefore, is practically infinite.

No-one will ever see all of the birds.

Cactus Wren - one of the great birds seen in the USA!
No-one will ever witness all of their behaviours.

Red legged Honeycreeper - one of the great birds seen in Costa Rica!

No-one will ever hear, let alone learn, every call or song.

Cape Longclaw - a great bird from South Africa

To go birding is to learn something new - no matter how many times you have gone before.

Speaking of learning, which as a secondary school teacher I do often, birding is a great bridge to learning, not only about birds, but every other aspect of natural history. Birding shoves the door open to learning about ethology, ecology, taxonomy, evolution, botany. It encourages examination of other fascinating life forms; mammals, reptiles and our fantastic frogs. It invites reflection about vegetation patterns. It demands that you concern yourself with the need for conservation.

Bighorn Sheep - a great mammal from a birding trip to British Columbia, Canada 
a lazy Leopard - a great mammal from a birding trip to Kenya
Silverback! Mountain Gorilla - a great mammal from a birding trip to Uganda
Hippos - also from Kenya!
Assa darlingtoni - Pouched Frog seen on a Frogging trip here on the Blackall Range Queensland. A truly fantastic frog with a wonderful natural history. Please look it up.

When birding slows butterflies demand to be noticed and identified. And even, for some, dragonflies, and then down into the quicksand that is entomology...

Birding generally smiles kindly at the sedentary but warmly pats the back of the nomad before totally embracing the migrant.

A badly forced metaphor perhaps but travelling does reward the birder with more birds.

And more of ....everything.

To see the birds in Australia a birder must see Australia. All of it. Coastlines and deserts. Rainforests and swamps. Mangroves and grasslands. Mountains - well...hills. All of these different habitats house different species.

The Australian birder ends up seeing more of Australia and her beauty because of his or her passion.

And with this travel comes the other rewards of travel.

a worthy reward for birding travel: Hummingbirds up close in Costa Rica!

More culture. More history. More socialisation with a greater variety of people [at least pre-Covid...]. More, and varied, food and drink! Indeed in this writer's humble opinion birding has added much to the joys of life!

So try birding for the greater glory of life.

Many of you will be glad that you did.


All pictures [save the last] by Ken Cross


Superb Blue Wren in full song

Brisbane Birding Breaks are planned as short 5 or 6 day tours that start and finish in Brisbane.

One of the tours planned is a short tour through the Sunshine Coast and Hinterland .

With that in mind we have been researching our itineraries and obviously spending some birding times in and around some of the expected birding sites that we would love to take some folks.

The itinerary takes us as far west as the South Burnett town of Murgon. Murgon is a polite little town of some 2500 people located in the South Burnett region in Wakka Wakka [the local Aboriginal tribe] territory.
female Red tailed Black Cockatoo

The last time I visited I got stunning views of the always stunning Red tailed Black Cockatoos. This species is basically unknown in the Brisbane - Sunshine Coast area so therefore wonderful to see.

Grey crowned Babbler

On this latest trip my wife and I went for a little drive and got some great views of typical grassland species on a ridge facing west. At this spot, while we enjoyed the view, heaps of pipits, Tawny Grassbirds, Cisticolas, Willy Wagtails plus Double barred Finches.
surely one of Australia's most beautiful birds - Superb Blue Wren

Superb Blue Wrens were agreeably common in this area. Again a species impossible to see in the Sunshine Coast area. As usual they were a delight to see.

A little further east other Avian treats showed. Most special for me were a group of four Ground Cuckoo Shrike! While watching these beauties I had two pair of Red winged Parrots fly by! Australian Kestrels were also resident.
Ground Cuckoo shrike

four of these wonderful birds were seen!
White winged Chough

Soon after, in some lightly timbered country, we stopped for a couple of groups of White winged Choughs. These birds are fascinating. Sometimes they are overlooked because at first glance they can be misidentified as Torresian Crows, however, once they fly, revealing large white wing patches, they are unmistakable. One of Australia's only three mud nest builders [the other two - Magpie Lark and Apostlebird] they have the curious habit of slavers. Apparently they can kidnap the young birds from nearby clans and press them into service to aid the feeding of their actual offspring!

White winged Chough - one of a group of about 20 individuals
I'm already looking forward to heading this small way west again!


Thursday, 11 June 2020

Bring on Birding - an explanation of the joys of birding

My name is Ken Cross and I am a birder.

I wanted to get that confession out of the way early. Not that I’m embarrassed about it but I know some who are.

It is strange that some are ashamed of their hobby but in Australia, and perhaps elsewhere, to claim that you are a birdwatcher is to lose some serious credibility. Explaining that you are a birder or a bird watcher is not going to open too many doors socially. Even I would admit that walking around with binoculars is not perceived as cool. Birding is not something that many aspire to, like say, watching televised motor sports.

And all of that is quite sad.

Because Birding is not only defence-able, it is sellable.

It is a great hobby and interest that one can [and should] rationally defend.

First, before I explain its appeals, I need to quickly describe what it is. Birdwatching, I’m sure many would surmise, is watching birds. If, for example, you put seed out for your birds and sit and watch them [and gain decent pleasure from that] you are bird watching. And there is nothing wrong with that!

Birding, however, is something different, something more.

Birding involves actively seeking birds, identifying them by sight and song, savouring them, recording them, listing them, enjoying them and their habitats and then later, learning, reading and perhaps writing about them.

The way I see it there are seven joys of birding. And I admit being impressed by the explanation of these seven by New York City birder, Chris Cooper.

The first joy is the beauty of the birds.

Please think of some of our common but beautiful Australian birds; the pink and grey Galah, impossibly coloured but well named, Rainbow Lorikeets, Scarlet Honeyeaters; the males appearing as if they’d just been dipped head first in bright red paint. Imagine the no less attractive Emerald Dove, a small jade ground-loving pigeon with a faded pink head and chest. Picture, if you can, a silently sitting male Regent Bowerbird, an impressive mix of orange and jet black and, as it takes flight, another explosion of colour through its orange wings. Even the abundant Australian Magpie, when studied, is a handsome bird in fine black and white.

Birders tap in commonly to these common beauties that many, sadly, walk blindly past.

Regent Bowerbird

The second joy is the pleasure of being in natural places. 

Modern life and technology have robbed many of much of the sublime found in nature. Birding insists that time is spent in nature; the search for the diversity of birds opens the door to a variety of natural habitats and with that the promise of continued new experiences. And in Australia generally and the Sunshine Coast here in Queensland, we have some truly wonderful country to see.


The third pleasure is hunting, albeit without the bloodshed.

To see birds well, alert senses, stealth and, occasionally, patience, are needed. These are the skills of good hunters and these, too, are the skills of good birders. We share, too, the satisfaction of claiming our targeted prize. Where we differ is that we leave our quarry alive and in peace, the hunt rather than the kill, the source of satisfaction.

Please stick with me – Joy number four is the pleasure of problem solving.

One obvious challenge for a birder is to identify every species that they see; to answer the obvious question, “What is that?” Now some birds do not cooperate. They hide among the leaves and the foliage such that you only see part of them at any one time – demanding a sort of mental jigsaw. Still other birds are very similar to other birds, that is, the differences between them are, to say the least, subtle. As with most puzzles arriving at the correct solution is a pleasure.

Joy number five is the pleasure of collecting or, as it is sometimes described in North America, listing. 

Birders collect sightings and keep them as lists. Perhaps the ultimate aim for an Australian birder is to sight and then record every bird species within our continent. The world birder wants to see every one of the ten and a half thousand species or so on our planet. There are some in Australia who have a list of over 800 bird species, seen within Australia and its island territories and the seas between. [My Aussie list is more modest; some 660 species or so].  You can also collect lists for your yard - a yard list, this year – your year list, or your entire life – naturally a life list.

Ebird, an amazing on line bird data base, can help you record your list and keep track of all of your bird sightings.

Joy number six is the satisfaction of making scientific discovery. 

There are lots of birds and very few scientists and subsequently many, many unanswered questions. Every birder can contribute, at least, to helping answer the basic question of “Where are the birds?” And here again Ebird is an important tool. Ebird’s collected information about bird distribution and numbers is, of course, essential for conservation science.

Lastly, joy number seven, what I call the Lifer Effect. 

This pleasure needs a little explaining.  When you begin birding you read the bird books or Apps and see pictures of birds. The birds exist in your mind as merely ‘ideas’. One day though you see the real bird – the concept suddenly becomes reality and you are having an experience that you know that you have never had in your life before. You have just seen a Life bird, and experienced the Lifer Effect and it is, surprisingly, thrilling. [For a non-birder try to imagine the pleasure that could be gained by seeing a wild tiger in the wild, knowing that this experience has never happened before and may never happen again.]

Do you remember your first Superb Blue Wren?

So, there are the seven joys but there are other reasons. It is cheap, inclusive and it can be done anywhere, to varying degrees, on our planet.

It is cheap – one pair of binoculars and one field guide [an illustrated book describing all of the birds] and you are ready to go. Although I do encourage any and all to join their national Birding / Bird Conservation group; here in Australia  - Birdlife Australia.

It is inclusive - birding can be enjoyed by anyone and everyone of every generation and it is a hobby that can last a lifetime.

So try birding. 

Many of you will be glad that you did.

Click here to read about additional joys!