Sunday, July 31, 2011

of Sparrows and Whales

For more bird photos visit the Bird Photography Weekly.

Last week I took a trip up to Hervey Bay and went whale watching. I went with a delightful couple who were visiting from New Zealand. (Just as an aside - Isn't it nice when visitors like the same things you do and are so appreciative of whatever you show them! Thanks John and Jackie!)
It is a little less than two hours - if the traffic is good! - from where I live at the southern end of the Great Sandy Strait. I left earlier than we needed to so we had time to sit at a cafe right on the boardwalk around the harbor and enjoy a drink before we left. There were small trees in tubs around the outside eating area and a bird flew in and starting singing. When I looked I saw it was a Sparrow. Early colonists took sparrows with them wherever they went around the world and they were introduced to Australia also. However, they seem to stay in larger population areas and I have not seen any close to where I live. This was the first one I had seen since I began photographing birds some years ago. (All photos enlarge when clicked on.)
There are a number of boats to choose for a whale watching tour. We decided on the Freedom 111 - a 58 foot catamaran which takes a maximum of 45 passengers. We found the crew very helpful and friendly and thoroughly enjoyed the trip. It was a 3/4 day tour and we were served morning and afternoon tea as well as lunch. The food was excellent - we started with a morning tea of hot scones with jam and cream, profiteroles, and soft drinks or tea or coffee. What could be nicer!
Humpback whales were almost hunted to extinction but now their numbers are increasing and each year many of them come into the shallower waters of Hervey Bay and rest and play for a while. We traveled north along the west coast of Fraser Island. It was a beautiful day - sunshine, almost flat sea and hardly any wind.
The first glimpse we had of a whale was a distant splash.
We saw several whales quite early in the trip and had good views of them 'breaching' - jumping right out of the water - and splashing the water with their flukes and tails.
These first whales we saw left after a few minutes and we could not see where they had gone to. The boat skipper then took us to the northern end of Fraser Island but although there had been several pods of whales up there earlier they were not there by the time we got there. We started south again and were lucky enough to see another 3 whales moving south ahead of us. We kept pace with them without getting too close but suddenly they turned back towards us and came right up close to look at us. Whales are curious and apparently it is quite common for them to do this. It was an awesome experience to have these huge creatures swim alongside the boat, dive under it to come up on the other side, and repeat this a number of times. The water was beautifully clear and you could see the whale through the water as it dived down. The best of all was when a whale lifted its great head right beside the boat and appeared to be looking at us. There were barnacles clinging to the skin of the whale. White marks showed where they had fallen off.
Later in the season there are more whales in the area and tours expect to see many more in one trip than we did. However, we had a great trip this time - and the experience is certainly one that I would like to repeat sometime.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Mullens in the Morning.

This post is for World Bird Wednesday.

It was low tide the other morning when I went for a walk along the foreshore to the Mullens roost. I wanted an easy walk without having to carry a lot of weight so left the big 150-500mm lens at home. Oh well, we all make mistakes of that kind sometimes! There were small birds everywhere in the bushes and trees and the 70-300mm lens was just not long enough!
Because there is still a lot of blossom on the Paperbark trees there were numbers of honeyeaters around. The easiest to see in that area are the Mangrove Honeyeaters. This one stopped just long enough for a quick photo even though the light was not in the right direction.
There were also lots of Brown Honeyeaters flying around.
There were a number of other small birds flitting in and out of the Mangroves that are all around the edge of the salt marsh. I waited for quite some time hoping that one would stop where I could actually see it rather than just fly into the bushes where I could only see leaves moving. This is the best I did - not a clear photo of the bird but unmistakeable with that pale ring around the eye - a Silvereye.
The biggest surprise of the morning were a group of small waders that flew up ahead of me then dropped down into the saltmarsh plants again. I couldn't tell what they were just from their flight pattern but even a distant photo was enough to ID Black-fronted Dotterels. These are another of the small shorebirds that are resident in Australia. They are not common in this area although I had been told that there were two there a couple of months ago. There were at least 4 in the group I saw. I took better photos of one I saw out in SW Queensland last year and have posted that photo again.
The most colorful photo of the morning was of a Scarlet Honeyeater that flew high up into a dead tree and then sat up there and let me get a couple of distant photos against the deep blue of the sky.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Spring Already

When I went for a walk in the bush the other day I realized that all the early spring flowers were out already. This is a few weeks earlier than I remember them from other years.
Of course with flowers blossoming there were birds all around us. I could hear them but it was not so easy to see them as the paperbark trees were also blossoming and the birds were mainly up there. The only one I got anywhere near enough to photograph was this Brown Honeyeater which seemed to be catching small insects rather than just taking nectar.
Before I saw the flowers I smelt the perfume from them. Then I saw that Leucopogon pimeleoides was flowering all through the bush. I love the perfume of this flower. It is quite a delicate perfume but when there are numbers of plants flowering it scents the bush all around.
There were two kinds of Hakea in flower. - Hakea plurinervia
and Hakea actites.
Pultenaea villosa brightened the bush around it with its bright yellow flowers.
There were numbers of other smaller flowers not quite so easy to see. This Boronia rosmarinifolia looked as if it was just starting to flower as there were more buds than flowers.
There should be more of these Patersonia sericea later in the season or when there is a little more rain. At present it is very dry and I have seen more of these flowers in places where the soil is damper.
For those readers not used to this sub-tropical climate, our wildflowers bloom mainly in late winter and early spring. Summer is just too hot for most of these delicate flowers to survive.
I am not an expert with bush flowers so if I have made mistakes in naming any I would appreciate correction!

For more bird photos visit the Bird Photography Weekly.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Buff-banded Rail

This post is for World Bird Wednesday

A couple of weeks ago (July 5) I posted about being invited to see some Bush Stone-Curlews - (which I should have called by their new name of Bush Thick-Knees! - thanks Tony!) - in a very beautiful and bird-friendly garden. Brian and Sue were kind enough to invite me a second time - this time to wait and see if we could see one of a pair of Buff-banded Rails (Rallus philippensis). Brian and Sue have a yard that backs onto public reserve land which runs along a creek. This land is not mowed so there is dense vegetation here. My birding books says that these birds prefer areas of rank grasses near water. Possibly this is where the birds live permanently but they frequently wander through the garden area as well. They had been walking through the garden at the edge of the tall grass just before I arrived and after waiting a bit one of the birds walked out into sight and then quickly ran along beside the tall grass and disappeared again. The only other views I have had of rails have been very brief and certainly not long enough to get a camera focused on them. Thanks again Brian and Sue!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Inskip Point

I am sure I have said before that I enjoy going out to Inskip Point. Last Thursday I did a shorebird count in the early morning then in the evening I had help from some friends to do a Tern count. Both results were very interesting but the difficulty was that I cannot take good photos when my mind is concentrated on counting the birds that I am seeing. The best I can usually do is some quick photos of the scenery.
There were the usual flocks of small birds roosting in the car tracks on the point. They were mainly Red-capped Plovers and Double-banded Plovers. Some of them were just getting their breeding plumage of bands of bright red and black.
There are always a few Silver Gulls and Terns right on the point hoping to pick up something easy from whatever fishermen are around.
The sand island had great numbers of birds all roosting closely together. There were hundreds of Bar-tailed Godwits and smaller numbers of Eastern Curlew, Grey-tailed Tattler, Pied Oystercatchers, Pied Cormorants; and Caspian, Crested, Little, Common, and Gull-billed Terns. It is not possible to see the smaller birds with a spotting scope but I know they must have been out there too because I see them when I go out there in a kayak.
In all I counted over 800 birds.
That evening I went out with friends to count the Terns. We count the ones that are already roosting when we get there then wait for the others as they fly in from wherever they have been feeding during the day. There was a nearly full moon as we waited for the birds to come in.
Many of the birds fly in to roost on the sand island which gets harder and harder to see as the light goes.
The sunset was especially beautiful as there had been a big fire burning that afternoon and the smoke made the sunset extra bright.
We counted over 700 terns that evening.
For more bird photos visit the Bird Photography Weekly.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Borumba Dam

Borumba Dam is the water storage for the Gympie area. It is west of the town of Imbil in the Mary Valley. We sat and ate our picnic lunch there the other day and enjoyed a perfect winter day. The lake is surrounded by hills and there was almost no wind so there were some beautiful reflections. The lake curves around behind the hills so the full length cannot be seen from the picnic area. The lake is also used for boating and fishing.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Shining Bronze-Cuckoo

This post is for World Bird Wednesday.

On our trip along the Mary valley the other day we also stopped at Stirling's Crossing. There were more Bellbirds here but quite a lot of other birds as well. We were strolling along the track when we saw this Shining Bronze-Cuckoo (Chrysococcyx lucidus) fly into the bushes ahead of us. Instead of flying up into the trees where it would be well hidden it flew off into some more low shrubs and we were able to get good photos of it. None of my birding books show so much green on this bird although in the description one book says it has an iridescent green color. It is 17-18cm in size. This cuckoo lays its eggs in the nests of other birds such as warblers, thornbills, scrubwrens and sometimes fantails and robins.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Bellbirds - Finally!

I thought of starting this post with one of those sayings about the value of 'patience' and 'persistence' but then decided that it would be enough to tell you the length of time it has taken to achieve this goal. It has taken me fifty years to see Bellbirds instead of just hearing them! It is easy enough to hear these birds. Even driving along in the car - with the windows down, of course! - they are easy to hear. However, I have found seeing them a different matter. They have always been high in the trees and any movement of birds I could see was just a LBJ (little brown job) moving very fast!
When my friends Neil and Kell suggested a day out looking for bush birds I told them that actually seeing a Bellbird would be top of my list! These friends have watched birds in this district for many years so they suggested that Brooloo in the Mary Valley was the easiest place they knew for Bellbirds.
The proper name for a Bellbird is a Bell Miner (Manorina melanophrys). They are a smallish bird (19 cm) and colored olive green which of course just appears brown up against the sky. Their call is a high-pitched bell sound - hear it here. They have a dark yellow beak and legs and a yellow patch in front of the eye.
Bellbirds feed in among the leaves of trees and there is a dense stand of forest at Brooloo. However, there are also a number of dead trees as well and the birds seemed to choose these trees in which to rest.
The birds were still very high in the trees but just within reach of my long lens. One of the birds sat up there and fluffed its feathers out and then preened before flying off as fast as it had come.
This was certainly the highlight of the day for me. We then went off to another spot in the bush were there were more Bellbirds and a variety of other birds. Neil and Kell thought that the birds in this other spot were even better! More about that in the next post!

For more bird photos go to the Bird Photography Weekly.

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Valley Rattler

I had a great day out birding in the Mary Valley on Wednesday. I saw some birds that I had wanted to see for a long time - but I shall leave them for posts next week. On the way home we stopped at Imbil - which is the end of the line for the historic Mary Valley Heritage Railway. This railway has been operating as a tourist train since 1986 which was just a few years after Queensland Railway closed this section of rail line. The train is known as the Valley Rattler and is a popular tourist attraction. As we drove through Imbil the Rattler was about to start on its trip back to Gympie and I couldn't resist getting out and taking a few photos. It reminded me of the huge black thundering and smoking monsters that I used to see on all the rail-lines many years ago.
This is the first part of the line returning to Gympie.