Saturday, November 19, 2011

Big bird, small feeder...

In October and into early November, we have had frequent visits from two seperate groups of Sandhill Cranes, a pair and a group of three. The first pair were obviously old pros at bird feeders and soon found the ones in the garden. It took only two visits from these magnificent birds for them to clean out the small feeder you see in the photo.

My apologies for the poor image quality, it was taken through a dirty window. Any time I would go outside to photograph them eating from the feeder, they would walk away from it. I however did find it somewhat hysterical to see a bird of their sheer size eating from a feeder designed for small songbirds etc.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Birding in the U.S.A

Well it's about time that I got around to writing up something here for people to read. I've been meaning to, I'm just so far behind that it's hard to get the motivation or know where to begin. So this is more just an overview of what I've been seeing since I arrived at the end of July.

Northern Cardinal (male)

Since I got to the states, I've seen 34 new species of birds. Which seems like a big acheivement, but it's mostly because I really haven't seen that many different birds yet. Most of what I see is the regulars around the woods and lakes that I commonly walk by once or twice a week from the house (if I'm motivated enough to get out of bed early). Many of these common species are quite challenging such as the Belted Kingfisher which is very shy and will fly away at the first hint of your approach, so there's been no close encounters with them. I'm still trying to get decent images of all the woodpecker species, though I have managed a decent image of a female Downy Woodpecker.

Downy Woodpecker (female)

In the past couple of weeks, we have been having frequent visits to the house by two small groups of Sandhill Cranes, at first it was the same pair visiting every day, and they would stand and eat the seed from the bird feeder which is conveniently located at head height for them. It's quite a sight to see such a large bird feeding from a feeder designed to accomodate small passerines.

Sandhill Crane

We often see Osprey soaring above the lake behind the house, and I have on one occasion seen an immature Bald Eagle circling in the distance. Most often you see Black, or Turkey Vultures or the resident Red-shouldered Hawks. I see the hawks often, once an adult feeding on a snake, and another time, two immature birds which I would hazard a guess belong to the resident adult pair.

Red-shouldered Hawk (immature)

Red-shouldered Hawk (adult)

I've seen quite a few new beach and wading birds as we've been on day trips to Sanibel Island and Anna-Maria Island so I saw some new terns, wading birds and several Magnificent Frigatebirds. A recent walk with a local 'bird man' who runs monthly bird watching trips enabled me to see some more species as well, including Wood Duck and Black-crowned Night Heron which were spotted by other people on the walk and I was able to confirm the ID from what I saw. There is another walk this month at a coastal reserve, so that should certainly yeild some more birds.


Since it's autumn and the weather is cooling down, there are also a lot of migrating birds passing through Florida, so I've seen a few warblers and other birds that are seasonal residents or just passing through. It makes it interesting because warblers often have a lot of different plumage stages and can be tricky to ID, along with being small and quick. So everything is a learning curve.

Palm Warbler (winter plumage)

Other wildlife that I've seen includes frogs, turtles (including a slider that we saved from being run over because it was too slow crossing the road!), alligators, wild pigs, snakes, marsh rabbits and as usual, a plethora of squirrels. Here's hoping to many more.

Florida Marsh Rabbit

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Laratinga Wetlands

On the 20th of Feb (I know, I'm a bit behind) I made my way down to Laratinga Wetlands at Mt Barker, it was a bit of a trip, and perhaps not the best timing for it, arriving a day after decent rains, but it was still worth the trip. I think because it's been a wetter summer, that there was perhaps less species than what I would have seen if there had been less water elsewhere, but that could all just be in my head too.

Mt Barker city council has a nice website for the wetlands if you're interested. The site is located here. The most interesting aspect of the site, if only from a birding perspective is the link to a birdpedia article by Bob Snell regarding the occurance of bird species at the wetlands between 2000 and 2006. You can find that article here.

Needless to say, after looking at the frequently occuring species, I had my hopes set pretty high for some lifers. I was most dissapointed by the ducks, I was hoping to see Hardhead, Australasian shoveler and then the Hoary-headed grebe (not a duck, I know :P) yet didn't see any of them. As I said earlier, something I put down to having a wetter summer than usual. Still, I was pretty pleased to have such good views of plenty of Australasian grebes, a bird which although I've seen before, I've never seen in such close proximaity. Their colours, though subtle are
stunning. Though for some reason, I didn't stop to try and take a decent photo of them, I think the abundance of walkers was slightly off-putting. I'm not used to seeing people around when I'm walking and photographing birds.

The most noticeable bird when I arrived was a small flock of some large mallard-esque ducks which seemed intent on swimming around the edge of one of the ponds, following a lady walking on the path. I stopped and had a chat to her when the ducks finally climbed out of the water and walked up to her. Turns out she feeds them on a regular basis and they recognise her. I'm not sure what the hyrbid was, but they were certainly an imposing group of birds as they waddled heavily by me. This female paused long enough for a photo.

The abundance of Superb fairy-wrens was the next thing I noticed, they were very people-friendly, as far as wild fairy-wrens go, but I still struggled to get decent photos. A male chose a nice perch for preening, but the angle was a bit steep for any typical perched pose. Further up the track, 2 males in full plumage dashed out in front of me, before having a standoff in the leaf litter, hopping to and fro and calling. I tried to find a position that would make a good photo, but true to form they ducked behind twigs and kept moving to avoid the stare of my lens. I didn't thank them! =P

Wandering around the wetlands, there were plentiful Pacific black ducks, dusky moorhens, and purple swamphens (which surprised me as they were another species that I had never seen before). I was at first confused by some large, dark birds swimming through the water, they didn't seem to really fit, but it soon became obvious that they were immature purple swamphens. The purple swamphens themselves were absolutely beautiful birds, larger than I expected and with vibrant blue-purple feathers and a brilliant bright red cap and beak. They were numerous and quite confiding and I was able to spend a good deal of time photographing a number of them.

Throughout my walk a kept hearing a sweet bell-like call repeated, which was really hard to pinpoint the location of. It turned out to be the call of the little grassbird. I was frustrated because I heard the call numerous times but never managed to see one. It wasn't until the end of my walk, that I noticed two birds fluffed up in the reeds and displaying to each other, I took numerous blurry photos through the reeds, but it was enough to identify them as little grassbirds, which was fantastic, as they had been one of my target species at the wetlands. The other species I was intent on seeing was the Australian reed-warbler. Sure enough, I saw them, however they were elusive, swift moving and wouldn't perch on a nice open spot for a photo (I can dream). Still, I saw them and it was certainly interesting, they were curious towards me but also shy to not have something between themselves and me. At one point I was standing on a boardwalk watching one bird when I noticed movement closer down. Right on the edge of the boardwalk between a dark gap in the reeds I could see a little face peering through the gap at me, very inquisitive but hesitant to be any more in the open.

There weren't too many other photo ops to be had, as it grew later, a large flock of welcome swallows was hawking over and in the water for food and would perch on the reeds in the middle of one of the ponds to rest. I saw black-faced cuckoo shrike, common bronzewing, grey-shrike thrush, striated pardalote, white ibis,
white-faced heron, magpie, magpie-lark and new holland honeyeaters just to name a few. So all in all, it was quite a successful walk and I enjoyed it. It was a little strange having so many people walking around while I was photographing birds, but no-one seemed to care too much, they're probably used to it there. I think there was a jogger who passed me 4 times before I'd walked 100m at one point, haha. But still, a great water bird location and I must head back there sometime.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Mt Crawford Forest Reserve

After much frustration, trial and error, success followed by failure, I've finally figured out the text wrap for around the images on this blog! =P Blogging will be much quicker from now on. Onto the good stuff...

I began my walk just before 9 this morning and stepping out of the car I was greeted with the sounds of white-throated treecreepers, sulphur crested cockatoos, grey fantails and crescent honeyeaters. A lovely mix ;)

The walk was perhaps not the best choice of location, as the first section of trail had me walking into the morning sun, so there wasn't much photography to be had and it was hard to see the birds. But there were plenty around and mistletoebirds, buff-rumped thornbills and striated pardalotes were all joining in the chorus. I spied a female golden whistler, silent and perched in the shadows, but I took her picture anyway. =)

 There was plenty of insect life about, with dragonflies hovering all over the place. Moving on, in a nice stand of eucalypts were a small flock of striated thornbills, and a pair of eastern spinebills, nectaring on the mistletoe which was on the tree. The cresecent honeyeaters had their work cut out for them, chasing away the eastern spinebill pair whenever they invaded too much onto their favourite patch.

The sound of a group of laughing kookaburras cut through the air as I continued my walk, and I paused to listen to them, wondering what it was that would have set them off, a pesky currawong perhaps? A white-throated treecreeper then took it upon itself to fly down close to me to have a peek, it chose the shadiest branch on the tree, but nevermind, I still managed a dark image which I can still share as a record. I have a fondness for the species as it was the first species of treecreeper that I ever saw.

A little up the track I was hearing superb fairy-wrens, but not seeing any. I came across a fantastic yellow dragonfly, probably an Austrogomphus with the species maybe being guerini, but I'm no expert =P It was a great looking dragonfly though.
I spent quite some time snapping away, to get a good focus on the little guy and what you see is what I ended up with. There were also plenty of butterflies around, which was great to see, most of them were common browns: Heteronympha merope, maybe common, but they're still beautiful.

The next species to grace me with its presence was a female crescent honeyeater, I was watching her for some time perching on a broken off branch of a eucalypt and and hovering to pluck insects from the bark. She then came down into a small shrub in front of me, which was (as seemed to be the theme of the day) deep in shadows. Still, I tried with what settings I had to grab a couple of shots, which didn't turn out great, but make a nice record. I do wonder why however, that it's always the females that approach me, and I hardly ever get near the males whose colours are more striking.

Shortly afterwards, I came across a small family of scarlet robins, both mum and dad were on feeding duty, but I couldn't quite determine if there was more than one youngster, it kept flying all around the place and I kept losing it in the scrub, but I think there was only one, only one appeared when the dad caught a nice tasty snack ;) I managed to snap a couple of photos of the youngster and dad together, but missed the action when he actually fed his youngin'. I then had a chance for a
great set up, dad was using a few obvious perches and I took my time and set myself up for a decent shot from a couple of them. I thought I had the settings right, dad landed and I fired off a series of shots. I overexposed quite a lot and ended up with hot whites on the branch and on his frons, but I managed to recover the image somewhat and you can see it below. It came out alright, but I'm mad at myself for having missed something easy that I was supposed to be ready for. But I guess that's all part of the learning curve.

That about sums up the walk I think, after my encounter with the robins I headed back for home, the only new things I encountered on my way back being a flock of white-winged choughs, but they spooked easily and a pair of emus, just going about their buisness. I also spied a male mistletoe bird that I heard on the way in for my walk but hadn't seen. He didn't stick around long though. So all up, not a hugely succesful day photography-wise, but always a lot of fun with plenty of birds to appreciate, and that's what it's all about.

Till next time, happy birding.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

First blog & Kaiserstuhl Cons. Park

Hello, and welcome to my birding blog. I'm hoping to keep this fairly updated, as I do go birdwatching quite frequently, and I don't keep track of it as much as I should. So this is here to help me keep track and to share it with anyone who's interested. If anyone is actually interested... :P There's a lot of experiences I've had birdwatching in the past that I would probably like to share, so I might add those every now and then in between other updates, perhaps if I haven't been birding in a while. But enough about that, time to get on with the first birding blog ;)

-Kaiserstuhl Conservation Park Feb 11th 2011.
One of my favourite parks in the barossa region, the single looped trail provides a great diversity of habitat and the recommended 1hr walking time often extends to 3 hours when I'm photographing birds, or at least trying to. My visit was restricted to an hour due to the rain that set in and the conditions all the while were overcast, it was sunny when I left home ;)

I was hoping to see the resident Sacred Kingfishers, as I'm quite fond of them, however they were nowhere to be found. The first species to find its way into my viewfinder was the lovely Striated Thornbill (Acanthiza lineata). Most thornbills are a challenge at the best of times, so what resulted was one or two record shots. Thornbill ID is also a challenge at the best of times without an image or clear view.

Despite the fact that it was after 10am when I arrived, the birds were very active and I found myself only entereing a small distance into the park and being surrounded by superb fairy-wrens, striated thornbills, striated pardalotes, adelaide roselllas, grey fantails, willy wagtails and a very curious white-throated treecreeper. The treecreeper was foraging on a tree in front of me and took off, heading straight for me, only to dodge at the last moment and perch on a branch only a couple of meters behind me. Unfortunately, for fear of scaring the bird, I only turned my torso and with my slow shutter speed and un-steady posture, the image came out quite blurry and is now just a sad reminder of a great opportunity that I missed. But I guess you can't win them all!

There was a beautiful male scarlet robin perched some distance away, but he was not inclined to be obliging for a photo. It seemed to be one of those days, where there was a lot of action, but nothing wanted its photo taken. The overcast conditions didn't help with that of course. This lovely lady fairy wren was just one of the unco-operative many.

One of my fun subjects for the walk, was this immature willy wagtail who seemed intent on checking out his little feet. He tilted his head this way, that way, all to get a better look.

There was a small flock of dusky woodswallows in the park, flying about an open area amongst a small flock of tree martins. The dusky woodswallows were a treat, as I don't see them often and there were quite a few immature birds present, but my record shots aren't worth sharing. Fortunately, I managed to make up for it to myself with some shots of brown-headed honeyeaters which were feeding quite low in the canopy and were quite inquisitive of me. A couple of individuals came quite close and I was able to snag a few shots, good lighting would have made me happy, but I was simply pleased to have seen them so close. It was when I was photographing them that the rain set in.

The trip was finished off nicely with a sighting of a couple of buff-rumped thornbills, foraging in some shrubs. I heard, but didn't see, rainbow bee-eaters and crescent honeyeaters. But for about an hour and only walking at most 100m, a list of 20 birds is decent and I had a good time :)