The shallows and flooded grass on the fringes of Herdsman Lake host a variety of wading birds such as Spoonbills, Herons and Egrets. The latter are represented by two different species, with the big yellow-billed Eastern Great Egret (Ardea modesta) as a fairly common resident and the much smaller black-billed Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) as an occasional visitor. With water levels relatively high at the moment – much of the trail near the Swamp Paperbark trail is currently inundated – there is sufficient food for all, and the Little Egrets can be seen hunting little fish and tadpoles at lighting fast speed.
Black Swans are a common sight in our wetlands, and in spring both adults cruise the shallows with their offspring. In certain parts of Herdsman Lake they are fairly accustomed to humans, making it easy to observe their grey cygnets preen and do the occasional shakedown in order to keep parasites and bacteria at bay. Mum and dad always keep a watchful eye though, as young swans are sometimes attacked and killed by rivalling family’s cobs.
Native to Australia but not naturally occurring in Western Australia, the Little Corella (Cacatua sanguinea) is a common resident in the Perth metropolitan area. In fact, abundant food and the absence of predators have allowed the population to explode over the last two decades, and flocks of a few hundred birds are not uncommon. They are opportunistic feeders that eat grass seeds, bulbs and grains in noisy nomadic foraging flocks, causing havoc and damage to trees, paddocks and homes. And while competing for nesting hollows with black cockatoos, parrots, owls and raptors, and interbreeding with endemic species, Little Corellas not only have an impact on our urban environment, but also to our biodiversity. Despite all the trouble they bring about, with their fleshy blue-eyed ring and rose-pink coloured plumage these birds always remain a great subject for photography, especially when you can connect with them at eye-level.
Kalamunda National Park has been amongst my favourite hangouts lately after a couple of sightings of the elusive Western Brush Wallaby (Macropus irma). I have been back several times over the past few weeks, and although I haven’t been able to capture it on camera successfully yet, I was pretty happy to run into a flock of Forest Red Tailed Black Cockatoos (Calyptorhynchus banksii naso) feasting on nuts from nearby Jarrah trees (Eucalyptus marginata). Smoke from a prescribed burn off that took place a few miles away lent a soft orange colour to a dramatic sunset; a perfect backdrop for this high- perched bird.
“As spring advances they separate into pairs, the male undergoing a total transformation, not only in the colour, but also in the texture of its plumage; indeed, a more astonishing change can scarcely be imagined, its plain and unassuming garb being thrown off for a few months and another assumed, which for resplendent beauty is hardly surpassed by any of the feathered race” – John Gould, Birds of Australia On a rather cold and cloudy day in the Perth Hills this Splendid Fairy Wren (Malurus splendens) showed the inevitability of seasons with the most beautiful breeding costumes of any Australian bird I know. Although featured on iAMsafari before, it’s one of those happy highlights no one can ever get enough of.
The Willie Wagtail (Rhipidura leucophrys) is a small passerine bird that can be found across mainland Australia and up through New Guinea, Bismarck archipelago, Eastern Indonesia and the Solomon Islands. What it lacks in size, it more than makes up for in feistiness. While the sideways swinging of its fanned tail might be a salute to a nearby friend, attitude goes bad as soon as danger appears and wagtails are known for chasing and hitting much larger birds that threaten their nest. Willie Wagtails can be found in various habitats, yet seem to prefer open woodlands nearby rivers and wetlands where insects are plentiful. It’s not uncommon to see them feeding near cattle or kangaroos, using the animal’s back as an ideal vantage point while hunting prey disturbed by those grazers.
“But territorial possession can be more extreme than this. Two honeyeaters of large size practise the most intense resource defence of any birds on earth” – Tim Low, Where Song Began The Yellow-throated or Dusky Miner (Manorina flavigula) is one of the four colonial and co-operatively breeding honeyeaters in the genus Manorina. Closely related to the Black-eared (Manorina melanotus), Bell (Manorina melanophrys) and Noisy Miner (Manorina melanocephala) it breeds communally, with breeding pairs often assisted by other members of the group. Yellow-throated Miners inhabit dry forests and woodlands across Australia, foraging on insects, fruits and nectar, and although not as aggressive and troublesome as Bell and Noisy Miners, they defend their territory and food sources fiercely against any intruder.
Dales Gorge, or Ngirribungunha, is one of the most popular gorges in Karijini, not only due to the vicinity of the Park’s campground, but mainly because Circular Pool, Fortescue Falls and Fern Pool are hidden between its towering walls. However, less popular but equally exciting is the rim walk, a trail that leads through the Pilbara savannah along the edge of the gorge. With a bit of luck the elusive Rothschild Rock-wallaby (Petrogale rothschildi) can be spotted here around dusk and dawn, or some of the park’s many bird species such as this Brown Falcon (Falco berigora), perching on the branch of a dead snappy gum looking for rodents and reptiles.
“The chasteness of its colouring, the extreme elegance of its form, and the graceful crest which flows from its occiput, all tend to render this Pigeon on of the most lovely members of its family, and it is therefore to be regretted that, owing to its being exclusively an inhabitant of the plains of the interior, it can never become an object of general observation.” – John Gould, Handbook to the Birds of Australia, 1865
“Yet something. Something big and aware and hidden! He walked on, had walked a mile or so in the bush, and had just come to a clump of tall, nude, dead trees, shining almost phosphorescent with the moon, when the terror of the bush overcame him.” – D.H. Lawrence, Kangaroo (1923) While the wet season in the Pilbara can be extremely hot, winter is the most suitable time to visit this beautiful region. We unfortunately experienced unusual high rainfall the week prior to our trip, and during our stay in Karijini National Park a cold and unpleasant easterly desert breeze brought temperatures to near freezing after sunset. For nearly five days, the constant wind was almost the only movement we experienced in and around our camp; no snakes, lizards, or dingoes to be seen, and even the region’s rich avian fauna seemed to be in silent hibernation. As campfires aren’t allowed in the park, water bottles, blankets and early nights were our solace, but not after the routine of a late walk in this silent bush. …
As a family of fishers, the cormorants are amongst the bigger birds found in Australia. The Pied cormorant (Phalacrocorax varius) is surely much lighter than the Australian pelican (Pelecanus conspicillatus), but with its 130 cm wingspan, 2.2 kg weight, and beautiful yellow eyepatch, this aquatic hunter is nevertheless impressive.
The Striated Heron (Butorides striata) is a common bird along the coastlines of Africa, South America and Australia, and in Roebuck Bay it spends a lot of time in the mangroves and on the rocks, hunting for fish in pools and creeks in typical stealth mode.
The Broome Bird Observatory offers tours in the different habits of Yawuru country, showcasing the enormous variety of birds in this beautiful corner of WA. I joined the tour to the saline grasslands, saltmarshes and claypans of Roebuck Plains Station, an iconic Kimberley property that covers 275,000 hectares and is home to 20,000 head of cattle. During the wet season the inundated plains are green and lush, abundant with fish, crabs and frogs, an enormous food bowl for thousands of water birds, but in the dry dust devils sweep through the vast open space, where water is only a memory of different times. The majority of birdwatchers who join this tour are in search of the Yellow Chat (Epthianura crocea), a strikingly coloured passerine bird that can be seen on the plains relatively easy, and as it is one of the must-see species, the Broome Bird Observatory even runs the specific Yellow Chat twitch. I had some good views of this marvellous little bird through the telescopes provided, but unfortunately haven’t been able to get …
When descending the red Pindan cliffs towards the beach and benthic flats of Roebuck Bay, one comes across several mangals and tidal creeks. The tropical mangrove forests near Broome consist of several species, such as the common grey mangrove (Avicennia marina), stilt-rooted mangrove (Rhizophora stylosa) and the red mangrove (Ceriops tagal) or lanyi-lanyi. Those forests are complex and rich habitats that require much specialization to live in, and many animals found in the mangroves are therefore absent or rare in other places. With their bright red colour, flame fiddler crabs (Uca flammula) are the most beautiful crabs of the mangroves by far. The typical big and oversized claw of this mostly vegetarian crustacean is waved to defend their territory rather than to crush food, while their remarkable appearance is further enhanced by eyes positioned on tall stalks, enabling them to detect threats from afar so they can disappear in their burrow quickly. The Mangrove mudskipper is another conspicuous creature that can be found in Roebuck’s mangroves. Because they are able to breath through their skin …
With grevillea, hakea and eucalypts flowering in abundance, different species of honeyeaters (Meliphagidae) can be found feeding on their nectar. With thin curved bills and brush-like tongues, they’re probing flowers and lapping up large quantities of sweet liquid at a time. Most members of diverse family of passerine birds can be found in Australia and New Guinea, with the Red Wattlebird (Anthochaera carunculata) or Djoongong the largest species in Western Australia. The distinctive red-pink wattles or caruncles have lend this bird its common name, and as one of the noisiest inhabitants of our urban bushland they’re hard to miss when chasing away other nectar-feeding birds as lorikeets and parrots.
Rain is plentiful now Makuru is in full swing, but cool and wet days alternate with dry and sunny ones, leaving ample time to explore nature. As the rains have steadily raised water levels of lakes and swamps, large flocks of birds aggregate on its waterlogged shores, offering excellent opportunities for bird photography. On the Swan Coastal Plain a chain of wetlands runs parallel to the coast; many small ones have been drained, filled or cleared in the past for agricultural and urban development, but Herdsman Lake is the biggest still remaining. Known as Ngurgenboro to the Yellagonga Noongar, the lake is not only a place with a significant cultural heritage, it is also one of the last remaining wildlife havens in the metropolitan area. Apart from a strong supply of reptiles, including the notorious Tiger Snake (Notechis scutatus), over 100 bird species have been recorded at Herdsman Lake. Waterbirds are particularly visible, amongst which the Black Swan, Yellow-billed Spoonbill, Nankeen Night Heron and Australian Shelduck I have written about before. The Ibis family is represented with …
“When perched on the trees or resting on the ground, it exhibits none of the grace and elegance of those birds, its short neck resting on the shoulders” – John Gould, Handbook to the Birds of Australia, volume 2 As their name suggests, Nankeen Night Herons (Nycticorax Caledonicus) stalk marches and wetlands during the dark hours of the day, searching for insects, crustaceans, frogs and fish. During daytime these stocky herons can be found roosting, heads hunched onto the shoulders, in the dense canopy of the numerous Swamp Paperbark (Melaleuca rhaphiophylla) trees that surround Lake Herdsman. Although this colony counts between 20-30 individuals, none of those secretive birds leave the thick cover easily, making decent photography a job for the patient. Apart from its nocturnal character, the cinnamon-brown colour has contributed to the other part of its name, as Nankeen cloth from Nanking resembles the adult bird’s plumage.
The Australian Shelduck (Tadorna tadornoides) is a gorgeous water bird. Its black head is separated from its beautiful chestnut coloured breast by a white ring, making it one of the easiest recognisable duck species in our wetlands. Shelducks are true wanderers, travelling long distances between the coastal lakes and estuaries and the inland Wheatbelt, however, some stay to breed in the metropolitan area during the winter months, such as this couple at the banks of Lake Herdsman. They pair for life, and the white eye-ringed female is constantly guarded by a watchful male – true love.
One of the most unusual residents of the Swan Coastal Plain wetlands is the Yellow-billed Spoonbill (Platalea flavipes). Instead of relying on eyesight when foraging for invertebrates in deep and muddy water, the spatula-shaped bill is equipped with papillae that detect vibrations of prey. It can often be seen walking slowly through the water, sweeping its beak from side to side in search for insects, crustaceans and fish, or just perching on a branch of a Swamp Paperbark tree (Melaleuca rhaphiophylla), such as this one on the banks of Herdsman Lake.
Perching on the branch of a dead Paperbark tree, this Welcome Swallow (Hirundo neoxena) is waiting to swoop down on the clouds of mosquitos that appear around dusk near the banks of Lake Herdsman, one of the most important wetland areas on the Swan Coastal Plain. The Welcome Swallow is called Kannamit by the Noongar people, who believe this fast and acrobatic bird is a sign of imminent rain.