<![CDATA[Birds, flowers, insects - FIBS Blog]]>Mon, 20 Jan 2020 01:40:29 +1100Weebly<![CDATA[My January Birds]]>Sun, 19 Jan 2020 11:17:10 GMThttp://wildnsydney.com/fibs_blog/my-january-birdsI’ve done fewer walks this month because of the smoke levels around Sydney.  There have been fewer birds to see, but those I saw seemed to be unusually relaxed and cooperative, like this Crested Pigeon near the Coal Loader café.

The pigeon and its partner were prepared to venture closer, although I could only ever get one bird at a time in frame.

​Further on, next to the HMAS Waterhen drive, there was a pair of Galahs grazing the dry grass. The nearer one carefully checked the sky:

Then its partner did so too:

I also looked up, wondering if there was a bird of prey around, but could see nothing except smoke haze. The galahs also relaxed, and came closer as they got on with the business in hand, or rather in beak:

Every so often one would pause to check me out whilst mumbling over a beakful of grass:

​Back on Bay Road there was a small ficifolia tree flowering over the footpath, to the delight of one Rainbow Lorikeet. The nectar in the flowers was more concentrated and sticky than usual, possibly because of the drought.

This bird also showed little concern about human passers-by.  It was only about two metres above the path and every time someone walked below, it would move up a few centimetres, squawk, and then return to the flowers:

I got an excellent view of its long brush tongue in action:

​Shortly after, while I was picking up some rubbish around the bins on Berry’s Island, a Noisy Miner with a wisp of spider web on its head quietly walked over next to my foot:

It moved a little further away and looked back at me before flying off:

I’m not sure why all of these birds were so relaxed about my presence. Possibly the drought had encouraged them to forage closer to people for scarce food, or even to beg for it.  Whatever the reason, I was happy to take the photo opportunities they gave me.

Of course, in the midst of all this avian New Year’s trust, there had to be one grumpy exception—this White-browed Scrubwren.  Partially screened by leaves, it ordered its group in a series of buzzes to fly from this pesky paparazzo:

It then gave me a filthy look before flying off after them:

Suitably rebuked, I left too.

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<![CDATA[A Wonderful Bird]]>Sun, 12 Jan 2020 09:56:29 GMThttp://wildnsydney.com/fibs_blog/a-wonderful-birdMy old biology teacher, J.A. Wood, introduced me to Dixon Lanier Merritt’s classic limerick:

A wonderful bird is the pelican
His bill can hold more than his belican
He can take in his beak
Food enough for a week
But I'm damned if I see how the helican

Wonderful or not, the Australian Pelican (Pelicanus conspicillatus) has an ungainly comic appearance, with its huge beak and S-bend neck:

The pelican waddles when it walks, and the huge expandable gular pouch beneath its beak shows even when flying:

The Australian Pelican’s beak is the bird-world’s longest, up to 50cm, longer than other species of pelicans. That extra length is useful for fossicking in deep water:

When the pelican lifts up an aquatic trophy, the water is first allowed to drain out, exposing the striated inner lining of the beak pouch:

The found object is then gripped firmly in the bird’s beak:

The pelican can then swim off with its trophy-laden pouch:

To be swallowed later at leisure:

​Despite their on-land clumsiness, pelicans swim well, and are powerful flyers able to soar on thermals like eagles. They have very long wings (compare this pelican’s wings with those of its magpie “escort”.)

They are able to travel widely in search of food when they need to. In times of abundant rain, they will range far inland, to Lake Eyre for example, and then return to the coast as the water dries up. They feed mostly on fish, caught by plunging their beaks into the water while swimming on the surface (they are too buoyant to swim far underwater like cormorants).  Sometimes pelicans will work together to drive fish into shallow water; at other times they forage alone. They will vary their diets as opportunity arises, eating other birds such as teal and silver gulls (eggs, nestlings or adults), reptiles, and (reportedly) the occasional small dog.

This catholic feeding habit may explain the magpie escort in the previous photo, as well as the attention of local gulls below.

In this case, the gulls pursued the pelican right across the bay:

At other times, gulls and pelicans coexist quite peacefully—when there’s plenty of food around, for instance! This congregation is waiting for Fishermen’s Wharf to open in Woy Woy.

Pelicans also like to groom themselves in the sun. This one seems to be running its own calliper test for stomach fat (perhaps after a flying visit to Woy Woy!)

I have seen other grooming pelicans do this, and perhaps it’s this action that inspired the old “Pelican in her Piety” myth.

In ancient Europe, the myth spread that a mother pelican would cut her breast open with her beak and feed her chicks with her blood if there was not enough food. By the 2nd century AD the early Christians had adopted this as an allegory for Christ, who in the Crucifixion story shed his own blood to save humankind. Some believed that the pelican’s blood could resuscitate its dead chicks.  A picture of this known as the “Pelican in her Piety” became an icon widely used in paintings, stone reliefs, jewellery, and stained glass windows.

The Pelican Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I of England is so named because she is wearing one of these iconic brooches. In her case it carries the additional allegory of a sovereign prepared to shed her blood for her country. Below is a detail from the portrait, with the pelican’s orange blood flowing just above the red jewel. You can see the pose is similar to the one in the previous photo:

​Worldwide, there are eight species of pelican.  The Australian Pelican is middle-sized at 4.0-8.2 kg, but has the greatest wingspan (up to 3.4m). The smallest (3.6-4.5 kg) is the Brown Pelican, found over much of the Americas. It is the national bird of St Kitts and Nevis, a pair of them featuring on the national coat of arms. This is my only picture of Brown Pelicans, taken in Barbuda. It’s a 1:1 crop of a long-distance shot using a budget lens, but there’s enough to show the dark body and yellow-beige patch on the head.
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<![CDATA[The Red Angophora]]>Sun, 05 Jan 2020 10:20:36 GMThttp://wildnsydney.com/fibs_blog/the-red-angophoraLast month I took this photo of the sun dimmed through bushfire smoke. Its red colour reminded me of one of the trees whose funeral pyre is now making up much of the smoke - the Sydney Red Gum (Angophora costata.)

This Angophora has long been one of my favourite trees. Sydney Red Gums frequently have gnarled and twisted limbs, the colours of which change as they shed and regrow their beautiful smooth bark. Early in summer, the new bark is salmon-pink or a deeper reddish-brown, though not as red as portrayed above. What’s particularly striking is the way these colours are caught by the slanting sun in the “golden hours” of sunrise and sunset, making the trunks and branches glow.

The photograph above was taken yesterday evening, and the next one this morning, albeit a little later than the golden hour:

Closer, the gnarled twists look like this:

Closer still, the texture of the bark and variations in colour are amazing, like this tree in the midst of shedding:

Here’s a completely different colour palette:

And this one looks like an abstract painting or a pattern for a military combat jacket:

​This image shows another common feature – dimples or pock-marks.  Many of the trees also have curious lumps and bumps or swellings.

To this list can be added the creases at branch junctions:

Sometimes the tree doesn’t need a branch as an excuse, just a bend:

The creatures living on a tree may add further features, such as these egg cases (possibly those of a spider).

Another attraction of the Red Gums is the creamy-white flowers they bear early in summer.  En masse, the effect is like this tree at Ball’s Head:

The flowers have a good supply of nectar, attracting both birds and bees. Here’s a closer view of flowers and unopened buds being visited by a honey bee:

Although they are called Sydney Red Gums, the trees are found in open forest along much of the NSW coast. Their range does not extend far inland, however. Given room, they can grow into large trees of up to 25 metres or more. The Angophora genus is closely related to the true Eucalypts (Eucalyptus), and to the Bloodwoods (Corymbia), and all three are collectively known as eucalypts. One point of distinction is that Angophoras have leaves arranged in opposite pairs, not alternately. Another name for the Red Gum is the ‘Smooth-barked Apple’, a name which sits oddly with me.  Apparently the trees reminded early Europeans of apple trees.  Like all eucalypts Red Gums are flammable, though I suspect not as flammable as some of the oilier eucalypts with thick bark.

<![CDATA[Blue-Banded Bees’ Bedtime Habits]]>Sun, 29 Dec 2019 10:25:08 GMThttp://wildnsydney.com/fibs_blog/blue-banded-bees-bedtime-habitsThe patrons of the ‘bee hotel’ beside our house include a few female Blue-Banded Bees. This is one returning to her nest tunnel inside the hotel.

Only the females sleep in their nests, however, and I wondered where the males went. Eventually I found one place.  The other side of our house is not much visited by me because it has no through-way, but one day at dusk I spotted this lily bract:

It held a male bee, all snuggled up for the night. He was in the typical male Blue-banded Bee sleeping pose, holding on to the stem with his powerful mandibles while his legs and wings rested. Here’s a closer view:

As I watched, the bee, which had been grooming himself, suddenly lashed out with his left legs. There was an intruder approaching – another bee:

The intruder seemed to covet the first bee’s sleeping spot, and tried to move him on, while the original bee responded by kicking out while holding on grimly with his jaws. Unfortunately, I only got these low-grade images as my flash batteries had died:

I returned later with fresh batteries to find that the incumbent bee had moved, but he was still being challenged:

Eventually the intruder took a break and so did I:

When I went back after dark I found that they had settled their differences and were resting peacefully.

Another night I found an equally peaceful scene, this time with no less than four male bees:

This roosting behaviour is common among male BBBs. They seem to prefer sleeping in groups, and jostle for position before settling down. Sometimes they are joined by other species of bee, or even a wasp. Like all male BBBs, they have five blue-white body bands, whereas the females have only four.  The yellow colouring on the female in my first picture is from her pollen load, not the bee herself.

​I have previously done a fairly comprehensive post on these bees here.
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<![CDATA[Twelve Days]]>Sun, 22 Dec 2019 10:19:29 GMThttp://wildnsydney.com/fibs_blog/twelve-daysHere’s a slightly different take on the proverbial twelve days of Christmas, photographically speaking.
12 Pigeons Posing
There are actually more than 12 Topknot Pigeons in the photo. The birds look so small because they were 400m away.
11 Harlequins Huddling
These are Hibiscus Harlequin Bug nymphs, grouped on a native hibiscus leaf, and providing a shiny Christmas decoration for this post.

10 Frigates Flying
As with the pigeons, there are two bonus Frigate Birds – the two males sitting in the mangrove branches with their throat sacs inflated.

9 Cockies Flapping
Unusually they weren’t screeching, just flying north-west in a very determined fashion. Inevitably there was one flapping out of synch with the group.

8 Red-necks Resting
These Red-necked Avocets have headed off early for their Christmas break.

7 Corellas Carousing
These Little Corellas are very much in the Christmas spirit. The photo is deliberately over-exposed-- about as close as we get to a White Christmas.​

6 Honeyeaters Hassling
A messy photo, just like some Christmas dinners, and these New Holland Honeyeaters have a bit of a family brawl going on, also like some Christmas dinners.

5 Gold Rings
These Yellow-tufted Honeyeaters are the closest I have to gold rings – or rather gold earrings (you can see the effect on the bird at the lower right).

4 Collie Birds
Collie of course means “black”, and these White-winged Choughs fit the bill pretty well— at least until they start flying.

3 French Hens
Actually they’re Tongan chooks, with a taste for the café lifestyle.

2 Turtle Doves.
Well, they're called Turtle Doves in Anguilla, where they are the National Bird.  Elsewhere they are called Zenaida Doves. It’s summer so they’re sitting on an air-conditioning unit.

And a Turkey in a Bare Tree.

Which brings us to 2020. It’s said that being hit by a bird dropping is a harbinger of good fortune, so here’s your good luck out of a clear blue sky, courtesy of a Tree Martin.

A happy Christmas and a healthy, safe and lucky New Year to you all!
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<![CDATA[Dumpy aerobats]]>Sun, 15 Dec 2019 09:02:13 GMThttp://wildnsydney.com/fibs_blog/dumpy-aerobatsI always enjoy watching swallows’ aerobatics, as they swoop, swerve and soar in pursuit of their next meal.   What I hadn’t realised until I looked at some photos I had taken was that despite their agility, swallows are quite dumpy little birds, at least from certain angles.

Two more views.

The stockiness makes sense, in that they need strong wing muscles to pull off steep turns like this one in pursuit of insects:

​And they certainly catch enough – this one has just lined up its next snack:

While this one has successfully jinked up to catch whatever’s in its beak.

Then it’s off to catch the next one:

The blue skies show that the previous photos were all taken before Sydney’s skies filled with smoke. In contrast the image below was taken 3 days ago, with the swallow silhouetted against smoke-diffused sunlight.

For me, the swallows are most entertaining when they fly low, looking for insects rising from the grass:

​The low altitude makes them appear even faster, and viewing them from above allows the sunlight to highlight their blue iridescence.

Over-exposure gives interesting effects.

Sometimes the swallows fly in small groups or pairs:

This allows them to perform a classic from aerobatic team displays – the low-level crossover:

And one final in-flight activity - feeding the offspring!

The birds in the photographs are all Welcome Swallows (Hirundo neoxena). I’ve written about them before.

They look very similar to the Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica) of the northern hemisphere, which sometimes penetrate into northern Australia in their annual migrations. Some Welcome Swallows over-winter around North Sydney, whilst others are partially migratory.  
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