Walking through Badangi Reserve, I spotted a greyish bird on a low branch. It immediately flew up into the canopy and I was able to get a quick shot.
Although its head was in deep shade, I could see clearly its white underside with dark streaking, and this made me think it was either an Oriole or a Figbird. The insect in its beak suggested an oriole, but both species take insects. The bird then flew to a more open spot:
The olive-green shading into its chest, and its red eye and reddish beak, confirmed that it was indeed an Olive-backed Oriole (Oriolus sagittatus), the first I had ever seen in North Sydney. It was busily scanning the area for more insects, and very soon it was off again. Eventually it perched on another branch with something in its beak I couldn’t quite see, a cricket maybe.
Soon it moved again, to scan for prey in another place:
It spotted something and leapt into the air once more:
At that point I became a little distracted. Several mosquitoes were collecting blood samples from my bare legs with an enthusiasm that would have done credit to a team of health experts on a coronavirus cruise ship. The oriole flew past me and for a wild moment I hoped it might remove the mosquitoes! By the time I’d moved to a less mosquito-infested space, the oriole had moved on too. Another movement then caught my eye – a little dart butterfly.
Then the oriole –I think it was the same one – returned to a branch near me, still scanning for insects. It looked first to my left:
then above me:
and then to my right:
where it spotted something:
A couple of seconds later it was perched nearby with its latest prize:
A jumping-ant (bull ant):
The oriole took its time before swallowing the ant, possibly aware that it packed a nasty bite and worse sting. It then set off on its next hunt. This was my last view of it:
Earlier I commented that the same or another bird had returned. This happened several times - the bird would fly off and then I would see it in a different place. I'm actually pretty sure there were at least two orioles playing tag around me. Keen viewers may have noticed that some photos show more olive shading into the white below the neck compared with others, and I don't think it's just the variations in light and shade in the dappled light.
I have seen orioles before, in the Lane Cove National Park for example. They are a common enough species in the eastern third of Australia, where they migrate south in summer, and return in winter. A related subspecies (O. affinis) occurs across the north. They are omnivorous, eating insects and fruit in season.
As I said earlier, I wasn’t sure at first if the bird was a female fig-bird, so for comparison’s sake here’s a photo of three Australasian Figbirds at Newport, on Sydney’s northern beaches. At the time, they were undergoing a moult and so look pretty scruffy. The male is at bottom right, and very different, but the other two are females and to a casual glance look similar until you get a closer view of their heads.
Another bird that has a superficial similarity to the oriole is the Metallic Starling, but these are only found on the tropical Queensland coast.