Notes to readers of this Blog


Thank you for dropping by to check out my blog. You will see a lot of other Blogs about birds I follow down the left hand side. I strongly encourage you to check some of these out as well, they are entertaining and I love to see birds from all over the world, I hope you do too.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Red-browed Pardalote, Southern Whiteface, Fairy and Tree Martins

Red-browed Pardalotes are around Central Australia most of the time, but recently I have been hearing and seeing a lot more than usual. Generally, these cute little birds are elusively in the tree-tops, and I have struggled to get good photos showing their unique characteristics. Recently, this changed. I could hear two birds piping away to one another and eventually located them in a nearby shrub. Camera in hand I warily approached the bush, but unlike previous experiences, the birds didn't fly off, maybe they were too interested in one another to worry about me. Alas they were behind the spindly leaves of the tree for a really good shot, but even so, being this close demanded the photos to be taken. One of them was more in the open than the other so I concentrated on that one. I clicked off a few photos and then realised the shots would be about the same so unless the bird moved, I was to hold my fire. Eventually it did, and to my delight, it flew onto a nearby wire fence. It wasn't too far away from where I was but I didn't want to get too close, and instead hoped the lens would reach far enough. The bird did fly off and I was delighted with some of the photos taken of the bird inside the diamond shapes of the fence.

Red-browed Pardalote


The Southern Whiteface is another bird I seem to encounter a lot once I leave the main town area of Alice Springs. They can be quite noisy and their twittering to one another can be frustrating as being so small they can be very close but still unseen. This one was far more obliging.

Southern Whiteface

The Fairy Martins and Tree Martins can be hard to distinguish when they are flying, but much easier once they are perched. Zooming around collecting insects above water and then sitting on nearby fences to preen themselves, seems to be their main daily activities. Here are some who have become tired of the insect catching :-)

Fairy Martin

Tree Martin

Monday, 18 August 2014

Budgerigars, Zebra Finches, and there is nothing common about the Common Bronzewing

The birding action is everywhere around Central Australia, with a variety depending on which direction you head from Alice Springs. South of town there are lots of Budgerigars and Zebra Finches, around town there are still Redthroats, Fairy-wrens, lots of Thornbills and the usual plethora of Black and Whistling Kites, not to mention the ever-present Australian Ringnecks and the White-plumed Honeyeaters. West of town sees the Southern Whiteface and Thornbills in numbers, and the occasional Common Bronzewing, not to mention Brown Falcons along the roadside. The red-capped Robins seem to be everywhere too.

First up is a few photos of the Budgerigars.Knowing that the first photo is the one people will see first, makes it a hard choice. Although the one I have chosen isn't the crispest of shots, as I looked at it a thought went through my head from some 70s/80s cartoon show "Everyone Split" and I also added "man with a camera!" The birds all scattered in different directions.


There were probably over 100 birds in the group near me. The noise they made seemed like a lot more than that, especially when the alarm call was sent out by a White-plumed Honeyeater nearby. The whoosh as all the Budgies flew off together from the tree-tops was amazing. I eventually saw an Australian Hobby but wasn't sure if this was the cause of all the alarms. Interestingly, a Whistling Kite flew overhead and the alarm wasn't raised, and the Budgerigars all sat where they were.

The above photos were taken around a puddle, and where there is water, there are Zebra Finches.

One bird I see more often at dusk around water sources rather than during the day in the open, is the Common Bronzewing. In my opinion, the naming of this bird is up there with the Black Kite (that isn't Black), the Singing Honeyeater (that doesn't sing) etc. etc. When you see the amazing array of colours in the wings, as well as the striking markings it has on its head and neck, surely there was a better option than the word "Common". I'm sure there is a very good reason, and after this post I'll be looking up the bird in my birding apps and on the internet, but regardless of what it says, I think the powers that bereally should have another go at the naming of this species.

Common Bronzewing

Friday, 15 August 2014

The smaller birds - Zebra Finch juveniles, Red-capped Robin and Inland Thornbill

You know a bird is small when a Fairy-wren looks large in comparison. The wind chill factor in Central Australia makes it hard to get motivated to even go looking, but I found a nice thickly treed area the other day.

In total, there were four juvenile Zebra Finches in the group. They huddled up eventually, but it started with a couple on different branches, until ultimately all 4 sat on the same branch.

The Red-capped Robin in the photos below was one of a few I saw. I was trying to be patient and wait until it landed on a lower branch with some yellow wildflowers in the background but it decided the perches I had identified weren't good for spying food, so I dipped on the wanted photo, but still managed a few shots.
Red-capped Robin

The Inland Thornbill in the photo below was one of a pair that was flitting around and chattering amongst the trees. I was intrigued by the up-turned tail, like a Fairy-wren. I hadn't really noticed this before, and the sounds the thornbills were making was unusual, making me wonder if they weren't perhaps using mating calls. Unfortunately I've misplaced my sound recording machine as it would have been handy to record the calls being made by both birds. I didn't see any indication of a nest, but they could have been building one further into the scrub.

Inland Thornbill

There were a number of other small birds in the area I didn't manage decent shots of - Splendid Fairy-wren, Mistletoebird, Western Gerygone as well as Yellow-rumped Thonbills. I did have a very inquisitive young Thornbill, I think it was an Inland variety but couldn't be 100%. It came to within 1 metre of me on a branch, and checked me out for probably 5 seconds, before moving about the bush and then off to another one from the back of the bush. There were a couple of striking parts to this - firstly, how close it came to me, and secondly, it was tiny. Pizzey and Knight state the Inland Thornbill's size ranges from 9.5 - 11.5 cms. I doubt this one was the 9.5 cms, more like 7, so I am wondering if it perhaps wasn't a juvenile Slaty-backed Thornbill which is supposed to be 9.5 cms only. They are supposed to mix with the Inland Thornbills, so perhaps this was what it was, but without a photo I'll never know. such is life in the birding world.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

White-plumed Honeyeaters and Thornbill answers

White-plumed Honeyeaters have been nesting in our back yard, the main focus in the BirdLife Central Australia Branch Newsletter - the Desert Chat and frolicking around the car recently. Andrew Crouch wrote a great article in the Newsletter, and gave a few interesting facts I didn't know before, namely that White-plumed Honeyeaters are also called "Greenies", and the Central Australian birds are a deeper yellow than the southern varieties. (you can e-mail me if you want to be added to our e-mail list for the Branch Newsletter. We should have a website up and running soon and I'll post a link to that on this blog where you will be able to download future editions).
The nesting White-plumed Honeyeaters have been very busy and there are 3 chicks that have hatched and are constantly calling for food. My son Moses has been keeping a close eye on developments there and reports any new developments.
The frolicking around the car experience was completely unexpected. The birds seemed to be trying to get to their own reflections in the car mirror and windows. At one point there were 4 of them all looking at themselves. The camera did come out and I took a few photos.

White-plumed Honeyeater

and as to the Thornbill post - did you pick the odd one out? One of these was not a Central Australian Thornbill at all.
The answers are:
1 Chestnut-rumped Thornbill - apart from the colour of the rump, the key id feature for me is the eye
2 Slaty-backed Thornbill - very similar to the Inland Thornbill, but with less markings around the face and neck
3 Inland Thonbill - probably the most common around Central Australia
4 Yellow-rumped Thornbill - I see these birds on the ground a lot more than the other Thornbills in CA
5 Buff-rumped Thornbill - the furphy in the pack. Check out the range in one of your bird books. this was the one we don't get in Central Australia.

As with most birding I do, sometimes I find even the most commonly seen birds difficult to ID due to their close resemblance to other birds in the area, especially when they are small and in shadows.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Thornbills - do you know your Central Australian species?

Central Australian Thornbills
You are out in the scrub. You can sense movement and then you hear a chirp, or a twitter and wonder what it is. Mixed in among the Splendid Fairy-wrens, Western Gerygones and Southern Whiteface, you see another small bird. It is probably a Thornbill but which one?
The above photo is a group of 5 Thornbills that can be seen around Central Australia. They are numbered 1 to 5. Before you keep reading, open the photo and see if you can identify each one. to help you, in no particular order, here are the names of the five:

  • Inland Thaornbill
  • Slaty-backed Thornbill
  • Chestnut-rumped Thornbill
  • Yellow-rumped Thornbill 
  • Buff-rumped Thornbill
In my next post on this blog, if you are keen to know how well you identified each one, I'll give the answers.

Identifying Thornbills can be difficult. Some of them are easier than others because of their colour, markings and voice, while others are difficult as they look similar to other Thornbills. The Yellow-rumped Thornbills seem to be easiest for me at the moment as they have a very different look and noise, but when you see a bird under the shadows of the foliage of a bush or among the branches above head height with the sun overhead, it can be quite tricky. Eventually though, when you have the time, they do start to be more inquisitive and then once they realise you aren't coming to catch them or hurt them, they can be quite friendly.

Currently the weather is starting to warm up in Central Australia, and as the insects become more active, so too will the Thornbills. An easy access location for these birds is Simpsons Gap, about 15 kms from Alice Springs. I have seen all 5 of the birds in the photo above at this location. Cassia Hill walk and the car park down at the Gap itself seem to have been the most reliable in the past.

If I really haven't got a good photo, I also try really hard to isolate the calls I've heard in my head, and then check on my Pizzey and Knight iPad App of the ones I suspect was the variety. I also use others to help with identification if I'm still unsure and have a good enough photo.

Good luck with the ID above, and enjoy your birding.

Monday, 4 August 2014

Photos of Magpie Larks, or MudLarks, beings larks in the mud

The puddles have just about dried up west of Alice Springs now, but I took these photos before the puddles disappeared. There were 31 of these Magpie Larks in the group, one of the biggest I've seen. I was sitting quietly off the road, and they didn't seem to mind me being there. Hope you enjoy the photos.

Magpie Lark