Australia, June 24-28, 2007
I had to make a “quick” business trip “down-under” June 24-28th visiting Melbourne and Sydney before heading back to San Diego. As usual, I took my gear with me in the event I had the opportunity to do a little sightseeing and/or checking out the local flora and fauna. As it would have it, the way flight schedules go I would get into Melbourne early Sunday morning so I was going to have at least a little time to photograph. First off, I’ll tell you that Australia is one of if not my favorite place to go in the world, I have not even begun to explore this continent but each trip either for business or vacation has been memorable. This would be my shortest excursion but still I had at least a little time for exploration.
The trip did not start out well as we were delayed by over 2.5 hours from our original take off time of 11:30 PM, actually not leaving LAX until a little after 2:00 AM, Saturday morning. The “quick” 15 hour flight was in itself uneventful and I was cleared through customs in a cab and on my way to my hotel by 11:00 AM Sunday morning, Australia time. I checked in to the hotel, changed my clothes and walked to the Australian Royal Botanical Gardens in Melbourne where I would spend the rest of the day.
The weather was a bit of a surprise even though I understood that it was now winter down there but it was quite cool, temperature hovering in the 40’s with a light breeze blowing most of the afternoon, it was sunny however and it turned out to be the best day weather-wise of the entire trip! I walked along the Yarra River which took me to the entrance to Alexandra Gardens Park and then on in to the Royal Botanical Gardens. Along the way I was able to see many Silver Gulls, a few Little Black Cormorants, a Little Pied Cormorant and a smattering of the usual city birds such as the Magpie Lark and Australian Magpie and the usual European Sparrows and Rock Doves. The Gardens were quite spectacular encompassing an area of over 80 acres with a multitude of trails and over 10,000 species of plants, many considered rare. While the area was quite beautiful it was also teeming with people, in some spots so many that it was hard to get around however despite this fact (it was Sunday afternoon) I was still able to observe and photograph a number of interesting birds and added 15 new lifers in a short 4 hour period so all in all I considered that a success. One other thing I should mention is that right before the trip I purchased a new Canon 5D camera body which is what all of these pictures were taken with. Following are the highlights from the afternoon along with some commentary…
Silver Gulls were everywhere along the river and for that matter, pretty much everywhere I went. They are quite beautiful birds actually with snow white plumage contrasted with red bill and legs, a red eye ring and light colored eyes.
This Magpie Lark was quite content with staring at it's reflection in this piece of plexiglas along a major walkway.
A Little Pied Cormorant doing it's best to appear like a penguin...
Little Black Cormorant
Common Myna, as the name implies were quite common in the city.
This is a Red Wattlebird, note the little pink extension next to it's cheek, apparently called a "wattle"
Dusky Moorehen's looking for scraps in a small pond.
Willie Wagtail, another "friendly" species, quite interesting to watch as it struts around searching for insects and sticking it's tail in the air, pumping it up and down, this bird had quite an attitude!
Australian Wood Ducks were quite common at the Royal Botanical Gardens.
This White-plumed Honeyeater was mixed in with a small flock of Striated Pardalotes and Brown Thornbills, which are both quite tiny and even though this is a small bird, as Honeyeaters go, it really stood out as a giant!
The tiny Brown Thornbill.
Another tiny bird, the Striated Pardalote
Another shot of the White-plumed Honeyeater, this one showing why it is called such.
I saw many Eastern Spinebills like this one but for the most part only managed a handful of partially obscured shots like this one. Another tiny bird in constant motion, note the very long, decurved bill.
An old friend from every Australia trip, the Sulphur-crested Cockatoo
I ran into several flocks of these cool little birds, called Silvereyes over the course of the few days I was down-under.
An Australasian Grebe
This is a Chestnut Teal, very similar looking and easily mistaken for a Mallard or other common duck found in the US (from a distance I thought it was a shoveler) have to keep in mind where you are at and that probably what you are looking at is NOT what you think it is...
A pair of Pacific Black Ducks
There was a small lake that was at one end of the Botanical Gardens, most of the bird life seemed to congregate around the water.
Here's another shot of an Eastern Spinebill
This was my "cool find" for the first day of the trip. I was walking around the lake and I heard this very faint, dainty call coming from above. I looked up and at first didn't see this Red-rumped Parrot staring back down at me. It turned out that he was guarding or at least perching in front of a nest which was a round hole in the center of a cut branch on this particular tree. I took many pictures, he didn't seem to like it and kept trying to keep something between us. Then the female came back to the nest with some food, she went inside and he immediately went to the entrance and stood guard. Never saw the babies nor heard them but they certainly were in there.
Red-rumped Parrot, showing why it's named as such.
Male and Female Red-rumped Parrots
This was a bit of a surprise, a Song Thrush, same species as I had seen in the Netherlands in February (see my European Trip Report).
Another view of the Botanical Garden, quite expansive and makes you forget that you are smack dab in the middle of a very large Australian city.
I ran into a large group of Bell Miners, they constantly peep at each other, giving away their location, they were quite friendly and approachable, the group was 50 or more and were busy feeding when I approached for some close up shots.
Bell Miner checking me out.
Purple Swamphen foraging
Little Wattlebird checking out one of the 10,000 species of plants found in the Royal Botanical Gardens in Melbourne
This little White-browed Scrubwren stayed in the shadows and constantly moved around, even with a flash I was unable to get a clear shot!
One of my favorite birds, the Rainbow Lorikeet
Red Wattlebird feeding on the same flowers as the Rainbow Lorikeets
It's interesting when you are in a different location then you are used to and things that seem normal to the natives are quite unusual to you! Case in point are the local Sulphur-crested Cockatoos which are about as noisy and obnoxious as you can get, screaming at each other at the top of their lungs, it causes one to look up and take note, that is, unless you are a native Australian who seem to be completely oblivious to their cries. I caught myself stopping and staring quite often as one or more of these Cockatoos would make themselves known. People would state at me, stopping to look at these cool birds, some shaking their heads obviously knowing that they had a tourist in their midst...
Rainbow Lorikeet snacking on Eucalyptus flowers
Grey Fantail from high up in a Eucalyptus Tree, I observed them fly-catching very similar to what you would see from a Phoebe or Kingbird in the US.
Another, not so boldly marked but still impossible to photograph White-browed Scrubwren
I ran into this White-faced Heron very late in the day in a small pond where it was in stealth mode, looking for a quick dinner
On my way back to the hotel I spotted the faint outline of a bird perched along a dock and was able to get another new lifer, a Rufous Night-heron.
After a full day of meetings in Melbourne on Monday, June 25, I took a late flight up to Sydney for more meetings over the next couple of days. I wasn’t expecting to have much time in Sydney but as things turned out I did end up getting some time to explore the area however the weather was very uncooperative, it rained almost the entire time I was there with a couple of breaks that luckily coincided with part of my time off. My first venture in the field was Tuesday afternoon when I got a few hours to explore the Sydney Olympic Park, which is actually about a half hour outside the city proper, the site of the 2000 summer Olympic games has been turned into a large park and recreation area including a large area that has been set aside for nature, of which a large portion of that is mangrove swamp area. I was able to take about a 3 hour hike and ALMOST made it back to the car before the skies opened up, I got soaked, but was able to get a few good shots despite miserable misty, dark conditions all afternoon. Here are the highlights:
Australian White Ibis enjoying the rain and foraging for grub
Another White-plumed Honeyeater taking in a light rain shower
Great Cormorant and Little Black Cormorant
A pair of Pied Cormorants spotted something of interest...
I ran into a small flock of Red-rumped Parrots grazing on the wet grass at the Olympic Park outside Sydney
There were 3 males and 2 females and seemed totally uninterested in what I was doing.
A Black-winged Stilt seemed unbothered by the rain
Another tiny bird is this Yellow Thornbill, another bird that would not sit still, between the dark conditions, the fact that this bird flitted from perch to perch almost by the second and the dense scrub that it seemed to prefer I was quite happy to have any recognizable images!
Another highlight for me was capturing a male Superb Fairywren, these are truly "day-glow" colored birds, the picture does not do justice how these birds seem to glow. I chased a small flock of 4 females and this male for the better part of 1 hour before getting a clear shot, they are quite skittish seeming to stay just out of sight and constantly chattering to one another.
This Superb Fairywren sat still just long enough for one shot!
And one last shot of a Yellow Thornbill, just before the skies opened up!
The last segment was a pleasant surprise as I had not planned on having any free time on Wednesday however a morning appointment was canceled and an afternoon appointment was moved to a 6:00 PM dinner appointment which left me with all the daylight hours (which by the way are few down here in the winter where it gets light shortly after 7:00 AM and by 4:00 PM) to see what I could find. I made a wild last minute decision to get up early and drive up to the Blue Mountains which are about 2 hours west of Sydney and from what I had heard a fairly good area for birding. As I left Sydney in the dark it was clear and I was eager with anticipation as it appeared that there was a break in the weather however as the sun rose over the Blue Mountains around 7:00 AM I saw that the clearing was only over the coast and dark, ominous clouds awaited me as I ascended into the highlands. It should be noted that the Blue Mountains are more of a high plateau with a lot of canyons then they are mountains in the typical fashion however the plateau does rise some 1,500 meters above sea level at the higher points. As I continued toward Katoomba, which was my destination not only did the weather worsen with a slight mist falling but the wind was HOWLING, I estimated the gusts at well over 60 mph and things did not appear good. I also noted that although the area was scenic it certainly wasn’t what I had expected in terms of a sort of National Park as there were houses and cars everywhere, in fact the traffic was quite heavy. I made a turn off to explore an area that was labeled as “falls” only to find a housing development and a dead end at a hospital. When I reached Katoomba, around 8:00 AM it was starting to rain and darker clouds were quickly moving in and as I stated the wind was outrageous. A few Sulphur Crested Cockatoos struggled in the wind to move from tree to tree shrieking loudly as only they can. I also saw an occasional Red Wattlebird moving around in the shrubs but other than that it was pretty bleak and not to mention cold! The temperature in Katoomba was a brisk 39F at 8:30 AM. I decided to move back down the mountain, wasting precious time as I calculated that I had to be heading back to Sydney no later than 2:30 PM to get back, change into my suit and head to my dinner appointment. There was a sign low down on the mountain that pointed off to a bridge and “ Glenbrook lagoon” and I decided that that was as good as any point to call my next destination. There was a winding road that led down the side of a mountain with a nice riparian area with a little bridge and picnic area where I stopped and explored, adding a few new lifers as I did then I traveled down to the bottom of the hill which opened into a nice transition zone between eucalid forest and scrubland where I hiked several miles with intermittent times of good light and dark clouds with light rain. I have noted specific comments below for the pictures taken from these two areas.
Imagine my surprise when I am making a U-turn to head back down the mountain and in someone's front yard there sits a crimson colored bird, munching on the grass. It glances at me and then goes back to eating. This is a Crimson Rosella, one of four I saw during the day.
Still more shots of the Crimson Rosella
I think he found something good!
Finally, he got tired of my picture taking and retired into a hedgerow...
This was another very cool bird, and one that didn't mind getting his picture taken, this is a Spotted Pardalote
Female Superb Fairywren
Silvereye, one of about 50 in a flock that I saw throughout the day as it made it's way back and forth along lower vegetation, this one seems to have found a berry to it's liking...
Another Yellow-faced Honeyeater
A good shot of a Red Wattlebird, they were very common in the higher elevations of Blue Mountain, they seemed to be the most common bird in some areas however it could just be that they were big enough to navigate in the strong wind. I saw a few Ravens, a lot of Wattlebirds and a smattering of Cockatoo's driving up the mountain.
This was an area that I spent some time exploring, picked up several Honeyeaters here...
FINALLY, a clear shot of an Eastern Spinebill!
Another soft call from high up in the treetops led me to a pair of Crimson Rosellas. If nothing else I learned that all Parrots do not necessarily make enough noise to raise the dead! This pair was softly calling to one another and watched me intently from their perch high up in the tree canopy. Unfortunately it was so dark that I was not able to get anything really clear.
This was a surprise when I got back home. I had assumed that this group of birds I was taking pictures of were more Wattlebirds however when I looked closer at the pictures I realized that it was a mixed group and there were several Olive-sided Orioles like this one in the mix.
And another picture of him, I think he's trying to hide from me here...
Noisy Miners live up to their name, there is no doubt when they are around, you could hear this small flock of them from a quarter mile away...
I watched this Yellow-faced Honeyeater chase down this moth, it was quite amazing how persistent he was and then when he finally captured it, he took it up to a tree branch and proceeded to shake it and whack it against the side of the tree repeatedly, moth pieces flying in every direction before he gulped it down. I wonder if there is some behavior there having to do with potentially dangerous food items or if it's just something they do?
Another reason I love Australia is that you can pull into the McDonald's parking lot off the freeway and see this in the grass right next to the drive-through...
This pair of Galahs turned out to be the final shot for me on this quick trip down-under...
All in all, a good trip both business-wise as well as being able to add some new species to my bird list (21 new lifers total) as well us upgrade some pictures of species photographed on other trips. I will certainly be back to Australia God willing and look forward to sharing my experience with you when I do. Thanks for looking!
Bird List from June 2007 (Melbourne and Sydney areas)
56 Species, 21 new life-list birds (LL)...
Australasian Grebe (LL)
Australian White Ibis
Australian White Pelican
Australian Wood Duck
Bell Miner (LL)
Black-winged Stilt (LL)
Brown Thornbill (LL)
Chestnut Teal (LL)
Crimson Rosella (LL)
Eastern Spinebill (LL)
European House Sparrow
Fuscous Honeyeater (LL)
Little Black Cormorant (LL)
Little Pied Cormorant
Little Raven (LL)
Little Wattlebird (LL)
Olive-backed Oriole (LL)
Pacific Black Duck
Red Wattlebird (LL)
Red-rumped Parrot (LL)
Rufous Night-Heron (LL)
Striated Thornbill (LL)
White-browed Scrubwren (LL)
White-plumed Honeyeater (LL)
Yellow Thornbill (LL)
Yellow-faced Honeyeater (LL)