For me it is always a special moment when I come across Brolgas.
We camped overnight on a creek between Mt Isa and Boulia in far western Queensland and early in the morning I noticed three Brolgas feeding together out on the near treeless floodplain beside the creek. I thought some photos might be possible when we had packed up if we used the vehicle and van as a hide and moved slowly towards them out on the plain.
A little later I noticed the three Brolgas were moving towards us as they foraged in the grass. Before we were ready to move, they were still tracking in the same general direction and although they were now much closer they were moving past us in a roughly upstream direction. So the moment was right to grab the camera. Then, using some eucalypts beside the creek as cover, I could slowly move on foot towards them. The three birds were aware of my presence but did not seem too wary as they continued to forage and move forward.
I think this is an adult pair with one offspring. Two of the birds are adults based on the presence of the darkish “haired” dewlap under their chins which is larger in males. Also the two adults have more red on the head. The third bird does not have a dewlap and has less red about the head though it does have adult plumage.
They were clearly finding plenty of food in the grass as they probed often and usually picked up a food item to swallow every few steps. They were possibly picking up large grass hoppers.
Each time they moved behind a tree in front of me I used the opportunity to move closer to them.
|One of the adult birds.|
|Same bird as above - about to probe the grass for food.|
At this point one of the birds caught my attention when it spread its wings. It reminded me of their ritualised and intricate mating dances. Brolgas mate for life so the two adults I was observing were almost certainly a life-long pair. However, as it was not yet the breeding season, which is triggered by rain and can occur between September and June in the north, it could not be a warm up for a dance.
|One of the Brolgas spread its wings.|
The black flight feathers which cannot be seen when the wings are folded are apparent in the photo above.
|Brolgas are very elegant birds.|
They continued to feed and move in the same general direction.
|One of the adult birds raised its wings again.|
As the bird raised its wings this time it looked back along the line they had been feeding on. It was then I looked back too and saw the cause of their wing raising. A herd of about 20 cattle were heading their way, probably on their way to the creek for a drink.
The cattle at this stage began to prance a little and kick up their heels as they mounted a mock charge towards the Brolgas. At this point no amount of wing raising was going to deter the cattle so the Brolgas took to the air.
|They are large birds and so they are slow to get moving when taking flight.|
|They easily left the cattle behind, cruising out onto the flood plain where they soon landed and continued feeding again.|
As I walked back to camp to continue packing up I pondered how lucky I was to have such a wonderful early morning encounter with these magnificent birds.
There are two species of crane in Australia. The Brolga (Grus rubicunda) is a native Australian species though it is not endemic as it is also found in NG and is a vagrant to NZ, while the self introduced Sarus Crane (Grus antigone) from Asia has been our other crane species since about 1966 when it was first recorded at Normanton Qld. The Sarus Crane is now well established in the Cape York area and the Atherton Tableland is a good place to find them – look in fallow corn crop land near Atherton.
For more information on Brolgas refer to the following link or a good field guide.