Tuesday, 30 August 2016


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.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Purple-crowned Fairy-wren

If you want to see Purple-crowned Fairy-wrens, then you will have to make a trip to the Top End. You will have a choice of seeing two races, either the nominate race Malurus coronatus coronatus in which case you will need to visit the Kimberley or far north west NT, or to see Malurus coronatus macgillivrayi you will have to visit the Gulf Country in either NT or far NW Queensland. Further, you will need to look in pandanus/paperbark vegetation along creeks and rivers, the preferred habitat of this Top End endemic fairy-wren.

From my experience there are two sure places to find the species - in the Kimberley at Mornington, the AWC sanctuary off the Gibb River Road in WA, or at Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) NP in Queensland and nearby Adels Grove. However, males in breeding plumage will be hard to find outside of the breeding season in June and July

Male Purple-crowned Fairy-wren in breeding plumage.

Looking down from the lookout above Lawn Hill Gorge on good Purple-crowned Fairy-wren habitat fringing Lawn Hill Creek.
Dense pandanus with paperbarks – ideal habitat along Lawn Hill Creek.

Female Purple-crowned Fairy-wren.
A male and female pair of Purple-crowned Fairy-wrens.
The National Park and adjoining area is rich in bird species, however Adels Grove from my experience is the best place to both stay or camp as you will most likely find more species at Adels Grove than in the NP. Also, Adels Grove has good facilities and offers guided bird walks and tours. Of course visits to nearby Boodjamulla NP are highly recommended.

Other species photographed at Adels Grove.

The Grey-crowned Babbler is the only one of the four species of babbler to be found in the Top End. Like other babbler species they are highly social birds which live in extended family groups. Sometimes they are elusive and flee as you approach and sometimes they can be inquisitive.

A Long-tailed Finch at water for a drink.

Long-tails are endemic to the Top End where they are common. This one with a red bill is the NT/Qld race – the WA birds have a yellow bill.

Two Long-tailed Finches in for a late afternoon drink at a creek near Adels Grove.

Northern Fantail at Adels Grove.
(Grey Fantails were also present though they were less common)
Darter on the creek at Adels Grove. Darters are common on waterways and wetlands in the Top End.
A long shot of a Varied Lorikeet high in a dead tree.
It hung in this positions for 10 minutes or more. I think it was looking to go to a nest hollow but was too wary to make the move – not due to my presence I might add as I was a long way off.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Buff-sided Robin

The Buff-sided Robin is another Top End species. We first found Buff-sided Robins at Butterfly Falls camp ground in Limen NP, NT - and again in Adels Grove camp ground near Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) NP in Queensland where they were very tame.

These photos were taken at Butterfly Falls.

Like other robin species they hold their wings out and drop them. However unlike other species they often cock their tail.

I find the Buff-sided Robin very attractive and was glad to catch up with them again – I last saw them in the Kimberly at Mornington (AWC sanctuary) in 2009.

The prominent white brow shows well in this shot.

For a small bird they have a rich and loud call – check it out if you have access to bird calls.

The White-browed Robin photo below is included for comparison with the closely related Buff-sided Robin. The White-browed Robin is a Queensland endemic species. The Buff-sided and White-browed Robins were once considered the same species but have been split into two species.

This White-browed Robin was photographed near Townsville in Queensland.

Monday, 15 August 2016

Leaky tank at wayside stop

A leaking tank at a wayside stop between Mataranka and Roper Bar provided a drink for some local seed eating birds.

Some Masked Finches were the smallest species in for a drink.

Masked Finch – it had to share the site and bow out when larger and more numerous birds pushed in.

A quick drink before others barged in.

Peaceful Doves were in large numbers everywhere we went in the Top End. Here they push in for a drink and the Masked Finch had to wait.

There was only room for two birds to drink at a time.

Size matters – a larger Crested Pigeon displaced the Peaceful Doves.

If it were possible to know the number of Peaceful Doves in Australia it would be a very large number!

The subject leaking tank – not pretty, but the water was very precious in this hot dry area in the Dry Season. Boothy and Irwin have found another use for the tank!

Friday, 5 August 2016

Lapwing evicts Whistler

As we all know Masked Lapwings aggressively defend their breeding territory especially when they have eggs and young.

Who hasn’t been harassed by a cranky Lapwing?

At Yellow Waters in Kakadu National Park I witnessed a Lapwing harass and drive away a Whistling Kite that had landed on a dead branch at the top of a large paperbark tree within its territory.

The Lapwing made six or seven swoops close to the Whistler before it moved on. I managed to capture three of the swoops.

The Lapwing closing in rapidly. The Whistler raises its wings and faces the attacker. Note, a spur is visible on the right wing.

In the second attack I captured the Lapwing very close to the Whistler – a matter of luck I must point out, as the swoops were very fast. I should have tried a few bursts of continuous shooting to try and capture the action.

The spur is visible on the left wing in this shot. The Whistler is on a very precarious perch – one leg is out on space.

The Whistler recovers from the attack.

The Whistler is looking ruffled.

The last attack I captured – one of the Whistler’s legs is out in space again.

The Whistler has finally had enough of the harassment and is about to depart to a quieter perch. It looks like a little preening will be required to regain composure.

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Some Top End wetland birds

The Northern Territory Top End has now had three below average wet seasons with the last (2016/17) being particularly poor. As a result, the Dry Season in 2017 is drier than normal and many wetlands are either dry or have much less water than normal for this time of year. I suspect the dry wet season has also impacted on the savannah woodlands with low numbers of flowering trees and therefore low numbers of birds in the woodlands.

We did a boat tour at both Yellow Waters (Cooinda in Kakadu NP) and in the Mary River NP at Corroboree Billabong. While there was still water at Yellow Waters the wetland birds seemed to be well down on our experience of the same tour we did there in 2007 which followed a big wet season.

Trying to take bird photos from a boat with large numbers of people on board and limited time is not ideal, and in future I think I would prefer to organise a small fishing boat with a professional fishing guide to take me out. On the plus side the tour boats are a regular feature and the local birds have adjusted to their presence and become very confiding in the case of some individual birds and some species. A smaller fishing boat may not achieve the same close approach as the tour boats? Never the less here are some wetland bird photos taken on two tour boat outings.

We have only seen small numbers of Magpie Geese which can sometimes be found in huge numbers. This is a male – note knob on head. Note also that they are not geese as their name implies.
Pied Herons are common. This one is a juvenile and just starting to develop the steel blue grey cap.

Wandering Whistling-Ducks can be found in small numbers and are much less common than the Plumed Whistling-Duck which can be seen in very large numbers.

Plumed Whistling-Ducks – if only they could be made to line up and pose for the camera!

Black-necked Stork or Jabiru (a name I much prefer) – one of our largest water birds.

The Comb-crested Jacana – one of the smallest wetland birds at Yellow Waters. They have the largest feet for body size of any bird in the world – an adaption to allow them to live on floating lily leaves and other aquatic vegetation.

The northern race (miles)of the Masked Lap-wing – note the much larger yellow facial wattles compared with the southern race birds.

This juvenile Striated Heron proved to be typical of the species – hard to pin down for a photo as is moved about in the deep shadows of the freshwater mangroves. It seems to be carrying some vegetable matter in its bill.

The bird then flew to some Pandanus on the other side of the river (East Alligator) – it was still carrying the vegetable matter.

My attempts to get a clear photo of the Striated Heron among the Pandanus did not improve – soon after this shot the bird disappeared and our boat moved on.

This juvenile Nankeen Night-Heron could be confused with a juvenile Striated Heron. This bird was standing out on open ground in the full mid morning sun – they normally shelter in shade during the day and are active at night as the name implies.

An adult Nankeen or Rufous Night-Heron.

Radjah Shelduck were common in small numbers.

A Great Egret. Cattle, Little, Intermediate and Great Egrets are all common in the Top End. The egrets up here must contend with crocodiles as they stalk the wetlands for food – many egrets along with other wetland birds are taken by crocs.

This is a head shot of a large (approx. 4.7m) male salt water or estuarine crocodile. Crocs this size can pull cattle, water buffalo and pigs into the water and drown them. An egret would be a very small snack indeed for a croc this size.

This Intermediate Egret is in breeding plumage (not that evident in this photo). This bird was interacting with another bird in a possible courtship routine or it was in competition with another male? The activity seemed to result in the raised head and neck feathers.

Not strictly a wetland bird the White-bellied Sea-Eagle is very common around Top End wetlands, billabongs, rivers and coastlines. The high productivity of wetlands up here can support very small Sea-Eagle territories compared with say the Gippsland Lakes.
Putting the frustrations of bird photography aside a tour of Top End wetlands in a boat such as the Yellow Waters’ tour is very enjoyable and highly recommended.