A pair and a spare — three Beach Stone Curlews (Esacus neglectus) on the mud flats beside Rapid Creek in Darwin.
The Brahminy Kite (Haliastur indus) is a handsome raptor of Northern Australia, south Asia, Papua-New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. This bird occasionally visits to perch high on a tree at the bottom of my garden. The Brahminy Kite, like most Australians, prefers to live near the coast. Juveniles lack the unmistakeable deep chestnut and white plumage.
Brown Honeyeaters (Lichmera indistincta) goofing around after a splash in the bird bath. Lots of Brown Honeyeaters here at my place.
Australian Pied Oystercatchers mate for life. The happy couple mark out and defend a small breeding territory and with luck spend the next 20 years sharing parenting on that spot. Sadly, because of the the insecurity of their habitual nesting spot in a sandy scrape above high water mark, they struggle to raise chicks from the two or three eggs they lay. Thus, the choice of partner by the female is a pretty serious business — a once in a lifetime choice. I’m sure that’s what I was watching yesterday morning on the rocks at Nightcliff. I was photographing waders when two oystercatchers noisily swooped, wheeled and landed beside the waders. Almost immediately they began what I’d have to call a dance. It wasn’t a male displaying to a passively observant female — they danced, sensitive to each other’s movement. Circling, and then crossing each other so shoulders touched, then a series of sideways, crablike manoeuvres. Sometimes with shoulders down and wings partly extended and sometimes the male pointedly bowing. This went for a few minutes and after the male did a few little leaps, she lost interest. He didn’t and the dance turned turned to an exercise of her saying “thanks, but no thanks”. About this time another male arrived and tried to engage the female in dance. But she was having none of it and off she went with them following somewhat abjectly back to where there were another couple of birds. My last photo looks to me to show a rejected suitor at left, three males asking the lady for a dance and her thinking about the offers. It was a great thing to watch.
The blue faced honeyeater (Entomyzon cyanosis) is a bird equally at home in town and bush. Adult birds have the brilliant blue eyepatch. Juveniles go through colour changes from a yellowish hue, through green to blue. Photographed at Jabiru in Kakadu national park.
Life is pretty much all leg work for the Orange-footed scrubfowl (Megapodius reinwardii) and they come well equipped for it. Those beefy legs and long toes can move dirt and leaf litter at an extraordinary rate. Their shared nest mounds can be as big as three metres in height and twelve metres in diameter.
A most beautiful neighbour of mine, the Buff-banded Rail (Gallirallus philippensis) is rarely seen because it is very shy and cautious during the day. It stays close to dense brush and is quick to disappear into cover if it feels intrusion into its private space. It’s more active under cover of night. The Buff-Banded Rail is found almost all around Australia but rarely in the dry inland. It’s range extends through Papua-New Guinea to the Philippines and many Pacific Islands. When I do see this bird, I feel very privileged!
It’s the breeding season for Bukbuk, the Pheasant Coucal (Centropus phasianinus) and they have changed into their beautiful breeding plumage. The Pheasant Coucal is known as Bukbuk in quite a few Indigenous Languages as this is one of those names derived from the bird’s call. Bukbuk is a bird of the north and extending down the seaboard to the Victorian border in the east and in the west as far south as where the Tropic of Capricorn cuts the Western Australian Coast. Bukbuk spends a lot of time on the ground and often makes the fatal mistake of trying to run or fly clumsily and low across bush roads, with its long tail dragging.
Weird is not a descriptive word you expect to find within a species entry in a respected bird guide. Nevertheless, Pizzey and Knight found themselves using “weird” in listing diagnostics for the Bush Stone-Curlew (Burhinus grallarius). “Shy, watchful: moves weirdly, slowly, often with head lowered”, they note. Both in looks and behaviour, the Bush Stone-curlew is …well, a bit out there really. Not least of its weirdness is its call which has been known to send serious shivers up the spine of those hearing it for the first time when camping in the bush. P&K again: “…a far-carrying, eerie whistling call (or chorus) that starts low and quietly — a drawn out “wee-eeer”, repeated up to five times, rises, becomes a high-pitched, drawn out “keeleeoo, quickens, breaks, descends…”. Some folk think it sounds like a person wailing in distress, or, at the least, “it’s spooky”. The Bush Stone-Curlew is in trouble in parts of its range — rare to wholly extinct in settled parts of coastal SE Australia. It’s doing a lot better in the north and in Darwin it’s become part of the suburban scene. Indeed the pictures above were taken at the end of my street in the grounds of a hostel for missionary priests. Lying flat on the ground on grey and brown leaves and mulch it’s very well camouflaged and may choose to stay perfectly still until you get within a metre or so. At that point it rises up quickly onto its spindly legs — which can be unnerving if your thoughts were elsewhere at the time you enter its private space.It spends a lot of time in zen-like stillness — sometimes with one leg raised and its extra big yellow eyes staring into the void. It’s not big on making eye-contact, and would rather pretend you’re not really there. It’s a beautiful and charming neighbour — once you get used to that spooky shriek.
The orange-footed scrubfowl (Megapodius reinwardt) has become a happy camper in the suburbs of Darwin, driving many a mulch-loving gardener to distraction. The Latin name Megapodius refers of course to “big feet” and those long robust claws and powerful orange legs can move mulch and soil at an amazing rate. Tidy minded gardeners wake up to find their carefully curated mulch strewn everywhere. Over our back fence is a house-block that is effectively a reserve for Megapodius and a mound about 12m in diameter and a bit over a meter high is a nest mound shared by a number of Megapodius couples. They excavate a hole, lay 6-12 eggs and back fill the hole with soil and leaves. The job of incubation is done by heat generated as the vegetation breaks down into compost. The chicks are born tough and fully-fledged they excavate their way out, with a little help from parents. The scrub fowl have a very loud call — a number of raucus monotonal shrieks followed by a phrase which our neighbourhood agrees says clearly “fucken hell!”. We’ve listened to them in other places around Darwin, and elsewhere the call couldn’t be construed as “fucken hell”. I’m not sure why they are so cheesed off around our way. They seem to have it pretty good really. They’re found in lowland rainforests and dry jungles of parts of the Kimberleys, the Top End and North Queensland. One of my photos shows a big foot digging down on top of the mound just this week.