birds down under 1.

Subject: birds down under 1.
From: "Wim Vader" <>
Date: Thu, 02 Aug 2001 09:30:48 +0200

                                BIRDS DOWN UNDER. 1. THE PLEASURE OF RECOGNITION

Although I live on the opposite side of the earth, I have always been
fascinated by Australia, its nature and its birds. I have written about
this earlier, some years ago. Amazingly, this month of crustacean
conferences will constitute my sixth visit to the continent down under,
with the longest stay as long as of 10 months, in 1993 in Sydney.

So this time, as I arrive at Melbourne airport all too early (4 am) on a
foggy and drizzly winter morning, I am looking forward not so much  to new
adventures and discoveries, but mostly to meeting old bird friends.
Birding-aussers Barbara and Michael Sturmfels very kindly offer to fetch me
from the airport at this barbaric time, and are waiting to drive me to
their home in Diamond Creek, where they at once put me to bed, my dearest
wish after some 40 hrs of travel in planes not quite built for people my size.

Three hours later comes a knocking at the door, a great Australian
breakfast, and the realization that the fog has lifted completely and
instead we have got a gloriously calm and sunny winter day. Outside I hear
the magpies caroling; these Australian Magpies share only a striking
black-and-white plumage with the northern hemisphere magpies, which are
long-tailed crows. These here are Bell Magpies, an Australian family
together with the Currawongs and Butcherbirds; these magpies are sturdy
birds the size of a crow with pied plumage (here in Victoria with white
backs, greyish in the female) and long pointed light bluish black-tipped
beaks. They live in family groups, which clearly have an intricate and
complicated social structure, and they are among the most common birds in
open landscapes with trees. Magpies mostly forage on the ground, but perch
in trees a lot. They are very vocal and have the most amazing communal
'organ-like yodeling', a sound all its own and very much a hallmark of

In between I hear another melodious black-and-white piper tune up: the Grey
Butcherbird, a near relative of the Australian Magpie. Also the vehement
screeching of the aptly named Rainbow Lorikeets is familiar; this bird is
so colourful as to become hard to see! Pairs of lorikeets barrel like
screeching bullets through the air, clearly prospecting for nest hollows in
the gum trees. I later notice that this is an occupation many of the birds
indulge in now in late winter.

The sounds draw me out of the house quickly and we stroll through the open
suburban neighbourhood along the Diamond Creek. Here I find one old friend
after another, first and foremost Noisy Miners galore (too many, in fact),
as always conspicuous by their most varied loud calls and their vehement
chasing. Along the creek are also Bell Miners, easily overlooked in the
greenery but for their incessant bell-like calls, each bird at its own
pitch, another unmistakable Aussie sound, and therefore also heard spliced
in in many Oz TV soaps, just like the laughter of the Kookaburras and the
strong voice of the Currawong ( both also present here). The trees of
Barbara's property hold Eastern Rosellas and Galahs, and the large communal
lawns pairs of Magpie-Larks with their 'electronic voices' as well as a few
White Ibis, Masked Lapwing, Willie Wagtail and Maned Duck, all old friends
from earlier visits. They all reinforce my opinion of Australia as a
country of loud, colourful and unafraid birds, so that even now in
midwinter the air rings with bird calls. Most birds are quite large; small
birds are in comparison few (in part probably courtesy of the aggressive
Noisy Miners), although we do find a family of the perky Superb Blue Wrens,
and later a small flock of Brown Thornbills in the bushes.

But otherwise the steadily growing list contains mostly larger birds: the
Little Ravens with their conspicuous white eyes (another hallmark of Oz
birds!) and their somewhat unlovely voices, the many 'foreigners' (European
Blackbird, Starling, Mynah, Spotted Dove), the statuesque Darter sitting
quietly sunning in the creek bed, and the 'friendly looking raptor'
Black-shouldered Kite, that most undeservedly enhances my reputation as a
birder, where it sits conspicuously on top of a bush---it happens to be the
first one the family has seen just here. Sulphur-crested Cockatoos, Crimson
Rosellas and Little Corellas swell the ranks of the parrots, and thus
contribute to make the day list a typical Aussie one, with > 10% of the
species seen parrots.

The local shire has, by judicious watering and inventive landscaping,
created a nice little local wetland nearby and while we searched in vain
for the Buff-banded Rail that has been here all winter, the place has
clearly attracted a lot of water birds already: Dusky Moorhens (dusty
moorhens I always think of them as, after my initial misreading of the
name), Purple Swamphens, Pacific Black Ducks and little Pied Cormorants all
have found the place, and of course the ubiquitous Maned Ducks are also here.

Altogether this short (1-2 hrs) stroll yieds some 40 different bird species
and extended satisfactory views of almost all of them, an excellent way to
reacquaint myself with the Australian avifauna. Tusen takk (=1000 thanks);
Barbara and Michael, for all your hospitality and help during my first days
down under!!

I write this early in the morning at a college in Melbourne, and outside in
the pitch-dark a Song Thrush is shouting his rich song, reminding me that
Europe too has loud birds.

Melbourne, 9-7-2001
                                                                        Wim Vader, 
Tromsø Museum
Tromsø, Norway,

Birding-Aus is on the Web at
To unsubscribe from this mailing list, send the message
"unsubscribe birding-aus" (no quotes, no Subject line)

<Prev in Thread] Current Thread [Next in Thread>
  • birds down under 1., Wim Vader <=

The University of NSW School of Computer and Engineering takes no responsibility for the contents of this archive. It is purely a compilation of material sent by many people to the birding-aus mailing list. It has not been checked for accuracy nor its content verified in any way. If you wish to get material removed from the archive or have other queries about the archive e-mail Andrew Taylor at this address: andrewt@cse.unsw.EDU.AU