This was a strange weekend for birding; but good despite all the difficulties encountered along the way. I started out early on Saturday morning heading towards Ku-Ring-Gai with lots of kiwi fruit in my backpack and anticipation of the wildflowers in bloom. There were many, many flowers at Royal National Park the weekend before, and I wanted to see what was different on the opposite side of Sydney. The track I was planning to take was fairly long: from the park entrance near Ku-Ring-Gai High School, down the Sphinx Head Track, north to Bobbin Head, and eventually up to Mt. Ku-Ring-Gai. I've been in the area before, and it's nice and diverse with wet sclerophyll forest which turns into mangroves down near the water, or into dry open forest on sandstone the further you go up onto the hills.
The birds were very active when I got there, and I wasn't disappointed by the flowers either. Red Wattlebirds were chasing a hapless Grey Butcherbird and Crimson Rosellas calling from all around. When the Rosellas do their squeaky "talking" to each other they wag their tails back and forth which seems to be a display to other Rosellas, since the movement makes them more visible (to me anyway). Excellent views of an Olive-backed Oriole and a Fan-tailed Cuckoo, both of which I have always had trouble getting good looks at despite the fact that they both have obvious calls. But the absolute highlight of the day came early on when 3 Whipbirds chased each other around the Sphinx memorial. Actually, there appeared to be two males, and they were chasing a single female, all the while giving off that incredibly loud whipcrack call. Lots of tail fanning and crest showing and flying around up in the trees instead of on the ground where they usually frustrate me to no end.
Continuing down the Sphinx track I was beginning to worry already that I wouldn't make it to the train station before dark because there were so many birds to stop and look at. Nothing particularly uncommon though, just neat things like White-throated Treecreeper, Yellow-faced Honeyeater, Grey Fantail, Eastern Spinebill, Brown Thornbill, Spotted Pardalote, White-browed Scrubwren, Yellow Robin, and lots of Rosellas, including a couple of Easterns among the Crimson. Spring is definitely in the air! As you get down lower near the creek, the White-cheeked Honeyeaters become very obvious as they noisily chase each other. Each one seems to have their own little patch of flowers which they defend from Currawongs, other honeyeaters, me... Mixed in with the raucous flocks were New Holland Honeyeaters which look very similar. I wonder why these two similar looking species, which apparently compete with each other, exist in the same space here. What's different about them? While I was pondering these large ecological questions, a Wedge-tailed Eagle soared over my head just above the tree line. I didn't even have time to raise my binoculars, but there wasn't any need to... such an impressive bird!
When I finally reached the Cowan Water mangroves at the base of the hill, I was beginning to notice the smell of smoke in the air over the lemon scent of the flowers. Across the river and over the hillside there was a large cloud of smoke, and a few minutes later a helicopter went over towards it... aha, a bushfire. Well, since I don't have a lot of common sense and an overdeveloped sense of curiosity, I just continued on my walk as the light took on the yellow colour of late afternoon, even though it was still mid-morning. There wasn't really any wind, and the smoke was mostly blowing away from me. Also, the people who had been passing me all morning hadn't come back the same way, so I figured it was all right to keep going because there were birds! A White-faced Heron in the creek fishing, and an Azure Kingfisher flashed by as a streak of bright blue and a little high pitched call. Small group of Variegated Fairy-wrens went by... I want to know if the chittering sound that they make is one bird, or if it is started by one and carried on by another and so on in succession that it is extended into the long continuous warbling. Or if it's a chorus of the whole group. The male wren was in his best outfit, bright shiny blue with contrasting rust and black made even more interesting by the strange quality of the smoky light. The females were inconspicuous.
Finally I got to a point where I could hear the fire, which was taking up most of the hillside on the other side of the river. There were also national park people over there who were setting the fire, and it became clear that it was a controlled burn... but still you'd have thought they would put a sign at the park entrance to let us walkers know. In any case, a few minutes later I came upon the boat yard at Bobbin Head, and several Little Black Cormorants, Chestnut Teal, Wood Ducks, Pacific Black Ducks, the ubiquitous Silver Gulls and some Masked Lapwings. All around the picnic area are Noisy Miners, and there were many Welcome Swallows flying in and out under the bridge where they are probably nesting. I can watch swallows flying for hours, they're very hypnotic. I took a detour to do the mangrove boardwalk, where you can watch the hundreds of mangrove crabs scurry away from you into their holes. I found my goal bird for the day, the Mangrove Heron, fishing at the edge of the water quite far away, but still identifiable. Also added Pied Cormorant and Yellow-tufted Honeyeaters from the area surrounding the boardwalk.
I know from past experience that the walk from Bobbin Head to Mt. Ku-Ring-Gai is a killer. It's long, uphill, and noisy on the weekends because of the motorboats. The most evil invention of humankind is the obnoxious jetski. Also, in the afternoon it's almost bird-free. I was fortified for the uphill walk by a Whistling Kite soaring and eventually perched over Apple Tree Bay, and at the top of the climb by a White-bellied Sea Eagle which I spotted out of the corner of my viewfinder while I was trying to take a picture of a tame Kookaburra (I'm a tourist! I admit that I take pictures of Kookaburras, still! Despite the fact that they wake me up very early in the morning). As long as you have a kiwi to eat on the way up, the view is worth it.
In the dry forest on the upper part of the hill I found a pair of White-cheeked Honeyeaters feeding two very demanding little honeyeaters. The juveniles were fully feathered; a duller olive colour compared to their parents. Although their heads were dark, they lacked the defined black throat and grey crown of the adult. The white ear patch was smaller and thinner on the young ones and they had a distinctive yellow/white gape which was visible even when they weren't begging for food. The two were huddled together on a twig just above the ground where they waited for their parents to arrive with a beak full of nice juicy insects. It was a great opportunity to sit down and watch the adults forage around me and then feed the young ones. One or both parents would arrive every 2 minutes or so with food. Interestingly, one of the chicks spent most of its time continuously peeping while the other remained silent. Yet the silent one, being higher on the twig and easier to reach, was getting all the food. Eventually the noisy one resorted to flying at and pouncing on the parent until both were on the ground where the chick could grab the food without its sibling getting in the way. The other chick joined in the next time, and these sorts of encounters escalated over the next few feeding rounds until every time a parent arrived there was an all-out scuffle between everyone. I had to leave the scene when I realised the sun was setting quickly, and I still had a ways to go before reaching civilisation again. But I had to stop for a pair of King Parrots, which sat quietly just above my head. The sunset was beautiful, the bright red and green of the parrots glowed against the white bark of the scribbly gum tree... this is why I go birding, and it's why I go by myself so no one is hurrying me on so I can just sit and watch.
End of the day total: 14 km walked, 60 species seen, several of which I had only seen once before, plus the interesting experience of watching a fire (even though it was a controlled one). There were lots of flowers in bloom, but as I sit here in the computer lab I can't remember the names of any of them except the Boronias and the Pink Grevillea. Isn't it strange that one can easily remember the names of hundred of birds, yet the flowers which are so obvious escape memory? The weekend before the Waratahs were just starting to bloom at Royal National Park, but I didn't see any at Ku-Ring-Gai (and they haven't started blooming in the Blue Mountains yet).
Little Black Cormorant
Pacific Black Duck
White-bellied Sea Eagle
Lyrebird (heard scratching)
New Holland Honeyeater
Eastern Yellow Robin
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