I am quite sure that the longer COVID prevents us from travelling, the more my regret grows that I had to cancel my trip to Australia in July of last year, and there is no chance that it is going to to take place this year either. I had grand plans for exciting birding adventures, with many new discoveries to be made, in the company of agreeable, knowledgeable people. Maybe I can do it next year, but I am not getting any younger!
In the meantime, thank goodness for photographs, trip notes, reports and memories.
Silver Gull (Chroicocephalus novaehollandiae)
I am dedicating the coverage of this charming little gull to Yamini MacLean, fellow larophile, erstwhile resident of New South Wales, and aficionada of the Silver Gulls who enlivened her daily routine and brought joy to her life when she still lived there.
It was entirely fitting that as we exited the terminal at Sydney International Airport upon arrival in Australia, it was a flock of Silver Gulls that flew in to greet us.
What a bold statement they make with their bright red legs and bill, with a red orbital ring around the eye.
They resemble nothing so much as avian buccaneers!
Silver Gull is widely distributed around the coasts of Australia and is familiar to all. Following breeding it may be found quite far inland, and there is some post- breeding dispersal to Papua New Guinea, but this is essentially an Australian Gull.
I long to hear it again, wheeling above the Pacific Ocean against the backdrop of an Australian sky. Then will I know that I have truly returned "down under"!
Short-beaked Echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus)
Australia is at every turn a continent of wonders, and little could be more outstanding than the presence of two species of monotreme (egg-laying mammals). In fact only five species are extant in the world, two of which are found in Australia. In addition to the Short-beaked Echidna the legendary Platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus) is thinly distributed in the eastern part of Australia. The three remaining monotremes are other species of echidna found in Papua, New Guinea.
Short-beaked Echidna is quite common and I have seen it on both my visits to Australia.
To say it is an endearing creature is the understatement of the day! It is not especially wary around humans and the first one I ever saw walked within a metre of me in Campbell Park in Canberra.
They have a curious rolling gait, which is quite comical to watch. They either hibernate or go into torpor during periods of cold weather, and the one we saw at The Nobbies on Philip Island, Victoria in early October had no doubt recently emerged from winter sleep.
I was overjoyed to see it and it served to remind me of the special nature of Australia and its unique fauna. I am becoming excited just looking at the pictures again!
Noisy Miner (Manorina melanocephala)
If one family of birds could be said to define Australia, one could not be faulted for turning to Honeyeaters (Meliphagidae). This unique assemblage of birds is wedded to the foliage of Australia and the sheer abundance of nectar-bearing plants, matched nowhere on earth.
Noisy Miner is a large, boisterous species that has benefitted disproportionately from anthropogenic modification of the landscape and in many respects has become a bit of a "problem bird", as it displaces other species.
But we were not there to investigate the vicissitudes of avian distribution, of impoverishment or expansion, of opportunism or encroachment, it was our mission to see as many birds as we could - all the while embracing the flora and fauna of this unique place, and learning every day.
Noisy Miners were present in the trees and shrubs along the street at our first AirBnB in Sydney, chattering noisily, and moving along like street kids in a gang.
In our entire visit to NSW and Victoria there were few days when Noisy Miners did not put in an appearance - and we were always happy to see them.
Turning to another familiar honeyeater, Eastern Spinebill quickly became a favourite.
It has an unquestioned air of elegance about it, and was endearingly confiding. It would forage at arm's length without hesitation and brought us many pleasurable moments.
When we checked into our accommodation at Callala Bay, NSW the above individual was foraging in the garden and it was rarely that we went to or from our apartment that it was not present.
It feeds on the nectar of a wide variety of plants and was catholic in its choice based on our observations. Its decurved bill doubtless helps it to exploit certain flowers and is probably used to advantage to secure insect prey also.
Australian Pelican (Pelecanus conspicillatus)
Who has not gone to the seaside in one part of the world or another and thrilled to the sight of a pelican flying overhead, often in the company of others, cruising by with the precision of a crack team at an air show?
Whenever we were near the coast, or at a large body of water inland, we were treated to Australian Pelicans.
It is a very large bird, quite unmistakable, and as the only pelican in Australia not to be confused with other species.
Its massive bill is used to great advantage; the pouch is filled with water containing fish, the water is expelled and the fish swallowed whole.
It is an opportunistic feeder and will not hesitate to scoop up small mammals or birds such as gulls given the chance. Individuals will feed alone or gather with others to drive shoals of fish into shallow water where they are easily captured.
Our experience of the inshore ocean and interior wetlands was enhanced by the magnificent Australian Pelican, such as the bird above that was seen at Jell's Park in Wheeler's Hill in suburban Melbourne, on a wetland favoured by many species including a large breeding colony of Australian White Ibis (Threskiornis molucca).
More about that another time, perhaps!