The purple swamphen might seem run of the mill to Australians but it took me by surprise when I first saw one just a few weeks after arriving here. I was convinced it must be very rare and unusual because I’d never seen anything like it, and it seemed very shy. It turns out that they’re very common and become seriously less shy when they spot a family having a picnic. The level of shyness of a duck or a pigeon in a public park.
A good way to describe one to anyone from the UK is the shape of a massive coot, only very purple and with a very red beak. They’re much taller than a coot, but walk in the same way. They are related to coots and moorhens and are the biggest of the rail family.
Just like the ugly duckling, these chicks start life showing nothing of their future colours. A little bundle of fluff on gangly legs with huge feet. This picture was taken at Yanchep National Park, but you’ll find them by most freshwater lakes.
Before long, they start to get their adult feathers, though still not the bright colour. They venture out and about with the adults, but run for cover when they see anyone – not yet brave enough to steal a sandwich.
It won’t be long now before they get their lovely purple coats and red beaks and join the others around the picnic tables asking for lunch. Much better not to feed them though and let them feed in and around the lake like this one.
I couldn’t believe my luck when I came across this beautiful egret by Herdsman Lake. It was happy to pose for ages until a jogger passed close by.
I’ve only seen a great egret a few times. Unlike the pelicans and ibis who often make flying look like hard work, the egrets manage to be very graceful despite their size.
Each time I see them I’m amazed by just how white they are. If I put on a white skirt or blouse I can guarantee that by lunch time it will look grubby (dust, mud, jam ….) so how do they stay so clean and bright, especially when ‘home’ is by the water and mud? One of natures mysteries …..
This one was so intent on hunting that it barely noticed me. It didn’t fly away despite the fact that I was out in the open and fairly close. I’m not sure whether they live here all year round or migrate to somewhere wetter in the summer. I’ll have to keep watch over the next 6 months and see what happens.
I’ve passed Herdsman Lake many times but I recently managed a visit there and it was well worth it. Lots of different birds were out on show, many of them ready for breeding season. This great egret was happy for me to watch him fishing from fairly close by.
The most striking thing about the lake for me was the sheer numbers of ibis there. I’d never seen one until I came to Australia so it’s great to see so many. There are hundreds of them, perching in trees, grazing on the lawns and flying overhead.
Another surprise for me at Herdsman Lake was the blue-billed duck. I’d never heard of one, never mind seen them, but they were out in numbers too. The male’s bill really is very blue at breeding time.
The lake is in the middle of a built up area in NW Perth, with a visitor centre and car park on the southern edge. There are plenty of other car parks around it and footpaths, cycle tracks and one or two bird hides. This photo was taken from the board walk by the visitor centre. It’s fairly short but takes you right through into a reed bed and past this stretch of mangrove.
So, who else did I see?
A whistling kite hunting.
Honey eaters and wattle birds.
Australian Reed Warblers
I also saw tree martins, welcome swallows, shovellers, australasian grebes, great crested grebes, fantails, pelicans, pied cormorants, musk ducks, black swans, purple swamp-hens, black-tailed native-hens, black swans.
And a pacific duck with her new family. Very common but it’s always a treat to see a family of young ducklings.
It’s time for an update on several of my previous posts.
In my post on the Carnaby’s Black Cockatoo I said that if you wanted to see them, then you’d be certain to see them at Yanchep National Park. A few weeks later I visited and didn’t see, or hear any of them. They seem to have largely dispersed and small groups of them can be seen all over the northern suburbs, in areas I hadn’t ever seen them before. Presumably this is due to their breeding season, or possibly after a particular source of food. Several of them were feeding in a neighbour’s tree when I took the picture above.
I mentioned in my AussieBirdLife post about the musk duck how he would use his tail when displaying. This duck decided to give me a demonstration, incorporating all his best moves at once, like in this picture.
He opens his beak to let out a loud ‘honk’, holds his chin up to stretch his leathery flap, throws his tail over his back, and caps it off will a big splash of water with his feet.
No news is good news on the ospreys. They haven’t started nesting, but then a local wildlife warden told me that they don’t normally nest in this region until September. It’s usually in northern Australia that they nest in May/June time. I had a spell of a few weeks when I hadn’t seen them, but I’ve seen them both together again this week. So maybe I’ll have a nesting update in a couple of months time.
When I looked this duck up in my bird book, the first comment in the description was ‘A very strange duck’. Not particularly ornithological, but very true. As Australian birds go, it’s not as strange as some (think emu or pelican), but still strange.
This is a male, with a rather odd flap of skin under his neck. The females and the young don’t have one, it just develops on the males as they mature. It doesn’t have a normal ‘quack’ either. When he’s displaying, the male can manage a combined grunt and whistle at the same time, while the female grunts.
They aren’t terribly agile in flight, so they avoid flying most of the time, but they are incredibly good under-water swimmers. They spend long periods under-water, hunting along the mud on the bottom of the lake or marsh.
Their tail is different to most ducks too. When they are under-water, it fans out and helps with balance. When they sleep, they fan it out on the surface. And when he is displaying, the male fans it out and flips it over his back to impress the ladies.
Musk ducks are only found in Australia, and only in the south-west, east and south-east. It gets its name from the ‘musky’ odour it gives off during the breeding season apparently. I can’t confirm this, but if I ever get close enough to sniff a breeding duck I’ll be sure to let you know.
Until last week I’d never heard of a Black-Tailed Native Hen, never mind seen one.
At the weekend I had to drop off one of my sons at Yanchep National Park. While I was there, I thought I’d go for a walk, and I came across these.
Not for long though, as they scuttled into the undergrowth when they saw me. They turned out to be quite shy. They ran and hid very quickly, but they soon came back out when I waited quietly.
And look who I had for company while I waited.
The following day when I had to collect my son, they were still there.
They’re similar to a moorhen or a coot and seem to prefer the same sort of area to live, by the water’s edge and with plenty of undergrowth.
They aren’t rare or endangered in any way, but it is unusual to see them in this area, especially in such a large group. They appeared because we had recently had rain. They may well stay at Yanchep for long enough to breed, then disappear again once the young are old enough. If so, hopefully I’ll be able to get some pictures of some chicks in a month or so.
In Australia you’ll only find one sort of swan in the wild, and that’s the black swan. I’ve seen them in England before, but they were introduced as ornamental birds and aren’t native in Europe. The early European settlers in Australia adopted the black swan as one of their emblems, and it features on the flag of Western Australia. The main river through Perth was also renamed the Swan River by the early settlers.
They seem to be about the same size as a mute swan. They look completely black when they are swimming, but you can see white wing feathers when they fly. (I’m afraid I wasn’t quick enough with my camera when 2 flew over me at Joondalup Lake.) I’ve seen at least one or two every time I’ve been to a lake over here, and they also live on estuaries and rivers over most of Australia.
After they’ve bred, they moult. They’re quite vulnerable while they moult as they lose their flight feathers and can’t fly, so they gather in companies of hundreds or even thousands on secure lakes. I haven’t been here at that time of year yet, so I can’t share a photo of it, but it must be quite spectacular and, I suspect, a bit whiffy.
I’m not sure whether any universities serve them stuffed with wigeon over here. Does anyone know whether the Queen reserves the right to eat them when she visits?
One of my mid-week outings took me to Heirisson Island, in the middle of the Swan River, in the middle of Perth. I was actually trying to see the resident kangaroos, but I found that it was much easier to see the birds there. In the river I could see a bird swimming with its body underwater and its long neck wriggling on the surface – I hadn’t seen that before. Then I saw this.
It looked similar to a cormorant in some ways, especially when it opened its wings to dry, but it had a long pointy beak more like a heron. Its tail was longer than a cormorant’s too. When I looked it up it turned out to be an Australasian Darter. It’s also called a snake-bird because of the movement of its head and neck on the surface of the water when it swims. The darters who weren’t by or in the water were sitting in groups in trees, on an island in a lake on the island in the river.
Taking good pictures would have been much easier without the particularly loud tourists circling in a hire boat. The darters didn’t seem to mind my quiet approach but they definitely weren’t keen on the chugging engine. At least they gave me plenty of chances to watch the darters flying I suppose.
And yes, I did eventually find the kangaroos. They were hiding in a bog.