1 April 2020
We don’t really know where to start with the birds we encountered in Australia – they were an assault on our eyes and our ears in the best possible way. Waking up on our first morning in Brisbane to the most exotic sounding dawn chorus told us we were in for a treat although we could have done with them waking up just a little bit later!
In fact our entire trip was accompanied with a soundtrack of new and changing bird sounds. Every single morning there was a chorus of some kind and we fell asleep to their night time chatter.
In an effort to identify as many birds as we could, as soon as we arrived, I went in search of a pocket bird book. Australian bird books do not come in pocket size. They are encyclopedic in size and weight. The continent is home to 830 species of bird of which 45% are found nowhere else. We were never going to tick them all off but slowly we got to know just some of them by sight and sound.
It wasn’t at all long before we were introduced to Australia’s iconic Kookaburra. Just as in the song, they really do live in the old gum trees and boy, do they laugh! Just like crazed monkeys cackling hysterically at someone else’s jokes they laugh (loudly) at dusk and dawn. It’s infectious too and impossible not to laugh along, even in your tent at 4am. The other thing about kookaburras is that they turn up uninvited at the first sign of a picnic. At the first rustle of a sandwich a kookaburra will inevitably appear, hopefully, in a tree nearby.
Our new normal in terms of common or garden birds became the (very) noisy miner, the monochrome magpie and magpie lark, the comedy masked lapwing and, Stefan’s favourite, the purring crested pigeon.
We also saw plenty of galahs with their flashes of pink although often we heard them before we saw them with all their squawking. Kimba‘s tribute to this classic Australian bird remains one of our favourite Big Things!
And when it comes to big birds we had lots of encounters with that other iconic Australian bird, the emu.
But our best emu encounters were in Coffin Bay where they ran wild everywhere
and where we got to watch this mother and her eight babies cross the road opposite our tent and head off safely into the bush.
With a wingspan of over 2 metres, birds of prey don’t come much bigger than the wedge tail eagle. This impressive one was in captivity at Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary but we saw lots of them munching on dead kangaroos on the Stuart Highway. They really are enormous as they spread their wings to fly off.
At the other end of the scale, Australia also delivered some beautifully delicate teeny tiny birds. The electric blue and black fairy wren really lived up to its name – a flash of colour just glimpsed out of the corner of your eye.
One rainforest bird we didn’t manage to glimpse but did hear several times was the whip bird. Its very loud whip crack sound reverberated around the thick forest but the small black bird remained hidden.
But then there were all the super friendly birds: the raucously rowdy cockatoos – particularly, annoyingly, active around camp at dawn;
all the brightly coloured and cheeky rosellas and parrots who came for breakfast and ate us out of trail mix;
and the peacocks who came for tea on the Hawkesbury.
We completely scratched our heads as this troop trooped through our campsite in Kingston SE. They seemed the funniest of things – like footballs with tiny heads and like nothing we had seen before. Turns out they were guinea fowl.
Definitely our strangest bird encounter, however, was with the tawny frogmouth. Our friend Anna found a pair of babies who had fallen out of their nest at our campsite in Streaky Bay. They look like owls with their wide eyes and flat faces but are an entirely different species. Their plumage looks just like bark. With the help of the campsite staff, these two were safely returned to the nook of a tree in the hope that their parents would find them again.
The tawny frogmouth might not be a common sight but the black swan certainly was. It was unusual for us to see black ones and to see so many at the lake with all their cygnets in Ballarat was incredible. They were so common that by the time we left it was a treat to see a white swan!
We saw lots of other new to us waterfowl from the Cape Barren geese on Phillip Island
and huge billed pelicans on nearly every beach.
Of course there were familiar gulls everywhere,
lots of oystercatchers
and my favourite cormorants sunning themselves beside the water.
Best of all, though, there were penguins. We had not anticipated penguins but when we stopped to think about it Australia is not that far from the Antarctic! It was incredible to first find colonies of penguins on Phillip Island and whilst we didn’t watch their evening parade we did get a peak at those left behind
but nothing beat the childlike wonder of watching the baby fairy penguins emerge from their burrows at Burnie and their parents come back up the beach and across the rocks to feed them from a day at sea.
So Stefan was absolutely right (it’s a rare thing but on this one he was!), Australia really is all about the flora and fauna. What incredible flora and fauna it has and, collectively, it was the highlight of our trip.