Tag Archives: birds

Princess Celebrates Motherhood


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Breakfast at Bellbowrie – Princess and partner stand on guard while their daughters eat first. The life of a duck in our backyard.

Princess celebrated motherhood yesterday when her eight babies learnt to fly for the first time on our lawn in Bellbowrie, Queensland (Australia). She is a wild wood duck who grew up in our family home. I have written three stories about her on this blog, see the links below to bring you up to date with her life story.

You could say – after all she has been through, she deserved one happiness, and that she has. She literally grew up inside the house – in my son Nathan’s bedroom – she lived in a crate at night and during the day, we watched her wander around the yard, and making friends with other adult wild ducks and our laying chickens. She would always come back upstairs when it got dark.

I had rescued Princess in 2013 just after Christmas with five other ducklings in our back-yard. During the course of raising the ducklings my sons and I became parents as well as students, learning how we could help the ducklings grow and then release them back into the wild. Goodness knows what was going on in the communication from duck to human language, but soon, the ducklings fell into a pattern of eating, playing, swimming and just following each other and anyone of the three of us, in a line when we walked around the property. When we decided to name the ducklings, she stood out because she was the smallest and had a nervous twitch – everything had to be done for her. She would just wait to be served.

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Family snack time on the front lawn.

Princess’ four siblings died in the process of growing – the vet said, it could be anything – the stress, cold, fright, and drowning. There were two ducklings left. Princess and her sister. They continued to live with us inside the house in one of the spare bathrooms at night and much to the disgust of our visiting friends and family who sometimes accidentally stepped on duck poop. As they got older and stronger, we let the two sisters swim in a small water tank which was deeper than the bath. Later they took to our swimming pool and we could see them really enjoying themselves. When they became taller and their wings got bigger we knew they were ready to fly;  my son trained them to fly off our balcony into the pool (15 metres away) and also fly onto the lawn from the two story house.

With her nervous twitch,  we noticed, her big sister became protective of Princess any time she found things difficult. She would nuzzled Princess and peck her gently to settle her.  I became very attached to the confident big sister. She was a very smart and a caring big sister, She always tried new things and places before involving Princess. The two ducks bonded closely and were almost ready to be trained back into the wild together.  Early one evening while we were having dinner with the two ducks tucked into their large box on our verandah,  a python came up, unexpectedly, slipped into the box and coiled around one duck – the confident sister.

Click to read The Duck War story

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Flight practice. I caught them on my phone after work yesterday.

From that day onwards, Princess remained in the house with us, less confident to fly and became very attached. A few weeks later she started to regain her confidence. Then she tried to fly so Nathan took her to the window and she flew into the pool – about 30 metres away. She was natural. Swimming, diving and fluttering her wings. She loved it and started there all day – we had to bring her food to her, like a true Princess. She also flew a complete circle around our neighbours yard and took a swim in their brand new swimming pool. I jokingly told Princess, it was okay as long as she did not poop in their pool or get caught.

Then, one day a bunch of young male ducks that were hanging around our pool flew off and we saw her go. We followed her through a few neighbour’s property and decided, she was ready to go.

She returned to our property regularly and pretended she did not know us when we called her name. Sometimes, her twitch would become obvious – perhaps from worrying, we were trying to get her back. Amongst other wild ducks, when her name was called, Princess would be the only duck turning to look at us. It was funny. She had many suitors who often fought over her in the front lawn and the pool.

It was only a short time before Princess established herself  with a pack of wild ducks that frequented our yard. Then Princess fell in love.  Earlier this year, I posted a story about Princess and her first ducklings.

Click here to read Saved Duck Returns with Babies story

On their first day, she brought her babies out for a walk and played in our yard and then a swim in the pool.  Within a few days, she decided to leave our property and cross the main road into a vacant block which led into the wild, a creek and then Brisbane River.  I followed them to the edge of the bush concerned she had made a grave decision. There was a big storm, the next day. The mother, partner and babies – did not show up for two days.

Click here to read Nothing Came with the Rain story

Seven weeks ago, my son Nathan was very excited about new ducklings in our yard. Ducks don’t always have babies in winter so we were surprised. We rushed out and counted eight baby ducks. Sure enough, someone had been busy, it was Princess and her partner with their ducklings. She had also lost the nervous twitch.  The ducklings were not newborn. They were at least two-three weeks old. She had hid her babies until they grew up. It was clearly a clever plan by Princess. We could not work out where they were before they came home.

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The new girls marching in for morning tea by the poolside.

Attentive and followed by her partner and their babies, Princess headed for the chicken’s feed. Even the chickens let the ducks eat. We were all overjoyed.

I decided to buy some duck food from our local produce store. I did not post a story about the new arrivals earlier, just to let Princess have the quiet life she wanted and raise her eight daughters. Our family tried to keep our distance and no paparazzi were allowed. It has been almost five weeks since they arrived and adding the first few weeks in hiding, they have grown rapidly and are now ready to fly. Usually the babies grow their strong feathers by six weeks and fly at eight weeks.

The mother got them started in the pool –  flapping wings and lifting off – then falling on the water. The training also takes place in the water and on our lawn – just as we tried to teach her. It is quite funny and heart-warming to watch. Ten days ago, wild foxes got into our chicken coop and took Lady Stella. (That’s another story). After the midnight drama and the shock of losing the toughest hen –  we raced about our property trying to  find Princess and her family. We discovered, after all this time, she had cleverly nested her family in the thick layers of my flowers just on the water’s edge in our fenced swimming pool where no large animal can get in. She family planned well in the sense that being winter, even the snakes would be hibernating. So…they are safe for now and it is only days before the new girls will fly. Then, they will all be in the wild together.

I feel that Princess has truly achieved motherhood and as her mother, I am very proud of her.

 

 

Princess is a Mother Again


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Princess, facing the camera leads her daughters into our yard for breakfast.

Good news. Princess, our home-raised wild duck who lost all her family members, returned with eight ducklings. More on her story in tomorrow’s post.

 

A Rare Beauty Found In Melbourne


The rarest kind of one of the world’s most common birds found in Melbourne

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The rare white sparrow spotted in Melbourne. Photo: Bob Winters

The Age Technology reported a pure white sparrow, the rarest incarnation of one of the world’s most common birds, has been spotted in suburban Melbourne.

A regular visitor to select gardens in Sanctuary Lakes in Melbourne’s west, locals have nicknamed the bird the “little white angel”.

Keen bird watcher Bob Winters, who worked as an environmental educator for the Gould League for 20 years, says the sparrow is a “one in a million neighbour” with only a handful of white sparrow sightings reported worldwide.

Read more here

The Python Crossing


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Squatter Pigeon, Endangered species, QLD, Australia. Picture Ralph Anthony

One of the blessings of our home is we live amongst the Queensland wildlife. Three months ago I counted three Squatter pigeons in the low branches of the Brazilian Cherry, a hardy evergreen fruit tree outside our house in Bellbowrie. We have several rows of the trees to give shade and provide privacy. The pigeons were a new addition to the varied birdlife on our property. Two of these birds were small parcels of light brown, white and grey feathers. The third bird had black, white and grey feathers. They had dainty little, pale, pink feet which seemed odd for their size. I thought these three may have been a family. I was not sure. The birds were extremely shy, and they took their walks in my garden when they thought no-one was home. I watched them from the large windows of our old semi-modern Queenslander.  Most of their time was spent in the thick growth of the Brazilian Cherry trees, in the back part of our property. Occasionally, when returning home from work or the shop, the pigeons were at the front of the property. They would try to run as fast as their little feet carried them, across the driveway, before they lifted into the Wattle trees on the driveway. I preferred to stop metres away to let them cross the driveway gently on foot, but sometimes if I did not see them first, and disturbed them, they would run for a few metres and fly into the low branches. Their feet never seemed to be much use.

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Today, a feathered mess in the bush. Picture: Chris Harris.

Three weeks ago, on a Tuesday evening about 6:45pm, I saw a blue station wagon stopped in the middle of the road with its high beam on. The car was on our street, near my gate, and a middle-aged caucasian woman waved at me. I thought she had car-trouble and I slowed. As I approached, I also noticed ‘him’ crossing the road casually. Using its beautifully patterned full body length in a sleepy manner, the young male python slowly took up a third of the width of the road as its slithering trunk headed towards the nearby catchment.

“Hi!” the woman in the blue car called out and waved.

“Hi”, I said.

“I am letting him pass; he is one of the good guys”, the woman said, smiling. I nodded.

I knew the snake was crossing into the catchment to get to the main river. This pocket of land was full of wild life and un-farmed land. We let a two-metre Eastern Brown off into these woods and it had disappeared in seconds. The place was part of the Brisbane City Council’s declared gateway for wildlife. Sometimes it felt like having a small wild-life sanctuary in our front yard.

The woman in the blue car and I both waited in our cars, engines running, while we let the snake cross. When the snake had passed, I drove to my night class, turning up 15 minutes late. I made a joke about stopping at the ‘Python Crossing”.

After my class, I returned home and warned my family, we had another specie addition to the wild life. I wanted everyone to be extra careful with our chickens. We all had been through and scarred from The Duck War. Every night since the python crossed, the chickens were counted and locked in their pen safely.

This morning I noticed, two chicken eggs had gone missing from the nest I discovered the last week. Click Here. The slithering one that crossed the road three weeks ago, became my Number One suspect. But I did not want to alarm anyone in my family. I made a mental note to do some investigative work later.

After my day in the office, five hours ago, I returned home and parked the car. I walked around my gardens as I usually do after work. Everything looked good. Rain from the storm that wrecked Brisbane City homes a few days ago, had put some life back into my dying garden beds. The flowers and vegetables thrived. The poinciana tree was majestic with her red crown of flowers. All my frangipani trees were blooming in various shades of colour and the lawn started to green again. I crossed our front yard into a small section of the property, under the Brazilian Cherry trees where the pigeons lived. I had a few orchids and ferns in the tree branches and I was slowly creating a sitting place inside the treed spot by planting. I watered the rock orchid. My eyes caught two small, short, beautiful, black and white feathers lying in awkward positions. The feathers stood out amongst the dead ground cover. I took the next step and stopped. More feathers. Alarmed, I looked down and checked every inch of leaves and dead branches around my feet. My eyes went back to the pile of feathers, all shapes and sizes, scattered, yet familiar. In seconds, I recognised them. My heart sank. Most of the delicate light grey down feathers were caught in the small tree branches where moss, and the pale green lichen called Usnea grew. Some grey feathers hung off my golden-yellow orchid stems at the low branches. I felt sick and very teary at the same time. The bird must have put up a good fight to throw its feathers this far.

Tomorrow I hope, I will see two pigeons. The young python won’t be crossing to the river tonight. It knows, there is more food.

 

 

Protected Areas: bastions against deforestation fronts


The Uatumã Biological Reserve in the state of Amazonas in Brazil.
© WWF-US / Ricardo Lisboa

POSTED BY ECOLOGICAL IN CONSERVATION, UNCATEGORIZED ON NOVEMBER 18, 2014 – iconicon

Imagine the Grão-Pará Ecological Reserve in the Amazon. Part of the world’s largest strictly protected area, the rainforest stretches seemingly forever, echoing with the sound of birds, insects and primates. Rivers tumble-down waterfalls on their long, winding journeys to the sea.

Then the forest gives way to open land. The trees are gone, the forest canopy disappears. There’s a giant crater in the ground: gold mines.

Fortunately for the more than 60 types of mammals and hundreds of plants and bird species – as well as forest-dependent communities – no logging or mining is allowed within the 4.2 million hectare ecological reserve. The boundaries of Grão-Pará are holding firm against the deforestation front bearing down on it.

“Deforestation fronts” exist where large-scale deforestation or severe degradation is projected between now and 2030. WWF has identified 10 such places, and the Amazon is the biggest. Globally, these areas could account for over 80 per cent of the forest loss projected by 2030 – up to 150 million hectares (an area roughly the size of Mongolia).

The drivers of deforestation in these places are diverse – expanding infrastructure, mining and agriculture, sometimes through corporations operating at industrial scale, and sometimes due to poor rural populations encroaching into forests to secure land, gather firewood or prospect for gold.

Parks under pressure

Riau province, Sumatra, Indonesia
Illegal logging for paper industry and forest clearing for palm oil plantation. Tesso Nilo, Riau, Sumatra, Indonesia © Alain Compost / WWF-Canon

 

To read more click here: 

http://ecological.panda.org/2014/11/18/protected-areas-bastions-deforestation-fronts/

CATS OFF THE RAILS


Apparently, when these birds choose a mate, it is for life. Buff-banded Rails are beautiful looking birds. They are also very shy. Here is a story from our local wildlife story-teller Jim Butler about Rails that lived in a mutual friend’s place, less than ten minutes from my house.

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Buff-banded Rail, Lady Elliot Island, SE Queensland, Australia Image by http://www.aviceda.org

For the last two years my friend had a pair of Buff-banded Rails living in her backyard where they raised their chicks. Her property in Kenmore Hills is opposite a park adjacent to Moggill Creek and the house next door is vacant with long grass, so the Rails had enough area to live comfortably. These Rails are very widespread and common in Brisbane near waterways and they feed on snails, insects and seeds at the water’s edge and on the banks and surrounds. They mostly forage out of sight under low dense vegetation; they run fast when frightened and usually fly only at night. However, when they feel safe they can become remarkably tame, which is what happened at my friend’s house where they often came out of the long grass onto the back lawn. They breed in Spring raising five to eight fluffy black chicks.

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Buff-banded Rail, Gallirallus philippensis, Fafa island, Tonga Image by Duncan Wright

Recently, when a cat took one adult and a chick, both my friend and the neighbour who owned the cat became aware of the event. The neighbour decided to restrict the cat’s movement outside the house with a “cat yard” so that it could get enough exercise without being able to prey on the wildlife. The remaining Rail has now begun to re-appear in my friend’s yard and hopefully it will find another mate amongst the other Rails living along Moggill Creek where it can fly to at night.
Unrestrained cats are obvious predators of ground-birds like Rails. On average, a domestic cat kills 16 mammals, 8 birds and 8 reptiles a year according to an Australia-wide survey. And Dr Gillespie, NT Government Director of Terrestrial Ecosystems, says that ‘Across the continent it’s estimated that there are 15 million feral cats killing 75 million native animals every night’, a large number of which will be birds.

Owls: The Silent Aerodynamic Hunters


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My art: A study of snowy owl in ink and wash.
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My Art – Owl. Acrylic on canvas.

 

Above are two  of many artwork I created, purely because I love owls and I find them very interesting.

Growing up in my culture, owls have been linked to death. If you hear an owl consistently calling or crying then, death is near. This was the belief. An owl crying or calling is quite rare but when it does happen, it is quite scary.

Unusual visitors

In some Brisbane (Australia) suburbs and out where we live, there are a few species of owls. The most common one is the Frogmouth. My family and I have had several occurrences with owl visits that I find very interesting and hard to understand. Once we had three owls come into our garden and sit for three days in the same spot. There was another incident where two large owls appeared at the front of our house and sat on a very low dead tree. They must have arrived before we woke up. At first, we thought they were part of the branches of the dried tree trunk. These two sat in the same position for almost a week. I went up very close to them one day and the taller of the two opened its eyes and glared at me – so I left. I hope to find their photos that I took that day and post it here in the future. Despite my cultural learning and spiritual beliefs about these birds, I find them especially interesting because of how quiet and often secretive they are. Sometimes, you don’t know they are there. They can camouflage very well.

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Snowy owl picture from http://www.sodahead.com

Many owl species have developed specialized plumage to effectively eliminate the aerodynamic noise from their wings — allowing them to hunt and capture their prey in silence. Almost a year ago, a research group started working to solve the mystery of exactly how owls achieve this acoustic stealth — work that may one day help bring “silent owl technology” to the design of aircraft, wind turbines, and submarines. I found this small clip on reddit.com. Click the link below to see the wing action.

http://i.minus.com/iOdEkaHhIXl2b.gif

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To read more: 

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/11/131124093515.htm

Re-cycled Birthing Suites


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This morning, I heard scratching noises and thought of snakes. We get a few snakes and since we are almost on the end of winter, it is time to come out of hibernation. My friend Heather at work lives in the western suburbs of Brisbane, Australia like me. Heather said she and husband Gary found a python on their dining table when they got home last week.  My family lives about 15 minutes away from Heather so snakes have been on my mind.

The scratching noises seemed to only come from one place, unlike snakes which move and travel  fairly quickly. I followed the sound outside to our flood lights and found a Butcherbird. She was re-arranging one of two nests outside my son’s bedroom. The nests are on our floodlights so they are at least 15 feet off the ground. I smiled, feeling good about this nesting effort because this would be the third time the magpies used these nests. They had cleverly positioned the nests away from everything, including snakes.

The twig nests have been sitting on those lights for almost two years since the first two magpies build them. They served almost like a magpie birthing suite.

I had thought the Butcherbirds would be territorial and build their nests new. The previous Butcherbird babies live in the yard. They sit on the verandah rail and sing their hearts out for food. While we live in an rural suburb, and there are still a lot of trees they could build their nests on, these birds preferred the existing nests. I was curious about these nests being re-used so I Googled to see if it was normal for Butcherbird to re-cycle nests. Here is a link I found that did not have much information on the re-cycled nests but provides an in-dept information on the bird’s life.

http://www.wildlifeqld.com.au/bird-conflicts/butcherbird.html

While searching, I also spotted something similar with re-cycling and crows. Similar in the sense of using what they can find to make their nests. This made me more curious about birdlife and how they adapt to the way we humans live and destroy many of their natural habitation. I also wondered about how much we really understand about the re-cycling and controlling our wastes.

In Japan, crows have taken nesting to a somewhat artistic and highly intelligent way of using wire clothes hangers to build strong nests. It could also be a case of doing the best with what is on hand.

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Picture by Goetz Kluge

http://www.amusingplanet.com/2014/04/city-crows-build-nests-out-of-coat.html

 

 

 

Nature – Feeling The Heat


DSCN1430        Lorikeets in the Gym          Joycelin Leahy Pictures 363                                 

A few days ago, the temperature in Brisbane was a blistering 44 degrees.  Our average is about 27 degrees but summer averages are about 35.

Seeing my sons had gone down south to see their father, and boyfriend gone to Papua New Guinea, I was on my own with our pet lorikeets, Kaz and Nisha and in the backyard were our six chickens and a rooster.

We have a tin roof so imagine how hot the house was. Fortunately the house is two stories and brick in lower level kept the bottom half of the house cool. I moved quickly downstairs with the lorikeets. Not one to watch TV and being in the middle of the morning, I switched the TV on to see what was happening around Brisbane and Queensland with the very high temperature. I was also concerned about bushfire.

Within hours that morning, the heat was cruel. The ever so proud looking greenery and tropical plants and flowers in our surroundings slowly weakened and started browning and shrivelling right before my eyes. I made sure the chickens had a lot of water and the lorikeets and I settled into the cool comfort of downstairs and before I knew it, I felt drowsy and then had fallen asleep. The heat had taken its toll.

It must have been at least an hour before I heard loud shrieking and flapping of wings and woke up to the two piercing bird cries. I had thought the two lorikeets were fighting initially. Then I left the couch and moved to the window and there was the head of a metre long green tree snake trying to squeeze through the closed door.  It must have been desperate to get off the burning concrete floor it was on. Its long green back and yellow belly slithered very quickly as it glided over the glass door and falling off at all attempt. I felt sad but afraid at the same time. They were harmless, but what about the birds? There was a small gap which only the snake’s head could fit. It tried a few times to enter. I guess in this heat, all living things feel the temperature.

Quickly and out of my sleep, I jumped up and down and made a lot of banging noise against the glass door, my turn as by this time, the lorikeets were quiet and starring at me. The snake turned and quickly slithered away. I praised the two birds and returned to the couch and drifted off again. Half an hour later, the same thing happened. The snake had come back. This time, I closed the gap with tape and went outside and with a stick, chased the snake into the bush. I was running as the ground and grass was so hot, it burnt my feet. The interesting thing about the situation was, while I was outside; I spotted another scale-breasted male lorikeet bopping up and down in our swimming pool, almost on its last breath.

I ran across the yard to the pool and gave the drowning bird a stick to climb on. Not far from him were six dead ducklings floating in a small group in the pool. I felt sad. By the look on the lorikeet’s face, the wild bird seemed so relieved and did not make a single sound. I took him with me downstairs and fed him some food and water. Within minutes, the new bird met and became acquainted with Kaz and Nisha (our two lorikeets) and we stayed in the cool room for nearly three hours. The three lorikeets shared the food and water. With its beak, Kaz tried to comb and groom the new lorikeet’s feathers but he did not like that. Nisha being the scale breasted lorikeet and still a baby was excited and became very chirpy with the ‘visitor’. By the end of the day, the ‘visitor’ started getting restless so I opened the taped door and the “visitor” flew away. I re-taped the door and went outside to inspect the sun’s damage and bury the ducklings.

Pictured above Kaz and Nisha and later with the “Visitor”. A similar Green Tree snake tried to get into my art gallery last year and when I disturbed it, it tried to hide in the bricks. As in the Google Image photo, they are very common in our area, Bellbowrie, Western Suburbs and Queensland.