The living forest
The number of birds and number of bird species in the forest waxes and wanes across the year. Winter is the quietest. Some birds are 'stand outs' as Winter active: Superb Lyrebirds are breeding, Eastern Yellow Robins are establishing territories and noisily competing for food, and Eastern Spinebills are busily taking nectar from the flowering Epacris.
But it all changes from around mid-late August as the seasonal migrants return to the southern forests to breed. It is no accident, of course, that this coincides with the emergence of insects and the blossoming of many flowering plants.
Scroll down for a pictorial tour.
All images were taken by us, on site, over the last few years.
Gang-gang Cockatoo (adult male)
Feeding on Acacia terminalis fruit. These birds are quite approachable when they are feeding, and can spend hours in the same bushes or trees if there is sufficient food.
Gang-gang Cockatoo (adult female)
Feeding on Acacia terminalis fruit. Note that she is 'left-handed', as all parrots tend to be. Gang-gangs take a variety of seeds, including eucalypts and Acacia, as well as some insect larvae. We have not, however, seen them tearing at the bark to extract grubs in the way the larger Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoos are wont to do!
Eastern Spinebill (adult male)
It is common to see these birds dusted with pollen from feeding on tubular flowers such Correa reflexa and Epacris impressa, particularly during Winter.
Eastern Spinebill (juvenile)
One of our more numerous breeding residents.
Adult, feeding here on nectar from a young Grass Tree spike (Xanthorrhoea resinosa). Little Wattlebirds are blossom nomads. They are less commonly sighted here than is their larger cousin, the Red Wattlebird.
Superb Fairy-wren (male)
A common bird of south-eastern Australia, this is the only Fairy-wren species we are likely to see in our area. The male here is in fully breeding plumage, displaying his 'threat-posture', with ear feathers partly raised. Perhaps I was impinging upon his turf!
Photo taken early August
Superb Fairy-wren (male)
At the end of breeding season, most males lose some or all of their breeding plumage. Older and more dominant males retain more of their blue and black head markings throughout the winter. This male is well on the way to plain, brown 'eclipse' plumage. His tail will remain bright blue.
Photo taken early March
Superb Fairy-wren (juvenile)
These social birds nest in low vegetation, including among the ferns and Lomandra spp. around the house. They favour open areas for feeding, which is why they are such familiar birds around towns and parks.
Female Superb Fairy-wrens look just like this juvenile but with blue tail feathers.
Southern Emu-wren (female)
In the same family as the fairy-wrens, but a much rarer sighting! This photo was taken on the single occasion we've seen this species on the block. In May 2016 we saw a small group, including a beautiful, blue-throated male, amongst the sedges and shrubs in a secluded corner of the forest - a most unexpected treat.
The species is not common and is typically restricted to coastal heath. We do see them on the heath areas of Nadgee Nature Reserve to the south.
Eastern Yellow Robin
One of the more numerous resident birds. They feed on insects and other invertebrates, usually taken on the ground when the birds 'pounce' from low, vertical perches.
Eastern Yellow Robin (immature)
This rather scruffy bird is just developing adult feathers. Males and females are indistinguishable.
Eastern Yellow Robin (immature)
The brown feathers are remnant juvenile plumage.
Rose Robin (male)
A tiny bird with a distinctive call, and a stunning colour in the male. They are resident here, breeding during the summer months in the most densely forested areas of the block.
A summer breeding migrant, arriving in September and departing to fly north again in March. Each year they raise one or two clutches of young. They nest in a tree hollow, high in an old Angophora tree.
Sacred Kingfisher (juvenile)
One of two chicks fledged in January 2017, this photo taken just 15 days after the bird left the nest hollow. The young birds range widely around their parental territory of 5+ hectares, calling and continuing to be fed by their busy parents for several weeks.
These tiny honeyeaters are summer visitors to our area. During Spring, 2016, we were treated to regular sightings and the birds were clearly breeding here. We saw newly-fledged young and perhaps 8 or 10 individual adults.
Scarlet Honeyeater, Superb Fairy-wren, New Holland Honeyeater
Myzomela sanguinolenta, Maluras cyaneus, Phylidonyris niger
During the very dry summer of 2016-17, every water source was precious. Our bird baths and frog ponds have never been so busy!
Spotted Pardalote (adult male)
Tiny birds with a distinctive, loud call. They are resident, spending most of their time gleaning lerps from leaves in the eucalypt canopy. They nest in tunnels excavated in the soil.
Glossy Black-Cockatoo (female)
Sometimes called the 'Casuarina Cockatoo', this species feeds almost exclusively on casuarina 'cones' (Allocasuarina species.). Although widely distributed across Australia's east coast, their state-based status is either Vulnerable or Endangered. The main threats to their survival are loss of both feed trees and nesting hollows.
Glossy Black-Cockatoo (male)
The males have a small head crest (contrast this with the huge crest of the Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo!) and lack the yellow facial feathers of the female.
Glossy Black-Cockatoo (female)
With their bright red tail panels, this species is sometimes mistakenly called a 'Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo'. The distinction is important, as although they are members of the same genus, the Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo (C. banksii) has a very different biology and distribution. The two species overlap in QLD and northern NSW, but we have only one - the Glossy Black-Cockatoo - this far south.
Click for more information on this species from Birdlife Australia
These are occasional visitors to the block throughout the year. They favour cool, mountain forest and are found throughout the southern alps. It is perhaps surprising, therefore, that they were so commonly sighted here over the 2016-17 summer, both adult and juvenile birds among them.
Crescent Honeyeaters (female & male)
Our bird baths DO break our own rule of not interfering with the wildlife. However, unlike providing seed or other food types, we reason that water is at least a natural resource for them. The baths don't appear to impact on the birds' normal behaviours and the water is certainly a welcome resource - particularly during hot weather and long, dry periods. Plus we get a good look at some birds that might otherwise be difficult to spot!
Leaden Flycatcher (immature female)
A summer migrant to our region, arriving in October and heading north again in March. We know the moment the Leadens have arrived, as suddenly the trees are resounding with their distinctive calls as they establish breeding territories among the taller eucalypts. They are one of the key 'sounds of summer' in the south-eastern forests.
Leaden Flycatcher (immature female)
We have had many debates about the identity of these females. The female of the Shining Flycatcher is almost identical. However, based on their calls and behaviour as much as on their colouration, we're 99.9% confident that we only see Leadens in our dry sclerophyll forest. The other clue is that the Shining tends to favour wetter forest and mountain gullies.
Leaden Flycatcher (male)
Leaden Flycatchers feed on insects, either taken in flight or picked from among the leaves. They generally feed in the mid-canopy.
Leaden Flycatcher (male), White-naped Honeyeater (juvenile)
Myiagra rubecula, Melithreptus lunatus
A male Leaden Flycatcher looking confusingly like a Satin Flycatcher, and a juvenile White-naped Honeyeater looking confusingly like a young Brown-headed Honeyeater. We are, however, confident of their identities.
White-naped Honeyeaters (adult & fledgling)
Flocks of noisy, bossy White-naped Honeyeaters make their presence known in summer. They breed here and we often see them with begging fledglings in tow. They are not strictly north-south migrants, but instead the flocks rove widely in Winter and we see them less often.
Australian King Parrot (female)
The King Parrots are our most common resident parrot. They feed an a wide range of seeds, fruit, flower and even insects. The berries of Leucopogon affinis (Lance Beard-heath) are an important food source for many of the resident bird species, large and small.
For such a widespread and familiar bird, this is a species we rarely see on the block. Willie Wagtails feed mostly on the ground and tend to favour open country and avoid densely forested areas. We do get an occasional visitor to the more open area immediately around the house.
The bird here is in the process of beating a hapless 'skipper' butterfly into submission. There are butterfly scales flying everywhere!
A very occasional summer visitor. These beautiful, highly active fantails are more typically found in wet forest, gullies or mangroves.
Grey Fantail (just-fledged juvenile)
A common and obvious species, present for most of the year and breeding here during the summer months. A northern migration of birds from the south east is reported in the literature, according with our experience - we see far fewer Grey Fantails during the winter months. This species typically feeds in mixed species flocks with a range of other small birds such as thornbills and pardalotes. They are a useful 'indicator' bird when bird-watching: if you hear and see Grey Fantails, there are likely to be other small birds in the vicinity.
Seeing these quiet finches at home is always a special treat. They are not common and are typically in pairs or small groups, not large flocks. This is a species people often confuse with the much more common Red-browed Finch. Both have a bright red rump, but in every other aspect, including behaviour, the two species are very different.
A common finch found in a variety of habitats, so long as there are seeding grasses available. Here they often associate with the Superb Fairy-wrens, the latter eating insects not seeds.
Red-browed Finches roost and nest in shrubs or low-hanging tree branches, often among the dense tangle formed when twining vines overgrow a host tree. It is quite comical to watch them flying with long pieces of vegetation in tow. These small birds cut off grass stems - sometimes 500mm long! - and then fly back to their nest site, labouring under the load.
Red-browed Finch (adult & juvenile)
Young birds lack the red brow and bill, but do have the bright red rump.
We commonly hear these birds, their duetting calls being loud and unmistakable, yet we see them less often. They are really quite secretive. Typically they will fly up to a perch above the fern cover only briefly, before diving back down to feed among the undergrowth.
Whipbirds most commonly reside in wet forests. Although the block is predominantly dry sclerophyll forest, it does encompass several shaded areas with dense stands of Rainbow Fern (Calochlaena dubia). Whipbirds are a resident species, common in eastern Victoria and NSW.
These elusive ground-dwellers are supremely well camouflaged, which may partly explain why we see them so infrequently. It may also be, however, that they are not common and not always in the local area. We have seen them with dependent young in tow so they must breed here or nearby.
Spotted Quail-thrush (female)
The female Spotted Quail-thrush is even more cryptic than the male. Their spotted markings blend superbly with the leaf litter or sandy gravel of the forest floor. And their erratic stop-start movement also helps. When motionless, they are very difficult to see. We have typically spotted them from within the house (it serves as a very comfortable bird hide!) as they prey upon the Wingless Grasshoppers (e.g. Phaulacridium vittatum) that boom in mid summer.
Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoo (male)
These large cockatoos are frequent visitors throughout the year. Sometimes they arrive or fly over in flocks of 8 or more, but more typically we see family groups of three - a male, a female and a single, loudly begging juvenile.
Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoo (female)
Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoos are notorious for chewing through branches and 'damaging' trees. They certainly do rip apart branches and bark, extracting fat white grubs. Perhaps they are performing an accidental service by pruning infected branches. It is also common to see them feeding on Hakea and Banksia seeds. They are perhaps the only birds in this region with the strength to break into such large, woody fruits.
Fan-tailed Cuckoo (juvenile)
From late winter into summer, the musical and distinctive calls of the Fan-tailed Cuckoo resonate throughout the forest. Like most Australian cuckoos, they are 'obligate brood parasites', laying eggs in the nests of much smaller species including Superb Fairy-wrens, Brown Thornbills and White-browed Scrubwrens. It is no wonder these small birds make such as ruckus whenever a cuckoo is in the area.
Fan-tailed Cuckoos are insectivorous. They will sit silently on a branch, then fly off to capture an insect before returning to the same perch to eat it. They favour forest with a thick understorey.
Like the Fan-tailed Cuckoo, this smaller cuckoo lays its eggs in the nests of small birds such as thornbills, scrubwrens and fairy-wrens. It is a specialist at preying on hairy caterpillars, typically feeding in the forest canopy. Heard more often than seen, it has a distinctive, whistling call.
We have two resident species of thornbills present in significant numbers - Brown Thornbills and Striated Thornbills. Superficially similar in appearance, once you become familiar with their behaviours and calls it is not so difficult to distinguish these tiny birds. And they are truly tiny, weighing just 5-8g!
Brown Thornbills feed in the mid storey and near the ground, and do not form large flocks - they are more likely to be in the company of Superb Fairy-wrens and Scrub-wrens than in groups of their own species. They build grassy nests in the Rainbow Fern (Calochlaena dub) thickets and among the Lomandra and sedges in secluded sections of the block.
We typically see Striated Thornbills moving through the canopy in large groups of 10-20. They pick insects from the leaves of eucalypts, chittering constantly. As they are reported to be sedentary within a few hectares of forest, and long-lived (10-12 years!), our resident birds are no doubt getting to know us. They certainly know where to find the bird baths! We have seen their fledglings but not their nests, which they apparently build high in the trees.
Platycercus elegans (ssp. elegans)
This species is highly variable, with 6 recognised subspecies. 'Yellow-types' and 'Orange-types' dominate in western Victoria and South Australia, but we see only the 'Crimson-type' in our region.
The species goes by many informal names, including 'Mountain Lowry' in NSW. It is a well-known species and one readily attracted to bird feeders in parks and towns.
Platycercus elegans (ssp. elegans)
Crimson Rosellas eat a wide range of food. Overhead clicking sounds and a rain of fruit falling from the tall Eucalyptus sieberi (Silvertop Ash) usually means that they're feeding high in the canopy. Lower down, they can be seen feeding on flowers and fruit, such as in this Indigofera australis shrub. We've also watched them keenly tearing open galls on Acacia mearnsii, no doubt feeding on the larvae inside.
White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike (dark morph)
Coralina papuensis (spp. robusta)
This is another highly variable species. There are five recognised subspecies and within each subspecies there are both 'light morphs' and 'dark morphs'! We usually see only the dark morph, and usually just a single bird. An infrequent visitor to our forest, the species tends to prefer open woodlands.
Superb Lyrebird (adult male)
The vocal mimicry of male lyrebirds is legendary. They may call for hours, loudly and precisely mimicking a myriad of other bird calls. Our resident lyrebirds are particularly good mimics of Eastern Whipbirds, Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoos and Pied Currawongs.
Superb Lyrebird (adult male)
Several Superb Lyrebirds live on the block, year round. They feed and nest on the ground but roost quite high up in the canopy, Lyrebirds favour shaded forest, raking through the damp leaf litter with their huge feet in search of insects and other invertebrates.
The males display throughout autumn and winter, typically at sites they have cleared for the purpose. They do not form pairs and play no part in nesting or raising the young.
Wonga Pigeons (adult in centre, juveniles right & left)
We enjoy the booming 'whoo whoo whoo' of the Wonga Pigeons, but I have heard many others cursing the monotonous call of the birds. The block is home to several of these plump pigeons, including at least one breeding pair.
Wonga Pigeons build a nest of sticks high in the forking branches of large trees. We keenly watched a nesting pair through the summer of 2015/16 - conveniently nesting in a large Angophora near the house - but were concerned that they'd struggle to defend their chicks against marauding goannas and Pied Currawongs. They don't appear to have any active defence against such predators and instead seem to rely upon remaining unseen. Their markings are surprisingly cryptic when they're hunkered down in the nest. Having rapidly-growing chicks might also help. The pair successfully fledged two large chicks just 3 weeks after laying the first egg!
Nankeen Night-Heron (immature, about 1 yr)
Only once have we sighted this species on the block. This sub-adult was seen early one morning, perching a couple of metres from the river's edge. As their name suggests, Nankeen Night-Herons are largely nocturnal birds and tend to roost quietly near water during the day. It may be that they're here more often and we have simply overlooked them. We spend less time at the river edge than we do in the higher, forested parts of the property.
The resident Sea-Eagles are prominent members of the local bird fauna. Their goose-like honking resounds as pairs duet in flight during their winter-spring breeding season. They patrol the river adjacent to the block and nest a short distance upstream. Occasionally they are challenged by territorial Wedge-tailed Eagles, but the Sea-Eagles appear able to hold their own against the larger raptors.
White-bellied Sea-Eagle (juvenile, 1st year)
Young birds are unlike their snowy white and grey parents. They gradually develop their adult plumage over 4 years. This photo was taken in April, so the bird is probably only 6-9 months old. It was perched alongside the river, eventually taking flight to glide further downstream and land in a large, bare tree.
Satin Bowerbird (mature male)
The strikingly glossy, blue-black plumage of the adult male is not so commonly seen. We wondered about this for some time, surprised at the apparent gender imbalance, until we discovered that males don't attain their adult plumage until they're at least 5 years old!
Also surprising is the fact that we've yet to discover a bower on the block. As Satin Bowerbirds are known to favour dense, wet forests, it may be that their bowers are further afield and the birds here are simply foraging rather than establishing breeding territories.
This is the only bowerbird species found in the forests of south eastern Australia.
Satin Bowerbird (mature male)
Bowerbirds are voracious consumers of vegetation. The only way to grow vegetables in this area is to have the garden fully enclosed by wire netting. Any emergent plant tips are quickly nipped off!
Their natural food includes insects and flowers too. Epacris impressa (Common Heath) is one of our most common forbs. It flowers for most of the year, peaking during the winter months. And it is a favourite of many of the locals, not just for its nectar. The Satin Bowerbirds, Pied Currawongs and even the wallabies happily devour entire flowers!
Satin Bowerbird (juvenile)
Females and immature males are nearly indistinguishable, particularly when young. Both sexes develop the stunning purple iris very early.
Satin Bowerbird (adult female or immature)
Bowerbirds will feed at any level of the forest and are reported to favour 'edge zones', where forests abut more open areas. The rather stocky birds seem as comfortable bouncing heavily across the ground as they do along a high branch. In this photo, the bird is feeding on the ripening berries of Leucopogon affinis (Lance Beard-heath).
White-throated Treecreeper (adult male)
White-throated Treecreepers almost never come to ground. The only time we have seen them do so was to quickly grab some nesting material. They fly swiftly between trees, typically land on the trunk, then proceed to work their way upwards as they forage for insects. Ants are their main target. They do not peck holes in the bark, but will pull probe rough bark to get at their prey.
Even when they come to the bird bath they retain a vertical, 'head-up' stance. It is quite comical to see them grip the rim with their huge feet and then lower themselves slowly, backwards, into the water, calling loudly all the while.
Red-browed Treecreeper (adult)
The Red-browed Treecreeper is quite similar in appearance to the White-throated, but less commonly seen. It also occupies a distinct niche. The Red-browed Treecreeper feeds on both rough and smooth-barked eucalypts, whereas the White-throated is a rough bark specialist. The Red-browed is also much more likely to feed along smaller branches and may even work its way 'down' a branch - something the White-throated almost never does.
A rather shy, unobtrusive bird, the Bassian Thrush feeds almost exclusively on the ground. They seem to come and go from the block with no particular seasonal pattern. At most there are 3-4 birds present at any one time, more typically only 1 or 2.
Whether on the ground or perching, they are cryptic. They commonly 'freeze' for extended periods and their contact call is a soft, high-pitched 'peep' that does little to bring attention to themselves.
Bassian Thrush have a very characteristic feeding behaviour: they make short dashes along the ground, head down, and then stop, motionless and virtually invisible against the leaf litter. They feed on worms, snails and other invertebrates, unearthing them with a probing 'flick' of the beak.
Grey Shrike-thrush are common across Australia, advertising their presence with loud and musical calls. They are present here in the forest throughout the year.
Although a predatory bird and reported to include small nestlings on their list of prey items, we have not seen them raid nests nor have we noticed small birds mobbing them. It seems that, here at least, they predominantly prey upon lizards and arthropods, including large moths and caterpillars.
Golden Whistler (male)
The territorial call of the Golden Whistler was one of the first bird calls I learned to recognise when we came to live in the southern forest. We hear them throughout the year, although they are present in much greater numbers during summer, when the block becomes home to several breeding pairs.
Yellow-faced Honeyeater (juvenile)
During the summer months, this is one of the most 'obvious' bird species in the forest. Not only are they present in large numbers, but they also call loudly and fly about at speed, at all heights, from the canopy to near ground level. They breed here and their boisterous flights seem to be a combination of territorial behaviour, the training of fledglings, and - at least it can seem - just plain fun.
Most birds migrate north in Autumn. At that time, large flocks are seen flying high overhead most mornings. The majority of our local birds have left by mid March, returning again in August.
These striking birds are occasional visitors to the block, although they may be here more often than we realise. When we do spot them, they are typically in small groups and feeding high in the canopy. Their favoured prey are spiders and other arthropods that they glean from peeling bark. In this environment, therefore, they spend much of their time exploring the long bark strands that hang from the upper branches of Eucalyptus sieberi (Silvertop Ash).
The numerous honeyeater species we see vary remarkably in their social behaviours. The Yellow-faced Honeyeater, for example, is boisterous and vocal. The White-naped Honeyeater seems like the neighbourhood bully, loudly bossing other birds out of its way.
And then there's the Brown-headed Honeyeater. This species is quiet, calm and non-aggressive - and their eye markings leave them looking permanently bewildered by all the fuss going on around them.
Painted Button-quail (male)
We hear the booming calls of the female Painted Button-quail in the summer months, but we rarely sight the birds. The low frequency calls are extremely difficult to localise and the birds are well-camouflaged and also hidden amongst the undergrowth.
Painted Button-quail (adult male with chick)
We were lucky a few years ago when a male wandered past the house/bird hide, with two chicks at foot! We have read that the males assume all parental duties and that females may lay eggs in the nests of several males in a season.
White-winged Chough (fledgling & adults)
'Family' groups of Choughs move through the block at irregular intervals. They clearly have a large home range, and we often see what we believe to be the same 'mob' feeding a kilometre away. The number in the group varies between about 8 and 12. Apparently such groups usually consist of a single breeding pair and the 'helper' young from previous years. It certainly seems that there are numerous adult birds involved in the care of each demanding fledgling.