We spent an afternoon on one of the large lawns of O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat watching a small flock of Superb Fairy-wrens searching for tiny insects in the grass and in the surrounding garden shrubs. The female Superb Fairy-wren does not have the distinctive blue and black feathers that adorn the male of the species. They are fairly drab by comparison except for the orange feathers surrounding the eye. I watched this female perched atop a fern frond, tugging on a clump of white fuzz of some sort and pulling off bits of it. Perhaps it was potential nesting material. The fuzz did not look like it was any kind of natural garden substance; it looked like polyester stuffing so its appearance on a fern frond was a bit puzzling.
While I was waiting my turn to photograph the Satin Bowerbird’s bower in Lamington National Park, I noticed a green and white butterfly sipping nectar from a large shrub. I had never seen a butterfly with such distinctive green coloring and I thought it might be a type of Swallowtail because of the small dark tails on the wings. Turns out it is in the Swallowtail family, a Macleay’s Swallowtail. The green appears only on the underside of its wings but from the angle I viewed it, I never saw the butterfly from the top. With its coloring it blended perfectly with the surrounding shrubs.
The second Elizabethan Era has come to an end. Australia is a Constitutional Monarchy so Elizabeth II was Queen of Australia as well as of the United Kingdom and Australians are paying tribute. We spent the afternoon walking around Sydney and visited the grounds around Government House, the official residence of the Governor of New South Wales, where thousands of bouquets and messages of condolences lined the fence surrounding the residence. The Sydney Opera House paid tribute as well. After sundown, the largest sail of the Opera House displayed a photograph of the queen that dominated the harbor.
Few bird sounds in the Australian rainforest are louder, more distinctive, and more obvious than the call of the Eastern Whipbird, pictured above. When a pair of these birds is nearby, the call, sounding more like a cracking whip than a bird song, is unmistakable. It can be deafening if the birds are nearby which they often are, foraging in the underbrush along the side of the boardwalk in Lamington National Park. The first time you. hear it, it is startling. It is a call and response form of communication that the male and female Whipbirds use. It is so distinctive and it is not easily forgotten. No matter where you might be in the rainforest, when you hear the sound of a cracking whip, you know that the Eastern Whipbird is nearby.
The Robin Red Breast we know in America is not the same robin that is found in Australia. The Eastern Yellow Robin inhabits the rain forests and eucalyptus forests of Eastern Australia. They are small, bright yellow birds that stand out in the rainforest because of their bright color so they easy to spot as they flit from branch to branch in search of food.
A graphic depiction of the stunning male Regent Bowerbird is used as the logo for O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat in Lamington National Park in Queensland, Australia. The males and females are quite different in appearance but are both quite beautiful. The males construct a bower decorated with items like shells and leaves that will attract females. The first image is a male, the second, a female.
The Superb Fairy Wren is a very tiny bird that lives in the Southeast part of Australia, including Queensland in the midst of Lamington National Park. These tiny wrens seem never to keep still. We followed a couple of pairs around the O’Reilly’s compound as they searched for something to feast on. The grass was still covered with dew in the early morning when we went looking for them and this little male Superb Fairy Wren has a couple of dew drops on his cheek feathers, the result of foraging in the dewy grasses.
Australian King-Parrots in Lamington National Park in Queensland, Australia seem to have adjusted well to the presence of humans in their range in Coastal Eastern Australia. Here at O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat in the midst of Lamington National Park, they know that humans sometimes are a source of treats and they will gather excitedly in nearby trees and watch for anyone they think might have one to give them. Large groups of Crimson Rosellas and King-Parrots gather excitedly to watch and wait. It is quite the show as the gregarious birds fly from one person to another, then perch atop cameras, lenses, and flashes. They will land on shoulders, arms and heads by ones, twos, and even threes. One landed on top of my flash while I was handholding the rig, throwing the rig out of balance and making it a bit unwieldy. Another bird was comfortable enough to eat something while perched atop my camera gear, then to wipe its beak off on my flash. I guess I’m lucky that I avoided getting whitewashed by the swarm of birds surrounding us in the roadway at O’Reilly’s. This male, perched on a branch overlooking the walkway, looks as if he is searching for an opening so he could join in the frenzy. I can attest to the fact that the claws on their feet are quite sharp and it took a while for the sensation of a Parrot dancing on my head to subside.
The little Piping Plovers that we photographed at the Salisbury Salt Marsh Wildlife Area were absolutely adorable. This little one seemed to be trying to see its reflection as it dug into the sand with its beak in search of something edible. When there is a tiny surface of water over the sand, these little shorebirds will scuffle their feet back and forth in an effort to uncover a delectable morsel to eat.
Many small shorebirds look so much alike it’s nice to have Merlin’s photo ID app to help with identification once I’ve taken the photograph. This is a Semipalmated Sandpiper, still in its breeding plumage, taken on Red River Beach on Cape Cod, Massachussetts. It has extracted some sort of morsel from the surf debris and is attempting to move it into its throat to swallow it by manipulating its beak.
No sooner had we laid down in the sand on Cape Cod’s Red River Beach, than the shorebirds we’d waited for all week walked right up to us. This Sanderling was happy to wait for the foamy surf to subside a bit to grab any tasty morsels that might be waiting there.
Just a couple of days after I spotted the mostly unopened cluster of chive flowers, I thought to check on the progress and saw that almost all the buds were open. I got my ZMC105 Macro lens again and focused on the cluster and took a few shots. I didn’t use a tripod and didn’t take multiples for a stacked image at a small focal length. I just wanted a single image of the flower cluster at f/8. As I hovered over the flower cluster, moving up and down over it, keeping the center flowers in focus, I noticed a dark line on one of the flowers was moving. As I peered closer I saw there was a visitor, a tiny hairy spider moving out from under one of the flowers. It is really tiny as the flowers are barely a quarter of an inch. This was the furthest it ventured out while I was focused on it. When I bent down again to try to get more of the spider in the frame, it had completely disappeared.
I have become obsessed with solving the New York Time’s daily Spelling Bee, a fairly recent addition to the New York Times Crossword Puzzle App to which I’ve subscribed for years. I used to start my day with the crossword. Now, even before I get out of bed, I look at the Spelling Bee to see how difficult it will be that day. It’s a simple game. Identify as many words as possible from 7 letters. One specified letter must appear in all words. Words must be at least four letters with no maximum length. Scores depend on the length of the word. Rankings, based on the daily score, are based on a percentage of possible points in a puzzle. Some days I solve it in a few minutes. Other days, it takes repeat visits to the App throughout the course of the day. Although the top ranking is “Genius,” identifying all of the possible words makes one a “Queen Bee.” I didn’t even know about Queen Bee status when I first started playing. On days that I stagnate at the “Amazing” level (“Genius is the next higher level, the level I try for every day) and can’t come up with another word, I admit that I resort to looking at the daily hints. After all, I am obsessed with getting to the “Genius” level. Of course the “Queen Bee” is the ultimate goal and I have done it a few times but for the most part, I’m satisfied with “Genius.” Not that it means anything to anybody but I can’t allow myself to be defeated by seven letters. The daily hints message always has a different photograph of a honeybee so when I took this photograph with my Nikon ZMC105mm macro lens, I thought of the Spelling Bee. And now, oh dear, the NYT Crossword App has added Wordle! One more word game to obsess about!
It’s fascinating to watch birds eat fish whole, flipping and turning the fish so that it will enter the beak headfirst and, ideally, slide down the gullet with a couple of gulps. The adult Least Terns were ferrying their catch to their offspring in the nesting area on Duxbury Beach near Plymouth, Mass. This young Least Tern is already adept at flipping and maneuvering a small fish, whose life is gradually ebbing while the bird tries to swallow it whole. The little fish was in a losing battle but so too, as it turned out, was the small Tern. The bird was unable to swallow the fish but it put forth a valiant effort. We watched for a couple of minutes as the bird tried over and over to flip the fish up and into its beak, then gulping unsuccessfully to swallow it. By now the fish was completely coated with sand making it even more unlikely that the fish would just slip into the throat. Finally, the little fish was no longer flapping its tail in protest and the little Tern gave up too, unable to squeeze the fish into its throat. It left the fish on the sand and went in search of another.
We had no sooner plopped down onto the sand at Red River Beach and here they came. The first to appear in my viewfinder were my favorite Shorebirds, the Sanderlings, heading toward the place where the waves ebb and flow. These small Sandpipers spend much of their time at the edge of the surf, where they find a bounty of tiny crustaceans and other things to feast on. It was such a pleasant experience at the very end of our trip to have such a rich encounter with several of our target species. This little Sanderling walked with purpose directly toward me and staring straight into the lens. At the last moment, it veered off and headed to the edge of the surf.
When I refilled the Hummingbird feeders, something caught my eye in the large pot of chives under the feeder. The spring chive blossoms, now faded and dry, are still there but I was surprised to see a tiny open white flower and some unopened buds on a stalk protruding above the dried stalks. Next to it was another small cluster, an open flower at either edge of the cluster. I went inside and attached my Z105mm Macro lens to the Z9, put both on a tripod and went back out. There was a breeze that kept the tiny blooms swaying slightly which always wreaks havoc with my outdoor macro florals but I didn’t want to pick the stalk. A couple of attempts at focus shift shooting with the lens wide open were unsatisfactory but when I closed down the aperture to f/18, I liked the results. This is an image created in HeliconFocus using 25 images. The open flowers are slightly more than a quarter of an inch.
The Least Tern is the smallest of the terns, about the size of a Brewer’s Blackbird, under nine inches. When we observed a nesting colony of these small terns, they were still busy bringing fish to their offspring although the colony was beginning to dwindle in size. We were surprised to see a pair of adult Least Terns seemingly taunting their offspring with a tiny fish. They would dangle it enticingly in front of the young bird, then jerk it away just as the bird reached for it. This behavior went on for a while with a couple of young birds. Finally, one of the young birds flapped its wings and suddenly flew off. Apparently, it was time for them to leave the nesting colony and the parents were doing their best to get them to fly. The ploy seemed to work eventually. This tern is heading to the nesting colony with a tiny fish, perhaps not just to feed its young but to encourage it to fly.
I have a new bird book, the Peterson Field Guide to Birds of North America by Roger Tory Peterson. My friend Moose Peterson, no relation although he was friends with Roger Tory Peterson, recommended I add it to my collection. I’ve had the Peterson Field Guide to Western Birds, birds found west of the 100th Meridian, for more than 30 years but since I now travel extensively beyond that boundary, it makes sense to have this guide. In recent years, I’ve been using the Sibley Guide to Birds by David Allen Sibley and its digital counterpart but I think the layout of the Peterson guide might make it easier to help me identify unknown birds. There is no digital version that I can find yet so I’ll keep using Sibley’s. However, I love the layout of the Peterson hard copy guide which groups similar types of birds and makes it easy to find the different groups by color coding at page bottoms. Small Sandpipers, like this Least Sandpiper, are identified collectively as Peeps (not to be confused with the springtime marshmallow confection also known as Peeps) in the guide which I find quite endearing. One of the distinguishing features of this Peep is its greenish legs. Raindrops began to fall while we were sitting on a concrete curb near Sandwich Boardwalk outside of Plymouth, Massachussetts watching and photographing the Peeps.
The last hour of the last day of our visit to Plymouth, Massachussetts made up for the dearth of birds we encountered during the week. And, thanks to Tony, we finally found birds. Tony went down the beach alone and when we connected with him he told Moose he’d seen a bird with red legs. That was all it took and Moose, trailed by the rest of us, took off in the direction of the “red-legged” bird Tony had seen. It did not turn out to be the exotic Moose hoped for but it did set the stage for an hour of incredible photography. The “red-legged” bird was actually an orange legged Ruddy Turnstone, still in breeding plumage.
When I first began to notice shorebirds, I was visiting friends in Port Aransas, Texas, a few years before I became interested in photography. When we’d walk on the beach, I was taken by the small birds scurrying to keep ahead of the waves washing ashore and I was fascinated by their antics. They plunged their beaks deep into the wet sand and sometimes pulled out tiny crustaceans. Their paths were erratic and it was a challenge to keep up with them. My friend Susan new the names of the shorebirds, I did not. She told me the tiniest birds scurrying around on that beach were Sanderlings, a type of sandpiper. I fell in love with these small, grayish birds. The only time I visited Port Aransas was in January so the birds were in their non-breeding plumage. When I took up photography and fell in love with what I call “Beach Panning,” I was able to stop them in their tracks with a fast shutter speed and photograph them up close at their level. But again, it was late fall or winter and the Sanderlings were still in their gray, non-breeding plumage. Until I saw them at Salisbury Beach in Massachussetts, in mid August, I’d never seen one in breeding plumage. They were unrecognizable to me and I needed to confirm their identity with my Merlin Bird ID App. This is a Sanderling in breeding plumage, behaving like Sanderlings do all year.