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Bird(s) of the week: White-bellied Sea Eagle…and more

White-bellied Sea-Eagle. Numbulwar, NT

Earlier this week I drove out to the west coast of the NT’s Gulf of Carpentaria for work. On the first morning out bush I was lucky enough to be up before dawn and wandered down to the foreshore to see what might wander past and into my camera. I’d seen a pair of adult White-bellied Sea-eagles (Haliaeetus leucogaster) the previous evening and the next morning I spotted this bird about a kilometre away roosting on the highest branches of a dead tree.

There was plenty of other birdlife up and about to keep me busy but I kept an eye out for this bird to make its first flight of the day. Luckily for me she – that’s my guess anyway – flew past close enough for me to grab a few shots.

I’m happy with this one because it shows – I hope – the immense power that these birds have from their large wings and massive chest muscles that drive them…

Brahminy Kite

Brahminy Kites (Haliastur indus) are another relatively common fish-eating hawk around our coasts and this adult bird shows off its gleaming white head that contrasts so beautifully with its chestnut body plumage.

Pied Cormorant

It was a busy morning down by the barge landing. I heard what I first thought were Barramundi chasing bait fish around in the shallows below the rocks and after a while wandered over for a look and found this Pied Cormorant (Palacrocorax varius) caught up in some discarded fishing line that some fool fisherman had discarded. It all ended well because just as I came back with a knife to try to cut it free it had done so by itself.

For good reason it doesn’t look very happy here but it was soon back out chasing fish around with no apparent ill-effects.

Striated Heron

I’ve not run into a Striated (Mangrove) Heron (Butorides (Ardeola) striata)  before so I was happy to get a reasonable shot of this individual as it was poking around on the mudflats. It was rather shy and kept scooting off into the mangroves every time it saw me poking around.

Black-necked Stork aka Jabiru

Later that day I pulled into the shade along the banks of a glorious billabong just off the road. As I got out of the car for a nature-stop a thousand birds rose up from the water. This immature Black-necked Stork (Ephippiorhynchus asiaticus) aka Jabiru was one of them. I’ve seen quite a few young birds around the Top End recently – maybe last year’s record wet-season was a boon for this most striking of our waterbirds. All legs and beak!

Royal Spoonbills

These Royal Spoonbills (Platalea regia) were part of a large flock on the billabong and rose en-masse into the air, making long, lazy circles before cautiously settling in a far corner of the billabong.

That afternoon I camped at the Roper Bar Store and wandered up the the top of the hill behind the store to see if I could pick up some elusive mobile signal. Also cruising around was this Black Kite (Milvus migrans) which cast a beady eye at me as it passed.

Black Kite

The next day I pulled into my favourite roadside stop for a coffee and a stretch and came across this beautiful Red-winged Parrot (Aprosmictus erythropterus) picking seeds out of the unripened seed pods of a Kapok Tree (Cochlospermum gillivraei).

Red-winged Parrot

And a day later I came across another – several hundred kilometres away – picking seeds form the ripened seed pods of the same bush.

Red-winged Parrot

Also around – I’d been hearing and chasing them on-and-off for two days – were plenty of Red-backed Fairy-Wrens (Malurus melanocephalus). This is the best shot I managed to get of these very elusive, but very common, little birds.

This is the brightly coloured male bird.

Red-backed Fairy-wren

I was shooting around my favourite piece of waste-ground in Katherine (waste ground always seems to be good for birds) looking for Gouldian Finches (Erythrura gouldiae) without success. The early morning air was full of the calls of Eastern (Common) Koels (Eudynamys orientalis) and Pheasant Coucals (Centropus phasianinus) (of which I found a dead road-killed specimen a few weeks ago) and I caught this male in glorious breeding plumage.

Coucal Pheasant

And finally – but no less worthy, this Crested Pigeon (Ocyphaps lophotes) wandered past within range of my lens. Looks quite coquettish don’t you think?

Crested Pigeon

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  • 1
    Angra
    Posted October 30, 2011 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

    Beaut pictures Bob.

    White sea eagles are found around the Aussie coast. Be patient and you may well see them. There’s a resident pair at Anna Bay, Port Stephens, which seem to have been there for the past 10 years or so.

    Magnificent birds.

    PS. The Frogmouth pair are back in my garden (at Lake Macquarie). They seem to scare the Lorikeets like anything which have been screaming all morning! (All species are hiding from the rain in the trees). I suspect they sometimes steal their young.

    Actually our local parrots seem to have a range of recognizable calls, if you listen carefully. Alarm, Here’s some Food, Come with me, Eating now, Bugger off! etc. They even have a pleasant ‘garble garble’ call when sitting on the fence asking for food. And the screams when they sight a prospective predator are quite unique.

    Anyone researched this?

  • 2
    Angra
    Posted October 30, 2011 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

    Well, in answer to my own question, the research field if called Zoosemiotics (animal signs and symbols). Very fascinating.

    From my student days I seem to remember a Russian blokey called Vygotsky who wrote about Zoosemiotics, Meaning and Language in the ’70′s.

    I’m a bit rusty, but there was a chimp that learned 100 words or so, a gorilla that could ask a question, and a few parrots that could carry on a limited conversation.

    And of course dolphins, who complained about us being so obsessed with land-based mammals.

  • 3
    Angra
    Posted October 30, 2011 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

    (Correction – The Dolphins excused the parrots.)

  • 4
    Bob Gosford
    Posted October 30, 2011 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Angra, nice to hear that the Sea Eagles are doing well down your way. I’ve seen them as far inland as the Katherine River (appr. 300 km from the sea) and also over Victoria Park near Sydney University.

    And if you ever get down to Jervis bay in southern NSW, there are apparently more than 20 breeding pairs in that most beautiful country.

    Thanks also for the info on Zoosemiotics – must catch up on my animal behaviour studies!

    Cheers and please keep your thoughts and comments coming,

    Bob

  • 5
    sarah toa
    Posted October 30, 2011 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

    Lovely photographs Bob.
    Sea eagles always excite me. They nest up the hill from my house and I see them out on the shipwreck in the bay sometimes (both of us fishing!) Awesome birds, their wings are almost the length of their whole body. I also found it interesting to see so many other birds in your post that are down here, southern ocean way. Good stuff, thanks.

  • 6
    Posted October 31, 2011 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    beautiful pics Bob

  • 7
    Angra
    Posted October 31, 2011 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    Clever thing about Sea Eagles (and Ospreys I think) is that when they catch a fish and are flying back to their roost or nest, they hold the fish nose first, tail last in the direction of their flight – which presumably reduces wind resistance.

  • 8
    Bill Parker
    Posted November 8, 2011 at 8:42 am | Permalink

    Just ploughing through Crikey’s offerings today and found these pictures. My whole mood changed for the good. Superb shots Bob.

    Interested not so much in what brand of camera but the type of lenses you use.

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  1. ...] 48 hour trip was far too short to do any serious bird watching but my local NT photojournalist friend Bob Gosford drove me around for 2 hours and we managed to spot 2 Whistling Kites fighting for food scraps and [...

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