Northern Victoria – farmland and empty places

Australia gives whole new meaning to the phrase “yard bird”. Where we have chickadees, robins, and crows in modest numbers, the Australian yard will have an array of parrots, cockatoos, miners, and honeyeaters. The bird immediately below is a Noisy Miner – one of the Honeyeater tribe, and a very common bird whether in a suburban yard or in the bush country.

The white bird (below) with the pinkish and blue facial patch is a Long-billed Corella, one of the large cockatoos. These birds were very common and there were usually Sulphur-crested Cockatoos mixed in with them. They were common where we were, but have a limited range overall. In the places where they occur they are often very common but you have to be in western Victoria, the very eastern part of South Australia, or in southeastern Tasmania in order to be assured of seeing this species.

The rosy-colored parrot in the picture below the Corella is another very common bird called the Galah – the local pronunciation is “ga-LAH” rather than “gala” as an American would say. It took some getting used to the abundance of cockatoos and parrots. In many cases the tree-loving parrots were very hard to get a good look at but the big ones, and others that fed on the ground, were very much at ease in most cases.

The large Sulphur-crested Cockatoos (as shown in the 3rd image below) are often rather tame features of urban parklands. They were also very common in farmland outside the cities. As they probe in sod (and rip and tear and dig) they do favor maintained grassy areas. The call of the Sulphur-crested Cockatoo (and most parrots of any kind) is a loud raucous screech – quite unpleasant overall.

It was not uncommon to see hundreds of any of these cockatoos each day. There was nothing special about finding them daily as they were pretty much everywhere; suburban yards, remote desert bush, or seasonally flooded areas. The largest of them, the Sulphur-crested, could be seen a half-mile away scattered like so many piles of snow. There are three Corella species and two of the large crested cockatoos. As with many animals (of all sorts) some have very specific adaptations and are found within rather restricted plant communities.

As we headed north from the airport outside Melbourne, eventually to the southern edge of New South Wales, we were immediately in farm land. The fields and paddocks were quite green as this corner of the continent gets a reasonable bit of rain and had been wet in the weeks before we arrived. We had two days to reach our next hot spot so we puttered along and deviated from the main roads whenever we felt the urge to get into the bush.

There are few roads in most of Australia and most side roads are gravel. Some are black-topped wide enough for one car to travel comfortably – when a car approaches you each drive with one side of the car on black-top and the other on gravel. Driving on the left was an experience that we talked our way through at every turn -“OK here comes a roundabout, we will stay left and peel off onto the second roadway”. We did pretty well. It was very helpful that the roads are rural and the people considerate. (However, there was that awful last day when our GPS took us on a two-hour tour of all the roads in downtown Melbourne instead of letting us hop onto a toll road directly to the airport. That was a trying bit of driving even if it was the last day and we were somewhat experienced.)

The rivers were running pretty full and the weirs were controlling a great deal of water. You can imagine how precious water is in a dry country and how thoroughly it has become a resource; bought, sold, channeled, and held in all the watercourses. This large weir (The Torrumbarry Weir on the Murray River) was pretty far out in the bush. It was rather a surprise to come across this large water control device as we thought we were miles from any sort of industrialized activities. There were hundred of various cockatoos in this area as well as cormorants and riparian wildlife and fish in the fish ladders.

 The Brown Falcon is a good bit like the Peregrine Falcon that is thinly, but widely, spread in North America.  It was not the most common bird of prey but we saw several. We saw many Wedge-tailed Eagles every day, Brown Falcons on several days, and ten to twenty Whistling Kites each day. There are no vultures or Buteos (like Red-tailed Hawks here in the USA) in Australia but there are Kites, Eagles, Sea-Eagles, Accipiters, and Harriers. Most of the pictures I took of eagles and such are of birds in flight and they don’t offer much to the blog.

Once we were well north of Melbourne the Red-rumped parrot was common. Like many birds there are significant plumage differences between males and females and young and old. A flock of these stubby-beaked parrots was never easy for me but Fran noticed the red and always called them correctly. Subtle colors, especially the reds, have always been hard for me to notice.
The Rosellas (and Lorikeets) were common but not easily seen as they typically fed deep in the leafy vegetation. This bird was catching the early morning sun in a residential area that we happened on. One side of the road was rather nice homes and the other side was pasture land. It was a good spot for birds and a very nice place for this long-tailed beauty.

The Australian Magpie is a bird that is very widespread through the western edge of the country and the entire eastern half. There are eight populations with differing amounts of black and white providing the sub-specific clues. The “white-backed” groups tend to be in the cooler south and in far west, where the “black-backed” populations are found in the east and along the northern edge of this island continent. They behave much like North American crows and are closely related to the butcherbirds, woodswallows, and currawongs – all groups that are not found in North America. They became very regular roadside friends. It was quite impressive to note the pattern changes as we headed north from Tasmania through Victoria and into New South Wales.

In the USA we have the Barn Swallow as our representative of a very large worldwide group of swallows; the Hirundo group. (We have swallows from other groups as well – 8 swallows and martins nest in the US)  Our Barn Swallow is found in Europe, Asia, Africa, and much of the western Pacific. The bird gathering mud for its bottle-shaped mud nest is called the Fairy Martin. There are half a dozen swallow or martins in Australia; 5 of these are Hirundo swallows.
The vegetation in the dryer parts of the Australian countryside consists of mulga and other Eucalypts as well as Acacia and a much lesser number of other groups. However, in the suburbs and parks, and in suitably humid habitats the Banksia and bottlebrushes are well represented. The vegetation found in Australia is very different from what we have in North America. There seems to be little doubt that the plants of Australia (especially the Eucalypts) have developed in ways as unique as the resident mammals.

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