An Ode to a Flock of Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos

As I look out of my window at my desk, I hear a glorious high-pitched shriek. There – at the top of the tallest fir tree – are five yellow-tailed black cockatoos.

The birds leap into flight, careening through the air with a devil-may-care path. They swoop over my window with their yellow cheek patches flashing like a logo on a fighter jet. Their beaks open in a classic cockatoo smile.

This isn’t the first time I’ve seen them this winter in Melbourne, but still something leaps in my chest, not unlike joy.

The first time was at the beginning of June. Our building’s gate wouldn’t open and we had to make an impromptu walk through Yarra Bend park. My mood was bitter and cross.

Suddenly, soaring across the trees, a flock of fifteen yellow-black cockatoos screamed into sight like a noisy team of gulls. They flew across the property and looped back into the park.

We raced after them – forgetting our earlier irritation with the gate – and ran across the wet grass. They settled in a group of eucalypts and turned perfectly silent, listening to the bark for tasty grubs.

Each time I see these birds, I experience the exhilaration of flight, because in Australia you don’t need any wings at all to fly.

 

How to Spot the Musk Lorikeet

So those of you who are regulars on “Bad Birding” will remember that I heavily lamented the lack of lorikeets besides the ever-present rainbow lorikeet in the Melbourne Area. Recently, Jason and I added musk lorikeet to our list.

Now I shall divulge our secrets so that you too can see the musk lorikeet! Yay!

1) Go to Royal Park. The most diverse area of the park to see birds is by far the wetland area. However, to spot the musk lorikeet I suggest starting in the area behind the Melbourne Zoo. This is the only place that we have seen this bird, and although we have seen it in other areas of the park, this is the location that we have seen it with the most consistency.

2) Next, check the flowering eucalyptus trees. If you see movement, check out what bird it is. The musk lorikeet is smaller than the rainbow lorikeet and blends in with its mostly green colouring, so you may have to look a bit harder to spot it. Also, don’t discount a tree just because you see rainbow lorikeets feeding on it. We have spotted musk on trees with rainbow lorikeets and noisy miners as well.

3) Listen. The musk lorikeet has a squawk that is higher pitched than the rainbow lorikeet. (This has actually helped me find it, so I mention it here.)

4) If you don’t spot it using the first three steps, don’t despair. Take a walk to the wetland area, look at other stuff, and come back to the area behind the zoo and try again. Sometimes we don’t it at first and then see a small flock flying to a tree later in the day.

Melbourne Royal Botanic Gardens

Located near Melbourne CBD, the Royal Botanic Gardens consists of a variety of habitats such as lakes and different forests and plant collections from different parts of the world.

When’s a good time to go? Probably any time of the year will result in many of the birds mentioned below.However, I recommend going in the cooler months, as in the peak of summer the grounds get so crowded with tourists that it pretty much negates the enjoyment of seeing the plants and birds. And speaking of the birds…

The gardens has a stable Bell Miner colony in the northwest corner near the ornamental lake and seeing one is not difficult. You’ll know you’ve found the colony by the multiple short, bell-like calls that emanate from it. The ornamental lake is also a great site to see waterbirds, the most common probably being Purple Swamphen, Dusky Moorhen, Eurasian Coot, Pacific Black Duck, and Grey and Chestnut Teal. Less numerous are Australasian Grebe, Hardhead, and Little Pied Cormorant. We’ve seen the Nankeen Night Heron twice.

The Australasian Grebe is often found in the ornamental lakes. Photo by Jason Polak

The most common parrots are Sulphur-crested Cockatoo and Rainbow Lorikeet. The other day someone on eBird saw a flock of Long-billed and Little Corellas, though this isn’t very common.

We’ve seen a few interesting species near the bathroom directly east from Rose Pavillion, including White-browed Scrubwren and Little Wattlebird. White-browed Scrubwen seems to keep to the forest floor and can be found under small bushes and around trees. Silvereye is often around, but difficult to see well because it moves around quickly. A good place to see it is near the glasshouse and Nymphaea Lily Lake. Eastern Spinebill is not always easy to find but a good time to see it could be May-June, when we’ve seen many.

The sneaky honeyeater Eastern Spinebill is a quick moving bird that seems easiest to see in the fall and early winter. Photo by Jason Polak.

There are also supposedly several other common small birds in the gardens that we’ve never found: Australian Reed-Warbler, Song Thrush, Golden Whistler, and Brown Thornbill. Oh, and of course the sneaky Spotted Pardalote! That’s not surprising though since it’s friend Striated Pardalote also gave us the slip in Terrick Terrick NP.