Canada, So Far

Canada and Australia: how do they compare in terms of birds? Canada is without a doubt more challenging. The time spent to good sightings ratio is higher. In Australia, great views were easy. There were all sorts of huge, colourful birds practically flying in our face.

But, we’ve made some good Canadian progress. Check out our bird list to see that we’ve seen 39 new species here in Canada (there are a couple more to add, too).

And we’ve gotten some good sightings here, no doubt. For instance, last month we had an amazing view of Northern Cardinal:

Hear Me Howl: No Mallee Fowl!

Jason and I recently went for a springtime camping trip in Little Desert and Wyperfeld National Parks. The flowers were beautiful, although I think that we were too late for orchids since we didn’t see any. I’m sure Jason will report on our latest birding finds, so I won’t say much except one hint. It goes: what’s pink and white and squawks all over?

Instead, I am here to report on what we didn’t find in true “Bad Birding” fashion. Despite a lovely tip from a birder just outside of Little Desert, we did not see the endangered mallee fowl at the recommended site. Now, I must admit we didn’t stay by the mound very long as it was super hot and we were sweaty and the sun was quite harsh. But I’d hoped for a glimpse of the male tending his mound by adjusting the sand to the right temperature. However, we did see the mound itself so that was enlightening. Now you can see it too!

Spot the absence of the mallee fowl in this picture!

After that we tried briefly again at Little Desert Nature Lodge. We went for a lovely walk on the property. Again, it was extremely hot so we sought refuge and shade in a tiny bird hide along the trail. Plenty of new holland honey eaters, one lone white-plumed honey eater, and one brown-headed honey eater. Would mallee fowl come to drink?

No. Mallee fowl would not.

Even though we didn’t see the mallee fowl we decided that it was for the best. They are endangered and having a hard time of it out there, so probably it was extremely happy not to see us. Still, if we had seen it… If only…

Bad Birding’s Video Debut – Wildlife in Northern Australia

I’m sure all of you thought that this blog now belonged solely to Jason and that my posts had gone the way of the Paradise Parrot. Well, never fear – I’m back with post about our trip up north!

I made a nature documentary featuring some of the birds we saw in Darwin, Fogg Dam and Kakadu. There’s also a special guest appearance from a non-winged critter, the salt-water crocodile. It’s basically like low budget David Attenborough except, you know, female and Canadian sounding. Enjoy!

My Favourite Bird

Want to know my favourite Australian bird? White-throated Needletail? Sure, that was a cool chance encounter that lasted all of five seconds, but it wasn’t my favourite. What about White-winged Black Tern? Again, neat, but it looks like all the other Terns except it turns black sometimes. In fact, my favourite is the Purple Swamphen!

The Purple Swamphen. Drawing by Jason Polak.

Although common, the Purple Swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio) has a lot of character. Once at Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens we saw it slowly advance on a Dusky Moorhen until the moorhen was forced backwards off the lawn into a pond. Another time we flushed one and it ran like hell into the reeds, instead of flying like a typical bird. Just take a look at this Purple Swamphen party at the Western Treatment Plant:

A Purple Swamphen party, with lots of attitude. Photo by Jason Polak.

Don’t they look like they’re having fun?

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.