Monday, March 30, 2015

Australasian darter

Many birds that I spotted in Australia were very similar to the ones I see in India. Such similarity I noticed in this Australasian Darter (Anhinga novaehollandiae ). Also called the snake bird, because of its long neck- this bird is a wonderful swimmer, as it is a fisherbird. Unusually for a waterbird, the darter has very little oil to make its feather waterproof. Hence after a session of diving and fishing the bird has to dry itself with its wings open. The lack of oil actually aids the bird, in diving deep and competing with other water birds which have a much shallower dive. The bird is found throughout Australia's wetlands. 

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Magpie Goose

Most birds that we watch are generally quite active, hardly resting at a particular place for a long time. The Magpie Goose (Anseranas semipalmata ) though were an exception to the rule. Probably the most sedentary birds that we have seen. Found throughout the northern and easters Australian coast, these birds have an cry that sounds like a loud honk.
Although the bird has seen a decline in population over a period of time- hunting of the bird is permitted so as to maintain a viable population and also not to have an excess pest like population.
The red background that you see in some of the photographs is because of a water fern or plant called Azolla. This plant which can rapidly spread, in the presence of phosphorous is red in the presence of sun and green in shade. The entire water body was covered with Azolla giving it a lovely red carpet appearance.
Diverting a bit from natural history- a little Trivial pursuit. According to some dictionaries the plural of Goose is not geese as we would naturally assume. Geese is used only if there are 1,2,3,4,6, or 8 geese, if there are 5,7,9 or higher then its "gooses" .
If that was not enough a flock of geese when not flying is called a 'Gaggle'- when in flight they become a 'Skein'. The word 'Gaggle' originated  in the late 15c from 'gagyll', with reference to both geese and women.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Pink Eared Duck

For the next few days I will posting a few water birds. Probably a good way to start the series is by the most cutest of the lot- The Pink eared duck (Malacorhynchus membranaceus ). A pretty looking duck with a spatula like beak. It is called the pink eared duck, because it has a small pink spot near it's eye (though the female does not have the spot) . The duck is also called a zebra duck, because of its patterns. Its unusual bill is highly specialised and is fringed with fine grooves, which  filter out the microscopic plants and animals which make up the bulk of its diet. The water enters through the tip of the bill and after getting filtered is expelled along the sides.
I spotted this solitary duck at the Hunter wetland area.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo

Australia has five species of black Cockatoo's and these black Cockatoo's are endemic to Australia and found nowhere else in the world. I was so delighted to spot one of these blacks, that despite it not being a good image, I anyway decided to post it on the blog.
The bird is the Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo (Calyptorhynchus funereus ) once called by John Gould as the Funeral Cockatoo. Four of these five black Cockatoo's are listed as threatened. The population of Yellow-tailed too is declining and may be a matter of time before it joins the other four. Loss of habitat and illegal pet trade are the primary reasons for their decline.
Now for some interesting- Although Cockatoo's are related to the parrots, they are never found in green or blue colour, like the parrots. Colours in birds are produced not just by pigments, but by microscopically structured surface on the feathers. When light reflects of these surface from various layers, it causes interference. The greens and the blues are caused by something called constructive interference and the structure responsible for it is called the Dyck texture. Cockatoo's lack this structure in their feathers hence the lack of greens and blues in them.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Superb Fairy Wren

Both the images are of a male Superb Fairy wren (Malurus cyaneus), a gleaming, velvety blue and black bird. The male is so colourful that it is hard to miss it- so hard to miss, that I missed out on photographing the female ! Other than the colourful plumage this wren leads a colourful life too. The birds are monogamous and pair for life, but they are also sexually promiscuous, which means that each partner will mate with other individuals and they will raise the chicks together born out of such mating. So infidelity is quite the norm, despite the monogamy.
As a part of their courtship display the male plucks and offers yellow petals to the female. This restless insectivorous bird, also has an interesting way to identify parasitic cuckoo in their nest (see previous post). It uses a unique song as a password, which only the superb wrens chicks respond to. A very interesting bird indeed. The bird is found only in Eastern Australia and Tasmania. 

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Fan-tailed Cuckoo

The first thing most of us remember when we thing about the cuckoo, is its ingenious way of dodging the perils and labours of incubation by depositing their eggs in the  nest of some other bird and allowing them to rear its young. Those exactly where my thoughts when I saw this Fan-tailed Cuckoo ( Cacomantis flabelliformis ) in Australia, which incidentally was also my first cuckoo sighting down under. To avoid having their eggs thrown out by the foster parents cuckoos have developed a colouration to their eggs that matches with those species they parasitise, so each race of cuckoo restricts itself to only certain species. This Fan-tailed chooses flycatchers, fairy-wrens, scrubwrens and thornbills, the Brown Thornbill being a particular favourite.  A single egg is laid in the nest and one of the host's eggs removed. The young cuckoo generally hatches earlier than the host's eggs and proceeds to eject the other eggs or hatchlings. The seemingly unaware foster parents then rear the cuckoo chick.
It was an amazing feeling to see a cuckoo here and it reminded me so much of the Indian cuckoo. 

Friday, March 20, 2015

Gang Gang Cockatoo

The sheer variety of Parrots in Australia has left me wondering on how evolution has been shaped by isolation. While the parrots I am used to in India are mostly green, I wonder how they managed to come in such huge variety of colours and hues in Australia. Previously I have posted a White Cockatoo, a multi coloured  lorikeet  and today is another contrast a Black Cockatoo. Commonly called the Gang gang Cockatoo (Callocephalon fimbriatum ) I spotted a male and the female in the blue mountains. The male has a scarlet head and the female has a grey head and crest, with both sexes having yellow edged plumage. 
Biologists are still trying to find a satisfactory answer to this variation in plumage and hopefully they will get and answer sooner than later. Meanwhile, my quest to see as many of the 40 different parrots found only in Australia continues. 
The name Gang gang, is very interesting. It is derived from an  onomatopoeic aboriginal name. Many aboriginal names have reduplication like Rainbow Lorikeet is wirritywirrity, white sea eagle is makmak, tyunguttyungut is fgrogmouth owl and so on. 

In the photographs, the top is the mature Male, Followed by Juvenile and the last two are females. 

That's all for now- have a nice day.