Birding Without Borders

Day 346: Bird Art

Noah admires the life's work of two artists—who happen to be birds.

December 12, 2015: Kingfisher Park, Australia — Del and I birded with John and Peta Nott at Rose Gums this morning for a couple of hours. Rose Gums is a “wilderness resort” which John and Peta have built up over the past few years, in a wooded area adjoining a large national park, and it’s a great birding spot. At first light, John walked us to an area where he has seen Blue-faced Parrotfinches recently, and, after some effort, Del managed to spot the bird perched in a low shrub. Then we retired to the Notts’ back deck for the morning feeding, an event that takes place each day at 8 a.m. 

“We didn’t have any parrots here until Cyclone Larry hit in 2006,” said Peta. “Larry was scary. The forest around our place was so devastated, it looked like it had burned. The birds which survived the cyclone were dazed afterward, some of them so much that you could walk over and pick them up. To help them out, we put a big table of fruit and other foods on our deck and it was mobbed by all kinds of birds which usually don’t come to feeders. We kept feeding them each morning and eventually most of the birds went back to their normal habits, but the parrots got used to having their breakfast here, and we’ve kept it up ever since. It’s kind of a social event for these parrots now.”

As soon as Peta scattered a tub of sunflower seed on a special table, dozens of Australian King-Parrots and Rainbow Lorikeets mobbed it. We sat in deck chairs and watched the show from ten feet away. What a commotion of color!

Del and I spent the rest of the day with his nephew, Mark Christiansen (a keen birder and photographer), at several nearby forests. The most productive one, a place called Possum Valley, held a great assortment of endemics, including one of my most-wanted Australian birds, the Golden Bowerbird.

I’ve seen a couple of bowerbird species already in Papua New Guinea and Australia, but the Golden builds a particularly large and elaborate bower to woo prospective mates. The construction is based on two skyscrapers of sticks, each several feet tall, joined by a sky bridgethe Petronas Towers of the bird world. A male Golden Bowerbird will spend his life building this bower. Occasionally a passing female will stop by to inspect it and, if she approves, will mate with him; but, for the most part, the bird spends his time sitting around his bower by himself (after mating, the female goes off to build a nest, lay her eggs, and raise the chicks on her own).

We found an adult male Golden Bowerbird tending his construction and admired his work. A man named Paul, who lives at Possum Valley, told us that this bower is famous: A Japanese film crew recently came just to spend a week getting footage of it. Another bower in the nearby forest was unlucky enough to have a dead tree fall on it, but its builder was smart enough to renovate it to preserve the remaining structure.

Just before dusk, Del stopped on a road shoulder in a suburban area, and said, “You might want to get out your camera.” Unsure what to expect, I hopped out. On the side of the road, between the highway and a house, was a Great Bowerbird’s elaborate bower: A tunnel of woven sticks with an incredible collection of objectsmostly white and green, with pink accentsarranged around it: glass, plastic bottle tops, spoons, tin foil, and many snail shells. I could only shake my head. Bowerbirds are the ultimate bachelors, engineers, and artists.

New birds today: 25

Year list: 5756

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