Sunday, May 10, 2009

Cafe society

Our street tree is in full bloom now, and for the next five or six months it becomes the local cafe for various nectar-eating birds. It's hard to sleep in here on winter mornings, as the lorikeets and wattlebirds start up their chirpy conversations soon after sunrise, which is mercifully heading towards 7am as the days shorten.

Probably the most colourful of Sydney's prolific native birds is this one, the rainbow lorikeet. These have become commonplace here in recent years. As little as five years ago they weren't seen much here in my local district, but now they're camped out in our local cafe, the pink-flowered form of the gum tree, Eucalyptus leucoxylon.

It's easy to photograph these birds, as they're not fussed by people's presence and are quite happy to go on feeding while I go on snapping.

A much more difficult proposition is photographing the flighty red wattlebird. Mr and Mrs Wattlebird will flee the moment they sense someone is looking at them, and so yesterday morning this is the best portrait I could manage. They have a yellowy chest and distinctive red flaps of skin on their cheeks, which are called 'wattles'. (And so, no, they're not called wattlebirds because of an attraction to wattle (Acacia) trees and shrubs.)

Equally difficult to photograph simply because they never keep still, bees galore feast on the plentiful gum tree blooms.

There's another very pretty little black and gold honeyeater called the New Holland honeyeater which also visits the tree, but I couldn't get a photo of one yesterday. While the lorikeets and wattlebirds endlessly bother each other over feeding territory rights, the quick little New Holland honeyeater, about a third the size of the other two birds, darts in and out of the tree getting its sugary energy hit.

The constant presence of these birds has led me to read up a bit about them. The rainbow lorikeets are doing well out of human habitation, occurring almost in pest proportions in places. Long ago they were a migratory bird species which ranged up and down the long Australian coastline feeding on whatever was in flower, then moving on as the seasons changed. Lorikeets have adapted well to urban landscapes. They love all the showy native flowers of gum trees and grevilleas gardeners everywhere have planted and no longer need to 'move on' in search of food. And they love the way we've provided generous clumps of native trees and shrubs to decorate man-made things such as traffic islands, car parks, etc, which we then flood-light at night. We might think the lights are for our own human safety, but from the lorikeets' point of view they also keep away predators such as snakes, owls etc. Lorikeets know a safe roosting spot when they find one and the communities there can be quite huge.

The downside of all the pretty lorikeets is that they compete with all sorts of other native birds, taking nesting sites and consuming food sources. Red wattlebirds are notoriously aggro towards other birds trying to share their food trees, but they can't shift the lorikeets from our gum tree. And, for that matter, the lorikeets haven't kicked out the wattlebirds, either. And so the struggle for existence goes on, the chirpy chatter and flashes of colour disguising the toughness and resilience of these two combatants for feeding rights in the local cafe.


David in Kansas said...

Such color! Does it get cold where you live?

Jamie said...

Not really, certainly not by Kansas standards! Right now it's autumn (fall) and daily max is around 19-20°C, overnight minimums about 10-11°C. In the middle of winter (July) the max gets down to about an average of 16, minimums an average of 9. Sunny winter days can be really lovely here, but the cold, wet, windy ones are totally unpleasant. But there's never any snow in my part of Sydney.

City Diggity said...

The rainbow lorikeet is gorgeous, and it's pretty amazing that the tree plays such a role in the lifecycle, attracting birds and bees. Happy blogging!