Thursday, October 22, 2009

Wandering minstrel

The other morning I was working from home, as usual, when I heard a birdsong that I'd never heard before. I'm used to hearing a fairly wide variety of bird calls here, from various raucous cat-alarm squawks through to loud kookaburra laughs and the sweet, sweet melodies from our big, beautiful black and white magpies. But this new birdsong was very distinctive, very different and quite musical. So I went outside, saw this person sitting on a powerline, then rushed back inside to fetch my camera. As well as having never heard this bird before I knew I had never seen it, either.

It's hard to describe a birdsong in words, but my bird-watching guide which told me this is a figbird suggests that it's a "strong, mellow tu-tu heer, tu-heer". I guess that could be something like it. I agree with the "strong mellow" bit, not sure about the words though, but I won't attempt my own version of it.

More specifically, my Field Guide to the Birds of Australia (by Graham Pizzey and Frank Knight, and it's excellent) says this is an immature male figbird. Once he reaches adulthood that mottled, pale yellow chest will be a striking yellow statement of virility.

The other thing the book says is that Sydney is as almost as far south as figbirds travel. The distribution map says figbirds are found, starting from Nowra in the south, all the way along Australia's East Coast up to the tip of Cape York in tropical far North Queensland, as well as in the Top End of the Northern Territory and in the Kimberley in Western Australia's tropical north. When I mentioned to a couple of far more knowledgable bird enthusiasts that I'd seen a figbird, they said they're not a common sight here at all, so I am glad to have made its acquaintance.

He stayed chirping and posing for the camera for a good 10 minutes, enough time to take a few not-too-sharp pix (these are blown up and cropped a fair bit using the snazzy new easy-cropping tool I have discovered in Photoshop). I can never rely on my memory to identify a new bird well, so I always try to get some photos.

My wife Pam, who is a botanical illustrator, does amazingly rapid sketches of any birds she sees in the garden, noting colours, patches, and all sorts of details I could never hope to remember. In fact, seeing Pam do this has given me quite an insight into her powers of visual observation. I feel almost blind by comparison! Thank goodness for cameras.


Micah said...

This is a great post.. Very informative... I can see that you put a lot of hard work on your every post that's why I think I'd come here more often. Keep it up! By the way, you can also drop by my blogs. They're about Vegetable Gardening and Composting. I'm sure you'd find my blogs helpful too.

robble said...

fantastic photos of the figbird!

Lanie said...

Your photos are always beautiful. What type of camera are you using? I have a Pentax K10 (digital SLR) which I love, and all my old lenses from my old camera fit it too. Gorgeous bird too.

Jamie said...

Hi Lanie: I use a Nikon D40X, a digital SLR. When I bought it, it came in a package with an 18-55mm zoom (which I use most of the time) and a 55-200mm zoom (which I used for the figbird shots). Later on I bought a 60mm macro lens, but I rarely use it as I find it quite tricky to get the focus and depth of field right, while the other two lenses are really easy to use and so versatile.

Speaking of photos, have you checked out the blog on my blogroll called "52 suburbs"? An excellent photographer, Louise Hawson, is doing a photographic tour of one Sydney suburb a week, for a year. Some great shots there, plus some clever captions, too. I think she's up to suburb 8 this week.