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I've been a Canberran since moving here from Adelaide on the first day of 1980. I now live in suburban Duffy with my partner Louise Maher, ABC 666 radio and on-line journalist. Among my early memories is following Sleepy Lizards (Shinglebacks) around the paddocks north of Adelaide, guarded by the faithful bull terrier. I have always been passionate about the natural world, trying to understand how it works, how the nature of Australia came to be, and sharing those understandings. My especial passions are birds, orchids and mammals. For much of my life I have been a full-time naturalist, running bush tours, writing books etc, doing consultancies, presenting a regular radio slot on local ABC, chairing a government environment advisory committee and running adult education classes. Recently I have eased back somewhat, but am still writing, teaching, doing some radio work and running overseas tours - as part of my fascination with our Gondwanan origins I've been running tours to South America for the past decade. I was awarded the Australian Plants Society Award in 2001 and the Australian Natural History Medallion in 2006, both for services to education and conservation. In January 2018 I was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia for 'service to conservation and the environment'.

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Australia's Bird Families; a brief introduction #2

This time I'm continuing the odyssey that I began here, a journey through (nearly) all the families of Australian birds, with just one representative of each. You might want to go back to that post if you've not already seen it, to read the rationale and 'rules' of the series, but I'll re-emphasise here that this is not about my photos, of which I have no illusions, but the birds themselves. We start this posting with a huge Order which includes some ten Australian families of mostly seabirds and shorebirds.
Order Charadriiformes
FamilyTurnicidae; buttonquails
Little Buttonquail Turnix velox, Great Sandy Desert, Western Australia.
Despite the name and appearance, buttonquails are not at all related to true quails. Most species
are grassland dwellers; females are larger and more brightly coloured, and males do the childcare.
There are seven Australian species (and another 9 in Asia and Africa).
Order Charadriiformes
Family Burhinidae; stone-curlews
Beach Stone-curlews Esacus magnirostris, Wonga Beach, north Queensland.
These slightly strange and magnificent birds are the largest of this family of ten species.
The other Australian species is the woodland Bush Stone-curlew, which still thrives in the
tropics but is very rare in the south (except for Kangaroo Island, where there are no foxes).
Both are mostly nocturnal.
Order Charadriiformes
Family Haematopodidae; oystercatchers
Sooty Oystercatcher Haematopus fuliginosus, south coast New South Wales.
Despite the evidence of this photo this species is found mostly on rocky shores, while the other Australian
species, Pied Oystercatcher, prefers sand. Their powerful bills lever limpets off rocks, cut the closing muscles
of bivalve shells (if necessary hammering through the shell to get to it) and rip crustaceans apart.
They nest on beaches, which puts them in considerable danger.
Order Charadriiformes
Family Recurvirostridae; stilts and avocets
Banded Stilts Cladorhynchus leucocephalus, Stockyard Plains Reserve, South Australia.
This species, alone in its genus, is a true child of El NiƱo. It breeds on inland salt lakes, and lives for
decades to ensure that the event will occur at least once in its life.
Only Australia has three members of this 10-species worldwide family.
Order Charadriiformes
Family Charadriidae; plovers
Banded Lapwing Vanellus tricolor, Windorah, south-west Queensland.
A somewhat aberrant plover, which has left the shorelines for the arid inland of Australia.
Part of a large worldwide family of mostly small plump, big-eyed, round-headed shorebirds.
Order Charadriiformes
Family Rostratulidae; painted-snipes
Australian Painted-snipe Rostratula australis, Jerrabomberra Wetlands, Canberra.
These two caused great excitement when they turned up for a while in 2011. They are rare and endangered,
due to the abuse of wetlands and river systems. There are two other species, in Africa/Asia, and South America.
Females are larger and more colourful, and leave the males to do the work with regard to offspring.
Order Charadriiformes
Family Jacanidae; jacanas
Comb-crested Jacana Irediparra gallinacea, Kakadu NP, Northern Territory.
These extraordinary birds (8 species found throughout the world's tropics) walk on lily pads by
spreading their weight with the hugely long toes. This is the only Australian species, though
its range extends through New Guinea to Indonesia. In this family too, females are dominant,
mating with several males and leaving them to get on with it.
Order Charadriiformes
Family Scolopacidae; shore waders, such as sandpipers
Latham's Snipe Gallinago hardwickii, Jerrabomberra Wetlands, Canberra.
Every year this species flies from its breeding grounds in the inland grasslands and heaths
of northern Japan and eastern Siberia, to eastern Australia where it reverts to being a wader.
The majority of this huge family undertake equivalent migrations.
Order Charadriiformes
Family Glareolidae; pratincoles
Australian Pratincole Stiltia isabella, Barkly Tablelands, Northern Territory.
They are long-legged aberrant graceful tern-like waders of the inland plains, hawking for insects.
There are two Australian species, and another 13 scattered across the Old World.
Order Charadriiformes
Family Laridae; gulls and terns
Roseate Terns Sterna dougallii and chick, Lady Elliot Island, Queensland.
It is a curious thing that, although there are some 40 species of both gulls and terns in the world,
and around half of the tern species are found in Australian, we have only three gulls.
Order Columbiformes
Family
Columbidae; pigeons and doves

Spinifex Pigeon Geophaps plumifera, Kings Canyon, Watarrka NP, central Australia.
Of Australia's 25 species (of 300 in the world) this exquisite desert dweller is
probably my favourite; it has a wonderful trick of suddenly materialising in the red landscape!
Order Cuculiformes
Family Cuculidae; cuckoos
Channel-billed Cuckoo Scythrops novaehollandiae, Karumba, north Queensland.
This impressive bird is the world's largest cuckoo, which parasitises big birds like ravens,
currawongs and magpies. It is an oddity that while only 40% of the world's 130 cuckoo species are
parasites, all but one of Australia's are! (The exception is the Pheasant Coucal.)
Order Strigiformes
Family Tytonidae; barn owls
Eastern Barn Owl Tyto javanica, Alice Springs Desert Park, central Australia.
(I confess that though free-flying, this is a captive bird, the only one in this series!)
The twenty species of barn owl (five of which are Australian) are taller and more slender than
the 'typical' owls, with dark eyes and a very pronounced facial disc to capture sound.
All Australian owls are nocturnal.
Order Strigiformes
Family Strigidae; 'typical' owls
Powerful Owl Ninox strenua, National Botanic Gardens, Canberra.
This magnificent bird - 60cm high - took up residence in the gardens for some weeks in 2007,
wreaking havoc with the local possum and Sugar Glider populations. Only five members of this
family of over 100 species are Australian.
Order Caprimulgiformes
Family Podargidae
Papuan Frogmouth Podargus papuensis, Cairns.
Beautifully camouflaged, the frogmouths (3 Australian species and another 10 in south and south-east Asia)
are nocturnal, roosting in the open and feeding on insects and small vertebrates by night.
Order Coraciiformes
Family Coraciidae; rollers
Dollarbird Eurystomus orientalis, Canberra. The rollers are a family of Old World magnificent
aerialists, catching flying insects and undertaking swooping soaring tandem mating display flights.
The Dollarbird, our only roller, migrates to southern Australia to breed, from New Guinea and Indonesia.
Order Coraciiformes
Family Alcedinidae; kingfishers
Azure Kingfisher Ceyx azureus, Barmah Forest, Victoria. Most kingfishers are actually primarily woodland
insect eaters, but this lovely bird is one of two full-time fishing kingfishers in Australia.
We have 10 species in total. (It is customary in Australia to recognise three kingfisher families overall, but
the IOC does not do so, so I must be consistent.)
Order Coraciiformes
Family Meropidae; bee-eaters
Rainbow Bee-eater Merops ornatus, Darwin. This is the only Australian member of this glorious African
and southern Asian family of insect eaters. They breed in southern Australia in excavated sandy burrows.
Order Falconiformes
Family Falconidae; falcons
Australian Hobby Falco longipennis, Karumba, north Queensland, with lunch (a former Diamond Dove).
This swift little hunter is one six Australian falcons (of the world's 67), whose ancestors parted ways
with the the other daytime birds of prey at least 35 million yearts ago;
they are now placed in a quite separate Order from the hawks and eagles.
Order Psittaciformes
Family Cacatuidae; cockatoos
Glossy Black-Cockatoo Calyptorhynchus lathami, Nowra, south coast New South Wales.
A threatened species, this cocky lives almost entirely on the dust-like seeds of Casuarinas,
which it extracts delicately with its huge beak. It's a full-time job.
Order Psittaciformes
Family
Psittaculidae; Old World parrots

Swift Parrot Lathamus discolor, Canberra. This little beauty is one of Australia's rarest birds,
with perhaps only a 1000 pairs, and numbers are falling. The main problems are continued loss of
Tasmanian forest breeding habitat, and predation of the hollow-nesting birds by introduced Sugar Gliders.
Every year they fly across Bass Strait after breeding, to winter in the woodlands of south-eastern Australia.

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