Greedy Gulls

Posted in: Marina Wildlife on Thursday, June 13th, 2013

Here in Australia the most common species of gull is the Silver Gull but we just call them seagulls. They are predominantly white with red legs and beak, grey wings with spotted black tips. The adult birds have the brighter beak, the brighter the red the older the bird. The juveniles are much more subdued in colour and have dull yellowish legs, dark beaks and brown patterns on their wings.

Seagulls like to eat worms, fish, insects and crustaceans but I think mostly they enjoy hot chips (hold the chicken salt) and not-so-fresh bread.

It’s become a habit of mine to feed the fish over the side of the boat with our left over bread. I love watching them dart to the surface and flash silver in the sunlight. One day a couple of weeks ago a seagull was flying overhead so I chucked a bit of bread onto the dock, he circled warily a few times then came down to grab it. Before long I had a group of seagulls milling around for a feed.  They eventually got so greedy they jumped into the water to get the bread I was feeding the fish.

Off to find another free feed


An Adorable Pest

Posted in: Marina Wildlife on Thursday, April 18th, 2013

‘The swallow is come! The swallow is come! O, fair are the seasons, and light Are the days that she brings, With her dusky wings, And her bosom snowy white!’~ Heny Wadsworth Longfellow

Sitting on our anchor most likely contemplating the weather

Swallows are a common sight around the marina and for practical reasons I shouldn’t like them. For starters they’re prodigious poopers and crap all over our deck, and secondly they’re persistent nesters. It’s been a constant battle to get them to stop nesting in our boom, one that we seem to have won for the time being, no thanks to our cheap plastic snake which i’m sure they just laughed at. I had high hopes that the ships cat would be a deterrent but he’s proved useless. On deck he ducks and runs and when held out the hatch and gently shaken in the direction of the birds “Look! A fearsome cat, a natural predator, be afraid!’ they just look at him and he just looks at them. I’d swear given enough time they might even become friends.

But despite swallows pest like qualities I can’t help thinking how cute they are and love seeing them sitting on furling lines…someone else’s furling lines that is.  They’re especially cute during wet weather. They sit on life lines, furling lines and even our rusty anchor all puffed up trying to stay warm and dry, tittering to each other or vying for the best spot.  I can’t help but like them.

We see mainly two species, the Welcome Swallow and the Tree Martin. The Welcome Swallow is easily identifiable by it’s copper coloured head and breast, it’s black almost blue feathers on his back and long forked tail.  The Tree Martin looks a bit different with a dark black/brown head, dirty cream face, throat and under belly and dark brown wings.

You can clearly see his black/blue feathers on his back and he copper head and breast

The Tree Martin has different markings to the Welcome Sparrow, most notably his speckled breast.

Both species have adapted well to urban environments and due to their numbers and nesting habits are usually considered a pest.

Welcome Swallows nests are usually open cups of grass and mud and this matches what we’ve seen in our boom.  They stuff it full of leaves and feathers then build a mud wall near the entrance leaving just enough room to get in and out.  We destroyed over five to six nests, each time simultaneously feeling a bit guilty about doing it and amazed at the amount of leaves removed. Each time they rebuilt. Like I said persistent nesters.

They are insect eaters, and enjoy the satisfying crunch of a wide variety of insects which they catch while in the air in an impressive display of aerobatics. They have short rictal bristles bordering the bill which guide their prey into their mouth. They’ll feed in large flocks if the supply of insects is large enough.  We’ve seen them do this usually in the afternoon. Large groups of over 20 swallows all swooping and diving, flying in large arcs and tight turns. I always thought they were merely delighting in the joy of flight but it turns out they were feeding on insects too small for me to see. I envy them their flight but not their diet.

Due to their frequent visits they make excellent photography subjects.  Below is a gallery of some of my best shots.  Enjoy!


The Galah Session

Posted in: Marina Wildlife on Monday, September 17th, 2012

One of the things I love about my new home on the water is the frequent and close encounters with wildlife.

Having come from a highly populated and urbanised suburb on the northside of Brisbane my previous encounters with wildlife were limited to the occasional possum incursion on the back veranda, terrifying spiders making their homes in the backyard and pigeons and crows, the usual scavenger species of the cities. Nothing very remarkable.  In fact I went through life largely ignorant of the abundant variety and beauty of the wildlife that also called this beautiful state (Queensland) home.

That was until I moved out to the bayside suburb of Manly and made Tygress my home.  It has sparked a new found love of bird watching amongst other things, like a love of the calm that the ocean brings. My random encounters with cormorants, pelicans and other fascinating shorebird species is a highlight of daily life by the sea, and each one feels like a blessing, a gift from the universe just for me.

And it’s not only shore bird species that I’m gifted encounters with, a few weeks ago I was treated to a visit from a pair playful of Galahs.  Being Galah’s I heard them before I saw them giving me time to grab my camera.

Galah’s are a gregarious and raucous species of cockatoo which can be found all over Australia. Like most other species of cockatoo they can be found in flocks from 10 to 100 and form strong lifelong pair bonds, so it’s likely that these two visitors of mine were a bonded breeding pair which had parted from the flock to nest.  As they nest in the hollows of gum and eucalyptus  trees which are a common local species, they were probably nesting nearby and had ventured out in search of food.

They’re also quite a destructive bird. Being ground feeding seed and grain eaters farmers consider them a pest and they’ve been known to damage building facades and other items in urban settings.  These two were no different, worrying at the stitching of furled sails with their strong beaks, trying to chomp on rigging and swinging playfully on mast mounted antennae.  They stayed for about 15 minutes flitting from mast to mast, from our boat and over to our neighbours.

They were quite willing subjects for my camera, at times it seemed they were looking right at me and putting on a show.

When I was reading up on Galahs for this post a few quirky facts turned up.

Australian language is as unique and varied as it’s wildlife, and the term galah in Aussie slang is used to refer to someone being a fool, or silly person most likely because of the birds playful antics and the noise they make.

And it’s probably the Galahs loud and social nature that gave rise to the term ‘galah session’, the title of this blog post.  During the 1940’s-1970’s, the days before modern communication networks in the bush, women who lived on isolated cattle and farming stations would be allocated time for private conversations and social chit-chat over an outback radio network, which became known as galah sessions.  It served as a way to share information, to strengthen social bonds and to ease the loneliness of bush women who lived hundreds sometimes thousands of kms from the nearest township.

As it happens, ‘The Galah Session’ is also the name of a blog written by a Melbourne city girl who left the comforts of big city life for the adventure and challenges of life in the outback, in a town called Birdsville, population 100.  It’s a gread read, with well written articles that give a different perspective for those of us who’ve spent most of our lives in the cities and have lost touch with bush life and the characters that live in that harsh sunburnt place. Read more about Galah sessions in Kelly’s blog article below.

History of the ‘Galah Session’




Unexpected Sights

Posted in: Marina Wildlife on Friday, July 13th, 2012

This morning while heading out for a walk, we got distracted by one of the coolest sights we have seen since we began living at the marina.  I usually check below the waterline on Tygress to check the amount of growth on the hull, and as you can see she has a pretty impressive beard at the moment from sitting stationary at the marina too long.

"The Bearded Lady"

A shot of the growth on the hull, she’ll need to be slipped again soon.

While looking her over this morning I spotted a streak of silver and black stripes in the depths. When my eyes adjusted they revealed an amazing procession of a large school of silver fish with vertical black zebra-like stripes swimming past underneath the boat.

The were just lazily cruising past, three to four fish across.  Every now and then one would swim on it’s side and what little light there was would catch the scales and they would flash a brilliant silver for the briefest of moments.  I called wildly to Ben so he could see  and be amazed too and we tracked the school along and under three berths. There were so many of them.   If only it had been a sunny day, they would’ve been dazzling!

The lighting was too poor for a decent photo otherwise I would’ve taken one to share, but once I had my computer in front of me it didn’t take long to identify them (in my opinion, I’m new to the art of fish identification) as what are commonly called Striped Scats or Selenotoca Multifasciata for the scientific types.  Thanks to Google Image search and the Australian Museum, linked below.

It’s hard to put into words the unexpected wonder of encounters like these, I give thanks that I can see sights like this outside my front door.  And it makes me curious to know what’s swimming below us right now.