My day at Scheyville National Park in Sydney’s west began with a glorious sunrise. Opening the car door brought expectations crashing down with temperature near zero and grass laden with a heavy dew. An hour of trudging around the cold paddocks confirmed that wildlife activity wasn’t going to start in earnest until the day warmed.
One species of wildlife that was in evidence in the cold was a mob of Eastern Grey Kangaroo. I saw at least 30 along the creekline, mostly females with a joey’s head poking out of their pouch.
There were a few mature males, larger, darker and much more angular in appearance than the females.
Although the park was heavily cleared there are some large remnant trees in Scheyville, especially along the creeks. Most eucalypts don’t start forming hollows until they are a couple of centuries old so these remnant trees are a critical resource for wildlife that depends on hollows for nesting or roosting. One of the most unusual hollow dependant species is the Wood Duck. They are a small, elegant duck most commonly seen grazing grass on playing fields and golf courses. Several Wood Ducks were exploring tree hollows near one of the creek’s farm dams. They need nesting hollows of similar dimensions to those preferred by Brush Tailed Possums. I’ve seen Wood Ducks checking out a hollow then retreated from the hissed bellow of an unhappy possum.
At the end of the day I went for another walk, this time along a ridgeline glowing with the last of the sun. Much more promising conditions for observing wildlife, warm and lots of insect activity.
Soon after leaving the office I spotted a Restless Flycatcher, a bird of grassy woodlands more commonly seen on the western side of the Great Divide. Restless Flycatchers look very similar to a Willy Wagtail, but instead of feeding on the ground like the wagtails the equally hyperactive flycatchers hover above the grass to snatch insects off the foliage.
They have broad round wings that allow them to hover with surprisingly slow wing beats. Restless Flycatchers are also known as ‘scissor birds’ because of their harsh grinding calls. They fully deserve the term restless, rarely sitting still for more than a few seconds, making for a difficult photographic subject. This one was more cooperative, returning to the same perch after each forays over the grass.
Looking up I could see a flock of Dusky Woodswallows whirling overhead. Some were perching on the power lines, and dashing off to snatch insects in flight before returning with a winged ant, bee or wasp in their beaks.
Others were circling on the thermals rising from the road. I noticed a dense cluster of the Dusky Woodswallows near a stand of tall trees and headed over the catch a few ‘bird in flight’ images.
After circling for ten minutes the entire flock descended to land in one of the trees. It was only at that point I realised there was around a hundred of the birds.
They sat quietly for a few moments, then one after another dropped to the ground nearby. Looking closely I could see that they were grabbing red meat ants off a large mound. The next ten minutes was total frustration as I tried to capture an image of a Dusky Woodswallow snatching an ant. Time and again the woodswallows bounced back into the air before the shutter closed, creating pictures of an ant nest without any evidence of the birds. My best image is below, entirely out of focus but still some evidence of the ant swallowing tendencies of woodswallows.
Lack of photographic evidence notwithstanding, it was a great example of being in the right place at the right time to see something special about Sydney wildlife. And I’m not complaining that the right time was in the warmth of the afternoon!