Autumn is the season that many birds abandon their breeding territories and form up into flocks. Some embark on large scale migrations, while others, especially those that join mixed species flocks, wander the winter landscape in search of flowering shrubs and insect hot spots.
Last weekend started with an early morning walk in the coastal heathlands of Royal National Park. Hazard reduction burning had laid a thick shroud of smoky air over the Sydney basin, applying a reddish filter across the landscape.
Walking across the heath towards the coast I was startled by the number of honeyeaters flitting across the track. The gap created by a track allows easy access to insects and flowers, actively attracting birds such as New Holland Honeyeaters and Little Wattlebirds. Both were zapping around the track corridor, however their numbers were dwarfed by a constant stream of Yellow Faced Honeyeaters passing overhead. The true abundance of the Yellow faced Honeyeaters didn’t become obvious until we arrived out on the coast and had a better antage point across the heathland.
My first impression was that there were dozens of Yellow Faced Honeyeaters flying along the coast. After a minute or two I realised it was actually hundreds, and within a few increased that estimate to thousands. I’d never seen so many birds in one place. They looked a lot like swarming insects, except that each ‘fly’ was a torpedo of feathers arrowing southwards.
The first major break along this section of coast is Marley Beach, which is abutted by sandunes and a lagoon. The bare sands provide little cover or refuge for passing birds, no opportunity to dart into the heath for shelter from a predator. Marley Headland, the last patch of healthland before the beach and dune, was crowded with hundreds of Yellow Faced Honeyeaters as they steeled themselves to cross the open space. After a short rest amongst the shrubs clouds of the honeyeaters would take to the wing and wheel out over the gap before losing their nerve and retreating to the headland.
One of the sources of their nervousness was a Collared Sparrowhawk patrolling the edge of the heath in wait for an inattentive honeyeater. After a few circuits the sparrowhawk headed off, and a couple of false starts later the honeyeaters continued south.
Yellow Faced Honeyeaters are one of the most common species of wildlife in Sydney, a bird that is equally at home in coastal heaths, mountain forest or urban parks. I’ve seen many Yellow Faced Honeyeaters, but never anything like the numbers that we moving along the coast that smoky morning.
A special treat, if one that defeated my efforts to capture the scale of the event in a photograph. It was one of those times video would have been the better option. Too bad, I’m thoroughly welded to stills.
The following day I had less than an hour to spend with the camera. With limited time I decided to go for a sure thing, fungi and the macro lens. There is some weird enabling process that happens with nature photographers, it starts with birds and fish, moves to mammals, reptiles and insects and inexorably finishes with fungi. Maybe it’s just that they are a reliable option when nothing else wants to play. Whatever the case, a short walk was enough to find a dozen or so toadstools.
Much of the interest in fungi is the wonderfully sculptural forms of the fruiting bodies, the bit that emerges out of the leaf litter. One of the toadstools had a medium sized fly sitting on top. Close inspection revealed a fly larva in the ‘gills’ of the fungus below the fly. It may have been entirely coincidental, but looked very much like a watchful parent. Either way, the combination of fly and fungus made for an interesting subject.
I didn’t start the weekend with any great expectations. It ended up delivering the most amazing ‘mass wildlife’ event I’ve experienced, along with a view into the home life of a fly on a toadstool.
Odds and sods