Some Australian trees only produce flowers or fruit every few years. The Hacking River in Royal National Park has seen major fruiting events over the last few years. Three years ago all the Sydney Red Gums (Angophora costata) came into flower at the same time, cloaking the slopes in pale gold. The following year it was a mass fruiting of Cabbage Tree Palms. This spring the native figs are absolutely covered in fruit.
Fig trees grow best where they have limited competition for light and water. The result is that the very largest fig trees are often in picnic grounds.
I’ve been watching a truly monstrous fig tree in a clearing over the last three weeks. It has literally thousands of spherical fruit, each around two centimetres in diameter. There have been at least twenty Satin Bowerbirds and about as many Topknot Pigeons in the tree over this period. The pigeons spend much of their time chasing the smaller bowerbirds around with plenty of energy but little effect. The Topknot Pigeons use their beaks like pliers to detach the fruit and eat them whole.
The Topknot Pigeons use their beaks like pliers to detach the fruit and eat them whole.
The Satin Bowerbirds try to do the same thing, and occasionally manage to pull a fruit off the tree. Most of the time they pierce the fruit with their sharp beaks and eat them piece by piece.
Three weeks later the abundance of fruit and activity finally started to wane.
Lady Carrington Drive offers 9 kilometres of walking through the Hacking River rainforest. One of the features of the walk is the loud, melodious bird song that regularly pours out of the undergrowth. The strange thing is that it seems as though dozens of different birds are all concentrated into a tiny patch of bush. Of course it’s not dozens of birds, but rather a single accomplished mimic: the Superb Lyrebird.
Sometimes the lyrebirds are totally engrossed in song, while others they are focused in feeding at the side of the track. This week I found a female who allowed me to approach to within 3 metres. When I’ve seen Superb Lyrebirds feeding before they’ve been kicking leaf litter aside to expose insects and other arthropods. This one was using a different strategy. It had been raining, and instead of just turning over the leaf litter the lyrebird was using her long claws to dig deep into the moist, softened soil. I watched her extract worm after worm, so it was clearly a productive strategy.
Lake Illawarra is one of my absolute favourite sites for watching wildlife, especially water birds. I arrived at dawn and drove along the southern shoreline looking for concentrations of feeding birds. The Royal Spoonbills had already headed out too far for my telephoto lens, but fortunately I soon found four Little Egrets feeding on the edge of the lake.
The Little Egrets were striding along and taking to the air to get ahead of fleeing baitfish. Other species of egret stand still and wait for food to swim past them, whereas Little Egrets chase after baitfish and shrimp, turning, leaping and twisting in their pursuit of prey. This group were amazingly efficient hunters, catching a small mullet or glassfish every twenty or thirty seconds. Schools of baitfish were leaving the sandflats as the tide retreated, with the quartet of egrets positioning themselves where small channels concentrated the fish.
Wildlife activity around Sydney is hitting a feverish peak with the onset of spring, the breeding season for many species and the arrival of he summer migrants. Despite all this diversity my most interesting moments have involved a small handful of places where food has become available in a concentrated or unusual form and wildlife have responded with equally concentrated vigour.