Birding from the windows

2006 March 3
by David J. Ringer

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA — With plenty of time before my plane to Moresby, I decided to wander around the international terminal, staring out at any greenspace I could find. The day was gray and wet, which made the rich and varied greens even more beautiful. On my last trip through Brisbane, everything had been dry and brown. The swallows I remembered from last year were not nesting under the building’s eaves. I suppose it’s the wrong time of year for them.

A couple of Australasian Magpies hunted around on the ground, and one had a grayish nape and grayish scaling on the back. I wasn’t sure whether it was of another race from the birds I’d seen in Sydney or whether it was an immature. Subsequent research told me that it was a young bird.

A few windows down, I hit the jackpot. The trees outside were flowering, and a small flock of Rainbow Lorikeets clambered among the branches, feeding. Their brilliant reds, blues, greens, and yellows nearly took my breath away, but this time I had the presence of mind to observe their blue bellies — something the birds in PNG do not have.

Noisy Miners and small, spunky honeyeaters fed in the trees as well. The little honeyeaters were plain brownish-gray with blurry streaking on their breasts, pale bellies, and a small pale mark behind the eye. They were very active and seemed to spend most of their time chasing each other around.

I thought one of the lorikeets looked mostly green, and I finally got a good look at it. Its bill and eyes were red, and it had a few yellow feathers scattered on its back and flanks. I saw red underwings once when it flew, and its crown seemed a vaguely bluish-green, but otherwise it was quite plain compared to its larger companions.

Movement down in the parking lot caught my eye, and I was amazed to see a spectacular pigeon wandering along the sidewalk. Its head was topped with a tall, slender black crest, and its eyes and feet were red. Its head and breast were grayish, but its shoulder showed a pink tinge, and its wings were barred with black and edged with white. I saw it fly, and when it landed, it bobbed once, tipping its long tail forward.

A bird whose back was a most extraordinary shade of yellow-green perched in a tree at about eye level (I was on the second floor). Its head was black and white, and the bulging skin around its eyes was spectacular shades of blue. When it turned its head, I saw a bright yellow eye, but the side that was facing me seemed disfigured. The place where its eye should have been was covered over completely with blue skin. The bird preened, stretched, and flew.

I could tell it was a honeyeater, and I remembered seeing its picture in a book but couldn’t think of the name. I saw a few more before I left the airport, a couple flying over and another bird (this one healthy) perched in a tree. It was at a slighly different angle, allowing me to see the black throat that bled down onto the bird’s white breast.

A couple of Australian Ibises flew over, and then I saw two Crested Pigeons fly to the top of a tall light pole. The second bird approached the other slowly with his tail held high, bowing deeply and repeatedly as he walked. Then they took off again, flapping, gliding, flapping, gliding.

On the way back toward my own gate, I saw a black-and-white bird in a tree and at first carelessly identified it as a another magpie. But it had white collar and breast and a black hood. Its tailfeathers were lined with white, and its bill was long and heavy. It had to be one of the butcherbirds — and a Pied Butcherbird it was.

At the opposite end of the terminal, I watched a few Spotted Doves and more Crested Pigeons feeding on the ground. I saw a Magpie-lark, and I knew it was a female because of the vertical, not horizontal pattern of black and white on her face. A few House Sparrows moved about the bushes.

Soon enough, it was time to board the plane. I was quite pleased to have seen four life birds without ever leaving the terminal: Brown Honeyeater, Scaly-breasted Lorikeet, Crested Pigeon, and Blue-faced Honeyeater.

PORT MORESBY, PNG — Buffy-plumed Cattle Egrets flew along the runway as we taxied toward the airport. Familiar heat, smells, and sights greeted me as we deplaned and made our way through customs, and the rich, lazy phrases of a Willie-wagtail seemed the ideal music on a such a humid afternoon.

I saw a dove fly up to a low perch as we drove. It was small and slender, and I knew it was a species I hadn’t seen. I didn’t have time for binoculars, so I hoped for the best as we drove past. It flushed, flashing white edges on its tail.

When I arrived at my accomodations, I was anxious to wash off my 35 hours of travel. But on my way to the shower, I persistent call alerted me to a White-breated Woodswallow on the powerline outside, just as I’d anticipated. A quick look wouldn’t hurt, I decided, so I went back for my binoculars.

The bird’s plumage was edged with gray and white — it was only a youngster.

Later in the afternoon, I took time to look up the dove I’d seen. Two smallish, pale species live here. The Bar-shouldered Dove approaches a Mourning Dove in size and has rufous flight feathers. The Peaceful Dove is 7 or 8 inches long and has rufous only on the underwings. They differ in other ways too, but none that would be visible with the kind of look I had.

I saw the bird’s upperside as it flew, and I did not see any rufous coloration. I wasn’t looking for it, but in my experience with Inca Doves and ground-doves, the color really stands out, even in brief glimpses of a flying bird. Also, despite the dangers of judging absolute size, I’m quite certain the bird I saw was very small.

But I haven’t decided whether to put it down yet. Maybe I’ll see another one — better.

Related posts:

  1. Ringer’s Rules of Birding
  2. Puddle jumping
  3. Illicit birding
  4. 2007 List of Banished Birding Words
One Response
  1. Bryan Anthony the First permalink
    March 4, 2006

    Such a fascination with the class aves…

    Hope you enjoy your stay here.

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