One of the most striking things about Australia is the contrast between it’s blue sky, olive green plants and deep orange-red soil. But most of all it’s a land of big sky. Big sky made all the more bigger and colorful by the absolute lack of pollution and more stunning by the big birds that live in this land. So, what better a topic for a blog than one about the big birds in the land of big sky!
Our recent trip out to Bowra in the west of Queensland was a trip through the land of big sky into the land of big birds. Unfortunately the sad fact about the roads into the outback is that they are literally littered with dead wallabies and kangaroos taken out by road trains and big trucks. Basically these animals are dumb and have not been able to adapt to traffic. They have absolutely no road sense. Instead of running off into the bush they seem to just head in the direction they are facing, and if this is towards the road, then it’s towards the road they hop. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out that given the number of dead animals you pass on what are very low trafficked roads that the risk of hitting one is high. Our vehicle has no protective roo bars so we were very cautious and slowed right down whenever we spotted any as we just could not afford to wreck the car a few hundred km’s from the nearest town. But even then we had our share of near misses. One time after slowing right down near a group of kangaroos which were about 20m off to the side of the road and were actually at the point of passing them they took flight and hopped right in front of us. This tells me they are a dumb species with a death wish. I also now understand why every vehicle out there except ours had strong protective bars fixed to the front!
The rotting carcasses are easy pickings for a myriad of ravens and raptors that take to the early morning skies scavenging for breakfast. It also seems that the bigger the carnage and the more rotten the carcass the greater the bird life. On a few occasions we came across huge Wedge Tailed Eagles feeding on dead carcasses and stopped and staked out the site hoping for the birds to return, but after half an hour the stench and flies were just too much to stomach and we just left. But I think that on a cool day a proper set up upwind from a suitable carcass would prove to be a very productive photographic location. Maybe next time!
Anyway, despite not being able to get any shots of Wedge Tailed Eagles which are absolutely magnificent birds with a massive wing span we did come away with some good shots of Whistling Kites circling low overhead some of the roadkill; sightings that made the rotten smell and flies almost bearable.
The grasslands of the Bowra sanctuary itself is a great location to photograph Black Kites which effortless circle overhead unconcerned by your presence beneath them. I have photographed these birds elsewhere but somehow the ones at Bowra are special.
Probably the most common of Australia’s birds of prey is the Brown Falcon and you see these everywhere in Bowra and along the roads perched on an exposed branch waiting the opportunity to swoop down on it’s prey of small rodents, lizards and invertebrates such as caterpillars and grasshoppers.
Coming from Africa it’s hard not to compare Australia’s bush with that of Africa. The fact is without wildlife, and I don’t count a few kangaroos as wildlife, Australia’s bush is quite boring. So it was quite fantastic to come across a pair of Australian Bustards in the shimmering early morning light of a patch of grassland. I love these birds and having more or less all the African bustards on file getting a few photos of these Australian ones made the whole trip worthwhile.
Another great Australian outback bird; almost is Ostrich-like in appearance is the Emu. I’ve sen these in local sanctuaries in Brisbane, but seeing them in the wild is something special. If looks are anything to go by, rough looking faces and feathers indicate life in the outback is hard for these birds. Surprisingly with one exception when a pair walked right past our vehicle, I found these to be quite shy birds that walked away every time we slowed down or tried to get close. They are also obviously more intelligent and have better road awareness than kangaroos, as we never saw a single dead emu on any road!
In closing all I can say is that Australia is definitely a land of big sky and big birds, both of which make for great photography!