While we were in Sydney, we took a tour out of the city to the “Blue Mountains”. On the way back we stopped at the Featherdale Wildlife Park, not really a zoo but more a refuge for injured animals and allows a more intimate relationship with the animals. Both Lisa and I had forgotten the joys of the zoo, screaming children, rare animals and a general atmosphere of joy. Established on 7 acres of land originally purchased by Charles and Marjorie Wigg in 1953, Featherdale has evolved from a poultry farm into one of the best privately owned wildlife parks in Australia. The Wigg’s son-in-law, Bruce Kubbere studied Australian fauna from early childhood and with his vision and encouragement, Featherdale opened to the public as a wildlife park in 1972. In the early years Bruce, and his wife Margaret, operated a plant nursery on conjunction with the Wildlife Park. Beautiful Australian native trees and plants now line the walkways and landscape the enclosures as a legacy of the park’s history. Featherdale works in partnership with many wildlife conservation groups. It is one of the only Wildlife Parks in New South Wales to be endorsed by the Australian Koala Foundation (AKF). Their support not only includes access to animals for study but also tree-planting ceremonies and providing animals for the AKF ‘Adopt a Koala’ Programme.
The Beach Stone-Curlew is a very large thick-set wader. Adults have a large head, uptilted bill, hunched profile, stout legs and thick ‘knees’ (actually ankles). The upper body is predominately grey-brown with distinctive black and white patterning on the face, shoulder and secondary wings. The throat and breast are a paler grey-brown, the belly is white and the wings are white with some black on the tips. The large bill is yellow at the base and black at the tip. Beach Stone-Curlews have a large yellow eye and a broad black eye patch, with white bands above and below it. Also known as the Beach Thick-knee. The Beach Stone-Curlew has been observed around the north coast of Australia and associated islands from near Onslow in Western Australia to the Manning River in New South Wales. The species has largely disappeared from the south-eastern part of its former range, and is now rarely recorded on ocean beaches in New South Wales.
The Long-billed Corella is a medium-sized white cockatoo with a short crest (not always visible) and short tail, stocky body and a distinctive long upper mandible to its bill. There is a faint yellowish wash on the undersides of its wings and tail, and orange-red splashes on its forehead, throat and an orange-red crescent across its upper breast. The eye ring is pale grey-blue. It is a conspicuous and gregarious species, often seen foraging in large flocks on the ground.
A relatively small snowy-white egret, the Cattle Egret is distinguished during breeding season by its orange crown, neck and breast, with similarly tinted long loose neck plumes. The long sharp, slightly down-curved bill is yellow to pinkish yellow, but becomes bright red during breeding season. The legs are normally grey-green out of breeding season, turning bright red or orange-brown during breeding. It is a gregarious species and is most commonly seen foraging with grazing stock and in wetland areas. Originally found in Africa, Europe and Asia, the Cattle Egret is now found on nearly every continent, with birds in Australia originating from Asia. In Australia it is most widespread and common in north-eastern Western Australia across the Top End, Northern Territory, and in south-eastern Australia.
The Southern Black-Backed Gull (or ‘black-back’, Māori name karoro) is one of the most abundant and familiar large birds in New Zealand, although many people do not realise that the mottled brown juveniles (mistakenly called “mollyhawks”) are the same species as the immaculate adults. Found on or over all non-forested habitats from coastal waters to high-country farms, this is the only large gull found in New Zealand. They are particularly abundant at landfills, around ports and at fish-processing plants. Known widely as ‘kelp gull’ in other countries, the same species is also common in similar latitudes around the southern hemisphere, including southern Australia, South America, southern Africa, and most subantarctic and peri-Antarctic islands, and the Antarctic Peninsula.
The Paradise Shelduck is a conspicuous and colourful species with contrasting male and female plumages. Between a large duck and a small goose in size, the male is uniformly dark grey or black while the female body is a dark or light chestnut (depending on age and state of moult). The male’s head is black with occasional green iridescence and the female’s head and upper neck is white. Both sexes have a chestnut undertail, black primary wing feathers, green secondary wing feathers and a conspicuously white upper wing surface. Before Europeans settled in New Zealand the Māori hunted paradise shelducks in favoured districts. Hunting was done outside the breeding season when the birds were molting and could not fly. During the breeding season hunting them was forbidden. This conservation and selective hunting system ensured good supplies of food.
The Australian Shelduck is a large, brightly coloured duck with a small head and bill. The male head and neck are black, tinged green, with a white neck ring and occasionally a white ring around the base of the bill. The upper parts are mainly black, while the underparts are dark brown with a cinnamon breast. White upperwing coverts form a white shoulder patch. The wings are black and deep chestnut with a large green speculum (window in wing). The female has a white eye-ring and a chestnut breast. This species is also known as the Chestnut-breasted Shelduck, Mountain Duck and Sheldrake. The Australian Shelduck can be found in south western and south eastern parts of Australia. The Australian Shelduck prefers fresh waters and if in saltwater habitat, needs to be within easy reach of fresh water.
The Chestnut Teal is a small dabbling duck with a high forehead and rounded head. Males are distinctive, having a glossy green head, chestnut brown neck, breast and flanks, dark brown upper body and wings, and a black undertail with contrasting white patch. Females are mottled dark brown and grey, with a pale throat streaked brown and a dark eye stripe. In both sexes the eye is a deep red, the bill is blue-grey and the legs and feet are green-grey. The wings have a dark glossy green to purple speculum (panel) edged white and the underwing is brown, with white wing pits.
There are seven species of pelicans in the world, all of which are similar in shape and, with one exception, are primarily white in colour. Males are larger than females. The most characteristic feature of pelicans is the elongated bill with its massive throat pouch. The Australian Pelican’s bill is 40 cm – 50 cm long and is larger in males than females. The bill and pouch of pelicans play an important role in feeding. The bill is sensitive and this helps locate fish in murky water. It also has a hook at the end of the upper mandible, probably for gripping slippery food items. When food is caught, the pelican manipulates it in its bill until the prey typically has its head pointing down the pelican’s throat. Then with a jerk of the head the pelican swallows the prey. The bill is delicately built. The lower jaw consists of two thin and weakly articulated bones from which the pouch hangs. When fully extended, the bill can hold up to 13 litres. The pouch does not function as a place to hold food for any length of time. Instead it serves as a short-term collecting organ. Pelicans plunge their bills into the water, using their pouches as nets. Once something is caught, a pelican draws its pouch to its breast. This empties the water and allows the bird to manoeuvre the prey into a swallowing position. The pouch can also serve as a net to catch food thrown by humans, and there are sightings of pelicans drinking by opening their bill to collect rainwater.
The Cassowary’s large size, its large greyish helmet (casque) and the red wattle hanging from the neck, make it easy to identify. The feathers of the body are black and hair-like. The bare skin of the head and fore-neck is blue, while the rear of the neck is red. Both sexes are similar in appearance, but the female is generally larger than the male, with a taller casque, and is brighter in colour. Young Cassowaries are browner than adults, and have duller coloured head and neck. The chicks are striped yellow and black. If a Cassowary is approached it will generally stand its ground. If the intruder approaches too close, the bird will stretch itself as tall as possible, ruffle its feathers and let at a loud hiss in an attempt to scare the intruder off. The birds are equipped with quite dangerous claws, and will readily attack a persistent intruder, although they usually retreat into the dense rainforest. Southern Cassowaries are found in northern Queensland. The species is also found through New Guinea and eastern Indonesia.
The Tawny Frogmouth (Podargus strigoides) is a species of frogmouth native to Australia that is found throughout the Australian mainland and Tasmania. Tawny frogmouths are big-headed stocky birds often mistaken for owls due to their nocturnal habits and similar colouring. The frogmouths are a group of nocturnal birds related to the nightjars. They are found from the Indian Subcontinent across Southeast Asia to Australia. The general plumage of the Tawny Frogmouth is silver-grey, slightly paler below, streaked and mottled with black and rufous. A second plumage phase also occurs, with birds being russet-red. The eye is yellow in both forms, and the wide, heavy bill is olive-grey to blackish. South-eastern birds are larger than birds from the north. Tawny Frogmouths are nocturnal birds (night birds). During the day, they perch on tree branches, often low down, camouflaged as part of the tree. Tawny frogmouths and owls both have mottled patterns, wide eyes, and anisodactyl feet. However, owls possess strong legs, powerful talons, and toes with a unique flexible joint as they use their feet to catch prey. Tawny frogmouths prefer to catch their prey with their beaks and have fairly weak feet. Tawny frogmouths roost out in the open relying on camouflage for defence and build their nests in tree forks whereas owls roost hidden in thick foliage and build their nests in tree hollows. Tawny frogmouths have wide forward facing beaks for catching insects whereas owls have narrow downwards facing beaks used to tear prey apart.
Black-Necked Storks are a striking, tall waterbird, and the only species of Stork found in Australia. Black-necked Storks stand at up to 1.2m tall with a wingspan of up to 137cm, and have a large, thick, straight black bill. Their head, neck, tail and broad wing-stripes are glossy black with an iridescent shine. The rest of their feathers are white, and their legs are red. Females have a bright yellow iris, whereas males have a dark-brown iris. This species has also been called the Jabiru. The Black-necked Stork is restricted mainly to coastal and near-coastal areas of northern and eastern Australia. Throughout the monsoonal areas of northern Australia, the Black-necked Stork is still widespread, but fewer numbers appear southwards to eastern Australia.
The Australian White Ibis is identified by its almost entirely white body plumage and black head and neck. The head is featherless and its black bill is long and down-curved. During the breeding season the small patch of skin on the under-surface of the wing changes from dull pink to dark scarlet. Adult birds have a tuft of cream plumes on the base of the neck. Females differ from males by being slightly smaller, with shorter bills. Young birds are similar to adults, but have the neck covered with black feathers. In flight, flocks of Australian White Ibis form distinctive V-shaped flight patterns. Another common name for this bird is Sacred Ibis, but this more appropriately refers to a closely related African species.
The Golden Pheasants or Chinese Pheasants (Chrysolophus pictus) are native to forests in mountainous areas of western China. However, feral populations of these gamebirds have established themselves in Florida, United States, United Kingdom and elsewhere. In captivity, the wild form of the Golden is often referred to as the Red Golden Pheasant. The males of these species (seen above) are one of the most brilliantly colored of all birds and a favorite of zoos everywhere. The female (hen) is much less showy, with a duller mottled brown plumage similar to that of the female Common Pheasant. Golden pheasants are one of the most popular of all pheasant species kept in captivity because of its beautiful plumage and hardy nature. In fact, records as early as 1740 suggest this pheasant was the first species of pheasant brought to North America. Historians say there is evidence that even George Washington may have kept them at Mt. Vernon! However, this animal’s natural history is not well known. My thanks to Featherdale who helped me identify the Chinese Golden Pheasant, yet another good reason to visit this family friendly Wildlife Park. We had a lovely time at Featherdale and we would suggest a visit to anyone visiting Sydney.
Beach Stone-Curlew: http://www.birdsinbackyards.net/species/Esacus-magnirostris
Long Billed Corella: http://www.birdsinbackyards.net/species/Cacatua-tenuirostris
New Zealand Black Backed Gull: http://nzbirdsonline.org.nz/species/southern-black-backed-gull
Paradise Shelduck: http://nzbirdsonline.org.nz/species/paradise-shelduck
Australian Shelduck: http://www.birdsinbackyards.net/species/Tadorna-tadornoides
Chestnut Teal: http://www.birdsinbackyards.net/species/Anas-castanea
Tawny Frogmouth: http://www.brolgahealingjourneys.com/?p=746
Black Necked Stork: http://www.birdsinbackyards.net/species/Ephippiorhynchus-asiaticus
Australian White Ibis: http://www.birdsinbackyards.net/species/Threskiornis-molucca
Chinese Golden Pheasant: http://beautyofbirds.com/goldenpheasants.html