A day in Alice Springs

Right smack (almost) in the middle of Australia is the town of Alice Springs. It is a large town considering its location and is a major hub for tourists and truck drivers between Adelaide and Darwin. Right on the edge of the desert, human dwellings have meant that water is available to many animals and plants; an oasis of sorts.

I had just taken a group down to Alice Springs and needed something to do for a full day before going home to Darwin the following day. As I am working on the Inspiring Australia wildlife app at the moment, there has been a need to gather as many wildlife photographs as possible. Birds especially are high on the list. They can be shy and I had been without a long lens for a while up until recently. The logical stop had to be the Olive Pink botanical gardens. Showcasing a variety of desert and semi arid plants native to the area, it attracts birds in numbers.

The yellow throated, or white rumped miner (Manorina flavigula)

The first bird to appear was possibly the most likely in much of Central Australia – the yellow throated miner. It is in fact a honeyeater, unrelated the the Asian mynahs. A social bird, families travel in groups, noisily proclaiming the fact they are present. Easy to identify, they tend to have pale rumps which are very visible as they fly away. Yellow throated miners may control their territory against rival families and even other bird species, taking over patches of woodland as they go. Also in the same trees but frustrating to try and photograph were the related yet not so social spiny cheeked honeyeaters.

Moving along, I eventually reached the gates of Olive Pink Botanical Gardens. After attempting a drink from the drinking fountain (which shot a jet about 4m into the sky, narrowly missing my camera and face!) I proceeded to the cafe area. On the way, the most visible (yet fast and difficult) birds were the ever present honeyeaters. But what I really wanted was a western bowerbird.

The female caper white being mobbed

They just had to be in here somewhere. The cafe was surrounded in butteflies, mostly the caper white (Belenois java) which were hatching out of their pupae and looking for mates. An endless procession of males were converging on one hapless female who had barely emerged from her chrysalis and still unable to fly as her wings were still saggy. One male got lucky and stuck with her for an hour or so before flying away. She soon left the scene.

A male sniffing around

Galah, known elsewhere as a Rose Crested Cockatoo. In Australia, Galah means “idiot” though these are smart birds.

Soon enough, a male western bowerbird arrived at the cafe, looking for either treasures to add to his treasure chest or a feed. Or maybe both. He hissed (as they do) and bounced around far too quickly for me to get a clear shot. But the galahs provided a worthwhile distraction. Several pairs clambered about in the trees munching on acacia seeds, not minding the intrusion at all.

Also joining in were a bunch of Australian ringneck parrots (Barnardius zonarius). Not closely related to the Indian species by a similar name, they are green and yellow with a dark blue head and distinct yellow collar. They sat quietly in the acacia trees and a couple took to the ground to see if the foraging was any better there. They were semi tame and allowed relatively close shots.

Tasty plant

The bees were also active:

A European honeybee incoming

And crested pigeons:

Wassup?

But it was now closing time and the real star of the show had just given away the locality of his treasure chest. I heard a loud hiss, followed by a mechanical sound and a whistle. The male bowerbird was performing nearby to a semi interested female. He allowed me very close, but it was too dark for an easy picture. He did the right thing and jumped up on an exposed branch to let me take a heap of pictures with my macro lens!

Hiss! The western bowerbird (Ptilonorhynchus guttatus) calling.

Male western bowerbirds have a lovely pink crests