Barn Owl back at Centennial Park

Eastern Barn Owls have often been seen in Sydney’s Centennial Park over the last five years; during the day they roost underneath the foliage of Canary Island Date Palms. Numbers in the park seem to be increasing, with a peak count of five birds seen last year. Powerful Owls and the Southern Boobook are also seen in Centennial Park.

The Barn Owl is one of the world’s most widespread birds, found across the Americas, Europe, Africa and Asia. They are well adapted to agricultural areas but their numbers may be increasing in the city too. 

This bird was seen on last week’s winter survey, the first sighting for several months.

Eastern Barn Owl roosting under crown of a Canary Island Date Palm

Eastern Barn Owl roosting under crown of a Canary Island Date Palm

Randwick Environment Park productive despite dry conditions

The 13 hectares of Randwick Environment Park, nestled behind Sydney Eastern Suburb’s low coastal hills, is an island of bush in the city and haven for an unexpectedly wide range of species. The east has had more rain than most of Sydney over the past two years but not sufficient to reinstate the park’s two hectares of shallow lake and wetlands.

 In August 2017 a survey of the wet area described exposed mudflats and 20 bird species including Grey Teal, Pacific Black Ducks, Grebes, Dusky Moorhen, White Ibis, Coots and a White-faced Heron. By April 2018 the same area was described as dry and there were no water birds counted among the 11 species but there were 16 Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoos. More recent counts have listed only four or five species including Magpies, Kookaburras, Ravens, and Currawongs in the now dried out wetland.

 Last week’s survey of the previously wet area was another low count; five species including two Yellow-rumped Thornbills which might be another marker of the dry conditions. However this park continues to surprise and the junction of the oval and walking track was swarming with small birds. Forty or fifty Silvereyes, two dozen Red-whiskered Bulbuls, Red-browed Finches, more Yellow-rumped Thornbills and then Starlings and Common Mynas, Eastern Spinebills, Red Wattlebirds, New Holland Honeyeaters, Spotted Pardalotes, a Golden Whistler, Willie Wagtail and a Restless Flycatcher all in a small area.

Restless Flycatcher at Randwick Environment Park

Restless Flycatcher at Randwick Environment Park

Centennial Park Sydney NSW Bird Survey

The Centennial Parklands and Birding NSW bird survey at Centennial Park started in 2009. It gathers valuable information for park management and the data collected feeds into the national Birdata database run by Birdlife Australia. The survey is conducted four times a year at thirteen sites that are representative of the park’s habitat types. Habitats include Eastern Suburbs Banksia Scrub, Sandstone Ridge, the large Duck Pond and other pond edges, and melaleuca and pine forest environments.

 The survey counts all bird within a twenty minute period from a set of fixed vantage points to give comparable counts. The total count at the Duck Pond is usually several hundred birds with large numbers of Eurasian Coots, Hardheads and Pacific Black Ducks as well as Cormorants of all types, Ibis, Black Swans, Dusky Moorhens, Pelicans, and Silver Gulls. The park attracts a total list of around 150 species including other water birds, parrots, raptors, pigeons, the larger honeyeaters and some smaller woodland birds, made up by incidental sightings. A highlight last week was the appearance of the Nankeen Night Heron for the survey count.

 After the survey surveyors visit other park inhabitants including breeding pairs of owls and Tawny Frogmouth. The young Powerful Owl pictured below has made good progress and looks to be in good health!  

Young Powerful Owl in Centennial Park

Young Powerful Owl in Centennial Park

Eastern Suburbs Sydney

This morning was a catch up in eastern Sydney. Firstly Centennial Park, an oasis close to the centre of Sydney, gathering place for a surprising number of water birds and some bush birds. Checking on the regulars, there is one of the Tawny Frogmouths, a male, together with this year’s fledgling sitting on a higher branch in the same tree. The Intermediate Egret is on the Lily Pond and the Grey Butcherbird is in position to swoop on passersby. At Kensington Pond I do a standardized two hectare, twenty minute survey. Not many water birds, some Dusky Moorhens and a couple of Eurasian Coots. There are New Holland Honeyeaters, Red Wattlebirds, Spotted Doves and Crested Pigeons as well as the usual collection of Superb Fairy-wrens, Australian Magpies, Australian Ravens and Magpie-larks. Highlight is a Sacred Kingfisher sitting on the far bank close to construction work for the Randwick Golf Course Light Rail Station - still going on.

Then on to Randwick Environment Park, a small park formed in 2010 from 13 hectares that had been previously part of Randwick Army Barracks. The park contains endangered remnant Eastern Suburbs Banksia Scrub and a wetlands covering several hectares at its centre.  At times this park has attracted unusual birds including Latham’s Snipe, White-necked Heron, Australasian Shovelers, Horsfield’s Bronze-Cuckoo, and Spangled Drongos. However as this year’s drought kicked in the wetland dried and water birds disappeared. Another standardized survey confirms that Australian Magpies, Red Wattlebirds, Laughing Kookaburras (pictured below) and Noisy Miners have taken control of what is now a totally dry area. The highlight was a Yellow-rumped Thornbill, an uncommon visitor to the park.


Sydney Olympic Park Spring Survey

It’s the second to last week of the Sydney Olympic Park Spring Survey today. So another trip down Paramatta road, not so bad before six in the morning but even so it is a hassle. The survey starts at 6.30 am and it is a beautiful morning.

The Spring Survey is held on eight consecutive Tuesdays with over forty five sites surveyed each time. Again this bird survey has a long history, starting in 2004. When the Homebush area was reclaimed for the Sydney Olympics in 2000 a large area, 300 hectare, was set aside as parkland and for bush regeneration, resulting in a large area treed and landscaped and well served with paths for walkers, runners and cyclists. Habitats include estuarine and freshwater wetlands, remnant eucalypt forest, saltmarsh meadows and woodland bird habitats.

We have been assigned the Waterbird Refuge this year, a pond and mudflat separated from Homebush bay by narrow bushed causeways on two sides. The Refuge is tidal and the water level is controlled to retain a balance between deeper water and mudflat.

Not so many birds today, two weeks ago we counted over 600 individuals. But still an amazing number of Black-winged Stilts, Red-necked Avocets and Grey and Chestnut Teal ducks. In particular, Sharpie numbers are still up - over 40 Sharp-tailed Sandpipers for the second week. No Godwits today, they will be feeding on the mudflats outside the park.