AUSTRALASIAN FAVORITES

My three favorite Australasian photos at this point in time are highlighted below. I've been to this "realm" just three times, and (oddly enough) each of these shots is from a different trip. All photos D. Roberson.

Australian Crake Porzana fluminea  sometimes one just is lucky. I've been around the Sora, the American Porzana, all my life and still don't have a decent photo. I have one day at a small pond in Australia and see my life Australian Crake, and then it walks out nicely between the reeds, flicking up its tail and casts a nice reflection in excellent light conditions, and I have this shot.... [taken near Deniliquin, New South Wales, 1 Jan 1998].

Malleefowl Leipoa ocellata  this has more to do with the birds and the event than the photo. The Malleefowl is the largest megapode in the world, and hard to find in its endless monotonous habitat except at an active mound. Adults lay eggs below a huge pile of rotting vegetation, and the heat involved in the decay keep the eggs warm. Adults come check the temperature just once or twice a day (with their bills) and either add more grass or scratch some off. This is what this pair is doing -- checking the temperature in the mound. It is first light and the sun is coming up directly behind the mound from where we are permitted to be (the National Park Service roped off a viewing area here in Wyperfeld National Park, Victoria, Australia). This makes for awful photographic conditions, but in this shot the backlighting does highlight the birds. Incredibly enough, on this day (11 Nov 1983) as we watched the mound and the adults, a chick "hatched" right out the top of the mound, ran down the side and into the brush. The adults paid no attention to it... chicks are ready to survive on their own from the first day. What an experience!

Vogelkop Bowerbird Amblyornis inornatus  as you can see, the bird itself (a male here) is not much, but he makes the most incredible bowerbird bower in the whole world. The bower is of the "maypole" design and very large and ornate. Below the umbrella formed by the huge maypole, he plants a "lawn" of soft green moss and then positions objects carefully on that lawn in hopes of attracting a female. He has collected orange-red fruits and positioned them in front, off to the left are bluish berries, there are black snail shells in a pile at the perimeter, and this male has found a couple shiny silver camera batteries (left over from a National Geographic film crew who had the blind in which I'm hiding built a few weeks before).

This photo was possible only because I was permitted some time alone with our local guide. The small group of us visited the Arfak Mountains in Irian Jaya, Indonesian New Guinea, in July 1994, soon learned that while we could fit 3-4 of us in one of the native-built blinds near the bowers, it was impossible for that many people to be quiet enough for long enough to have a bowerbird come in to its bower. He would appear only briefly, sense our presence, and depart for another hour or two wait. We spent many, many hours in blinds hoping to see this bird and the Western Parotia Parotia sefilata, but the blinds just did not work with small groups. However, I did arrange for a few hours by myself in this blind (with just the guide) and in good time the bowerbird did appear to rearrange his jewels and allow photos. All the Amblyornis bowerbirds of New Guinea build fantastic bowers, but this species -- endemic in a narrow elevation range in the Arfak Mts. of the Vogelkop Peninsula -- is acknowledged to create the most elaborate bowers of them all. It is quite difficult to get to its habitat -- first one must have access to Irian Jaya (it has been closed to westerners for political reasons for many years except for a narrow window of time in the early 1990s), then one must either walk (many days) or get a missionary airplane into a small village at the right elevation, obtain a local guide and then hike up into the cloud forest to the bowers. It is about as adventurous an expedition as is left on Earth.

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