Tawny Frogmouths

Back to birds! When I started this blog I was mostly thinking of talking about archetypal Australian marsupials like kangaroos and koalas (neither of which I’ve got round to yet). But there’s a huge range of unusual and exotic birds as well – or at least they certainly are to someone brought up in the UK. I’d never heard of tawny frogmouths before coming to Australia, but they’re quite common, ranging over pretty much the whole continent but particularly the wooded perimeter. While they’re common, you don’t see them that often because their camouflage is superb, and they’re very, very good at sitting still.

They’re a type of nightjar, not owl, although there are obviously quite a few similarities. Like a few other animals around here they are a mottled silvery-grey which blends in incredibly well to the trunks and branches of gum trees. In addition they look very much like a broken-off branch, which in combination with their propensity for immobility means they’re a devil to spot. If you’re lucky enough to see one open it’s mouth you’ll see why they’re called frogmouths.

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This pair were in Healesville Animal Sanctuary – they bond for life, bless ’em, and even cuddle up to each other when they roost. Normally my photos are all of wild animals but given my lack of both patience and monster telephoto lenses you’ll have to make do with a few animals being photographed in captivity. I’ll always say when they are though. Healesville is great – it’s just up the road, and if you have visitors who need to tick off some iconic Australian fauna quickly then it’s the place to go instead of hacking through the bush. Nothing beats finding things in the wild though, it just feels more real.

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And this pair are definitely wild, hiding in a tree way up north by the Daintree River. They were spotted by Dan Irby on one of his excellent boat tours – he really knows his stuff, and is highly recommended if you’re ever up that way. Note that the tours are usually at dusk, when most animals come out, so don’t forget the aforementioned monster telephotos and super-sensitive camera if you want good pics. Or just sit back and enjoy the tour instead of squinting through a viewfinder!

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Here’s another in a gum tree by the Yarra, doing what they do best – sitting very still and looking like a broken branch. This was taken in spring so there might be eggs under it in the nest.

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Last but not least I found this pair while I was doing the photos for Westerfolds parkrun one Saturday. I don’t know if the chick had fallen out of the nest, but they were both perched quite low on a large fallen tree, being (of course) as still as possible. Luckily I had a short telephoto with me, and they let me get pretty close – maybe 3m or so. Obviously the chick was staring right at me, but also the parent was watching me the whole time very carefully. I didn’t want to scare them so I didn’t try to get any closer.

dsc_6458Despite having plenty of time and light, and taking lots of photos I still managed to screw up my depth of field. In the top picture the adult is slightly out of focus although I don’t think it detracts hugely from the picture. But the close-up of the chick has the beak nice and sharp but the eyes are slightly out of focus – doh! Practice, practice…

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