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Lamington NP: These glorious little creatures

The Red-browed Firetail (Neochmia temporalis) must be one of the most common finches on the east coast of Australia. We see them everywhere we go, often in small flocks along the road-side. But they are tiny, and skittish, and appear to lack the curiosity of small insectivorous birds like wrens, so it is usually difficult to approach them closely enough to take decent photographs, even with our big lenses.

In general we have found that picnic areas and camping sites are good spots for photographing common birds because they are quite accustomed to a human presence and are less afraid.

At O'Reilly's Rainforest Retreat in Lamington NP the firetails seemed to be particularly unafraid, perhaps because they fly in to scoop up the crumbs left by parrots at the feeding station near the shop.

So it was rewarding to be able to capture a small family group, including a juvenile, feeding on the low grassheads by the side of the road. The juvenile still had the white patches on the sides of its beak that made its "baby gape", acting as guiding lights to aid the parents in stuffing food into its mouth, although it didn't appear to be fed by the parents while I was watching.

Feeding for the adults was a delicate process with the tongue carefully removing the seed as the bird held the stem in its mouth, leaving the discarded husks to accumulate on the outside of its beak. Note, in the photograph below, the way the red colouring on the bird's beak is continuous with the red on its head, forming a v-shape.

Last year we were lucky enough to watch a pair collecting grass stems for a nest at the top of a small tree, in the Sheepstation Creek camp site in Border Ranges NP in far northern NSW.

The grassy area was several hundred metres from the nest site, and carrying the nesting material was a significant burden on the flight of the birds. They always landed on a different branch below the position of the nest, to disguise its whereabouts, and then zigzagged up from branch to branch, before disappearing for a minute or two while they worked on the construction.

Then they left very rapidly without pausing, from the top of the tree. The nest itself was almost invisible from below.

It was the last day of our camping trip so we weren't able to stay to see the young. I hope they bred successfully. It is a great pleasure to see small flocks of these native finches from the car as we drive along our local roads.

They are a species that we used to have on our property, even nesting in the garden, but they need grasses to survive, so, as my rainforest has been growing I am sad to say that their numbers in our yard, have been diminishing.

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