Sometimes you are blessed by accidents of geography or circumstance.

Me? I think I’m blessed by a bit of both.

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Sometimes you have to go a long way to see very ordinary birds.

Sometimes very special birds come to you.

The dawn chorus at my house can be a deafening cacophony, particularly when the Fig tree just outside my upstairs balcony is in fruit.

About three times a year the eponymous Figbird Spechotheres viridis takes charge and at the height of the fruiting season – when the fruit is “cooked” as locals say – flocks of Figbirds descend on the Fig tree outside my bedroom to gorge themselves on its beautiful golden fruit.

Sleep be gone at dawn when a hundred Figbirds make their percussive “pow pow pow” calls twenty feet from the pillow.

This bird, with the red skin around its eyes and sulphurous plumage, is an adult male.

Usually the duller female – none the less beautiful with her cafe au lait plumage and blueish skin around here eyes – is the vigorous defender of this prized tree from other species that want their share of its bounty.

And there is no shortage of other species wanting a taste.

This White-gaped Honeyeater Lichenostomus unicolor is a common local always looking for a feed.

And at first blush I thought this noisy intruder to be a Little Friarbird Philemon citreogularis but my Facebook friend Carol Proberts reminded me that – due to the shape of the head and lack of eye-stripe – that this charmingly ugly bird was in fact a somewhat less common Helmeted Friarbird Philemon buceroides that has dropped in for a feed.

Another of my favourite birds is the Varied Triller Lalage leucomela – a quiet – at times – skulker that sneaks in and grabs fruit from under the keen gaze of the female Figbird.

The Varied Triller is a smaller member of the Cuckoo-shrike family Campephagidae and are found in New Guinea and from about the Sydney area to the tip of Cape York Peninsula, in the moister parts of the Kimberley and throughout the Top End.

Apart from the bounty of fruit, dense trees like Figs provide plenty of cover for birds seeking a few moments respite from the chaos that ensues out in the open air – remember that every bird is either prey or preying – and more than a few take time to park for a few seconds or more in the dense foliage.

This Spangled Drongo Dicrurus bracteatus had a brief spell before taking off with it’s equally garrulous partner.

I’ve taken quite a few shots of Drongos – avian and otherwise – in my time, but this is the first time I’ve caught those beautiful blue spangles – hence the name – on this adult bird’s chest.


Another – less spectacular and common but no less beautiful – bird that roosts in the Fig tree is the common Bar-shouldered Dove Geopelia humeralis.

Last – but by no means least – of the birds found outside my bedroom window is this immature Forest Kingfisher Todiramphus macleayii that I often see – and hear –  perched on the power-lines outside my house making its lonesome call.

And finally – the King of the Air of the Top End.

If you are in Darwin in this season take the time to stop and watch.  Look up into the sky. Now and right through the dry season you will, on any day, see these magnificent Black Kites, Milvus migrans.

Now you see them in “kettles” of three hundred or more climbing on still, steady wings, wing-tips feathering the breeze, gliding and soaring on the faintest of thermals high into the sky.

Then pouncing – all graceful shapes cut out of still air – onto a stray discarded chicken-bone thrown by the town drunk onto a city street.

I could watch these birds all day, all week and all year.

And do.

And will – as long as I have breath and eyes to see.

All this and more I see from the balcony of my bedroom.

Am I blessed or just lucky?

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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