Brightly-coloured male Fairy-wrens in their nuptial plumage can stop many an Australian birder in their tracks. The birds may be tiny but they more than make up for it with showiness. Most familiar are the two “Blue Wrens’ – the Superb Fairy-Wren (Malurus cyaneus) of the east coast and Tasmania, and the Splendid Fairy-wren (Malurus splendens) found across the south-western and more southern central areas.
Male Superb Fairy-wren in breeding plumage, at Mt Field in Tasmania
Female Superb Fairy-wren in the leaf litter
Female Splendid Fairy-wren at Lake Joondalup
Eclipse male Superb Fairy-wren showing a few remaining blue feathers
The male blue wrens are easy to identify in their distinctive breeding plumage, but most male Fairy-wrens are only dressed in their beautiful breeding colours for spring and summer; in autumn they moult back into what is called eclipse plumage – similar to the females at first glance. Separating the females, youngsters and non-breeding males is a bit trickier, requiring a close look at the colour of bills, eye-rings and lores. First year males can be confusing as they show the tan eye ring of the females combined with the black bill of a male, while some of the older males will retain their bright colours for the whole year. Often it is thought that the family groups consist of one male with several females but closer inspection usually reveals some birds to be males in non-breeding plumage.
A male Splendid Fairy-wren, probably a young bird given the black bill with the tan eye-ring
Two wrens cudding – young male and female Splendid Fairy-wrens
Female Splendid Fairy-wren with her pale tan eye-ring, lores and beak
Eclipse male Superb Fairy-wren in Tidbinbilla
A male Splendid Fairy-Wren in eclipse plumage, in April.
The blue feathers of the males are iridescent, caused by the particular structure of the barbules of their feathers. Its not hard to see where the Splendid Fairy-wren’s scientific name of splendens (shining) came from. I have often noticed this iridescence when photographing the breeding males – usually the images need the contrast and highlights toned down a bit to prevent the feathers looking plastic. The feature image for this article is a good example – not sure how successful I was. The ear-coverts are often the shiniest feather tract – they are used in face fan displays, which appear to be a territorial behaviour (sometimes seen in response to call playback; phishing is a better option).
Little Boy Blue
Breeding male Splendid Fairy-wren showing the face fan display
One of our main reasons for visiting Denmark in January was to explore options for moving away from Perth some time in the future. Well, Denmark is very high on my list so far. Stunning scenery and a lovely variety – from beautiful inviting protected beaches…
…to the awesome power of the Southern Ocean.
Wilson Inlet provides views of the water in all directions – I think I could handle views like these every day:
A little further afield and the scenery gets very interesting. These rocks had lots of potential but I think I need to be able to visit them often to do them justice!
The south-west corner of Western Australia is very beautiful, but even so, the small town of Denmark stands out as a wonderful place to visit. During a short stay in January, I was very torn between birding and photographing landscapes. Here are some of my favourite bird images from the week.
The Wilson Inlet is a large body of water nearly 50 square km in size, close to Denmark and home to a huge array of water birds. I wish I was brave enough to take my camera on a kayak, as that would be the ultimate way to explore.
William Bay National Park is a short drive east of Denmark – more gorgeous scenery and more birds! I was pleased to capture some of the fairy wrens that are prolific in the area.
Splendid fairy-wren females in a little huddle, seen on the way to Waterfall Beach.
Little pied cormorant, Wilson Inlet
Male Splendid fairy-wren.
Pacific gull in juvenile plumage, seen at Madfish Bay.