Monday, 5 August 2019

BIRDING AUSTRALIA'S ISLANDS

My latest book, 'Birding Australia's Islands,' has just hit the bookshops.


This tells the story of my birding adventures on 22 of Australia's islands, from Macquarie in the south, to Boigu and Saibai in the north, Lord Howe and Norfolk in the east, and Cocos (Keeling) in the west.  The island I've visited most (apart from Phillip Island in my home state, Victoria) is Christmas Island, where the birds are magnificent.

Three islands in this book I haven't actually stepped foot on.  They are Raine Island in far north Queensland, Cabbage Tree Island in New South Wales and Browse Island in northern Western Australia.  The first two are nature reserves where the public is not permitted to land.  The seas were too rough for me to disembark on the third.

This book is beautifully illustrated with superb photos by some of Australia's best photographers.  Here are a couple of examples:

White-breasted Waterhen by Steve Reynolds

White-breasted Waterhens are now common on Cocos.  They weren't there on my first visit.

Nankeen Kestrel by Brook Whylie

I've seen kestrels on many islands; they have a very widespread distribution.  The bird I saw most on my island adventures is the Sacred Kingfisher.

I really enjoyed writing about Australia's islands.  I could relive all the wonderful trips I've enjoyed over the years.
Link to my Guardian Article

Tuesday, 25 June 2019

WERRIBEE IN WINTER

Yesterday I spent a beautiful sunny winter's day at Werribee.  There were plenty of birds, if not plenty of species.  We saw unusually large numbers of Pied Cormorants, and both Royal and Yellow-billed Spoonbills.  Also a small flock of female Flame Robins.

We saw lots of swans, lots of Pink-eared Ducks and lots of Swamp Harrriers and several Brown Falcons.
Brown Falcon (not taken yesterday) photo by Ken Haines

I was with birding friends from New South Wales, Janine and Stan Jones.  We saw just 53 species.  We would have seen more, but our birding activities were curtailed when their car, a new Honda, refused to change gear.  We were denied the use of park or reverse.  Stan managed to drive to the Honda dealership in Hopper's Crossing, where the magnificent staff solved the problem in minutes.  No hassles.  All done on warranty.  If only every car dealership were as helpful as the Hopper's Crossing Honda dealership.

From my point of view, the bird of the day was a single Baillon's Crake wandering around on the mud in the T Section.  Other contenders were a handsome Spotted Harrier, a very confiding Little Grassbird, and a pair of parrots we strongly suspected were OBP's.  They were silhouetted, perched on low vegetation, in very poor light.  Before we could get the scope onto them, they flew.  Unfortunately they did not call.  We will never know for sure, but I suspect they were OBP's.

My New South Wales friends thought the Golden-headed Cisticolas were strong contenders for bird of the day, reminding me not to take these common (but very beautiful) birds for granted.

Beach Road was closed, because of an 'event.'  This was mildly annoying.  We must notify Melbourne Water before we visit the WTP, so it seems only fair to me that Melbourne Water should notify us when we are denied access to a major thoroughfare.

It was a great day, road closures and car breakdowns notwithstanding.  The birds were beautiful, the sun was shining and the company was magnificent.

Monday, 20 May 2019

EAGLEHAWK NECK - MY 823RD AUSTRALIAN BIRD

I'm just back from Tasmania where I saw my 823rd Australian bird.
Pauletta, photo by Steve Reynolds

On Saturday and Sunday I enjoyed pelagics out of Eaglehawk Neck on the Pauletta.  I went in May because this is the best month to see Southern Fulmar.  I've done 14 trips out of Eaglehawk Neck, but only once before had I travelled to Tasmania with the single target of seeing Southern Fulmar.  I confess that I didn't really expect to see it, but I felt sure that if I remained home in Melbourne the lucky people on the boat would be sure to enjoy lengthy, perfect views of fulmars.

The weather was kind.  There was no rain, little wind, 1.5 metre swells on Saturday, less on Sunday and temperatures not nearly as cold as an autumn in Tasmania is entitled to be.  I saw 29 species on Saturday and 32 on Sunday.  Nine of these 32 I had not seen on Saturday, making a total of 38 species for the two trips.  That's my count.  Others saw more.  I am inhibited both by my lack of mobility and my very poor eyesight.  And probably most importantly, by my ignorance!

As regular readers of this blog will know, I am quite incapable of moving around on mobile boats.  I get on board (with difficulty and with assistance), find myself a seat out of the way and stay there until my quarry is sighted.  Then, invariably, the entire boatload of people always helps me to my feet and ensures that I get good looks at my target bird.  This certainly happened on this occasion:  both on Saturday and Sunday. 

On Saturday we set off with enthusiasm.  There were 12 of us on board plus John, the captain, and Adam, the deckie.  We enjoyed smooth seas and saw many Black-faced Cormorants and Short-tailed Shearwaters.  There were lots of Shy and Buller's Albatross and a sprinkling of Common Diving Petrels, Cape Petrels and Fairy Prions.  We also saw several Soft-plumaged Petrels, normal light phase birds.  Later, we saw a dark phase bird, which was considered to be a first for Tasmania.  (Some experts thought this bird was in fact an intermediate phase.)  On Sunday we again saw darker Soft-plumaged Petrels.  We saw Grey-backed Storm Petrels on both days and on Saturday, one of my favourite seabirds, a White-headed Petrel.  (This photo was not taken on this trip.)

At 10.20 a.m. on Saturday, I could barely believe it when someone called 'Southern Fulmar.'  Initially I thought it was a joke.  But it was real.  With assistance I staggered to my feet.  I was helped to the front of the boat where the fulmar had landed on the water amongst a group of albatrosses.  It gave me excellent views.  I staggered back to my seat and sat, glowing in satisfaction at seeing my quarry.  In fact I felt quite smug.  The bird flew in front of me, just to make sure a had another look.  On Sunday, I saw it again, flying right past me.  I could not have had better views.
Southern Fulmar, my 823rd Australian bird, photo by Steve Reynolds

Sunday was overall an even better day.  We saw Sooty Albatross, then another bird which was initially called as a Light-mantled Albatross.  Indeed that's what I thought it was.  It had a pale mantle, which, I was informed was worn feathers.  It was in fact another Sooty Albatross.  Traps for beginners.  There weren't as many Buller's Albatrosses on Sunday as on Saturday, but there were plenty of Royal Albatross, both Northern and Southern.  There were several wandering types.   I saw just one Black-browed and one Campbell Albatross.  

We had prions on both days, mainly Fairy, but also (according to the experts) at least one Slender-billed and one Antarctic.

If I initially doubted the Southern Fulmar call, I was quite incredulous on Sunday when someone called 'White-necked Petrel.'  I look for these birds in summer in New South Wales and southern Queensland.  Late autumn in Tasmania seemed a bit odd.  But there was the bird, clearly sporting a white neck.  I didn't even have to stand up as it flew right in front of me.  This bird I'd looked for twenty times.  Two ticks in two days.  It was unbelievable. And very soon, a clever South African birder on board broke the news:  the bird was not a White-necked Petrel.  It was a Great Shearwater.  This made more sense.  Many people were delighted.  It was a lifer for them.  Not for me.  I'd seen Great Shearwaters off Port Fairy in 2011.  
Great Shearwater, masquerading as a White-necked Petrel, photo by Steve Reynolds

I didn't mind.  I'd seen my Southern Fulmar.  That's the reason I travelled to Tasmania.  I came home very happy.

Saturday, 6 April 2019

A NEW BIRD FOR MY WALK LIST

Yesterday was my 1,061st walk.  I do try to walk every day, regardless of weather.  I walk north or south or east or west.  I always like to record more than ten species of birds on each walk.  Today I recorded ten; yesterday I had eleven.

Yesterday was a south walk, not usually a record-breaking occasion.  (I do much better on north walks, where I walk through a large park.)  Yesterday, I was on my way home, thinking of other things, when a small bird darted out from a bush in front of me.  My first thought was 'Eastern Spinebill.'  Spinebills are not common here and I always love to see them.  I tried to identify the bird, but he was most uncooperative, flitting in and out behind the foliage.  Finally, I got him.  It was a Grey Fantail, a new bird for my walk list.


Grey Fantail, photo by Ken Haines.  Not my Kew bird but hopefully the same race.


I have seen Grey Fantails near home before, but never on a walk.  Alas, I don't know the date when I first saw one.  The second occasion was in October 2004 and the third in April 2005.  This bird was my fourth sighting in suburban Kew and it had been almost exactly 14 years since I'd last seen one.  (I say suburban Kew because I'm sure Grey Fantails are frequently seen near the Yarra River in Kew.  This is nowhere near where I live.)

There were two things noteworthy about this morning's walk:  (1) I did not see or hear a Noisy Miner (Hooray!) and (2) I heard a Spotted Pardalote (not rare, but unusual).

Tomorrow is a west walk.  Clearly, too much to hope for another new bird.

Tuesday, 2 April 2019

VALE ROGER TAYLOR

In the early hours of Saturday 23 March 2019 my darling husband, Roger, died.  He was in Box Hill Hospital.  No one knows why he died.  He was a diabetic with a bad heart. Nevertheless his death was sudden and unexpected.  The coroner has performed a partial postmortem but no conclusions have yet been reached.

Roger was not a birder, but for the 46 years of our marriage, he drove me to countless birding spots.  He also drove me to the airport so I could fly off on various birding adventures.  We enjoyed sherry from Rutherglen (or recently Wahgunyah) so several times each year, after we'd collected our bulk sherry, Rog drove me around the birding spots of Rutherglen and nearby Chiltern.

As Roger's health deteriorated, I did more and more trips alone.  Four of my five trips to Christmas Island were done without Rog.  He didn't accompany me to the Torres Strait or to the Coral Sea.  I felt guilty leaving him and decided that my recent Christmas Island trip would be my last.

So I was home alone when he made his last trip to hospital.  He'd been there four nights and was scheduled to come home on Friday.  I rang to arrange picking him up and the doctor said that Rog wasn't quite right and they'd keep him in one more night.  That night he died.  

I should thank all my dear family and friends for their wonderful support in recent days and particular mention must be made of my favourite (and only) brother, Richard.

Life will never be the same again.
Roger as I will remember him, photo by Michael Seyfort


Christmas Day, 2013 when Rog took me to Werribee



Wednesday, 6 March 2019

MY TWENTIETH ATTEMPT AT SEEING A WHITE-NECKED PETREL

I probably should not bother writing a blog about my aborted twentieth attempt to see a White-necked Petrel.  There's not much to say.  The boat did not go.  I did not see the bird.

My Graves Disease had returned with a vengeance.   I had no energy at all.  Walking was difficult; stairs almost impossible.   I had booked to fly to Sydney to do the February pelagic out of Kiama, supposedly my best chance of seeing a White-necked Petrel.  I asked the doctor if it would be okay to go.  He asked me how long I'd be away, and when I said 'one night' he agreed I could go.

The month out of Kiama (or previously Wollongong) with most sightings of White-necked Petrels is February.  Of my twenty attempts, five previous attempts have been in February (2008, 2011, 2016, 2017 [cancelled] and 2018).  I've also been told that April out of Port Stephens is good for White-necked Petrels.  I have attempted to do this trip on four occasions (2012, 2013 [cancelled], 2014 [cancelled] and 2016).
White-necked Petrel by Paul Wallbridge, a bird I've tried to see 20 times

So, in February 2019, I flew to Sydney and managed very cleverly to get on the right train, then to change trains at Woolli Creek to Kiama.  Well done, I thought.  With difficulty, I walked to the motel.  I stayed in my room until it was time to leave in the morning.

I had arranged to be picked up and driven to the jetty, so there was no walking on Saturday.  My lift arrived, (thank you, Graham!) and, with great expectations, we drove to the wharf.  A small crowd of people stood by the boat.  Immediately we learnt that the trip had been cancelled.  Weather was too bad.  Seas were too rough.

Several Victorians who had made the trip as I had, just for the elusive White-necked Petrel, stood, trying to grasp the fact that their interstate journey had been in vain.  After a little miserable discussion, we dispersed.  I felt cheated.  

Brook drove me to the airport and I arranged an early flight home, feeling the world was against me.

If I took a minute to stop feeling sorry for myself, I would thank Graham and Brook for their invaluable assistance.  What would I do without the help of these wonderful friends?  Alas, they cannot make the bird materialise.

Am I never going to see this bird?

MY NINETEENTH ATTEMPT AT A WHITE-NECKED PETREL

I celebrated Australia Day 2019 with my nineteenth attempt to see a White-necked Petrel.  These birds are supposedly seen in January, February and March in New South Wales and southern Queensland waters.  That's what the books say, but I cannot confirm this from my own experience.  I have never seen a White-necked Petrel.

On Friday, I flew from Melbourne to Sydney and took the train to Kiama where I stayed overnight.  Altogether, the trip cost around $2,000.  This is becoming an expensive bird.

For me, the White-necked Petrel really is a bogey bird.  People use this term loosely.  I often hear birders referring to a bird they happen to have dipped on once or twice as a 'bogey bird.'  I reckon a bogey bird is a bird that all your friends have seen, but you have not, despite trying very hard several times.  And, in my book, travelling interstate on nineteen occasions to see a White-necked Petrel and failing every time certainly qualifies.

Apart from the lack of White-necked Petrels, our day at sea last Saturday was pretty good.  It was sunny, but not too hot and we had a boatful of happy people.  We saw hundreds of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters and almost as many Grey-faced Petrels.  A magnificent Mottled Petrel caused much celebration and was a lifer for many people on board.  I was happy for them of course, but their success seemed to underline my failure.
Mottled Petrel by Brook Whylie

The Mottled Petrel was undoubtedly the Bird of the Day.  We had fleeting views of both Wilson's and White-faced Storm Petrels and a couple of Sooty Terns.  We saw one or two Pomarine Skuas and had great views of a couple of Long-tailed Jaegers. There were a few Flesh-footed Shearwaters and just a couple of Short-tailed.  Some people saw Sooty Shearwaters but I did not.  Nor did I see any Hutton's or Fluttering Shearwaters.  I had hoped for a Streaked Shearwater, but it was not to be.  We did see a Gould's Petrel, and I was pleased it was not a lifer, because the view was not satisfactory.

We saw one Shy Albatross, one Australasian Gannet, a Greater Crested Tern and some Silver Gulls, giving me a total birdlist for the day of 13 species.

It was a very nice Mottled Petrel, to be sure.  But it was not worth $2,000.  And it was not worth travelling all that way.

Now I look forward to doing it all again in February!