Friday, 19 October 2018

RUTHERGLEN, CHILTERN AND THE MIGHTY MURRAY

Rog and I have just returned from a few days in Rutherglen.  The weather was not good - the best day was Friday, when all we did was drive home.  We drove up on Tuesday, and it rained on and off all day.  Nevertheless, I came home with a birdlist of 93 species, not altogether bad.  However, we drove over 800 kilometres over four days to achieve this.  Compare my last trip to Werribee, when I saw the same number of species in one day.

We stayed at Tuileries, where we've stayed before.  When I wanted to book for tea at 6.30, the girl at reception said they were fully booked, and we could not eat until 7.  We arrived at 6.45, thinking we'd have a drink in the bar until our table was ready.  Imagine our surprise to see that the restaurant was more than half empty!  Not a good advertisement for Tuileries.  Perhaps they had mass cancellations at the last minute.
Barmah Forest in flood

On Wednesday, we drove to the Barmah forest, about two hours west of Rutherglen.  It had rained here too, and there was a fair bit of flooding.  I heard an oriole and decided to chase it down and get it onto my list.  After a few minutes, I saw my bird.  It was a Noisy Friarbird!  This is not the first time I've been tricked by friarbirds.  We took Kingfisher Cruises up the Murray, which was a very pleasant way to spend a couple of hours.  I was delighted to see an Australian Reed-Warbler, my first for the year.  On the way home, I saw five Emus, including two chicks, another first for 2018.

Kingfisher Cruises

On Thursday, we did all our usual Chiltern things.  I walked around Lake King before breakfast and saw an Oriental Dollarbird, not new for the year as we'd seen lots in the Torres Strait last March.  As usual, there were Blue-faced Honeyeaters and Eurasian Tree Sparrows in the main street of Rutherglen.  After breakfast, we visited Chiltern No 2 dam, No 1 dam, Lake Anderson, Cyanide dam, Greenhill dam, Bartley's Block, and Lapin's dam.  The birds were fantastic at No 2 dam.  At least five Rufous Songlarks were singing at the top of their lungs.  Dusky Woodswallows were prolific and the White-browed Woodswallows were in perfect breeding plumage.  Again I heard orioles and chased them down.  They were real ones today.  White-browed Woodswallows were mating at No 2 dam and Superb Fairywrens were mating at Greenhill.  Cyanide dam at Honeyeater Picnic Area was almost empty.  What water there was, was dirty red-brown and unappealing.  There were few birds here.  As we drove away from Greenhill dam, a Little Eagle was disturbed from beside the road.  It flew into an adjacent tree and sat looking at us.  It was a very regal bird, undoubtedly the Bird of the Day.
Cyanide dam was reduced to a muddy pool.

It was a shame to have to come home on Friday, the first sunny day we'd had.  I added Little Friarbird to the list, and then Brown Goshawk on the way home.  In grey un-spring like weather, I had to be content with 93 species.  There were some good birds on my list.  The woodswallows were very welcome.  The dollarbird was new for me in Rutherglen and the Little Eagle alone was worth the drive.

Friday, 12 October 2018

MOREPORKS AND MORE

I've been preoccupied with my fifth book, Birding Australia's Islands, which is scheduled to be published next year.  Hence I've been neglecting my blog.

Since my last posting, I've visited Phillip Island, Trin Warren Tam-boore, Werribee's Western Treatment Plant and Cape Liptrap.  I've also continued my daily walks.  This morning I saw an Eastern Rosella - not very common around here.  I've also seen a pair of Galahs occasionally.  Once an Australian Pied Cormorant flew over and one day last week, I saw a pair of Pacific Black Ducks sitting happily on a fountain in someone's front garden.
Cape Barren Geese on Phillip Island

The purpose of my trip to Phillip Island was to get a photo of nearby French Island for my book.  This I achieved, taking the ferry from Cowes to Tankerton.  Black-faced Cormorants sat on the Cowes jetty.  The population of Cape Barren Geese on Phillip Island has increased enormously since my last visit, which makes sense as just about every goose we saw had several goslings.  The only noteworthy bird I saw on the trip was a Fan-tailed Cuckoo.  I saw (and heard) several at various places on the island.

I saw them again the next week when I visited Trin Warren Tam-boore.  I always enjoy walking around this wetland.  I see waterbirds of course, but also honeyeaters, finches and fairywrens.  On this occasion, as well as Fan-tailed Cuckoos, I heard, but could not see, Horsfield's Bronze Cuckoos too.  I watched a Peregrine stoop into a large flock of feral pigeons (or Rock Doves, if you will).  He didn't catch one while I watched, but he certainly put a falcon among the pigeons.

My friend, Graham Barwell, was visiting Victoria, so we spent a very pleasant day together at Werribee.  The weather was kind and the birds performed.  I came home with well over 90 species for the day.  We saw both Australian and Baillon's Crakes and had wonderful views of a Shining Bronze Cuckoo.  We saw Singing Honeyeaters more than once, not a rare bird, but listed as 'uncommon' on the Werribee list, and one I don't remember ever seeing there before.  We also saw a Brown Songlark, an Australian Hobby and a Horsfield's Bushlark, all birds new to my 2018 list.  As my friend Brook says, 'There's no such thing as a bad day at Werribee.'

It was because of Graham's presence, that we visited Cape Liptrap, to look for Moreporks.  Of course we asked James Mustafa to join us.  And of course we had a successful trip.  It was cold, but the owls gave us a warm inner glow.  And it can't have been all that cold, as we all enjoyed ice creams on the way home.
Morepork, photo by James Mustafa

We saw two owls.  I thought it was three, but the boys persuaded me that the last two sightings were of the same bird.  The first bird we saw had a favourite perch.  It returned to sit on this particular tree again and again, giving us ample opportunity to admire its big yellow eyes.

Now spring is half over and my book is progressing well.  And I still have an embarrassingly long list of birds I haven't seen this year.  I will do my best to rectify this when I visit Chiltern next week.

Thursday, 16 August 2018

GIPSY POINT AND MALLACOOTA

To relieve the boredom of Melbourne's winter, Rog and I spent a week birding around Mallacoota.  We stayed at Gipsy Point's Luxury Lakeside Apartments.  I saw 82 species of birds around Gipsy Point and Mallacoota, and a further 26 species en route, making a total of 108 for the trip.  As for animals, we saw hundreds of kangaroos, a couple of water rats and one sleepy koala.
Eastern Yellow Robin, photo by Pete Stalder

Without a doubt, the highlight was a Beach Stone-Curlew I saw at Cape Conran on the way down, a new bird for my Victorian list.  I looked for it again on the way home, but couldn't find it.

Perhaps my best sighting at Gipsy Point was the pair of White-headed Pigeons which came in to the feeding table, or perhaps it was the lyrebird sitting patiently on her nest.  These wonderful mothers incubate their single egg for 47 days, without any help from dad.  We saw many lyrebirds during the week, all quite unperturbed by people.

We left Melbourne on Friday 27 July and drove as far as Bairnsdale.  Along the way, we stopped at Tara Bulga National Park, where I looked unsuccessfully for Pilotbirds.  At the Sale Common I went for a walk and saw Red Wattlebirds, Magpie-larks and Rainbow Lorikeets.  I wondered why I'd bothered to drive 200 kilometres to see birds I could just as easily see at home.  Then I saw Brown-headed Honeyeaters (one of my favourites) and a very splendid female Collared Sparrowhawk.  She alone justified the trip.  There was no water at all at the Sale Common, so there were no waterbirds.

I always see Grey Butcherbirds at Bairnsdale and often Striated Pardalotes.  On this occasion, a colourful little pardalote sat on the electricity wires, singing his little heart out.  It made me feel good just looking at him.

On Saturday, we drove to Cape Conran, where I was impressed with several bold Bassian Thrushes foraging on the grass and ignoring people totally.  It would have been a photographers' dream.  Of course the stone curlew stole my heart, although I did not want to give the impression to other beach goers that it was anything particularly special.  I walked past slowly, pretending not to be particularly impressed.  

We drove on to Gipsy Point, with one other notable sighting for the day.  Not far past the turnoff from Genoa, right beside the road, sitting on a dead tree looking straight at us, was a magnificent white phase Grey Goshawk.  A truly regal bird.

Mallacoota has lots of lovely walks and I did a fair bit of walking during the week.  I did the Double Creek Nature Trail, the Pittosporum Walk, Shady Gully walk, Betka River loop, part of the Narrows walk and part of Charlies Creek walk.  At the airport I walked along the track past the gun club, and under the power lines near the airport building.  Twice I did the coastal walk at Shipwreck Creek, Casuarina Walk and Heathlands Walk.  The reason for repeating these last three was that I was disappointed in the number of birds I'd seen and hoped I'd just been unlucky.  Alas, when I repeated the walks, I repeated my low bird counts.  I did not see emu-wrens at Shipwreck Creek.  Nor did I see any Tawny-crowned Honeyeaters, notwithstanding lots of gorgeous wildflowers.  I finally saw one Tawny-crowned at the airport on our last day.  At Gipsy Point, I did the point-tip walk and I wandered up Tuck Track.
Red-browed Finch, photo by Brook Whylie

The weather was fine, but often very windy, and I think this kept my bird totals low.  I had to keep reminding myself that it was winter, and that I should not be expecting too many birds.  At Gipsy Point, Buff-banded Rails walked about nonchalantly and Eastern Whipbirds played on our veranda.  Crimson Rosellas, Australian King Parrots, Crested Pigeons and ubiquitous Rainbow Lorikeets came to the feeding table every afternoon.  New Hollands and Little Wattlebirds dominated the garden, but there were several Eastern Yellow Robins and flocks of Red-browed Finches and Superb Fairywrens.  I saw Satin Bowerbirds and White-browed Scrubwrens every day.  The sea eagles put on good fishing displays and the Azure Kingfisher simply sat, looking beautiful.  Skeins of Great Cormorants flew overhead each afternoon to roost near the lodge jetty, then flew back to Mallacoota the next morning.

I picked up a birdlist at the Mallacoota Information Centre and, according to this, I saw just one rare bird at Mallacoota during the week:  a Reef Egret.  At the sewerage works, I saw three ducks not on the list:  Hardhead, Shoveler and Shelduck.  At Gipsy Point, I saw one extraordinary lost bird:  a single White-breasted Woodswallow near the jetty.  I've never seen a White-breasted Woodswallow in East Gippsland before, and never seen one in winter anywhere in Victoria.  They are usually in flocks, not single birds, so I'm not sure how or why this little fellow ended up at Gipsy Point.

Rog and I returned to Melbourne with our batteries recharged.  It was a most enjoyable, relaxing week.  I worked hard to see 82 species and was disappointed with very few honeyeaters and just one Brown Gerygone.  Nevertheless I did see some lovely birds and only got two tick bites for my trouble.

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

MY THOUSANDTH WALK

This morning I did my thousandth walk. There was nothing remarkable about it.  It was a cold grey winter morning.  Luckily there was no rain and little wind.  It was an east walk.  One house was being demolished, one fence reconstructed and two building sites housed noisy radios.  I saw ten species of birds.  As usual, I saw more dogs than birds, but all except three mad golden retrievers at the park, were legally on leashes.  The magpies are nesting in Sackville Street, and one spectacular male swooped low over my head.  I ducked involuntarily, but I don't think he meant me any harm.  He could easily have done so, if that had been his aim.
Australian Magpie


When my father died, in an attempt at self-improvement, I joined the local gym.  I took it seriously, and three days a week, I was waiting for the doors to open at 6 a.m.  However, it didn't take many months for me to realize that my gym membership was of more benefit to the gym than it was me, so I extracted myself from the contract and began my morning walks instead.  From home, I walk north, south, east and west in turn each morning.  Each walk takes half an hour, and each incorporates a park, all small local reserves, except the north walk, which has a larger park with more trees and a couple of ovals.  To make my walks more interesting, I list the birds I see and hear each day.
Sulphur-crested Cockatoos

Most lists are totally predictable.  I know I will see magpies, Rainbow Lorikeets, Red Wattlebirds, Noisy Miners, Spotted Doves and Common Mynas.  I will usually see Little Ravens and hear (and sometimes see) Grey Butcherbirds.  Common Starlings and Rock Doves are becoming more common.  Brown Thornbills are resident, but I record them on about 50% of my walks.  Sometimes I see Little Wattlebirds and Magpie-larks, but I can't rely on either of them.  Sulphur-crested Cockatoos sometimes put in an appearance and Little Corellas are more common in autumn. Spotted Pardalotes are never common, but perhaps I see them more in autumn.  On a west walk, near the school oval, I hope for a Masked Lapwing.  On a south walk, I look for Crested Pigeons.   Silvereyes, once common, are now rare.  Alas, the Willie Wagtails are now gone and the Red-rumped Parrots, which used to be reliable, are now rare.  Welcome Swallows have arrived since I've been walking and they don't seem to migrate.  I see them every season.  In fact, I saw one yesterday.

My best ever total is 17 species, which I have achieved twice:  once on a west walk in September 2015 and once on an east walk in June 2017. This is interesting, as my best regular totals are on north walks:  I've achieved 16 species here many times.  My worst ever total is 8, which I've achieved several times, always on a west walk.
Gang-gang Cockatoo

I rarely see rosellas (either eastern or crimson), Galahs, Musk Lorikeets and Black-faced Cuckoo-shrikes.  Silver Gulls, common not far away, are rare here.  Pacific Koels now appear each summer, more often heard than seen.  Twice, I've seen Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoos, literally breath-taking.  I wish they'd take up residence.  Last month, for the first time, I saw Gang-gang Cockatoos.  They stayed around for a fortnight or so, but I couldn't find them this week.  Occasionally, cormorants, ducks or ibis fly over, although I seem to see fewer ducks today than I did in the past.  It's always exciting to see an Eastern Spinebill.  They are unpredictable and rare.  So, too, are White-plumed Honeyeaters, which were common here before the Noisy Miners took over.  Long-billed Corellas appear to be rarer now that the Little Corellas have put in an appearance, although I'm sure that mixed flocks are a possibility.

Of most interest are the birds I've seen just once.  I remember an Australian Hobby (which, before I started my walks, used to be common here).  I saw Goldfinches just once on a north walk, and Australian King Parrots once on an east walk.  Once I saw a Little Button-quail on a west walk and a Collared Sparrowhawk on a south walk.  Before I started my walks, I once had a male Australian Golden Whistler in my yard and a Rufous Fantail in the next street.  I'd love to get them onto my walk list.

Each day, as I set off, I wonder if I'm going to break any records.  I didn't see anything unusual this morning, or see a record number of species, but I made my 1000th walk.  Surely cause for celebration.

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

RUTHERGLEN AREA JUNE 2018

I've just returned from a most enjoyable couple of days birding around Rutherglen.  It was cold - naturally - and also surprisingly dry, but very productive.  I saw 82 species of birds, not counting the Wedge-tailed Eagle I saw on the way home.  This was the first time I'd been birding since the death of my birding mate, Philip Jackson.  Each time I saw something special, I thought how much PJ would have appreciated it.
Rufous Whistler, photo by Jim O'Toole

I expect winter in Rutherglen to be cold, but Monday morning was very cold - someone said minus 3.  Certainly I haven't seen white frost like that since I was a child.  It crunched underfoot.  The best bird before breakfast was a male Rufous Whistler, who'd forgotten he was supposed to be a summer migrant.  Then, before morning tea, we saw a flock of Diamond Firetails on the road out of Chiltern's No 1 dam.  At Cyanide I had great close views of a pair of Turquoise Parrots, who wanted to make friends rather than fly away.  I saw 57 species of birds (and also heard Whistling Kite and Eastern Yellow Robin) but, notwithstanding the Turquoise Parrots, the day belonged to the beasts.  I saw lots of kangaroos and one wallaby, but also a couple of antechinus (always a thrill) and, most unusually, a koala on the Greenhill Road.  I hoped to add platypus to this list, but I could not.  The nearest I came to another animal, was a huge, just dug wombat hole near Lake Kerford on the Beechworth Forest Drive the following day. 
Gang-gang Cockatoo, photo by Richard Schurmann

On Tuesday, I managed 60 birds, including 25 I had not seen on Monday.  Before breakfast, there was a flock of shovellers on Lake King.  In Beechworth township, a pair of Gang-gangs sat in a street tree.  I visited Woolshed Falls to add Striated Thornbill to my list, and back at Cyanide dam, I saw a Speckled Warbler, one of my very favourite birds.  I was walking along Cyanide Road and I could hear 'chip' contact calls overhead.  It seemed to be three birds in the canopy of three different trees.  I guessed they were Yellow-tufted Honeyeaters, so I spent some time craning my neck in an attempt to identify them.  Finally, I managed to see that one was a Spotted Pardalote, then, after another five minutes, I saw that another was an Eastern Spinebill.  The third bird, was, as expected, a Yellow-tufted Honeyeater.  Were these three different species making a 'chip' contact call to each other?  How very odd.  I wished PJ had been there to discuss it with.


Monday, 4 June 2018

Vale Philip Jackson

Philip Jackson died peacefully yesterday morning, with his family around him.  The cancer we all thought he'd beaten, returned with a swift vengeance.  

I'd only known PJ for a short while, but we became good birding companions and had many happy birding trips together.
Philip ignoring authority, Lockhart River January 2018
I met Philip at the Long-billed Dowitcher twitch at Lake Tutchewop in November 2014.  We each turned up, to look for this exciting bird - and failed.  A week later, after more reported sightings, we each separately drove up to Lake Tutchewop again, from memory about four hours from Melbourne.  This time we were successful.  I hadn't enjoyed the drive up - aquaplaning on black ice in my new car.  Glowing in my success at seeing the dowitcher, I asked Philip where he lived.  'Ivanhoe,' he said and I confessed I came from Kew.  We were practically neighbours.  It was obvious.  We should have driven up together.

My cheeky question was the beginning of a great friendship.  Together we birded as much as we could.  I've lost count of the number of times we visited Werribee's Western Treatment Plant.  We birded at Banyule and at Wilson Reserve.  I took him to Tara Bulga to see Pilotbirds.  We went to Kamarooka for honeyeaters, to LaTrobe for Swift Parrots and to Braeside for the Pectoral Sandpiper and Long-toed Stint.  Last January we visited Iron Range together and he achieved several lifers.  Together we twitched the SIPO at Broadwater in January 2017 (my 800th bird), then in December, the Aleutian Terns at Old Bar in New South Wales.

I loved his irreverence and his quince jelly.  He loved Essendon Football Club.  I will miss our birding trips and our political discussions.  My thoughts are with Sue, Claire and Bill.

Monday, 28 May 2018

EAGLEHAWK NECK MAY 2018

It's getting harder and harder to see new birds, but I get more and more pleasure out of each new sighting.  Last weekend I visited Tasmania and did two pelagics out of Eaglehawk Neck.  The highlight was seeing a Westland Petrel - a new bird for me.  We had good views on Saturday, then, just for fun, more sightings on Sunday.  There were other exciting occurrences too, my first 'brocken spectre' from the plane on the way down, Sooty Albatross (more than one!), White-headed Petrels (always a favourite) and others on the boat (not me, sadly) saw a Black-bellied Storm Petrel - as far as I know, never recorded before here in May.
Westland Petrel, photo by Els Wakefield

My friend Els Wakefield was picking me up from the airport in Hobart and she said 'Come early, and we'll have a day's birding.'  She didn't have to say that twice!  I was up at 5.30 and on the 8.15 plane.  Weather was fine as we took off and flew through the cloud cover.  Above the clouds, as far as I could see in every direction was fluffy white cotton wool.  Then I saw a magnificent spectacle.  A pink ring on the clouds, with the shadow of our plane in the centre.  It was breath taking.  Clever Els told me it was called a 'brocken spectre.'  I'd never heard of it and certainly never seen one before.  A good omen I thought.

Els and I had a lovely day birding on Friday.  We saw 53 species and had a delicious lunch at the Waterfront Cafe in Dunally.  Els was delighted to show me a couple of Pink-eared Ducks - a rare vagrant in Tasmania.  I always love pinkies, but I'm afraid I didn't display as much enthusiasm for this common Victorian bird as Els thought they deserved.  For me, the highlight was a couple of Hooded Dotterels on the beach at Marion Bay.  We saw several Flame and Scarlet Robins, but dipped on Dusky.  I was a bit disappointed to see a total of 16 kookaburras during the day - I don't remember seeing that many on previous visits to Tasmania.  Laughing Kookaburras (along with Superb Lyrebirds) were introduced to Tasmania and don't belong there.

At Eaglehawk Neck, we stayed at the Lufra.  It was a special jazz weekend.  The hotel was full, the atmosphere was cheerful and the music was fantastic.

On Saturday morning, we arrived at Pirates Bay before 7, but far from the usual sleepy cove, the place was humming.  There was a fishing competition on and there must have been 50 fishing trailers all trying to launch their boats simultaneously.  There were fishermen, boats, and four wheel drives bumper to bumper.  The small group of birders who usually had the wharf to themselves had to weave their way between fishermen.  I managed to board the Pauletta without falling over - always an achievement for me.

It was a great day.  I had a list of 35 species which had ever been recorded here in May.  Of these I saw 23 on Saturday.  Other people saw more.  I saw 26 on Sunday and again, others saw more.  I didn't see the Grey Petrel others saw or the aforementioned Black-bellied Storm Petrel.  The Sooty Albatross we saw on Sunday was not on the list.
Southern Royal Albatross, photo by Els Wakefield

A Crescent Honeyeater landed on the aerial while we cruised past the Hippolytes.  I didn't see it.  I was busy watching a peregrine attacking a sea eagle.  Saturday was a day of albatross and Sunday was a day of prions.  At one stage on Saturday, we had over 50 Shy Albatross sitting around the boat.  We also saw Buller's, Campbell's, Wandering and a Southern Royal, and a couple of Sooties on Sunday. We saw several Common Diving Petrel, lots of Cape Petrel, a sprinkling of Northern Giant Petrels (with just one Southern on Sunday).  There were Soft-plumaged, White-headed, Great Winged, Grey-faced Petrels and of course, most importantly, the Westland.  As to Storm Petrels, I saw Wilson's and Grey-backed.  Others saw White-faced and, exceptionally, Black-bellied.  I was sorry I missed the Grey Petrel - it didn't hang around - but I had an inward glow from my Westland and I wasn't complaining.
Soft-plumaged Petrel, photo by Els Wakefield

It was cold.  In fact, I don't remember ever being so cold.  On Sunday, I borrowed a jumper and a neck warmer, and they helped.  So did the second cup of coffee that the skipper kindly gave me.  I must have been cold because I ring I have worn since 1970 fell off my finger.  That's never happened before.  I lost it in Els' car, but (bless her!) she found it.  We had expected choppy seas on Sunday, but it wasn't too bad at all.
White-headed Petrel, photo by Els Wakefield

Altogether a very successful weekend.  Let's face it, any time I get a lifer, it's successful.  But this was particularly enjoyable.  The Eaglehawk Neck pelagics are always very friendly and usually produce a good birdlist.  We did well.  Thanks to Paul Brooks for organizing the pelagic, to Els for all her help (and her photos), and to everyone on the boat for making it such an enjoyable weekend.

Of course, the main reason for my trip, was to see a Southern Fulmar, and in that I failed miserably.  I'll just have to go back in 2019.  What a shame.