Saturday, 1 August 2020

MY RECORD BREAKING WALK

When I posted a blog yesterday, I had no intention of doing another one today.  But when I went for my walk this morning, I recorded a record number of birds.  So I had no choice.  I had to post another blog.

Yes, I recorded 20 species of birds on my walk this morning.  Not a huge number, but it's only a half hour walk, so it's not too bad.  Of course, I've only been doing this walk since January, and was forced to take June and July off, so it's not really much of a record.  In January the largest number of birds I recorded was 16; in February it was 15, in March and April, 18 and May 17.  So 20 isn't too bad, especially as it is winter, and I didn't count that pesky unidentified raven, so really it should be 21.

I saw 3 species I didn't see yesterday:  Maned Duck (which we used to call Wood Ducks); Crested Pigeon (unusual for here) and Noisy Miner (unwelcome everywhere!).  Birds I heard this morning that I didn't hear yesterday were:  Long-billed Corella (no Little Corellas here, although they are at nearby Eltham), Common Bronzewing, Spotted Pardalote, Grey Fantail and Common Myna (thus spoiling my record of no exotic species).  When I returned home, there was a White-eared Honeyeater splashing in my bird bath and a White-browed Scrubwren playing with the fairywrens outside my window.  All pretty good for winter.

As I was walking home this morning, I heard the Crested Pigeon, but confess I didn't immediately identify the call.  I knew it was a pigeon, and our most common pigeon is the Common Bronzewing and I knew the call was not that.  I'd heard a Spotted Dove a few days ago, and I knew it wasn't that.  As I looked skyward, I saw a Welcome Swallow flying very high (a bird I would otherwise have missed from my list), then the Crested Pigeon flew into view.  As soon as I saw it, I chastised myself for not having identified its call.  Of course that's what it was!  I should have known that.  I walked a little further on, and, heard the Common Bronzewing calling too.

Keeping a bird list as I do my daily exercise was intended to make the chore less boring.  It has worked!  I now think of my walk as a birding excursion, not my daily constitutional at all.

I have found another birding game to play during this enforced lockdown monotony.  I keep a record of all the birds I see on TV.  I've only been playing this a few days and I already have quite a nice little list.  I have Greater Flamingos and a Long-tailed Widowbird in Senegal, Mute Swans and Canada Geese near London, a Marsh Harrier and a Grey Heron on the Loire and this morning I added a House Crow in Delhi.  No wonder they call us 'listers' in America!

Friday, 31 July 2020

AUGUST ALREADY!

Goodness!  It's August already!  Only one month of winter to go.

To celebrate the first of August, I decided to go for a walk.  This is the first walk I have done since I broke my hip on 30 May, so it was a bit of an adventure.  Usually, I walk every day.  I don't go far:  I walk for half an hour.  In Kew, I had four different walks I did in turn.  Here, in Warrandyte, I live on a dead-end road, so there's no choice.  I have only one walk:  up the road and back again.  Today, my half hour walk took me just over 35 minutes (and I paused to take a photo) so I was very pleased with my first effort.

I went early, hoping to avoid the dog walkers.

As I locked my front door (hardly necessary, but force of habit) I heard Striated Pardalotes calling from the gum trees.  I had a quick look, but they proved elusive.  Truth is, I wasn't game to go bush bashing.  I'm used to hearing Spotted Pardalotes here, the striated ones are not quite so common.

Then I was greeted by a magpie, then a beautiful Sulphur-crested Cockatoo landed right beside me and raised his magnificent crest just to show it off.  A Crimson Rosella called, but would not show himself.

Somehow the hill has become more steep in the few weeks I've been absent.  I struggled on, being serenaded by Red Wattlebirds and Magpie-larks.  A distant kookaburra laughed at me.  Fair enough, I did look pretty funny.  Then the world was taken over by Pied Currawongs:  dozens of them, whistling and calling from the treetops.  I was surrounded.  There was no hope of seeing or hearing anything else.

They had quietened down a little by the time I turned the corner.  A Grey Butcherbird sang his musical song.  These birds I hear often, but I see them less frequently.  This morning I was lucky.  The butcherbird sat in the sunshine, singing his heart out.

I heard ravens too.  When I was in Kew, I would have happily written down 'Little Raven' but some spoilsport told me there were just as many Australian Ravens as Little Ravens in Warrandyte.  I believe him, but I can't tell the difference.  Unless I see the Little Raven flip his wings when he alights, there're all just ravens to me.  I know Australian Ravens have gular hackles, but I can't see that as they fly overhead.  Other birders can tell the difference by their calls, but I'm afraid this eludes me.

I could hear Noisy Miners, but wasn't altogether sorry that I couldn't see them.  They remain just occasional visitors to my property.  Long may it stay that way!

I'd seen just one other walker by the time I turned for home.  Two cars had driven past.  Two pairs of Galahs flew overhead, calling in case I hadn't seen them, followed quickly by a pair of Rainbow Lorikeets.  I like having these colourful parrots in small numbers.  They haven't taken over here, as they have in some suburbs.  Near the bend, someone had put a teddybear into a tree, bringing a smile to my lips, something we need more of in these troubled times.



I was nearly home when  pair of Eastern Rosellas flew into a nearby tree, adding a splash of colour to the morning.

Back at home, the pardalotes had stopped calling, so I didn't feel obliged to go bush bashing.  Instead, as I unlocked my front door, plovers called from the river, adding Masked Lapwing to my list.

Not a record breaking list, but I'm pleased to say that there were no exotics on it.  I usually have Common Mynas along my road, and the other day I heard a Spotted Dove calling.  Today, they were all natives.  I recorded just 14 species, not counting the unidentified raven.  I probably would have seen the same number in Kew, but there certainly would have been a few exotic species there.

Sunday, 21 June 2020

'FLIGHT LINES' by Andrew Darby

What a wonderful book!

This book should be on the must read list of every birder, every conservationist and everyone who cares about global warming.  It is essential reading.

Flight Lines is eminently readable - the first requirement I look for in a book, and one where a surprising number of otherwise good books fail.

Darby follows two Grey Plovers on their migration from Thompson Beach north of Adelaide to Wrangel Island, a tiny Russian dot in the Arctic Ocean.  On the way he pauses to give us a glimpse of his love affair with Spoon-billed Sandpipers.  There is much depressing information about mankind's efforts to annihilate waders' habitat, but yet, there is a little uplifting news too, such as the fact that China has banned reclamation in the Bohai Sea area (p. 250).

I'm sure I'm not alone in getting a thrill of seeing someone I've met mentioned in a book.  There are lots of 'names' here:  from Clive Minton to Nigel Jacket, Adrian Boyle and Chris Hassell, from Stephen Garnett to Denis Abbott.

In passing Darby notes (p. 220) that there are 828 Australian bird species.  I'd love to know how he came up with this figure.  I've seen 827 and I still have a few to go (Black-eared Catbird, White-throated Grasswren, Swinhoe's Snipe and famously, White-necked Petrel - also quite a few rarer ones such as Garganey).

If I am permitted one complaint:  it is the index.  I had thought we birders had made our opinion abundantly clear when CSIRO published 'The Australian Bird Guide' (Menkhorst et al) in 2017 and indexed Grey Plover under 'G' instead of 'P.'  To see Allen & Unwin following suit three years later is most disappointing.  We cannot allow this unbearably un-userfriendly trend to become the norm.  I am not pretending to be an expert on indexing, but I have been looking things up in indexes for over sixty years and I look for Grey Plover under 'P' not 'G'!  If he wants to be consistent, why doesn't he index Clive Minton under 'C'?  (Incidentally, I've never heard of a Dunlin being called a 'Dunlin Plover.')

It's a shame about the index.  In my opinion, this stops an excellent book from being perfect.

Saturday, 13 June 2020

BIRDING IS DANGEROUS!

On Saturday, 30 May 2020, delighted to be freed of the constraints of lockdown, I went birding.  First stop Dandenong Valley wetlands where I admired a Brown Goshawk and several Little Lorikeets.  I had really wanted to see some crakes and secretly hoped for a bittern.  However, there was nothing special.  I didn't mind.  It was wonderful to be in the field again.  I hadn't been birding since my Kiama pelagic in February.
I really wanted to see a crake.  This beautiful photo of an Australian Crake was taken by Ken Haines.


On the way home, I thought I'd call in to Jumping Creek Reserve, but the road was closed.  Later, I learnt that many reserves had been closed because people had embraced the freedom to visit parks so enthusiastically that there was overcrowding.  Appropriate social distancing was not possible and the 


easiest solution was to close various parks.

Instead, I visited Koornung, which has been on my list of places I wanted to check out ever since I moved to North Warrandyte.  A pleasant bush track follows the river.  This is very close to where I live and the birds were much the same.  Lots of parrots, thornbills, honeyeaters.  Happily thinking of no more than what I'd have for lunch, I tripped on a tree root and ended up flat on my face in the mud.  Alas, I was hurt.  Turned out I broke my hip.  Into the Austin hospital (thanks to all those wonderful neighbours who rallied around and helped) where they operated on Sunday.

By Monday I was facing up to physio and by Wednesday 3 June I was home.

Whenever I start to feel sorry for myself, I look out the window.  Invariably a fairywren hops past, a spinebill flits to the birdbath or a scrubwren forages in my garden.  No medicine could aid my recovery as well as the sight of a delightful little fairywren.

Monday, 30 March 2020

MY MORNING WALK

To quote Gordon Macrae, 'Oh, what a beautiful morning!'

I've just about settled in to Warrandyte.  My daily walks are very different from my walks in Kew.  There are fewer people, no footpaths and different birds.  There is only one exotic species on my walk list:  that is the Common Myna.  Unfortunately, I see it every day.  There were more exotics in Kew.  I remember Common Starlings, Common Blackbirds, Spotted Doves.  Goldfinches were rare, but they were on the list.

This morning was dark and cold so I did not jump out of bed early as usual.  What is there to get up for at the moment?  Consequently, it was a little later when I set off on my walk.  I've always said the birds are at their best between 8 and 9 in the morning.  They certainly were today.
Crimson Rosella
There was mist along the river, but the sun was shining and the sky was blue.  A Common Bronzewing flushed from my front yard as I set off, the first of four I was to see on my walk.  A pair of Red Wattlebirds played tag in my big dead gum tree and an Eastern Rosella sat in the sun looking very colourful.  A Grey Butcherbird serenaded me and a Spotted Pardalote danced in the branches above my head.

I haven't worked out how many Magpie-larks there are in my street.  There are at least four, could be more.  I don't always see them, but I always hear them.

I don't walk far.  As in Kew, I walk for fifteen minutes, then turn back for home, giving me half an hour's exercise.  Until today, the most species I have seen on a walk was 16, which I did once in January.  Today, I recorded 18 species.  A nice way to end the month.

Australian King Parrot
I usually see both local rosellas, king parrots, cockies, Long-billed Corellas and Rainbow Lorikeets.  This morning I did not see Rainbow Lorikeets.  Nor did I see Pied Currawongs, a bird I often see, and usually hear.  I did see one lone Galah, flying overhead and squawking at me.

As usual, I heard kookaburras.  They are quite common in Warrandyte.

I had two unusual records this morning.  One was a Fan-tailed Cuckoo that I heard several times, but alas, I could not see.  The other was Brown Thornbills.  They are not rare here, but I usually see them in my backyard, not on my walk.  This morning I saw three separate flocks.  They were low in the shrubbery and very friendly.  They really wanted to get onto my list.

It was a great start to the day.  Nice to be able to say something positive in these unhappy times.

Monday, 24 February 2020

MY ETERNAL QUEST FOR A WHITE-NECKED PETREL

Every February I travel to New South Wales to do a pelagic in search of the elusive White-necked Petrel.  In recent years boats go from Kiama.

This year I was fortunate when Ken Haines said he was driving up and offered me a lift.  Pelagics from Kiama go on the fourth Saturday of the month.  This year there was an additional trip going on Sunday, so I had double the chance of seeing my bird.

We left on Thursday afternoon and spent the night at Glenrowan caravan park, because Ken had heard it was a good spot for Turquoise Parrots.  And so it proved to be.
Turquoise Parrot, photo by Ken Haines

A water fountain outside the caravan park office attracted a variety of birds, including a sprinkling of Turquoise Parrots.  Walking around the park we saw perhaps thirty of the parrots, in groups of two or three, on the ground or in the trees.  We were satisfied that we'd made the right decision to stop in Glenrowan.  Excellent views of Speckled Warblers confirmed this opinion.  We also saw White-browed Babblers, Peaceful Dove and a single Rainbow Bee-eater.  We did not see Double-barred Finches, which we were told were usually present.
Speckled Warbler, photo by Ken Haines

Pleased with our birdlist we returned to our cabin for tea.  Sitting on the veranda, Ken called me outside to witness a spectacular flyby of Turquoise Parrots.  They came, and they kept coming.  Ken estimated there were at least 150 birds.  Thank you, Glenrowan!

On Friday we drove to Wingdang where we'd booked a cabin right beside the water.  We saw 49 birds on Friday, highlights being Oriental Dollarbirds, a Jacky Winter, my first Sooty Oystercatcher for the year, a Caspian Tern and a Little Eagle.

I don't know why but I awoke on Saturday feeling very confident.  Surely 2020 would be the year I finally saw my White-necked Petrel.  I boarded the boat in a positive mood.  There'd been a cyclone on Lord Howe Island and strong easterly winds could have blown all sorts of exciting birds into our path.
Wedge-tailed Shearwater, photo by Brook Whylie

We saw lots of shearwaters and several shy-type albatrosses.  We saw gannets and gulls and a sea-eagle.  There were a few Pomarine Skuas (but no other jaegers), one Black-browed Albatross and one White-tailed Tropicbird.  At one stage, we thought we had a Black Petrel, but this suggestion was later rejected by the experts.  As well as the usual Greater Crested Terns, we also saw Common Terns.  The most exciting bird of the day was a very cooperative Streaked Shearwater, happy to give us all excellent views.  But there was no hint of a White-necked Petrel.
Hutton's Shearwater, photo by Brook Whylie

On Sunday, again I thought I was in with a chance.  A different day and different birds.  Sadly, even fewer than yesterday.  The day's total was just 13 species, not very impressive at all. The only bird we saw on Sunday that we hadn't seen on Saturday was a Brown Booby - an unusual bird for Kiama.  The bird of the day for me was a Fluttering Shearwater that sat beside the boat giving us all a very good look.
Fluttering Shearwater, photo by Ken Haines

We spent Sunday night in Goulburn and drove home to Melbourne on Monday.  We had plenty of time and decided to treat ourselves to a quick peak at Chiltern's No 1 and No 2 dams.  There were few birds at No 1.  It was warm and the wrong time of day for passerines.  Nevertheless we continued on to No 2.  Again, very few birds.  Pelicans and teal on the water, fairywrens and Red-rumped Parrots in the bush.  Very disappointed, we were attempting to call up a Fuscous Honeyeater, when Ken suddenly saw a large raptor circling the dam.  He drew my attention to it and I was initially confused.  It was large and pale and had bulls' eyes characteristic of a Black-breasted Buzzard, a bird we don't get in Victoria.  This bird did not have a black breast.  However, the bulls' eyes were obvious and diagnostic.  Looking at the illustrations in 'The Australian Bird Guide' when I was home, I decided it was an immature bird.  It did not have the rich rufous of a juvenile, but was splotchy with some rufous and some grey:  the outstanding feature was those characteristic bulls' eyes.  A very exciting record for Victoria.

So I returned home, celebrating my buzzard rather than lamenting the lack of a White-necked Petrel.





Tuesday, 11 February 2020

KENTISH PLOVER

2020 is starting quite well.  We've had an unidentified shelduck at Werribee, a split in the Graceful Honeyeater giving us a new species (Cryptic Honeyeater in FNQ) and a twitch to Kurnell near Sydney for a Kentish Plover.

I flew to Sydney on 11 January.  The bird had not been seen for several days, despite people looking for it on at least two days.  I thought I'd probably miss out but it was certainly worth a go.

I flew to Sydney, picked up a hire car, drove to Captain Cook Drive, parked opposite the skate park.  Arrived at 9.30.  Walked up and down the beach.  Tide was wrong and there were few waders.  I'd been told the optimum tide would be about noon.  The bird had been seen associating with Red-capped Plovers.

Some time after noon, I found a flock of Red-capped Plovers and my heart leapt.  I examined each bird in the flock.  I think there were 13.  But no Kentish Plover.

By 1 o'clock I'd decided the Kentish Plover had moved on.  I'd visited all the spots where the bird had been seen.

I decided to walk further up the beach.  I knew the bird would not be there because there were lots of noisy kids and dogs.  But I had nothing better to do until my flight home.

Suddenly, in the midst of the noisiest part of the beach, there was a different wader.  I had thought it would look very like a Red-capped Plover.  (My early bird books regard the Kentish Plover as a race of the Red-capped.)  But it did not.  It was much paler and easily identified.  A successful twitch is always a good feeling.  But this dear little bird felt particularly good because I'd been sure that I'd missed out.

A wonderful start to 2020!

Kentish Plover

Kentish Plover