Sunday, 9 July 2017

MY SECOND NARETHA BLUEBONNET QUEST

After my first unsuccessful attempt to see Naretha Bluebonnets in May 2016, I knew I'd have to try again.  Now, July 2017, I've just returned from my second attempt.  This time I went with Bellbird Birding Tours and my guide was Steve Potter.  In my opinion it was the perfect sized tour:  one carload.  There were three of us:  Don, Dave and me.

We left from Adelaide on Sunday 2 July 2017 and returned the following Saturday, having travelled a very comfortable 4,000 kilometres in our brand new Toyota Prado.

The first stop on that first Sunday morning was coffee by a roadside dam at Port Wakefield.  We clocked up quite a good birdlist here, including Australian Shoveler, Freckled Duck and Peregrine Falcon.  The others saw a Black Falcon, but somehow I managed to miss it.  I soon realized I was in the company of very good birders and hoped I wasn't going to miss out on too much during the rest of the week.  What if they saw Naretha Bluebonnets and I didn't?  

We drove on for lunch at Wild Dog Hill in the Whyalla Conservation Park.  Some Eastern Bluebonnets flew towards us and settled, so we could see their red bellies, yellow vents and dark blue faces.  We looked for grasswren but could only manage fairywren (Blue-breasted).  
We spent the night at Port Lincoln and I went to bed with a birdlist of 55 species.  We all agreed that the bird of the day was one cooperative Black-eared Cuckoo that sat up in the top of a dead tree so we could admire him properly.

On Monday it rained on and off all day.  We started the morning looking for Western Whipbirds in Lincoln National Park.  Last time I'd looked for these birds (with Phil Maher in October 2011) it had been uncomfortably hot.  This morning, by contrast, was uncomfortably cold.  We heard the bird.  It was very close, but quite impossible to see in the dense undergrowth.  I glimpsed a whipbird flitting fast and low, but no one had a tickable view.  We also heard Southern Scrub-robin, but couldn't see them either.  Disappointed with our failure, we walked to the coast, hoping for Rock Parrots.  We dipped there too.  This was not an auspicious start!  To cap it off, I was cold.

The next stop was Venus Bay caravan park, on the agenda because of the vagrant Laughing Gull that has taken up residence there.  I'd twitched this bird in June 2016, but I was interested to see it again, to see how its plumage had changed.  When I saw it last year, it turned up early in the morning.  We arrived at the caravan park in the middle of the day and there was no sign of the gull.  We watched pelicans holding their bills open in the rain, getting an easy drink.  We walked up and down the foreshore.  There were Pacific and Silver Gulls, Sooty and Pied Oystercatchers, about a hundred Greater Crested Terns, some Singing Honeyeaters and a couple of Red-necked Stints, but no Laughing Gull.  We had many miles to travel and could not really afford to wait around.  We were told that a woman (Joy was her name) fed the Laughing Gull (Chuckles is his name) each day at 4 p.m.  If we waited until then, how could we possibly reach our destination, the Nullarbor Roadhouse, by tonight?  It was about 500 kilometres from Venus Bay.  Steve was adamant.  He wasn't leaving without seeing Chuckles.  So we had lunch and walked around some more.  Then at 3 o'clock, an hour early, we saw Joy feeding gulls.  Sure enough, there was Chuckles flying in for his free fish.  Delighted, we all admired him appreciatively, then resumed our journey in a much more positive frame of mind.

Instead of driving 500 kilometres, we changed plans and spent the night at Ceduna.  Simple.  The next morning, we set off early to make up some distance and get back on schedule.  At the Nullarbor Roadhouse, we drove up the track beside the fence and very soon saw three Nullarbor Quailthrush.  One male sat on the track ahead of us and posed, showing us left profile, head on, then right profile.  This made me feel a little inadequate as it had taken me several attempts before I'd seen my first Nullarbor Quailthrush.  Here was Steve driving up and ticking them within minutes.  I felt a little better when we met some other birders who'd been driving up and down without a hint of quailthrush.  I'm sure they were envious of our success.

All I really cared about was seeing Naretha Bluebonnet, so I wasn't deeply upset at missing out on Western Whipbird and Rock Parrots (birds I'd seen before).  Missing the Black Falcon was entirely my own fault.  Steve told us that Naretha Bluebonnets had been seen in the Nullarbor National Park, 100 kilometres west of the roadhouse.  I wanted them on my lifelist, I didn't care which state I saw them in - South Australia was just as good as Western Australia as far as I was concerned.  If we did see them in South Australia, it would save some 1200 kilometres of driving.  So we drove into Nullarbor National Park, and travelled 13 kilometres up Koonalda Track to the old homestead.  We checked every tree, but there was no sign of bluebonnets.  We had lunch and looked again.  We had great views of Ground Cuckoo-shrikes and Crested Bellbirds, but sadly no bluebonnets.  There was nothing for it but to drive on to Western Australia.
Paul Taylor's photo of Naretha Bluebonnets on the Koonalda Track in Nullarbor National Park, May 2017.

We saw a flock of Major Mitchell Cockatoos at Madura.  Otherwise, it was a long, uneventful drive to Cocklebiddy.  We arrived at 7 p.m. South Australian time.  Our phones all automatically registered Western Australian time but, confusingly, Cocklebiddy enjoys its own time zone called 'Central Time.'  Steve summed the day up:  we had driven 800 kilometres, seen the Nullarbor Quailthrush and spent some time looking for Naretha Bluebonnet in South Australia.  We went to bed, optimistic that tomorrow we would finally crack it.  Wednesday was to be the day of the Naretha Bluebonnet.

We left the roadhouse at 7.15 a.m. and took the Rawlinna Road through Arubiddy Station.  Last time I'd done this journey the road had been impassable.  We'd made it to the station, but could go no further.  Luckily, the rain we'd had at Port Lincoln had not come this far west.  We could see that after rain the track would be extremely difficult.  In fact it was much better than I'd expected.  At Arubiddy Station, we spoke to some men, who told us the road was 'pretty bad.'  I was anxious that we'd have to turn back, but Steve negotiated the wheel ruts perfectly, and we found that the road wasn't bad at all.  We saw pipits, Grey Butcherbirds and magpies.  There were kestrels, Wedge-tailed Eagles and Brown Falcons and both Rufous and Brown Songlarks.  I felt like a child on Christmas Eve:  very soon good things were going to happen.  Altogether, we passed through 13 gates, each with its own confusing mechanism.  The twelfth gate was on the dingo fence, the boundary to Rawlinna Station.  At the thirteenth gate, a sheep was entangled in the wire, still alive, just.  The ravens were beginning to peck it.  We tried to free it.  We attempted to undo the wire at the gatepost, but it was firmly fixed in place.  There was nothing we could do.  Reluctantly, we left the poor sheep to the ravens and its inevitable painful death.

Soon afterwards, on the left, we saw a couple of windmills and a tank, and a little after that, another tank and a large stand of western myalls.  This was the spot.  We turned left and parked beside the tank.  It was 10.45 a.m.  Eagerly, we jumped out of the car and looked around for parrots.  Steve led us around the myalls, circling the tank and inspecting every tree.  After we'd looked in every direction, our optimism began to fade.  We had lunch, trying to pretend that the birds could fly in at any minute.  I had thought that the difficulty in seeing Naretha Bluebonnets was in getting to this spot.  People who dipped on the bird, could not negotiate the track.  I had thought that everyone who made it through, saw the birds.  Now I began to wonder.  Did people not report failed attempts?  We drove from the tank to the windmills and the silence in the car was palpable.  We each nurtured our own private thoughts of failure.  At 2.45, we'd been looking for the birds for four hours, and I began calculating what time we'd have to leave to get back to the roadhouse in daylight.  I wasn't very happy.
The spot to look for Naretha Bluebonnets, a tank surrounded by western myalls.

Steve suggested we try one more walk.  Sitting in the car was downright miserable, so I jumped at the suggestion of something to do.  Steve and I set off, while Dave and Don remained at the car.  We were attempting to retain a positive outlook, while gloom was descending inevitably.  Then a Rawlinna Station ute turned up and we were pleased at the opportunity to tell them about the distressed sheep caught in the fence.  Unfortunately, they had no local knowledge about where to find bluebonnets.

The ute left and Steve and I continued on our walk.  I tried hard to think positive thoughts.  How lucky we were that it hadn't rained.  Perhaps we wouldn't have made it here, if there'd been a downpour.  But what did it matter if we had made it to the tank, if there were no bluebonnets?  Suddenly, Steve whistled.  He'd seen Don in the distance, looking for us.  Dave was looking at a pair of Naretha Bluebonnets, and Don had come to get us!  Funny how one minute, you're tired and lethargic, and the next you're full of energy.  We ran all the way back.

They weren't just another tick.  They were beautiful birds.  I stood apart from the others so they couldn't see me crying.  We all admired those bluebonnets, then it was high fives all round.  No one had mentioned the turquoise face to me.  It is quite different from Eastern Bluebonnets.  The birds were much brighter and prettier than I'd thought they'd be.  But perhaps my vision was tempered by relief.

We were all delighted and set off back to the roadhouse at 3.20 p.m.  But the day wasn't over yet.  The first drama was a flat tyre.  I was accompanied by three very competent fellows who could change a tyre blindfolded.  Except that the spare was secured by a locknut.  Eventually (using the cunning device of reading the manual) we discovered the key, and those three competent fellows took precisely 14 minutes to change the tyre.  By now the sun had set.  The second drama was a kangaroo that jumped in front of the car.  Luckily, it jumped off and I hope it recovered fully.  We arrived back at the roadhouse, triumphant, at 6.30.  I needed a drink.
It took just 14 minutes for 3 competent blokes to change a tyre.

The damaged tyre was mended overnight, and we faced Thursday with four objectives:  (1) to see the Naretha Bluebonnet in South Australia; (2) to see whales at the Head of the Bight; (3) to photograph the Nullarbor Quailthrush; and (4) to see a Southern Hairy-nosed Wombat.  We achieved none.  Both the bluebonnets and the quailthrushes were a no show.  We arrived too late to see the whales (the gate closed at 5 p.m.).  And, when we went looking for wombats in the dark after tea, all we saw were a couple of Tawny Frogmouths.

On Friday, we drove to Kimba, changing our itinerary to visit Yumbarra Conservation Park to look for Scarlet-chested Parrots.  I'd seen them here with Phil Maher in October 2011.  Alas, I was not to see them in July 2017.

Saturday saw us looking for Copperback Quailthrush in Lake Gilles Conservation Park.  We had an early start and it was extremely cold.  The spinifex was covered in frost.  Steve knew several spots for quailthrush, and we checked out each one.  We saw Rufous Treecreepers and Western Yellow Robins, but not a hint of quailthrush.
The spinifex was covered in frost.

We had lunch at Arid Lands Botanic Gardens in Port Augusta, one of my very favourite places in South Australia.  I enjoyed a glass of wine to celebrate a very successful trip.  We hadn't seen everything we'd set out to see, but I'd seen my Naretha Bluebonnets and I was perfectly satisfied.













Singing Honeyeaters

Sunday, 25 June 2017

THE SIPO - AGAIN

I'm reading a book called Birders, Tales of a Tribe by Mark Cocker (lent to me by my birding mate, Philip Jackson).  It's crammed full of birdy anecdotes (all of which would mean more, I'm sure, if I knew either the people or the places).  Cocker mentions the first Collared Doves seen in Britain on 3 July 1956 at Overstrand in north Norfolk, discovered by a chap called Michael Seago.  At the time, Cocker tells us, this was a very exciting discovery.  But, very soon, the doves had invaded the country and colonised everywhere from Cornwall to Shetland.  The bird became the tenth most common bird in English gardens.  Spare a thought for Michael Seago.  His once momentous discovery has evaporated into no more than a distant memory.

That's how I feel about my SIPO.  Yes, my South Island Pied Oystercatcher.  This species used to be rare in Australia.  In 1994, Christidis and Boles did not mention it.  It simply was not on the Australian list.  In 2008, Christidis and Boles included it as a vagrant.  A vagrant used to be defined as a bird that had been recorded fewer than ten times. Today, you can see my SIPO about an hour's drive from Melbourne.

It's not as if Christidis and Boles left it out in 1994 because the bird had not been discovered.  It is not a recent split.  It was named in 1897 by Martens.  The type specimen came from Saltwater Creek on the South Island of New Zealand.  And it kept itself mainly to New Zealand.  Occasionally one would visit Australia.  I remember looking for one on the Gold Coast with Tom Tarrant in 2001.

In January this year, Philip and I flew to the Gold Coast, hired a car, and with a little effort, admired a handsome SIPO.  It was my 800th Australian bird.  It felt very special.
This is my SIPO, not at Stockyard Point in Victoria, but at Broadwater Beach in NSW in January 2017, alongside the taller Australian Pied Oystercatcher for comparison.

Yesterday, Philip and I drove not much more than an hour from Melbourne to Stockyard Point, where, with twenty or so miscellaneous birders, we watched the very same bird, on the beach amongst two dozen Australian Pied Oystercatchers.  It didn't seem special at all. (I know it's the same bird as it has an identifying tag on its leg.) 


We noted both races of Gull-billed Tern and one very beautiful Double-banded Plover in breeding plumage, then I persuaded Philip that we must rush back to the car before the tide came in completely and we had to swim back.  I found walking back difficult.  The beach is strewn with fallen trees.  Clambering over these slippery limbs with the waves constantly mocking me, hurrying to beat the tide back to the car, is not my idea of a fun day out.

Of course we made it to the car without falling into the sea, and had an uneventful drive home.  I settled down with a drink to contemplate SIPOs and the world's injustices.  I sent empathetic vibes to MIchael Seago.  The phone rang.  It was James Mustafa, telling me that there was a Little Stint at Stockyard Point!  Thank goodness the Little Stint is already safely on my lifelist (Werribee, 2008).  I don't fancy returning to do battle with those fallen trees and taunting waves.  Of course, if the Little Stint was not on my list, I'd have no choice.

Saturday, 3 June 2017

AN UNEXPECTED VISITOR

On 3 June 2017, I was returning from my morning walk, contemplating my monthly bird total.  I thought I'd seen every species of bird that was easily seen in walking distance from my home, except Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, Magpie-lark and Feral Pigeon.  I had not seen House Sparrow or Silver Gull, but I don't usually get these so close to home.  The large flock of Little Corellas that invaded my area in March, seems to have moved on.  My June total was 14 species and I figured I could expect just three more.  No sooner had I registered this thought, than a pair of Masked Lapwings flew overhead, calling.  I hadn't counted on them!  I had heard a Spotted Pardalote on 31 May, but, try as I might, I could not see it.  If I could manage to see it, it would make a welcome addition to my list.

Later in the day, I was sitting, reading, when the Noisy Miners started a war outside.  They sounded in a frenzy.  Anyone who knows me, knows what I think of Noisy Miners.  Their population has exploded beyond natural bounds.  They are extremely aggressive.  In the interest of biodiversity, they should be culled.  I went outside to see what was causing the commotion.

A small flock of miners, ably assisted by two magpies, was bombing a Tawny Frogmouth!  It sat innocently in the neighbours' almost leafless silver birch, pretending to ignore the chaos around it.  A bird I had not expected to add to my June list.
Tawny Frogmouth in the neighbours' silver birch

I've seen frogmouths at home just once before, about ten years ago.  An adult appeared in our oak tree, together with its half-grown young.  They sat in the oak for a few hours, then moved to a low evergreen shrub, at about eye height.  The next day they had gone.  Of course I looked around about, but I could not find them.

I don't see frogmouths every year.  We used to look for them at the You Yangs, around the information centre, but they are not always there.  My cousin often has them near her home in Blackburn.  Once I saw a pair at the Melbourne General Cemetery.  I have seen them nesting at Blackburn Lake, and I sometimes see them in various places at Banyule, but they are never guaranteed.  How wonderful to have one at my own back door.  Sadly, it did not stay the night, and this morning I could not find it anywhere.

Monday, 29 May 2017

EAGLEHAWK PELAGICS, MAY 2017

I'd done ten pelagics out of Eaglehawk Neck before, but I'd never been out in May, and May is supposed to be the magic month for Southern Fulmar.  I steeled myself to be cold and wet.  I knew the sea would be rough, but I didn't mind, as long as I saw my fulmar.  The boat had been out the previous weekend, and all present had not only seen my wished for fulmar, but Westland Petrel as well.  Now that would be an added bonus.

I flew to Hobart on Friday 26 May and arrived, safe and well, no thanks to Qantas, who cancelled my flight and transferred me to Jetstar.  In Hobart, I was met at the airport by the wonderful Els Wakefield, who drove me down to the Lufra at Eaglehawk Neck.  It was dark and all sorts of wildlife with a suicidal bent hopped across the road in front of the car.  Quite accustomed to this zoological display, local drivers chose not to slow down.

On Saturday morning, we set off in the dark in good spirits.  There's always something special about leaving before sunrise.  It's as if, having made the effort, you deserve to see something good.  Kelp Gulls and Sooty Oystercatchers watched unimpressed as three big blokes helped me onto the Pauletta.   I like to think that I didn't make too much of an exhibition of myself.  It was cold and the sea was more choppy than I'd have preferred, but we were all energised with expectation.  There were twelve of us on board, plus the captain and crew.

Very soon the first Shy Albatross put in an appearance, followed closely by a Buller's, then a Northern Giant-Petrel.  The day was starting well.  And the birds kept coming.  There were lots of Fairy Prions and Cape Petrels, and just a couple of Common Diving-Petrels and Great-winged Petrels.  Whenever a tern flew into sight, all binoculars were concentrated on it, hoping for something unusual.  However, the only terns we saw all day were Greater Crested and White-fronted.
White-headed Petrel, photo by James Mustafa

We saw a couple of Slender-billed Prions, a few storm petrels (all Wilson's, apart from one Grey-backed) and several other albatross:  Campbell's, Black-browed, Yellow-nosed, and a magnificent Wanderer.  We saw a Brown Skua, one Australasian Gannet, a few Black-faced Cormorants and several petrels:  Grey-faced, White-chinned, Soft-plumaged, Providence, Grey and, for me the highlight, a White-headed.  These are truly beautiful birds.  The Grey Petrel was a hit with everyone, spending a fair amount of time around the boat and giving us all a chance to admire it properly.  It was a good list of petrels.  Shame there wasn't a Westland.
Grey Petrel, photo by James Mustafa

We had quite a good bird list for the day.  I recorded 31 species.  We saw just two shearwaters:  a Sooty and a Short-tailed, and they didn't put in an appearance until the afternoon.  I try to be philosophical.  But 'quite a good bird list' is not the same as seeing a lifer, whichever way you look at it.  I consoled myself that the fulmar had not been seen the previous Saturday.  It waited until Sunday to show itself.  Perhaps it's a Seventh Day Adventist and refuses to work on Saturdays.  I told myself, I had a good chance tomorrow.
Kelp Gulls watched disdainfully, photo by James Mustafa

We were up in the dark again on Sunday.  Some Little Penguins scuttled in front of the car on our way to the jetty.  Despite predictions, it wasn't as cold as yesterday.  We'd been told to expect much worse weather.  But it was not so.  The Kelp Gulls again watched disdainfully as big strong men were required to get me onto the Pauletta.  I sat in my accustomed spot and tried to be unobtrusive for the rest of the day.  Clouds decorated the mountain tops, looking very pretty.  There was a little rain, but it didn't last long.  The seas were much calmer than the day before.  And our bird list was not as good.  I recorded just  20 species.  We visited the Hippolytes (it had been too rough yesterday) and saw a sea-eagle perched on top.  The colours of the rock were spectacular:  oranges, browns and greens.  We had a good look at a Southern Royal Albatross, which was recorded on the official trip report for the day before, but as I had not identified it myself, it wasn't on my list.

Needless to say, my fulmar chose not to show itself.  I came home disappointed.  I've put my name down for next May.  Perhaps he'll show up then.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

ONE MAY DAY AROUND RUTHERGLEN

Since my three lifers in January, birding has been quiet.  My mate, Philip Jackson and I spent a day at Werribee in March (well, half a day to be correct) and came away very pleased with a score of 83 species, or 84 if you count the scrubwren Philip saw that I didn't.  Or, 85 if you count the four Australian Pratincole we both reckoned we saw flying off into the distance never to be viewed through the scope.
Philip at Point Addis

April was disappointing.  Philip and I visited Point Addis, hoping for Rufous Bristlebird.  Philip saw one; I didn't.  Then,at the last moment, I rushed up to Southport to do a pelagic, hoping for a White-necked Petrel.  This was my fourteenth attempt to see this bird.  We saw a Tahiti Petrel and a Lesser Frigatebird, but nothing even vaguely resembled a White-necked Petrel.  So much for April.  And so much for White-necked Petrels.

I spent Tuesday 2 May birding around Rutherglen, and in that one day, saw more birds than I had for the whole of April.  I usually start my day at Rutherglen with a walk around Lake King before breakfast.  This is the lake adjacent to the caravan park.  In summer, I usually see White-breasted Woodswallows and reed warblers here.  I can look for Black-fronted Dotterels and Blue-faced Honeyeaters at any time.  So on Tuesday, I set off optimistically.  About the first bird I saw was a Eurasian Tree Sparrow, then a large, noisy flock of Pied Currawongs and far too many Common Starlings.  At the golf course, I turned towards the lake.  Four magpies on the ground gave me the evil eye, but they were on the ground.  Magpies on the ground never do any harm, I thought.  Anyway, it was only May.  Magpies don't swoop in May.  I ignored them.  But not for long.  The four of them flew up, took aim, and swooped at me!  For a second I stood in disbelief.  Then I ran.  One magpie meant it, the others were merely going through the motions.  I hot tailed it back to my motel and forgot about Lake King.  Not a good start to the day.

After breakfast, Roger drove me to Chiltern No 2 dam.  We stopped first at the ephemeral water near the Rutherglen tip.  I've seen good birds here over the years:  both sorts of snipe, several crakes and Turquoise Parrots.  Near here, people have reported Red-backed Kingfishers, but I've never seen them in Rutherglen.  This morning there were about a hundred Straw-necked Ibis, and about twenty Yellow-billed Spoonbills.  A couple of cantankerous Whistling Kites were fighting above, and a few teal, cormorants, and Australasian Grebes were mucking about in the water.  On the bank, some bored looking Maned Duck (we used to call Australian Wood Duck) loafed, with one Pink-eared Duck.  

My bird count was 30 before we arrived at No 2 dam.  It was cold but fine, so I elected to walk to the bird hide.  I was accompanied by several vocal Willie Wagtails and a couple of Restless Flycatchers.  There was a large group of Masked Lapwing standing around doing nothing, but I could see no ducks and no cormorants.  Not even a Whistling Kite, usually guaranteed here.

Then we drove to No 1 dam, where we watched Black-fronted Dotterels and Yellow-billed Spoonbills.  I often see Diamond Firetails here, but not today.  As we left, I looked for a Pied Butcherbird on the electricity wires, but all I saw was a kookaburra.

On Lake Anderson in Chiltern, a Great Egret put on a most elegant flying display for us.

We drove on to Cyanide Dam at Honeyeater Picnic Area in the Chiltern/Mt Pilot National Park.  Red Wattlebirds dominated the landscape.  I walked around the dam, admiring ubiquitous Yellow-tufted Honeyeaters and a pair of gorgeous Crested Shrike-tits.  Back at the carpark, I made coffee and hoped that Brown Treecreepers would appear.  They are usually very common in this carpark, but I'd missed them on my last visit in January, and as this species is one of the woodlands species classified as near threatened, I didn't like to think it was missing from one of its favourite haunts.  I could hear treecreepers, but I could not see them.

As soon as I had a cup of coffee in my hand (with nowhere available to put it down quickly) it all happened at once.  A pair of Scarlet Robins appeared.  I put my coffee on the ground, only spilling a little.  As I raised my binoculars to admire the Scarlet Robins, an Eastern Yellow Robin was visible behind them, and, in the same instant a treecreeper crept up the very same trunk occupied by the yellow robin.  Alas, it was a White-throated, not a Brown.  I admired the robins, and they were joined very quickly by three female Flame Robins.  Brown Thornbills gambled in the gumtrees above.  I'd quite forgotten the malicious magpies of a few hours ago.
Greenhill Dam

We drove to Greenhill Dam, the spot where I saw my first Regent Honeyeater many years ago.  We saw White-winged Choughs and Fuscous Honeyeaters.  Then it was on to Bartley's Block.  Here, I had a list of (I thought) easy requirements.  I wanted a Jacky Winter, a Red-capped Robin and a Turquoise Parrot.  I met some birders at the gate, who told me there'd been a recent release of Regent Honeyeaters.  They'd seen a female Red-capped Robin on the hill.  I thanked them and set off towards my robin.  I saw Grey Fantails, Little and Yellow-rumped Thornbills, Eastern Spinebills and a gorgeous male Golden Whistler, but no Red-capped Robin, no Jacky Winter and no Turquoise Parrot.  A Black-faced Cuckoo-Shrike flew over, distracting me.  I saw a large bright orange fungus.  Then, amongst a flock of thornbills, I saw a Speckled Warbler.  These are one of my favourite birds.  I've seen them on Skeleton Hill, but never before on Bartley's Block.

We drove up Fishers Lane looking for Grey-crowned Babblers, but had no luck.  Rog noticed that the signs that used to alert people to the possible presence of babblers had gone, and I realized it had been a while since I'd seen them here.  Later, at home, I consulted my records and found that I had not seen Grey-crowned Babblers in Chiltern since March 2009.  We deduced that they'd gone.  It was always a small flock, and their demise seemed inevitable, with no new recruits to the group.  Nevertheless I was sad.  Babblers are such happy characters.

I always think of quail-thrush when we drive along McGuiness Road, in the Mt Pilot section of the national park.  It was very quiet this morning, although, at last, I did see my Brown Treecreepers.  And I saw a very handsome male Flame Robin.

I needed a Satin Bowerbird for my annual list, so we decided to drive to Lake Kerford in Beechworth.  Rog stopped off at Woolshed Falls, so I could add Striated Thornbill to my list.  They are always present, high in the canopy, giving me a sore neck as I look up to identify them.  And, there in the carpark, playing happily on the ground out in the open, were two Speckled Warblers!  I'd never seen them at Bartley's Block before, and I'd never seen them at Woolshed Falls.  I wonder if it's been a particularly good year for Speckled Warblers.

I did not see a Satin Bowerbird at Lake Kerford, but I did see a Wonga Pigeon, another new bird for my year list.  My birdlist for the day was now at 63.  Not bad for a cold autumn day.

Back in Chiltern, we drove up Donchi Hill Road to Lapin dam.  It was cold and the birds were very quiet.  Nothing was drinking at the dam.  As I walked down the road while Rog read his newspaper, I saw Brown-headed Honeyeaters playing in the gum leaves.

Driving back to Rutherglen, I saw a flock of over fifty Magpie-larks.  Birds that breed in summer, sometimes flock in autumn.  These are the unpaired youngsters from the summer brood.  But I've never seen flocks of Magpie-larks before.  Most unusual.

For a cold autumn day, I thought I'd done very well, notwithstanding the lack of Turquoise Parrots, Jacky Winters and Red-capped Robins.  I have to leave some easy birds for my next trip to Rutherglen, which can't come soon enough as far as I'm concerned.

Sunday, 26 March 2017

PELAGIC, KIAMA, 25 MARCH 2017

Just about anyone else who saw a South Polar Skua, a Kermadec Petrel and a Gould's Petrel on the same boat trip, would be very pleased with themselves.  Me, I just can't help thinking it's unfair!  I liked these birds of course, and the close-up and personal views of Grey-faced Petrels and one magnificent Gibson's Albatross were fantastic, but I came home feeling cheated.
Gould's Petrel, photo by Brook Whylie

This was my thirteenth attempt at seeing a White-necked Petrel and I did not see one.  What am I doing wrong?  [For those of you of a pedantic nature, my previous thirteen attempts included four trips which were cancelled and nine that went out, being:  from Wollongong:  February 2008, March 2009, March 2010, February 2011, March 2012, and January 2015; from Port Stephens:  April 2012 and April 2016; and from Kiama February 2016.]  White-necked Petrels can be seen (so they say!) from Wollongong, Kiama or Sydney in January, February and March and from Port Stephens you can catch them as late as April.

Roger has (understandably) become tired of driving me interstate to chase a bird I never see.  So, on my twelfth attempt I arranged to drive to Port Stephens in February with my birding mate, Philip Jackson.  Alas! we did not get past 'Go!'  Before we left Melbourne, Mick Roderick (who organizes the Port Stephens trips) rang to say the weather forecast was abysmal and he did not believe the boat would get out.  So we never actually left home.

The January 2017 Southport pelagic saw a White-necked Petrel and the February 2017 Kiama pelagic had unprecedented views of them - several birds, close to the boat.  At one stage, I'm told those present thought one bird might land on the deck.  There's also been some seawatch sightings.  2017 seemed to be the year of the White-necked Petrel.  And I was missing out.

So I turned up for the Kiama pelagic on 25 March 2017 full of expectation.  The weather forecast was pretty good - smooth seas, light rain developing in the afternoon.  All the ducks were lining up in a row.  If only the White-necked Petrels would do the same.

The boat left on the dot of 7.30, full of optimistic, expectant birders.  There were three other Victorians present, all of whom had travelled up to New South Wales, in the hope of seeing a White-necked Petrel.  I couldn't help wondering if they, too, had made twelve previous attempts.  I thought I really had earned that bird.

We started off with lots of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters and a sprinkling of Australasian Gannets.  Then some eagle-eyed participant spied a storm petrel in the distance.  It turned out to be Wilson's - the first of several we saw during the day, and the only storm petrel species we saw.

Then a Shy Albatross defied its name and flew close to the boat.  I guess we saw half a dozen or more throughout the day.  Next was a Pomarine Jaeger.  Either the one bird stayed loyal to the boat or we saw six or seven individual birds.  I never saw more than one bird at a time.

There was a buzz of excitement as a skua flew over.  I looked up, viewed the bird in my binoculars and wrote in my notebook 'Brown Skua.'  The bird flew past the boat and all the expert seabirders on board paid it more attention than I did.  Very quickly the call went up 'South Polar Skua!'
South Poloar Skua, photo by Brook Whylie

I've only seen one South Polar Skua before.  That was off Wollongong in February 2008 (when I was actually looking for a White-necked Petrel).  That skua was a delicious iced coffee colour, and, in my ignorance, I thought, if I ever see one of them again, I'll know it.  Now I know that the Wollongong bird was a light phase bird.  Today's bird was an intermediate phase.  If I ever happen to see a dark phase, I'll certainly write it down as Brown Skua.  Traps for beginners.  I recall all the skuas I saw in the Antarctic, and how difficult they were to identify.

We saw hundreds of Wedge-tailed and Flesh-footed Shearwaters and scores of Grey-faced Petrels - they seemed to take it in turns to predominate.  Lindsay banded 21 Wedge-tailed Shearwaters and captured four that had been banded previously.  He also banded several Grey-faced Petrels and, for the first time, I had eye to eye contact with these beautiful birds.  They certainly look different up close.  They are handsome flying overhead, but they are exceptionally becoming in the hand.

We saw several Providence Petrels that the New South Wales boys insisted on calling Solander's - although I note that the official SOSSA checklist we were given lists them as Providence, with Solander's as an alternative name.

One lone White-faced Heron flew very high and very determinedly out to sea.  Where could he be going?

A couple of Short-tailed Shearwaters flew past at a distance, not hanging around to enjoy our company or our burleigh.

I still hadn't given up on my White-necked Petrel when a magnificent Gibson's Albatross flew in.  She sat on the water so we could all admire her appropriately.  Then Lindsay netted her and we all had the chance of admiring her again, much closer.  Truly, a breathtakingly beautiful bird.

We saw (I think) four Hutton's Shearwaters, but no Fluttering, which was surprising, as they have been seen on every March pelagic until today.  The other surprising omissions from our list were Kelp Gull and Arctic Jaeger.
Kermadec Petrel, photo by Brook Whylie

A Kermadec Petrel flew around the boat, giving everyone a view, and a Gould's Petrel did likewise.  If I hadn't had my heart set on a White-necked Petrel, this would have made a very good day at sea.  They were handsome birds.  Birds I don't see every day.  But they weren't White-necked Petrels!  

Monday, 27 February 2017

SUMMER'S OVER!

This morning, 28 February, I did my walk early, as the forecast is for another scorcher.  It was my last walk this summer, my 52nd for the season.  In total, I recorded 26 species of birds.  I recorded five species on every walk (Spotted Dove, Rainbow Lorikeet, Noisy MIner, Australian Magpie and Common Myna).  I added four new species to my walking birdlist:  Great Cormorant, White-faced Heron, Australian King Parrot and Pacific Koel.  The largest number of species I recorded on any half-hour walk was 14, which I did on five occasions.  The smallest number was 6, which I did just once.  The average number of species per walk was 11.
Australian King Parrot, a new bird for my Kew walking list

February was quite disappointing really.  I had my heart set on a pelagic out of Port Stephens, which was cancelled (because of bad weather) before I left home.  This would have been my eleventh trip to New South Wales in search of the elusive White-necked Petrel.  To sprinkle salt onto my wounds, the February pelagic out of Kiama saw four White-necked Petrels!  What's more, they had excellent, close views.

Perhaps I expected too much from February because January was so good.  In January, I had two unexpected and successful interstate twitches:  the SIPO (my 800th bird) and the as yet still unidentified gull in Darwin.  And then there was the dear little Buff-breasted Sandpiper at Lake Murdeduke.  No wonder I was hopeful that February could produce similar gems.
James at Lake Murdeduke

The month did have its moments.  There were Pilotbirds and lyrebirds at Tarra Bulga, and a Broad-billed Sandpiper at Werribee (a Victorian tick for me).  Werribee also produced a Ruff in the T-Section, and a very large number of Red-kneed Dotterels - a bird I did not see at all in 2016.
Tarra Bulga National Park, the best place for Pilotbirds

Fred Smith always said that rare waders turn up in Victoria in March.  Unfortunately, my records show that I have never seen a new wader in Victoria in March.  This might be my month.  I live in hope.