Sunday, 30 December 2012


I achieved seven lifers in 2012 and (while I was disappointed with my annual tally) I did see some good birds.

Without a doubt my best bird of the year in 2011 was the Scarlet-chested Parrot.  Philip Maher showed them to me.  There were over a hundred of them at Yumbarra Conservation Park north of Ceduna in South Australia.  They were curious and flew in close to look at us.  It was a spectacular sight and a memorable experience.  And a very easy choice for bird of the year.

Scarlet-chested Parrot, photo by Jim Smart

This lovely photo was taken by Jim Smart, who I met on a pelagic out of Port Stephens last April, when I was hoping to see a White-necked Petrel.  We went out on a Saturday and did not see the bird.  Others went out the following day and they did see the petrel!  Such are the frustrations of birding.  I will have to try again next year.  Who knows, it might be my bird of the year for 2013.

For 2012, my bird of the year is not quite so obvious as last year's Scarlet-chested Parrot.  There is more than one contender.  I am tempted to nominate a grasswren, as (thanks to Peter Waanders) I had excellent views of four species, and two of these were lifers.  One of the lifers was particularly special, as I had spent much time looking for it unsuccessfully myself.  That was the Grey Grasswren, and a very beautiful little bird it turned out to be.  The other lifer was the Eyrean Grasswren, and that was very special too.  Peter also showed me a Banded Whiteface, another lifer for me and another possible contender for nomination. 

Another lifer I achieved in 2012 was the Chiming Wedgebill.  This one I got by myself.  I had thought of this bird as the last easy bird I had to see, and, sure enough, we drove to the designated spot (Dresley Creek in South Australia), stopped the car and heard the bird.  It took another five minutes and I had great sightings.  I thought at the time, that no other lifer would ever be quite so easy.  Then the Franklin's Gull turned up at Paynesville in Victoria, my home state.  It could not have been easier.

However, although the grasswrens were very beautiful, I have decided on the Grey Falcon as my bird of the year.  Peter Waanders found that for me too.  I had hoped to see one of course, but I had not expected it, so it was an added thrill.  It was so elegant, seen beside comparatively chunky Brown Falcons.  They were on a communications tower at Cowarie Station in far north South Australia.  An absolute delight.  A difficult bird, one I'd always hoped, but as I say never expected, to see.  Sean Dooley (who achieved the remarkable feat of seeing over 700 birds in one calendar year) refers to the Grey Falcon as a "mythical bird."  It is not an easy bird to tick and well deserves to be my bird of the year.

Now I look forward to 2013 and wonder what birding delights it holds in store.

Friday, 21 December 2012


This year has not been very successful for me bird-wise, that is to say, I didn't see as many species as I'd have liked.  However, I did manage to see seven new Australian birds and I haven't done that for the last couple of years.  Nor do I imagine I'll do it again soon.  My life total is now 719.  The best bird for the year was probably the Grey Falcon, which I had hoped, but not expected, to see.  Such an elegant bird, compared with the positively chunky Brown Falcons beside him.

My plans for 2013 include looking for five new birds, all of which I've looked for on previous occasions.  It's just the hard ones left now.  I will return to Port Stephens in April and look again for the White-necked Petrel.  (Last year, I went out on the Saturday; the bird was seen by others on the Sunday.)  I have booked again to do a pelagic out of Port MacDonnell in June in the hope of seeing a Slender-billed Prion.  Now that shouldn't be too hard, should it?  This year the June Port Mac Donnell trip was cancelled.  Then, I'm hoping to see a Kalkadoon Grasswren at Mt Isa, an Eastern Grass Owl on the Atherton Tableland and a Rufous Scrub-bird at Lamington National Park.  I've been to Lamington (I think) five times (as well as Barrington Tops), and have heard the wretched scrub-bird many times.  I've been so close its call hurt my ears.  But I've never seen it.  It's certainly challenging (and sometimes a little depressing) to search for the same bird over and over and over again.  Still, I'm not going to see him if I sit at home in Melbourne.  Let's hope that, by this time next year, I'll have clocked up another five Australian species.  Bring it on!

Friday, 14 December 2012


I thought I'd finished birding for the year, and was looking at my "Birds Not Yet Seen" list and wondering how much I could persuade Roger to do during 2013, when Rog announced that we were out of sherry, so must do another trip to Rutherglen.  That was welcome news.  We go to Rutherglen quite frequently, and enjoy birding in Chiltern, around Rutherglen, and often around Beechworth and at Lake Moodemere.  Our trips are usually quite short.  We drive to Rutherglen in a leisurely fashion (often lunching at Fowles on the way), stay at the Wine Village Motel, spend the next day birding, pick up our sherry from Pfeiffer's, then drive home.  A very pleasant interlude.  On this occasion, we drove up to Rutherglen on Wednesday 12 December.

Chiltern No 2 Dam, where all the action was

On Thursday, 13 December, we didn't leave the motel until after 9 a.m. and it was already hot - 30 according to our car's thermometer.  We stopped briefly at the ephemeral swamp near the Rutherglen tip.  There were lots of birds, but no crakes and nothing really special.  We drove on to Chiltern No 2 dam, and I was delighted to see that a new walking track has been constructed from the gate to the bird hide.  This bird hide is one of those stupid, noisy ones where the birds see you coming and skedaddle.  But the new walking track was most inviting.  Sacred Kingfishers scolded me, many White-browed Woodswallows and Fuscous Honeyeaters played in the trees above my head, unfazed by the heat.  I was looking for shade all the way and one Dollarbird sat in a dead tree looking at me, no doubt wondering if I were a mad dog or an Englishman.  Unfortunately, I saw many rabbits.  We sometimes see hares here, but not today.  Rog drove along Nankeen Track and met me at the hide.  Then, he read his newspaper and I went birding.  I could hear an Olive-backed Oriole calling, and decided to investigate.  I disturbed a couple of kangaroos and was distracted by the call of a Black-chinned Honeyeater, which would have been a new bird for the year, if I could see it.  I walked in the direction of the call, and was suddenly in the middle of so many birds I didn't know which way to point my binoculars.  There were lots of woodswallows, mainly White-browed, but some Dusky too.  Both had young.  There were Willie Wagtails, Restless Flycatchers and Rufous Songlarks (also with young).  There were just a few Eastern Rosellas, lots of White-plumed Honeyeaters, White-winged Trillers, Grey Shrike-thrushes, Rufous Whistlers (all female that I saw) and Sacred Kingfishers still scolding me.  I heard Striated and Spotted Pardalotes, and at least one Horsfield's Bronze-Cuckoo.  I gave up on the oriole and saw a Little Friarbird.  The Black-chinned Honeyeaters stopped calling and I didn't see them.  I could hardly complain.  It had been a breathtaking experience.  So many beautiful birds.

We visited No 1 Dam, and there I saw my Black-chinned Honeyeater.  And lots of Diamond Firetails.  The firetails were present last time we visited.  It would be good to know I could rely on seeing them here.  They are such pretty little birds.  At Cyanide Dam, a spot we reliably see Brown Treecreepers, today I saw a White-throated Treecreeper.  A Willie Wagtail was feeding two fledgelings near the dam.  White Ibis, a Little Pied Cormorant and Australasian Grebes were enjoying the water.  This was good to see as the dam had been quite dry during the drought.

It was still hot (40 now according to the car) so we went back to our motel for lunch.  Afterwards we drove to Lake Moodemere.  I go there for White-backed Swallows, but didn't see any today.  I spotted a Little Eagle along the way.  An Australian Reed-Warbler at Lake King at around 4 o'clock, brought my day's total to 72 species - not bad in 40 degree heat, when I didn't start birding till after 9, stopped for lunch and finished just after 4.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012


We are home from Tasmania now.  We flew down for the weekend so I could go out on a pelagic on the "Pauletta" on Sunday.  Being Tasmania, it was cold.  It was also a little wet at times.  It was a good day and we saw some lovely birds, but, sadly, no ticks.
Setting off on the Pauletta

This was my sixth and final pelagic for the year, and I had hoped for something special.  Well, we did see something special, but it wasn't a bird.  It was a pod of bottle-nosed dolphins.  They played around the boat for a while, then two jumped high out of the water, and appeared to twist around each other in mid air, before returning to the sea.  They did this twice and it was quite spectacular.  I had thought that such behaviour was a trick taught to dolphins for circus crowds; I had no idea it was a natural expression of exuberance.

As to the birds, my tally for the day was just 17 species.  The only new bird for the year was White-chinned Petrel - and we saw lots.  We also saw both Southern and Northern Giant-Petrels and (even better) both Southern and Northern Royal Albatross.  We also saw several Wandering Albatross (or perhaps the same bird several times) and just one Yellow-nosed.  As usual off Tasmania, the most numerous albatross was the Shy.  We saw Black-browed and just one Campbell's.

Others on the boat saw Grey-backed and Wilson's Storm-Petrels:  I saw just White-faced.

Sadly, there is little else to report.  This was the first Tasmanian pelagic I've ever done without seeing a Sooty Shearwater.  (The boat had gone out the day before and seen just one Sooty amongst a flock of Short-tailed.  That would be useful for me, to help hone my pathetic identification skills.)  Of course there were Kelp Gulls, Black-faced Cormorants and Australasian Gannets.

I didn't have time to look for all the endemics, always a satisfying challenge on a Tasmanian trip.  There were plenty of Tasmanina Native-hen beside the road, and I couldn't miss the Yellow Wattlebirds and Green Rosellas.  As I didn't look, I didn't see any others.  As usual, there were plenty of Crescent Honeyeaters in Pirates Bay.

Now it is time to start thinking about 2013.  How can I do better next year?

Thursday, 29 November 2012


Roger drove me up to Canberra, where I was to launch my new book at the National Library.  We stopped at Rutherglen (where there was an infestation of White-browed Woodswallows) and visited Chiltern (where we saw and heard a pair of Leaden Flycatchers).  The next day we stopped at Wonga Wetlands in Albury (where there were lots of Sacred Kingfishers, but I could only find one Azure Kingfisher, and no Red-backed at all).

Wonga Wetlands

From Albury, we drove to Cootamundra and spent a happy couple of days birding in the vicinity.  We enjoyed Jindalee National Park and had good birding at Stockinbingal, notably a noisy flock of Grey-crowned Babblers at Felix Fallon Bridge.  I did the Migurra Walk near Cootamundra a couple of times, but was not rewarded with the usual special sightings.  One foolish Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike had constructed its nest very high in a dead tree.  It had no shelter at all and the temperature was uncomfortably high.  The poor bird must have almost cooked.  On the way to Canberra, we stopped at Bowning and admired beautiful Superb Parrots and one lone Dollarbird.  Then came my big day.

Here I am, at the bookshop in the National Library, holding my new book, "John Gould's Extinct and Endangered Birds of Australia."  (The photo was taken by my girlfriend, Helen.)  I was honoured to have Joe Forshaw officially launch my book. The National Library has done a stunning job of it, so of course everyone said nice things about it.  Now comes all the media attention, and inevitable fame and fortune.

Sunday, 18 November 2012


Me with my cousin Liz and her partner Liz looking at waders

Yesterday, Rog and I took my cousin, Liz, and her partner, also Liz, to Werribee for the day.  Neither of them had been there before, and while my cousin had a pleasant day doing her sudoku in the back seat, I think it's true to say that each of us had a good time in his or her own way.  Some of us even enjoyed the birds.  Melbourne's Western Treatment Plant, about an hour's drive west of the city, is, without a doubt, the top birding site in the state.  Highlights for me were excellent views of an Australian Spotted Crake, lots of Banded Stilts, wonderful close sightings of Red-necked Avocets swishing their chic bills from side to side as they fed, and terrific views of several Blue-billed Ducks, true to their name, with the bluest possible bills.  I scored two new birds for my annual list:  Common Greenshank (how had I missed on these until November I don't know) and Pacific Golden Plovers (sheltering from the wind in the samphire behind Kirk's Point).

Freckled Duck at Werribee

We had lunch at the borrow pits, commencing with a refreshing bubbly provided by Cousin Liz.  Here a fellow birder informed us that he'd seen 55 Freckled Ducks south of Lake Borrie, so, as soon as the bottle was empty, we hurried over to Lake Borrie to scan the ducks.  Most of them were pinkies, with a scattering of teal and pelicans, but not a Freckled Duck in sight.  Not to be stymied quite so easily, my clever husband drove to a lagoon south of Borrie and quickly and expertly located the Freckled Ducks.  I didn't count them, but it was a sizable flock and I'm happy to accept that there were 55.  A big thank you to that friendly birder.  A lifer for Liz!  And a day well spent for us all.  Some of us reaped rewards admiring waders, some from completing difficult sudokus.  A bottle of bubbly and a couple of annual ticks will do it for me any day.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012


What an exciting day I had yesterday!  The National Library of Australia flew me up to Canberra to do my very first television interview to promote my new book, "John Gould's Extinct and Endangered Birds of Australia."

Me being interviewed for television!

The National Library had taken all Gould's volumes of "The Birds of Australia" out of archives for the occasion.  You can see some of them on the table behind me.  We weren't allowed to touch them, but we could admire them, and they were beautiful!

Perhaps it's not as much fun as seeing a Franklin's Gull (let's be honest, it's nowhere near as much fun) but it was diverting, and quite a new experience for me.  The interviewer and I chatted for a while and I am hopeful that they can edit it down to something interesting for the viewers, who will all then rush out to buy the book.

Me at the National Library with a Gould print

Monday, 5 November 2012


By definition, vagrants don't turn up every day!  How delighted I was to learn that there was a Franklin's Gull at Paynesville, about four hours' drive east of Melbourne.  I hadn't been expecting any new ticks this year, but I was excited to have the excuse to look for one.

Looking for a Franklin's Gull at Paynesville

We set off at 9 a.m. and arrived at Paynesville at 1 p.m.  At approximately four minutes past one, we had the bird!  A woman had parked her car on the grassy area near the craft shop and was feeding gulls.  There were about eight Silver Gulls, and one, much smaller, with a darker grey back, black legs and a black head!  It was one of the easiest ticks I've ever had.  (Although, to be fair, my last tick, the Chiming Wedgebill at Dresley Creek in July was ridiculously easy.  Dresley Creek is just a dry creekbed.  It doesn't appear on my map.  It is located about 100 kilometres south of Coober Pedy on the Stuart Highway in South Australia.  I'd heard that there were Chiming Wedgebills there.  We stopped by the dry creek and immediately we could hear wedgebills chiming.  In about five minutes, I had excellent views.  Now that was an easy tick.)  We didn't have to drive so far for the Franklin's Gull.  I wanted to see the bird's red bill tip and the pattern on its wings in flight, but it was not to be.  The woman stopped feeding, the gulls flew off.  The Franklin's Gull was lost amongst the Silver Gulls and I didn't get a look at the wing pattern.  We were absurdly pleased with ourselves, as if we'd achieved something very difficult, when, in fact, all we'd done was drive to Paynesville and look at a bird right in front of us.  Still, it was certainly cause for celebration.  Ticks are getting harder these days, and a tick's a tick which ever way you look at it.

The last few days I've been busy working on my fourth book (about Australia's best birding sites) which is to be published next year, so I haven't allowed myself the luxury of updating my blog.  Now it is the weekend, and I figure I can do what I want!

After we ticked the Franklin's Gull (number 719, hooray!) we visited MacLeod's Morass in Bairnsdale, Mitchell River National Park, then Lake Guyatt in Sale (very briefly - looking for Freckled Duck but not finding any) then dropped in at the Sale Common on the way home.

Macleods Morass, Bairnsdale
It was hot when we visited Macleods Morass.  Both the boardwalks and the bird hides were in need of maintenance and there were some trees across the track.  I didn't care, there were Glossy Ibis feeding in a swamp by the entrance and a male White-winged Triller made his presence felt.  I crept along the track, trying not to disturb the ducks, but somehow they were always aware of my presence before I saw them.  A Nankeen Night Heron flew over my head, startled by this unwelcome human.  It was very pleasant and there were lots of birds.  I walked out on one boardwalk, there was no cover and five White-faced Herons took off together, swearing at me loudly and informing every other waterbird for miles that there was an undesirable intruder present.  I persisted and reached the bird hide, only to be rewarded with a large flock of coots and an even larger swarm of mosquitoes.   On another occasion, I may have been disappointed that I hadn't seen anything special, but I was still basking in the glory of having seen a Franklin's Gull and it would have taken a lot to disappoint me that day.

We drove on to Mitchell River National Park and parked in the Den of Nargun car park.  I did the walk to the Bluff Lookout.  It was only ten minutes, but it was steep and hot coming back.  A Fan-tailed Cuckoo drove me mad, calling constantly, but never visible.  I always hesitate to venture off the track, as my sense of direction is non-existent and I am liable to get impossibly lost, however, I had to see that cuckoo.  So I bush-bashed my way up the hill, figuring that I couldn't get lost if I simply kept going up.  I saw the cuckoo eventually and wondered why I'd put so much effort into seeing such a common bird.  But of course I knew:  I wanted to put him on my list and I couldn't do that unless I'd seen him.  I heard Wonga Pigeons too, but they were further away and I wasn't tempted to risk straying so far.  They rewarded me by flying across the track and I wondered if the cuckoo might have done that too, if only I'd been patient.

Bluff Lookout, Mitchell River National Park

Sale Common is always worth a look.  The number of waterbirds depends on the amount of water, but there are always bush birds to entertain you.  Rog enjoyed a cup of coffee while I explored the boardwalk.  On this occasion, there were plenty of waterfowl, as there was plenty of water.  I saw ducks and swamphens and coots and moorhens and a few Great Egrets.  A Whistling Kite flew over, whistling. There were reed-warblers and visible Little Grassbirds everywhere.  I'm used to hearing Little Grassbirds, but rarely see them.  It was a treat to get so many fleeting glimpses.  I believe this was the first time I'd ever visited Sale Common without seeing a Golden Whistler.  His rufous cousin made up for his absence.  I saw Striated Pardalotes and Silvereyes, a Grey Shrike-thrush and lots of Superb Fairy-wrens.  I would have enjoyed a bittern, a crake or a rail, but it was not to be.  However, it was still impossible to dampen my spirits, and I went home perfectly happy.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

The sun was shining and the birds were singing as I set off for Banyule, in search of a Latham's Snipe, which I needed for my annual list.  Banyule is about 13 kilometres from central Melbourne and it takes me about forty minutes to drive there.
Banyule Flats Reserve

I went directly to the swamp, where I often see snipe in summer.  No luck today.  There were no muddy edges, no snipe, no crakes, no rails, not even a Black-winged Stilt.  However, there were Spotted Pardalotes calling and lots of water fowl on the water.  Grey Fantails darted around and Grey Butcherbirds sang merrily, mocking my lack of snipe.

I walked to the river and was surprised at the lack of Bell Miners.  There has been a colony of Bell Miners here for as long as I've been coming here, and I know precisely when my visits to Banyule began.  It was in November 2001 when a female Australian Painted Snipe turned up.  Melbourne birders all flocked to Banyule, and most were rewarded with excellent sightings of a very beautiful bird.

There was nothing as exciting as snipe today, Latham's or Painted or anything else.  I did hear my first Rufous Whistler for the season and my first Olive-backed Oriole.  I had a very pleasant walk, clocked up 36 species without trying, and went home lamenting my lack of snipe.  My mood changed immediately when I learnt that a Franklin's Gull had been seen at Paynesville.  There was no question of whether I would go to Paynesville, it was a question of when I could set off.  As I write, I am packed and plan to go in the morning.  I have good vibes about this Franklin's Gull.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Wilson Reserve, in Ivanhoe, is about ten kilometres from central Melbourne.  I think it is about the best place close to the city to see Eastern Yellow Robins and Common Bronzewings.  On Friday, I dodged the rain, and enjoyed a pleasant walk beside the Yarra River at Wilson Reserve.
Eastern Yellow Robin

Someone had recently mown the grass and it smelt wonderful.  As soon as I parked the car, I was welcomed by the melodious fluting call of Grey Butcherbirds.  A Pacific Black Duck in the car park was unsure whether I was friend or foe.  Rainbow Lorikeets squawked overhead and Brown Thornbills chattered in the undergrowth.  Several Grey Fantails danced around and Willie Wagtails chattered happily, just pleased to be alive.  Along the track, a large flock of Red-browed Finches played with Superb Fairy-wrens and White-browed Scrubwrens darted amongst the bushes.  Nine (yes, nine!) Australian Magpies foraged on the grass in one spot and Bell Miners tinkled in the trees.  I met some friendly locals who were walking their dogs and nearly stepped on a water rat that ran across the path in front of me.  I didn't see anything extraordinary, but I had a very pleasant walk and clocked up 27 species without trying.  That doesn't count the Little Grassbird that sang loudly from the reeds, but wouldn't show himself, or the Spotted Pardalotes high in the canopy that stopped calling the minute I raised my binoculars.

A beautiful male Common Bronzewing was quite unfazed by my presence and sat, unconcerned, allowing me to approach quite close.  Several pairs of Red-rumped Parrots were looking for nesting holes and Crimson Rosellas sat quietly above, looking down on me.  I didn't want to leave without seeing a robin, and I wasn't disappointed.  An Eastern Yellow Robin flew across the track, then sat looking at me with her intelligent sparkling black eyes.  What a beautiful little bird!

I returned to the routine of daily suburban life with my batteries recharged.  How lucky to have such a welcome slice of bush so close to Melbourne.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

There's no point in having a blog unless it is updated regularly, so I have determined to update this every week.  Problem is, I have not been able to go birding, as my car is off the road.  My next planned trip is at the end of November, when Rog is going to drive me to Canberra for the launch of my third book, "John Gould's Extinct and Endangered Birds of Australia."  We will stop at Chiltern and Wonga Wetlands on the way.  Although I've been to both these places already this year, I'm sure I will be able to compose a wishlist of species I'd like to add to my annual list.

Each year I endeavour to see 400 species.  This is a modest aim, when compared with the likes of Sean Dooley and John Weigel, but why compare myself with the experts?  Let's be honest, I'm not as good a birder as either of them.  And, truth to tell, I have only achieved my 400 target three times since I commenced keeping detailed annual records in 1997.  That was in 2006 (when I did the Cape York Bird Week with Klaus Uhlenhut of Kirrama Tours - highly recommended), 2008 (when I started the year on the Abrolhos and visited Iron Range with Klaus) and in 2009 (when I did an insane three day pelagic out of Hobart in winter and later went to Macquarie Island with Heritage Tours).  So far this year, I haven't yet made 300, so I am most unlikely to achieve my 400 target in 2012.

King Penguin on Macquarie Island

I can usually manage to do some local birding between trips, but not when my car is off the road.  Most frustrating.  However, while I am confined to barracks, I am enjoying Grey Butcherbirds in my back yard - and reading reviews of my new book.  So far, anyway!  There have been reviews in The Canberra Times, WA Today, The Age, Sydney Morning Herald and the Newcastle Herald.  Let's hope lots of people read them and all rush out to buy the book.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Black-winged Stilt

At the start of each year, while other people are formulating their soon-to-be-forgotten New Year's resolutions, I'm planning which birds I hope to see during the next twelve months.  In 2012, I had high hopes.  The first bird I wanted (expected) to see was a White-necked Petrel.  Although this is officially classified as a vagrant, it is sometimes seen off Wollongong in summer, so that was a chance.  But better, I had been promised that if I went to Port Stephens in April, it was a cert.  So they were the first trips on the agenda.  Then, in winter, I planned to go to South Australia.  First stop was to be a pelagic off Port MacDonnell, hoping for a Slender-billed Prion, then to Adelaide for a wretched exotic Barbary Dove.  Then I planned a quick trip up the Birdsville Track to mop up some birds I'd missed on previous trips.  I was expecting to see Short-tailed, Grey and Eyrean Grasswren and Banded Whiteface.  If I was exceptionally lucky, I might manage a Grey Falcon.  Then I'd return to Adelaide and travel north towards Coober Pedy, going just as far as necessary to see a Chiming Wedgebill.  I booked into four other pelagic trips too, without target species, just hoping for a rarity.  So that was what I'd planned for 2012.  Targetting eight ticks.  Not too ambitious, but difficult enough to keep me on my toes.

Having determined what I want to do, my next challenge is to convince my husband, Roger, that he wants to do this too, and, more importantly, that he wants to chauffeur me to all my selected locations.  Sometimes this takes some subtle negotiating, but usually he is exremely amenable.  In 2012, he accepted my proposed itinerary without a wimper.

Now 2012 is drawing to a close, and I can reveal my successes and failures.  More important, I can start planning for 2013.

Australian King-Parrot

My first trip for the year was to Port Fairy in February.  I wasn't after anything in particular:  any rare seabird would do.  There are six seabirds on the Australian list I haven't seen (not counting vagrants) and they are not easily ticked.  For example, there is nowhere I can go to at the right time of the year to tick a Kerguelen Petrel.  I just have to continue doing pelagics and hoping.  There's no other way.  So the aim of my Port Fairy trip was simply to have a pleasant day, get the year off to a good start and cross my fingers that something rare would turn up.  Something rare did turn up, but I had already seen it.  It was a Great Shearwater.  Sadly, I did not photograph it.  Shame on me.  It sat beside the boat obligingly for quite some time.  It is time for me to confess that I am not very mobile on small boats.  When I go on a pelagic, I tend to sit down in the one spot all day.  Moving around is for others.  If I attempt to stand up, I am liable to fall over, which is undesirable, not to say embarrassing.  Anyway, I guess my aims for my February Port Fairy trip were met:  I had a pleasant day and got the seabird list for the year off to a start.  Sadly, no ticks.

Setting out from Port Fairy

In March, Rog took me to Wollongong, for a pelagic with SOSSA aboard the wretched Sandra K.  How I hate that boat!  Trips are made worthwhile because of the people on board.  They are friendly, knowlegeable and helpful.  This was my first serious trip for the year, hoping for a White-necked Petrel.  These birds breed on Phillip Island off Norfolk Island, but  a few sometimes visit the south-east coast in late summer-early autumn.  I had travelled to Wollongong in summer before on several occasions hoping to see one, but had always been disappointed.  This trip was no different.  It was a pleasant day.  I enjoyed catching up with people on the boat.  But I did not see my target species, so I went home disappointed.

In April, Rog and I set off for Port Stephens.  Richard Baxter (yes, he deserves to be named) had promised me that if I did a pelagic off Port Stephens in April, I would certainly see a White-necked Petrel.  It was a Saturday when I did my one and only pelagic off Port Stephens.  The captain fell asleep and the boat drifted.  Consequently, we were quite late home.  As I walked back to our motel, alone in the dark, I had no happy memories of White-necked Petrels to cherish.  I did meet some lovely people on the boat, and some excellent photographers (which was of enormous help with my next book, that I came home to write).  I was irritated that I did not get my quarry, but what made it a thousand times worse, was that the boat went out again the following day, Sunday, without me aboard, and they did see a White-necked Petrel!

Australian Pelicans

My next trip for 2012 was scheduled for June, and I had great expectations of South Australia.  First stop was a pelagic out of Port MacDonnell, where I was hoping for a Slender-billed Prion.  Now this bird is the only "easy" seabird left on my want list.  It is reputedly common off south Australia in winter.  Alas! I was stymied at every turn.  The pelagic was cancelled.  It was first transferred to Port Fairy, then cancelled.  So no Slender-billed Prion for me in 2012.

Black Butcherbird

So Rog and I toddled off to Adelaide in search of the introduced Barbary Dove.  I had allowed two full days to search for it before I joined Peter Waanders' tour up the Birdsville Track in search of grasswren.  I got it relatively easily at Marino Rocks.  The year was half over.  I had my first tick for 2012 and it was plastic.  Nevertheless, it was a tick.  It counts as much on your lifelist as a grasswren.  So I celebrated.

Then I joined Peter Waanders and set off in search of grasswren.  We had fantastic views of Striated, Thick-billed, Grey and Eyrean, but sadly, search though we might, we could not raise a Short-tailed.  However, we did see Banded Whiteface and, quite unexpectedly, we saw two Grey Falcon!  They were very svelte beside the chunky Brown Falcons beside them.  They were sitting high on a communication tower on Cowarie Station and I was absolutely delighted to see my final raptor on the Australian list.  I cursed having to return for the Short-tailed Grasswren - a bird I had looked for unsuccessfully on many previous occasions - but I was thrilled to finally sign off on the raptors. 

Back in Adelaide, I rejoined Rog and we set off for my last "easy" landbird - the Chiming Wedgebill.  These birds look identical to the Chirruping Wedgebill, but are identified by their quite different call.  Chirruping Wedgebills are seen easily at the Arid Lands Botanic Gardens in Port Augusta.  I had seen them many times and so I knew what I was looking for.  In fact, I found it incredible that, with all my travels, I hadn't seen a Chiming Wedgebill before.  They are classified as common.  Thanks to the internet, I had several good sites to visit.  Our aim was to get the birds as soon as possible and not to travel any further than we had to.  I had read that they could be seen near Dresley Creek, south of Coober Pedy.  Dresley Creek is just a creek (and a pretty poor example at that).  Rog pulled off the highway.  I jumped out and, immediately, I heard a Chiming Wedgebill!  As easy as that.  Rog read his paper and I scurried after the call.  It took perhaps ten minutes to get a really good look at the bird, which, true to the field guides, looked precisely like his chirruping cousin.  That was on 3 July, and I haven't had a twitch since.
Wandering Albatross

In September, Rog and I flew down to Tasmania and did a pelagic out of Eaglehawk Neck with Rohan Clarke.  It was fun, but very cold and no ticks.  Then Virgin cancelled our plane home.  They bused us to Launceston and flew us to Melbourne from there.  I don't see how Virgin will ever attract business customers when they treat their patrons like that.

As I write, I look forward to launching my new book, "John Gould's Extinct and Endangered Birds" in the National Library of Australia on 27 November.  Then I have another pelagic out of Eaglehawk Neck with Rohan in December.  I could be lucky.  And we certainly won't be flying Virgin.

And, as the year draws to a close, I start thinking about all the good birds I'm going to see next year, and all the ticks I'm going to get.