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?