Sunday, 19 October 2014


In July 2013, I wrote that I had five bogey birds - birds I'd been seeking for many years - birds I feared I'd never see.  I'm delighted to report that, thanks to Mick Roderick, I have now managed to cross the rascally Rufous Scrub-bird off my list of bogey birds.

[Peter Waanders got me the Short-tailed Grasswren in September 2013 and Martin Cachard got me the Black-winged Monarch in November 2013 (thanks to Judy Leitch) so now I have just two bogey birds left - both seabirds.  One is the beautiful White-necked Petrel shown on my masthead, the other the elusive Slender-billed Prion.]

Rog and I drove to Gloucester and Mick took me from there to Gloucester Tops where I had fantastic views of the male scrub-bird singing his little heart out.

Rufous Scrub-bird (Female) - Photo: Mick Roderick

I've looked for Rufous Scrub-birds seriously on many occasions.  They are not an easy bird.  The first time I looked for them was in Lamington National Park in 1984.  I was staying at O'Reilly's guest house.  In all I've visited Lamington National Park five times (O'Reilly's three times and Binna Burra twice) looking for this bird.  Most recently I returned to O'Reilly's last October and this time, in order to be sure, I hired a guide to show me the bird.  This proved to be an expensive waste of time.

I visited Port Stephens in April 2013 because Richard Baxter told me that April would provide a good chance of seeing a White-necked Petrel.  (What he actually said was:  it was 'guaranteed!')  Alas, the pelagic was cancelled, but as I'd driven up from Melbourne, Mick Roderick (who organizes the pelagics) took pity on me and took me out and showed me an Eastern Grass Owl.  I was not disappointed.  I came home thinking of grass owls I'd seen, not petrels I'd missed.

On that occasion, I took the opportunity of being near Barrington Tops National Park to spend a few days looking for the scrub-bird.  I knew April was not the best month to see scrub-birds (October is) but I figured it was worth a go anyway.  I had a mud map of various territories and gave it my best shot.  For two days I heard nothing.  On the third day, I heard a scrub-bird but it was in dense scrub.  I waited for 45 minutes while he tantalized me.  He knew I was there and he was not going to show himself.

It seemed I'd done everything I could and I was never going to see this exasperating little bird.  And I don't think I ever will by myself.

But thanks to Mick, the Rufous Scrub-bird has now become number 740 on my Australian lifelist.  It is my 700th mainland bird.  

Mick picked me up in Gloucester at 6 a.m. and drove me to Gloucester Tops.  It was cold and foggy as we left.  Rog had joked that we'd get the bird by 8 and be back in Gloucester by 9.  Mick took me directly to the territory of a pair of scrub-birds he knows well.  We listened for a few minutes, and yes! the male was calling.  His calls were imitations of Eastern Yellow Robins and Golden Whistlers.  Mick selected a likely spot and we sat on folding stools, listening to the bird calling from various directions.  The little tease knew we were there.  He probably knew we were there just to see him.  Finally, having caused sufficient angst to satisfy his amusement, he hopped up into sight.  He sat, quite visible, in the heart of a fern.  I did my best not to scream with delight.

Then he hopped out of the fern onto a log and began to serenade us.  He put his head back and sang with gusto.  His throat feathers stood out in text book fashion.  It was a perfect sighting of an extremely elusive bird.  I looked at my watch.  It was one minute to 8.  Thank you, Mick.

Rog and I had a delightful trip, although it all pales in comparison with the scrub-bird sighting.  We were away for 12 days, during which I clocked up a total of 153 species of birds.  Apart from the scrub-bird, highlights were Black-bellied Storm-Petrel, Pale Yellow Robin, female Paradise Riflebird and some very pretty Scarlet Honeyeaters.

My first anxiety was whether we'd get away at all.  We'd planned to leave on Wednesday.  At 3 a.m. on Tuesday I was awoken with some creature dancing on my feet!  There was a possum in the house.  With some difficulty I woke Rog and we managed to funnel the little fellow out the front door.  I knew he'd got in through the chimney (which is extraordinarily high) so I set about finding both a chimney sweep to fix the damper and an arborist to cut back the oak tree that allowed possums access to the top of the chimney.  It wasn't easy.  ('Sure, lady, we can come and give you a quote some time next week.')  I refused to take 'no' for an answer.  October is the best month for scrub-birds, and I was not going to let any wretched ringtail stop me from going to look for them.  Thanks to arborist Hayden and chimney sweep Clive we managed to get away on schedule.

The first day we travelled to Wodonga and I visited Wonga Wetlands (site 54) where there were equal numbers of Sacred Kingfishers, Australian Reed-Warblers and rabbits.  A member of staff informed me that the magpies there never swoop.  I felt obliged to tell him that I've been bombed there by magpies with very serious intentions.  It just goes to show that some magpies swoop some people.

The next day we stopped at The Rock Nature Reserve (site 15) intending to enjoy a quiet cup of coffee.  Unfortunately there were several men with some very noisy machinery busy installing new toilets, so we moved on.  I did the Migurra Walk outside Cootamundra (site 84) where I saw a pair of White-winged Trillers.  The kunzea was flowering profusely (a horrible shade of mauve) as was the local egg and bacon (Dillwynia sericea).   On the way back to Melbourne nine days later, I again did the Migurra Walk, and this time I flushed a Painted Button-quail.  At the Bendick Murrell road stop, I saw a pair of Superb Parrots, the first of many for the trip.

The next day I visited Putta Bucca wetlands at Mudgee, hoping that the recently seen Citrine Wagtail would miraculously reappear.  Of course it did not.  But I saw the one and only Rainbow Bee-eater for the trip and one beautiful Southern Boobook being mercilessly harassed by a gaggle of little birds.

On Sunday, I joined the pelagic out of Nelson Bay.  I had modest expectations of an October pelagic out of Port Stephens and was hoping for some storm-petrels and a Flesh-footed Shearwater, which would be annual ticks.  We saw Flesh-footed early on, and several Wilson's Storm-Petrels (however, surprisingly, we dipped on White-faced).  We had great views of five Wandering Albatrosses, which is always a thrill. Best bird of the day for me was a Black-bellied Storm-Petrel that flew past close enough for Brook to photograph it and confirm its identity.   Several unfortunate people were ill all day, although I did not think it was a very rough trip. 

One of the 5 Wandering Albatross we saw on the day.

Mick told me that there was a pair of Beach Stone-curlews at Soldiers Point in Port Stephens, so Rog and I detoured there on our way up to Gloucester.  Here I saw my one and only Eastern Great Egret and Pied Oystercatcher for the trip, but sadly no stone-curlews.  The one thing of interest that I did see was a Little Corella drinking seawater.

Mick also recommended Copeland State Conservation Area as a good birding spot and he was right.  The best bird I saw here was the Pale Yellow Robin (which Rog said were playing in the car park when I went for a walk).  There were also lyrebirds and brush-turkeys and lots of Large-billed Scrubwrens.  Rog and I visited Barrington Tops, which were covered in snow!  Very pretty. 

In Gloucester, there were White-headed Pigeons and Scarlet Honeyeaters.  I'd expected Grey-crowned Babblers, that I'd seen on my last visit, but I was disappointed.  The only babblers on my trip list were White-browed.

When I realized that I was missing Black Swan on my birdlist, we stopped at Winton Wetlands (site 87) on the way home to rectify that omission.  Other surprising omissions from my list were Australasian Grebe, Common Bronzewing, Restless Flycatcher and Silvereye.

I came home to a possum-free house, feeling very pleased with myself for having discarded another bogey bird.  Of course there is no justification for me to feel pleased with myself.  I should be feeling pleased with Mick.  And I am.