Tuesday, 20 December 2016


I was booked on Richard Baxter's Cocos/Christmas Island tour in December 2016, so I arranged to have a day in Perth beforehand, in the hope of seeing a Crested Honey Buzzard.  Then I learnt that friends were visiting Cheynes Beach for a couple of days before Richard's tour, and, even though it was to be a very rushed trip, the opportunity was quite irresistible.  

I don't know how many times I've been to Cheynes Beach, probably half a dozen, but despite many hours of trying, I've never managed to see the local Western Whipbird.  I've seen this bird on Kangaroo Island and on the Eyre Peninsula, but both WA races have always eluded me.  

So, before Richard's tour, I had one day in Perth and two nights at Cheynes Beach.  I expected one lifer:  the Crested Honey Buzzard.  And I wanted to see at least one WA race of Western Whipbird.

The buzzard has been turning up in WA regularly each summer for the last five years.  It usually appears around 15 November.  I thought I'd call in on 29 November, giving it a couple of weeks leeway.  But, this year, the year I wanted to see it, it decided not to come.  Doesn't it realize how much I wanted to admire it?  Doesn't it know how much money I spent to include it in my itinerary?  For whatever reason, the buzzard was a no show.

My mate Steve Reynolds, who was going to show me the buzzard, refused to accept its absence and took me to Lake Joondalup where it usually hangs out.  We thought it would be amazing if we were the first to report the buzzard this season.  Of course that was a fantasy and the buzzard refused to show itself.  Steve then drove me to Northam to admire the Mute Swans.  I'd seen them in Tasmania decades ago, but I'd never seen them in WA.  Unlike the buzzard, the swans appeared on cue, carrying nesting material under their wings, as they swam elegantly on the River Avon.  HANZAB reports that, when swimming, Mute Swans 'have jerky, surging progress, paddling with both feet at the same time.'  I must say, I didn't notice this.  I thought they looked very graceful, quite worthy of their regal heritage.
Mute Swan, photo by Steve Reynolds

The next morning, my mate James Mustafa arrived at 6 a.m. and, with Steve, we set off for Cheynes Beach.  First stop was Australind, just north of Bunbury, where an Eurasian Curlew had been in residence for several months.  We could see waders in the distance, too far away to identify, so there was nothing for it but to wade a bit closer.  Anyone who knows me, knows that I don't like getting my feet wet.  But, what's a girl to do when there's a possible tick in the offing?  Without a word of protest, I took off my shoes and socks, and joined the boys in the water.  I did not like it.  We didn't know how deep the water would get, we didn't know anything about tides or rips, and the curlew may not be with the waders we could see in the distance.  After a very few unhappy steps, Steve jumped.  He'd been nipped by a blue swimmer crab, invisible just under the sand.  Yet another reason to hate the water.  Then James jumped.  Now I was really unhappy.  Steve jumped again.  And again.  I thought this was a really stupid idea.  It took a few minutes for the boys to realize that I was right.  They had both been nipped several times.  I escaped altogether.

Back on terra firma, we drove around some more, examining several inlets, hoping for more waders.  I was aware of the time.  We had a many miles to travel that day.  Several lifers were awaiting James further south; we couldn't spend all day looking for a bird that both Steve and James had already seen.  Finally, Steve parked the car and we jumped out for one last look.  I was feeling disappointed.  The buzzard had let me down.  Now the curlew that everyone else in the world had ticked, had suddenly disappeared.  It wasn't fair.  Suddenly, Steve was gesturing at me from the top of a rise.  I ran as fast as I could up the hill and there was the bird!  Yippee!  It was right beside a Far Eastern Curlew, just to emphasize the difference.
Eurasian Curlew next to Far Eastern Curlew, photo by Steve Reynolds

At Rocky Gully township, we paused to photograph Muir's Corellas, a lifer for James.

Next stop was the Stirling Range Retreat, which (so Steve assures me) is a good spot for Western Shriketit.  Here we met the fourth member of our gang, Steve Castan.  It was a bit windy so we didn't spend time looking for Western Whipbirds here.  We did, however, find a Western Fieldwren for James.  Then it was on to Cheynes Beach, where we sat in deck chairs, sipping wine and nibbling potato chips, waiting for the Noisy Scrub-bird to run across the road in front of us.  Which it obediently did.
Noisy Scrub-bird, photo by Steve Reynolds

White-breasted Robins played near my cabin and Western Wattlebirds and White-cheeked Honeyeaters were prolific.  We saw several Western Bristlebirds and lots of Heath Monitors.  At Two People's Bay, I glimpsed a Western Whipbird.  At last!  The bird that had eluded me for decades.  At Waychinicup, Steve produced a beautiful Red-eared Firetail, right on cue.
Western Whipbird, photo by Steve Reynolds
Red-eared Firetail, photo by Steve Reynolds

On Friday, we returned to Perth.  It had been a rushed trip, but very successful.  James and I were eager for our next adventure:  Cocos and Christmas Islands.  We both had great expectations.

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