Thursday, 20 December 2018

CHRISTMAS ISLAND, DECEMBER 2018

On Friday, we flew to Christmas Island.  Of course the plane was late.  Eventually we arrived, adjusted our watches to accord with the half hour time difference from Cocos and drove to our accommodation.  We were staying at Cocos Padang.  I hadn't stayed here before and it was most acceptable. 

The group divided into two:  those who had visited Christmas before and those who hadn't.  This was my fifth trip to Christmas Island, so I fell comfortably into the first group.  We drove around the island and were shocked to see how very dry it was.  Richard had warned us that things were dry, but hearing about it and actually witnessing it were two different things.  Finding new birds in these conditions was going to be difficult.
There were many more Island Thrushes than on my previous visits.

There has been a concerted effort to remove feral cats from Christmas Island and we saw several cat traps on our travels.  This is paying off.  I saw just two cats on the island - both of them domestic moggies in the township of Settlement.  More noticeable was the increased population of Island Thrushes.  They were abundant, and I'm sure this is a direct result of the cat eradication program.
Cat Trap

Kestrels and Christmas Imperial Pigeons were always abundant.   Other birds we saw every day were Christmas Island Swiftlets, White-tailed Tropicbirds (including Golden Bosunbirds), Red-footed Boobies, Great Frigatebirds and Christmas Frigatebirds.  Alas, the Red-billed Tropicbird I had searched for on my previous visit was no longer present.
The poinceanas were looking beautiful.

The poinceanas were in flower and looking beautiful.  The red crabs were migrating.  Many roads were closed and some were open that should have been closed.  On several occasions we had a few spots of rain, but not enough to get properly wet, and certainly not enough to satisfy the rainforest.

At Swift Alley we enjoyed lots of Abbott's Boobies, but no swifts.  On the road to Dolly's Beach, white-eyes, thrushes and Common Emerald Doves enjoyed pools of water on the road, provided by a natural spring.  We visited the farm, hoping to see the Yellow Bittern that was present a fortnight ago, but it was nowhere to be seen.

We went spotlighting a couple of times, first to see the endemic boobook, then looking for nightjars.  We saw the Christmas Boobook, but there was no hint of nightjars.  My one hope for a lifer on Christmas had been a Savanna Nightjar, which I had heard calling on two separate occasions on previous visits.  It was not to be.

I saw Yellow Crazy Ants on the handrail at Margaret Knoll.  Millions of dollars have been spent trying to eradicate these pests, and it is unclear whether or not the program will be successful.  The ants were introduced from South America, arriving early in the twentieth century, and were not a major threat for some decades.  Then, for some reason, they formed supercolonies, and immediately became a major problem, killing red crabs and destroying the environment.  The national parks experts are attempting a biological control of the ants, using a tiny wasp that destroys the ant's main food source, an introduced scale.  Let's hope it works.

Rob and I attended a fascinating talk about the captive breeding program for two lizards, both extinct in the wild.  One was the Blue-tailed Skink and the other Lister's Ghecko.  The idea is to breed them up in sufficient numbers to re-introduce them to their former home.

Although this was my fifth visit to Christmas Island, I did two things I've never done before:  I walked to the Dales (which was lovely) and I took a boat trip around the island (which was most enjoyable).  The boat trip was predominantly organized for snorklers, but I admired the scenery and the birds and certainly got my money's worth.

Despite being so dry, the island is always a very special place.  The rainforest is serene, the frigatebirds are mesmerizing and the crabs are fascinating.  It's sad to see the casino deserted.  I will have to go back.  Apart from anything else, I have an appointment with a Savanna Nightjar.

Tuesday, 18 December 2018

COCOS ISLAND, NOVEMBER-DECEMBER 2018

I was feeling very positive as I stepped off the plane on West Island in the Cocos (Keeling) Atoll.  It was Friday 30 November.  I had seen three lifers in the previous three days in Western Australia, and now Cocos promised more.  I had hopes that the Barau's Petrel would return.  It had been seen the previous two years frequenting the runway.  And I'd heard that there was a Grey-streaked Flycatcher which could be seen easily on Home Island.

There were 14 of us doing Richard Baxter's tour of Cocos and Christmas Islands, some people I'd met before, some I hadn't.  I was ready to enjoy some great birding with them all.
Where we looked for the Grey-streaked Flycatcher on Home Island.
My first disappointment was to learn that the Barau's Petrel had not returned.  It was still possible it might turn up, but it now seemed unlikely.  I put my hopes on the flycatcher.

On Saturday, those of us who hadn't seen a Saunders's Tern, were taken to South Island.  The rest of us took the ferry to Home Island.  As soon as we stepped off the jetty, James saw a small passerine fly up from the ground, then into a shed.  We stalked it, saw it well, then it flew to a nearby tower.  It was a Blue Rock Thrush (# 817).  It seemed a little unfair to me that I should get this bird so easily.  A Blue Rock Thrush had turned up at Onslow in WA not long before and I had not twitched it.  I didn't deserve to see it so easily.  But who am I to complain?  A tick's a tick.
Blue Rock Thrush, photo by Paul Taylor
We spent Sunday on West Island looking for a mysterious raptor that had been seen with two White Terns in its talons, and a Hodgson's Hawk Cuckoo that was around.  We didn't see either.

On Monday, we again took the ferry to Home Island, where I would be staying for two nights in Oceania House with James and Rob.  Locally known as the Big House, Oceania House was built in the nineteenth century by John Clunies-Ross.  It is a fascinating old building.  I'd stayed there on my last visit and welcomed the opportunity to stay there once more. 

Again, we looked for the flycatcher.  It had been so cooperative a few days beforehand, and now, despite many hours of patient searching, it had not shown itself.  We could only conclude that it had moved on.  That was my second disappointment.

A group of us was standing in the garden of the Big House, when a strange bird flew past.  Thanks to Rob Shore's lightning fast photography, it was identified as a Chestnut-winged Cuckoo (# 818).  That was a remarkable five lifers in seven days.

The rest of the group returned to the motel on West Island, leaving James, Rob and I with the big responsibility of finding some rare bird in the garden.  We saw Barn Swallows, White Terns, Oriental Dollarbirds and Asian Koels.  At 5 o'clock, I was sitting, chatting with Rob, when he noticed a brown bird skulking in the undergrowth.  Any passerine is exciting on Cocos.  We tracked it down, and, once again, thanks to Rob's quick camera work, we identified, a Siberian Thrush!  (# 819).  Now I'd seen six lifers in seven days.  Quite extraordinary, I'm sure you'll agree.  Who cares about Barau's Petrel or Grey-streaked Flycatchers?  (Well, I do, but I'm not complaining.)
Siberian Thrush, photo by James Mustafa

On Tuesday morning, before the others arrived back on the early ferry, we were very pleased to see the Siberian Thrush again.  We left it alone, in the hope that it would show itself to the others when they arrived.  Again, we searched at the flycatcher site, but we no longer expected to see the flycatcher.

When the others arrived, a few of us went for a walk with Richard, past chook sheds and various caged birds, ending up back at the small park near the jetty.  There, Richard spied a Blue-and-white Flycatcher.  I was delighted to see this bird.  I'd seen one before, but it was a brown bird, and this fellow was a first year male, with gorgeous blue wings.
Blue-and-white Flycatcher, photo by Anita Flynn

On Wednesday, most of the group waded through the sea to South Island, in search of a Chinese Pond Heron.  I stayed in the garden, hoping for a rarity that didn't arrive.  I returned to West Island on the 10.30 ferry.

On Thursday, while some people chose to go to Direction Island or back to Home Island, I stayed on West Island and saw the Hodgson's Hawk Cuckoo.  Again, this wasn't a lifer for me, but it's always good to see uncommon birds more than once.

On Friday, we left for Christmas Island.  I'd seen 31 species on Cocos (naturally, others saw many more than I did).  I was very pleased with myself, wondering if I would ever again see six new species in seven days.


Hodgson's Hawk Cuckoo, photo by James Mustafa



Sunday, 16 December 2018

WESTERN AUSTRALIA NOVEMBER 2018

I had booked on Richard Baxter's tour of Cocos and Christmas Islands and, as we stopped in Perth on the way, it was an opportunity to pick up the two Western Australian birds I was missing:  the Crested Honey Buzzard and the Western Quailthrush.  I'd failed on the former before but had never tried for the latter and believed them to be easy.  

The honey buzzard is migratory and has been turning up at Lake Joondalup north of Perth in mid-November for the last few years.  Indications are that it's been present every year since 2010.  Naturally, in 2016, the year I went looking for it, it turned up late and I missed out.  The Western Quailthrush is reputedly found easily on the golf course in Cue, 620 kilometres north east of Perth.  James Mustafa was booked on the Cocos/Christmas trip too and our friend, Steve Reynolds from Perth, offered to take us both to see the quailthrush.  He had a good spot for it on Kirkalocka Station.

So we were all organized.  Or so we thought.

The week before we were due to leave, a Purple Heron turned up at Carnarvon!  Purple Herons reside in south-east Asia and there had been just one previous mainland record for Australia and one record for Christmas Island.  A bird was seen at Herdsman Lake in 2013 by a foreign visitor, who didn't report it at the time.  Going through his photos when he was back home, he noticed the heron and reported it.  Of course by then the bird was long gone, and no Australian birder had the chance to see it.

Carnarvon is 900 kilometres north of Perth.  This bird was eminently tickable.  This was too good an opportunity to miss.  Plans were changed immediately.  We'd drive to Carnarvon, twitch the Purple Heron and get the Western Quailthrush on the way back to Perth.

I flew to Perth on Sunday with a free day to go birding on Monday, before we set off for Carnarvon on Tuesday.  James arrived on Monday and we started birding at Lake Joondalup where the Crested Honey Buzzard was being seen most mornings between 9 and 10.  Unfortunately, not on Monday, 26 November 2018.  We stood and watched and waited.  No buzzard.  James attracted a large number of fat ticks - luckily they left me alone.  We saw a beautiful bronze coloured small lizard, which we were told was a Buchanan's Skink.
Lake Joondalup where James attracted ticks waiting for the honey buzzard.

Eventually, we gave up on the buzzard, considered a trip to Rottnest to look for Roseate Terns for James, but found this was impossible because of the ferry timetable.  So we decided to walk around Herdsman Lake.  Thanks to James, we did all our travelling by uber and I must say it was a very positive experience.  At Herdsman Lake I was momentarily excited by a hobby, which I hoped would be a Eurasian one.  James (who'd seen both the buzzard and the hobby on a previous trip to Perth) explained that the Eurasian bird has much paler underparts.  We admired a Great Crested Grebe swimming on the lake with striped babies on its back, and Buff-banded Rail with black fluffy young chicks.  There were several large Bob-tailed Skinks with orange heads.

The next morning we arrived at Lake Joondalup before 7.30 for our second attempt at seeing a Crested Honey Buzzard.  We stood looking, waiting.  Dan Mantel arrived and we stood and waited some more.  There were several raptors to entertain (and confuse) us while we waited:  Swamp Harrier, Whistling Kite, Square-tailed Kite and Little Eagle.  At 9 a.m. not one but two Crested Honey Buzzards appeared.  They flew towards us, then right over our heads, giving us all excellent views.  Dan said that, of the fifty sightings he'd had of this bird, our sighting was in the top five.  James and I were high fiving - he's happy to celebrate my ticks, even if it's a bird he's already seen himself.
Crested Honey Buzzard, photo by James Mustafa
I enjoyed the warm glow of success known only to happy twitchers for the rest of the day.  Steve picked us up and drove us to Carnarvon, a cool 900 kilometres.  We arrived around 10 p.m. and stayed in a holiday apartment.

On Wednesday morning, we set off for Violet Creek at 5 a.m.  James admired Dusky Gerygones - a lifer for him.  It was muddy beneath the mangroves but I was delighted there were no sandflies.  Very soon after we arrived James and Steve both sighted the heron.  I missed out.  Would I have seen it if I'd been a foot taller?  I don't know.  They boys followed the bird around to the other side of the creek.  I followed reluctantly, knowing I'd never see this mega rarity.  However, when we reached the other bank of the creek (where access was actually easier than where the boys had first seen the bird) immediately, right in front of us, was the Purple Heron!  I nearly cried with joy.  Two ticks in two days!  How good is that?

We did some quick birding around Carnarvon.  We saw a Long-toed Stint and a White-bellied Sea Eagle at Chinamans Pool and James ticked a Star Finch at Birrawarra Bore.  We looked for Roseate Terns on the beach, but they weren't cooperating today.

For some reason Kirkalocka Station had closed its accommodation, so we arranged to stay at Mt Magnet Caravan Park.  We went spotlighting but all we could find were some very noisy, very tiny brown frogs and an interesting microbat.

On Thursday morning, we left at quarter to six and drove straight to Kirkalocka Station.  Within 5 minutes of arriving, we'd had great views of Western Quailthrush!  
Western Quailthrush, photo by James Mustafa

That was 3 ticks in 3 days.  I was feeling pretty good.  We'd driven 2,500 kilometres and I'd seen 133 birds (naturally, the boys saw more).  The quailthrush was my 816th Australian bird.  I was ready for Cocos.

Friday, 19 October 2018

RUTHERGLEN, CHILTERN AND THE MIGHTY MURRAY

Rog and I have just returned from a few days in Rutherglen.  The weather was not good - the best day was Friday, when all we did was drive home.  We drove up on Tuesday, and it rained on and off all day.  Nevertheless, I came home with a birdlist of 93 species, not altogether bad.  However, we drove over 800 kilometres over four days to achieve this.  Compare my last trip to Werribee, when I saw the same number of species in one day.

We stayed at Tuileries, where we've stayed before.  When I wanted to book for tea at 6.30, the girl at reception said they were fully booked, and we could not eat until 7.  We arrived at 6.45, thinking we'd have a drink in the bar until our table was ready.  Imagine our surprise to see that the restaurant was more than half empty!  Not a good advertisement for Tuileries.  Perhaps they had mass cancellations at the last minute.
Barmah Forest in flood

On Wednesday, we drove to the Barmah forest, about two hours west of Rutherglen.  It had rained here too, and there was a fair bit of flooding.  I heard an oriole and decided to chase it down and get it onto my list.  After a few minutes, I saw my bird.  It was a Noisy Friarbird!  This is not the first time I've been tricked by friarbirds.  We took Kingfisher Cruises up the Murray, which was a very pleasant way to spend a couple of hours.  I was delighted to see an Australian Reed-Warbler, my first for the year.  On the way home, I saw five Emus, including two chicks, another first for 2018.

Kingfisher Cruises

On Thursday, we did all our usual Chiltern things.  I walked around Lake King before breakfast and saw an Oriental Dollarbird, not new for the year as we'd seen lots in the Torres Strait last March.  As usual, there were Blue-faced Honeyeaters and Eurasian Tree Sparrows in the main street of Rutherglen.  After breakfast, we visited Chiltern No 2 dam, No 1 dam, Lake Anderson, Cyanide dam, Greenhill dam, Bartley's Block, and Lapin's dam.  The birds were fantastic at No 2 dam.  At least five Rufous Songlarks were singing at the top of their lungs.  Dusky Woodswallows were prolific and the White-browed Woodswallows were in perfect breeding plumage.  Again I heard orioles and chased them down.  They were real ones today.  White-browed Woodswallows were mating at No 2 dam and Superb Fairywrens were mating at Greenhill.  Cyanide dam at Honeyeater Picnic Area was almost empty.  What water there was, was dirty red-brown and unappealing.  There were few birds here.  As we drove away from Greenhill dam, a Little Eagle was disturbed from beside the road.  It flew into an adjacent tree and sat looking at us.  It was a very regal bird, undoubtedly the Bird of the Day.
Cyanide dam was reduced to a muddy pool.

It was a shame to have to come home on Friday, the first sunny day we'd had.  I added Little Friarbird to the list, and then Brown Goshawk on the way home.  In grey un-spring like weather, I had to be content with 93 species.  There were some good birds on my list.  The woodswallows were very welcome.  The dollarbird was new for me in Rutherglen and the Little Eagle alone was worth the drive.

Friday, 12 October 2018

MOREPORKS AND MORE

I've been preoccupied with my fifth book, Birding Australia's Islands, which is scheduled to be published next year.  Hence I've been neglecting my blog.

Since my last posting, I've visited Phillip Island, Trin Warren Tam-boore, Werribee's Western Treatment Plant and Cape Liptrap.  I've also continued my daily walks.  This morning I saw an Eastern Rosella - not very common around here.  I've also seen a pair of Galahs occasionally.  Once an Australian Pied Cormorant flew over and one day last week, I saw a pair of Pacific Black Ducks sitting happily on a fountain in someone's front garden.
Cape Barren Geese on Phillip Island

The purpose of my trip to Phillip Island was to get a photo of nearby French Island for my book.  This I achieved, taking the ferry from Cowes to Tankerton.  Black-faced Cormorants sat on the Cowes jetty.  The population of Cape Barren Geese on Phillip Island has increased enormously since my last visit, which makes sense as just about every goose we saw had several goslings.  The only noteworthy bird I saw on the trip was a Fan-tailed Cuckoo.  I saw (and heard) several at various places on the island.

I saw them again the next week when I visited Trin Warren Tam-boore.  I always enjoy walking around this wetland.  I see waterbirds of course, but also honeyeaters, finches and fairywrens.  On this occasion, as well as Fan-tailed Cuckoos, I heard, but could not see, Horsfield's Bronze Cuckoos too.  I watched a Peregrine stoop into a large flock of feral pigeons (or Rock Doves, if you will).  He didn't catch one while I watched, but he certainly put a falcon among the pigeons.

My friend, Graham Barwell, was visiting Victoria, so we spent a very pleasant day together at Werribee.  The weather was kind and the birds performed.  I came home with well over 90 species for the day.  We saw both Australian and Baillon's Crakes and had wonderful views of a Shining Bronze Cuckoo.  We saw Singing Honeyeaters more than once, not a rare bird, but listed as 'uncommon' on the Werribee list, and one I don't remember ever seeing there before.  We also saw a Brown Songlark, an Australian Hobby and a Horsfield's Bushlark, all birds new to my 2018 list.  As my friend Brook says, 'There's no such thing as a bad day at Werribee.'

It was because of Graham's presence, that we visited Cape Liptrap, to look for Moreporks.  Of course we asked James Mustafa to join us.  And of course we had a successful trip.  It was cold, but the owls gave us a warm inner glow.  And it can't have been all that cold, as we all enjoyed ice creams on the way home.
Morepork, photo by James Mustafa

We saw two owls.  I thought it was three, but the boys persuaded me that the last two sightings were of the same bird.  The first bird we saw had a favourite perch.  It returned to sit on this particular tree again and again, giving us ample opportunity to admire its big yellow eyes.

Now spring is half over and my book is progressing well.  And I still have an embarrassingly long list of birds I haven't seen this year.  I will do my best to rectify this when I visit Chiltern next week.

Thursday, 16 August 2018

GIPSY POINT AND MALLACOOTA

To relieve the boredom of Melbourne's winter, Rog and I spent a week birding around Mallacoota.  We stayed at Gipsy Point's Luxury Lakeside Apartments.  I saw 82 species of birds around Gipsy Point and Mallacoota, and a further 26 species en route, making a total of 108 for the trip.  As for animals, we saw hundreds of kangaroos, a couple of water rats and one sleepy koala.
Eastern Yellow Robin, photo by Pete Stalder

Without a doubt, the highlight was a Beach Stone-Curlew I saw at Cape Conran on the way down, a new bird for my Victorian list.  I looked for it again on the way home, but couldn't find it.

Perhaps my best sighting at Gipsy Point was the pair of White-headed Pigeons which came in to the feeding table, or perhaps it was the lyrebird sitting patiently on her nest.  These wonderful mothers incubate their single egg for 47 days, without any help from dad.  We saw many lyrebirds during the week, all quite unperturbed by people.

We left Melbourne on Friday 27 July and drove as far as Bairnsdale.  Along the way, we stopped at Tara Bulga National Park, where I looked unsuccessfully for Pilotbirds.  At the Sale Common I went for a walk and saw Red Wattlebirds, Magpie-larks and Rainbow Lorikeets.  I wondered why I'd bothered to drive 200 kilometres to see birds I could just as easily see at home.  Then I saw Brown-headed Honeyeaters (one of my favourites) and a very splendid female Collared Sparrowhawk.  She alone justified the trip.  There was no water at all at the Sale Common, so there were no waterbirds.

I always see Grey Butcherbirds at Bairnsdale and often Striated Pardalotes.  On this occasion, a colourful little pardalote sat on the electricity wires, singing his little heart out.  It made me feel good just looking at him.

On Saturday, we drove to Cape Conran, where I was impressed with several bold Bassian Thrushes foraging on the grass and ignoring people totally.  It would have been a photographers' dream.  Of course the stone curlew stole my heart, although I did not want to give the impression to other beach goers that it was anything particularly special.  I walked past slowly, pretending not to be particularly impressed.  

We drove on to Gipsy Point, with one other notable sighting for the day.  Not far past the turnoff from Genoa, right beside the road, sitting on a dead tree looking straight at us, was a magnificent white phase Grey Goshawk.  A truly regal bird.

Mallacoota has lots of lovely walks and I did a fair bit of walking during the week.  I did the Double Creek Nature Trail, the Pittosporum Walk, Shady Gully walk, Betka River loop, part of the Narrows walk and part of Charlies Creek walk.  At the airport I walked along the track past the gun club, and under the power lines near the airport building.  Twice I did the coastal walk at Shipwreck Creek, Casuarina Walk and Heathlands Walk.  The reason for repeating these last three was that I was disappointed in the number of birds I'd seen and hoped I'd just been unlucky.  Alas, when I repeated the walks, I repeated my low bird counts.  I did not see emu-wrens at Shipwreck Creek.  Nor did I see any Tawny-crowned Honeyeaters, notwithstanding lots of gorgeous wildflowers.  I finally saw one Tawny-crowned at the airport on our last day.  At Gipsy Point, I did the point-tip walk and I wandered up Tuck Track.
Red-browed Finch, photo by Brook Whylie

The weather was fine, but often very windy, and I think this kept my bird totals low.  I had to keep reminding myself that it was winter, and that I should not be expecting too many birds.  At Gipsy Point, Buff-banded Rails walked about nonchalantly and Eastern Whipbirds played on our veranda.  Crimson Rosellas, Australian King Parrots, Crested Pigeons and ubiquitous Rainbow Lorikeets came to the feeding table every afternoon.  New Hollands and Little Wattlebirds dominated the garden, but there were several Eastern Yellow Robins and flocks of Red-browed Finches and Superb Fairywrens.  I saw Satin Bowerbirds and White-browed Scrubwrens every day.  The sea eagles put on good fishing displays and the Azure Kingfisher simply sat, looking beautiful.  Skeins of Great Cormorants flew overhead each afternoon to roost near the lodge jetty, then flew back to Mallacoota the next morning.

I picked up a birdlist at the Mallacoota Information Centre and, according to this, I saw just one rare bird at Mallacoota during the week:  a Reef Egret.  At the sewerage works, I saw three ducks not on the list:  Hardhead, Shoveler and Shelduck.  At Gipsy Point, I saw one extraordinary lost bird:  a single White-breasted Woodswallow near the jetty.  I've never seen a White-breasted Woodswallow in East Gippsland before, and never seen one in winter anywhere in Victoria.  They are usually in flocks, not single birds, so I'm not sure how or why this little fellow ended up at Gipsy Point.

Rog and I returned to Melbourne with our batteries recharged.  It was a most enjoyable, relaxing week.  I worked hard to see 82 species and was disappointed with very few honeyeaters and just one Brown Gerygone.  Nevertheless I did see some lovely birds and only got two tick bites for my trouble.

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

MY THOUSANDTH WALK

This morning I did my thousandth walk. There was nothing remarkable about it.  It was a cold grey winter morning.  Luckily there was no rain and little wind.  It was an east walk.  One house was being demolished, one fence reconstructed and two building sites housed noisy radios.  I saw ten species of birds.  As usual, I saw more dogs than birds, but all except three mad golden retrievers at the park, were legally on leashes.  The magpies are nesting in Sackville Street, and one spectacular male swooped low over my head.  I ducked involuntarily, but I don't think he meant me any harm.  He could easily have done so, if that had been his aim.
Australian Magpie


When my father died, in an attempt at self-improvement, I joined the local gym.  I took it seriously, and three days a week, I was waiting for the doors to open at 6 a.m.  However, it didn't take many months for me to realize that my gym membership was of more benefit to the gym than it was me, so I extracted myself from the contract and began my morning walks instead.  From home, I walk north, south, east and west in turn each morning.  Each walk takes half an hour, and each incorporates a park, all small local reserves, except the north walk, which has a larger park with more trees and a couple of ovals.  To make my walks more interesting, I list the birds I see and hear each day.
Sulphur-crested Cockatoos

Most lists are totally predictable.  I know I will see magpies, Rainbow Lorikeets, Red Wattlebirds, Noisy Miners, Spotted Doves and Common Mynas.  I will usually see Little Ravens and hear (and sometimes see) Grey Butcherbirds.  Common Starlings and Rock Doves are becoming more common.  Brown Thornbills are resident, but I record them on about 50% of my walks.  Sometimes I see Little Wattlebirds and Magpie-larks, but I can't rely on either of them.  Sulphur-crested Cockatoos sometimes put in an appearance and Little Corellas are more common in autumn. Spotted Pardalotes are never common, but perhaps I see them more in autumn.  On a west walk, near the school oval, I hope for a Masked Lapwing.  On a south walk, I look for Crested Pigeons.   Silvereyes, once common, are now rare.  Alas, the Willie Wagtails are now gone and the Red-rumped Parrots, which used to be reliable, are now rare.  Welcome Swallows have arrived since I've been walking and they don't seem to migrate.  I see them every season.  In fact, I saw one yesterday.

My best ever total is 17 species, which I have achieved twice:  once on a west walk in September 2015 and once on an east walk in June 2017. This is interesting, as my best regular totals are on north walks:  I've achieved 16 species here many times.  My worst ever total is 8, which I've achieved several times, always on a west walk.
Gang-gang Cockatoo

I rarely see rosellas (either eastern or crimson), Galahs, Musk Lorikeets and Black-faced Cuckoo-shrikes.  Silver Gulls, common not far away, are rare here.  Pacific Koels now appear each summer, more often heard than seen.  Twice, I've seen Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoos, literally breath-taking.  I wish they'd take up residence.  Last month, for the first time, I saw Gang-gang Cockatoos.  They stayed around for a fortnight or so, but I couldn't find them this week.  Occasionally, cormorants, ducks or ibis fly over, although I seem to see fewer ducks today than I did in the past.  It's always exciting to see an Eastern Spinebill.  They are unpredictable and rare.  So, too, are White-plumed Honeyeaters, which were common here before the Noisy Miners took over.  Long-billed Corellas appear to be rarer now that the Little Corellas have put in an appearance, although I'm sure that mixed flocks are a possibility.

Of most interest are the birds I've seen just once.  I remember an Australian Hobby (which, before I started my walks, used to be common here).  I saw Goldfinches just once on a north walk, and Australian King Parrots once on an east walk.  Once I saw a Little Button-quail on a west walk and a Collared Sparrowhawk on a south walk.  Before I started my walks, I once had a male Australian Golden Whistler in my yard and a Rufous Fantail in the next street.  I'd love to get them onto my walk list.

Each day, as I set off, I wonder if I'm going to break any records.  I didn't see anything unusual this morning, or see a record number of species, but I made my 1000th walk.  Surely cause for celebration.

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

RUTHERGLEN AREA JUNE 2018

I've just returned from a most enjoyable couple of days birding around Rutherglen.  It was cold - naturally - and also surprisingly dry, but very productive.  I saw 82 species of birds, not counting the Wedge-tailed Eagle I saw on the way home.  This was the first time I'd been birding since the death of my birding mate, Philip Jackson.  Each time I saw something special, I thought how much PJ would have appreciated it.
Rufous Whistler, photo by Jim O'Toole

I expect winter in Rutherglen to be cold, but Monday morning was very cold - someone said minus 3.  Certainly I haven't seen white frost like that since I was a child.  It crunched underfoot.  The best bird before breakfast was a male Rufous Whistler, who'd forgotten he was supposed to be a summer migrant.  Then, before morning tea, we saw a flock of Diamond Firetails on the road out of Chiltern's No 1 dam.  At Cyanide I had great close views of a pair of Turquoise Parrots, who wanted to make friends rather than fly away.  I saw 57 species of birds (and also heard Whistling Kite and Eastern Yellow Robin) but, notwithstanding the Turquoise Parrots, the day belonged to the beasts.  I saw lots of kangaroos and one wallaby, but also a couple of antechinus (always a thrill) and, most unusually, a koala on the Greenhill Road.  I hoped to add platypus to this list, but I could not.  The nearest I came to another animal, was a huge, just dug wombat hole near Lake Kerford on the Beechworth Forest Drive the following day. 
Gang-gang Cockatoo, photo by Richard Schurmann

On Tuesday, I managed 60 birds, including 25 I had not seen on Monday.  Before breakfast, there was a flock of shovellers on Lake King.  In Beechworth township, a pair of Gang-gangs sat in a street tree.  I visited Woolshed Falls to add Striated Thornbill to my list, and back at Cyanide dam, I saw a Speckled Warbler, one of my very favourite birds.  I was walking along Cyanide Road and I could hear 'chip' contact calls overhead.  It seemed to be three birds in the canopy of three different trees.  I guessed they were Yellow-tufted Honeyeaters, so I spent some time craning my neck in an attempt to identify them.  Finally, I managed to see that one was a Spotted Pardalote, then, after another five minutes, I saw that another was an Eastern Spinebill.  The third bird, was, as expected, a Yellow-tufted Honeyeater.  Were these three different species making a 'chip' contact call to each other?  How very odd.  I wished PJ had been there to discuss it with.


Monday, 4 June 2018

Vale Philip Jackson

Philip Jackson died peacefully yesterday morning, with his family around him.  The cancer we all thought he'd beaten, returned with a swift vengeance.  

I'd only known PJ for a short while, but we became good birding companions and had many happy birding trips together.
Philip ignoring authority, Lockhart River January 2018
I met Philip at the Long-billed Dowitcher twitch at Lake Tutchewop in November 2014.  We each turned up, to look for this exciting bird - and failed.  A week later, after more reported sightings, we each separately drove up to Lake Tutchewop again, from memory about four hours from Melbourne.  This time we were successful.  I hadn't enjoyed the drive up - aquaplaning on black ice in my new car.  Glowing in my success at seeing the dowitcher, I asked Philip where he lived.  'Ivanhoe,' he said and I confessed I came from Kew.  We were practically neighbours.  It was obvious.  We should have driven up together.

My cheeky question was the beginning of a great friendship.  Together we birded as much as we could.  I've lost count of the number of times we visited Werribee's Western Treatment Plant.  We birded at Banyule and at Wilson Reserve.  I took him to Tara Bulga to see Pilotbirds.  We went to Kamarooka for honeyeaters, to LaTrobe for Swift Parrots and to Braeside for the Pectoral Sandpiper and Long-toed Stint.  Last January we visited Iron Range together and he achieved several lifers.  Together we twitched the SIPO at Broadwater in January 2017 (my 800th bird), then in December, the Aleutian Terns at Old Bar in New South Wales.

I loved his irreverence and his quince jelly.  He loved Essendon Football Club.  I will miss our birding trips and our political discussions.  My thoughts are with Sue, Claire and Bill.

Monday, 28 May 2018

EAGLEHAWK NECK MAY 2018

It's getting harder and harder to see new birds, but I get more and more pleasure out of each new sighting.  Last weekend I visited Tasmania and did two pelagics out of Eaglehawk Neck.  The highlight was seeing a Westland Petrel - a new bird for me.  We had good views on Saturday, then, just for fun, more sightings on Sunday.  There were other exciting occurrences too, my first 'brocken spectre' from the plane on the way down, Sooty Albatross (more than one!), White-headed Petrels (always a favourite) and others on the boat (not me, sadly) saw a Black-bellied Storm Petrel - as far as I know, never recorded before here in May.
Westland Petrel, photo by Els Wakefield

My friend Els Wakefield was picking me up from the airport in Hobart and she said 'Come early, and we'll have a day's birding.'  She didn't have to say that twice!  I was up at 5.30 and on the 8.15 plane.  Weather was fine as we took off and flew through the cloud cover.  Above the clouds, as far as I could see in every direction was fluffy white cotton wool.  Then I saw a magnificent spectacle.  A pink ring on the clouds, with the shadow of our plane in the centre.  It was breath taking.  Clever Els told me it was called a 'brocken spectre.'  I'd never heard of it and certainly never seen one before.  A good omen I thought.

Els and I had a lovely day birding on Friday.  We saw 53 species and had a delicious lunch at the Waterfront Cafe in Dunally.  Els was delighted to show me a couple of Pink-eared Ducks - a rare vagrant in Tasmania.  I always love pinkies, but I'm afraid I didn't display as much enthusiasm for this common Victorian bird as Els thought they deserved.  For me, the highlight was a couple of Hooded Dotterels on the beach at Marion Bay.  We saw several Flame and Scarlet Robins, but dipped on Dusky.  I was a bit disappointed to see a total of 16 kookaburras during the day - I don't remember seeing that many on previous visits to Tasmania.  Laughing Kookaburras (along with Superb Lyrebirds) were introduced to Tasmania and don't belong there.

At Eaglehawk Neck, we stayed at the Lufra.  It was a special jazz weekend.  The hotel was full, the atmosphere was cheerful and the music was fantastic.

On Saturday morning, we arrived at Pirates Bay before 7, but far from the usual sleepy cove, the place was humming.  There was a fishing competition on and there must have been 50 fishing trailers all trying to launch their boats simultaneously.  There were fishermen, boats, and four wheel drives bumper to bumper.  The small group of birders who usually had the wharf to themselves had to weave their way between fishermen.  I managed to board the Pauletta without falling over - always an achievement for me.

It was a great day.  I had a list of 35 species which had ever been recorded here in May.  Of these I saw 23 on Saturday.  Other people saw more.  I saw 26 on Sunday and again, others saw more.  I didn't see the Grey Petrel others saw or the aforementioned Black-bellied Storm Petrel.  The Sooty Albatross we saw on Sunday was not on the list.
Southern Royal Albatross, photo by Els Wakefield

A Crescent Honeyeater landed on the aerial while we cruised past the Hippolytes.  I didn't see it.  I was busy watching a peregrine attacking a sea eagle.  Saturday was a day of albatross and Sunday was a day of prions.  At one stage on Saturday, we had over 50 Shy Albatross sitting around the boat.  We also saw Buller's, Campbell's, Wandering and a Southern Royal, and a couple of Sooties on Sunday. We saw several Common Diving Petrel, lots of Cape Petrel, a sprinkling of Northern Giant Petrels (with just one Southern on Sunday).  There were Soft-plumaged, White-headed, Great Winged, Grey-faced Petrels and of course, most importantly, the Westland.  As to Storm Petrels, I saw Wilson's and Grey-backed.  Others saw White-faced and, exceptionally, Black-bellied.  I was sorry I missed the Grey Petrel - it didn't hang around - but I had an inward glow from my Westland and I wasn't complaining.
Soft-plumaged Petrel, photo by Els Wakefield

It was cold.  In fact, I don't remember ever being so cold.  On Sunday, I borrowed a jumper and a neck warmer, and they helped.  So did the second cup of coffee that the skipper kindly gave me.  I must have been cold because I ring I have worn since 1970 fell off my finger.  That's never happened before.  I lost it in Els' car, but (bless her!) she found it.  We had expected choppy seas on Sunday, but it wasn't too bad at all.
White-headed Petrel, photo by Els Wakefield

Altogether a very successful weekend.  Let's face it, any time I get a lifer, it's successful.  But this was particularly enjoyable.  The Eaglehawk Neck pelagics are always very friendly and usually produce a good birdlist.  We did well.  Thanks to Paul Brooks for organizing the pelagic, to Els for all her help (and her photos), and to everyone on the boat for making it such an enjoyable weekend.

Of course, the main reason for my trip, was to see a Southern Fulmar, and in that I failed miserably.  I'll just have to go back in 2019.  What a shame.

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

TORRES STRAIT MARCH 2018

At last my luck has changed!  Finally, I've seen a new bird in 2018.  In January, I dipped on the Black-eared Catbird and the White-necked Petrel.  In February, I missed the petrel again.  In March I visited the Torres Strait and I had great hopes for some new birds.

I'd visited Boigu Island briefly in January 2006 with Klaus as part of his Bamega Bird Week.  A decade later I visited both Boigu and Saibai with Richard Baxter's Birding Tours Australia.  We saw some great birds (including such megas as Zoe's Imperial Pigeon and Coroneted Fruit Dove) but we dipped on Coconut Lorikeet.  I thought I was unlucky to miss this relatively easy bird and this was my main target when I returned this year.

In March 2018 Richard ran four back to back tours.  The first tour had magnificent sightings, including Mimic Honeyeater and Pink-spotted Fruit Dove, and, I was delighted to note, Coconut Lorikeet.  The second tour did not see any birds that would have been new for me, and, worse, they dipped on Coconut Lorikeet.  I was on the third tour, the only one scheduled to visit a third island, Ugar.

We visited Boigu first.  It was muddy.  The Mimic Honeyeater had gone home to New Guinea.  As I stepped gingerly through the mud, hoping I wouldn't fall over, I was thankful the mosquitoes were not in the plague proportions they had been two years earlier.  Alas, I saw no lorikeets.
Enjoying Torres Strait weather, photo by Joy Tansy

We moved on to Saibai and the temperature increased.  The Pink-spotted Fruit Dove had also returned to New Guinea.  We stood for hours hoping that lorikeets would fly over.  Others in the group were getting ticks.  We saw Gurney's Eagle and Uniform Swiftlets.  But no lorikeets.  

As the time approached for us to move to Ugar, Cyclone Nora put in an appearance.  Seas would be rough.  We had no choice.  Ugar was off the agenda.  Instead, we sheltered in the channel between Saibai and Kaumag.  I was on the upper deck with Jen Spry when a pair of lorikeets flew over, calling.  With her fantastic eyesight, Jen identified Red-flanked Lorikeets.  At the time, I confess I'd rather they'd been the much more common Coconut variety.

Later, I was standing, chatting, on the lower deck, when I heard Richard call 'lorikeets.'  I looked where I'd seen the Red-flankeds.  Nothing.  Everyone else was looking the other way.  I turned, but the birds had flown.  I'd missed out!  The one bird I'd come to see, and I'd missed it.  I could not believe it. 

The next morning, everyone else enjoyed a boat cruise in the tenders, but I stayed on board the mother ship to search for Coconut Lorikeets.  I was not disappointed.  I saw dozens of them, in flocks of from four to about a dozen, screeching overhead at various heights, sometimes showing colours, sometimes just black silhouettes.  Once two birds perched in a mangrove.  I had my Coconut Lorikeets at last.  The world was a better place.  I was going home with two ticks.

Saturday, 24 February 2018

ANOTHER DISAPPOINTING KIAMA PELAGIC

2018 is not being kind to me.

I dipped on the Black-eared Catbird, and now I've dipped on the White-necked Petrel for the second time this year.  That's it for WNP attempts for me this year, as I'll be in the Torres Strait in March.  (Best time to see these petrels is January, February and March.  They are recorded in April - in fact I've been told that Port Stephens in April is the best time to see them - but the records do not seem to back that up.)
Long-tailed Jaeger, photo by Brook Whylie

It was a disappointing day at sea.  The weather was better than expected - it was warm, there was a little wind and some rain as we returned to port.  We expected heavy seas, but they really weren't too bad.  It was a little rough as we headed to the shelf, but not nearly as bumpy as had been forecast.
Wedge-tailed Shearwater, photo by Brook Whylie 

In January, when I did the Kiama pelagic, I decided the Bird of the Day was the bulbul I saw on the way to the boat.  Yesterday, it was easy to select the Bird of the Day, as there were so few contenders.  I added three seabirds to my list for 2018:  Wilson's Storm Petrel, Shy Albatross and Long-tailed Jaeger.  The storm petrel flew past just once, wanting to get himself onto our list, but not staying to chat.  The albatross also did not linger.  It flew in to the berley, grabbed breakfast and departed immediately.  The jaegers were more cooperative.  There were several big fat Pomarine Jaegers throughout the day, but I'm told there were only three Long-tailed Jaegers:  an adult, a juvenile and an immature.  They stayed with us for most of the day, flying overhead and showing off their different plumages.  Indisputably the Bird of the Day.
Hutton's Shearwater, photo by Brook Whylie

We saw the usual list of shearwaters, a few Grey-faced Petrels and a sprinkling of terns.  I think any birder would have classed it as an unsatisfactory birdlist.
Grey-faced Petrel, photo by Brook Whylie

It was a disappointed wet group of birders who disembarked from the boat when we returned to Kiama.  I believe there were a dozen birders on board.  At least five of us had travelled up from Victoria with the sole purpose of admiring a White-necked Petrel.  It was my eighteenth attempt to see this bird. I wonder how many more times must I travel north in search of a bird that is not supposed to be rare.

Thursday, 15 February 2018

WHAT A DAY WE HAD AT WERRIBEE!

Yesterday, my birding friend, PJ, and I visited the Western Treatment Plant at Werribee.  It was our first visit for 2018, so we expected to get lots of ticks for our year lists.  We saw nine species of ducks and five species of terns.  We saw several (five I think) very dark young Swamp Harriers, each looking very handsome.  We saw Glossy Ibis, Baillon's Crake and a Black-faced Cormorant (a bird we rarely see at Werribee).  We had great views of a very friendly Little Grassbird, and, to cap it all off, a Peregrine Falcon and a pair of wedgies put in appearance as we were leaving.

We arrived at about 11 and left around 3.30.  In this time we clocked up 83 species, notwithstanding wind and rain.

Luck seemed to be with us.  We started at the T Section where the roads had all been graded and gravelled.  We were most appreciative of this when it started to rain.  All the usual suspects were here (waders, ducks, coots, cisticolas, finches, chats) as well as one confident and confiding Baillon's Crake, one Glossy Ibis and our friendly Little Grassbird.

Next, we drove to Western Lagoons, where we always add Red-capped Plover to our list.  We were admiring waders here, when a couple of Brolgas flew overhead - always an inspiring sight.  We were pleased to see a Marsh Sandpiper foraging beside a Common Greenshank, making a useful comparison.

We stopped along Beach Road to admire our first Black-shouldered Kite for the day, and saw a large flock of Zebra Finches with a few European Greenfinches tagging along, and Yellow-rumped Thornbills hopping amongst them.  All birds we'd hoped to add to our lists for 2018.

We drove to the boat launch and I said I'd like a Pacific Gull.  Obligingly, PJ pointed to the left.  Then I requested a Pied Cormorant and immediately PJ produced one. While my luck was in, I said an Australasian Gannet would be good and one flew unusually close right in front of us!  Howzat!  Perhaps I should have requested a White-necked Petrel!

As we drove through the gate on Beach Road we could see ducks loafing on Freckled Duck Rock.  We drove closer and confirmed they were Freckled Ducks.  This was once a reliable spot to see them, but I haven't seen them there for years.
Male Freckled Duck - I confess I did not take this yesterday

We took the coast road to the Borrow Pits, then drove out along Paradise Road, where Cape Barren Geese were grazing.  Our bird list was round about 80 and we were feeling pretty pleased with ourselves.  Then the peregrine appeared, right beside the car, and a couple of wedgies soared overhead as we drove through the final gate.

Werribee never disappoints, but yesterday was really one out of the bag.

Sunday, 28 January 2018

THE ELUSIVE WHITE-NECKED PETREL

Oh, dear.  Recently I was lamenting the fact that I'd dipped on Black-eared Catbirds after four trips to Iron Range - two of which had the sole purpose of looking for catbirds.  Now I am bemoaning the fact that I've dipped on White-necked Petrels.  Again.

I have looked for White-necked Petrels every summer since 2008.  I've been to Wollongong on six occasions, Port Stephens twice, Southport twice and this was my third trip to Kiama.  In addition to this, four boat trips I've booked on for the sole purpose of admiring White-necked Petrels, have been cancelled.
Wedge-tailed Shearwater, photo by Brook Whylie

We had a pleasant day out of Kiama on Saturday 27 January 2018.  The weather was perfect, the sea was calm, the company was great, but there were no exciting birds.  For me, the best bird of the trip was the bulbul I saw sitting on electricity wires on the way to the boat.  A White-tailed Tropicbird was probably the most unusual sighting we had.  It flew low over the boat, giving good views.  The only jaegers we saw were Pomarines, and I think there were about half a dozen of them.  We saw six species of shearwater:  the most common was Wedge-tailed, then Flesh-footed, with just one or two Short-tailed and Sooty.  We had exceptionally good views of both Fluttering and Hutton's and what was most unusual was they were close enough even for me to tell the difference.
Fluttering Shearwater, photo by Brook Whylie


Hutton's Shearwater, photo by Brook Whylie

Naturally, a White-necked Petrel was seen out of Southport the day after I didn't see one out of Kiama.  All I can do is keep my fingers crossed for February.