Wednesday, 27 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.