Sunday, 16 December 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.

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