Tuesday, 31 December 2013

KARKAROOK PARK

Blue-billed Duck

I decided to start my year at Karkarook Park, hoping to see a Blue-billed Duck.  I arrived at 8.30 a.m. and at 8.35 I had my beautiful Blue-billed Duck.  2014 is looking good!

Karkarook Park is in Warrigal Road in suburban Heatherton.  Melbourne birders know it because in August 2011 an Australian Little Bittern turned up here.  Otherwise, it is famous for Blue-billed Duck.  I tried very hard to fit Karkarook Park into my Best 100 Birdwatching Sites in Australia, but alas, I could not.  It is, after all, just a suburban park.  It is part of Melbourne Water's water purification system.  Formerly a sand mine, the park opened in 2004 and caters for everyone.  There is a 15 hectare lake, and fishing, canoeing, kayaking and sailing are all encouraged.  There are six kilometres of shared pathways.

This morning was very grey and it rained half-heartedly the whole time I was here.  I arrived at 8.30 and left at 9.40 and managed to clock up 34 species in the rain, not counting the Little Grassbird that called from a distance then most frustratingly stopped calling when I approached him, or the Grey Butcherbird that called from the car park when I was on the other side of the footbridge.

Karkarook is always good for Common Greenfinch and in summer, Australian Reed-Warblers call constantly.  I have seen Latham's Snipe, Buff-banded Rail and Australian Spotted Crake here, but not today.  Today I saw the usual waterbirds (but just one cormorant, the Little Black) including a beautiful Hoary-headed Grebe.  Of course there are Willie Wagtails, greenies and Red-browed Finches.  I saw Galahs and Little Corellas, which are becoming more and more common around Melbourne.

Altogether, what I'd call a good start to the year.

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

CHRISTMAS AT THE SEWAGE FARM

Avocets at Werribee, You Yangs in the background

Rog and I decided to spend Christmas Day at the Werribee Sewage Farm.  The weather was warm, there were no crowds, the birds were prolific:  a perfect Christmas Day!

We arrived at 9.30, and left at 2.00, having seen 71 species.  The highlight was probably a Cox's Sandpiper, which was in T Section Lagoon Pond 4, along with some Sharp-tailed Sandpipers.

We saw some Dusky Woodswallows as we drove down Pt Wilson Road to the Murtcaim Wildlife Area, hoping for Brolga.  This area was very dry and there was no hint of Brolga.  Next stop was the T Section Lagoons, where we admired Baillon's and Australian Spotted Crakes walking happily amongst the reeds.  There are always Australasian Grebes around here, and today there were thousands of Whiskered Terns.  Of course we saw and heard Golden-headed Cisticolas and saw hundreds of Australian Shelducks.  In fact we had ten species of ducks during the day.  Just one pair of Cape Barren Geese stood at the water's edge, not doing anything much, as sandpipers and stints played on the mud.

From T Section Lagoons, we drove to Western Lagoons, hoping for a Lewin's Rail, which had been seen here with some cute black fluffy chicks a fortnight ago.  We dipped on the rail, but we saw a Curlew Sandpiper in full breeding beauty, which was some compensation.  There were thousands of waders here, mainly Red-necked Stints, but also plenty of Sharp-tailed Sandpipers and a few very handsome Red-kneed Dotterels as well as a small covey of Common Greenshanks.  A couple of Black-winged Stilts stood with the greenshanks, the stilts' bright pink legs confused with the greenshanks dull green legs, making me reach for my binoculars to confirm that I didn't have a redshank amongst the throng.  Of course it would have been too good to be true.

We saw three other cars during the course of the day.  We said 'Merry Christmas' to a couple at the Western Lagoons, and they said that they'd flushed a Brolga by the gate.  It had flown back to the T Section.  So, as we left the Western Lagoons, we scanned the T Section and sure enough, two regal Brolga stood beside our lazy Cape Barren Geese.

Then we drove down Beach Road to the boat ramp, adding a few cormorants to our growing list.  We decided against the rough road to Kirk Point, knowing that we were foregoing the possibility of Pacific Golden Plover.  Instead we drove along the coast road and down to the bird hide.  Everywhere we looked there were hundreds of waders.

There were several Great Crested Grebe in the river as we drove to Paradise Road, but there was little to see at Paradise.  In fact, I don't remember ever seeing so few birds there.  Then it was on to the Borrow Pits for a bottle of bubbly and lunch.  We were surprised and delighted to see that a couple of seats had been installed for our comfort.

We ate our sandwiches watching terns, dotterels, avocets and stilts, while Silvereyes sang from above.  Did anyone ever have a better Christmas feast than this?

Friday, 20 December 2013

MELBOURNE BOTANIC GARDENS

Black Swan
Yesterday I spent a pleasant hour wandering around Melbourne's Botanic Gardens.  It was warm and sunny with just a slight breeze.  If I were forced to find a complaint, it was that it was too popular.  There were too many people enjoying what I wanted to enjoy!

I used to visit the gardens to add Song Thrush and Nankeen Night-Heron to my list, but it has been many years now since I've seen a Song Thrush in the Melbourne Botanic Gardens.  Nor did I see a night-heron yesterday.  One bird that is guaranteed today is the Bell Miner.  I saw plenty of them.  And, as on last Monday when I visited the Melbourne General Cemetery, the most numerous bird was the Red Wattlebird. 

I heard, but could not see, the Eastern Koel.  Until recently, koels were not regarded as Victorian birds at all.  In his authoritative Handlist of the Birds of Victoria published in 1967, Roy Wheeler classifies the koel as an accidental summer migrant and records just one record, from Mallacoota in January 1917.  Then, ninety years later, in January 2007, one turned up in the Melbourne Botanic Gardens.  He liked it so much that he now takes his summer break there each year.  Yesterday, he called from the top of a conifer.  I hurried up the hill and, as soon as I reached the tree, he stopped calling.  He had fun with me a few other times during the morning, but always remained hidden.

My birdlist was surprisingly small.  I was missing all the little birds.  I don't know how I missed the Grey Fantail that serenaded me loudly, but simply would not show himself.  I also heard, but did not see, Brown Thornbills, Superb Fairy-wrens, White-browed Scrubwrens and an Eastern Spinebill.  No wonder my list was small!

I always hope for crakes in the gardens, but am rarely gratified.  I did not see any yesterday.  I saw all the usual suspects, the common waterbirds, blackbirds, currawongs, Little Ravens, and again, my favourite, the Willie Wagtail.

It is great to see the people of Melbourne enjoying their botanic gardens.  Perhaps if I allow a little more time on my next visit, I might see that pesky koel.  And I'll never give up on the Song Thrush.

Monday, 16 December 2013

MELBOURNE GENERAL CEMETERY

Australian Magpie
Yesterday I visited the Melbourne General Cemetery for a spot of birding.  This is not one of Melbourne's top birding spots - no, it does not make it into my best 100 sites - but it suits me to go there.  It is an interesting place to walk around, lots of historic headstones to admire if the birds don't perform, and I have seen some good birds there.  For example, I've seen Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoos, Tawny Frogmouths and a Little Eagle.  I wasn't quite that lucky yesterday.

The first bird to greet me as I entered the gate was a Red Wattlebird.  'Kwok!' he asserted and I agreed.  Wattlebirds were the dominant bird of the morning, mainly red ones, but also Little.  I suspect that Little Wattlebirds are extending their range.  I lived in this vicinity for twenty years and they were not commonly seen then.  Today they are easily observed.

The next most common bird was the Little Raven.  Flocks flew overhead, cawing.  They played in the cyprus trees and on the ground.  I lost count of how many I'd seen.  I tried to check out each bird to ensure that they were all Little Ravens, and no Australian Ravens had crept into their ranks.

Then, came magpies.  Two families had full size young begging constantly.  There were also a couple of free flying, apparently unattached males, soaring overhead, calling occasionally to make sure I noticed them.

I did not see anything particularly startling yesterday.  However, I saw my favourite bird (Willie Wagtail) so I was happy.  I always see Yellow-rumped Thornbills, Rainbow Lorikeets and Welcome Swallows and I usually see Galahs, Crested Pigeons and New Holland Honeyeaters.  Yesterday I was surprised to miss out on Superb Fairy-wrens, White-plumed Honeyeaters and Silvereyes.  I managed 18 species in about 45 minutes, which is okay for a site without water so close to the city.  Anyway, I was happy.  I'm always satisfied if I see a Willie Wagtail.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

YOU YANGS REGIONAL PARK

On Saturday I went to the You Yangs to pull out boneseed.  The weather was perfect, the company was convivial and the birds were wonderful, as usual.  The You Yangs Regional Park is number 31 on my Best 100 Birdwatching Sites in Australia, and the birding is great.  We go to the You Yangs once a quarter, so birders have usually done some interesting trips between visits, and I enjoy the birdy gossip as much as the birds.

Boneseed is an invasive weed from South Africa and these outings are arranged by BirdLife Australia to keep our allocated patch boneseed free.

The You Yangs Regional Park is 55 kilometres south-west of Melbourne off the Geelong Road via the township of Little River.  It is dry eucalypt woodland, with several small dams, so the birdlist features bush birds and waterbirds.

We start the day birding around the car park, then go to Gravel Pit Tor.  We have lunch at a picnic table beside a small waterhole, then do some more birding around that site.  In the early afternoon we pull out some boneseed, then finish the day with more birding at East Flat.  It's obvious that the weeding is just an excuse for our primary activity:  birding.

The You Yangs are famous for Tawny Frogmouths and, in autumn and winter, Swift Parrots.  We didn't see any frogmouths on Saturday.  The resident pair, usually seen around the park office, have not been seen for some weeks.  I expect they'll return one day.  I hope it's in time for our next excursion in March 2014.

The birdlist for the day is usually quite impressive.  My personal list is always much smaller.  I thought the best birds on Saturday were the Brown-headed and Black-chinned Honeyeaters together with (most unusually, just one) Varied Sittella.  A pair of Scarlet Robins provided much pleasure and Rufous Whistlers entertained us all day.  While I was boneseeding, I was serenaded by Yellow Robins, Olive-backed Orioles and Fantailed Cuckoos.  It was difficult not to knock off work and look at the birds, but I always leave my binoculars in the car when we set to work, to lessen the temptation.

Raptors can be quite good at the You Yangs, but the only one I identified with confidence on Saturday was a wedgie.  He soared over us while we were having lunch, reminding us it was time to stop feeding our faces and go birding.

Anyone is welcome to join us at the You Yangs on the first Saturday of March, June, September and December.  All you need to bring is lunch, binoculars and enthusiasm!

Friday, 22 November 2013

CHILTERN AGAIN



Painted Honeyeater

Rog and I spent a lovely day in Chiltern this week.  It was our seventh trip this year, so I wasn't expecting any surprises.  But, while the media is celebrating anniversaries (JFK's assassination, fifty years of Dr Who) I am rejoicing in a remarkable collection of firsts.  It rained all morning, but still we had some great sightings.  Chiltern never lets me down!

This was the first time that I witnessed Painted Honeyeaters at Lappin's Dam in the Chiltern/Mt Pilot National Park.  Painted Honeyeaters are becoming more easily seen around Chiltern and are now just about guaranteed at Bartley's Block over summer.

This was the first time I'd seen Diamond Firetails at No 2 Dam.  Firetails, too, are becoming more easily seen around Chiltern.  I've often seen them at No 1 Dam and I've seen them several times in Rutherglen at the ephemeral swamp and around the gate entering Lake Moodemere.
This was the first time I'd seen Great Crested Grebe at No 2 Dam.

This was the first time I'd seen White-throated Gerygones at Cyanide Dam.

This was the first ever Black-eared Cuckoo I've seen anywhere in Chiltern.  It, too, was at No 2 Dam.

This was the first time I'd witnessed a Rufous Songlark doing a whisper call.  It was a female and she had a large insect in her beak.  She was making a very quiet rattle call.

This was the first time I'd heard a Satin Bowerbird making a downward whistle, ending in a harsh squawk.  This was the first time I'd seen Satin Bowerbirds in Chiltern/Mt Pilot National Park.  I am familiar with Satin Bowerbirds and thought I knew their calls, but this whistle was different.  It was extremely loud, and slightly reminiscent of the Sooty Owl's falling bomb call.

This was the first time I'd ever seen a white wallaby in Victoria.  I say white, not albino, as it had black eyes.  It was at Cyanide Dam in the Honeyeater Picnic Area.  The only other place I've ever seen white wallabies is in captivity in Bordertown, South Australia.

And, one last record, which wasn't a first but a second.  This was just the second time I've seen Leaden Flycatchers in Chiltern.  They were near Cyanide Dam.  I believe that the first time was last summer.  It would be nice to think that Leaden Flycatchers, along with Painted Honeyeaters and Diamond Firetails, are becoming more common around Chiltern.

In my book 'Best 100 Birdwatching Sites in Australia' I list Chiltern as number 5.  Sites 1-4 offer seabirds and waders.  (They are Broome, Werribee, Cairns and Macquarie Island.)  I believe Chiltern really is the top spot for bush birds.  It is true:  Chiltern never lets me down!

 

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

BLACK-WINGED MONARCH


Thanks to Martin Cachard, I have now decreased my list of bogey birds by one.  On Monday he showed me the beautiful Black-winged Monarch, a bird I had feared I would never see.  Over the years, I have visited the tip of Cape York twice and Iron Range once, and always dipped on this elusive bird.  Thank you, Martin!  And a big 'thank you' to Judy Leitch too, who organized the trip.  Sine qua non.

I flew to Cairns on Sunday (and a very noisy uncomfortable flight it was) and had time for a quick wander up the Esplanade in the afternoon. I managed 35 species before the heat sent me back to my cool hotel room.  The tide was a long way out and a scope would have been handy.  However, there was plenty to see close to the boardwalk, mainly plovers and sandpipers, but also a Grey-tailed Tattler, several Eastern Curlews and one or two Whimbrels.  I saw only Bar-tailed Godwits (no Black-taileds today), plenty of Red-necked Stints and a few Gull-billed Terns.  The plovers included Pacific Golden, Lesser Sand, Greater Sand, and Red-capped and the Sandpipers were Marsh, Terek, Sharp-tailed and Curlew.  I walked along the Esplanade until I saw a Nutmeg Mannikin, then I turned back.  Along the way there were Rainbow Bee-eaters and my favourite woodswallows, White-breasted, to entertain me.  At one spot, I found I was nearly stepping on Peaceful Doves.  They are much smaller here than the ones I am used to in the south.  I counted 14 walking on the pavement at my feet, and I could hear others calling in the trees above. 



McIvor River, far north Queensland

It was an early start the next morning.  Judy and I drove to Smithfield, where Martin picked us up at 4.15.  It was a pleasant drive north, watching the huge golden moon set.  We arrived at McIvor River at 9.30 and saw our first Black-winged Monarch at 9.40.  Howzat!  It was a female, and the silvery grey of her plumage was perfect.  Not long later we watched a male sing to us.  He, too, had beautiful grey plumage.  However, his wings were not as black as I'd expected and I was disappointed that his chestnut breast was not as bright as I'd thought it would be.  Poor bird, to be judged by my uneducated expectations!  To be honest, I would not have cared what he looked like, I was simply delighted to see a bird that I'd been trying to see for decades. 

Black-winged Monarch - Photo: Judy Leitch

The McIvor River causeway was a hot spot for birding.  The birds came too fast to write them all down.  There was a Papuan Frogmouth dutifully sitting on his nest in the hot sun, and a Helmeted Friarbird lower down on a nest in the same tree.  There were honeyeaters (Graceful, Yellow-spotted, Macleay's and Brown-backed), Fairy Gerygones, Forest and Azure Kingfishers and Shining and Leaden Flycatchers as well as Rufous and Northern Fantails.  There were also Yellow-breasted Boatbills and Spectacled Monarchs.  During the day we saw (and heard) all four friarbirds and admired a Wompoo Fruit-dove sitting on her nest.  There were sunbirds, mistletoebirds and silvereyes.  And of course there were raptors and waterbirds.  There were Metallic Starlings, Drongos and Pheasant Coucals.  And doves. 
We took in the view from Grassy Hill in Cooktown and paused briefly to admire prolific bright red mistletoe (with resident friarbirds) at Black Mountain, while colourful fig-parrots zoomed past.  We were impressed with the number of species and the number of birds at Lake Mitchell and I made a mental note to go back there one day with Roger.  A Grey Wagtail had been reported, so we stopped at the spot.  It was raining by then and the 3.30 start was beginning to take its toll on me (but not on the others) and a wagtail would been just the thing to raise my spirits.  However it was not to be.  We saw just the usual display of ducks and cormorants and the ubiquitous Common Mynas which seem even more numerous in far north Queensland than at home in Victoria.  We arrived back at our hotel just after 7, tired, but with undeniable smirks on our faces. 
The next morning before I flew home, Judy took me to see the Rufous Owl.  He sat, obligingly, staring down at us.  He is roosting in a colony of squealing fruit bats.  Wonderful to see such an exciting species right in the middle of civilization.  Then, of course, we walked the Esplanade again.  If the tide had been too far out on Sunday, today it was too far in.  The water lapped the base of the boardwalk and there was precious little mud for birds to forage on.  The waders were fewer, but different.  This time there were knots (both Red and Great) and both Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwits.  Again, it was uncomfortably hot. 

Rufous Owl - Photo: Judy Leitch

I flew home feeling quite ridiculously pleased with myself.  Judy had done all the organizing.  Martin had done the driving and provided the expertise.  Yet I was the one feeling proud and successful.  I had seen number 733 and no one could take that away from me


Sunday, 20 October 2013

THE GREAT RUFOUS SCRUB-BIRD DEBACLE


Setting off with my guide, Duncan.


I wrote here last July that I was hoping to cross the Rufous Scrub-bird off my list of bogey birds in October, when I had arranged a professional guide to show me one in Lamington National Park.

Rog and I are now back from our trip to Queensland.  We drove around 4,000 kilometres and saw 171 bird species.  Sadly, this did not include that reprobate, the Rufous Scrub-bird.  We saw an echidna, many kangaroos, wallabies and pademelons, a huge colony of fruit bats at Casino, just one Long-nosed Bandicoot at Beechworth on the way home and lots of lizards and lace monitors.  The wildflowers were wonderful - white and yellow and pink and purple.  There were orchids and grevilleas, candles and sundews, fringe lillies and junceas.

We took a week to drive from Melbourne to O'Reilly's Rainforest Retreat in Lamington National Park situated in Queensland just north of the New South Wales border. We spent three days at O'Reilly's, then took another week to drive home. Along the way we visited many of my favourite birding spots - and found some new ones.

Of course we called into Chiltern on the way. At Bartley's Block I saw Brown-headed Honeyeaters, Dusky, Masked and White-browed Woodswallows and a very vocal Sacred Kingfisher - the first of many for the trip. I also met a keen young birder visiting Bartley's for the first time.  He wanted to see a Turquoise Parrot, a Painted Button-quail and a Painted Honeyeater.  Knowledgeably, I said he had a good chance of the parrot, and that the button-quail was more likely along All Nations Road or Bull Ant Track near the cemetery, although it had been some time since I'd seen one. Then, trying not to disappoint him too cruelly, I suggested that he'd have a better chance of seeing the honeyeater at Melville's Caves near Inglewood. He smiled politely and pointed out an oriole I'd been trying to see.  I thanked him and moved on.  Within seconds he called me back to share wonderfully close views of a Painted Honeyeater sitting obligingly in a leafless fruit tree.  You could call it beginner's luck, but perhaps it was just superior birding. Whatever it was, I do hope he was equally successful with his parrot and his button-quail. 

The next day we visited three of my top 100 birding sites:  Wonga Wetlands, The Rock and Cootamundra. Regrettably, my outstanding memory of that visit to Wonga Wetlands was being dive bombed by two (yes, two at once) very determined magpies. All that was noteworthy at The Rock was a pair of Shing Bronze-Cuckoos. (We called at The Rock again on the way home and I had four Speckled Warblers foraging at my feet, quite unperturbed at my presence.) On our way to O'Reilly's, birds were quiet, too, at Migurra Walk, althought the pink kunzea was flowering profusely. (Again, the story was better on our way home when Superb Parrots took over.  One sat in front of me on a dead branch quite aware of how handsome he was. With the blue sky behind him and the sun shining happily, it would have made a beautiful photo - if only I'd had a camera.  There were also Western Gerygones and Weebills and several Rufous Whistlers.)

We stayed at Coonabarabran because we wanted to visit the Warrumbungles, which I thought were recovering well from last January's bushfires. I was sorry to see goats wandering at liberty.  I would have thought that the fire was a great opportunity to rid the national park of these feral pests.  The tourist literature informed me that 'Coonabarabran' means 'inquisitive person' in the local Gamilraay language. It failed to explain why the town deserved this epithet.

Eight kilometres north of Gilgandra we discovered a beautifully maintained flora reserve, in its prime, with everything flowering. We were greeted by a single male Red-capped Robin and a party of gregarious Apostlebirds. Here we saw Buff-rumped and Inland Thornbills, while Rainbow Bee-eaters cavorted overhead.

Driving from Tamworth to Tenterfield we stopped at Guyra for coffee, attracted by the sign to Mother Ducks Lagoon. Here the signs (if not the birds) were exceptionally good and we decided to visit the nearby Ramsar site, Little Llangothlin Wildlife Reserve.  Here we saw Freckled Duck and Brown Quail and vowed to return on another occasion when we had time to undertake the five kilometre circuit of the lake.  Apparently walkers must be prepared to get wet feet.

Then it was on to O'Reilly's and the great Rufous Scrub-bird hunt.   My guide was Duncan, O'Reilly's resident scrub-bird expert.  We left at 8 in the morning and walked all day, returning (in the pitch dark) after 6.  I was exhausted.  Duncan is like the Everready pink bunny - he goes forever. Duncan, who has hearing like Radar O'Reilly, heard three scrub-birds but we had no luck in enticing them into view. The scrub-birds Duncan heard were mimicking other birds, not doing the call I'd heard on previous occasions. The reason I'd chosen October to visit O'Reilly's was that I believed the scrub-birds would be at their most vocal at this time.  They were not.  Given that they were not giving their territorial call, in retrospect I think my chances of seeing one were pretty slim.

I did see Noisy Pitta, Black-faced Monarch, Green Catbird, Logrunner and Brown Cuckoo-Dove, but they did not compensate for the missing tick I'd driven to Queensland to see.  I've looked for this devilish scrub-bird on six previous occasions - twice previously at all three sites - O'Reilly's, Binna Burra and Gloucester Tops, most recently spending three days exploring known territories at Gloucester Tops in April this year. It was then I decided I'd never see this bird without professional help.  Now I have failed impressively, notwithstanding professional help!

Not even the gorgeous male Regent Bowerbirds could raise my spirits the next day. My mood did not improve when I failed to see both Russet-tailed Thrush and Paradise Riflebird on the track to the villas (at the bottom of the zigzags) where Duncan said they resided. Not even the Albert's Lyrebird could cheer me up.

I confess a Southern Boobook after tea did make me smile, but by then I'd been mellowed by a glass or two of local wine.

We drove home, following almost the same route, but staying at Dubbo so we could visit the Macquarie Marshes, Much of the marshes was dry, which was disappointing and at the northern section, we were greeted by a locked gate!  As I had collected a welcoming brochure at the Information Centre, I had not expected to be stymied by a padlock.

Our trip to Queensland had just one aim.  In that I failed.  How can I be anything but disappointed?  We did have a pleasant trip.  The wildflowers were universally impressive.  The birds were often very good.  The scenery was sometimes spectacular.  The best panglossian spin I can come up with is, now I have an excuse to do it all again.  (But I wish I didn't.)

Saturday, 28 September 2013

BEST 100 BIRDWATCHING SITES IN AUSTRALIA

Here it is!  My new book.  It's due in the bookshops on Tuesday.  You can get a special deal by buying it here:  www.newsouthbooks.com.au/isbn/9781742233680specd.htm I hope you like it!  And I should thank all the wonderful photographers who helped make it look so good.  Not forgetting NewSouth who've done such a great job in producing it so well.

This really would make a great Christmas present.

Friday, 20 September 2013

TRIN WARREN TAM-BOORE AGAIN


Pacific Black Duck, taken by Jim Smart


I hadn't been to Trin Warren Tam-Boore since March, so I thought it was time for another visit.  This artificial wetlands in Melbourne's magnificent Royal Park, so close to the city centre, is usually a pleasant spot to spend some time.  I was there for just 45 minutes.  The weather was cloudy and far from perfect, yet I managed to record 28 species.  That's not bad.

I had actually made a fleeting visit to this spot the week before, and heard a Horsfield Bronze-Cuckoo.  He was sitting high in a leafless deciduous tree, but despite the bare branches, he still took some finding.  I don't believe I've ever seen a bronze-cuckoo in Royal Park before.  My records for this site are not extensive, but I did live in Parkville for ten years, so I have strolled through the area many times.

On this visit, I was delighted to hear him again.  I also heard a Little Grassbird, which is not unusual for this site.  And I heard a Grey Shrike-thrush, which is called by some, rather unkindly, a 'GST.'  Why should such a glorious songster get a nickname with political overtones?

The other birds I saw were all predictable.  My favourite bird, the Willie Wagtail, is always present here.  So are our common gallinules (coots, swamphens and moorhens).  The reliable ducks are Pacific Black Duck, Australian Wood Duck and Chestnut Teal.  (There is a rather optimisitc illustration of a Blue-billed Duck next to the 'bird hide' but I doubt the water is ever deep enough here for this species.)  There are usually feral and Crested Pigeons, as well as Spotted Doves, and always Silver Gulls.  Common Blackbirds are just that, as are Magpie-Larks and Superb Fairy-wrens.  Welcome Swallows are guaranteed.

The most common honeyeater is the White-plumed, followed closely by Red Wattlebirds.  New Holland Honeyeaters are prolific too, as are Noisy Miners.  Little Wattlebirds are not quite so reliable.

I walked around the pond on the other side of the road and here I saw an Eastern Great Egret foraging at the edge of the water.  There were also Red-browed Finches and White-browed Scrubwrens. 

Altogether, a very pleasant forty-five minutes.

Friday, 13 September 2013

DRAMA IN MY OAK TREE


Brush-tailed Possum, note Pied Currawong's tail above


The Pied Currawongs and Noisy Miners were being unusually vocal this morning.  The currawongs are nesting but I have not been able to discover where.  I've noticed them breaking off live twigs from the silver birches next door and flying off with them.  I have not observed the miners and currawongs interacting before.

A glance out the window explained the excitement.  In broad daylight, a normally nocturnal brush-tailed possum was sitting in my oak tree, apparently alert, being bombed by the currawongs, who were, in turn, being bombed by the miners.  I have to assume that there was something wrong with the possum, or he would be sleeping in his drey, not active during the daytime.  However, as far as I could tell, he was fine.  He could certainly run up the tree quite fast.  Yet, he chose not to return to the safety of his drey.  He is still high in the tree as I write and the currawongs are calling constantly.

Many Melburnians dislike our possums.  Here we have both brush-tailed and ring-tailed and they're both undeniably very cute.  They can make a mess on the paving and apparently they like to eat roses.  If you chose to grow roses, I'm sure you can share a few with our native wildlife.  I'm on the side of the possums.

Only once has a possum irritated me mildly.  Someone forgot to close the flue on our chimney.  (It wasn't me!)  A possum fell into the ashes in the fireplace, got such a fright that he urinated, then proceed to leave sweet little black footprints all over my beige curtains.  He celebrated, too, in my kitchen, creating quite a bit of havoc for one small marsupial.  We found him the next morning, asleep, behind the couch.  A very cute little ring-tail.  He was taken outside, where I hope he was reunited with his family.  No one has forgotten to close the flue since.

The currawongs are still calling outside, but I can no longer see the possum.  I do hope he is safe.

Monday, 9 September 2013

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!

Returning from a successful Short-tailed Grasswren hunt

If there was someone in Australia happier than Tony Abbott on Saturday 7 September 2013, then it was me! On that auspicious day, I saw a pair of Short-tailed Grasswrens and thus deleted a bogey bird from my list.  So a big thank you to Peter Waanders and to his group of birders who allowed me to join them for the morning on Stokes Hill in the Flinders Ranges to see this elusive bird.  What a treat!

Rog drove me over to Hawker and back, so thanks to Roger too.  We did not do much birding en route, my total for the trip was a measly 99 species.  Highlights were parrots (Elegant and Mulga, as well as Cockatiels and Blue Bonnets) and chats (both Crimson and Orange).  We saw just one fat feral cat and just one snake.  The countryside was blooming, good recent rains meant everything looked very healthy.

It was a quick trip, but an extraordinarily satisfying one.  I have looked for Short-tailed Grasswrens on many occasions, usually on Stokes Hill (where Peter Waanders showed it to me) but also other locations in the Flinders Ranges.  To finally add this difficult bird to my lifelist is a most rewarding experience.

Next month I will turn my attention to another bogey bird of mine:  the Rufous Scrubbird.  Let's hope I can be just as successful with that.

Friday, 30 August 2013

BANYULE FLATS RESERVE

Grey Butcherbird by Jim Smart
A Grey Butcherbird serenaded me as I got into my car at home to drive to Banyule Flats Reserve, and another one greeted me as I arrived in the Banyule car park.  Banyule is (I believe) Melbourne's best birding spot - yes, it is in Australia's top 100 sites.  In fact it is in the top 20.  I was surprised when I checked my records to note that I hadn't been to Banyule since January.  An oversight I really should rectify, and what an appropriate way to say farewell to winter.

The first thing I noticed at Banyule was the large amount of wind damage.  Many trees were down, some of them quite large.  (If I'd thought about it, I should have expected this, as we lost our side fence in the ferocious wind recently.)  There was also lots of water.  Too much water, perhaps.  I like to see muddy banks for birds to probe, but today all the banks were submerged.

My first stop (as always) was the lake, where a sign rather optimistically features a bittern.  Here I've seen all three crakes, Buff-banded Rail and Latham's Snipe.  But not today.  (And never a bittern.  But, to be fair, who knows what lurks amongst the reeds and bullrushes.)  Today I had to make do with teal, swan, coots, one lonely Silver Gull and dozens and dozens of Welcome Swallows.  Swallows were hawking over the water and perching on every available post.  I didn't attempt to count them.  Lets just say there were lots.  Amongst them I saw just one Fairy Martin, a vanguard for the summer horde to follow.

Usually, my next port of call is the grotty pond, where a female Australian Painted Snipe turned up in 2001, delighting all Melbourne birders.  However, a large, chatty group of walkers was on that path, so I turned towards the river instead.

Here I was greeted by the glorious song of a gorgeous male Golden Whistler.  He sat on a leafless branch and put his heart and soul into his song.  He was without doubt the bird of the day, and he alone made the drive to Banyule worthwhile.  In less than an hour, I clocked up 32 species, including four new ones for August.  At the end of the month, four new birds is good, but considering that I'd been birding in Queensland and Chiltern this month, I was pleased to add four species to my monthly list.  They were White-browed Scrubwren (extraordinary that I hadn't yet seen this common little fellow in my travels), Common Bronzewing (which, as usual lived up to its name at Banyule), a very vocal and very pretty Eastern Spinebill and the aforementioned Golden Whistler.

Banyule is always worth a visit.  I really shouldn't leave it another seven months before I go again.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

LILYDALE LAKE

Black Swan
Recently I visited the Lilydale Lake, for the second time this year.  Lilydale Lake is not one of Melbourne's best birding spots (it didn't make it into my top 100 sites) but it happens to be conveniently close to the nursing home where my mother resides, so I can pop in easily on my way. On this occasion, it was a cold grey winter day, constantly threatening rain.  I was there for little over half an hour, yet I managed to clock up 25 species, which isn't too bad in the circumstances.  Even better, I managed a couple of new ones for the month, which, given that I'd been birding in Queensland and Chiltern, was an added bonus.  The new birds for August were Long-billed Corella and Chestnut Teal.  A large flock of corellas flew over my head calling, then landed, decorating a tree on the other side of the lake.  Chestnut Teals are so common in Melbourne that we tend to forget (or at least I do) that they are not so common up north.

Otherwise, my bird list contained pretty much what you'd expect.  I did see an Eastern Great Egret in the creek, and just one Australasian Darter on one of the ponds.  As usual, the car park was full of Noisy Miners, with an occasional Red Wattlebird and White-plumed Honeyeater.

Lilydale Lake is always well patronised:  a popular place for picnics.  Even when it's raining there's someone in the car park.  However, it's still worth a quick visit from time to time.  I saw crakes and dotterels here last summer.  And with all that water, and all those reeds, something really interesting could always turn up.  We are lucky in Melbourne to have so many local parks to visit.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

NORTH-EAST VICTORIA

I've just enjoyed a quick trip to north-east Victoria.  I visited Chiltern, Rutherglen and Wonga Wetlands in New South Wales.  The interesting thing was that I saw more birds around north-eastern Victoria than I did on my recent trip to the Queensland gulf country.  Yes, I know, north-west Queensland is in drought, and north-east Victoria has had recent good rains.  But, I was on my own in Victoria, whereas in Queensland I was with six serious birders all trying to clock up as many species as possible.  By myself, I saw as many species in one day as we did on our best day in the gulf country:  59.  In Queensland, we averaged 42 species per day.

On Tuesday, we had lunch at Fowles winery (my favourite restaurant) and I did a bit of birding in the vineyard while Roger paid the bill.  In these few minutes, I enjoyed some of the best birding I've had in a long time.  I saw both male and female Flame and Scarlet Robins, Red-rumped Parrots, Yellow-rumped Thornbills, colourful if exotic Goldfinches and, best of all, Southern Whiteface.  The bird I saw had a feather in his beak, leading me to conclude that he was nesting.  Alas, I could not find his nest.

We had a look at Black Swamp, but there is so much water around generally that the birds have plenty of options, and there was nothing special here.  Then it was on to Rutherglen, where I had hopes for the ephemeral swamp.  There was a fair bit of water here, but not quite enough.  The small hillocks that form islands when the swamp fills, were still accessible by land, so I did not expect to see any crakes.  I've seen good birds here (Turquoise Parrot, White-breasted Woodswallow, Rufous Songlark in summer) but not today.

We always have a look at Ironbark roadside stop.  Yes, I have seen a Regent Honeyeater here - once.  Some of the ironbarks were flowering, but not profusely and there were few birds today.

Wednesday started with bright sunshine and a beautiful blue sky.  We started at Wonga Wetlands.  Last time I was here, there was little water and few birds.  Today, there was a great deal of water and few birds!  Conditions were perfect as I walked around hopefully.  The only bird I saw that I haven't seen here before (this is going from memory, I must check my records) was a Musk Duck.

Wonga Wetlands

When people talk about good birding spots in Chiltern, they will mention Bartley's Block, Cyanide Dam, Greenhill Dam and Number 2 Dam.  (Incidentally, No 2 Dam was locked on Wednesday.  I've not seen that before.)  I don't often hear mention of Chiltern Park, one of my favourite Chiltern birding spots.  This is a roadside stop, north of Chiltern, accessed as you are driving south on the highway.  The sign says that the walk takes 15 minutes.  The birds are always good (at least, they've always been good when I've been there) and I've never done the walk in less than half an hour.  On this occasion, the canopy was dominated by Fuscous Honeyeaters and Red Wattlebirds, and male and female Scarlet Robins took over at eye level.  There were also Striated Thornbills and at least one White-naped Honeyeater.

We have our usual Chiltern routine, but there are some spots we don't often visit.  One such place is Yeddonba.  We went there once, years ago, and it was so hot that we were not encouraged to go back.  It is part of the Chiltern Box-Ironbark National Park.  'Yeddonba' means black cypress pine in the local Aboriginal language and this place has special significance for the Aborigines.  On this occasion, we decided to take a look and I did the walk.  The views were great, but the only birds I saw were Grey Fantails and Brown Thornbills, which did not (in my mind) justify the steep and slippery track.  However, I was pleased I went.  There are some Aboriginal rock paintings which were worth a look.  What was of special interest was a painting of what I believe can only be a thylacine.  As these animals became exinct on the mainland some 2,000 years ago, we are left to assume that the painting is at least that old.

Monday, 12 August 2013

KARUMBA, CLONCURRY AND BACK TO MT ISA




Radjah Shelducks at Karumba Point
 From Adels Grove, we drove to Karumba Point, stopping for lunch at the Burke and Wills Roadhouse, where Apostlebirds providee free amusement for all visitors.  This day we saw our first Emu, our first Brown Falcon and our first Nankeen Kestrel for the trip.  My memory is that we didn't see any more Emus at all, only a couple of Brown Falcons, but we ticked up 14 Nankeen Kestrels today.  Sadly, there were also 4 feral cats.  We found a productive dam beside the road at Normanton where the birding was quite good.  Diamond Doves sat innocently on the ground.  There were waders and ducks on the water, and one fat feral cat that I chased away.

In the mangroves at Karumba Point, we saw magnificent White-breasted Whistlers, Mangrove Gerygones and Mangrove Fantails.  Just to confuse us, there were Grey Fantails here as well.  Out of the mangroves, we saw Yellow White-eyes and Yellow Honeyeaters, both looking very colourful in a large tree with bright orange flowers.  On the beach a flock of Radjah Shelducks was loafing, ignoring the silly birders covered in insect repellent.  I should say, that, despite our diligent preparations, the sand flies were a total non-event.

We saw many Red-backed Kingfishers on the trip and Marsh Sandpipers more than once.  Red-tailed Black-Cockatoos put in several appearances and we saw Zebra Finches and Double-barred Finches frequently.  We saw just one Black-breasted Buzzard, which flew over most uncooperatively when we were travelling, so not everyone had good views.

At Walker's Creek, on the drive from Karumba Point to Cloncurry, we saw a Leaden and a Lemon-bellied Flycatcher.  This was a very pretty spot, well worth a few minutes of our time. 

The Curry Muster was on at Cloncurry and we were treated to a parade up the main street.  I did not witness the entire parade:  all I saw were men standing on the back of trucks with black and white balloons.  Perhaps I missed the essence of the event.

The next day we were up early to travel to the Selwyn Range to admire Rufous-crowned Emu-wrens.  I'd seen these darling little birds before, both in Queensland and in South Australia, but I don't think I've ever had such good views.  I noticed a greyish nape on the male not shown in the illustration in Simpson & Day's field guide.  And the female's eye coverts appeared (to me) to be black and white, whereas conventional wisdom is that they are blue and white.  Here we also had great views of Red-browed Pardalotes.

The next morning we visited Corella Dam, which was not at all as I remembered it.  A decade before, it had been unoccupied and attractive.  When we visited, there were so many campers, it was difficult to find a spot to look for waterbirds without feeling you were intruding into someone's private space.  Then it was on to Clem Walton Park, again a disappointment to me.  The water was reduced to a few large puddles, not at all the picturesque scene I remembered.  We saw a Spotted Bowerbird and the inevitable feral cat.  We had a picnic lunch at Fountain Springs, which I would recommend highly.  A pretty spot, no campers.

Back in Mt Isa, we searched again (and again) for Carpentarian Grasswren.  We did add Cloncurry Parrot to our birdlist - they were nowhere near as common as I remember them a decade ago.

I cannot count the trip a failure, as I achieved the one and only lifer I was after.  Accordingly, I should call the trip a 100% success.  However, the land was so dry, so many rivers and creeks were not flowing, the birds were so few and far between, I found the experience disappointing.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

LAWN HILL

On the way to Lawn Hill we stopped at the Gregory River to admire Purple-crowned Fairy-wrens, and then at Riversleigh to learn about the fascinating fossils found there.

I was delighted by how many Purple-crowned Fairy-wrens we saw.  They were easily seen in several locations.  But it is the western race (coronatus) that is endangered.  The birds at Lawn Hill belong to the eastern race (macgillivrayi) and it is estimated that there are 10,000 of them.

We saw several Buff-sided Robins too and, after a bit of work, we saw more than one Sandstone Shrike-thrush.  Several Channel-billed Cuckoos flew over, but I did not see one perched as I'd hoped.  Channel-billed Cuckoos are resident at Lawn Hill all year round.  The Sydney-siders on the trip were most amused at my desire to get a good look at this odd bird with the bizarre beak and curious call.  They regard it as irritatingly common with a most annoying call.


Lawn Hill National Park


I found the climb to the lookout at Lawn Hill quite strenuous, but the views were worth it.  Indeed, Lawn Hill was altogether a little bit of paradise, with very pretty scenery.

After Lawn Hill, we travelled to Karumba Point, via the Burke and Wills Roadhouse.  More later.

We were all disappointed that we dipped on Northern Rosellas.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

KALKADOON GRASSWREN





Habitat of Kalkadoon Grasswren
   
I have just returned from a very disappointing trip to a very dry Gulf of Carpentaria.  The highlight for me was the Kalkadoon Grasswren, my one and only lifer for the trip.  The lowlight was the fact that we saw 11 feral cats.

I was on a Kirrama Wildlife Tour with Klaus Uhlenhut and five great birders who were also great company.  How lucky was that!

We started our tour in Mt Isa, visited Lawn Hill National Park, Karumba and Cloncurry before returning to Mt Isa.  I saw 155 bird species.  The official trip count was 160.  I dipped on Carpentarian Grasswren, Black-chinned (aka Golden-backed) Honeyeater, Crested Bellbird and Spinifexbird.  Luckily, I'd seen them all before.

We saw the Kalkadoon Grasswren on the first morning of the first day, as I'd expected and hoped.  This is one of the easier seen grasswren.  There are several well-known sites around Mt Isa.  We started at Pamela Street, between the water tanks.  (This is where I took the photo above.)  We saw lots of Rainbow Bee-eaters - always a thrill.  Also Peaceful Doves, Grey-headed and (my old friends) White-plumed Honeyeaters and a Pied Butcherbird.  Variegated Fairy-wrens made our hearts jump momentarily, but, try as we might, we could not convert them to grasswrens.

Next we visited Warrigal Waterhole Road, where (as elsewhere) much of the spinifex had been burnt.  We found an unburnt patch and, very quickly, had our Kalkadoon Grasswren.  The male sat up on a rock and gave us all very good looks.  Mission accomplished!

In Mt Isa we visited the sewage works and Lake Moondarra, where we saw all the usual suspects, and others saw the Spinifexbird.  I did not.

We spent a fair amount of time looking for Carpentarian Grasswren.  First we visited the famous McNamara Road site.  This used to be called Lady Loretta Mine Road, but for some reason, birders now call it McNamara Road.  There is a cairn beside the turnoff to show where the grasswren are often seen.  It has been rebuilt since I was there ten years ago with Phil Maher.


Me at the famous McNamara Road cairn.


One of our group glimpsed a grasswren hopping across the dry creekbed.  Well done, Chris!  It was not in spinifex, but hopping between clumps of grass.  None of the rest of us was lucky enough to see it.  I was silently delighted that I'd seen the bird a decade ago.  I'd thought it was difficult then, but it seems it is at least as difficult now.  We looked in other places too, wherever the spinifex seemed appropriate.  We had no luck.

From Mt Isa, we travelled to Lawn Hill, a very pretty place which I will tell you about next time.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

BOGEY BIRDS

Most birders have a bogey bird - that's a bird that they've looked for on several occasions, but which continues to elude them. It's sometimes called a 'jinx bird.'  I have five bogey birds, without counting the uncommon Common Redshank, that I flew to Broome (from Melbourne) to try to add it to my lifelist. I spent a (most enjoyable) week looking unsuccessfully for redshanks.  Under my definition, it won't become a bogey bird until I've flown to Broome (or Cairns or somewhere else) to look for it on several occasions.  I live in hope that I will see it before it qualifies. Five bogey birds is quite enough!

I'm sure I'm not alone in counting the Rufous Scrub-bird amongst my bogey birds.  This notoriously difficult little bird is missing from many people's lists.  I've heard it lots of times and looked for it seriously at both Gloucester Tops and Lamington on more occasions than I care to remember. Most recently, I spent several days looking at Gloucester Tops last April.  I haven't given up on the Rufous Scrub-bird (I haven't given up on any of my bogey birds).  I'm planning a trip to Lamington National Park in October and hoping to see my Rufous Scrub-bird then.  October is reportedly the best month to see them, when they are most vocal.  However, I have looked in October before, so nothing is certain.

Although there are three grasswrens missing from my lifelist, only one qualifies as a bogey bird.  Looking for the White-throated nearly killed me, but I've only looked for it twice, so it doesn't qualify.  And I've only looked for the Kalkadoon once, so it's a long way short of being nominated as a bogey. The one that does qualify is the Short-tailed Grasswren, which I have looked for every time I've passed through the Flinders Ranges.  Stokes Hill is the favoured spot recently, but the grasswren has not favoured me there - yet. I'm hoping I might have another go next November.

Perhaps the Black-winged Monarch isn't really a bogey bird, but it certainly feels as if it qualifies.  It inhabits far north Queensland, north of Cooktown and I've been there four times.  The first time I was just looking for birds, not specifically targeting the monarch, but I did look for it seriously in 1994, 2006 and 2008.  Perhaps I'm stretching my own rules to include a bird I've only searched for on three occasions, but it is not a rare bird and I really feel I should have seen it by now.  It's a bogey to me.

My last two bogey birds are seabirds.  The first is the beautiful White-necked Petrel shown on my masthead.  This superb photo was taken by Brook Whylie.  I've travelled to Wollongong in February or March (I think, without adding them up) six or seven times and to Port Stephens in April twice, targetting the White-necked Petrel.  In April 2012 I dipped on the bird on a Saturday trip.  The boat went out (without me) on Sunday and saw it.  Such is the luck of birding.  I will keep going until I see it.  On the law of averages, I really should tick it soon.

Slender-billed Prion
Yes, my final bogey bird is the Slender-billed Prion. I hope for prions on every winter pelagic I do.  Luckily, I managed to tick Broad-billed, Antarctic and Salvin's on a ghastly yacht trip out of Hobart in July 2009.  I earned those birds!  But I didn't get a Slender-billed, which should be the easiest of the lot.  I travelled to Port MacDonnell hoping for a Slender-billed Prion in June 2012.  The weather was foul and the boat did not go out.  Rog and I drove over again this June.  The boat did go, but we saw only Fairy Prions.  We had great views of a Grey Petrel, which satisfied everyone on board except me!  The same boat went out this month and saw several Slender-billed Prions. Thanks to Grant for this tantalizing photo.  I'm off to Port Fairy next Sunday and if there is any justice in the world, I will see my Slender-billed Prion then.

Then I'll only have four bogey birds to worry about.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

SUE TAYLOR'S LAWS OF BIRDWATCHING

I haven't been birdwatching this week, so instead of reporting about the birds that have come to have a drink at my water, I thought I'd share my Laws of Birdwatching.  I recently referred to my third law, so I thought it might be worth giving you them all.  Here goes.

1.  The bird you saw was common - unless you can prove otherwise.  There is no exception to this rule.

2.  If you're uncertain about you bird's identification, it was probably what you first thought it was. Whatever it was, it must have been common.

3.  The more gorgeous a bird's plumage, the less melodious the song; and conversely, the more drab the plumage, the more mellifluous the song. The European exception to this rule is the gorgeous Golden Oriole, which includes a loud, fluty yodel amongst his repertoire. The American exception is the colourful Cardinal, that sings beautifully. And the Australian exception is the Golden Whistler.

4.  When males and females of a species duet, they look the same.  The exceptions are Europe's Linnet and Australia's Magpie-lark.

5.  Where males and females look different, the plainer bird rears the young. When the sexes look alike, they share parenting. The exception to this rule is the South American Chachalaca, where both sexes look the same and the female is left to do all the parenting alone.

Where the sexes look alike (such as these Apostlebirds) they share parenting.

6.  Birds won't nest in trees or shrubs that are flowering or fruiting.  You'll have fun finding your own exceptions to this rash generalisation.  Personally, I haven't found one yet. I don't think the Californian Phainopepla that nests in trees with fruiting mistletoe really counts.

7.  Birds that nest in dark hollows lay white, rounded eggs.  The exception is Australia's treecreepers that lay glossy googies, which are splotched brown.

8.  Migrating birds always breed in the colder area.  The exceptions to this rule are Arctic Terns that breed in the Artic then migrate to the Antarctic, and some Eurasian Curlews that breed on continential Europe then winter in Iceland.

9.  Nocturnal birds have large eyes to allow them to see well at night. The exception is New Zealand's kiwis that have tiny eyes:  they feed by touch and smell.

10.  Only non-passerines regularly feed at night, and they are all carnivorous.  The exceptions are non-passerines that are not carnivorous.  These are some nocturnal vegetarian parrots, and South America's nocturnal Oilbird that feeds on fruit.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

PORT FAIRY, PORT MACDONNELL

I had been told that if I did a pelagic out of Port MacDonnell in June, I'd be likely to see lots of prions.  Specifically, I am looking for a Slender-billed Prion.  In June 2012, Rog and I drove over to Port MacDonnell (which is in the extreme south-east of South Australia, just south of Mt Gambier) for this purpose, only to find that the trip was cancelled due to bad weather.  This year I hoped I'd be luckier.

I was - in a way.  The trip wasn't cancelled.  But I didn't get my prion either. 

We set off on Wednesday for a leisurely drive to Port Fairy.  It was cold and drizzly all day.  First stop was Point Addis to get the Rufous Bristlebird on my annual list, then lunch at Colac while we admired lots of Pink-eared Ducks and just one lonely Freckled Duck on the lake.

Thursday was again cold, wet and windy - not good weather for looking for Hooded Plovers, so we drove to Tower Hill and admired Australian Shelducks roosting on the cliff face, as if they were raptors.  Of course we saw Emus, but it was a bit wet for walking, and we didn't see much else.  Back in Port Fairy, I enquired at the Information Centre about the location of the Powling Street Wetlands, where a housing development is threatening Latham's Snipe habitat.  The helpful man gave me a map and also volunteered the fact that the snipe roost at Goose's Lagoon, a wildlife refuge on the road to Yambuk.  The Powling Street Wetlands are surrounded by houses (and presumably pets).  I have written to Tony Burke, Federal Minister for Environment asking why the housing development has been given approval.  It will be most interesting to see what response I receive.

Powling Street Wetlands, Port Fairy

Having seen the threatened wetlands, we decided to check out Goose Lagoon.  We found the place, but couldn't see how to access it.  We drove on the Yambuk Lake, and on the way saw a dam covered in Magpie Geese.  (At last I realized why Goose Lagoon was so called.)

Magpie Geese on dam near Yambuk

Friday was again cold, grey and windy.  We drove to Mt Gambier, stopping at Lower Glenelg National Park.  Along the way we saw a Spotted Harrier and in the park, we saw a Brush Bronzewing and a couple of Australian Spotted Crakes on the river.

On Saturday, we pottered about Port MacDonnell.  I did a pleasant walk in Germein Reserve where the yellow gums were flowering profusely and the New Holland Honeyeaters were making the most of it.  Silvereyes, Red-browed Finches and Grey Fantails were all bathing in the puddles.  I thought it was a bit cold for a bath.

At last, it was Sunday, the day I had waited for for twelve months.  It was still quite dark when we left at 6.15.  Driving from Mt Gambier to Port MacDonnell, we saw an Eastern Barn Owl.  I hoped it might be a good omen.  The boat left right on the dot of 7.  Remarkable is a large fishing boat, with just 12 passengers, so we had good views all day.  And we saw some good birds, too; we just didn't see any Slender-billed Prions.  Most people on board saw an orca and a blue shark and everyone had great sightings of a very cooperative Grey Petrel.
Grey Petrel, photo by Geoff Glare
The petrel flew around the boat and landed near the burleigh, just to make sure everyone had a good look.
Grey Petrel, photo by Anne Looney

We saw six species of albatross, including two wanderers, both giant-petrels and quite a few Grey-backed Storm-Petrels.  Some people saw a Little Shearwater, but for me it was just a tiny dot on the horizon.  We saw a few Fairy Prions, and I tried my best to turn them into Slender-billed.  There were Cape Petrels and one White-fronted Tern.  I managed twenty species for the trip (not counting the Little Shearwater).  Can you believe, they actually provided a barbeque for lunch?

Monday was again raining.  I told myself not to complain, it was, after all, winter.  However the sun did manage to put in an appearance.  In Nelson, we saw a Great Crested Grebe and at Lower Glenelg National Park I saw a Baillon's Crake in the river.  Then in Portland, at Fawthrop Lagoon, I saw a Little Egret, another new bird for the trip.

On Tuesday morning, before we drove home, I made one last attempt at getting Hooded Plovers on my list.  I was not successful, but I did see a Sooty Oystercatcher, bringing my trip total to 115 species, which, given the unfavourable conditions, I thought was okay.  It looks like I will have to try for my Slender-billed Prions again in 2014.  What a shame!  An excuse for another trip to Port MacDonnell.