Tuesday, 30 December 2014

2014 BIRD OF THE YEAR

What a great year it has been!  I started with 735 Australian birds on my lifelist, had to remove the Variable Goshawk (as it was deemed to be just a race of the Brown Goshawk and no longer a species in its own right), yet finished the year with 755 birds.  I am quite delighted.  Some years ago, I thought I may never reach 600 birds, then I feared I'd never get to 700.  I was quite sure I'd never achieve 750.  Yet here I am at 755.  It's wonderful.

My hopes for 2014 were quite modest:  I wanted to see my 3 bogey birds:  the White-necked Petrel, the Slender-billed Prion and the Rufous Scrub-bird.  I tried unsuccessfully for the petrel in Wollongong in January and Port Stephens in April.  Both pelagics were cancelled.  I tried for the prion off Port Fairy in July.  It was not to be.  However, thanks to Mick Roderick, I did have great views of the Rufous Scrub-bird in Gloucester Tops in October.  I'd been looking for this bogey bird since 1984, so you can imagine how pleased I was to finally add it to my lifelist.

Other contenders for the 2014 Bird of the Year were the Common Redshank (which I had once flown to Broome to try to see and come home sadly redshank-free; but which George Swann finally showed me last March); the Yellow-browed Warbler (I saw on Ashmore Reef in March, perhaps the third record for Australia); the Long-billed Dowitcher (which took two trips to Kerang to see); the Saunders' Tern (that I'd dipped on in 2007 and had desperately wanted to see ever since); the Javan Pond Heron (which was my 750th Australian bird); or the Chinese Pond Heron (which involved a scary long wade through shark-infested waters).  There are others too.  Vagrants such as Red-throated Pipit and Red-rumped Swallow.  Birds I had dreamed of seeing such as Pin-tailed Snipe (what views we had!) and House Swifts.  Then there was that cooperative Hodgson's Hawk Cuckoo sitting quietly showing us his beautifully barred tail.  What a year!

I have so much to choose from when selecting my Bird of the Year.  But I think it has to be the Rufous Scrub-bird.  I have put so much time and effort into trying to see this bird over so many years and finally, thanks to Mick Roderick, I had fantastic views of a male singing.  It really was the treat of a lifetime.  And certainly my best bird of 2014.

Now for 2015.  Again, I have modest desires.  Two bogey birds remain:  that wretched White-necked Petrel and Slender-billed Prion.  I'm also hoping that Richard Baxter will get me a Herald Petrel next September and that Rog will find time to drive me across the Nullabor to see the Quail-thrush some time in winter.  And I also hope to squeeze in a trip to Tasmania for the Morepork.  That's not too much to hope for, is it?


Sunday, 28 December 2014

MY DAILY CHALLENGE - UPDATE

This morning I completed my second set of ten walks in each direction from my home:  north, south, east and west.  As previously noted, to add interest to my daily constitutional, I record all the birds I see and hear on each walk.  The results overall are unsurprising, although I had hoped that as the weather warmed, I'd see more birds.  This has not been the case.

The most common birds were, as previously reported, Spotted Dove, Rainbow Lorikeet, Red Wattlebird, Australian Magpie and Common Myna, followed closely by Noisy Miner, Little Raven and Common Blackbird.

I only saw Willie Wagtails on the north walk (8 out of 10 walks) and saw Brown Thornbills on about half of my walks in each direction.  I did not see Spotted Pardalotes at all, which was disappointing, as I certainly looked when I heard them, which I did on only three occasions:  once north, once south and once east.  I did not see any Silver Gulls, but saw Welcome Swallows in every direction.

I recorded Grey Butcherbirds about half the time (north:  4; south:  4; east:  4; and west:  7) and was quite surprised to note that this was more often than on my previous walks.  Had I not kept records, my memory would have been that I saw and heard them more in August and September than in October and November.  Can't trust my memory!

The north walk, which ends in a large park, remains the most productive (average of 13 species).  The other three are about the same (average 11 each).  My highest score was 16 species, predictably on a north walk.  I don't seem able to do any better than that, however, as summer progresses I will continue to try!

Thursday, 25 December 2014

WERRIBEE: NO TWO DAYS ARE THE SAME

Roger and I had the most marvellous Christmas Day.  We spent it at the Werribee sewage farm.  The weather was fine.  There were thousands of waders, ducks and terns and we saw just one other car, which was leaving as we arrived.

I had been there on Saturday, just five days before, and had seen so many Great Crested Grebes, Banded Stilts and Glossy Ibis that I was confident they'd be on our list.  They were not.  Nor were Cape Barren Geese, Brolga, Australasian Pipit or Pacific Black Duck, all of which we saw on Saturday.

Conversely, we did see Buff-banded Rail, Red-kneed Dotterel, Red-capped Plover, Blue-billed Duck (quite a few), a Black Falcon (which upset the terns and waders as we had our lunch at the Borrow Pits) and a Spotted Crake:  all birds we did not see on Saturday.  The Spotted Crake, which I initially identified as a Baillon's Crake because it looked so small, was uncooperatively hiding in the undergrowth along the river bank.

We did see Common Greenshank on both days, but on Saturday they were in unusually large numbers.  On Christmas Day, they were back to normal numbers.  We saw Zebra Finches on both days, a pretty little bird that always excites me.  Of course there were thousands of stints and sandpipers, along with Whiskered Terns.  The cisticolas sang to celebrate the season, while the avocets satisfied themselves with looking stunning.

There really could not be a better way to enjoy the festive season.

Roger celebrating Christmas at the Borrow Pits

Saturday, 20 December 2014

WONDERFUL WERRIBEE

Lots of Pink-eared Ducks
Yesterday I had a wonderful day at Werribee.  The weather was perfect, as was the company, and there were thousands and thousands of birds.  As usual in summer, there were huge numbers of Australian Shelducks and Pink-eared Ducks.  Grey Teal were in good numbers too, and there was just a sprinkling of Musk Ducks and plenty of Pacific Black Ducks.  I'm told there were several Blue-billed Ducks in the lagoon near the birdhide, but we didn't make it down there.

There were also plenty of waders:  mainly Red-necked Stints and Sharp-tailed Sandpipers, but there were good numbers of Curlew Sandpipers too, and I don't think I've ever seen so many Greenshanks.  I saw just one Marsh Sandpiper and others reported Black-tailed Godwits.   We saw several Glossy Ibis and just two Brolgas.  There were also several Great Crested Grebes - always hilarious with their spiky hairdos.

Perhaps there weren't quite as many raptors as usual.  I didn't see any Black-shouldered Kites, which might be a first, and I saw just one Brown Falcon.  There were plenty of Swamp Harriers and Whistling Kites.  Others saw a Black Falcon.

We drove the bumpy road to Kirk Point and, for our troubles and discomfort, saw:  absolutely nothing.

I was disappointed that we did not see any crakes all day, but it is hard to remain disgruntled when you have seen Glossy Ibis, Great Crested Grebes, Brolgas and thousands of waders.  It's certainly hard to beat Werribee in summer.  In fact, Werribee at any time is hard to beat.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

RETURN TO RUTHERGLEN

Yesterday I returned from a delightful all-too-short trip to Rutherglen.  We managed to avoid the bushfires and in a very short time recorded over 80 species of birds.

We left on Tuesday.  It was hot and horrible and I feared I would not see anything of interest.  My fears were vindicated, when my bird total for the day was a miserable 15 species.  I thought I'd probably have had a larger score if I'd stayed at home.

I started Wednesday with an early walk around Lake King.  The temperature was very pleasant and I managed 30 species before breakfast.  I lamented the fact that I'd missed Blue-faced Honeyeater, Red Wattlebird and (one of my favourites) White-breasted Woodswallow, which I usually see here in summer.  Still, I enjoyed the Black-fronted Dotterels at the lake and the Eurasian Tree Sparrow in the main street.  

First stop after breakfast was Bartley's Block.  Here I was greeted by a very vocal Western Gerygone.  I decided it couldn't get any better than this and he would be my Bird of the Day.  The Rufous Whistlers, Grey Shrike-thrushes and Olive-backed Orioles were vocal too, filling the air with music.  A young Red-capped Robin wanted to make friends and Brown-headed Honeyeaters played cooperatively in the gum trees at eye level.  A big noisy flock of Yellow-tufted Honeyeaters seemed to be mobbing something.  I climbed through the fence but as I approached, they quietened down.  A little later, as I was admiring a treecreeper, the honeyeaters appeared in hot pursuit of a small grey bird.  The bird fell to the ground and I thought the honeyeaters would kill it.  As it lay immobile, the honeyeaters lost interest and left.  Stupidly, I approached the bird on the ground, to see if it was alive.  I should have left it alone.  It may have had an opportunity to recover and escape.  As it was I frightened it, it flew and I have no doubt the honeyeaters would have resumed their persecution.  Alas, I did not identify it.  It was a young bird, it had no tail.  Its back was striated and it had a black stripe over its eye.  Truly, a mystery bird.

Roger would rather read his newspaper

At Greenhill Dam, all I saw was a Peaceful Dove, so we drove on to Cyanide Dam.  Here Roger happily read his newspaper, while I walked around the dam.  The water level had dropped from my previous visit, and the grebes had left.  But there were Fuscous and White-naped Honeyeaters, as well as those ubiquitous bullies, Yellow-tufted.  I stood looking at the water, when a male Turquoise Parrot came down for a drink.  He was breathtakingly beautiful.  I wondered whether to go back and tell Roger, but I realized that he'd rather read his newspaper, so I enjoyed that parrot all by myself.  It really can't get better than that.  He assumed the title of Bird of the Day.

A kookaburra laughed and an Eastern Yellow Robin sat quietly observing me.  This may be the only time I have ever visited this dam without seeing a Brown Treecreeper, a bird that stubbornly remained off my list for the whole of this trip.

Then it was off to Chiltern Number One Dam (pelicans, cormorants and spoonbills) then Number Two Dam (reed warbler, Tree Martins, Dusky Woodswallows, Little Grassbird).  I thought I heard a cuckoo and chased it down to reveal, not a cuckoo at all, but a pair of shrike-tits.  Wouldn't you think, that after fifty years of birdwatching, I'd know the difference?

Then Rog took me to lunch at The Terrace at All Saints, which is always quite delicious.  In the afternoon, I was treated to a birding tour by a Rutherglen local.  Local knowledge is always an opportunity to grab with both hands.  We drove a little way out of the township, and I saw, for the first time in my life in Rutherglen, a flock of about two hundred Plumed Whistling-Ducks!  They are not a common sight in Victoria, although I have seen them at Serendip, and at Deniliquin in New South Wales which is not that far away.  They wheeled over our heads and whistled at us.  It was a real treat.  Then we drove to Shaw's Flat, admiring Zebra Finches on the way.  We looked for Dollarbirds along the Murray, but weren't able to locate any.  I finished the day with 69 species, not bad given that I'd taken a few hours off birding to enjoy a long lunch.

On Thursday, I again started the day with a walk around Lake King, thinking that I wouldn't be able to do better than yesterday morning's score of 30.  I managed 36!  I picked up the three that I'd missed yesterday (Blue-faced Honeyeater, Red Wattlebird and White-breasted Woodswallow) and I saw swamphen with young of various sizes, one Nankeen Night-Heron, heard Striated Pardalotes and I saw a bird I've never seen at Lake King before:  a Baillon's Crake.  Wow!  

After breakfast I added Pied Butcherbird to the list, and on the way back to Melbourne, I saw Brown Falcon, Black Kite, Little Eagle and Little Pied Cormorant.  Altogether a great trip.  I don't know whether the highlight was the Plumed Whistling-Ducks or the Turquoise Parrot.  Let's call it a draw.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

A MORNING IN HEALESVILLE


On Monday I spent a very pleasant morning at a friend's property at Healesville.  Welcome Swallows and Striated Pardalotes were nesting under the eaves of the house.  One male whipbird called without an answer from his mate.  I can only assume he was a bachelor.  Several Rufous Whistlers sang loudly and happily and at least one gorgeous Golden Whistler joined in.  More than one thrush added mellifluous music until kookaburras overwhelmed the entire valley with their loud laughter.  A fat young yellow robin sat out in the open, vulnerable, unprotected, and somehow humorous without a tail.  A male Superb Fairy-wren lived up to his name.  Yellow-faced Honeyeaters dominated the canopy while scrubwrens chattered in the undergrowth.  A White-thoated Treecreeper piped loudly as he spiralled up a treetrunk.  We quickly compiled a list of over twenty species and I wondered what nightlife would inhabit the enormous manna gums after dark.  My friend has seen Powerful Owls, but I'll bet there are others too.

A delightful bush haven so close to Melbourne.

BONESEEDING AT THE YOU YANGS AGAIN

Eastern Yellow Robin by Jim Smart
Under the expert leadership of Merrilyn Serong, a group of happy birders gathered last Saturday to remove boneseed from our allocated patch in the You Yangs Regional Park (site 31).  We were not deterred by intermittent misty rain, although at times the poor light drained all colour from the most colourful birds - Eastern Rosellas appeared as monochrome black silhouettes.

New Holland and Black-chinned Honeyeaters cavorted in the gum trees, while Musk Lorikeets flew overhead.  Weebills sang with a disproportionately loud song for such tiny birds.  A Jacky Winter waggled his tail, happy to be alive, and for the second time since I've joined this group, we saw a koala while we were birding.

We admired both Scarlet and Flame Robins while being serenaded by Rufous Whistlers.  Grey Fantails were determined to get onto our bird list and Striated Thornbills were most cooperative and gave us all a good look.

While pulling out boneseed, I was entertained by a flock of sittellas, several yellow robins and a couple of Dusky Woodswallows.  After I'd completed my self-imposed quota of 300 weeds, as I walked back to the cars, a Black Kite flew overhead.  These once rare raptors in southern Victoria, are now so commonplace, they're barely noteworthy.  Nevertheless, note him I did.

We enjoy birding in the You Yangs and pretend that we're there to remove boneseed.  We come away with a nice bird list and a totally unwarranted feeling of self-righteousness.

A BIT MORE ABOUT COCOS, 22-29 November 2014

View from our motel room on Cocos
On Saturday afternoon we flew from Christmas to Cocos Island, and were settled into our room in the motel by 4 p.m.  It was uncomfortably hot as we convened to investigate a small bird that had been sighted towards the end of the runway.  We flushed the bird several times, splashing backwards and forwards across a small creek.  It kept returning to dense vegetation.  We all had reasonable sightings and, although we did not see a red throat, were happy with the identification of Red-throated Pipit.  
Red-throated Pipit, photo by Roger Williams

Richard had recommended Birds of South East Asia by Craig Robson and it proved to be a most useful guide.  It informed us that the Red-throated Pipit is often found near water, and that first year birds have no red.  This was my 747th Australian bird and I began to hope that I'd reach the 750 milestone on Cocos Island.
White-breasted Waterhen, common on Cocos, photo by Roger Williams

Cocos (Keeling) Islands comprise West Island (where the airport and the motel are located), Home Island (where the Clunies Ross homestead is located and where we saw most of our exciting birds), South Island (home to Saunders' Terns - the reason for my trip), Horsborough Island (an uninhabited hostile place, overwhelmed by dodder) and nearby Direction Island (where the grounding of the Emden is commemorated).

I spent Sunday morning in a state of wretched anxiety because Richard had announced that this was the day we'd take the motorised canoes over to South Island to look for Saunders' Terns.  The first time I'd visited Cocos Islands in 2007, Mike Carter had been there to confirm the identity of this exciting new bird for Australia.  I'd been with Richard Baxter on that occasion too, but no one knew much about tides and tern behaviour then, and no one in our group saw the terns on that occasion.  Richard had told me that he'd seen the terns on every trip since, so I had high expectations of finally adding this bird to my lifelist.  I also had a high degree of apprehension because I knew the expedition involved wading a fair distance through waist-deep water.  I don't have good balance; I don't like getting wet; I'm always anxious around small boats.  From my point of view, this tick demanded a fair amount of dedication.  I was up for it of course (it was what I'd come for) but that didn't stop me worrying about it.

The motorised canoes accommodated just two people each:  one driver and one passenger.  I was allocated to Richard's canoe.  I felt smugly safe in our leader's boat.  He is an expert swimmer and diver, and I knew that no one would be better at operating the outboard canoes.  

The island we were headed for looked deceptively close, but seemed to take a very long time to reach.  We beached the canoes, took our cameras and binoculars and left our dry bags as high as we could reach in the palm trees, expecting the tide to come in while we were off terning.  Then we set off, wading in the warm tropical water, pretending nonchalance at the resident reef sharks, heading for a distant sand bar where we could see a big flock of waders.


The water was much deeper than this on the way back!
Through binoculars we identified the waders as Whimbrels, Eastern Curlews, Ruddy Turnstones and Grey Plovers.  Through Jenny's scope we saw three Saunders' Terns loafing on the sandspit (#748).  Seldom has the sight of a small tern given me such pleasure!  Thanks to Jenny, we each had a quick look at the terns before, for some unknown reason, all the waders and terns flew off.  If Jenny hadn't taken her scope, Richard would have led his first unsuccessful tern hunt since 2007.  As it was, we were all delighted with our sighting.

We celebrated with nibbles and bubbly, supplied by Ash, the bloke who hired the canoes.  When it came time to return to West Island, I learned that Richard expected me to drive the boat!  It is no false modesty for me to say that I was utterly hopeless.  Nor can I blame my alcohol consumption for my total lack of seamanship.  Enough said.  Richard chose to swim rather than share my dangerous canoe.

On Monday morning we took the 6.30 ferry to Home Island.  In the gardens of Clunies Ross House we saw a Chinese Sparrowhawk (749), the black wingtips obvious in flight.  After lunch we wandered through a banana plantation, hoping for Asian Koels.  Some members of the group saw both male and female koels.  I did not.  But I did see a Javan Pond Heron - my milestone 750th Australian bird!  In flight its obvious white wings made me think Cattle Egret.


Clunies Ross House
We started Tuesday looking for Watercock on our way to Bechat Besar swamp, where we saw Eurasian Teal (751) and all had excellent views of the Chinese Sparrowhawk.  After breakfast we flushed a Pin-tailed Snipe (752) beside the airport.  We visited the bottle dump, the tip, then the beach for a Common Redshank.  After lunch, we looked for vagrants in the big trees beside the airport, then visited the swamp again.  At dusk we spoltlighted for nightjars, but did not see a thing.

On Wednesday we visited Horsborough Island in a glass bottomed boat.  People wanting to dive, snorkel or swim with sharks all enjoyed this trip.  Then we went to Direction Island, where a large gazebo commemorates the First World War battle between the German cruiser SMS Emden and the Australian HMAS Sydney on 9 November 1914.


Dodder strangling plants on Horsborough Island
Thursday found us back on Home Island.  In the Clunies Ross garden I had wonderful views of Hodgsons Hawk Cuckoo (753).  Later we saw both male and female Asian Koels (754).  After lunch, we went looking for a Chinese Pond Heron.  This involved twenty minutes wading through quite deep water.  One couple declined to go, on the grounds that he couldn't swim.  I can't swim either, but I wasn't going to let that stop me.  We braved coral, clams, unexpected holes, reef sharks, moray eels, a huge sea slug and hundreds of beches de mer.  The sharks frightened shoals of silver mullets into jumping high out of the water - a spectacular sight.  The wind was quite strong and could easily have blown me off balance.  Thank you, Steve, for holding my hand on this very brave venture.  I could not have done it without you.  We walked as directed, I held up my binoculars to look around, and the Chinese Pond Heron (755) flew into view!
Chinese Pond Heron, my 755th Australian bird, photo by Roger Williams

On Friday we added Dollarbird to our list, chasing it around the Quarantine Station until we all had good views.  This is the nominate subspecies that breeds in Indonesia.  The Dollarbird I'm used to seeing on mainland Australia is the race pacificus.

I was ready to head home on Saturday, quite unable to hide my glee at my remarkable score of 755.  I hope it's not another seven years before I return to Cocos again.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

A BIT MORE ABOUT CHRISTMAS ISLAND

I was on Christmas Island from Tuesday 18 until Saturday 22 November 2014, hoping to see a Savannah Nightjar that I had heard calling on my previous visit in 2007.  However, we had no luck with nightjars of any sort.  We did see all the endemics - the Emerald Dove, the Imperial-Pigeon, the Swiftlet, the White-eye and the Island Thrush were all very easy.  The Hawk-Owl required a bit of work, as did the Java Sparrow.  We searched for Java Sparrows amongst the Eurasian Tree Sparrows where the locals feed them in front of a block of flats over the road from the technical school.  On our last day we learnt that they were seen each morning in the vicinity of the nursery, and that's where we finally caught up with them.

The Golden Bosunbirds were as elegant as ever and, as on both my previous trips to Christmas Island, there were cute fluffy chicks sitting patiently on the ground pleading to have their photos taken.

Golden Bosunbird chick

We also saw Red-tailed Tropicbirds, Great and Christmas Frigatebirds (but not Lesser) and Abbott's, Red-footed and Brown Boobies.  There were about fifty Common Noddies at the wharf in Flying Fish Cove.  Here we also saw one Common Sandpiper and one White-winged Black Tern.

It was a major irritation to have to remove Variable Goshawk from my life total because capricious taxonomists have decided once again to lump it with Brown Goshawks.  Don't these ornithologists appreciate the ramifications of their decisions?

We knew that a Red Collared Dove had been seen on the island, and, thanks to local knowledge, managed to tick it at Rocky Point on the first day.

Red-rumped Swallows flew around in front of our accommodation, mixed with Barn Swallows early the next morning before breakfast.

On Friday Peter Barron arrived with another birding group, and it was thanks to them that we saw House Swifts.  We'd been at a cove below the casino trying to add Striated Heron to our list, when some thoughtful member of the other birding group phoned to say that they'd seen House Swifts.  We rushed to our vehicles and managed to get good sightings at LB4.

Of course I would have liked to have seen Savannah Nightjars, but I wasn't complaining as I climbed aboard the plane for the next instalment of my adventure:  Cocos Islands.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

CHRISTMAS AND COCOS ISLANDS - AN OVERVIEW

Red Crab migration on Christmas Island
I have just returned from a tour of Christmas and Cocos Islands run by Richard Baxter.  It was my third trip to Christmas Island and my second to the Cocos group, but without a doubt, it was the best.  I went hoping to see a Saunders' Tern as I'd dipped on this bird on my previous trip to Cocos in 2007.  In fact, on my previous trip, I'd only achieved one lifer:  the Western Reef Egret.  This time I achieved a phenomenal nine lifers on Cocos and another four on Christmas Island!  

The Saunders' Tern was hard work:  we took canoes from West Island (where we stayed) to South Island, then had to wade through warm water of varying depths to glimpse the terns on a far sandbank.  Luckily, we all did get a glimpse before they flew.  Thank goodness Jenny took her scope!  Everyone was very relaxed about the reef sharks that accompanied us in the water - that is, everyone except me!  Before I left, I'd just read On the Rocks by Bryan Nelson, which mentions that an ornithologist studying gannets had been badly bitten by a reef shark when he was wading nonchalantly through shallow water.

Black-tipped Reef Shark that accompanied us to see Saunders' Terns
We also worked hard for the Chinese Pond-Heron, wading through deep water for twenty minutes, avoiding clams, unexpected holes, more reef sharks, moray eels, coral, many beches de mer and one huge 2 metre sea slug.  Worse than all these tribulations was the strong wind that might easily have been blown us over - well, me anyway.  Of course, it was all worth it when we had wonderful views of the pond-heron.  It was too easy.  I was looking through my binoculars and the pond-heron flew into view!  Then we had to wade for another twenty minutes back to shore, in time to catch the ferry home to West Island.

On Home Island, in the garden surrounding Clunies Ross House, we first saw Chinese Sparrowhawk.  We saw these birds several times over the next few days.  I also glimpsed a large brown bird, which Richard identified as a Hodgson's Hawk-Cuckoo.  Others had better views.  Then I suffered the birders' dilemma:  could I count a fleeting glance?  It is a real temptation to add such sightings to your lifelist.  After all, I'd seen the bird.  It had been identified.  Why not add it to my list?  No one (other than me) knew that I hadn't really had a good look.  However, I was strong and resisted the temptation.  For this, I was rewarded three days later with the best possible views of the bird perching cooperatively, showing his yellow eye-ring, his downturned bill and his characteristically barred tail.

We did not have to work so hard for the Javan Pond-Heron - or at least, I didn't.  Others were not quite so lucky.  It will always be memorable for me as it was my 750th Australian bird.

It was a great trip and I came home very happy with my 13 lifers.  I'd hoped for a bittern or a wagtail:  we did not see one of either.  Usually, I lament my omissions.  However, right now, I am quite delighted with all that we did see. My Australian total now sits on 755.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

A DELIGHTFUL DOWITCHER!

When I heard that the Long-billed Dowitcher had returned to Lake Tutchewop, I had no option but to go back.  It was worth the drive (and what a drive it was!)  Thanks to the friendly birders at the lake, who located the bird, I achieved a wonderful lifer - a bird that I'd never dreamed I'd see.  I am again indebted to my fellow birders.

I planned to arise at 5 a.m. and leave at 6, but as I was awake anyway, I jumped out of bed at 4.15, and left at 5.  It was dark and very, very wet.  My first problem was that Johnson Street had been blocked off for some sort of street carnival.  Despite having no sense of direction, I managed to navigate my way around that in the dark.  The next problem was filling the car with petrol - something I've never done before in my new car.  Then, going up the Calder at about 60 k in the 110 k zone, I found myself aquaplaning all over the wet road.  Most disconcerting.  I wondered if there'd be ice at Macedon.  It was 8.5 degrees, so I figured that was too warm for ice.  Instead I was treated to thick fog.

The first bird I saw was a kookaburra at 6.20.  Other good birds on the trip up were a Royal Spoonbill and a Spotted Harrier.

I arrived at around 8.45, better timing than I'd expected with my slow speeds.  I drove up Lake William Road, noting the sign "Dry Weather Road Only."  I parked cautiously on the road and was disappointed to see that there were no birders present on this (south) side of the lake.  Within minutes a white 4WD arrived, and drove off the road and into the mud.  I followed it on foot down towards the lake and recognised Barb Williams as one of the passengers.  Again there were lots of stilts and avocets, but not much else.  Certainly no sign of a dowitcher.

After extricating the 4WD from the mud, the carload of birders decided to check the north side of the lake and Barb promised to phone me if the bird were there.  The road on the north side was undergoing major roadworks when we were here on Wednesday, and I thought it wouldn't be safe to drive on it in my little car.  I think the aquaplaning on the Calder made me more cautious than usual.

Then came the news:  the bird was present!  I was going north, mud or no mud.  I smiled sweetly (at least I hope it was a sweet smile) at a total stranger and asked for a lift.  I drove to the north road where I intended to park and jump into his vehicle, but when I arrived, I thought the road looked perfectly fine - in fact much better than Lake William Road - so I did not need to impose on him.

There were quite a few people there - I counted 13 cars.  And a very happy group of birders they were too.  After last Wednesday's heat, today was windy and cold.  And most of all, muddy.  But nothing could dampen our spirits as we admired that dear, delightful dowitcher. 

I should also thank Richard Baxter for posting the bird's return on Birding-Aus, because otherwise I would not have known it was there. 

Thursday, 13 November 2014

I DIPPED ON THE DOWITCHER

Lake Tutchewop - no dowitcher in sight
Australian birders were very excited to learn that an American Dowitcher had been seen on Lake Tutchewop in northern Victoria.  People who hadn't seen the bird formed opinions about whether it was Short-billed or Long-billed.  I think in the end, Long-billed Dowitcher won out.  A first for Australia!

Last Monday evening I received a text from Mick Roderick telling me about the bird.  I found the lake on the map between Kerang and Swan Hill.  It didn't look too far to drive.  Roger, my husband, (not a birder) was not in the least bit interested.  I spent a sleepless night wondering if I really wanted to drive there alone in my little low car.  If we had to drive around a salt lake, it would be much more comfortable in Roger's 4WD.  On Tuesday morning, as usual, Roger slept in.  I pottered about the house, telling myself that there were other things in life than rare birds, and that I should concentrate on next week's trip to Christmas Island.

A trip to Christmas Island is a very exciting event, yet I refused to be consoled.  This year I'd already missed out on the Yellow Bittern in Brisbane and the Citrine Wagtail in Mudgee, surely I was entitled to tick this Victorian bird.

Rog finally emerged about noon, went to his computer, then announced that we could leave immediately, but he was only prepared to drive as far as Bendigo today.  That's how it happened that I did not arrive at Lake Tutchewop until about 9.30 on Wednesday morning.

A friendly group of birders stood on the north of the lake, and another on the south.  I learnt that the bird had not been seen since 6 p.m. on Tuesday.  There were quite a few waders and ducks on the lake, but nothing that vaguely resembled a dowitcher.  Most impressive were the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of avocets and stilts, loafing in the water.  There were more Black-winged than Banded, but plenty of both.  I caught up with old birding friends, and made some new ones.

At lunch time Rog and I drove into Swan Hill, had a quick bite, then found a motel for the night.  Then Rog took me back to the lake to wait some more for the dowitcher to return.  This time I was on the south side of the lake, and again I made some new birding friends.  Paul had come from Brisbane, Phillip from Melbourne.  Scott, who I'd met on a pelagic earlier this year, had driven down from Canberra.  Scott drove me around the lake very slowly and we examined every bird.  I am confident that the dowitcher was not there.

The next morning, on our way back to Melbourne, Rog and I again called in at the lake.  This time there was just one car present, and I didn't speak to anyone.  We visited both north and south of the lake and I do not believe that the bird was present.

So it was home to Melbourne, without my tick.  I was disappointed, of course.  But I was very pleased that I'd at least tried to see the bird.  If the options are staying at home and not looking, and going out and being disappointed, give me disappointment every time.  I had an enjoyable time at the lake.  I met some great people.  And those Banded Stilts alone were worth the trip.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

ANOTHER BOGEY BIRD GONE!



In July 2013, I wrote that I had five bogey birds - birds I'd been seeking for many years - birds I feared I'd never see.  I'm delighted to report that, thanks to Mick Roderick, I have now managed to cross the rascally Rufous Scrub-bird off my list of bogey birds.

[Peter Waanders got me the Short-tailed Grasswren in September 2013 and Martin Cachard got me the Black-winged Monarch in November 2013 (thanks to Judy Leitch) so now I have just two bogey birds left - both seabirds.  One is the beautiful White-necked Petrel shown on my masthead, the other the elusive Slender-billed Prion.]

Rog and I drove to Gloucester and Mick took me from there to Gloucester Tops where I had fantastic views of the male scrub-bird singing his little heart out.

Rufous Scrub-bird (Female) - Photo: Mick Roderick

I've looked for Rufous Scrub-birds seriously on many occasions.  They are not an easy bird.  The first time I looked for them was in Lamington National Park in 1984.  I was staying at O'Reilly's guest house.  In all I've visited Lamington National Park five times (O'Reilly's three times and Binna Burra twice) looking for this bird.  Most recently I returned to O'Reilly's last October and this time, in order to be sure, I hired a guide to show me the bird.  This proved to be an expensive waste of time.

I visited Port Stephens in April 2013 because Richard Baxter told me that April would provide a good chance of seeing a White-necked Petrel.  (What he actually said was:  it was 'guaranteed!')  Alas, the pelagic was cancelled, but as I'd driven up from Melbourne, Mick Roderick (who organizes the pelagics) took pity on me and took me out and showed me an Eastern Grass Owl.  I was not disappointed.  I came home thinking of grass owls I'd seen, not petrels I'd missed.

On that occasion, I took the opportunity of being near Barrington Tops National Park to spend a few days looking for the scrub-bird.  I knew April was not the best month to see scrub-birds (October is) but I figured it was worth a go anyway.  I had a mud map of various territories and gave it my best shot.  For two days I heard nothing.  On the third day, I heard a scrub-bird but it was in dense scrub.  I waited for 45 minutes while he tantalized me.  He knew I was there and he was not going to show himself.

It seemed I'd done everything I could and I was never going to see this exasperating little bird.  And I don't think I ever will by myself.

But thanks to Mick, the Rufous Scrub-bird has now become number 740 on my Australian lifelist.  It is my 700th mainland bird.  

Mick picked me up in Gloucester at 6 a.m. and drove me to Gloucester Tops.  It was cold and foggy as we left.  Rog had joked that we'd get the bird by 8 and be back in Gloucester by 9.  Mick took me directly to the territory of a pair of scrub-birds he knows well.  We listened for a few minutes, and yes! the male was calling.  His calls were imitations of Eastern Yellow Robins and Golden Whistlers.  Mick selected a likely spot and we sat on folding stools, listening to the bird calling from various directions.  The little tease knew we were there.  He probably knew we were there just to see him.  Finally, having caused sufficient angst to satisfy his amusement, he hopped up into sight.  He sat, quite visible, in the heart of a fern.  I did my best not to scream with delight.

Then he hopped out of the fern onto a log and began to serenade us.  He put his head back and sang with gusto.  His throat feathers stood out in text book fashion.  It was a perfect sighting of an extremely elusive bird.  I looked at my watch.  It was one minute to 8.  Thank you, Mick.

Rog and I had a delightful trip, although it all pales in comparison with the scrub-bird sighting.  We were away for 12 days, during which I clocked up a total of 153 species of birds.  Apart from the scrub-bird, highlights were Black-bellied Storm-Petrel, Pale Yellow Robin, female Paradise Riflebird and some very pretty Scarlet Honeyeaters.

My first anxiety was whether we'd get away at all.  We'd planned to leave on Wednesday.  At 3 a.m. on Tuesday I was awoken with some creature dancing on my feet!  There was a possum in the house.  With some difficulty I woke Rog and we managed to funnel the little fellow out the front door.  I knew he'd got in through the chimney (which is extraordinarily high) so I set about finding both a chimney sweep to fix the damper and an arborist to cut back the oak tree that allowed possums access to the top of the chimney.  It wasn't easy.  ('Sure, lady, we can come and give you a quote some time next week.')  I refused to take 'no' for an answer.  October is the best month for scrub-birds, and I was not going to let any wretched ringtail stop me from going to look for them.  Thanks to arborist Hayden and chimney sweep Clive we managed to get away on schedule.

The first day we travelled to Wodonga and I visited Wonga Wetlands (site 54) where there were equal numbers of Sacred Kingfishers, Australian Reed-Warblers and rabbits.  A member of staff informed me that the magpies there never swoop.  I felt obliged to tell him that I've been bombed there by magpies with very serious intentions.  It just goes to show that some magpies swoop some people.

The next day we stopped at The Rock Nature Reserve (site 15) intending to enjoy a quiet cup of coffee.  Unfortunately there were several men with some very noisy machinery busy installing new toilets, so we moved on.  I did the Migurra Walk outside Cootamundra (site 84) where I saw a pair of White-winged Trillers.  The kunzea was flowering profusely (a horrible shade of mauve) as was the local egg and bacon (Dillwynia sericea).   On the way back to Melbourne nine days later, I again did the Migurra Walk, and this time I flushed a Painted Button-quail.  At the Bendick Murrell road stop, I saw a pair of Superb Parrots, the first of many for the trip.

The next day I visited Putta Bucca wetlands at Mudgee, hoping that the recently seen Citrine Wagtail would miraculously reappear.  Of course it did not.  But I saw the one and only Rainbow Bee-eater for the trip and one beautiful Southern Boobook being mercilessly harassed by a gaggle of little birds.

On Sunday, I joined the pelagic out of Nelson Bay.  I had modest expectations of an October pelagic out of Port Stephens and was hoping for some storm-petrels and a Flesh-footed Shearwater, which would be annual ticks.  We saw Flesh-footed early on, and several Wilson's Storm-Petrels (however, surprisingly, we dipped on White-faced).  We had great views of five Wandering Albatrosses, which is always a thrill. Best bird of the day for me was a Black-bellied Storm-Petrel that flew past close enough for Brook to photograph it and confirm its identity.   Several unfortunate people were ill all day, although I did not think it was a very rough trip. 

One of the 5 Wandering Albatross we saw on the day.

Mick told me that there was a pair of Beach Stone-curlews at Soldiers Point in Port Stephens, so Rog and I detoured there on our way up to Gloucester.  Here I saw my one and only Eastern Great Egret and Pied Oystercatcher for the trip, but sadly no stone-curlews.  The one thing of interest that I did see was a Little Corella drinking seawater.

Mick also recommended Copeland State Conservation Area as a good birding spot and he was right.  The best bird I saw here was the Pale Yellow Robin (which Rog said were playing in the car park when I went for a walk).  There were also lyrebirds and brush-turkeys and lots of Large-billed Scrubwrens.  Rog and I visited Barrington Tops, which were covered in snow!  Very pretty. 


In Gloucester, there were White-headed Pigeons and Scarlet Honeyeaters.  I'd expected Grey-crowned Babblers, that I'd seen on my last visit, but I was disappointed.  The only babblers on my trip list were White-browed.

When I realized that I was missing Black Swan on my birdlist, we stopped at Winton Wetlands (site 87) on the way home to rectify that omission.  Other surprising omissions from my list were Australasian Grebe, Common Bronzewing, Restless Flycatcher and Silvereye.

I came home to a possum-free house, feeling very pleased with myself for having discarded another bogey bird.  Of course there is no justification for me to feel pleased with myself.  I should be feeling pleased with Mick.  And I am.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

MY DAILY CHALLENGE

Exercise is boring.  Anything that makes it more interesting is to be welcomed warmly. Each day, I walk for 15 minutes as fast as I can (birds willing), then 15 minutes return.  My daily walk can be routine, uninteresting and monotonous.  I have found a cure for this monotony.

Of course I am always aware of the birdlife around me, but I have recently started keeping records of what I see and hear.  In the past I always walked to the east, but now I have been varying my walks to go north, south, and west as well.  I wanted to see where the birds were best, and how they varied in each direction.

Grey Butcherbird - perhaps my favourite local bird

Now that I have completed ten walks in each direction, it is time to look at the results.  There have been a few surprises.

Before I began, I compiled a list of 30 common birds I expected to see in my suburb.  Of these 30 birds, I saw 26 on my 40 walks.  The birds on my list that I did not see were:  Australian Hobby, Little Corella, Silvereye and House Sparrow.  Frustratingly, on one west walk, I thought I saw an Australian Hobby, but it flew away so fast I could not be sure.  Perhaps I would have seen Silvereyes had there been fruiting trees around at the time.  I may yet get them onto my list on future walks.

Birds I saw that were not on my list were:  Australian Raven (seen once on a north walk); Pacific Black Duck (three birds flew overhead just once, again on a north walk); Eastern Rosella (that I saw twice on south walks and once on an east walk); Black-faced Cuckoo-Shrike (seen once on a west walk) and one White Ibis (flying high on a north walk).

The birds I recorded on every one of my 40 walks were not surprising.  They were:  Spotted Dove; Rainbow Lorikeet; Red Wattlebird and Australian Magpie.  I dipped on the Common Myna just once, and Little Raven scored 38, that is to say, I missed seeing him just twice.  Noisy Miners had perfect scores walking north and south, but I missed them once walking east and four times walking west.  I saw Pied Currawongs while I was walking in every direction, but more often walking east (7/10).  I only saw Silver Gulls twice, which surprised me.  Once was north and once west.  Again, I only saw Galahs twice, which was not very surprising:  they are not that common in my part of Kew.  Once was north and once was south.  I saw Long-billed Corellas just once, as I was walking south.

The best walk was north.  This walk crosses a major road and ends in a large park, which has two sporting ovals.  My best score for this walk was 16 species, the worst 11, and average 14.  The best bird on this walk was a Willie Wagtail, which I recorded on every north walk (but not on any walk in any other direction).  I also saw Magpie-larks on every north walk, but they were uncommon on other walks (scoring 2 on south  and west walks, and 4 on east walks).  I recorded Spotted Pardalotes three times (once seen, twice heard) on north walks (and heard them just once on an east walk).

The next best walk was south.  This walk starts in a small playground which has several river red gums, crosses a major road, then meanders through suburbia.  Needless to say, the best birds were always in the small playground.  This is where I saw Eastern Rosella.  My best score walking south was 14, the worst 10 and the average 12.  This is the only walk when I saw Crested Pigeons, which I recorded 7 times.  

The third best walk was my old favourite, east, the walk I've been doing for twenty years.  It is the most obvious walk from my house:  straight up the road.  It is all just houses; no parks or reserves.  My best score was 13, worst 8 and average 10.  After I'd done 5 walks, and upstart north looked like beating my old friend east, I decided to tweak the walk a little.  I deviated to include a small park, just off the road I was walking in.  Here I saw Eastern Rosellas just once, and Welcome Swallows every time I visited the park.

The worst walk was west.  It is a boring walk towards the city, with no parks and two schools along the way.  After I saw a Masked Lapwing flying over one school, I tweaked the walk to include looking over the school oval, which I assumed to be the lapwing's destination. However, I did not see the bird again.  My best score walking west was 12, worst 8 and average 10.  As well as the Masked Lapwing, other good birds on the west walk were my only sighting of a Black-faced Cuckoo-Shrike and my only sighting of a White-plumed Honeyeater (as well as the frustrating possible sighting of an Australian Hobby).  West was the only walk when I did not record Little Wattlebirds.  This did surprise me.  I even saw them once on an east walk, where I did not think they were present.  In fact they are present about half the time on both north and south walks.

I was surprised at how few records there were of Grey Butcherbirds.  If I'd been asked before I started this endeavour, I'd have said that I'd see butcherbirds about 75% of the time.  In fact, my records show that they were not that common at all:  north: 3;  south:  3; east:  5; and west:  4.  It was sometimes irritating to be enjoying a butcherbird singing in my backyard, then step out the front door to do a walk and not hear him again until my walk was over.

The other surprising thing was just how common Brown Thornbills were.  I'd have guessed I'd see or hear them about 10% of the time.  In fact, scores were:  north:  7; south: 6; east:  3 and west:  6.  They were more often heard than seen, but that was down to the fact that I was out exercising, not birdwatching.

I am delighted to have found a way to make my daily constitutional more interesting.  I will tweak the west walk and try to avoid the schools.  As spring progresses, I hope to add a few more species to my list.

I have always admitted to being a twitcher.  Now my true colours are out there for everyone to see:  I am also a lister.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

RAVISHING RUTHERGLEN

Earlier this week I spent a delightful couple of days in Rutherglen.  It was such fun, I found myself questioning why it was only number 79 in my top 100 birding sites.  It deserves to be higher.  Highlights were a Black-tailed Native-hen at Lake King (my first sighting there), my first Australian Reed-Warbler for the season, (I think) my first White-throated Gerygone for Rutherglen and a pair of Brolga with their two teenage chicks.  I heard Little Grassbirds, but I didn't manage to see them.  I always enjoy wandering along the main street looking for Eurasian Tree Sparrows.  Usually a Blue-faced Honeyeater flies by, even if I miss out on my sparrows.  Whenever I see a kingfisher in Rutherglen, I do my best to turn it into a Red-backed Kingfisher.  Others have seen them here.  All I have managed is Sacred.



Of course, I visited Chiltern too (site number 5) and Beechworth (where I go to add Satin Bowerbirds to my list).  At Chiltern Number 2 dam, there were several Restless Flycatchers, Little Friarbirds and Dusky Woodswallows and (best of all) some Diamond Firetails by the entrance gate.  I also saw two Yellow-footed Antechinus - one playing near the water, the other unfortunately dead on the track.  At Greenhill Dam, the Noisy Friarbirds predominated.  At Cyanide Dam in Honeyeater Picnic Area in the Chiltern/Mt Pilot National Park, a curious Olive-backed Oriole flew to investigate me, just to make sure that he got on my list.  Here there are always Yellow-tufted and Fuscous Honeyeaters, Brown Treecreepers and Eastern Yellow Robins.  I also saw a very vocal, very colourful Mistletoebird.  The wildflowers here were as good as the birds.  There were early nancies, as far as I could see just one donkey orchid and lots of those pretty pink orchids we used to call 'five fingers.'  I walked along McGuiness Road in the National Park looking for Spotted Quail-thrush.  Alas, the quail-thrush did not grace me with their presence, but I was well entertained with Golden Whistlers, Black-chinned Honeyeaters, Eastern Yellow Robins and Dusky Woodswallows, not to mention black wallabies.  The flowers here too were wonderful, principally beautiful blue dianella, and also egg and bacon.

At Woolshed Falls in Beechworth, there were thornbills aplenty:  Little and Brown and Striated.  There were also several pretty Spotted Pardalotes, drawing attention to themselves with their attractive tinkling call.

I came home with a total birdlist of 99 species, not counting those that I heard but did not see.  The weather was perfect.  The flowers were prolific.  The birds were wonderful.  Rutherglen was certainly at its best.

Monday, 22 September 2014

GRASSTREE ROADSIDE RESERVE


When we drive up the Hume, we always stop at the Grasstree Roadside Reserve.  I've seen some good birds here over the years and some pretty wildflowers too.  There's usually a friendly Red-capped Robin and always Weebills.  In spring there are orchids and in autumn there are butterflies.  Just once I saw Brown Quail here.

Located 105 kilometres north of Melbourne, Grasstree is one hour's drive from the Western Ring Road, so for us, coming from Melbourne, it is the perfect spot for coffee.  There is a small dam, where I've seen White-faced Herons and once, a Royal Spoonbill.  Fairy-wrens hop around your feet while you enjoy your break and Grey Fantails scold from above.  I do recommend the walking path.  If you like Grasstrees, you won't be disappointed.  I was brought up to call them 'Black boys,' but this is now deemed politically incorrect and we are supposed to say 'Xanthorrhoea.'
Yellow-faced Honeyeater, photo by Jim Smart
The birds were great when I was there last Saturday.  A very vocal Spotted Pardalote drew attention to himself, out in the open high in a dead tree.  There were Brown and Buff-rumped Thornbills, Red-browed Finches and perhaps best of all, one of my favourite honeyeaters, the Brown-headed.  They are such pretty little birds.


A large family of Black-faced Cuckoo-shrikes flew in while we were there.  I think there were six birds, all apparently in adult plumage.  Willie Wagtails chatted happily and Welcome Swallows swooped above.  Then suddenly everything went quiet.  I looked up to see a Whistling Kite gliding by.

One very loud call confused me.  I don't know why I always have such trouble with this call.  I should know it by now.  Eventually I tracked it down.  It was the Yellow-faced Honeyeater.  Ken Simpson describes the call as 'cheerful "chick-up."  Liquid repeated "chir rup, chir-rup" in falling sequence, loud for size of bird.'  I'll try to remember that.

I must mention the wildflowers too, because they were almost as good as the birds.  There was one wattle flowering and one cream flowering grevillea.  There were candles, sundews, lots of glossidia, some beautiful deep blue dianella and several white and two different yellow flowers I was unable to identify.  

Grasstree Roadside Reserve rarely disappoints.  If the birds aren't behaving, you can read the informative signs and learn about the history of gold and bushrangers in the vicinity.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

GILBERT'S WHISTLER

My brother and I are cleaning out our parents' house in order for it to be sold.  If you've read my first book, How Many Birds is That? you may remember the first chapter, 'All Thanks to a Hooded Robin' which is about my parents' place and the wonderful birds I've seen there over the years.  They bought the property because of its bird life.

Last Wednesday morning, I was wiping down bookshelves and quite bored with the job.  My back was aching, I was alone and the task seemed endless.  Outside the sun was shining and the birds were singing.  A Grey Shrike-thrush and an Eastern Yellow Robin both did their best to entice me out into the sunshine.  A cup of coffee on the verandah watching White-browed Babblers play in the garden and Little Lorikeets flit overhead would surely do me good.  Wouldn't I return to my work with renewed vigour and work twice as well?  Stoically, I ignored the birds' invitation and kept working. Then I heard a Gilbert's Whistler.  He was very close.  I dropped my cloth and rushed outside.

Gilbert's Whistler at my parents' place
He was very beautiful.  He sat, singing, allowing me to enjoy his presence.  It seemed a long time since I'd been so close to a Gilbert's Whistler.

When my parents were alive, and I visited them regularly, my records show that I'd see Gilbert's Whistlers every month.  They nested in the garden each year.  If, on any occasion, I found I didn't have them on my birdlist, I'd go to the garage and slam the door.  The birds would dutifully call in response.  Sometimes my Dad could get them to call by clapping his hands.  I seem to remember that my claps were not quite loud enough.

I've seen them in South Australia a few times, but the last time I'd seen them in Victoria, was at my parents' place in August 2009, and here one was now right in the garden where he belonged.  That bird lifted my spirits enormously.  I returned to my cleaning with a happy heart, revitalized more than any caffeine boost could have done.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

TRIN WARREN TAM-BORE

Yesterday I spent an enjoyable half an hour at Trin Warren Tam-Bore, the manmade wetlands on the periphery of Royal Park, just outside central Melbourne.  It was cold and windy, yet I managed 21 species, the best being a Little Grassbird.

Dusky Moorhen
I was greeted by my favourite bird, a friendly Willie Wagtail, as I left the car park.  I walked around the pond, with free entertainment provided by the coots and moorhens on the water.  The Australasian Grebes were dressed in their breeding best, but I couldn't see any chicks.  Little Wattlebirds and a Horsfield Bronze-Cuckoo called simultaneously, and I was forced to make a quick decision about which one to go for.  I decided on the cuckoo, looked for it, dipped, and (naturally) the wattlebirds had stopped calling by then, so I dipped on them too.

Welcome Swallows performed impressive aerial acrobatics, while the New Holland Honeyeaters sat in the bushes, refusing to acknowledge the swallows' agility.  Swamphens strutted on the grass, ignoring me disdainfully.  There were fewer ducks than usual - I saw only Pacific Black Ducks and Grey Teals.

A pair of Magpie-larks duetted for me, while Rainbow Lorikeets and Red Wattlebirds added discordant squawks.

What better way to spend thirty minutes so close to town?

Saturday, 6 September 2014

YOU YANGS REGIONAL PARK


Yesterday I spent a most enjoyable time at the You Yangs Regional Park (site 31).  A group of happy birders from Birds Australia gathers here quarterly to remove boneseed from the park, which makes us feel virtuous while we actually have a great time birdwatching.
The You Yangs are 55 kilometres south-west of Melbourne, off the Geelong Road, via the township of Little River and the birding can be great.
Eastern Yellow Robin, photo by Jim Smart
For some people yesterday the highlight was great views of Black-chinned Honeyeaters feeding in the flowering eucalypts.  For others, it was a small flock of Musk Lorikeets that posed perfectly in the sunshine.  For me, it was the Eastern Yellow Robin who came confidingly close to enjoy the titbits I'd unearthed while I pulled out boneseed.  When we arrived we were greeted by a Restless Flycatcher and a Horsfield's Bronze-Cuckoo.  Dusky Woodswallows flew overhead and we saw Little as well as Musk Lorikeets.  A Fantailed Cuckoo called constantly while we performed our gardening.
As well as birds, we saw platelets made by button-quail and admired a koala, a kangaroo and several greenhood orchids.  Something for everyone, wouldn't you say?

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

DIET OF LITTLE RAVENS

All the text books agree that Little Ravens are mostly insectivorous. If you see a Little Raven beside roadkill, it is more likely to be snapping at the flies attracted to the body, rather than eating the carrion itself.


Little Ravens in the suburbs have learnt to scavenge

However, they are opportunistic feeders, and will scavenge anything that is convenient. And they certainly will eat carrion if they are hungry enough.

I live in a Melbourne suburb which has a large population of possums, both brush-tail and ringtail. For some reason, the ringtails are often killed on the electricity wires, although I don't remember ever seeing a brush-tail apparently killed in this manner.

Last week, I saw a dead ringtail under the wires, while a couple of Little Ravens sat on the wires above communicating with each other. They ignored the free food below. I was interested to see if the ravens would eat the possum.

They must be well fed, for the dead possum did not attract them at all. It lay there for some days, until I assume one of my neighbours removed it. This is only an assumption, as I did not witness what happened to the possum. What I can say with conviction is that the Little Ravens ignored the dead body for several days.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

SPRING IS SPRUNG!

Tawny Frogmouth - a bird I did not see in August
It is spring at last and I can say goodbye to August, always one of my worst months for birding.  It's not that the cold Melbourne weather keeps me inside and not looking, it's just that I never see much during the month of August.

I am unashamedly, not only a twitcher, but also a lister.  Some birders regard both these words as derogatory, but I see nothing wrong with admitting that I am both these things.  Of course I always want to see as many species as possible, and I keep lists to record what I see.  Why find fault with that?

This means I know what a dreadful record I have during past Augusts.

I have modest aims.  I try to see 100 species every month.  Usually this is easy, but not in August.  This month just gone, August 2014, I saw only 86 species.  Yet I visited the Western Treatment Plant at Werribee, Bendigo, Karkarook and Blackburn Lake.  Better birders than I would see 100 species at Werribee alone.  In my defence, I should point out that I was not alone when I visited Werribee, and was therefore constrained by my companions.  I was most frustrated when I couldn't stop to identify waders, and had to keep up with the others.  We did see Brolgas, always a highlight.  In total, I managed just 61 species on my trip to Werribee.

There wasn't much around at Bendigo, although I saw Spiny-cheeked and White-eared Honeyeaters.  This latter bird is my second favourite honeyeater - my favourite being the demure little Brown-headed.

At Karkarook (as I previously reported) I saw Blue-billed Duck, but not much else.

I walked around Blackburn Lake last Friday with my cousin.  First, we visited a couple of Tawny Frogmouth roosts, in the hope of adding this bird to my monthly list.  It was not to be.  The only bird of note that I did add to my list, was a Nankeen Night-Heron, all decked out in his breeding best, looking most splendid.  Sadly, he seemed to be alone.

So I'm pleased that August is behind me, although by any standards, Brolgas, Blue-billed Ducks and Nankeen Night-Herons are all good birds.

Bring on September!  I should have no trouble at all in seeing my target 100 species, even without a trip to Werribee.  Let's see how I go.