Tuesday, 29 December 2015

SO MUCH FOR 2015

I did my morning walk today and suddenly realized that, as the forecast temperature for Melbourne tomorrow is 39, I probably won't be going for a walk, so that was most likely my final walk for 2015.  This morning I added a new bird to my walk list:  the Purple-crowned Lorikeet, making a total list of 39 species.  However, I should delete Willie Wagtail, which I used to see regularly on my north walk and White-plumed Honeyeater, which seems to have been successfully replaced throughout my walking area by Noisy Miners.  Other birds I added to the walk list this year are:  Straw-necked Ibis, European Goldfinch (probably escapees), Eastern Spinebill, Crimson Rosella, Little Corella, Collared Sparrowhawk and Musk Lorikeet.  The largest number of species I saw on any walk was 16, which I achieved in winter on a north walk.  I average around 10 species per walk.

Herald Petrel, photo by Judy Leitch

My birding objectives for 2015 had been modest:  I had aimed for five new birds.  I achieved four of these:  the Slender-billed Prion, Herald Petrel, Morepork and Nullarbor Quail-thrush.  Thanks to Graham Barwell, I also saw the White-rumped Sandpiper.  Yet again, I did not see the White-necked Petrel, which is a real bogey bird for me.  I was particularly pleased to see the prion at last, because I'd been looking for it for six years.  Persistence pays off.

In 2016, I'm planning a trip with Richard Baxter to Torres Strait and I'm hoping for Coconut Lorikeet and Red-capped Flowerpecker as well as whatever rarities care to present themselves.  In winter, I'm planning to drive west again, this time looking for a Naretha Bluebonnet and a Copperback Quail-thrush.  Of course, I will look again for the elusive White-necked Petrel.  People tell me that it's not a rare bird.  I'll have to luck onto it some time.  And then how will I justify my trips to Wollongong?

Sunday, 27 December 2015

BIRDING IN THE ANTARCTIC

Since I was a small child, throwing streamers at the departing Nella Dan at the South Melbourne dock, I have wanted to go to the Antarctic.  Such romance!  One of the world's last frontiers.

At last I have achieved this childhood dream.  The Antarctic was both more and less than I'd dared to hope.  The scenery was far more spectacular than I'd expected.  The mountains were higher and more rugged, and they thrust skyward from the sea sometimes with no beach whatsoever.  Of course there was lots of snow and ice, but the colours were surprising.  The sky was blue; the water was black.  The ice was sometimes white, sometimes blue, sometimes transparent.  Icebergs came in all shapes and sizes.  As they melted slowly into the black water, an eerie milky almost iridescent green puddle surrounded the base of the iceberg.  As huge chunks of glaciers calved off, a sound like an explosion preceded the splash into the water.  Sometimes, pack ice of all sizes seemed to cover the sea for many kilometres in all directions.  The ship ploughed through this and it closed like a zipper behind us.

But I was on a birding trip, not a sight seeing tour.  Penguins are always personality plus birds:  often endearing, sometimes confiding, forever memorable.  We must have seen hundreds of thousands of them.  I saw six different species - more of them later.  I saw five species of albatross.  The most numerous was Black-browed, then Grey-headed, then Light-mantled Sooty, then Wandering, and finally, Southern Royal.  I had hoped to see Sooty Albatross, but we did not.  We saw lots of Cape Petrels, Blue Petrels, Antarctic Prions and Imperial Shags of various races.
Atlantic Petrel, photo by Mick Roderick

Antarctic Petrel, photo by Mick Roderick

For me the birding highlights were Atlantic Petrel, Antarctic Petrel, Southern Fulmars and ethereal Snow Petrels.  We saw just two Atlantic Petrels on the second day.  That was our quota.  We saw Antarctic Petrels on five consecutive days, but only ever one or two individuals.  By contrast, we saw many thousands of Southern Fulmars.  On one day alone we recorded over a thousand.  This was a bird I particularly wanted to see, as it has always eluded my Australian list.  I thought I saw one on my Macquarie Island trip:  a large white bird flying high in the sky.  Now that I've seen fulmars, I can say that my unidentified Macquarie Island bird was not a fulmar:  it did not have a large enough wingspan.  Fulmars are surprisingly pretty birds:  none of the illustrations I've seen do them justice.  The last of my special birds is the breathtaking Snow Petrel.  Everyone loves Snow Petrels.  I saw them on four days; the largest number on any day was a total of fifty birds.
Snow Petrel, photo by Mick Roderick

I scored just nine lifers on the Antarctic leg of my trip.

We boarded our ship, Aurora's Polar Pioneer, at Stanley in the Falklands.  We flew from Chile into the military airport, picked up our baggage and were immediately taken by bus to Stanley.  The countryside was not particularly attractive, but birds flew past the windows of the bus (lifers for me) as our guide gave commentary about the war.  I have no doubt that some people would find commentary about the war more interesting than unidentified strange birds.  Those people had not signed up for a birding tour. 

With no time at all for birding, I left the Falklands with 6 lifers:  the flightless Falkland Steamerduck; the easily identified Rock Cormorant (with a bright red face); Magellanic Oystercatcher; Rufous-chested Dotterel (which I spied while everyone else was photographing a shipwreck); Dolphin Gull (at the port as we left) and, very luckily, Correndera Pipit (which I saw from the bus as it flew).  I also saw a pair of caracara, whose identification remains unclear.  I thought they were Striated, but I'm told that's impossible and they must have been Southern.  Alas, I will never know.
South Georgia Pipit, photo by Mick Roderick

We left the Falklands on Saturday evening and arrived at South Georgia on Tuesday.  That day I achieved three lifers:  the most endearing and very naughty Snowy Sheathbill; South Georgia Pintails and South Georgia Pipit, the world's most southern passerine.  

We played around South Georgia until Saturday, visiting several memorable spots.  Everyone likes Salisbury Plain, which 250,000 King Penguins call home.  My favourite spot was Gold Harbour, where there were only 20,000 King Penguins, and also Gentoos, skuas, giant-petrels, intimidating fur seals and elephant seals.  The King Penguins trumpet loudly and mate rather roughly.  The fluffy brown chicks whistle 'Maroochydore.'  Many of the seals had pups, which were undeniably cute.  While we were on South Georgia, a photographer from another cruise ship was bitten by a fur seal on Salisbury Plain, and the boat returned to the Falklands to get proper medical attention for him.  The Drygalski Fjord was spectacular.  There was nowhere to land, but we cruised up the fjord while dozens of Antarctic Terns flew around the ship.

We learnt about the rat eradication program on South Georgia, which has cost 7.5 million pounds, and seems to have been successful.  We visited the museum at Grytiviken, where I enjoyed the display of birdlife.  They had birds, various eggs, and a burrow showing a diving-petrel.  Much to my amusement, it was a Common Diving-petrel, not the local South Georgian species.  Put this down to my ignorance.  I later learned that there are more Common Diving-petrels on South Georgia (3.8 million breeding pairs) than there are South Georgian Diving-petrels (2 million). The birds look identical at sea and I did not really expect to be able to say that I'd seen any new diving-petrel on this trip.  However, thanks to Mick Roderick and his terrific photos, we did confirm that we had seen South Georgian birds.  While we were in Grytiviken, we visited Shackleton's grave and toasted his memory.  We also had a celebratory Shackleton dinner, with the dining rooms decorated with the ship's flags and paper lanterns, made from biosecurity forms we had dutifully filled out!
Northern Giant-Petrel, photo by Mick Roderick

After we left South Georgia, we spent two days cruising until we arrived at Elephant Island.  We saw few birds during these two days, the most common being Antarctic Prion, followed by Cape Petrel.  There were lots of Blue Petrels on the first day, but very few thereafter.  We saw Wilson's Storm-petrels every day of the trip, but never in big numbers.  We also saw Black-bellied Storm-petrels, but not every day.  We saw Grey-backed Storm-petrels on three days only, a total of five birds.  White-chinned Petrels were with us all the time, until we arrived in the Antarctic.  We saw a few birds every day, up to fifty individuals.

On Gourdin Island, three penguins were breeding:  Chinstrap, Adelie and Gentoo.  There was constant braying:  the Chinstrap have the highest pitch, then the Adelies and the Gentoos the lowest.  A veritable cacophony.  
Chinstrap Penguin, photo by Mick Roderick

An Antarctic wind storm slowed us down and prevented us from landing at Cuverville.  Snow was pretty, as was the pack ice, but huge chunks of ice falling from the rigging was a little disconcerting.  I had planned to send postcards from Port Lockroy, but there was too much ice for us to land.

I rather liked the frozen waterfall on Deception Island, and certainly enjoyed the skuas having a hot thermal bath on Livingston Island.  

Drake Passage did not live up to its reputation.  We had very calm seas - nothing at all like my experience around Macquarie Island.  In fact, visiting The Horn was somewhat of an anticlimax.

I am delighted to have fulfilled my childhood dream, and finally visited the Antarctic.  The scenery was breath taking.  However, I confess that I was disappointed in the birdlife.  I had expected more birds and more species.  The picture of Light-mantled Sooty Albatross doing their mating ballet will remain with me forever, and the size of the penguin colonies is simply overwhelming, while individual birds that seem to want to make friends will be a treasured memory for years to come.

It was the experience of a lifetime.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

BIRDING IN CHILE

I've just returned from a trip to South Georgia and the Antarctic, run by Aurora Expeditions.  For reasons best known to themselves, Aurora booked me into two full days in Chile on the way.  One day they offered a tour of Santiago; the other day they scheduled a winery tour, including a visit to the picturesque seaside township of Valparaiso.  I declined these offers.

I've never been to Chile before and the chance to spend two days birding was far more appealing.  I engaged a guide:  Fernando Diaz from Albatross Birding and Nature Tours.  He was excellent!  His English was very good, his catering was wonderful (table cloths, no less!) but, most important, his knowledge of birds was unsurpassed.

Before I left home I purchased a field guide:  Birds of Southern South America and Antarctica by Martin R. de la Pena and Maurice Rumboll.  I would not recommend it.  The text is inadequate and the illustrations are poor.  I later discovered that the book I should have bought was Birds of Chile by Alvaro Jaramillo.  It is very good indeed.

Thanks to Fernando (and not to the field guide) we saw 56 species in two days.  We were high in the Andes and the scenery was spectacular.  The first day we spent in the Yeso Valley and the second day we were on Faranelles Road.  The only two species I managed to get for myself in the city of Santiago were the Rufous-collared Sparrow and the Chimango Caracara.  These birds were both common just about everywhere we went.  Chilean Mockingbirds were common too, as were Moustached Turca and Long-tailed Meadowlarks, with their pretty red breasts.  I saw my first hummingbird on the first day:  the White-sided Hillstar.  Later we saw its nest, suspended from the ceiling of a cave.  Our first endemic was the not very inspiring Crag Chilia.  The beautiful Diademed Sandpiper-plover more than made up for that.
Diademed Sandpiper-plover

Birding in Chile, photo by Chris Melrose

As I knew absolutely nothing about the birds of Chile, I enjoyed the strange sounding names as much as the birds.  I'd heard of siskins, of course, but not Cinclodes, Tit-spinetails, Canasteros, Earthcreepers, Diuca-finches or Ground-tyrants.  So much to learn!
Great Horned Owl, photo by Chris Melrose

Highlights of the second day were a Giant Hummingbird, a Great Horned Owl, a couple of woodpeckers (Striped and Chilean Flicker) and a Black-chested Buzzard-eagle.  We saw plenty of Andean Condors.  We saw them both days, but had better looks on the second day.  And we saw a culpo fox, not in the least bit intimidated by us intruding onto his territory.
Andean Condors fly from the roofs of the buildings at the ski resort


Later, after we returned from the Antarctic, we cruised up the Beagle Channel and moored at Puerto Williams.  I saw almost as many new species here as I had in the past fortnight at sea.  From the boat, I admired a Ringed Kingfisher and a Black-crowned Night-Heron, while Magellanic Penguins swam by.  Both Chilean Swallows and Crested Ducks flew past and some sort of dark cinclodes played amongst the kelp on the shore.  Later, we went for a walk.  Black-faced Ibis flew overhead and a very handsome Thorn-tailed Rayadito squeaked in the bushes above.  In Punta Arenas, while looking unsuccessfully for Brown-headed Gulls, I saw Two-banded Plovers on the rocky shoreline, bringing my total Chilean bird count to 70 species.


Monday, 14 December 2015

CHRISTMAS IS COMING: UNABASHED SELF-PROMOTION

I'm just back from a wonderful trip to the Antarctic and South Georgia (more of that later) and find, to my amazement, that Christmas is almost upon us.  Where does the time go?  If you have people on your Christmas list who are difficult to buy for, here's a suggestion:  why not buy them one of my books?

It seems to me that most people like birds.  For someone who is interested in birds, I'd recommend my first book:  "How Many Birds is That?"  I sell these for $25, which includes postage within Australia.  This is the story of my travels around Australia, trying to see as many species of birds as possible.

For someone whose interest in birds might require some development, why not try my second book:  "Why Watch Birds?"  This is a beginner's guide to bird watching.  I sell it for $20, which includes postage within Australia.

Go to the tab:  "Buy books by Sue Taylor."  You'll see that it's too easy.   Both books come signed by the author.

And let me add that I hope you have a very Happy Christmas!

Sunday, 1 November 2015

MIMICKING MAGPIE

I've just returned from my daily walk.  It was cool and drizzly and I saw very few birds.  However, I did witness a remarkable thing:  a magpie that was mimicking.  It was a young bird, I'm not sure which sex, I was standing underneath it, looking straight up at it.  In fact, it took me a while to find it.  I could hear a magpie's whisper song, so I looked for the bird.  There's a very large conifer where magpies often perch, so I expected to find it in that.  When I couldn't see it, I looked elsewhere, and the bird was right above me, quite close, sitting on the electricity wires.

It was happily singing its whisper song, and at the end of each phrase, it inserted the alarm call from an emergency vehicle.

I've witnessed this just once before, some years ago in Western Australia, in a public park.  A magpie was mimicking a race caller on the radio.  That magpie did not insert his mimicking into his usual carolling, as this one did, he concentrated entirely on his imitation of someone calling a horse race on the radio, including background crowd noises.  Remarkable.

Australian Magpie (this is not the bird that was mimicking)

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

MAGNIFICENT MOREPORKS

I thought I'd got all my ticks for the year.  Unless some vagrant appeared unexpectedly, I didn't think 2015 had any more new birds for me.  Then some wonderful birder discovered Moreporks at Cape Liptrap (# 764).  Howzat!

Morepork, photo by Geoff Glare

Southern Boobooks are found throughout Australia, and of course, I'd seen many.  But I hadn't seen any in Tasmania and the Tasmanian race had recently been split from the mainland subspecies, and now we potentially had a new bird to add to our lifelist:  the Morepork.

I was at home studying dutifully (exams next week) when James Mustafa phoned to say he was planning to drive to Cape Liptrap to see the Moreporks.  I confess I did not have to think very long or very hard.  Of course I could take the night off.  I'd study all the better with a tick under my belt, I told myself.  A little bit of birding could only enhance my studies.  A new lifer would give me a boost:  my memory would be improved, my comprehension would increase, I would wing confidently to my exams.

So we set off.  James, his delightful girlfriend Clancye, and me.

Traffic was dreadful.  The two and a half hour trip from Melbourne to Cape Liptrap took more like four hours.  It didn't matter.  The sun had not set as we arrived in the Cape Liptrap lighthouse carpark.  Luckily, the temperature was not very cold, there was no wind and there was no sign of rain.  But my heart fell as I looked around.  We were in the right place, but there were no trees.  For me, owls and trees go together, like, well, studying and books.  It was all coastal scrub.  And to prove it, we heard a whipbird call.  James had photos taken a couple of days before of Moreporks in this spot.  It had to be right.  We wandered along the path to the lighthouse, trying to match the photos to the surroundings.

At the lighthouse, we met Geoff Glare and his charming wife, Anne, aka 'The Whale Woman.'  They'd been whale watching and, like us, had come to admire the Moreporks.  Of course it was the right spot.  We found a stunted tree that matched one photo perfectly.  Another photo was of an owl on the ground, and another bird was sitting on a post.  There were certainly lots of posts.  We chatted politely, trying to pretend that it didn't really matter whether or not we saw the Morepork.  Slowly, the sun set over the sea.

At 8.20 we decided to walk towards the lighthouse.  James saw a bird, then another.  It landed and we ran to position our torches and get a good look.  Yes, it was a Morepork, right on cue.   It was 8.25.  It did not seem to be in the least concerned by our presence.  It had the yellowest eyes!  It sat, ignoring us, occasionally gracing us with a direct stare and a frown.  We all had great tickable views.  Then it was off.

Quite happy with my single sighting (happy! I was ecstatic!) I did not need more.  We walked slowly back up the path.  Suddenly, there was another owl, much darker this time, but extremely pale underneath when he flew.  (I say 'he' but I have no idea what sex it was.  I believe it was a juvenile bird because it was so pale underneath.)  Again, we all enjoyed wonderful views.  The bird sat, obligingly, letting us admire him at length.

Finally, he flew.

Again, we walked towards the car and home.  Again, we were distracted by a Morepork.  A third bird, and for the third time, we all drank him in.  Geoff was distracted by a frog, but I'm afraid I cared only about owls at that moment.  We'd seen three birds in just a half an hour.

We were a very fulfilled, cheerful bunch.  The long drive home did not seem so long.  I did not give my exams a moment's thought.  I went home to dream about yellow-eyed Moreporks.



Saturday, 10 October 2015

A MONOCULTURE OF MINERS

For many years, I have wanted to eradicate exotic pests from Australia.  Now I find myself yearning to cull a native species.

Unwanted, unwelcome and unloved:  how do we eradicate them?


Noisy Miners have taken over some suburbs of Melbourne and turned previously enjoyable spots into miner monocultures.  When I moved to Kew 20 years ago, we enjoyed White-plumed Honeyeaters.  I have seen Eastern Spinebills in my street.  No more.  Now we must make do with miners.

Recently I visited the Maranoa Gardens in Balwyn, a suburb some 15 kilometres east of central Melbourne.  I have happy memories of visiting these municipal native gardens with my late grandfather and my late parents.  The birding used to be good.  I remember many Suberb Fairy-wrens and Silvereyes.  I remember New Holland Honeyeaters, Eastern Spinebills and Little Wattlebirds.  If you visit today, you'll see plenty of Noisy Miners, but not much else.

I visited several times during September and October 2015 and recorded Pied Currawongs, Australian Magpies, Eastern Rosellas, Rainbow Lorikeets, one Red Wattlebird, a couple of Crested Pigeons, one Grey Butcherbird and Little Ravens.  No small birds at all.  But there were dozens of Noisy Miners.  I reckoned there were about 50 of these despotic creatures in the 1.4 hectare gardens.  That is far too many.

The gardens are lovely, with many flowering native plants.  Noisy Miners, although they are honeyeaters, prefer to eat insects.  They do take nectar, but half-heartedly, and don't feed from many of the flowering plants in the Maranoa Gardens.  Small honeyeaters that in the past would have enjoyed this nectar, are now driven from the gardens by Noisy Miners.  The miners don't need the resource, but won't allow anyone else to use it either.  They are selfish bullies.  They are getting more and more self-assured and aggressive.  They often bomb me as I walk down the street and I see young mothers with prams looking anxiously over their shoulders as they approach the local park.  I suspect that it is a matter of time before residents rebel and take matters into their own hands.  We should agree to cull these unwelcome creatures, plant lots of dense native undergrowth and hope we can see some of our small native birds return.






Wednesday, 23 September 2015

HERALD PETREL ON RAINE ISLAND

Eclipse fishing charter boat

I've just returned from a quick trip to Raine Island in far north Queensland to tick the Herald Petrel.  This is one of Australia's rarest breeding seabirds, with a total population of 20 birds.  That's ten breeding pairs, all on Raine Island.  Herald Petrels also nest elsewhere (such as Tonga, New Caledonia, Samoa and Pitcairn Island) but for Australia, the only known breeding birds are on Raine Island.  The chances of seeing one on any routine pelagic are very close to nil.  The exceptions that prove the rule were (would you believe?) two sightings in March 2015 - one from Eden, and one on a Gold Coast Seamount trip.  Herald Petrels like deep water and most ordinary pelagics don't get out that far.
Herald Petrel, photo by Judy Leitch

Richard Baxter ran three back-to-back trips out of Portland Roads on the fishing charter boat Eclipse.  The first trip was extremely rough and they saw just one Herald Petrel.  The second trip was not quite so bumpy and they saw seven petrels.  I was on the third trip.  For us, conditions were perfect.  We all had magnificent views of the petrel on the second day.  The bird sat on the water not ten metres from the boat.  Then it flew towards us, inspected us individually with a critical eye, then, apparently satisfied, flew off never to be seen again.  We were all very pleased with ourselves, grinning stupidly as if we'd achieved something special.  Which indeed we had.  It was a good thing we got good views, because that was the only petrel for the entire trip that graced us with its presence.
Raine Island:  not a tree in sight

Raine Island is quite small:  I reckon I could walk around it in half an hour.  That's if I were allowed on it.  People are not permitted closer than 500 metres from this protected island.  It is home to thousands of Lesser Frigatebirds, hundreds of Black and Brown Noddies and scores of Brown Boobies.  There's also a scattering of Red-footed and Masked Boobies, Red-tailed Tropicbirds and Sooty Terns.  We saw a couple of Buff-banded Rail, some Silver Gulls and a Masked Lapwing.  That's about it.

The bird list for the entire four day trip was not large.  Sometimes we'd go for an hour without seeing a bird.  We saw some dolphins and others saw some cetaceans.  After the Herald Petrel, the most spectacular sighting was on the fourth day when over 2,500 Black Noddies flew past the boat.  Perhaps 60-80 birds were rafting on the water, while others flew on determinedly.  Suddenly they were joined by about a hundred Black-naped Terns, putting on a fantastic foraging display right in front of us.  They wheeled and turned, and splashed and rose, ethereal and beautiful.  Truly a breathtaking experience.

On the first day I thought I saw a Leach's Storm-Petrel.  It looked like a Welcome Swallow hovering over the water, then it disappeared before anyone else saw it, let alone pointed a camera towards it.  I find these unidentified glimpses more frustrating than not seeing a bird at all.

We did see Wilson's and Black-bellied Storm-Petrels.  We boarded the boat on Friday afternoon, and returned to Portland Roads on Tuesday morning, having travelled a total of 315 nautical miles.  We each thought ourselves pretty clever, having ticked Australia's rarest breeding seabird.

Thank you, Richard!

Sunday, 30 August 2015

WINTER IS OVER AT LAST

Powerful Owl, Banyule, photo by James Mustafa
At last, winter is over and I can look forward to some warmer weather.  It has been a cold winter this year.  The birds are already anticipating better things to come.  Pied Currawongs have arrived and are making their presence felt.  Yesterday I found a Little Raven's nest and last week I discovered that Noisy Miners are nesting in a hedge at the end of my street.  Really it is amazing how few nests I find when I am out looking every day.

I think I know my local birds, and yet I do not.  Before yesterday, had I been asked, I'd have said with confidence that Brown Thornbills occur in small flocks.  Yesterday I read that they occur singly or in pairs.  My records show that I see or hear Brown Thornbills just about every other day.  I was sure that they were in small parties, foraging through the trees at about eye height.  However, when I think about it, what happens is, I hear Brown Thornbills, I go looking, I see one bird, so I can write it down as 'seen' then I move on.  I never stop to see how many birds there are, and as these tiny birds have very loud voices they could well be tricking me into thinking that there are more of them than there really are.  I heard them on my walk today, so I decided to check them out.  The call was loud, but there was in fact just a single bird.  You can be sure that I will be making a note of thornbill numbers in future.

Magpie Goose at Werribee, photo by James Mustafa
My birding highlight during August was a visit from a birding friend from WA.  He came with a wish list of east coast birds he wanted to see.  Now, Steve is a special man.  He celebrated with me on Cocos Island last November when I saw my 750th Australian bird. That was the Javan Pond-Heron. Then, a couple of days later, he ushered me through waist-deep shark infested waters to see a Chinese Pond-Heron.  I would never have seen that bird without Steve, and I will be forever grateful.  Therefore, when Steve arrived with a list of 'must see' birds, I wanted to help as much as possible.  So I enlisted help.  I called on James Mustafa and the three of us had a wonderful couple of days, crossing birds off Steve's list.  Of course we started at Werribee, where there were a few new birds for Steve, but the highlight for both me and James was a pair of Magpie Geese.

Tawny Frogmouth, Bunyip SP, photo by James Mustafa

We went owling at Bunyip State Park, and James very cleverly showed us a Sooty Owl as well as a few frogmouths, one greater glider and some very sadly mangey wombats.  We went to lots of birdy spots and did a fair bit of crossing off on Steve's list.  I'm not sure who enjoyed it most, but it was probably me.  I added lots of birds to my August list, learnt some new birding places and altogether had a great time.  Thank you to Steve for coming and providing the excuse to go birding, and especially thank you to James, who was most generous with his time and his expertise.


Monday, 20 July 2015

SUCCESS WITH A SLENDER-BILLED PRION!

In July 2013 I bemoaned the fact that I had five bogey birds (not counting the Common Redshank).  I'm delighted to report that I have since seen four of those five bogey birds (as well as the Common Redshank).  First to go was the Short-tailed Grasswren in September 2013, thanks to Peter Waanders.  Then, in November the same year, it was the Black-winged Monarch, thanks to Martin Cachard and Judy Leitch.  In October 2014, I crossed off the Rufous Scrub-bird thanks to Mick Roderick.  Now, finally, in July 2015, I've seen the Slender-billed Prion.  At last!  I thank everyone who's been on a winter pelagic with me over the last few years and endured my loud frustrations at missing out on this recalcitrant whalebird.  Finally, I have seen it.  Now, just the White-necked Petrel remains.  Next summer perhaps.

I'd booked to go on the Portland pelagic in June and was disappointed when I had to pull out as I had an exam the next morning.  As soon as the exams were over, I put my name down for a July pelagic out of Port Fairy with Neil Macumber.  Then the weather turned foul and the trip was cancelled.  I thought I'd never see my prion.  Luckily, Neil rescheduled the trip the following weekend, and we managed to get out on Sunday 19 July 2015.  It turned into a most memorable day.
Southern Giant-Petrel, photo by James Mustafa
Slender-billed Prion, photo by Bruce Wedderburn


Sooty Albatross, photo by James Mustafa


The weather was cold (very cold!) but the threatened swells did not eventuate and it was a relatively pleasant winter's day at sea.  Relatively pleasant!  What am I saying?  It was a fantastic day!  I got a lifer! 

We were all so excited when we saw the Sooty Albatross, we momentarily forgot the temperature. Then there were a few giant-petrels, mainly Northern, but definitely one Southern.  We had lots of prions, and every now and then I interrupted the boat's birding and begged them to look at one bird that I imagined had a broader, whiter eyebrow than Fairy Prions are supposed to have.  I must say everyone was very patient with me, as I did my best to wish my Slender-billed Prion into being.  Finally, James Mustafa found a bird that was undeniably a Slender-billed.  I don't usually try to walk around at sea, as I'm liable to fall over, but I did try to get to the right side of the boat to see James's prion.  I glimpsed it as it flew.  But there were more and I achieved very good sightings.  Yippee!  My fourth bogey bird was no more.  Thank you, James.

And thanks to James and to Bruce Wedderburn for their photos.

I believe that there were other prions too, apart from Fairys and Slender-bills.  Of course there were lots of photographers present, so no doubt we will learn in due course what other prions were present.

Some pelagics are cold and wet.  Some produce few birds.  But occasionally there is one that stands out.  Sunday's trip was one such pelagic.  Most people celebrated the Sooty Albatross.  I rejoiced in the Slender-billed Prion.  Everyone went home happy, with a special warm glow known only to successful twitchers.


Wednesday, 1 July 2015

NULLARBOR QUAIL-THRUSH

Rog and I have just returned from a successful trip to see the Nullarbor Quail-thrush.  Yippee!  (#760)  We were away for 12 nights, travelled 4,130 kilometres and saw 117 species of birds, the best being the quail-thrush (naturally).  Other good birds included White-fronted Honeyeater (at Arid Lands Botanic Gardens in Port Augusta), Crested Bellbirds (on the roadside out of Ceduna) and Blue Bonnets and Black-faced Woodswallows at Lake Tyrrell on the way home.

The weather was mixed.  Some days it was too windy for good birding, some days it drizzled, there were lots of grey grumpy clouds and a little rain, as well as a couple of perfect sunny days.
Where we saw the quailthrush, behind the roadhouse.

While searching for the quail-thrush, we saw lots of White-winged Fairy-wrens and Slender-billed Thornbills and a few pipits, Horsfield Bronze-cuckoos and Rufous Fieldwrens.  In years gone by, we had looked for the quail-thrush more than once around the Nullarbor Roadhouse, with no success, and when we visited the Eyre Bird Observatory in 2004, I thought I had arranged to be shown this bird by the wardens.  In fact, they had agreed to show me.  I've got the emails to prove it!  However, it was not to be.  On previous searches, we had heard the bird, but could not see it.  Most frustrating.  As we set off on this occasion, we had a fair amount of trepidation about driving 2,000 kilometres across the continent on what might have proved to be a wild goose chase.

We arrived at the Nullarbor Roadhouse at 1 o'clock (an easy drive from Ceduna) and immediately set about looking for the quail-thrush.  We had instructions from Thomas and Thomas from our previous searches.  The little dirt track perpendicular to the Eyre Highway is easily found.  It took two hours of looking before we found the bird:  a beautiful male ran out onto the track in front of us, paused, turned so we could see his breast, then scurried away never to be seen again.  I was delighted and Roger was relieved.  The next morning, to celebrate our success, we did a joy flight over the head of the bight, admiring eight southern right whales that had come here to calve.

Wild Dog Hill, Whyalla Conservation Park

Apart from the quail-thrush, the best birding of the trip was in the Whyalla Conservation Park, on the road into Wild Dog Hill picnic area.  Here Slender-billed Thornbills were nesting in a sugarwood.  I'm almost sure I glimpsed a couple of grasswren as I chased White-browed Babblers and Singing and Spiny-cheeked Honeyeaters.

It was a good trip.  Of course it was:  we saw the quail-thrush!  We saw red and both eastern and western grey kangaroos as well as the whales.  Other, not so welcome animals were one large feral cat, one fox and two rabbits.

A very pleasant way to spend a few cold days in June.