Friday, 27 February 2015


Goodness!  What happened to February?  Suddenly it's gone, never to be seen again.  Worse - I did no birding at all!  I visited Wilson Reserve a few times hoping that the Powerful Owl might have returned to her occasional roost, but I had no luck with that.  Today, when I'd hoped to be out on the waters beyond Wollongong seeking White-necked Petrels, I'm here at my computer writing this.  My total bird count for the month of February was 34.  In all my years of record keeping I've never had such a low count.  March must be better.

I have done my daily walks but there were no surprises in any direction.  I recorded magpies, Rainbow Lorikeets and Spotted Doves on every walk.  I missed Red Wattlebirds just once, Noisy Miners twice and Grey Butcherbirds and Little Ravens just three times.  I recorded a Long-billed Corella and an Eastern Rosella just once, Welcome Swallow and Common Starling twice and a Spotted Pardalote three times.

The sad news is that my Willie Wagtail family seems to have disappeared.  I used to see them reliably on my north walk, but they did not put in an appearance at all for the whole of February.  

The weather has been lovely here this summer - thankfully not too hot.  Now the signs of autumn are beginning to appear.  Young magpies have been experimenting with subsong and I saw my first autumn flock of Little Ravens this week.

I started my daily directional bird counts last spring.  It will be interesting to see if autumn produces any noteworthy differences.  Whatever happens, I simply must go birding in March.

Sunday, 1 February 2015


This morning I completed my 100th walk:  that is to say, I have walked 25 times to the north, 25 to the south, 25 to the east and 25 to the west of my home in suburban Kew, keeping a birdlist on each occasion.  The purpose of the walk is to keep fit; the purpose of the birdlist is to add interest.

I saw a total of 32 species of birds.  The clear and unambiguous winner was the Australian Magpie, which I recorded on 99 of my 100 walks.  Other birds that achieved a high distinction were Rainbow Lorikeet, Red Wattlebird and Common Myna (all on 96%), Spotted Dove (95%) and Noisy Miner (91%).  I'm delighted that the magpie won, and I suppose that there's nothing wrong with a Red Wattlebird.  The less said about the other winners the better.

Galah - just 6 sightings during 100 walks
After that cluster of birds scoring in the 90's, there was only one in the 80's (the Little Raven at 84), then one in the 60's (Common Blackbird at 68, mainly in spring), then the Brown Thornbill at 52% (30 of these records were heard, not seen) and the Grey Butcherbird at 49% (23 heard).  I was surprised to see that the Magpie-lark scored just 41%; I'd have thought I saw these birds more often than that.  And the Pied Currawong also:  he came in at 36% and, if asked, I'd have said he was around much more frequently than that indicates.  Just shows, you can't trust your memory, or, at least, I can't trust mine.

Next came the Little Wattlebird on 33 (19 heard), Welcome Swallow (29%), Common Starling (28%, mainly north), Feral and Crested Pigeon (both 23, the latter mainly south) and (my very favourite bird) the Willie Wagtail at 22, exclusively on north walks.

If I was disappointed at the low number of records for the Magpie-lark, I was delighted to see Sulphur-crested Cockatoos at 18 (17 of them north).  Cockies are not an every day occurrence in this part of suburban Melbourne.

I saw Eastern Rosellas on 8 occasions and Galahs on 6.  Long-billed Corellas were recorded 5 times.  I saw Red-rumped Parrots three times (all north walks) and Pacific Black Ducks, Masked Lapwings and Silver Gulls just twice.  White-plumed Honeyeaters, Australian Ravens, Black-faced Cuckoo-shrikes, White Ibis and Musk Lorikeets were all recorded just once.

I do wish I'd kept these records in years gone by.  My memory is that we had greater diversity before the Noisy Miners moved in, but alas, that remark is now just anecdotal.

I'm hoping that when I have accumulated more data, I will be able to detect seasonal movements.  If asked, I'd have said that the butcherbird was more vocal in winter, but my records do not support this at the moment.

Whether or not I am gathering any useful information, there is no doubt that I am making my morning walk far more interesting and that's a good thing.

Thursday, 29 January 2015


Whichever way you look at it, January 2015 has been pretty good.  I've seen a lifer (the White-rumped Sandpiper at Lake Wollumboola, thanks to Graham).  I've managed a total of 152 birds this month, not record breaking, but okay, and including some very interesting species, seven of which I did not see in 2014.  I've visited some good birding spots and met some great birders.

There's been some disappointments too.  Rog and I drove to Wollongong, hoping to see a White-necked Petrel.  This was my eighth trip interstate for the purpose of ticking this bogey bird.  It's beginning to be a bit of a joke.  Conditions were perfect:  the water was warm, the sea was calm.  Yet my bogey bird still taunts me.  I wonder if I'll ever see it.  I've also visited Wilson Reserve six times this year, hoping to see the Powerful Owl that often roosts there.  No luck there either.  I also spent some time looking unsuccessfully for the House Crow in South Melbourne (thank you, Cousin Liz for driving me around!)  I didn't really expect to see that bird, but I felt I had to look.  I also had a good look around Chiltern No 2 dam where a Grey-headed Lapwing had been reported.  There were very few birds there the day I looked, and the only lapwings visible were common old masked ones.

Other spots I've been birding around Melbourne are Banyule (Latham's Snipe, Spotless Crake), Jell's Park (nesting Darters), Karkarook (Blue-billed Duck, Greenfinch), Healesville (Olive Whistler, Leaden Flycatcher), Lilydale Lake, Willsmere Billabong, Blackburn Lake, Edithvale Wetlands, Braeside (Freckled Duck) and Sherbrooke (Crescent Honeyeater).
Lake Wollumboola, where I saw the White-rumped Sandpiper
On our way to Wollongong, I birded at Wonga Wetlands (site 54) where the cicadas were so noisy, you couldn't hear the friarbirds calling.  Here I saw Black-tailed Native-hen, Rainbow Bee-eaters, Tree Martins and White-breasted Woodswallows (which were my 100th bird for the year).  I also saw a Dollarbird fishing like a kingfisher, showing pale blue wings.  At The Rock (site 15) I saw (as usual) lots of Speckled Warblers.  There were also Western Gerygones, Red-capped Robins, Varied Sittellas and several different thornbills.  At Cootamundra, I did Migurra Walk, but it was quite hot and there were so many spiders across the track that I could not relax for a second.  At Barren Grounds (site 46) it was overcast, and I dipped on my hoped for bristlebirds.

The outstanding sighting on the Wollongong pelagic was the Pomarine Jaegers.  We saw lots, of every phase and age imaginable.  We saw Long-tailed Jaegers too, but no Arctic. It was a most unusually comfortable pelagic - no one was seasick.

One of several Pomarine Jaegers seen on the Wollongong pelagic.

The next day, we drove down to Lake Wollumboola to see the White-rumped Sandpiper.  I will be forever grateful to Graham for taking me there.  It is a joy to go birding with him:  he sees so much more than I do.  He showed me Topknot Pigeons flying overhead and Plumed Whistling-Ducks at Nowra sewage ponds.  The sandpiper sat on the beach at Lake Wollumboola, just where it was supposed to be and allowed itself to be admired.  And ticked.  What a pleasure it is when birds behave like this!

At Chiltern on the way home (site 5) Dusky Woodswallows were my 150th bird for the year.

So January did not, as I'd hoped, eliminate a bogey bird.  However, I did see some great birds.  And I had fun.  Now let's see what February can do.

Tuesday, 30 December 2014


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


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


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


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.