Thursday, 29 January 2015

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.

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

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.