Sunday, 31 August 2014


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.

Friday, 22 August 2014


Yesterday I visited Karkarook, the site that I just couldn't squeeze into my top 100 birding sites.  I like to go there on 1 January to get Blue-billed Duck onto my annual list.  It is a very pleasant spot, very popular with joggers and dog walkers, but notwithstanding all the people, the birding is often quite good.  Twice to my knowledge, Little Bitterns have turned up there.

There is a bird hide, but it is one of those noisy ones that frighten every bird within a hundred metres when you open the door.  I go to the hide, but I never go in.  The view is just as good from outside.

There are often Hoary-headed Grebes at Karkarook, and usually Greenfinch.  I saw several hoary-heads yesterday, but alas! no Greenfinch.  That might be the first time I've been there and not seen or heard these exotic finches.  I'm pleased to say that the Blue-billed Ducks didn't let me down.

One dog walker noticed my binoculars and asked me to identify the beautiful little blue bird she was admiring.  It was a male Superb Fairy-wren, at his breeding best.  

The sun was shining, the birds were singing, it was altogether a glorious day.   Melbourne is lucky to have so many pleasant parks.  No wonder we are the world's most livable city.

Monday, 18 August 2014


I live in suburban Kew.  My usual morning walk is to the east, away from the city.  I always see Rainbow Lorikeets (our most common bird), Australian Magpies, Little Ravens (that nest at the end of our street), Red Wattlebirds and, unfortunately, Spotted Doves.  I usually see Magpie-larks and Common Mynas.  I often see Grey Butcherbirds, Brown Thornbills, Common Starlings and Feral Pigeons. I am seeing Noisy Miners more and more frequently.  They are newcomers, along with Pied Currawongs and Little Corellas, while we have lost White-plumed Honeyeaters, which used to be common.  I sometimes hear Spotted Pardalotes, but I don't always see them.

This morning, I walked to the west, towards the city.  I was surprised at how different the birds were.  I've always known that if I want to see Little Wattlebirds, I should head west, not east, but the entire birdlife was different this morning.  There were Crested Pigeons, Long-billed Corellas and Welcome Swallows in the corner park.  Noisy Miners were bombing the corellas.  I used to see Eastern Rosellas here, but it's been a long time since I last saw one.  Sulphur-crested Cockatoos squawked overhead, and I thought I was going to miss out on my usually common Rainbow Lorikeets, until they put in an appearance just as I arrived home.  I saw Silver Gulls flying overhead too, but not a hint of butcherbirds anywhere.  I also dipped on magpies and Red Wattlebirds, but I saw lots of Spotted Doves, several Common Mynas, and one Common Blackbird.

I really would not have thought that the birdlife could be so different, walking in different directions from my home.  I will have to be more adventurous in future, and try other directions too.  I've been walking east for many years, and think I know the birds well on that route, but who knows what I might find if I venture north?

Sunday, 10 August 2014


Bendigo is to be congratulated on its Writers Festival, which, by all accounts, must be deemed a great success.  The 2014 festival was held last weekend.

I was invited to host a chat with Dr Penny Olsen about her recent book, 'An Eye for Nature, the Life and Art of William T. Cooper.'  Sir David Attenborough wrote a foreword for the book.  He refers to Bill Cooper as 'arguably one of the greatest of all bird artists.'  And I must say, Bill Cooper comes across as a really nice bloke.

There were lots of famous people milling around the festival.  Les Murray spoke at the opening.  I know that Blanche d'Alpuget was there because the publicist was nonplussed when The Age preferred to interview me, rather than her!  (So was I!)  I saw Robert Manne amongst the crowd and Stephanie Alexander came out of the theatrette before I went in.  I enjoyed sitting in the Green Room, feeling very important, sipping black coffee and soaking up the atmosphere.  There seemed to be dozens of young female volunteers, dressed in turquoise tee-shirts, and delighted to be involved in the festival.  I asked one how it was going, and she assured me that it was great, 'hundreds of people had turned up.'  I thought it looked more like thousands.

A writer always likes to see her books on sale, and they had some of mine there, so of course I felt good about that too.  Everyone seemed cheerful, enjoying themselves, experiencing Bendigo.

And no one mentioned the mosque.

Well done, Bendigo!  A festival for everyone to put into their diary for next year.

Monday, 28 July 2014


I had booked to go on a pelagic out of Swansea on 24 July 2014, so Rog and I decided to drive up from Melbourne and do some birding on the way.  The trip was cold and wintery and often dangerously foggy.  Bird highlights en route were a male Musk Duck at Wonga Wetlands in Albury and Superb Parrots at Cowra.  And I was delighted to see Scaly-breasted Lorikeets in the main street of Swansea when we arrived.

Male Musk Duck
Swansea is just south of Newcastle and pelagics used to go from here quite regularly.  Today they go sporadically, when someone feels like organizing one.  I was pleased for the opportunity of a winter trip, hoping for a Slender-billed Prion.  The boat was comfortable.  There were 18 participants and we each had a seat.  The weather was kind; much warmer than I'd expected.  Seas were not rough.

The idea was to take three hours to cruise to the shelf; spend three hours burleying there, then another three to get home.  We left at 7 a.m. and planned to be back at 4.  It went pretty much to plan, although we were slightly late back.  It was a legal requirement that we don life jackets to cross the bar.

It was a pleasant day.  We were pleased to see three (perhaps four) adult Wandering Albatrosses, both Antipodean and Gibson's, and one young clown.  Other albatrosses were Indian Yellow-nosed, Black-browed, Shy and Buller's.  There were a few Brown Skuas and a few Providence Petrels (that my northern birding mates insist on calling Solander's Petrels). Just one Cape Petrel visited us and at least one Great-winged Petrel.  There were some Fluttering Shearwaters and one White-fronted Tern amongst the Crested.  Add Australasian Gannet and that's about the total birdlist for the day.  Apart from the prions, sadly, they were all fairies. I did my best to turn some paler looking birds into something more interesting, but the experts on board were having none of it.

Solander's Petrel

It's always a matter of luck.  When you drive 2,500 kilometres, you expect that you've earned something good.  It was not to be.  I cling to the perverted logic that every pelagic I do without seeing a lifer, makes a lifer more likely next time.

Birding highlights on the way home were a Speckled Warbler at Migurra Walk near Cootamundra, a Red-capped Robin on the road to Bethungra dam (we had lots of Scarlet, Flame and Eastern Yellow) and Black-chinned Honeyeaters at Chiltern Park roadside stop.

The flowers were worth looking at when the birds were not performing.  Cootamundra and picnantha wattles were flowering.  There were dwarf greenhoods, early nancies and sundews at The Rock, and a happy yellow goodenia at Chiltern Park.

Winter is not the best season for birding, although my total list of 107 species seems pretty pathetic to me, even given the conditions.  I am consoling myself that my next lifer is one pelagic closer.

Thursday, 17 July 2014


Last Saturday morning saw me sitting by the phone waiting for a call to tell me that the pelagic proposed to go out from Port Fairy on Sunday 13 July was really going to go.  Four times already this year I have booked to go on a pelagic but bad weather has stymied me.  I desperately wanted to go out in winter, as I need to see a Slender-billed Prion for my lifelist.  At last the call came.  The boat was going to go.  I was delighted.

The weather was cold and grey with intermittent rain as we drove from Melbourne to Port Fairy.  We made the obligatory stop at Point Addis to look for Rufous Bristlebirds, but had no luck.  One friendly Flame Robin entertained us as we ate lunch near Colac; otherwise it was an uneventful trip.

Sunday morning saw me at the wharf, eager to get going, happy to recognise a couple of my fellow passengers.  Perceive is one of my favourite pelagic boats.  At $180, it is more expensive than some, but it is also more comfortable.  And we are given a very welcome hot cuppa with some delightful home-made slice from Neil's partner, Alison.  Thank you, Alison!

We set off on time, around 7 a.m., a happy, expectant boatful of birders.  At around 9 a.m., we stopped.  Apparently the captain could tell something was wrong.  We were all blissfully ignorant.  Paul, the deckhand, climbed onto the roof and saw that the life raft had come loose.  For a dreadful moment I feared we were going to turn back to port.  But no, Paul managed to tie the thing down safely and we were off again.

There were not a lot of birds as we motored towards the shelf.  I sat next to a Dutchman who had just arrived in Australia on 1 July.  His Australian life total was 90, which I thought was pretty good in a strange country in winter by himself.  He was eager to see some albatrosses.  A White-fronted Tern flew past, giving us all good looks.  A tick for several passengers, including the Dutchman.

Every now and then, we were engulfed with cold water.  Paul threatened to lower the plastic blinds to keep us dry.  We preferred to risk a soaking and see the birds.

It turned out to be quite a good day for albatross, so my Dutchman was happy.  We had five species, mainly Shy, and also lots of Black-browed.  There were also just a couple of Yellow-nosed, Buller's and Campbell's.

Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross
Unfortunately we saw just two prions all day:  both Fairies.  So my wish was not fulfilled.  However, with so many albatrosses, it would be churlish to complain.  Most of the albatrosses accompanied us back to port.  There were up to thirty flying around the boat at any time.  Wonderful!

We saw little else.  There were several Fluttering Shearwaters and I think just one Hutton's.  There were a few giant-petrels (about three I think) but only one was identified as a Northern.  That was about it.  A great day for albatross, but sadly no great albatross.

Black-browed Albatross
We drove back to Melbourne on Monday.  The weather was again grey and unfriendly.  I dipped on Hooded Plovers at Killarney (although I know they were present at Port Fairy because the Dutchman had photographed them on Saturday).  I also dipped on Black-faced Cormorants, which usually greet me on the Moyne.  Had a trip total of 70 birds.

The next day we set off for Rutherglen, wanting to get in a quick trip before my next pelagic commitment at Swansea on 24 July.  The weather was still as you'd expect in mid-winter:  grey, wet and cold.  A pair of Scarlet Robins were very active at the Grasstree roadside stop.

Wednesday was foggy.  Vision was poor.  Nevertheless we saw shovellers at the ephemeral swamp near the Rutherglen tip.  I feared I wouldn't see much else and adjusted my expectations.  Rog drove me to Chiltern No 2 dam.  The gate was locked, but Rog parked and sat happily reading his newspaper.  I walked through wet grass to the birdhide.  It's one of those horrible noisy hides, with a door that bangs loudly and windows that cannot be opened without frightening metallic crashes.  I couldn't see much on the dam, although there were a couple of Great Crested Grebes in non-breeding plumage and one swan on a nest.  I did much better with bush birds.  Some sun managed to shine through and I saw a magnificent male Golden Whistler and an almost equally gorgeous female Crested Shriketit.  There were Crimson Rosellas, lots of choughs and one noisy Restless Flycatcher.

I managed to drag Rog away from his paper and he drove to No 1 dam, where a Black-tailed Native-hen hurried into the reeds.  There were also Red-browed Finches (sadly no Diamond Firetails here today) and ducks, grebes and plovers.

Next stop was Cyanide Dam at Honeyeater Picnic Area in the Chiltern/Mt Pilot National Park.  Here the most surprising sighting was a White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike.  He must have forgotten to migrate.  Every time I heard a Red Wattlebird, I had a good look, as a Regent Honeyeater had been reported to be consorting amongst them and imitating them.  Yellow-tufted Honeyeaters were as gorgeous as ever and there were lots of Fuscous Honeyeaters too.  One bird kept saying 'tickety-boo.'  I hadn't heard that call before.  It was one aberrant Fuscous.  The others were all making their usual rollicking call.  A Wedge-tailed Eagle soared overhead as I admired the Fuscous Honeyeaters.  I did manage White-naped and Black-chinned, but not much else.

We came home to Melbourne on Thursday, with a trip list of 63.  I was surprised that I had seen more birds in a three day trip to Port Fairy than a three day trip to Rutherglen (and Chiltern).  In summer I expect 80 birds a day around Rutherglen.

Now I am preparing to go to Swansea and hoping (again!) for my Slender-billed Prion.  Fingers crossed.

Wednesday, 30 April 2014


Cattle Egret by Jim Smart

When Rog suggested we attend Pfeiffer's winery's 30th birthday dinner, I agreed immediately, knowing that I'd get a couple of days' birding in Chiltern.  Pfeiffer's is in Wahgunyah, so we stayed at our favourite Rutherglen motel, the Wine Village.  We drove up on Saturday 26 April, stopping along the way at the Grass Tree roadside reserve, ostensibly for coffee, but really to look for birds.  There is a very pleasant walk here and, over the years, I have seen some good birds at this spot.  And also some very pretty wildflowers.  On this occasion, I managed to do the entire walk without seeing one bird. Unprecedented. Then we had coffee while Superb Fairy-wrens played around our feet and Weebills serenaded us from the canopy.  Altogether, Saturday was not a very birdy day.  The only noteworthy record was a paddock  full of Cattle Egrets beside the Hume - my first for the year.

Sunday was perfect:  beautiful autumn sun.  I had great expectations.  First stop was the ephemeral swamp in Rutherglen near the tip, often the site for good birds.  Not today.  There was water in the swamp and a few ducks, but no crakes, no waders, no dotterels.  The best I could do was a Tree Martin.  I was sure I'd do better at Bartley's Block.  We arrived to see a car parked near the gate, an unusual occurrence.  I usually have the place to myself.  The occupants told us that they'd seen a Regent Honeyeater here the day before.  Now I really did expect some good birds.  A male Scarlet Robin flew by to confirm that I was right.  However, he turned out to be the best bird I saw.  As we drove to Greenhill Dam, a pair of Turquoise Parrots flew by.  Sittellas put on a beautiful display for me at Cyanide Dam, where the Brown Treecreepers were more scarce than usual, and, perhaps for the first time, I did not see an Eastern Yellow Robin.  We visited No 1 dam, then No 2 where the most interesting sighting was a female Flame Robin. 

We had lunch at The Terrace at All Saints winery, just because the chef had been written up in the Weekend Australian.  This was one of the best meals I've ever eaten, and I would happily recommend this restaurant to anyone willing to pay $70 for three courses.  (We made do with two courses for $55.) 

I started Monday morning with a walk around Lake King in Rutherglen.  I saw 24 species before breakfast, the most interesting being Tree Sparrows, which I saw in the main street of Rutherglen opposite our motel, amongst a flock of House Sparrows.  We checked out Lake Anderson in Chiltern, then drove to McGuiness Road in the Mt Pilot section of the national park.  This is where I look for quail-thrush.  I walked along the road in the sun.  It was very pleasant but there were very few birds, and no hint of quail-thrush.  Next we visited Woolshed Falls, stopping to check out the ducks at the waterworks on the way.  There were some Blue-billed Ducks on the dam, but they insisted on staying as far from the road as possible.  In Beechworth, we did the tourist drive, and ticked Satin Bowerbirds on schedule at Lake Sambell.  Then we returned to the national park in Chiltern, where I walked along Tower Hill Road.  I did see some button-quail platelets, but sadly, no button-quail.  At Cyanide Dam, the Sittellas were in the same tree they'd been in yesterday.  I disturbed a Common Bronzewing and admired White-naped Honeyeaters as they splashed in the dam.

Tuesday was grey and it rained most of the way home.  I enjoyed my time around Chiltern.  I always do.  However, I've never before come home thinking that the highlight was lunch at a winery, rather than the birds I'd seen.