Thinking About Birds

December 2014

27-31 December

On the 27th Margaret and I took our daughter Robyn and her partner Nick to Sydney (they were moving - to Copenhagen) and after the farewells we drove on to Canberra. We stopped at a couple of the bushier rest areas along the way, with the Derrick VC rest area being the most interesting (it also has a strong convict-related history "Towrang Stockade" and old bridges etc that they built). The birding though was quiet. In Canberra, before catching up with rellies we went to the Jerrabomberra Wetlands, a spot which I visit on most of my trips to Canberra. There were a couple of Freckled Ducks and several Pink-eared Ducks, also some Goldfinch. In one of the hides I met 3 local birders, and we compared notes (and they asked me for directions for Hexham Swamp).

The next day we drove to Tumut, via Uriarra Crossing and Wee Jasper. We stopped for a while at Uriarra Crossing where I had good views of Red-browed Finches in an otherwise fairly quiet birding session. Climbing then over the mountains there weren't any likely places to stop for birding (plus lots of pine plantations!) so we pressed on until Tumut where we took a campsite in a commercial camping ground on the edge of town. We had a spot right by the (fast-flowing) river and with reasonable bird activity around us (including the trees behind us were an overnight roost for many hundreds of Galahs, very noisy at dusk and then dawn). Right alongside the camping grounds were the Tumut Wetlands, a fairly recently engineered site with walking tracks alongside the river and around some lagoons. I birded this spot on the Sunday afternoon and again the following morning, finding about 60 species in total including a group of 3 Latham's Snipe at the edge of one of the lagoons and lots of White-throated Gerygones

Monday afternoon was quite stormy so that put paid to my Tumut birding. The next day we drove via Gundegai, Bathurst then Rylstone, to the Goulburn River National Park where we stayed overnight. Our campsite turned out to be in the middle of a Barking Owl territory and we began hearing them from about half an hour before sunset, and through the night.  At 9:00 pm I finally got a look at one! (it was a Hunter Region tick for me) and then again at 10:00 pm when a bird was in the tree right alongside our tent. Other nightbirds present were White-throated Nightjar (heard only on dusk) and Owlet-nightjar (heard often). By day there were plenty of birds including Diamond FiretailsSpeckled WarblersTurquoise Parrot and many more. In the late morning we packed up then stopped in at White Box (another site in the NP). Here it was very quiet although I did find a juvenile Scarlet Robin towards the end of my visit.

20 December

Nev McNaughton and I did the waterbirds survey of Ash Island - it was very quiet generally, until we reached the main pond system. Swan Pond had about 1,000 Red-necked Avocets on it and about 800 Black-winged Stilts. It was hard to count them initially as they were very bunched up. However, after a White-bellied Sea-Eagle had come through and disturbed them, they became more spread out and I was able to get a count that I was happier with.

19 December

During my count of Grey-tailed Tattlers in Port Stephens (I do the northern side, Lois Wooding does the southern) I encountered 2 Beach Stone-curlews at Pindimar. One bird was keeping right out of sight and i only saw it once, briefly; the other bird was walking out on the beach and calling constantly. I'm not sure what was going on - it was behaviour like there was an immature bird hiding but it's surely the wrong time of the year for that? There were no tattlers in sight when I first arrived at Pindimar but their preferred roost site was underwater. I waited for the tide to drop and eventually, tattlers began to appear - in ones and twos until finally there were 19 birds.

8 December

Because of other commitments to juggle in December I did my Manning Estuary visit in a day trip which is far from ideal as it is hard to fit all of the shorebirds surveying requirements into the high tide window.  I arrived at Mudbishops Point at 8:30 (high tide was 10:00) and did my loop walk around the Point then launched my kayak and paddled around the sandbanks. After that I raced to Harrington arriving just after noon. Already a second sandbank had started to become exposed and some birds appeared to be on it, and more birds headed over to it during my survey. However, I think I managed to get a reasonably correct count overall. There were lots (20-30) of Little Tern chicks on the sandbanks at Mudbishops Point (the birds this year didn't breed on the former main colony site at the Point itself). Across both sites I found 46 Eastern Curlews which is quite a good count for the Manning. It began to rain extremely heavily just after I finished the Harrington survey and eventually I left the area entirely and went to Red Head (north of Forster) to try for rainforest birds. Although I escaped the rain, the birding was quiet although I found several Aust. Brush-turkeys, and an Eastern Yellow Robin was feeding a fledged young bird.

4 December

19 of us did a pelagic trip from Swansea, heading roughly south-west until we were beyond the continental shelf. On the way out (and on the way back in the afternoon) we passed through an area close to the coast (approx from 2-5 km offshore) that was rich in shearwaters (including some Flesh-footed Shearwaters) but then it was extremely quiet out to the shelf and even for a while after we arrived.  However, eventually birds started to come in to our slick and to feed from it. Some Sooty Shearwaters came through (not common in our waters) and before long we had several Wilson's and White-faced Storm-petrels in view. However the highlight was a Cook's Petrel which although not coming close to the boat (those cookilaria petrels almost never do) gave good enough views for everyone to be happy with the ID. It is only the 3rd record we've had of one and it was a new species for my Hunter Region list (and for many other people on board the boat too).

3 December

In the afternoon Lois Wooding and I met at Lemon Tree Passage (Port Stephens) to observe Grey-tailed Tattler behaviour during the low tide feeding cycle. We found 7 birds (later there were 12 of them) and picked out a shady spot to study them (it was a hot day). They were picking lots of small crabs from around the sea grass at the water's edge, and occasionally bigger crabs. The exposed mudflat had lots of crabs too, but those perhaps were too big or too aggressive, and the tattlers ignored them. We saw one example of intra-species aggression but also several examples of inter-species aggression - by Welcome Swallows towards tattlers, which always seemed surprised by the attack and reacting with a start. As the Swallows are so much smaller it's difficult to imagine that the tattlers were in danger from the attacks.

2 December

I joined the HBOC mid-week outing to the Dudley area, where mostly we walked in the bush around Dudley Lagoon.  After a drizzly start, birds were fairly plentiful once the sun came out. We found many Sacred Kingfishers including some family groups; also Leaden FlycatchersBlack-faced Monarchs and Rufous Fantails were nice to find. A pair of Brown Gerygones had a nest which they came to often, and probably 40-50 Scarlet Honeyeaters were present. The highlight was to see a Spangled Drongo - usually they depart in October and it is very unusual for one to still be present in December. For lunch, about 25 of us went to the nearby Ocean View Hotel for an end-of-year celebration.

November 2014

30 November

My (mainly non birding) plans for the day were shelved when word came around that some Little Curlews had been seen at Hexham Swamp and also an Orange Chat. The latter would be a new species for the Hunter Region checklist and there have only been a handful of records of Little Curlew previously. So in the afternoon I was out there, finding the Little Curlews quite easily and having good looks at them. Not so for the Orange Chat though.  In late afternoon I went to an informal HBOC function at Stockton Sandspit where about 60-70 people turned up to look at the roosting shorebirds (lots of Red-necked Avocets, for example) and have some drinks and nibbles. It was arranged as a Bon Voyage to two long-time local shorebird surveyors, Chris Herbert and Liz Crawford, who are off on a sailing adventure.

24-26 November

I was scheduled the first few days of this week to head up to the Manning Valley for my surveys there, and that's what I did. However, as I lifted my kayak onto the roof of the car on Monday morning I had a sudden idea, and I headed for Kooragang Island. There I paddled upriver to the Kooragang Dykes where many shorebirds roost. On Saturday a Long-toed Stint was seen there; it's not on my Hunter list (there's only been one previous report of it). However I could not find it! I did have good looks at several of the more common shorebirds of the Hunter Estuary though, and also four Great Knots (which are somewhat uncommon in the Hunter). In the afternoon I surveyed Cattai Wetlands, where the highlights included 2 x Comb-crested Jacanas and a male Black-necked Stork. It was a very hot afternoon (it got to 38C) and by the time I finished the survey I felt exhausted (the morning's kayaking wouldn't have helped) so I knocked off and went for a swim instead.

Next day I went first to Saltwater NP which was a bit patchy bird-wise - and some regulars not found - but I was compensated with good views of an Emerald Dove (another uncommon bird in the Hunter Region). After that I did my waterbirds survey at Mudbishops Point, firstly walking around the Point and afterwards kayaking around the various sandbars within the Lagoon. There were several Sanderlings on the beach, foraging at the waterline as the waves rolled in. Amidst the 250+ Little Terns resting on one of the sandbars I found a solitary White-winged Black Tern - this is a new bird for my Manning Estuary list. Later in the afternoon I checked out the breeding colonies of Fairy Martins and Cattle Egrets at Cundletown, and visited two ephemeral wetlands. The one near Coopernook had Red-kneed Dotterels with fledged young so they probably bred in the area. A largeish flock of Sharp-tailed Sandpipers flew in and 5 x Red-necked Stints were with them - a new species for the site.

On Wednesday morning I visited the rainforest at Harrington (which was quiet) then went to Crowdy Head where the highlight was to watch a Peregrine Falcon doing repeated swoops across the cliff face behind the lighthouse. I went to my site in Crowdy Bay NP, which also was quiet, then did my waterbirds survey around the Estuary at Harrington. To my surprise, there was a Double-banded Plover still present (they usually go back to NZ in about September). There was one in October too - probably the same bird. On my way home I went to the rest area at O'Sullivans Gap on the old Pacific Highway to check on reports of interesting birds there. Too right there were - I saw a Pale-yellow Robin and a Spectacled Monarch, amongst other good things.

22 November

On Ash Island for the monthly waterbirds survey, things were fairly quiet until we reached the main ponds system. Swan Pond had ~2,500 birds on it! Many of those were Grey Teal (>1,100 birds) and there were 500-600 each of Red-necked Avocets and Black-winged Stilts too. There were some migratory shorebirds too, including ~60 Sharp-tailed Sandpipers.

21 November

It was the day for counting Grey-tailed Tattlers at my sites in Port Stephens. After achieving only low counts in recent months, I took my kayak with me and spend time paddling around the mangroves at Pindimar - finding ~25 birds by doing that. The roost site that the birds prefer to use (a storm-water pipe) was under water because of it being a fairly high tide. Later, at Carrington I waded for >100m through calf-deep water so that I could find any tattlers in the mangroves or mudflats there - and I found 8 of them. Along with 9 birds at the Winda Woppa roost, I had 42 tattlers today which is easily my best count for this season.

16 November

I did a pelagic trip to the continental shelf from Nelson Bay. It was a strange day - at various times we had cloud, rain, sunshine, strong wind, no wind. The trip back in the afternoon was incredibly slow - it took us 4 and a half hours with heavy spray coming over the back of the boat all the time - it was uncomfortable although (surprisingly) no-one became seasick. At least we had some good birds at times, including a Gould's Petrel called in briefly, and there was a much longer presence of a White-chinned Petrel (only the second record for our Region). There were various shearwaters seen and I had my best views ever of a Hutton's ShearwaterWe had some albatrosses around too, despite the lateness of the season. A couple of Wilson's Storm-petrels also put in an appearance.

9 November

It was Welcome The Shorebirds Day at Stockton Sandspit, a community event organised by Local Land Services; I went along to help at the Hunter Bird Observers Club stand. It was quite an enjoyable day, with many people coming through to talk with us plus the Sandspit was full of birds including close on 2000 Red-necked Avocets and many migratory shorebirds, such as Eastern Curlews and Bar-tailed Godwits.

October 2014

31 October

In the afternoon I went up to Port Stephens to count Grey-tailed Tattlers - however I only found 12 birds in my sections of the Port. The tide was very high and I suspect that other birds were using the mangroves (where they are very hard to find) instead of the rocky roosts that they prefer. At Hawks Nest I did in fact find some tattlers in mangrove just near where they usually roost.

28-29 October

I spent two days in the Manning Valley, visiting all of my regular survey sites. There were many Regent Bowerbirds and Figbirds at Saltwater NP, and I also saw Satin Bowerbirds and a Green Catbird. At Mudbishops Point (Old Bar) many of the shorebirds were on a far away sandbank making it difficult to get an accurate count plus I might not have seen all of the smaller birds. I will have to resume using the kayak for these surveys. While checking later near Cundletown for an egret colony (it was not yet active) I found a large colony of Fairy Martins - some were still at nest building stage but several others already had chicks in their nest and were regularly coming in with food. At he small wetland near Coopernook that I monitor, I flushed a Latham's Snipe - it's the first time that I've found one there. Late afternoon I checked out Crowdy Head and the rainforest at Harrington - both places were fairly quiet.

I spent most of Wednesday morning at Cattai Wetlands, doing my regular survey plus checking out the new signs that we designed.  There were so many lily flowers it was impossible to check properly for jacanas. I did see a male Regent Bowerbird and also flushed a Nankeen Night-Heron. On my way back into Harrington for high tide shorebird count, there was a female Black-necked Stork at the wetlands near Cattai Creek Bridge.

To my surprise I found a Double-banded Plover at Harrington (they usually return to NZ in September). It was standing alongside a group of six Sanderlings - I don't often see those two species together! All the usual waders were there but only 26 Little Terns (and only two of them were at Mudbishops Point). In summer the Manning Estuary normally hosts many hundreds of them.

21-23 October

I organised and attended Rufous Scrub-birds surveys in the Gloucester Tops.  We found 26 birds (including a female bird of which I had good albeit brief views) - this result confirmed the September survey findings that the scrub-birds have made a good recovery after the good spring rains. Also up high I saw Flame and Scarlet Robins and heard many Crescent Honeyeaters and Olive Whistlers. At the campsite we had many Satin BowerbirdsBrush-turkeySuperb LyrebirdsRusset-tailed Thrush, etc. I heard Noisy Pitta and Brush Cuckoo, and saw a Bassian Thrush at ~800 m altitude.

18 October

From overnight at Hawker, we had a 2 hour drive to the Iron Knob/Whyalla area where we searched for a long time for Western Grasswren. They were very elusive (downright contrary!) but eventually we had views a few times of birds crossing the road at a rapid pace. They seemed very knowledgeable about how to avoid being seen! It was my only tick of the trip (although I reconnected with lots of other species, many not seen since 1989). Our stops at/around Whyalla Conservation Park were not highly productive apart from finding the turquoise form of Splendid Fairy-wren, and an adult female was feeding young, but the Arid Lands Botanic Gardens were much better for us. Here we had Pied and Black HoneyeaterChirruping Wedgebill, a young Horsfield's Bronze-cuckoo, and probable Grey-fronted Honeyeater (I didn't see it well enough - I was too busy with lunch!). In the morning while passing through Port Augusta there were many Banded Stilt feeding but we couldn't find any in the afternoon when we had time to stop (at "Bird Lake", which was almost bird-free).

En route to Adelaide we first detoured to Telowie Gorge, seeing a Spotted Harrier nearby (the only harrier of the entire trip) and hearing Peaceful Dove. Then to Port Wakefield (which was very quiet) and Port Gawler (aka Dry Creek, the old salt works).  The latter was very good , although it was rather late in the evening to be arriving there, we saw several Slender-billed Thornbills, also many Whiskered Terns were foraging and  some Red-necked Avocets and Black-winged Stilts were present plus other good birds.

17 October

Our early morning visit to look for Chestnut-breasted Whiteface was unproductive in terms of the target species although we did find other good birds nearby including a pair of Rufous Fieldwrens and some more Red-backed Kingfishers; I also saw two Cockatiels (the only ones seen for the trip). Later we went to Witchelina Station (now owned by SA Conservation Foundation) where we dipped on Thick-billed Grasswrens, despite prolonged searching for them along several creek beds on a fairly hot day, but as compensation we found more Budgerigars, also several Emus with chicks (seen many other places all week). Lunch was at an abandoned township (Farina) where we we joined by some Diamond Doves, then we headed into the Flinders Ranges finding some Short-tailed Grasswrens near Stokes Hill and then some Inland Thornbills at Arkaroo Rock.

16 October

Early morning we drove west from Cameron Corner, finding Cinnamon Quail-thrush at one set of sand dunes (we found them very often, subsequently) and Eyrean Grasswrens at another set of dunes. On the Strzelecki Track heading south we had many Red-browed Pardalotes and Red-backed Kingfishers, and also found Black-breasted Buzzard and some Crimson Chats.  At the Montecallina Bore, where plentiful water was available, we had Aust. Spotted CrakeSharp-tailed Sandpiper and various other waterbirds,

15 October

We headed into Queensland via Wompah Gate, stopping about 10 km into Qld  to walk ~3 km to a dry cane grass/lignum swamp located to the north-east.  During the walk we saw Orange Chats, and also some Australian Bustards flying over. at the swamp, we searched for a long time for Grey Grasswren, eventually seeing some of them in flight several times; I (and sometimes others) had fleeting views of perched birds - they were not at all cooperative (unlike my first sighting of them in 1989).

On the long walk back to the vehicles we had good views of an Inland Dotterel, and later an Australian Pratincole as we drove back towards Tibooburra.  We visited a local waterhole pre-lunch, finding several Black-tailed Native-hens and many Zebra Finch. Thence, we went to Cameron Corner,with productive stops along the way where we found Gibber ChatBanded WhitefaceLittle Crow, etc.

14 October

Early morning we drove to Hattah-Kulkyne NP east of Mildura. It wasn't a terribly productive visit although all of us did have wonderful views of a Chestnut-backed Quail-thrush perched in a tree and singing away. Then it was back to Wentworth for a brief break by the river (Australasian Darters) and a long drive north, eventually to Tibooburra where we spent the night. En route, the countryside had good rains recently and we saw very many flocks of 20-100+ Budgerigars, also White-backed SwallowPied HoneyeaterChirruping Wedgebill,  Freckled and Blue-billed DuckBrown Songlark, etc. It was a long day but a very productive one. 

13 October

Our tour group spent most of the day at Gluepot; it's such a wonderful place and it was my 4th visit there. On the way in, we stopped at Taylorville (at the Charcoal Pits) where we found great birds such as Southern Scrub-robinGilbert's WhistlerRed-backed Kingfisher, etc. Next stop was the Gypsum Lunette walk where we had Scarlet-chested Parrot (on nest!) and Red-capped Robin and Splendid Fairy-wren. Elsewhere in the day spent travelling around Gluepot, we found White-browed Treecreeper, various woodswallow species, Crested BellbirdMulga Parrot, etc, and also several groups of Miners. The Miners were intriguing - unlike my previous visits we did not find any flocks consisting solely of grey-backed birds ; every flock (we found three of them) had many birds with partly-white rumps i.e. they seemed to be hybrids of Yellow-throated and Black-eared Miner. We did find a grey-backed bird on a nest - presumably it was a Black-eared Miner but there were all the hybrids also around and I'm not at all sure. I think that the Black-eared Miner is doomed.

On the way to our overnight stop at Wentworth (where we arrived very late, about 8:40) we stopped at Chowilla NR and found some interesting birds including White-winged Fairy-wrens and Southern Whiteface; also many White-fronted Chats.

12 October

After flying to Adelaide on Saturday late afternoon, Paddy Lightfoot and I went to Morialta Conservation Park in the Adelaide Hills in the morning. Apart from seeing 9 Koalas, we found lots of Striated Pardalotes, many nesting, also Musk Lorikeets and Adelaide Rosellas, which I had not seen since a very long time. Mid-afternoon, we were collected by Peter Waanders to join his grasswrens tour. After the others were on board, we drove to Barmera (Lake Bonney), not stopping anywhere for birding but seeing birds such as Black KitesWhiskered Terns etc as we bowled along.

10 October

I did the waterbirds survey of Ash Island on Friday morning. It was quiet until we reached the main ponds system where almost 1,100 Red-necked Avocets were waiting for us along with 200+ Black-winged Stilts and a group of 21 Marsh Sandpipers. And the highlight was to see 94 Whiskered Terns foraging over Swan Pond.

3-6 October

The bird club had a camp on a property in the Widden Valley (which is perhaps Australia's most beautiful spot, I reckon). On the way there Margaret and I detoured to a place near Bunnan which was very birdy, including a new bird for me in the Hunter Region (there were two Little Friarbirds) and many Dusky Woodswallows as well as some very vocal Rufous Songlarks and Rufous Whistlers. I also had a good view of a White-winged Triller.

Surprisingly we didn't find any of those species at the camp, except for Rufous Whistlers which were plentiful, however the 45 or so campers (a massive turnout) recorded close on 90 species all up in near-perfect weather.  There were several pairs of Leaden Flycatcher, many White-winged Choughs (some with young), lots of Spotted Pardalotes nesting,  Rainbow Bee-eaters and many more great birds present.

2 October

I went back to Mungo Brush quite early in the morning to have another attempt at seeing the Rose-crowned Fruit-Dove - although there were fewer calls coming from them than on Tuesday, this time I succeeded, somewhat flukily. It's a new bird for my Hunter Region list although I have seen plenty of them up in Queensland before. There were less birds (of all types) around but still lots of Spectacled Monarchs, and a very noisy pair of Channel-billed Cuckoos.

September 2014 

30 September

I headed to Myall Lakes NP with 3 friends in the morning, to look for the Rose-crowned Fruit-Doves which had recently  been reported from there. We heard some birds calling early on but by 8:00 am they had gone quiet and we dipped. It was a good morning of birding though with lots of other rainforest birds around including many Topknot Pigeons and Spectacled MonarchsRufous Fantails, etc. Later we went to the UNSW Field Station at Smiths Lake, where Topknot Pigeons were reported to have been nest building 3 weeks before. We found the nest but indications of any activity at it and no sign of any birds (except for one tail feather).  We  found a Tawny Frogmouth on nest and heard Brush Cuckoo there.

On our way back we detoured into Carrington/Tahlee, initially to where I had noticed lots of blossom a week before. There were many Scarlet Honeyeaters and miscellaneous other birds, including a Green Catbird. The spot is probably better as a morning visit. Down at the waterfront there were 4 Grey-tailed Tattlers, an increase from the two birds of last week.

24 September

Lois Wooding and I did our Port Stephens Grey-tailed Tattler count in the morning, finding 47 birds (i.e.they're back!). I saw one instance of aggression between two tattlers, which is unusual to see in Australia. I also saw some serious harassing of tattlers by a Blue-faced Honeyeater and therefore I speculate that they were recently returned birds i.e. the honeyeater considered them to be "alien". At  Carrington on Port Stephens, I had good views of a Leaden Flycatcher, which again must have been newly returned.

18-21 September

Margaret and I flew to Darwin on Thursday, for me to attend the Australasian Shorebirds Conference which started in the evening of Friday 19th. We mostly were sightseeing on Thursday afternoon but at East Point I did manage to find a white phase Eastern Reef Egret - that is a new thing for me (although I've seen lots of grey-phase birds before). On Friday morning I went back to East Point to photograph it and found about 20 birds (of both phases, but probably 6-8 white phase birds). A couple of pairs (at least!) were nesting and in one nest near the cliff edge I could see 2 eggs.

I spent about 4 hours at East Point, the final hour or so watching a group of 5 (at  the peak) Grey-tailed Tattlers foraging at low tide. At the same spot, I had great views of a pair of Striated Herons amongst the mangroves. On Saturday morning, before the conference sessions started, I joined a tour of conference delegates visiting the Leanyer Sewage Treatment Works. Here there were many good birds including lots of Pied Herons and plenty of Whiskered Terns and Plumed & Wandering Whistling-Ducks. My group saw one Little Ringed Plover (a Darwin specialty) but with only distant views whereas some others had 2+ of the birds up close. Fortunately we had use of a telescope - which we had to do within the car as we weren't allowed to get out. On Sunday morning a group of us did a one hour walk around the university campus, prior to the conference resuming; highlights for me included Bar-breasted Honeyeater (which took me a long time to find on my previous visit to Darwin back in 2005), Red-headed Honeyeater and Bush Stone-curlew.

15-17 September

I organised and attended HBOC's Rufous Scrub-bird surveys in the Gloucester Tops. Because of the good spring rains, most RSB territories were occupied by loudly calling males. We found at least 24 birds (with 5 birds seen). I was delighted to have prolonged views of a female RSB  - she came out to look when I was pishing at a scrub-wren on the opposite side of the track - quite a surprise! She looked at us (me and Jim Smart) for 5-6 minutes before melting into the scrub. Several other of the surveyors had views of male RSBs during the 3 days.

Birding activity right up in the highlands was significant, with many Flame Robins, Crescent Honeyeaters, Olive Whistlers and Red-browed Treecreepers recorded, also a few Scarlet Robins and Bassian Thrushes. Around the campsite we had numerous Satin Bowerbirds, and the Russet-tailed Thrushes were very vocal from about 5 am.

13 September

I was at Ash Island with Nev McNaughton to do our section of the Hunter Estuary waterbirds survey. There were almost no migratory shorebirds and very few ducks; however we had the splendid sight of more than 1300 Red-necked Avocets at the main pond system. It took us quite a while to count them all!  A Swamp Harrier came through and put them up into the air (that was the really splendid sight) and then they settled into three smaller groups. There was also a solitary Whiskered Tern, presumably the forerunner of a larger flock (they visit the Hunter Region in spring most years).

9-10 September

I spent two days in the Manning Valley doing my regular surveys there. Several migrant species are back including I heard White-throated Gerygone and Spectacled Monarch, and the shorebirds have started returning too although the numbers are as yet way below the summer peaks. It was terrific to see Double-banded Plovers and Pacific Golden Plovers standing almost side by side, with many of the birds of both species in partial breeding plumage. Within a few weeks all the DBPs will have returned to New Zealand.  At Cattai Wetlands I found 5 Comb-crested Jacanas in a single scan of the lagoon - often it's difficult to be sure how many are there as they move around and I want to not double-count them. I also had a close encounter with a male Regent Bowerbird - although far from uncommon, it's a species that I am always over the moon whenever I find one because the male is just so gorgeous. I saw a female at Saltwater NP too - which was nice, but not quite the same thrill.

4 September

I went to my Grey-tailed Tattler survey sites on northern Port Stephens today, but maybe none have arrived back yet. However, the weather was terrible (very windy) and possibly any birds around would have been in the mangroves instead. We only found 3 tattlers (the winter count has been 14 birds). I had a huge surprise when a solitary Beach Stone-curlew wandered out onto the Carrington-Tahlee road in front of me. I have never seen one on that side of the Port before (it's very exciting because they are a Critically Endangered species in NSW).

3 September

I went to Dungog early afternoon for the "launch" of the new birding route brochure. Afterwards I went to Jerusalem Creek (one of the sites mentioned in the brochure) and wandered for an hour. Conditions were unfavourable for birding (strong wind, cool) and I didn't find much. The highlight was a Wonga Pigeon which was feeding on the track in front of me and gradually coming closer. It was about 4m from me before it realised something was amiss and began pacing back and forth at that spot and eventually flying off. As I headed home I called in for a while at Columbey NP where I heard my first Rufous Whistler for the season.

2 September

It was a long day of birding, leaving home at 5:30 am and arriving back a bit  after 6:30 pm. The main event was to drive with some friends to Mudgee, approx 4 hours away, to twitch the Citrine Wagtail that turned up at the Putta Bucca Wetlands late last week.  It's only the 4th record of one in Australia. Not long after we arrived the bird landed on a mudflat directly in front of us and started feeding! But it didn't stay there long, and our subsequent views were all longer distance as we watched it forage on the far bank - good views with a 'scope but too far off for taking any photos. There were quite a few Red-kneed and Black-fronted Dotterels on the mudflat and it was interesting to watch the aggression being shown by the larger Red-kneed Dotterels to the Black-fronteds. Presumably they are starting to think about breeding, and starting to defend their foraging spots.

We had lunch at O'Briens Crossing (on the Goulburn River) with three species of finch keeping us company, then headed for Giants Creek Rd where I had visited in late July finding good birds and others finding Regent Honeyeaters a couple of weeks later. We only found one of them this time, and much of the previous blossom had gone. However, there were still some other honeyeater types present including a couple of Spiny-cheeked Honeyeaters. Also in the area, we found two male and at least one female Hooded RobinCommon BronzewingsWhite-browed Babblers and Speckled Warblers, amongst many other birds.

August 2014 

24 August

Although intending a quiet first day back at home, a phone call had me on my way to Green Point Lake Macquarie with friends, on the trail of a reported Barking Owl (it is rare locally for one to be so far east). We heard a distant call from one bird soon after arriving but never managed to do any better than that. A consolation prize was a Noisy Pitta in the same general area and close-up views of Silvereyes and Variegated Fairy-wrens

23 August

From Narrogin overnight, Margaret and I went to the Dryandra Woodlands which is only ~30km away. A male Red-capped Robin was hanging around the information booth where we parked for a walk. I found a Grey Currawong carrying nesting material and being very secretive about where it would take it - every time I was anywhere near it, it flew in a different direction. Later on I had brief views of a couple of Western Thornbills - they somehow disappeared very quickly on me! (although I succeeded in photographing one)

Our final stop happened to be at the start of the Balmoral Track; here the birding was very good. I confirmed Swan Valley Honeyeaters after tracking down their call - which I heard a day or so ago but wasn't able to find the birds then. I thought a wet gully might be good for White-breasted Robins, which proved correct and I also found some Red-winged Fairy-wrens there. Later, a Red-capped Parrot landed in front of me and then a flock of Red-tailed Black-Cockatoos flew through - with 3 of the birds then doubling back and landing, and providing terrific views. Back at the car, I was changing into my smart-casual travelling clothes when I noticed a pair of Spotted Pardalotes lingering nearby - when I checked I discovered I was standing right alongside their nest burrow.

22 August

After overnighting in Albany with Margaret's relatives, we departed lateish and headed for Cheynes Beach, which has been a happy "hunting-ground" for me in the past for 3 rare cryptic species (the so-called "big 3" of the south-west). Probably we arrived too late as I heard nothing at all from two of those species. However, a Noisy Scrub-bird was calling when we first arrived. I tracked it down and plunged into the scrub to see it, getting to within 1-2m of a loudly calling bird. Unfortunately, it then decided to stop calling and never called again in the next hour or more that I was in the Cheynes Beach area. I had to be satisfied with a close encounter. In general birds were in short supply at Cheynes Beach - with the notable exception of New Holland Honeyeaters which were just everywhere. I had a brief view of a Brush Bronzewing (having seen several yesterday in the Albany beaches area).

Driving north, we stopped at Pootenup Nature Reserve which was quiet although there was a pair of Australasian Shelducks feeding in a smallish lake and some Yellow-rumped Thornbills flitting about. We decided to push on to Foxes Lair, a Nature Park near Narrogin. This proved to be quite good (worth a longer visit at a better time of day). While I was tracking down a couple of Western Gerygones which were feeding in eucalypts, a Red-capped Parrot landed almost right in front of me while at the same time, a Painted Button-quail was calling from some distance off. I headed towards it but eventually gave up - then found that I had become lost but eventually I emerged onto a road (quite some distance from where I was expecting to) and was able to tell Margaret where to find me.

21 August

The long drive west from Esperance didn't have much natural habitat remaining, which is quite sad (and they are still knocking down what little bush remains!). We did find a heath-based Nature Reserve between Ravensthorpe and Jerramungup but in the strong winds I couldn't track down any birds at all. Eventually we reached a rest area called Marra Bridge, where the local river widened out into a bit of a gorge and there was some woodland too. The highlight for me here was to find a pair of Western Spinebills. Much later in the day, at the in-laws place in Albany suburbia, another one of them landed on the clothes line right in front of me! 

It was raining solidly as we approached Albany so I abandoned thoughts of a detour into Cheynes Beach. But later the rain stopped and we went down to Middleton Beach for a while - here, New Holland Honeyeaters were hawking for insects and I spent some time trying to photograph them in mid-air - I was completely unsuccessful at this. I also saw briefly a small party of Red-winged Fairy-wrens, which disappeared quickly into the heath.

20 August

Driving from Kalgoorlie to Esperance, we stopped a couple of times at bushy spots - where it turned out that Yellow-plumed Honeyeaters were plentiful and I had great looks at them although didn't do quite so well for photography because of the light (and my incompetence). The other common birds at those stops were Red Wattlebirds and Striated Pardalotes, and I saw Grey Currawongs a few times. Before heading into Esperance we detoured to look at Pink Lake - good birds in the area were New Holland Honeyeaters (many) and Western Wattlebirds (also many), I was pleased too to have a brief view of a White-browed Scrubwren - the western race of them is very attractive. Finally, at our motel on the waterfront, there were a couple of Pacific Gulls roosting on a jetty.

19 August

My non-birding daughter Sally and I made an early start at the Kurrawang Nature Reserve which is about 15km out of Kalgoorlie.  Yesterday's heavy rain made it tricky to go anywhere other than all-weather roads. At the first place where we stopped in the Nature Reserve, I had early success finding some Redthroats, which were calling strongly - I also found several more later in the day. There were lots of Weebills (again, also found at many other spots during the day) but not a lot else. We tried at a second spot in the Reserve - this had lots of blossom (plus flowering wildflowers) and was very productive for me. The many honeyeaters included White-frontedSpiny-cheeked and Grey-fronted Honeyeater; I also found Chestnut-rumped ThornbillsGilbert's Whistlers and heard several Crested Bellbirds (later in the day seeing some) amongst lots of other species.

Later we went to nearby Lake Douglas where I had close views of some Grey-fronted Honeyeaters and Western Yellow Robins, also Dusky Woodswallows and several other species. In the afternoon I went to Kalgoorlie Arboretum but didn't find that very productive so I went back to Kurrawang Nature Reserve again where I eventually managed to track down (and photograph) a Crested Bellbird. And on the way there a Grey Currawong put in an appearance.

18 August

We did a lot of driving today (Perth to Kalgoorlie) with heavy rain for the first hour and the final ~90 minutes, so the birding opportunities were limited. At Northam I was interested to watch a lot of aggression between Eurasian Coots, including to note how they swam with their wings part-raised seemingly in preparation for the next act of aggression. There were various other waterbirds on the weir including several Hardheads, but I could not find any swans let alone any of the famous white ones. The highlight for the remainder of the trip was when a Black Kite flew over me while we were inspecting the water pipeline somewhere east of Southern Cross.

17 August

I'm on a rellie-visiting trip with my wife Margaret and younger daughter Sally. The only birding today was when we went to Kings Park in the morning where Rainbow Lorikeets were the most abundant and noisy birds present, also several Red Wattlebirds and with occasional encounters with other birds (honeyeaters mainly).

13 August

In the morning I surveyed the estuary birds at Harrington - with perhaps the highlight being 3 newly returned Little Terns, also I was pleased to find 9 White-fronted Terns (I had been starting to think they were not coming to the Manning Estuary this winter). It was also nice to find 22 Double-banded Plovers, some in full breeding plumage. Then I decided I would try to find a Striated Pardalote so that I could work on identifying which sub-species it was (hoping to find the black-capped race melanocephalus). I stopped at several promising-looking spots (with amounts of decent trees) but unfortunately I never once heard any pardalotes calling! Eventually I gave up; it was perhaps too windy in any case.

On my way southwards, I decided to find the Great Lakes Council's newly purchased land in the Bulahdelah Floodplain, where a bird monitoring program is soon to commence. Mission successful (eventually) and a bonus was to see a pair of Buff-banded Rails at/near a rainwater gutter alongside a lane just out of town.

12 August

I went to Mudbishops Point (near Old Bar) first thing, arriving just over an hour before the high tide was due. A large flock of White-cheeked Honeyeaters greeted me, which seemed like a good sign - however when I walked my survey route I didn't find many waterbirds at all. So much for omens!  There were only 14 Double-banded Plovers and relatively few other shorebirds although the Eastern Curlew numbers have held on since last month.

It was also quiet at Saltwater NP, especially initially although a calling Forest Raven gave me terrific views (its small throat hackles very apparent) and I found a pair of Pied Oystercatchers (I haven't had both of them together for a while). The action hotted up towards the end, when firstly I had a new species for my list for the Park (a pair of Tawny Frogmouths), then I found an Eastern Reef Egret foraging on the rocks at the Point, then had pairs each of White-browed and Large-billed Scrubwrens together, reacting strongly to a disturbance I had caused, and finally, just as I had given up hope of finding one this visit, a Regent Bowerbird. It was perched in a tree immediately above my car - perhaps it was waiting for me?

Late afternoon I checked out Crowdy Head, a regular survey site, and then went to an site within Crowdy Bay NP which I used to visit often until it was very badly burnt out last spring. A Peregrine Falcon zoomed past as I pulled up at the Crowdy Head lighthouse, becoming the 11th local raptor I have seen in the past 5-6 weeks. Only 2 more to get! In the National Park, the recovery is slowly happening and bird diversity has almost come back to what it was. Not the numbers though - most species were only present in small counts at my site. However, Variegated Fairy-wrens have become more common there.

11 August

In the morning I headed up to Port Stephens, visiting my tattler study sites on the northern/western sides. Once again I found no tattlers (thank heavens spring will soon be here!). Birds were not in great abundance anywhere, and probably the highlight was to have close views of a Blue-faced Honeyeater gathering nesting material - it had a beak-full of paperbark strips. Afterwards I headed north, arriving at Cattai Wetlands about 1:30. I was very pleased to see that the Cattai brochures were now available for the visiting public to take. The main lagoon was very unusual today - there were absolutely no ducks present (also, no jacanas).  Instead, there were various "fishing birds" such as egrets & herons, raptors, also some Royal Spoonbills (which I have only ever recorded once before at Cattai). I checked a couple of ephemeral wetlands (Red-kneed Dotterels being the highlight) and finally, as twilight was rolling in, I visited Harrington rainforest which also was quiet.

9 August

Saturday morning was time for yet another Ash Island monthly survey. It was a very cold morning with a cold stiff breeze and also lots of fog around, rather impeding visibility - overall it was not a great advertisement for the joys of birding, really! We found about 200 Red-necked Avocets, also 100 or so Black-winged Stilts and many hundreds of teal (of both types). On our way out, we encountered a very strange looking kestrel - see the photo in the picture gallery (it has since been suggested to me that it is a Nankeen Kestrel covered in coal dust!)

5 August

Although somewhat restricted in my physical activities due to a recent operation, I joined Hunter Bird Observers Club's mid-weekers outing to some locations in the Central Coast (Wyong) area. Our first stop was South Tacoma, where we walked through a casuarina forest to the foreshores of the lake. Many hundreds of Black Swans were out on the water, with many other waterbirds too and various bush birds. Also, we had good views of a very vocal Olive-backed Oriole. Later we went to the Old Dairy Farm which had many good birds including Pink-eared Ducks (many)Aust. Shovelers (some) and Hardheads (many).  While we were having lunch, a Buff-banded Rail briefly wandered across a patch of grass not far from us. Our final stop was at McPhersons Swamp which I have heard of but not ever visited before. A Tawny Grassbird put in a brief show but otherwise, birds were limited during the early afternoon time slot when we visited.

July 2014 

30 July

Today I "test-drove" the Dungog Area Birding Route that a few of us are working on. As a result, I spent a lot of time driving through rainforest but unfortunately not enough time looking for birds in it! However, I saw Satin Bowerbirds in many places, also lots of scrubwrens and thornbills (in a variety of species). Near Salisbury I had great views up close of a Superb Lyrebird and I saw a couple of Brown Cuckoo-doves en route too, also close-up views of a Yellow-billed Spoonbill and a pair of Wedge-tailed Eagles.

29 July

I went off to the Upper Hunter Valley for the day, with Mike Newman and Ann Lindsey. We most of our birding time at sites along Giants Creek Rd (near Sandy Hollow) with a detour to nearby Stairs Rd as well. I found a Restless Flycatcher and 3 x White-browed Babblers at the junction of these two roads (also an Echidna and a Wombat). En route I found Red-capped Robins (and a probable female Flame Robin but not confirmed) at the Pine Grove Rd/Golden Highway/Hobdens TSR junction.There was a pair of Speckled Warblers at this site too (and I found them at 2 other locations later).  Australian Hobbies were at three spots along Giants Creek Rd and Collared Sparrowhawks at two spots (I got good photographs of one of them at one of those spots). Mid-afternoon we found a patch of Grey Box in flower, with many honeyeaters in attendance including a Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater.

27 July

Mike Newman is back for a short visit and I took him to two sites that he used to survey regularly - Green Wattle Creek (near Woodville) and Tocal Wetlands. At Green Wattle Creek we had arranged to meet Paul Baird and Phil Slack who have taken over from Mike for monitoring the site. Mid morning a group of 7-8 Black Kites drifted past high overhead, a terrific sighting of an uncommon bird locally. There were many Fuscous Honeyeaters present, and we also had very good views of Fan-tailed Cuckoos a couple of times and also a female Regent Bowerbird. I had a massive surprise towards the end - I was attempting to photograph a Golden Whistler when suddenly I heard, then later saw, a male Rufous Whistler. This is a migratory species and winter records are most unusual. My efforts to photograph it didn't turn out too well but later I managed some reasonable pictures of a Striated Thornbill which was foraging down low (for a change - they usually are in the upper foliage).

The highlights at Tocal included 50+ Pink-eared Ducks and ~10 Australasian Shovelers.

24 July

There was a pelagic trip today which departed from Swansea wharf and headed south-east until we reached the continental shelf. The trip out was quite slow, due to a strong current and we didn't get to the shelf until 11:00 am (a 4 hour trip). However we saw lots of birds on the way out, so it was OK although I prefer things when the boat is drifting and you can get better (and longer) views of the birds (which mostly hang around the boat).  The highlight of the day was all the albatrosses which we saw - at least 6 species of them overall (it's very hard to pick some of the species from one another). At one stage we had 4 Wandering Albatross around the boat (with some discussion about whether one was an Antipodean) and many many Indian Yellow-nosed Albatrosses were seen all day,also several Buller's Albatross (which used to be rare in our area, but not so now). We also had a number of Providence Petrels around the boat and at least one Great-winged Petrel, and several Fairy Prions too.

18 July

I surveyed my northern sites for the Grey-tailed Tattler project, once again finding none of them! I look forward to when this winter is over and I start getting some birds back at my sites - currently the small population of over-wintering birds are sticking to the southern side of Port Stephens. Earlier, I walked out to Winda Woppa Point which was a difficult walk (very windy, walking on soft sand, and many wave surges onto the beach) but worthwhile as I found some of Monday's missing shorebirds including 28 Double-banded Plovers, in a variety of plumages from fully non-breeding to fully breeding plumage, as well as a Red-necked Stint and 9 Pied Oystercatchers.

16-17 July

I spent two days in the Manning Valley, doing my shorebird counts in the Estuary and also visiting Cattai Wetlands, Saltwater NP, Crowdy Head, Harrington rainforest and some ephemeral wetlands around Coopernook/Harrington. I saw a Spotted Harrier at Coopernook, which was a first for me for the Manning, and a Square-tailed Kite hunting over Crowdy Bay NP. As usual there were Comb-crested Jacanas at Cattai Wetlands and also 30 Australasian Shovelers, which is a good count for them. I found Large-billed Scrubwrens at three sites - which is unusual as I only see them occasionally at any of the sites I visit. Once again there were several Regent Bowerbirds at Saltwater NP. The highlight was probably seeing the over-wintering Sanderling which I found during my June visit.

On my way back to Newcastle I also stopped at Wallis Lake (Forster/Tuncurry) mainly to see if there were many Pied Oystercatchers there, although I did a full patrol of my former survey area. 

15 July

I went to Tomago Wetlands this morning (it was my first visit there since February) where a few people from HBOC were doing a monthly count of waterbirds.  The survey took almost 5 hours and much of it involved wading through 5-15 cm deep swamps in my gum boots! There were lots of Grey Teal (500+ birds) and 100-200 each of Black-winged Stilts and Red-necked Avocets, also 3-4 each of  Red-kneed and Black-fronted Dotterels. We found ~15 Common Greenshanks - this is an amazing count of an over-wintering migratory shorebird!  It also was great to see several parties of Southern Emu-wrens as we moved around, and we heard 4 Aust Spotted Crakes (2 birds at each of 2 spots).

14 July

A group of us from Hunter Bird Observers Club surveyed Port Stephens today - it was the annual winter waterbirds survey which we do in conjunction with NPWS and the Marine Parks Authority. Normally we use 6 boats but late on Friday one boat was pulled and I had to adjust our plans so that we could cover the sub-sector that it would have done. Unfortunately, two boats today had mechanical problems! We sort of covered all the sub-sectors but one not well and two others were done with a deep-drafted boat which couldn't get in all that close to shore. All up, we found 79 Pied Oystercatchers which is a good number I suppose but considerably lower than normal. The counts of most other shorebirds were also considerably down. A flock of 60+ Topknot Pigeons flew over my boat mid-morning, which was quite spectacular.

12 July

This morning it was time for the monthly Hunter Estuary survey and Nev McNaughton and I surveyed Ash Island, on yet another cold and windy morning. At Milhams Pond we found 6 Gull-billed Terns along with small numbers of various ducks and shorebirds. Around at the main ponds, there were 100+ each of Black-winged Stilts and Red-necked Avocets, a Common Greenshank and, the highlight for sure, 66 Australasian Shovelers

11 July

There have been several reports of crakes and rails being seen at Hexham Swamp so I headed there and ended up spending several hours. It was cold and windy and the first hour was quiet. There were lots of teal and shorebirds about, including I saw several Common Greenshanks, but I didn't put a lot of effort into those birds. After about an hour with very few crakes and only seen briefly, suddenly there were lots of them. I had a great spot where they were foraging often only 5-10m in front of me. The majority were Aust. Spotted Crakes but many Spotless Crakes were present as well. It was terrific to see the two species side by side and to have such extended viewing opportunities (also photographic opportunities). I saw several instances of aggression from the larger Spotted Crakes - to each other and to the Spotless Crakes.

From time to time a Lewin's Rail was seen but always in the semi-shadow and only brief appearances. Then, just before I was planning to leave, one bird came out into the open right in front of me and foraged for several minutes. This is easily  the most cryptic of our local crakes/rails and it was just so wonderful to have such extended views of one.

I took ~860 photos today - some serious culling is now required!

10 July

This afternoon Lois Wooding and I did the final lot of sampling for our project on identifying the intertidal organisms in Port Stephens (these being potential food for tattlers). We were at Carrington (NW side of the Port) to sample on a rising tide (having done a falling tide survey there previously). It was bitterly cold with a howling gale blowing all the time, and I had great difficulties in just trying to stop my equipment from being blown away. Mostly we found various sorts of worms, and not a lot else. A Striated Heron came in to feed for while near where I was sampling and that was the definite highlight; also a Whistling Kite flew over a couple of times.

Afterwards we retreated to The Rock for coffees and to discuss the potential content for a talk on Tattlers to the Australasian Shorebird Conference (Darwin mid Sep) - we recently found out that our abstract has been accepted.

9 July

It's not exactly birding but I gave a talk at the HBOC meeting tonight - on the Birds of the Manning.

8 July

I went to Galgabba Point initially to help Jack Adams and co do their monthly honeyeater survey (highlights were 3+ New Holland Honeyeaters and several Topknot Pigeons which flew through - probably I saw 10-12 over the morning). After the survey I wandered for another hour or so out to the Point - birds weren't plentiful though. However, I did see a Scaly-breasted Lorikeet disappearing into a hollow and later emerging from it. Surely it's too early for them to be nesting, but I suppose they are warming up towards it.

1 July

In the morning, along with 18 others, I went along to HBOC's mid-week outing to Black Hill / Hexham Swamp. One of the first birds seen for the day was a Black Falcon, whizzing past us as we assembled on the cold morning. Our initial walk was through a smallish patch of remnant bushland, where many honeyeaters were present and we also had fantastic views of a male Rose Robin. Other highlights included (1 or more) Black Kite flying over several times and quite a few Fuscous Honeyeaters. Later we stopped at a view over Hexham Swamp where we saw a group of ~20 Glossy Ibis and at least 3 Yellow-billed Spoonbills, also several White-necked Herons.

June 2014 

30 June

I went up to the Gloucester Tops mainly to check out what was happening up there with Rufous Scrub-birds. I visited 7 x RSB territories but only heard 2 birds, on both occasions just quite briefly.  The wind was quite strong and had been stronger not so long before - some trees were freshly down and there were many branches fallen onto the road. Crescent Honeyeaters were calling at 3 spots, and one time I had a great view of a Wedge-tailed Eagle as it flew across the road in front of me. On my way back home I stopped for a while at the Sharpes Creek camping ground, at the base of the Tops, where the highlight was to see 3 Bassian Thrushes feeding out in the open.

19 June

I was back at Winda Woppa Reserve again, this time joining Lois Wooding for our project to identify the organisms living in the inter-tidal zones at the Tattler sites around Port Stephens.  There was a Whistling Kite flying around all the time we were there, possibly with nest-building in mind at a Norfolk Pine nearby. And there were at least 7 Blue-faced Honeyeaters also in the area the whole time we were there.

18 June

It was a day for Grey-tailed Tattler searching at Port Stephens today - except I couldn't find any! They are completely absent from northern/western Port Stephens this winter. Consolation prizes included a Yellow-tufted Honeyeater and sundry other H/E species at Pindimar Bay and quite a few lorikeets including Musk Lorikeets at various locations around the Port. It was great to see a pair of Sooty Oystercatchers at Winda Woppa Reserve - they have been absent for several months.

16-17 June

I did my Manning Valley surveys, covering both of the Estuary sites (Harrington and Mudbishops Point), Cattai Wetlands and Saltwater NP, as well as some other brief visits including to check for blossom (and for birds using it) in Crowdey Bay NP and some sites north of Tuncurry. I found some Sanderlings at Harrington, which are very uncommon to find in winter (not all that common in summer either!). There were small numbers of other over-wintering shorebirds also 18 Pied Oystercatchers in the overall Estuary and 8 Sooty Oystercatchers. I haven't found the latter very often in the Manning, of late. And two Beach Stone-curlews were at Mudbishops Point. At Cattai Wetlands there were 4-5 Comb-crested Jacanas and 14 Australasian Shovelers - a species I've been seeing quite a bit of this month! At Saltwater, the highlight probably was the good numbers of both Satin and Regent Bowerbirds feeding in a fruiting fig tree.

I arrived home to find in the mail a copy of a Japanese newspaper (Fukuoka) containing an article about me, and some copies of the latest issue of Australian Field Ornithology which has our Rufous Scrub-bird article. A great way to finish a couple of busy days!

15 June

I went to HBOC's New Members Day which was a very well attended event - about 45 people including 15-20 who joined HBOC in the past 12 months. We spent a few hours wandering around the Wetlands Centre (in Shortland) then had a terrific BBQ lunch with stacks of salads etc. Bird-wise it was probably a bit quiet but the list came to over 50 species and included 3 Hoary-headed Grebes, which probably aren't all that common at the Wetlands Centre, and about ten Australasian Shovelers, which most of the new members had never seen before. It was a bit difficult to show them though, as the views were obscured by trees and there were several hundred other duck species actively moving about in the same pond.

13 June

With 3 others, I did my monthly survey of Ash Island in the morning - a day earlier than the other teams because of other commitments I have tomorrow. Although we didn't find any migratory shorebirds, there were about 40 Red-necked Avocets on the main pond system and about 150 Black-winged Stilts. And, scattered at various locations were 17 Black-fronted Dotterels, a bird I always enjoy encountering. Also seen during the survey - a small group of Aust. Shovelers and two immature Caspian Terns.

10 June

On a cold wet morning I went to Galgabba Point (near Swansea) to help Jack Adams and others do their monthly honeyeater survey. The survey was interrupted a couple of times by heavy showers but in between times we managed to find some birds, including four New Holland Honeyeaters which usually are quite uncommon at Galgabba. The amount of Swamp Mahogany blossom has declined in recent weeks and so too has the number of honeyeaters.

7-9 June

On the long weekend I went to the HBOC camp-out on Windy Station - it's near Quirindi and is in the extreme NW of the Hunter Region. Our campsite was ~500m in from the Region's boundary.  On the way there I searched the backstreets of Willow Tree, on a theory that Apostlebirds could be present there - the theory didn't work out though!

Although it rained on the coast, the conditions inland were good and we had ample opportunities for birding. Around the campsite we had a pair of resident Western Gerygones and within a short walk there were Red-capped RobinsBrown TreecreepersVaried SittellasDiamond Firetails and many other species. Of great interest to us were the Inland Thornbills (I found 3 pairs) - this is a very rare species in the Hunter Region except in the NW corner. On Sunday afternoon we visited Windy's historic wool shed then did a tour around the property during which we saw several Cockatiels and at least 3 pairs of Brown Falcon. On the final morning I found a pair of Hooded Robins which rounded off a very good weekend so far as I was concerned. However, on my way home a Spotted Harrier crossed the highway in front of me which rounded-off the weekend even better really.

3 June

I joined the HBOC mid-week group's outing at the Glenrock State Conservation Area. We walked the Yuelarbah Track for 1-2 km seeing moderate numbers of birds including a female Rose Robin and a couple of male Regent Bowerbirds - all good stuff! Then I received a phone call - one of our group had found a Powerful Owl. We all hurried back to the spot near the carpark, and had truly wonderful views of this magnificent bird. Later in the morning we went around to Redhead where we found several honeyeater species in scrub near the Fernleigh Track, with the highlight being a few New Holland Honeyeaters.

May 2014

30 May

I went up to Port Stephens to do a survey for Grey-tailed Tattlers.  The problem was - I couldn't find any!  Highlights of the day included a Brush-turkey at Winda Woppa (I've never seen one there before) and a Sacred Kingfisher at Pindimar, also three Pied Oystercatchers at Carrington.

27-28 May

I spent 2 days in the Manning Valley, visiting my usual survey sites around the Estuary and at Saltwater NP, Cattai Wetlands, Harrington rainforest, etc.  Most of the migratory shorebirds have now departed, and it's just down to small numbers of over-wintering juvenile/immature birds for them. I found some Double-banded Plovers, visiting here from NZ, but only 38 birds in total which is not a high count for the Manning Estuary. A highlight was to find 2 Beach Stone-curlews near Old Bar - one bird had a smaller white wing patch and seemed subservient to the other birds - so presumably it was a juvenile. At Cattai Wetlands I found 3 Comb-crested Jacanas wandering over the lily pads. 

At Saltwater NP I watched a group of 6 Spangled Drongos feeding on a swarm of insects in a clearing. The Drongos took turns to fly into the swarm, swoop and soar around until catching something, then flying to a tree to eat it.  There were never more than 3 Drongos in the air at any time. I assume this was to reduce the risk of a collision. Anyhow, it made the entire spectacle seem rather like a choreographed ballet. Perhaps I'll write a poem about it!

On my way home I detoured to Hawks Nest to check out what the Grey-tailed Tattlers were doing there at low tide. But I couldn't find any! I spent about an hour and a half looking for them, without success.

19-20 May

Escorted by my host, Hit Akutsu (Hit-san) and various others (Yutaka-san, Koichi-san, Minoru-san), I spent 2 days on Tokyo Bay. We were at two sites - Sanbanze (a tidal flat right on the bay) and Yatsu-higata (connected to Tokyo Bay by a narrow channel and thus having a delayed tide cycle). It was a pretty good couple of days! I saw numerous examples of Grey-tailed Tattler intra-species aggression, some of it quite dramatic, and also had some good birdwatching experiences involving other species. I saw my first ever Black-headed Gull ( a young bird), numerous Little Terns and Common Terns, and shorebirds aplenty.  The latter included Sanderlings in full breeding plumage and hence I didn't recognise them until late in the proceedings. There were a couple of flagged Grey Plovers and a flagged tattler (all of the flags originating from Yatsu), and also a Sanderling with a band but no flag.

17 May

I arrived back at Najima Bay just before 8:00 am hoping to watch  Grey-tailed Tattlers in the time leading up to them going to roost. However, the water was already well in  even though high tide was not until 11:00. All of the tattlers were already at roost. I spent about 3 hours there regardless, and then went to the Najima Public Hall where I was the guest speaker - another talk about shorebirds and tattlers but with more of a local emphasis (including some local photos).  The audience was about 15 adults and about 25 primary school aged children and I was a bit disconcerted at first as to how the kids would handle it. But it seemed to be OK and some of them even asked questions at the end. Afterwards, several came up to try out their English on me and a couple of young girls seemed to take quite a fancy to me!

After lunch we went to  a few other tattler roost sites, finding about 50 birds in total.  I also saw a new bird for my life list - there were several Wigeons on the river and later, a couple of them were roosting on a bank. In the late afternoon I went back to Najima, this time armed with a torch. En route there, my hosts Tomida-san and Hattori-san, let me know that a reporter was waiting .  I duly was interviewed for the Fukuoka Times! (or maybe it's called something more Japanese style?)  The reporter has promised to e-mail me a copy of the article although I'm not holding my breath (and won't be able to understand it in any case).

I stayed until just after 8:00 pm, using a torch to scan the waterline and amongst the oyster banks. I was wanting to establish if  Tattlers  feed at night but that is a very difficult thing to prove as they are often very hard to find  in daylight, let alone in the dark.  I did manage to find a bird roosting (or just resting) by the water's edge right after sundown; I watched it for nearly 15 minutes but then it disappeared. I think they don't roost communally except at high tide.

16 May

I transferred to Fukuoka and eventually in early afternoon arrived at Najima Bay where I spent about 7 hours watching a small group of  Grey-tailed Tattlers. The tide was just starting to drop when I arrived, and I watched until almost 7:30 (sunset was at 7:12). The tattlers were still foraging, although had moved closer to their roost site. I saw a lot of crab-eating today! The small crabs are swallowed whole, the larger ones they shake the legs off them first. I got some good photos of some of this. Also once I saw a bird with a shrimp but I didn't have my camera primed at the time.

15 May

The morning was drizzly at times but later picked up and became bright sunshine in the afternoon. The roost site was full of Grey-tailed Tattlers at 8:00 am! They must have moved to it some time during the night?  The birds were having difficulty staying dry - the combination of the waves and the tide meant things were cramped at the roost. From time to time some birds took off - around the corner and out of sight. When it was down to <50 birds remaining, we went looking for them at other places, finding good numbers at a sheltered bay (seawalls on 3 and a half sides). But an hour later, back at the first roost site, there were >350 tattlers!

Before the tide started to ebb, we went to the tidal flats (where there was quite a welcoming party of others). There I was able to get some good observation time, including to see some aggression between two tattlers, one with a crab and the other wanting it. It was amazing to see Lesser Sand Plovers in full breeding plumage for the first time. I didn't recognise them at first, they look so different. And the beach vista was quite non-Australian, because of a) large numbers of waders such as Dunlin and Grey Plover which we don't see often and b) waders we do see were in full breeding plumage and hence looking rather different.  I also found some flagged birds today - 2 Dunlin and a Grey Plover.

In the evening I gave a talk (about shorebird migration generally and tattlers specifically) at the Arao public hall.  There were about 35 people attended, and a translater (a young shorebird researcher, Tomida-san, who came down from Fukuoka).  I was the guest speaker, but there were a couple of others doing short talks and it was essentially a 2 hour "Arao-Ramsar" event. I had put in Japanese names for most of the shorebirds and that effort seemed to have been appreciated.

14 May

I took an early train to Arao, arriving at 10:00 and met by Yasuo-san, one of the local shorebird experts.  It was quite wet (it rained steadily, or worse, all day). We went to a Grey-tailed Tattler roost site (high tide was about 8:30 am) where several hundred birds were present. Later we went around to the tidal flats where the water was just beginning to go out.  Conditions were difficult but in any case there was a meeting with the Arao mayor scheduled for early afternoon so we departed to get ready for that. A Dr Yamashita from Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University also came to it - she has some sort of Ramsar coordination role. Later, Yasuo-san and I went back to a tidal flat viewing area where I had some good observation time. Towards dusk, and with the tide rising rapidly, we returned to the roost site. To my surprise, there were less than 20 tattlers in the area and they did not go to the roost - instead most departed elsewhere at about 6:30 pm.  We looked for the alternative roost site but did not find it.

13 May

Today was a beautiful day in Yatsushiro and things went well with my Grey-tailed Tattler studies.  In the morning I was able to watch a group of 27 birds at their roost which they shared with some Terek Sandpipers and Dunlins.  The tattlers moved into action just on 2 hours after the high tide time. It only takes about an hour before the area of exposed mudflats becomes vast and the tattlers disappear (as do most of the other shorebirds). I watched several birds feeding and twice saw tattlers flying off with food (in both cases, a crab). I've never seen that happen before i.e. a tattler flying with food.

Over lunch we met Shinjo-san who gave me a collated  set of tattler records from inland Kyushu, going back as far as 1999. There is no doubt that they are regular inland visitors. We (Takano-san and I) were back at the tidal flat viewing area at 4:00, about 2 hours after the bottom of the tide.  For a long while there was nothing to see, until lots of Whimbrels turned up at 4:40 pm. The first tattlers did not re-appear until 5:10 pm and they trickled in for the next hour. However, only 13 of them came in to roost. About 6:10 pm we departed but checked out some other spots and found a single tattler roosting at one of them and a group of 7 birds (roosting with Terek Sandpipers) at another place.

12 May

It turned out to be a very wet day in Yatsushiro making it hard to study tattlers. I arrived at the seawall with my host Shikegi Takano at about 8:30 am (high tide was just before 8:00 am) in pouring rain, which continued until mid afternoon before it began to ease up (but not until about dusk that it finally stopped). I was constantly wiping down my optics - and I kept the camera in its dry bag all the time. Nevertheless, I was able to make some useful observations of the tattlers especially when the mudflats began to become exposed again and the birds were still close to shore, and grouped together.

Later in the morning Takano-san came back and we relocated to another estuary 40 mins drive to the north (overlooking tidal flats of the Kagami and Hi Rivers). En route we passed a feeding group of six of the endangered Black-billed Spoonbill, a migratory bird which Takano-san is studying (and a new bird for me). At the new estuary we had a picnic shelter to stand under, but unfortunately by now the birds were very dispersed and a long way off, and it was difficult to achieve much. We abandoned our activities at lunchtime.

10-11 May

I left Newcastle on Saturday afternoon and travelled via Sydney/Tokyo to Kumamoto airport and then to Yatsushiro which is on the mouth of the Kuma River. My hosts took me out to the estuary for an hour or so in the mid-late afternoon where we quickly found a few Grey-tailed Tattlers (the reason for my trip). There were lots of Whimbrels present, and also many Dunlins - which although they are common and widespread, is a new bird for me.

In the evening I gave a talk about shorebird migration and about tattlers, to some members of the local bird club. Afterwards, I was told (and shown pictures of) tattlers foraging well upstream in the Kuma River some 50 km from the estuary. Others at the meeting agreed it was by no means uncommon for that to occur. It would certainly be most unusual in Australia to see a tattler away from the coast.

1-4 May

During the previous months and especially in April, I was fairly heavily involved in planning and preparing for HBOC's display stand at the Tocal Field Days (2-4 May). It was the first time that the club has had a presence at such a large community event. Tocal gets ~25,000 visitors over the 3 days, whereas our previous biggest event had ~900 visitors in its single day. On Thursday (1 May) I went to our site with Paul Baird and Lorna Mee and we set everything up. Then on Friday and Sunday I was back again for my rostered sessions. I really enjoyed the opportunities to engage with people about a whole range of topics that were to do with birds in some way.

April 2014 

30 April

I did another tattler count in the morning, at my sites on the northern/western side of Port Stephens. it seems that most of the tattlers have already departed, as I could only find 8 birds in total. In the area between Carrington and Tahlee, I had a surprise finding - two Bush Stone-curlews, standing almost side by side amongst the mangroves. I decided to try for a photo, which proved difficult as in all the views I tried the birds were fairly obscured (and they were very obviously aware of my presence). Anyhow, I did get some OK shots, which was great because when looking at them later it became clear that one of the birds had been banded. I later found out that it was a male bird, banded at Cromarty Island, Bobs Farm (on the eastern side of Port Stephens) in January 2010 as a 3 month old chick. So, it was a 4 and a half year old bird, apparently now paired. I felt very good to find that out.

22 April

I walked the Great North Walk from Teralba to Merewether today, with my daughter Sally - a distance of 23 km (including a couple of detours, one intentional). Although not a birdwatching day (we walked too fast) it was quite a birdy day nevertheless - we traversed a lot of different habitats and spent a lot of time walking through bushland (I was surprised by how much). At Burwood Beach I saw my first Albatross of the year (a Black-browed type) and there were 6 Sooty Oystercatchers roosting on the rocks at the northern end of the beach.

18-21 April

Margaret and I went to HBOC's Easter campout which was at Borah Reserve, about 20 km out of Barraba.  There were 38 attendees (including 3 day visitors) and we had perfect weather coupled with very good birding, making it into a wonderful long weekend. The group recorded about 95 species within walking distance of the camp (and I recorded ~60 species within 500m radius of it). There were many Turquoise Parrots in the area (at one stage I had 5 of them in the one view) and several each of both Red-winged Parrot and Aust. King-Parrot (I don't often see these two species at the same place). Finches were numerous including lots of Diamond Firetails. I didn't see much blossom about, and hence honeyeaters were not present in high numbers (White-plumed and Blue-faced Honeyeater being the notable exceptions). A nearby paddock was remarkable for its density of White-winged Choughs - I counted 93 of them one afternoon (and also ~25 Apostlebirds) and many other people had counts of 60-70+ of them in the same paddock.

11-13 April

I went to Canberra to attend a BIGnet (Bird Interest Groups Network) meeting held at the Botanic Gardens. I was especially interested in attending the workshop on databases, which was held on the Saturday afternoon. There wasn't a lot of time for birding, but on the way down on Friday we (I was travelling with Liz Crawford) stopped at Towrang Stockade where we had great close-up views of Striated Thornbills (in a foraging party with other thornbill species) and also saw 14 Black-faced Cuckoo-shrikes together, and then at Rowes Lagoon where we found a group of European Goldfinch. In late afternoon I visited Jerrabomberra Wetlands which usually is a good birding spot but it was quiet on Friday. However, I had a great view of a Spotted Harrier from not far off and also saw a Common Blackbird (which is rare in Newcastle).

8 April

I went to Galgabba Point (near Swansea) in the morning to help out on a honeyeater survey which Jack Adams is organising monthly over autumn-winter. Some of the Swamp Mahogany is already in flower so we did find honeyeaters, but not yet in big numbers. The highlight was to have close views of a male Crested Shrike-tit (and also to see how unpopular it was with the local Willie Wagtails).

3 April 

On day 1 of a 4-day trip to Melbourne mainly for non-birding reasons, I visited the BirdLife Australia head office in the afternoon. I caught up with Sean Dooley and Cara Schultz about the BirdLife magazine (I was especially interested in how the crosswords are being received!), then Andrew Silcocks (re Hunter Region Atlas data management) and finally Dan Weller and some others of the Shorebirds 2020 team re Hunter Estuary monitoring. I was also very interested in what they have been doing with a drone to remotely monitor shorebirds and also bitterns, and I was very impressed by the footage which they showed me.

2 April 

In the morning I headed up to Port Stephens for the April count of Grey-tailed Tattlers. It was an uneventful trip and I found about as many tattlers as I was expecting to. In the evening it was the HBOC Management Committee meeting.

1 April 

I joined HBOC's outing, which started at Finnan Park on the shores of Grahamstown Dam but very soon afterwards we went around to Rangers Rd and entered Hunter Water land via a locked gate. There was very heavy fog all morning and a dull light - this affected the birding but we still found about 50 species with the highlight being to find a pair of Cicadabirds feeding a fledged young. Also there were many Hoary-headed Grebes on the water with some Great Crested Grebes too and I saw a Musk Duck. I left the outing early as I was meeting Rob Kyte over lunch to talk about the Tocal Field Days - HBOC will have a stand there and we are organising posters, hand-outs etc. 

March 2014 

28 March 

I met with Alfred Schulte in Sydney - we are collaborating on an analysis of Rufous Scrub-bird calls. Alfred is finding some intriguing differences by using some modern signal processing techniques. 

24-26 March

The 3 days were spent on Broughton Island where I led a group of 5 birders in surveys of the birds there. The weather was kind to us - rain threatened often but only happened at night, and so we were able to do all of the intended surveys. We surveyed the entire island, several times, finding all the regular species and adding 5 more to the Broughton list.  One evening Greg Little and I went to one of the Little Penguin landing sites, where we saw one bird coming ashore and heard another which was already in its burrow. There were Wedge-tailed Shearwaters flying around over the Island by the time we started back and we later found several (15-20) at their burrows when we walked through the colony to the south of Providence Beach.

The highlight for me was on Wednesday morning - I was walking along the south-west peninsula (in the direction towards Looking Glass rock) when a Gould's Petrel flew over the top of me. It is remarkable to see one flying over land! Later I spoke about it with Nick Carlile in Sydney - Nick is the expert in Gould's Petrels. Some of them nowadays nest in the NE part of Broughton Island and Nick thinks it was a young bird doing its first flight - taking off into the nor-easter and circling west and then south to head towards the feeding grounds. The normal fledging time is late March so the timing fits. The colony is not large (on current knowledge) and the odds of me intersecting with a first-flight bird must be low. I'm very pleased that it happened!

19 March

I did my regular survey of Saltwater NP first thing, finding pretty much the routine birds but towards the end of it saw a pair of Sooty Oystercatchers, which is a new species for my Saltwater list. Then it was time for my regular waterbirds survey at Manning Entrance State Park. For the first time that I can remember, there were no small shorebirds there. I walked around the Mudbishops Point spit where I found another group of Pacific Golden Plovers, but not much else, and then it was kayak-time. I had some trepidations, this being my first usage of my shoulder since dislocating it, but everything went well. I recorded a group of 12 Whimbrels and also some more  Pacific Golden Plovers, none which I would not have found otherwise.

I had lunch with Beth & John Cockerell, whom I met by chance at the Mudbishops Point park although I knew they were visiting in the general area. After that I headed home where I just had time to unload the car, freshen-up and bolt down a light meal, before heading up to Salamander Bay for the evening. I gave a talk on "The Waterbirds of Port Stephens" as part of a 4-week course on Coastal Ecology organised by Port Stephens Council for local residents. The talk seemed to go over quite well. 

18 March

I birded in the Harrington area for much of the day, firstly in the rainforest there which was reasonably productive (plus mozzies!). I heard a Spectacled Monarch but it was in quite deep and I didn't try to track it down. The high tide was mid morning and I did my regular waterbirds survey then. All the shorebirds were well out of sight from the breakwater and to get correct counts for all of them I had to walk all the way to the end of the big sandbank which was somewhat of a long & hot trudge - but worth it as I discovered most of the birds were roosting on a sandbank further over. There was a large group of Aust. Pied Oystercatchers (33 birds) which is an unusually high number for Harrington. Earlier, on the main sandbank I found a group of 85 Pacific Golden Plovers, in a diverse range of plumage patterns as they are coming into their breeding colours. Some Double-banded Plovers, newly arrived from NZ, were with them.

Much of my afternoon was taken up with PR about the February survey of Port Stephens that I organised; the flurry was because NPWS finally put out a media release about it yesterday afternoon (which I didn't see until today). I did a phone interview with ABC Radio (Newcastle) some of which later went to air (I didn't hear it but I was told it went OK). The Newcastle Herald wanted "people shots" to go with their story and I did some chasing on this but eventually had to resort to sending them some pictures I took 6 years ago. It seems that everyone (including me) takes bird photos not people photos.

17 March

Mid-morning I headed north, to Cattai wetlands (where huge clouds of mosquitoes were waiting for me!). Shortly after I started my regular circuit, a Square-tailed Kite came through, hunting low over the tree tops and at one point landing on a perch just a metre or so off the ground. Presumably it had its eye on some prey below. The water lilies on the main lagoon were in full flower which made it harder to find birds - but also, numbers were down somewhat. Highlights were 8 Australian Shovelers, much dispersed, and 2 Comb-crested Jacanas which I found after a lot of searching.

I also checked out some ephemeral wetlands in the area that I survey regularly, then headed down to Tuncurry where I had booked a cabin - partly by way of a change from staying in Harrington as I usually do, and partly so I'd have more time to check out the Aust. Pied Oystercatchers. It has been reported that a flock of 62 birds were seen together on a sandbank in early March and I was keen to see if they were still there. The best I could do was 20 birds, which was also my tally in two scans the next day but then on the Wednesday morning I found 25 birds.

15 March

This morning, along with 2 others I surveyed Ash Island as part of the monthly Hunter Estuary waterbirds survey. We found 31 Pacific Golden Plovers on Phoenix Flats and small numbers of other migratory shorebirds at various other locations. On the main ponds system there were 464 Black-winged Stilts and also 546 teals (~90% of these being Grey Teal). Bird-wise it was not what I would consider one of Ash Island's finest days but it was OK. Certainly there are times when it is a lot quieter out there but also times when there are a lot more birds around. Although having ~1,200 birds on the main ponds still highlights the significance of Ash Island for birds in the Estuary.

14 March

I spent the day at Port Stephens, focussed on Grey-tailed Tattlers. In the morning I went to the 4 roost sites on the northern side of the Port, finding ~38 birds. There were 13 birds at the Winda Woppa Reserve roost, but none at Upper Pindimar and Carrington. At Pindimar, which is the roost site with usually the largest numbers of tattlers, there was a kayaker paddling in the area where the birds normally roost, which frustrated my efforts. It was obvious that the birds had taken refuge in the mangroves - I could see a couple and could hear more of them, out of my line of sight. Eventually I left because I also had to count birds at the other sites while it was high tide. I went back to Pindimar about an hour later, to find that the kayaker had gone but the tide was on its way out and the tattlers had already started foraging. It was difficult to find them as they were dispersed amongst the mangrove pneumatophores. On one sweep I found 20 birds but missed some birds that I had seen on a previous sweep. My estimate was 25 birds present although that may even be an under-estimate.

13 March

I visited 3 places today, sort-of birdwatching and sort-of taking photos. First off, I went to Ray Lawler Reserve (aka Morpeth Common) where my main hope was to photograph a Nankeen Night-Heron. It took me nearly an hour to find one! Even then, it was not quite the view that I had been hoping for. But beggars can't be choosers, I suppose, and I got some OK shots.

After Morpeth, I went to Earthcare Park in Tenambit. It was quiet there and I couldn't find many birds, so after a while I headed over to Walks Water Works (near Maitland). This is always a great place and today was no exception. Highlights were the grebes - I saw two rafts of Hoary-headed Grebe totalling 41 birds, and there were probably 15-20 Great Crested Grebe scattered in 1's and 2's over the water.

8 March 

No birding activities as such today, but as I was riding alongside Throsby Creek in Newcastle I stopped for a while to watch a Pelican struggling with a large fish. It had the fish part way down its throat but the fish wasn't correctly aligned i.e. it wasn't head first. Instead it was still at an angle, and the Pelican couldn't get it down into the throat properly. There was lots of gulping, and several times it placed its open bill into the water presumably in an attempt to "wash it down" but I could still see the fish's tail sticking out from the Pelican's bill as the bird swam off. 

7 March

With a couple of birdwatching friends, I drove to historic "Windy" cattle station in the extreme NW of the Hunter Region. It is located near Quirindi and it was about a 550km return trip. HBOC is wanting to have the June long weekend camp there and we met the manager to explain plans and go with him to pick out an area suitable for ~15 people to camp at. All good; the camp should be terrific.  After we'd finished we had an hour or so of birding before starting back home. Highlights were 4 Cockatiels flying across in front of the car, and later a small party of Inland Thornbills. Windy is well known as the only place in the Hunter Region where they occur.

On our way to Windy, we encountered a large but dispersed group of 200+ White-throated Needletails on the outskirts of Muswellbrook, with at least a couple of Fork-tailed Swifts amongst them. On the way back, we checked out Muswellbrook's sewage treatment ponds, where we found 80-90 Pink-eared Ducks plus small numbers of various other waterfowl. And then at Doughboy Hollow near Singleton, 600+ Plumed Whistling-Ducks were roosting. Doughboy Hollow is a known roost site for them but this is one of the highest known counts (there have been higher counts though). Other highlights of the trip were 2 separate Spotted Harriers and a Black Kite.

4 March

I joined HBOC's outing, which started at Morpeth Common (Ray Lawler Park). About 25 people attended, and we had a pleasant and productive amble around the 3 main ponds, recording 50+ species. Several Nankeen Night-Herons were roosting there, and we had very good views of some of them. Afterwards, we went to Earthcare Park in Tenambit, which is just a few km away. Here perhaps the highlight was a Shining Bronze-cuckoo, seen well by most of the group. There were parrots and rosellas aplenty, and we found a pair of Long-billed Corellas excavating a hollow, and a pair of Galahs doing the same thing nearby. It seems very late in the season to be contemplating to breed. 

February 2014

23 Feb

I went on a pelagic trip to the continental shelf, departing from Port Stephens. The trip out was fairly rough and took longer than usual (it's usually about 3 hours, today it was at least half an hour slower).  The conditions became much calmer when we arrived at the shelf and the ride back in to shore was quite easy. 4 people became seasick on the way out (and a couple of others told me they were feeling a bit queasy too; I was loving it!). One bloke in particular, on his first ever pelagic trip, was having a lot of problems, which later became a problem for everyone as he locked himself in the toilet and refused to come out! We were becoming more concerned about his condition as time went on, and eventually the skipper decided we needed to head back. It was about an hour earlier than we would normally start back. The fellow emerged from the toilet about 2 hours later, looking rather sheepish.

Birdwise, it was a day of mixed fortunes. Mostly there was not a lot of variety around the boat (good numbers of shearwaters, mainly Wedge-tailed Shearwater). However, several Gould's Petrels came by and one of them actually paid some attention to the boat and the slick we had set up, hence there were great viewing opportunities (and photography opportunities - see my photo below). Also, several Great-winged Petrels came close to the boat. A Kermadec Petrel and a White-necked Petrel also put in appearances, although not as cooperatively.

21 Feb

Lois Wooding and I sampled the inter-tidal organisms at Swan Bay in the morning. I had great views of a Peregrine Falcon perched at the top of a dead tree just a few hundred metres before arriving there. In the afternoon, I went to the 4 known Grey-tailed Tattler roost sites on the northern side of Port Stephens, to count the numbers present. I found a flock of 24 birds at Pindimar and another 11 near the boat ramp at Winda Woppa Reserve.

18 Feb

I went up to the Manning Estuary to do my monthly waterbirds survey, visiting Old Bar (Mudbishops Point) first and then Harrington. There was one Double-banded Plover - the first returning bird for the year. The summer migrant shorebirds were still present in force, including 170 Pacific Golden Plovers which is a good count for the Manning, and 28 Sanderlings. About one thousand terns were there too, mainly Crested TernLittle Tern and Common Tern. The Pied Oystercatcher numbers have increased: I saw 28 of them including what may be a "drop-in" flock of 16 birds together on a sandbank at Harrington. In recent months, I have usually been finding 10-15 of them.

15 Feb

This morning I went to Ash Island to do my part of the monthly Hunter Estuary waterbirds survey. Neil Fraser and Phil Slack were my co-surveyors. We found only small numbers of migratory shorebirds, excepting for a flock of 43 Pacific Golden Plovers which were at Phoenix Flats. At the main ponds system there were 236 Black-winged Stilts. Teals were present in large number, with ~830 Grey Teal and ~220 Chestnut Teal.

14 Feb

We did the Port Stephens waterbirds survey today, 13 members of HBOC in 6 boats with skippers from National Parks & Wildlife Service and the Port Stephens-Great Lakes Marine Park Authority. Conditions were overcast but fortunately the rain held off and everything went according to plan. We found about 3,000 birds! Once again there were 160+ Pied Oystercatchers in Port Stephens which really is the stronghold for them in NSW. I did Charlie Sector where the highlights included to see a flock of Whimbrels roosting on rocks (very unusual in my experience) and a Brahminy Kite harass an Osprey carrying a fish. The Osprey dropped the fish but it fell into the water and both birds were deprived of a meal!

10 Feb

A few days ago, I started a discussion thread on hunterbirding about what are the best sites to go birding in the Hunter Region. Today I worked out how to set up a survey using Survey Monkey, and then I launched it to the local birding community. I'm looking forward to seeing the collated responses!

8 Feb

The morning expedition was a visit to Cattai Wetlands, where the mozzies were out in force!  I recorded about 50 bird species with the absolute highlight being a brief glimpse of 2 King Quails. Two adult Jacanas were foraging over the waterlilies - another highlight albeit a fairly regular sighting; it is one of the main reasons I like to go to Cattai. Scarlet Honeyeaters were present in reasonable numbers. A Buff-banded Rail scrambled across the road on the outskirts of Harrington in the early morning as we were driving out.

In late afternoon, I checked out a couple of ephemeral wetlands in the Coopernook/Harrington area that I keep a regular eye on. Both were nearly totally dry and had very few birds at them. I also looked for a Cattle Egret colony I had been told about. I found it, at Nulama Ponds near Cundletown on the outskirts of Taree. It is immense! Nesting is nearly over so it's hard to know how many active nests it has, but I counted >400 nest structures (some rather dilipidated) and 500-600 adult and non-breeding birds were in trees around the wetland.

7 Feb

I spent the morning at Saltwater National Park and the adjacent Saltwater Nature Walk. The highlights included seeing Figbirds feeding fledged young, a pair of Spectacled Monarchs, and a group of 5 White-throated Needletails which zoomed past.

6 Feb

In the morning I went to Ash Island to survey of an area of salt marsh / grass, part of which was burnt in a fire in March 2012. Since the fire, a group of us have been helping NPWS study how birds respond to the effects of the fire. Things seem just about back to normal by now. The birding highlight was to flush 3 King Quail from underfoot. Late afternoon, Margaret and I drove to Harrington, stopping at Bulahdelah where I have a 2ha Atlas survey area which I visit a few times per year.

4 Feb

I went on HBOC's outing to the Myuna Bay/Wangi area (on the western side of Lake Macquarie). There were 25 people attended and we saw 61 species just inside of 4 hours. Highlights (so far as I am concerned) were a couple of Nankeen Night-Herons, an immature Restless Flycatcher, several Sacred Kingfishers and a solitary Long-billed Corella. Rob Kyte finalised the Scone birding route brochure that Greg Newling and I have worked on, and I sent it to HBOC committee for final review.

January 2014


29 Jan

Lois Wooding and I spent the day at Taylors Beach (Port Stephens) collecting samples of the critters living in the inter-tidal zone. We found a reasonable variety but nothing very abundant and all specimens looking poor quality. This probably explains why very few shorebirds use Taylors Beach!

26 Jan

This morning Ann Lindsey took me out to Hexham Swamp (I still can't drive). At times there were about 30 others there, and the birding was good! I only had limited views (in flight) of the Buff-breasted Sandpiper which has been the main cause of the recent excitement but which was not being all that cooperative today. There were many many Sharp-tailed Sandpipers, and lots of other waders too. I had very brief views of a Pectoral Sandpiper and saw several Aust. Spotted Crakes. For some of the less common shorebirds, it was somewhat of a lucky dip if you saw them - it just depended on whether you happened to be standing in the right spot when one wandered out into view. Just as we were leaving, we stopped to check a large roosting flock of sharpies and other species, to find there were two (at least) Broad-billed Sandpipers in amongst them. They kept appearing and disappearing amidst the flock; we watched for 10 or so minutes and then the whole flock suddenly took off.

Late afternoon the word came around that an Oriental Plover had been found out near Morpeth. I've seen them elsewhere in Australia but they are very rare locally. I decided it was time for me to resume driving! I collected Ann as well, and by about 6pm we were looking at the bird. Also in the same paddock were several Banded Lapwings.

24 Jan

This morning I met Lia Wadick from Nelson Bay NPWS and we sorted out some details about the next Port Stephens waterbirds survey, which will take place on 14 February.

19-21 Jan

A new crossword is needed for the next issue of Australian Birdlife so I worked on that, plus version 2 of my itinerary for Japan in May. Rob Kyte sent me the second draft of the Southern Port Stephens birding route brochure. It looks pretty good to me and I’ve sent it around to the HBOC committee for their comments.

18 Jan

This morning was the scheduled monthly Hunter Estuary waterbirds survey. I was determined to participate so Margaret chauffeured me out to Ash Island where I joined Nev McNaughton and a visitor from Coffs Harbour. Using binoculars proved difficult for me but things were OK with a telescope. However, it was very quiet (all the birds seem to be on Hexham Swamp instead). The White-winged Black Tern of a week ago was still around, and we saw a small flock of White-fronted Chats.

16-17 Jan

Unable to use my right arm, and in some pain, I spent these days sorting out how to start a website and planning the content. I also began arranging my trip to Japan in May when Grey-tailed Tattlers will be on migration passage to their breeding grounds.

15 Jan

In the evening, Margaret and I rode the Fernleigh Track. It is usually a very “birdy” ride especially towards the Belmont end, but that has been with morning rides. This evening, the birds were quieter and also the cicadas were very noisy (and they were making a lot of “cicada rain” which showed up well whenever I was headed towards the sun). I did hear a Horsfield’s Bronze-cuckoo calling from near the start of the Belmont Wetlands. Unfortunately, things took a turn for the worse a bit later on. I had a mishap on my bike which saw me taken off in an ambulance to Emergency at the John Hunter hospital, and the outcome being a dislocated shoulder which in general will hold me back on in-field birding for a while.

14 Jan

I had decided to spend today watching Grey-tailed Tattlers in Fern Bay (which lies within the Hunter Estuary). I took my kayak, and parked just a bit to the east of Stockton Bridge. I was expecting the tattlers to be roosting on the oyster beds which is what they often do, but it turned out that this morning they had chosen to be on the rocks virtually right where I was parked. There were 41 of them, which is a much larger count than for the Estuary over October-December last year. I paddled to where I could be in the shade of a mangrove, and got myself into “watching mode”. Over the next couple of hours, they didn’t do much! As has been the case when I have watched them in Port Stephens, they stir very slowly as the tide drops. Most other shorebird species can’t wait to start feeding again but tattlers are like teenagers. They stir late, and then they stir slowly! These birds just leisurely scratched and stretched from time to time, until it was about 4 hours after the high tide time.

Unfortunately, when they eventually took off most of them flew quickly out of my sight, around the Sandspit (and possibly continuing on to Fullerton Cove – I couldn’t tell). I found a handful of them feeding in mud at the north-western end of the Sandspit but I found I couldn’t get close enough to study them without disturbing them. I was also having great difficulties holding the kayak steady in the current and wind – a single anchor was not enough.

After an hour or so of trying, at around 1:00pm, I gave up and paddled back to where the car was. It took me 15 minutes to get ashore as the thick mud really held me back! I was covered in mud by the time I was finally back onto dry land. A consolation for me was that I got a few reasonable shots of tattlers in flight today.

 10 Jan

Garry, Marie and I set off at 5:45am. They had never seen an Australian Painted Snipe so that was our first mission (I knew where some had recently been seen). 20 minutes later, we were at Wallsend looking at a pair of them! Garry was stoked, to say the least, and it all seemed too easy. However, within a couple of minutes, the birds walked out of sight and we didn’t see them for the next 15-20 minutes. But then they came right out into the open and began to forage. With telescopes we had wonderful, extended views. Other birds present at the small wetlands included several Latham’s Snipes and Black-winged Stilts and a Buff-banded Rail, while Chestnut TealPacific Black Duck and Black-fronted Dotterel all were with dependent young.

We next went to Ash Island, initially to my survey area of the other day. Sure enough, we flushed three separate King Quail during a walk around the mown tracks in the paddock. Then we called in at the main ponds on Ash Island. Although it was quiet there compared to when I last visited in mid December, we found several Marsh Sandpiper and some Greenshanks, as well as many Red-necked Avocets and Black-winged Stilts. A single White-winged Black Tern was undoubtedly the highlight of this part of the morning.

Our final call was Hexham Swamp, which has been “running hot” all summer with shorebirds particularly Sharp-tailed Sandpiper and also various rarities. We negotiated our way through the security-restricted access road and we were in! Almost the first bird we saw was a coloured-up Yellow Wagtail – another Australian tick for Garry and Marie. It didn’t hang around for long, but long enough! There was a report from earlier in the day of 7 birds seen, so perhaps we were lucky we didn’t arrive any later when they’d all gone to roost. We also found a flock of 10 or so White-fronted Chats nearby, and enjoyed the views of them. Further on, we found where the Sharpies were hanging out. Initially there were several hundred of them scattered around the swamp, but as the morning proceeded we could see small flocks arriving regularly and by the time we left, about 11:30am, I estimate there were about 1,000 birds. Other shorebirds we saw included Curlew Sandpiper and Red-necked Stint, and we saw three separate Australian Spotted Crakes wandering around.

9 Jan

A couple of weeks ago, a neighbour had asked me if I could advise some birdwatching places to go for visiting relatives from Canada whom he would be hosting for a few days. Instead, I offered to take them around to a few places. Last night they (Garry and Marie from Vancouver area) arrived at Newcastle and so I went over this morning to meet them and sort out some plans. To my pleasant surprise, they were very keen and knowledgeable about Australian birds, especially Garry. They have been to Australia several times before and Garry has seen nearly 600 species here. My plans of a simple trip to places like the Hunter Wetlands Centre required changing! We spent a couple of hours discussing options for an excursion tomorrow morning, interspersed with discussions about taxonomy, bird behaviour etc i.e. all the things that interest me! I spent the rest of the day doing paid work, which is quite a change for me in the past 12 or so months!

8 Jan

I met fellow HBOC member Grahame Felletti this morning and we discussed next steps re the great work he is doing at Charlestown Golf Course in raising awareness about birds with the Golf Course members. Grahame does a monthly survey of the birds utilising the various habitats round the course. This leads to a poster for display in the clubhouse each month and an item in their newsletter. Some of the staff there are becoming quite keen and member interest is also growing. We also discussed HBOC endowing an annual award for the community organisation doing good things to help birds.

6 Jan

Early morning I headed out to Ash Island to do a survey of an area of salt marsh / grass, part of which was burnt in a fire in March 2012. Since the fire, a group of us from HBOC have been helping NPWS to study how birds of various species respond to the effects of the fire (e.g. the vegetation changes). Things seem just about back to normal by now and the surveys won’t continue for many more months.

Just before 7:00 am, I was walking through long grass towards one of the burnt areas, when I flushed two small quail. They were noticeably much smaller than a pair of Brown Quail I had encountered only 5-10 minutes before, and I could see clearly that they had a red/chestnut vent. It didn’t take me long to realise they were King Quail, a new species for me. The views I’d had of them didn’t thrill me and I spent some time trying to relocate them, but the terrain was unfriendly. Eventually I had to give up (so that I could do the survey I was actually there to do!). Part 1 of the survey took 20 minutes then I had to walk a few hundred metres to the second survey area. To my great surprise, I flushed another pair of them, and this time had much better looks especially at the male. I disturbed another 3 birds shortly afterwards, which I think were all part of the same covey as the pair I’d just seen.

When I had finished my surveying, I was almost walked out of the paddock when I flushed another pair of them! I had even better views this time and could see the white throat area and blue breast of the male. So, I went from having seen zero King Quail in my life, to having seen 9 of them, all in the one morning!

Afterwards, I drove to Gir-um-bit National Park, on the western side of Port Stephens. With Lois Wooding and Lorna Mee, I am developing a Western Port Stephens birding route brochure (for HBOC) and I wanted to “test drive” the instructions we’d written and to check the accuracy of the maps I’d drawn. After some uncertainty, I found the walk track. The tide was wrong for seeing shorebirds so I didn't persevere there. A flock of 40+ Eastern Curlew flew past Swan Bay as I got back to the car, and there were a few Bar-tailed Godwits foraging close to the shore.

I next went to Karuah where my main aim was to find its Wetlands on the southern side of town, which eventually I did. It was mid-morning by now on a warmish day, and things were quiet bird-wise. However, I discovered that the place is a roost site for Nankeen Night-Herons, with at least four birds present. It was hard to get a correct count of them as the views of the trees around the swamp perimeter were patchy at best. I also checked out some parks closer to the Karuah River. In the evening I sent Rob Kyte the revised text and some photos, for the brochure.