Thinking About Birds

December 2018

27 December

The other day I found an old paper describing where some Rufous Scrub-birds had been found in the 1920s, at a spot near the Chichester River. It's not a known modern location. I worked out roughly where it was, and today Margaret and I set out to find it. Unfortunately when we still were ~10 km from the targeted spot, the road became private property! We had to back-track. We drove around for a while and ended up at the Williams River Day Use area where it clearly hadn't rained for quite some time. Consequently birds were hard to find; I saw a Rufous Fantail and an Aust. Brush-turkey and not much more (also heard about a dozen species). By then it was very hot so we had lunch and headed home.

19 December

I went to the Broughton Island for a day trip, tagging onto a visit by NPWS staff. The other birders were Tom Clarke and Emily Mowat. I was very interested to see an Eastern Reef Egret flying at sea - it seemed to be making its way from Broughton Island to Cabbage Tree Island or perhaps even further. I had always assumed that the birds on Broughton Island were resident, so the observation was a surprise. In the morning the three of us made our way to the highest point on the island, Pinkatop, where there are some artificial nest boxes for seabirds. We found a Gould's Petrel in one of them. It's now banded, and was the third GP to have been found in the particular nest box where we found it. Foraging just offshore from the nest boxes was a group of six Fork-tailed Swifts - a new species for Broughton Island. We spent the afternoon with the NPWS Ranger Susanne Callaghan, helping her to extract Wedge-tailed Shearwaters from their burrows. All of the targeted birds have geolocators attached and Susanne was collecting feather and blood samples and checking the status of their geolocators.

18 December

Rob Kyte, Greg and Judy Little and I did a day trip to the Gloucester Tops. Our main objective was to clear net lanes in some Rufous Scrub-bird territories - we got three of them done, ready for our trapping/banding work in the new year. I also attended to my Song Meters. Scrub-birds were calling at all four territories that we visited and I got a GPS reading on one of them. Other birds in the area included Crescent Honeyeater, Red-browed Treecreeper and Satin Flycatcher, and on our way down the hill we stopped for a Paradise Riflebird - had great views of an adult male.

17 December

No birding today but I had a long meeting in the morning with a couple of people from the Biology department at University of Newcastle. The main topic was my Rufous Scrub-bird study but then we touched on all sorts of bird studies by HBOC and/or individual members. My aim is for there to be a closer link with scientists and students at the university.

12 December

It was the HBOC December meeting tonight - always a lot of fun and this one was no exception. For once I had no role on the night and could just sit back and enjoy the presentations and then the chats afterwards over supper.

9 December

I went to the Wetlands Centre in the morning - not a place I get to very often. I should try harder as it was quite good there. Dusky Moorhens and Purple Swamphens had chicks and Cattle, Little and Great Egrets all were on nest plus many Australian White Ibis were nesting too. I found one Wandering Whistling-Duck and two Hardheads, the main duck was Grey Teal (of which there were a couple of hundred). There was a group of ten Pied Stilts i.e. the place is drying out somewhat.

8 December

In the morning Ross Zimmerman and I did the Ash Island survey.  We found the young Black-necked Stork with an adult male standing watch. There were 1,500 or so Red-necked Avocets on the main ponds and smaller numbers of other shorebirds including Sharp-tailed Sandpipers and Pied Stilts. We found a nest and eggs of a Red-capped Plover - the silly bird had placed it in the middle of the road through Fish Fry Flats. We placed a cairn nearby to deter vehicles. There were several Brown Songlarks in the salt marsh area too. Late afternoon we hosted a party for HBOC members Liz Crawford and Chris Herbert, who are visiting during a break from a very long sailing trip.

6 December

No birding today - but I spent a couple of hours in a teleconference about projects to study Eastern Curlews. Fingers crossed that they get up!

5 December

I went to Old Bar for the early morning high tide, and surveyed the lagoon area around Mudbishops Point. Last time I was there I had access problems, which are now sorted. I counted about 250 Red-necked Stints and was able to find my sideline target - the Little Stint that had been reported there for the previous 4-5 days. Amongst the other waders were some Double-banded Plovers and a Greater Sand Plover. There were 50+ commic terns of which at least one was an Aleutian Tern. Red-capped Plovers and Aust. Pied Oystercatchers had chicks (runners) and the Little Terns were breeding too. I spent several hours on site, then for lunch went around to Saltwater National Park. The highlight there was a Spectacled Monarch. In the evening I went to the HBOC management committee meeting.

3 December

Rob Kyte, Greg and Judy Little and I did a day trip to the Gloucester Tops. It was a big day (away for 16 hours!) but very successful. In the morning we caught and banded a male Rufous Scrub-bird. This was from the second of the main two territories that I have been studying. Like the mid-November bird, the capture process went very smoothly. We processed the bird but could not fit a radio tracker to it. We did put one on, but the bird immediately shrugged it off again. The harness (designed for Noisy Scrub-birds) was too large. Later in the day we worked out a modified harness and built a net lane in another territory. However, that Scrub-bird would not come to the net - probably because there had been too much disturbance and noise during construction of the net lane. We will try again in January.

Birds in the general area while we were working included Bassian Thrush, Satin Flycatcher, Crescent Honeyeater and New Holland Honeyeater.

November 2018

29 November

My only active birding today was a brief stop-over at Ash Island to look at the main ponds. Shorebird numbers were down compared with previous weeks but there still were several hundred of them including there were 15 Marsh Sandpiper scattered around Swan Pond. In the morning I had a meeting with Andrea Griffin at the University to plan an Eastern Curlew monitoring project in Port Stephens. It would involve telemetry and will be a very interesting project (if it gets funded). In the afternoon I collected the new Rufous Scrub-bird call play-back system from Rowley Smith - it is a marvellous piece of kit.

26-28 November

Margaret and I did a short trip north, initially to the Manning Valley. I attempted a survey at Manning Entrance State Park ("Old Bar") but was frustrated by the amount of fenced-off area between the beach and the lagoon It was impossible to see what was down there! I did find a Sanderling and some other small shorebirds on the beach, and could make out a group of 27 Eastern Curlews resting in the lagoon. Next we went to Saltwater National Park, which was quiet - a pair of Aust. Pied Oystercatchers was perhaps the highlight. Next day was very windy and my only birding was to survey the estuary at Harrington. This was rather good (despite the wind) with 450+ Little Terns present (some breeding), some Common Terns, 62 Pacific Golden Plover and two each of Terek Sandpiper and Lesser Sand Plover. I don't recall having either of those two species at Harrington before but I've seen them at the Old Bar site.

On the final day, to avoid the wild weather which was forecast, we went up to South West Rocks, for me to look for the Buff-breasted Sandpiper which had been reported at Boyters Lane. I (and the many others present) didn't find it but in compensation there were a couple of hundred Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, two Red-necked Stint, a Red-necked Avocet and lots of Pied Stilt. I also saw my only Brahminy Kite for the trip. We arrived back just in time for me to go to a meeting about future directions for the HBOC newsletter.

20 November

I joined a pelagic trip from Swansea. It was a very slow trip (4 hours each way to the shelf) and hence I was finding the morning's travel a bit frustrating. However, when we arrived at the shelf it was just sensational! Large numbers of Grey-faced Petrels were upon us almost immediately, and stayed all day including they followed us back almost as far as Swansea. Four Wandering Albatross also arrived and stayed with us for the rest of the day. We had three Black Petrels round the boat for quite a while, also briefer and usually more distant views of a few Wilson's Storm-Petrels and one White-bellied Storm-Petrel. There were plenty of shearwaters too, including some Sooty and Short-tailed Shearwaters and many Flesh-footed and Wedge-tailed Shearwaters. There was an Arctic Jaeger out at the shelf too, and we saw several Pomarine Jaegers especially on our way back in.

16-18 November

A trip to the Gloucester Tops - with the successful outcome of catching and banding a Rufous Scrub-bird. Margaret and I left mid-afternoon after finally getting our car back. We met Rob Kyte at the Sharpes Creek camping area where a highlight was a very loud and close Russet-tailed Thrush just before dusk. I also heard (briefly) a Bassian Thrush and I saw a pair of them on my way up to the Tops next morning. Greg and Judy Little were delayed by a few hours so Rob and I alone on Saturday morning set up a T-net in one Scrub-bird territory. Within 5 minutes we had caught the bird! We processed it (including to get the first 100% certain weight ever recorded for a Rufous Scrub-bird). Technical issues prevented us from attaching a radio transmitter as planned - later we solved the problem but unfortunately we did not manage to catch any other Scrub-bird (on this trip) to enact the plan. The NPWS Ranger Peter Beard joined us on Sunday morning but alas we could not produce a Scrub-bird for him. Waiting around at that territory there were Flame Robins, Satin Flycatchers, Crested Shrike-Tits and Crescent Honeyeaters (which we found everywhere). I found a male Scarlet Robin on Sunday morning and we had Olive Whistlers a couple of times as well.  

15 November

Ross Zimmerman and I went to Hexham Swamp for a couple of hours mid-morning. Despite it being low tide there were Sharp-tailed Sandpipers everywhere. We didn't count them but there were at least 1,000 birds. The only other shorebirds were a group of three Common Greenshanks, and we found no ducks. We saw (briefly) a White-fronted Chat and a couple of Brown Songlarks were displaying. We bumped into the local NPWS Ranger who was with some people from Newcastle Council evaluating the "bike path" proposal - that turned into a longish chat with them about the importance of the area for birds and about birdwatchers continuing to have the access we currently have. On our way back we went into Ash Island for an hour or so - couldn't find any storks but there were plenty of shorebirds on the main ponds including a flock of 31 Marsh Sandpipers standing together and we also had close views of a couple of Whiskered Terns.

14 November

It was the bird club meeting in the evening - interesting talks (as usual) but the highlight was to receive from Rowley Smith the modified call playback system that we will use for Rufous Scrub-birds. Much of my post-meeting chat was with the others from the team (we are heading up on the weekend for our first attempt).

12 November

I went up to the Manning Valley for a day trip. The main reason was to help at a community event at Cattai Wetlands; I was the bird guide. Unfortunately there wasn't a lot of interest in birds from the participants nor were there many birds to point out!  There were hardly any waterbirds on the lagoon and I couldn't find the Jacanas. Beforehand, I stopped at Coopernook Corner wetlands where I found a Rufous Songlark (a first record for me at this site) and there were 2-3 each of Sharp-tailed Sandpipers and Red-kneed Dotterels. At Crowdy Head there was a pair of Aust. Pied Oystercatchers - usually I find Sooty Oystercatchers there, so that was an interesting change. I also went to the rainforest at Harrington but found very little there either. On my way home, I checked the Fairy Martin colony at Cundletown, which was in full swing, and the Cattle Egret colony at Nulama Ponds, which had lots of them on nests and nest building; I also found some Little Pied Cormorants on nests there.

10 November

In the morning it was the monthly Hunter estuary survey - I did Ash Island with Ross Zimmerman and Tom Schmidt. Despite the late start (10:30am), there were lots of birds!  We found a pair of Black-necked Stork at Milhams Pond plus several Eastern Curlews, and we eventually found the young Stork semi-hiding about 500m away from its parents. We found 20 or so Sharp-tailed Sandpipers at a pond along Ramsar Rd and then several hundred of them at the main ponds. There also were two Marsh Sandpiper at the main ponds plus about 2,500 Red-necked Avocet, several hundred Grey Teal, some Red-kneed Dotterel and 100+ Pink-eared Duck. Three terns were perched on poles in the distance - eventually we got close and found they were Whiskered Terns. On my way home I stopped briefly at the Wetlands Centre for a book launch (a book about Eastern Curlews). Rob, Greg and Judy came around later and we set up the Rufous Scrub-bird nets in my backyard and practised using them.

9 November

I went to the Gloucester Tops with Ann Lindsey. We spent most of our time at four Rufous Scrub-bird territories (three of them were calling). At the Sharpes Creek campsite on the way up, we found Satin Bowerbirds and Superb Lyrebirds, also heard Black-faced and Spectacled Monarchs. At the first Scrub-bird territory we found a male Satin Flycatcher (it sounded different to a Leaden Flycatcher also present, which is why we went chasing it) and Crested Shrike-tit. Not a bad start! During the day we also recorded Olive Whistler, Crescent Honeyeater, Flame Robin and Rose Robin, and a Rufous Whistler which is unusual to have at the Tops. On our way back down, we heard a Paradise Riflebird so stopped to look for it - eventually we tracked down an adult male..

7 November

Ross Zimmerman and I went to Ash Island to meet a Newcastle Herald reporter who is writing a story about the place. We caught up with Nev McNaughton first for an interview and then went around to the main ponds. On our way there we noticed the young Black-necked Stork and stopped for a look. It appeared to be alone but later )on our way back out) there was an adult male standing about 20m away. There were stacks of birds on the main ponds including approximately 3,000 Red-necked Avocets plus hundreds each of Sharp-tailed Sandpipers, Red-kneed Dotterels, Grey Teal. A Brown Songlark was flying and calling most of the time we were there. Much later in the morning we were back there with a photographer and I found about a hundred Pink-eared Ducks. I don't know if I missed them earlier or if they had flown in mid-morning. That evening I went to the HBOC committee meeting. (BTW I've rented a car).

2-4 November

A group of us spent 3 days on Broughton Island for the (delayed) spring surveys and bird banding. Reports that Eastern Reef Egret may be breeding could not be confirmed but we did get a couple of sightings of a single bird. I went up to the artificial nest box area one afternoon, but all the nest boxes were empty (the week before, a Gould's Petrel had been found in one of them). The most interesting vagrant was a very young Olive-backed Oriole, which we found in one of our mist nets. We managed to band one of the Little Wattlebirds, which I was very pleased about as I want to know if there is a resident pair. we have now banded more than 300 birds on the island, with ~250 of those being Silvereyes. This time, all of them were the local cornwalli sub-species (which was not a surprise).

October 2018

29 October

My last day for a while to have a car!  I went out to Ash Island in the afternoon. The mozzies were ferocious, which rather spoiled my fun. At the Scotts Point boardwalk there were several hundred Grey Teal in the wetlands, also two Wandering Whistling-Ducks - I haven't seen any of those for a while. In the rainforest area I found a Fan-tailed Cuckoo and a pair of Black-faced Monarchs. And there were plenty of other birds too - my list for the 45 minute visit came to 41 species.

27 October

I spent the morning investigating my new SM4 Song Meter. I'm hoping it will record for considerably longer than the SM3 units I'm currently using on Rufous Scrub-birds. It's a much more compact unit, and also much lighter. In the afternoon I went to Hexham Swamp, which was considerably quieter than I had been expecting. I saw an adult Swamp Harrier as I was arriving, and later an adult male Black-necked Stork. There were ~300 Sharp-tailed Sandpipers, but I was expecting to see a couple of thousand of them. And there were no other shorebirds.

26 October

It was Welcome to Shorebirds day and there was an event at Stockton Sandspit that I went along to. It was great doing that combination of socialising and looking at birds! I didn't count what was there but there were about 100 Red Knot and similar numbers of Eastern Curlew, also hundreds of Red-necked Avocets and Bar-tailed Godwits, some Pied Stilts and a Caspian Tern.  A Collared Sparrowhawk flew through and caused a lot of panic, as did an Australian Hobby later. Late afternoon there was great news from Rob Kyte - our permission to put radio transmitters onto Rufous Scrub-birds has finally come through.

24 October

About a week ago, a Wandering Tattler was reported from the Green Point area (near Belmont on Lake Macquarie). I finally was able to get out there today. It took me a little while to find the bird but eventually I did, and was able to have great views of it plus took some OK photos.

20 October

I did the Ash Island survey in the morning, with Ross and Peter. It was a very early start (I left home at 5:30 am) but that turned out to be worth it. We found ~2500 Red-necked Avocets on the main ponds, my highest count ever of them on Ash Island. Also a few hundred Sharp-tailed Sandpipers, some Pied Stilt, eight Pink-eared Duck, a few Red-kneed Dotterel, a Bar-tailed Godwit etc. And there were at least three, and maybe 4-5, Brown Songlarks, also a pair of Osprey at their nest (and seen bringing in sticks). afterwards I collected Ann Lindsey and we went up to Tea Gardens, in chase of the young Black-necked Stork that had been reported from up that way. We found the bird and it seemed to be in good condition, thankfully. Ann and it have a history, she having watched it as a chick in a nest at Tomago in 2017 and helping to get it taken into care earlier this year.

19 October

Neil Fraser and I surveyed the Worimi Conservation Lands (i.e. along Stockton Bight) with two of the VSA staff from NPWS.  We found 118 Gull-billed Terns which is an amazing number of them. At one spot there was a group of eight Red Knot along with three Sanderlings (we found two more of the latter further along the beach). Other species seen included a White-fronted Chat and ~25 each of Aust. Pied Oystercatcher and Red-capped Plover. We also found a nest of the latter - there were two eggs and the female was doing a broken-wing act. Afterwards, Neil and I had a good chat about how we will handle our new joint editorship responsibilities for HBOC's journal The Whistler

12 October

It was a drizzly day. I went to Hexham Swamp in the afternoon where the highlight was 400 or so Sharp-tailed Sandpipers and I also saw a Red-necked Stint and a Brown Songlark and Masked Lapwings with three chicks. There wasn't a lot else around. The nearby paddocks were very wet and had very little in them. Afterwards I collected the call playback system for Scrub-birds that Rowley Smith has put together for us. Looks great!

11 October

In the evening I hosted the review meeting for the 2017 bird report. As usual it took us about 4 hours to go through everything but it was a very enjoyable process punctuated with pizzas and beer breaks and lots of side talk about birds. It's not far from being finished now (my 25th and final ABR).

8-10 October

Four of us did surveys in the Martindale Valley. We assembled on Monday afternoon and camped at the same property where HBOC went for the long weekend. I spent the day slowly getting there and checking out various locations on the way. I found lots of Pallid Cuckoos, Rainbow Bee-eaters and Rufous Songlarks, and Painted Honeyeaters at two sites. One of those was Medhurst Bridge, where later in the surveys we concluded there were at least 3 of them present. I also saw Speckled Warblers and Dusky Woodswallows during my travels

During the surveys we visited eight properties and surveyed a total of 17 sites. Highlights included more of all the above species plus White-winged Triller, Hooded Robin, Spotted Harrier, Latham's Snipe, Rockwarbler (and a nest for these but perhaps not in use), Glossy Black-Cockatoo, Grey Goshawk, Varied Sittella ... and much more. Overall we recorded about 105 species.

On the final afternoon I stopped at a spot where we had seen Glossy Ibis earlier - they were still there and then I discovered the paddock behind me had a Brown Songlark and a wetlands within it had three Sharp-tailed Sandpipers and a Pied Stilt. A great way to finish the trip! Unfortunately it had rained all morning, sometimes quite  solidly, and all my gear was soaked through (or worse) - which was not such a great way to finish!  That evening I went to the HBOC meeting, which was a good one but the highlight was to review speaker system options with Rowley and the Scrub-bird team.

5 October

Rob Kyte and I went hunting for equipment for the call play-back system we want to use for the Rufous Scrub-bird project. We drew a blank but then I had the idea to call Rowley Smith. Problem solved! Rowley now is assembling a prototype system for us.

2 October

I was the volunteer chum-hand on a sea trip from Swansea today. Previous years, we have followed the coast southwards but this year we headed east, until about 10 km or so off the coast. About 3-4 km offshore on the way out we saw two Shy Albatross type and a Black-browed Albatross type which checked us out briefly and then kept going. All day we saw streams of Fluttering Shearwater types going by – although they had no interest in the boat many of them came close enough to be confirmed as Fluttering and we confirmed some Hutton’s Shearwater too; the rest of them were too far away to get a proper ID.  After a while some Wedge-tailed Shearwaters started following the boat – we had a hundred or more of them overall but never more than 10-20 birds at any one time and most of those seemed to keep following the boat. We saw several White-fronted Terns including one group of four birds – all of them checked out the boat for just a short while and then moved on.

September 2018

28 September - 1 October

Margaret and I (also daughter Sally and her partner Tom) went to the HBOC camp which was on a private property near Martindale. The days were warm but the nights were cool and it was wonderful that we were allowed to have a communal campfire in the evenings. Most of my birding was in the gully behind the campsite - my best birds here were a pair of Rockwarblers and a fly-through by a group of three Glossy Black-cockatoos. I also heard Superb Lyrebirds but could not track them down, and had wonderful views of a Fan-tailed Cuckoo directly above me. On Sunday afternoon I explored some of the Martindale Valley, finding Spiny-cheeked Honeyeaters and a Diamond Firetail at Medhurst Bridge plus a group of about 20 Zebra Finch.  On the western side of Martindale I found a spot which had Rufous Songlarks and a Painted Honeyeater; I'd also found White-browed and Masked Woodswallows there during a shorter stop on the Saturday morning on the way in. On Monday afternoon on our way out I found more of these woodswallows near the H. H. White Bridge; also Rainbow Bee-eaters at a few places.

24-26 September

A group of 11 of us did 3 days of surveys in the Gloucester Tops. We were wet at times and cold at times, but we enjoyed ourselves throughout and even appreciated the brief bit of sunshine on Wednesday morning (before the hail storm arrived!). Around the campsite we had Bassian and Russet-tailed Thrush, 2-3 each of Superb Lyrebirds and marauding Aust. Brush-turkeys, several Satin Bowerbirds, Catbirds, Rose Robins, as well as all the common low altitude residents found there. One afternoon a Brush-turkey took an entire loaf of bread from inside my tent (vestibule area) and the next day it trashed the place whilst looking for more. On Monday and to some extent Tuesday, there were many Grey Fantails around the campsite, and only a few up at high altitude. By Wednesday that situation seemed to have started to reverse.

Our main objective was to do surveys at high altitude. We got a lot done and we found a good variety of birds overall. It’s not easy country for birding and often there are quiet periods … but then something interesting turns up. Amongst the latter were Olive Whistler, Crescent Honeyeater, Red-browed Treecreeper, Bassian Thrush and Paradise Riflebird – all of these were seen from time to time and heard more often. We saw plenty of Flame Robins, which often were foraging in pairs along parts of the Kerripit and Gloucester Tops Roads. Unusually, we saw several Scarlet Robins too. We have found these to be uncommon in previous years – just a handful of sightings over 9 years of surveying. But this time we had them at three well-separated locations, two sightings of male birds and one extended sighting of a pair (of which I took many photographs).

The high altitude spring surveys are designed for monitoring the local population of Rufous Scrub-birds. Most Scrub-birds were active and we found approximately 20 presumed territories (a territory can’t be confirmed based upon a single visit). As usual the most productive areas were along the Glowang and Careys Peak Tracks but we found Scrub-birds in many other places too.  And although the surveys are based upon hearing birds rather than seeing them, six members of the team had good sightings of a Scrub-bird at some time during the three days. For four of them it was a lifer – and I think they all were happy about that!  Lorna Mee and I had prolonged look at a young bird from about 10m away, foraging and calling from within a tree fern. The next day, Rob Palazzi and I saw a different bird - a brief view for me but a good look at it for him.

18 September

In the morning I attended a meeting at the NCIG offices, about how the newly created habitat on Ash Island is best managed for shorebirds. Afterwards I called in at Stockton Sandspit for a short while. The tide was still rising but not quite at the peak and shorebirds hadn't really arrived yet. There was a Whimbrel and 50 or so each of Red-necked Avocets and Pied Stilts, and a solitary Bar-tailed Godwit. However, 10-15 minutes later another 60-70 of them flew in. I couldn't find any tattlers at the Fern Bay roost site.

14 September

I went to the Gloucester Tops again today. It was quite a contrast to my visit of two weeks ago, when it was only 4-6C all day and the birds were very quiet. This time the weather was balmy and birds were much more active. I heard my first Olive Whistler for the season and also there were some Crescent Honeyeaters. There were Rose Robins around the campsite and I heard a Russet-tailed Thrush call a few times there. At two Rufous Scrub-bird territories the birds were calling prolifically. I made some recordings of both of them  using my hand-held device, including of some mimicry (of Grey Shrike-thrush), got GPS fixes on their locations, and generally followed them around for a while. I had excellent views of one bird which was reacting (strongly) to my presence.

12-13 September

No birding, but it was a fairly active period. I finished drafting a paper (about Rufous Scrub-bird calling behaviour) and sent it off, I had two meetings about the Rufous Scrub-bird banding project that we are starting, and I was the guest speaker at HBOC's meeting. I spoke about the birds I saw on my trip to Sri Lanka last year.

7 September

I did the official Ash Island survey this morning. There were four Eastern Curlews on Milhams Pond - the first migratory waders I've seen out there for quite some time. On the main ponds, 1,100+ Red-necked Avocets were the highlight among the wader complement - there also were some Pied Stilts, Red-kneed and Black-fronted Dotterels, and several hundred teal. The real highlight though was a pair of Brown Songlarks - very active and vocal and using the salt marsh close to the track. I could hear a third bird further over. In late afternoon, I went on a boat cruise around the Hunter River and Newcastle Harbour. I was the "bird expert" and right on cue as we went past the Stockton Sandspit roost site a few hundred Eastern Curlews and Bar-tailed Godwits flew in.

5 September

I went out to Ash Island, mainly to check out some access issues before I do a survey there on Friday. The hoons have been doing a lot of damage at Phoenix Flats and this needs to be stopped. It was low tide and I didn't see very many birds, but at the Area E ponds there were more than 1,000 Red-necked Avocets, plenty of Grey Teal, and some each of Chestnut Teal, Australasian Shoveler, Pied Stilt. I didn't find any small shorebirds. In the evening I went to the HBOC Management Committee meeting.

1 September

In the afternoon I went to the BIGnet symposium at the Wetlands Centre. I gave the first talk (about Rufous Scrub-birds) and then listened to three other very interesting talks - about Little Terns, Common Mynas in urban environments, strategic importance of the Cessnock woodlands. It was great also to catch up with some people I don't see often.

August 2018

30 August

Rob Kyte and I mixed some business and pleasure in the northern parts of the Hunter Region, and we were able to spend some time at Cattai Wetlands and the Harrington rainforest. We found two Comb-crested Jacanas at Cattai, also the White-breasted Woodswallows have returned (as they also have in many other places). We saw Varied Sittellas and a Grey Goshawk, both of which I don’t find very often in my frequent visits to Cattai, and we had a Bassian Thrush too. That’s a new bird for me at Cattai. In Harrington village where we stopped for lunch, a pair of Whistling Kites had a nest with a chick that they were feeding. Not long before, we'd seen an Osprey catch a fish in the lagoon as we drove by. In the afternoon we went to the rainforest. We saw Regent Bowerbirds (male, female), Rose Robin and Varied Triller (good views but the bird was very high up), and many of the “expected” birds from up that way. At two spots we heard a Spectacled Monarch calling – although unfortunately we couldn’t get a view of either bird. 

28 August

I went to the Gloucester Tops, mainly to attend the Song Meters. It was very cold up there and perhaps as a consequence, all the birds were quiet. However, I saw a recently returned male Flame Robin and had some Crescent Honeyeaters at another spot. Eventually I gave up and went to Copeland SCA, where it was warmer but not much birdier. However, it was good for Wompoo Fruit-Doves - there were at least five birds calling in the trees around the carpark and at least four more on the short walk that I did. I also saw Superb Lyrebirds a few times (but they all were silent). In the evening I sent out the draft 2017 Hunter Region bird report for review - a giant step!

20-23 August

Margaret and I went to Mudgee, staying three nights. En route we stopped at the Cassilis rest area (still slowly recovering from bad fires: the highlight was some Musk Lorikeets) and at The Drip near Ulan (highlight - a couple of Rockwarblers). On Tuesday morning I went to Pucca Bucca wetlands near Mudgee, where I found a couple of Horsfield's Bronze-cuckoos, an Azure Kingfisher and a Brown Treecreeper, plus many other nice birds. I went back there on Wednesday afternoon, and found two White-backed Swallows plus some Tree and Fairy Martins and Crested Shrike-tits, and most but by no means all of Tuesday's birds. On Tuesday afternoon I went to Mudgee Common and Avisford Nature Reserve; neither was particularly birdy but it is a drought period which certainly doesn't help. I found Speckled Warblers and Buff-rumped Thornbills at the Common, and White-winged Choughs at Avisford. On Wednesday we went to Glen Alice and Glen Davis in the morning - there were Brown Treecreepers and House Sparrows at Glen Davis (it's not often that they occur in the same sentence!) and a very photogenic Jacky Winter at Glen Alice.

On Thursday driving home, we stopped at Munghorn Gap Nature Reserve (highlights: Speckled Warblers and Varied Sittellas) and at Fossickers in Goulburn River National Park (highlights: White-browed Babbler, Brown Treecreeper). Thence to Medhurst Bridge, where I found some Spiny-cheeked Honeyeaters but not much else of interest. However, en route there, not far out of Denman, two Southern Whiteface flew across in front of the car - it's ages since I've seen these locally.

19 August

I'm working on some new birding route publications so I did some ground-truthing for them this morning. Firstly I went to Ash Island; here I verified a few street names and then did the mangrove boardwalk. I had stated in the text that this was a good spot for Mangrove Gerygones - so I was very gratified to see a group of five of them! Also I had good views of Yellow Thornbills and other small things. Then I went to Swansea where I did the Black Neds Bay walk. This was quiet and somewhat overgrown but it's still an OK spot to recommend people to visit. I saw 15 species in 40 minutes, but nothing special (it was late morning though).

17-18 August

Four of us went over to Broughton Island - we had all of Friday there (from about 9am) and three hours on Saturday morning before the boat came back to collect us. The main focus was to do more work for the banding project that we started last winter. There were lots of Silvereyes and we caught examples of all three of the possible sub-species (mostly the local and southern NSW types). On Friday we saw lots of raptors including at least five White-bellied Sea-Eagles and three Ospreys seen together. However, on Saturday the only raptor that we saw was a Brahminy Kite, flying through. On Providence Beach there was a well-coloured Double-banded Plover present both days, also some Red-capped Plovers and Sooty Oystercatchers. We caught a Tawny Grassbird that we had banded back in January - it was at the same spot where we caught it before. In January we couldn't tell if it was a male or female, but this time it was older and clearly was a male.

14 August

Margaret and I did a trip to the Gloucester Tops. I retrieved cameras from the lyrebird nest that's down in the lowlands and then stopped at the display mound up in the Tops. Here I refreshed the batteries and SD cards for the camera and the Song Meter - the mound looked somewhat unkempt and I heard no calls from the bird, so maybe it's no longer operational? We had lunch at the Falls picnic area, joined by two bold White-browed Scrubwrens but no sounds heard from any Rufous Scrub-bird. However, around at the Munro Hut territory the scrub-bird there was calling loudly when we first arrived. I tried to track it down but alas it went quiet. There were some Crescent Honeyeaters calling at this spot. The other scrub-bird territories I visited also were silent - so I just refreshed the Song Meters and left. On the way back to the Bucketts Way I saw Bassian Thrush at two well-separated sites (two birds at one of them). We also detoured down Wenham Cox Rd, where I was devastated to find that the nice wetland there had been drastically affected by developmental work at the coal mine. It's no longer worth visiting.

August 2018

30 August

Rob Kyte and I mixed some business and pleasure in the northern parts of the Hunter Region, and we were able to spend some time at Cattai Wetlands and the Harrington rainforest. We found two Comb-crested Jacanas at Cattai, also the White-breasted Woodswallows have returned (as they also have in many other places). We saw Varied Sittellas and a Grey Goshawk, both of which I don’t find very often in my frequent visits to Cattai, and we had a Bassian Thrush too. That’s a new bird for me at Cattai. In Harrington village where we stopped for lunch, a pair of Whistling Kites had a nest with a chick that they were feeding. Not long before, we'd seen an Osprey catch a fish in the lagoon as we drove by. In the afternoon we went to the rainforest. We saw Regent Bowerbirds (male, female), Rose Robin and Varied Triller (good views but the bird was very high up), and many of the “expected” birds from up that way. At two spots we heard a Spectacled Monarch calling – although unfortunately we couldn’t get a view of either bird. 

28 August

I went to the Gloucester Tops, mainly to attend the Song Meters. It was very cold up there and perhaps as a consequence, all the birds were quiet. However, I saw a recently returned male Flame Robin and had some Crescent Honeyeaters at another spot. Eventually I gave up and went to Copeland SCA, where it was warmer but not much birdier. However, it was good for Wompoo Fruit-Doves - there were at least five birds calling in the trees around the carpark and at least four more on the short walk that I did. I also saw Superb Lyrebirds a few times (but they all were silent). In the evening I sent out the draft 2017 Hunter Region bird report for review - a giant step!

20-23 August

Margaret and I went to Mudgee, staying three nights. En route we stopped at the Cassilis rest area (still slowly recovering from bad fires: the highlight was some Musk Lorikeets) and at The Drip near Ulan (highlight - a couple of Rockwarblers). On Tuesday morning I went to Pucca Bucca wetlands near Mudgee, where I found a couple of Horsfield's Bronze-cuckoos, an Azure Kingfisher and a Brown Treecreeper, plus many other nice birds. I went back there on Wednesday afternoon, and found two White-backed Swallows plus some Tree and Fairy Martins and Crested Shrike-tits, and most but by no means all of Tuesday's birds. On Tuesday afternoon I went to Mudgee Common and Avisford Nature Reserve; neither was particularly birdy but it is a drought period which certainly doesn't help. I found Speckled Warblers and Buff-rumped Thornbills at the Common, and White-winged Choughs at Avisford. On Wednesday we went to Glen Alice and Glen Davis in the morning - there were Brown Treecreepers and House Sparrows at Glen Davis (it's not often that they occur in the same sentence!) and a very photogenic Jacky Winter at Glen Alice.

On Thursday driving home, we stopped at Munghorn Gap Nature Reserve (highlights: Speckled Warblers and Varied Sittellas) and at Fossickers in Goulburn River National Park (highlights: White-browed Babbler, Brown Treecreeper). Thence to Medhurst Bridge, where I found some Spiny-cheeked Honeyeaters but not much else of interest. However, en route there, not far out of Denman, two Southern Whiteface flew across in front of the car - it's ages since I've seen these locally.

19 August

I'm working on some new birding route publications so I did some ground-truthing for them this morning. Firstly I went to Ash Island; here I verified a few street names and then did the mangrove boardwalk. I had stated in the text that this was a good spot for Mangrove Gerygones - so I was very gratified to see a group of five of them! Also I had good views of Yellow Thornbills and other small things. Then I went to Swansea where I did the Black Neds Bay walk. This was quiet and somewhat overgrown but it's still an OK spot to recommend people to visit. I saw 15 species in 40 minutes, but nothing special (it was late morning though).

17-18 August

Four of us went over to Broughton Island - we had all of Friday there (from about 9am) and three hours on Saturday morning before the boat came back to collect us. The main focus was to do more work for the banding project that we started last winter. There were lots of Silvereyes and we caught examples of all three of the possible sub-species (mostly the local and southern NSW types). On Friday we saw lots of raptors including at least five White-bellied Sea-Eagles and three Ospreys seen together. However, on Saturday the only raptor that we saw was a Brahminy Kite, flying through. On Providence Beach there was a well-coloured Double-banded Plover present both days, also some Red-capped Plovers and Sooty Oystercatchers. We caught a Tawny Grassbird that we had banded back in January - it was at the same spot where we caught it before. In January we couldn't tell if it was a male or female, but this time it was older and clearly was a male.

14 August

Margaret and I did a trip to the Gloucester Tops. I retrieved cameras from the lyrebird nest that's down in the lowlands and then stopped at the display mound up in the Tops. Here I refreshed the batteries and SD cards for the camera and the Song Meter - the mound looked somewhat unkempt and I heard no calls from the bird, so maybe it's no longer operational? We had lunch at the Falls picnic area, joined by two bold White-browed Scrubwrens but no sounds heard from any Rufous Scrub-bird. However, around at the Munro Hut territory the scrub-bird there was calling loudly when we first arrived. I tried to track it down but alas it went quiet. There were some Crescent Honeyeaters calling at this spot. The other scrub-bird territories I visited also were silent - so I just refreshed the Song Meters and left. On the way back to the Bucketts Way I saw Bassian Thrush at two well-separated sites (two birds at one of them). We also detoured down Wenham Cox Rd, where I was devastated to find that the nice wetland there had been drastically affected by developmental work at the coal mine. It's no longer worth visiting.

11 August

Ross, Peter and I surveyed Ash Island as part of the monthly Hunter estuary survey. We didn't find any migratory shorebirds today but there were about 500 Red-necked Avocets, Black-winged Stilts (for the first time in 8-9 months), Red-kneed Dotterels and Black-fronted Dotterels. On the main ponds there were ~600 Grey Teal, also some Chestnut Teal and Aust. Shovelers. We found on Osprey on a nest and then realised there also was a chick present. We also had nice views of Swamp Harriers a couple of times.

9 August

Mike Newman and I went to Giants Creek Rd, in the Upper Hunter Valley. It was remarkably dry there (they haven't had rain for ages) and that seemed to have affected bird numbers. However, the diversity still was quite good. We visited three private properties plus did some roadside birding. We found Red-capped and Hooded Robins, Grey-crowned Babblers, lots of Speckled Warblers, Buff-rumped Thornbills, Red-rumped Parrots, etc. Lots of dry woodland birds .. but there were no lorikeets anywhere. We watched some interesting interactions between a group of four Jacky Winters - not sure if it was courtship-related or not (if it was three birds then yes i.e. two males competing for a female, but it's harder to see how four birds would be involved).

8 August

Mike Newman was visiting and in the morning I took him to Green Wattle Creek, one of his old haunts. Fuscous Honeyeaters greeted us at the start of our walk and later we had close views of Rose Robin and Varied Sittella plus there were some Crested Shrike-Tits calling (which we could not get a view of).  In the Duns Creek area later in the morning we saw Blue-faced Honeyeaters and Grey-crowned Babblers, and then at Walka Water Works there was a large raft of Hoary-headed Grebes plus scattered other birds (surprisingly though, no Great Crested Grebes). Finally we went to Ash Island where there were Black-fronted and Red-kneed Dotterels plus some Red-capped Plovers, and a few hundred Red-necked Avocets. That night was the HBOC meeting, which as usual was very well attended and with interesting talks.

7 August

I did my interview on Port Stephens FM (I talked about Magpies, in the lead-up to the breeding season) and then went around to the Salamander wetlands for an hour or so. Bird numbers there were low but I found 20+ species in my walk around including a few Hardhead and several Australasian Darters. It was becoming increasingly windy so eventually I cut my losses and headed home.

6 August

Ann Lindsey, Mike Newman and I did a trip out to Martindale. Unfortunately it started raining not long after we were underway, and set in for the day. We made two birding stops and then turned tail for home. At the Doyles Creek corner we found amongst other things, a pair of Speckled Warblers and some White-plumed Honeyeaters, and a single Double-barred Finch. At Medhurst Bridge there were two Spiny-cheeked Honeyeaters and some more Double-barred Finch, also a group of Yellow Thornbills and a Jacky Winter. The rain was a big deterrent for us, but welcome in so many other ways!

5 August

Another family outing, this time to Awabakal Nature Reserve (mainly to check out the wildflowers). The 20 or so species of birds I saw included New Holland Honeyeater (nest building), White-cheeked Honeyeater and Eastern Spinebill, also an Australasian Gannet at sea. In the afternoon I went along to the launch of Dick & Lynn Jenkins's photographic exhibition which had some of Dick's bird photos.

4 August

We had a family outing in the morning - but I took my binoculars along. We started at the Botanic Gardens where I soon was at the Regent Honeyeater site. It took me a fair while to find any, but eventually I tracked down two birds. They were plenty of White-cheeked and Yellow-faced Honeyeaters there too. And on my way back to the visitors' centre, I found a Bassian Thrush in the sub-tropical garden section. Later we went to the boardwalk at Ash Island, walking to the rainforest/silos and back. There were nowhere nearly as many waterbirds as when I was there a couple of weeks ago although the diversity was about the same. The highlight was a Collared Sparrowhawk, which I flushed in the rainforest. I also called in a male Golden Whistler, which certainlyimpressed the rest of the family.

2 August

I did a pelagic trip from Swansea - it was to have happened about 2 weeks ago but the weather intervened. Today was not very windy which made conditions at the shelf quiet, however, there were several Fairy Prions and one White-faced Storm-Petrel, with many great views had of both species, and also several albatrosses (mainly Indian Yellow-nosed and Black-browed Albatross). The main action was closer to shore. Heading out we saw some Fluttering Shearwaters and Hutton's Shearwaters and a Brown Skua followed us almost all the way out. There were also Fairy Prions plus some albatrosses. Heading back to Swansea, there were lots more of all of those, and the birds followed the boat all the way back in. it was tremendous to be at the back of the boat and watching all the action!

July 2018

27-31 July

Margaret and I went up to Sawtell where we stayed 4 nights. It was intended as a warm break but the conditions weren't much different to Newcastle's. On our way north we stopped at Cattai Wetlands where I found two Comb-crested Jacanas and there were 30+ Australasian Shovelers amongst the 200 or so waterbirds. The highlight though was an Azure Kingfisher, right outside the bird hide. I had a very quick look around Sawtell on late Friday afternoon - didn't see much but there were several Australian Brush-turkeys wandering around the holiday park. The next morning I explored the area more thoroughly. I was surprised to see a pair of Sacred Kingfishers down by the creek (but I had one at Coffs Harbour on Monday too). There were Aust. Pied Oystercatchers and Sooty Oystercatchers on a sandbank and I found a group of four Gull-billed Terns. But the most interesting sighting for me was a Striated Pardalote which very clearly was another intergrade bird with the Black-headed sub-species that occurs in Queensland. This particular bird had a few white spots on its crown, but otherwise looked good for the real thing.

On Sunday we went to Dorrigo, our first visit there in more than 30 years. We took back roads, through some national parks and state forests (and flushed a Russet-tailed Thrush from near the road at one spot). We stopped by a creek near Gennifer where a Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoo flew through and a Black-shouldered Kite was hunting. At Dorrigo we visited the Rainforest centre where there was an excellent walk through the rainforest, although birds overall were few. I did find another Russet-tailed Thrush and had the opportunity for close looks at it, also there were many each of Australian Brush-turkeys and Eastern Yellow Robins, and I saw all three of the possible scrubwrens.

On Monday we cycled to Coffs Harbour, firstly visiting their excellent Botanic Gardens. Blue-faced Honeyeaters greeted us on arrival, there were Mangrove Gerygones at the mangrove boardwalk, a Sacred Kingfisher in the paperbark forest and a Bassian Thrush in the sub-tropical rainforest.  Later, down at the old jetty, an Osprey flew over and there were pairs each of Pied and Sooty Oystercatchers. On our way back on Tuesday, we stopped at Trial Bay which was interesting historically but not many birds, and then at Boyters Lane near South West Rocks.  This was another excellent spot, with a nice mix of bush birds and water birds. I got a good look at a male Mistletoebird, and a Grey Goshawk flew over. Across the road was a pond full of Chestnut Teal, also many other waterbirds including several Australasian Shovelers and some Pied Stilts. We checked out Hat Head where a pair of Whistling Kites was hunting at The Gap and also I had an amazing view of a leaping Humpback Whale. The final highlight for the day/trip was to have two Topknot Pigeons fly over as we were on the Pacific highway near Topi Topi.

23-25 July

I spent a few days out west, to help launch HBOC's Martindale Valley surveys. Five of us were involved, we camped out there in the freezing conditions (-5C overnight). On Monday though, I stopped first at the Hunter Region Botanic Gardens where some Regent Honeyeaters had been discovered on the weekend. I soon found the site and the very first bird I saw was one ! There were three definite birds present, maybe 1-2 more (they hardly stopped still, and were difficult to count). Other birds in the area included Little Lorikeet and Musk Lorikeet, and a Brown Goshawk flew through causing a great panic from all the other birds. I also saw three Bassian Thrush together in the rainforest section of the Gardens. Heading west I stopped at Belford National Park which turned out to be somewhat disappointing but I did find some Grey-crowned Babblers and there were lots of White-winged Choughs. Lunch was at Lake Liddell where there were large numbers of Eurasian Coots and Hoary-headed Grebes on the water and some Musk Lorikeets and Blue-faced Honeyeaters in the trees. Finally I made it to Martindale where I joined some others to start a set of bird surveys next day. The time left for birding was short; the highlights included Diamond Firetail, Zebra Finch and Australian Hobby.

On Tuesday, it was a freezing cold morning and an early start. We surveyed seven sites in the Martindale Valley before lunch, then had more leisurely birding in the afternoon. Highlights included Superb Lyrebird, Rose Robin and Rockwarbler; there were Eastern Spinebills everywhere we went and plenty of White-winged Choughs too. Probably the bird of the day was a Little Eagle, which flew right over the top of us. It was even colder on Wednesday morning. A wetland that we visited at dawn had patches of ice! It also had several species of waterbird, none in big numbers though. We found the Little Eagle again and several Spiny-cheeked Honeyeaters at Medhurst Bridge (later we found about 15 of these in a 2ha site!). Another site had a pair of Hooded Robins and we found two White-backed Swallows at Bureen (also many Welcome Swallows and a single Tree Martin). I was quite surprised to see a female Rufous Whistler but some of the others also saw a male at another site. We had Wedge-tailed Eagles at two sites (single bird and a pair). My list for the 2 days was 75 species so it was a good 2-day visit and surely it will be wonderful when we repeat it in spring.

20 July

Today's pelagic trip was cancelled so I did other birding things in the morning. I started at Ash Island where I did the boardwalk and then on into the rainforest. I saw a pair of Variegated Fairy-wrens on the boardwalk and then seconds later they were replaced by a pair of Superb Fairy-wrens - it was nice to be able to contrast them. I had a good list of birds there but nothing out of the ordinary. My attempt to go to the main Ash Island ponds failed - the road was closed for repairs - so I went to Hexham Swamp instead. That turned out well. I found some Double-banded and Red-capped Plovers, a Black Kite flew over, there were 1,000+ Red-necked Avocets, and as I was leaving I found a group of seven Common Greenshanks with two Curlew Sandpipers, and across from them were two Bar-tailed Godwits. All of those must be over-wintering. And then, as I was leaving I found a group of seven Chestnut-breasted Mannikins; that was a nice way to finish the morning.

17 July

I did my Manning Estuary surveys today, in a rushed trip - it's hard to cover both parts of the estuary in the same high tide cycle. The highlight was the numbers of small waders - across the two sites I found 50-70 each of Red-capped and Double-banded Plovers and Red-necked Stints. The stints (52 birds) were only at the Old Bar side of the Estuary, some of the plovers were at Harrington too. Other birds that appeared might be over-wintering were Bar-tailed Godwits (36 overall), Pacific Golden Plovers (6 birds) and Eastern Curlews (2 birds). Also, I saw an Australian Raven flying with something dark and fluffy that almost certainly was a chick of some sort. A Pied Oystercatcher chick maybe? Mostly there were no surprises from the various other sites I visited. A Little Eagle was flying over Harrington - I don't see those very often up there. But the big surprise for me was a Jacky Winter at the Crowdy Head lighthouse. I've never seen one before from up that way although when I checked later in Birdata there are a few records from places such as Crowdy Bay NP.

14 July

Four of us surveyed Ash Island this morning (as part of the monthly estuary survey). We found a bit over 700 Red-necked Avocets; amazingly there were no Pied Stilts seen anywhere on the island. We had lots of small waders – mostly these were on the main ponds (Swan, Wader, Fish Fry) out alongside Wagtail Way (ie in the so-called Area E).  In total, there were 41 Black-fronted Dotterels, also 17 Red-kneed Dotterels and 14 Red-capped Plovers. A solitary godwit, seen briefly at first, eventually was re-found and identified Bar-tailed.  We had plenty of ducks too – the majority were Grey Teal but there were some Chestnut Teal and ~30 Australasian Shoveler overall. Also, we found 8 White-fronted Chats along the Bellfrog Track, in groups of 6 and then 2. I can’t remember when I last saw Chats on Ash Island but it would be well over a year ago, so it was an exciting find.

13 Jul

I took part in (and also helped organise) the winter survey of Port Stephens. The sector I did this time doesn't have a great deal of shorebirds but I and my co-surveyor found 13 Aust. Pied Oystercatchers and a pair of Sooty Oystercatchers , and a solitary Eastern Curlew flew past us late in the survey. Also we had 250-300 cormorants of various types (mostly, they were Pied Cormorant). The survey went a bit awry at the end, when our boat hit some oyster racks that were rapidly becoming exposed on the falling tide. Our motor became disabled and we had to wait a couple of hours to be rescued. It was interesting though, in that time, to watch various species come in to forage on the exposed oyster beds.

12 Jul

I took Ken Gosbell to Hexham Swamp this morning. There were lots of birds to look at and we had a great time out there. We found a group of 9 Double-banded Plovers amongst all the tires and later on (and much further along the track) a flock of 35+ Red-kneed Dotterel together. There were 300+ each of Red-necked Avocets and Pied Stilts, and quite a few waterbirds including 20 or so Australasian Shoveler and a lone Pink-eared Duck. Ash Island had 10+ each (as a minimum) of Red-kneed Dotterel and Black-fronted Dotterel, also several hundred Avocet and various ducks. We were only there briefly (I wanted to show Ken the various areas where there had been mangrove clearing – at Fish Fry Flats, Milhams Pond, etc) so I didn’t attempt to count all that was out there.

11 Jul

Mid-afternoon I collected HBOC's guest speaker Ken Gosbell at the airport. We went to Tomago where we met Ann Lindsey, at the Black-necked Stork nest. The chick was on view and the two parents were in the paddock in front of us. The pair did some interesting wing-fluttering episodes which perhaps was some sort of pair-bonding activity. At the main wetlands we saw 100+ Pied Stilts and some Red-necked Avocets, also several Black-fronted Dotterel. There also were many (40+) White-faced Herons. And we had two surprises - Sacred Kingfisher and Rufous Whistler, both of which are generally treated locally as summer migrants. There was a male of the latter while we were stopped to look at two of the former. And then, way across the other side of the wetland we saw two more kingfishers plus at the same time we could hear one calling from behind us in the mangroves. So, at least five Sacred Kingfishers were at Tomago. In the evening, Ken gave his talk at the HBOC meeting. It was an overview of the findings from using geolocators and it was very interesting, especially when he covered the history of the Ruddy Turnstone that has visited Newcastle for three successive seasons.

6 July

I went to the Gloucester Tops for the day, with a focus on Superb Lyrebirds which are in their breeding season. I set up a couple of trail cameras on a nest near the camping area, and later installed a Song Meter at a high altitude display mound. There were some Crescent Honeyeaters in that area and I also saw Red-browed Treecreepers near the Falls carpark. There was a very vocal Rufous Scrub-bird at one territory and I got some hand-held recordings of him doing mimicry, which I was very pleased about. I had a few intimate encounters with birds today - a Superb Fairy-wren was hopping over my boots at one stop, and at lunch I had pairs of White-browed Scrub-wrens and Grey Shrike-thrush watching me intently from half a metre away and swooping in to collect any spillages. 

3 July

I did my interview on Port Stephens FM radio this morning - I first talked about my trip to WA and the Noisy Scrub-birds, and then about the Hunter Region's resident Golden Whistler. Afterwards, I went around to Barry Park in Fingal Bay. It was low key birdwatching (I was with my wife and elder daughter and we looked for whales - we saw 6-8 of them). However, I found about 20 species including a pair of Sooty Oystercatchers, an Australasian Gannet, White-cheeked Honeyeaters, Bar-shouldered Doves, etc.

1 July

I was at the Reptile Park and then Somersby Falls near Gosford today, primarily for family events but I did manage to see some birds too. The more interesting birds at the Reptile Park were behind cages, and I was particularly interested to see how the Eastern Grass Owls huddled together down low. The highlight of wild birds was a Buff-banded Rail wandering around, and I enjoyed how the Superb Fairy-wrens and Red-browed Finches could slip through the mesh of the cage walls, which they were doing all the time to snatch bits of food that had dropped from the feeder trays. At Somersby Falls, an Eastern Yellow Robin gave us all great views as did a Yellow-throated Scrub-wren, and the Aust. Brush-turkeys were lurking all the while looking for things to drop from our picnic table.

June 2018

25 June

Rob Kyte and I were up in the Manning Valley for a meeting but we managed to find time to visit Cattai Wetlands and Saltwater NP. There were 400+ waterbirds at Cattai, the most I’ve seen there for a long while. Mostly these were Pacific Black Ducks, Grey Teal, Eurasian Coots and Hardheads but there were 40+ Australasian Shoveler too. We only found one Comb-crested Jacana but it was quite close to the bird hide at times and we had great views of it. We also had close views of an Azure Kingfisher, from the hide. At Saltwater there were several Spangled Drongos and we also saw a Regent Bowerbird (a female) and a White-headed Pigeon. The definite highlight was a Square-tailed Kite, which banked right in front of us just above the tree canopy. That was a wonderful view – and also it was the first time I’ve had one at Saltwater in about 10 years of visits there.

24 June

Alex Maisey and Megan called by in the afternoon and we spent a bit of time trying (unsuccessfully) to get a Song Meter to work. Inter alia we had some pretty good discussions about Lyrebirds and Scrub-birds.

23 June

I went to the Gloucester Tops today although my time high in the Tops was quite limited, due to unfortunate circumstances of timing. I had arranged to meet Alex Maisey (the lyrebird expert) and show him where to find examples of the northern sub-species of the Superb Lyrebird.  His intention is to get a sound recorder and trail camera onto a display mound.  Unfortunately his arrival was very delayed so I ended up making two trips there today. One started from the late morning when I went to two Rufous Scrub-bird territories and installed Song Meters (one bird was silent, the other Scrub-bird made a few short calls while I was there). Then I went back out to the Bucketts Way, met Alex and his partner Megan, and lateish afternoon we all went to the Sharpes Creek campsite in the national park. On cue, there were four Lyrebirds foraging in the open grassy areas - two males, and a female with a last-year's chick still in tow. Alex was very surprised about it all, as it suggested that the breeding season starts later than for the birds further south. We searched for display mounds for a while, without success, and then I had to leave. Alex and Megan will spend a day or two more time searching.

17 June

It was HBOC's annual New Members Day (a concept I started almost 20 years ago) and I went along to the Wetlands Centre to join the fun. It was a cold windy day and it was hard to find birds because of that, although we did manage to chalk up 51 species by lunchtime. A highlight was to find a solitary Pink-eared Duck and there were several hundred Grey Teal present. At one point a Black-shouldered Kite was fluttering over some prey and gave the group wonderful views.

16 June

I did the Ash Island survey this morning, with 4 others. The winds became quite strong later but it was nice early. We found only one migratory shorebird, a Curlew Sandpiper, plus 10-15 each of Red-capped Plover, Black-fronted Dotterel and Red-kneed Dotterel, and 50-60 Red-necked Avocets. There were several Gull-billed Terns, and we were able to approach to within ~3m of an Australian Hobby using our car as a hide. I've never before been so close to one!

13 June

I spent the morning birding in the Quinns Beach area, north of Perth. There were ~10 Laughing Doves, quite approachable as they fed alongside the walk track. I was keen to find fairy-wrens - the previous time I visited this area I had adult males of two species side by side. This time, all the birds were in eclipse plumage and mostly were keeping down low and hence were hard to see properly. I was able to confirm White-winged Fairy-wrens but they seemed to be the only fairy-wren species present. Some Little Corellas were in the area - my first for the trip - and there was an active group of White-cheeked Honeyeaters.

12 June

We drove from Augusta to Perth on what overall was a very wet day. I saw an Emu about 20 minutes after we left Augusta - the coastal population must be small now as that's the only record I had for the week. The first birding stop was at Wonnerup, north of Busselton - a spot I found in my March visit. Here I had great views of a small party of Western Gerygones and there were several Splendid Fairy-wrens in the same area and some Inland Thornbills. On the ponds, there were many Black Swans and quite a few Australasian Shelducks too. A smallish tern was feeding - eventually I convinced myself that it was a Whiskered Tern. Next stop was Benger Swamp NR, near Harvey. I hadn't been there before and it was a strange wetland - not much surface water. There were large numbers of Tree Martins flying around, a Brown Falcon was hunting and a Wedge-tailed Eagle flew over. I was checking out some thornbills, and flushed a Barn Owl! I'm not at all sure who had the bigger surprise. Final stop was to have been at Cape Perron near Rockingham but it was bucketing down and I contented myself with a quick scan from a nearby boat ramp - the highlight was a pair of Aust. Pied Oystercatchers.

11 June

I tried a few spots along the bay in the morning, not finding a great deal apart from some Australasian Gannets fishing close inshore. I then headed out to Scott River Rd and the Scott NP. For a while about 20 years ago I worked in this area so it was a small trip down memory lane as well. I had some terrific views of Western Rosellas including a pair feeding alongside the road. There were White-fronted Chats utilising the boggy paddocks and I also found Yellow-rumped and Inland Thornbills. Waterbirds included Australasian Shelduck, White-faced Heron and Yellow-billed Spoonbill. At Hamelin Bay I found Crested Terns and Sooty Oystercatchers. Mid-afternoon, Margaret and I went to Cape Leeuwin lighthouse which had Australian Pipits (first for the trip), Pacific Gull, Swamp Harrier – and, as I was about to leave, a Rock Parrot, which landed in front of me to feed and I watched it for ages. To top off the day, we stopped at Flinders Bay and there were 4-5 Humpback Whales just offshore (sometimes within ~50m).

10 June

We left Albany after breakfast, having been treated to window-views of New Holland Honeyeaters and Brush Bronzewings before we left. Unfortunately it rained for most of our trip to Augusta, which limited my birding opportunities. At Denmark I saw my first Purple Swamphens for the trip and in paddocks all along the way I saw plenty of Australian Ravens plus the occasional more interesting sightings, such as Australasian Shelducks. We visited the Valley of the Giants; I eschewed the treetop walk and instead birded around the carpark (between downpours). This had some good moments – there were lots of Red-winged Fairy-wrens, also some Red-eared Firetails and White-breasted Robins, and a few Purple-crowned Lorikeets flew over.

9 June

We went out after breakfast to the site where the Noisy Scrub-bird had been released. There was a bird from the adjoining territory calling from right by the car! We tracked down "our" bird which had moved to about 100m from where it was released. And then, to our great delight, we heard it calling. We had time for a quick visit to a track alongside a creek about a km away, where we found large numbers of Silvereyes (the WA race), Western Spinebill and a pair of Australasian Shelduck at a tree hollow. We also saw two Tree Martins. Later in the morning we met Sarah Comer and debriefed on the week. Greg and Rob left and then I did a late morning bird-walk around the hut area while waiting for Margaret to collect me. I was keen to photograph a Swan River Honeyeater - I heard several but none would oblige. I flushed another Nankeen Night-Heron during my walk and saw an adult Pacific Gull at the beach. Margaret collected me and we spent the afternoon/evening at her sister's house (where there were New Holland Honeyeaters posing on the wire). That night I showed some highlights of my Scrub-bird experiences for the week.

8 June

It was another 4:30am start and we were back at the net-lanes at Mermaid on dawn. Success! Just after 8am we captured a Noisy Scrub-bird. I had earlier seen it cross the track on its way to investigate the calls of an intruder Scrub-bird that it was hearing (ie call playback). We took the bird back to Two Peoples Bay where it was measured, weighed and banded in the processing lab and a radio transmitter fitted to its back. Many photos were taken. We released it at a site that Sarah and Alan D had picked out, a few km up the road (where there was a vacant territory after a fire from a couple of years previously). I had the honour of opening the cage door - the bird took a while to decide to come out, and then it made a bolt for it! In the afternoon we went back twice to the general area to locate the bird using radio telemetry. It was great to be getting first hand training in this technique. The bird had moved about 50m by the end of the day.

7 June

We had a 4:30am start so as to be at the net-lanes at Mermaid on dawn. Unfortunately it was fairly windy and we could only set up one net, in a somewhat more sheltered spot. However, the wind picked up and we had to abandon the attempt after about an hour. Sarah and Alan D dropped us at Cheynes Beach and we spent a few hours birding in the area. There were several Brush Bronzewings in the area around the caravan park and a small group of Brown Quail; I also saw a White-breasted Robin there but we couldn't track it down again. The famous Cheynes Beach Noisy Scrub-bird started calling and we had a few goes at trying to see it. I got quite close to it and managed to see some blurry movement - next thing, Rob saw it dart across the track about 30m away - they sure can move fast! We found some Red-winged Fairy-wrens and there were a couple of Fan-tailed Cuckoos in the area. On our way back we had time for a quick visit to a track alongside a creek about a km away, where Red-eared Firetails were reported to live - unfortunately we couldn't find any and then it started to rain so we had to give up. In the evening I gave a talk to DPAW staff and local birdwatchers, about my Rufous Scrub-bird studies.

6 June

It was a very tough day today! We went to Mt Gardner to search for nests of the Noisy Scrub-bird. They nest in wet gullies, which proved very hard to negotiate - lots of mud, slippery rocks (I had a few slips, as did others) and scrambling over fallen timber. I was exhausted at the end of it all (plus there was a 2km walk in and then 2km back out again). We didn't find any nests but we did hear several Scrub-birds calling, also a Western Whipbird and Western Bristlebird a couple of times. In the afternoon, after I had recovered, I went for a walk around Two Peoples Bay with Rob - we found Western Wattlebirds for the first time. Later we went separate ways - I spent the evening hearing about his sightings of Red-capped Parrot and looking at his videos of a Noisy Scrub-bird!

5 June

The weather was pretty ordinary today (very strong wind), which limited what we could do. Sarah took us to an area called Mermaid, SW of Cheynes Beach, to see where they had prepared net lanes for catching Noisy Scrub-birds. We heard a couple of males calling. Nearby were some Carnaby’s Black-Cockatoos and we had good views of some of them in a tree. In the afternoon we visited a couple of local sites - Little Beach and Nanarup Beach, with hopes of finding Hooded Plovers and Rock Parrots. No such luck! However, we did find a Sacred Kingfisher, which was rather a surprise, and an Australian Hobby too.

4 June

We wandered the area around the research hut at Two People’s Bay for a couple of hours first thing in the morning, finding Inland Thornbill, Swan River Honeyeater, Brush Bronzewing, WA version of White-Browed Scrubwren, etc. Our host Sarah met us, did inductions etc then took us around some of the Nature Reserve. We heard several Noisy Scrub-birds, also Western Whipbirds and Western Bristlebirds. Later in the day we stopped at Oyster Harbour on our way back from shopping in Albany and saw Pacific Gull, Caspian Tern, Sooty Oystercatcher, Osprey and lots of other great things.

3 June

I travelled to Albany (Two Peoples Bay) today, with Rob Kyte and Greg Little. We are joining the Noisy Scrub-bird recovery project team for the week. There wasn't a lot of birding opportunity today because of the arrival time into Perth, but we did see some Carnaby’s Black-Cockatoos cross the road in front of us, also a Western Rosella and lots of the WA version of the Australian Ringneck. It was dark for the second half of our trip.

May 2018

29 May

Having arrived back in Newcastle at lunch time, in the evening I went to a talk about the seabirds of Macquarie and Broughton Islands. Both talks were good and also it was a very good networking opportunity, which I was pleased to take. And it was very nice to have my work (HBOC's work) on Broughton Island terrestrial birds being publicly acknowledged.

6-28 May

It was the 2018 Europe trip - visiting Scotland, the Shetlands and Denmark. Overall for the trip I saw about 80 species (still working out the exact number) including 23 which were lifers for me. Details are below.

28 May

I had plans for visiting Vaserne, a notable bird-watching spot on Fureso lake about an hour's travel north of Copenhagen. Unfortunately, by the time I arrived there the weather had turned unpleasant so I immediately headed back to Copenhagen again. I spent quite a bit of time in the Botanic Gardens, enjoying my views of species such as Moorhen, Eurasian Coot, Grey Heron, European Magpie, etc. There were several calling Willow Warblers and I eventually found a photographable one even though it still was quite high up (and up against a background of bright grey sky). I also spent time in Kings Garden which didn't have much by way of birds - except for European Swifts which all the time were hunting over nearby buildings. They were a bit far off but I spent ages trying to obtain a half-decent photo.

27 May

Today was mostly a (sightseeing + travel) day. We went to the beach at Esbjerg (where I saw Herring and Common Gulls) and then to the excellent Fishery & Maritime Museum. A highlight for me at the museum was that they had a bird exhibit - this allowed me to have excellent views of some species I'd not seen before (Eurasian Wigeon and Pied Avocet)  and some that I had (e.g. Common Eider, Barnacle Goose).

26 May

Our daughter Robyn arrived mid-morning and soon all three of us were over on Fano Island and arranging to hire bikes. I saw several Arctic Terns on the short trip across. My birding opportunities were limited on Fano but I did alright in the beach area near Rindby where there were several House Martins foraging (I also saw these elsewhere on Fano that day) and at least one very vocal European Skylark. I also saw a pair of Ringed Plover there. I also went to what I thought would be a birdy spot (it was on the coast and had Vogel in its name); unfortunately this turned out to be a historic duck trap and with no modern ducks present. I did finally get a proper view of a Great Tit (which I hadn't bothered chasing as they are plentiful). In a nearby paddock there were 8-10 Northern Wheatear working quite close together and I also heard a European Cuckoo call many times from around this spot.

25 May

In the morning I got a bike from the hotel and rode to a bay about 13km south of Esbjerg. The tide was well out when I arrived, and there were lots of exposed mudflats. As the tide came in, I could make out several waders, albeit not in big numbers - including Golden Plovers, Black-tailed Godwits and Oystercatchers. A pair of Shelducks landed not far from me, staying for a little while. Bush birds in the area included several Meadow Pipits, a Yellowhammer, a pair of Pied Wagtails, and at least two pairs of Linnet, (which I might have seen before, but nowhere nearly as well and I might have been wrong last time (in Cumbria) about the ID of the bird I saw. I managed some nice photos of Linnets, posing in the sun. Also, a Marsh Harrier (a lifer for me) flew across a nearby paddock, plus I flushed a group of three Grey Partridge (another lifer) from alongside the approach road. In the late afternoon I rode to a beach area north of Esbjerg, where there are some statues and not many birds apart from a pair of Ravens. From there I went to Dyrehavn, where indeed there were some deer. Even better, there were birds, including some Willow Warblers, a European Jay, and a European Cuckoo (which I saw front on, and also flying across an open paddock; i.e. I finally had decent views). And then, I had another lifer: a Green Woodpecker, which at first I saw flying away but with a good enough short view that I am sure I would have been able to identify it. But, I tracked it down again and ended up having a terrific view.

24 May

Not much birding today; we left Copenhagen and went by train to Esbjerg on the west coast of Denmark. Every time we passed near to a beach, there were stacks of Black-headed Gulls but not much else that I could recognise.  Around the hotel and in Esbjerg more generally whilst sightseeing, I began seeing Rooks for the first time on this trip to Denmark, also some Jackdaws and Ravens. And, that's about it for today!

23 May

We had a family excursion to Ishoj, a village/beach on Koge Bay south of Copenhagen; there was limited birding opportunity but I made the most of every chance. In the woodlands near the modern art gallery Arken, several European Cuckoos were calling. I plunged into the woods, soon learning just how ventriloquial and wary those birds are! But eventually I manged to see one, albeit a rather ordinary view as it flew away. I emerged from the bush bleeding but victorious!  As usual at coastlines in Denmark, there were many Black-headed Gulls flying around, but then suddenly there was something rather different - a Sandwich Tern, which dived into the water right in front of me before flying on and disappearing. It looked rather like a Gull-billed Tern (which at first I thought it was) but the tip of the bill was yellow.

22 May

Late last night we arrived in Copenhagen. It was so great to be in shorts and a T-shirt today!  A quick morning walk in the local park revealed flocks of European Swifts whirling through, also the usual Blackbirds, Great Tits, etc. Then I hired a bike and rode out to Westamager, my favourite spot in the Copenhagen area. It's a 15+km trip each way but unfortunately I went astray and probably rode 40+km today.  But it was worth it!  When I finally I reached where I wanted to be, I started hearing European Cuckoos - several birds. I didn't succeed in seeing one as they always were in private property, but it was terrific to hear their call (which I don't recall ever having heard before, apart from in clocks). Next, I was down by a reed bed ... and scored two new birds (with good photos of both) - Reed Warblers, and Reed Buntings. I also had great views of some Shelducks and there were lots of V-shaped flocks of Barnacle Geese flying over (a lifer for me). I saw several pairs and small parties of Common Eider, often with some ducklings in tow. The closest pond had plenty of both Red-necked and Great Crested Grebes, also several Pochards and some Tufted Ducks. Further along and farther off, there were large numbers of Cormorants, also many roosting geese but it was hard to work out what species (but, presumably Barnacle). I got back to the hotel mid afternoon and rested for a while, then Margaret and I went to our daughter's apartment for dinner. Robyn and Nick have the upper floor and I was delighted to see parties of Common Greenfinch and Tree Sparrow using the roof space outside the lounge room window. Bottom line: there are birds wherever one chooses to look!

21 May

It was a drizzly day but almost no wind - so, a significant improvement! In the morning we did touristy things, then after lunch headed southwards, ultimately to the airport. We detoured to the Isle of St Ninians, where there is a massive tombola connecting the island to the mainland. There was a breeding pair of Pied Wagtails at the carpark and a few Dunlin foraging on the tombola along with various gulls (mainly Herring Gulls).  The highlight was just offshore, that being a foraging pair of Great Northern Divers. We also stopped at Loch of Spiggie, an RSPB reserve; unfortunately it turned out that autumn is the best time to be there whereas in May it was pretty much a dead spot. We had a little bit of time before our flight to stop again at Sumburgh Head - failed to spot any Puffins but there were heaps of Northern Fulmars (as before), also Guillemots, Razorbills, some Shags, Oystercatchers, etc. It was a great way to finish our visit to the Shetlands!

20 May

Today was by far the worst day in the Shetlands, weather wise. It was cloudy and cold, and the winds were very strong, introducing a significant wind chill factor. We explored the mid-west parts of the main island, starting at Scalloway (where I saw several Great Black-backed Gulls) and then next to Hamnavoe on the island of Burra. It was incredibly windy there, although a local told me "you should see it in winter". No thanks!  But, there was a pair of Rock Pipits flitting around although not cooperating for my camera.  And also, a pair of Arctic Terns. After that we drove to Houss, towards the south of Burra. This was quiet, but on our way back we stopped at Meal Beach which was a bit more protected from the wind - and maybe as a consequence, had 23 Ruddy Turnstones foraging on the sand. After that, I gave up and stayed indoors for the remainder of the day.

19 May

Margaret and I headed to the NW side of Shetland's main island today. I became somewhat frustrated at how wary birds were - I managed almost no photos because they'd fly off before I was organised (mind you, it took longer to get ready, given that the camera was not on the seat next to me). Birds that "escaped" me included Common Eider, Common Redshank, Northern Wheatear, Lapwing, Collared Dove, Wren, and all the gulls. Still, it was nice to see them by eye and/or with binoculars. Later, back in Lerwick I walked along the sea front late afternoon, finding courting pairs of Dunlin and Ringed Plover, and also many Black-headed Gulls.

18 May

I did another boat trip around the islands of Bressay and Noss, this time with a functioning camera. I picked the rival company to Tuesday's trip, which turned out to be not as good - but it was OK nevertheless. On our way across, we had good looks at Atlantic Puffin, Black Guillemot, Shag, Razorbill, etc. At the Noss headland (180m cliffs!) there were heaps of Gannets and Guillemots, also many Northern Fulmars plus there were several Great Skuas hanging around the boat. The skipper had brought a tub of fish and used these to get the Gannets plunging into the ocean right alongside our boat. It was amazing a) to see how fast they were going when they hit the water, and b) to watch them "swimming" under water. Apparently a BBC TV crew was out in the early morning that day to film the same thing. Later, back at Lerwick, I realised that a pair of terns in front of me were Common Terns - the day before there had been Arctic Terns at that same spot (and they weren't far away today; just 10-20m further along).

17 May

I headed west across Shetland's main island today, eventually reaching Sandness (which turned out to be a small community that did not have access to the sea - quite a disappointment for me). The road west, once I'd left the main highway, was narrow and winding and it was impossible to stop except at a designated passing place, so maybe I missed some birding opportunities?? I found Northern Wheatears a couple of times and eventually managed some photos. Also some Lapwing and several Eurasian Curlew, and a Meadow Pipit. Mostly the birds were very wary and it was exceedingly difficult to get close to them, since there was no cover to hide my approach.

16 May

After breakfast I went for a walk along the seafront and eventually to the Loch of Clickimin (which was exposed and windy, but it did have a Tufted Duck). On my way back on the sheltered sunny seafront I had great views of Ruddy Turnstones and then, a new bird - a small flock of Twites (which at first I took to be sparrows, the females are tough to pick). Later in the morning, Margaret and I drove south from Lerwick, detouring to some coastal villages/hamlets. The most interesting one was at Sandwyck where the ferry to Mousa Island departs. Here there was a close inshore Gannet, more Turnstones and some roosting Dunlin, and miscellaneous Starlings and House Sparrows plus another new bird for me - a Rock Pipit (just where it was supposed to be). Eventually we made it to Sumburgh, where there is an RSPB site near the lighthouse and many nesting seabirds. We perhaps were too early into the breeding season for all the possible species, but there were many hundreds of Northern Fulmars on the ledges, a few Atlantic Puffins (I had great views of two birds) and lots of Guillemots (apparently not yet nesting), also plenty more of the Twites. A few Great Skuas flew over and there was one brief fly-by from an Arctic Jaeger. I saw Great and Lesser Black-backed Gulls almost in the same view - it was great to be able to compare them. Finally we finished our day at the Viking site, Jarlshof, where the Starlings were full swing into breeding.

15 May

I had a wonderful morning marred only by the lack of a functioning camera to capture all of the moments (a battery issue, but all the moments are in my head forever, so there's no major drama). I did a boat trip from Lerwick going around the islands of Bressay and Noss. The day was off to a good start even before we had sailed, with me having sightings of a few Arctic Terns and ... several Rock Doves. The latter are native birds here whereas everywhere else in the world they are the introduced "feral pigeon". At sea and travelling slowly past beaches on the islands, we saw Red-throated Divers, a Ringed Plover, Dunlins, Black Guillemots and (many) Guillemots, also Northern Fulmars and much more. Several Atlantic Puffins flew by (very fast, only fleeting glimpses). Near Noss, a Great Skua started following the boat and we saw several more of them during the trip after that; that was another tick for me. Then came the highlight - the cliffs at Noss which host a massive seabird colony. There were tens of thousands of Gannets (another new bird fro me), also similar numbers of Guillemots and some Razorbills. The Puffins nest right up at the top of the cliffs - too far up for us to see any (the cliffs must be 100m or more in height). As we chugged back into Lerwick, several Grey Seals followed the boat in; the bulls are quite large!

I sorted out my camera issue in the afternoon (I bought a new battery) and then in the late afternoon did another foray, this time to Scalloway the ancient capital of the Shetlands. Birds were difficult to find but at a low tide bay there were several Common Redshanks and a Common Gull, and another new bird for my day: the Collared Dove (which is introduced, but I've never seen one anywhere before). I also saw briefly a small passerine, which I could not identify.

14 May

After a morning in Ratho we flew to the Shetland Islands, landing in Sumburgh mid-afternoon. There wasn't much birding opportunity as we needed to settle in and make a general exploration of our new neighbourhood, but I did notice several Oystercatchers and also 4-5 Eurasian Curlew as we drove through the rolling hills to Lerwick. Around town, the birds were disappointing, being mainly House Sparrows, Starlings and Wood Pigeons, and also some Herring Gulls. Fingers crossed that it gets better though the coming week.

13 May

Not much birding today, during our drive from the Spittal of Glenshee to Edinburgh via Pitlochry. In fact the nature highlight (excluding the amazing scenery) was the salmon ladder at Pitlochry, to enable them to by-pass the hydro-electricity dam. At Ratho on the outskirts of Edinburgh, we walked for a while alongside the Grand Union Canal. Birds overall were not plentiful but the Blackbirds were plentiful and singing wonderfully.

12 May

In the morning I went about 15km north of the Spittal, to a place called "The Moor". Really, it was just like all of the rest of the countryside, only more accessible. alongside the river was a Common Sandpiper, which I had seen earlier in the morning but not been able to have identifying views. Also, foraging around the river, a Grey Wagtail kept popping up and then just as quickly disappearing again. The highlight was to find a foraging flock of Siskin - another lifer for me (my 10th lifer for the trip). and then, on my way back, I was able to get a little bit closer to a Eurasian Curlew - they really are wary birds though.

11 May

Overall, it was a quiet day for birding, quite wet for most of the day and also cold and windy. In late afternoon we drove to Braemar, about 30 minutes away. En route, I had my best views of Red Grouse and even managed a few photos of one - but, they are very wary birds! Perhaps being shot at every summer shooting season accounts for it? In Braemar, which is a long way from anywhere else, I was intrigued to see some pigeons at a garden feeder - they looked like standard feral pigeons but i later decided they were genuine Rock Doves (northern Scotland is part of their native patch). A couple of days later, I found a dead one, a long way from any town, which certainly reinforced my opinion.

10 May

In the morning I went back to my "grouse spot" hoping for better sightings but they were some distance away and I could only hear them. I did identify two species that I had been unsure about on the previous visit there - Meadow Pipit and Northern Wheatear. The remainder of the day was spent on family matters (our daughter Robyn arrived for a 3-day visit); also it was very wet. But, I did see some House Martins back at the Spittal of Glenshee plus I managed to get some OK photos of perching Swallows.

9 May

We drove west, to another RSPB site, Loch of Kinnordy, about 45 minutes away on the outskirts of Kerrimuir. On our way there, I found a Golden Eagle (identified from poor photos, the Buzzard looks quite similar and I saw several of them) and a female Pheasant, which had the most amazing and beautiful arrangement of wing and tail feathers in flight.. Birdwise it was quiet at the RSPB site although speaking to a local birder, I had just missed some interesting sightings. As always!  Anyhow, I enjoyed looking at the Mute Swans and eventually I found a male Northern Shoveler and a few Shelduck. In the woods I found a Wren and some Rooks (at a rookery, 'natch). My highlight was to have a Water Rail dash across in front of the hide I was sitting in. I wrote that sighting into the visitors' book!

8 May

I spent the morning in the area around the Spittal of Glenshee, where we were staying. There was a pair of Eurasian Curlew in the paddocks behind us, very elusive and flighty and I couldn't ever get anywhere near them. Often a Buzzard soared overhead (they are very variable in plumage and identifying them caused me considerable confusion throughout our stay). After some time and effort, I identified a small passerine I saw often in the area, as a Willow Warbler (and eventually, over the week, I found a couple of their nests which are holes in the ground). In the afternoon I ventured out onto the main road, driving about 10km north and checking out the birdlife at every lay-by. At one spot, I hit the jackpot - finding Ring Ouzel, Snow Bunting and what I eventually identified (several days later) as Red Grouse. They were very wary and I never had close views of them until a few days later.

7 May

After some general sightseeing in Dundee, we drove north to an RSPB site called Fowlsheugh, not far from Aberdeen. This was hard to find, but quite sensational after finally getting there. There were thousands of seabirds at the start of their breeding cycle i.e. hanging around the cliffs or parked on cliff ledges, but as yet having no eggs to brood. The four main species were Herring Gulls, Kittiwakes, Guillemots and Razorbills. The latter two were lifers for me. I also found a Northern Fulmar there (looking like it too was in breeding mood). Afterwards, we drove to our cabin in the southern side of the Cairngorms, arriving to bright sunshine although it would be several days before we saw much more of the sun. There were plenty of birds in the area where we were staying, with Chaffinch by far the most common and also Song Thrush (my first sighting of it as a not-introduced species) and several male Pheasant.

6 May

Margaret and I arrived in Scotland (Edinburgh) early morning, collected our car and drove north, towards Dundee, our destination for the night. Not too far out of Edinburgh we visited the Loch Leven nature reserve, an RSPB site. It wasn't officially open when we arrived but by the time we left it had become reasonably busy. I had a wonderful wander around the wetlands, spending time at all 3 hides and finding breeding Lapwings, some Oystercatchers, Black-headed and Common Gulls, a few Tufted Duck and some Greylag Geese. There were passerines too, highlights including Robin, Greenfinch, Tree Sparrow and Great Tit. Later, at Perth and elsewhere, I saw Herring Gulls, Jackdaws and Rooks, and then some Great Black-backed Gulls in Dundee.

3 May

In the afternoon I joined some other HBOC members and we set up the club's display stand at Tocal for the coming Field Days - an event that HBOC has had a presence at for the past 5-6 years and which I help organise each year. Big news - we won the award for best exhibit! which had very little to do with me but I am quite happy to bask in the reflected glory.

2 May

HBOC is intending to start some regular survey work in the Martindale Valley and today I went there with Bruce Watts and Dennis Neader to meet some of the locals and take step 1 towards picking some sites to monitor. We didn't have much opportunity for most of the day for any serious birdwatching, until mid-afternoon when we stopped at Medhurst Bridge for late lunch and then a wander through the woodland there (and, able to leave the roadside this time!). There was a Diamond Firetail gathering grass and some Dusky Woodswallows flying overhead. In the woodland there probably were 6+ Spiny-cheeked Honeyeaters, 20+ Eastern Spinebills, some Zebra and Double-barred Finches and four Olive-backed Orioles, amongst other good things. We saw Grey-crowned Babblers at a couple of spots, and at our host's property there was a very large mixed flock of Sulphur-crested Cockatoos (seen elsewhere too) and Little Corellas.

April 2018

30 April

I was up in the Gloucester Tops, mainly to retrieve equipment I'm using to record the calls of Rufous Scrub-birds. I had some interesting encounters. Twice I watched a scrub-bird doing its chipping call, on both occasions it was in a clump of Lomandra and about 15cm above ground. Presumably the elevation helps spread the call over a larger area. I also saw a behaviour I hadn't seen before. I had been following a bird for a while and then he doubled back from where I was hearing him and "ran" past me. To my astonishment it was doing what can best be described as a "rodent run". In the past I've seen grass-wrens do that behaviour and what I saw today looked pretty much the same. The bird had flattened down low and puffed out its feathers, looking very marsupial like, and it was moving quite fast.  

The autumn honeyeater influx to the Tops is underway but the numbers aren't very high as yet. However there were probably 50+ honeyeaters using the banksias near the Gloucester Falls car park. On my way home I stopped at the Stroud rest area. There were lots of White-headed Pigeons around - my conservative estimate was 50 birds in a 2ha area but probably there were more than that.

20-22 April

I was on Broughton Island for 3 days of surveying plus helping with the banding project. It was relatively quiet there compared with past visits at other times of the year. The Golden-headed Cisticolas and Tawny Grassbirds mostly were secretive and quiet, especially the former, and there were fewer Silvereyes about as most of the Monotoca plants had no fruit. There were about 20 Sooty Oystercatchers (which is normal) and the Eastern Reef Egret was seen a few times. We saw several White-bellied Sea-Eagles and five other raptors in small numbers - but then, a group of three Ospreys were flying together over our heads as we departed. Three subspecies of Silvereye were present although the majority were the local cornwalli subspecies. It is emerging that there is a resident population of Silvereyes plus influxes of more birds when the Monotoca is fruiting. We also had a re-trapped Yellow-faced Honeyeater, which seems to be a step towards establishing that these too are resident.

16-18 April

I drove up to Taree on Monday afternoon and had time to fit in a pre-dusk visit to Wingham Brush Nature Reserve, where there were lots of Aust. Brush-turkeys wandering around. Next day I did my surveys in the Harrington/Coopernook/Crowdy Bay area - no stand out highlights from these (apart from an absence of Jacanas at Cattai Wetlands). I managed to squeeze in my Port Stephens radio interview as well - this time done by phone.There were six Aust. Gull-billed Terns and 170 Little Terns on the Harrington sandbank, and no northern hemisphere shorebirds. That night I gave a talk at Old Bar (it seemed to go well).  On Wednesday morning I went to Saltwater National Park, where I saw a Nankeen Night-Heron (my first there in more than a year) and a Striated Heron, and just as I was about to leave, a female Regent Bowerbird showed up. Then I went to Mudbishops Point for my shorebirds survey - there were ~200 small shorebirds present (Red-capped Plover, Double-banded Plover and Red-necked Stint, in approximately equal numbers). I found 13 Common Terns, but there was no sign of the famous visiting Aleutian Terns which presumably have departed. I also walked around the Black Head rainforest, where the highlight was a Green Catbird. That night I gave another community talk, this time at Hawks Nest. The absolute highlight of my few days away was sightings of Azure Kingfisher at three locations (for a total of 4 birds)- it's my favourite bird and I'm always delighted to see one.

15 April

I made another trip to the Gloucester Tops, mainly to service/deploy Song Meters and I retrieved my trail cameras, which sadly have not been very successful in terms of finding Scrub-birds (but they have photographed various other interesting wildlife). I stopped at the campsite at Sharpes Creek, which was full of campers but still had three Bassian Thrush feeding in quieter areas, and I had a very brief view of a Superb Lyrebird. One Scrub-bird territory I visited was quiet (including for other birds) but I enjoyed the White-browed Scrubwrens which were flitting about while I had my lunch there. The second territory I visited also was quiet, initially - but then things picked up. In particular, the Rufous Scrub-bird started calling and I followed it around for 30 or so minutes, recording its calls with my new hand-held recording device. It made an amazing variety of calls - I hope they turn out to be good as sonograms. I had a brief but full view of it hopping through the undergrowth. Also seen here were Large-billed Scrubwrens, New Holland Honeyeaters, Eastern Spinebills, etc.

14 April

I surveyed Ash Island (with others) in the morning. Now that there’s some water, Ash Island is slowly but surely getting back to what it used to be. We found about 600 ducks, mostly teal (~75% Grey Teal) but also a few Australasian Shovelers and a pair of Black-fronted Dotterels, and miscellaneous other species. Earlier we had found Pacific Golden Plovers at Phoenix Flats and some more Black-fronted Dotterels, and we heard a Spotless Crake not far from the car when we stopped to look at Milhams Pond from the road.  Fish Fry Flats had 19 Red-capped Plovers, and one each of Red-necked Stint and Double-banded Plover. While we were searching for the Red-caps, an adult male Black-necked Stork flew in and landed almost right in front of us. Then followed a 15 minute intermission in our surveying, while cameras went into over-drive. We also had a peek at Deep Pond, between trains, and was great to see that some water and some birds are back there as well.  There were ~200 Red-necked Avocets and about 60 Black-tailed Godwits.

9 April

I did a short radio interview (by phone) with ABC Mid North Coast radio in the morning. The context was my forthcoming set of talks at Old Bar and Hawks Nest about shorebirds - it felt a bit like I was giving my talk before I gave it, but no doubt the publicity will have been worth it.

5 April

The only birding for the day was when I stopped at Boys Walk (via Cooranbong) on my way home from a trip to Sydney. It was getting on for dusk and it was just me and the mozzies plus quite a few Bell Miners. Everything else was in low numbers and not out of the ordinary. Earlier, I was at Richmond (UWS campus) mainly to see a visiting Faunatech technician about fixing a troubled Song Meter. While there, I also caught up with the UWS people with whom I have recently started a collaboration (to work on Scrub-birds and Lyrebirds). In Sydney mid-afternoon I went to Scheyville NP (a first for me) but it was >30C and I decided not to try birding there after all. At least I now know where it is.

3 April

I went along to the HBOC outing at Myuna Bay (on Lake Macquarie). It was a very pleasant morning with no special birds apart from one raptor which caused a few ID headaches. We decided it was a Square-tailed Kite but there was plenty of uncertainty initially. There is a large colony of Bell Miners in the area and they certainly dominated the sound waves. A Little Egret was fishing right at the power station outlet and obviously was very attached to that spot - when disturbed it would leave but it very quickly came back each time.

1-2 April

I had a wonderful walk on Sunday morning, finding all the previous two days' birds (except the Leaden FC) plus choice items such as Turquoise Parrot, Grey-crowned Babbler, Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater, Varied Sittella, Crested Shrike-tit and White-throated Gerygone. In the afternoon, during a trip into Barraba, I visited two of the local TSRs. One (Black Springs TSR) was quiet although a Wedge-tailed Eagle flew over; the other (Tarpoly TSR and surrounds) was terrific! No sooner had I parked the car I had found four NSW threatened species - Hooded Robin (a pair), Dusky Woodswallow (5 birds), Brown Treecreeper (2-3 birds) and Diamond Firetail (3 birds).  Later, at a small dam in the area I saw one each of Plum-headed Finch, Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater and Turquoise Parrot, and then, back at the camp, an Azure Kingfisher posed for several minutes in front of my camp, in sunlight; just wonderful! On Monday morning I only had about two hours at Borah before it was time to pack up. I was pleased finally to find the Red-browed Finches that everyone else had been seeing; also to re-connect with birds such as Brown Treecreepers, Jacky Winters, Diamond Firetails, that I'd been seeing all weekend. It might be quite a while before I see any of those again!

March 2018

30-31 March

Margaret and I went to the HBOC Easter camp at Borah TSR near Barraba. It's a great spot; we've been there 5-6 times now (always with HBOC on an Easter camp). On Friday I had a couple of hours late afternoon for birding; I saw many great birds including several Brown Treecreepers and some Little Lorikeets, and many each of Common Bronzewings and Peaceful Doves. At one point I heard a Restless Flycatcher (there were many of them in the area) but then became somewhat disconcerted to find that the next bird I saw was a female Leaden Flycatcher. I rapidly double-checked that I had ID'd the Restless FC correctly! I found one Diamond Firetail on Friday, very high up in a casuarina, but over the next few days I had several more. On Saturday morning, the dawn chorus was fantastic - I lay in bed listening to it for a while then leapt out to start my day's birding. I headed across the creek, where the highlights included a few parties of Speckled Warblers and a group of Buff-rumped Thornbills (of some of which I managed to achieve OK photos). Groups of Musk and Little Lorikeets flew over a few times as did some Red-winged Parrots (and lots of Aust. King-parrots). My best highlight was towards dusk, when a pair of Azure Kingfishers flew by, and then one of them made the return journey not long afterwards (and then on Sunday one posed for ages in a casuarina in front of my tent).

27 March

I made yet another trip to the Gloucester Tops, to service my trail cameras (which have not been all that much of a success, sadly). Just as I was slowing down to enter Stratford, I saw a Spotless Crake alongside the road; quite a nice surprise! Shortly along the Gloucester Tops Rd after turning off the Bucketts Way there was a Pheasant Coucal, which I have seen in that same general area before - and then I saw it again on my way home in the afternoon. At the Sharpes Creek campsite there were at least five male Superb Lyrebirds wandering about, but I didn't see any females; I'm not sure why. When I got to the Tops, there was an Olive Whistler calling from along Kerripit Rd, the first one I have heard for several weeks. One Rufous Scrub-bird was calling as I drove past its territory but it was totally silent later when I spent more than an hour there. All the other Scrub-birds were silent too. A consolation was to have an immature Flame Robin at one spot.

25 March

During a non-birding weekend in Sydney, I persuaded Margaret that we should visit Taronga Zoo for the morning. What I liked about the visit was the opportunities for much longer than usual looks at some birds and to compare them in size to species they were alongside - the latter doesn't happen very often in the wild (nor does the former, usually). I was stunned at just how small some species are when viewed with the naked eye. When looking through binoculars it's often a full-screen view and one loses the perspective about size. Perhaps there's also an adrenaline impact? Anyhow, being eyeball to eyeball with a Forest Kingfisher was when I first came to realise the difference - it is such a tiny bird!  Views later of some King Quail certainly added to my "shock".

19 March

I spent the day in the Gloucester Tops and was privileged at one point to watch a Rufous Scrub-bird calling. It was doing what I call its “seep” call, which they do fairly often but not as often as the characteristic and almost deafening “chipping” call for which they are best known. The “seep” call is more delicate and certainly not as deafening although it still does carry quite a long distance. When I first saw the bird, it was sitting at the top of some low bracken, in a fairly flat posture. Then it stretched its neck out and up, tilted back its head and made a single “seep” call, and then resumed its flat posture. This sequence repeated at least half a dozen times, and then it moved forward and out of my sight. There were 5 Bassian Thrushes hanging around the camping ground in the morning, which suggests they may be moving back down the hill after their summer excursion – but I did see one at ~1,200m today so they haven’t all come down yet. And some Rose Robins are still around too.

17 March

Four of us did the Ash Island survey today, as part of the overall Hunter estuary monthly survey. It was great to see some water in the main ponds although as yet not many birds have come back to them. But we had good birding elsewhere on the island – 78 Pacific Golden Plover and a few Eastern Curlews in the Milhams Pond / Phoenix Flat area and quite a few small shorebirds at Fish Fry Point. It was hard to spot them amongst the mangrove propagules and we were there for ages trying to get a proper count. In the end, our verdict was: 19 Red-capped Plovers including two runners, 2 Red-necked Stints, a Double-banded Plover and 4 Sharp-tailed Sandpipers

13 March

I did my radio slot on Port Stephens FM in the morning (talking about the importance of Mambo Wetlands for birds and then specifically about the Varied Sittella which occurs there). After that I went around to Fingal Bay and did the walk through Barry Park. Birdwise it was relatively quiet but I enjoyed some intimate moments with Brown Thornbills and White-browed Scrub-wrens, also there were plenty of honeyeaters and a pair of Sooty Oystercatchers on the far headland.

12 March

Another Gloucester Tops trip today - I'll be going regularly for a while to come. I have some trail cameras and I'm trying to see if I can snap a Rufous Scrub-bird "in action". Unfortunately I didn't hear any Scrub-birds today though. My lowlight was to almost step on a Highland Copperhead snake as I walked through a Scrub-bird territory. Highlights included five Superb Lyrebirds at the campsite and four Bassian Thrush, plus I saw several of the latter higher up. I heard a Crested Shrike-tit at the campsite and then saw a pair of them along Gloucester Tops Rd and there was a male Rose Robin in the vicinity too.

5 March

I went up to the Gloucester Tops, primarily to service my various bits of equipment installed there. I relocated the two Song Meters to a new territory and "refreshed" the trail cameras at another territory. It was a day of good birding as well. I stopped at the Sharpes Creek campsite for a long while, as I have a mission to find the display site of a Superb Lyrebird - no real progress on that; however there were eight birds wandering around the camping area! And six were still out on the open when I called in on my way out late afternoon. In the morning at the campsite, I had brief views of a Russet-tailed Thrush and then flushed two of them in the afternoon - nice views of their rumps/back in flight. There was also a Bassian Thrush near the campsite in the morning; however I saw several more of these higher up the hill during the course of the day including a pair of them at one spot. I also had a close encounter with an immature Flame Robin, which at one stage came in and perched just a couple of metres from me. The autumn influx of honeyeaters into the Gloucester Tops has begun, with New Holland Honeyeaters and Eastern Spinebills present at several sites. I found a pair of Brown Cuckoo-doves at high altitude, which is unusual, and I saw Large-billed Scrub-wrens at the same spot, which also is not all that common. I saw some of them down near the campsite too, but that's not unexpected. Two Rufous Scrub-birds were calling vigorously at their territories today as well.

3 March

I arranged a party for today, at the Boatrowers Hotel in Stockton, to celebrate 15 years of Port Stephens waterbirds surveys. It was a great afternoon, with about 45 people turning up including many past and present surveyors. Here's hoping that we can celebrate lots more of these milestones!

February 2018

25 February

On Sunday morning I went to Lake Joondalup on the northern side of Perth, a new spot for me to visit, and then later to Herdsmans Lake, an old haunt of mine. In both cases I saw lots of waterbirds including Australian Shelduck, Blue-billed Duck, Great Crested Grebe, etc. I was hoping the very rare visitor to Lake Joondalup, the Oriental Honey Buzzard, would show itself but no such luck. In partial compensation, I had some very nice views of Weebill, Splendid Fairy-wren and Inland Thornbill. At Herdsmans Lake, I also found a Nankeen Night-Heron. After that it was time to do some more family catch-ups.

24 February

I had another early start (the 3 hour time difference makes it easy) but then there was a long drive across country until finally I reached the Dryandra Woodland near Narrogin. The drive was worth it though! I easily found some Rufous Treecreepers (in the end I saw at least six of them) and the WA versions of White-naped and Brown-headed Honeyeaters were present as well as several Yellow-plumed Honeyeaters. Then I heard and saw two Western Yellow Robins. It is at least two decades since I have seen one, and I don't recall ever hearing their song before - so I was over the moon about it. I stopped later at another place I've been to a few times before, this one being a rest area 65km from Perth at the start of the Balmoral walking track. Usually it's been quite good there but it was very quiet this visit. And the remainder of the day was for catching-up with my Perth-based family.

23 February

I made an early start and headed first for the Whicher National Park, east of Busselton. My first spot was disappointingly bird-less; I found one solitary Common Bronzewing in my wanderings ... but then a flock of five Purple-crowned Lorikeets whizzed by overhead just as I was about to leave. At a second spot further east, near a creek, was much better. Here I found a White-breasted Robin, some Red-winged Fairy-wrens, a Red-capped Parrot, Inland Thornbills, Western Gerygone (I found these everywhere I went on Friday and Saturday and so I won't mention them again for this trip), and several Red Wattlebirds. My next stop was the Blackwood River at Nannup, which had some fairy-wrens that I couldn't identify (but probably Splendid Fairy-wren), a young Scarlet Robin, more Common Bronzewings, and flocks flying over of Purple-crowned Lorikeet (about 40 birds) and Carnaby's Black-Cockatoo (about 30 birds). Later, I headed to Cape Naturaliste and birded in the heathland for a while, with the highlight being to flush a Brush Bronzewing. Finally, I checked out some ponds around Geographe Bay, one of which had several hundred ducks (mainly Pacific Black Duck, Aust. Wood Duck and Grey Teal) and a pair of Yellow-billed Spoonbills.

22 February

A day of trains, planes and automobiles! I trained/flew from Newcastle to Perth, then drove to Busselton where I had arranged to stay for 2 nights. I only had time for one birding stop - I picked a place at random and it turned out to be a good one - the Madrup wetland in the Tuart Forest National Park. Waterbirds were scarce although I saw a Common Greenshank and a few other things, but all in low numbers. However, the bush birds were just wonderful. A Western Gerygone was calling when I got out of the car, and eventually I was able to track it down. Then I had a family group of four Scarlet Robins, some Inland Thornbills, a WA version of the White-browed Scrubwren, some Splendid Fairy-wrens, Weebills, Australian Ringnecks, .... and also a couple of species of raptor. Just before dusk I walked around Busselton for a while - I saw several Common Bronzewings and plenty of New Holland Honeyeaters too.

20 February

I did my interview with Port Stephens FM (talking about last Friday's waterbirds survey) and then drove to the northern side of the Port to check out the Grey-tailed Tattler roost sites over there. I only found two birds! Where are all the others?? But it was quiet for other birds too, and a pair of Sooty Oystercatchers was my highlight. Then in the evening, I helped out in a survey for Australasian Bitterns. I walked/stood in Hexham Swamp for a few hours, fighting off lots and lots of mosquitoes, but it was all in vain, and there were not many other birds either. Conditions have been too dry for too long in the Hunter! 

18 February

I went on the HBOC outing which was to a private property near Dungog. I've never seen the Dungog hills looking so dry! I believe the property would be great to visit under normal conditions but it was very quiet today. I had nice views of Large-billed Scrubwrens a couple of times and briefer views of the other two local scrubwrens. A Spangled Drongo landed right in front of me at one spot, and there was an adult male Satin Bowerbird hanging around the house yard where we had morning tea plus a pair of Wedge-tailed Eagles soaring above us. It was a 2km uphill walk back to the cars after that, in 38C heat!  Late afternoon Margaret and I checked out some places in Stockton where the Port Stephens 15th anniversary might be held; and settling on the Boatrowers Hotel as our preferred choice.

17 February

I surveyed Ash Island today as part of the monthly Hunter estuary waterbirds survey. It was very bleak out there unfortunately. The main ponds are dry (and have been for a long time) and there had been a fire in the western section of the Island mid-week, which burnt out a large area. As a result, birds were hard to find. There was a Black Kite hunting over the burnt area and a couple of Swamp Harriers. Out at Fish Fry Point we found 14 Red-capped Plovers and one each of Red-necked Stint and Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, and we had a total of five Eastern Curlews in the Milhams Pond area. And that was about it!

16 February

It was the summer survey of Port Stephens waterbirds today, which I organise jointly with NPWS. I did the section around Winda Woppa and Corrie Island, which had a lot of birds including nearly 300 Little Terns, with a runner and very young fledgling seen as well. Other birds I found in good numbers were Bar-tailed Godwit, Eastern Curlew and Aust. Pied Oystercatcher, and there were 10-15 each of Red-capped Plover and Red-necked Stint. Unfortunately the overall numbers of shorebirds, i.e. for the entire Port, were down on previous years, continuing the trend we've been seeing. It was the 15th year of these surveys by the way.

7 February

The HBOC outing was to a property along Italia Rd Balickera. Usually we have a very good day there but the prolonged very dry conditions have had quite an impact. We recorded 49 species of which the highlight for me was a group of 10 Peaceful Doves. They are uncommon in the east of our region. Afterwards a few of us went around to Seaham Swamp Nature reserve - it was almost bone dry and the main birds were White-faced Herons and White-faced Herons, a Great Egret and three Whistling Kites - all presumably picking off the stranded fish. 

2-5 February

I had a late afternoon meeting (with Phil Straw et al.) to discuss shorebirds and miscellaneous other matters, and then Margaret and I headed up to Harrington arriving well after dark. Next morning I headed off early, firstly to Saltwater National Park which turned out to be a really pleasant way to start the day. There were lots of birds, including a group of 19 White-headed Pigeons feeding together on the lawn, Aust. Figbirds with dependent young, and close-up encounters with Black-faced Monarchs. I had time to also do the Saltwater Nature Walk, where the highlight was a puddle on the track being visited by dozens of birds including small parties of White-naped and Yellow-faced Honeyeaters, a Scarlet Honeyeater, Red-browed Finches and Eastern Yellow Robins. After that I went around to Manning Entrance State Park to do a shorebirds survey. There were lots of birds including a tad over 100 Red-necked Stints (my highest tally in several years), seven Sanderlings, etc. Common Terns were back in big numbers and lots of Little Terns too. I easily found the Aleutian Terns but to my surprise there were 18 of them. The previous highest count from all the reports of them was 15 birds (which was how many I saw in December).  I did a careful recount (a couple of times, and scrutinising every bird; there were no interlopers) and then I called over another group of 4 birders. I didn't tell them of my count until after they'd done their examination - we all agreed there were 18 of the same species.

A heavy squall then came through, leading to a wet afternoon, and I abandoned birding for the day. Next day was also rain affected but I was able to fit in a few things. Close offshore from Crowdy Head there were gannets and shearwaters including two Fluttering Shearwaters. On the edge of the village I found 3 young Black-shouldered Kites, probably only recently fledged. There was an adult not far away although I saw no interactions with the young birds. I did the shorebirds survey just after noon, when it had started to become hot. There were much fewer shorebirds (and waterbirds) than at Old bar but the Little Terns were in big numbers. My count of them for the whole Manning estuary over Sat-Sun was just over 360 birds.

On Monday morning I surveyed Harrington Rainforest and Cattai Wetlands. I found pairs of Large-billed Scrub-wrens at both locations, a Spectacled Monarch at Harrington and 3 Comb-crested Jacanas at Cattai along with a couple of hundred ducks (mainly Pacific Black Ducks and Grey Teal) and a group of about 20 White-throated Needletails flew through. Finally, I checked out the colonies of Fairy Martins and Cattle Egrets near Cundletown - both were still active.

January 2018

29 January

I went to the Gloucester Tops for the day, with Greg Little and Rob Kyte, to visit several Rufous Scrub-bird sites to assist with our long-term plans to catch and attach transmitters to some of them. Only two sites had calling birds (happily, I was able to track down both birds for my territory utilisation study). We are starting to come up with lots of ideas (most of which will no doubt prove to be ineffective eventually) as to how we might trap birds. There wasn't much else about - we heard a Crescent Honeyeater at one spot and saw a robin (probably a Flame Robin) as we were leaving.

26-28 January

The HBOC camp was at a private property on Violet Hill Rd, adjoining Myall Lakes National Park. Margaret and I arrived late Friday morning which turned out to be a hot and humid day and I did very little birding except to enjoy the family of 3 Glossy Black-Cockatoos feeding in the casuarina directly behind my tent. On Saturday I was more active but the birds were not! Overall, they were hard to find given the hot conditions and on-going drought.  I heard then briefly saw a Wompoo Fruit-Dove which was easily my bird of the day. Also, a flock of White-throated Needletails flew over plus at the campsite an Olive-backed Oriole had a nest with young. On Sunday morning my final bird before starting to pack up our camp was an Azure Kingfisher, hunting quietly at the pond near the entrance to the property.

25 January

A very boring day but apparently it had to be done. I converted all the Port Stephens boat survey results since 2004 into the Shorebirds 2020 survey format. It probably only took 2-3 minutes to make the change for any single survey, but there were 130 surveys in total. Thank heavens it's done! Late afternoon I received the proof manuscript of my new Rufous Scrub-bird paper - which made for a pleasant change of focus.

23 January

I did my Port Stephens radio slot in the morning and then headed up to the Gloucester Tops, arriving in time for lunch. It is very dry up there and the Gloucester River is but a mere trickle. I went to several Rufous Scrub-bird sites in the afternoon but only one bird was calling. It so happened that was the site where I was installing a Song Meter, so I have my fingers crossed that I will get some good data for it. There was very little other bird activity.

19-21 January

I led a group of seven HBOC members on a 3-day excursion to Broughton Island plus we had 4 day-trippers and a Newcastle Herald journalist with us on the Friday and the NPWS ranger all 3 days. Birdwise it was quieter than any of our previous visits but we added two new species to the island's bird list, Tree Martins seen on Friday and a New Holland Honeyeater heard briefly on Friday morning. We had the usual grassbirds, pipits, cisticolas etc and both species of rail (and the Lewin's Rail was heard a few times plus seen once). A surprise was the absence of any Little Wattlebirds, which we had recorded on every visit since March 2014 and had begun to consider as a newly arrived resident. The numbers of Silvereye continued to be high (at least a couple of hundred birds on the weekend) but there were fewer of them than in our October 2017 visit when the Monotoca shrubs were full of berries.   We had an interesting observation of Silver Gull behaviour. There were 50 or so of them on the beach in front of the huts almost all the time (including one chick ). Eventually a group of about 10 of them started raiding one of the traps we had brought over for quail. Suddenly one of them activated the pad and the trap slammed shut. All of the other gulls took off in a big hurry.  We soon released the trapped gull. From that time onward, for several hours, none of the 50 gulls would come near the area where the trap was. After a while though, some bolder birds started to come back (because there was food there; i.e. bread & Weetbix) but another gull would quickly fly down to the area and shriek at them for a while and then they'd both fly off. Even later, some birds became bold enough to start snatching bits of food from through the sides of the trap, completely avoiding the open front of it. Eventually, one bird worked out that it could take a couple of steps in safely and get some food!  Conclusion: they are quite intelligent birds and they have the ability to communicate about danger.

15 January

I went up to the Gloucester Tops to retrieve a Song Meter. The Rufous Scrub-bird was calling its head off from only a few metres away from the recorder (unfortunately with dead batteries!) and I had a brief view of it as it hopped away because of my approach. I visited five scrub-bird territories and at four of them, the birds were calling well. I got GPS locations for the two birds I am studying (after having been led a long chase by one of them - it was quite deep into the scrub).  I saw a Bassian Thrush not far from that particular territory and Crescent Honeyeaters were calling at several of the spots where I stopped. There was an Olive Whistler near to where I parked my car at a spot which has phone reception - that was the only one I heard all day. Just near the entrance to the National Park I found Grey Fantails and Eastern Yellow Robins feeding their recently fledged youngsters, and at Wenham Cox Wetlands near Stratford the usual Hoary-headed Grebes were there plus a Double-barred Finch (which I've not had before at that site).

13 January

I did the Ash island survey in the morning (a very early start; 6:30am) with three others. Probably the highlight was to find two species of crake feeding side by side at a drying pond - a Spotless Crake and an Aust. Spotted Crake. The main tidal ponds were dry and almost devoid of birds, but on Phoenix Flats we found 38 Pacific Golden Plovers and three Sharp-tailed Sandpipers, and there were Eastern Curlews scattered in small numbers at various sites. And at Fish Fry Flats, the newish salt marsh area, we found 10 Red-capped Plovers and a Red-necked Stint. The latter is very uncommon to have on Ash Island. Afterwards I went around to Stockton Sandspit to attempt some photos of the Common Gull-billed Tern - the bird was there but my lens is ailing (I have ordered a new one, I can't wait for it to arrive). Amongst the many Bar-tailed Godwits and other shorebirds, there was a group of four Red Knots and also several Little Terns were roosting there.