Thinking About Birds

March 2019

30 March

Rob Kyte and I went to the Gloucester Tops, meeting Judy & Greg Little at Sharpes Creek and then all of us driving up the hill. I had built some mirror traps and Rob and I set them up at a Rufous Scrub-bird territory. We heard the bird (not doing a standard call) but only very briefly. In fact, that was the only sound I or any of the others heard from a Scrub-bird all day!  We were unable to entice the Scrub-bird to the mirror traps and eventually gave up. The other three spent the remainder of the day operating some standard mist nets, catching and banding 21 birds as six species - White-throated Treecreeper, Eastern Yellow Robin, White-browed Scrubwren, Eastern Spinebill, Brown Thornbill and Yellow-faced Honeyeater. It was quite cold up there, 6C when we arrived and not getting above 11C all day. We saw a Bassian Thrush (interesting that they're still up high) but there were no signs of any of the migratory robins.

28 March

Bob McDonald and I went to Tomago Wetlands this morning for some more drone trials. We bumped into Nev McNaughton out there and he joined us for a while. Unfortunately there weren't many birds about, so we couldn't trial all the things we had planned. Later in the morning we went over to Hexham Swamp but that was equally as bird-less. We were able to approach a group of White-faced Herons quite closely and ditto some Black-winged Stilts.  A young Swamp Harrier displayed considerable interest in the drone and we had to land it for a while. Later, at Hexham, several Welcome Swallows were just as interested but we continued to fly the drone as they were never going to attack it.

27 March

The Rufous Scrub-bird team had a meeting to sort out our plans for Sunday's field trip to Gloucester Tops. I had spent the morning making a mirror trap and I took it along to show the others.  It met with approval and I will make up at least one more for Sunday.

25 March

We did some more drone trials this morning, with four of us going to Tomago Wetlands for a few hours. First we flew the drone over the Black-necked Stork nest (which is not currently in use) so as to get a better view of the platform they had built. Then we went around to the main wetlands. There were at least 1,000 teal present, a mixture of Grey Teal and Chestnut Teal. We were able to fly the drone right over them, by making a low and slow approach and pausing the forward movement if they began to look restless. We also found some Common Greenshanks, eventually at least 80 birds, and there were some small flocks of Sharp-tailed Sandpiper occasionally in the air. The Greenshanks were restless and more easily took to flight than did the teal. However, we were able to fly quite close to them and take photos (which will lead to counts using point-count software).  Raptors seen today included a magnificent young White-bellied Sea-Eagle and a couple of Swamp Harriers.


22 March

This week we received permission from NPWS to trial in some local national parks the use of drones for bird monitoring. Four of us including our local drone expert Bob McDonald went to Hexham Swamp this morning for the first attempt at this. Fortunately there were some Sharp-tailed Sandpipers, one of the species I hope a drone will help us to monitor as they can be very dispersed at times. They are restless at the moment (because they soon will leave for their northern migration), and it was difficult to be sure to what extent the drone was disturbing them vs their natural flightiness. We saw several instances where they flew underneath the drone, having put to air. Not sure how to interpret that!  We were able to approach closely with it to some Grey Teal, with no signs of any reaction from them, but later a large flock took to air as soon as the drone appeared. However, there were some raptors around at the time and they might have been sensitized. Black Swans paid no attention to it. We'll do more trials in the coming weeks.

20 March

Rob Kyte and I were up in the Gloucester Tops today, primarily to investigate a Rufous Scrub-bird nest which Rob discovered earlier this month. We had Flame Robin, Bassian Thrush and Rose Robin in the high country and a couple of Rufous Scrub-birds were calling (and a couple of others were silent).  We didn’t find any of the other “specialists” from up there. The extent of the honeyeater influx had risen since my last visit (which was about 2 weeks ago). There were lots of White-naped, Yellow-faced, New Holland and Scarlet Honeyeaters wherever we went, and ditto for Eastern Spinebill.

19 March

I joined a pelagic trip from Swansea. There was almost no wind all day making for a quiet day at sea - and a slow one too, with more than 8 hours of chugging slowly along in the boat to and from the continental shelf. We had Wedge-tailed and Flesh-footed Shearwaters in attendance for most of the day and occasional appearances of various other shearwaters. At the shelf there were a couple each of Grey-faced and Providence Petrel, also one Wilson's Storm-Petrel, and occasional Pomarine Jaegers at sea (plus Arctic Jaegers inshore). I missed a couple of species which did not stay long enough for decent views, e.g. Gould's Petrel.

17 March

I had planned to attend the HBOC outing but it rained heavily through the night and was still pouring down when I first woke, so I chickened out. However, later in the morning the rain stopped and so I went to Hexham Swamp for a couple of hours. Although it was quiet there, I found some White-fronted Chats, about 150 Sharp-tailed Sandpipers and seven Common Greenshanks. It was a good morning for raptors, with Swamp Harrier, White-bellied Sea-Eagle, Nankeen Kestrel and Black-shouldered Kite seen.

16 March

I gave a talk at the ABSA Conference held in conjunction with their AGM. My talk was on Rufous Scrub-birds in the Gloucester Tops and it seemed to go well. I stayed all day, with there being five other interesting talks. My slides are uploaded onto the website here.

14 March

The Tocal Field Days are coming up (in early May) so this morning a group of us got together to start the detailed planning for HBOC's display stand. We decided to take somewhat of a fresh approach and with a focus on Citizen Science. There is some prep work now to be done!

13 March

At the HBOC club night it was announced that I was the recipient of the 2018 Wilma Barden Memorial Grant, for my Rufous Scrub-bird research. Nice for that to finally be made public! The funds ($2000) will be used to pay for the special nets, call playback system and VHF tracking equipment that we use. I also was given a bottle of very good wine in acknowledgment of my having produced 25 Hunter Region annual bird reports. I figure that works out at 30ml per year! But I appreciate the gesture.

11 March

I spent the morning finalising my Rufous Scrub-bird talk for Saturday (at the ABSA conference in Newcastle). In the afternoon I had two meetings at the University - firstly to deliver some Scrub-bird feathers (for DNA analysis) and chat about next steps, secondly for the Port Stephens Eastern Curlew study.  In preparation, I had dug out a lot of old records.

9 March

Ross and I did the Ash Island survey. It remains very dry out there and bird numbers continue to be low. However, we found 9 Eastern Curlew at Milhams pond and 28 Pacific Golden Plover at Phoenix Flats, also some Red-capped Plovers and one each of Sharp-tailed Sandpiper and Red-necked Stint at Fish Fry Flats. Not much else of note, except for a group of 5 Common Greenshanks at Teal Waters. It has been a long time since my previous record of those on Ash Island.

8 March

I went up to the Gloucester Tops. There had been rain up there recently so the fords had a bit more water and there were puddles here and there. I visited three Rufous Scrub-bird territories, two of which had very vocal birds. I have recording devices at all three territories, which I was servicing. Rose Robins and Bassian Thrush are still in the high country (and there was a Rose Robin down at the campsite) and along Kerripit Rd I saw two male Scarlet Robins together. The regular autumn influx of honeyeaters to the Tops has begun. There were plenty of them everywhere I went, and including White-naped and Scarlet Honeyeater which normally we hardly ever find in the Tops (except in autumn; in any other season they are uncommon).

I did lots of bush bashing today and at one point came upon a Satin Bowerbird bower. One of its items of decoration was a blue plastic biro, which I’m pretty sure I recognised as one that I lost up there about 6 months ago. I decided to let the bird keep it. Just near Roseleigh Cottage on my way out there were some Dusky Woodswallows which I rarely see in the Gloucester valley. Although, it was my third record of them in the past 12 months. However, no prior records over 2010-2017 (by me). The road has been graded quite recently, from the end of the bitumen all the way up, so it was an easy trip.

February - March 2019 trip to Victoria

Overview:Margaret and I drove to Melbourne for her niece's wedding. We went there via the Princess Highway and with several stops along the way, and then came back stopping at Bombala and then in the southern highlands, and with a side trip into Canberra for some more catching-up with her family.

4-6 March

We drove to Bombala on Monday, our trip much disrupted by the bush fires in Victoria. Our stops weren't bird-rich but I did find a large group of very noisy Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoos at Cabbage Tree Creek and some White-throated Needletails not far from Bombala. Next day after discharging various family obligations I spent time at Jerrabomberra Wetlands and then Rowes Lagoon. The latter was quiet (and completely dried out) but the Wetlands still had a small amount of water. The highlight here was a Collared Sparrowhawk (which I saw attempt to take a small bird that landed to perch just a metre or two from where the Sparrowhawk happened to be waiting). I looked for a long time for any crakes or rails in the exposed habitat - didn't see any, but I met a fellow who had seen several earlier in the morning. Timing!!

1 March

This was my big day of the overall trip! I had arranged a interstate visitor day-pass to the Western Treatment Plant at Werribee. I collected my key, with a minor scare when the Melbourne Water receptionist assured me I couldn't get in today because of the Avalon Air Show (it turned out there were some minor traffic flow changes when I exited). My first stop was Lake Borrie, and what a way to start! There were at least a thousand Pink-eared Ducks and almost as many Australasian Shelducks, also many hundreds of Blue-billed Ducks and Hoary-headed Grebes. There were only a handful of Musk Ducks (but I saw them before all the other stuff so they had a pretty good thrill factor). In the bushes alongside the lane there were 25+ White-fronted Chats, just to add to the effect. I didn't find Blue-billed Ducks anywhere else in my travels but at every subsequent stop there were large numbers of Pink-eared Ducks and Aust Shelducks plus intermittent sightings of lesser numbers of the other fore-named species. Several Whistling Kites were hunting over the ponds, and I saw a young Swamp Harrier several times (also, there were Black Kites but these were over the paddocks).

When I got close to Port Phillip Bay I started to see Whiskered Terns including many young birds, but there was only one main area where they were and probably only a few hundred birds in total. The previous time I was at Werribee I estimated 5,000 of them! Some birds were using one of the floating roost platforms which are about to be trialled in the Hunter Estuary. An adult Little Tern and a non-breeding White-winged Black Tern were also on the artificial roost (disappointingly, no shorebirds though). I started to find shorebirds further along the edge of the Bay - mostly these were Sharp-tailed Sandpipers (500+ birds) and Red-necked Stints (300+ birds) with 100 or so each of Curlew Sandpiper and Pied Stilt (and a single Australian Pied Oystercatcher).

I left early afternoon as by then it was well over 40C and there had been no shade all day. I reckon I saw at least 5,000 birds today (and probably closer to 10,000).

Later in the afternoon I was interviewed by a reporter from the Port Stephens Examiner about the February shorebirds survey. It seems that there will be another article about it soon. The ABC News on-line article was quite popular.

27-28 February

We drove to Melbourne stopping overnight at Lakes Entrance. On Wednesday I managed several birding stops but it was quiet everywhere (at Point Ricardo near Marlo I only found one species, White-browed Scrubwren, in a 20 minute survey!). The Drummer Walk, near Cann River, was very pretty and I had a close encounter with a group of four Eastern Whipbirds along it plus there were a couple of Rose Robins. It was very windy at Lakes Entrance. Although I found a nice walk through a salt marsh to the inlet's edge, there were few birds - but then a young Pacific Gull flew through and later I had some sightings of adult birds as well.

Next day we explored one of the "silt jetties" near Bairnsdale - it was a remarkably long drive along a very narrow promontory with water only 10m away on each side. At the end was a sizable cormorant roost, with at least 50 Little Pied Cormorants present plus some each of the 3 other common cormorants. Alas, no sign of my target (the Black-faced). However, a pair of Fairy Terns flew through and I was very pleased about that! Later we walked around Sale Common, and I did the boardwalk. There was no water and the birding was quiet, although the sight of a pair of Brown Goshawks soaring over the treetops was a great compensation. We took a circuitous route to Melbourne, via South Gippsland (Yarram etc) but conditions were very dry and it was a very hot day i.e. not much chop for birding!

25-26 February

We spent two nights at Mallacoota, a place I had long wanted to visit. An afternoon walk after we arrived produced 30 species including a singing Superb Lyrebird, Rufous Fantails, a juvenile Eastern Koel and a Common Blackbird. Next day I drove to various nearby localities, with the highlights including to find two Hooded Plovers (adult and a juvenile) at Benka Beach, a Bassian Thrush at Gipsy Point and an Aust. Pied Oystercatcher at Bastion Point. In the bushland around the inlet there were lots of pigeons particularly Wonga Pigeon and White-headed Pigeon.

24 February

We drove to Huskisson as the start of our trip away. Unfortunately, there weren't many birding opportunities as much of the trip was through built-up areas. We stopped at Mt Annan Botanic Gardens for a walk and lunch, with the birding highlights being a male Satin Bowerbird feeding on berries and Eurasian Coots scurrying amongst the picnickers.

February 2019

22 February

It was a non-birding day, but I did lots of bird-related things. An interview with the ABC about the recent Port Stephens survey, which will be published as an on-line story; a meeting with Rob Palazzi to show him how to publish material on the HBOC website; tracking down how to access Werribee sewage works for next week's visit; finishing the drafts of two papers (one about Sharp-tailed Sandpipers and the other about birds of the Gloucester Tops); and ... trying (unsuccessfully) to fix my camera.

21 February

I went up to the Manning Valley for the day, starting at Harrington where I found Little Terns and Common Terns, also Sanderling, Pacific Golden Plover, Red-capped Plover, Pacific Golden Plover, Double-banded Plover, Sanderling etc. Much later I went to the Old Bar side of the estuary, where I found all of the above plus a few each of Lesser and Greater Sand Plover and two Aleutian Terns. There was also a solitary Beach Stone-curlew. I also tried various other of my regular spots in that area but I didn't find much else. While at the furthermost point at Old Bar, the heavens opened and I became completely drenched. Not only did that seriously affect my counting of birds, and leave me in soaking wet clothes for the remainder of the day, it wrecked my camera as well. It won't turn on any more!

19 February

I posted off copies of The Whistler and the annual Hunter Region bird report to all the libraries and institutions that receive it, plus to some of the more remote club members. Total cost $162!

16 February

Ann Lindsey and I made yet another trip to Durridgere Rd. This time we were successful, finding a male Pied Honeyeater at the top of a dead tree - we had brief but clear views! Later we found a Little Friarbird in flowering mistletoe, also two White-eared Honeyeaters, some Diamond Firetails and still plenty of Rufous Songlark and White-browed Woodswallows and some Dusky Woodswallows. We also saw well a Masked Woodswallow (but there may well have been more). On our way home we stopped at Cassilis Rest Area, but it was very quiet (there were some Weebills).

11-13 February

Margaret and I with Ann Lindsey drove to Rylstone where we stayed for two nights. On the way we stopped briefly at the Battery Rocks near Merriwa, where I saw an Australian Hobby attempt to take a honeyeater (White-plumed, I think). We made a much longer stop at Durridgere Rd near Ulan, from where Pied Honeyeaters had recently been reported. Ann and I spent a couple of hours searching for them, to no avail. However, we did find many other good birds including White-browed Babbler, Southern Whiteface, Plum-headed Finch, White-browed and Dusky Woodswallow, Rufous Songlark, Diamond Firetail and Speckled Warbler. On Tuesday morning Ann and I drove up Mount Coricudgy and eventually re-entered the Hunter Region. After a while we tracked down the Grey Currawongs that live up there - it was a Hunter tick for both of us. On the way we went through a paddock which had 80+ Little Ravens, and later, at Glen Alice, we found Crested Shrike-tits with dependent young.

Our drive back included a lengthy stop along Durridgere Rd. We met two other birders there, and spent almost 5 hours in the area. We re-found all the birds from Monday plus a Diamond Dove (a Hunter tick for me) and a Black-eared Cuckoo, and saw a couple more large groups of Little Ravens. Alas, still no Pied Honeyeaters.

10 February

The Rufous Scrub-bird team made another day-visit to the Gloucester Tops. We attempted to catch two new birds - both were curious but did not come close enough to the net for capture. The birding was quiet overall but I did see several Flame Robins and heard a Crescent Honeyeater. On the drive up the big hill we flushed several Wonga Pigeons and Brown Cuckoo-doves. I reactivated the three Song Meters while I was up there.

9 February

Ross and I did the monthly Ash Island survey. It was very dry out there so we didn't find a lot, but we did get some Eastern Curlew and Pacific Golden Plovers, and a group of Red-capped Plovers with a runner. We had five different species of raptor in the first half hour but no additional species of them after that. The highlight of the survey was a juvenile Black-necked Stork with an adult female not far away.

8 February

It was the Port Stephens summer survey, which as usual I coordinated plus I surveyed one of the sectors (Alpha sector). I found stacks of birds in my sector, so it was a good day out. My highlight was to find a breeding colony of Little Terns on Corrie Island - about 150 birds and I saw four runners amongst them. Also in the area were 75 Eastern Curlew, 170 Bar-tailed Godwit,120 Common Terns and various smaller shorebirds in low numbers. Overall we found 361 Eastern Curlew in the Port - which is an internationally significant count of them. It's the highest count we've had for them in four years.

6 February

I took a small group of people to some Hunter Estuary sites in the morning, in connection with a planned trial of floating roost platforms for shorebirds. We firstly boated up-river to a site inside the Kooragang Dykes, then visited land-accessed sites at Fullerton Cove and Fern Bay. It was high tide and there were lots of shorebirds around including Curlew Sandpipers, Common Greenshanks, Eastern Curlews, Bar-tailed Godwits and Pacific Golden Plovers. We flushed a Latham's Snipe from a drain at Fullerton Cove.  In the afternoon I was busy with organising Friday's Port Stephens survey and in the evening I went to the HBOC management Committee meeting.

2-4 February

I went with the Broughton Island project team for the summer surveys. On Saturday we bashed our way to Pinkatop and checked out the nest boxes - unfortunately all of them were empty although some had loose feathers indicating a bird had been there before. We set up mist nets and caught 37 birds over the three days - a good proportion of those were Tawny Grassbirds which was pleasing as it's a species I'd like to know more about in a Broughton context. We only caught one Brown Quail though, and zero Golden-headed Cisticolas - disappointing results since they are two other Broughton species that I'd like to get a better handle on. In the survey work, I found an Eastern Reef Egret (two sightings, not sure if it was the same bird), several Sooty Oystercatchers and four Red-capped Plover, and had a remarkable sighing of eight Ospreys all in the same view. Three of them were fledged chicks standing on the nest.

January 2019

30 January

I had a meeting at the University in the morning, about the Rufous Scrub-bird DNA studies. Afterwards I went to Marathon Swamp in Shortland, where amongst other species there were some Wandering Whistling-Ducks (a first for the year for me). Then I went around to Stockton, where for a few days now a Brown Booby had been reported to be roosting on the breakwater. It had a fish hook stuck into its breast, which was a distressing sight (and probably not at all good for the bird). Walking out on the breakwater, another highlight was to have a Common Tern fly past.

26-28 January

Early morning I went to Chisholm where interesting birds including Australian Painted-snipe had recently been reported. I only had poor views of it (I should have taken my 'scope!) but there were lots of other waterbirds present, such as Latham's Snipe, Pink-eared Duck, Great and Intermediate Egret, Red-kneed Dotterel and a couple of hundred Sharp-tailed Sandpiper. In the afternoon we drove up to Smiths Lake to join the HBOC camp. It was extremely hot and so instead of going birding after pitching the tent, I headed for the lake. There was a pair of Forest Raven on the beach and also some waterbirds about e.g. Black Swan, Australian Pelican. Next morning I walked for a couple of hours, finding many good things including White-breasted Woodswallow, Brown Quail, Dollarbird and Sacred Kingfisher. Again, the afternoon was hot so I didn't do much, but mid-afternoon we went around to the main Smiths Lake settlement where I saw an Australian Hobby and various terns, cormorants etc.  On Monday morning conditions were cooler, thankfully; my walk yielded Cicadabird, Variegated Fairy-wren, a pair of Regent Bowerbird, some Varied Sittella, an adult male Satin Bowerbird, adult White-bellied Sea-Eagle and quite a bit more.

24 January

No birding today, but I went to a longish meeting at the University to discuss the Port Stephens Eastern Curlew project, which is starting to fire up.

21-23 January

I helped do the HBOC surveys in the Martindale valley. On Monday afternoon I stopped at some spots in the Denman/Martindale area, finding several Rufous Songlarks, a Horsfield's Bushlark and good numbers of White-browed Woodswallows - which included many young birds some of which we still being fed. That night there was an Owlet-nightjar around the campsite plus Tawny Frogmouth and Southern Boobook (on the Tuesday night they were joined by a White-throated Nightjar, which did a brief fly-by followed by lots of calling). In the daytime surveys we found more White-browed Woodswallows also Speckled Warblers, a Crested Shrike-tit, Hooded Robins, Rockwarblers and White-winged Trillers.  There was a very demonstrative Brown Songlark in a paddock near the Medhurst Bridge.

19 January

Ross and I did the Ash Island survey today. Conditions were bleak out there - all the ponds were dry or well-advanced in drying, and there had been many fires (resulting in charred landscapes and some fallen power lines). Accordingly, bird numbers and diversity were down but we did find a group of 31 Pacific Golden Plover at Phoenix Flats and 38 Red-capped Plover (including one runner) at Fish Fry Flats. We also found seven Eastern Curlew.

12-14 January

We headed to Ballina via the Gold Coast (to visit relatives) and then from there home to Newcastle. The only highlight of the driving part was to see some Little Terns at Lennox Head. On Sunday I explored Bundjalong National Park near Evans Head (and I tried Broadwater NP as well). I found Brahminy Kite and Osprey around the estuary and  a few shorebirds - Aust. Pied Oystercatcher, Eastern Curlew, Pacific Golden Plover, Whimbrel, Bar-tailed Godwit. There was also a Striated Heron hunting. On Broadwater Beach I found a group of seven Pied Oystercatchers together (but overall I did poorly in that NP). Arrived home to find waiting for us the proofs of our Corella paper.

5-12 January

We spent a week at O'Reilly's Guest House in Lemington National Park. I did lots of walks in the area and enjoyed some of the up-close opportunities for what normally are shy rainforest birds - for example, Australian Logrunners and Eastern Whipbirds, which have become habituated to the crowds of people (often noisy) that do the easier walks. It was the same story for the scrub-wrens (White-browed, Yellow-throated and Large-billed Scrub-wren) which were happily foraging right in front of me or at my feet. The forests abounded with the calls of pigeons and doves e.g. White-headed Pigeon, Brown Cuckoo-Dove, Rose-crowned Fruit-Dove, Wompoo Fruit-Dove but they were much more difficult to see except by a fluke. The same went for Noisy Pittas and Paradise Riflebirds. Conversely but with similar consequences, the Albert's Lyrebirds were silent and difficult to track down, except to stumble upon one. I saw one lyrebird on Tuesday and then two birds together on Wednesday - in both cases the birds "ran" off as soon as they became aware of my presence. On Monday I did a long walk for the express purpose of getting onto a Rufous Scrub-bird, which eventually I did but it was too far off the track and the terrain too difficult, so I didn't try to see it. On Thursday night on my way to the glow-worm tour I saw a Marbled Frogmouth - my first sighting of one in about two decades!

4 January

Margaret and I were heading north and today was a fair bit of driving (and then in the motel pool). The only stop where there was any birding opportunity was at Woolgoolga where we walked around the headland - the highlight was to find an Eastern Reef Egret hunting on the rock platform.

2 January

On my way back from a shopping expedition I stopped at Stockton Borehole swamp (near Teralba). It was a hot afternoon so I didn't stay for long, but there were plenty of birds including a couple of hundred each of Pied Stilt and Sharp-tailed Sandpiper and 30-40 Red-kneed Dotterels including some immature birds. I also found a group of 7 Red-necked Avocets: it's not often these are away from the Hunter estuary.

1 January

I made my first trip for the year to the Gloucester Tops, mainly to service the Song Meters which I have installed up there. Bird-wise it was quiet, perhaps partly because it was rather warm up there (it got to 26C). There was a Satin Flycatcher near the Kerripit Rd car park and and all four Rufous Scrub-bird territories that I visited the male was singing (quietly/intermittently at two of them, rather robustly at the other two). I almost trod on a Highland Copperhead - that's one of the perils of summertime visits to the Gloucester Tops.