Thinking About Birds

April 2020

29 April

Whilst out and about I stopped by at Stockton Sandspit for a while. The tide was high but there weren't may shorebirds around; just some Far Eastern Curlew at the sandspit and some Grey-tailed Tattlers and Terek Sandpipers at Fern Bay. A large flock of Bar-tailed Godwits flew over from the dykes but they then wheeled and flew back there again. Also, there were 24 Caspian Tern roosting in the lagoon area plus three Australian Gull-billed Terns.

28 April

Today I was in another all-day Zoom workshop, this time to develop a Site Action Plan for shorebirds in Port Stephens. As for last week's one, there were 30 or so participants and I was quite pleased with the way the day went.

25 April

Today was to have been the scheduled HBOC monthly Hunter estuary survey. We couldn't do the entire survey (as unable to get the boat) but I went out to Ash Island and did the usual survey route there. There were lots more people about than usual!  Early into the morning, I encountered a pair of Black-necked Storks, and so the whole venture was instantly worthwhile. I only found one migratory shorebird, a Double-banded Plover, but there were 10 Black-fronted Dotterels and 14 Red-capped Plovers out at the main ponds, and also two Caspian Terns and four Aust. Pelicans. Along Wagtail Way there were about 20 Australasian Pipits, and also some at other spots in that general area.

21 April

Today I was in a workshop for most of the day (done from home as a Zoom meeting), run by BirdLife Australia on behalf of Hunter Local Land Services. The aim was to kick-start the development of a Site Action Plan for shorebirds in the Hunter estuary. There were 25-30 participants (people came and went and usually there were 20-25 on line at any one time). I thought it went quite well, and certainly not chaotic which was what I had half-feared would happen.

13 April (an update)

Not much happening on account of the lockdown! I'm still processing my bird photos, still generating Penta Puzzles (my name now for the small crosswords) and sending one out daily, and also slowly but steadily entering my old bird records into Birdata (from my massive set of old notebooks).

7 April (an update)

I haven't been doing much birding these past several weeks. That's because I'm following the official government advice of doing absolutely no non-essential travel during this Covid-19 isolation period. However, that doesn't mean I've not been busy. In the past 3 weeks I've processed one third or more of my 80,000+ bird photos. That's a job that I have long deferred! My aim is to reduce down to a maximum of 20 photos of any individual species. I reckon I have deleted more than 20,000 photos in the past 3 weeks. A related thing is that I find that I have photographed more than 570 Australian species (I sort my photos into species-based folders). There are even a few good photos amongst them all!

In late March I started producing and sending daily a small bird-related crossword to the local birding community. It seems that lots of people are having a go at it! And, there's been plenty of positive publicity about two of my recent Rufous Scrub-bird papers - the Song Meter studies, and the Gloucester Tops population trend. On Sunday came the news that Margaret and I had received the Durno Murray Award for best paper in Corella in 2019. That was a huge surprise! It was the paper about the Song Meter studies.

Another job is to prepare the monthly Featured Bird information sheet. The April featured species will be the Fan-tailed Cuckoo. I've found out a lot about this species while preparing the material! I'm also working on the May Featured Bird , which will be the Superb Lyrebird. That is proving to be very interesting.

March 2020

21 March

Ross and I did the Ash Island survey in the morning, with a very early start. We found one Eastern Curlew at Milhams Pond, presumably the others have all flown north already. At Phoenix Flats there were 31 Pacific Golden Plovers and a group of four Black-fronted Dotterels. At Teal Waters, a pair of Chestnut Teal flew off leaving a single panicky duckling behind (they returned as soon as we left). There were very few waterbirds around at the main ponds of area E, but a male Black-necked Stork and two Caspian Terns partly made up for the absence of anything else. It being autumn, the Welcome Swallow numbers had spiked and there were two Tree Martins amongst them.

19 March

I joined a pelagic trip from Swansea for the day. On our way out we had a Streaked Shearwater keeping pace with the boat for a while, and plenty of Wedge-tailed and Flesh-footed Shearwaters at times, and they were the main birds seen during our drift at the shelf. At the shelf it was quiet most of the time, interspersed with brief visits from some pelagic species. We had a few Grey-faced Petrels and Wilson's Storm-petrels, and one each of both Black-browed and Campbell Albatross showed up. On our way back in we found many Pomarine Jaegers and young Australasian Gannets, having seen none of either species on our way out.

17-18 March

I walked from New Lambton to Swansea and back again over these two days, staying overnight in Swansea. The total distance I walked was 48km. Although I took no optical equipment (to keep the weight down), I had wonderful birding experiences especially along the Fernleigh track. I found 50-52 species each day, for a total of 59 species overall. The highlight was to see a Lewin's Rail (and hear another one) near Belmont on Wednesday morning. The only downside to the walk was a stretch of ~3 km along the Pacific Highway, where there is no footpath.

February-March 2020 (Queensland trip)

I flew to Cairns on 28 February and spent two nights there, followed by four nights at Port Douglas. Then I went back to Cairns for another four nights. I used those two towns as my base for trips to other parts of Cape York (e.g. Etty Bay, Innisfail, Mossman, Daintree) and the Atherton Tableland (e.g.Mt Lewis, Julatten, Mt Malloy, Lake Eacham).

9 March

For my final morning in Cairns, I walked the length of the esplanade (and back). The tide was remarkably high and there were no muddy margins anywhere. Hence the only shorebirds I saw were Bar-tailed Godwits; there was a flock of 14 birds feeding on the lawn. There were the usual Cairns-type birds around, such as Varied Honeyeater, Helmeted Friarbird, Metallic Starling and Torresian Imperial-Pigeon. Also, a flock of five Red-tailed Black-Cockatoos flew across the bay, quite noisily. I had very good views of the Starlings, including of many young birds feeding on the ground. My best views were of a White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike, just a couple of metres in front of me. 

8 March

Acting on a tip, I went to the Cairns water supply, Copperlode dam, first thing this morning. That turned into a long winding climb up a mountain with nowhere much to stop and only roadside birding. I didn't have much success. After that I went back to Cattana Wetlands. It was nowhere as good as last weekend although I saw eight Comb-crested Jacanas and had good views of Yellow Honeyeaters. I then went into nearby Yorkeys Knob, where I found a very large group of Red-tailed Black-Cockatoos, at least 40 birds, feeding on Beach Almond seeds (and making rather a mess of the foliage). I spent ages trying to get a photo of one in flight with its tail feathers spread out - a hard thing to do (or, hard for me to do). I got talking with a local birder (I had bumped into him earlier at Cattana) and he told me that the cockatoos had only turned up locally after Cyclone Yatzi hit about ten years ago; presumably displaced from somewhere. The fellow also told me how to get to a shorebird site at the mouth of the Barron River, Redden Island. Although it was low tide when I called in, I found several Greater Sand Plovers and a Common Greenshank plus a smattering of other shorebirds. An Eastern Reef Egret flew through and there was a pair of Olive-backed Sunbirds where I had parked. A nice finish to the day's birding! However, to top it off, when I got back to my apartment and hit the swimming pool, a male Sunbird was feeding in a shrub just above the pool.

7 March

I spent much of the morning at Centenary Lakes in Cairns and later climbed the first section of Mt Whitfield.  The only "new" bird was a Channel-billed Cuckoo just as I arrived, and overall things seemed a lot quieter than my visit the previous Saturday. There were Australian Swiftlets flying around often, and I had a nice session of watching a pair of Green Orioles interacting with each other and with a Helmeted Friarbird. The afternoon was hot and muggy so I spent it partly by  the pool and partly on my computer with the A/C on.

6 March

I went south today, down to Etty Bay (just past Innisfail). It is a known area for Southern Cassowary. Access to the forested areas was poor and I was swatting at mosquitoes near the beach and wondering about my decision to come ... when out popped a Cassowary! It was a young bird and I followed it for about half an hour, taking lots of photos. There wasn't much else around by way of birdlife, not that I was paying much attention to anything else. Eventually I left, only to find an adult Cassowary by the roadside just a little way along. In fact, by the time I departed, the adult and immature birds were almost together.

Things quietened down after that. I tried Mourilyan harbour, where there was a very large flock of Nutmeg Mannikins (at least 150 birds) but little else. Some other sites near Innisfail proved fruitless. Eventually I ended up at Josephine Falls, at the foot of Mt Bartle Frere. This had lowland rainforest but the birding was quiet (although there were some calls I didn't recognise and I couldn't track down the caller). Eventually I gave up and went back to Cairns to rest up. Late afternoon I walked around the marina area, and saw a Little Tern and a Crested Tern (both being firsts for my trip).

I later realised I'd just achieved a milestone - having done that stretch south of Cairns today I have now covered (in my lifetime)the entire eastern seaboard, from Mallacoota in the south all the way to Bamaga and the tip of Cape York.

5 March

I left Port Douglas early and once again climbed up to the range but this time not turning off to Mt Lewis. My first stop was at Big Mitchell Creek (which was quite overgrown). I couldn’t find my target robin (White-browed) but I did find Yellow Honeyeaters, Forest Kingfisher, Golden-headed Cisticolas and my first Lemon-bellied Flycatcher for the trip. Next I tried to find my way to Mareeba Wetlands but they have taken down all the signs (presumably for the wet season). A brief stop near Atherton yielded some Red-backed Fairy-wrens. I had a longer stop at Hasties Swamp just past Atherton. Here were several Wandering Whistling-Ducks and a pair of Cotton Pygmy-geese (not cooperating for my camera) and a really young Dollarbird which threw me for a while. My final stop was at Lake Eacham where I saw several Pale-yellow Robins and some Grey-headed Robins, and I watched a Little Shrike-thrush capture a massive butterfly. I don’t know how it managed to eat it (the bird flew off, I couldn’t re-find it),

I got into Cairns late afternoon intending to have some non-birding time. However, when I got to the foreshore on my walk, the tide was high and there were many shorebirds in close! I raced back for my binoculars and camera. There were 214 Great Knot, also some Curlew Sandpipers and Bar-tailed Godwits and a handful of birds of other species. And Bush Stone-curlews started calling as I was about to leave.

4 March

I went back to Mt Lewis, which turned out to be a good decision. On the ascent I had Buff-breasted Paradise-Kingfisher at a couple of spots. I found a group of five Blue-faced Parrot-finches at the clearing (and later, one more in the forest) and there was a Victoria's Riflebird and some Bower's Shrike-thrushes hanging around as well. I was able to get photos of an Atherton Scrubwren and later, of a Mountain Thornbill. Some Double-eyed Fig-Parrots were flying around too. On the walking track I heard Tooth-billed Bowerbirds at a few locations and then eventually, I had one in clear view and even managed a few (poorish quality) photos of it. The walk also yielded some Bridled Honeyeaters and a couple of Spotted Catbirds.

3 March

I started my birding at Mossman Gorge, which involved an almost 3 km walk to get there as the shuttle buses don't start until 8am. I was disappointed with the few birds present plus there was a constant helicopter overhead (doing training exercises), but then I saw a Pale-yellow Robin and all was forgiven. A bit later I was seeing a Buff-breasted Paradise-Kingfisher and thinking what a good morning! I also had good views of Spectacled Monarch and a group of Large-billed Scrubwrens. I was booked on a noon Daintree River cruise which gave me quite a while to fill in and struggling to find anywhere worthwhile. I saw some Australian Swiftlets and Tree Martins at Daintree Village though. But eventually the cruise was underway,  with a very heavy emphasis on crocodiles (of which we saw several). But there was a Papuan Frogmouth roosting on an old nest, that we stopped to look at, and a Large-billed Gerygone at a nest that probably was active. And then, a Great-billed Heron flew past the boat! My plan had worked!

I couldn't find anywhere else to go afterwards. The ferry crossing over the Daintree River was $30 return andso I passed on thoughts of going up to Cape Tribulation. Instead, I went back to Port Douglas and wandered the marina for a while, considering (and eventually rejecting) cruises to the outer reef tomorrow. It would be a lot of money for a couple of potential tern species and no other birds! Late afternoon I wandered a path along the cliff - I found no birds at all!

2 March

I spent the whole day in the Atherton Tableland, including all morning on Mt Lewis. I arrived at "The Clearing" early and almost immediately found two Blue-faced Parrot-finches. That was fortunate, because I couldn't find any more of them when I looked again later on. I also found Atherton Scrubwrens and Chowchillas early on, and again had both species at other times. I was able to get photos of Bower's Shrike-thrush and Victoria's Riflebird. but not Superb Fruit-Dove (which were calling at many of my stops). At Julatten later, I found a Metallic Starling breeding colony, seemingly in full swing, and saw Forest Kingfishers with a juvenile on the outskirts of Mt Malloy, followed by three Squatter Pigeons just near the school. I saw Black Kite a couple of times around Mt Malloy (possibly it was the same bird).

1 March

I left Cairns earlyish (humid night, didn’t sleep well) and drove through Kuranda to Barron Falls where I spent about 2 hours. There was a Graceful Honeyeater above the car as I got out but after that birds were hard to find in the rainforest. I finally was able to see Varied Triller and Spectacled Monarch, both of which I was hearing but not seeing yesterday. Little Shrike-thrushes were calling and eventually I saw one. I heard a Superb Fruit-dove and photographed a Spotted Catbird. Next I did the Jumrum Creek walk on the outskirts of Kuranda. I saw a group of Large-billed Scrubwrens and heard, then later saw, a Victoria’s Riflebird.

En route to Port Douglas I stopped at the Hartley Crocodile Park. It was less birdy than I was hoping, but I saw Brown-backed Honeyeaters, Large-billed Gerygones, a Nankeen Night-Heron and a Black-necked Stork.

28-29 February

I arrived into Cairns late afternoon on Friday. Not long afterwards I was down at the esplanade where I stayed until the light began to fade. The tide was way out so most of the shorebirds were distant specks. But there were good birds in the park alongside the walkway. Highlights included Varied Honeyeater, Metallic Starling, Torresian Imperial-Pigeon, Helmeted Friarbird and Bush Stone-curlew. I had all those and more next day as well. I started at Centenary Lakes, an old favourite site. Here I had my first Orange-footed Scrub-fowls of the day (with many more to follow!), a Superb Fruit-dove, some Nutmeg Mannikins, Green Orioles, Black Butcherbirds and Yellow-spotted Honeyeaters. I also saw some Nutmeg Mannikins. My next major stop was the esplanade at high tide. I went to the northern end of it, but the only shorebirds present were some Bar-tailed Godwits. However, happiness soon followed, as I had sensational views of a group of three Double-eyed Fig-Parrots. Even some of the photos turned out OK. I took a break in the heat of the afternoon, then late afternoon went to Cattana Wetlands. This as usual was rather good. New birds for my trip were Comb-crested Jacana (at least six birds including a juvenile), Australasian Darter and Great Bowerbird, and I coaxed a Brush Cuckoo out (briefly).

February 2020

25-26 February

I've done no field work these couple of days but there have been plenty of bird-related matters. A lot of that was catching up on all the paperwork flowing out of the past few days but I also finalised two Whistler articles (as an editor of the journal) and finalised my Rufous Scrub-bird paper to address all the referee's comments. That paper is now accepted for The Whistler. It's already achieved some traction (based on the unpublished version) and BirdLife Australia are planning to make a splurge about it when it is published.

24 February

Rob Kyte and I went to the Gloucester Tops. On the way we took the flood detour route but the fords looked OK and we came out on the normal route. The corvid distribution while we did the detour was interesting. First we had Torresian Crows, and then some Little Ravens, and finally Aust. Ravens when we were just about back at Gloucester Tops Rd. It rained all day although mostly it was light drizzle that didn’t affect our birding. There were a few heavier showers.  We saw one male Scarlet Robin and several Flame Robins, also Rose Robins. There were plenty of Crescent Honeyeaters, very vocal and active just about everywhere that we stopped. I have never before encountered anywhere near as many of them in the Gloucester Tops. We also had Red-browed Treecreepers, Rufous Scrub-bird, Satin Flycatcher and Bassian Thrush.

Overall the scrub-birds were quiet and we only found one calling bird, which was making lots of non-standard calls (whistles and squawks, rather than the standard “chipping” calls). At one stage Rob and I were about 4m apart and the bird was halfway between us, but we never managed to see it and then it went quiet and shot through. On the way out, just near Roseleigh Cottage we found a solitary young Dusky Woodswallow.  They are uncommon in that part of the valley although a couple of years ago I had a flock of 15-20 adults and young birds at almost the same spot. But we got the feeling that yesterday’s bird had been left behind by its parents.

23 February

I was on a pelagic trip from Port Stephens today. Things got off to a good start , with three Little Penguins and two Arctic Jaegers inside the heads. After that it became very quiet; easily the quietest pelagic trip that I've ever been on. We only had five species outside of the heads, not counting the gulls and terns. The highlights were a brief appearance by a Gould's Petrel and a few appearances by a Shy-type Albatross. The other species were three types of shearwater (Wedge-tailed, Flesh-footed and Short-tailed Shearwater) and a couple of Pomarine Jaegers.

22 February

Another day, another survey, this time the monthly Ash Island survey with Ross. The mosquitoes were ferocious and there were so many of them, after all the recent rain. Shorebird numbers were low but we had 45 Pacific Golden Plover at Phoenix Flat and a few Far Eastern Curlew (mainly in the same general area). The highlights were a female Black-necked Stork, on Fish Fry Flats, three Common Greenshank at Teal Waters and two young White-bellied Sea-Eagles flying over Swan Pond.

21 February

t was the Port Stephens waterbirds survey today; an early start. I was the co-organiser (with an NPWS representative). Conditions were fine and we got the entire survey done (six vessels, about 20 people including skippers). My sector encompassed Winda Woppa and Corrie Island. I found good sized groups of Aust. Pied Oystercatchers (and there were 124 overall in the Port), Bar-tailed Godwits, Far Eastern Curlews and Whimbrels, also in lesser numbers there were some Little Terns, Common Terns and Sooty Oystercatchers.

20 February

No birding today but I attended a meeting in the morning to discuss how to survey for Australasian Bitterns in some  Hunter Region locations (mainly within the Hunter Estuary, and certainly initially). This is for a Hunter LLS funded project. There will be a combination of ground-based surveys (by consultants) and drone-based surveys. Hunter LLS are buying HBOC a thermal imaging drone!

14 February

I attempted to go up to the Gloucester Tops today but couldn't get past the first ford which was about 25cm deep and a torrent of water gushing through it. The fords beyond are deeper so I figured there was no point in trying. I later heard from someone who went through on Thursday in a big 4WD - the final fords were tough and thus I made the correct decision. So instead I went to Copeland Tops SCA. It wasn't easy birding, as the creek was so noisy. But, I had great views of Southern Logrunner (there was a pair) and several Large-billed Scrubwrens, and there was Superb Lyrebird, Spectacled Monarch and Brush Cuckoo as well.

11-13 February

I spent quite a lot of my time drafting a paper about Rufous Scrub-birds in the Gloucester Tops - an overview of ten years of doing surveys of them. There has been a substantial decline in the territory density over the decade. I think it will be an important paper. I also worked on some Featured Bird fact sheets. Number 2 in the series will be published this week and I have #3 ready now plus much of #4. On Wednesday night I went to the HBOC meeting; it was a hot night and I felt uncomfortable (physically) in sitting through a very long presentation.

6 February

Quite a bit of the day was spent sorting out a media release and a newspaper article, both of them were about the Gould's Petrel chick we found on Broughton Island last weekend. Story is here, and several more links are available here (towards the bottom of the page). In the evening I went to the HBOC Management Committee meeting.

31 January to 2 February

I and seven others (one being a frog specialist) went to Broughton Island for the quarterly visit. Bird activity was relatively low, because of the heat and the long dry spell, but there were many things of interest. My first activity was to go to the nest boxes, where we found an adult Gould's Petrel in one nest box and a healthy chick in another. The first breeding success in these nest boxes!

We had four new species for the island, all providing brief views only: Channel-billed Cuckoo, Spotted Pardalote, White-throated Needletail, Arctic Jaeger. Each morning after the night-time high tide we found tracks of several Little Penguins and in a visit to the colony on Saturday night we saw six birds going towards burrows. There were Eastern Reef Egrets at the northern and southern extremities, plus two birds often seen around Esmeralda Cove. They often went to the same spot on the opposite side of the cove; eventually when the tide was low enough we explored that area and found a nest, almost certainly belonging to them. It was not active but there was a large grey feather alongside. There's only one prior breeding record, and it dates from 1910; and so, I'm excited!  I'll set up a camera next visit.

January 2020

30 January

I spent more of the day than I would really have wanted, working on the Rufous Scrub-bird status update for the IUCN Red List. The summer fires have destroyed about 50% of the total habitat and presumably most of those birds are dead. A few months ago there was chatter about down-listing it from Endangered to Vulnerable; now I think the decision is whether to upgrade to Critically Endangered. Very sad!

29 January

I went out to Ash Island in the morning, to show it off to Steve Klose the new BirdLife Australia shorebirds project manager. Ann Lindsey and Millie Formby also came along. It was a great morning! We had Far Eastern Curlews and Pacific Golden Plovers at the beginning of the morning (at Milhams Pond and Phoenix Flats). At the main ponds we had Pied Stilts and Red-necked Avocets, and also those two Banded Stilts which have been present for a few months now. At Fish Fry Flats there were 100+ of Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, and nine Red-necked Stints plus a solitary Far Eastern Curlew. The mosquitoes at times were very bad!

28 January

In the morning I wrote the URRF submission for the Pycroft's Petrel sighting from late last year and then I had a lunchtime planning meeting for the coming trip to Broughton Island. We also discussed the Rufous Scrub-bird project and the new Featured Bird series that I have started.

24-26 January

Margaret and I went to the HBOC camp at Smiths Lake (at the UNSW Field Station). It's quiet birding as the habitat is limited, but nonetheless a pleasant spot. There were some Forest Ravens in the area, and 100 or so Black Swans on the lake. On Sunday the numbers of honeyeaters rose compared to the two previous days, and it seemed there was some sort of passage movement happening. Main species involved were Noisy Friarbird, Yellow-faced Honeyeater and Little Wattlebird, and also White-naped Honeyeater and Scarlet Honeyeater to some extent.

20-22 January

On Monday morning I made a brief visit to Stockton Sandspit (in between non-birding appointments) where I found 30 or so Grey-tailed Tattlers, about 150 Far Eastern Curlews and miscellaneous other shorebirds. In the afternoon I headed west, eventually to the Martindale Valley. I did some birding along the way but didn't find much (hot day, afternoon, there's a drought). I joined the others and we birded for a while at Medhurst Bridge and then around the campsite. Then we had two days of doing the quarterly surveys. Highlights from those, for me, included male Hooded Robin, Dusky Woodswallow, excellent and prolonged views of a Rockwarbler, Speckled Warbler, Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater, and a night-time fly-by of a White-throated Nightjar. Also, there were first-time records for the valley of both Pink-eared Duck and Australasian Shoveler.

I went home via Doughboy Hollow near Singleton, where, as I had hoped, I found lots of Plumed Whistling-Ducks (170 birds were visible, many more could be heard - there is no close access as the site is private property).

13 January

No birding today, but I did an interview with ABC Newcastle Radio, about the just-released draft management plan for Australian seabirds. It will go to air in their news bulletins on the 14th.

11-12 January

I made a very quick trip to Perth, for a family event. Not much birding time therefore, but I did get to see several Laughing Doves and a small flock of Western Corellas, as well as a few of the non-endemic species. In Osborne Park, where I stayed, there were New Holland Honeyeaters "everywhere".

4-10 January

I had a week with my family, staying at Harrington. I only had one actual birdwatching event in that time, a trip to Old Bar from where there had been reports of a Roseate Tern, which is a NSW rarity and never before recorded in the Hunter Region. I managed to find that bird, plus one Aleutian Tern, three Lesser Sand Plovers, one Greater Sand Plover, three Grey Plovers, two Sanderlings and various other species. Red-necked Stints were present in high numbers (about 120 of them) and there were lots of Far Eastern Curlews too. A good day out! The general area around Harrington had several Ospreys, a Striated Heron, some Bar-tailed Godwits and Far Eastern Curlews, and there werestacks of Australasian Figbirds at the caravan park. I didn't go too the rainforest, which was right at the edge of where the fires had been. Much of the Crowdy Bay National Park was burnt out late last year.