Thinking About Birds

December 2020

31 December

Margaret and I drove to Thredbo; from there, I took the chairlift and walked to the summit of Mount Kosciuszko. The only species I found on my walk were Australasian Pipits and Little Ravens. There were scores of the latter, and it was the only species I found at the summit.

30 December

In the morning I went to the Coornartha Nature Reserve, which is about 15 km out of Cooma (where Margaret and I are staying, in a cabin at the local caravan park). I didn't find many bird species (nor much numbers for the species that were there) and my highlight was a pair of White-eared Honeyeaters. Heading back to Cooma later, I stopped for roadside birding alongside a paddock, after I had seen a probable Eurasian Skylark soaring over the paddock. I was right; there turned out to be at least three of them in the paddock, each bird occasionally doing a display flight. I managed some modest quality photos of birds in flight. Also using the paddock were a couple of Brown Songlarks, and a European Goldfinch popped up on a fence briefly. I spent the afternoon in Cooma, mostly around the caravan park. A Pied Currawong had two dependent young, and there were at least five Gang-gang Cockatoos loafing in trees alongside the creek/gully plus several Little Ravens and some Common Blackbirds were around all the time.

28 December

After having been in "family lockdown" for a few days, I headed out to Ash Island mid-afternoon to search for the unusual Peregrine Falcon that has been reported from there several times there in the past week or so. It seems to be a migratory Asian subspecies bird! I couldn't find any trace of it nor of the Australian Shelducks which Ross and I found a week or so ago, and which many people have found subsequently. However, there were stacks of Red-necked Avocets, also some Pied Stilts and miscellaneous other shorebirds (including two Far Eastern Curlew). Amongst the duck species were several Australasian Shovelers.

24 December

I did a quick trip up to the Gloucester Tops; leaving mid-morning after I had dropped my daughter Sally at Broadmeadow Station. I was up at the Tops for less than an hour: my main task was to refresh one of my trail cameras (new batteries, new SD card) and move it to what I hope will be a better location. I also fiddled with two other cameras. All of that was to do with recording Rufous Scrub-birds. The bird at the territory I was visiting was very vocal, up until the time that I started hammering in a stake. I didn't keep track of the other birds I saw on my trip.

23 December

No birding today, but I spent lots of time analysing yesterday's downloaded camera recordings. Also, I met the three main bird-banders for lunch and we reviewed all that had happened during the year, plus made our preliminary plans for 2021.We're aiming to get a colour-banding program underway on Broughton Island, plus to work on non-twitchable scrub-birds in the Gloucester Tops (ie, the birds a bit more far-flung).

22 December

Rob Kyte and I went up to the Gloucester Tops, detouring firstly into Gloucester where we collected nine trail cameras from NPWS. We installed all of those cameras in the same Rufous Scrub-bird territory, where already there were four cameras deployed. So, there are thirteen cameras in total. Whilst up there, we downloaded the images from cameras 1-4 , but on first inspections ton-site) there weren't many positive results. It's all very much hit or miss!  The later inspection (at home) revealed that there were two recordings of scrub-birds.

16 December

Mid-morning I went out to Stockton Borehole swamp, near Teralba, from where there had been recent reports of some Pectoral Sandpipers. There were many hundreds of Sharp-tailed Sandpipers, and it was necessary to scrutinise every bird in the many dense flocks of them and look for the distinguishing features of the Pectoral Sandpiper. I found one foraging bird early on but lost sight of it when I raised my camera. However, I fired off several shots and when I looked at the images later, on my computer, I found that I had managed several photos of it (all were long-distance and low quality). Other birders were also out there and a couple of them found another bird, roosting. Again it was a long way off and my photos aren't great, but at least I had decent views through my telescope. Other species present today included Pied Stilt (90+ birds) and Red-necked Avocet (six birds).

14 December

We've had some success with a trail camera in a Rufous Scrub-bird territory in the Gloucester Tops, so I went up there in the morning with three more cameras, which I installed in the same general area but covering different fields of view. I became very wet as a result, as it had been raining all morning and was still drizzling heavily while I was there. Fortunately I'd had the common sense to take a change of clothes with me. I went into Gloucester for lunch and then a meeting with the Ranger, Peter Beard. I showed him the videos we'd obtained and made arrangements to borrow four more trail cameras from him (I will pick them up next week).

13 December

My pelagic trip was cancelled, so in the afternoon Margaret and I were able to go to the HBOC Christmas Party at Walka Waterworks. I didn't do any birding. Instead, I really enjoyed the face-to-face catch-ups that the afternoon delivered. But, my throat was very stressed by the time that we left! I haven't talked for so long since the beginning of the year.

12 December

Ross and I did the Ash Island survey, another early start. We took over 5 hours doing the survey, for various reasons but mainly to do with birds (also, Ross mis-placed his car keys at one stage!). We had several Far Eastern Curlew at Milhams Pond / Phoenix Flats and also 64 Pacific Golden Plover at the latter site. They took us a while to count! Departing from there, we saw a Pheasant Coucal scurrying with food (a small lizard) to what almost certainly was a nest or a youngster. However, despite a rummage around, we couldn't get any additional information. At the main ponds, things were rather good. We had ~350 Red-necked Avocet, also ~180 Sharp-tailed Sandpiper and ~100 Pied Stilt. There were lots of birds plus lots of disturbance, and thus we took ages to arrive at counts which we thought were reasonable. Then came another highlight - at the western side of Wader Pond there were two Australian Shelducks. Initially I thought a pair but Ross's long-distance photos show a female and a juvenile female.

11 December

I set out very early to go to the Warrah/Windy area, from where there had been several interesting reports in recent days. It was an unpleasant drive for much of the way (heavy mine traffic) but after I had turned south at Willow Tree it was much better. After that, I found Cockatiels at a few places, 10-15 birds overall, and also some Musk Lorikeets. I spent about three hours at Cattle Lane, in unpleasant winds, by which time I had flushed two Red-chested Button-quail and three Little Button-quail, also a Stubble Quail plus several Brown Songlarks and many Horsfield's Bushlarks. And as I left, not far along Harrisons Plain Road, there was a pair of Stubble Quail with a chick.

7-9 December

Margaret and I finally did our three day trip to Nundle, after an aborted attempt at the same two years ago (our car went off-road for repairs the day before our intended trip, after a P-plater ploughed into it that afternoon).  The only serious stop on the way there was at Paradise Park near Murrurundi. I did a longish walk but found few birds. In late afternoon, after arriving at Nundle, I went to the Sheba Dams. These are one of the Tamworth birding routes, but it was rather quiet. However, I found several Eurasian Coots with chicks, plus an Australasian Darter with very interesting plumage features (which I photographed). Around the caravan park (where we had taken a cabin) there were Common Blackbirds, although I never ever saw one in the three days that we stayed!

On Tuesday I headed south-east, back into the Hunter Region, the north-west part of it. I stopped at several spots although there wasn't much bush habitat anywhere and I'd have needed to go a lot further to escape the cleared paddocks. However, I found several Rufous Songlarks, also some White-winged Trillers and Dusky Woodswallows. I reckon they are good records for that area (as was White-throated Gerygone).

On Wednesday we headed back, via the Crawney Pass and then Timor. I birded at the Crawney Top TSR where I found Cicadabird, Oriental Dollarbird and Leaden Flycatcher. At a patch further along (where there were many grass trees) I found Scarlet Honeyeater plus several other species including, once again, Rufous Songlarks and White-winged Trillers.

5-6 December

I joined the first two of the three days of the Rufous Scrub-bird banding project. On Saturday I visited several known sites, and on Sunday I walked the first 5 km of the Careys Peak Track, listening and looking for scrub-birds.  On Saturday I made sound recordings of some birds, and of several more on Sunday. I was lucky enough to have many sightings of scrub-birds on Sunday (3 birds, ten sightings) but Saturday was a dip in that regard. There were lots of Olive Whistlers (they were everywhere!) but the other Gloucester Tops specialists were keeping a low profile. I heard a Paradise Riflebird several times on Saturday although could not get a sighting of it. I encountered many Bassian Thrush on my expeditions, including one bird for which I did not recognise the call and had to get outside advice.

Our trail camera results seem pretty exciting - there are several images of Rufous Scrub-birds apparently!  Analysis still underway.

On my way home I ha a close encounter with a a female Painted Button-quail. It seemed clear that she had recently experienced a close encounter with a car, and was shocked by that. I moved her off the road, and she appeared (eventually) to have recovered. After ten or so minutes she departed the scene.

3 December

I was on a pelagic trip out of Swansea. We saw many shearwaters, especially Wedge-tailed and Flesh-footed but there were many flocks of migrating Short-tailed Shearwaters and we saw a few Fluttering Shearwaters also. Several Grey-faced Petrels were around, plus we saw 2-3 each of White-faced Storm-petrel and Wilson's Storm-petrel. There were only two albatross - a Shy-type Albatross and a Black-browed Albatross, and there were 3-4 Australasian Gannets. Several  Pomarine Jaegers followed us back to the Swansea Heads.

November 2020

27-29 November

Six of us went to Broughton Island for a special extra trip. We spent three days exploring the island and finding much new information about its bird populations. One highlight was a new species, Banded Lapwing, which must have been lost - it was briefly seen and then it departed the island. We found two Gould's Petrels in nest boxes, Ospreys with a chick in their nest (we also confirmed the ongoing presence of one of last year's chicks), many footprints of Beach Stone-curlew (but no sightings of a bird), and vagrant Tree Martins and on passage White-throated Needletails. Several pairs of Sooty Oystercatchers appeared to be breeding, as were some Tawny Grassbirds. We went to the Eastern Reef Egret nest, where the cameras had recorded three more visits but there was no sign of any breeding activity. We had several sightings of up to four Reef Egrets over the three days that we were on the island.

We heard several Buff-banded Rails but there were no indications of any Lewin's Rails being present. Breeding activity by Wedge-tailed Shearwaters was well and truly underway. Raptors were few and far between (compared to most other visits) but we did find a pair of Peregrine Falcons with a juvenile, which almost certainly is a local breeding record. The three of them gave us brilliant flight exhibitions.

21-23 November

Margaret and I went to the Gloucester Tops where we camped with Rob Kyte and Greg & Judy Little and worked on Rufous Scrub-birds. We made a couple of attempts at catching and banding scrub-birds but were unsuccessful; however, I was able to record a couple of birds and also we cleared some net lanes to be ready for the December visit. In the high country I found a pair of Leaden Flycatchers (which definitely were not Satin Flycatchers) and saw Large-billed Scrub-wrens and Olive Whistlers. Down at the campsite, the highlight was to hear a Brush Cuckoo, and we had a very vocal Superb Lyrebird just across the river from our tent - it was great listening to him in the mornings as I got ready to go up the mountain.

10-17 November 2020 - Western NSW trip


I went to Bourke via Burren Junction (where I stopped overnight). From Bourke, I went to the Gundabooka National Park where I stayed three nights. I re-stocked my supplies in Bourke and then went to Toorale NP. I was intending to stay there for a few nights but the birding wasn't all that great, so I left after just one night. I went to Cobar via Louth and then from Cobar to Warren. It became very hot (40C on Sunday, 42C on Monday) and so I opted for motels and air conditioning in my overnight stops. On Tuesday I attempted some NW Hunter Region birding but that didn't work too well and I headed home arriving late Tuesday afternoon. Overall, 140 species.

17 November

It wasn't a great final day. I drove from Warren to Coonabarabran, where there were no birding opportunities en route. After a longish (~1 hr) stay in Coona while I sorted out a mechanical problem with the car, I went east, via Premer, to the upper NW parts of the Hunter Region. I got a bit lost, I couldn't find my targets destinations and here were no areas of any decent bird habitat. Eventually I gave up. I had lunch at Willow Tree,  then headed homewards. My only stop was at Doughboy Hollow, where initially I could see 11 Plumed Whistling-ducks and could hear several more. And then, in groups of 10-30+, the birds lifted off and flew in a south-easterly direction. My count was of ~350 birds overall.

16 November

Between Cobar and Nyngan I made three stops. Although not finding much at any of them, I spent some time at one stop (The Florida Rest Area) attempting to photograph Cockatiels in flight. It's not easy!  I had a long stop at Nyngan, where the Bogan River was almost bursting at the seams. There was good birding, including I found both Little Friarbirds and White-browed Woodswallows on nests. There were some Common Mynas too, which Birdata thought was exceptional and queried my report.

After I left Nyngan the birding opportunities became less frequent. I went north, up to the Macquarie Marshes, but I only got as far as Monkeygar Creek. Here, there were lots of waterbirds, including several Magpie Geese, and there were Purple Swamphens with young. There was about a half-metre of water across the road at Monkeygar and so I turned back, heading for Warren. I made a brief stop en route, after seeing some White-winged Fairy-wrens by the roadside. There were Little Crows at this spot.

At Warren I walked around the Tiger Bay Wetlands. The highlight here was two pairs of Pink-eared Ducks each with four ducklings. I also had very close encounters with a pair of Diamond Doves. They were feeding on the track in front of me: every time I got to within ~4m they would fly forwards, but only by about 10m or so: we kept interacting all through my walk.

15 November

Although I had booked for three nights, I decided to cut my losses and leave. I made a leisurely exit, driving the full Darling River Drive circuit and visiting to Toorale Homestead (which is not open for visitors; we can only gawp from outside the fence). At a small waterhole further on, I found White-winged Fairy-wrens, Australasian Pipits and a Brown Songlark. By mid-morning, it was a very hot day (around 40 C for much of the day). I drove to Cobar via Louth, stopping in the mulga for lunch - where it was hot and there were no birds. At Cobar, I made for the reservoir; I had plans to camp there as in my 2003 trip but camping is no longer allowed. I walked around it, going slightly astray towards the end, and finding Plum-headed Finch, Red-winged Parrots, Fairy Martins and White-browed Babblers plus a lot more. I booked a motel room for the night, where I had some pool time to freshen up. In the evening, I walked around town for a while, finding my first Common Blackbirds for the trip (and for the year).


14 November

I packed up early and headed out via the Yanda road again, stopping at the fourth dam (to search unsuccessfully for a missing pen). Here I saw a group of five Major Mitchell's Cockatoos, also Emu and Diamond Dove. I had a longer stop at the Yanda campsite. Although it is near the river I was pleased I hadn't camped there as it was very open country (big spaces between the trees), hot and bare. I wandered for an hour also, finding a mixed flock of Yellow-rumped and Chestnut-rumped Thornbills plus Southern Whiteface, and also elsewhere some Buff-rumped Thornbills. I also saw Blue Bonnet for the first time for the trip.

I went into Bourke to restock, staying for lunch in a park. Then I retraced my steps, and beyond, first to Louth and thence to the Toorale National Park. The NP isn't all that far from Bourke, but my route involved about 170 km of driving. Did I miss some other option? Anyhow, the park is very new and they are still working on the facilities, and it wasn't very birdy. Much of the National Park is Warrego River floodplain, with very little vegetation taller than half a metre, and hence not much birdlife. My booked campsite was alongside the Darling River (where I splashed about, later). There were Brown Treecreepers all over the place, also plenty of Budgerigars and Cockatiels flying around. During the night, an Australian Owlet-nightjar came in quite close to my tent.

13 November

I set out early, taking the road towards the Yanda campsite. I was intending to go the full distance, but just 2.6 km along it I found a lot of bird activity at what turned out to be a wonderful spot. There was a dam approximately 100m off-road, with plenty of water and plenty of birds. The dominant species were Budgerigars, Masked Woodswallows, Crimson Chats and Zebra Finch but I also found Rufous Songlark, Brown Songlark, Red-winged Parrot, Mulga Parrot, White-winged Triller, various water birds, and several Emu. The highlight was a juvenile Black Honeyeater. Another highlight was a Black-eared Cuckoo.

A few kilometres down the road, at another dam, there were more Emus including a large group of youngsters with a male. This spot had some Southern Whiteface, and then a big surprise (for me) - a pair of Bourke's Parrots, which came down for a drink. I found another pair of them at yet another dam further along, where there were also Grey Teal with chicks, seven Australasian Grebes including juveniles, three Diamond Doves and a Black-tailed Native-hen. My final stop, with lunch, was at Five Mile, an old homestead and shearing complex, all falling to pieces. Here I found a Major Mitchell's Cockatoo, which did not cooperate, and heard Restless Flycatcher and Black-eared Cuckoo.

Late afternoon, I went back to the Yanda Road dam. It was hot and windy, and definitely less birdy than in the morning .However, I found a pair of Black Honeyeaters, which was pretty good compensation. As well, a pair of Mulga Parrots flew through.

12 November

There was heavy rain and wind overnight - my set-up survived it okay, but I had a disturbed night. I birded around the campsite for a couple of hours (highlights: Spotted Bowerbird, Inland and Chestnut-rumped Thornbills, Masked Woodswallow plus yesterday's birds again). Then, I set out for Bennetts Gorge, about 20 km away. En route, I saw a group of three Common Bronzewings plus my first Budgerigars and more Masked Woodswallows. At the same spot there were Red-capped and Hooded Robins, and some Splendid Fairy-wrens.

Bennetts Gorge was terrific: large numbers of Budgerigars and Masked Woodswallows, several White-winged Trillers and Crimson Chats, a group of White-backed Swallows, both thornbills again, several Spiny cheeked Honeyeaters. Just after the start of the walk to the look out, I flushed a group of 4 Chestnut Quail-thrush, later getting an okay view of one of them. Back at my car and about to leave, I heard Pied Honeyeaters (two birds calling). I spent a while chasing them, eventually scoring a brief view of one bird.

I went to Millgowan after lunch, where there is aboriginal Rock Art. On my way there, I saw a male Emu with 10 chicks, later a lone adult in the same area. There were Apostlebirds on the walk, and the ubiquitous Crested Bellbirds (they are calling everywhere I go). The campsite was busy tonight, with five rigs set up (including mine). I did much of the walk to Mount Gunderbooka, finding Brown Treecreepers, juvenile Hooded Robins and two Masked Woodswallows carrying food.

11 November

I left quite early, before dawn, as the floodlights were annoying. I made a brief stop at the river at Walgett, where amongst other things I found Apostlebirds and a pair of Sacred Kingfishers. My next stop was just passed Walgett, where a Little Eagle caught my attention. The spot was productive, and included a group of 10 to 15 Plum-headed Finch plus some Zebra Finch, three Diamond Doves (another first for this year) and a Rufous Songlark. I stopped at The Big Warrambool (not much there) and Brewarrina Weir (where there were various standard birds), thence to Bourke where I shopped and had an early lunch. From there I drove south for 50 km, turning then into Gundabooka National Park. My campsite booking was at Dry Tank, approximately 20 km in. There was no one else there when I arrived, but later in the afternoon a couple of rigs arrived. I walked around the general area for the remainder of the afternoon, finding Red-capped Robins with a juvenile, Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater and Crested Bellbird. A storm was brewing.

10 November

I left Newcastle just before 8 am and drove non-stop to Burning Mountain, just past Wingen. The morning's highlight was two Black Kites near Scone. I did the walk to the scene of the Burning Mountain smoulder; it was nothing like it was 35 years ago when one could walk right up to it. I found a spot en route which had Buff-rumped Thornbills, Speckled Warblers and Weebills, and there were several Musk Lorikeets seen during the walk.

My next major stop was at Narrabri, where I walked a section around the lake. Here there was a Glossy Ibis and a Latham's Snipe, also plenty of Australian Reed-warblers and my first Cockatiels and Yellow-throated Miners for the year, plus a Cattle Egret colony. I stayed overnight at the Burren Junction bore, where I enjoyed a hot dip and also saw several Black tailed Native-hens. There were White-winged Fairy-wrens nest building, and I heard a Brown Songlark.

4 November

I got word that two Beach Stone-curlews had been seen on Corrie Island last week. They've bred there in the past so today I decided to paddle over in my kayak and check out the report. I didn't find any Beach Stone-curlews but there were plenty of other good shorebirds including 48 Far Eastern Curlew, 162 Bar-tailed Godwits, 23 Red Knots, 18 Whimbrel, 7 Pied Oystercatchers and a smattering of other shorebirds. Also, there were 18 Little Terns flying around (but no signs of them breeding). Before I left to come home, I stopped at the Hawks Nest boat ramp where I found a group of six Grey-tailed Tattlers roosting. In the evening I joined the HBOC management meeting (by Zoom).

October 2020

30 October - 1 November

A group of six of us went to Broughton Island for the quarterly visit. Unfortunately, the weather deteriorated towards the end and we had to depart first thing on Sunday morning; however, that still gave us two full days out there. The work was a combination of bird surveys and bird banding. On Friday afternoon when the tide was right, Tom Clarke and I climbed to Pinkatop, where we checked the nest boxes. One of them had a Gould's Petrel; all the others were empty. There were the usual good numbers of Sooty Oystercatchers about, and my fellow-surveyors found four nests with eggs at various places. Overall though, bird numbers were down and we didn't find too many crippler-type highlights. A Channel-billed Cuckoo flying over on Sunday morning was perhaps the most interesting observation - we've only had one prior record.

On Saturday afternoon, when the tide was right, three of us ventured to the Eastern Reef Egret cave, where we refreshed the cameras we've installed there. Later that afternoon I reviewed the images - and I'm very happy with what we've got!

On our drive home a Grey Goshawk was hunting over the highway. We'd also seen an Emu on the way up to Nelson Bay but that's well-known as not being a wild bird.

25-27 October

Margaret and I went to the Gloucester Tops, arriving at lunchtime; we stayed at a cabin in the commercial caravan park for two nights. It was a rather wet few days, and I was soaked through by the end of each day. I spent several hours per day in three different Rufous Scrub-bird territories, scoring some sightings of two different birds but failing to see a band linking things back to the bird banded in late September. We put a radio tracker onto it during the banding process, but we have not been getting a signal since two days after that. I think that the transmitter has failed.

There were Olive Whistlers wherever I went in the high country, also some Satin Flycatchers. Lower down, there were Leaden Flycatchers. I heard Rufous Whistlers at a few places -  normally that's a very uncommon bird in the Tops. On Tuesday morning during the ascent, we saw a Koala - which the Ranger was very interested to know the details about. We saw many Superb Lyrebirds including where we were staying, also several Australian Brush-turkeys.

18-21 October

On Sunday afternoon I set out for a 4-day trip into the Upper Hunter. I rearranged my original plans and went to the Durridgere Rd / Smedes Rd area because of a report the day before of Ground Cuckoo-shrikes. I didn't find them that day but I was onto two birds late on Monday morning. However, my searching on Sunday led me to a site on Smedes Rd where I found a group of 15 or so Apostlebirds. That's a drop-dead Hunter Region rarity and a regional tick for me. I posted the news, and since then many others have found those birds. That sighting was a highlight, but so too were the many Brown Songlarks in that area plus I had great views (and managed photos) of Horsfield's Bushlarks. Later I found Rufous Songlarks, White-winged Trillers, Hooded Robins with dependent young, Dusky Woodswallows, Little Ravens etc.

I joined the Martindale crew late on Monday and we spent Tuesday and Wednesday doing our usual surveys. We found about 100 species, although nothing out of the ordinary and no inland woodswallows (White-browed or Masked), and also we found no White-backed Swallows. Around the campsite there were pairs (?) of Australian Owlet-nightjar, White-throated Nightjar and Southern Boobook. We found Brown Songlarks and Rufous Songlarks at a few sites and I was delighted to get (brief) sightings of Stubble Quail at one site (plus I heard them at another).

17 October

I did the monthly Ash Island survey in the morning. It was an enjoyable day and I found lots of great birds, starting with some Far Eastern Curlews at Milhams Pond and Pacific Golden Plovers (31 birds) at Phoenix Flats. At Teal Waters, the White-breasted Woodswallows were fighting off a visiting Australian Hobby. Out at the main ponds, there were small numbers of Sharp-tailed and Curlew Sandpipers, also Red-necked Avocets, Red-capped Plovers and Black-fronted Dotterels. The 30 or so Pied Stilts included two very young birds - they could fly, but probably they had hatched from not all that far away. Swan Pond had 700 or so teal, the majority of which (564 birds) were Grey Teal. Fairy Martins were collecting mud at Fish Fry Flats. My final bird for the day was a Buff-banded Rail, which darted across Cabbage Tree Rd as I drove out.

14 October

In the evening it was the HBOC meeting, for which I was the guest speaker, talking about Broughton Island. That's the first time I've been a Zoom speaker (not that it was a challenge, but I suppose it is a milestone). The talk seemed to go alright.

12 October

I went up to the Gloucester Tops again, with my main aim being to survey a 3km stretch of Gloucester Tops Rd for which we have had no Rufous Scrub-bird records in 2020 (and nor did we have in 2019). I return-walked it slowly twice (ie 12 km covered) and never heard a peep out of one. However, as consolation I did find a pair of Satin Flycatchers, presumably newly-returned. There was a very vocal male Rufous Whistler, which is an uncommon species at high altitude, and many (and vocal) Golden Whistlers. There also were Black-faced Monarchs, Olive Whistlers, Red-browed Treecreepers, Flame Robins and Crescent Honeyeaters up there. I recorded all three Whistler species within a couple of hundred metres of each other; now that's not an every-day event!

7 October

I went to Ash Island for a few hours, firstly doing the boardwalk/rainforest track and then going out to Area E. There were 43 Latham's Snipe at the boardwalk wetlands, all of which flushed before I was anywhere near to them, but I was able to track some down later and have better views. There were several Purple Swamphen chicks, and an Intermediate Egret in breeding plumage. I also saw my first Rufous Fantail for the season. At the Area E ponds there were a few Red-necked Avocets and 30-40 Pied Stilts, plus plenty of teal (mostly Chestnut Teal) and a single Aust. Gull-billed Tern. The highlight for me was to see a juvenile Black-fronted Dotterel with its parents, and later two lots of Red-capped Plovers each had runner.

3-5 October

Margaret and I went on the HBOC camp at Goulburn River National Park (to the area which I have named as Fossickers). That is a known Barking Owl territory and one of the highlights of the weekend was to have daily sightings of one of the pair reliably at its roost site; also to hear the pair each evening/night. I found nests of Dusky Woodswallows, Eastern Yellow Robins and Restless Flycatchers, and others found various other species with nests or with recently fledged young. It has been a good season out there (finally!). I walked the creek line, the highlight being to find a group of four Rockwarblers, which came in quite close. I also saw several Diamond Firetails, lots of Speckled Warblers, and one brief glimpse of a male Hooded Robin. There was at least one Black-eared Cuckoo around (others saw two birds together). I also saw a Shining Bronze-cuckoo (and heard several more). Other noteworthy sightings for me included Diamond Firetail, Red-winged Parrot, many Rufous Songlarks and also plenty of White-winged Trillers.

September 2020

27-30 September

Margaret and I were back to the Gloucester Tops again, this time staying in a cabin in the commercial park and doing day trips from there up to the Tops. Part of my mission was to track the bird we'd recently banded; also I was recording some more Rufous Scrub-birds in their territories. I'm amazed at the variety of calls that they make. And on Wednesday morning I believe that I recorded a female as well as a male. Fantastic!

We saw a pair of Glossy Black-Cockatoos one morning on the ascent, also many Superb Lyrebirds (from all over the place). I had very close views of an Olive Whistler on Tuesday morning (while I was chasing a scrub-bird).

24-25 September

I headed back to the Gloucester Tops late morning, having re-provisioned during my brief return home. I got to the scrub-bird site mid-afternoon and spent the rest of the day tracking it, not that it ever moved very far. I slept in my car overnight, directly opposite the territory, and early morning I was back out there with the radio tracker. However, although the bird was calling and I could get its location easily, I couldn't pick up any signal with the antenna and receiver. I wasn't sure what was happening, and eventually gave up and headed back home. Later, Rob Kyte came around and we were able to pick up a signal from the second transmitter that we have, so it wasn't an equipment problem (apparently). I'll be trying again up there soon.

On my way home, I checked my emails and thus diverted onto Ash Island to chase down the Lesser Yellowlegs that had been seen the day before (it probably was the bird we had called a Marsh Sandpiper on Saturday). I found the bird and managed some reasonable photos although they are not great (the wind was awesome and it was very difficult to hold the camera steady). There were a couple of Whiskered Terns out there as well, my first sighting of them for the year. The Yellowlegs was not a new bird for me as I also saw the one that visited in 2001 (plus I have seen them in Argentina, where they belong), but now I have photos of it for my collection.

21-23 September

I led a team of eight people doing the annual Rufous Scrub-bird surveys in the Gloucester Tops, and the three scrub-bird banders came along as well. Monday afternoon was wet (mostly only drizzly and we got all the scheduled surveys done) but Tuesday and Wednesday were fine albeit a bit too windy at times especially in the afternoons. We found 20 different individuals in the 21 km of transects, which was quite an improvement on the 2019 result (when there was a drought on). Several of the surveyors actually got to see a bird (I saw two birds but one sighting was very brief; the other one was quite good). All the usual other Gloucester Tops species were present as well, and it was a lovely three days. The highlight though was the news that the banders had succeeded in trapping a Scrub-bird and fitting a radio transmitter to the bird! That's been my dream for several years and it has finally happened!

19 September

Ross, Milly and I did the Ash Island survey in the morning. We only found three migratory shorebirds (one each of Far Eastern Curlew, Red-necked Stint and Marsh Sandpiper) but there were three Red-necked Avocets on Swan Pond and 50+ Pied Stilt scattered across various ponds; the first time in ages that we've had avocets or stilts on Ash Island. One of the stilts was on a nest - that's the first time ever that I've seen a stilt's nest! We found 15 Red-capped Plovers and 3 Black-fronted Dotterels too, and a pair of Chestnut Teal with 10 ducklings.

16-18 September

On Wednesday I did another day-trip to the Gloucester Tops, on a gorgeous spring day. My main mission was to record some Rufous Scrub-bird calls, which went well; however, after I got home I spent two days editing the calls ! It's a time-consuming task. I visited three scrub-bird territories, and all three birds were actively calling for much of the time. At one territory I saw the bird twice - once it was up in a shrub, singing, and once it was at my feet. That time the bird popped out to have a look at me! When I went through the recordings I realised that there had been two birds in the territory, one presumably was the female. I was within half a metre of that bird for more than five minutes; it was making lots of clicks and softish whistles, but I never saw it. At the third territory, I followed the bird for well over an hour, eventually obtaining a very clear look at it. It had a yellow band on its right leg! It was the bird we banded in November 2018, still in the same territory.

13 September

I was on a pelagic trip from Nelson Bay to the shelf today. Conditions were fair (only a light breeze, but at least there was some air movement unlike on my previous pelagic trip). We had lots of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters with us all day, hungry birds which had probably only just arrived back. We had occasional, brief views of Fluttering and Hutton's Shearwaters but they ignored the boat, similarly for some Providence Petrels. Before long though, we had White-faced Storm-petrels come in, perhaps 10-12 birds in total. They often came in very close and I got some reasonable photos. Then, a real highlight - a Soft-plumaged Petrel which briefly investigated the boat. It was a Hunter Region tick for me!  We had a Common Tern around for a while, which I hadn't seen at sea before (but, plenty of times from land) and, on our way back in, a Southern Giant-Petrel was briefly seen plus we had the unusual sighting of a Bar-tailed Godwit several km out at sea.

9 September

I did another day-trip to the Gloucester Tops. It was a drizzly cold day and I spent most of it deep in the bush tracking Rufous Scrub-birds to record them. I was soaked through by the time I had finished. However, I got recordings of various calls from three different individuals. I spent about 4 hours within <20m distance of a scrub-bird, but didn't ever see one!

I got home just in time for the HBOC Zoom meeting, which as usual was a very good meeting.

5 September

Margaret, Sally and I went to the Botanic Gardens for the morning. I covered a lot of ground but didn't find much really. There were quite a few Yellow-faced Honeyeaters and one of the White-cheeked Honeyeaters had a yellow crown from all the pollen it had accidentally collected.

4 September

I met with the bird banders (Judy, Greg and Rob) for a couple of hours and we sorted out dates for the next few months for the Broughton Island project work and the Rufous Scrub-bird project work.

3 September

I went to the Gloucester Tops today, visiting five Rufous Scrub-bird territories. Scrub-birds were calling at  two of them. The first was at what I believe is a new territory, about 200m from a long-occupied one where now there is no evidence of a bird being present. There has also been a bird at this new location on my past two visits. I made some recordings of it for a new project, but was never able to get close enough to see it. The second singing bird I also recorded, and saw it five times including once in the open as it ran across a log. However, I wasn't able to see if it had a colour band (which it almost certainly should have). There's always next time!

I saw my first Flame Robin for this season, and there were several Rose Robins around, also Red-browed Treecreepers, Crescent Honeyeaters and Olive Whistlers. Overall, it was a very pleasant day.

August 2020

22 August

Ross and I did the monthly Ash Island survey in the morning. With the wind chill factor, it was bitterly cold (and wet, at times) but we soldiered on. The best birding was had at Fish Fry Flats where we found the usual 15 or so Black-fronted Dotterels and 30+ Red-capped Plovers, also three Far Eastern Curlews which I’m guessing were newly returned birds. There were 22 Aust. Gull-billed Terns and six Caspian Terns there as well. We had close views of a dark phase Brown Falcon.

14-16 August

A group of six of us went to Broughton Island for the quarterly project visit. We had some COVID restrictions to follow, and it was windier than we wanted; however, we got a lot done. My camera at the Eastern Reef Egret nest was ruined by weather events post-installation, but we got some good images on the second camera (and we saw several of the birds over the three days). Coming back from visiting the nest, I found a Beach Stone-curlew - which is Broughton's first everrecord! And on Sunday there were two birds together. We had a young (sub-adult) Brahminy Kite at Esmeralda Cove the entire visit, with many great views of it, and seven other raptor species were seen during the three days (including the banders caught a Brown Goshawk). Neil, Bruce and I went to Pinkatop where we did some gardening to clear the White-faced Storm-petrel burrows and nests, and I made a plan for where to place cameras at the Gould's Petrel nest boxes. We heard Lewin's Rails several times and I had a brief view of one crossing a track. Also, we heard Pheasant Coucals several times - they have been missing on many of our recent visits so perhaps the wetter conditions have favoured them.

12 August

I went up to the Gloucester Tops for the day, visiting the two Rufous Scrub-bird territories where we previously have put bands onto birds. Both birds were only singing sporadically (for one bird, I had to wait for more than an hour for it to begin to call) and therefore I didn't have any success in getting close enough to them to see if either was banded. There were several Crescent Honeyeaters calling during the day. In the evening I attended HBOC's Zoom meeting, where there was an interesting talk given about avian paleontology.

11 August

In the afternoon I took part in a phone discussion about Rufous Scrub-bird monitoring/planning, chaired by Sam Vine from BirdLife Australia. The intent is to achieve a national approach and start to make things happen especially on the species recovery front. There were some good points raised; the issue is lack of funding but BLA and the various Local Land Services groups have ideas for dealing with that.

9 August

Greg, Judy and I met at Rob's place for a few hours, to sort out our thoughts about radio tracking equipment for Rufous Scrub-birds and various other species. We decided to replace our very old, borrowed equipment by new state-of-the-art items and made our choices. We'll have all the new gear by the time the scrub-birds start getting serious about breeding.

5 August

I attended the HBOC Zoom committee meeting in the evening, having spent all of the day's spare time (when not child-minding) generating more of my Penta Puzzles. They're still going onto the Australian Birdlife website to help get people through their days of lockdown.

3 August

I was in a Zoom meeting in the afternoon, to discuss options for regular Manning estuary surveys. It looks like they will be starting up, replicating my older surveys which were done mainly by land, but also incorporating a boat to allow access to parts of the estuary that I was never able to get to. Later in the afternoon, I reviewed my draft Broughton Island report with the ranger, Susanne Callaghan, and we decided to postpone the scheduled visit by a week on account of the lousy weather forecast for this Friday-Sunday.

31 July - 2 August

Margaret and I went up to Harrington late on Thursday and then I did various bird surveys Friday and Saturday, and on Sunday morning (early, to catch the high tide). I found some Varied Trillers in the Harrington rainforest both visits, and two Topknot Pigeons on Saturday. Saltwater NP was burnt quite badly in the summer fires (except in the grassed area) and didn't have a lot of birds but a highlight was to spot a pair of Aust. Pied Oystercatchers, one of which had a leg flag. From my inquiries the bird was banded near Coffs Harbour in late 2009, presumably as a chick.

I found good numbers of Double-banded Plovers and Bar-tailed Godwits in the estuary surveys, also four Far Eastern Curlews, a Sanderling and a Ruddy Turnstone. I also saw singles of White-fronted Tern and early-returning Little Tern and at Coopernook I had good views of a Buff-banded Rail (until it saw me and hid immediately, although I still had obscured views of it).

July 2020

27-29 July

Four of us did the Martindale surveys, assembling late on Monday afternoon at Medhurst Bridge and then going to the campsite. I went there via Doughboy Hollow (where there were 800-900 Plumed Whistling-Ducks, all out in the open where I could count them properly), Lake Liddell (Great Crested Grebes were the highlight) and Muswellbrook sewage works (Pink-eared Ducks and Australian Shovelers were the highlights). It was a dirty day weather-wise, and similarly on Tuesday. I decided to sleep in the car at night rather than put up a tent.

At Martindale we found 80+ species overall, including Spiny-cheeked Honeyeaters at several locations, Grey-crowned Babblers, Zebra Finches, a Spotted Harrier, Wedge-tailed Eagles, Speckled Warblers and Dusky Woodswallows. The highlights were White-backed Swallows (a group of four birds) and a Collared Sparrowhawk, which made an attempt at one of the swallows. The bird of the day almost was eaten by the runner-up!

25 July

It was the monthly Ash Island survey, which Ross Zimmerman and I did after first meeting up with Nev McNaughton to discuss some Birdata matters. We did OK with raptors, finding five different types of them. There was only one migratory shorebird, a Far Eastern Curlew, but once again we had good numbers of Red-capped Plovers and Black-fronted Dotterels out at the main ponds, and a group of three Pied Stilts. Many pairs of Black Swans had cygnets, especially those on Deep Pond. We heard Shining Bronze-cuckoos at four separate locations and Mangrove Gerygones were calling too.

24 July

Today, the absence of wind was good. We did the winter Port Stephens waterbirds survey, which can be fraught in terms of finding a window of weather opportunity. This time the fraughtness was more to do with COVID restrictions; however, after some management hurdles we managed to get all six boats out and all the sectors were properly surveyed. I did the Winda Woppa and Corrie Island section, accompanied by Jim Cutler and Mark Ingram from NPWS. I found good numbers of Aust. Pied Oystercatchers, Bar-tailed Godwits and Far Eastern Curlews, also some Sooty Oystercatchers and Whimbrels. And in the sand dunes, 10-15 each of Red-capped Plovers and Double-banded Plovers. All the other teams had good counts too.

23 July

I was on a pelagic trip from Swansea to the shelf today, and feeling quite pleased to be on board because it had COVID-restricted numbers and I had made the cut. We saw several small inshore groups of Hutton's Shearwaters and Fluttering Shearwaters on the way out, and had many Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross and Black-browed Albatross following the boat by the time we reached the shelf. Unfortunately, soon afterwards the wind dropped and not much more happened!  A couple of Shy Albatross types came by and three Providence Petrels flew by briefly. We went back slightly early, would you believe.

19 July

I went to the HBOC outing which was our New Members Day, at the Wetlands Centre. We had a pleasant walk around the site, not finding anything out of the ordinary but with plenty of opportunities to explain some things to the newer birders and even find some new birds for them. A Fan-tailed Cuckoo gave us good views (and plenty of calls) and there were several Magpie Geese and Royal Spoonbills roosting at the top pond. A Spangled Drongo came by while we were assembled at lunch time, and posed nicely for a while. The day's highlight was a Black Kite, which flew through just as I was up to the raptors section of calling the bird list.

14 July

The Silvereyes paper in Corella was officially out today (ie it's now on the Corella website) so I did some admin work around that plus I reviewed a manuscript on shorebirds that had been submitted for Stilt. Quite time-consuming stuff!

8 July

In the evening it was the HBOC meeting, which once again was done by Zoom and went smoothly. There was quite a lot made of my Hobbs Medal award, perhaps too much (but, I did enjoy it). 

7 July

I went along to the HBOC mid-week outing, which started at Ray Lawler Park in Morpeth. There were at least eight Nankeen Night-Herons in their usual roost; it was the first time I've seen that species this year. Everything else there was fairly standard. Later we went around to Earthcare Park, where we were greeted by large numbers of Musk Lorikeets plus lesser numbers of at least two other lorikeet species. Down at the wetlands a group of Chestnut-breasted Mannikins flew over me, and I heard a probably Australian Spotted Crake but not for long enough to be completely confident about it.

5 July

I finally finished the Broughton Island report (at least, the draft of it) and sent it to the NPWS Ranger Susanne Callaghan for her comments. It's been taking up a lot of my time this past week or more!

June 2020

29 June

I joined a group inspection of "Curlew Point", an area on Kooragang Island which is being restored to shorebird habitat by removal of mangroves and other weeds. I told the group that I reckon I saw my first ever shorebirds there, back in the 1980s when I was newly arrived in Newcastle (the site then was called Fluoride Spit, because of a nearby factory, and it was all shelly sand and mud ie no mangroves). The mangrove removal was still happening and hence not many birds, but I reckon it will be great in future years. A Little Eagle flew over us while we were out there, and two European Goldfinch flew across in front of my car as I drove to the meeting spot.

28 June

Rob Kyte and I went to the Gloucester Tops (as did lots of other people!). We focussed on two Rufous Scrub-bird territories. One bird was calling when I arrived and for 15-20 minutes after that, but then went quiet for the day. The other bird, it was calling more often but we're not sure if it was the normal bird as it was more than 200m from its usual area. Unfortunately we couldn't get a view of it to see if it had a colour band. Other birds were quiet too but we recorded Red-browed Treecreeper, Crescent Honeyeater, Superb Lyrebird, Olive Whistler etc. Very cold day up there, maximum of 6C.

25-26 June

I'm working on a report covering the first 3 years of phase 2 of the Broughton Island and I finally have begun to make some decent progress on it. Also, I have received the proofs for the Corella paper about Broughton Island Silvereyes i.e. that one is almost done and dusted now.

22-24 June

Margaret and I went up to Seal Rocks for a few days, which gave me some birding opportunities. On the way there we stopped at Neranie, in Myall Lakes NP.  There was no blossom hence hardly any nectivores, but I had a nice encounter with a small group of Varied Sittellas. After we'd settled in at Seal Rocks I walked to the lighthouse, finding about 30 species, nothing out of the ordinary but I had nice views of some species e.g. New Holland Honeyeater. Next day I tried more sites in the National Park, where I found Forest Ravens a couple of times and a pair of Brahminy Kites. I also tried at Smiths Lake, which was full of water and no waterbirds, but I had several species of honeyeater (in small numbers, on the track to Horse Point). Back in the area around the lighthouse I found a couple of Topknot Pigeons and a pair of Aust. Pied Oystercatchers on a beach.

Next morning, on a different beach there was a Sooty Oystercatcher and about 30 Topknot Pigeons around the village, also many Australasian Figbirds - they were far more vocal than they had been before. We went home via the Bombah Point ferry and a walk at Dees Corner/Mungo Brush.

21 June

I was on a pelagic out of Port Stephens all day, feeling fortunate to do so since fewer people than normal were allowed on board because of COVID restrictions. It was a cold rainy day though, which took a bit of the edge off things. The bird diversity was low for most of the time, dominated by Australasian Gannets and Providence Petrels both in big numbers, and plenty of Indian Yellow-nosed Albatrosses, but very little else around. A couple of other albatross species came by briefly. However, late in the drift, things picked up considerably. I saw a storm-petrel, which turned out to be a Black-bellied Storm-Petrel and eventually it gave us very good views. Then we had a handful of Grey-faced Petrels come through, followed by a Cape Petrel, followed by a Brown Skua, followed by a Northern Giant-Petrel. The day was saved! We also had a pair of Orcas (at times, right at the boat), a large pod of dolphins, and several Humpback Whales in the inshore waters.

19 June

Ross and I surveyed Ash Island this morning, because of a double-booking for tomorrow. After the fog lifted it was a nice day. There were reasonable numbers of small shorebirds on Fish Fry Flats: 29 Red-capped Plovers including an adult with two runners, and also 19 Black-fronted Dotterels. Shining Bronze-cuckoos were heard at three well-separated locations. There were two Pied Stilts on Swan Pond, the first time in several months that there have been any stilts recorded during the surveys. We saw at least three White-bellied Sea-Eagles, and a probable fourth bird, Whistling Kite, Osprey, Swamp Harrier and two Brown Falcons. For a while I thought one of them had a red colour band on its right leg, but closer inspection of a photo revealed it had a wound and that what I was seeing was blood. The two birds seemed to be having a territorial dispute and the wound possibly was from fighting.

In the afternoon I had settled into some desk work when I received a phone call from Paul Sullivan, CEO of BirdLife Australia, to tell me that I had been awarded the 2020 John Hobbs Memorial Medal. What a surprise! My day went to pieces - I just couldn't concentrate at all after that. Instead I made lots of phone calls, and then went for a long walk to calm down a bit.

11-12 June

I spent two days in the Merriwa area, staying in Merriwa overnight. The birding was quiet on Thursday, with the highlight being to hear although not track down an Emu a couple of times. On Friday in Goulburn River National Park, at various locations, I found Hooded Robins, Turquoise Parrots, a RockwarblerSpeckled Warblers, White-eared and Yellow-tufted Honeyeaters, and quite a few Diamond Firetails. There were several year-ticks amongst that lot, so I went home happy.

10 June

We had another HBOC meeting by Zoom in the evening. Great meeting and lots of people connected in for it.

6-8 June

Four of us went to Broughton Island for 3 days, to resume the bird studies project. We had to get a special exemption first. Almost immediately on landing, we saw a young Osprey, which had been banded in mid-December as a chick in a nest on the island. We saw the bird regularly all three days, at various locations around the island. We were thinking it was the only Osprey on the island, but just as we were leaving a group of three birds came in (from where??) to join it for a short while. There was a pair of Aust. Pied Oystercatchers on Providence Beach on Saturday afternoon, not seen subsequently, but I counted 25 Sooty Oystercatchers there the next day and there were at least five others of them elsewhere on the island. I had a couple of views of Eastern Reef Egret, and we have set up some camera traps in the cave where they probably nest. On the way across there was a spot with 18 Australasian Gannets fishing. We saw plenty of them around the island too. On our way back, we had an Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross (briefly) and a group of three Hutton's Shearwaters spent a couple of minutes racing the boat, providing great views for most of that time. My camera was stowed in the hatch, alas!

5 June

Three of us did a trip to the Gloucester Tops today; the first time that sort of thing has been permitted in the past several months. It was a very cold day up there and the Rufous Scrub-birds were rather quiet - just a few noises heard, except at one territory when, after we'd been there for more than an hour, suddenly the bird did a couple of minutes of regular calling. I had a brief view of it. There were many Crescent Honeyeaters; they were everywhere that we stopped and at one spot with lots of banksias there were 10+ birds. I saw two Olive Whistlers together, which isn't something that's happened for me before, and we heard Red-browed Treecreepers too. We saw several Superb Lyrebirds overall, and I found a display mound (in on of the scrub-bird territories).

1 June

I went up to Nelson Bay, firstly to the NPWS office to collect a trail camera that I will take to Broughton Island on the trip that is scheduled for next weekend. Then I went around to Barry Park (at Fingal Bay) and did a coastal walk there. I saw 5 Ospreys including an immature bird, also a pair of Sooty Oystercatchers, a Whistling Kite and miscellaneous other species. It wasn't exactly jumping! I also called in at the Gan Gan lookout, which made Barry Park look very good. But, it was great to be out birding again!

May 2020

23 May

Ross and I did the Ash Island survey, on a cold and very windy morning. We didn't find a lot of birds, and no migratory shorebirds. However, we had 24 Black-fronted Dotterels and 35 Red-capped Plovers on Fish Fry Flats, and also saw Chestnut Teal and Brown Quail with young, several Black Swans on nests, a Gull-billed Tern and five species of raptor. So, not a bad morning!

21 May (an update)

I have finally finished the Broughton Island Silvereyes paper and also drafted a paper about the Rufous Scrub-bird study. The daily Penta Puzzles continue to go out (but, I have announced that they will finish on 30 May). I've processed two more notebooks of old records (getting them into Birdata) and am mid-way through the S's in my editing of bird photos.

18 May

I decided to do an outing even though I'm not sure what we're allowed to do or not do. Anyhow, I went to Blacksmiths Nature Reserve for a while in the afternoon, between the showers. There had been reports of Red-whiskered Bulbuls but I  wasn't able to track any of them down. Highlights included a New Holland Honeyeater amongst all the White-cheeked Honeyeaters, and a Spangled Drongo.

13 May

We held the HBOC meeting using Zoom - I had been an advocate for this and so I was quite delighted as to how well it went. The two talks were high quality, which helped.

6 May

Some excitement today - a parcel arrived, bearing two framed certificates (one for Margaret, one for me) and a cheque. This was all for the prize we won for best paper in the journal Corella for 2019. In the evening there was an HBOC management committee meeting, which was done using Zoom. It was great to see some familiar faces for the first time in 6-7 weeks.

5 May

Today I was in another all-day Zoom workshop, this time to develop a Site Action Plan for shorebirds in the Manning estuary. There were fewer participants than for the two preceding workshops but we still had 20 or so people and once again I was quite pleased with the way the day went.

3 May (an update)

I'm still housebound wrt birdwatching, because of the Covid-19 lockdown. I'm continuing to process old photos (although I've lost a lot of enthusiasm for that task!) and I'm also still sending out a daily crossword plus back-entering old records into Birdata. I've also had a couple of Whistler manuscripts to work on (as an editor of the journal). Time passes.

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 to 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.