Thinking About Birds

December 2021

19 December

It was the HBOC Christmas picnic day, held at Walka Waterworks. Margaret and I went along to it, after returning that morning from a trip to Sydney. The numbers were down because of a new COVID outbreak in Newcastlebut it was still a pleasant afternoon. My birding time was limited but I saw a Great Crested Grebe (just the one, and no other grebe species appeared to be present) and a pair of Dollarbirds was hanging around the picnic area.

14 December

A team of us went to Broughton Island for the day. It was a sort of consolation prize for all the cancelled 3-day visits over the preceding several months. Day visits are not ideal because there isn't time to do a lot, but that's how the cookie crumbles. It helped that we had enough people for several parallel activities to take place. I went with others to the Eastern Reef Egret nest cave where we set up two trail cameras. The nest didn't seem to have any recent activity so who knows what will eventuate. I later saw one bird, on rocks at Providence Beach where there also were several Sooty Oystercatchers. Another team went to the Gould's Petrel nest boxes where they found five birds including two were sitting on eggs. That was good news!  A third team visited the Osprey nest where they found four birds including two recently fledged youngsters. The hope was to have banded those while they were still in the nest and unable to fly.  We were a week or so too late for that.

14 December

In the evening I took part in a survey for Australasian Bitterns. My team was assigned a section of Hexham Swamp. Amazingly, we found three birds - all of them were heard doing their booming calls from somewhere within the reeds. Just as it was getting dark two Magpie Geese flew over - they feed at night and probably had just left the Wetlands Centre.

6-11 December

Overall it was a frustrating week - yet another cancelled trip to Broughton Island, a cancelled pelagic trip, and many IT difficulties. I video-recorded the talk I am giving at the February Australasian Ornithological Conference - that took me five attempts to get it right (well, right-enough), and then after that I spent several days of trying to upload the 250MB file to the AOC portal.  Also, I spent days trying to share some files of Rufous Scrub-bird recordings with a group at QUT who want to build a recogniser which becomes publicly available for use by others. In both cases, the root cause was that I did not have Dropbox set up correctly on my new computer.

Margaret and I have previously published details about the RSB recogiser that we built, so I'm not sure what will be new - except that they might be more active in promoting it. We simply made mention of it in a paper.

Much better news this week was that the paper about Hunter Estuary shorebirds by Ann Lindsey and me finally was published in the AWSG journal Stilt. And I went to an unofficial HBOC event on Wednesday night, at the Shortland Pub. That was in lieu of the cancelled December meeting. There were 25-30 people came along and it was a great night.

4 December

Ross and I did the Ash Island monthly survey. Overall it was quiet but we had 62 Pacific Golden Plovers on Phoenix Flats - they took us at least half an hour to count properly because so many of them were obscured or semi-obscured in the salt marsh until we twinkled them into a better position for viewing. There were seven Far Eastern Curlews in that general area (including some at Milhams Pond) and another four of them at Fish Fry Flats. There was a Musk Duck on Milhams Pond, which is unusual, and at least one more of them on Deep Pond (which is to be expected). Our survey of Deep Pond was truncated by an approching coal train and we might have missed finding more Musk Ducks. We saw three Ospreys at the nest pylon, one bird was in the nest (presumably it was the youngster - there had been recent reports about them breeding successfully there). We also had some wonderful views of Swamp Harriers including one bird flew slowly over the top of us not far up. Alas, I had my telescope at that time, rather than my camera.

2 December

I finished preparing my second Bittern crossword puzzle today (with its 23 x 23 grid) and sent it to my test pilots to trial it.

1 December

I walked out to the end of Stockton Breakwater and around the Nobbys Beach area mid-afternoon. There were several Common Terns fishing in the waters off the end of breakwater and some Greater Crested Terns within the harbour, and a few Sooty Oystercatchers foraging on the rock platform.In the evening I went to the HBOC Management Committee meeting - it was the first face-to-face one I'd been at for about six months. They are much better that way. I took my Hobbs Medal along to show people - it arrived in the post today.

November 2021

16 November

Late afternoon I went to Ash Island with Ross for the Hunter LLS Australasian Bittern community survey. We did three sites out there and another team did three more. We didn't find any bitterns (a team out at Hexham Swamp did) but while waiting for the other team to join us for the wrap-up, two Eastern Grass Owls came in after I played a call. One bird circled above us a few times and we had great views of it.

12 November

I didn't do any specific birding activities today but I walked into Newcastle in the morning and it was a quite birdy walk, with the highlight being to find a group of five Little Terns foraging in Newcastle Harbour very close to the walking track. I also watched a White-bellied Sea-Eagle being chased off by two Australian Ravens.

10 November

It was the HBOC club meeting in the evening, which was a Zoom meeting. Two interesting talks and lots of good discussions afterwards.

9 November

I went to a training workshop about surveying for Australasian Bitterns, at the Wetlands Centre late morning. Before it, I wandered the grounds for a couple of hours. There were two Radjah Shelducks resting on an island when I arrived, but later in the morning one of them came over to feed with the Magpie Geese and finally I got some decent photos. The waterbird nesting colonies were ramping up into action. There were hundreds of Australian White Ibis nests and already many nests had chicks. Similarly there were hundreds of Cattle Egret nests but they seemed to be in the early days of building and/or sitting. I also saw several each of Plumed Egrets and Great Egrets, but they didn't seem yet to be nesting.

6 November

Ross and I did the Ash Island survey in the morning - the first time in several months that we were both allowed to participate. We had a large group of Pacific Golden Plovers on Phoenix Flats - it took us ages to count them accurately as they were obscured within the salt marsh. Eventually we concluded there were 61 birds - our initial counts were of less than 20! There were some Far Eastern Curlews around too, and also some later at Fish Fry Flats. There were Great Egrets at many spots, particularly around the main ponds. By the end of the day our tally was nudging towards 50 birds, and we also had some Plumed Egrets and Little Egrets. We found two Red-capped Plover nests, each with two eggs and both in terrible locations where vehicles could easily run over them.

We also surveyed Deep Pond, which had lots of Black Swans, including several sets of cygnets, and a total of eight Musk Ducks.

October-November 2021: Mid-western NSW trip

Finally we were allowed to travel widely within NSW (except to Sydney). I was committed to helping with some surveys in the Hunter Region over 18-22 October (at Martindale, and then at McCullys Gap near Muswellbrook), and so I decided to push on westwards after the surveys. My original plans were dashed when I discovered some National Parks out west were not open. So - my plan B was to go to the Warrumbungles, then to Lightning Ridge and Moree and then back home via the Pilliga. After that I stayed at Gulgong and then Cassilis and did some more Upper Hunter birding. Overall, I recorded 179 species on my trip.

18 October

I left at about 8 am and drove to Jerrys Plains cemetery where I spent about 90 minutes. Here I met Steve from Singleton by chance, and we tracked down a pair of Red-capped Robins with two young recently out of the nest and still rather downy. I also saw a Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater - the first of many for the trip. A Brown Goshawk made a brief appearance, and a pair of Speckled Warblers were quite obliging.

My next stop was at the Doyles Creek corner where I had the first of many Rufous Songlarks for the trip but otherwise it was fairly quiet there. I stopped at several more of my 2ha sites, not finding anything special until I reached Martindale and had a Pallid Cuckoo on wires on the outskirts.

At Medhurst Bridge I met up with the others and then a local, Justin, called in. We survey two sites on his property and he offered to show us another possible sites, in Wollemi NP on the edge of his property. Three of us went with him to inspect it (involves a crossing of Martindale Creek i.e. there would sometimes access issues). We then made our way to the campsite and set up. On dusk a White-throated Nightjar did a fly-through and later that night we heard Aust. Owlet-nightjar and Southern Boobook.

19 October

We spent the morning doing our scheduled surveys. There were six of us and so we split up for much of the time (into two groups).The best site was at Justin's, where we saw a male Hooded Robin, three Rufous Songlarks, seven Brown Treecreepers plus plenty of other species. The Medhurst Bridge riparian site was also very protective - nothing out of the ordinary although I had very good reviews of two male Mistletoebirds.

On our way back to the campsite for lunch, I spotted a couple of White-backed Swallows and we had excellent reviews from a hilltop vantage point. Three of us went back late afternoon to try for photos, but they have moved on. Earlier in the afternoon we all birded in the gully behind the campsite. My highlight was a group of four Yellow-tufted Honeyeaters. I dipped on the Rockwarblers seen by some others.

20 October

There were five of us in two teams, doing more surveys. It was a lively morning, especially at two sites where we did extended surveys (500 meter radius, each for about one hour). At Medhurst there were several Shining Bronze-cuckoos, driving the small birds nuts (Yellow Thornbills, Superb Fairy-wrens, Scarlet Honeyeaters). I found a Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater nest, a bird sitting for a time and later another bringing food. At Horseshoe Road I found a Jacky Winter nest with young, and also saw White-throated Gerygone and Dusky Woodswallow, three Common Bronzewings, three Wedge-tailed Eagles, and much more (although I dipped on the Painted Honeyeater).

There wasn't much at the final 2 ha site but, in the paddock opposite, there was a Brown Songlark. We went back for lunch and to pack up, seeing another White-backed Swallow on the way. I replenished my supplies in Muswellbrook then met the others at the Sandy Creek Rd turn-off. The weather at the time was terrible (cold, windy, wet) but later afternoon the sun came back.

We drove to McCullys Gap and set up camp alongside a pretty creek, full of frogs. There was only time for brief birding, but we had White-winged Trillers right at the campsite as a highlight. Later there was a campfire and happy hour, joined by the property owner is Helen and Ron. I heard Tawny Frogmouth overnight.

21 October

We spent the morning doing 2 ha surveys - some sites were good, others will need a few years of regrowth. The birds were unexceptional for the most part, but a pair of Leaden Flycatchers was good and a group of Brown-headed Honeyeaters too. We heard a Brush Cuckoo,  but it was distant and unseen. We were delighted therefore to have one at the campsite when we arrived back for lunch. Also I found an active nest of the White-winged Triller (possibly this was why the Brush Cuckoo was hanging around).

We rested for a few hours although I wondered the property for some of the time - finding many more White-winged Trillers, also some Dusky Woodswallows and a Rufous Songlark. We also had a Brush Cuckoo again, but this time a silent bird and presumably therefore, the female. Later in the afternoon we went back to Rouchel Gap Road to do a one hour survey. The place was quiet but I found three groups of Speckled Warblers and everyone else also scored one or two interesting birds. Campfire again in the evening.

22 October

Another early start, and we spent the morning doing 2ha surveys. We found two more groups of Speckled Warblers, and two Spiny-cheeked Honeyeaters (one of them being chased by four Brown-headed Honeyeaters). The final site was young regrowth, and not much birdlife. However a Brown Songlark was singing in the paddock beyond.

We got back a bit after 11 am. I packed, and was away about 30 minutes later. I had lunch at Aberdeen (where several Aust. Figbirds were very vocal) and then did grocery shopping in Scone. I also searched for a towel, but ended up buying one in Merriwa along with a better hat.

I drove uneventfully and with minimal stops to Coonabarabran and thence to my camp site in the Warrumbungle National Park. There were Apostlebirds and White-winged Choughs to greet me. I spent the remainder of the late afternoon setting up camp and tidying up, including a much-anticipated shower.

23 October

In the morning I did a loop walk from the campsite to the Visitors Centre, which I called in at, briefly. On the way there, I saw White-winged Trillers, Rufous Songlarks, Dusky Woodswallows, etc - it was as if I hádnt left the Upper Hunter. And similarly on my way back to camp for lunch, until almost back when a mixed flock of White-browed and Masked Woodswallows was foraging high above. I also saw a Red-rumped Parrot feeding a youngster, and some Grey-crowned Babblers.

After lunch, I was hot, I drove to the start of the Tara Cave walk. This was uncomfortably warm, and not very productive. However, at the cave I disturbed a Collared Sparrowhawk, and there was a Horsfield's Bronze-cuckoo just near the car park when I returned.

24 October

The wind came up strong during the night and continued throughout the day, making conditions a bit unpleasant. I set out early to do the Belougerie Flats walk - that turned out to be uninteresting and I cut it short and went back to camp. But that meant that I saw an Emu which otherwise I would not have crossed paths with. However, I saw many more Emus during my trip, and several times had males with large families of youngsters.

Later in the morning I walked the Wambelong Nature Track which for part of the time follows the creek I found White-necked Heron, an Inland Thornbill, pair of Speckled Warblers and White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike. I also heard goats, alas. In the afternoon, to escape the wind for a while, I drove into Coonabarabran and explored the town plus bought fuel. I had hoped to find a wetland somewhere, but no joy there.

25 October

I drove from The Warrumbungles to Lightning Ridge, taking about nine hours to do so and having roadside stops as my mood dictated. Near Gulargambone I found a young Apostlebird still being fed and got some good photos. There was a White-breasted Woodswallow at that spot too, seemingly all by itself. I saw many Black Kites en route. I had lunch at Walgett (and shopped there) and saw my first Yellow-throated Miners for the trip (although I continued to find Noisy Miners as I headed further west).

I had some flocks of woodswallows (White-browed and Masked) but by the time I was at Lightning Ridge the flocks seems to be mainly of Masked Woodswallows. I picked up Little Crow near Walgett, but later on had Australian Ravens again.

At Lightning Ridge I camped at the Opal Caravan Park on the edge of town. Birds here were scant (or, appeared to be on day 1 of my being there) but I could hear a Crested Bellbird calling from not far away. 

26 October

Much of my day involved the Narran Lake Nature Reserve (including getting there and back). Alas, there was no access to the lake nor to the fire trails so I was limited to roadside birding. Emu, including several males with young, Red-capped Robin, Chestnut-rumped Thornbills and Diamond Doves were the highlights.

I made a few other roadside stops (there were no other options). The first stop was because I had seen a Crimson Chat; I also found Black Falcon and Black-faced Woodswallow at that site, and later on I saw a Spotted Harrier.

I tried to access other lakes in the general area but they all were on private property plus  they seemed to be dry. Mid-afternoon I retreated towards Lightning Ridge but then found the sewage works. Some workers gave me permission to wander. I found Pink-eared Ducks with youngsters, Sharp-tailed Sandpipers, both of the common dotterels, Pied Stilt etc. It was a nice change after a few hours of frustrations.

Back at the campsite after an artesian dip, a pair of Pale-headed Rosellas landed beside my tent. That seemed a great way to finish the day.

27 October

I packed up, and then spent 45 minutes birding within the caravan park. There is a dam adjacent to it which attracted some birds. I found Blue Bonnets, also the Pale-headed Rosellas again plus many Red-rumped Parrots. A Crested Bellbird was calling from across the road.

I drove to Collarenebri in the morning, with several stops for roadside building. The road was fenced on either side. Each stop seemed unpromising but I always ended up a respectable list after a 20-minute survey. The highlights included Chestnut-rumped Thornbill, Variegated and Splendid Fairy-wren, Crimson Chat and Diamond Dove.

I tried to find birding spots in Collarenebri, gave up and had lunch in a park by the Barwon River. Mid-lunch a flock of seven Red-tailed Black-Cockatoos flew through!

I stopped at a few spots in the afternoon, but it was hot and not very productive. I found Grey Teal with ducklings, and had White-throated Gerygone a few times (I can't find a Western Gerygone!). Eventually I reached Moree and took a spot at a caravan park  on the edge of town, with its own set of thermal baths. It was nowhere as birdy as I had hoped it would be. Check-in took more than 20 minutes, which was not impressive.

28 October

I spent the morning trying some of the places in the Moree Bird Routes brochure I picked up yesterday. Mostly they were not great. The best spot was Moree Common, which the woman at Tourist Centre had advised me not to visit on account of workers being out there. However, there were no indications of any work happening and indeed, not for a long time - the tracks were overgrown, there were no maps or any signage except for some very dilapidated stuff. However, I found Pale-headed Rosellas, a Spotted Bowerbird, some Variegated Fairy-wrens, Dollarbird, Singing Honeyeater and much more!

The afternoon became very hot (38C max), and I gave up at lunchtime. At 2 pm I returned to pack up my tent and get the key for the cabin that Margaret had booked for her overnight visit. I spent the afternoon relaxing (including a dip in the artesian spa). She arrived at about 6:30 pm and we went to the Amaroo Tavern for dinner. Rain started during the night.

29 October

I dropped Margaret at the station at about 7 am, shopped, then went back to the cabin briefly to rearrange the eskies. It was still raining, but showing signs of easing. I made my way to the Gwydir Wetlands, about an hour out of town. This turned out to be fraught with worries, as the final ~1 km was on a greasy track and I soon had ~5cm of mud on every tyre, right to the chassis and making it very difficult to steer the car. Just took me ages later to get the bulk of it off.

After all that, the wetland didn't have much to offer - except for a calling Australian Little Bittern in dense vegetation right in front of the bird hide. It called every minute or so from the same spot, but I was unable to see it.

I drove on backroads from Moree to Wee Waa, with several birding stops along the way but nothing exceptional - the highlight was a White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike. I shopped briefly in Wee Waa (for things I forgot to buy in Moree) and then drove into the Pilliga. Eventually I found my camping spot at Salt Caves, after some difficulties as there weren't many road signs. Rain looked imminent and so I delayed setting up for a couple of hours, opting for the walk to the Salt Caves Dam in the meantime. I had good views of Buff-rumped Thornbill, White-winged Triller and Grey-crowned Babbler.

30 October

I birded all morning within walking distance of the campsite, including twice during the 1-km each way walk to the Salt Caves Dam. The entire area is still recovering from fire, and the birds were not in high numbers. However, I had great looks at a Western Gerygone and a Black-eared Cuckoo, and a pair of  Variegated Fairy-wrens.

Back my campsite at lunchtime, a Brown Falcon flew noisily through and I discovered that the Grey-crowned Babblers were building a roost just near my camp. There was no sign of them post-lunch though, until they turned up again at ~6:30 pm.

In the afternoon I tried some sites along Pilliga Forest way, including Schwagers Bore where we had an HBOC camp 20 or so years ago. I found White-browed Babblers there but not much else, and I picked up Leaden Flycatcher at another stop.

31 October

I decided to leave the Pilliga because the birding have been a bit quiet (although some great encounters). On my way out I made a couple of stops, the highlight being at Rocky Creek Bore, where once, a long time ago in a different world, I camped on an HBOC Easter camp. Camping is now forbidden everywhere in the Pilliga, except at Salt Caves. It was a great spot and I found 30+ species in just an hour. No wonder the Club went there! My highlights included Western Gerygone, Buff-rumped Thornbill, Inland Thornbill, Little Raven.

I had lunch at  Binnaway, having first visited the creek on the edge of town. That had been a very productive spot ~20 years ago, but less so this time and specially after the trail bike rider arrived. There were both Brown and White-throated Treecreepers at the site, plus many of the usuals.

Late afternoon I visited Pucca Bucca wetland near Mudgee. Here I added three more species to my trip list (Yellow-billed Spoonbill, Little Pied Cormorant, Common Blackbird) but it was quiet overall. I headed back to Gulgong and set up my camp in the caravan park.

1 November

I left early and drove to Munghorn Gap where I then spent five hours wandering around. At first it was frustrating, as roadworks (to widen it) were happening and it was very noisy - no doubt impacting the birds as well. When I got away from the road, things became better. I watched a Superb Lyrebird climb a tree, saw White-browed Babblers, Wonga Pigeon, White-throated Gerygone, Speckled Warbler, Varied Sittella and much more. I heard four different cuckoo species (Brush Cuckoo, Fan-tailed Cuckoo, Channel-billed Cuckoo and Shining Bronze-cuckoo) but never managed views of any of them despite trying hard. There were several Brush Cuckoos and I got close to some of them. It was frustrating how uncooperative they were.

I saw a wombat at the entrance to its burrow (when it saw me it went back in) and I also flushed a pig. I had lunch at the picnic area, coinciding with the roadworkers' break and hence mercifully peaceful.

I got back to Gulgong mid-afternoon and spend some quiet hours at my campsite. A group of Apostlebirds called in a few times and I could often hear a Common Blackbird calling in the distance. I had dinner at a pub in town.

2 November

I packed up early and drove to The Drip, just past Ulan. Almost immediately I found my target species, Rockwarbler. A group of four of them made their way past me, not at all cooperative with photography. I did the entire walk, not finding any unexceptional birds but diverting myself with attempts to photograph White-browed Scrubwrens. Mixed success on that front!

I then went Durridgerie Road - I spent most of my day birding along there and the adjoining the adjoining Smedes Lane. At my first stop I met some Newcastle birders on a day out, and we met again a few hours later. There were plenty of Rufous Songlarks and several White-winged Trillers (both of which I'd seen plenty of recently). At various spots I found Restless Flycatcher and/or Brown Songlark, and a Hooded Robin at its usual territory.

On Summerhill Road, I found two Pallid Cuckoos. They were interacting but I couldn't work out what it was all about. They flew a long way once they realised that I was watching.

I stopped overnight at the Cassilis Rest Area, where many Musk Lorikeets were coming and going and at least one Red-winged Parrot flew through. After dusk, Southern Boobook and Aust Owlet-nightjar both called briefly.

3 November

Another Red-winged Parrot came through while I was packing up. I drove to Goulburn River National Park, initially to a favourite site opposite Poggy Homestead. In a paddock I saw a group of five Emus feeding together. The bush produced a variety of species, including another Rockwarbler. I found a Willie Wagtail on a nest (saw it feeding young in the nest). Just as I was about to leave, a group of three Red-winged Parrots arrived - a male, female and a juvenile bird. Presumably it was a family group.

I went to the Fossickers site. The first bird I saw there was a Hooded Robin - a great start. However, it turned out to be not so birdy this visit and I didn't find various species that I had been hoping for. Next I tried one morespot in the park - a place I hadn't ever stopped at before. There wasn't much around, but a Cicadabird was calling. I had lunch in Merriwa, then drove home and started on the cleaning up.

October 2021

11-13 October

Lockdown restrictions eased from Monday and so Margaret and I took off for three days in the Manning Valley staying at Harrington. It rained a lot (we had almost 40mm at home) but I still got in some birding. On Monday we stopped first at Saltwater National Park where I found a large flock of Topknot Pigeons (at least 40 birds) and had great views of Wonga Pigeon, Large-billed Scrubwren, Rufous Fantail, Forest Raven, Regent Bowerbird, etc. The next stop was Mudbishops Point, where I used to do a regular shorebirds survey. Unfortunately, the terrain has changed massively and it wasn't a very productive visit although I did find some Far Eastern Curlews and a single Whimbrel. Late afternoon at Harrington, I visited the rainforest where there were Black-faced Monarchs but none of the more special birds that sometimes are found there.

Tuesday morning I visited Cattai Wetland, staying there nearly all morning although some of the time was just spent sheltering from the rain in the bird hide. There'd been a big storm earlier in the year apparently, and there was lots of tree damage. There were moderate numbers of waterfowl including many Purple Swamphens, and several pairs with chicks, and also 20 or so Dusky Moorhens - they used not to be common at Cattai. After lots of searching I eventually found a Comb-crested Jacana, and on my way back to the car I saw a roosting Peregrine Falcon. After lunch I went to the Harrington sandbank where I found some Little Terns (doing pre-breeding flight displays), small groups of Bar-tailed Godwits, Far Eastern Curlews and Red-necked Stints, and a solitary commic tern which was later identified from photos as a White-fronted Tern. Later in the afternoon I went to Crowdy Head, where the highlight was to have close views of a group of three Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoos feeding in low shrubs.

Wednesday morning we went to Wingham Brush and spent about an hour in the rainforest. Once again, storm damage was evident but not so much in the rainforest itself. The Grey-headed Flying Foxes were in big numbers and quite noisy. I had longish but distant views of a Russet-tailed Thrush (and a brief view later of a second bird). Not long afterwards, a Bassian Thrush landed on a branch right in front of me. It was great to be able to contrast the two species within such a close time period. I also had terrific views at a Shining Bronze-cuckoo (and briefly, of two of them together).  But the highlight was just as I was about to leave - a Brown-capped Emerald-Dove landed directly in front of me and stayed put. They were the best views I've ever had of one! We headed to Forster, but it was raining and windy, so not much birding. However, on an island beach opposite the main drag there were 19 Aust. Pied Oystercatchers and four Sooty Oystercatchers roosting.

That evening was the HBOC club night, by Zoom. Two very interesting talks and, overall, a well-attended event with lots of lively discussion. It was a great way to arrive home!

9 October

I did the Ash Island survey in the morning, alone because of the COVID-19 restrictions. An interesting early sighting was a female Hardhead with two ducklings. For a brief while I was puzzled about the ID - I had surprised her and she got a fright, and she raced/swam through thick floating weed to get away from me. Basically she was in disguise when I first looked at her, because she was completely covered in weed, and I thought at first that it must be some exotic duck. Then I saw the two ducklings and ruled that theory out.

I found 29 Pacific Golden Plovers at Phoenix Flats and five Far Eastern Curlews also in that area (plus another of them at Fish Fry Flats). There were some Horsfield's Bronze-cuckoos around too, and I heard a Shining Bronze-cuckoo. There wasn't much on the main ponds except for a large group (650-700) of Red-necked Avocets, and various egrets including 16 Great Egrets. There were another 24 of them in a wetland just to the north. Their numbers have grown even more from the uncommonlyhigh counts of September.

I surveyed Deep Pond which had many Black Swans including a total of 12 cygnets. And there were two Musk Ducks there as well, which is a bird I haven't seen in a while.

7 October

HBOC Committee meeting (by Zoom).

1 October

Some good news!  The paper about male Rufous Scrub-bird singing behaviour has been published. It was uploaded to the Corella website today. That was a difficult paper!

September 2021

29 September

I dropped by at Ash Island late morning after completing some errands. The tide was completely wrong but I was hoping some birds would be around. Not many, unfortunately! There were a few hundred Red-necked Avocets at the main ponds and about 20 Great Egrets, at scattered locations.

Various bits of bad news received today. The bridge for accessing the Gloucester Tops has been declared unsafe, and it will be out of action until 2022 (probably). There go my scrub-bird studies for this breeding season! And, driven mainly by COVID movementrestrictions, the planned Broughton Island trip has been postponed by about a month, until mid-November. Hopefully all the Silvereyes will stil be on the island.

26 September

Ann Lindsey and I have finally finished the revisions to our paper about shorebirds in the Hunter estuary! It's been a lot of work.

23 September

I was on an Expert Panel in the afternoon (a Zoom meeting) for a project about Ngambaa Nature Reserve (near Macksville). NPWS have a plan to fence off an area of ~3,000ha within the NR and remove predators (foxes & cats). This creates opportunities for captive-release programs for threatened wildlife. A lot of the discussion was about mammals, also frogs and snakes, but various birds were covered too. They had Rufous Scrub-bird on the list of possibles - I thik that's unlikely to work but there seem distinct opportunities for Bush Stsone-curles and northern subspecies Eastern Bristlebirds.

18 September

I did the Ash Island survey in the morning, alone because of the COVID-19 restrictions. The surveygot away to a good start, with an adult Brahminy Kite as one of my first sightings. There were a couple each of Far Eastern Curlew and Pacific Golden Plover around the Milhams Pond / Phoenix Flats area, and three Australian Gull-billed Terns. I also had about 150 Red-necked Avocets there, and then there were another 800 or so of them at the main ponds later on. Also at those area E ponds were four Whiskered Terns, two Red-necked Stints and about a dozen Red-capped Plovers. Black Swans were in moderate numbers (perhaps 50 in total) and there were many pairs with cygnets.

13 September

From today there has been a slight easing of COVID restrictions for fully vaccinated people. Very slight! Anyhow, I met Ann Lindsey and we walked around the Wetlands Centre for half the morning. We found our target which was a group of four Radjah Shelducks - quite a Hunter rarity.  It's six years since they last were recorded from anywhere within the Hunter Region. There were plenty of Magpie Geese, and all the usual ducks etc. Afterwards, I went to Blackbutt Reserve where, eventually, I found the recently reported Square-tailed Kite nest. I didn't see any birds at the nest but there was one flying around when I first arrived, and later I saw the same or another kite flying over Richley Reserve.

12 September

I've been working intermittently on my frst mega crossword - it uses a 23 x 23 grid. It's taken me ages to get it done but that's primarily been because of frequent distractions. I call it The Bittern (= large and cryptic). I've asked Margaret and Sally to trial it for me.

9 September

Earlier in the week I organised a travel permit and today I went to the Gloucester Tops. My main purpose was to refresh the existing trail cameras at a Rufous Scrub-bird territory plus instal some new ones. I spent about two and a half hours at that territory, hearing the scrub-bird a few times but in one of those, he was only a few metres away and we had some delightful interactions (in which he responded to my calls). I also visited two other territroes but both those birds were quiet.

8 September

HBOC clubnight Zoom meeting. Also, Ann Lindsey and I completed a manuscript about large waterbirds in the Hunter Estuary submitted it to the journal Whistler today

2 September

HBOC Management Committee meeting. Also, I sent a draft booklet of my Cross-bird puzzles to BirdLife Australia who (possibly) will make it available on-line.

August 2021

13 August

Newcastle has been in lockdown since 5 August. One of my tasks has been to complete a manuscript about gulls and terns in the Hunter Estuary (written jointly with Ann Lindsey). We submitted it to the journal Stilt today. And, also today came acceptance (finally!) of a paper by Margaret and me about the singing behaviour of male Rufous Scrub-birds in the Gloucester Tops. It will appear soon in the journal Corella.

12 August

HBOC clubnight Zoom meeting.

5 August

HBOC Management Committee meeting.

1-4 August

Margaret and I spent three nights in Manilla. We weren't able to leave until Sunday afternoon so all we could do was drive there essentially without stops. On Monday morning we went to the Borah and Tarpoly Travelling Stock Reserves. Highlights included lots of Little Lorikeets, Tree Martins investigating hollows, Speckled Warblers, Fuscous Honeyeaters and Rufous Songlarks. The latter was a big surprise to me as a silent single bird at Borah (because its so early in the season) but at Tarpoly there were three birds singing and displaying. In the afternoon I went along Halls Creek, where my surprise was a Spotted Bowerbird - out of range or close to the extremity of its range. That was a young bird and it took me a while to be sure of the ID; however next day near the Namoi River I found an adult bird. I went to Split Rock Dam (lots of Australian Pelicans on the water, and a pair of Hoary-headed Grebe. Later in the morning I tried to get to Warrabah National Park but was defeated by the swollen Namoi River after driving more than 90% of the way there. In the afternoon Margaret and I walked along the Namoi at Manilla - it was quiet but I found Common Blackbirds, Brown Honeyeaters and a Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater.

On our way home we detoured via Gunnedah. I birded at a recommended spot on Rangari Rd where there was flowering mistletoe and therefore, lots of honeyeaters. Highlights were many Spiny-cheeked Honeyeaters, also several Brown and some Singing Honeyeaters, and a couple of Little Friarbirds. At another spot along Kelvin Rd I found Dusky Woodswallows, Speckled Warblers and a pair of Rufous Songlarks plus many other good things. Our final stop was at the Wondoba State Conservation Area, which was remarkably quiet and I gave up fairly quickly. Saw a Black Kite at Aberdeen on the way home.

July 2021

29 July

I spent much of the day reviewing my Rufous Scrub-bird camera trap images. I now have 31 capture-events! One of the ones that I processed today has about 15 seconds of very high quality image. To celebrate, I ordered some additional trail cameras. Late afternoon, Margaret took me to where she had seen a Powerful Owl on Monday in Blackbutt Reserve. Unfortunately, the bird wasn't there today.

26-28 July

I joined four others to do the quarterly surveys in the Martindale Valley. On my way there I stopped at Jerrys Plains cemetery where I found a pair of Red-capped Robins as the highlight. Also, at the Jerrys Plains Rest Area (where I had lunch) there was a group of 46 Double-banded Finches feeding together. I visited some of my other regular sites on Monday but things were quiet.

We did all our targeted surveys and it was quite good (for a winter survey). I recorded 70 species (overall, there were 80+ species) with my highlights including Rockwarbler, Black Falcon, Grey Goshawk, Grey-crowned Babbler, and Speckled Warbler. But my ultimate highlight came when watching a flock of about 150 Galahs wheeling above a paddock and suddenly realising that there was an Australian Hobby amidst them.  It stayed with them for ages, presumably using the big flock as camouflage while it hunted.

24 July

Ross and I did the Ash Island survey in the morning, in very blustery conditions. We found one Far Eastern Curlew at Milhams Pond - our only migratory shorebird for the day. However, there were some Black-fronted Dotterels around, and we had 27 Red-capped Plovers including a bird with a nest and 2 eggs. There were 60-70 White-faced Herons overall, and about 130 Red-necked Avocets at the main ponds along with some Pied Stilts. The biggest excitement came when we found a Common Gull-billed Tern roosting alongside six of its Australian Gull-billed Tern cousins. The size difference was quite obvious.

23 July

I went to the Gloucester Tops, mainly to refresh my trail cameras. It was very quiet up there. I heard Crescent Honeyeaters at two locations. One Rufous Scrub-bird called, but only very briefly and I wasn't able to track it down.

19 July

Late afternoon I went to Hexham Swamp with Bob and Evelyn McDonald to see if we could find the Australasian Bittern now that the thermal drone has been repaired. It was cold, and blowing an absolute gale. Alas, the bittern wasn't "booming" and we couldn't find it with the drone either. Just before dark we packed up and went home.

16-18 July

Six of us went to Broughton Island for the winter program. The conditions were challenging - it was very windy all three days, approaching gale force at times especially on the more-exposed parts of the island, and to boot we had two rainstorms on Friday, one of those including hail. We also had COVID restrictions about how we operated. Moreover, the Monotoca was not fruiting, which limited the bird numbers and activity. However, we had some good moments. There was a Double-banded Plover present on all 3 days - the first winter record of one (the other records have been of birds on passage in autumn). We had first-time records for Rainbow Lorikeet and Pacific Black Duck. The Red-browed Finch population has exploded, to 25-30 birds. In May we recorded them for the first time ever on the island (with only 3-4 birds present). A Lewin's Rail was calling frequently from near the huts, but once again it went unsighted, due to the dense vegetation. We had a female Rose Robin, a pair of Grey Fantail, one of which was a bird we had colour-banded in May. There were at least six White-bellied Sea-Eagles always present, and three Ospreys one of which we colour-banded as a chick in November last year.

13 July

I wasn't intending any birding today but mid-morning I received an email reporting that the rare vagrant Black-fronted Tern from NZ was had been seen off the Stockton Breakwater. I knew it was a long shot but I went there straightaway - and I didn't find it. I stayed for almost an hour, seeing plenty of other waterbirds (in small numbers except when a fishing trawler went by). Late afternoon the person who made the report sent me a photo and it turned out to be a Greater Crested Tern i.e. it was a false alarm. Still, it was a nice day to be out.

9 July

It rained a lot overnight and was drizzling steadily when I set out. I went to The Drip, which I had all to myself and got fairly wet during my visit. The highlight here was a pair of Rockwarblers - I had prolonged close views of them.  There were at least a half-dozen Spotted Pardalotes foraging in a tree at one point. It rained heavily for the next hour, which I waited out at the Cassilis Park Rest Area. When the rain eased, I birded there and also across the road at a section of Durridgerie State Conservation Area. I didn't see anything special although the sight of 17 bedraggled Crested Pigeons sitting in a dead tree amused me and there were some Musk Lorikeets around.

8 July

I emerged from 2 weeks of enforced isolation and took off west for a couple of days. It was a cold foggy morning and not worth any birding stops, so I went all the way to Goulburn River National Park where I stopped firstly at the Fossickers area. The sun was out by then but the birding was quiet. However, I saw two pairs of Hooded Robins, also several Diamond Firetails and lots of Brown Treecreepers. I also stopped at the "Poggy" site where the highlight was an Eastern Shrike-Tit doing its beautiful call (which carries quite a way and it took me a while to actually see the bird). There were Speckled Warblers here, a bird I always delight in seeing, and some Buff-rumped Thornbills and Variegated Fairy-wrens. My final stop, just before Gulgong where I stayed overnight, was at the Cope State Forest. The tracks were difficult to negotiate as it had rained a lot recently. However, the forest was full of honeyeaters, especially Noisy Friarbirds (hundreds) and Yellow-faced Honeyeaters (many dozens), and there were White-eared, Yellow-tufted and White-naped Honeyeaters

June 2021

26 June

I did the monthly Ash Island survey in the morning. I didn't find any migratory shorebirds (they all have departed) but I was pleased to see some Red-necked Avocets back in the estuary after breeding inland. There were 168 of them, also a few Pied Stilt which also had departed to breed inland. At Fish Fry Flats there was a foraging group of 18 Red-capped Plover, and there were 270 Grey Teal on Wader Pond (especially unusual in that they normally prefer Swan Pond). It was a good day for raptors - I saw White-bellied Sea-eagle, Swamp Harrier, Whistling Kite, Nankeen Kestrel and Brown Falcon.

24 June

On my way back from an overnight Sydney visit, I firstly explored the Mandalong/Dooralong areas south of Morisset but that was wall-to-wall farmlets etc and I couldn't find any interesting places to stop. Instead I went to Cooranbong and did the Boys Walk along Dora Creek. The highlight was a male Regent Bowerbird perched at the top of a dead tree, also I had great views of both Shining Bronze-cuckoo and Fan-tailed Cuckoo. There were some mixed foraging flocks containing Yellow and Brown Thornbills, and I also saw a flock of Striated Thornbills. I had close views of a Yellow-throated Scrubwren foraging on the track for quite a while.

22 June

Reports of a very rare bird (Black-fronted Tern - it will be a new addition to the Australian list if accepted) took me to Fort Scratchley to do a sea watch plus scan the roosting and foraging terns. Alas, I didn't find it but I enjoyed socialising with other birders, and there were some other species to look at - e.g. lots of roosting Greater Created Terns, several Sooty Oystercatchers, some Australasian Gannets, Pied Cormorants, ... A young Humpback Whale (based on distance from flipper to tail) was lolling around quite close to shore for ages, doing flipper raising/slapping, tail basking, etc. Very pleasant to watch!

12-14 June

I went to the HBOC camp at Appletree Flat near Jerrys Plains. I took a roundabout route to get there, stopping at Doughboy Hollow (with ~700 Plumed Whistling-Ducks and ~300 Straw-necked Ibis), Lake Liddell (too much water, too many campers), Muswellbrook sewage works (26 Pink-eared Ducks), Medhurst Bridge (Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater but not much else) and Bureen (nothing exceptional there). The camp was terrific - lovely days although cold nights, good company and good birds. On the property there was a large flock of 100+ Double-barred Finches in the front paddocks, Powerful Owl and Southern Boobook calling at night, a group of Grey-crowned Babblers, many Pied Currawongs, etc. On the Commission Road into Wollemi National Park I found Rose Robins, White-eared Honeyeaters, a Rockwarbler, Yellow-tufted Honeyeaters, Speckled Warblers, Weebills, Yellow Thornbills, and more.

3 June

In the afternoon I attended a meeting of the Hunter Estuary Shorebirds Working Group, held at the Wetlands Centre.  There were good discussions, and also I did a presentation (available here) which was an overview about the results from 22 years of surveys by HBOC members.

1 June

I joined the HBOC mid-week outing, which was to the Tocal College grounds. It was the first time in a long while that I've gone on one of the outings and it was fun to be birding in a group once again. Early on we found two young Shining Bronze-cuckoos together, hanging around with some Grey Fantails which perhaps had been their host parents. There were large numbers of Red-browed Finches down by the wetlands (in the vegetated areas) and also some Double-barred Finches in a few places. We had a nice view of an Azure Kingfisher at the creek - I'm always happy to see my favourite species! On the main ponds there were four Pink-eared Ducks and several Australasian Shovelers, also plenty of Pacific Black Ducks and scattered teal as well. Other highlights were a perched Wedge-tailed Eagle and a fly-through by a White-bellied Sea-Eagle.

May 2021

21-23 May

Six of us spent 3 days on Broughton Island, the first visit in six months (we had many failed attempts due to poor weather conditions). We had a new species for the island - some Red-browed Finches, two of which are now sporting coloured bands on their legs as is a Grey Fantail and two Bar-shouldered Doves. Overall the bush birds were quiet - partly that was to do with the seasonal pattern but there was very little fruiting berries available and that meant there weren't many Silvereyes (and almost no southern sub-species birds were there this time). In contrast, there were lots of birds of prey, especially White-bellied Sea-Eagles. There were 7-8 different individuals patrolling the island constantly. The reason seemed to be that there were many dead and dying Wedge-tailed Shearwater chicks. There always are lots of them at this time of the year - the parents abandon late-hatching chicks because they have to leave for their annual northern migration. I found 24 Sooty Oystercatchers during a high tide survey along Providence Beach, also nine Red-capped Plovers and two Double-banded Plovers, and also a pair of Eastern Reef Egrets flew past me as I walked along the beach.

17-19 May

Margaret and I spent 3 days on the Central Coast, staying at Ettalong Beach both nights but exploring a wider area over the three days. I have to say that the place isn't very birdy!! Admittedly I wasn't specifically out birdwatching, but I didn't see much. Highlights were a pair of Aust. Pied Oystercatchers at The Entrance, lots of Northern Mallards around Ettalong and at Cockrone Lagoon and an Aust. Brush-turkey in Bouddi National Park.

15 May

Ross and I did the monthly survey of Ash Island. There were many ducks including 600+ Chestnut Teal and 34 Australasian Shovelers. The ducks were tricky to count because of regular disturbance by six White-bellied Sea-Eagles in the area. We found a flock of seven Royal Spoonbills, and also 16 Red-capped Plovers together. The highlight was a male Australian Shelduck, loafing at the edge of the main ponds.

14 May

I went to the Gloucester Tops, mainly to check out the honeyeater activity. There was almost no activity! That's very unusual in autumn but for the first time that I can remember, the Banskia was not in blossom. I visited two Rufous scrub-bird territories. Neither bird was active but I did hear some Crescent Honeyeaters (and get very close to one of them) and there were two pairs of Red-browed Treecreepers (one pair seen). It was chilly up there so I cut my losses and went to Copeland State Conservation Area for some rainforest birding. However, it was quiet there as well.

12 May

In the evening I went to HBOC's May meeting. There were two great talks and I found it a very interesting night.

8 May

Once again the scheduled visit to Broughton Island (planned for 7-9 May) was cancelled. That's the sixth time this year and with no successful attempts! Anyhow, I have used the time to knock over some chores e.g. prepare the material for May's HBOC Featured Bird and produce the next Cross-bird cryptic puzzle for Australian Birdlife. But this the morning, for a change of scene, I headed out for some birding, using the new Cessnock birding routes publications as my guide. I went to Stanford Merthyr Reserve, Neath Fire Trail and Shiralee Fire Trail (the latter and I think both are in Werakata NP).  All three were nice spots, none of which I knew about previously. However, the birding was quiet. Highlights included lots of Yellow-faced Honeyeaters (currently on migration passage) and some Yellow-tufted Honeyeaters. I also enjoyed some nice views of Variegated Fairy-wrens.

1 May

In the morning I helped at HBOC's display at the Tocal Field Days event. Although it wasn't massively busy, there was a steady stream of people coming through and there were some pleasant chats (helping with bird IDs etc).  After lunch I went to Walka Water Works and walked around the main trail. I saw three Great Crested Grebes and a female Musk Duck but overall there weren't a great many birds on the water. A nearby wetland had some Black-fronted Dotterels and a solitary Pied Stilt. The bush birds also were quiet, with the highlight being some Blue-faced Honeyeaters.

April 2021

26 April

I had a meeting late morning with the bird banders, mainly to set some dates for future project work. In the afternoon I worked on the Introduction for a paper about Hunter Estuary shorebirds - Ann Lindsey and I are working on this. It's one of the lengthiest Introductions I've ever produced.

23-25 April

Margaret and I went to the HBOC camp which was at the Baerami Creek Oil Shale relics site in Wollemi National Park. We've been there a few times before, but there had been bush fires 16-18 months ago and much of the area had been burnt. That limited the birding somewhat but there were unburnt patches and we found about 65 species including a group of Grey-crowned Babblers, some Speckled Warblers, Rose Robin, Restless Flycatcher and Jacky Winter. At night there were Southern Boobooks, Tawny Frogmouths and an Australian Owlet-nightjar calling. Highlights while in transit were six White-backed Swallows at Bureen and seven Dusky Woodswallows along Baerami Creek Rd.

21 April

I went up to the Gloucester Tops, my first visit in more than two months (becasue of heavy rains in March and much travelling in April). It was quiet up there - scrub-birds mostly silent, very little honeyeater activity, very little blossom. I replaced the batteries and SD cards in my five cameras at a Rufous Scrub-bird territory, and also visited three other territories.

11-17 April

I did a six-day walk from Newcastle (New Lambton) to Sydney (Manly), covering 155 km in a mainly-coastal route. My overnight stops were: Swansea, Toukley, The Entrance, Terrigal,  Ettalong Beach and Ashfield (where my daughter lives). Although birdwatching was not my objective, and I had no binoculars, I kept my eyes and ears alert for birds. Overall, I recorded 66 species, with some of thehighlights being Variegated Fairy-wren, Spangled Drongo, Osprey, Bar-tailed Godwit, Scarlet Honeyeater and Caspian Tern.

10 April

Ross and I did the monthly Ash Island survey in the morning. The contrast to last month’s survey was remarkable. Last month it took me forever to count all the shorebirds, especially the avocets (there were about 1,000 of them). Today we found four Pacific Golden Plovers, a dozen Black-fronted Dotterels and modest numbers of Masked Lapwings, and no other shorebirds at all. The avocets have gone, and probably this species has left the estuary. Swan Pond was living up to its name, which isn’t always the case. There were almost 200 of them out there this morning, plus lesser numbers at locations elsewhere. One pair was on a nest and a second pair was building one. There were flocks of Chestnut Teal at several of the ponds, in smallish groups (20-50 birds) but totaling to around 200 birds altogether, and a female had seven ducklings with her. Brown Quail were at lots of places as we drove around; we saw six groups of them amounting to 30 or so birds, and also two Buff-banded Rails. It was a good day for raptors too, including we saw an adult Brahminy Kite near Scotts Point. The migration passage by Welcome Swallows is underway, and we had ~150 birds today, plus we saw a group of ~15 Chestnut-breasted Mannikins including several immature birds.

8 April

I went to Karuah in the afternoon for a meeting of the Port Stephens Shorebirds Working Group. It was a useful meeting, I thought. After it, I wandered the Karuah wharf area for a while, finding little bird activity, and then went across the bridge to the Alice St park. I was looking for the Bush Stone-curlews which used to roost there. I saw no evidence of them. The highlight for me was a Striated Heron, and there were some Brown Honeyeaters present too.

March-April 2021: western NSW trip

The main part of the trip was to join the HBOC camp at Round Hill Nature Reserve for Easter. We left on Monday morning (29 March), staying 2 nights at Wellington and then 2 nights at Lake Cargelligo. From there it was a shortish trip to the Nature Reserve on Good Friday. On Easter Monday we headed homewards, staying overnight at Condobolin and Gulgong en route.

7 April

From Gulgong we went to Durridgerie Road, where I birded at five Hunter Region locations (four of them planned). We were headed towards the Apostlebird site (where I found them last spring) when I noticed some birds alongside the road, a few kilometres before. The total count was 18 birds. I found none present at their old site but I did see a quite large group of Grey-crowned Babblers there. Prior to that, I stopped firstly at Ridgy-Didge, where before I was out of the car I had recorded Hooded Robin and Diamond Firetail. Other birds present included Dusky Woodswallow, Wedge-tailed Eagle and Eastern Shrike-tit. There was a calling Singing Honeyeater at Honeyeater Hill, but I didn't lay eyes on it. The final stop was at the end of Smedes Lane, where the birds were few and far between. After that, we headed homewards, with no more birding stops, alas.

6 April

Outside our motel room at Condobolin in the morning there was a very vocal Little Friarbird - a great start to the day. We drove via Tullamore, where during a brief stopover in town I found a Collared Sparrowhawk. Our next stop was Curra State Forest on our way to Peak Hill (quiet for birds, but I had nice encounters with Inland Thornbills). Closer to Peak Hill we stopped at Bogan Weir (the highlight was Brown Treecreepers), then later at Goobang National Park on the Yeoval side of it, at the Wanda Wondong campsite. That also was quiet for birds, although it looked to be a nice camping area for a future trip. We stayed overnight at Gulgong, with Blue-faced Honeyeaters and Little Ravens at the motel and stacks of live and dead mice everywhere.

2-5 April

After leaving Lake Cargelligo, we detoured over to Chat Alley again, where we also found several other HBOC members. The Orange Chat didn't show but most of the other species from Thursday were there again. I spent Friday afternoon and most of Saturday in Round Hill Nature Reserve, including on Saturday morning I walked to the top of the hill (it was a difficult walk because of all the rocks, and there weren't many birds once I started moving up the slope). On Saturday late afternoon, Sunday morning and late afternoon, and Monday morning, I visited the adjacent Nombinnie Nature Reserve which is prime mallee country.

At Round Hill, the first bird I saw was a Red-capped Robin, which I thought was a good omen. There were many other Red-capped Robins over the four days of the camp. Also at Round Hill, I saw birds such as Mulga Parrots, Australian Ringnecks, Splendid Fairy-wrens, Southern Whiteface, Chestnut-rumped Thornbills, and White-browed Babblers. There were Spiny-cheeked Honeyeaters everywhere, very active and very vocal.

I visited various locations in Nombinnie, and at most of them I found Southern Scrub-robins or Shy Heathwrens, and sometimes both species. By the end I had reasonable photos of both those species. I found a good spot for Black Honeyeaters - this site also had pairs of Hooded Robin and Red-capped Robin and a pair of Crested Bellbirds, of both of which I managed good photos.

There were woodswallows constantly overhead, heard more often than seen but I was able to confirm that both White-browed Woodswallow and Masked Woodswallow were present (but with far fewer of the latter).

We departed late morning, going via Lake Cargelligo (lunch by the lake) and thence to Condobolin where we stopped in the early afternoon. There was a Spotted Harrier seen on our way.

1 April

First thing in the morning I went back to the sewage works, this time walking the full loop. I found most of yesterday’s birds again, except for the Pink-eared Ducks. New additions included Splendid Fairy-wren, Cockatiel and Australian Ringneck. Next, I went to “Chat Alley”, which this time lived up to its name (unlike when I visited in 2019). I saw some White-fronted Chats almost immediately, and there were at least 10 of them eventually. Later  I found a male Orange Chat, got photos and had great and extended views. There were lots of Zebra Finches, and several each of Horsfield’s Bushlark, Brown Songlark and Stubble Quail.  Four Black Kite were hunting in the area the entire time that I was there. 

I went down the road, to Booberoi Creek which I visited 2 years ago. A Western Gerygone was calling, but I couldn’t track it down. Ditto for some White-browed or Masked Woodswallows

31 March

We headed south-west from Wellington, towards Parkes. Our first stop was the Goobang National Park, with the highlights for me being Restless Flycatcher, Inland Thornbill, Buff-rumped Thornbill and Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater. The intended next stop was Gum Swamp near Forbes, an old favourite. However, when we arrived, the gate was locked and the road signpost covered over. This made me very grumpy, but I later researched and found that they are doing a major upgrade with birdwatching the target activity. So, maybe next visit it will be OK. Instead we went to Lake Forbes, which is aesthetically pleasing but not so great for birds (unless you’re a bog-standard waterbird). Later we stopped at a newly upgraded wetland on the outskirts of West Wyalong (eg walking tracks & signage are new). Although I didn’t find a lot here, it has promise especially when the general countryside is drier than it is currently. 

After arriving at Lake Cargelligo and setting up camp, I went to the sewage works for a while. There was a lot of water, unlike when I visited two years ago. Highlights included Hoary-headed Grebe, Australian Shelduck, Pink-eared Duck and Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater, also Red-kneed and Black-fronted Dotterel.

30 March

Our morning was spent at the Wellington Caves, with a couple of brief stops on the way. At a sculpture park there was a family of White-winged Choughs, and a nice view of a perched Nankeen Kestrel. After the cave tour we went to the Burrendong Arboretum, where I had a pleasant 90 minute wander (it wasn't intended to be that lengthy, but I became lost). The birding was quite good, with several groups of Apostlebirds, and sightings of Brown Goshawk, Speckled Warbler, Jacky Winter and a group of White-browed Babblers. Then, after a few hours break I headed to the sewage treatment works - unfortunately, it was all sealed tanks with nothing for birds.

March 2021

26 March

After a couple of very frustrating weeks, with many of my plans shattered by all the dreadful weather, I ventured out for the Gloucester Tops in the morning. My main mission was to change the batteries and SD cards in the cameras I have at a Rufous Scrub-bird territory, also to record some scrub-birds if they were singing. Alas, when I reached the entrance to the national park, the road was closed. Al that I could do was turn back. That was very disappointing although the consolation was that it gave me time to get over to Stockton and receive the SD cards from my Broughton Island cameras. I spent the evening looking through almost 3,000 images. There were many interesting ones including Brown Quail with chicks, regular shots of a banded Bar-shouldered Dove, lots of Wedge-tailed Shearwater comings and goings and some Gould's Petrel comings and goings. The Eastern Reef Egrets made many visits to their nest but they never bred - a surprise to me (and a disappointment).

13 March

I did the monthly Ash Island survey in the morning. There were lots of birds, with about 3,500 of them being at Area E and smaller numbers at various other water-bodies around the island.  Almost 1% of the world’s Red-necked Avocets were present, and about 1.5% of the world’s Chestnut Teal.  There also were hundreds each of Pied Stilt and Grey Teal, some Australasian Shovelers and at least four Pink-eared Ducks.  The migratory shorebirds were Far Eastern Curlews, Sharp-tailed Sandpipers, Black-tailed Godwits and Pacific Golden Plovers, all in modest numbers and well and truly outweighed by the avocets, stilts and teal. I counted 21 godwits but they were surrounded by avocets and teal and it was hard to see them all properly i.e. there might have been more than 21 birds.

7-9 March

Late afternoon I went up to Myall Lakes, joining four others from HBOC to start the Myall Coast beach surveys (Monday & Tuesday) with local NPWS staff. We camped the first night at Dees Corner on Myall Lake. A walk before dark found Brown Honeyeaters with dependent young, a few Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoos, Scarlet Honeyeaters, etc. On Monday morning I surveyed much of the Mungo Brush beaches in a side-by-side with James from NPWS. The only shorebirds were two groups of Red-capped Plovers but we also saw lots of Australasian Pipits plus gulls & terns and some raptors. In the afternoon we relocated to Yagon, driving through the locked-gated Old Gibber Track and Old Mining Road. The highlight was some Turquoise Parrots, also Little Lorikeets, White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike, Dusky Woodswallow and Brown Quail. We had a massive thunderstorm in the late afternoon and I ended up sleeping in the back of the car. Just on dark, an Aust. Owlet-nightjar was flying by - the first time that I've ever seen one in flight! Next morning, I surveyed Lighthouse and Treachery Beaches with two NPWS staff. The highlight was a group of three Aust. Pied Oystercatchers, one of which had a leg tag. I've reported it to the ABBBS, and am awaiting details.

On my way home, I stopped at Neranie in Myall Lakes NP, where I found Eastern Shrike-tits feeding fledged young, and then at Hexham Swamp where there were some Sharp-tailed Sandpipers and Aust. Shovelers (and I just missed seeing the Tundra subspecies of Peregrine Falcon; others had just seen it fly off as I pulled up).

6 March

It's been another frustrating week - rainy, and once again a trip to Broughton Island was canceled (for the third time this year). However, at least the cancellation gave me the chance to finish off and submit a paper about Rufous Scrub-bird singing behaviour (joint authored with Margaret). That's been on my to-do list for a very long time. We've sent it to Corella.

1 March

No birding today, but I did lots of work on databases and analyses thereof. I made headway on the Rufous Scrub-bird singing data analysis, and I also progressed the Swan Bay (Port Stephens) and Hunter Estuary data clean-up projects. Big day, nothing interesting to report!

February 2021

28 February

Today I went on a pelagic trip out of Port Stephens, to the continental shelf. It was a mixed day - unchallenging, and hardly any wind.  We saw lots of shearwaters on our way out, but many were sitting as rafts on the water due to the lack of wind. There were many thousands of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, and limited numbers of any others (mainly those were Flesh-footed and the occasional Short-tailed). Soon after arriving at the shelf we had a Gould's Petrel and a Tahiti Petrel - what a great way to start! The TP circled the boat several times; thus we had great views of it. But, after that it pretty much dried up although we did have a few Grey-faced Petrels come in and a brief visit by a Shy-type Albatross. There were many boats out there, it being the annual marlin-fishing competition.

26 February

I attended a meeting at the Wetlands Centre with Ann Lindsey and 3 people from the University of Newcastle, to discuss shorebirds and how two new PhD students would best tackle the making of comparisons at various sites within the Hunter Estuary which have been undergoing change. Afterwards, I walked around the site for an hour or so. There were some Magpie Geese on the main ponds, but almost no other waterbirds. However, around at the waterbirds colony, things were very busy - there were lots of Cattle Egret and Australian White Ibis on nests, also Great and Intermediate Egrets perhaps nesting, also numerous Little Pied and Little Black Cormorants. The noise, and the smell, was quite amazing!

23 February

A long time ago I wrote the text for a birding route brochure about Ash Island. There may now be some progress, so this afternoon I went to Ash Island to take some landscape photos for the brochure. I spent most of my time at the main ponds system, where the highlight was ~40 Black-tailed Godwits. Also, two Far Eastern Curlews.

19-21 February

I visited some of my old Manning Valley stamping grounds for bird surveys, in particular Cattai Wetlands, Saltwater National Park, Manning Entrance State Park, Crowdy Head and Harrington Rainforest. The weather was challenging - lots of rain - and I couldn't do some of the other activities that I had intended (e.g. to survey the Harrington sandbanks). Cattai Wetlands was massively overgrown with lilies and I couldn't see any jacanas, but I did find a pair of Wandering Whistling-Ducks. Saltwater NP was quiet but there were several very young Australian Brush-turkeys, and several Wedge-tailed Shearwaters foraging just offshore. At MESP, there were lots of small shorebirds, very spread out over the sand; mainly Red-necked Stints and Red-capped Plovers, also a few Double-banded Plovers. There were some Bar-tailed Godwits, Pacific Golden Plovers and Far Eastern Curlews as well.  I found singles of Lesser and Greater Sand Plover. There were lots of terns, including Aleutian Tern (four birds), Little Tern (~160 birds), Common Tern (~80 birds) and Crested Tern (100+ birds). The rainforest at Harrington didn't have much, but shortly after I emerged from it, a loose flock of ~40 White-throated Needletails flew over.

On our way home in the rainon Sunday morning, I checked the Fairy Martin colony at Cundletown (at least 17 active nests) and then the waterbird colony at Nulama. The colony was in full swing, with 100-150 Cattle Egret nests, also breeding Little Black Cormorants and Little Pied Cormorants.

18 February

Late morning I was in a video conference with BLA and NPWS staff to plan a bird survey of the Hawks Nest to Seal Rocks beaches. We're aiming for the second week of March to do it. It will be a complicated exercise, involving a couple of 4WDs, a side-by-side quad bike (takes one passenger) and a thermal imaging drone (to survey the sand dunes). In the afternoon, Margaret and I drove up to Harrington where we will spend three days.

17 February

I went to the Gloucester Tops again, to install two new cameras at a Rufous Scrub-bird territory. It was a cold wet day, not at all pleasant really. I visited three territories - only one scrub-bird was calling, and that was only briefly. The river was high - I crossed the six fords on my way in but they were rather deep (for my car) and I opted for the flood detour route on my way back out.

14 February

I spent quite a bit of the day dealing with all the paperwork from Friday's and Saturday's surveys, plus editing the associated photos. In the afternoon, Margaret and I went to a "Tomago surveys" party at Ann Lindsey's place; to celebrate her recent publication in The Whistler about the Tomago Wetland and acknowledge all who had helped in some way. It was great to have the opportunity to talk about birds (and our local birders) in such a low-key way.

13 February

On a very rainy day, I did the Ash Island survey, with six others. Usually it's just Ross and me, but we had 5 others join us today (including several students). The rain was a problem but the birding was terrific. We had well over 1,000 birds, including there were six migratory species. There were about 800 teal, about ¾ of them Chestnut Teal, also we had 20 or so Australasian Shovelers and about the same number of Pacific Black Ducks. We saw a Buff-banded Rail run across the track in front of us and there were Brown Quail at four different locations, including a pair had a youngster with them (it was no longer a fluffy chick but still was much smaller than the adults).

Endemic shorebirds included Red-necked Avocet (129 birds, several young ones), Pied Stilt (81 birds, several young ones) and Black-fronted Dotterel (8 birds). The migratory species were Far Eastern Curlew (eight birds), Pacific Golden Plover (60 birds), Sharp-tailed Sandpiper (one bird, with the plovers), Black-tailed Godwit (56 birds), Latham’s Snipe (one bird) and Peregrine Falcon (one bird; the migratory Siberian subspecies). The falcon flew across Swan Pond just after we had arrived there, causing mayhem on the pond. Then it landed on top of a power pole towards the southern end of Wagtail Way, allowing us to have reasonable telescope views for a while and opportunities for poor photos.

12 February

Today was the Port Stephens summer survey, which I co-organise with NPWS staff.  I assigned myself to Delta sector, mainly so that I could check out the new vessel that is used for that sector (it's been used for Delta for about 3 years: it's taken me a while!). My conclusion - it's a perfect vessel for the task. Two other birders were with me on the survey (and 13 people overall, across  all six sectors). We found 74 Aust. Pied Oystercatchers, also a dozen or so Sooty Oystercatchers and 100 or so each of Whimbrel and Bar-tailed Godwit. We found a spot with ten Grey-tailed Tattlers, and also saw Ospreys and White-bellied Sea-Eagles. The highlight, for sure, was at Swan Bay: we had just finished counting the large flock of oystercatchers (77 birds) when I saw a heron/egret. It turned out to be an Eastern Reef Egret, which was a very unusual location for such species! It took me quite a while to accept the ID: I was trying hard to turn it into anything else, because of the location. But, that's what it was.

10 February

I was guest speaker at HBOC's AGM; my talk was called Scrub-bird Secrets. It was a hybrid Zoom meeting - some people (approx 30 people) were attending in person, plus many others attended remotely. The meeting posed some technical challenges - mainly, that my videos wouldn't play! However, overall, we got there and we learnt some lessons for the next time. In one of my videos I showed a female with two dependent young; a world first.

8 February

After many fallen-through plans in the past couple of weeks, I went to the Gloucester Tops for the day. My mission was to refresh the cameras in a Rufous Scrub-bird territory, which I did successfully. That bird was calling when I arrived, but soon afterwards went quiet, for the remainder of my visit. I visited two other territories, where again the birds were quiet. However, I had Crescent Honeyeaters calling at two sites.

January 2021

28-29 January

I spent a lot of time looking through the trail camera images - there are over 2,000 of them but that includes plenty of mammals plus scrub-wrens, Aust. Logrunners, Bassian Thrush, etc. However, there are at least ten images with a definite Rufous Scrub-bird (and another 5-6 images with maybes). Lots of other desk work these past couple of days including editing a couple of Whistler articles, beginning to organise the Port Stephens waterbirds survey and the Broughton Island survey (both will be in early to mid-Feb), and working on my talk for the February HBOC meeting.

27 January

I did my first Gloucester Tops excursion for the year. At one territory I retrieved nine trail cameras, later returning them to NPWS in Gloucester. The other four cameras I refreshed (new SD cards and batteries) and left in place.The Rufous Scrub-bird at that territory was silent for the 2.5 hours I was there, but I heard and then saw a scrub-bird at another territory later. Other birds for the day included Olive Whistler, Crescent Honeyeater, Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoo.

23 January

The HBOC camp at Smiths Lake was cancelled (because of a bushfire) so Margaret and I with Sally and Tom went to Myall Lakes NP (Korsmans Landing) for a day trip. I kayaked around the area but finding very few birds (a few honeyeater types, Grey Fantails, White-throated Treecreeper). The best of the limited birding was at Bombah Point, where there was a pair of Whistling Kites active, and some Blue-faced Honeyeaters. We now have those in our yard at home, a pair with two young. On the way home we went to Dark Point and I showed them the views of Broughton Island.

January 2021

28-29 January

I spent a lot of time looking through the trail camera images - there are over 2,000 of them but that includes plenty of mammals plus scrub-wrens, Aust. Logrunners, Bassian Thrush, etc. However, there are at least ten images with a definite Rufous Scrub-bird (and another 5-6 images with maybes). Lots of other desk work these past couple of days including editing a couple of Whistler articles, beginning to organise the Port Stephens waterbirds survey and the Broughton Island survey (both will be in early to mid-Feb), and working on my talk for the February HBOC meeting.

27 January

I did my first Gloucester Tops excursion for the year. At one territory I retrieved nine trail cameras, later returning them to NPWS in Gloucester. The other four cameras I refreshed (new SD cards and batteries) and left in place.The Rufous Scrub-bird at that territory was silent for the 2.5 hours I was there, but I heard and then saw a scrub-bird at another territory later. Other birds for the day included Olive Whistler, Crescent Honeyeater, Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoo.

23 January

The HBOC camp at Smiths Lake was cancelled (because of a bushfire) so Margaret and I with Sally and Tom went to Myall Lakes NP (Korsmans Landing) for a day trip. I kayaked around the area but finding very few birds (a few honeyeater types, Grey Fantails, White-throated Treecreeper). The best of the limited birding was at Bombah Point, where there was a pair of Whistling Kites active, and some Blue-faced Honeyeaters. We now have those in our yard at home, a pair with two young. On the way home we went to Dark Point and I showed them the views of Broughton Island.

18-20 January

Four of us did the quarterly surveys of the Martindale Valley. I didn't leave home until after lunch on Monday, and I made a brief detour to Stockton Borehole Swamp at Teralba first (where I saw several hundred Sharp-tailed Sandpipers). I also stopped at Medhurst Bridge, which was quiet although there were a couple of Spiny-cheeked Honeyeaters. On Monday night (and again on Tuesday night) the night-birds were White-throated Nightjar, Australian Owlet-Nightjar, Southern Boobook and Tawny Frogmouth. Tuesday's birding highlights probably were Hooded Robin, Rufous Songlark, Restless Flycatcher, Plumed Whistling-Duck (three birds at a wetland that has been dry for most  of our visits), Stubble Quail (many birds calling, occasional sightings), Rockwarbler (a party of four birds) and Peregrine Falcon (three birds, interacting). However, it was a pretty good day and there were many other great birds. Wednesday's highlights were easy to pick - a Spotted Harrier near Bureen and a pair of Black Falcons near Medhurst. I managed to get OK photos of both of the species.

On my way home I detoured to Ash Island, where I found a pair of Brown Quail with three chicks, and a Red-capped Plover with one chick plus most of  the usual waterbirds. It was quiet though.

17 January

I was on a pelagic trip out of Port Stephens today. On our way out to the shelf we saw plenty of shearwaters, mostly Wedge-tailed but also Flesh-footed, Sooty, Short-tailed and Hutton's Shearwaters. At the shelf, a couple of Grey-faced Petrels came by, also a Gould's Petrel and two albatross species (Shy-type Albatross and Black-browed type Albatross) put in a brief appearance. We had all the dark shearwaters around all the time, also several of the locally-breeding White-faced Storm-petrels. The highlight for sure though, was a New Caledonian Storm-petrel. It stayed around the boat for well over an hour, becoming increasingly unafraid. As a result, we all had wonderful views and I scored lots of photos, which I will need to sort through. It's my second ever sighting of this species, which officially is extinct (my first sighting was in 2015; that record is still in the too-hard basket)

Another highlight from today was when we saw a micro-bat (a Gould's Wattled Bat) flying past the boat. That of itself itself was exciting, but the bat then landed on one of the boat's mast ropes where it then perched for several minutes. Rescued, we though ... but then it took off again. It had a long way to go before it could find true safety. I am pessimistic about its chances.

13 January

I went to Stockton Sandspit mid-morning, arriving well after the high tide but having to wait ages for the mudflats to appear (because it was a spring tide, 2.0m). I found Grey-tailed Tattlers and Terek Sandpipers at roost in Fern Bay, and Far Eastern Curlews and Red-necked Avocets at roost at the sandspit, also a Caspian Tern was coming and going often. When the mudflats eventually began to expose, a large flock of godwits flew across from the dykes. There were more than 500 Bar-tailed Godwits and at least 20 Black-tailed Godwits. The only other bird that came over was a solitary Curlew Sandpiper, although a group of six Whimbrels also emerged from the mangroves and stayed for a while.

9 January

I did the Ash Island survey in the morning with Ross and Brianna, with a very early start. We found ten Far Eastern Curlews overall, also a group of 38 Pacific Golden Plovers at Phoenix Flats. At the main ponds there were 130 Red-necked Avocets, also a single Black-tailed Godwit and some Red-capped Plovers with a runner. There were about two hundred ducks as well, mostly Chestnut Teal but several other species including Pink-eared Ducks (four birds) and Australasian Shovelers (five birds).

8 January

In the afternoon I went out to Hexham Swamp with Bob McDonald, to do some surveys using HBOC's new thermal imaging drone. We flew it from a spot along the Pipeline Track initially, trying some grid-pattern searches. There were few birds. When the day became a bit cooler, we went about 2 km along the old railway track, to a spot where an Australasian Bittern had been detected late last year. On our way there, we flushed a group of three King Quail and also several Brown Quail, some of the latter having youngsters in tow. The drone readily picked out some Purple Swamphens but also another heat mass, stationary, about a metre into a clump of reeds. After lots of umming and ahing, we convinced ourselves that we had found a Bittern! (But, later ground-truthing showed it to be an old fence post!!)

4 January

Heading home from Cooma, we went across country via Bungendore, so that I could look at Lake Bathurst and perhaps see some shorebirds there. Lake Bathurst was one of my first birding spots, courtesy of a birdwatching course I did not long before leaving Canberra: it was the site for one of our field excursions and where I first saw some sandpiper and stint species. I knew it was on private property but I was hoping I could get close. That didn't work (the water was too far off) but nearby was an area called The Morass. It too was on private property but much closer to the road. There were large numbers of waterbirds present, including hundreds each of Australian Wood Ducks, Hoary-headed Grebes (many were on nests) and Eurasian Coots. I found a group of three Southern Whiteface feeding on the road, and there was a Eurasian Skylark in the paddock behind.

3 January

We drove north from Cooma for ~45km, to a location called Bumbalong, where Margaret's cousin and wife have a property on the Murrumbidgee River. As well as the river frontage, the property turned out to be 80 acres in size and to have extensive woodlands in the hills behind. Although badly burnt in last summer's bushfires (several of the neighbouring properties lost all their buildings and infrastructure) there were lots of good birds including Hooded Robin, White-winged Triller, Weebill, Dusky Woodswallow, Rufous Songlark and Stubble Quail. I wasn't expecting any of that, so it was a pleasant surprise.

2 January

Early morning, a Gang-gang Cockatoo flew past, which was a great way to start my day (and then,in the afternoon there were at least four of them in trees in the caravan park).  Later in the morning, Margaret and I drove to Adaminaby / Lake Eucumbene then returned to Cooma via back roads. I was pleased to have good views of some European Goldfinch at Old Adaminaby but I also found them at two other stopping places. We saw several Wedge-tailed Eagles, Pied Currawongs with dependent young, Australian Reed-warblers, and my only White-plumed Honeyeater for the trip.

1 January

I went first to the Mount Gladstone Nature Reserve, just out of Cooma. That was quiet, although there were some White-eared Honeyeaters and a juvenile but seemingly independent Pied Currawong. Then, I went back to my Eurasian Skylark site on Numerella Road, where I managed slightly better photos than on Wednesday.  There were at least six of them present, and several times I saw three birds in the air at the same time. There was a Brown Songlark again, and a pair of Brown Falcons. My final morning visit was to the Murrumbidgee River crossing; there wasn't much around but I added Australian Reed-warbler and Silvereye to my year list. In the afternoon I did a few loops of the caravan park, just casual birding; I had a few views of Common Blackbirds for my troubles.