Thinking About 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.