Thinking About Birds

I only update the gallery photos occasionally. Sorry about that, too busy. See my Sri Lanka gallery though and also  the latest additions to my UK and Denmark galleries.

December 2019

30 November - 2 December

Four of us spent 2 and a bit days in the Gloucester Tops. Our intention was to catch and band a Rufous Scrub-bird but it now is very clear that the birds aren't breeding this year (on account of how dry are the conditions) and that makes them hard to trap.  Kerripit Rd was closed (because of fire risk) and that further limited what we could do. However, I was able to get positional data on scrub-birds at two territories that I haven't investigated before - and I had a good sighting of one of those birds from virtually at my feet. Remarkably, while that was happening a Lewin's Rail was calling nearby.  We saw a pair of Satin Flycatchers (coming to a pool to drink) and heard Red-browed Treecreepers and several Olive Whistlers. There did not seem to be any Flame Robins about - perhaps they'd left the area because conditions were too dry?

On my way home I briefly stopped at The Glen Nature Reserve (too dry, very quiet) and then I went to Ash Island. Here, I quickly found the two Banded Stilts which had been reported a day or so earlier. They were with a flock of ~250 Red-necked Avocets, both species very flighty. There were nearly 400 Pied Stilts in the same area - these have been uncommon on Ash Island for a couple of years. Also, I saw a flock of six Curlew Sandpipers.

November 2019

18-20 November

On Monday morning I drove to Durridgere Rd and birded there all afternoon plus much of Tuesday, and then again on Wednesday morning. On Monday morning I made a brief stop at Battery Rocks, where there were several active Rufous Songlarks. There were even more of them along Durridgere Rd, and ditto for White-winged Trillers. Other species seen during my peregrinations included Southern Whiteface, Painted Honeyeater, Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater, Diamond Firetail, White-browed, Masked and Dusky Woodswallow. The latter had juveniles, as did pairs of Red-capped Robin and Jacky Winter. (and, a pair of Spiny-cheeked Honeyeaters were feeding fledged young). I had brief and moderate views of a male Black Honeyeater and a female Crimson Chat (the latter was a Hunter Region tick for me). The absolute highlight was a pair of Ground Cuckoo-shrikes with a juvenile. I had marvellous and prolonged views of these birds, another Hunter Region tick for me, and I managed some OK photos of them.

16 November

Ross and I did the Ash Island survey - a late-starting one, which suited me enormously given the 3 hour time difference I'd just experienced. We had five Far Eastern Curlews at Milhams Pond but couldn't find the Pacific Golden Plovers there nor at Phoenix Flats. At the main ponds there were several hundred Red-necked Avocets and 50-60 Pied Stilts. Our search for Red-kneed Dotterels was going nowhere, and then all of a sudden we were seeing them at lots of places, ending up with a count of 11 birds. Our final main site to survey was Fish Fry Point, which looked bleak as we walked up. However, there were lots of shorebirds lurking, when we got the 'scopes set up. That included 18 Red-necked Stints and a few Red-capped Plovers and Sharp-tailed Sandpipers.

1-15 November

Margaret and I did a WA trip for the first two weeks of this month. We flew to Perth, met her sister Pam, then the three of us drove to Albany via an overnight stop in Narrogin. We had two nights in Albany (with their sister Jill and her family), and then on to Augusta. We spent two nights there, and then re-located to Busselton.  After staying two nights in Busselton, we drove to Perth via Mandurah and Rockingham. Our stay in Perth (with Pam now departed) was for non birding reasons, plus I was unwell ... so, let's quickly move on from that! Monday late morning after some medical stuff, we headed east, eventually to Northam where we stayed the night. Then we went north, via Gin Gin to Cervantes where we stayed for two nights. Then, it was back to Perth and a flight back to NSW.

14 November

We left Cervantes early and drove the coast road south. We checked out the Pinnacles (which were not open to the public - not until 9:30am - so we didn't see much of them!). It was a very hot day, however, eventually we found Yanchep NP, and its Loch McNess - it's more than 50 years since I last visited here!. There was good shade and a few birds around, including pairs of Aust. Wood Duck and Red Wattlebird both had youngsters, and there were some Aust. Shelducks. The highlight was a shorebird which was on a distant bare island. It was obviously a Tringa species but I had no telescope. However, eventually it moved a little closer, before then disappearing to a shoreline screened from view - a Wood Sandpiper!

13 November

I went to Thirsty Point (near Cervantes) very early morning. The tide was high and there were four Bar-tailed Godwits and two Sanderlings roosting at the Point, and an immature Pacific Gull was flying about. Then to Lake Thetis to see the stromatolites (tick) and do the walk around the lake. There were more godwits, also two each of Red-capped Plover and Grey-tailed Tattler. The highlight was when two Whiskered Terns flew through. The day was already hot by then and the birding was slow and uninspiring. I found three more immature Pacific Gulls at Jurien Bay. At lunch time I gave up and joined Margaret for some Rock Lobster and a bottle of wine. That led to a quiet afternoon!

The 2019 issue of The Whistler was officially released today - the first of these with me as a joint editor. I'm quite pleased with the standard that we have set.

12 November

I headed back to Northam Weir in the morning, this time finding six Mute Swans (and later I talked with a local, who said there were only seven birds remaining, three of which have wing deformities; they won't be around for much longer!). The Yellow-billed Spoonbill count had gone up to 25 birds, and I saw three Laughing Doves together; other than that things were much as they were the previous day. We drove north-west after that, stopping for lunch at Gin Gin which included a walk alongside the brook. Although that was quiet, there was an Aust. Spotted Crake calling from within dense undergrowth. I waited for ages but never got any glimpse of it. After Gin Gin we were mainly passing through dry heath and birds were few and far between (also, it was hot and windy). Eventually we arrived at windy Cervantes - where a pair of Nankeen Kestrels were patrolling the "town centre" and we had New Holland Honeyeaters outside the motel room. However, I  was more interested in the swimming pool!

11 November

Our first stop after leaving Perth was John Forrest National Park, an old favourite from my much younger, and non-birding, days. To my delight, the corellas here turned out to be Western Corellas, and I got some photos of one of them to boot. Also, a flock of seven Carnaby's Black-Cockatoos flew through. Later, on  reaching Northam, I saw a Mute Swan on the weir as we drove by! I was back there soon after, and found three birds including one of them was sitting on a nest. There were lots of other waterbirds including a pair of Northern Mallard, 14 roosting Yellow-billed Spoonbills, many pairs of Eurasian Coots with chicks, and a Laughing Dove.

8 November

We left Busselton and went back to the Malbup site, as Margaret and Pam wanted to see the plague of Arum Lilies there. This turned out to be a good decision bird-wise as well. There were three species that I didn't find yesterday including a couple of Sacred Kingfishers and a flock of Tree Martins. But the highlight was a pair of Elegant Parrots! Only the third time I've seen this species (and the first time that I've had a camera with me). The remainder of the day was very quiet - we detoured to several beach sites surrounded by national parks of some sort, but I found very few birds.

7 November

Early morning I went to a favourite spot of mine in the Tuart Forest National Park, at Malbup, where there is a forest walk leading to a bird hide. Bush birds were thin on the ground (but amongst my sightings I had nice views of a male Splendid Fairy-wren). To compensate, there were stacks of waterbirds on the lake including 80 or so Little Black Cormorants and ~150 Grey Teal. There also were twos of Australasian Shoveler and Australian Shelduck. After that I tried at a spot in the Whicher National Park, very quiet, and then at a wetlands in the Vasse estuary. The latter had about 200 Grey Teal, some Eurasian Coots with dependent young, and a Yellow-billed Spoonbill. By then I was feeling stuffed on account of this persistent cold I have caught, so I went back to the motel and slept for an hour or more and then spent a quiet afternoon around Busselton.

6 November

We left Augusta early morning and headed for Margaret River, where I dropped the others and went looking for some birding sites. Eventually, after some quiet stops, I found Wooditjup National Park, and had a pair of Carnaby's Black-Cockatoos land in front of me almost immediately. Also here I had Western Yellow Robin, Square-tailed Kite, Spotted Scrub-wrens and more Red-winged Fairy-wrens. I heard a Western Shrike-tit which would be a tick for me (so far as I can work out) but unfortunately I could not track it down. We went over to the coast next, west from Margaret River. The highlight was at Gnarabup Beach, where there was a group of 47 Sanderlings doing their usual behaviour i.e. running after receding wave fronts then running from the incoming ones. I also saw (briefly) a Western Spinebill here. We stopped at Yallingup (quiet) and Dunsborough and then I went to Cape Naturaliste and did a walk there. Not many birds, but I flushed a Brush Bronzewing early in the walk.

5 November

Two Baudin's Black-Cockatoos flew over our cottage early morning; a lovely way to start the day. I spent the morning exploring sites around Augusta. At my first stop I found some Spotted Scrub-wrens feeding fledged young and a couple of Purple-crowned Lorikeets whizzed through. Things got better at the second stop, after a group of about seven Baudin's Black-Cockatoos flew in. I had great looks at them (sometimes) and also managed some OK photos. I ended up having Baudin's at three sites today, and also Red-winged Fairy-wrens at three sites. At Alexandra Bridge (one of the sites for both aforementioned species) I also found a White-breasted Robin. In the afternoon I went back to the lighthouse a coupe of times - still no Rock Parrots but I did see some Southern Emu-wrens.

4 November

We drove from Albany to Augusta today, having stops with birding opportunities at Denmark (just at a park in town) and Valley of the Giants (we also stopped at Pemberton). Denmark didn't have much to offer, but there was an Aust. Pied Oystercatcher on the grass in the park, which is not something that I see often! At the Valley of the Giants, there were plenty of Red-winged Fairy-wrens, with many of them showing an interesting behaviour. They approached each newly arrived car after the occupants had gone, and took the crushed insects from the grille and front of the car. It was happening all the time (although no adult males were doing it; they just lurked in the undergrowth). I also found a small group of Gilbert's Honeyeaters here. After settling in at Augusta, I went late afternoon to the Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park, near the lighthouse. My target was a Rock Parrot, but no joy there.

3 November

I left Albany early and went to Cheynes Beach / Waychinicup National Park (yet another regular haunt!). A Noisy Scrub-bird was calling but some other birders were interested in it so I left that one alone. Later though I heard another of them and spent more than an hour trying for a view. No luck! During this process I heard a Western Bristlebird calling, from quite a distance off. That was the closest I got to one of those today! A pair of Western Spinebills were hanging around the scrub-bird's territory and I had many brief views (but I didn't wish to be distracted from my mission). Later I found some Southern Emu-wrens, which I think is the first time I've seen those in WA.  There were a few Brush Bronzewings (with others seen during the course of the day), some Grey Currawongs, and a Square-tailed Kite flying overhead. I tried some other places in the National Park and on the way back towards Albany, not finding anything new (nor anything much, to be frank). Then I went to Two Peoples Bay Nature Reserve but it was raining heavily and so I just had a quick look around. Closer to Albany I found a Common Sandpiper at Oyster Harbour and some Blue-billed Ducks and Musk Ducks at Lake Seppings. This was a new site for me, and it also had 20 or so Aust. White Ibis sitting on nests. I was told later that the local residents hate them.

2 November

I headed out early morning to the Foxes Lair Nature Park, near Narrogin - another regular haunt for me. This also lived up to its standards. I saw several Red-capped Parrots (one feeding a youngster), also Western Rosella, Varied Sittella (Black-capped subspecies), Western Yellow Robin, Red-capped Robin (a pair), more Purple-crowned Lorikeets, a Brown-headed Honeyeater feeding young, Western Gerygone, etc. Next stop was Wagin, where I visited two nature reserves (Wagin Lake and North Wagin). Overall, both were quiet, but the lake had 400+ each of Australasian Shelduck and Grey Teal, some Red-capped Plovers and a single Red-necked Stint. That was the end of the "formal" birding for the day, but near Mount Barker a group of three Regent Parrots flew across in front of the car. So, that's the WA subspecies re-sighted just a few months after re-sighting the eastern subspecies (with ~30 year gaps for my sightings of both subspecies!).

1 November

After over-nighting in Sydney, and a family catch-up, we flew to Perth where we found Pam. The three of us left the airport about 1 pm, and drove to Narrogin via Wandering. Near the latter I stopped because there were some Red-tailed Black-Cockatoos feeding by the roadside. That turned into a flock of 45-50 birds! Next stop was Dryandra Forest, a regular haunt of mine (on my occasional trips west). As usual this was great. I found more than a dozen Rufous Treecreepers including a youngster being fed. There was a pair of Gilbert's Honeyeaters and I got so-so photos of one of them, also Scarlet Robin (female), Western Thornbill, Spotted Scrub-wren, Inland Thornbill, Grey Currawong, the WA Silvereye subspecies, and Purple-crowned Lorikeet. My trip was off to a flyer!

October 2019

30 October

I went to the Gloucester Tops again with Greg and Rob. We spent all of our time in just one of the Rufous Scrub-bird territories, a bird we want to fit with a radio tracker. Alas, it was too smart for us (actually, it isn't high enough in testosterone, I reckon). I saw an adult male Satin Bowerbird in the area and heard Crescent Honeyeater and Olive Whistler too. Home quite late.

28-29 October

On Monday evening I gave a talk in Gloucester about the birds of the Gloucester Tops (to 45-50 people).  The original plan was to turn that event into a three day trip with Margaret but she was unwell. I left Newcastle early afternoon, and did a bit of birding en route and after arriving, but not finding much. On Tuesday morning I went to Barrington Reserve for a while; it too was quiet. For a copy of my talk, click here.

25-27 October

A group of 9 of us (from the bird club; there were a couple of others along) went to Broughton Island for three days, for the quarterly project visit.  This time seabirds got some attention too. We found three new birds for Broughton: singles of Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike, Sacred Kingfisher ... and, a surprise, a Brown Songlark. The Broughton list continues to grow, although our main interest about that is in which species decide to stick around, and when that first happens, in each case. There's now been a Golden Whistler present for the past few visits but up until yet he hasn't had a mate turn up.

We had several breeding records over the three days. The most exciting of those was to find two Sooty Oystercatcher nests, each with 2 eggs. The Osprey nest had 2 eggs, which seems a late breeding record compared to birds on the mainland. There were hundreds of Silvereyes around. Most were sub-species cornwalli but we did notice an occasional westernensis bird still around. In winter they are in about an equal ratio (ie 1:1) and with some lateralis ssp birds also present.

NPWS have a project to track Wedge-tailed Shearwater movement using geolocators. On the weekend several geolocators were recovered from birds in burrows, with a couple of those devices having around 2 years of positional data. It's great that we are starting to learn about what these birds do when they leave the breeding grounds.

A highlight of visits to Broughton is to go to the highest point, Pinkatop. It's not an easy walk but the views are spectacular, and near to the top is where there is a trial of using artificial nest boxes for Gould's Petrel and White-faced Storm-petrel (smaller nest boxes for the latter). On the weekend Tom Clarke and I found 2 Gould's Petrels in nest boxes. That was very exciting, and let's hope it is a presage of a breeding attempt later in the year (at this time of the year, the birds are just exploring). And, with one of the Gould's Petrels in a nest box there was a much paler bird. We took photos of it, and later had the initial advise that it was a leucistic Gould's. However, we went back up there next morning and took scales etc so as to get the bird's biometric data. This has established it as a Pycroft's Petrel, in what will become the first confirmed Australian record of this NZ breeding bird. I will have to do a BARC submission first. NB I have seen a probable Pycroft's before, during a pelagic trip (in 2004, I  think it was). However, that report has never been submitted to BARC.

20 October

I went out to Stockton Borehole swamp in the morning, to look for the Banded Stilt reported from there on Friday. There was no sign of it, but I found a few Red-kneed Dotterels, also some Sharp-tailed Sandpipers and Pied Stilts. An Osprey flew over as well. I tried to get into Hexham Swamp but struggled with the lock, so went to Ash Island instead. Again, no sign of the stilt but there was a large group of Red-necked Avocets (over 600 birds) and roosting with them were some more Sharp-tailed Sandpipers and also four Black-tailed Godwits. However, overall it was low tide and it was quiet out there.

17 October

Greg, Rob and I spent the day in the Gloucester Tops. We were trying to catch a Rufous Scrub-bird, but it didn't cooperate. It was quite windy up there, which didn't help; also it is very dry and so I'm not sure if the birds are in breeding mode. We had Red-browed Treecreepers and Olive Whistlers in the area where we were working, but the birding was low-key all day. However, we found a White-browed Scrub-wren's nest and it was quite different to the nest we found earlier in the year. So, the possibility is back on that it might have been a scrub-bird's nest. However, the sticking point remains that it was unlined, whereas the northern RSB definitely makes a lining for its nests.

15-16 October

I joined the Martindale survey team on Monday late afternoon, four of us camping for two nights (heard Southern Boobook, Tawny Frogmouth, White-throated Nightjar and Owlet-nightjar at night). Although it's very dry out there, the birding was good. We had four Painted Honeyeaters and several Spiny-cheeked Honeyeaters at Medhurst Bridge, Speckled Warblers at a couple of sites, several Pallid Cuckoos, another Spotted Harrier (or maybe it was the same one that I saw on Monday), some Grey-crowned Babblers, and plenty more. The highlight was to find White-backed Swallows, perhaps 11 birds in total. I saw a pair of them on Tuesday afternoon, then on Wednesday we had groups of six and three birds. And we finished off the surveys with a sighting of a male Red-capped Robin - which was a very nice way to finish.

13-14 October

I spent two days in the far west of the Hunter Region. On Sunday morning I stopped at Lake Liddell ,which had ~1500 Eurasian Coot, 4 (at least) of Great Crested Grebe and lots of other waterbirds. The shorebirds included Red-capped Plover, Red-kneed and Black-fronted Dotterel and a solitary Sharp-tailed Sandpiper.  Then I visited the Muswellbrook WWTP, which had ~250 Pink-eared Duck. I spent the afternoon along Durridgere Rd near Ulan. Overall it was quiet but I found a Painted Honeyeater and a Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater at various locations, also several Rufous Songlarks, a pair of Southern Whiteface (which I think were breeding) and a Singing Honeyeater. I spent the night at the Cassilis Rest Area (in my new and very comfortable stretcher tent); saw a pair of Red-winged Parrots the evening I arrived (and one other a couple of km down the road) but there were 8-10 of them next morning. I also had a few pairs of White-winged Trillers and several Pallid Cuckoos, one of which I assessed as an immature bird but am now advised that it probably was a young female. On Monday afternoon, nearing Martindale, I flushed a Spotted Harrier with a recently caught Brown Snake - got some OK photos.

12 October

Nev and I did the Ash Island survey. It was the best one all year, as finally there were some decent birds out there. We had some Far Eastern Curlews at Milhams Pond, Pacific Golden Plovers at Phoenix Flats, and Red-necked Avocets (~500 of them)  at Swan Pond. We also had a Brown Songlark at Wader Pond and small numbers of Red-kneed Dotterel, Black-fronted Dotterel and Red-capped Plover as well.

10-11 October

I went up to Brisbane, the purpose being to visit the Qld Museum and inspect their Rufous Scrub-bird collection, which included a nest (collected in 1919 by the famous Syd Jackson). The nest was in a very poor state but I took some measurements and thought about the Gloucester Tops analogy. I tried some birding sites around Brisbane (Brisbane Botanic Gardens, Roma Street Parklands, Sherwood Arboretum) over the two days. None were great; Sherwood being the best and I saw a Little Friarbird there plus some Blue-faced Honeyeaters and ~70 Dusky Moorhens. In the evening, back in Newcastle, I attended a review meeting of the 2018 Hunter Region bird report (the first one that I have not prepared).

9 October

Bob McDonald and I did some drone trials at Hexham Swamp in the morning. There were hardly any birds but we mostly were working on flying fixed routes (to develop a standard survey method)  so that didn't matter too much. There were 30-40 Sharp-tailed Sandpipers on the mudflats but no other shorebirds (that I could see, but I had no telescope). We spent a lot of time down at the Ironbark Creek end of the track and had Mangrove Gerygones and Grey Fantails flitting around us all the time. In the evening I went to the HBOC meeting.

4-7 October

Margaret and I went to the HBOC camp at Munghorn Gap Nature Reserve, near Mudgee. On the way there, we stopped for a while in Goulburn River NP, which was quiet (it was hot and windy, in the afternoon). However, I did find a male Hooded Robin and there were some Dusky Woodswallows. At Munghorn there was a drought on, so bird numbers were down a bit but we still found around 100 species. I found a couple of groups of White-browed Babblers and some Emus, and there were plenty of Little Lorikeets in one particular area where there was some blossom. A Channel-billed Cuckoo flew through one night and the next morning a Pallid Cuckoo briefly joined the dawn chorus. I also heard or saw Fan-tailed Cuckoo, Shining Bronze-cuckoo and Horsfield's Bronze-cuckoo (so it was a good cuckoo weekend!). But the highlight was all the White-throated Gerygones, calling all the time and at many locations. We had a couple of silent Rufous Songlarks as well.

September 2019

23-25 September

A group of five of us did the Rufous Scrub-bird surveys this week. The weather was good although chilly (and way too chilly at night; I couldn't stay warm). We found 11 Scrub-birds, despite the fact that they weren’t calling as actively as they do in some other years, perhaps because it has been so dry up there. The other specialists of the Gloucester Tops were well represented. We had Red-browed Treecreepers at many locations, also quite a few Crescent Honeyeaters and several Olive Whistlers.  Flame Robins were seen at 4-5 locations, also there were Scarlet Robins at two locations. Rose Robins were heard constantly and seen sometimes, both at high altitude and around the campsite. Black-faced Monarchs are back (at high altitude and around the campsite) and on Tuesday afternoon we heard a Noisy Pitta near the campsite. Several Russet-tailed Thrush were calling from around the campsite, often. We had Aust. Logrunners a couple of times during our travels, and on Wednesday morning we had fantastic views of a male Paradise Riflebird after I heard it as we drove through its patch. A Bassian Thrush was calling nearby while our cameras were busy clicking. Shortly before encountering the Riflebird, I had flushed a Spotted Quail-thrush from the road. It was the first time I’ve seen one in the Gloucester Tops. We also saw many Superb Lyrebirds and Brown Cuckoo-doves as we moved around.

Our views of the Riflebird were disrupted by an ultra-light circling above us. It did three loops right above us, just as we were trying to listen for the Riflebird to call again!  Later we found out why it was there, when a little bit further on we encountered a cyclist riding up the hill. We chatted to him for a while (I think he was pleased to have an excuse to take a break!) and it turned out that he was doing a 1400km ride from Byron Bay to Canberra, as part of some endurance race. I googled it when I got home, some extra details are here:

14 September

Ross and I did the Ash Island monthly survey. Although it rained this month and hence there was water in the ponds, that hasn't yet brought birds back. About all that we found at the main pond system were some Black-fronted Dotterels (which were already there from before the rain). However, we found six Eastern Curlews at the tidal Milhams Pond and a Brown Songlark at Wader Pond. The highlight was right at the end, when we found a pair of Black-necked Stork wandering through a paddock. After finishing the survey, we went around to the rainforest walk where we could get a closer look at them.

13 September

Margaret and I went to Glenrock SCA for a while in the morning. The area around the lagoon had lots of birds although nothing out of the ordinary. Still, it was nice watching the Red-browed Finches and Superb Fairy-wrens hopping about on the grass and listening to the Bell Miners calling. We also walked the Yuelarbah Track, to the lookout. My highlight was when I heard a Rose Robin.

11 September

Today was my first day of birding in more than 2 weeks!  Too many other things have been happening. I went up to the Gloucester Tops with Greg Little and Rob Kyte. Our main purpose was to clear net lanes for the coming season's Rufous Scrub-bird program. We visited five territories, and heard five scrub-birds. We also heard Red-browed Treecreepers and Crescent Honeyeaters, and Rose Robins at a few spots (so, they're back for the summer). Flame Robins are back too - we saw a pair together, the male an immature bird (with only a faint reddish wash on his breast). And at the same spot as the robins, there was a big surprise - a Willie Wagtail! I have never seen one at high altitude in the Gloucester Tops before, in more than one hundred visits. On our way back down from the Tops, we came upon a flock of ~45 Little Ravens; that was another first for me in that part of the Gloucester River valley. 

In the evening I went to the HBOC meeting, where we had a very interesting talk by Lynn Baker about coastal Emu (and the use of sniffer dogs).