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.

May 2019

20 May

I went to Louth Park (near East Maitland) to see if the Freckled Ducks were still around in the flooded paddocks (they were reported there about a week ago). I couldn't even find any water! Eventually I gave up and headed instead to the wetlands at Chisholm. As I arrived, a Spotted Harrier was soaring over the area and I thought my luck was improving. Alas, there weren't many birds to be seen and that was the only real highlight. There was a group of four Yellow-billed Spoonbills as well - a good count of these for the lower Hunter. In the evening we had the party to celebrate 20 years of HBOC's Hunter Estuary surveys. I reckon I have done well over 200 of the 238 surveys (there would have been 240 surveys by now but two of them were cancelled because of very bad weather conditions).

11-13 May

It was our quarterly visit to Broughton Island - this time with a bit of a twist as we went over by helicopter on account of the challenging sea conditions. The first two days were windy but day 3 was near-perfect. I did several bird surveys plus I helped the banding team from time to time. One of my aspirations is to get a better handle on the Brown Quail on Broughton Island, and so I spent several hours over Sunday and Monday trying to lure them into traps. That was unsuccessful but I did get some close looks at a covey of nine of them as they wandered past (they were completely ignoring the calls that I was manipulating). I also had close views of a Buff-banded Rail whilst I sat there (and a fleeting view of a Lewin's Rail near the NPWS hut). I saw the Eastern Reef Egret several times and a pair of them together one afternoon. The Silvereye study continues to intrigue, and we had all three of the possible sub-species on the island this visit. The banders trapped a female Brown Goshawk, which was very interesting to inspect. An hour later there was a an immature male in the same net, initially thought to be a Collared Sparrowhawk as it was a much smaller raptor and had some other features that seemed right, however the correct ID was eventually sorted out.

7 May

I went on the HBOC outing which was to an offset woodland near Ellalong Lagoon (which was completely dry). Overall the birding was quiet but we had good views of a pair of Gang-gang Cockatoos (It's been a while since I've seen any of those) and there were lots of Little Lorikeets, often with us having really great views of them. We also had prolonged looks at a White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike and a Striped Honeyeater, and there were plenty of Yellow-tufted Honeyeaters around as well. A few people saw Chestnut-rumped Heathwren (there was a pair). I didn't but I was delighted to listen for a while to some of their mimicry.

2-5 May

It was the Tocal Field Days, for which I have been part of the organising team for HBOC's display. On Thursday afternoon Liz Huxtable and I collected equipment from the storage depot and drove out to Tocal where four of us then set up the display. Friday and Saturday were quiet, apart occasionally checking in with the volunteers and then dealing by phone with a crisis out there - our stall has become a mud patch because of the rain. Eventually we got a load of straw down and that helped a lot. I was rostered on duty on Sunday afternoon - there was a steady stream of visitors until mid-afternoon and I really enjoyed chatting with them. After that things quietened down and we started our packing-up at about 3;30.

April 2019

30 April

Rob Kyte and I went to the Gloucester Tops and made another attempt to catch and band a Rufous Scrub-bird. Alas it was not to be! All of our equipment worked fine and the bird definitely was in the area, but that's the end of the story. However, it began a calling bout just as we were packing up; I tracked it down and was able to watch it for 10 minutes, calling from within a clump of Lomandra. I'll take that as a consolation prize, any time. It generally was quiet up there today (and the altitudinal migrants appear to have departed). There were fewer honeyeaters than on my last visit but we had Crescent Honeyeaters at two sites.

April 2019 trip to western NSW

Overview: Margaret and I drove to Warren on 17 April, where we stayed two nights, and then went to a private property near the Macquarie Marshes to join the HBOC campers for 3 nights. From there we went south to Lake Cargelligo for 3 nights and I did various birding expeditions from there. After that we headed back to Newcastle stopping for two nights at Gulgong on the way back. I recorded 130 species into Birdata during the trip plus there were a handful more that I saw only while driving.

25-27 April

We departed Lake Cargelligo after breakfast for what proved to be a frustrating drive eventually to Gulgong. Almost all the countryside we passed through has been ravaged, basically. They leave a thin (very thin) strip of bush alongside the roads, virtually useless as habitat for small birds. Behind it are vast cleared paddocks, sometimes with the occasional remnant tree only of use for birds like magpies. Just out of Condobolin we found a nice dam (Lake Gum Bend) which had 300 or so Eurasian Coots, also lots of Australian Pelicans, Black Swans and Little Black Cormorants and various other species. Our lunch stop was at Goodang NP, which was very quiet although I did find a couple of Fuscous Honeyeaters. After checking in at our Gulgong motel, I headed to Yarrobil NP which was amazingly quiet.

On Friday morning I headed to Ulan and then the Durridgere area (birding along Durridgere Rd and then in Durridgere SCA). I found a female Hooded Robin in the SCA and Speckled Warblers at a couple of places, also a Restless Flycatcher and a Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater I stopped at Honeyeater Hill, a known location for the Singing Honeyeater. It was becoming windy and for quite a while I heard nothing, and was becoming increasingly pessimistic - and then all of a sudden the bird called a few times and then flew across the road in front of me!

For the final day of our trip we went through Goulburn River NP. That turned out well! At our first stop, I got onto a pair of Chestnut-rumped Heathwrens and I even managed a so-so photo of one of them. While I was following them around, a pair of Rockwarblers crossed my path - it was hard to decide which species to look at!  In the NP I also found Striped Honeyeaters, Diamond Firetails, Fuscous Honeyeaters, Brown Treecreepers, Jacky Winters etc and another female Hooded Robin. Where were the males??

22-24 April

We packed up after breakfast and headed across country on backroads, to Nyngan. I saw Black-faced Woodswallows early in the trip, none subsequently, and also Spotted Bowerbirds a few times and a group of Black Kites flying together. We stopped by a billabong before Nyngan which had stacks of ducks including 50+ Grey Teal. From Nyngan we went to Lake Cargelligo via Tullamore (lunch stop) and Condobolin. The birding was quiet and so after setting up our camp at Lake C I headed for the sewage works.  It was fantastic there, the highlight being 7 Black-tailed Native-Hens and also 15-20 each of Red-kneed Dotterel and Black-fronted Dotterel.

On Tuesday I covered large tracts of the countryside starting at “chat alley” which was a big disappointment and including a visit to Round Hill Nature Reserve. Unfortunately it had rained and the dirt roads were too dodgy for me to go on. However, I found some great birds including Crested Bellbird, Gilbert’s Whistler (a female, bathing), Grey-fronted Honeyeater, Red-capped Robin, Speckled Warbler and Chestnut-rumped Thornbill.

On Wednesday I did more exploring, again for most of the day. I didn’t find any new species for the trip, until mid afternoon; prior to that my highlight was to find approximately 580 Galahs feeding in a paddock together. Another stop, near Euabalong, yielded 100+ Little Corellas. My final stop was back at the sewage works. I found most of the same birds as on Monday, and with the count of Black-tailed Native-Hens now risen to 11 birds. Just as I was thinking about leaving, I heard an Australian Spotted Crake. I did eventually get a poor brief view of one bird. In the meantime I had done some call playback, and three of them responded. There were two crakes in the reeds in front of me (including the bird I saw) and another one on the opposite side of the smallish pond.

19-21 April

We left Warren early morning and very soon were seeing plenty of Emus. Setting up our tent at the HBOC camp a pair of Restless Flycatchers came over to check us out. I spent the second half of the morning wandering the property. Although it was never especially birdy at any time, my sightings included Grey-crowned Babblers, Chestnut-rumped Thornbills, Blue Bonnets, Tree Martins and Red-winged Parrots. In the afternoon I went to Monkeygar Creek where there were Australian Shelducks, Black-fronted Dotterels and Royal Spoonbills. That night I heard an Owlet-nightjar just before going to bed and then again in the early hours of the morning.

Next day a group of us drove to Carinda for the morning, with several roadside stops. The highlights were a flock of about 25 Cockatiels and a pair of Spotted Harriers together. We also saw some Splendid Fairy-wrens and two White-breasted Woodswallows. In the late afternoon I wandered more of the property where we are camped, finding Weebills and White-winged Fairy-wrens.

On Sunday morning I wandered more of the property, finding Spotted Bowerbirds, Variegated Fairy-wrens and a male Red-capped Robin. Just before lunch I went back to Monkeygar Creek, finding similar birds to the previous visit except there were some Yellow-billed Spoonbills and both of the common herons. On my way back I saw a Hooded Robin and stopped there, also finding some Singing Honeyeaters and a Mistletoebird.

18 April

In the morning I went back to Tiger Bay Wetlands. Although it was quieter than on Wednesday I found most of the same birds although dipping on the fairy-wrens.  In compensation, when I returned again late morning, there was a Glossy Ibis, and I found a Spotted Bowerbird in the motel gardens as well.  I went to a TSR on the north side of town, Quinnies Reserve, where I found Peaceful Dove (many), Cockatiel, Brown Treecreeper and Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater

17 April

We headed through very familiar territory for quite a while, until past Cassilis, and then finally leaving the Golden Highway at Dunedoo, thence via Gilgandra to Warren, our destination.  We had three birding stops, at the rest areas at Battery Rocks near Merriwa, Cassilis Park and then at Nullen. The birding was quiet, to say the least, with the highlight being a pair of Jacky Winters at Battery Rocks and Weebills at both the other stops. Warren more than made up for the slow day!  Our motel was just across the road from a terrific wetlands (called Tiger Bay).  I was there until near dusk, finding many species including Apostlebird, Australian (Mallee) Ringneck, Red-winged Parrot, White-winged Fairy-wren and Restless Flycatcher as well as waterbirds such as Pink-eared Duck, Grey Teal and Australasian Shoveler. Hundreds of Galahs came in to roost and there were plenty of Rock Doves loitering as well.

15 April

We did another drone trial this morning, starting at Ash Island and later moving over to the Deep Pond area. We wanted to get images with good numbers of birds in them, because the method for counting birds has now become our focus. The plan worked! We had about 120 Red-necked Avocets on Swan Pond and could get the drone right over the top of them. At Deep Pond we had more avocets (and the Swan Pond birds eventually joined them) plus Black-tailed Godwits, Pied Stilts, Sharp-tailed Sandpipers and Silver Gulls, and a few other species too. We now have many images to work with!

14 April

I went up to the Gloucester Tops again, primarily to service my Song Meters. There still were lots of honeyeaters around although their numbers have dropped somewhat compared to when I was last up there (about two weeks ago). The banksias around the Falls carpark area are still doing well though and I had 10 different honeyeater species there. That included at least one Fuscous Honeyeater, uncommon at the Tops, and a Crescent Honeyeater which we don't seem to know for sure if it stays all year. I think it's my first lateish autumn record for them. I heard an Olive Whistler, which is another species that we're not sure what happens in winter ie do they stay or go. I also saw a female robin but she shot through before I could get an ID. I saw a white wing bar but after consulting the Morcombe app I couldn't decide if it was "prominent" (= Scarlet Robin) or "conspicuous" (= Flame Robin). I favour the former, and I suspect any self-respecting Flame Robin has moved downhill, but who knows?

One Rufous Scrub-bird was very vocal (the other territories I visitedwere quiet). I followed it for about an hour and eventually I had wonderful views of it calling from a patch of Lomandra. And I managed my first ever photos of one (not counting of birds in the hand!)

11 April

Six of us went this morning for another drone trial. We had a very slow start due to the presence of an ultralight at Hexham, our planned location, and then a lock-out at Tomago Wetlands due to someone else's incompetence at the gate - our lock was no longer part of the daisy-chain. When at last we were in, there weren't many birds but we found a group of 87 Common Greenshank and tried photographing those. There were also a few Sharp-tailed Sandpiper present and I saw a White-fronted Chat. We have the control part sorted now (i.e. flying to pre-selected way-points) and the non-disturbing approach sorted, our focus needs now to be on getting accuratecounts of birds from the photos taken.

9-10 April

On Tuesday and Wednesday mornings we (five of us at the peak) surveyed the targeted sites around Martindale. The species diversity was better than in January but still down compared with the spring surveys. We found a Hooded Robin at a new site, apparently a dispersing young bird, and there was a pair of Restless Flycatchers there too. We had Speckled Warblers at three sites, a good return, and Grey-crowned Babblers were at three locations as well. We saw a Spotted Harrier both mornings although from locations not greatly separated, hence probably the same bird. Other raptors included a very pale Brown Falcon which had us stumped for a while, and a group of seven Black Kites, which seem to be starting another influx based on the various reports around. Our raptor list also had Wedge-tailed Eagle, Australian Hobby, Peregrine Falcon, Black-shouldered Kite and Nankeen Kestrel. I stopped at a few spots on my way home, with the highlight being approximately 30 Zebra Finch at the Barry Bridge near Denman.

When home, I had time for a quick shower then raced off to dinner with tonight's guest speaker at the HBOC meeting, followed by the meeting itself.

8 April

Em route to Martindale for the quarterly surveys there, I detoured via Bunnan to visit the woodland site there (saw Brown Treecreepers and a pair of White-bellied Sea-Eagles, also a pair of Sacred Kingfishers), and then to some sites in Goulburn River National Park. I had mixed successes there, with the White Box site very quiet but great birding at Fossickers and it was OK near the Poggy homestead. I saw pairs of Hooded Robins and Turquoise Parrots, also Speckled Warblers, Little Lorikeets and several Diamond Firetails. A dam near Fossickers had some water and was attracting many honeyeaters to drink, including a young male Scarlet Honeyeater was hanging around. We heard a Tawny Frogmouth at the campsite that night.

6 April

Ross Zimmerman and I did the monthly survey of Ash Island in the morning. We found a group of 41 Pacific Golden Plover at Milhams Pond, some were in breeding plumage which was nice to see. We also had a Sharp-tailed Sandpiper and a Black-fronted Dotterel there. At the main ponds we had 122 Red-necked Avocet plus four Red-kneed Dotterel, which we almost missed, and at Fish Fry Flats there were some Red-capped Plover including a runner whose parents doing broken-wing acts all the time (it's a dead give-away really!). It was a good morning for raptors, with five types seen including close views of Australian Hobby and Nankeen Kestrel.

5 April

I decided I wanted to try out my new camera (the previous one lasted 4 and a half years of frequent exposure to the elements) and I headed to Walka Water Works. I thought that would give me a nice mix of waterbirds and bush birds to practise on. However, it started to rain when I was about half way there and that kept up for about three hours before I gave up, with the camera not ever having left the car. By the time I reached around Hexham on my way home, conditions were bone dry so I went in to Ash Island and did the mangrove boardwalk. Birds were in short supply and mosquitoes the converse, so that didn't work out too well! I heard a Rufous Whistler (late departing?) and a Whistling Kite flew over.

3 April

Bob McDonald, Ann Lindsey and I did more drone trials this morning, at Tomago Wetlands. Although there weren't many birds we flew the drone over to a group of Common Greenshanks, which continued to feed. Earlier a flock of Australasian Shovelers had flown off which was a pity as we would have liked to try approaching them too. We have now worked out how to fly to way-points, which is a good step forward. Afterwards we re-located for coffees and a general review of what we had done thus far and future plans. In the afternoon I wrote up a summary for the HBOC Management Committee, whose meeting I attended in the evening. The summary is here if you are interested.

2 April

I went to the HBOC mid-week outing which was at the Hunter Region Botanic Gardens. The mozzies were ferocious! We wandered various tracks for a couple of hours, not seeing much. A eucalypt in blossom near the Visitors Centre had Rainbow, Scaly-breasted and Musk Lorikeets and that was the highlight for me. Then, a long way from shelter, it began to bucket down. I was soaked by the time I made it to shelter, so I went home!

March 2019

30 March

Rob Kyte and I went to the Gloucester Tops, meeting Judy & Greg Little at Sharpes Creek and then all of us driving up the hill. I had built some mirror traps and Rob and I set them up at a Rufous Scrub-bird territory. We heard the bird (not doing a standard call) but only very briefly. In fact, that was the only sound I or any of the others heard from a Scrub-bird all day!  We were unable to entice the Scrub-bird to the mirror traps and eventually gave up. The other three spent the remainder of the day operating some standard mist nets, catching and banding 21 birds as six species - White-throated Treecreeper, Eastern Yellow Robin, White-browed Scrubwren, Eastern Spinebill, Brown Thornbill and Yellow-faced Honeyeater. It was quite cold up there, 6C when we arrived and not getting above 11C all day. We saw a Bassian Thrush (interesting that they're still up high) but there were no signs of any of the migratory robins.

28 March

Bob McDonald and I went to Tomago Wetlands this morning for some more drone trials. We bumped into Nev McNaughton out there and he joined us for a while. Unfortunately there weren't many birds about, so we couldn't trial all the things we had planned. Later in the morning we went over to Hexham Swamp but that was equally as bird-less. We were able to approach a group of White-faced Herons quite closely and ditto some Black-winged Stilts.  A young Swamp Harrier displayed considerable interest in the drone and we had to land it for a while. Later, at Hexham, several Welcome Swallows were just as interested but we continued to fly the drone as they were never going to attack it.

27 March

The Rufous Scrub-bird team had a meeting to sort out our plans for Sunday's field trip to Gloucester Tops. I had spent the morning making a mirror trap and I took it along to show the others.  It met with approval and I will make up at least one more for Sunday.

25 March

We did some more drone trials this morning, with four of us going to Tomago Wetlands for a few hours. First we flew the drone over the Black-necked Stork nest (which is not currently in use) so as to get a better view of the platform they had built. Then we went around to the main wetlands. There were at least 1,000 teal present, a mixture of Grey Teal and Chestnut Teal. We were able to fly the drone right over them, by making a low and slow approach and pausing the forward movement if they began to look restless. We also found some Common Greenshanks, eventually at least 80 birds, and there were some small flocks of Sharp-tailed Sandpiper occasionally in the air. The Greenshanks were restless and more easily took to flight than did the teal. However, we were able to fly quite close to them and take photos (which will lead to counts using point-count software).  Raptors seen today included a magnificent young White-bellied Sea-Eagle and a couple of Swamp Harriers.


22 March

This week we received permission from NPWS to trial in some local national parks the use of drones for bird monitoring. Four of us including our local drone expert Bob McDonald went to Hexham Swamp this morning for the first attempt at this. Fortunately there were some Sharp-tailed Sandpipers, one of the species I hope a drone will help us to monitor as they can be very dispersed at times. They are restless at the moment (because they soon will leave for their northern migration), and it was difficult to be sure to what extent the drone was disturbing them vs their natural flightiness. We saw several instances where they flew underneath the drone, having put to air. Not sure how to interpret that!  We were able to approach closely with it to some Grey Teal, with no signs of any reaction from them, but later a large flock took to air as soon as the drone appeared. However, there were some raptors around at the time and they might have been sensitized. Black Swans paid no attention to it. We'll do more trials in the coming weeks.

20 March

Rob Kyte and I were up in the Gloucester Tops today, primarily to investigate a Rufous Scrub-bird nest which Rob discovered earlier this month. We had Flame Robin, Bassian Thrush and Rose Robin in the high country and a couple of Rufous Scrub-birds were calling (and a couple of others were silent).  We didn’t find any of the other “specialists” from up there. The extent of the honeyeater influx had risen since my last visit (which was about 2 weeks ago). There were lots of White-naped, Yellow-faced, New Holland and Scarlet Honeyeaters wherever we went, and ditto for Eastern Spinebill.

19 March

I joined a pelagic trip from Swansea. There was almost no wind all day making for a quiet day at sea - and a slow one too, with more than 8 hours of chugging slowly along in the boat to and from the continental shelf. We had Wedge-tailed and Flesh-footed Shearwaters in attendance for most of the day and occasional appearances of various other shearwaters. At the shelf there were a couple each of Grey-faced and Providence Petrel, also one Wilson's Storm-Petrel, and occasional Pomarine Jaegers at sea (plus Arctic Jaegers inshore). I missed a couple of species which did not stay long enough for decent views, e.g. Gould's Petrel.

17 March

I had planned to attend the HBOC outing but it rained heavily through the night and was still pouring down when I first woke, so I chickened out. However, later in the morning the rain stopped and so I went to Hexham Swamp for a couple of hours. Although it was quiet there, I found some White-fronted Chats, about 150 Sharp-tailed Sandpipers and seven Common Greenshanks. It was a good morning for raptors, with Swamp Harrier, White-bellied Sea-Eagle, Nankeen Kestrel and Black-shouldered Kite seen.

16 March

I gave a talk at the ABSA Conference held in conjunction with their AGM. My talk was on Rufous Scrub-birds in the Gloucester Tops and it seemed to go well. I stayed all day, with there being five other interesting talks. My slides are uploaded onto the website here.