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Sydney Pelagic, 13 October 2012

David James’ trip report is here.

Well, here I was again, planning another pelagic. Booked in a week and a bit out, and as the time approached, I was becoming slightly more and more concerned about the weather forecast. On the 10/10, a system of 3 moderate low pressure cells were forming up, with one bigger one off towards NZ. A big front passed through on the Thursday/Friday, with accompanying big seas and wind. This led to the departure time being pushed back to 9am instead of the usual 7am, but we still had a pretty bouncy trip, with 3ish metre swell and 2-3 meter seas – yeeeeeeehaw!

Juvenile White-capped Albatross

I don’t mind big seas as much as I thought I would, but I don’t like it anywhere near as much when the boat is jammed full of people, and there’s big seas. Particularly when it seems that a not insignificant amount of participants hadn’t taken sea-sickness medication, or really didn’t like big seas. I conservatively estimate that about 1/3 of the participants were spewing at some point, and another 1/3 were very green. The personal highlight was when the back of the boat smelt like a teen new years party at 6am the morning after, due to people vomiting all around. While that tested my resolve, I am still yet to be sick on a boat. And that’s enough vomit talk for this post.

Birds! The plus side of sea birding following a big blow is that there’s usually something special around, and this trip maintained that, giving us repeated views of a fairly close approaching Cooks Petrel (bird #526 on the life list). Apologies for the dubious nature of some of those shots – pitching boat + fast flying bird = dodgy photos. I haven’t done any processing to them, they’re just 100% crops of the originals converted from raw.

Cook’s Petrel

Other sterling birds seen were plenty of White-faced and Wilson’s Storm Petrel’s (we had at one point 5 of the former and 3 of the latter around the boat), more albatross than you could shake a stick at, and a few very close approaching Sooty Shearwaters.

White-faced Storm-petrel

In terms of sea monsters, we had some close sightings of Humpback Whales, a couple of dolphins, and a couple of close approaches by Ocean Sunfish.

All in all, a great day out on the ocean. I’ll definitely be back. I reckon there’s a few people who were on that boat that will never go on another boat that leaves the heads, and if I’d been sick for 10 hours, I probably wouldn’t even venture on the Manly Ferry on a calm day.

Humpback Whale

Bowra Station, 15-21 September 2012

The route taken

Between 15 and 21 September, I went on the first big birding road trip of the year, to a place I’ve wanted to visit for years – Bowra Station, an Australian Wildlife Conservancy owned property near Cunnamulla, SW Queensland. I took a fairly scenic route there and back, going through Moree, Cunnamulla, Bourke, Round Hill Nature Reserve, and Grenfell – all up I did just under 3000 km in a week.

My main aim, apart from visiting a brand new area and picking up lifers, was to finally get good, clear shots of Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo, and I’m pretty happy with the results.

Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo

I saw 180 species of bird, 1 frog, 5 reptiles, and at least 10 mammals, and photographed 3 butterflies (another one, and another one), and 2 dragon-flies (only 1 posted) over the week I was away, picking up 9 new species of bird.

The lifers were Bourke’s Parrot (a pair flushed and flew across the front of the car on my last proper day of birding); Hall’s Babbler (2 groups); Little Buttonquail (regular in the grassy areas south of the camp-area); Little Woodswallow (a pair posed for me on a stick out near Sawpits); Red-browed Pardalote (1 bird resident in area south of camp-area); Black-breasted Buzzard (fairly common in area); Chestnut-breasted Quail-thrush (very ordinary, but tickable views near Stony Ridge); and both Black Honeyeater and Pied Honeyeater near the Main Creek crossing.

I managed to visit all of the main sites at Bowra over the 4 nights I was there (this is a scan of the map that comes in the guide you get on arrival – ~2 mb file), and managed to get in a serious amount of relaxation while birding at the lagoon in the afternoons, complete with esky and tripod mounted camera. The usual pattern was – awake at 6, spend 1-2 hours walking the area from the campsite to fenceline to the south, cut back across the scrub to the bore drain, then up to the top lagoon near the homestead, back to the tent for some breakfast via the lagoon in front of my tent, then head out to do some proper birding at a couple of spots, in to town for a bag of ice, some food for lunch and some lager, then spend the afternoon watching the antics of the resident wildlife – stay tuned for some video of hot bird-on-bird action – Black-fronted Dotterel are far more randy than I ever imagined them to be.

The highlights of Bowra are really too many to go into – it’s an amazing place, and you should get there if you can.

I was going to stay at Gundabooka NP on the way back, but after going through Bourke, and being a bit depressed by just how run down that place is, and after seeing the pretty mashed state of the road in (I don’t have a 4wd, although I do like to push it beyond it’s limits – so far, so good), I decided that I’d rather punch back to Sydney to watch the mighty Swans take on Collingwood on the Friday Night (I’d originally planned to get back home on the Sunday). So Gundabooka became Cobar – but I still had about 3 hours of light by the time I was there, so Cobar became Mt Hope – hey – I’m almost at Round Hill – so Mt Hope became Round Hill.

I visited Round Hill Nature Reserve on the way back, to try and see Red-lored Whistler. Amazingly, I dipped again. This is my 9th attempt at Round Hill, following on from another 2 attempts at Gluepot. It’s my new Ground Parrot – a bird that I can’t force into being seen, and I need to just accept that one will let me see it when I have walked sufficient miles. I did run into Martin and Penny Potter from the Illawarra there, who were gearing up to go spotlighting with a few other birders – amazing how you can not talk to anyone apart from a surly bottle-shop attendant, and then run into a group of like-minded individuals miles from anywhere, in the middle of a Nature Reserve.

Southern Scrub Robin

You’re not allowed to camp in Round Hill NR itself anymore, so I was going to camp at Whoey Tank, which I think you can still camp in. However – the building electrical storm made me rethink sitting in a tent that is held up by 3 metal poles when that, and my car, would be the only conductive element between Mt Hope and Euabolong. So – off to Lake Cargelligo to try and get a room in a motel – I’d driven miles – I deserved it.

On the road through the reserve, and right near the railway line, I came across something I’d never seen before – a flock of bronzewings! a group of about 20 birds… my first thought was Flock Bronzewing! I pointed the car at them, and in between fat drops of rain I managed to get the bins on them – not Flock Bronzewings, but just a flock of Common Bronzewings. I’ve never seen more than 2 hang out together before, so that was unusual and interesting. Apart from a Barn Owl near Chat Alley, the drive in to LC was uneventful, and I had to put my tent up anyway as both motels were full.

Next day was the long trip home, going through Grenfell (where I saw my first Grey Fantail for the trip), and then the GPS took me on a mystical journey of country backroads going through places with names I’ve never heard of, like Bendick Murrell and Murringo. Then onto the highway, and home in time to watch the footy.

What a week!

To see more photos – click here. To see the complete list of birds seen, click “Continue Reading”.

Continue reading

Curracurrang Cove, Royal National Park

Spent a pleasant enough spring morning on Sunday doing the Wattamolla to Curracurrang Cove walk at the Royal NP this morning – further training for my trip to Bowra in … not very long at all!

The highlights were several – a pod of around 30 Bottlenosed Dolphin, Tawny Crowned Honeyeaters a-plenty, a Peregrine Falcon buzzing a small group of feeding Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos, and around 30 other bird species. Not much in the way of landscape shots, as it appears that half of Sydney was also enjoying the sunshine, but I hope you enjoy this Tawny-crowned Honeyeater sans right foot. I’ll upload some more if I get a chance to process them before I go away.

Tawny-crowned Honeyeater – Gliciphila melanops

Deer Pool, Royal National Park, 26 August 2012

Royal National Park heath, with Little Marley beach on the horizon.

With some lovely late winter sunshine and some nice weather, we decided to go down to the Royal National Park and do the walk to Deer Pool. Highlights were the wildflowers in full show, and bird wise was a Little Eagle, and a Brown Goshawk (record shots below).

Little Eagle, top and bottom – even from >1km away, he was looking at us.

All in all a lovely walk, and one I can recommend to everyone.

I’ll upload some more images later on.

Sydney Pelagic – 14 July 2012

Official trip report here.

 

As promised in my post after the May trip, I was out on the July one. This was possibly one of the nicest days out at sea – it was a beautiful warm, clear, sunny and fairly flat day out. Only 1 person was sick that I saw, and yet again, it wasn’t me. I also brought my mum and dad out with me on this trip, as a significant birthday gift for my mum. Some of my dads shots will be linked to from here later on.

Providence Petrel

As it was fairly calm, I was hopeful for some sea-monster sightings, and wasn’t disappointed. We saw Humpback Whale, Southern Right Whale, Dwarf Minke Whale, Shortfin Mako Shark, Short-beaked Common Dolphin, and False Killer Whale was also seen, but not by me. Bird was it was down on numbers and diversity, but we managed Little Shearwater, White-faced Storm-petrel and some juvenile albatross, one of which is the subject of a seperate post here.

Fairy Prion

I’ll be back, probably on the September/October trip. Maybe October, as I’ve got a trip to Bowra in September…

If anyone out there reading this cares to look at the post about the possible Grey-headed Albatross and offer an opinion, that’d be great!

Wandering Albatross

Grey-headed Albatross?

Big edit:

Ok – it’s not a Grey-headed, and Nikolas has posted why here. That’s the sort of thing I wanted to hear – a reasoned explanation why.

———————–

This is a more detailed post about the juvenile albatross that was seen and photographed on the July Sydney pelagic. At the time, consensus seemed to be that it was just a very dark hooded Black-browed Albatross, but the white cheeks were something of interest. I’ve been going through my photos today, and I’m all but convinced that it is now a Grey-headed Albatross, or that I can’t interpret plumage descriptions and this is just a very dark hooded Black-browed Albatross, or that there’s loads of incorrect ID’s out there on the internet (well, we know that this last part is true, but anyway…).

The bird in question

This shot is almost identical to the bird seen yesterday, and at a similar time of year – yesterday’s bird has a slightly whiter chin, and the cheek patch goes back a little bit further. This discussion, and in particular the head of the second bird in the thread is quite similar, and while the underwing doesn’t match yesterday’s bird, the ones further down that are mentioned in Nikolas’ post with photos that Raja took and was ID’d as a 2nd year bird certainly have a similar underwing. The top left and top right bird in Nikolas’ post is all but identical, I would say.

Flight shot showing collar and underwing

HANZAB (vol. 1A, pp. 319-320) describes the juvenile plumage of Grey-headed Albatross and states that the cheeks are the first to go white, and has a description of the neck colouring consistent with this bird. Re: Black-browed Albatross, no mention is made of cheeks going white prior to the rest of the head plumage, which his bird definitely has. On p 320, it states that eye colour is as adult – “dark brown”, and that can be seen in this bird. Contrast this with Black-browed Albatross on p. 298 which states that the eye in juveniles is black-brown. I call this eye light-brown, but colour judgement is always a matter of perception – it may be a light based issue – it was a sunny bright day at sea. The bill description for GHA is “mostly medium to dark brown-grey, contrasting with grey-black ungues” which this bird has. For BBA, the description (p. 298) is “culminicorn and ungues black-brown… rest of bill, dark olive-brown”. The image of GHA on page 305, plate 20, looks pretty good for a match with this bird – I accept that the plate image has a darker hood than this bird.

Shirihai doesn’t go into extensive discussion about seperating juvenile/immature GHA’s from similar species, but in the top left image on page 125, does mention that when plumage is “still fresh, the grey hood appears more complete (often with characteristic pale fore-cheek area) and easily eliminates juv Black-browed/Campbell Albatross. … unlike later note uniform dark bill.” – which is what this individual doesn’t have – a uniform dark bill.

Harrison doesn’t offer too much to the discussion apart from stating that on “average: juveniles show a darker head, breast band and underwing, but there is some overlap (especially in D.m. impavida underwing). Most reliable character at this age is bill colour: Grey-headed fledge with wholly blackish bills, Black-browed with greyish or horn-coloured bills, tipped black)” (Harrison, 1983, p 231). As the discussion above and HANZAB mention, the bill colour isn’t an entirely complete ID factor.

Onley and Schofield state that juvenile GHA’s have a “hood paler than adult[s], usually with whitish cheeks. … Underwing mostly black, with slightly pler grey central panel to inner wing. Bill dark blackish-grey with dark tip.” (Onley & Schofield, 2007, p. 138). For Black-browed Albatross, no mention is made of a white cheek as part of the moulting/aging sequence.

This page has all the shots of the bird I’ve got here, and some others, at a larger size. I’ve done nothing to these images – they’re straight off the camera, converted from RAW to JPG and resized – nothing else has been done. I can provide the original images if they’ll help the discussion.

I am entirely open to this bird not being a Grey-headed Albatross and just being a particularly dark-headed Black-browed Albatross – as noted in many places on the net, these are difficult birds to separate at these ages. If this is your belief, please give reasons – I’m just trying to learn more about differentiating juvenile and immature albatross.

Cheers
Troy

 

Bibliography

Harrison, P. (1983). Seabirds, an identification guide. Beckenham, Kent: Croom Helm.
Onley, D., & Scofield, P. (2007). Albatrosses, petrels, and shearwaters of the world Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Shirihai, H. (2008). The Complete Guide to Antarctic Wildlife (2nd ed.). London: A&C Black.
Steele, W. K., Davies, S. J. J. F., Ambrose, S. J., Marchant, S., Higgins, P. J., & Peter, J. M. (1990). Handbook of Australian, New Zealand & Antarctic birds. Melbourne: Oxford University Press.

South Coast Trip, 26-29 May, 2012

Just back from a relaxing trip down to Kioloa, which is about halfway between Ulladulla and Bateman’s Bay, on the NSW South Coast.

Merry Beach, Kioloa

The weather was pretty good, the birding relaxing, and the sightings fairly reasonable. Funnily enough, the best birding was actually had around the caravan park, near a very degraded, stinky drain/creek. 68 species were seen over the 4 days we were away, with the highlights being looking down on a Peregrine Falcon as it cruised along the cliffs at Snapper Point; having a pair of Sea-eagles fly low over me while I surfed at Merry Beach, before they settled in the trees on the head-land above me watching me be awesome (haha!); three Hooded Plovers (2 adults, 1 juvenile) at Racecourse Beach at Ulladulla; and some of the most cooperative thornbills and robins I’ve met. Here’s a few shots from the trip for your enjoyment.

Eastern Yellow Robin

Brown Thornbill

Until next time.

Sydney Pelagic – 12 May 2012

Roger McGovern’s trip report is here, and my Flickr gallery here.

Habitat shot of a Providence Petrel

Went out on the May pelagic trip on board the Halicat with Bernhard (some of his shots here) on the weekend. It was a fairly quiet, but good trip. Highlights bird wise was easily Black-bellied Storm-petrel (which I didn’t get a photo of, but Raja did), finally getting some photos Providence Petrel, and sea-monster wise was quite easily the False Killer Whales. I’ve never seen them before apart from in the books, and they were awesome (some photos taken by Rohit here).

Campbell Island Albatross

Apart from that, there wasn’t much in the way of numbers of birds or diversity of species – I only took 750ish photos (down from my normal pelagic rate of ~2000) and after getting rid of all the overexposed, out of focus and blurred shots of ocean and wingtips, I have only got about 170ish shots to choose from – further evidence of the quiet nature of the trip. Plus it was quite rough on the way out – a fact not lost on the 4-5 people who were violently ill for much of the voyage. Fortunately I am yet to be sea-sick, and having now survived a couple of fairly rough trips, I think I’ll be right as long as I keep dosing up on the meds!

I’ll be back out on the July trip, which will be full of hot albatross action.

Youngish Black-browed Albatross

South coast of NSW

On the weekend, we had a quick trip down to the south coast of NSW to see how many northbound migrants were still around in breeding plumage (none in breeding plumage, not many that look to be staying for winter) and how many of our NZ friends have arrived to not freeze for their winter (plenty of Double-banded Plovers and a few White-fronted Tern). It also gave me a chance to give the new camera a whirl, and I think I’m in love with it. That’s probably for the best given it costs lots, hey?

Lake Conjola - Hooded Plover country

Fairly early Saturday morning we loaded up the car and drove out – destination being the very lovely Milton Country Cottages at Yattah Yattah. This was our second stay at this place, but unfortunately it was to be probably 1 or 2 days too short. If you go, you should really try and stay for at least 2 nights. We/I get no monetary reward for plugging the cottages – they’re just a very nice place to stay in a very nice part of the world run by very nice people.

Red-capped Plover - Charadrius ruficapillus

We headed down by the coast, and came back via the Southern Highlands. The paces I wanted to check out included Shoalhaven Heads, Lake Conjola and Burrill Lake. I saw 69 species over the weekend, with the high lights being Osprey, Lesser Sand Plover, Hooded Plover and a close encounter with a very tame Eastern Reef Egret, before it got scared away by a dog wielding person, who was intent on seeing what I was up to. Way to go, champ…

All in all, a very pleasant way to spend a weekend. We’re going down again in a few weeks time, but even further south, so this was a recon trip, if you will.

Until next time.

Eastern Reef Egret - Egretta sacra

Wises Track, Royal National Park

Spent the morning walking the southern part of the Wises Track in the Royal NP, checking out Colbee Knob, and then heading out to the end of the track that looks over the rainforest at Lady Carrington Drive.

The view from 34° 8' 1"S 151° 2' 38"E

Didn’t take the big glass, just some record keeping lenses – it was refreshing to go birding again, and not with photography as the main purpose. Needless to say, no bird shots, but I did manage this rather nice photo of a Copper-tailed Skink.

Copper-tailed Skink - Ctenotus taeniolatus