Category Archives: 2012

2012 – a review

What a year! and what a belated summary!

A beautiful Olive-backed Oriole at Bowra

A beautiful Olive-backed Oriole at Bowra

2012 saw me go on 2 big trips, 2 smaller ones, and many, many day trips around Sydney. The big trips were – as regular readers of this blog no doubt remember with great warmth and fondness ;) – up to Bowra in September, and SW Victoria in December. The shorter trips were down the south coast of NSW. I managed 4 pelagic trips out of Sydney (March, May, July and October), each one giving me a lifer – the highlight no doubt being Cooks Petrel. I saw 352 species last for the year, taking the life list up to 526. Not too shabby an effort at all.

All the spots I recorded birds at in 2012

All the spots I recorded birds at in 2012

2013 promises to be a touch quieter. I’m going back to Uni to do more study, and while that will stop me getting out as much as I’ll be working, it also has 2 lots of residential schools that have got a day off in between lab work. So, weather being kind, I’ll have a full day in Autumn and Spring to kick about the Chiltern area in between learning about birds. woo. I’m going to be visiting Werribee STW at least 3 times this year – which isn’t bad for a Sydney birder. The first trip there will be a brief visit to the T Section ponds in a couple of weeks time, then again in mid April (which is when the OBP’s are around – I don’t expect to see any though) and again in late August/early September. We’re planning a trip to Northern NSW, an area I haven’t visited in many years, and there’ll be the usual end of year trip to somewhere as yet undecided. Who knows how many birds I’ll manage this year, but I’d expect somewhere around the 300 mark.

Fairy Prion

Fairy Prion

Anyway – all the best to everyone for 2013 birding. My first “big” trip will be tomorrow next week when I head down to Shoalhaven Heads to try for this Oriental Plover, and then swing back via Shellharbour swamps to get Painted Snipe and Pectoral Sandpiper on the year list. I might even try to get to Barren Grounds – why not try for Ground Parrot eh? It was going to be today (Sunday) but the rain has thwarted my plans. Let’s hope the OP sticks around!

Here’s a few more highlight shots from 2012.

Major Mitchell's Cockatoo

Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo

Buller's Albatross being ridiculously photogenic

Buller’s Albatross being ridiculously photogenic

This White Chinned Petrel got everyone quite excited

This White Chinned Petrel got everyone quite excited

Red-capped Plover on the beach at Shoalhaven Heads

Red-capped Plover on the beach at Shoalhaven Heads

Cheers
Troy

Bowra star trails - the only clear night of the trip!

Bowra star trails – the only clear night of the trip!

Victoria Trip, December 2012

212 birds, ~4400 km driven, 1 new nephew visited – all round a bloody good time. It was the annual end of year holiday, and holiday we did! The trip was essentially Sydney -> Melbourne -> Great Ocean Road -> Grampians -> Sydney.

Full photo set here. And I’ll add images to this shortly as well – they’re  currently uploading and I’m about to go and see some bands!

All the places that I recorded birds on the trip

Highlights are too many to go into, but I’ll have a crack ;)

  • Broad-billed Sandpiper at the Western Treatment Plant in the Western Lagoons section – another birder said he couldn’t find it the day before, but I managed to scope it and get good views, but was unable to relocate it when I got the camera out – it was in with more waders than you could shake a stick at, and I must say I was quite disappointed to not get shots. My only other BbS was at Cairns a few years ago, and that bird was too far away for photos, so yet again – it eludes my camera…
  • Budgies in the Riverina – I managed to see 2 birds at Wonga Wetlands (Albury), which is the first time I’ve seen them anywhere near the SW slopes in all my years of visiting those areas. There were other reports from them in the area (Yackandandah etc) so I’m confident it’s some sort of dispersal rather than escapees.
  • Western Treatment Plant – that place deserves a medal for awesome. I’m so glad I’ve got the key… I should really do the induction so I can get into the other areas. Birding highlights were Broad-billed Sandpiper (obviously), Grey Plover, breeding plumaged Curlew Sandpiper, Freckled Duck, loads of shorebirds that had my ever patient partner not complaining while I spent hours sorting through them, a great big bastard of a tiger snake, and seeing 77 species in 4.5ish hours of driving around.
Curlew Sandpiper - Werribee

Curlew Sandpiper – Werribee

  • Surprise birding spots – places that look good on the map that I’d not heard of before but decided to give them a shot – spots like Tower Hill Reserve near Warrnambool, Badgers Weir near Healesville, Ocean Grove NR near… Ocean Grove. Get out there – go to new spots, see new birds, or see the same birds you’ve seen before in new places.
  • The amount of water around Chiltern – I only got to Chiltern Dam #1, and managed 45 species in about 45 minutes, including Latham’s Snipe. When I first visited Chiltern back in 2006, I was able to walk around the dam in about 4 minutes – you can’t now as it’s totally full. The plus side is that there are ephemeral wetlands all around it, that were full of birds – Snipe, Night-herons, White-necked Herons, woodswallows, ducks, spoonbills, parrots, pelicans, finches, etc etc etc. Get amongst it – it’s great down there at the moment.
  • White-necked Herons – looking at the stats, I recorded 110 individuals at 24 locations. I usually average 5-10 WnH’s a year, so I’ve done well this trip. I saw loads up on the way to Bowra as well earlier in the year, so I guess they’ve had a few good years of breeding.
  • Mammals! I saw at least 10 species of mammal including Koalas in the Otways, Australian Fur-seal surfing in Port Phillip Bay, Brushtail and Ringtailed Possums at Dunkeld, kangaroos and wallabies all over the shop, Echidnas were quite common – and not much road kill.
Swamp Harrier at Tower Hill NR near Warrnambool

Swamp Harrier at Tower Hill NR near Warrnambool

If you want to see the big list of birds seen, click on the more button below.

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Victoria trip, days 5-14ish

I’m writing from the Bowral of Victoria – Daylesford – in misty, drizzly rain. Yep – Victoria has really turned it on for us weather wise. That said, the birding has been spectacular, although it looks like im going to be robbed of my pilgrimage to Chiltern again, as the forecast is for more craptacular weather for the coming days when I’ll be there. The Internet is as atrocious as I’ve ever seen, so no photos until we get home in a few days, but I’ve seen 190 species of bird, 10ish mammals, but only 3 reptiles, over the past 2 weeks, and that’s a cracking return really. The Grampians were open this time around (much of the park was shut when we were there in 2011 following flood related damage) and if not for terribly hot conditions, more walks would have been done, but what we saw made me keen to get back.

I also think I’m ready to move to Port Fairy. That place shits on most other coastal towns in terms of awesome, plus it’s got 2 huge shearwater colonies and pelagic birding trips run out of it – what more can you ask for. Deakin University have got a campus at Warrnambool so I can get a job there, commute, and go birding at Tower Hill on the way back. Oh yeah – Tower Hill Reserve is awesome as well. Went there without expecting much, and came back about 3 hours later with a list of 50 odd birds. Gotta be happy with that. And the best pizza I’ve had in years was from some joint in the main strip in Port Fairy… Get down there.

Anyway – back in Sydney in … 4 more days? So in 5-6, expect a more well written, composed, and picture filled post, complete with a bird list for all you bird nerds who want to see a list of what I’ve seen.

Cheers
T

Victoria 2012 update – days 1-4

Hello thrill seekers – a quick update on the trip thus far. I’m writing from Ocean Grove, down on the Bellarine Peninsula, and sitting back with a glass of red. Happy days.

We’ve had some terrible weather with strong winds and rain for the first 2.5 days, shocking traffic coming out of Melbourne yesterday, and today’s been really nice. Tomorrow is meant to be about 37 or something, so I’m planning on being in rainforest near waterfalls, or at the pub. Or both. Probably in that order, actually.

As the weather has been poorly, birding opportunities have been limited. Down here, really I’ve only been able to have a look at the Rutherglen swamps (was going to hit up the usual Chiltern spots, but sleetish rain, 50+ kmh winds and being really cold kept me in the car), Lake Eildon, Badgers Weir in Healesville, and spent the day today at the Western Treatment Plant. The WTP was typically awesome, Badgers Weir was a surprisingly excellent spot, and Lake Eildon was also really nice, despite the strong winds.

Not counting today’s birds, we’ve seen about 90odd species, and after today, I reckon we’d be up to about 130-140ish birds. Tomorrow we head off to the Great Ocean Road, staying at Apollo Bay and hitting about 20 spots in the Otways. It will be awesome.

Until next time.

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

Gumholes Waterhole

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”.

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Tawny-crowned Honeyeater - Gliciphila melanops

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 Pano

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.