Category Archives: Birding

Mystery Prion

EDIT – it’s an aberrant Fairy. Shots taken from a couple of others on board and these have been described as the bird having a “floppy pouch”, which isn’t a euphemism, but apparently has to do with an extensive feeding season.


A prion, taken on the 14/7/13 Port Stephen's Pelagic

A prion, taken on the 14/7/13 Port Stephen’s Pelagic

So here we have a prion that was different from the many, many Fairy Prion’s we had yesterday. These 6 photos are 100% crops of a distant bird that has a darker head, and generally darker all round, has a more extensive collar, and unless I’m mistaken the bill looks bigger than a Fairy’s bill. There was a bird that was seen by several of those on board the MV Argonaut that thought was either a Broad-billed or a Salvin’s. Looking at these photos last night on the camera in my dodgy motel room, I thought Broad-billed, but now that I’ve got them on the computer, I’m thinking possibly a Salvin’s/Antarctic.

Reasons for it not being Broad-billed Prion: the bill – on this bird – is not broad. There was another one that I thought I got shots of that had a larger bill, but I don’t seem to have photographed that one, or I did get photos but they were out of focus (as you do when pelagic birding), so have been consigned to the recycle bin of history.

Reasons for it being Salvin’s/Antarctic: darker bird with a reasonably lengthy/chunky bill. The collar in shots 3290, 3292 and 3293 reach further than what I was seeing with the Fairy’s. That said, the collar on this bird is no where near as well defined as the Antarctic/Fairy comparison top right, page 200 of Shirihai (2008), but it’s much more pronounced than the Fairy in the same image…

Reasons for it not being a Fairy: At the time when I saw it, it looked like a different species. I can’t make a judgement on size as it was a fair way away and solo, but it seemed like it had a different jizz, was darker, and … well – I just thought it was a different species from all of the Fairy Prions I’ve seen, on both pelagic trips and from sea-watching.

I don’t know – it is also entirely possible that this is just a dark Fairy Prion. Shots taken immediately after and before this show lighter birds that look like Fairy Prions, because that’s what they are. This bird is much darker than those. Conditions were glorious out there – flat ocean, no wind to speak of, and clear light. What is shown here is just a crop of the original.

Anyway – if you have an opinion on this bird, post below or shoot me an email –

There’ll be a full report coming up – I’ve got an essay due in 3 weeks, so what better time than now to update the website, process 1500 photos, and write a super long blog post about my trip to the Hunter?!

Over halfway through the year already!

Where does the time go…?

Last time I wrote, I’d just got back from the Oriental Plover twitch. Since then, I’ve been to Melbourne twice (only to Western Treatment Plant once though), done the Princes Highway in driving rain, and apart from that, flat out with uni and not processing photos. However, with uni finished for semester (kick-off for semester 2 is next week), I’ve been going birding when possible (pelagic this Sunday), and giving the website a slight makeover. That is all backend at the moment, but stay tuned for all new galleries as I move away from flickr to hosting everything locally.

So let’s start at the start – Victoria in mid-February, mostly to see My Bloody Valentine (a band in case you’re wondering), but the camera came along and a small bit of birding was squeezed in. The highlights were: Western Treatment Plant – once again, an awesome place. Nothing amazingly unexpected – there had been a Broad-billed Sandpiper around, but I didn’t see it, and probably the highlight was a flock of 6 Brolga, which was a new bird for my Victorian list. I managed close to 80 birds in 4 hours, got some good photos (yet to be processed), and saw a fantastic band. That was a good day.

Shortly after that, uni started. I am seriously loving this degree, but its quite hard to study birds, when that same study reduces the time available to go birding! To be fair, one assignment did involve spending heaps of time in the field, surveying birds at one of my favourite spots, Mt. Bass Firetrail in the Royal NP, and the residential school involved a full day in the field birding, and I saw over 150 birds while on residential school, including the trip there and back, but I missed out on some truly amazing Sydney Pelagic trips, most stingingly the one where they got the Barau’s Petrel… gragh! aaaanyway… apart from birding, one of the hghlights of the residential school was the taxidermy. I am absolutely terrible at it, and am quite happy to never have to prepare a skin again, but to literally get my hands inside a Boobook and a Crested Pigeon and see just how fragile these organisms I love to chase are, gives a new dimension to birding.

Marks come out for semester 1 in a couple of days, and looking at my unscaled marks I’ve spanked one subject and belted the other one, so hopefully scaling is favourable to me and I destroy it. Looking at the assignments for this coming semester, one appears to have me conducting silly amounts of time in the field birding again… did I mention that I love this degree?

Drs Dave Watson and Melanie Massaro know their stuff, and to anyone reading who is thinking of doing the Graduate Diploma (or Certificate) in Ornithology at CSU – I encourage you to give it a crack. I’ve got a different lecturer this semester, but he’s been an ornithologist for years and years, so I’m excited to learn from him too.

Ayeay – the birding! I camped in Chiltern as I usually do, so managed to get out each morning and get out most nights. Bartley’s Block was amazing, as usual, and despite the Regent Honeyeater captive bred birds being released, and hearing them at the release sight, I couldn’t see any. There were also some very late Fork-tailed Swifts around, and some White-browed Woodswallows,along with the usual suspects. Loads of Scarlet Robins as well. After that, I swung down to Melbourne to visit the nephew, and share a bottle of wine with the parents of said nephew, I then came back to Sydney via the Princes Highway. Unfortunately, the weather was absolute pants. I only managed to bird Sale Common in between rain squalls (good numbers of raptors though) and Lake Wallacoot (wallagoot?) in Bournda NP on the NSW South Coast, again in between rain (highlight being 5 species of raptor in the air at once, including calling Sea-Eagles!). It utterly hosed down for the rest of the trip, so I aborted a trip to Barren Grounds.

In actual birding news, we went spotlighting in the Royal for Sooty Owl on saturday, but apart from hearing a Tawny Frogmouth and an Owlet-nightjar, and seeing an Eastern Wallaroo, the bush was very quiet. Im looking forward to getting out on the boat off Port Stephens this Sunday.

While I can’t promise that I’ll make more regular posts and whatnot this semester, I’ll try to try. And with that in mind, I’ll try to post a report of the pelagic next week!

Good birding!

Oriental Plover

I tried to hold out for next weekend to check out the Oriental Plover that turned up at Shoalhaven Heads, on the NSW South Coast. I planned initially to go down on Sunday, but waking up at 5.30 and checking the radar which showed torrential rain up and down the coast changed my mind. Then the forecasts for the rest of the week indicated that it was only going to get worse – I had about a 4 hour window from dawn today to try. And try I did. And the window shut at around the predicted time.

Anyway – I got the Oriental Plover – bird #527. Took about 2 hours of scanning through the large flock of PGP’s, and there were 5 very pale birds, including 1 that I reckon is a fair candidate for Grey Plover, but in atrocious light, sea haze and light fog, I saw the beast. Initially I scoped it from about 250 meters and was very satisfied that it was it, but I needed better views, so I went around the NE side of the roost to get closer, while not heading directly for the birds. Then I couldn’t relocate it (it was windy, and all the birds were roosting/hiding/sheltering). Over the next hour, I met a lovely couple and we were looking at them, the Little Terns, the Red-capped Plovers, and trying to work out what these lighter PGP’s were. I was fairly convinced that one, which steadfastly refused to move its head for the best part of the time I was there, was the Oriental Plover. After a while, the couple who turned up left, and I decided to head even further around to the east of the flock to get a bit closer (ninja commando style all the way), I put the scope on them again, and there it was – it was the very pale bird that had been sleeping/resting for the whole time all along.

So anyway – didn’t manage shots apart from distant shots of the whole flock, but I managed to see the bird, and get back to the car about 5 seconds after the rain started, and which has only slightly abated in the last half hour – before being predicted to pick up and be mental all night.

And isn’t that what birding is about? Getting out and about, cold, wet and tired, to see a bird that looks pretty similar to all the others?

Happy birding!

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


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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Mystery Cuckoo

This is a bunch of shots of the same bird taken the other day at Bartley’s Block, Chiltern-Mt Pilot National Park, Northern Victoria. I think it’s either a very young Horsfields or Black-eared Cuckoo. Unfortunately the field guides don’t help in the slightest, and even HANZAB isn’t overly helpful. I have recorded both birds at this spot in previous years…

Anyone got any ideas?

What am I?

What am I?

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.


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

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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