Victoria Trip, August 2013

In late August 2013, I had another residential school for my course, again down at Albury. Once again, I camped in much better birding areas nearby, this time staying at the Rutherglen Caravan Park, as Chiltern Caravan Park was flooded. I wasn’t planning on any trip after the study this time, unlike every other time I’ve headed down for a residential school, so I had to make the most of the birding while I was there.

So I did. And it was glorious.

There were 2 main highlights – having one of the most amazing Turquoise Parrot experiences of my life, and getting reasonable views of a banded Regent Honeyeater.

Male Turquoise Parrot

Male Turquoise Parrot at Bartley’s Block

Bartley’s Block is easily my favourite, and probably one of the best, spots within the Chiltern-Mt. Pilot National Park. I never fail to have a good time there, and quite often, I also manage to see a boat load of birds, and the odd mammal. This trip was no different, and I managed to get down to Bartley’s on just about every morning, including taking a group of birders from the course out for a morning, as well as a few random birders who tagged along for the morning. One of the highlights of Bartley’s is that it is a pretty reliable site for Turquoise Parrot, unless you’re taking people along with the promise of Turquoise Parrot. To be fair, I had photographed a pair checking out a hollow 2 days earlier (male above, female below), so that promise wasn’t entirely misguided. And one of the party saw a pair when he went back to the cars for a rest as we went chasing more birds, so they were around.

Female Turquoise Parrot - Bartley's Block

Female Turquoise Parrot at Bartley’s Block

Anyway – when I managed these photos, I was recording the squabbling of the resident White-browed Babblers, and as I was crouched down in the tussock grass recording, an explosion of colour came up from my right. It took a few seconds for me to register what had happened – it was a pair of Turq’s that had flown up to check out the old hollow fence post/tree stump in front of me, about 10 meters away! Needless to say, I dropped my audio recording gear, grabbed the camera, and slowly made my way around to get a better shot of the entry to the hollow, which is what the male is sitting at in the shot above. They were initially aware I was there, but sitting quietly watching them, they went about their business and eventually disregarded me, before flying off to have a look at some other hollow. The whole experience lasted about 10 minutes, and is up there as one of the best wildlife/birding experiences I’ve had. Awesome stuff.

The other highlight was getting good views of a banded and radio tagged Regent Honeyeater near the intersection of Donchi Hill Road and the Chiltern-Rutherglen Road. Sure – it is kind of cheating a bit because they had tracked it there, and essentially we just got off the bus, stood around listening to Johnno from the recovery team talk about the program, and then the bird turned up, but it’s always nice to see such a great bird. My previous photographic efforts involved pouring rain, and this one involved a howling gale that meant we had to wear hard-hats (there’s probably not many sights nerdier than 20-odd birders standing around in the bush wearing hard-hats!), but I’m fairly happy with the results. This is a banded female that was released in April, when I was also down in the Chiltern area. Then I heard the birds flying around out near Magenta Mine, but couldn’t see any.

Regent Honeyeater

Regent Honeyeater

Other birding highlights included a guided tour of several old Barking Owl nest sites that Iain Taylor monitored during a study he conducted several years ago, so now I know where to go looking for this species that I’ve put in many yards for down there, but despite hearing one once, never seeing them, lots of frog action, some good spotlighting, and the networking opportunities of meeting like-minded birders. I’m having the next year or 2 off from the course to pursue another couple of things, but I’ll be back to complete the Diploma, after (hopefully) graduating with the Certificate in a few weeks time. As I said a couple of months ago, the Graduate Certificate/Diploma of Ornithology is a really good course, and while I’ve enjoyed it greatly, I’m really, really enjoying being able to go birding instead of reading about birds. There’s still a chance I’ll be Doctor Troy at some point. I’m also now able to write blog posts and catch up on processing photos, so that’s also a big plus.

I’m still entering all my data, but I must’ve seen close to 160 species over the 10 days I was away. I’ll update this when I’ve got the numbers, and post a list.

You can see some more images on Flickr.

South Coast NSW, August 2013

In August we went down the coast again, to just get away from work and relax a bit. Unfortunately the weather was atrocious for most of the time we were away!

We stayed at the magnificent Narrawallee Creek Studios which I can thoroughly recommend to everyone. The place is in the middle of Narrawallee Creek National Park, and the birding in the grounds was pretty good. Brown Cuckoo-dove, Wonga Pigeon, Golden Whistler, Bassian Thrush, Gang-gang Cockatoo and the usual thornbills, robins, fantails, honeyeaters that you’d expect on the South Coast of NSW were all over the place. We’ll be back for sure.

In terms of birds, obviously the proximity of the accommodation to Lake Conjola was an attraction. Particularly as at that time of year, the Double-banded Plovers (below) were starting to colour up before heading back to NZ for summer.

Double-banded Plover, Lake Conjola

Double-banded Plover, Lake Conjola

There was nothing else unusual (not that DB Plover is unusual at Lake Conjola at that time of year) at Lake Conjola, and the persistent rain and wind made birding difficult. We did have one nice day, so we went for a drive down to Bermagui, which is always nice, and at Wallaga Lake there were some cooperative Pied Oystercatchers.

Anyway – with all the rain and wind there wasn’t much else to be done except read books and sit by a fireplace! So we did.

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.

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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 – contact@troymuttonphotography.com

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!
Troy

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!
Troy

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’reĀ  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.

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.