Australia 2017 – snaps from the cutting room floor

Here are a few photos from our recent trip to Australia, which didn’t make it into the original blogs. Thanks to Alex Berryman for dragonfly id and to Dan, Mick et al for help with bird id

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Champagne Celebration for Dan’s 400th

Dan celebrates his 400th HBOC tick in style! (photo courtesy of Jane Williams)

The final day of our recent outback adventure was spent in pursuit of Dan’s 400th species in the Hunter Bird Observers Club area. He’d been creeping closer to the target over the past few months and we had hoped that our recent pelagic might produce the goods, but it was not to be. On his journey out west, to meet up with us for our ‘back O’Bourke’ holiday, Dan ticked up Crimson Chat, number 399. The weather out west has been particularly dry of late – at one place we stopped, the aboriginal drinking pools at Byrock, it hadn’t rained since 26th October 2016. This weather has forced birds, usually only seen in the red centre, to seek water further east – bringing them into the upper Hunter in unprecedented numbers. We’d only just reached the western edge of the HBOC recording area when I saw a Kingfisher on the wires from the car. We pulled over for Dan to check it out – Red-backed Kingfisher. A great bird to see this far east and, more importantly, his 400th – cue champagne celebration!

And the cause of all the fuss, Red-backed Kingfisher. Only seen once in the HBOC recording area prior to the current unprecedented  influx – we came across at least five

Other scarce birds in the area, in addition to the Crimson Chat which was still present at Durridgere, included Black Honeyeater – record shot of one of two males seen

Western Gerygone

We saw more than a dozen Pallid Cuckoo, all female  – rarely seen in these numbers in the Hunter. 

The scarcer Black-eared Cuckoo  

As we headed for home from the Upper Hunter –  this delightful Spotted Harrier bade us farewell

A great bird to end a memorable days birding – bringing Dan his 400th and taking my overall Hunter list to 314. Not a bad total for a tourist – accumulated in only six weeks birding in the region. Until the next time…

 

 

Birding the Back O’Bourke

The Sheep-shearers quarters at Belah, Gundabooka National Park – 80k from the nearest pint of milk (or beer)!

We’ve just returned from a weeks holiday with Dan, Morgan & The Boys in the outback, staying in a former sheep-shearers shed, in the middle of the Gundabooka National Park. There’s a popular expression about the ‘back O’Bourke’ – literally the Australian equivalent to ‘back of beyond’. Bourke is a small settlement, on the River Darling, which used to be the hub of a thriving sheep-farming and trading community. To get there we drove nearly 500 kilometres west from Sydney airport, across the Great Dividing Range, over-nighting at Dubbo, before finishing the journey to Bourke along a near straight road (the longest in New South Wales) for another 350ks. Our accommodation was then only a mere 80 kilometres further on, the final thirty of which were on a dirt track! Handy if you ran out of milk or, as we did, popping to the pub for supper! Actually, despite it’s rural-rustic appearance, the shearer’s quarters made for a surprisingly comfortable stay. We visited several of the local visitor attractions in the park, including some interesting aboriginal rock paintings and spent a day sight-seeing in Bourke – taking in the various attractions, including the old gaol, town cemetery and the fort which turned out to be a very small, make-shift stockade. Birding interest came in the form of three regional specialities: Little Woodswallow, Chestnut-crowned Babbler and White-browed Treecreeper, together with an impressive supporting cast of ‘mulga’ specialities. We played board games in the evening and lit a fire – all in all a throughly memorable experience!

Aboriginal rock paintings – Mulgowan (Yappa), Gundabooka National Park (photo courtesy  of Jane Williams)

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First of the Australia List ticks to fall – Little Woodswallow 

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Next to fall, the rather elusive Chestnut-crowned Babbler – seen close to our accommodation

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Last of the trio of new ticks – White-browed Treecreeper

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Other notable birds in the Gundabooka area included Major Mitchell’s (or Pink) Cockatoo

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Some of the interesting birds, like this Chestnut-rumped Thornbill, were rather elusive

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Others, like Red-capped Robin and Splendid Fairy-wren were anything but…

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These Rainbow Bee-eater, male & female, were a delight to see warming themselves in the early morning sun

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The particular type of vegetation in the park – mulga, is home to the parrot of the same name

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Our day out in Bourke began with this family group of Emu along the access track

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Apostlebirds – so named because they supposedly go round in groups of twelve, are a common sight along the roads and nature strips

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On the way back we stopped at Warren water treatment ponds – excellent birding, which immediately produced Spotted Bowerbird and two sorts of Crake – Australian Spotted & this Baillon’s

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Also, the only snake of the trip so far – the rather venomous Eastern Brown (photo courtesy of Jane Williams)

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..and a long awaited Australia List tick – Plum-headed Finch!

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FNQ – Far North Queensland birding

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Southern Cassowary – finally puts in an appearance at the Jindalbah car park

After the successful Port Stephens pelagic – which enabled me to reach 300 birds in the Hunter, we flew north to Cairns to meet up with my brother Rob and wife Gi for a birding trip of far North Queensland. Unfortunately, the hoped for prize of the first day and a half – Southern Cassowary, failed to materialise. Despite being at Mission Beach – the epicentre for recent Cassowary ‘hunting’, it rained continuously and we failed in our mission (pun intended) miserably. We then headed north, via Port Douglas, to the Daintree River, where we did manage to connect with some of the region’s specialities – finally tracking down Southern Cassowary at Jindalbah, but not before a three hour wait in the car park and a narrow miss of a Noisy Pitta! A couple of hours flying time further north is the small, by Aussie standards, national park of Iron Range – a fragment of tropical low-land rainforest, with a dozen or so endemic specialities. Here we stayed at the lovely bed & breakfast at Portland Roads and ate in the adjacent cafe – tremendous food at literally the end of the road! An over-night stay in Cairns, before returning south, allowed for a couple of visits to the world renowned wader hot-spot of The Esplanade and an early morning bird of the Botanical Gardens.

Common in north Queensland, Bush Stone-curlew – this one was seen in Cairns Botanical Gardens

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Comb-crested Jacana – present on most suitable inland waters in North Queensland

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Also present, Salt-water Crocodile – this one was seen on the Daintree River cruise

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Also seen along the Daintree River, one of a number of Kingfisher species – this one is Azure 

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Restricted to the rainforests of northern Queensland is Macleay’s Honeyeater

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Similar to the above species is Tawny-breasted – one of three Honeyeaters ‘endemic’ to Iron Range  

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Cape York endemic Monarchs include this little cutie – Frill-necked 

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Much more common but equally as appealing – Olive-backed Sunbird, the only representative of this diverse group in Australia

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We did eventually catch up with Noisy Pitta but were too early for it’s rarer cousin Red-bellied, which is only a wet-season visitor to Cape York

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Water birds were few and far between, but these Pied Heron at Lockhart River ‘poo ponds’ were a welcome exception

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Evening entertainment was provided by this murmuration of Metallic Starlings off Restoration Island

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Reasonably common in Iron Range is Magnificent Riflebird – not quite so easy to see though!

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A top prize in Iron Range is the restricted and endangered Fawn-breasted Bowerbird

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Equally prized, in their only Australian foot-hold of Iron Range, is Eclectus Parrot – we found this male (green) and four females (red) at their nest-hole. Seeing this beautiful bird has been a birding ambition of mine for many years – I even named my Management Consultancy after it!

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More common, but still difficult to see, are these Double-eyed Fig-Parrot – Australia’s smallest parrot species

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The last species added to the list in North Queensland was this fabulous roosting Rufous Owl – located by a kindly birder I met in the Botanic Gardens who gave me a lift back to the hotel. We managed to photograph it in the final minutes before the taxi took us to the airport! Here, in typical pose, with prey in his talons 

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Magic Pelagic brings up my 300th

Campbell Albatross, my 300th for the Hunter – note the amber eye a key id feature from Black-browed. Also an Australia Tick

Yesterday it was up early to get the pelagic out of Port Stephen’s. Only a couple of days earlier the forecast was such that it would have been cancelled but fortunately conditions improved to permit a sailing. It takes three and a half hours to get to the shelf, allowing three full hours prime oceanic birding. We’d already seen Brown Skua (297) on the way out. Once we got to the shelf we saw our only Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross (298) quickly followed by Providence Petrel (299), leaving just one more species to reach the magic 300! As predicted, it came in the shape of a Campell Albatross – a fairly recent split from Black-browed and, as a bonus, an addition to my all-time Australia List. In addition to the new Hunter species, we had Wedge-tailed, Hutton’s, Fluttering and Short-tailed Shearwater, White-faced Storm Petrel, Australasian Gannet, Wandering (Antipodian) and Shy Albatross (probably White-capped), Bar-tailed Godwit. Not a bad trip!

Brown Skua – the first of the mornings new species

Providence Petrel (Solander’s) – photo courtesy of Dan Williams

Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross – one of five species of Albatross seen

A Trip to the Baths

White-fronted Tern, amongst Crested Tern – Newcastle baths

Today, it was an early morning trip to the baths – Newcastle’s outdoor swimming pool, to search through the roosting Crested Tern flock in the hope of finding White-fronted Tern, another winter visitor to the NSW coast, and a Hunter tick. It didn’t take Dan long to locate the only two birds present amongst their bigger cousins. I also located a Crested Tern with double metal leg rings – partially readable.

On the way back home we called in at Bunnings DIY store to add another Hunter tick – Mallard. Whilst the male looks reasonably pure and apparently sufficiently ‘tickable’, the female has more than a gene or two of Black Duck in her I’d say.

296, with hopefully one or two more additions on tomorrow’s planned pelagic, out of Port Stephens.

Hunting down those Hunter ticks

A lone Double-banded Plover,  found along a stretch of the 40k Worimi Conservation Land (Stockton Beach). First Hunter tick of 2017 

We’re over in Australia at the moment, visiting our son and his family, holidaying with my brother and hunting down those Hunter ticks! This must be our fifth trip to Newcastle since Dan, Morgan and the kids have lived here and, in addition to boosting my all-time Australia list – which now stands at over 500, I’ve been slowly amassing my Hunter Bird Observers Club list, in the hope that I might meet their ‘entry level’ Bronze standard of 300 species. At the end of our last visit I was frustrating close, on 291.

Grey Plover – another ‘Hunter tick’

We arrived here from Sydney airport yesterday mid-morning and, with barely a half-hour turn-around, we were back out the door, bound for Worimi Conservation Land (Stockton Sands), in pursuit of our first Hunter tick of the trip. A small group of Double-banded Plover winter along this 40k stretch of beach – said to be part of the largest dune system in the southern hemisphere. Most of these birds have now left the Hunter, bound for New Zealand where they breed, but my brother did photograph one about ten days ago, when he and Gi were visiting. We’d driven more than half the length of the beach before we finally came across a lone individual – phew! Waders were few and far between, but we did see Red-capped Plover, Pacific Golden Plover, Grey Plover (another Hunter tick) Curlew Sandpiper, Pied Oystercatcher, Great Knot and Sanderling. On our way home we stopped-off to collect Freckled Duck – usually a difficult species to track-down anywhere in NSW, as my third addition for the trip. 294 – we’re on target to reach the magic 300 before we leave (fingers crossed!).

Other wader interest coming in the shape of Great Knot and Sanderling

and Gull-billed Tern