Top End – photo gallery

Pictures of a few of the superb birds seen during our six day visit to Darwin and the Top End.

OK, so I know it’s common but it’s still gorgeous – Rainbow Lorikeet


Not so common but equally as gorgeous – Rainbow Pitta. One of five seen in Howard Springs Nature Park


Australian Bustard – seen near Cooinda


Now that’s a pretty pigeon – Rose-crowned Fruit-Dove


One of several new honeyeaters seen on the trip, this one is Red-headed – seen at East Point boardwalk


and this is Banded Honeyeater, near Edith Falls


We had a bit of a finch fest – this is Masked Finch


Long-tailed Finch


and Crimson Finch. All fairly common in the ‘triangle’


A few more of the Yellow Waters specialities. Comb-crested Jacana


Black Bittern – also seen at Edith Falls


Black-necked Stork or Jabiru


‘Guardian of the waters’ – a male White-bellied Sea Eagle


and finally…..another superb, splendid parrot – this time Hooded, seen in the Water Gardens at Pine Creek


Off to Thailand this morning to meet up with Neil and Eunice for a ten day Thai bird fest – or my money back Neil!

Top End is Top Notch….

Friday, 30 November. Sitting in Darwin airport, waiting for our flight back to Sydney, having just spent six fabulous days birding around Darwin and the Top End. We hired a camper van and drove the 650k ‘triangle’ between Darwin, Kakadu and Pine Creek, using the Niven McCrie site guide as ‘our bible’, with some excellent supplementary advice from Mick Roderick, Hunter Bird Observers Club. We did most of the main birding sites but were frustrated that a number of them were either closed or had restricted access because of increased croc and snake activity! We did manage to do the Yellow Waters dawn cruise and visit the traditional cultural site at Nuralangie Rocks (Burrunggui & Anbangbang). We saw around 150 species (we’re still sorting through the pictures to decide the id of about thirty!) and in the process topped 300 for the Australian leg of the tour.

First, a couple of scenic shots – Yellow Waters, taken on the dawn boat cruise


Traditional art work on the rocks at Anbangbang


one large rock sat on another…..



and a hungry crocodile…



Pink water lily – Yellow Waters



Due to imminent flight departure I’ll post the bird pictures tonight in a separate gallery. But as an appetiser, try this little beauty!

Azure Kingfisher…..with more to follow!


Major Mitchell’s Mallee Melee

Saturday 24th November, Wentworth Falls. Returned to our Blue Mountains base on Thursday evening after a 48 hour dash to mallee country, a particular type of native scrub, around Lake Cargellico, towards the western boundary of NSW – a round trip of just 1250k! But with plenty of potential Aussie ticks on offer it was a ‘must do’. In the event we saw 150 species, many of which were new for various members of the group – even Dan managed to clock up half a dozen new birds! Highlights included Superb Parrot and Red-backed Kingfisher en route, Painted, Pied ,White-fronted and Yellow-plumed Honeyeater, Shy Heathwren, Southern Scrub-Robin, Crimson Chat, Crested Bellbird, Spotted Bowerbird, Gilbert’s Whistler, Black-eared Cuckoo, Chestnut- backed Quail-Thrush and Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo. On our way back we called in to Charles Stuart University campus to add a rare NSW species to Dan’s list – a European Greenfinch!

What a superb Superb Parrot


One of the ‘difficult to get’ honeyeaters – this is Painted

Masked Woodswallow

A ‘Wedgie’ – Wedge-tailed Eagle

another of the ‘difficult to get’ honeyeaters – this time it’s White-fronted

A real skulker – Chestnut-backed Quail-Thrush

..and an even more difficult species – the aptly named Shy Heathwren (hence the poor photo!)

Gilbert’s Whistler – yet another skulker

A real surprise – Red-backed Kingfisher, found whilst looking for Cockatiels

and the ‘piece de resistance’ – Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo!

We’ve just been enjoying a couple of days chilling with the family, including Rob & Gi, up from Melbourne for the weekend. Tomorrow we’re up early and off to the ‘Top End’ for some intensive birding!

Birding down under….Cook’sing on gas (now with additional photos)

Tuesday 20th November. Arrived in Australia last Tuesday afternoon and spent the first three nights at the delightful Old Brush cabins near Mulbring…real ‘bush’ place with an outside dunny and resident spiders! A nice combination of ‘family time’ with Dan, Morgan and the boys –  Sam, Jonah & Sol, and a bit of bush birding. By the time we came to head for Port Stephens, our next stop, I’d added five new species to my Australian bird list, including the ‘must see’ Regent Honeyeater.

Port Stephens, on the Tomaree peninsular, was our next stop and the departure point for our next pelagic. Family time on Saturday and then the big boat trip – could it live up to the high expectations created by the very successful Chilean pelagic. The short answer is ‘yes’, with three species of albatross, two storm petrels, three petrels, five shearwaters, three jaegers, two terns and a penguin, it was awesome! Five more additions to the Aussie list.

We’re now in a cabin in the Blue Mountains, with a planned trip ‘out west’ tomorrow and Thursday – meeting up with brother Rob and sis in law Gi for a family weekend, prior to going up to Darwin and the ‘top end’ on Sunday.

The cabin at Old Brush

First new species for Australia – Green Catbird

and now the ‘must see’ Regent Honeyeater – a seriously threatened species!

Chestnut-rumped Heathwren

Painted Snipe – a very difficult bird to find in Australia

and to complete the ‘quintet’ – a Banded Stilt, rare on the east coast. It’s the white bird looking left in the centre of the picture

A shot of our pelagic as it heads towards the ocean

First pelagic species, Arctic Jaeger


Wedge-tailed Shearwater

Great-winged Petrel

Black Petrel – similar to White-chinned and Westland Petrel, seen in Chile


Wilson’s Petrel


A lovely White-faced Storm Petrel

The amazing, spectacular, Wandering (Snowy) Albatross


Shy Albatross – rather like Salvin’s, seen in Chile


Flesh-footed Shearwater

..and the ‘jewel in the crown’, Cook’s Petrel – only one seen on average a year in the whole of Australia!


And on the way back, at a distance this bird excited imaginations as possible Spectacled Petrel – turned out to be just an aberrant Wedgie!


That’s all for now, hopefully some more new Aussie birds to blog once we get back from our trip to mallee country.

The (Chilean) Lake District

After a few days ‘chilling on Chiloe’ we headed north up Routa 5, the Pan American Highway, for a rondevue in Pucon with the lads, who were heading south for Joe’s stag do. Pucon is in the Chilean Lake District, where the scenery of lake, forest and volcanos is spectacular. Pucon (probably better pronounced ‘puke – on’ from the boys perspective!) was chosen as the stag venue, not so much for the views though as for the casino and adventure activities. It suited us fine because it is in the heart of nothofagus forest country and home to some pretty special birds. Our comfortable cabana was on the edge of town, we stunning views of Volcano Villarrica, which towers over the town. It’s an active volcano and on a good night you can see it glowing! As one of the many adventure activities available, the boys decided to join a guided climb to the top – rather them than me! We settled for more gentle strolls around the foothills, although we did mange a pretty gruelling ten miler in the Huerquehue National Park on one day. We split the remaining journey to Santiago into two days and stayed over night at Salta de Laja, with it’s impressive waterfalls. We arrived back in Santiago on Thursday afternoon, prior to Friday’s wedding and stayed at the well appointed and located Times Apartments in Los Condes.

Volcano Villarrica, on the approach to Pucon.


The volcano from near to the Ski Centre, where we watched the lads four hour accent through the telescope!


Villarrica from the cabana


Views of the volcano from Huerquehue National Park


Wild ‘monkey puzzle, trees


Laguna Verde, Huerquehue National Park


The falls at Salta de Laja


Supper with the lads during an interlude between adventure activities and the casino


A surprise at the ski lift was a couple of pairs of Yellow-bridled Finch


White-throated Treerunner


For the second time at Salta de Laja we were fortunate to find Spectacled Duck on the river


…and finally, a Californian Quail


and that pretty much brings you up to date!

Viva Valpo

Thursday 15 November, Dan and Morgan’s, Newcastle, NSW.

With such a blistering birding end to our stay in Chile I’m slightly out of sequence with my blogging. Here are a couple of posts to complete the journey so far.

On route between Quintero and Santiago we stopped off in Valparaiso for coffee in the artists quarter.

Coffee, overlooking the harbour, on the hottest day of the trip so far


Several shots of the artists quarter







There, shows that there is more to our trip than birds!

Yes o Yeso…!

Sunday 11th November. Out of sequence I know but I couldn’t resist this post. Having made a quicker than anticipated recovery from the wedding celebrations we managed a trip up to the ski resort above Santiago on Saturday afternoon and today we’ve been up the Yeso valley on what Joe described as the ‘traditional excursion to dip on Diademed Sandpiper-Plover’! Expectations were pretty low once we managed to navigate our way out of Santiago and up the road to the ski resorts of Farellones and El Colorado…. just an opportunity to blow out the cob-webs (or in my case, see off a whiskey induced hang-over!) However, in the space of a couple of hours we’d seen a superb cast of High Andean species including Magellanic Horned Owl, Yellow-rumped Siskin, Greater Yellow Finch, Black-fronted Ground-Tyrant, Grey-hooded Sierra Finch, Great Shrike Tyrant, Moustached Turca, Crag Chilia, White-sided Hillstar, Andean Condor and Aplamado Falcon. Today, our last day in Chile, we set out to find the legendary El Yeso valley, south east of Santiago – another road which penetrates deep into the High Andes, and reputedly the summer quarters of the mythical Diademed Sandpiper-Plover!  After a near-perfect traverse of Santiago, we were climbing the 30k dirt road to the dam by 9.30am. On the way up we met a group of British birders on tour with ‘Ramblers’ and their Chilean bird guide – they were also on a quest for the DSP. The pressure was on. We only had Pearman and a couple of recent trip reports to go on, so we drove to the most likely location, where the inlet stream for the dam flows over wet bog, and commenced our search. Fabulous views of Grey-breasted Seedsnipe were only a temporary distraction and after an hour of searching the tributaries hopes were beginning to wane. I’d just got back to the car for a little light refreshment when there were frantic gesticulations from the Titmans. A rapid yomp across 300m of bog, loosing my sandal in the process, and there in the scope was an unbelievably exquisite Diademed Sandpiper-Plover! Not just one but two with two young chicks for good measure!! Just perfect. And here are the pictures to prove it…. A magnificent Magellanic Horned Owl, found whilst watching an Andean Condor!   Greater Yellow Finch – only found in the Andes above 2000m     Yellow-rumped Siskin, another High Andean speciality   Moustached Turca, a Chilean endemic   Crag Chilia, another endemic species   Grey-breasted Seedsnipe   …and now the one we’d all been waiting for – the mythical, the mysterious, the bloody beautiful Diademed Sandpiper-Plover!   and it’s mate.   That’s it for now, I’ve run out of internet time. Off to Australia on Monday (arr Tuesday). More blogging from there I hope.

Chilling on Chiloe….

Whilst the internet holds out I’m attempting to catch up on the backlog…sorry for the ‘overload’!

After our fabulous pelagic experience we travelled back to Santiago and then flew the thousand or so kilometres south to Chiloe Island – about three quarters the way down Chile, on the coast and the wettest place in the country. We stayed for four nights in a cabana at Caulin, on the shores of a picturesque inlet, the approach road to which is along the beach! The general dampness means that it’s also about ten degrees cooler than the mainland, so the log fire was most welcome. It was still low season, despite it being a bank holiday long weekend, so most places were shut, necessitating a 40k road trip to shops and restaurants so we self-catered most of the time. On the first fine day we made an excursion to an off-shore island, the only place in the world where Magellanic and Humboldt penguins breed side by side. The following day we drove to the vibrant (!) ‘capital’ of the island, Castro, to marvel at the houses on stilts – having done so we drove back! Our final day was spent generally sightseeing and birding.

Here are a few shots of the island and it’s wildlife.

Our first afternoon and the sun is shining…so a boat trip to penguin island!

…and the best bit about Penguin Island for me were the Sea Otters

But here are the penguins. This is the only group of islands where the two species Magallenic and Humboldt breed together

Meanwhile, back at our cabana…

Watching the locals gathering kelp. You’ll have to excuse the ‘arty’ shot.

and the iconic Black-necked Swans, emblem of Chile

Speaking of iconic species, here is a poor shot of another of those  birds – Chucao Tapaculo

Rufous-tailed Plantcutter at dusk, behind the cabana

On our sightseeing day to Castro, the famous stilt houses

I’ve nearly cleared the backlog you’ll be pleased to know….

Chile’s wedding of the year….

Joseph and Gabriella were married yesterday evening at what we think was definitely the wedding of the year…well we would, wouldn’t we! The venue, in the foothills of the Andes, looked fabulous and despite the rain, which meant the short civil ceremony took place in the lounge with a log fire rather than on the lawn bathed in sunshine, went without a hitch and even included a joke by the registrar about Gabi ‘catching a good looking gringo’! The bride looked absolutely gorgeous and I must say the groom ‘scrubbed up well’ too – Matt  and Josh were informal best men and certainly did their bit to entertain us on the dance floor. The food, which just kept coming, was delicious and we finally  departed at 03.30 – leaving the party still pretty nearly in full swing.

Jane and I would like to wish Joe and Gabi a long and happy future together and we’re looking forward to seeing them in England at Christmas. We would also like to extend our deep felt and sincere thanks to Gabriella’s family for making us feel so welcome….

And now some photos:

The ‘bridal carriage’ – not really, but part of the ‘retro’ theme of the event

Table setting, in the same ‘shabby chic’ style

Joseph the groom and best men, Matt and Josh

The guests await the arrival of the bride

Gabriella with her father, Juan Carlos

Joe and Gabi after the ceremony and before the never ending ‘wedding breakfast’ – aptly named in this case!

Gorgeous Gabriella and her Mum

The first waltz – Gabi and Dad with Joe and Jane…..

Bridal bouquet

Phenomenal Pacific Pelagic

For those who don’t know (and possibly don’t care) a pelagic involves travelling for hours in a small boat, miles out to sea, throwing disgustingly smelly bits of fish overboard, and waiting to see what sea birds turn up! It’s the only way to see many of the deep ocean birds and off the continental shelf of Chile is one of the tops sites for it. And so it was, that on Sunday 28th October, we joined guide Franco, his captain and crew, and headed off from Quintero for a day on the pacific ocean…and what a day it turned out to be! In simple statistical terms we saw four species of Albatross, two Shearwaters, seven petrel type species and a number of other maritime species – in terms of the experience, it was simply phenomenal! By the time we reached the shelf , where the cold Humboldt current brings ‘rich pickings’ to the surface, the sheer number of birds was overwhelming. The vast majority were Sooty Shearwaters but close examination, by our very experienced guide (veteran of  more than 250 pelagics), produced a succession of new species. After six hours on the water, on the way back to harbour, our day was topped by a close  encounter with a Minke whale and calf!

Some pictures, which fail to capture the experience adequately, follow:

Franco with Joe and Sue, running through the finer points of grey headed Albatross identification..

A poor attempt to capture the sheer volume of birds involved….mostly Sooty Shearwater

and now in close-up

A nice shot of the similar but larger, White-chinned Petrel

A Westland’s petrel – distinguished from the previous species by smaller size and a dark bill tip

Pink-footed Shearwater

Possibly my personal favourite of the pelagic species, a Cape Petrel

Frequent throughout the day, Peruvian Pelican

The commonest of the albatross sp., a Black-browed

…and now eating some of our scrummy ‘chum’

Salvin’s Albatross

with a wing span of nearly twelve feet…a Royal Albatross

…and finally, an unexpected ‘close encounter’ with another whale species, this time Minke (with calf)