Sugarloaf Point

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Yesterday, on our return from Crowdy Head – after a few days away with Joe and Gabriella, we called in at Sugarloaf Point to see the lighthouse. Wow, turned out to be one of the most exquisite places I’ve seen in all Australia – just fabulous and couldn’t resist posting some pics.

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Joe and Gabriella doing their Titanic thing!

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If you want to go there you can stay at one of the old Keeper’s Cottages – but it’ll cost you $4,700 a week in high season!

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Australia Day celebrations

Today was Australia Day – the last public holiday before people return to work after the long Christmas/summer holidays. We had a great day of family entertainment planned – coffee and cake at Morpeth, a kiddies train ride at Walka water works, BBQ at Old Brush, topped off with a trip to the Drive-In movies. It was all going to plan when we departed Morpeth for the water works, via the grassy flood plain of the Hunter. I’d reminded Dan that there were still a couple of species, which are found in this particular habitat, that I still needed – so we took a slow drive in search of them. Dan pulled over because he’d spotted a small flock of Banded Lapwing – one of our target species. I scanned the field with my camera, looking for a good photo, when a small slim brown wader appeared in the view-finder – initial impressions were of a cross between a Ruff and Pratincole! Dan had to borrow my binoculars to confirm that it was indeed an Oriental Plover – second for the Hunter and a ‘plant earth’ tick! News was put out and several local Hunter birders had ‘ticked up’ before we were able to get the ‘family day’ back on schedule. Our run of new waders in the Hunter continues!  

Oriental Plover, with Banded Lapwing in the background

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Although the bird was fantastic and something of a bonus, unfortunately for the kids the Walka train wasn’t running and the movie wasn’t scheduled to start before eight twenty – so we had to come home instead! The BBQ was however a great success, as was the day overall and I don’t think they noticed the brief birding interruption.  Australia Day 2014 was definitely a day for celebration…!!

Buff-breasted bonanza on Wagtail trail

Yesterday afternoon we returned to Hexham Swamp to try for the taivana Eastern Yellow Wagtail, which some authorities consider to be a full species – Green-headed Yellow Wagtail, which breeds from Siberia, east to Japan. Despite there being other cars ‘in the circuit’ we managed to get to the undisturbed southern end of the track and were rewarded by a handsome green and gold tschutschensis feeding on the track in front of us. More searching produced three more Eastern Yellow Wagtail (and later, a fifth at the other end of the main track). Dan, who was at work, was understandably peeved as he needed it for a Hunter ‘tick’ so we agreed to look for it again first thing this morning.

So, after another relatively early start, we were out again on Hexham Swamp scouring the track for wagtails. There were none on the track so we started looking in the surrounding swamp. I found a distant young Eastern Yellow before looking on the opposite side of the track where there, in the glow of early morning sunlight, was a taivana sat out preening on a fallen branch – not as green and gold as yesterdays bird but still unmistakeable. We decided on a slow cruise back looking for more wagtails before turning our attention to the hundreds of waders that were roosting up further along the trail. On passing the first clumps of mangrove Dan spotted a solitary wader, pale buff with bright yellow legs and a beady black eye set in a plain head. Could this be the elusive Buff-breasted Sandpiper from last Saturday which, despite extensive searching by a number of the local birders throughout the week, had so far failed to be relocated? Closer views of the distinguishing features, record shots secured and the id was clinched! Frantic texting and the first Newcastle twitchers were ‘ticking up’ within half an hour, then a steady flow of admirers from further afield until there was almost a small crowd! Before setting off I managed to relocate a male Ruff amongst the many Sharpies as my fourth new wader species  for Australia in as many days! Good place this Hexham Swamp….

First, the reason for our re-visit, taivana Eastern Yellow Wagtail – or for those who prefer it, Green-headed Yellow Wagtail

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And now for the ‘main event’ – Buff-breasted Sandpiper. First for the Hunter in a decade and thought to be only the eighth for Australia

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When seen in Europe or the States, this Sandpiper always appears rather placid – this individual however was frequently indulging in ‘threat’ behaviour towards the accompanying Sharpies

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From the somewhat worn state of the plumage and visible signs of moult, I assume that this individual is probably an adult moulting into winter plumage – happy to be corrected!

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Final new wader for Australia in less than a week, Ruff. It’s the larger bird, in the centre of the picture, with orange legs and a pale yellowish base to it’s bill

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Almost a crowd of NSW twitchers enjoying the Buff-breast – and Dan enjoying the moment!

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Queensland holiday photo Gallery

Here are a few holiday photos, taken on our recent ‘road trip’ and Burrum Heads holiday:

Australian Big Year Lister ‘tick’

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John Weigel, Australian champion Big Year lister

Yesterday morning – early of course – we assembled in MacDonald’s car park for another expedition into Hexham Swamp. The cause of this latest visit, Australia’s 8th Buff-breasted Sandpiper, observed there on Saturday by a couple of lucky birders. Several car-loads of Australia’s elite twitchers were assembled, including John Weigel who, in 2012, set a new national Big Year record of 745, eclipsing former record holder Sean Dooley’s total of 720 – this achievement being immortalised in his highly readable account, The Big Twitch. With just a year off, John is back on the trail, seeking to break the 750 barrier for the total number of species seen in Australia in a single year – he must be insane! Our modest efforts last year to see over 300 in the UK in a single year seemed demanding enough ( see ‘301 – and still counting’ December blog ) but the challenges of an Australian Big Year record breaking attempt are truly herculean!

‘Bottom line’ however was that the Buff-breast wasn’t seen, by John, us or anyone else for that matter! I did manage to rack-up a couple of Aussie ticks though, in the shape of Pectoral and Wood Sandpiper.

Wood Sandpiper – a scarce summer visitor to NSW

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Pectoral Sandpiper, defending it’s territory from a Sharpie.

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A couple of shots of Grey-tailed Tattler, in the roost at Stockton

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 Our return visit to  Stockton sand-spit, later in the afternoon, added another couple of species to the trip list, which currently stands at 228 – just another 522 to go then!!

 

Looking for Albert

Yesterday morning, on our way back south to Newcastle, we went looking for Albert – well his Lyrebird actually. The pristine mountain rain forests around Tamborine, are a good place for this shy and elusive species – so after another 4.30am start ( well more like 3.30, courtesy of the previous occupant of our motel room who had kindly set the alarm for us!) we were in position at the start of the Witches Falls trail for dawn. Right on cue an Albert’s Lyrebird began calling deep in the wooded valley below us. It was nearly an hour before we finally found it, sat high up in a tree and occasionally uttering it’s curious mix of whistles, tweets and gronks. Photography in rainforests at dawn is never an easy matter so, with this particularly elusive subject, I was tolerably pleased with the outcome:

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We also managed to add another rainforest ‘tick’, in the shape of Pale Yellow Robin and a trip tick -Wompoo Fruit-Dove. Not a bad return for our efforts.

We’re back in Newcastle this afternoon and awaiting the arrival, at the end of the week, of Joe & Gabi and Rob & Gi for a big Australia Day get together.

Mangrove Miscellany

Burrum Heads, where our rather splendid holiday house is located, sits at the mouth of the Burrum river with it’s shoreline edged with mangrove. This unique environment has it’s own particular bird life and over the past week we’ve managed to find most of it.

The Burrum estuary, with watchful Brahminy Kite

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The mangrove

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First of the mangrove specialities – Mangrove Gerygone

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Mangrove Honeyeater

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Fairy Gerygone – not exclusively a mangrove dweller

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Shining Flycatcher on the other hand certainly is. This elusive female was no compensation for the ‘eye-balling’ views we had of a male on the very day I forgot to put a card in my camera!

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Little Shrike-thrush – another elusive species

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Not a mangrove dweller particularly but Red-backed Fairy-Wren is always nice to see

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Finally, Dollar Bird, a summer migrant which is well distributed – we just happened to see this one near the mangrove!

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Three ‘life’ ticks in the mangrove – rather more mosquito bites!