On Thursday we had a big day out in the Hunter. We had left the house by 05.00 and didn’t return until nearly 11.00pm – visiting some of the most far-flung parts of the Hunter Bird Observers Club recording area. Our collective team efforts did not go unrewarded, with an impressive seven Hunter ticks – bringing my all-time total to 332. Most of the birds were either species on the extreme western edge of their range or birds with a particular habitat niche. Either way a lot of travelling was involved between ticks.
Yesterday was the Big Day – Dan’s 40th – but we began it in customary style but visiting woodlands in the Kurri Kurri / Cessnock area, to look for Regent Honeyeater. There are perhaps only around 250 – 300 wild birds left in the world and although there is an active captive breeding & release programme, this prince amongst honeyeaters remains on the brink of extinction. Thanks to a local birding friend they were reasonably easily located and safely observed. We saw at least half a dozen birds, including a fully fledged youngster and one of the two adult males recently fitted with a satellite tracker – in the hope that their still unknown wintering grounds might be located & protected.
By 3.00pm the birthday party was in full swing. It was a looong time before we could see the New Year in and fall into bed. A Happy 2022 to one and all.
Last time we were out here I managed to add a recent ‘split’ to my Aussie & Hunter list – Australian Gull-billed Tern, having been separated from Common Gull-billed Tern (Birdlife International). Yesterday we made our first visit to Stockton Sand-spit, in search of some waders. Although a number of the speciality waders were absent we still managed to add seven to the list. In amongst the godwit flock – mostly Bar-tailed with a few Black-tailed – were two terns. Turned out (pardon the pun) that they were one of each of the Gull-billed variety, with all of the distinguishing features being readily observable at close range. The Australian version being larger, paler backed, with distinct ‘highway-mans’ mask and symmetrical upper and lower mandible profile. Actually they look like two different birds!
Two shots, showing the open wing – first of the Australian, second the Common (which is an annual rarity in the Hunter)
Our first day free from covid restrictions was spent doing a circuit of the familiar Newcastle birding hotspots. What became increasingly apparent – due to the prevailing wet weather conditions, linked to El Nino, and changes in salinity on Hexham Swamp – is that there are very few waders about. Whereas, on previous trips, we may have seen hundreds of up to a dozen varieties, this time we’ve hardly seen any. Still, we did see some nice stuff, including Banded Lapwing – a specialist of the inland ‘lawn-turf’ fields and a more recent heron coloniser – the huge Jabiru or Black-necked Stork.
We’re in Australia to spend Christmas & New Year with Dan, Morgan & the Boys. Despite all the Omnicron uncertainty of the past few weeks we did manage to get a relatively trouble-free flight with Cathay Pacific on Tuesday, arriving 30 hours after departing from St. Neots. It did involve a lot of additional paper-work, pre-flight PCR’s, etc and it’s a long time to wear a face mask – but it does prove it’s possible! Having gone to bed at around midnight (in Australia) we were up early to get our first ‘test to release’ PCR, with results expected within 24-48 hours – certainly in plenty of time for us to enjoy a family Christmas meal in a Newcastle restaurant. As I write this, four days after the test, I’ve just got my results through – NEGATIVE! and an end to self-isolation. Although our Christmas dinner was a couple of sausage rolls, it’s been lovely to be here with the kids and we look forward to New Year’s Eve – celebrating Dan’s 40th. Still, on the birding front, it’s not been at all bad. Living literally across the street from a RAMSAR wetland has it’s advantages and we’ve manage to see / hear over 70 species so far – including three eagle species. Last night we did an impromptu survey of birds returning to the Wetlands Centre to roost. We counted over a thousand birds – mostly Great, Intermediate & Cattle Egret, Australian White Ibis, Royal Spoonbill and the smaller cormorants. Today, with our new-found freedom, we’re off in pursuit of my first Hunter tick!