Wednesday, 1 January 2020

Down Under 2020 update

Photo: Kaka.
We are currently in the process of planning another trip to Australia and New Zealand which will happen at the beginning of 2020. Still early days and the itinerary might change a little, but the plan at the moment is as follows:
  • Singapore 3 days
  • New Zealand (South Island) 17 days
  • Tasmania 11 days
  • Melbourne 2 days
On all of our previous trips down under we have simply flown Etihad and changed at Abu Dhabi in the shortest possible time in order to get to our destination as soon as possible. This time we decided to have a change and visit Singapore for a few days. It breaks the journey, allows us to experience a different culture and gives us the opportunity to see a lot of new birds. In fact in someways the latter is a disadvantage because there's a whole suite of different birds to get to grips with! Still, it will keep me busy over the next few months.....

Wednesday, 12 June 2019

Parrots, Lorikeets, Corellas, Rosellas and Cockatoos

Photo: Rainbow lorikeets.
Parrots, lorikeets, corellas, rosellas and cockatoos include some of the most showy, noisy and colourful of all of the bird species in Australia, whilst other species are rare, timid and evasive. The calls of these birds provide a constant soundtrack to any visit to Australia and there are a few endemic species in New Zealand.

Monday, 18 March 2019

Honeyeaters and bottlebrushes

Photo: New Holland Honeyeater.
There are 76 species of honeyeater in Australia forming the largest family of Australian passerines. They occur all over the continent and are specialist nectar feeders, often feeding on Callistemon sp., also known as bottlebrush, a genus which itself comprises around 50 species all of which are endemic to Australia. Honeyeaters also occur in other parts of the south west Pacific including two species in New Zealand. This post is a celebration of some of the fabulous honeyeaters I have seen on my travels down under, with a nod to the bottlebrushes as well!

Monday, 17 December 2018

Observations of Australian birds and mammals by state and location

Here's a full list of the 320 bird species and 30 mammal species I've seen so far in Australia, grouped by state and location. The numbers in brackets are the maximum number of individuals I have seen at each location.

Species seen with maximum numbers in brackets
Blue Mountains
Australian Magpie (10), Australian Raven (1), Australian Wood Duck (2), Bell Miner (20), Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike (1), Brown Thornbill (2), Common Myna (30), Crescent Honeyeater (1), Crimson Rosella (20), Eastern Spinebill (1), Fan-tailed Cuckoo (1), Galah (10), Golden Whistler (5), Grey Fantail (1), Lewin's Honeyeater (1), Magpie-lark (1), Masked Lapwing (1), Pacific Black Duck (2), Peregrine (1), Pied Currawong (10), Red Wattlebird (2), Red-whiskered Bulbul (10), Satin Bowerbird (2), Sulphur-crested Cockatoo (50), Welcome Swallow (20), White-browed Scrubwren (5), White-throated Treecreeper (2)
Australasian Gannet (2), Australasian Grebe (2), Australian Darter (2), Australian Magpie (6), Australian Pelican (8), Australian Raven (5), Australian White Ibis (50), Australian Wood Duck (30), Black Swan (6), Black-browed Albatross (1), Caspian Tern (1), Channel-billed Cuckoo (1), Chestnut Teal (2), Common Myna (50), Coot (50), Cormorant (2), Crested Pigeon (5), Crested Tern (2), Dusky Moorhen (5), Fairy Martin (5), Fluttering Shearwater (500), Grey Butcherbird (2), Hardhead (50), House Sparrow (1), Intermediate Egret (3), Kelp Gull (2), Laughing Kookaburra (2), Little Black Cormorant (2), Little Pied Cormorant (20), Little Raven (1), Magpie-lark (4), Masked Lapwing (3), Nankeen Kestrel (1), New Holland Honeyeater (5), Noisy Miner (50), Pacific Black Duck (4), Peregrine (1), Pied Cormorant (4), Pied Currawong (5), Purple Gallinule (50), Rainbow Lorikeet (30), Red Wattlebird (3), Short-tailed Shearwater (200), Silver Gull (50), Spotted Dove (5), Starling (50), Sulphur-crested Cockatoo (8), Superb Fairy-wren (5), Wedge-tailed Shearwater (500), Welcome Swallow (50), White-browed Scrubwren (3), White-faced Heron (1), Willie Wagtail (2), Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoo (5)

Mammals: Humpback whale, Indo-Pacific Bottlenose dolphin, New Zealand fur seal, grey-headed flying-fox

Key locations: Sydney botanic gardens, Centennial Park, Watson Bay, whale watching trip.

Atherton Tablelands
Australasian Figbird (30), Australian Brush-turkey (3), Australian Pelican (5), Black Kite (50), Black-faced Monarch (2), Brown Treecreeper (1), Coot (20), Dusky Honeyeater (2), Eastern Cattle Egret (50), Golden Whistler (5), Great Crested Grebe (50), Large-billed Gerygone (10), Laughing Kookaburra (3), Little Eagle (1), Magpie-lark (5), Mistletoebird (1), Olive-backed Sunbird (2), Pacific Black Duck (6), Pied Currawong (2), Purple Gallinule (2), Rainbow Lorikeet (50), Silvereye (1), Spangled Drongo (3), Spotted Harrier (1), Sulphur-crested Cockatoo (10), Varied Triller (1), Whistling Kite (1)

Mammals: Duck-billed platypus, Eastern grey kangaroo

Key locations: Yungaburra

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

My full Australian list to date

Photo: Brown falcon.
This is a full list in alphabetical order of all of the species which I have seen in Australia so far with location and maximum number of birds seen at each location in brackets. In total 320 species so far.

Location with number of birds seen in brackets
Arctic Skua
Port Fairy, Pelagic VIC (2)
Australasian Figbird
Atherton Tablelands QLD (30), Brisbane, Banks Street Reserve QLD (1), Brisbane, City QLD (1), Cairns, Esplanade QLD (10), Noosa QLD (1), Port Douglas QLD (30)
Australasian Gannet
Sydney, at sea NSW (2), Fraser Island QLD (2), Noosa, Noosa Headland QLD (10), Coffin Bay, Coffin Bay National Park SA (10), Fisherman's Bluff SA (3), Fishery Bay SA (2), Lincoln National Park, Jussieu Peninsula SA (10), Port Lincoln SA (2), Port Lincoln, Axel Stenross maritime museum SA (2), Port Lincoln, Billy Lights Point SA (11), Port Lincoln, Parnkalla trail SA (15), Port Lincoln, Rock Beach SA (1), Sleaford Bay  SA (50), Whalers Way SA (1), Melbourne, Port Melbourne VIC (15), Melbourne, St Kilda VIC (1), Phillip Island VIC (2), Port Fairy, Pelagic VIC (400), Fremantle to Rottnest ferry WA (2)
Australasian Grebe
Sydney, Centennial Park NSW (2), Bauple QLD (2), Brisbane, Biami Yumba Park and Fig Tree Pocket QLD (2), Brisbane, Dowse Lagoon QLD (20), Hervey Bay QLD (10), Hervey Bay, Arkarra Wetlands QLD (2), Hervey Bay, Booral Road QLD (1), Kin Kin QLD (1), Noosa, Botanic Gardens QLD (1), Noosa, Jabiru Park QLD (25), Port Douglas QLD (1), Port Lincoln, Billy Lights Point SA (1), Bellarine Peninsula, Jerringot Wetlands VIC (5), Lara, Serendip Reserve VIC (3), Melbourne, Royal Botanical Gardens VIC (1), Melbourne, Westgate Park VIC (2), Werribee, Western Treatment Plant VIC (4), Perth, Herdsman Lake WA (50), Perth, Lake Monger Reserve WA (50)
Australasian Shoveler
Brisbane, Dowse Lagoon QLD (4), Noosa, Jabiru Park QLD (5), Big Swamp SA (20), Port Lincoln, Billy Lights Point SA (10), Bellarine Peninsula, Jerringot Wetlands VIC (1), Werribee, Western Treatment Plant VIC (50), Perth, Herdsman Lake WA (30), Perth, Lake Monger Reserve WA (5)
Australian Brush-turkey
Atherton Tablelands QLD (3), Brisbane, Banks Street Reserve QLD (10), Brisbane, Biami Yumba Park and Fig Tree Pocket QLD (1), Brisbane, Lone Pine Koala Sanctury QLD (10), Brisbane, Plantation Redhill QLD (2), Daintree, Mossman Gorge QLD (1), Hervey Bay, Burrum Heads QLD (1), Kuranda QLD (2), Noosa, Noosa Headland QLD (2), Seventeen Seventy QLD (4), Seventeen Seventy, Campsite QLD (5)

Saturday, 8 December 2018

Encounters with monotremes, marsupials and other Australian mammals

Photo: Echidna.
In many respects it is the mammals rather than the birds which draw me back to Australia. The birds of course are many and varied and are always a pleasure to see, but it is the mammals which make Australia so unique. At the time of writing I've visited Australia on three occasions and spent a combined total of 12 weeks in the country and only now does it feel like I've seen a decent selection of iconic species. Although Australian mammals might seem large and obvious, I can vouch for the fact that they are often very difficult to see. They're often not particularly shy, but many of them are far more restricted by range than you might imagine and many are nocturnal. For example, there's no point in looking for platypus, wombat or koala if you visit Perth because you're at least 2700km outside their range and the only chance of seeing them is in a zoo.

Sunday, 2 December 2018

In the company of giants and lyrebirds

The temperate rainforest to the north and east of Melbourne is dominated by mountain ash Eucalyptus regnans which is the tallest flowering plant and 2nd tallest tree in the world and occurs naturally only in Victoria and Tasmania. The forest also has an interesting understory which includes some very prehistoric looking tree ferns. It really would be easy to imagine dinosaurs living in a place like this and in fact they still do because there are many interesting birds about even if they are often frustratingly difficult to see.

Take the superb lyrebird for example. This is a noisy species which looks a bit like a small pheasant and has a spectacular display. Should be easy enough to see you might think. Well no, at least not for me. I've looked (and listened) for them on several occasions in the past without success. Until today. Josh and I were walking through Sherbrooke Forest in the Dandenong Range, accessed from Grants picnic site when we heard the song of a whipbird. There was a guy without binoculars about 50m ahead of us standing and listening too. When we got up to him he casually announced "the lyrebird is just through that gap singing"...... and sure enough, there it was, a male lyrebird in full view singing away mimicking a whipbird! Perhaps that's why I haven't heard any in the past, because I thought they were something else. We watched and listened for five minutes before it wandered off and out of view. Fortunately though this wasn't the end of our lyrebird experience for the day, it proved to be  just a foretaste of what was to come.

Friday, 30 November 2018

Werribee Water Treatment Plant, back for seconds (and thirds!)

Back in Melbourne for a week and the obvious thing to do was to get the key to allow me access to Werribee Western Treatment Plant again. I mean it is rated one of the best wetland sites in Australia so crazy not to go again, and it worked out pretty well actually, the first two weeks I was there I only saw one new species for my Aussie list, yet this week I managed to add several. Key to this success was finally working out where Crake Pond was, and this provided me with not only with about four Australian spotted crakes and three Baillon's crakes, but also a pectoral sandpiper and nearby an Australian hobby. In the final analysis, Werribee WTP provided me with 103 species during my stay in Melbourne.

Seeing southern emu-wrens

One of the highlights of my holiday from a birding point of view was finally seeing southern emu-wrens. I didn't get any photos of the birds for reasons I will explain, but it was such a great experience that it's worth recounting.

I'd heard that there were southern emu-wrens on Anglesea Heath at the start of the Great Ocean Road and decided it was worth a look, if for no other reason than it was somewhere new to visit. I headed for a small and little known botanical reserve called the Mary D White reserve which lies about 1km west of Anglesea and is accessed from the Guvvos beach car park. I had spent about an hour in the area and seen a few superb fairy-wrens and best of all a new species of honeyeater for me, white-eared, but was starting to lose hope with the emu-wrens. I'd looked for them before around Port Lincoln without a sniff of the birds and this looked like it would be a repeat no-show.

Then suddenly I heard the faintest of calls, a high pitched steet. Was it and insect, was it a bird? Surely an insect, it appeared to be in the vegetation almost under my feet! I waited patiently for several minutes, hearing the call again occasionally and eventually started catching glimpses of a very small bird moving through the undergrowth right alongside me. Eventually I realised that there were about five birds close by, and finally I got an excellent view of a stunning male with sandy brown plumage and bright pale blue throat and long tail. A stunning little bird. Not surprising that I'd found them so difficult in the past if I could initially not see them in vegetation that barely covered my shoes! And then they were gone, not to be seen or heard again.

Sunday, 25 November 2018

Bellarine Peninsula

So back in Australia and I found myself some decent self catering accommodation in Werribee and then contacted Melbourne Water and managed to get hold of the required key for the rest of the week. However, not wanting to spend all of my remaining time at the water treatment plant, today I decided to visit the Bellarine Peninsula near Geelong and about 110km south west of Melbourne CBD. It's a really impressive place full of great birds, impressive wetlands and glorious beaches.

However the first place I visited on the way to Ballarine was Jerringot Wetlands in the city of Geelong where I managed to see a few Latham's snipes which were new for me. This is a species which breeds in Japan and spends the northern hemisphere winter in Australia.

Saturday, 24 November 2018

Return to Aus!

Great to be back in Aus after a brief visit to North Island, New Zealand, and one of the most obvious differences are the very visible Australian mammals which help make the country so special to me.

Friday, 23 November 2018

The Muriwai Australasian Gannet Colony

I cut short my visit to Tiritiri by a day in order to make sure that I got to Muriwai before I left New Zealand. I've been to gannet colonies before at places like Bass Rock, St Kilda, Noss, Fair Isle, Herma Ness and Flamborough Head and I wanted to see how this compared. I was not disappointed.

It might not have the numbers of birds, just a couple of thousand pairs I believe, but still really impressive.

Thursday, 22 November 2018

The Sadness of Tiritiri Matangi

I spent five days in New Zealand and didn't see a single native passerine except those that I saw on Tiritiri Matangi, a fact which I find very depressing. It appears that he only way large parts of terrestrial native wildlife can survive in New Zealand is by uprooting it and moving it to a completely managed island and removing all alien pests. It was on Tiritiri, an apparent idyllic paradise that the first seeds of doubt were sown in my mind.

Tuesday, 20 November 2018

Hauraki Gulf Pelagic

New Zealand storm petrel
Another awesome pelagic trip today, this time into the Hauraki Gulf, North Island, New Zealand. Completely different to the pelagic I had with Josh on Sunday, but just as good. Whereas Sunday was about albatrosses and whales, today was about petrels, especially New Zealand storm petrel. This is a species which for 180 years was considered extinct until the people who run this pelagic rediscovered it and today I saw about 10.

Monday, 19 November 2018

Wrybill at Miranda

I had an enjoyable visit to Miranda today, if a little frustrating because I got my timings all wrong and arrived at low tide rather than high tide and then had a six hour wait for the action to begin. Eventually though it did begin and in amongst the thousands of bar-tailed godwits, knot and other waders, at least 47 wrybill.  This is an iconic New Zealand endemic, with a bizzare bill which bends to the right of the bird. Also today, white-fronted terns, New Zealand Dotterel and pied stilts, which included at least one pied x black stilt hybrid.

Sunday, 18 November 2018

Wanderer at 6 o'clock!

Photo: Snowy albatross.
"Wanderer at 6 o'clock!", the cry went up and sent shivers down my spine. This was the moment I had been dreaming of for years, the appearance of a great albatross during a southern ocean pelagic. We'd been at sea for six hours, we were 35 miles offshore from Port Fairy, Victoria, over the edge of the continental shelf and the sea bed was nearly a kilometer below us. We'd seen many albatrosses already, but they were all of the smaller type, in this region often referred to as molyhawks. Four species in fact, shy, black-browed, Indian yellow-nosed and Campbell albatross, all with wingspans of 2.5m or less.

The new arrival was considerably bigger, a wandering albatross with a wingspan of up to 3.5m, the longest of any living bird. This awesome and majestic bird glided past the boat without a single flap of the wings, dwarfing the nearby molyhawks and taking my breath away. Over the next hour or so the bird stayed with us and was joined by an immature bird, as well as two other species of great albatross.

Saturday, 17 November 2018

Koalas on the Great Ocean Road

On our way to Port Fairy from Melbourne for a pelagic, we decided that it was too good an opportunity to pass up on the Great Ocean Road. Really beautiful scenary, if a little busy at the Twelve Apostles. My favourite stop was at Kennett River where we saw about 20 koalas, some with babies, a tawny frogmouth with a baby and several Australian king parrots.

Friday, 16 November 2018

Long Forest

White-plumed honeyeater

Long Forest is about 30 miles north west of Melbourne and is an area of gum tree and eucalyptus scrub known as mallee. I visited it today just to try to get a few new species on the list and to check out a new area. In the end I added three new species, white-plumed honeyeater, buff-rumped thornbill and best of all speckled warbler. It's an interesting area with lots of potential and well worth a look for any birder in the Melbourne area.

Westgate Park, Melbourne

Hoary-headed grebe

I "discovered" Westgate Park today. Its a couple of pools and some scrub  below the Westgate bridge in Port Melbourne. I was surprised at how good it was for birds, I recorded 37 species in a couple of hours. I was particularly pleased to be able to get some half decent photos of hoary-headed grebe, a species I have struggled with in the past. Westgate park is obviously not in the same league as the Western Treatment Plant, but if you're in Melbourne for a day or two with limited birding time available, it's a decent place to visit.

Thursday, 15 November 2018

Dandenong Range

The Dandenong Range lies just to the east of Melbourne and offers an opportunity to visit temperate rain forest within easy reach of the city. Huge Australian mountain ash trees, which are actually a type of eucalyptus, are the largest flowering plant in the world and there are prehistoric tree ferns which grow up to 12m. Birding is always difficult in this type of habitat and today was no exception, but there are a few decent birds here.