Sunday, 3 May 2020

King Penguin accepted as 6th record for Australia

Take a bow king penguin!  It was fairly inevitable but still nice to get news today that the king penguin I saw on Bruny Island, Tasmania earlier in the year with Elaine has been accepted by Birdlife Australia and is just the 6th record for the country away from the breeding colonies on the sub-antarctic Macquarie and Heard Islands which are around 1500km away. I've said it before and I'll say it again, I'm not sure how I'll ever find a better bird than a vagrant king penguin. 1500km is a long way from home for a flightless bird.

Friday, 3 April 2020

Little Whimbrel Blakeney 1985: Connecting the past with the present

Little whimbrel, Blakeney harbour, Norfolk
24th August 1985 © David Cottridge.
In late August 1985 my dad and I set out for Norfolk for a long weekend birding. It was one of our favourite birding places and late August was a favourite time of year because it gave us the opportunity to see a few early autumn migrants whilst at the same time many of the summer birds would still be around. We booked into the White Horse Inn at Blakeney for the nights of 24th & 25th August. My dad must have been keen to go because 24th August was his wedding anniversary though that didn't really register too much with me at the time!

Back in 1985 the North Norfolk coast and in particular Cley-next-the-sea was still the epicenter of mainland birding in the UK. Bird information services were still in their infancy and Nancy's cafe was at the height of it's powers and nearby Walsey Hill was also an important source of information. In the mid 1980's it sometimes seemed that I spent every weekend with my mates in the autumn in this area and it turned into a really good social event. Sometimes we'd sleep in the car, sometimes a tent, other times in a B&B, very occasionally a hotel.

This was different though, this was with my dad and I expected the pace to be a bit more relaxed. Dad was a keen birder, he had been since at least his early twenties, but he didn't really do twitches and he was what I would call a selective birder, he didn't like seeing birds out of what he considered to be their proper context and for him the overall experience was everything not just seeing the bird. So for example he turned down the opportunity to come with me to see a juvenile great northern diver in the midlands because he wanted his first great northern to be a summer plumage bird in the Scottish Highlands. He did however love the North Norfolk coast, though the irony was not lost on him that many of the migrants we saw such as 1st winter barred warblers and ortolans were just the east coast equivalent of a juvenile great northern in the midlands, but this was different because the North Norfolk coast was meant to be full of migrants, that's what it was all about, that's what he wanted to experience and so in that respect they weren't out of context.

Thursday, 27 February 2020

Mammals Down Under

Photo: Platypus.
Mammals in Australia are a rich and diverse group which are amongst the most iconic of all Australian wildlife. Most of them are also endangered to one degree or another due to human activities such as land clearance, logging, the introduction of alien species (especially cats and foxes) and the effects of climate change. I've been down under a few times now and managed to rack up a fairly decent list of mammals and cetaceans but it's certainly not as easy as the first time visitor might imagine.

Although Australian mammals might seem large and obvious 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. So 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. In total I have seen 41 species of mammal in Australia.

Thursday, 13 February 2020

My full Australian list to date

Photo: King Penguin, Bruny Island, Tasmania.
This is a full list 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 375 species so far.

Location with number of birds seen in brackets
King Penguin
Bruny Island TAS (1) – Accepted by BirdLife Australia Rarities Committee as the 6th record for Australia way from the breeding colonies on the sub-antarctic Macquarie and Heard Islands.
Little Penguin
Bicheno TAS (2), Bruny Island TAS (1), Tasman Peninsula, Eaglehawk Neck TAS (1), Melbourne, St Kilda VIC (20), Phillip Island VIC (1)
Snowy Albatross
Port Fairy, Pelagic VIC (2)
Gibson's Wandering Albatross
Port Fairy, Pelagic VIC (1)
Northern Royal Albatross
Port Fairy, Pelagic VIC (1)
Shy Albatross
Bicheno TAS (10), Freycinet NP, Friendly Beaches TAS (2), Freycinet NP, Wineglass Bay TAS (2), Tasman Peninsula, Eaglehawk Neck TAS (3), Port Fairy, Pelagic VIC (100), Cape Leeuwin WA (1)
Campbell Albatross
Port Fairy, Pelagic VIC (1)
Black-browed Albatross
Sydney, at sea NSW (1), Port Fairy, Pelagic VIC (2)
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross
Port Fairy, Pelagic VIC (1), Cape Leeuwin WA (3)
Buller's Albatross
Bicheno TAS (10)
Northern Giant-Petrel
Port Fairy, Pelagic VIC (10)

Observations of Australian birds and mammals by state and location

Here's a full list of the 375 bird species and 41 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 (10), Red-whiskered Bulbul (10), Satin Bowerbird (2), Sulphur-crested Cockatoo (50), Welcome Swallow (20), White-browed Scrubwren (10), White-throated Treecreeper (2)
Australasian Gannet (2), Australasian Grebe (2), Australasian Swamphen (50), Australian Darter (2), Australian Magpie (6), Australian Pelican (8), Australian Raven (5), Australian White Ibis (300), Australian Wood Duck (30), Black Swan (20), Black-browed Albatross (1), Caspian Tern (1), Channel-billed Cuckoo (1), Chestnut Teal (10), Common Myna (50), Coot (200), Cormorant (2), Crested Pigeon (10), Crested Tern (2), Dusky Moorhen (30), Fairy Martin (15), Fluttering Shearwater (500), Grey Butcherbird (2), Hardhead (100), House Sparrow (1), Intermediate Egret (3), Kelp Gull (2), Laughing Kookaburra (2), Little Black Cormorant (15), Little Pied Cormorant (20), Little Raven (1), Magpie-lark (10), Masked Lapwing (20), Nankeen Kestrel (1), New Holland Honeyeater (10), Noisy Miner (50), Pacific Black Duck (4), Peregrine (1), Pied Cormorant (4), Pied Currawong (5), Rainbow Lorikeet (30), Red Wattlebird (3), Short-tailed Shearwater (200), Silver Gull (1000), Spotted Dove (5), Starling (50), Sulphur-crested Cockatoo (20), Superb Fairy-wren (10), 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), Australasian Swamphen (2), 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), 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 February 2020

My full New Zealand list to date

Photo: New Zealand Storm Petrel, Hauraki Gulf.
This is a full list of all of the species which I have seen in New Zealand so far with location and maximum number of birds seen at each location in brackets. In total 110 species so far.

Locations with number of birds seen in brackets
Great Spotted Kiwi
Otira, South Island (1)
Little Spotted Kiwi
Tiritiri Matangi, North Island (2)
Okarito Brown Kiwi
Okarito, South Island (3)
Little Penguin
Hauraki Gulf Pelagic, North Island (5), Muriwai Headland, North Island (1), Tiritiri Matangi, North Island (1), Banks Peninsula, Akaroa, South Island (10)
Gibson's Wandering Albatross
Kaikoura, Whale Watching Trip, South Island (1)
Northern Royal Albatross
Kaikoura, Whale Watching Trip, South Island (1)
Southern Royal Albatross
Kaikoura, South Island (1)
White-capped Albatross
Hauraki Gulf Pelagic, North Island (1), Kaikoura, South Island (1)
Salvin's Albatross
Kaikoura, South Island (3), Kaikoura, Whale Watching Trip, South Island (2)
Northern Giant-Petrel
Kaikoura, South Island (2), Kaikoura, Whale Watching Trip, South Island (10)
Fairy Prion
Hauraki Gulf Pelagic, North Island (100)
Fluttering Shearwater
Gulf Harbour, North Island (20), Hauraki Gulf Pelagic, North Island (5), Banks Peninsula, Akaroa, South Island (500)
Hutton's Shearwater
Banks Peninsula, Akaroa, South Island (100), Kaikoura, South Island (3000), Kaikoura, Whale Watching Trip, South Island (1)
Short-tailed Shearwater
Kaikoura, Whale Watching Trip, South Island (2)
Flesh-footed Shearwater
Hauraki Gulf Pelagic, North Island (100)
Sooty Shearwater
Hauraki Gulf Pelagic, North Island (1), Banks Peninsula, Akaroa, South Island (5), Te Waewae Bay, South Island (10000)
White-faced Storm-Petrel
Hauraki Gulf Pelagic, North Island (100)
New Zealand Storm-Petrel
Hauraki Gulf Pelagic, North Island (10)
Cape Petrel
Kaikoura, Whale Watching Trip, South Island (2)
Westland Petrel
Kaikoura, Whale Watching Trip, South Island (2)
Black Petrel
Hauraki Gulf Pelagic, North Island (2)
Buller's Shearwater
Banks Peninsula, Akaroa, South Island (5)
Cook's Petrel
Hauraki Gulf Pelagic, North Island (100)
White-naped Petrel
Hauraki Gulf Pelagic, North Island (1)
Common Diving-Petrel
Hauraki Gulf Pelagic, North Island (10)
Australasian Gannet
Gulf Harbour, North Island (5), Hauraki Gulf Pelagic, North Island (80), Muriwai Headland, North Island (3000), Kaikoura, South Island (10), Picton, South Island (1)

Saturday, 8 February 2020

Return to the Great Ocean Road

Photo: Rufous Bristlebird.
For the last couple of days of our wonderful five week trip downunder we decided to head for the Great Ocean Road which lies just west of Melbourne. It's a spectacular place which is rightly high on the agenda for tourists to the area, with the Twelve Apostles in particular drawing the crowds, with a visitor center and a set up not too dissimilar to Stonehenge in the UK. For me it was an opportunity to try again for a bird which is a specialty of this coast but which eluded me on my previous visit.

Friday, 7 February 2020

A few endemics from Tasmania

Photo: Strong-billed Honeyeater.
Tasmania has 12 endemic bird species of which I managed to connect with 11 during my visit. The only one I didn't get was the species with the most restricted range, 40-spot pardolete.

Thursday, 6 February 2020

On the Snow Gum trail to the Rodway Hut, Mount Field

Photo: Alpine bog.
Mount Field National Park is in the south of Tasmania and only about 50 miles from Hobart. It's a fabulous place for plant communities and in the very limited time we had available we were hardly able to even scratch the surface. We began our day in the temperate rain forest which surrounds the visitor center with it's huge swamp gum trees and tree ferns, then made our way to the start of our walk at Lake Dobson. From here we walked through the amazing twisted and knarled snow gum forest to our destination above the tree line on a board walk which crosses sub-alpine bogs to the Rodway Hut.

Tuesday, 4 February 2020

Cradle Mountain, Plants and Ecosystems

Photo: Christmas Bells Blandfordia nobilis 
with Crater Lake behind.
This was my first visit to Cradle Mountain National Park and I was blown away by the variety of plant species and the variety and vastness of the ecosystems. In particular the alpine plateau above Crater Lake when following the Horse track with it's views over Cradle Mountain and Barn Bluff is just a mesmerising place, with a myriad of bryophytes, pin cushions and other alpine specialists. This is a habitat quite unlike anything that I have seen in Australia previously. I don't claim to be an expert in either the ecosystems or the plants of Cradle Mountain, the photos in this post are just a few which caught my eye. I'll do my best to identify them but it might be a long process so be patient!

Wombats, Pademelons and Possums

Cradle Mountain is a great place to see wombats and we saw several today, including this adult  with a baby. They seem larger and more fury in Tasmania than those I have seen elsewhere in Australia.

Black Currawong

Currawongs are part of the butcherbird family of Australia. Black currawong is one of about 12 bird species which are endemic to Tasmania. Of all the currawongs, this species has the most impressive bill!

Monday, 3 February 2020

Buller's Albatross, Bicheno

I managed to persuade Elaine to have one last stop at Bicheno just north of Coles Bay today. I knew that strong north easterly winds gave me a good chance of Buller's albatross from Bicheno blow hole and I wasn't wrong. Even as we drove down to the car park I could see albatross over the sea and as soon as I started scanning I counted one, two, three....twenty at least! A fabulous sight to see so many albatross from land, but which species where they? Not too difficult to work out really, by far the most likely inshore species at this time of year are shy albatross with a pure white head and Buller's albatross with a grey hood. You can clearly see in the photo that this bird has a grey head and is Buller's albatross. Yes it could be Salvin's or grey-headed but they are quite rare here and usually seen far out to sea over deep waters, whereas Buller's is common here at this time of year and is often seen inshore. Today there were about 10 each of Buller's and shy albatross intermingled with about 30 Australian gannets and it was a real pleasure to watch them. This brings my albatross life list to 11 species, not bad at all.


We saw at least five duck-billed platypus at Tasmanian Arboretum today. These and echidnas are my favourite mammal and a major reason for me to keep returning to Aus. We even saw the platypus swimming under water. Speaking of echidna, we saw three on our journey from Coles Bay to our accomodation at West Kentish.

Sunday, 2 February 2020

White-throated needletails, Freycinet National Park

Elaine wanted to spend some time on the beach today, so in the afternoon we headed for Friendly beaches about 10 miles north of Coles Bay in Freycinet National Park. What a beautiful beach, forget Wineglass Bay beach, Friendly beaches are much nicer. So while Elaine relaxed on the beach and soaked up some rays, I had a walk down the beach, found a good viewpoint and did an impromptu seawatch.

Most birds were distant, but there were a few Australian gannets and fluttering shearwaters close in and occasional Caspian and crested terns flew past.  I was hoping for Buller's albatross but had to be content with two reasonably close shy albatross. I never tire of seeing these birds but still, it was all a bit predictable.

After an hour I headed back to Elaine. When I got about halfway back I stopped and looked towards her with my binoculars to check that she was still there and BOOM, two white-throated needletails were flying right above her! Now I was hurrying back, because this was a species which I had been hoping to see in Australia ever since my very first visit in 2015. This is the holy grail species on the very rare occasions it turns up in the UK and the chances of me seeing one back home are very remote, so this was my opportunity to observe them. The needletails disappeared briefly inland but then suddenly reappeared over the beach, unfortunately a little too close to a group of bikini clad Chinese girls who were also enjoying the beach for me to feel comfortable in pointing my camera at them. Again they disappeared inland with incredible power and speed, they were like swifts on steroids. Eventually though they reappeared right over my head and allowed me to watch them for a few minutes before they disappeared for good.

Echidna, Freycinet National Park

On our way to Friendly Beaches today we came across this wonderful echinda. They really are one of my favourite mammals, how can you not love that face? Tasmanian echidnas have a lot more fur than their mainland cousins, probably because Tasmania is a lot colder and frequently gets snow.

Saturday, 1 February 2020

A corpse at Wineglass Bay

The walk to Wineglass Bay lookout from Coles Bay in Freycinet National Park is a pleasant enough walk and a popular tourist stop. The views are pretty good from the lookout and most people stop here but a few continue the walk down to the beach as we did today. A quick scan of the sea produced shearwaters (fluttering) and gannets (Australian) but really these are just southern hemisphere versions of Manx shearwater and northern gannet and this could just as easily be a scene from north Wales. What really makes these waters stand out is the presence of albatross. Now you know that you are in the southern hemisphere. Shy albatross is the species most likely to be seen from land in Tasmania at this time of year, but tantalisingly for me, Buller's albatross is the second commonest inshore species here, and this would be a new species for me so I took every opportunity to scan the sea.

No Buller's today, I had to be content with several shy albatross, but still a marvelous sight. Sadly, on the beach there was the washed up corpse of an albatross. It was a shy albatross, the largest of a group of albatrosses known as mollyhawks which are the lesser albatrosses. These have 2.5m wingspan. The great albatrosses, such as the wanderers, have wingspans of 3.5m.

Friday, 31 January 2020

Tasmanian Devil

Unbelievably tonight we saw a wild Tasmanian devil at the side of the road just outside the town of Bicheno. When planning the holiday I had no expectation what-so-ever of finding a wild individual for myself because they are nocturnal and have become so rare these days. The irony was that when we saw it we were returning to our campsite from an organised trip to see the species which had disappointingly turned out to be not much more than feeding time at the zoo. Nothing was wild and the devil's were fed a shot wallaby. Quite interesting but also a bit gruesome.

Tassie devils have declined by around 90% over the past few years due to a highly contagious facial cancer and this zoo is one of several around Tasmania which is trying to keep a cancer free population while scientists look for a cure, so in that respect they're doing a great job and more power to them. However it wasn't really for me, watching a wallaby being torn to pieces by a pack of devils with no table manners whilst we looked on and were served cheese and wine, almost like Romans at the Colosseum. Following that experience I can't say that they are my favourite animal but I guess if you watch a pack of wild dogs or cats feed that's not too pleasant either. However to see a truly wild individual was just fantastic and it will live long in the memory.

Thursday, 30 January 2020

Tasman Peninsula

We had a trip to the Tasman Peninsula today which was generally pretty disappointing. Eaglehawk Neck was good but Port Arthur was a waste of time, not what I expected at all. One or two birds of interest though, including several yellow-tailed black cockatoos. I always enjoy seeing any of the black cockatoos and these birds showed particularly well.

Wednesday, 29 January 2020

King Penguin, Bruny Island, Tasmania

"Let's go for a walk on the beach" said Elaine so we stopped at the first pull in we came across, walked down to the beach and the first bird I saw, standing alone about 50m from us right in the middle of the beach was a stunning adult king penguin! It was as straight forward as that. Just another day on Bruny Island, Tasmania. Incredible!

To say I'm still in a state of shock is an understatement. An adult king penguin? What are the odds of that? What an incredible bird.

There were a few tourists already watching it but they all seemed well behaved and gave it space. The bird seemed perfectly relaxed and appeared to be in good health.