Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Norah Head

Streaked Shearwater
Standing on the dock in miserable weather before a Pelagic trip, birders often reassure each other with the aphorism "The worse the weather, the better the birds". Well the weather could not have been worse this past weekend, and the birds were excellent.

At Norah Head on the Central Coast a female and a juvenile Lesser Frigatebird, two Streaked Shearwater, three Bullers Shearwater, large numbers of Fluttering Shearwater, 4 Short-tailed Shearwater, thousands of Wedge-tailed Shearwater, groups of Sooty Terns totalling around 100 birds, three Australian Gannet, and six Little Tern.

Watchers at Nobby's saw similar birds, as well as a White-necked Petrel and a Tahiti Petrel. At Mistral Point, Maroubra, four Long-tailed Jaegers were also seen, while at Port Macquarie they added a Brown Booby and Arctic Jaegers to the list. Black Noddy and Common Noddy were seen at a couple of loacations. Thirty Bridled Tern and a Roseate Tern were observed at Flat Rock East Ballina, both sightings to be reported to ORAC.

While many of these birds were far out to sea, good numbers were in close, even flying over the coastal roads and circling the parking lots.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Tuggerah Wetlands

Red-kneed Dotterel
The Central Coast Group of Birding NSW  visited McPherson Road Swamp and Pioneer Dairy yesterday. Arriving at the swamp there were Dollar Birds perched on the wires and two Whipbirds wresting on the ground under dense shrubs. Golden-headed Cisticolas and Tawny Grassbirds called from the reeds, and Superb Fairywrens scolded from the bushes along the track.

Tawny Grassbird
A resident in one of the houses overlooking the water had a bird feeder on the fence, which had attracted numbers of Chestnut-breasted Manikin and Red-browed Finch.

Chestnut-breasted Manikin
Cattle Egret,  Eastern Great Egret and an Intermediate Egret fished along the shore. Amongst the more common ducks was a Hardhead, but sign of the Pink-eared Duck sighted there recently.

We flushed three Brown Quail, and watched two Latham's Snipe take off from nearby for safer locations on the far side of the water. Several Black-fronted Dotterel were content to stay put.

Latham's Snipe
Black-fronted Dotterel
At Pioneer Dairy there were good numbers of ibis, spoonbills, egrets, moorhens, swamp hens and ducks. Channel-billed Cuckoos and Figbirds flew to and from the giant fig trees. Raptors included Australian Kestrel and White-bellied Sea Eagle. A lone Australian Pipit his in the grass. Perhaps the 'bird of the day' was a substantial flock of Plumed Whistling Duck.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

San Diego Botanic Gardens

Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Family or group vacations are usually fraught with indecision and guilt for birdwatchers - how do you get away for a few hours on your own, how do you explain the attraction, and how do you compensate for abandoning the group?

Canyon Towhee
Staying with my son in Orange County, he came up with the perfect compromise. He usually goes on a lengthy cycle ride when he has a free weekend, and suggested that I drive to a birding location somewhere in a 80 to 100 mile radius, and he would ride. That gave me several hours to bird, before we met up for lunch and travelled home together in the car. The first of these outings was to the San Diego Botanic Gardens, in Encinitas, CA. While it is relatively small, there trails offer about four miles of walking and the diverse topography allows for distinct ecosystems from desert to coastal sage, to rainforest.

It was great to see a hummingbird in the Australian Garden - I've planted a large number of hummingbird attracting plants in my Toukley garden without attracting a single one! But the highlight for me was watching a tiny inconspicuous brown bird for some time, and then seeing its suprising red crest when a second bird flew into the tree, a Ruby-crowned Kinglet.

Black Phoebe

Bush Tit

White-crowned Sparrow

Succulent Mariachi Band

Allen's Hummingbird in a Banksia
Orange-crowned Warbler

Bird List

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Stone the crows!

Australian Raven Corvus coronoides
I was watching a group of birds playing what seemed to be a special bird game in the samphire on Ash Island when a car pulled up beside me and the driver asked "You watching the ravens?" - immediately identifying himself as a serious birder. For to the general public in Australia all big black birds are crows. There are three species of raven in Australia, and two resident crows, but to give Joe Public his due it is not always easy to tell them apart, and Joe can be forgiven for giving up and just calling them all crows.

In general the ravens are bigger than crows, except that the Torresian Crow is bigger than the Little Raven. Ravens have throat hackles and crows don't, although the Forest Raven's hackles are so slight as to be unnoticeable. The Little Crow and the Forest Raven have deep baritone calls, the Australian Raven a more high pitched note ending in a mournful wail. All of them have brown eyes in their first year and white eyes on maturity. The Australian Raven doesn't exhibit wing flicking while calling, but then nor do the Torresian Crow or Little Crow, while the Little Raven and Forest Raven do. Ravens have grey bases to their feathers, while crows have white bases - except if they are juveniles, in which case they will have grey bases like the ravens.

Stone the crows!

Looking up the origin of the phrase 'stone the crows', American references suggest it is an old English phrase, while English references describe it as an Americanism. However the earliest published uses of the saying are Australian in origin, and as an expression of suprise tinged with annoyance it has an Aussie vibe. In Lennie Lower's Here's Luck published in 1930:
"I told Stanley that you had been thrown out and asked him to pull up, but he merely laughed and refused," he explained. "Stone the crows!" exclaimed Stanley indignantly.

  • Australian Raven (Corvus coronoides)
  • Little Raven (Corvus mellori)
  • Forest Raven (Corvus tasmanicus)
  • Torresian Crow (Corvus orru)
  • Little Crow (Corvus bennetti)
  • House Crow (Corvus splendens) There is an official policy of exterminating this Asian stowaway.

Joshua Tree

In November last year I had some time in California for a conference and got a chance to do a little bird-wandering between papers, but no time to write about it. Coming back to end-of-semester marking and admin, and then Christmas .... well long story short, I'm just now adding the trip to my blog.

The Joshua Tree National Park is a desert reserve east of LA, covering part of the Colorado Desert ( a western extension of the vast Sonoran Desert; the southern edge of the Mojave Desert; and the little San Bernadino mountains - three distinctly different ecosystems. The park straddles the Pacific Flyway and its springs provide rare watering holes, so is a popular spot for birders in spring and autumn. The tree for which the park is named is Yucca brevifolia, which looks like an escapee from a Dr Seuss book.

The Loggerhead Shrike looks a bit like our Butcherbird and in an example of convergent evolution has a similar habit of impaling its prey on twigs in a larder tree.

The rocky outcrops make the park popular with climbers, and  in the sparsely treed areas, form a convenient perch for raptors including this Red-tailed Hawk.

I saw the two birds I had especially hoped to see, the Greater Roadrunner and the California Quail, but both ground-dwelling birds were scattered by approaching groups and I managed only blurred images of their rapidly retreating backs.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Wee Jasper - Yass Road

Headed home from Wee Jasper towards Yass, this Wedge-tailed Eagle flew low across the road in front of me, a White-faced Heron dangling from its talons, and landed in a tree some distance from the road.

The Wedge-tailed eagle is Australia's largest bird of prey and one of the largest eagles in the world, with females weighing up to 5.3 kilos and having a wingspan of 2.5 meters. Females are generally larger than males. Their diet reflects available prey, with rabbits being the primary food source in most parts of their range. Under ideal conditions they can lift 50% of their body weight.

They have been known to attack paragliders, but as far as I know have not carried any off.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Carey's Reserve

Carey's Reserve looks a little bleak with this end of the Burrunjuck Dam completely dry, and sheep ignoring fences in the search for new grass. But the grass seed supports a colony of finches including Double-barred and these Diamond Firetails.

Australian Pipits foraged along the roadside and Dusky Woodswallows hawked for insects.

Carey's Reserve

Dusty waits, originally uploaded by marj k.
While I'm aware of the damage that uncontrolled dogs do to wildlife, a well behaved dog is no impediment to bird watching. Dusty was impressed by the wombats wandering Billy Grace, and thought the kangaroos hopping away from us were pretty exciting but most of the time she lay in the shade, waiting.

Not sure how many dogs know the "still" command - it means freeze until your handler snaps a photo.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Fitzpatrick Trackhead

Gang Gang Cockatoos tend to prefer the ranges and tablelands, so we seldom see them on the coast. It was quite a thrill when this group flew in as we were watching the fairywrens. They hung around for a couple of days, feeding in the low trees. Not sure what they were eating, they were nibbling on leaves, perhaps insect larvae? The reserve also had large numbers of Sulphur Crested Cockatoos, while across the road at Billy Grace hundreds of Galahs came in to roost each day.

Micalong Creek

A number of pairs of Leaden Flycatchers were nesting in the eucalypts at Micalong Creek. We were evacuated from the campground in the face of a"catastrophic" risk of bushfires, so did not get back as planned when the light was better. The nest is tiny, a shallow egg-cup of bark and grass, bound with spider webs and camouflaged with pieces of leaves and lichen. Both male and female incubate the eggs and feed the young.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Stockton Channel

There are record numbers of Pacific Golden Plovers in the Hunter Estuary at the moment - over 400 counted. Sharing their high tide roost along the Stockton Channel were good numbers of Grey-tailed Tattlers. My quick stop did not locate some of the visitors seen here over the last few days, Greater Sand Plover, Lesser Sand Plover, Grey Plover and Broad-billed Sandpiper.

Hunter Wetlands Centre

It is generally accepted that the Eastern Cattle Egret self-introduced via Asia and Papua New Guinea early in the 1900s. It began to breed in NSW in the Grafton area in the 1950s and was first recorded as a visitor in the Hunter in the 1970s. It commenced nesting at Seaham in 1978 and at Shortland in 1980. The numbers of nesting birds in the Hunter increased steadily through until 1987. 1987/88 was the peak year with a total of 1,393 Cattle Egret nests, but since then numbers have been in rapid decline.

When I first photographed the nesting birds at the Shortland Wetlands Centre in 2006, the birds crowded every tree around the Melaleuca swamp, the din of the calling parents and young could be heard for miles and hundreds of birds crisscrossed the sky. There were mainly Cattle Egrets, but also Eastern Great Egrets, Little Egrets, Nankeen Night Herons, and Intermediate Egrets. In 2006/07, 190 pairs of Cattle Egret nested at HWCA. Only 158 nests were recorded in 2010/11, while Seaham Swamp had no nests at all.

A 2011 report concluded that a long history of steady degradation of the ecological characteristics of the two colony sites and the other Hunter Region wetlands, combined with loss and degradation of foraging and night-roosting habitat locally and along the migration routes, are the most likely factors contributing to the decimation of breeding population. (Max Maddock, Breeding Population Decline in Cattle Egrets, The Whistler, V5 2011 p1-7)

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Wee Jasper Reserves

Brown Treecreeper
Willie Wagtail and friend
The Wee Jasper Reserves are a series of camping areas near the town of the same name, along the Goodradigbee River, The reserves are managed by a Trust, a group of volunteers funded by the NSW Department of Primary Industries, and the small camping fees charged. Camping is 'primitive', with minimal facilities, and campers have to be fairly self sufficient. The Stables Tavern in Wee Jasper sells booze and ice, but the general store is now closed and Yass is 50km away.

Noisy Friarbird fledgling
Black-faced Cuckoo Shrike

Rufous Songlark