Monday, 24 December 2018

The return of X106


Redgate recycling centre at Gorton, Manchester has been getting some decent gulls recently so I decided to call in today. A 3rd winter Caspian gull which has been seen over the past few days bearing a yellow leg ring X106 is the same bird that was at Pennington Flash this time last year, and which was originally seen at Heaton Park and later at Shaw.

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.

State
Location
Species seen with maximum numbers in brackets
NSW
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)
NSW
Sydney
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.

QLD
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

My full Australian list to date

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.

Species
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)

Friday, 7 December 2018

Encounters with monotremes, marsupials and other Australian mammals

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

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

Takahe
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!

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.

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Common Ringtail Possum at Finns Reserve


I was walking along the River Yarra at Finns Reserve today when I came across this common ringtail possum watching me from its drey. It was only at head height in a loosely constructed drey in a small spindly bush. This is a common species in Australia, but a first for me. I also have a resident brushtail possum in the garden of my apartment and a grey-headed flying-fox flew over tonight. I counted three platypus on the river this evening and the wombat was back after an absence of several days.

It may seem like I'm overdosing on platypus at the moment, but the reason is simple, I'm not here just to tick platypus I'm here to observe them and study them as much as I can in the limited time that I have available. I want to see how they swim, how they dive and what their movements are around the river  as the late afternoon and evening progresses. I can already see a pattern in their movements and I've found the location of at least one burrow. In certain parts of the river I can see them feeding underwater. It's really interesting and fascinating stuff to watch, and very soon I won't be able to do this anymore because I'll be back in the UK, so why not overdose while I can? Platypus are generally difficult animals to see, so the opportunity to get to know them well is one which shouldn't be turned down. In anycase, every time I go I see something else good, for example echidna, wombat, possum and a host of decent birds.

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Black-tailed native-hen


No doubting the bird of the day today. Any bird with the name black-tailed native-hen is going to get my vote! It's taken me three visits to Australia and three visits in the past seven days to the Western Treatment Plant to see one but eventually I managed it today, with not one, but four birds together, almost in a mini-leck. Black-tailed native-hens are obviously related to moorhens with a different bill colour, an erect tail and a crazy look in their eyes. Fabulous birds. Other highlights today, an immature white-bellied eagle and spotted and swamp harriers. To be honest though, it's not about any one species, it's about the spectacle.

The Western Treatment Plant is a huge site, around 12 miles (20km) from one end to the other and it's full of lakes of varying sizes and every lake is packed with birds. Goodness knows how many Australian shelducks or pink-eared ducks or hardheads or hoary-headed grebes or black swans or stilts or avocets or sharp-tailed sandpipers or whiskered terns there are, certainly hundreds and probably thousands of each. It really is reminiscent of Donana in Spain during the the rice harvest. And though it's smaller than Donana, it's just as remote, today I didn't meet a single other person all day. Not one person. It's just a staggering place.

Monday, 12 November 2018

Monotremes at the Yarra

Echidna

Wow what a trip this has been so far for iconic Australian mammals! On Saturday I saw my first ever echidna with Josh as it crossed the road at Wilson's Promontory and today I managed to find my second. I was photographing musk lorikeets when a rustling in the undergrowth immediately drew my attention and the lorikeets were forgotten. There could be no doubt what it was, I could see a ball of spines moving through the grass just a few metres in front of me. It climbed up onto a fallen branch and posed perfectly for photographs, before dropping down and continuing to make its way towards me. Eventually it was less than a metre away and still didn't even seem to notice me, that is until I made a noise when it immediately curled up and dug itself down in a cloud of dust. I just kept quiet again and within 30 seconds it uncurled itself and continued on its way, again seemingly oblivious to my presence. What a tremendous animal.

I stayed in the area until dusk and once again managed to get good views of duck-billed platypus, the echindas closest living relative.

Sunday, 11 November 2018

From the Yarra Bridge


Duck-billed platypus is such an iconic Australian species which so few people ever get the chance to see that when I'm staying within a few miles of a great location for them, it's hard to resist the temptation to go back for second helpings. In fact to be honest, I'll probably end up going back for thirds and fourths!

A footbridge crosses the Yarra at Finns Reserve and from here platypus can be seen in the river below at any time of day apparently, but especially as dusk approaches. They really are fascinating creatures, an early scientific name for them was Ornithorhynchus paradoxus and truly they are a paradox. A mammal with a bill which lays eggs and has no teats, it is also one of the very few mammals which detects its food using electroreception. If all of that wasn't enough, it is also almost unique in being a venomous mammal. Of all the creatures which I have seen in Australia, the platypus still remains top of the pile.

Wilson's Promontory


Josh and I spent the weekend at Wilson's Promontory, the most southerly point on mainland Australia and a place often battered by the infamous wind the Roaring Forties. We stayed at Fish Creek, in the Fish Creek hotel, a wonderful retro style hotel in a beautiful Australian village.

Apart from the obvious scenic attractions, the main reason for going to the Prom was to try to see some of the iconic Australian species which occur there but which have so far eluded me, specifically echidna and wombats. It's not surprising that I had never previously seen the latter since I'd never previously been within the species range, but the same can't be said of echidna which is all over Australia and which I have really tried hard to see in the past to no avail. However within minutes of entering the national park we had to stop to allow an echidna to cross the road! A fabulous creature, three times the size of a hedgehog with golden spines, the closest living relative to the platypus, this is another mammal which lays eggs. An unforgettable experience.

Thursday, 8 November 2018

Platypus and a wombat at Finns Reserve, River Yarra


I knew that the footbridge at Finns Reserve over the River Yarra was reputed to be a good place for platypus, but I still didn't expect to see them this easy. Two were showing almost immediately I arrived and over the course of the next hour they showed regularly, though never staying on the surface for long. Two locals who I met on the footbridge told me that a few nights ago they counted nine platypus on this stretch of the river. An iconic Australian animal which so few people have ever seen, yet here they are just 18 km up river from Melbourne CBD. A wonderful experience.

Werribee Water Treatment Plant

Royal and yellow-billed spoonbills

I've just spent two full on birding days at Werribee Water Treatment Plant, and what an amazing place it is. An absolute essential visit for any serious birder visiting Melbourne. You may think that you don't want to spend your time in Australia at a sewage works, but it's actually nothing like that,  in fact it's probably one of the best places I've ever been to birding, on a par with Doñana in Spain. Like Doñana, it's not so much the individual species that make it so special, it's the sheer number of birds.  During my visits for example, whiskered terns were everywhere, over every lake, pond, ditch, marsh and even field where they hawked for insects and in amongst them was a scattering of white-winged black terns. Meanwhile on the water was a host of birds, with at least 4000 pink-eared ducks and probably similar numbers of grey and chestnut teal. Sharp-tailed sandpipers were everywhere, on the mud as you would expect, but also in the grass and on the road, I put up countless birds as I was driving around. A breathtaking place. You can contact Melbourne Water for a day permit and key.

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Phillip Island and it's Cape Barren Geese


Philips Island is a 90 minute drive south east of Melbourne. It's a proper island but you can drive onto it via a bridge. The day we chose to go was Melbourne Cup day, and in the morning there was torrential rain, so much so that for most of the journey I was wondering why we had bothered setting out. However by the time we arrived the rain was easing and the sky was showing the first signs of hope, and by midday the sun was out and it was pleasantly warm.

Probably the highlight of the day was the Cape Barren geese, especially those that had chicks. When I saw this species in Port Lincoln earlier in the year they were in flocks and behaving pretty much like geese in winter back home. However in summer they leave the mainland and breed on offshore islands, but I must admit that before we saw them it hadn't occurred to me that we might see them with chicks today.

Melbourne Royal Botanical Gardens


My first full day back in Australia and most of the day was spent getting my bearings and recovering from jet lag, not that I ever suffer much from the latter. This afternoon I had a walk through Melbourne Royal Botanical Gardens and came across many beautiful and interesting birds including my first new bird for the holiday, this stunning eastern rosella.

Monday, 5 November 2018

A tale of two St. Kildas


In 1987 I spent two weeks camping on the remote and spectacular Hebridean island of St Kilda, an archipelago with some of the highest sea cliffs in Britain and home to one of the largest sea bird colonies in the world, with hundreds of thousands of birds. Puffins alone numbered an estimated 250,000 birds when I was there, and there was in the region of 60,000 pairs of gannets and 10,000 pairs of fulmars, to say nothing of the tens of thousands of guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes, shearwaters and petrels. An awesome spectacle.

Fast forward 31 years and this week and next I’m staying in St Kilda again, but this is about as far removed as it can get from the towering cliffs and crashing waves of the Hebridean World heritage site. The St Kilda I am calling home for the next two weeks is a suburb of Melbourne, on the face of it a nice enough place with a beach, some interesting shops and a distinctly bohemian feel with innumerable small cafes and bars. However it also has a run down tacky side and worse of sex shops, prostitutes and amusement arcades, and the huge laughing face at the entrance to the Luna Park fun fair has very unsettling look that certainly wouldn’t entice me to enter. Even more worryingly, there's an election about to take place and one of the local candidates declares on large posters that he's "the only person who can make St Kilda safe". Worrying.... Australia’s most notorious hotel is here, the Gatwick also known as the Hell Hotel, now closed but formerly the scene of murders, drug deaths and stabbings. Surely then, the only thing that these two St. Kildas can have in common is a name? Well actually no, there is something else that the two places share, the smell of guano! Sure, here in Melbourne the smell is on a much smaller scale, but it is here non-the-less, if you get yourself down to St. Kilda pier. The breakwater rocks right at the end of the pier are home to a small colony of little penguins and their remarkably guillemot like guttural calls combined with that wonderful smell takes me right back to those mighty sea cliffs on the opposite side of the world in the North Atlantic ocean.

Wednesday, 24 October 2018

Close encounter with a Rose-coloured Starling


So now we know why it's not often seen with the local roaming starling flocks... it prefers to be alone. Sure when the flock lands on the roof or on the nearby aerials it occasionally flies up and joins them, but when the flock leaves the rose-coloured starling drops down alone into the back yards of the houses around the Bowling Green Inn, St Helens and appears to vanish. It's best seen from the alleyway behind Frydays chippy in Robins Lane and if you do see it here it shows really well, often down to a few feet and even more importantly it's not silhouetted against the sky.

Sunday, 14 October 2018

Rose-coloured starlings, St Helens and Greater Manchester


Not really my idea of birding, furtively wandering around a housing estate looking at every roof and into every back garden, binoculars around my neck and camera over my shoulder, trying not to look suspicious, not really knowing where I was supposed to be looking. Still, worth it in the end when I finally located the juvenile rose-coloured starling which has been present for a few days. Originally vaguely reported as "near St Helens hospital", I finally managed to track it down to an aerial opposite the closed Bowling Green Inn in Robins Lane. This is my third juvenile in the past 12 months. The second was just a week ago in Timperley, Greater Manchester.......

Friday, 12 October 2018

Great white egret, Pennington Flash


Little egret is now a frequent enough visitor to barely raise an eyebrow amongst  the regular birders at Pennington Flash, but great white is still a very rare bird locally. Todays great white was only the fourth ever at the site and was a Flash tick for me. Chances are, they will become more frequent in future years as they are now a common enough sight on local estuaries. For example, in 2017 I photographed a group of 10 great white egrets together on the Dee Estuary.

Friday, 5 October 2018

Back garden sparrowhawk kill


A bit of drama in the garden this week, a sparrowhawk eating a freshly killed woodpigeon. It looks like an adult female sparrowhawk to me, I can't see any hint of brown in its plumage to make it a juvenile. Also it looked pretty big and I'm not sure that a male is big enough or powerful enough to take down a woodpigeon.

Sparrowhawk kills can be a bit gruesome, whilst they will take and eat quite large prey such as woodpigeons and lapwings, they are often not powerful enough to kill them outright like a peregrine would, and it's not unusual to see a sparrowhawk eating prey which is still alive. Don't be too quick to judge them though, they have to eat and this what they have evolved to do. If we're worried about song bird populations being effected by sparrowhawks, then lets first remove cats from the environment and then stop destroying song bird habitat. Talking of cats, Polly and Ted just sat and watched while this was going on and didn't try to approach. Very wise!

Sunday, 23 September 2018

American Golden Plover Marshside

This moulting adult American golden plover was on Crossens Inner Marsh at Marshside today. Amazingly it's my first adult, all of the others I have seen have been juveniles, so nice to get a plumage tick. I'm amazed at how well this photo has turned out, the bird was about 150m away, it was slightly against the light, the wind was around force 6 and the photo was taken by hand holding my phone up to my telescope! No adapters were involved in the taking of this photo!

Friday, 21 September 2018

Warwickshire phalarope influx


It's that time of year again when grey phalaropes start turning up all around our coasts, but I didn't expect to see my first of the year in deepest inland Warwickshire, and I was even more surprised to see my second the following day in the same county! The first few photos here are of the second bird a juvenile which showed very well at Charlecote, a National Trust property near Stratford-Upon-Avon, whilst the final three photos are of the first, a bird at Napton Reservoir near Southam.

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Pallid Harrier and Semi P on the Fylde


A couple of cracking birds on the Fylde this week, and this juvenile pallid harrier in particular is a stunner. Yes I saw the Dunsop Bridge bird as well, and as stunning as that bird undoubtedly was, a displaying adult male pallid harrier no less, it wasn't as beautiful as this juvenile.The photo just doesn't do it justice, the unstreaked body and coverts were bright gingery / orange in colour, contrasting with the dark boa and pale collar, with pied primaries and tail, making this one of those rare occasions when the juvenile is a more beautiful bird than the adults.  We waited for two hours in force 6 winds which made it really uncomfortable, but the bird eventually flew and was seemingly unaffected by the wind as it hunted for several minutes across the field right in front of us,  a simply breathtaking bird.

Thursday, 6 September 2018

Marsh warbler conundrum


This Acrocephalus warbler was at Tide Mills in Sussex on 6th September 2018. It's a marsh warbler, but opinion is split, with some considering it a reed warbler. It's superficially a difficult identification, especially for birders too concerned with "warm brown hues" at the expense of all other features, and in this blog post I'll explain why.

It's a marsh warbler for many reasons, but not least because it called several times while I was watching it. On all occasions it's call was a hard tongue clicking note, similar to Blyth's reed warbler, which is sometimes described as a sound similar knocking two pebbles together. Reed warbler does not give these clear cut, hard single notes. At no point did it utter anything like a reed warbler call. Unfortunately this is obviously something which you can't judge from the photos and you need to take my word for it. If you're in the reed warbler camp you'll probably just ignore this vital piece of evidence, however you really shouldn't.....

In 2015 a very useful article was published in Scottish Birds on the identification of 1st winter marsh warbler, and it is this which I have largely referred to throughout this blog post.

Scottish Birds (2015). Marsh Warbler in first-winter plumage - SBRC identification criteria, M.S. Chapman. Available: https://www.the-soc.org.uk/files/docs/bird-recording/sbrc/Marsh-Warbler.pdf. Last accessed 09/09/2018.

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

A few late August highlights from Pennington Flash


An eclipse drake garganey and at least two juvenile Mediterranean gulls were the highlights at the end of August and both are very predictable birds for this time of year. No less predictable is the continuing and alarming decline in waders. At the time of the Sabine's gull which was as recently as August 2015, there were two or three green sandpipers present throughout the month while in August 2013 it was possible to see six or seven green sandpipers at the Flash. In August 2018 there was a single bird on the 1st and another for a couple of days in the middle of the month, and that's it for green sandpipers this August.

In fact all waders have declined at the flash in recent years. It's now a red letter day if you find a dunlin or a redshank at the flash, and double figure counts of either are almost unheard of these days. Even common sandpipers are not that common. The peak month for common sandpiper is July, but this year we had just one or two birds where in previous years there have been close to double figures or more. On the 8th July 2006 I saw a flock (yes a flock) of 28 common sandpipers at Prescot Reservoirs in St Helens, and on the same day there were a further 12 at Eccleston Mere, imagine that at the Flash these days! It's cause for celebration if you see one now. Wood sandpipers are the stuff of legend these days.

Friday, 10 August 2018

The dreary flows and an exciting crane


The highs and lows of birding, I drove back from Melvich to Inverness today and started off driving past Forsinard RSPB in the Caithness flow country, a place which I had been looking forward to seeing, but which I found dreary, overrated and disappointing, not a bit haunting to me, which is how I often hear it described. I find this a bit surprising since usually I love blanket bog. I guess that since I'd just spent a week surveying near Melvich, the last thing I needed was another vast expanse of birdless M17 Trichophorum cespitosum – Eriophorum vaginatum blanket mire. Perhaps I just wasn't in the mood.

However fortunately much better was to come. Just a couple of miles south of Brora a common crane flew over the A9 right in front of me and quite low down. It was torrential rain at the time and it looked like it was trying to land. I was able to stop but it had disappeared behind a small hill and I couldn't relocate it. I drove on to the next parking spot and jumped out of the car, again in torrential rain, and spotted it in the distance, flying away from me but again looking like it was trying to land. Once more I got in the car and drove on another 1/2 mile past a few wheat fields until I could see a grassy field in the distance. I guessed that this is where it might be and pulled into a gateway to view the field. Sure enough the bird was in the field allowing me to fire off a couple of photos before it flew again, and this time I lost it for good.

It reminded me of a famous incident a few years ago when there was a much rarer Sandhill crane on Orkney which eventually flew south and was followed a good way down the east coast of Scotland by birders.


Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Bettyhill


Mountain aven Dryas octopetala, I reckon that I could easily make a case for this being my favourite plant, and what finer location to see  it in than at sea level at Bettyhill, with the beautiful Torrisdale beach as a back drop?

Bettyhill is a famous botanical site on the extreme north of Scotland in the county of Sutherland, and is particularly noted not only for its rare flora, but also for mountain plants which here occur right down at sea level such as these mountain avens.

Sunday, 5 August 2018

Orca!


I knew that orca had been sighted in the Caithness area in the days before I left home for a week in the far north of Scotland, thanks to a series of messages being posted on the "Caithness and North Sutherland Cetacean sightings" Facebook group, but catching up with them was always going to be a challenge. They seemed pretty wide ranging, often going north into the Orkney archipelago as well as all around the coast to the west and south. I resigned myself to the fact that they were just the stuff of dreams, something to look out for while I was in the area, but not a serious proposition.

The town of Lossiemouth is on the most northerly point of the south coast of the Moray Firth near Inverness, and it can be hard to believe that from here there is still enough land left in the UK for you to be able to drive north for another four hours, but that's exactly what I was faced with today as I left my hotel and started my journey to Melvich on the extreme north coast of Scotland.

When I set off I had no intention of looking for orca, they were something I might look for on another day, today was just a day of travel. However, soon I received news that a family party of seven orca had been seen passing Duncansby Head near John O'Groats and later they were seen feeding to the north of Freswick Bay. I was tempted but would they hang around? It seemed the perfect day for viewing, with good light and relatively flat calm seas with just a light breeze, so I decided that it was just too good an opportunity to miss and I set my SatNav for John O'Groats.

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Full list of birds seen in Australia - June to July 2018

This is a full list in alphabetical order of species seen on the holiday, 4th June - 7th July 2018 with location and maximum number of birds seen at each location in brackets.In total, 206 species of which 105 were new for me.

Friday, 6 July 2018

Freckled Duck, Herdsman


It’s a bit hard to explain why I should be so pleased to see six freckled ducks at Herdsman Lakes today. After all, they’re far from the most colourful bird I’ve seen on my travels around Aus, in fact to be honest they’re quite ugly looking ducks compared to most. I can sum it up best like this; freckled ducks are birders birds, or perhaps more specifically I should call them wildfowl enthusiasts wildfowl, because not all birders are enamoured by ducks. I count myself as a wildfowl enthusiast, in fact I’d go as far as to say that wildfowl are my favourite group of birds, so it was especially pleasing to see freckled ducks sharing the same reedy pool as the even more bizarre musk duck, with their odd lobes and strange display, and blue-billed ducks with bills so blue as to be straight out of a kids comic book. An Australian a scene as any you could imagine! All three species are endemic to the continent.

Thursday, 5 July 2018

Rottnest


A great end to my holiday to Australia, glorious sunshine and light winds on Rottnest island, Western Australia. The island is probably most famous for its Quokkas but there is a lot of other good stuff here as well and I managed 2 new bird species for the holiday, red-capped robin and western whistler. The latter is a fairly recent split by the IOC from golden whistler and the new species is more or less endemic to WA. Also today impressive numbers of banded stilts on the salt lakes, over 1000 I estimate, and good numbers of white-fronted chats and silvereyes.


Herdsman and Lake Monger, Western Australia

Yellow-billed spoonbill
Herdsman Lake and nearby Lake Monger are in Perth and are an essential first stop for any birder visiting Perth. Between them today they produced ten lifers for me starting with yellow-billed spoonbill not far from the visitor centre at Herdsman. In total I saw six spoonbills, and most were in breeding plumage, with black plumes in their wings, as you can see in the photo above.

Moving on, the lifers came thick and fast, next was a much sought after buff-banded rail, followed by red-winged fairy-wren, splendid fairy-wren, yellow-rumped thornbill, western gerygone, Australian reed warbler and perhaps most pleasing, a flock of 25 Carnaby's black-cockatoos.

Apart from the lifers, there were good numbers and variety of other birds with 200+ purple swamphens, pink-eared ducks, swamp harriers, musk ducks, singing honeyeaters, silvereyes, grey teal, Australian shoveler and a stunning spotted pardalote.

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Bits and Pieces from the Southern Eyre Peninsular

White-browed babbler
My last day in Port Lincoln so it seems like a good time to tidy up a few loose ends which may have not appeared elsewhere in this blog, starting with white-browed babbler which I saw at Tulka just a few kilometers south of Port Lincoln. Restless mistle thrush sized birds, there were three of them hoping around at speed quite oblivious to my presence.


Monday, 2 July 2018

Murray Point, Port Lincoln


Just south of Port Lincoln racecourse lies Greyhound road, which leads to Murray Point, an area which offers some of the best birding I have found in the vicinity of Port Lincoln. At low tide there is plenty of exposed mud and sand for shore birds, which include banded and white-headed stilt and red-necked avocet, whilst the scrubby areas inland hold more birding gems, in particular rock parrot. These cute little parrots might not be as colourful as some of their cousins, but they're my favourite. Offshore there are four species of cormorant including the south coast specialty, black-faced, as well as double figure counts of hoary-headed grebe and Australian pelican, whilst the impressive Pacific gull patrols the shore line. The common tern here is crested, but others include fairy and Caspian.

Saturday, 30 June 2018

Whalers Way, Southern Eyre Peninsular


Rock parrots, tawny-crowned honeyeaters, emus, western grey kangaroos, Humpback whales, southern right whales, New Zealand fur seals and stunning views over the Great Australian Bight, this really is the wildest and most incredible place


If the world was flat then this is where the edge would be, this is the eastern end of the Great Australian Bight. If you set out in a boat and headed in the direction that we are looking here, west over the sea, it would be 1300 miles before you next hit land and when you did, it would be the same country just the other side of the bay. The scale of the place is phenomenal. In truth, in a flat world it seems almost like this is the opposite edge of the world to the Outer Hebrides, which have a similar feel and a similar sense of vastness. And the wildlife here just adds to that sense of being on the opposite edge, a group of kangaroos hop away as you approach, an emu appears on the ridge ahead, rock parrots fly up from your feet and a group of whales are blowing out at sea.


Which monster lives in this cave?

Friday, 29 June 2018

Mikkirra Station, Southern Eyre Peninsular


At last I've seen some wild koalas, at Mikkirra Station near Port Lincoln! It's a well known spot for koalas on the Eyre peninsular and they get used to people coming to admire them, but this isn't a zoo or safari park, there's no cafe or visitor center, these are wild animals which are free to come and go as they please. They're not looked after in any way, other than like any nature reserve, their habitat is maintained.

Also at Mikkira, emus and a western yellow robin, which was particularly pleasing since at Noosa I also saw eastern yellow robin, which is a different species. Similarly, the kangaroos in the photo are western greys, whereas those in Queensland are eastern greys.

Monday, 25 June 2018

The weird display of the musk duck in Louth Bay


Musk duck is generally a bird of freshwater, but occasionally can be seen on the sea in sheltered bays outside the breeding season. There are currently at least 10 musk duck offshore from Tod's river estuary in Louth Bay, just north of Point Boston. They're a bit distant for photography but they're showing well through the scope. They really are the weirdest duck with the weirdest display. Imagine a giant, black ruddy duck with a huge bill and a enormous fleshy lobe hanging under the bill and neck. The display is amazing, the lobe is extended, the tail held erect with feathers spread like a fan while the feet splash jets of water behind! An amazing experience!

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