Tuesday, 31 December 2019

My top 10 UK birding experiences of the decade

Over the past 10 years I've seen 378 species in the UK and 313 species in the north-west. I added 58 species to my UK list during the decade leaving me currently on 432 for the UK and 369 for the north-west. However it's not just the birds, it's the experiences which I love with good friends in often fabulous locations. Here is my top 11 from the decade.

1. American black tern Eccleston Mere, St Helens, August 2012.

Photo: American Black Tern © Steve Young.
My best ever self found rarity, at the time it was about the fifth for the UK and the next one didn't appear until September 2018 in Kent. On the day I found it, I'd actually gone to the mere in the hope of finding a black tern and when I saw this bird. I took a few photos but it wasn't until I returned home and looked at the photos that I noticed the grey flanks which identifies it as American black.

The bird commuted between the mere and Prescot Reservoirs for a about five days, with a day spent at Pennington Flash in the middle of its stay. It was a very exciting time for me at the mere, a place which at the time I regularly visited 3 or 4 times a week and had done so for 15 years and most of the time just seeing coots and mallard.

Friday, 27 December 2019

Siberian / Stejneger's Stonechat, Ashton's Flash

At the second attempt I caught up with the Siberian / Stejneger's stonechat at Ashton's Flash today. A great north-west record, it was always distant, at least 100m, and the light was very poor today so I'm happy to get any photos. It was a decent view through the scope though. DNA is going to be pretty much impossible to obtain from this bird I would think so chances are it will never be conclusively identified.

Monday, 9 December 2019

Purple Heron, Eagland Hill

Time was when I classed purple heron as my bogey bird in the UK, I just couldn't see one, in fact I'd been birding 40 years before I managed to connect with the species on home soil. However since then I've not done too bad, and todays bird at Eagland Hill on the Fylde was my 4th in five years.

What on earth it's doing at Eagland Hill surrounded by the arable fields of the North Lancashire mosslands is a real mystery. I mean yes there are a few reedy ditches in the area, but not really that many to hold a species which is usually much more associated with reedbeds than grey heron. In fact this bird, which is a juvenile, spends as much time in a field of tall rank vegetation as it does in the nearby ditches.

Tuesday, 3 December 2019

Chocolat Suchard menu card

Yesterday I bought a 2nd hand book enititled "The Alpine Flora" written by Henri Correvon, illustrated by Phillipe Robert and published in 1911. The original book was written in French and this is an English translation. There are two names with dates in the book, Edith Nelson May 1935 and another which I can't quite make out but which looks like Judith Madeley, Campfer 1922. Henri Correvon was a Swiss botanist and there is a place in Switzerland called Champfer so perhaps there is a connection there. Of particular interest to me though, inside the book there is a Chocolat Suchard menu card with a hand written menu and a painting of a species of yellow foxglove labelled D. Ambigua. The label has been underlined and a question mark handwritten at the end. There is a note at the bottom of the card which says something like "In Correvon's Alpine Flora D. Ambigua & D. Lutea are pictured together and D. Lutea is much more like this of the two." This is signed and dated 24/6/1923. I can't read French but the menu appears to mention starters and prawns 🙂.

Saturday, 30 November 2019

Tyn Dwr Hall

It's that time of year when the countryside is dominated by browns or greens, but just now and again if you look closely enough you can find some different colours, and there is no more lovely example than these yew tree berries at Tyn Dwr Hall near Llangollen.

Wednesday, 27 November 2019

Rose-coloured Starling, Eastriggs, Dumfriesshire

On my way to pick up my invertebrate traps from Dumfriesshire today and an easy stop was at Eastriggs near Gretna in order to see a juvenile rose-coloured starling. I parked up and walked down Vancouver road until one of the residents beckoned me to come into her back garden where the rose-coloured starling was coming down to mealworms little more than 2m from me. Unfortunately it was dawn and the light was poor, so the photos are pretty poor and they were all taken on about 1/5th second.

Moorland Woodcock in the Southern Uplands

I was walking across moors in the Southern Uplands of Scotland yesterday at about midday and flushed at least three woodcock from the grass at about five minute intervals. I was at an altitude of about 400m and some low cloud had rolled in and visibility was about 100m. I would describe the habitat as heavily grazed rush heath / grassland (NVC U6 perhaps), with some sphagnum and other moss, but mainly tussocky grass and heath rush. There was no heather and the nearest wood was about a mile away and even that was not ideal for woodcock being a closely planted conifer plantation with no understorey. I've never seen woodcock in this type of moorland habitat before or at such a high altitude. I know that they sometimes leave woodland at night to feed in adjacent fields but these birds gave the impression that they were here all day.

Tuesday, 19 November 2019

Ring-necked Duck, Pine Lake

I've seen lots of ring-necked ducks over the years but this bird on Pine Lake in Lancashire, near M6 junction 35 was only my second 1st winter male. The first was a very distant bird at Wexford Slobs in Ireland about four years ago, so this is the first that I have seen at close range and the first I have been able to have a good look at. Not that it was easy to see, for much of our visit the bird was distant and against the sun. Eventually though we did see it close to the reed bed on the north shore and in reasonable light. All of the photos in this post were taken on my phone.

Also today on Pine Lake around five scaup.

Monday, 18 November 2019

The Joy of Invertebrate Surveys

This month I've been in Scotland taking part in a golden plover survey at an existing windfarm. My role in the survey is different from normal though, instead of counting birds and recording their movements, I've been asked to carry out a survey of their prey items, specifically invertebrates and especially beetles.

I enjoy invertebrate surveys, but of all of the types of survey work I do, this is the type which I am most selective about and probably turn down more than I actually do. The fact is, invertebrates cover a huge array of orders, e.g. butterflies, dragonflies, bees, wasps, beetles, spiders, woodlice, worms, slugs, mites, ticks, flies, centipedes, millipedes, ants, bugs, harvestmen, springtails, the list goes on, to say nothing of all of the aquatic and marine inverts, in fact invertebrates account for 97% of all animal life on Earth.

Guides and resources to help with the identification to species level within many of these groups are almost non-existent. Even if they are there identification often comes down to microscopic examination of a specimen in the lab or even dissection and they are therefore very time consuming. So unless a client is very specific about what they want, I usually decline because otherwise I can end up doing weeks of work for free or working late into the night to meet some unrealistic deadline.

Friday, 8 November 2019

More from Mull

A beautiful morning on Mull as we waited for the ferry back to Oban today. Our first stop was the village of Salen where we spotted an otter with a fish, then we moved on to the hide at Fishnish where there was another otter, a few grey seals and two harbour porpoise.

Thursday, 7 November 2019

A walk at Loch na Keal, Mull

A wonderful day on Mull today, mainly spent walking along the south bank of Loch na Keal, from the campsite at the head of the loch to Ulva ferry. It was a dull, cold and at times drizzley kind of day, but lots of wildlife to take my mind off the weather. As soon as we arrived we spotted an otter and watched it at close range for about 20 minutes, at times as close as 10m away.

There were quite a few ducks scattered across the water, red-breasted mergansers, goosander and about 80 teal, and there were about 50 greylags on the nearby fields. About 11 great northern divers fished the loch and dotted in amongst them were nine Slavonian grebes.

Suddenly the greylags went up and I turned and saw two white-tailed eagles flying towards me and quite low down. They seemed quite inquisitive because when they reached me they circled over head a couple of times before heading off towards the hills to the north, finally disappearing over the ridge. I kept my eyes open in that direction hoping that they would return and though they didn't I was rewarded with a golden eagle.

Meanwhile as I continued my journey I managed to find at least another two otters. Not a bad way to spend a Novembers day!

Tuesday, 5 November 2019

Myroe Levels, Northern Ireland

My first ever visit to Myroe Levels in County Derry, Northern Ireland today and I managed to locate all six of the white-rumped sandpipers which have been present for a few days. The first two were on flooded fields at the end of Shore avenue, accessed from Limavady and I thought that was good, but then I drove north along the track which runs between the coast and the drainage ditch and found another four birds together.

It's been a fantastic year for white-rumped sandpipers, these were my 4th - 9th birds of 2019 and there have been plenty of others in Ireland and the Hebrides in particular.

Monday, 4 November 2019

Short-billed dowitcher, Dundalk, Ireland

About three weeks ago a dowitcher was found from Navvy Bank Walk in Dundalk harbour, County Louth, Ireland. It was initially identified as long-billed but then video footage emerged of the bird which showed markings in the greater coverts which are diagnostic of short-billed.

The bird is tidal, with mid tide being the best time to see it, and since I was working in the area today I took the opportunity to call in.

Sunday, 3 November 2019

Flowers from Western Australia

This was my fourth visit to Australia and on all of my previous visits I've bemoaned the lack of flowers and the lack of colour in the country. Sure the tropical rain forests of the north and the temperate rain forests of the south are wonderful places but they are predominantly green or grey.

The endemic Callistemon sp. or bottlebrushes do add some colour in places and they are beautiful and fascinating shrubs, but where were the more delicate flowering plants? In my first three visits I was unable to find them, ranging from Queensland, to Victoria, to Southern Australia, to Perth, I just didn't see any, or at least not significant amounts. Finally on this fourth trip to Western Australia I did find some colour! Most of the flowers were south of Perth which is not surprising since further north the land turns into virtually desert. I can't put names to most of these flowers, but here they are anyway.

Friday, 1 November 2019

My full Australian list to date

Photo: Blue-faced honeyeater.
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 353 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), Busselton WA (1), Cape Leeuwin WA (5), Cape Naturaliste, Lighthouse WA (30), Cape Naturaliste, Sugarloaf Rock WA (2), Dunsborough, Whale Watching WA (5), 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)
Australasian Swamphen
Sydney, Centennial Park NSW (50), Atherton Tablelands QLD (2), Bauple QLD (1), Brisbane, Biami Yumba Park and Fig Tree Pocket QLD (30), Brisbane, City QLD (1), Brisbane, Dowse Lagoon QLD (10), Gympie, Lake Alford QLD (10), Hervey Bay QLD (100), Hervey Bay, Arkarra Wetlands QLD (10), Hervey Bay, Booral Road QLD (4), Hervey Bay, Burrum Heads QLD (2), Noosa, Botanic Gardens QLD (2), Noosa, Jabiru Park QLD (20), Noosa, Water treatment works QLD (20), Port Douglas QLD (30), Bellarine Peninsula, Jerringot Wetlands VIC (30), Bellarine Peninsula, Lake Lorne VIC (40), Melbourne, Royal Botanical Gardens VIC (10), Phillip Island VIC (10), Werribee, Western Treatment Plant VIC (200), Wilson's Promontory VIC (2), Perth, Herdsman Lake WA (200), Perth, Lake Monger Reserve WA (50)
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)
Australian Bustard
Minolta - Exmouth Road WA (4)

Observations of Australian birds and mammals by state and location

Here's a full list of the 353 bird species and 36 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), 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), Purple Gallinule (50), 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), 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
Black Kite (20), Brown Honeyeater (2), Double-barred Finch (3), Eastern Great Egret (1), Hardhead (1), Laughing Kookaburra (15), Little Black Cormorant (30), Scarlet Honeyeater (2)

Friday, 25 October 2019

"It's life Jim but not as we know it" - The Hamelin Pool Stromatolites

Evidence of some of the earliest life on earth is found in rocks which date back 3.7 billion years and contain the fossilised remains of structures known as stromatolites. Remarkably in a very few places in the world living stromatolites still exist and the largest and most diverse selection of all are in Western Australia at Hamelin Pool.

In reality a stromatolite is not a single organism, it is in fact a structure which is created by a multitude of living organisms, especially cyanobacteria. These microscopic organisms along with others, form biofilms (microbial mats) which trap, bind and cement sedimentary grains creating layers on which more biofilms can grow. These in turn trap more sedimentary grains, creating more layers, and so it goes on, layer upon layer, so that over time the stromatolite structures form. They are as close as it gets to living rocks.

Perhaps stromatolites greatest claim to fame is the part they played in putting oxygen into the earth's atmosphere 3.7 billion years ago. When they first appeared there was virtually no oxygen in the atmosphere, but because they are photosynthetic they take carbon dioxide and water to produce carbohydrates, and in doing this they liberate oxygen. Largely thanks to this, the levels of oxygen in the earth's atmosphere rose high enough to allow other life on earth to exist. The bad news for the stromatolites was that some of this new life then consumed the cyanobacteria, thus reducing the numbers of stromatolites.

They can exist in the modern world only in extreme conditions. High levels of salinity combined with the tidal nature of Hamelin Pool and extreme temperatures often exceeding 45 degrees celcius in summer creates an environment so harsh that virtually no other plants or animals can survive, thus allowing the stromatolites at Hamelin Pool to grow undisturbed.

Thursday, 24 October 2019

Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia

The opportunity to visit the Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia was one of the main attractions when planning this particular holiday. It's what is known as a fringing reef which means that it occurs close to shore and in fact the Ningaloo reef is considered to be one of the most accessible reefs in the World because in many places you can simply swim out to it from the shore.

Some would argue that it's more impressive even than the Great Barrier Reef, but though I've now been to both it's unfair of me to make a comparison. Not a great snorkeler, I'm also a poor swimmer and certainly I'm no diver, all of which makes it difficult for me to truly experience coral reefs and even more difficult therefore to make comparisons. However, armed with a brand new snorkel fitted with prescription lenses I gave it a go, and there was always the fall back of a glass bottom boat! Josh on the otherhand is a much better swimmer and snorkeler and even better he has an underwater camera with which he was able to take the first 10 or so of the photographs on this post.

Lake Monger, Perth

Lake Monger is next to Herdsman and though not as impressive it still has a decent array of species and is better for some species such as hoary-headed grebe and blue-billed duck. When I last visited the lake in July last year it was the middle of the Australian winter and I counted an impressive 300 blue-billed ducks, but today most of these birds had dispersed and I managed only about 20 birds of which all bar one were males. What I didn't realise until today was that the species breeds at Lake Monger and the highlight of the visit was finding this female with about six fluffy chicks. Really cute!

Wednesday, 23 October 2019

Once more to Herdsman in the rain

Herdsman is a fabulous place to visit if you have half a day to kill in Perth as I did today, and just like two weeks ago I finally managed to photograph a hard to get species. I was walking back to the car park and spotted a buff-banded rail walking amongst the long grass. At first I could only see its head and even that would disappear for periods, so I just stood still and waited. Eventually the bird emerged fully from the long stuff and started walking around on the shorter grass, and to my disbelief given how hard they can be to see at times, it seemed quite unconcerned by my presence and allowed me to take some reasonable photos. About 10 minutes later I then spotted a second bird, this one with a chick, and they were walking around the front garden of one of the nearby houses!

Tuesday, 22 October 2019

Lake Thetis and the Cervantes Stromatolites

Just outside Cervantes there is a small pool in which the conditions are so saline and so extreme that stromatolites can grow. This is nothing like the scale of those at Hamelin Pool, yet stromatolites none the less. See the post from Hamelin Pool for a fuller explanation of what stromatolites are

The Pinnacles Desert, WA

Emu crossing the Pinnacles Desert. I'm not sure how these birds manage to survive out here but they do and often in much harsher conditions than this. Emus are all across Australia, only really absent from heavily forested regions.

Monday, 21 October 2019

Hutt Lagoon and Kalbarri NP, WA

The algae in Hutt Lagoon turn the waters pink in certain lights and make it a popular tourist stop for anybody in the region of Kalbarri National Park. The lagoon also attracts quite large numbers of stilts, both banded and white-headed, which allow decent photo opportunities of mainly white birds in pink water!

Sunday, 20 October 2019

The dugongs of Monkey Mia

Photo: Mother and calf dugong.
The Shark Bay World Heritage Area covers around 2.2 million hectares and is about a 10 hour drive north of Perth, best accessed from Monkey Mia. There are many reasons for its listing as a World Heritage Area, one of which are the stromatolites at Hamelin Pool which I will discuss later in a seperate post. Another reason is that it is home to a large population of dugongs which feed on the seagrass in the bay just offshore. Dugongs are neither whales or dolphins, they are in fact related to manatees, and are often called seacows, with Shark Bay having around 10% of the world population, about 10,000 animals. The holes you can see are not blow holes because the species does not have blow holes. They are in fact the dugongs nostrils and as you might expect, the eyes are behind the nostrils as you can see more clearly in the photo below.

Today we managed to see about 15 of these wonderful creatures, as well as about 10 Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins and a few awesome loggerhead turtles.

Western Grasswrens at Monkey Mia, WA

The enigmatic grasswrens are usually high up on any birders most wanted list when they visit Australia, but they are always difficult birds to connect with, mainly because they usually inhabit very remote and hard to get to places. You can't just fly to Sydney and see them during a walk around the botanic gardens!

Not surprising therefore that I was delighted to see several western grasswrens at Monkey Mia today. Also today lots of waders including Terek sandpiper, great knot, red-necked stint and red-capped plover, and terns were again well represented, with at least 40 Caspian as well as a few each of crested and lesser crested and fairy terns, the latter being a new tern for the holiday list.

Friday, 18 October 2019

A walk along the beach at Coral Bay, WA

The walk from Five Fingers Reef, through Coral Bay, to the headland north of Shark Lagoon is about 15km but well worth the effort, with turquoise seas and fine white sand beaches at the base of large sand dunes, the scenery is just stunning. Terns dominate here and during our stay I managed to see seven different species of tern of varying shapes and sizes as you can see from this photo!

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

A walk along the beach at night, Cape Range

Last night we had a walk on a remote beach at Cape Range in Western Australia, which is about 20km from Exmouth, the nearest town. It was a full moon and we came across a female green turtle egg laying on the beach. To give you an idea of the size of this magnificent animal, it's about 1.5m from nose to tail and weighs approximately 160kg (25 stone). The hole in the sand which it was digging is around 2m diameter. Yet another amazing experience on this holiday. We didn't stay with it too long not wanting to disturb it, and fortunately we had red light on our head torches which causes minimum disturbance to nocturnal animals. All of these photos were taken on my phone which is a Google Pixel 4a, on the night setting.

Tuesday, 15 October 2019


When I was a kid we had a pet budgie, shamefully held captive is a small cage. Today in my fourth visit to Australia I finally caught up with a wild budgerigar at Exmouth sewage works. Truth to tell I've been seeing flocks of up to 30 birds flying over for a day or two now, but they never seem to land until today, when I spotted this cracking female sitting on the perimeter fence.

However, just because we remember budgies with affection from our childhood doesn't mean that we should under estimate them or regard them as "plastic" or feral in anyway. I've heard budgerigars described as the hardiest of all Australian birds, they live in extreme environments in the baking heat of the arid heart of Australia and are nomadic, flocking together in huge numbers in their search for water and food. How awful to keep a bird with such a lifestyle in a tiny cage, yet pet shops still sell them and people still keep them.

Monday, 14 October 2019

Perentie Lizard and Long-nosed dragon, Exmouth, WA

Perentie lizards are the largest and most impressive of all Australian lizards, often growing up to 2.5m long. This particular individual at Exmouth sewage works was probably about 1.5m, but still an impressive animal.

Little Curlews, Exmouth, WA

Photo: adult little curlew.

In 1985 I was on a long weekend birding in Norfolk with my dad when a little whimbrel was found at Blakeney. It was the second for Britain or possibly the first if it was a returning bird, and I don't think that there have been any since. Now approaching 35 years since the last UK record, it's about as close as it gets to a blocker on my UK list following the fall of Hudsonian Godwit a year or two ago. I'm pretty sure at the time it was considered an endangered species like so many of it's curlew / whimbrel cousins. These days the name has changed to little curlew and I don't think it is quite as endangered as we thought back then but still a very difficult bird to connect with anywhere.

I never thought that I would ever see another little whimbrel, yet on the same day that I encountered my first flock of budgies flying over Exmouth sewage works I also came across eight little curlews with banded lapwings on a nearby playing field.

Sunday, 13 October 2019

Cape Range on the North West Cape

Photo: Euro.
Cape Range is a national park on the North West Cape of Australia. It lies to the north and west of the small town of Exmouth. Most people come here for the beaches, be it snorkeling, swimming or fishing, and that's not surprising because the coastline is glorious with turquoise seas, white sand beaches and the Ningaloo Reef just offshore. It's a very harsh environment though....

This is where the desert meets the sea, the vegetation on land is very scrubby, there are no trees, warnings of dingos, very little freshwater and daytime temperatures can easily reach 50'C in summer. Not that you would want to be here in summer because not only is it unbearably hot, it's also cyclone season.

Red Kangaroo

Red kangaroos are the largest living marsupial, with adult males often attaining a height of 1.4m and weighing up to 85kg. They are quite a common and widespread species but mainly across the interior and so are difficult to see if you just stick to the coastal cities and resorts. The only places where their range extends down to the coast are in the Nullarbor region and the north west coast between Exmouth and Broome. This animal, photographed on the golf course at Exmouth, was my first red kangaroo on my 4th visit to Australia.

Around Exmouth, WA

Exmouth is an amazing place, not a particularly beautiful town, but it really feels like you are in the outback or in a frontier town. Emus walking around the streets, warning signs about dingos and some familiar species not looking quite so familiar as I expected.

Take the bird above for example. It's a crested pigeon, quite common across all of Australia including in the major cities of the south and east.This however is of the western race whitlocki which seems to me to be much brighter than others I have seen.

Saturday, 12 October 2019

Where the desert meets the sea - a Western Australia roadtrip

It's a long drive north from Perth to Exmouth on the west coast of Australia, nearly 13 hours in fact, and once past Geraldton the landscape becomes relatively flat and the vegetation sparcer. This is where the desert of  central Australia meets the sea. It's a place where you really don't want to break down and where you need to have a full tank of petrol and plenty of water. One of the commonest raptors seen is the wedge-tailed eagle whilst the rarest is the black-bellied buzzard. All kinds of odd flowers grow here and there are termite mounds for as far as the eye can see, but the avian highlight of the trip for me was four Australian bustards right at the side of the road.  A wonderful experience!

Friday, 11 October 2019

Return to Herdsman

Herdsman Lake, just north of Perth is a fabulous birding site and a must for any visitor to the city. Last year I went there right at the end of my holiday in the hope of adding freckled duck to my Australian list, and though I succeeded the views were not great. Since then I have seen Australia's rarest duck well on several occasions in the Melbourne area last November. Today I had time to kill while I waited for Josh to fly into Perth airport for our road trip up the west coast, and I couldn't think of a better place to visit than Herdsman. This time the freckled ducks showed much better and allowed me to get some half decent photos.

Thursday, 10 October 2019

Botanising in the Jarrah woodlands of the Darling Range

...or perhaps the post header should be "enjoying the flowers of the Jarrah woodland", because there certainly wasn't much botanising going on. I can tentatively put some of these plants into families but I just don't know enough about them to identify them to species level. Does that really matter though, I'm content to say that the Jarrah woodlands are a very special place with a stunning array of flowers and I'm happy to leave it at that.  This post contains a selection of some of my favourites.

White-breasted Robin, Wungong Gorge, WA

White-breasted robin is endemic to south west Australia and is one of the reasons I wanted a week south of Perth before meeting up with Josh and heading north.

Wednesday, 9 October 2019

Western Grey Kangaroos

The only kangaroo in south west Australia is the western grey. I came across an approachable mob today, including this adorable female with a joey in her pouch.

Creery Wetlands, Mandurah, Western Australia

The fairy-wrens are beautiful family of birds, and here in south west Australia the common one so far has been the aptly named splendid fairy-wren.

Tuesday, 8 October 2019

Blue-billed duck

Blue-billed duck is the Australian equivalent of the ruddy duck or white-headed duck, and despite seeing quite a few during my time in the country, this is the first time I've ever got anywhere near taking an ok photo of the species. This is a male, photographed at Dunsborough.

Blue Whale, Humpback Whale and Southern Right Whale, Dunsborough, Western Australia

We'd only been out about 10 minutes, less than half a mile offshore I would say when one of the crew standing next to me said "I'm sure that's a blue over there".  The skipper immediately turned the boat and headed over. This is the same guy who just a few minutes earlier had told me that they had seen a blue whale last week but it had only surfaced once never to be seen again, so I was a little nervous to say the least. The chance of seeing a blue whale, the largest animal ever to exist was the dream of a lifetime, but would it reappear or would this prove to be a shatteringly close but ultimately failed dream? How many more opportunities would I get?

Fortunately the animal did reappear and broke the surface several times giving us some great views, though not quite the vaudeville performance which is usually put on by humpbacks! Perhaps not quite up there with the Orca I saw off mainland Caithness last year which were the highlight (so far) of my career as an amateur naturalist, but not far short and still a fantastic experience.

Monday, 7 October 2019

Busselton and Cape Leeuwin, Western Australia

What a stunner and what a great start to my latest trip to Aus! Banded Lapwing. It's taken a few visits for me to finally see one but it was worth the wait. Today I saw three on a grassy verge  at the side if the road as I was leaving town to head for Cape Leeuwin. I pulled over, put the window down and watched as three birds fed in a flower filled grassy area. The bird in the photo walked towards me right up to the edge of the road and then actually walked across the tarmac and behind my car and onto the grass on the other side! Fortunately this was just a side road and traffic was very light and hopefully it wont do that in rush hour! Talking of flower filled meadows, there are lots of flowers at the moment so I'm putting together a rolling blog post of those I see and will post it here soon 😀.

Monday, 30 September 2019

Great White Egret, Hope Carr

A great white egret was a new species for me at Hope Carr today. It must have flown over the sewage works and straight over my head because I only noticed it when it was flying away from me. It landed on one of the pools for a few minutes out of view and then took off again and flew over the tall trees adjacent to the main lake allowing me just the briefest opportunity to take this poor photo. Once over the trees I couldn't see it anymore and though I suspected that it might have landed again on site, I couldn't relocate it. I also had two other site year ticks today, with a female wigeon on one of the pools and a small passage of skylarks over, bringing my Hope Carr year list to 103 species.

Friday, 20 September 2019

Red-necked Phalarope, Marshside

Dave contacted me this morning regarding a red-necked phalarope which he had just found at Marshside, Southport. He also mentioned an amazing count of cattle egrets and since I was eager to see both I headed out that way just before lunch. It's always a pleasure to see any species of phalarope, but red-necked in particular is a special bird. Not a common bird either, there was a time when I'd actually seen more Wilson's in the UK than red-necked but Wilson's records have dried up a bit in recent years whereas red-necked just about keeps trickling through. This was actually my second red-necked phalarope this year, following an adult summer plumage female near Hadrians Wall in late spring. Even so, in 40+ years birding I've seen more pectoral sandpipers than red-necked phalaropes which is surprising perhaps given that the former is a transatlantic vagrant from North America whereas the latter is a European breeding bird with a few pairs still clinging on in Scotland.

Cattle Egret flock at Marshside

Cattle egret numbers just keep on growing in the north west, with Marshside seemingly a hotspot for the species. My previous best was eight a couple of years ago, but today there were nearly double that  number with 15 birds in amongst the cattle at the back of the marsh, easily my best ever UK count of the species. Cattle Egret is a cosmopolitan species which I've seen just about everywhere I've been from Florida in the US, to southern Europe, to Australia but not New Zealand. However the Australian birds are now usually considered a separate species, our birds are western, the Australian birds are eastern cattle egrets. Portugal and Spain are the places where I have seen most cattle egrets, with flocks of up to 200 in some places.

Thursday, 19 September 2019

Pectoral Sandpiper, Mythop

Pectoral sandpiper juvenile at Blackpool Wake Park today. A quick count of the records in my database reveals that this is the 23rd Pectoral sandpiper I've seen in the UK, plus one at Werribee western treatment plant, Melbourne, Australia last year. Locally I saw one at Hope Carr in 1999 but I've never seen one at Pennington Flash.

Tuesday, 17 September 2019

Two American Golden Plovers, Lunt

Shortly after I left Lunt on Sunday after having seen the adult American Golden Plover, it was amazingly joined by a second bird! I called in today on my way home from work and both were present again. A bit distant but great to see never the less.

Going off the extent of the black on the face I would say that the left hand bird is the first bird and the one I saw on Sunday, however the black bars on the flanks of the right hand bird look very similar to a photo I took on Sunday before the second bird dropped in.

Sunday, 15 September 2019

American Golden Plover, Lunt

Nice to see a cracking adult summer plumage American golden plover at Lunt today. I saw the adult at Marshside about a week later than this last year and that was in partial summer plumage but it wasn't as nice as this bird. All the same, I wonder if this might be the same individual? All of the other American golden plovers I have seen have been juveniles, which is ironic because all of the Pacific golden plovers I have seen (in the UK) have been summer plumage adults.

Apparently after I had left it was joined by a second bird and then both flew off north and so far they have not been seen again. However it was thought to have gone last night but it returned, and today I watched it fly off high to the west until it was little more than a dot and I'd almost given up on it it, but it turned and came back and landed again on pump house pool, so it may yet return.

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

Pied wheatear upgraded to Eastern black-eared, Fluke Hall

I called in at Fluke Hall near Pilling last Tuesday (3rd) with Ray for a look at the female wheatear which had been present for a few days. It was initially identified as an eastern black-eared wheatear which would be a new UK tick for me, but was then re-identified as a pied wheatear, apparently due to the pale fringes to the mantle feathers. Then somebody mentioned that they hybridise freely in eastern Europe where their ranges overlap so that threw another spanner in the works. A sample of it's DNA was collected in the form of a faeces and was sent away for analysis, but it turns out that faeces have only a limited value for extracting DNA and the species are so similar anyway that DNA might not be conclusive, plus the hybrid potential makes it even more difficult. Confused, yep well me too.

However after being present and showing well at point blank range for 10 days allowing loads of excellent photos to be taken, it turns out that after all of the confusion it can actually be identified from a photograph, though unsurprisingly not one of mine. There are photos on the web which show that some of its mantle feathers have a white base which apparently proves that it is eastern black-eared because pied never shows this feature.

Great news for me, it brings my UK total to 432 and means that I had a UK tick on three consecutive days last week, western Bonelli's warbler (Lands End), brown booby (Lizard) and eastern black-eared wheatear (Fluke Hall), though none of these birds were full lifers.

Exactly how the white base to the mantle feathers rules out a hybrid especially since the bird apparently has other features which suggest pied wheatear (e.g. remember the pale fringes to mantle feathers??) is way beyond me, but perhaps I shouldn't worry about that. Now we just have to see if the wise people at the BBRC accept the record.

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