An Island Paradise..............and a pair of "plastics"

So the shortened working week flew buy quite quickly and it wasn't long before we found ourselves in the trusty 4WD again heading down in the predawn gloom to Cape Jervis and our date with the Sealink Ferry that would take us to Kangaroo Island. No local Big Year attempt at least would be complete without visiting the Island as there are several birds there that you just can't see anywhere else on the mainland and some that are easier there than elsewhere.

The short ferry crossing went uneventfully with a few Australian Gannets and a lone surface paddling Little Penguin being the only highlights. Arriving in Penneshaw and after a quick breakfast we decided to checkout the Casuarina groves up behind the town as well as going for a walk in Baudin Conservation Park for the Islands special resident bird. Despite seeing several Crescent Honeyeaters, which were actually new for us, the bird we were looking for was a no show. Undeterred we moved off in the direction of American River where we were staying for the next three nights.

After checking out around the estuary we decided to begin searching for the two feral species that have established themselves on the eastern half of the Island and can only be found there. Between the airport turn off and the Cygnet river bridge we eventually came across a large group of 14 Wild Turkeys foraging in a paddock adjacent to a fence line. Controversially considered feral since around 1950 these birds are now being considered for culling by the Natural Resource Management Board. Including them in our Big Year no doubt will also come with some controversy but the author of "Birds of Kangaroo Island a Photographic Guide" and expert on the Islands avifauna Chris Baxter assures me that these birds are indeed feral and "answerable to nobody" and that is why he included them in his recent excellent tome.

American imports. Oversexed and over here!

With the afternoon rapidly expiring we made our way back to American River for an early end to the day to indulge in a few beverages while watching our local AFL team the Adelaide Crows demolish the opposition. The birds of course hadn't quite finished with us and it was with great delight we had several pairs of Glossy Black Cockatoos coming in to roost adjacent to our accommodation in the early evening. These birds are incredibly isolated from the core population on the east coast of Australia and the mind boggles as to how this relic population from a time long ago in Australia's ecological history has managed to survive. The fact is they very nearly didn't, and if it wasn't for some intensive management of the Islands population, which has proven to be quite successful, they may well have succumbed

One of the eight or so pairs of Glossy Black Cockatoos roosting above American River

Early the next morning just as we were waking up we heard the unmistakable call of a Fan-tailed Cuckoo trilling somewhere from behind the cabin. As soon as it was light enough to see we were outside looking for it. Wasn't long before we heard it calling across the street and we both were able to add it to our year lists with good views.

This guy got us out of bed

Now we were up it was decided we'd travel to the far end of the Island to Flinders Chase to see if we could catch up with an old friend. Most of the western half of the Island is still quite well forested and we drove past lots of nice habitat on the way Having paid our entry fee we drove down the rest of the way to Remarkable Rocks, an enigmatic volcanic formation that stands on the edge of the sea, but it's here in this spot last year we made a local friend. With a coffee under our belt we went to see if he was home. Nothing............wait a minute......... was that a bird briefly sitting on that rock?.......waiting, waiting......Boom there he is. A little more furtive than last year but we still managed to get good looks in the end of the Kangaroo Island race of Western Whipbird 

I see you!.................Extremely secretive, sometimes you only get to hear them

With a quick stop off at Admirals Arch to see all the Seals with pups loafing around on the rock shelves we then headed back to the other end of the Island and called in to Murrays Lagoon. The main road through to the camping ground had been cut from all the recent rains having washed away the track so we got out to have a look at what was around. Quite a few ducks were evident out on the Lagoon which was obviously over full and even a couple of Spotted Crakes were sneaking around the waters edge amongst the fringing Melaleucas but a distinctive call had us both interested. Foraging and hawking along the creek line we were graced with a Restless Flycatcher. Not a bird that you can pin down to any one spot normally so it was nice to get this one.

This Restless Flycatcher made his presence known by his "scissor grinder" call long before we saw him

We spent the rest of the afternoon driving up to Kingscote and cruising around the back roads looking for another of the feral species we "needed" with no luck. Dinner in the Ozone hotel then back to American River for the night. The next morning we drove back down to Murrays Lagoon where we were told these birds occur but no sign apart from some distant calling birds. Leaving there empty handed again we went back over old ground before being given some timely information from Chris Baxter, so we headed up Gum Creek Rd for a few km's as per his instructions. Pulling up in the middle of the road it was evident that the paddock next to the car was in fact full of the bird we had had so much difficulty finding up to this point in time Indian Peafowl. A covey of over thirty birds that included four or five males were spread out along the fenceline. Established on the Island since the mid 1900's these birds have spread out over much of the eastern half of the Island and is now considered a pest.

Part of a large group of Indian Peafowl we eventually encountered west of Kingscote

Having seen the last of the birds we needed to see while on the Island the rest of the weekend was ours to do as we pleased, so the following day was spent out on the Dudley Peninsula with a visit to a lovely winery. There were a couple of other species we might have seen, but without sites for them we would have just been burning diesel, so we left those for some other trip on the mainland.

On the ferry trip home we marvelled at the number of Short-tailed Shearwaters passing through Backstairs Passage as they start their long migration across the Pacific to the northern hemisphere. With seabirds now on our radar we wait patiently for the next weekend where we're scheduled to go out on the next pelagic trip from Port MacDonnell

Easter birding........ but did we get the chocolates?

After having a weekend off we were really keen to head out bush for Easter and add to our growing year lists. A four day break gave us that extra day to travel just a bit further away from home and with a few key species to chase we decided to go to Mt Ive Station on the eastern fringe of the Gawler Ranges. We left work on the Thursday and with the car already packed we drove up to Port Augusta to get a head start on the driving.

Good Friday saw us up early and on the road out to Mt Ive via Iron Knob. Stopping to investigate a dam we had three or four Mulga Parrots in some nearby trees. Further on about 2-3 km's north of Coruna we flushed some Galahs off the side of the road but they were joined by something else. As we focused our bins through the window we realised it was a Ground Cuckoo-shrike that was rapidly joined by another three birds. We watched them settle on the ground just in off the track and we got out to have a better look. Really stunning birds and one that is not easily seen as you never know where they are going to turn up.

The exquisitely marked Ground Cuckoo-shrike

Seriously happy with that we carried on travelling, passing through several pastoral properties on the way. While going through Nonning we flushed some birds near to the track that looked like Orange Chats. On investigation they proved not to be but we did pick up Red-capped Robin instead.

We made it to Mt Ive around lunchtime but decided rather than waiting for early morning we might as well drive up to the summit to search for the special bird that lives up there. Walking around the open spinifex grass habitat we had flybys of several Australian Ravens, there unmistakable calls confirming their ID. We hadn't gone far past the microwave tower that marks the summit when we heard a faint peep from just up ahead. A bit of squeaking soon had a male Short-tailed Grasswren virtually run at us. This was a bird that just kept giving, strutting around mere metres from us without any fear at all. Stunning birds you've just got to love the Grasswrens!

The bird that just kept giving Short-tailed Grasswren

Having secured the bird and indulging in another tail gate lunch with a view we decided to drive out on the track that accesses Lake Gairdner to see if any finches were coming to drink at the Embankment dam. The water level at the dam itself was lower than we had seen it previously and the unmistakable powerful odour of goats was heavy in the air. Goats are experts at stripping vegetation in harsh environments and these were no exception, the immediate vicinity of the dam was a wasteland. Apart from a few hardy Euros and a family group of Yellow-throated Miners nothing else came in at all. As it was getting late we decided to pull the pin and drive out earlier than planned and as we rounded a corner we came across a group of twenty Pink Cockatoos. These birds are our favourite of all the Cockatoo family with their delicate shade of salmon pink underparts and a stunning crest to match. We stayed with these birds until the end of the day before heading back to camp for a well earned frosty beverage and dinner

Stunningly gorgeous Pink Cockatoos

Just in case we didn't know which way to go, these guys did!

Saturday dawned and we decided to walk out in to the paddocks adjacent to the homestead to try for Western Grasswrens that had been reported from here a few weeks back. It was obvious that these holding paddocks were suffering from a lack of understorey and bird diversity was very low. Having walked a long way we were nearly back when we came across a mixed feeding flock of Southern Whitefaces, White-winged Fairy-wrens and a brief view of another bird dissappearing into a saltbush. This turned out to be a lovely male Redthroat. Also in this mixed flock were a pair of Slender-billed Thornbills. We're not used to seeing the paler nominate form that occurs through inland southern Australia but rather the darker gulf coast subspecies rosinae, so that was a pleasant surprise

A lovely male Redthroat by Sue

Slender-billed Thornbill in the early morning light

After breakfast we drove out on one of the extensive property tracks to explore and look for more birds. Conditions were quite dry throughout and combined with the time of year there were not many birds in evidence. We did however bump in to a pair of Chestnut-rumped Thornbills associating with some Southern Whiteface near one of the lookouts, so we were happy to knock those off. Higher up on the range we drove through some mallee habitat which proved good for Grey-fronted Honeyeater, and we eventually saw over a dozen.. Not much else to report though for the rest of the day. We spent the late afternoon early evening staking out a leaking bore tank that had a few birds coming in to drink, but nothing special. Waiting for dusk we drove back slowly, spotlighting as we went, hoping for a Spotted Nightjar in the car headlights. We did nearly run over an Owlet Nightjar but apart from that it was very quiet.

The next morning we made an executive decision to leave Mt Ive and head down to the southern Flinders Ranges where we stood a chance of picking up a few new birds. On the way down to the highway we stopped at a few suitable places to search for Grasswrens. At the first place we stopped on Kolendo Station we found a pair of Western Grasswrens but they proved too elusive for any kind of photographs despite staying with them for nearly an hour. This time of year they seem to not take too much interest in squeaking and pishing and we had to settle for views of the birds as they darted and bounced between clumps of Saltbush

Sue in stealth mode trying to get fleeting glimpses of a Western Grasswren

Passing through Port Augusta we drove out to Yorkeys crossing north of town to see if we could pick up a Rufous Fieldwren for Sue as she hadn't caught up with this bird yet. Unfortunately the wind had picked up as we got to the head of the gulf and despite seeing a bird briefly and another calling Sue didn't manage to get tickable views. Never fear  there is always next time. From there we drove down to Telowie Gorge near Port Pirie, A nice spot but one that had suffered from a serious bushfire a few years back now. The damage was still evident and the regrowth was obviously happening very slowly but despite this there is still a special bird that can be found here. In the low heath just the other side of the creek from the main car park I had very brief views of this bird Chestnut-rumped Heathwren. Unfortunately Sue missed it as she was distracted by a noisily foraging Yellow-footed Antechinus. We retreated back to our friend Stephens place for a night of Roast dinner and many beverages.

Monday morning we decided to drive back up towards Wilmington and pop in to Alligator Gorge. We had seen Heathwrens here in previous years and it wasn't long before we came across a pair foraging in the undergrowth. This time we both got great views

Race pedleri of Chestnut-rumped Heathwren at Alligator Gorge by Sue

On the drive back down from the top of the range we scanned the roadside slowly especially in areas of native grass and we were rewarded with finding Diamond Firetails. Only four or five at first but investigating further on the opposite side of the road I came across a flock of 30 birds that included numerous juveniles. A particularly gorgeous finch and it saves us a trip to Browns Road near Monarto. An obliging male Mistletoebird put in an eye level appearance for Sue as well giving her a much needed catch up bird.

Some of the more than thirty Diamond Firetails we saw east of Wilmington.

On reaching the main road a group of five Apostlebirds broke cover and flew over the car into the front yard of an adjacent property.........nice. Well satisfied with our weekends efforts we decided to head home and brave the Easter holiday traffic, which proved to be not that bad after all. I finished with a nice haul of thirteen year ticks taking my total to 277 and Sue fourteen which included some nice quality birds but despite all that neither of us got any chocolates for Easter!

So this week we have a four working day turnaround and its off to Kangaroo Island for another four day break where we'll be looking for the special residents of the Island

Big Year.......Big Dip?

Early in the week as we began planning for our three day weekend, a report came through of a Bustard on the eastern end of Hindmarsh Island. This can be a tricky bird to find in South Australia at any time of the year, you'd normally have to visit the extreme north of the State to have any real chance of finding one. As this individual was just over an hours drive from home it was too good of an opportunity to pass up. During the rest of the working week there had been no further reports even though several birders had been searching, but despite that we decided to start early on the Saturday and head down there in time for early morning anyway.

Just after dawn we were in the general area the bird had been seen last. We slowly drove the back tracks scanning the open paddocks either side of the road but after three hours and having covered the entire eastern end of the Island it was evident the bird had likely moved on, or at the very least was remaining well hidden and we had dipped! We did see lots of Cape Barren Geese and good numbers of Elegant Parrots but we decided to go chase other birds we still needed for our year lists instead.

We did a brief stop over at Tolderol Game Reserve where we saw a few Double-banded Plovers and a single Spotless Crake but from there we made our way down to the Coorong where we were going to camp for the night. Pulling off the Salt Creek loop road adjacent to the well known Malleefowl mound, it was evident, judging by the amount of dust flying around, that the birds themselves were actually in attendance. Having called in here a few times already this year for zero results, it was nice to get a lucky break, and we sat for quite a while as we photographed the pair of birds working the mound in tandem

One of the pair of Malleefowl working the mound

With still a couple of daylight hours left we decided to carry on along the loop track to look for several other species we still needed down here. We hadn't gone far before a small dark "rock" on the side of the road materialised in to a Beautiful Firetail. It flew up into a road side bush to join a couple of its mates but they quickly moved off before we could get the cameras out. Further down and around a corner we flushed a Bronzewing off the side of the road. This one actually landed on a log in plain view and proved to be a nice male Brush Bronzewing, although a little too far away to get any pictures. Satisfied with the views we had anyway we headed back to set up camp.

The next morning we had a walk around the campsite and we found that it was also being frequented a by a pair of Southern Scrub-Robins. These birds always seem to have a great sense of curiosity and they always seem hell bent on finding out what you're up to, great characters and one of my favourites.

The ever curious Southern Scrub-Robin

Also in camp a pair of Purple-gaped Honeyeaters made an appearance as part of a mixed feeding association of Silvereyes, Striated Thornbills and White-browed Scrub-wrens so we both added those to our lists. Keen to move on down the coast we packed up and drove the rest of the loop road looking for another special bird that lives down this way. Autumn is not a great time to see them as they arent very vocal and tend to skulk a bit compared to late winter early spring but it wasn't long before we had a pair of  Rufous Bristlebirds just off the side of the road. They played hide and seek for a bit before giving themselves up for a photograph

Rufous Bristlebird just about to leg it across an open patch of ground

Moving on from the Coorong having seen those species we needed to we drove down to Penola Conservation Park as we hadn't been there for a while. Lots of activity particularly around the picnic area and the walk along the main track produced a small family group of Southern Emu-wrens which was nice, but nothing else of note was seen. As we wanted to camp in Mary Seymour Conservation Park (a great spot and one of our favourites) we thought we'd visit Big Heath Conservation Park first and drive around the boundary track. Quite a bit of activity as it got later in the afternoon and we saw some nice birds including two coveys of six and eight Brown Quail just on the sides of the track. Such an intricately marked species its nice to get close views of any Quail on the deck

One of six Brown Quail in this particular covey

Quite a few Parrots around too including Blue-wingeds feeding in the paddocks adjacent to the park and Eastern Rosellas

Always something special about all the Parrots we see in Oz

Apart from some close looks at Red-necked and Swamp Wallabies, which is always nice, we couldn't find anything new for our year lists so we headed off to camp for the night in Mary Seymour as we wanted to be close to Bool Lagoon for the morning. In the last light as I was cooking our evening meal we heard the unmistakable call of a Fan-tailed Cuckoo, a bird we both needed, but it was a no show. To add insult to injury it called again not far from camp in the predawn light the next morning but still failed to show.........grrrrr! Never mind we'll get one eventually

Bool Lagoon is a fantastic place to visit when it holds a lot of water as it does this year, even if it takes the birds a while to realise the water is there!. As of now there are literally thousands of birds as the water starts to recede, but we were looking for one in particular...... Plumed Whistling Duck. These birds had been reported just after the Victorian Duck shooting season started (insert boos and hisses here) by Bob Green and we hoped they might stay given the wonderfully suitable conditions for them. Leading up to our visit we had heard that other birders had looked but had failed to locate them. Despite our best efforts circumnavigating the entire complex and seeing an impressive array of birds including over 65 Brolga and an Echidna, we also failed to find them............another dip!! We hope the trend doesn't continue!

Just two of the more than sixty five Brolga in the western section of Bool Lagoon

Always nice to see, the icon Ozzie animal adorning our five cent piece.. Echidna

Other interesting birds seen while we stopped for lunch included a nice first year White-bellied Sea-eagle being harassed by the numerous Whistling Kites whose underwing pattern mirrors that of their much larger cousin

First year White-bellied Sea-eagle being made to feel welcome by the resident Whistling Kites

We had made the most of a three day weekend but it was time to make the long haul home and prepare ourselves for another albeit shorter working week.

The Big Year though cares not for mundane things such as work and the birds continue to give themselves up despite the working week. I had a nice European Greenfinch at the bird bath while popping my breakfast dishes in the sink and I hadn't even left the comfort of my own home.......nice!

Farewell to the Shorebirds

During the planning stages of our Big Year we decided to work on a strategy to target difficult birds in the right seasons. The theory behind that was based on the premise that it's easier to find those difficult birds when the timing is right and that a lot of the commoner species will fall in around them....... or so the theory goes!

Up until now at least it appears to be working. We haven't had many opportunities to this point in time for really rare and or difficult birds, but for those that we have we've been successful in seeing, such as Laughing Gull, Black-backed Bittern and recently Little Curlew. Which brings me back to this weeks update "Farewell to the Shorebirds". Migratory shorebirds that breed in the far northern hemisphere spend our summer with us here in Australia before migrating back north to breed. So during a normal calendar year we see them mostly from January to April then again from about October through to the end of December. There's always some exceptions and some birds always over winter but if you want to get all the Shorebirds you have to target them when they are around.

By late March these birds are already on the move having spent the previous weeks feeding voraciously on the mudflats they inhabit, doubling their body weight and shrinking their non vital organs in preparation for the vast distances they must travel on the Flyway to reach the breeding grounds. With some of these birds still missing from our lists we needed to target them one more time before they disappear till later in the year.

Firstly though we had domestic duties to take care of as they tend to build up when you work for a living and spend every spare minute chasing birds, so we gave up Saturday for that. On the Sunday we had decided to visit the west coast of Yorke Peninsula around Chinaman Wells again. On the way we called in to visit the resident Black Falcons just north of Port Wakefield that I had seen earlier in the year on a work trip but Sue had missed. It was nice to see one of the adult birds sitting on a power pole in the general vicinity of where they normally are and so Sue was able to add it to her list. We continued on to Chinaman Wells and were keen to see if there were any waders moving through on passage and to have another go for Rock Parrots before they head offshore to breed. Apart from a few Grey Plover and about 25 Turnstone there were only a 100 or so Red-necked Stints and not much else. It seemed the Red Knots and Bar-tailed Godwits we had seen previously had already left. Never mind, so we looked for Rock Parrots instead. Apart from a pair of Neophema type Parrots flushing from the roadside we failed to get on to any again. A brief lunch stop on the hills overlooking Port Victoria was shared with a sky full of very vocal Fork-tailed Swifts. These birds no doubt also contemplating their long migration to the northern hemisphere. Time to move on. We had arranged to meet our friend Colin Rogers at Clinton Conservation Park to coincide with the late afternoon high tide that forces the birds off the mudflats and into binocular range.

Clinton Conservation Park incorporates the head of the Gulf of St Vincent and protects the Mangroves and Mudflats

We got there just as the tide had started to race in and I decided to ditch my shoes as we walked out over the mudflats, sinking up to my knees at times. There were a lot of birds out there but no sign of any of the larger waders that I had hoped might still be there like Whimbrels. This used to be a good place to regularly see both Lesser and Greater Sand-plovers but neither put in an appearance and we feared we had already left it too late in the season to see these birds.

Ditched the shoes

Sue and Colin scanning through flocks of waders on the beach

There were still impressive numbers of birds here though and as the tide raced in covering the mudflats the birds had been feeding on they started to concentrate in to species specific flocks. Over 60 odd Grey Plover were an impressive site as well as over a hundred Common Greenshank. Overhead were quite a few Gull-billed Terns, Caspian Terns and over 50 Fairy Terns. As the shorebirds were forced to come closer to shore we picked up a couple of Terek Sandpipers. This was a bird I was hoping for. It's quite rare in SA in any given year and I had never seen more than seven together at any one time here, so we were very pleased to see this species. As the birds moved around trying to settle somewhere above the incoming tide we found the Tereks again perched on a dead mangrove stump, but now there were 5 and a Grey-tailed Tattler was keeping them company. Very impressive!

An impressive 5 Terek Sandpipers and a Grey-tailed Tattler

We spent some time sifting through the mixed flocks of smaller waders hoping to pick out something really special like a Little Stint or a Broad-billed Sandpiper but apart from a single Double-banded Plover picked out by Sue (she's good at finding them), it was not to be. It was nice though looking at some of these birds resplendent in their new breeding attire and even Sharp-tailed Sandpipers looked really attractive in their rich rufous colours. The majority of these birds however would be leaving our shores in the next week or so. Having scrutinised the birds arrayed before us and confident we hadn't missed anything it was time to head back to the vehicles. Just when you think the day is done birds have a way of taking you by surprise when you least expect it! Walking back along the beach we finally connected with Rock Parrot. We flushed six birds that were feeding in the samphire in amongst the Mangroves right on the mudflats. Seemed the incoming tide had forced the birds back in towards the beach. Having got good looks at them they flushed and headed out on to the samphire flats back behind the beach. We would come across these birds again on the way out and one of them finally gave up a nice photo opportunity for Sue.

Rock Parrot.......finally!

So I picked up two more Year birds and Sue three to finish the weekend on 258. It's time now though to say farewell to the Shorebirds until October when we hope to connect with those few birds still missing from our Big Year lists. Unless something super rare turns up unexpectedly we'll shift our focus now to other birds that we've not tried for yet. Lots of "low hanging fruit" to chase.

The Big Blue Paddock

Midweek we received the good news that the pelagic trip scheduled for the weekend was going to go ahead. Having missed out on the first trip scheduled in February due to bad weather we were pretty excited about the prospect of getting to grips with lots of truly pelagic seabirds. There are so many species out there, any Big Year attempt needs to include as many pelagic trips as possible, they can literally be game changing.

So Saturday morning we drove the 5 hours down to Port MacDonnell in the States south-east, but not before taking in a visit to Pick Swamp. Yes we'd been here several times already this year in search of the Australasian Bitterns that frequent this area but had drawn a blank up to this point in time. However, this time was going to be different because we came with a secret weapon in the form of local birder and south-east guru Bob Green. Bob spends a lot of time in this area doing extensive monitoring and survey work and so we felt confident we'd get one this time. Having driven around the boundary of the reserve and seeing a lot of birds including some nice Brolga but no Bittern, we came back around towards and past the main entrance gate where Bob showed us a good site for Olive Whistler. No doubt we'll look harder in Spring for this one when the birds are calling. Walking along the edge of the swamp and avoiding a large Copperhead Snake sunning itself on the track we put up an Australasian Bittern in close! Another bird foraging further out put in an appearance as well........nice!! We left Bob to go and catch up with the other participants and check in to the Caravan Park for the night

Scanning the horizon on the run out to the shelf 

Up early and down to the wharf for a 6:30am start. The day was forecast to be warm with light northerly winds and a 2-2.5m swell. Heading out in the predawn light it wasn't long before we started getting tantalising glimpses of birds cutting across the stern in our wake. Some of the pelagic species are more commonly found inshore and so it was that the first birds ID'd were several Fluttering Shearwaters heading out to feeding areas only they can detect. Somewhat surprisingly the next bird to turn up was a single Wilsons Storm-Petrel, allegedly the most numerous species of bird on earth but not normally seen inshore. A few Australasian Gannets were passing by, along with some distant Jaegers that could not be determined to species as well as some Short-tailed Shearwaters and the odd Flesh-footed Shearwater. It would take us just over an hour to reach the drop off on the edge of the continental shelf and in the zone of the truly deep water pelagic birds. It's here we stop the boat and start a Tuna oil slick and start chumming for birds. In a trackless ocean it never ceases to amaze me how the birds start appearing from over the horizon in search of this amazing smell!!! Where at first there were virtually no birds and an apparent empty sea, in a matter of twenty minutes we had multiple species of Albatross such as Shy Albatross, Yellow-nosed Albatross, Black-browed Albatross and the closely related Campbells Albatross.

The numerous Shy Albatrosses mostly included local breeders

Campbells Albatross

Other species attracted to the scrum forming at the back of the boat included both Great-winged and Grey-faced Petrels. Several  White-faced Storm-Petrels were dancing about on the slick as well as even more Wilsons Storm-Petrels.

The worlds most numerous bird? Wilsons Storm-Petrel

Nothing can prepare you for seeing one of the "Great Albatrosses" When one of these birds turn up at the back of the boat even the other species of Albatross make way. The first of four Wandering Albatross to turn up during the day made its presence felt, dwarfing all the other birds attending the back of the boat. Surprisingly shy at first but once it got interested in the food on offer the other birds just got out of its way!!

Wandering Albatross. One of the "Great Albatrosses"
By far the most attractive of the smaller Albatrosses at least in my opinion is the beautiful Bullers Albatross that made an appearance when peoples enthusiasm was starting to wane a little. Very dainty and delicate with soft pastel shades of grey they never fail to impress me

Bullers Albatross incoming
As lunch time was approaching conditions began to flatten out a bit which forces the birds to expend too much energy flying around. This makes them just sit on the water and makes attracting them to us a lot more difficult. This didn't stop a young Pomarine Jaeger from paying us a visit as he heavily flapped right up to and over the boat before sitting on the water gobbling food for a while. By now things had started to quieten down and so we contemplated the return journey. So we began the trek back on what had become glassy seas, but that didn't stop us picking up a Little Penguin loafing on the surface some twenty nautical miles still offshore!! Back on dry land it took an arduous 5 hours to get back home again but we had added another 15 species to our Big Year Lists finishing the weekend on 255. We're scheduled to go on another four trips in the next couple of months so it'll be interesting to see how many other species we can pick up!

Shorebirds and more Shorebirds

So after spending an amazing two weeks on holiday in Thailand, it was a rude shock to have to go back to work again. For me I got to go to the Upper Spencer Gulf for four days which gave me an opportunity to catch up with a few birds I hadn't connected with, but sadly for Sue she was desk bound. A quick ten minute pit stop at the wetlands at Port Wakefield on the way through afforded me great views of a few Freckled Duck roosting close to the road that had been reported a week earlier. Later in the week I took a drive out to Yorkeys Crossing north of Port Augusta after work to see if there was anything around. Despite the fact it was a little windy I soon came across two pair of Rufous Field-wrens sitting on a fence within a short distance of each other. Closer to town two Chirruping Wedgebills sat up in a bush giving me good views. Home Friday and we packed the car ready to head back up the Gulf coast to try and find some of the missing shorebirds from our lists

An early start saw us at Thompson Beach at dawn, to coincide with an early high tide. We quickly located a roosting area of a large group of shorebirds further south down the beach. Here we found some good numbers of birds that were starting to colour up into breeding plumage including Red Knots and Great Knots but also had 93 Bar-tailed Godwits and good numbers of Grey Plover, Turnstone and several thousand mixed Curlew Sandpipers, Red-necked Stints and a few Sharp-tailed Sandpipers. Sue managed to pick up a recently arrived Double-banded Plover and we both added that to our lists. Other birds of note included a young Spotted harrier cruising along the beach and a pair of Brown Quail dust bathing on the side of the main road

Large group of shorebirds in the early morning light

The birds were up and about heading out to richer feeding areas
At this stage after a couple of hours watching the birds go about the business of feeding ready for migration we noticed the approaching front that had been forecast for the weekend. We decided then to head over to the upper Gulf via Port Wakefield so Sue could pick up the Freckled Ducks I'd seen earlier in the week. After poking about in Port Arthur and Port Clinton seeing not much of interest we went straight to Chinaman Wells north of Port Victoria to see if we could connect with Rock Parrots. On the drive out the storm clouds were gathering and the humidity increased providing great conditions for Swifts and luckily enough we connected with a flock of 80+ Fork-tailed Swifts flying north over the road

One of 80 Fork-tailed Swifts against a heavy sky

Despite our best efforts and having a false start or two with Elegant Parrots we failed to connect with any Rock Parrots at all. There were some nice shorebirds on the beach here though to keep our interest and we counted at least another 800 Red Knot, some more Bar-tailed Godwits and a close flyby of two Double-banded Plover. From here we drove all the way down to Gleesons landing near Corny Point to try and find Reef Herons and Hooded Plovers. There were lots of people camping here and why not? it looked like a really nice place. As we drove around the edge of a cove Sue spotted a suspicious looking Heron loafing on the rocks. I had to drive past it in order to turn around. As we got out the car Sue called it....... Reef Heron, a tricky bird to find in SA as they are in very low numbers and found with any regularity in only a few places. We managed to get some photos then realised the bird nearly walked straight on top our other main target here, Hooded Plover......nice. Time was flying and the day was drawing to a close so we headed over to Edithburgh to stay for the night.

Reef Heron at Gleesons Landing
Hooded Plover nearly got stood on by a Reef Heron

The next morning we decided to go down in to Innes National Park and search for some of the special birds that occur there but it quickly became apparent we'd be up against it with unprecedented numbers of people and wet and windy conditions. We did manage to get on to Eastern Osprey relatively quickly at Chinamans Hat but that was going to be all she wrote given the conditions, so we beat a hasty retreat and headed north to try for Rock Parrots again. Just outside of Port Victoria we picked up some Banded Lapwings in a paddock, a pair of which had two tiny chicks. It was at this point we drove home via Port Wakefield again where we managed to locate some Black-tailed Native-hen in the wetlands there between heavy downpours.

Banded Lapwing near Port Victoria

Monday morning we had prearranged with our friend Colin Rogers to pick us up and take us out to the former Penrice Saltfields where he had seen some very nice birds over the previous couple of days. The Saltfields used to be a jewel in the crown of Adelaide birding hotspots and it was never difficult to gain access, even allowing birders to become key holders but sadly it is no longer a commercially operating business and the place has declined dramatically. It's very sad to see its demise. Having said that we had this limited opportunity to go in with Colin so we took it. The first birds we scanned for during the high tide were 9 Far Eastern Curlew. These had proved difficult to locate anywhere else in the Gulf region so far this summer so we were well pleased with seeing them. The next location on the agenda was Buckland Park Lake. This legendary place had seen some spectacular rarities over the years and with high water levels receding it had lots of birds on it to look through, but we were looking for something more specific. 4 Black-tailed Godwits were another shorebird in short supply this summer, these being the only ones I'd seen having been reported anywhere in the State. The muddy wet edges of the samphire on some pools near the main lake edge harboured up to 6 Long-toed Stints, some of which were starting to show some nice colour on them as they moult in to breeding plumage. The main target here though was a female Pectoral Sandpiper that Colin had found earlier. Once located she gave some nice views. On the way back to the car we eventually bumped in to a single Marsh Sandpiper. Not normally difficult to see in SA but for some reason this summer they are mostly absent from all of the known areas they can usually be easily seen.

Probable female Pectoral Sandpiper Buckland Park Lake

Back in the car we drove around to a site that almost always has Slender-billed Thornbills and the little darlings didn't want to disappoint, so we were happy to add those to the list. On our way out we stopped to scan some of the larger ponds nearer the lake to see if we could find some Great-crested Grebes that usually loaf around here and we duly did, eventually seeing 20 birds in total that seemed more interested in having a snooze than anything else. it can be a difficult bird to get outside of the Saltfields so I'm glad we got them today. That brought us to the main event that Colin had originally invited us to see. We drove to a spot where he had located these special birds on the previous Friday and again on Saturday. We were worried the rain on Sunday might have interrupted there behaviour and being a bird that normally never hangs around in the one spot longer than a day or two my expectations were not high. As we approached the site we slowed down and began to scan close to the track where he had seen them previously..................nothing!!.....No surprises there I thought, that's how I roll. Still determined to exhaust all our options to find them we decided to drive the long way round on a back track, stopping and scanning every now and again. On the third such stop my bins locked on to one straight away....Little Curlew. "I have one I exclaimed."......two.....three.......four.......five" A grand total of 5 of one of the rarest Shorebirds that turn up in South Australia or anywhere in the Southern States for that matter. A cracking bird and one I'd only seen on three other occasions

Little Curlew

Two of the Five Little Curlew 

Not much could be improved on for this weekend so we took the rest of the day off and took Colin out for lunch to thank him and celebrate "cleaning up". A nice group of  birds that included 10 species of shorebird. Next weekend hopefully sees us on our first pelagic of the year where we hope to go past the 250 species mark.  

The Pelagic that never was!!

The Big Year had been on hiatus for two weeks as I had to honor work commitments over the previous weekend which is not conducive to birding. So with that out of the way Sue and I were looking forward to the first pelagic trip of the year from Port MacDonnell in the States far South-east. By Wednesday it was becoming apparent that the weather was not going to play ball and we learnt it was likely there would be a front with associated 5m swells on the Sunday. It came as no surprise then that it was called off. No matter, we decided to head down the South-east anyway as that's where we still have quite a few seasonal birds to chase

Saturday morning saw us head out to Whicker Rd Wetlands first thing as we were still after some normally common wetland species that were proving elusive so far. Fortunately about 35 Red-kneed Dotterels and a lone Wood Sandpiper decided to show up this time. Happy with the good start we moved on to Greenfields Wetlands but the water levels are still quite high and despite seeing another 3 Wood Sandpipers and some Sharpies there wasn't much on offer

Whicker Road Wetlands 

Royal Spoonbills at Whicker Rd Wetlands

We then headed South to Bordertown to try and connect with Bush Stone-curlews. Apart from Kangaroo Island and some of the Gulf Islands this species has sadly declined on the mainland in the southern settled districts of SA to the point it is considered endangered. After some searching around Possum Park and the Cemetery in town, we finally located one bird seeking refuge in the Wildlife Park.

The highly endangered Bush Stone-curlew

We moved on from Bordertown to camp for the night along the Northern boundary of Bangham Conservation Park with the promise of some good birds in the morning.  We woke to rain drizzling on the tent and a cool morning.  The rain cleared quickly and the only new birds added to the year list here was a juvenile Shining Bronze Cuckoo and Brown Treecreeper.  There were quite a few pairs of Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos flying about but we were keen to see Red-tailed Black Cockatoos that frequent this area. We got on to a good candidate but it was already some distance away when we picked it up and unfortunately flying away from us! There's always next time

Bangham Conservation Park 

Juvenile Shining Bronze Cuckoo

On our way down to the far south coast we did some exploring of Glen Roy Conservation Park which seemed almost devoid of birds so we headed straight to Pick Swamp.  Again we missed Australian Bittern that frequents this wetland in what had become awfully windy conditions so we moved on along the coast stopping in at some of the reefs to see what was around. Our next year tick was Sanderling at Danger Point that had been reported from there several weeks ago but were not in evidence when we last visited. Again this area had good numbers of Red-necked Stints, Curlew and Sharp-tailed Sandpipers and Turnstone that were voraciously feeding on the invertebrates attracted to the rotting seaweed heap on the beach.  Further on towards Port MacDonnell Golden Plover were at their usual haunt at French Point.

As we made our from there towards Cape Northumberland it became apparent why the pelagic was cancelled.  It was very windy and the sea was lumpy and dotted with white caps.  A short seawatch here at least allowed us to add one seabird this weekend, quite a few Short-tailed Shearwaters were cruising along just offshore beyond the breakers.  It was very disappointing to read the signs here indicating that the resident Little Penguin population had been decimated due to predation.

Seawatching at Cape Northumberland 

Fairy Penguins no longer at Cape Northumberland

After a hot mug of Latte at Periwinkles Cafe to warm us up we decided to move back up to Mt Gambier to try for a White Goshawk that's been reported on and off over the last few weeks at Valley Lake. Nothing doing there despite watching for a while from a viewpoint over the Lake so we called it a day and ended up in a cabin with a bottle of Red for the night and some Netflix

Monday morning we headed out towards Southend along the coast via Mt Burr seeing not much of any interest. Despite hearing a Rufous Bristlebird in the coastal scrub here it failed to show so we'll have to have another crack at this bird at a later date. Moving on to Beachport we had a quick look around town before driving out to Drain M where it empties in to Lake George. We were lucky to locate an Intermediate Egret feeding in the drain near an Eastern Great Egret which afforded us a good opportunity to see the main differences between them. Apart from the obvious size difference and neck length we noted the birds gape did not extend behind the eye and despite the bird having some black tones in the bill its legs were black lacking any yellow to the soles of the feet that Little Egrets do.

Intermediate Egret Drain M Beachport

Happy with that we drove on to Robe stopping on the way to watch two White-throated Needletails hawking low over the road. Fox Lake in Robe again proved disappointing with not much in evidence, certainly not the Lathams Snipe that normally frequent this spot. Although we did bump in to another birder here who told us there were three birds in the early morning. I guess we cant be everywhere at dawn but it seems we need to!!. After sitting patiently near the Malleefowl mound near Salt Creek with neither bird showing we decided the weekend was pretty much over so at this point we decided to drive straight through to the ever popular Laratinga Wetlands in Mt Barker. This proved to be a good move as some good birds had been reported from here over the previous week. We managed to get good views after all of a single Lathams Snipe and picked up both Australian Spotted Crake and Spotless Crake in quick succession.

This weekend we're taking a break from the Big Year to go on a short holiday to Thailand for two weeks.