Making something out of nothing

Another cancelled pelagic trip was not the news we were hoping for at the end of last week. When we started out on our S.A. Big Year quest we put our names down for every trip that was going, knowing that boat trips can be a big game changer. The shear amount of species that can potentially be seen is quite phenomenal.  Neither of us had done many boat trips up to this point in time and so we took it as a good opportunity to perhaps get some lifers as well as birds for the year list. As a consequence pelagic weekends during the year are basically preplanned and we dont have to think too hard about what birds we need to chase or where we need to go as its its all laid on, so when a trip is cancelled it forces us to think on the fly and come up with an alternative plan.

With very few birds left to chase within easy day tripping of Adelaide, coming up with a plan was quite a challenge. Spring and the birds that it brings is still so far away, as is our planned holidays for later in the year when we get to travel further what to do? A quick look through our lists identified a couple of species we still needed that we could look for very close to Adelaide. Not only that, Sue still needed a few birds I'd already seen due to opportunities through my work. It wasn't long before we came up with a plan

First on the agenda for Saturday was a visit to a site in suburban Adelaide that has played host to a very special visitor over the past two years. The only problem was no one had reported it this year.......... but then again we didn't think anyone had actually looked for it either. Arriving in the early morning sunshine a walk through a local reserve near Belair National Park failed to find the celebrity Rose Robin that visited here for the last two winters in a row. Apparently three in a row was too big a stretch! Not really a dip given it hasn't actually been seen this year but disappointing all the same as this is a very difficult Winter visitor to get in SA.. Next up was a walk through the Mt Lofty Botanic Gardens. Again, another species that had been recorded here but not since last year as the target. Up hill and down dale the terrain was quite steep but very scenic but we failed to find our quarry!......hmmmmmm not going well.

Silver Birch and deep leaf litter......but no target bird!!

Lunch in Mt Barker before popping in to a favourite birding location famous amongst South Aussies. Laratinga Wetlands has rapidly become a really good place to visit for birding and especially so because of the photographic opportunities it presents. Birds here seem to have little fear of people and seem to allow a close approach. We wandered around the tracks that circumnavigate the ponds but despite our third target of the day having been reported from here just last week, we again failed to find it!!. Plenty of other birds to look at though, and I'm not sure I've seen so many Spotless Crakes in the one place at the one time as what we did that day.

Very photogenic at times Spotless Crakes are easy to see at Laratinga
Lots of Shovelers around at the moment too

With two thirds of the day gone and nothing to show for it we thought we'd have another go near Mt Lofty for the bird we missed in the Botanic Gardens earlier. Last week when we bumped in to Ed and Jenni chasing the Broad-billed Sandpiper, Ed had mentioned an area he had seen our target not far from the Botanic Gardens. Of course I couldn't remember where that was but thought near enough might be good enough. We parked up just near the entrance to Cleland Conservation Park and headed down the Warre track through old Stringybark near the summit of Mt Lofty itself. Emerging from around a corner to the junction of the Eullie Track I noticed movement on the ground in a small open patch of leaf litter amongst the Flame Heath and Bracken Fern understory. I knew what it was immediately and got Sue on to it straight away. Bassian Thrush feeding in the open not 10 metres in front of us............excellent!

Superbly camouflaged in its leaf litter surrounds the Bassian
Thrush is more rarely seen than genuinely rare

Sue "having"a Bassian Thrush

With at least one target bird down for the weekend we headed home for Lamb Roast and a few glasses of Red.

Sunday came with a different plan and we headed out to Brookfield Conservation Park in the mallee again. Not with any particular target in mind but it was a clear bright morning. We did some general birding and came a cross a nice feeding association of Rufous and Golden Whistler, Sittellas, Pardalotes, Brown-headed and Yellow-plumed Honeyeaters and a lone Grey Fantail. Never really understood what the benefits are for the birds in these mixed feeding flocks? Perhaps they just like the company?....... but if was nice watching them going about their business. Another male Chestnut-backed Quailthrush was very nice to see and a single flock of over 50 White-winged Choughs was impressive.

Having spent the morning in the mallee we headed back towards Adelaide via the Barossa Valley to give ourselves enough time to look for our other target that we missed in Laratinga. After lunch at Tanunda Sewage ya do!..... which was covered in Pink-eared Ducks, we drove down to St Hallett Winery. Set on the banks of the North Para River the winery has its own woodlot that sometimes has the bird we were looking for, but first a nasal "beeping"type call drew my attention to some nearby bushes. Sitting on top was a pair of Zebra Finch, a nice pick up for Sue and there were others nearby. Standing near the bike track that parallels the river we scanned for several minutes and listened intently for any sign of our quarry. After a while of not seeing or hearing anything Sue hit a brief burst of playback to see any of the birds were in earshot. Initially nothing, but as we walked down the bike path Sue saw a flash of green and yellow and there they were, three Crested Shrike-tits high up in a river Red Gum along the creek......most excellent!

Chuckling calls often give this birds presence away

Nothing else to do but sample the wines and this we duly did. The best way to thank Chris Steeles for the site info was to buy a couple of bottles of wine he so lovingly makes. Next time you're in the Barossa make sure to pop in and look for the Shrike-tits and have a sample when you do

A successful weekend

One more stop on the way back home down the Valley. Sue was still in need of Yellow Thornbill and so we popped in to Altona Landcare Reserve. Almost didn't even need to get out of the car for that one as they are easily seen in the trees in the car park and so Sue got another catch up bird....nice.
So we got home having made something out of nothing, giving me another two year ticks and putting me on 310, tantalisingly close to my old record. Sue another four.

Now we hope that the pelagic will go next weekend so we dont have to think what else to do!!!

Big Year Winter birding

After a weekend of standby for work, Sue and I were really looking forward to the Queens Birthday long weekend as it gave us three valuable days in a row to go birding. We chose to spend this time down the South-east of the State again as there are several species that can be easier to see at this time of year down there than any other time. Not least of which is Powerful Owl. These birds are very rare winter breeders but tend to call more frequently at this time of year which can aid in the process of locating them.

Firstly we had a report of a wintering Broad-billed Sandpiper to contend with that had been seen on the upper Coorong the weekend I was working (naturally). A rare bird in Summer as it is, but a wintering bird was virtually unheard of. Well with the info already a week old it was no surprise we never got a sniff of it, despite spending quite a bit of time searching the area. Other birders were also looking for the bird and it was nice to get to meet Ed and Jenni in the field, even if we did all dip!

From there we headed down to Bangham CP a favourite area for us. Luke Leddy had posted some pics of a small flock of Red-tailed Black Cockatoos from the weekend previous and we still needed that. Driving along the eastern boundary of the park adjacent to the rail reserve late in the day we parked up and immediately heard the distinctive call of the birds. Just in to the rail corridor was a tree seemingly filled with Red-tailed Black Cockatoos but just as I was reaching for the camera the birds all took the opposite direction!!! Despite that disappointment we were still pleased to have seen them.

Overnight the temperature took a nose dive and we woke up to a very cold and foggy morning. It took the birds a while to get going and we knew exactly how they felt!!

Winter camping at its best

Once we got moving we decided to go back to the spot where we'd seen the Cockatoos the night before. As we pulled up, there they were again, only this time I think they were too cold to fly away and we managed to snatch a few pics through the mist.

The last of the Cockatoos for our Big Year

Moving on from there it wasn't long before we heard the calls of several Black-chinned Honeyeaters and we eventually came across a couple in the south-east corner of the reserve. We managed to get some photos this time having missed that opportunity when we encountered this species for the first time this year back in Port Elliot.

Always a pleasure to see Black-chinned Honeyeaters are getting increasingly more difficult to find in SA

From Bangham we drove towards Naracoorte and popped in to a small reserve that has had Crested Shriketits in the past. The weather was cool and spitting with rain and we had no luck in locating any birds this time. We then headed down further south to the forest reserves on the Victorian border adjacent to the Glenelg River. The key species here at this time of year is Pied Currawong. A small population lives in the vicinity of the Grampians but in winter tend to roam across the border and can be found lurking in these forests. The call is quite distinctive but the taxonomic affinities of these birds are not!!!. Driving around a bit we were listening intently for any birds calling and heard two birds late in the day at some distance from us but that was all we got. We also came across a group of 8 or so Red-tailed Black Cockatoos settling down to roost for the night, certainly a lot further south than I've seen them before. As it was starting to get dark we decided to have some dinner before heading off to search for Powerful Owls. At this stage the weather closed in and we were drizzled on virtually all night. Quite a lot of Ring-tailed Possums around and a Common Wombat entertained us for a while but no owls were calling in the rain and we decided to pull the pin and retire to a motel for the night. A tickless day!!!

Monday morning and we were back in the forest early. We heard another Pied Currawong calling but failed to locate it. Feeling a little deflated at missing our targets we opted for a soft tick. We knew of a spot for a bird that Bob Green had told us about and while we were confident to get it later in the year we thought, well one in the hand is worth two in the bush, and so it was we ended up at Snow Gum block, A little burst of playback and in came a lovely Olive Whistler to investigate. He happily carried on feeding after posing for some pics.

In SA only found in the extreme south-east Olive Whistlers can be very skulking at times

The weather had improved somewhat and while still cold and overcast at least it wasn't wet so we carried on traversing the tracks through the forest scanning ahead for Bassian Thrushes feeding on the side of the tracks and listening intently for Pied Currawongs. Apart from a few Blue-winged Parrots there wasn't a lot of activity in the forest and we struggled to even locate any loose feeding associations. Given that we had to head home at some stage we drove out towards Pernambol Conservation Park. On the way we passed an old roost site we had seen Powerful Owls previously, but now clear felled and we wondered what had ever become of those birds.. Having parked up near the famous sinkhole that is a feature of Pernambol we heard the distinctive and very loud call of a Pied Currawong near to the entrance track. We literally ran out to the road and facing a large block of pine we lost the bird completely. For the next two hours we traversed every track in this small forest block and heard the bird several more times, sometimes close and sometimes further away. A very frustrating two hours ensued as we drove in ever decreasing circles. Hearing the bird for the last time it dawned on us that the bird was only calling on the wing and we'd been chasing shadows. At no stage did we ever even get a sniff of clapping eyes on it, so a return trip is on the cards.

Having taken the decision to head home we thought we'd go for some more "low hanging fruit" as it were given how poorly we had done over the weekend. Up to this point in time we hadn't seen a Shy Heathwren, safe in the knowledge that it's easy to see when we needed it. So on the way home we passed Desert Camp Conservation Park, a place neither Sue or I had ever visited but had driven passed many times. The habitat looked really good for the Heathwrens so we stopped off along the northern boundary. Driving up the fenceline we split off on a diagonal track as we climbed the hill. "This looks good" said I.......... so we pulled up and got out the car. Almost immediately Sue spied a bird just off the side of the track in some low Mallee, a gorgeous male Flame Robin!

A very confiding male Flame Robin. He was joined by a mate shortly after this picture was taken

As we watched the Robin we saw several other species like Purple-gaped Honeyeaters and Fairy-wrens which was nice, but after a brief burst of playback I glimpsed a small bird flipping across the track in front of us. Sure enough out popped a Shy Heathwren right on cue! He stayed with us for a while, posing for several photographs and even serenading us for a short period...........very nice. Always good when a plan comes together!

Shy Heathwrens are always a favourite of ours when ever we come across them

So the weekend was done and we felt a little underwhelmed given the aspirations that we'd had originally. We'd seen some good birds for sure but none of the winter targets we really needed. It's a bit of a struggle at this time of year with few birds to chase in easy reach of Adelaide. Ideally we need to ensure we get these birds before we lose the opportunity to get them so we need to plan to return to the South-east again. As it was we both picked up the three year ticks which puts me on 308 and tantalisingly close to beating my old record from way back in 1994

As I sit writing this we've just been told the pelagic trip we were so looking forward to this weekend has been cancelled. I'm wondering if we'll ever get back out to sea again this year as that's two in a row that have failed to get out. Oh well, we'll just have to make other plans closer to home......


Big Year blues

I must admit to struggling a bit with motivation now we've hit the "dead period" of the year. As I alluded to in our last blog post it can be hard to try and focus on what we should be doing with our time now that we've seen quite a few of the birds already this year that are in easy reach. Most of the remaining species we need, we'll need to travel much further afield to see and that requires more time off work than we're getting now. Even then some of those birds we'll have to wait until spring before having a chance to get to grips with them. All of those birds have been planned for and our holidays are already booked for the rest of the year, so its a matter of just sitting it out until those trips come around.

There was a report of Northern Shoveler from Hindmarsh Island that would have been a great addition to our Big Year lists and an Oz tick to boot, but we got that info too late and we were stuck at work for the week. Even still, despite being seen on the Monday it could not be found by other observers who searched throughout the rest of the week. In the end and in the absence of any further reports, we decided not to waste diesel looking for it ourselves.

We still have a number of pelagic trips we're booked on each month but there's no guarantee any of those will go such are the vagaries of the Southern Ocean at this time of year. We were due to go on one last weekend but unfortunately the weather conspired against us and despite reorganising the trip from Sunday to Monday it ended up getting cancelled. We had three days off too, so trying to work out what to do with that time was a challenge. Well in the end we thought we'd split our time with a search for Bassian Thrush and a trip out to the Mallee.

Saturday saw us out and about in the Pine forests around the southern shores of South Para Reservoir. In autumn/winter Bassian Thrushes can sometimes be seen foraging for invertebrates in the moist pine needle leaf litter inside these forests.............sometimes...........but not this time! We did enjoy the walk and it always amazes me just how many native species can be found in Pine forests especially Scarlet Robins and White-throated Treecreepers. These birds seem to be doing quite well in these artificial habitats and we must have seen at least six pairs of Robins at least. At the end of the day we beat a retreat as the wind began to pick up quite significantly and both of us had commitments that evening anyway.

Plenty of Scarlet Robins in the Pine forests around South Para Reservoir

Sunday we spent doing domestic chores instead of driving down for the pelagic we should have been going on but the weather started to show exactly why we weren't going. Quite wet and windy conditions all day .

Monday came and we decided to go up to Brookfield Conservation Park out in the Murray Mallee. This time of year is not particularly good out there compared to Spring, but in the absence of anything else more pressing we thought we'd just do some general birding anyway as we hadn't really spent much time in that habitat yet. There had been some good birds reported recently with Olive-backed Oriole and Painted Honeyeater being very noteworthy, but it was unlikely either would still be around. So in the end we thought it would be a good opportunity to get Sue some catch up birds I'd seen earlier in the year and perhaps get to see one of my all time favourite birds we still needed. To start off we managed to get a small family group of about 7-8 Chestnut-crowned Babblers which was a nice pick up for Sue and there seemed to be lots of Mulga Parrots and Bluebonnets around on the entrance track. A nice female Crested Bellbird sitting up on a branch was encouraging. It's good to see those are still around this close to Adelaide.  After stopping for a cuppa once in the mallee proper, we had a walk around, seeing and hearing a number of nice species but nothing new for either of us

Blue skies in Brookfield CP at least initially!

Towards the eastern boundary we walked up the track beyond the vehicle access where you start to get Bluebush as a major component of the understory. We've seen some good birds in this general area before and it wasn't long before we came across a good loose feeding association that surprisingly had White-browed Woodswallows in it, another catch up bird for Sue.

Lovely out of season male White-browed Woodswallow

Given the amount of activity here I wasn't surprised when Sue spotted a Southern Scrub-robin scuttling between the bushes. Quite often when there's lots of activity with birds in these loose winter feeding flocks, like various Honeyeater species, Pardalotes and others around they are often accompanied by other more cryptic ground dwelling birds. So we started looking carefully on the ground ahead of us as we walked.

Always hell bent on finding out what you're up to Southern Scrub-robins are great characters
With Shrike-thrushes and Scrub-robins hopping along on the ground I nearly missed the bird we were hoping for. Just up ahead and not making a sound I saw a bird running between two clumps of bushes. We got closer to it only to discover a pair of beautiful Chestnut-backed Quailthrush. These are my all time favourite birds in the mallee and one of my favourite bird families anywhere in the world. We managed to get great walk away views. Hopefully we'll get to see another two species of these exquisitely marked birds later in the year.

My favourite bird in the Mallee

This female Chestnut-backed Quailthrush seemed quite curious.

The clouds were starting to scud in and so with the main target bird under our belts we decided to drive up to Morgan to see what else we could find. Nearing the Cadell turn off we had a nice Pied Butcherbird on the overhead wires as we drove past and Sue was able to add this one to her list. Morgan Conservation Park was very quiet and we saw none of the hoped for birds like Little Friarbird and Regent Parrots. These birds are far more reliable in Spring/Summer so it was hardly surprising we missed them. Heading home from Morgan we took a popular back road that comes out at Mt Mary that has some good birds on it especially in Spring with Black and Pied Honeyeaters being quite regular............. but this wasn't Spring. There had been a recent report of Ground Cuckoo-shrikes and that would have been nice but we didn't see any. Several stops along this road produced some good views of  Redthroats and a nice Black-eared Cuckoo. Not normally found at this time of year, the Cuckoo came as a big surprise and it sat nicely for a photograph.

An out of season Black-eared Cuckoo
So we ended the day back in a rain soaked Adelaide with one new year bird for me putting me on 305 and Sue getting 4 new birds. A week of 24 hour standby for work will put paid to any birding aspirations this next weekend but it will give us a chance to clean and restock the command vehicle. Our next opportunity to get out will be the June long weekend where we hope to chase winter breeding Powerful Owls and a couple of other species down the far south-east. After that, another pelagic. Fingers crossed!

Big Year Sunday filler

This time of year the birding tends to slow down a bit. All the waders have gone back to the Northern Hemisphere, the majority of local species are no longer breeding and the bush goes a bit quiet. Autumn and winter does have a few birds to chase though mostly made up of interstate migrants that make sporadic but unpredictable appearances, but there aren't really many of those.

Seabirds are worth spending the time on but pelagic trips only take up one day and only go once a month. So what to do? Answer? Start looking to fill holes in our lists. There are always some birds that slip through the net in the initial mad rush at the start of a Big Year so we decided to chase a couple of birds that we still needed that are available year round. So after spending Saturday on domestic chores and purchasing a new camera body for me after drowning mine on a boat trip, we decided to head down to Victor Harbour on the Sunday.

Arriving early morning we first headed over the causeway out to Granite Island in bright sunshine and warm conditions

Heading over to Granite Island

Granite Island is a popular tourist destination that used to have a thriving Little Penguin colony, but as is so common these days the colony has suffered from predation and vandalism. Such a shame but that's not why we where there. Another normally secretive and furtive bird, that for some strange reason, can be seen with relative ease on the Island in the cooler months was our target. Once on the Island we headed around to the right, away from the breakwater and cafe to the western side. We climbed up to a more secluded track that cuts through a group of shrubs and seaberry saltbush understorey and it wasn't long before Sue noticed some birds feeding in the shade on the side of the track. A pair of Brown Quail were foraging without any fear in the open just a few metres in front of us. These birds used to be super rare in SA but recent good seasons has seen their numbers build up and we seem to be bumping in to them all over the place.

The ubiquitous Brown Quail

While watching the quail I heard the unmistakable call of our target bird but back in the scrub off the track. We couldn't see it at all even after waiting a while, so we moved off to see if we could find another more cooperative bird somewhere else. Despite hearing another bird at a spot further up the hill we ended up going back to where we saw the Quail. This time we decided to give a short burst of the call on Sues phone. Initially nothing, but after a relatively short interval out popped a Buff-banded Rail on to the track. Strutting around like a small bantam chicken it casually crossed over in front of us then decided to come over and check us out as bold as brass.......nice! That constitutes the last of the Crakes and Rails for us to see in SA now.

The "highly secretive and furtive" Buff-banded Rail

Happy with that it was time to head off to look for another bird that can be found in this area So after a spot of lunch we ended up at one of those great birding destinations that can be found throughout the world and arguably attracts more birders than birds themselves.........sewage ponds!! Only this time we weren't looking for shorebirds or any other kind of "waterbird" normally associated with such salubrious habitat but instead we were looking for a Honeyeater. A very rare one at that. Needless to say we drew a blank despite searching the surrounding district and the lower Inman River Valley.

Sue on the lower Inman River failing to find a Black-chinned Honeyeater

Never fear we knew another spot where people had seen a bird recently in some street trees right in the suburbs of Port Elliot. Parking the car on a side street we played the call once or twice to see if it had any effect on any birds nearby. Almost immediately a juvenile Black-chinned Honeyeater marked by the green skin above its eye flew in to an adjacent tree. Before I could get a decent photograph it was seen off by the far more aggressive New Holland Honeyeaters.

Still a nice day out with two more birds for our Big Year lists putting me on 304. Next weekend promises to be another belter if we can get out on the pelagic, so tune in next week to see how we get on. Don't forget you can get live updates from the field by following along on Twitter at Sue@Tytoalba

The Big Blue Paddock MkIII or 300 up!

After spending the previous weekend on a family social event, we were keen to head out on another pelagic from Port MacDonnell. The previous trip  (See previous blog post) was an absolute cracker, and in the wash up it was determined we had seen Northern Royal Albatross after an inspection of photographs taken at the time. So we headed down the south-east on a revised total of 297

We thought we'd bird through the Bangham/Geegeela area on the way down, as there are still a number of species that we could have potentially seen in that area. Despite driving the boundary tracks of both Conservation Parks we failed to come across any of those species at all so we continued on to Port MacDonnell to meet the other participants

Down at the wharf again on the Sunday in time for a 7:00am departure The boat rounded the breakwater and headed south in to a 1.5m swell out of the south-west with a slight 5-10 knot South easterly breeze causing a cross chop, so a bit bumpy. It was at this point I discovered my camera was dead! Absolute disaster. It's one of the fun elements of a boat trip to take loads of pictures and I was going to be denied the opportunity. This time we were going to have to rely on Sue for all the blog pics.

Rounding the breakwater the excitement was palpable

Less than 1 or 2km's offshore I noticed a small Sterna type tern tracking on a parallel course just behind us. Calling for the skipper to slow down so it could catch up several people got some shots of it. Initially I called it as an Arctic Tern as the cap was quite dark and it appeared to have a dark trailing edge to the primaries but the rest of the details on the bird were difficult to pick up as conditions were dull and overcast. It was only after some pics were posted online the following morning that interstate birders noticed the distinctive markings of a juvenile Antarctic Tern on our bird. These details were only brought to light with the magic of photoshop and were impossible to see in the field. This constitutes the first pelagic record in South Australia of this bird and only the third ever record in the State

3rd South Australian record of Antarctic Tern and very unexpected

Heading out through inshore waters towards the shelf we started picking up a few birds here and there with Fairy Prions being notable along with a lone Yellow-nosed Albatross, the only one of the trip. Reaching the berley point there were a few light showers scudding around making conditions a little damp on the back of the boat but they passed quickly. Again it wasn't long before the birds started to appear on the slick with Campbells Albatrosses rapidly outnumbering Black-browed Albatrosses and a swag of Great-winged Petrels. Soon Wandering Albatrosses started to appear with both nominate and New Zealand type birds present, jostling for positions at the back of the boat. A lone Sooty Albatross came in from downwind and while coming close it seemed to ignore us and continue on its way. A Soft-plumaged Petrel came whizzing past, making several loops over the berley slick to the delight of the paparazzi on board. Amongst the building numbers of Wilsons Storm-petrels I noticed a flash of white on a bird in close that turned out to be our first Grey-backed Storm-petrel of the year, nice!

One of lots of Fairy Prions working the slick

Very photogenic Soft-plumaged Petrel that made several passes of the boat

The sheer size of a Wandering Albatross needs to be seen to be believed

The only Grey-backed Storm-Petrel of the day

By now we were seeing a few "Whalebirds" amongst the Fairy Prions working the slick and an analysis of photos while on board enabled us to determine we were seeing both Antarctic and Slender-billed Prions. Unfortunately for me because I wasn't taking pictures, I couldn't be 100% confident I was seeing the same birds, so the Slender-billed will have to wait for another trip! At this point the sky cleared a bit and the sun shone through giving photographers an opportunity to take some creative pictures when this full rainbow appeared behind the boat

No gold at the end of this rainbow but certainly cool birds

I picked up another all dark Albatross tracking in from downwind and as this one came closer I could see the paleness and greyish tone to the overall body color and I was sure it was a Light-mantled Sooty Albatross. A careful look at the key identifying marks and a consensus was reached by those on board. Indeed it was, albeit an unusually marked immature bird and a lifer for both Sue and I and many others on board. It was fair to say everyone on the boat were pretty stoked with getting that but no more than me as it was a great bird for number 300 for the Big Year.

Our first Light-mantled Sooty Albatross

Light-mantled Sooty Albatross completely oblivious to the clicking cameras

After enjoying the birds for a few hours it was eventually time to head back to Port. Just as we began to cruise back I noticed another Sterna type Tern crossing paths with the boat. I managed to get a good look at this one in good light and the full black cap, strong black trailing edge to the primaries and small "spikey" beak all pointed to adult Arctic Tern. Unfortunately most people had started reviewing their pictures for the day and no one got a photograph of this bird.

Motoring back to shore. Time for some "chimping"

Another great day on the boat despite not having a camera, hopefully I'll have that sorted in time for the next one. A hot cup of coffee and a debrief back on shore before the long drive home. So we finished with 4 year ticks each and a lifer giving me 301. Can't wait for the next one now.

A mid week trip for work to Mildura had me driving through the Riverland for the first time this year. Nearing the turn off for Banrock Station a single Pied Butcherbird was seen perched up in a tree giving me another year tick for number 302. 

The Big Blue Paddock MkII

Sue and I are really starting to look forward to pelagic trips for our Big Year and with four trips in six weeks we'll get our fair share. Last weekends trip from Port MacDonnell was another belter.

You wait with nervous anticipation in the days leading up to a pelagic carefully perusing the Bureau of Meteorology website trying to analyse the predicted weather conditions and worrying as to whether the boat is gonna go or not!. In this case we got the confirmation late on Thursday night, it was on! Friday came and while enduring the last working day of the week I received a timely message from Luke Leddy based in Padthaway in the south-east. "Did we need Flame Robin"?.........did we ever! A winter visitor to South Australia this species has suffered a marked and steady decline over recent decades and can prove difficult to find. No matter, as Luke had found a small group that had returned to a regular spot he had seen them in previous years. Armed with this information we headed off in the trusty 4WD early on Saturday morning.

Stopping at Keith for a "tail gate lunch" I nearly choked on my cuppa soup when a Blue-faced Honeyeater popped in to view in the tree right in front us. I've seen these birds here before but they had been absent so far this year in our travels down this way so it was nice to pick that one up. Leaving there and following Lukes' instructions, we easily found the spot he had told us about and just as easily found the birds. A stunning male Flame Robin along with his harem of two females showed quite nicely

Gorgeous male Flame Robin near Bool Lagoon

 With two year ticks already under the belt we carried on straight through to Port MacDonnell where we were staying for the next two nights. Everyone on the pelagic usually meets in the Victoria Hotel in town for dinner the night before the pelagic to have a meal and swap wish lists about what we're going to see on the boat the next day. An early night usually ensues and Sue and I retired to our tent with eager anticipation.

The morning saw us up before the sun devouring some toast and cups of tea before making our way down to the wharf to get on the boat. With everyone aboard it was time to head off checking out the birds roosting inside the breakwater as we went. Lucky we did as there were several White-fronted Terns loafing with the regular Crested Terns on the rocks. Rounding the breakwater we immediately headed in to the forecast 3-4 metre swell from the south west. With only light northerly winds this didn't prove to be too uncomfortable for most and we made good speed out to our spot over the continental shelf. A few lingering Short-tailed Shearwaters inshore kept us interested but the unidentified Whalebird that whizzed past on the way out proved frustrating! Starting the tuna oil slick and throwing suet over the side soon attracted a plethora of oceanic wanderers to the back of the boat, starting with Great-winged Petrels and a few Shy and Black-browed Albatrosses, soon to be joined by Campbells Albatross. A few Wilsons Storm-petrels started to appear on the slick too, along with the odd White-faced Storm-petrel, but a few Fairy Prions made there presence felt although not approaching the boat closely for good photographic opportunities

Fairy Prion, one of several that cruised up and down the slick

Right out over the shelf break we had a few Sooty Shearwaters come to the back of the boat and we marvelled as they upended and literally dived under water almost as efficiently as a Cormorant

Sooty Shearwaters can dive under water up to depths of over 50m!

We were soon joined by the first of what would prove to be over 20 Wandering and New Zealand Wandering Albatrosses of several races and its always fun trying to ID them with major differences in size and bill shape even between males and females of the same species

Possible adult female New Zealand Albatross race gibsoni?

Possible female "gibsoni"?

Probable old male "gibsoni"?

Probable near adult female Wanderer "exulans"
We had several first year "Gooneybirds" with this one dwarfing the majority of all the other birds at the back of the boat

It wasn't long before the first of what we estimated to be six or seven Sooty Albatrosses throughout the day that graced us with their presence. These birds are elegant to say the least compared to the other Albatross species and their lithe body shape and thin wings enables them to scythe through the air with ease

Arguably the most graceful of the Albatross. 

Based on careful analysis of photos we had up to seven different Sooty Albatross pay us a visit

The activity at the back of the boat was quite frenetic at this stage with loads of birds milling about over the slick but one in particular caught my eye as it banked away. Soft-plumaged Petrel was the call and everybody managed to get on to it without too much difficulty

One of two Soft-plumaged Petrels that made passes over the slick

At this stage it was decided to motor back up the slick for a bit as it had spread quite a long way and birds were becoming spread out. Stopping again and continuing to berley it was evident a continuous stream of birds were being attracted by the smell from way down wind and we continued to get new birds coming in The first of these was a single immature Northern Giant-Petrel that kept darting in amongst the larger Albatross to snatch food showing little fear

The reddish orange bill tip gives this birds identity away as a Northern Giant-petrel

Not to be outdone a Southern Royal Albatross appeared that flew straight to the back of the boat looking for its share of the handouts

Southern Royal Albatross

While keeping a close eye on the few Prions that were scudding through out wide a single Prion with very little black on the tail grabbed my attention as it flew past. With my camera having packed up from getting wet I called out for someone to "get that bird"!!! Colin Rogers managed to get a few shots and an analysis of the photo showed the bird to be an Antarctic Prion. A lifer for both Sue and I

Antarctic Prion by Colin Rogers

That proved to be the last of the new birds for our Big Year on this boat trip. We headed back into Port with a brief interlude inshore as we came across a large mixed group of Terns, Short-tailed-Shearwaters, Fluttering Shearwaters and Australian Gannets working a school of feeding Tuna. A terrific day at sea despite the heavily overcast and drizzly at times conditions. Fortunately my camera came back to life after it dried out the next day.

Heading home on the Monday we decided to return via the Bangham area to look for some key species we still needed. The day proved to be rather wet and overcast but while driving along the road adjacent to Geegeela Conservation Park and stopping to look at some Honeyeaters, Sue noticed some movement on her side of the car. A pair of Painted Button-quail were wandering around trying to not drown in the sodden under growth. We managed to get reasonable views before they scooted off in to the vegetation.

Perfectly camouflaged in amongst the vegetation a Painted Button-quail plays hide and seek
Can you see it???????

So a very successful weekend gaining us some valuable year ticks and both of us getting lifers with one for me and four for Sue. A break this weekend before getting ourselves ready for yet another pelagic trip that promises to have a cast of thousands. With loads of Seabirds still to see we're looking forward to it.

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