Our 2017 Big Year.....the wash up


It's already well in to early January 2018 and Sue and I have had time to sit down and reflect on exactly what it was we had achieved in our Big Year. We had a fantastic time and enjoyed so many wonderful experiences on the journey and met some really nice and helpful people along the way as well. At the beginning of 2017 we set out to try and beat my old Big Year total of 315 species that I set way back in 1994. Our passion for local birding had gone a bit stale and we were both looking to do something to light the fire again. So with having gained our independence back from our kids the timing seemed just right to give a State based Big Year another crack. At the time we had no real idea that we would not only beat my old mark but eventually set a new State Big Year record.

January 1st 2017 saw us start the year in the field
at Lake Gillies Conservation Park on Eyre Peninsula

When we initially started to plan the whole thing out in late 2016 the realisation of what we were going to need to do in order to achieve our goal began to dawn on us and we wondered whether we were biting off more than we could chew. As we both work full time we knew we'd need to plan out all of our holidays for the year in advance and just hope some of the bigger trips we needed to use those holidays for would be matched with good weather and open roads! We also knew we would need to go on every pelagic trip that had been organised for the year in order to come to grips with the multitude of truly pelagic seabirds we'd need to see. In the end we only had four weeks annual leave total, all the scheduled public holiday long weekends and then the remaining weekends left in which to achieve it. Some of those weekends were abandoned in favour of unavoidable social events and seven of them were used up by my work commitments. Another two weeks in February were used on a preplanned birding trip to North and Central Thailand, so in all we had roughly 120 birding days to get the job done. As events unfolded it proved to be enough.

We finished the year and saw in 2018 on a Houseboat
on the upper Murray 372 species later.


By years end we had travelled over 37,500km's by land and probably something like 350 Nautical miles at sea in our quest to see as many species of birds as we could. We travelled to every accessible corner of South Australia in that time and managed to see and record 372 different species and in the process set a new S.A. Big Year record. It was not the year for true vagrants and we picked up only a handful of such birds throughout the entirety of the year. We needed to rely on finding as many of the resident breeding species and regular migrants as we could. Of those 372 species we both enjoyed getting a few lifers. I managed to get four and Sue got sixteen. In addition we both got to add to our Oz lists and our State lists as well. Mostly as a result of persistent Pelagic trips during the year, something we had done little of in the past. (see the annotated lists on the blog tab for details). Of course for all the successes we had, that is always offset by the dips we experienced! Throughout the course of the year several species were reported in various places by different observers that we never connected with, including White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike, Olive-backed Oriole, Plumed Whistling Duck, Oriental Plover, Painted Honeyeater, Pacific Koel, Eastern Grass Owl and Red-chested Button-quail amongst others. Some species were also conspicuous by their absence in 2017 that in any given year you would have a reasonable chance of connecting with, such as Whimbrel, Rose Robin, Lesser Sand Plover, Scarlet-chested Parrot and Satin Flycatcher. We did try to twitch a few of them, but most we didn't get the opportunity due to bad timing or the fact most of them were one off reports, too remote, or not reported at all!. The SA Big Year list we based our planning on other than my own was set by Colin Rogers back in 2000/1 in which he recorded 352 species. Remarkably his list contained 18 species we didn't get to see. Some of which were one off vagrants and one is now extinct in SA, but not all. So it remains to be seen just how high a potential SA State year list could go. Of course you'd need to be retired and have a run of incredible luck!

Bird of the year for me in 2017 was this gorgeous Light-mantled Sooty Albatross
 that graced us with its presence off Port MacDonnell in May.
Not only a lifer but milestone bird #300 

Sues bird of 2017 was easy for her to pick. This delightful Fiordland Crested Penguin
at Port MacDonnell. Her first of the bigger Penguin species


We used our trusty Nissan Navarra 4WD to carry us on our travels throughout the entirety of the year and camped out wherever we could and carried most of our own food. A few places we stayed in accommodation where it seemed appropriate or were forced to by adverse weather conditions but in order to keep costs from blowing out we mostly camped and cooked for ourselves. At no stage did we ever contemplate flying anywhere to target birds and the only other form of transport we used were boats. Either the Sealink Ferry over to Kangaroo Island or the MV Remarkable out of Port MacDonnell that took us on the many pelagic trips we so came to enjoy.

Our trusty Nissan Navarra that carried us all over the State throughout the year

So what did it cost? Any time you ever read about a Big Year attempt whether its an Australian Big Year or North American Big Year or anything in between they never discuss exactly how much they spent while doing it. We kept records of what we spent during the course of the year out of genuine curiosity. This included all of our fuel, pelagic fares, accommodation, park entry fees and Sealink Ferry fares. We ended up spending $AU10,500. That may sound a lot and in fact could of gone higher had we not missed five out of the twelve scheduled pelagic trips during the year. In reality a lot of people would spend as much on a single holiday in any given year but this amount sustained us for the entire twelve month period. Not included in this figure was of course food as we would have eaten anyway but others would likely have been incurred on any given driving holiday. For example we did two windscreens and six tyres during our travels around the State, as well as needing to replace our spotlights that were smashed when we hit a Kangaroo. So if any of you are contemplating giving it a crack wherever you live make sure you set yourself a realistic budget.

One of six tyres we did during the year.


Absolutely not!.......well.........never say never! Actually it's one of the most awesome things we've ever done and we thoroughly enjoyed the experience but we certainly wouldn't want to give it another go any time soon. To be honest we had a really great time with lots of highs offset by a few lows. Trying to maintain motivation was probably one of the biggest hurdles we had to overcome at various times throughout the year and getting through that was often difficult. This was partially caused by our frustration at having to keep going to work during the week while good birds were being reported and some of it stemmed from cancelled boat trips that we'd been looking forward to. There are also the inevitable slow birding periods of the year when its quiet in the bush and there are no migrants around. These can be difficult times to get through but in the end we pushed past those to make it to the end. So for anyone out there contemplating doing their own Big Year, no matter what form that takes or where, make sure you plan it out as much as possible. Be public with it by writing a blog or sharing your sightings in some other public forum as your year progresses and keep impeccable records. Part of our enjoyment during the year was actually writing the blog and we now have it to look back on in years to come. It also helped by involving the wider birding community who were often instrumental in passing on bird sightings or offering up encouragement.


There is no doubt in our minds that our success in 2017 was as a direct result of the support we received from the general birding community. While we found a lot of the birds ourselves throughout the many trips we undertook during the year, some of them were as a direct result of help from the many birders who got behind us, or shared their sightings online.

Firstly we would like to thank Colin Rogers for all of his assistance during the year. His generosity of spirit and his uncanny ability to find rarities and share them with us as a priority was invaluable. Also he organised all the pelagic trips during the year in conjunction with Stuart Hull (The Berleyman) and so we are indebted to them both for that. We are extremely grateful to Bob Green who was our eyes and ears in the south-east corner of the State where we spent so much of our time in 2017. His input was very much appreciated.

L to R -  Dave, Bob Green, Sue, Wayne Biggs, Colin Rogers and Stuart Hull
after a successful White Goshawk twitch

There were many others who also contributed in some way, either by providing us with information or accompanying us in the field. Thanks then goes to Roly Lloyd, Chris Steeles, Luke Leddy, Wayne Biggs, Stephen Bosch, Peter Koch, Lisa Girdham, Mike Potter, Steve Potter, Sam Gordon, Sam Matthews, John Gitsham, Teresa Thompson Jack, Nik Borrow, Phil Peel, Paul Taylor, Jeff Davies, Rohan Clarke and the late Chris Baxter. We were saddened to hear of Chris's passing during the year. The success of our Kangaroo Island trip was largely due to him as he gave us real time instructions for finding key species from his hospital bed. We will never forget his contribution. To the rest of the general birding community who we met in the field either on a twitch, on a pelagic, who read our blog or encouraged us in any other way throughout the year, your support was amazing and we thank you all. To all of our non birding friends/family who forgot what we looked like during the entirety of 2017 we thank you for your patience, understanding and indulgence of our crazy birding passion.

Finally it would be remiss of us if we did not thank three very important people. Our two daughters Jenna and Laura who held down the fort while we were constantly away birding during the year and Andy Walker. It was Andy's constant jibing from wherever he was in the world that got us through those difficult motivational periods. He was also able to join us in the field in the northern deserts during September when we broke the back of the Big Year and set a new record. His companionship, friendship and exceptional skill in the field is something we value very highly. Thanks Andy

Andy Walker. Exceptional birder and all around good bloke
relaxing after a day in the field.

"Ye of little faith Andy we made it past February......... GET AROUND HIM!!"

Dave and Sues South Aussie Big Years last hurrah

We were running out of time. The year was drawing to a close and our birding opportunities were drying up in the face of the ever looming Christmas holiday period. Despite the fact we had some time off between Christmas and New Year we also had family staying so ditching them to chase birds wasn't really an option. Our last free day of birding where we could actually search for our own birds came up the weekend after the last pelagic trip of the year. After that I was scheduled to be on standby for work. So what to do...........? Well, shorebirds still were going to give us the best opportunity of finding something unusual. At the very least it would give us another chance for the elusive Whimbrel  that perhaps we should have already seen, so we opted to go to Buckland Park Lake and Clinton Conservation Park one final time.

A late day high tide meant we could go to Buckland Park first before heading up the Gulf and so a lunchtime visit was scheduled. It's a fair walk in from the Port Gawler road to get to the lake but it didn't take too long. As we approached it was evident the water level had dropped quite a bit since we were here last and as a consequence there were thousands of birds. Mostly ducks but also a lot more shorebirds compared to last time.

Thousands of birds at Buckland Park lake 

Lots of birds with Mt Lofty as a back drop

It took a while to go through all the birds that were present but after a couple of hours we decided to move on. Banded Stilts and good numbers of Marsh Sandpipers kept us entertained but sadly nothing more to add for our lists. We decided to move off and head up the top of the gulf while the tide was still on the way in.

Arriving at Port Clinton Conservation Park late afternoon we set off around the beach to get to the best area for viewing the birds as they are pushed in by the tide. As we waited we scanned through the groups of birds starting to form as the tide raced in. There were good numbers of Far Eastern Curlew and it was these birds we paid particular attention to as that was where a Whimbrel might be hiding. It was not to be. The numbers of Curlew began to build as they were forced off the flats by the rising tide and as each bird flew in I scanned them to no avail, it seemed we were destined not to see Whimbrel at all this year.

Far Eastern Curlew following the rising tide towards the top of the beach

There were quite a lot of Grey Plover as well but very few smaller waders like Stints or Curlew Sandpipers to scan through. Our best chance of a new bird was probably Whimbrel and perhaps something like a Broad-billed Sandpiper but as the afternoon wore on it was looking more likely we weren't going to score anything new at all.

Grey Plover starting to congregate along the shore ready to roost until the turn of the tide

Amongst the Grey Plover we discovered the Terek Sandpipers we had seen earlier had been joined by another two birds to make four in total. This makes Clinton Conservation Park probably the best spot for this species in the State.

Four Terek Sandpipers lurking with intent!!!

After gathering at the top of the gulf at the top of the tide the Far Eastern Curlew headed off to their preferred
 roosting site to the south 

It was with some disappointment we decided to head home. We came to the realisation we were probably just about done for the year, given the time left and the commitments we still had. We could only hope now that something random turned up if we were to add anything further to our year list.

My work was beginning to wind up and the Thursday before Christmas we gather back at the workshop at lunchtime for a few drinks and some pizza to finish off the working year. Sue had already finished work earlier in the week and was busy organising Christmas things and looking after our house guests. Mid afternoon I receive a text message from Colin Rogers....."Oriental Pratincole bay 10 Tolderol now"........ Holy crap!!! Here I was at the office and still on the clock. I rang Colin. He'd found the bird with Peter Koch and had been watching it for a short time before telling me. I messaged Sue and told her to prepare, thank the stars we have daylight savings!. I showed my Boss the message I'd received and explained to him what a cracker of a bird it was and we needed it. "Well what are you hanging around here for" says he with a big smile. With that I did the Merry Christmas see ya next year round of the lads and was out the door off home.

Sue was already changed with the essential gear packed in the car ready to go. I quickly changed and we were off. A quick text to Colin to tell him we were on our way and he agreed to wait for us. On arrival just over an hour later we drove carefully up behind Colins vehicle and Sue got out to say hello and seek directions to the bird. It was literally just 15 metres off to our right on the mud and we enjoyed what appeared to be a young Oriental Pratincole, an Oz tick for Sue and bird number 372 for the Big Year.......just awesome.

A young Oriental Pratincole a very rare visitor to SA

After a Hobby went zooming through scattering all the waders this bird just
wandered closer to cover whilst keeping a lookout

With that, Colin headed home safe in the knowledge we had secured the bird. We stayed with it for a while in the late afternoon light and then cruised around to the end of the bay where we discovered one of the Pectoral Sandpipers that had been reported from here recently. This bird was very close and I spent some time trying to get a few photos. It gave us some nice views and probably better than any we had of this species throughout the year. 

A nice probable female Pectoral Sandpiper

 Very photogenic Pectoral Sandpiper

With that we headed back to the pub in Langhorne Creek for a fantastic evening meal and a glass of wine or two to celebrate. It was unlikely we'd get any more opportunities for birding now and so it proved to be.

We were cooked. It had been a fantastic year of adventure for both of us but equally a very physically draining one. Trying to balance work, birding, and trying to deal with all the domestic things that seemed to mount up had eventually taken its toll. With Christmas over and done with, the little time we had left was spent relaxing and preparing for our end of year holiday on a houseboat along the upper Murray River with some very good friends. All of them had forgotten what we looked like! On the drive up to Renmark news started to filter through of an apparent Red-chested Button-quail at Waterfall Gully near Adelaide that was putting on a show for some!

This needs no explanation 

We immediately switched off our phones............... and drove on in stony silence. As the last hours of 2017 counted down we enjoyed a "Mexican themed" night aboard the boat and at the stroke of midnight we celebrated what we had achieved.

Couldn't quite bring ourselves to put down the bins!

We finished the year with both of us on 372 species, a new State record and one we jointly hold. We saw a lot of really cool stuff throughout the year and met a lot of nice people as we went. I'll elaborate more in the final post for this blog shortly, so stay tuned for that. Hasta la vista! 

The Big Blue Paddock MKVII the final ride

After a tickless weekend we were really looking forward to spending the last three day weekend we had for the year down the south-east one final time. We were due to go on our last pelagic trip of the year on the Sunday and with the Monday off we could afford to take our time coming home after the boat. Having spent the week away for work over on Eyre Peninsula our intention was to get away as early as possible after work on Friday so Sue had packed the car ready for a quick get away. Best laid plans of mice and men go asunder and nek minut I found myself back at work rescuing some stuck passengers from an elevator.......as you do. So as I didn't get back till late we opted to start early the next morning instead.

Heading down towards Port MacDonnell we popped in to Bangham CP and Geegeela CP on the way to try for White-bellied Cuckoo-shrikes and Olive-backed Orioles, both of which had been reported from that general area recently. Try as we might we just have not connected with either of these species this year and today would be no different. Another look through Nangwarry Native Forest Reserve yielded no results either. A group of four Red-tailed Black Cockatoos was some compensation and we've been fortunate to see this rare sub-species several times this year.

Two loved up Red-tailed Black Cockatoos sat nicely for photos

We just had to admit we weren't going to pick up these birds any time soon this year so moved on down to Port MacDonnell to catch up with the other boat trip participants.

Up early the next day and down to the wharf in time to meet the skipper. I'd had a bad night and felt decidedly unwell after dinner in the pub the previous evening. Sue later told me she'd felt a bit off too. Most of the boat trip I was feeling quite uncomfortable and drifted in and out of bouts of nausea. Hope for a new bird or two managed to keep me going and there was certainly a lot of birds out there this trip once we got to the shelf break. The birds were quite voracious too having obviously not fed well for a day or two. We started getting both Grey-faced and Great-winged Petrels as well as White-chinned Petrels along with Flesh-footed Shearwaters, Short-tailed and Sooty Shearwaters. It was the day of the "brown birds" that's for sure. Albatross were reasonably well represented with lots of adult Shys and a few young Black-broweds and a single young Campbells picked out of the crowd.

Adult Shy Albatross

Sub-adult Campbells Albatross with a pale honey coloured iris

The very similar Sub-adult Black-browed Albatross but with a dark iris

Flesh-footed Shearwater

With a good scrum of birds at the back of the boat it was only a matter of time before something more interesting turned up and it wasn't long before a shout went out for a Jaeger that was tracking directly in to the back of the boat. With high hopes for a Long-tailed this far offshore it was with some disappointment that it turned out to be another Parasitic.

Quite heavily worn plumage but the central tail feathers
 clinches the ID on this bird as Parasitic Jaeger

Birds started to come and go before the first of four Wandering Albatross came winging in from way over the horizon. The first of these appeared to be an Antipodean Albatross of the gibsoni race with lots of white around the head.

A probable female gibsoni Antipodean Albatross. One of four birds that visited the boat.

One of these big birds, an obvious large exulans Wandering type was seen to have leg bands on, so an effort was made to photograph it as best we could to determine what the numbers were on the band with a view to ID'ing the individual bird. No doubt there is some depository of information on banding studies of Great Albatross somewhere but as of the time of writing we haven't managed to find out anything about this bird. Closer examination of the photos revealed a green leg band with the number 580 on it and a metal ring on the left leg with possibly 4009?

We'd love to find out more about this individual Wandering Albatross "Green 580"

As the day began to wear on we moved back up the slick a couple of times to see if anything was lurking back there we hadn't picked up yet. A flyby by a single Wilsons Storm-petrel was the only bird that put in an appearance. There were still loads of birds milling about and we still hoped to pick up something new. As the birds were flying about Colin Rogers pointed out some of the White-chinned Petrels were obviously carrying eggs and their lower bellies were quite distended in an "egg shape", something I'd never seen before. So it appears White-chinneds pass through South Australian waters on their way back to their breeding Islands prior to laying eggs. It was also noted an adult Northern Giant-petrel was also in the same breeding condition with an obvious egg bulge in its lower abdomen.

An adult Northern Giant-petrel

The same bird on a fly past showing the distended abdomen containing this seasons egg

As the early afternoon wore on it was becoming more evident that despite the continued activity and sheer numbers of birds around the boat that nothing new for us was going to make an appearance. There must have been a rich feeding zone off the coast given not only the amount of birds but also the continued presence of big pods of Common Dolphin offshore that at times showed some interest in the boat. Not only that there were Gannets and Crested Terns fishing way further offshore than they normally would.

This pod of Common Dolphin must have contained nearly fifty individuals and came
 over to the boat to investigate all the activity.

Just when you think its all over and time to head back to shore a single great Albatross came winging in from over the horizon. It's initial appearance gave the impression of a Southern Royal which would have made it bird of the day but as it approached more closely before landing at the back of the boat it turned out to  be a stunning adult male Gibsons Albatross. Still a really nice bird.

A lovely male Antipodean Albatross of the gibsoni race

This guy was so friendly and curious we thought he was actually
going to climb up on to the back of the boat

Soon enough it was time to head back to shore and sadly it was to be the only tickless pelagic trip of the year for us. We'd had high expectations of something new given the number of species out on the great blue paddock that we hadn't manage to connect with all year. The reality is our success this year has been down to the birds we did manage to see on the open ocean and we discovered a great love of pelagic trips this year as a consequence. Definitely something we aim to pursue in other parts of the country starting next year.

Not feeling well after the night before. I didn't venture too far from the loo.
Thanks for this pic Sue!!

After returning to shore and having a debrief in Periwinkles Cafe along with hot coffee we headed off to the reefs east of Port MacDonnell to see if we could connect with the Pectoral Sandpiper that had been reported a while back. Arriving at Danger Point, Colin and Stuart were already in attendance so we teamed up to see if we could find the Pec. The tide was neither in nor out and I dont think there was much tidal movement to speak of, so we opted to look down on the beach itself in front of the hide as the birds were loafing mostly out of sight behind the tidal wrack. Quite a lot of birds were in evidence as we walked around, more than we could have seen from the hide. It wasn't long before a suspicious looking Sandpiper came in to view and its obvious overall brown appearance gave its ID away as the Pec we were looking for. Colin and I picked it up about the same time. I got the scope on it and Sue finally nailed her nemesis bird for this year equalling my year list total at the same time. Much high fiveing ensued.........yay. We'd always intended to finish the Big Year the same way we started it and that's together, so I was very relieved Sue got this bird.

Initially appearing more browner overall than a Sharp-tailed Sandpiper
 this bird is possibly a first year male Pectoral Sandpiper.
The long yellowish base to the bill and dense wavy breast streaking sharply cut off
from the lower breast and belly helps to ID this bird as a Pectoral Sandpiper

The bird was quite well camouflaged amongst the rotting seaweed and when it flew it was quite difficult to pick up. With not much else on offer we moved off to check out some of the other reefs on the way back to Port MacDonnell but didn't see anything else of much interest. We got back to the caravan park and shared a beer with Colin and Stuart in celebration of Sues year tick........at least it wouldn't be a tickless weekend after all. Later that night we all had dinner in Periwinkles Cafe and indulged in a few drinks in good company, swapping birding stories with a good bunch of people.

Monday morning came and we had to decide what to do. We still had an outside chance of Satin Flycatcher and White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike and maybe a wader or two if we were lucky so we devised a strategy to try one more time on the way home. Firstly we opted to go to Carpenters Rocks to the west of Port MacDonnell. This site played host to South Australias' first Semi-palmated Plover a few years back and was twitched by many birders including us, so there was definitely potential to find something. Arriving early morning the tide appeared to be out so we walked out on to the reef to see what we could find.

Sue contemplating a walk on the reef at Carpenters Rocks

Lots of birds loafing amongst the rocks and several Fairy Terns were winging overhead chasing each other rather noisily. Birds began to reveal themselves as we walked amongst the rocks including Pacific Golden Plovers, Turnstone and two lovely Grey-tailed Tattlers

Mixed flock of Pacific Golden Plovers Turnstone Grey-tailed Tattlers and Sharp-tailed Sandpipers

This Grey-tailed Tattler allowed a closer approach than normal 

There were quite a lot of birds limping around carrying the burden of several leg flags. I understand the need for the scientific study of birds along the Asian flyway but I don't see why its necessary to place additional flags on recaptured birds. Time and time again I see birds that are obviously distressed and hampered in their movements by carrying multiple leg flags.

This Red-necked Stint was picked out not by the flags it carried but by its limping gait

With nothing to add to our year lists we decided to move off to some forested areas to try one last time for the Flycatcher and Cuckoo-shrike. Bob Green had suggested we visit Woolwash Native Forest Reserve as the Flycatcher had been recorded nesting there in seasons gone by and he'd also seen White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike nearby recently. Travelling around the tracks within the forest, try as we might we just didn't connect with either species or anything else that might have been new for us. Time was beginning to run out, as was the entire year!!! One last roll of the dice we drove up to Glen Roy CP on our way home, a place even I had seen the Cuckoo-shrike in years gone by and a place that probably receives more reports than any where else in the south-east.

Glen Roy Conservation Park

We trawled around the tracks in the park this way and that, clockwise then anti-clockwise but despite a heart racing moment when a Cuckoo-shrike gave bad views that turned out to be a Black-faced we came up empty. With heavy hearts we began the long trek back home in the knowledge we would have no further opportunities to connect with these species for the rest of the year. Christmas is looming and the time constraining social engagements that it entails. We're due to go on a houseboat holiday on the River Murray over New Years so our birding opportunities from here will be severely limited. I incredibly haven't had a year tick since the Salvins Albatross on the pelagic in mid November despite spending a fir bit of time in the field since then, so Sue getting the Pec came as some relief.

So is this how its going to end for us.........with a whimper instead of a bang? Well I'm not going down without a fight and I'm sure the Fat Lady hasn't sung just yet, tune in after Christmas for more!

Big Year birding. The run to the finish line.

As the year is drawing to a close we're still looking for those extra few birds to add to our year lists and waders are still by far the biggest group of birds with potential. So based on that we're still hitting the northern gulf areas to trawl through all the birds we can find to try and reveal a gem amongst them.

Saturday came and we opted to visit Buckland Park Lake. This area used to be accessible from the Saltfields that we used to enjoy unfettered access to in times gone by but sadly no longer. The Lake now has since been incorporated into the Parks and Wildlife system and has been dedicated as a Conservation Park. Good news for us as it can harbour some good birds at various times of the year and is the place I got Pectoral Sandpiper way back at the start of the year. Sue unfortunately missed that bird so that was what we hoped to find. Pectoral Sandpipers can be quite parochial in their haunts and often turn up in the same locations each year.

We walked in from the northern boundary and marvelled at the sheer amount of birds on the lake with loads of Ducks and Swans in particular but just not that many waders. We walked around to the area I'd seen both Pectoral Sandpiper and Long-toed Stints earlier in the year but despite there being a few birds here none of them where the target bird we were hoping for. Nor did we find anything else of note in the way of waders. A single Sandpiper in the poor light did raise some interest but a series of photographs later showed a well marked Sharp-tailed Sandpiper.

At a distance in poor light this Sharp-tailed Sandpiper look good for Pec.......but not

A nice group of ten Glossy Ibis were of local interest but there wasn't much else on offer so we headed off further up the Gulf to Bald Hill Beach. The tide was still out a fair way here when we arrived but still rising so we sat for a while to see what Shorebirds were around. As it turned out not a lot of birds at all and most of the Grey Plover that were there flew off to points unknown rather than loaf on the beach. With not much to show for our efforts we decided to drive around to Port Clinton stopping in at Port Arthur on the way. The tide had risen significantly by the time we got around there and we found a good number of Stints and Curlew Sandpipers roosting along the high tide line.

A few Curlew Sandpipers amongst the Red-necked stints at Port Arthur

Nothing unusual amongst those birds so we carried on to Port Clinton for the end of the day. The three Grey-tailed Tattlers that are always roosting near the mangroves where again found in the same spot. Along the southern end of the beach we relocated two of the Greater Sand Plovers that have been hanging around for  the last month and a lone Far Eastern Curlew. So sadly no Whimbrel or anything else of note so we headed home and hoped tomorrow would bring us more luck.

Very early Sunday morning we drove down to the northern suburb of Prospect to have another go for the reported Koel that has been seen and heard on and off for the past month or so and apparently being joined by a female! We listened intently in the predawn light hoping to pick up the familiar sound of a calling Koel but not this morning!. This species continues to elude us not only this year but in years gone by..........frustrating. We headed home for breakfast and waited for the afternoon high tide before heading up the Gulf one more time. This time we started at Port Parham as we hadn't been there so far  this year. Probably a good reason why we hadn't because there were no migratory shorebirds of any description to be seen!

The expansive sand/mud flats of Port Parham. Completely devoid of birds!!!

With nothing at all on offer here we worked our way down to Thompsons beach where we found a good flock of birds on the southern end of the beach. There were several hundred Red Knot and nearly forty Bar-tailed Godwits with a handful of Great knots thrown in. Always nice to see but just nothing else of any interest at all.

Thompsons Beach can be quite reliable for Knots and Godwits.
At least when people aren't trying to cannon net them!!

Red knots and Bar-tailed Godwits on a fly past.

We thought we would try to access Thompsons beach from the southern end via Port Prime so we drove out on the main Thompson Beach Rd towards Dublin. As we neared the town the unmistakable shape of a Bustard loomed in to view in a paddock just off the side of the road so we pulled over.

A very rare occurrence on the Adelaide Plains, this Bustard was quite a good find. 

Easily the bird of the day and great to see, but sadly not a year tick!!

We reported the sighting online while still in the field and several people did try to find it the next morning but it was nowhere to be seen so we considered ourselves very lucky. Nothing to see at Port Prime either so we headed home with our tails between our legs having endured a tickless weekend.

The following week I was away for work over on Eyre Peninsula and although I didn't have time for birding I did manage to see a few birds while driving around. At the bottom of Eyre Peninsula between Wanilla and Port Lincoln the road cuts right through the middle of Big Swamp. This is a well known site in birding circles but is probably somewhat under watched. The number of birds around forced me to stop and have a look and as I had my bins and scope with me just in case, they proved to be quite handy. I scanned the shoreline on the north side of the road to see if any shorebirds were around and while it took me a while to get my eye in it seemed there were a few. Virtually the first bird I saw chest on peeked my interest straight away and getting the scope on it I confirmed what I suspected. A male Pectoral Sandpiper!!! but where was Sue? at work back in Adelaide :( The bird was quite distant for photographs but I did manage a few record shots as it was indeed a good record. Other birds here though were two Long-toed Stints as well, the first I'd seen this season and also a good record. Several Sharpies and up to seven Wood Sandpipers were also in attendance along with Ducks of various species, Whiskered Terns and a huge mob of Cape Barren Geese on the far shore. I had to report back to Sue and I wasn't too popular as she still needs this bird to equal my score.

A male Pectoral Sandpiper at Big Swamp Eyre Peninsula. Still not on Sues list

After the week away was over I got home late Friday and we'd planned to go to the south-east one more time as we had three days off and a scheduled pelagic trip on the Sunday..... the last trip of the year and one that carries the weight of expectation. There is still a Pectoral Sandpiper down there too and a few at Tolderol Game Reserve so there are still opportunities for Sue to pick up this bird. Stay tuned to see how that went in the next post

The Big Blue Paddock MKVI

It's been a long time since we've been out to sea. In fact our last pelagic trip was way back in August. We picked up two year ticks on that trip and to this day seabirds still give us the most opportunities for improving our year lists. There are still a number of species we have a chance of seeing with the majority of them being seabirds plus some of the rarer shorebirds and the far south-east has a handful of potential bush birds as well  It's been a slightly frustrating couple of months since August with the trip scheduled for September cancelled due to bad weather and the October one cancelled due to the boat being in need of repair, but finally we got the green light for November. We had the Friday off for this trip so we were able to do some birding on our way down to Port MacDonnell.

Sue is still in need of Pectoral Sandpiper to level up with my list total so we made an effort to try to find the bird that had been reported from Tolderol Game Reserve on the northern shore of Lake Alexandrina. Tolderol has undergone a massive transformation in the last two years since involvement from the local community and the efforts of several key individuals to drive the restoration project. There is more water in more ponds this season than ever before and the place is looking really good for this summer. Shorebirds have already returned in good numbers and in amongst them is a male Pectoral Sandpiper that was photographed by Sue Lee midweek and seen by others the previous weekend. We arrived early morning in light drizzle which quickly cleared but the tracks were all quite damp as we drove around trying to come to grips with the birds that were spread out over the ponds.

Scanning one of the main ponds for shorebirds

There were good numbers of Sharp-tailed and Curlew Sandpipers with a few Red-necked Stints thrown in for good measure, but try as we might we couldn't locate the reported Pectoral Sandpiper. We drove around to most of the ponds and saw some nice birds but time is always pressing when you need to get down the far south-east, so with more opportunities for Pecs still open to us during the rest of this year we opted to give up on this one and carry on.

We drove for three hours straight through to Bangham Conservation Park where we traversed the tracks, stopping every now and again to scan and listen for birds. We'd heard that White-bellied Cuckoo-shrikes and an Olive-backed Oriole had been seen recently but they didn't reveal themselves to us. The northern boundary still had good numbers of White-browed Woodswallows, Rufous Songlarks and up to five male White-winged Trillers, all good birds of local interest. We also paid particular attention for Scarlet Honeyeaters. There has been a big western movement through central Victoria in recent weeks and there was a possibility this species had made it to South Australia for the very first time but it was not to be. Leaving Bangham we drove out to Geegeela CP to see what was around, which turned out to be not much! As it was getting late we had prearranged to meet up with Bob Green at a local Heritage block down the road. He was there camping with other birders doing some local survey work. We'd been invited to camp also but we had experienced low cloud and drizzle for most of the day and despite the weather clearing somewhat we're not set up for wet weather camping so we opted not to camp in favour of a motel in Naracoorte.

The next morning we headed down the road towards Nangwarry Native Forest Reserve south of Penola. I hadn't been in here for over thirty five years but remember seeing White-bellied Cuckoo-shrikes as well as some other nice birds. Driving down some forest tracks we explored the area but failed to find any Cuckoo-shrikes at all or indeed anything new for our year lists. A really nice mornings birding though and we came across Blue-winged Parrots, Crested Shrike-tits, Shining Bronze-cuckoos and five Red-tailed Black Cockatoos quietly feeding in a Stringybark tree in the forest.

Beautiful forest in Nangwarry NFR full of birds
The only female Red-tailed Black-cockatoo amongst four males
quietly feeding  

One of the tracks opened out in to a patch of Swamp Gum with a bit of a heathy understorey in amongst the taller forest and it was here we came across a lovely pair of Southern Emu-wrens, a species I dont remember seeing here before.........nice.

From here it was a short drive down the road to Telford Scrub just north of Mt Gambier. A nice forest block that has harboured breeding Satin Flycatchers and White-bellied Cuckoo-shrikes over recent years but despite spending quite some time here we failed yet again to locate either of these species. I fear that the Flycatchers will not return this summer and were missing from here last summer as well. Walking down the western boundary track Sue literally leapt straight up in the air nearly landing on my shoulders. A Copperhead Snake in your path is likely to do that to a person!!!

A rather docile Copperhead caused Sue some anxiety....especially when she nearly stepped on it!

A morning well spent despite not adding anything to our year lists but it was time to carry on as we were due to catch up with the other boat trip participants at the Hotel in Port MacDonnell. After checking in to the lodge at the caravan park we headed off to explore the coastline between Port MacDonnell and the border. There are some nice reefs along here that harbour good numbers of interesting shorebirds. A Pectoral Sandpiper had been reported from one of them the weekend before so we headed straight to Danger Point to try and find it. On arrival at the bird hide that is strategically placed here we discovered the tide was a fair way out and still dropping meaning most of the birds were a little distant. Despite that we scanned through lots of birds finding good numbers of Sanderlings in particular. Other birds here included Turnstones, Bar-tailed Godwits three Red Knot and lots of Sharp-tailed and Curlew Sandpipers as well as loafing Kelp Gulls, various Terns and Chestnut Teal. Unfortunately no sign of the Pec!!. Sue managed to pick out an interesting bird while scanning with the the scope she called as a Sand Plover, but it frustratingly kept disappearing on her until she lost it all together. A little later I refound presumably the same bird. Conscious of the fact we still need Lesser Sand Plover I grilled the bird until it turned its head and revealed a massive bill.......another Greater......bugger. Still a very good bird locally.

The track to Danger Point. Sadly the locals continue to ignore these signs

Tucked in to the vegetation of Danger Point this bird hide is well placed for good views over the high tide roost

Angled scopes aren't for the vertically challenged!!!!

The view from the hide enjoyed by Sue. Good numbers of Sanderling on the shore.

We checked out French Point as well closer to Port MacDonnell and with the tide quite low the reefs were fully exposed. This gives some shorebird species the ideal conditions for feeding and it was here we found eighteen Pacific Golden Plovers and three Grey-tailed Tattlers as well as some Turnstone amongst others. At this point a low cloud base rolled in from the south-east causing the temperature to drop and so we retreated to the Caravan park in preparation for catching up with the others. We enjoyed a meal in the hotel that evening and its always nice getting to meet new people and having a chat about what we might see on the boat. Spirits were high and we were quite hopeful of a good trip. All week the prevailing winds had been from the south-east which can sometimes influence what species we might see and the previous weekend had seen some very impressive movements of "Cookilaria type" Petrels off the east coast and Tasmania. The corresponding trip for November last year was also a cracker. We went to bed with high expectations.

Stuart the organiser had called for an early start at the wharf with daylight savings in full effect sunrise would be somewhere around 6:00am so we were ready and waiting in the predawn light. Unfortunately the skipper wasn't!!!! He was running late and we had to stand by and watch boat after boat heading out from the harbour in to a rather innocuous looking sea.

The crew patiently awaiting the arrival of our skipper as the sun rises higher in the sky

An hour later we were heading out past the breakwater on a rather becalmed sea. Half an hour out on our way to the shelf the calm conditions provided the perfect opportunity to see cetaceans and the skipper slowed down as we had whales blowing off the starboard side. Although not very close we got good definitive looks of what proved to be several Blue Whales, the largest living mammal on the planet.....fantastic. I've been lucky enough to have seen these before but for the majority on board it was a new species for them.

Thar she blows. Blue Whale near the boat

Looking quite dark overall in the harsh sunlight the blowhole guard
gives the identity of this Cetacean away as Blue Whale

A large pod of Common Dolphin also came to investigate the boat and not to be outdone by them I picked up a pod of Pilot Whales but they didn't allow a close approach. They disappeared quickly before giving me an opportunity to get any photos so we couldn't identify them to species.

Birds were present in very small numbers and we passed a few Shy Albatross quite close inshore. A pair of Fluttering Shearwaters cut in front of the boat followed by a single Huttons but very little else. Maintaining a cruising speed of eighteen knots we were making good time in getting towards our berlying point when a cloud of steam or smoke came belching up from the back of the boat 2Nm short of the shelf break in conjunction with a loud audible alarm emanating from the cabin. We immediately stopped! While the skipper and his deckhand  investigated what was going on with the boat Stuart decided we might as well start getting a slick going to see what we could attract. With little wind and virtually no swell things started off very slowly and birds seemed reluctant to come to the back of the boat to feed preferring to sit on the water at a distance. There were several Shy Albatross of the local breeding race and we started to see both Great-winged and Grey-faced Petrels, the latter outnumbering the former three to one. Not long after the call went up..... White-chinned Petrel and sure enough one glided past the boat on long out stretched wings. This was a species that was highly anticipated at this time of the year and it came as no surprise. Had we have gotten out in February at the start of the year we most likely would have already had it, but here it was finally. Numbers of them built up during the day to a high of about fifteen or so and some came close to the boat.

The tiny white chin spot coupled with the ivory bill identifies this bird as a White-chinned Petrel

Quite large compared to other Shearwaters and Petrels that occur of South Australias coastline

There wasn't much else on offer and things were really slow before we had four Giant-petrels sitting on the water occasionally picking at the berley on the slick. All four birds turned out to be Northerns unfortunately as we still needed Southern, a species that we don't normally see this late in the year so interesting in itself. We had a fly past Wandering type Albatross and eventually one did come in and sit way back on the slick.

A Northern Giant-petrel whizzes past the boat. Sadly none of the birds we saw
on the day proved to be the Southern that we still need.

Always difficult to identify but this appears to possibly be a male gibsoni?? 

Another call went out for "Skua" and a distant small Jaeger was tracking around a long way off the back of the boat. Difficult to get any pictures at that range and I didn't manage to get any worth posting, but the views it did give up proved to identify it as an Arctic Jaeger. Unfortunately not a bird we still needed but nice to see all the same. Things at this point went very quiet all the time the skipper and his offsider were investigating the boats issues. After several phone calls it was determined that there was a problem with the water pump and in the end they had to rig up the deck hose as a temporary inlet to the motor to keep it cool. Several false starts later and we could finally get underway but there was no way we were going to get out further so we just cruised back up the slick. At this point  there were a number of Albatross sitting on the water now the wind had dropped off and in amongst them I spotted a bird that looked quite different. At a distance it gave the impression of a Grey-headed Albatross but there was something not quite right about it. With binocular views it definitely wasn't  a Grey-headed but its marked grey hooded appearance gave me the suspicion that it was a  Salvins Albatross. I took a series of photographs and only later after downloading photos at home was I aware that I had indeed photographed this bird earlier in the day. It didn't give definitive views being reluctant to fly but the bill colour and pattern definitely pointed to that species. During the week it was confirmed via e-mail from Jeff Davies, Rohan Clarke and Colin Rogers and so Sue and I were happy to add it to our year lists giving me 371 and Sue 370.

A grey hood and solid black wing tips helped to confirm this as Salvins 

This and the previous picture I had taken earlier in the day when the birds were still happy to fly around
unaware of what it was I'd seen until looking at the pictures later

Later in the day this bird appeared again on the slick. The combination of solid
grey hood, white forehead and colour and pattern of the bill confirming its ID
as a sub adult Salvins Albatross

We limped in to port by mid afternoon after what was a slightly disappointing trip. Not only were we late getting out there but the mechanical issues with the boat and the innocuous weather conspired against us in what possibly should have been a great trip. Bird diversity and numbers were way down on what we had expected having not even seen any Storm Petrels for the day. I guess at the end of the day and being so late in the year we were grateful to have gotten any year ticks at all so we have to take what we can get. There is still another scheduled pelagic trip in mid December and a lot hinges on the success or otherwise of that trip. Not only will it be our last opportunity to get out to sea for the year but with three days off again it'll give us our last chance for those missing few species in the south-east. Other than that we'll be restricted to shorebirds closer to home that we can squeeze in between the approaching social engagements that the Xmas period brings. We still have a few days off between Xmas and New Year so that'll be a last minute dash for anything on offer. Till next time thanks for staying with us