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 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 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

The Big Year welcomes back the Waders

With all the big away trips done and dusted for the year we can now focus on birds closer to home we can find on the weekends we have left. Most of the bush birds have been accounted for bar a few, but we still need quite a few of the rarer shorebirds. November marks the start of Shorebird season as the birds return to us in numbers from their Northern Hemisphere summer breeding season. It's a good time to be out looking for them so we've opted to spend a few weekends trying to add  the missing birds from earlier in the year to our lists. Already in the very beginning of this month we picked up Greater Sand Plovers at Port Clinton but we still need a few more like that.

Last weekend on the Saturday we decided to go on a Port River cruise organised by DEWNR. This would get us access to the mudflats at the mouth of the river and give us a slim chance of finding Whimbrel. Strangely enough this species is generally present in small numbers every year but we've lost access to two of the best sites for them in the State so they are proving very difficult to get.

Firstly we opted to call in to Magazine Rd wetlands where a few interesting species had been reported of late. The water levels here were just right for small freshwater shorebirds and can be a good spot for Pectoral Sandpiper that Sue still needs, as well as Long-toed Stints. Ruff has also been seen here in the past so you never quite know what you're going to get.

Scanning the mudflats of the northern most pond at Magazine Rd

There were good numbers of birds present including a nice count of seven Wood Sandpipers and lots of Sharp-tailed Sandpipers and Red-necked Stints but no sign of Sues Pec. Even a lone Marsh Sandpiper put in an appearance despite their virtual absence earlier in the year.

A voracious Sharp-tailed Sandpiper

One of seven Wood Sandpipers present doing some wing stretching exercises

It seemed despite the good numbers of shorebirds present there was no sign of any Pectoral Sandpipers or Long-toed Stints, which was a shame but it was still a nice mornings birding. We headed in to Port Adelaide for lunch via a quick call in to the virtually birdless Whicker Rd wetlands before heading to the wharf to join the boat cruise. This cruise was heavily promoted as part of  Shorebird week and the Adelaide International Bird Sanctuary. We were pleased to bump in to a friend with two of her children who are just getting started with birding, so we opted to hang out with them on the boat.

The boat was packed

We cruised past the upper Port infrastructure areas seeing a perched up Peregrine Falcon along the way as well as some Southern Bottle-nosed Dolphins that inhabit the river. As we arrived at the mouth it was evident the tide was out exposing large areas of mud flats. We scanned intently but couldn't find the bird we were seeking. Lots of birds inhabit this area though and we saw lots of Pelicans, Black-faced Cormorants, Ibis, White-faced Herons and both Sooty and Pied Oystercatchers. Loafing on the edge of the water was a good flock of medium sized shorebirds but they were just too far away to identify.

Black Swans at the Port River mouth with mystery waders on the shore
Pelicans nest on Bird Island

We turned around at Outer Harbour and headed back towards our starting point. Just as we did I picked up a second calendar year White-bellied Sea-eagle being harassed by a Little Raven, quite a rare bird around the metropolitan coastline.........nice. The trip was over before it started and we failed to come to grips with the bird we were really hoping for. Never mind.

A young White-bellied Sea-eagle, a rare sight near Adelaide these days

We'd had a nice day but resolved to try again the following day. Late Sunday was a good high tide in the upper Gulf of St Vincent on which Adelaide lies and we decided to try at one of the good wader spots that we had seen nice birds earlier in the year. This time we invited Sam and Sam, two young up and comers that are really starting to get in to birding in a big way. Neither had seen Terek Sandpiper before and that was the spot we were going to where we had seen them back in March. They were both very keen to tag along and we were happy for the company of two more pairs of keen eyes.

After meeting up in Port Wakefield we carried on to the head of the Gulf and walked out towards the mudflats. The tide was still a fair way out but it comes in very quickly here. A very strong south-easterly wind was blowing driving the water before it and conditions weren't very conducive for scanning distant waders with a scope.

Heaps of seaweed at the top of the Gulf with the tide a long way out.
An hour later the water laps at our feet.

We enjoyed good numbers of Stints and Red-capped Plovers and further around we came across a good flock of Grey Plover. The wind was howling at this stage and viewing conditions were difficult but we kept working the roosting flocks of birds. At that point a group of birds took off from the far end of the beach and flew past behind us and I picked out two Tereks. Fortunately they didn't go far and both birds perched up on a low mangrove out in the water and both Sams got good scope views of their lifer.

Terek Sandpipers in the bag. Happy tickers

I did manage to pick up a distant Sand Plover in the scope but it was right on the limit of my scopes power and I kept losing it in the crowds. I couldn't be sure which species it was but we still needed Lesser. In the end we lost it completely and never fully resolved what it was. With that we headed back out as the weather was worsening and the light was fading. While the tide was still high we opted to drive around to Port Clinton in the fading light to see what was roosting there but the waves were pummelling the coast and we realised there was nothing around. So we bid farewell and made our own ways back to Adelaide.

This weekend we had some social commitments but still had time to check out the upper gulf again on an early Saturday morning high tide. This time we'd be joined by Mike Potter who is doing a Big Year of sorts of his own. He'd come to the realisation that during his travels this year around the country he'd seen over four hundred species and was hoping to achieve four hundred and fifty. There were a few species he might see with us so we made that a focus for the day while we looked for the ever elusive Whimbrel. We picked Mike up at 6:00am and drove straight up to the head of the gulf. One of the birds Mike wanted was Terek Sandpiper.......well we know where they are! Conditions were much better today although overcast it was quite warm as we wandered around the edge of the beach. We started scanning the birds along the shore and it wasn't long before we picked up the two Tereks again. They were a bit wary and flew to a submerged mangrove a preferred roosting spot for them.

A pair of Terek Sandpipers. A rare visitor to South Australia

Sue and Mike enjoying the Terek Sandpipers

The change in species composition from the previous weekend was quite marked. This time there were less Grey Plover and virtually no Curlew Sandpipers or Common Greenshanks. Instead there was a big flock of thirty four Far Eastern Curlew. These birds had been reported from several spots around the gulf already this season and it was good to catch up with them ourselves. Our best chance of Whimbrel is for one to be hanging out with these birds but sadly for us not this time.

Far Eastern Curlews in heavy primary moult

Amongst the shorebirds on the mud flats were a number of Terns including Caspians, Whiskered and Gull-billed. Amongst those were at least three or four Gull-billed Terns of the migratory Asian race affinis. It is only in comparatively recent times that this race has been recognised as occurring in Australia. At least a third smaller than our local Gull-billeds they are relatively easy to identify as they are always in winter plumage when our birds are in full breeding.

Gull-billed Terns. The three nearest birds are of the race affinis.

We left here and drove over to Port Clinton briefly to see what was around. With the tide still quite high we managed to find the three Grey-tailed Tattlers that seem to hang around here each summer and further round in front of the southern most shacks we found four Greater Sand plovers. Last time we saw these birds there were only three, so was this fourth bird our "missing" Sand Plover from the previous weekend? Also here were a flock of thirty two Far Eastern Curlew. These birds were not in such heavy wing moult as the birds we had left at the head of the gulf so we were confident they were not the same birds. Probably the most Far Eastern Curlews to be seen in the Gulf in recent years and very encouraging. Unfortunately there was no sign of a Whimbrel loafing with them.

A second flock of Far Eastern Curlew on the shore at Port Clinton

From here we carried on south to Macs Beach. Again it was thronged with impressive numbers of shorebirds from one end of the beach to the other with good numbers of Red Knot, Great Knot, Bar-tailed Godwits Turnstones and others. One bird Mike needed for his year list was loafing on the seaweed in the form of seven Pacific Golden Plover so he enjoyed good scope views of those.

The whole length of the beach at Macs Beach south of Price was thronged with shorebirds

Nothing else of note though and certainly nothing new for Sue and I so after lunch in Maitland we moved over to the other side of the peninsula to Chinaman Wells. Not a lot of birds here but certainly more than two weeks ago with over thirty Red Knot this time amongst others. Apart from an unusually plumaged Sharp-tailed Sandpiper with a white head and neatly fringed mantle and wing covert feathers that had me going for a while there was nothing more for any of us.

We spent the afternoon hours driving the back country roads looking for Banded Lapwings and Brown Songlarks for Mike. We failed on the former but eventually encountered the latter just outside of Port Wakefield along with a nicely posed Singing Bushlark.

Singing Bushlark near Port Wakefield.

With that we were pretty much done. As we dropped Mike off at home he gave us the heads up on a site for Barbary Dove. I had seen this earlier in the year while driving around for work but Sue still needed it, so on our way home we called in and low and behold there one was right where Mike said it would be.

Barbary Dove. Finally on Sues list.

We wait with baited breath now as to whether the pelagic scheduled for next weekend will actually go. Either way we'll be down the south-east again with a three day break to utilise so here's hoping for something new.