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

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

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

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

American imports. Oversexed and over here!

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

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

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

This guy got us out of bed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The exquisitely marked Ground Cuckoo-shrike

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

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

The bird that just kept giving Short-tailed Grasswren

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

Stunningly gorgeous Pink Cockatoos

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

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

A lovely male Redthroat by Sue

Slender-billed Thornbill in the early morning light

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One of the pair of Malleefowl working the mound

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

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

The ever curious Southern Scrub-Robin

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

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

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

One of six Brown Quail in this particular covey

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

Always something special about all the Parrots we see in Oz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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