Big Year blues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blue skies in Brookfield CP at least initially!

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

Lovely out of season male White-browed Woodswallow

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

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

My favourite bird in the Mallee

This female Chestnut-backed Quailthrush seemed quite curious.

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

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

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