Saturday, March 18, 2017

272) In the Mallee

Scarlet-chested Parrot
Three years ago we visited Gluepot and heard the Scarlet-chested Parrots were nesting. Despite two attempts to find them we had to leave without seeing these marvelous birds. So on this trip, when we saw a recent sighting on eBird, we decided to drive the extra kms and try again.

We arrived at the correct trail parking lot near just before sunset. A birding group heading to their car confirmed the SCPs were there and provided directions and a cheery - "its only about 2 km - you have 15 minutes of light!" So we ran, as much as one can run with big cameras and tripods. Left, right, is this the right clearing? The sun is a centimeter from the horizon.... Wrong clearing.... so  on we rush. A larger clearing, an isolated tree and a faint "eeep.., eeep... eeep". There in the fading light was a splendid example of the smallest and one of the most enigmatic parrots of Australia. An answering '...eeep' from another tree  and he was off - a pair flew into the spreading dusk.

That was absolutely worth the drive......

Chestnut-backed Quail thrush (male)
We love Gluepot -  a Birdlife funded Reserve. Great camping, good access around to different habitats. Rain had fallen so the 60 km road in had some interesting standing pools. We had no real issues but were glad for the 4X4! Due to standing water in the reserve, some areas were inaccessible (driving was hazardous and would severely damage the roads).

Chestnut-backed Quail thrush (male)

When driving slowly with no other cars around we could spot birds (like this Quail-thrush) and leap out of the car to get a better look. This female and the male (above) we happy nosing about in the scrub near the road as long as there was a bush between them and us. After a brief period wandering in circles, I finally just sat down until they ventured out into the open. Although they are locally common and we have heard them call, this was a our first sighting - they are beautifully camouflaged!

Red-capped Robin

The Red-caps are always a joy to find - they are alert and fast and yet their drops to the ground can be anticipated. Then its a matter of guessing which branch they will return to. This was a male hanging about in the area where the female and 2 young were feeding (previous post)

Superb Fairywren

As Superb Fairy Wrens come out of eclipse they look a bit confused and bedraggled. But you do get a sense of how wonderful their eventual brilliant colors will be  - one feather at a time.

Scarlet-chested Parrot
Rufous Bristlebird

I have a terrible time leaving places I like, not knowing I will ever be back. We knew this could well be our last chance to ever see the SCP - there are very few places they are seen and no place is predictable. So we waited until late afternoon and walked back into the clearing. We waited and waited. Finally Nancy spotted him through a dense section of Mallee. He eventually returned to the tree with hollows and we had the opportunity to just sit and watch as he called and wandered about the tree waiting for... someone. We did not want to leave for fear of scaring him off! He finally flew, again at dusk, to meet a barely glimpsed female and head somewhere for the night.

We left Gluepot in the face of impending rain - the Rangers said "leave now or plan to stay another 7-10 days! The roads will be impassable!". I decided the University would not accept 'stuck in the mud" as a reasonable excuse (there is no mobile reception anyway...). We dodged storms, stayed in hotels (serious rain) and headed to the Great Ocean Road.

There will be more in the next post but these Rufous Bristlebirds were special at Aireys inlet - we saw 12 of them at the lighthouse - they were having a good year!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

269) Night Job

Masked Owl (F- juvenile)
An encounter from last November when we heard the location of a breeding pair of Australian Masked Owls. We knew approximately where and upon arrival were fortunate to run into a local photographer who knew exactly where they came upslope from the creekbed. Right at dusk we heard them calling, and soon after they were in the trees right at te edge of the rock platform were were on. We had great views of the F juvenile until an adult, possibly with dinner ready, caled in the distance and off she went. 

Monday, October 17, 2016

270) Mallee Country and Back

Rufous Fieldwren

Spring is upon us --- meaning inquisitive and calling birds. We decided to take the new 4 X 4 out to desert-ish mallee country. Its only 1250 km to get there. Bit of a loop down south along the Great Ocean Road and back up through Chiltern... a walk in the park in the week I have for Spring Break.

What we had not counted on was the VERY wet year Victoria has been having. This is the Murray River at Deniliquin - though only some aras were severely flooded there was standing water everywhere. Including the paddocks we went to to find the Plains Wanderer. Though we had expert guidance and spent a long afternoon and evening, none were to be found - conditions were just too wet.

Other places were less inundated and we succeeded with the Rufous Fieldwren (above) at Lake Tyrrell (now slightly famous for the tourist 'walking on water' photos). 


Bluebonnets in the lakeside grasses...

White-fronted Chat

..........and many chats with juveniles in tow flitting through the heath.

Lots of birds are actively nest-building. Here a Striated Thornbill strips bark

Spotted Pardalote (F)

One of my favorites - a pair were busily collecting grass for a nest - they made multiple trips between a nest site and this particular patch of grass.
Red-capped Robin

We saw many juveniles out and about - here a robin brings a tasty grub to one of a pair of just fledged babies. The male was not far away.

Singing Honeyeater

It has  been a cold winter/spring so far so few trees were blooming. We did find a few honeyeater like this splendid Singing Honeyeater. But once it warms up Victoria may be the go to place.


Galahs being photogenic.

We made a stop at Hattah-Kulkyne park specifically to find the elusive Striated Grasswren! Unfortunately no one told them it was spring so they were not calling. After much too-and-fro-ing along a specific track we finally spied this guy under some low trees.
We also sighted the Mallee Emuwren but they were utterly indifferent to the options of photographic fame and eluded (again) my best efforts.

Next we continue to SA - an unusual sighting demands yet more western travel......

Friday, August 19, 2016

268) A few locals

Rock Warbler
 One of our favorite spots in The Royal overlooks the ocean and is inhabited by these great chirpy Rock Warblers (genus Origma) - not to to be confused with new world warblers. They are endemic to the Sydney area and scoot up and down the cliffs in search of bugs.

Rock Warbler

They were being positively inquisitive on this day likely because it was a Saturday and many folks picnics on the cliff edge overlooking the ocean

Speckled Warbler

This Speckled Warbler (genus Pyrrholaemus) was quite to poser down in Mulligan's flat near Canberra. A pair was traveling with a mixed flock including robins, thornbills, firetails. The mixed flock phenomenon was something we observed a few times on the Canberra trip - so when you see (or hear) a thornbill - look hard for the other travelers!

Diamond Firetail
One of the birds I obsess about - the Diamond Firetail. He was part of the mixed flock mentioned above as the they traveled along the interface between the trees and the open fields at the edge of Mulligan's Flat. We were told they only recently returned to ML after not having been seen for a number of years! Yeah for predator proof fences!

Beautiful Firetail

Here is our local version - the Beautiful Firetail at Barren Ground. All the firetails have a lovely descending (and quite striking) whistle that is easy to recognise. This little ground was not making a peek - too busy chowing on the  grasses!

Gang gang Cockatoo

 Also at Barren Ground - a few pairs of Gang-gang Cockatoo. We usually find these guys by listening for their distinctive (and loud) feeding on these seed pods.
 Some of my department and SOs' hiking while Ramiro's visit to OZ. This is the most photogenic point on the National Pass trail above Wentworth Falls. Remarkable trail first built in 1912 - it traverses a bedding plane across the cliffs - lots of steps and waterfalls!

Saturday, July 23, 2016

267) Winter Robins (yes - winter)

Rose Robin (M)
 One of the pleasures of Australian Winters is the movement of many of the robins to lower  elevations. As they move down from the hills the become more concentrated and somewhat easier to see. The Rose Robin above is at a picnic ground in our local Royal National Park - he stays in a fairly small area inviting an ambling photo session next to the river.

Flame Robin (M)
We had to go south (to Canberra) to find the Flame Robins at Mt Ainslie (a ten minute stroll from an office park building.) Canberra has done a respectable job of maintaining reserves and natural areas interspersed with development across the city. We had seen one Flame here 2 years ago and were excited to see 8 this trip. Their color is  truly outstanding - you can see them from 100's of meters away without binoculars!

Flame Robin (F)

The female Flame Robins are highly dimorphic - no bright colors here!

Flame Robin (Juv)

Scarlet Robin (F)

Scarlet Robin (M)
 The flock was moving back and forth between an open paddock (full of kangaroos) and the woodland. We were initailly confused by 2-3 birds with faint colors. Our trusty bird app revealed that these birds were juveniles - likely from last year?

Adding to the grandness of the day were many Scarlet Robins. Unlike the flock of Flame Robins we saw, Scarlets are usually found in pairs though we saw them both feeding on the ground with the Flame Robins and being quite aggressive to them.

Nancy has a remarkable knack to see these guys on fence wires and power lines even while we are driving at 100 kmh! In the woods she says she watches for them to 'drop out of trees'. They often find bugs on the ground so we see them plunging off branches and then flitting back up to low branches to snack.

They also have a distinctive 'wing flip' - a small twitch of the wings every few moments that is highly recognizable even at a distance.

Red-capped Robin (F)

A lovely female Red-capped Robin at Mulligan Flat. Note the f-a-i-n-t red spot above her bill. She was an exciting find (4th robin species for our weekend) and they are not at all common this time of year. Nancy spotted her 'plunging off a branch'!

Eastern Yellow Robin 

We were pleased to find the Eastern Yellow Robin to fill out our robin card. They practically glow in the denser woods they prefer and are reliable photo subjects.

Flame Robin (M)

Monday, June 6, 2016

266) B-days in Capertee

Scarlet Robin (F)
For my birthday this year, we happily re-visited one of our favourite local birding areas, the Capertee Valley in New South Wales. Capertee was one of the first places we went to when we decided we wanted to learn Australian birds and didn't know even know what a Honeyeater was. It turns out that Capertee is one of the premier locations in Australia to find birds, because of the variety of habitats and overlapping ranges of birds at their southern and northern extents. It was seven years ago when we flew from the Gold Coast to Sydney, hopped the train to the Blue Mountains, and hired fantastic bird guide Carol Probets to show us around Capertee and patiently point out the birds we have since come to know and love. 
Spotted Pardalote (M)

Red-Rumped Parrots (M and F)

Diamond Firetail
Robins and Pardalotes are still some of our favourite birds. Both have exquisite colouring and endearing personalities. Pardalotes are no bigger than a Eucalypt leaf, but are quick and zippy and have a piercing call that belies their size. Pardalotes are fueled by lerps--found on the undersides of leaves, lerps are dots of crystallized sugar produced by larvae of psyllid bugs as a protective cover, and they look like the dots on the head and wing of this handsome Spotted Pardalote. Or as John Woinarski says, they are wearing pictures of their food!

Not all Australian parrots are dimorphic, but these beautiful Red-Rumped Parrots are--females have more subdued colouring, males more gaudy. For quick identification in the field, this is one way to positively identify this species. We happily watched these parrots and many other species come in for a drink before sunset, as we relaxed after fine day birding in the valley. We were also pleased this pond was the new home for a wandering long-necked turtle we rescued from the road. The pond is on Binalong, the property where we stayed with delightful owner April Mills. We stayed with April the first time we came to Capertee years ago, and enjoyed every minute of her joyful company. However, April is ready to move to town and needs to find a buyer to carry on her conservation goals, check out her listing:

Capertee, and April's patio, was the first place Dirk spotted his favourite bird--Diamond Firetails. Dirk is particularly pleased with this picture, because the firetail is standing on an old log.  Often when we see a firetail, it is on a barbed-wire fence, which isn't particularly aesthetic.

White-winged Chough
Choughs are true characters with attitude.  When you first spot them, they could be mistaken for a bunch of ravens. But watching them for a minute, you quickly see that their behaviour is uniquely chough-like. They strut around on the ground in big extended-family gangs, watching out for each other as they forage around for things to eat. When they fly low across the ground, you see their beautiful white wings, which are hidden unless they're extended. And those red eyes... I'd love to know the "why" of eye colour in birds. 

Southern Whiteface
For some reason, we're always surprised to find Southern Whiteface birds. They're a little silly looking, but rather adorable too.  Tiny and inconspicuous, they fly under the radar most of the time, so we were happy to see these guys hanging out with a bunch of other finches.
Zebra Finch (M)

Who could not love a little Zebra Finch--they're so bright and cheerfully-coloured, with those bright orange beaks and legs, and collection of differently sized dots and spots! 
Plum-headed Finch (M)

 I think Plum-headed Finches are one of the most elegant birds. Very dignified and photogenic, they are vastly underappreciated.

We also stopped by Lake Marshall, where we saw these stylish Great Crested Grebes. Some of them had chicks!

Great Crested Grebe (M)
And King-Parrots chowing down on something good to eat. We still marvel at finding parrots simply flying about --wondrously fabulous birds.
Australian King-Parrot (M)

Friday, April 8, 2016

265) A Dash to Chiltern, VIC

Swift Parrot
On my Easter Break (which is university 'common week' here) we took a dash to Chiltern VIC. It is the largest remaining remnant of the Box-Ironbark forest in Victoria and one of the top birding sites in the state. It had just started to flower the week before we got there and we were wonderfully excited to see the Swift Parrots had arrived on the mainland after flying from clear down in Tasmania, where they spend their breeding season!
Scarlet Robin (M)

Nancy was completely attuned to the robins - she could pick them out in the trees even while Dirk was driving 100kph on the highway! The dirt road system within Chiltern provides good leisurely access to most of the area and we had fine opportunities to see these guys more than a few times.

Scarlet Robin (F)
Also in attendance were the female Scarlet Robins. Not as bold and brassy but much more accommodating of photographs.

Little Lorikeet

The blossoms also attracted whole flights of Little Lorikeets. We normally only hear them as they pass by at just under super-sonic speeds but here they settled down to gnosh on flowers WAY up in the canopy....

Yellow-footed Antechinus
The Yellow-footed Antechinus is a locally common marsupial (in)famous for its mating habits. The male becomes so frenzied that its immune system shuts down and males die before one year old. Not a good long-term survival strategy...

But they are wickedly cute and this one seemed quite happy to watch us from his brick pile in broad daylight.

Whistling Kite


Cruising one of the local ponds

It is fun to occasionally be reminded where we are - this ain't Kansas Toto!

Red-capped Robin (F)
Red-capped Robins were also out and about and the female entertained us for some time while she was finding bugs on the ground and flying up to a low branch. She was quite happy to pose.

Red-capped Robin (M)

The male Red-capped was keeping an eye out - either for his girl or maybe just for bugs...

Speckled Warbler

Closely related to scrubwrens, these birds are "warblers" in name only (unrelated to Old World warblers) but are nevertheless a real treat to find. We have not seen them in NSW but they seem to like the habitat here in VIC. There were easy to find in Bartley's block - an old homestead now part of the park.

Superb Fairywren

It's a confusing time of year - flowers blooming, really dry, not quite winter and not breeding season - he just can make up his mind what outfit to wear!

We are already plotting our return after a bit more rain - some of the habitat here is very attractive to a few species we have not yet seen. And hey - a six hour drive is no-big-deal for a weekend in OZ!