Tuesday, 30 June 2015

NT Road Trip 2015: Part 18: Purple-crowned Fairy-wrens


Last year I got a fleeting glimpse and bad images of the above. So this year I enlisted the help of locals to give me some "sure-fire" sites. Watti Creek was the place to go, I was told, so one morning I went at daybreak. I found a PCFW family in the pandanus/paperbark edges of the creek. The first image is a male in eclipse plumage with a grey head and a black eye-patch. There may be a trace of purple on each side of the top of his head. Note the off-white breast of this race coronatus.

Purple-crowned Fairy-wren Malurus coronatus

The next day I walked from the Baptist Mission house where we were staying to the Kalkarindji Water Treatment Plant [sewage farm] at daybreak to see what birds were about. It is only 500 metres or so. On the way, guess what I saw? Yep, a family of PCFW. So I really didn't have to go searching much at all. They were on the doorstep.

Magic. f8 and be there!

NT Road Trip 2015: Part 17

Days 17 - 22 -- Kalkarindji

Kalkarindji sits on land to the west of the Victoria River. It has a "sister" town of Dagaragu about 8 kms further to the west. Dagaragu is on Watti Creek. The water flow in both waterways reduces to permanent waterholes during the dry. The dry commences in March/April and so by early May the flow had reduced to a comparative trickle. Both are bird havens.

Azure Kingfishers live across Australia, even in Sale. They are one of two true fishing kingfisher species in Australia. The other is the Little Kingfisher of the top end. The other kingfishers, including Sacred, Forest and Red-Backed KFs and the Laughing and Blue-winged Kookaburras, are terrestrial birds sourcing their nutrition from the ground e.g. snakes, insects etc.

Azure Kingfisher Ceyx azurea
Restless or Paperbark Flycatcher Myiagra inquieta nana
[depends on which text you consult]
Double-barred Finch Taeniopygia bichenovii
Little Pied Cormorant Microcarbo melanoleucos
Rajah Shelduck Tadorna radjah

Thursday, 25 June 2015

NT Road Trip 2015: Part 16

Day 15 -- south to Kalkarindji

Diesel in Katherine $1.23 per litre. Less than most of Victoria.

After collecting several hundred dollars worth of meat from Jason the butcher in Katherine [big recommendation, vacuum packs excellent meat, good for travellers, opposite the camping store at the north end of the main street, not receiving spotting fee!!], we headed south-ish along the Victoria Highway for a way then turned left, truly south, onto the Buntine Highway for Top Springs and Kalkarindji ~ 500 kms or so. The description of "highway" for the Buntine is optimistic. It is a single lane of bitumen for all the way. When you see a road train coming, you pull well off the road.

Our convoy had grown from two vehicles to five with two trays and a Paj with van. I travelled last and took that opportunity to stop and take photos of birds. I also spent an hour or so looking, in vain, for Purple-crowned Fairy-wrens at Camfield River. But I did find a Collared Sparrowhawk, a White-Gaped Honeyeater, some very friendly Yellow-tinted Honeyeaters plus brolga and Australian Pratincole [life tick!!] on the way. A great day.

Collared Sparrowhawk Accipiter cirrocephalus
Australian Pratincole Stiltia isabella
Brolga Grus rubicunda
White-gaped Honeyeater Lichenostomus unicolour

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

NT Road Trip 2015: Part 15

Day 15 -- Katherine -- still

We stayed at the Big4 resort near the low-level bridge in Katherine. It was excellent and had plenty of resident bird life.

Apostle Birds Struthidea cinerea
Australasian Figbird imm Sphecotheres vieilloti
Rainbow Lorikeet Trichoglossus haematodus rubritorquis
Red-collared Lorikeet of tropical Australia
Yellow-tinted Honeyeater Lichenostomus flavescens
Blue-winged Kookaburra Dacelo leachii
Grey-crowned Babbler Pomatostomus temporalis rubeculus
Red-breasted Babbler
Striated Pardalote Pardalotus striatus uropygialis
Black-necked Stork male Ephippiorhynchus asiaticus

Monday, 22 June 2015

NT Road Trip 2015: Part 14: Red-tailed Black-cockatoos revisited!

Day 14 -- Katherine

I decided to revisit the RTBC site, get there about an hour before sunset and set up properly. I was able to park the vehicle very close to the fence with a clear view of the dam and sat in the driver's seat with the window down, bins and camera at the ready. It was a very interesting dam, a real animal magnet. So I was entertained whilst waiting.

Antilopine wallaby [I am pretty sure]
Pheasant Coucal Centropus phasianinus
Although a cuckoo, the Pheasant Coucal does not lay eggs in another birds nest. If it did, it would be looking for a Wedge-tail's nest!! It is a large bird, 50-70 cm long, living mostly on the ground. It cares for its own young. It has an unmistakable call described in Morcombe as "a long, rapid series of resonant notes accelerating and descending". Click here for call. Personal experience tells me you can hear them kilometres away.

Cockatiels Nymphicus hollandicus
Common Bronzewing Phaps chalcoptera
Galah Eolophus roseicapillus albiceps 
Common Bronzewing
Partridge Pigeon Geophaps smithii smithii
And then the RTBC came. Not as many as the previous evening. Perhaps only 200 or so!

My favourite image.

Just magic. f8 and be there.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

NT Road Trip 2015: Part 13: Red-tailed Black-cockatoos

Day 14 -- Katherine

As anyone with a passion knows, when absorbed by your past-time, real time can fly by. You say, "Just a few more minutes. A Gouldian Finch may arrive. If I leave five minutes late, I can drive a bit faster and still be on time for tea". This being the case, I left Fergusson River about 6 o'clock to be 50 kms away in Katherine by 6.30 to go out to the RSL for a meal. Easy on a road without much traffic with a speed limit of 130 kph. I stopped to turn left onto the new highway but had to wait as three livestock road trains, each with three trailers, lumbered past heading towards Katherine. Oh dear. Overtaking one road train can be fraught and takes a couple of kilometres of clear road in front. I had three to overtake and they are limited to 100 kph and, it has to be said, the truck drivers are very good. I didn't see one doing over 100 on the entire trip. They usually sit on 90-95. Oh dear. I'm going to be late. So I trailed along. We got to the Edith Falls turn off. Five kilometres of dual carriageway. Beauty. With foot down and humming along at 140, it still took most of the dual road to get past them. Ripper. Home free.

However ... just few kms further on, I noticed four or so big black birds slowly winging their way along just above the treeline in the gathering gloom of dusk. Ahh.  Just RTBCs. Ahh well. Seen them before. Nothing too special. But 200 metres further on, as I was going around an easy righthand curve, a cacophony of RTBC noise hit me inside the car with the windows closed. I looked to my right and saw a "blizzard" of RTBC shapes going every which way. Whoa. Left indicator on. Hits brakes and takes to the road verge. As I pulled up the three road trains went past and once the dust cleared I did a U-turn and drove back to where the RTBC were, parked and hopped out.

I estimate there were 3-400 RTBCs in the paddock next to the road where there was a dam. There were birds in most trees and continually flying down to and up from the dam where 50-60 were drinking plus groups of 4-10 were flying in every minute or so. I think I saw 5-600 hundred over the next half hour until it got too dark to take photos. The noise was deafening. Truly a stunning sight.

Due to unpreparedness and the dimming light, the photos aren't too special.

The main action was at the dam. I snuck along the fence behind a bit of scrub but couldn't get into a clear spot with good vision that wasn't obvious. Hence the blurriness of the foliage.

It was getting pretty dark by now. Literally about as dark the image above. I applied some Photoshop science and this is the result from the above image.

It was a fantastic experience. Just so exciting.

Magic! t1250 to freeze the action and Photoshop.

Well, my mind started ticking over. They would probably come back to the same watering place tomorrow night. Hmm. Perhaps I could revisit. Hmm.

NT Road Trip 2015: Part 12

Day 13 -- Katherine

I was up early on our first [of three] full days in Katherine and went north for 50 kms or so to the Fergusson River to check out a spot that had great birding last year. There is a small creek running to the east between the old highway [the new highway is about 100 metres to the west] and the railway line.

Parked on the old Stuart Highway
A small number of waterholes stay "wet" until very late in the dry [September/October] thus providing an important water source for small birds, especially honeyeaters and finches, especially Gouldian Finches. There was a bit more water compared to August last year but not much more. The wet stopped earlier than usual in 2015.

No Gouldian Finches this time but lots of photogenic birds.

Great Bowerbird Ptilonorhynchus nuchalis
Double-barred Finch Taeniopygia bichenovii
Masked Finch Poephila personata
Long-tailed Finch Poephila acuticauda
Red-winged Parrot female Aprosmictus erythropterus
Red-winged Parrot female male 
On the way back to Katherine I had an encounter with some Red-tailed Black-cockatoos. More next blog.
Red-tailed Black-cockatoo Calyptorhynchus banksii

Friday, 19 June 2015

NT Road Trip 2015: Part 11: Hardhead hard swallow

Day 12 Longreach Waterhole -- Hardhead hard swallow

The following images show a female Hardhead eating a snail. This was the fourth snail I saw her eat/swallow and it was the biggest yet.

She was just a few metres from the shore. She would dive [Hardheads are Australia's only diving duck] down and bring up a snail, flick it around in her beak and swallow. This set of images are of her fourth catch and it proved to be a bit bigger than anticipated.

Here we are, caught some more breakfast
Seems to be the right orientation
Just give it a wash
Perhaps I'll just flick it around a bit.
Aahh. That's better. Bound to go down easy now.
Gulp !
Gulp !! 
Oops. Seems a bit big.
Gag. Move tongue to help swallow. Gulp !!!
Gravity! Help! Gulp !!!!
Great. Past my tongue.
Argh. That's better. No-one can see I've had a mouthful !!!!!
Magic. Just have to be there!