Sunday, 28 February 2016

Wandering Dutchman meets Cape Gannet

Parks Victoria do an "Open Day" into the gannet colony at Point Danger once a year for anyone to go but especially for the Portland locals to see the only gannet colony on mainland Australia. Just a few kilometres to the south is the Lawrence Rocks Conservation Reserve where many thousands of Australian Gannets call home. About 4-500 gannets live on the mainland on the top of the cliff overlooking Bass Strait and Lawrence Rocks.

The mainland gannet colony with Lawrence Rocks in the distance
A small crowd of about 25 gathered at the end of the road by the fence. This is the first line of defence for the colony.

We walked about 100 metres to the very edge of the colony separated from us by an electrified fence whose main aim is to deter foxes. You could almost touch them.

Melissa gave us an excellent talk about the gannets. She is highly experienced with them and has spent time with Cape Gannet colonies in South Africa. Over there they have just a few Australasian Gannets in the colonies and over here we have, in the mainland population, just one breeding pair of Cape Gannets. They have a well grown chick which may be big enough to fledge. I recall it takes 100 days before fledging. Last year's Cape chick failed to fledge. Whilst we were there, a single adult Cape raucously landed [their calls are different] thus there are at least 3 Cape Gannets in this population of Australian Gannets.

These birds are just beautiful with lovely clean lines of black and white plus the grey beaks and "buff-washed head" Pizzey & Knight.

The differences between the two species are obvious but hard to spot when there are hundreds of heads moving every which way or resting tucked in or preening. The Australian Gannet has a dark iris. The iris of the Cape Gannet is much lighter, almost the colour of the orbital ring of pale china-blue.

The bird at the back left is the Cape with the pale china-blue eye
whilst the other two have the dark iris.
The bird sitting to the right is the Cape Gannet.
The other difference is the length of the black gular [throat] stripe. The Aussie has a short stripe and the Cape has a strip extending a fair way down the ventral surface of the neck.

Australasian Gannet
Cape Gannet
Cape Gannet
Whichever species you are looking at, these birds are just superb flyers. Once they have fledged they spend the first five years of their life flying around the lower southern latitudes of the earth before ending up back at their birthplace - mostly. I guess the occasional one becomes disoriented and finishes in the wrong spot. Hence our Capes are here and not in South Africa.

Earlier in the day Robert and I went for a walk before breakfast down to the Portland pier. This Masked Lapwing must think he is the missing Jonathan Livingstone Seagull.

Two koalas were spotted plus a Yellow-tailed Black-cockatoo with breakfast and a small flock of Musk Lorikeets amongst the plethora of Rainbow Lorikeets.

At the gannet-fest, we heard that a Nankeen Kestrel has a favourite perch in the town itself overlooking the bay.

Friday, 26 February 2016

Wandering Dutchman meets Long-billed Corella

My step-son, Heath, spent a year in The Netherlands after completing year 12. He stayed with the one  host family, the Middelvelds, for the entire year. His host-brother, Robert, is just a year older and Heath's host-sister, Anneke, is a year younger. The relationship between the families has remained strong over the subsequent 12 or so years. Heath has visited them often [international traveller that he is] and Elaine and I spent two separate weeks with Albert and Gertje in 2010 at their house in North Holland. Robert is a very keen birdwatcher. He could almost be called a twitcher. He is presently in Australia on a road trip from Melbourne to Cairns with Heath.

I was asked along on the road trip to supplement Heath's diminished bird watching enthusiasm! I picked Robert up from Tulla on Saturday 23 January and we headed straight for Portland to check out the Australasian Gannet colony at Point Danger where they were having an "open" day the next day Sunday. After a stop at Colac to ease Robert back into Aussie birdwatching over Lake Colac, we were stopped by several hundred Long-billed Corellas Cacatua tenuirostris on the drive into Warrnambool through the industrial and mega-shops estate to the east of the town. One of the last posts from the Ben Cruachan blog was about the arrival of a Long-billed Corella in Maffra. Let me say there are hundreds of the things in the west of Victoria and you could be wondering why they haven't arrived in Gippsland earlier.

So Robert was on the lookout for a flock of white birds in the air but it was the mob on the ground, hoeing into the kikuyu on the roadside that were unmistakable and unpassable. They were right by the Princes Highway, unperturbed by trucks and semis and B-doubles and cars zooming past. Once we were close, it became obvious that they moved away from you as you approached thus only showing their backs and rears to the camera. We soon had that figured out with Robert going around behind them and quietly "driving" them towards the camera and the setting sun. A lifer for both of us. A pretty good start to the trip.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Bird Nerds in Queensland 13

Well, we are just about done with the first Queensland trip. After Maroochy Wetlands there was the trip back to Victoria but I was keen to visit the Wynnum Wetlands at Sandy Camp Road in the docklands area of Brisbane itself. After saying my goodbyes to Erica and the boys in the evening, I was up at 4am and on the road soon after to arrive about 5.30 to take advantage of the cool morning. Birding is not much fun after 9am. The intensity of the sun is uncomfortable at best. Here is a map of the area.

The area to the top of the image is now a large container terminal with lots of traffic movement. But the birds don't seem to mind at all. The orange hatching reputedly harboured a Black Bittern, the black circle is an Oprey nest, the pink hatching had a Rajah Shelduck and there were crakes in the dark-blue area. It is an excellent place to spend a few hours. In the four hours I was there I managed to tick 57 species. Here are some images.

Brown Quail Coturnix ypsilophora

Comb-crested Jacana Irediparra gallinacea
Chestnut-breasted Mannikin Lonchura castaneothorax
Australasian Darter Anhinga novaehollandiae
female Australasian Figbird Sphecotheres vieilloti
female Leaden Flycatcher Myiagra rubecula
Mr Leaden Flycatcher taking his turn
Magpie Geese Anseranas semipalmata
Sacred Kingfisher Todiramphus sanctus [pr male]
Pink-eared Duck Malacorhynchus membranaceus
Magpie-lark Grallina cyanoleuca
Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike Coracina novaehollandiae
Striped Honeyeater Plectorhyncha lanceolata. I never got to see it upright!!
Tawny Grassbird Megalurus timoriensis
White-breasted Woodswallows Artamus leucorynchus

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Bird Nerds in Queensland 12

It was a toss up between Lake Macdonald and Maroochy Wetlands as to my favourite site until our last visit to the wetlands. Another early start and it was going to be a good day when Ethan spotted an Azure Kingfisher as we were driving along and then we had 24 species in the carpark without moving more than 5 metres! We could have just gone home at 5.15am but decided to stay on.

Just some of the birds included ...

Rose-crowned Fruit-Dove Ptilinopus regina. It was about 5.15am shot against a bright sky and about 2 stops over exposed and played with in Photoshop. I think a male of the eastern form.

Collared Kingfisher Todiramphus chloris which I believe is now called the Torresian Kingfisher. It is a large bird. There were a pair.

Third bird of the day was the Mangrove Gerygone Gerygone levigaster again. I think this is a delightful little bird. 

There were plenty of wattlebirds about, mostly Brush Wattlebird Anthochaera chrysoptera. This one allowed a considered photographic approach in a timely fashion thus razor sharp focus. 

However, the star of the show this particular morning was the next bird. We were almost back at the carpark and deviated just a few metres down a short side path in the rain forest section. We had heard a Monarch again and I was keen to a) see it again and b) see if I could get better photos. Well, there was one flitting about near and on a small tree maybe 3-4 cm wide and suddenly we noticed the reason for the interest. Two Spectacled Monarchs Symposiarchus trivirgatus were in the last stages of completing the building of their nest. Wow. Magic. With a bit of luck I shall be back there in mid-Feb and there should be some young'uns to see. Magic.