Friday, 11 March 2016

Wandering Dutchman gets SE-wing

Our failure to see a live Ground Parrot prompted us to drive out to Shipwreck Creek early the following morning to another "Where to see ..." recommendation with the added chance of seeing Southern Emu-wren and Striated Heathwren.

The walking track heads west from Shipwreck Creek towards Seal Creek.

Image by Robert Middelveld
After traversing Shipwreck Creek and crossing the beach you quickly climb into a heathland that Robert described as "perfect". Time for the birds.

Image by Robert Middelveld
Although we didn't hear or see a Ground Parrot, we saw lots of other birds in the gorgeous early morning light during our walk of about 3 km return. An "accidental" life-tick was the Beautiful Firetail below identified only after we scrutinised the images of a bird we knew was a finch but couldn't discern properly because it was a silhouette almost directly into the rising sun. It has to be said that these days there are some fantastic aids to our birdwatching. Digital cameras and computer software.

Beautiful Firetail
Another great bird was a Varied Sitella gathering insects on the bark of a tree on the edge of the heath.

Varied Sitella

We had seen on Birdline that a Striated Heathwren was in the vicinity so sparked up the playback mode for two, yes, just two, calls and in he came.

"Just who is in MY territory? I'd better out-sing him"
But the main excitement at this site was caused by the Southern Emu-wren of which there were a plethora. We saw 20 or so birds in several, probably four, families on the approximately 19 hectares of heathland. No apologies for the following plethora of images of this lovely little bird. The only thing missing is an image of a male with his tail straight up in the air.

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Wandering Dutchman meets CSI: Mallacoota

WARNING: This post contains images that may shock you. A bit. Maybe. Probably not. Read on.

After the wonder of the Wandering Tattler, we wondered what to do next. Mallacoota here we come. Towards evening we went on a search for the Ground Parrot. According to the book by Dolby and Clarke: Where To Find Birds in Australia, a favoured spot is the heathland surrounding the aerodrome at Mallacoota. Normally you would consider heathland to consist of lots of variation in height [say up to a metre] of lots of different species, perhaps the occasional small tree.  Here, surrounding the aerodrome, security and fire risks are mitigated by slashing.

Example of the heathland around Mallacoota aerodrome. Good for roos.
In the picture above you can see that the vegetation height of the heath is very low, hardly high enough for a budgie to hide in let alone a Ground Parrot. But this was a noted place to see the bird so we slowly zig-zagged across the heath and then around the edges hoping to flush one/some. And then we found one. Just one. About three metres from the double strand plain wire fence separating the gun club from the heathland. And slightly the worse for wear. Well, dead actually.

Yes, he was dead. The ants were already investigating the carcase. But what an opportunity to examine, in the hand, a rarely seen bird.

And then, the veterinary pathologist part of me started thinking. Hmm. How often do you see a dead bird? Not that often. And here is a species that is shy and elusive, uncommon to rare. And we find a body. Better examine it a bit more closely. The next image shows the examination environment.

The next image shows the beautiful markings on the belly.

So a look-see [not a pathology term!] underneath showed that the right humerus [top wing bone] was broken.

Hmm. No blood either. Thus no haemorrhaging which you would expect from a broken bone. Must have broken the humerus on or after death. Perhaps the point of death. Continues examination. The head showed traumatic injuries. 

There was a scrape, almost like beak had been rasped off, on the right side of the base of the beak and an indentation and missing feathers on the right side of the top of the cranium. Suddenly it all made sense.

My hypothesis is that this bird, probably with mates, was flying along at parrot speed [pretty fast] when he hit one of the two single strands of plain wire [about 8 gauge -- real thick] of the fence. First with the base of the beak then the head -- instant death -- then his humerus which breaks [and doesn't bleed because his heart has stopped beating] and momentum takes him cartwheeling several metres away from the fence, stone dead. One of the hazards of life. CSI, Silent Witness, eat your heart out!!

Pretty sad really but what an opportunity to examine such a bird. Wow. We didn't see any that evening nor the next morning when we walked the heathland at Shipwreck Creek but we did hear lots  in heathland at Greencape Lighthouse in the Ben Boyd National Park in NSW towards Eden.

Monday, 7 March 2016

Wandering Dutchman meets Wandering Tattler

After breakfast it was on to the main business of the day. A Wandering Tattler had been reported on Victoria Birdline by Tim Dolby on 22 January at Clinton Rocks near Tamboon Inlet near Cann River.

The bird to differentiate a WT from is a Grey-tailed Tattler, a bird I have seen this season at Lake Tyers Beach and a relatively regular visitor to Victoria over summer, especially Corner Inlet and Westernport Bay Pizzey & Knight. WT have never been reported here before in Victoria although it is a uncommon but regular visitor north of, perhaps, Sydney Morcombe. Visually, the WT has darker grey plumage than GTT and smaller white eyebrows that do not meet on the forehead and rarely extend beyond the eye Pizzey & Knight. Otherwise they both are about 26-7 cm, elegant, evenly grey-shaded, whitish below. My first question is "What was Tim Dolby doing at Clinton Rocks?" It is a small surf beach with rocky points at both ends at the end of a steep climb down from the end of a dead end track. My second question is "How did he see the bird and recognise it as unusual?" I have nothing but admiration for his birding abilities. What a find.

The Victorian Birders FB page had several posts from people who had been to twitch the bird since Tim first found it, the latest being 29 January. Expedition Tattler occurred 30 January. I had high hopes.

Clinton Rocks are just a few kilometres along the coast from Tamboon Inlet and accessible by a relatively easy gravel/sand track from the Tamboon Inlet Road. Simpson and Day say that WT habitat is reefs and rocks. Pizza & Knight notes quite specific habitat of "coral islands, cays of Gt Barrier Reef; rocky reefs, islands, wave-washed rocks and rock platforms". Tim commented in a Facebook post that, in his experience, WT "often hang around the same group of rocks for some time". It all sounded very promising.

Down to the beach the three of us went. Two sets of bins, two cameras, two scopes. This bird had no chance. We had to brush aside the Hooded Plovers, of less interest on this occasion.

Hooded Plovers. They had been seen mating the previous day.
Perhaps a new generation to come.
When we came out onto a lovely surf-washed beach we could see Clinton Rocks off to the west, only a few hundred metres or so. We approached the rocks and quietly had a good look all over. But no bird to be seen. Robert and Heath hopped onto the top and had a look further westward.

Within 90 seconds Robert had spotted it, about 200 metres away on the rocks that extended along the coast to the west of where they were standing. It was a pretty spectacular find. Here is the view that he had.

I was still pretty impressed when he told me that he had seen it silhouetted against the white water of a breaking wave.

Ah yes. Easy now!! So we got the gear and carefully worked our way towards the bird. I have quite a few images taken as we were getting closer. Morcombe says "tends to be alert and wary" so we expected it to scoot off at any time. Eventually we managed to get within 10 metres or so of the bird without it even putting its leg down. Had a very good look through the bins, took photos and quietly and carefully retraced our steps. By the time we had reached the sand again, it had still not moved a muscle!

Sharpened image.
Graeme Bailey from Traralgon is a bit of a Photoshop Whiz and he did various things to the image above the most obvious being increasing the sharpness. Thanks Graeme.

Here is my image of a Grey-tailed Tattler from Lake Tyers Beach back in December.

Well, mission accomplished and Robert saw a piece of Australian coastline that not many Australians get to see. It was a privilege to view this bird. Magic. f8 and be there!

Saturday, 5 March 2016

Wandering Dutchman wanders to East Gippsland

Then it was time for the trip to commence. Heath used his mum's car for a bit whilst Robert and I followed in the supply truck, my 70 series Landcruiser, packed to the gunnels with stuff. Robert was keen to see Lakes Entrance so we detoured there and parked up at the parking area on Bullock Island looking towards The Entrance. It was raining a bit, too much to have any enthusiasm for getting out of the car. We spotted a pod of dolphins slowly coming towards us through the entrance from the ocean and a small group of Australian Furseals [residents] also playing around. There were many Great Cormorants and Australian Pelicans sitting/sleeping/resting/preening on the woodwork of the entrance by Cunningham Arm. Suddenly they all took off and a feeding frenzy started right in front of us. It seemed the dolphins had been following food/fish coming in from the ocean driving the food source in front of them. Well, everybody got in the action. The pelicans mainly trying to "strong-arm" caught fish from the cormorants and the cormorants dive-bombing the food with dolphins and seals in the midst of it all. This went on for about 10 minutes gradually coming further into Lake King. The images were taken through the windscreen; not brilliant but give you a feel for the action.

Dolphin and seals
General Mayhem with dolphin to the left
We then left for further east and camped at Tamboon Inlet. The next morning there were plenty of birds around the camp.

Eastern Yellow Robin
This could be a male Satin Flycatcher although the accompanying female look like a Leaden Flycatcher
Twitch of the breakfast was a Crested Shrike-tit. A pair hung around for the best part of an hour allowing many photo-opportunities but none of them in decent light.

After breakfast and breaking camp, we headed a few kilometres to the east to Clinton Rocks and the reason for coming to this neck of the woods. Wandering Tattler.

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Wandering Dutchman meets a crake-quake

After the You Yangs it was off to the Western Treatment Plant at Werribee for lunch and a good dose of birds. We stayed until dark getting about 60 species of birds but special highlights included ...
  • The sheer number of duck species and ducks numbering into the thousands. Pacific Black, Grey Teal, Chestnut Teal, Australian Shelduck, Australian Shoveler, Pink-eared Duck, Hardhead, Australian Wood Duck, Freckled Duck, Blue-billed Duck and Musk Duck.
  • A Peregrine Falcon seeing off a Swamp Harrier.

Not the best photo ever taken of a Peregrine Falcon but somehow,
for these two pictures, the camera was set to shutter priority at 1/400 sec.
Way too slow for the action.

  • A fabulous flyby close-up of an immature and moulting Brown Falcon.

  • The setting sun throwing beautiful colours on the ponds and paddocks.

Towards sunset, we drove to the Crake Pond, an area where three species of crake had been seen over the last few weeks. We stationed ourselves on the sunset side to the pond with excellent views of the reeds about 30 metres or so away. We spotted a Baillon's Crake [lifetick x 2]. After a little while, we decided to drive around to the other side of the reeds and see what was going on there. Around we went. We parked by the reeds which were much closer than the other side, about 2 metres away! But to the east [the reeds were to the west into the setting sun] was a pond with a heap of birds on it. Swans, White- and Straw-necked Ibis, Sharp-tailed Sandpipers, Curlew Sandpipers, Red-necked Stints, Common Greenshank [identified by Robert as we approached from their calls -- a common species in The Netherlands] and Marsh Sandpiper, a small version the Common Greenshank with a needle thin beak.

Marsh Sandpiper and Common Greenshank
So we "oo-ed" and "aah-ed" over the birds and open and closed the car door getting the scopes and the bird guides out and generally forgetting about the crakes behind us on the other side of the road. Once finished, we turned around and had a look at the reeds and there was, not one, not two but three species of crake, unconcernedly going about their business within five metres of the car and where we were standing. Australian Spotted Crake, Spotless Crake and Baillon's Crake. Just amazing. Three life ticks for Robert and one for myself. What a day.

Baillon's Crake
Australian Spotted Crake

The Spotless Crake was just a bit too quick and dark for our cameras.

So as darkness enveloped us we set off for Drouin and home having done about 900 kms in the first two days of Robert's stay!