Monday, December 19, 2011


A somewhat dismissive title, but today marked my 19th visit to Thompson Beach for the year. In the twelve months since I returned to live in Adelaide permanently, this has been the one site that I have visited most frequently. I've seen a bunch of great birds out there over the last 12 months and today was no exception - I added another unexpected species to my site list. This is the beauty of having a 'patch' that you visit frequently, you see the seasonal changes in species diversity, you witness the flurry of breeding activity and you sometimes get to observe the oddballs who blow in to town and are gone the very next week, day or (on occasion) the next minute!

Today was one of those days where I found a bunch of those birding 'oddballs' skulking about the furthest limits of Thompson Beach. At the very limit of beach access on the northern side of town, there's a tidal inlet with some dense stands of remnant Mangrove lining the banks. It looks like anything could be lurking about in there, well...almost anything. So, in recent visits I've made a concerted effort to spend more time in there trying to turn up something new for the site list. Today it paid off, out lurking about a small clump of regenerating Mangrove I found 4 Banded Lapwings. Not a new sighting for me but seeing them at a distance of 100 metres with the naked eye really got my heart pumping. Could it be? Really?

Banded Lapwing Vanellus tricolor

Well, the excitement subsided once I had to nut-out how to get a decent picture of these somewhat nervous birds. The more I waddled toward them, the more noise they made. Eventually one took flight with all of the requisite 'kekking' reserved for a sunburned, fumbling intruder like me. Then the alarm calls of the first bird 'alarmed' the other three and they made off for more relaxing digs. Not before serenading me with a characteristic Lapwing cacophony and giving my ears a thorough arse-kekking!

The other thing I love about visiting the same site over time is that you really get a more intimate understanding of some birds that other people may dismiss as being too common, too plain or too difficult to get a good view of.  For instance, I love being so engrossed in scoping and counting other waders only to eventually rest my eyes and realise I am almost surrounded by Red-necked Stints busily feeding about my feet. The beauty about this species is once you start looking for them you realise how many of them are spread over an incredible area of beach. Waders can be notoriously nervous and hard to get close to but given the right tidal conditions and some patience; some species, such as the Red-necked Stint, will happily go about their business with you quite close by. I love to follow these little birds with the scope as they scuttle about the shore on a falling tide, getting a gut-full of tasty morsels is if it were their last meal. In the world of Waders, Stints sure seem to display more of a 'caffeinated' approach to feeding and getting about.

Red-necked Stint Calidris ruficollis

At the other end of what we will now refer to as the 'Wader Energy & Enthusiasm Spectrum' you have the 'blob' birds like the Greater and Lesser Sand Plovers. I've seen these perfectly pudgy little beach-goers a number of times at Thompson Beach but every time I see them they're doing the same thing.

Not too bloody much!

Wake up, fly to beach, sit amongst some rocks, squint at the sun, pose for some pictures - repeat.

"Hmmmmm......What to do?"

Well, that may be a terrible over-simplification of things but you get the picture - some Waders seem to be 'doing it' while others are busy 'thinking about doing it'. One of my favourite Waders is the elegant and beautifully coloured Pacific Golden Plover. But, like their Sand Plover cousins, it ain't high-energy scurrying and squawking that is keeping these guys so trim and elegant looking. Must be good genes? Again, these guys don't seem to do too much either. They've even flown between 6000-8000 kilometres on their annual migratory flight south to land on the same bloody patch of beach that they were glued to last season!


Pacific Golden Plover  Pluvialis fulva

So, as 2011 draws to a close, I turn my mind towards 2012 and wonder what will turn up at Thompson's in the coming 12 months? Will I blast on & beyond my current list of 84 species for Thompson Beach and crack 'the ton'? Will I be keeping a bird-blog in 12 months time? Who knows.... thing I am certain of though, no matter what happens to me, my lists and what's left of my spare time in 2012 - the Red-necked Stints will continue to attack some shoreline somewhere with all of the vigour of a caffeine-afflicted teenager at exam time!

Here's to those of you who have read this thing over the last 12 months, to the New Year and to Red-necked Stints everywhere.


Wednesday, December 7, 2011


No, not about to start posting about the best birding hits of the 60's & 70's, just getting in gear to retroactively update the blog after a 2 month absence. A new chickadee in our nest has been the reason for the absence. Life is getting back to normal, slowly. Still, it only took me a week after the birth of our daughter to get out birding again. Not sure what that says about me? Alas, a few things to post as a 'catch-up' of sorts.

It's been a good couple of months with a few of Australia's harder to find birds turning up within easy reach of home. The most recent speccy species I've set my scope upon was a pair of Freckled Duck at Whites Road Wetland at Bolivar, just north of Adelaide. This site doesn't look like much as you blast past it, surrounded by heavy vehicles and peak hour traffic, at 90 kph along Pt. Wakefield Road, but it's easy to lose a couple of hours exploring the several ponds, storm water channels and salt pans to the west of this site.

Freckled Duck Stictonetta naevosa

The site is currently being excavated to remove a build up of silt from the larger ponds, this means blocked paths, limited access and constant noise. It also means a number of breeding birds are going to have to navigate the fraught path of parenthood with added stresses. Hmmmmm, sounds familiar. Not so funny when both Freckled Duck & Australian Painted Snipe have been reported there recently in good numbers. No sign of the Snipe on my trip though, perhaps they've fled the constant whine & rumble of diggers and tip-trucks and opted to breed elsewhere?

Freckled Duck Stictonetta naevosa

The Freckled Ducks took some finding too, reported initially from the largest, most-westerly pond on site, a pair were found on the backside of a mud-spit on the smaller easterly pond. It was one of those moments where I'd just about had my fill for the day, seen the cast of usual suspects and decided to head home without a view of the Frecklies or Snipe. Not to be sneezed at, some of the 'usual suspects' make for entertaining viewing and great photography. I was lucky enough to see one of two Intermediate Egret successfully pull a Skink from the high grass and proceed to swallow it in one gulp. I was also treated to observing Rainbow and Musk Lorikeets putting on some amusing displays as they hung about a number of nesting hollows around the ponds.

Intermediate Egret Egretta intermedia

Musk Lorikeet Glossopsitta concinna

As I made my way around the maze of barricaded, dead-end paths I was forced to cut across the back of the smaller pond. The margins of this pond are thickly lined with Eucalypts and provided me with a good deal of cover to set up my scope and camera in the hope of finding something exciting. As I was setting up I noticed the small clearing among the knee-high Rush was teeming with Spotted and Baillon's Crake. I had to be careful where I stepped as they seemed to be popping out from thick cover along the margin of the pond!

Baillon's Crake Porzana pusilla

Australian Spotted Crake Porzana fluminea

After spending a few moments trying to snap the Crakes as they darted about my feet I then set up the scope and panned about. Within moments I caught view of the distinctly 'peaked' head of a Freckled Duck and a few metres to the right I spied another. What great looking birds! I spent the best part of an hour observing them and they eventually took to the water, came up for a bit of a snoop and gave me the chance to fire off some decent shots.

Freckled Duck Dessicatus lamingtonus

As special as the moment was, having a pair of very obliging Freckled Ducks all to myself, I couldn't help thinking that these guys look somewhat like an overgrown, Duck-shaped Lamington.

'Dessicated Ducks'

I love it!

Monday, October 3, 2011


Well, the last post from Thompson Beach is actually a few months old. Despite the date on the post, it was actually written a while ago and saved in 'draft' form until I had the gusto to put it all together - words & images. After slapping it all together and uploading it, I felt incredibly inspired to get out there once more and see what the warmer weather and change of season would have to offer.

Sure enough the warmer weather and Spring season set me up for a half-day of interesting & intense birding. "Interesting" as the day yielded a few new species for my site list and "intense" due to the amount of ground I covered within 5 hours. On the central beach I was a little saddened to see, despite searching for quite a while, that the Double-banded Plovers appear to have exited for another year. But there were other mysteries to solve and other species to seek out. The first mystery bird of the day had me stumped for quite a while, a smallish Tern with a dark/sooty belly, solid black "pulled down" hood and a short red bill. It had me stumped for a while, partly due to the fact that the page I needed in my Pizzey & Knight field guide was stuck to another, I kept skimming past it, completely oblivious. The more I flipped through the 'Terns' the more confused I became, until I finally realised two pages were gummed together. Mystery solved....not much of a 'mystery' bird really but for a minute there I had a crazy idea perhaps I had seen a Roseate Tern. I had seen Whiskered Terns in the Northern Territory before but never in their splendid breeding colours. Fortunately for me, two of the birds landed ashore for a rest and gave me some great views.

Whiskered Tern Chlidonias hybridus

As I scoped the two Whiskered Terns that had sided up next to one another, a single Fairy Tern came to rest on the same exposed area of rock. It's always nice to see this species anywhere along the coast. Reported to congregate in flocks of anywhere from 2000-15000 along the north-western coast of Western Australia, here in South Australia their status is not so secure. Across South Australia, Victoria and Tasmania their conservation status is listed as 'Vulnerable'. In the 5 hours I was searching the northern section of Thompson Beach I saw a grand total of 2 Fairy Tern.

In addition to the Terns, there were good numbers of Red-necked Stint on the central beach, along with a few 'thin' looking Grey Plover, still showing patches of black breeding plumage through their face, throats and 'armpits'. Among the Stints I did manage to locate a lone Curlew Sandpiper and two birds on shore that I thought may have been Sharp-tailed Sandpipers, but I wasn't convinced. With much of the central beach covered and counted I moved on to the northern claypans and coast.

Within a few hundred metres of leaving the Esplanade I was startled by the 'tinkling' call of a lightning-fast  Neophema whizzing by. It sounded more 'bell-like' than an Elegant Parrot, at least to my relatively unaccustomed ear, so I was beginning to get excited - could it be an Orange-bellied Parrot? Well, it turned out, once I crossed the first tidal channel my question was answered with amazing views of upward of 40 or 50 Blue-winged Parrots. A new species for me, I was careful to eliminate the other Neophema species that also occur in the area. With so many of them concentrated in one small area, getting a few decent photos proved to be quite easy.

Blue-winged Parrot Neophema chrysostoma

In comparison with both Rock Parrots and Elegant Parrots (here's my 2 cents worth....) the adult birds appeared to be a much brighter, 'citrine' yellow in the belly and lores. The bright yellow also surrounded the double-blue banding across the forehead of the adult birds I observed. In addition, the broad blue patch across the shoulder is also instantly noticeable, both when perched and in flight.

Blue-winged Parrot Neophema chrysostoma

It was great to spend close to an hour following such a large feeding party of both adult and immature birds. At one point a trail bike flushed a group of 6 or 7 and one newly fledged bird did its best to escape despite not having a fully developed tail! The birds continued to flush from the ground for a stretch of 150-200 metres wherever the seeding grasses and flowers pictured below were abundant.

On the claypans beyond the dunes I was surprised to stumble across a small group of Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, right where I usually spend a bit of time trying to locate Spotted Crake. Sure enough, out there feeding with the Sharpies were no fewer than five Spotted Crake...all out in the open, feeding fearlessly while the conditions were good. The further north I followed the claypan margin, the more Sharpies I found. All in all, I counted 37 of the little waders, along with 17 Black-tailed Native Hen.

Sharp-tailed Sandpipers & Australian Spotted Crake

Sharp-tailed Sandpiper Calidris acuminata

After sitting and observing the Sharpies for a while I began to see a subtle size difference among the birds. The closer together they fed, the more obvious it became, with the male of the species recorded as appearing 'noticeably larger' than the female but otherwise identical. Whilst not a technically brilliant image I  think the picture below illustrates the size difference nicely, with the larger male bird in the background.

Sharp-tailed Sandpiper Calidris acuminata

As the afternoon wore on I decided to take a different path back to the car and opted for a long walk back via the larger, more easterly set of claypans. These claypans are almost devoid of thicker shrubby glasswort and samphire cover around the margins and in part are quite degraded due to trail bike riding. I wasn't expecting much but thought I may find some Teal or Shelducks out on these deeper backwaters. As I crested the small, shrubby duneset I was greeted by the sight of over 200 Banded Stilts sunning themselves atop of a sandbar in the middle of the largest claypan. A few hundred metres away, bobbing about on the water were a group of 6 Red-necked Avocet. Both new species records for me at this site. Excellent!

Banded Stilt Cladorhynchus leucocephalus

Red-necked Avocet Recurvirostra novaehollandiae

Not the greatest pictures I agree, but decent enough for my records at least.

Upon returning home I logged my sightings for the day and then checked my tally of total species logged for Thomspon Beach - I have just hit 75 birds in total, averaging a visit once every three weeks for the past 12 months.

Time for a 'self high-five'....


Sunday, October 2, 2011


I had not been out to Thompson Beach in quite a while. I was missing the solitude of the place and decided to head out for high tide and capitalise on a break in the gloomy pall winter had cast. The sun was rising as I left home and it looked promising. My good mood got a severe shake around the throat when upon arriving at the Central Beach parking area I found a giant lummox and his angry dog staring down at me from the beach. Not just a casual, "who the hell is pulling up here this early on a Sunday?" kind of look, he was staring intently, waiting to engage me....I could feel it. I have parked in the same spot many times before, birders are not exactly out of place here, there's info boards and trails everywhere, but he would not look away. Something seemed wrong, his face was contorting...pig-like, horse-like. Bloody hell....

I always feel a bit vulnerable venturing off into sparsely populated spots with a few thousand dollars worth of kit in the car or hanging around my neck in a bag. Like running through a lions enclosure with a rib-eye steak around your neck.....asking for it, really. I feel especially vulnerable in parts of the country where 'blokier' blokes are engaged in more typically blokey pursuits, like shooting shit, catching shit, driving shit really fast and loud or just making a mess of shit.

I look up, the wind must have changed direction, because now his face is stuck....arse-like. I get out of the car thinking, 'what the hell could it be?'  Driving a Volvo wagon is certainly another mark against me....and wearing goofy gumboots. Oh, and equally goofy, ill-fitting hat....

Could have been any number of things he didn't like about me but he was coming over to tell me, right now!

"Shouldn' park there...locals get pissed-off with ya parkin' there! Should move ya car....move ya car over, they launch boats there!" 

Being a hot-tempered alpha-male, hooked on adrenalin and bent on beach domination myself (albeit whilst driving a silver Volvo and being worried about getting damp feet...) I took him on....

"....uh, but....but...I though they launch boats on the southern end....uh, isn't that the boat ramp?"

Unimpressed with my feeble attempt to drum on my own chest, he amped up....

"Yeah it is (long pause)....but locals launch here... (synapses now barely firing) ...Locals get pissed-off....pull in here..."

He now demonstrates for me by way of motioning with his very long arms and ground-scraping hands that I should move the car - a metre to the left.

Worried about him having an apoplexy upon me asking another question of him, or setting his equally dim-witted looking dog on me, I relent and moved the Volvo - one metre. He has worked hard to communicate his concern with me, he walks off....exhausted. But not too exhausted to leave without firing one last salvo,

"You won't see much out there anyway....wrong season, birds not back 'til end of the year!"

Hmmmmm. Well at least he has read the migratory wader information board....or had it read to him.

I walk off, head full of scathing insults (all of which had the good sense not to leave my lips) and more than a little peeved. Not about to let a shaved ape lecture me on how to party down with the waders.....

Anyway, I was there for birding. On my last visit I managed to muster 43 birds on my list, a personal record for this particular site. I was now curious to see if an early arriving migrants had sneaked back form the northern hemisphere. As I walk off, I wonder what my Lummox friend would make of thousands of 'illegal' aliens from the northern hemisphere alighting on his beach every year, eating up resources, lazing on the shore....all without going through the proper channels. I'm sure he has opinions on that too.

Well, the morning kicked off with some stonking views of one of my favourite little tourists, the Double-banded Plover. Taking a well earned break from the frostier climes of New Zealand and still wearing their best breeding outfits to boot.

Double-banded Plover Charadrius bicinctus

...taking a very well earned nap.

Hard to believe that these diminutive and graceful little birds fly well over 2000 kilometres at the end of their breeding season to avoid the icy New Zealand winter (as well as the terrible accent and poor television) only to repeat the journey 6 or 7 months later in the same year. Equally as hard to believe is that they eat up to 1000 times their body weight each day of a rare type of rock only found on the shoreline of south-eastern Australia**

Yes, hard to believe...

It was hard to draw myself away,  the more closely I scanned the pebbles on the shore, the more of them I continued to find. I counted 11 in total on the central beach area. As I scanned northwards along the central beach I also caught views of Pied Oystercatchers, a couple of Ruddy Turnstones and a small gang of Red Knot. On the claypans to the north there were good numbers of Grey Plovers, looking decidedly 'slimmer' than those I saw in late March/April before they departed for the northern hemisphere. One or two had over-wintered here, but this large group of 32 were not to be found on my last few visits.  

But the real interesting sighting of the visit was a brief 2-3 second eyeful of a Spotless Crake. An unusual sighting for this area, given the hyper-saline water of the system of small claypans and tidal channels behind the coastal dunes. But in the 2 visits prior to this one, I had been stopped in my tracks by some unusual and high-pitched, "dog-chew-toy-like" squeaks that came from a section of  heavy samphire & glasswort cover on a small tidal channel on the northern side of the beach. On the two visits prior, I had no luck seeing anything...I stood, waited...pished, waited....squeaked an Audubon's bird caller, waited. I did a lot of bloody waiting. For nothing. Well, nothing other than to have reclusive dog chew-toys squeak back at me from the impenetrable vegetation of a rank back-water. The calls would stop after a minute or two and the cover was so thick you could not see beyond the first 30 centimetres of vegetation.

But, today I was lucky! Upon setting up my scope and picking a site with more cover a bird took flight from just in front of me and crossed the metre-wide stretch of grimy, green me a half-decent view of what was a very small, uniformly dark or sooty bird with a pair of reddish legs dangling beneath it. It dived straight into heavy cover, not to be seen or heard again. I gathered my thoughts and then pulled out the Pizzey & Knight to confirm what I thought I had seen. Ah, yes...third time is a charm! A life tick for me and new record for the site too. I finished off with a peek around the other side of the dune set to see if the Spotted Crakes were still putting on a show - sure enough, they were...well, at least one of them. I had to almost kick my way through Black-tailed Native Hens to get over the dune.

Black-tailed Native Hen Tribonyx ventralis

I walked slowly back to the car, realising I had whiled away a couple of hours and counted up my list. A new personal record for Thompson Beach  - an even 50 species for the day.

..and a big, sloppy "Pfffffffthhhhttttt!" to the nay-saying simian who bet I'd see diddley squat!

** a bigger, sloppier "Pfffffffthhhhttttt!" to anyone who scrolled down here with an eyebrow half-cocked, looking for an explanation of Double-banded Plover eating habits - everyone knows they prefer chips.


Well, after searching for Scarlet-chested Parrots on two earlier visits to Gluepot in July I finally got myself an eyeful of these amazing little birds! I had scoured the north-western corner of South Australia looking for them, in habitat quite similar to that found at Gluepot & Taylorville Station, without luck over the last few years. Even considering the 800km return trip from the APY Lands to dash up to Docker River in the Northern Territory to see them when they were reported in that area twice last year. But patience and perseverance (and a good deal of stubborn-minded stupidity....) finally paid off with good views of 6 birds in total in the Gypsum Lunette area of Taylorville Station.

Unlike my first visit to Gluepot during the height summer, when the place was empty, this last visit felt like visiting a birding shopping mall. I arrived at dawn and pulled in to see the place was empty but by midday there were about 6 of us looking for these parrots in one small area of perhaps a half-square kilometre or thereabouts. Not exactly 'teeming' with people but when you're all there looking for the same thing the place suddenly feels a bit 'small'.

Interestingly, I was about to give up and have some lunch after about 2 and a half hours of walking the area back and forth, alone, when I bumped into Colin Rogers and John Cox, heading in for a look as I was coming out. I told them of my third unlucky attempt and mentioned that it felt like looking for a 'needle in a haystack' despite having some great, almost pin-point accurate descriptions of where to look for these parrots. I suspect they sensed in me that I was about to throw in the towel  (or throw a monumental hissy-fit) as they agreed that three sets of eyes searching the area would rate us a better chance of seeing them and they kindly allowed me to tag along as they wished to photograph the Scarlet-chested Parrots. I owe them a big thanks, so...thanks John and Colin!

It was still close to an hour before we had our first glimpse of the Parrots, John suggested sticking close to the recently burnt patches of Mallee as these birds are noted for having a preference for this kind of environment...and this was where we found them. Sure enough, I spied one sitting as a silent sentinel while a second bird fed on the ground below. The second bird popped up momentarily before they both flew off 20 or 30 metres to perch again. Great views of a male but we were unsure of the second bird.....a juvenile or perhaps a female....we all had different views.
They didn't appear to be too fussed by our presence, as each time we got near they would take flight rather unhurriedly and fly a short distance away, all the while maintaining a bit of a buffer. Each time they flushed they did so in silence....breaking the time-honoured Parrot code of bush-etiquette...

Article 2A : When flushed by biped hominids, proceed to squawk maniacally whilst flying like a scalded cat.

I was really surprised at how quiet they were and how luminous they appeared to be. Amazing....

We managed to locate another pair closer to the Gypsum Lunette walk carpark, just south of the carpark. And, just like the famed tourist t-shirts of the 1980's "My grandma went to NYC, and all i got was this lousy shirt!"....I stalked these Scarlet-chested Parrots for hours......

Scarlet-chested Parrot Neophema splendida

....and all I got was this one lousy photo!

Well, at least a painter like Monet or Arthur Streeton would appreciate the 'impressionistic' sensibilities of my photography. Maybe they'd just sense I was a hack? Who knows?

But, if you stare long enough at the picture above you may get a real sense of the, "JESUS!!! It's just landed there!...heart's racing too fast...palms too sweaty to really operate this bloody camera, ahhh, the Auto Focus is on.....shit! Why are my fingers so bloody thick and stubby? Now, focus, focus...oh double-shit! It's gone!" madness that flashed through my mind in those brief seconds. At least that's the 'cleaned up for public consumption' account of what went on.....

Alas, we finally caught up with a third pair about 1.5 km's from the Gluepot road along the Gypsum Lunette walk itself but they weren't so obliging. Oh well, I was beginning to feel exhausted as by this point I had been on the go for close to 8 hours without eating or drinking much....strange how the lure of seeing something like this can drive you a bit nuts.

Despite finally getting great views of these birds, the other highlight of the day for me was a very close encounter with two Striated Pardalotes. They were checking a small nesting hollow and gave me a very good looking over as I walked past, sitting obligingly while I fired off a couple of pictures. I moved on quickly as I did not really want to disturb birds that were obviously busy preparing to nest or already nesting. When I got home I was really pleased with how the pictures came out. A couple of my best photos so far, I reckon.

Striated Pardalote Pardalotus Striatus

Striated Pardalote Pardalotus striatus

I also managed to fire off a couple of 'record' shot of two other species I had until this point been unable to get decent pictures of. The photographs included a momentarily sedentary Brown Treecreeper and Jacky Winter, one of many seen throughout the course of the day.

Brown Treecreeper Climacteris picumnus

Jacky Winter Microeca fascinans

So, despite not really having much to show for it, it was a pretty monumental day for me, almost on par with my stumbling across Princess Parrots in the middle of last year near Nyapari.

Now, if I could just get out there again and try and get a picture of those parrots that really does them some justice.....

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


Well, the monstrous River Red Gum in our next door neighbours' yard has turned out to be an invaluable refuge for yet another vulnerable species of bird. Today I finally solved the riddle of a certain call that has been bugging me in the neighbourhood for the last week or so. I've heard it calling from all directions around our house but by the time I scoot back inside and grab the binoculars, it's long gone. But today I took the bin's outside with me while I pushed Ivy on her swing...good thinking, Dad! I took the camera too but for some reason it decided today would be a good day to start creaking, moaning and not working properly (so excuse the slightly fuzzy pic's...).

Hmmmm...a real pity because the  mystery call belonged to....

Black-chinned Honeyeater Melithreptus gularis

One Black-chinned Honeyeater!

This is like winning bird lotto, again! A tough one to find in South Australia, especially in this part of the state. I did a bit of research and found that there have been odd reports of them coming into suburbia, more recently in the suburbs south of Adelaide. I also found a record of them being seen/heard at Altona Land Care Reserve in the Barossa Valley....not too far away from here. A paucity of sightings in recent years has lead to the conservation status of the Black-chinned Honeyeater (Melithreptus gularis)  being determined as 'vulnerable' here in South Australia. This is also evidence of how valuable just one large, suburban tree can be for our Avifauna...just as long as it's the RIGHT tree! I watched this little bird flit in and around the outer canopy of the Eucalypt for close to an hour, taking refuge when pursued by Red Wattlebirds and apparently feeding on lerps under the cover of thicker patches of foliage. This tree is  like a beacon for birds in our area, it provides shelter and food as birds move from the riparian habitat of Dead Man's Pass out east toward the northern edge of Para Wirra Recreation Park, Sandy Creek Conservation Park and Altona Landcare Reserve. I hope to see the tree stick around for many years to come!

It's a worry that I spend more time peering into my neighbours yards with binoculars than my far not a single police visit or half house brick tossed at my nerdy, gawking goggles!  But there's a sad lack of taller native trees in our yard to give passing birds a place to perch, do a quick reconnoiter before dropping in for lunch or a quick drink. The previous owners of our place loved all things European, I spent the first months of our stay here hacking at Roses, pulling Palms and shredding a Birch tree. Nothing but Sparrows, Doves and Starlings utilise our enormous Golden Elm, a native to the much colder climes of the Northern Hemisphere. This, conversely, is evidence that plant species with local provenance are vital if we are to work towards gradually reducing the impact of habitat loss in the outer suburban and settled areas of our state. Hopefully my slowly maturing plantings of Eucalypt and Acacia will remedy this situation over the coming years and provide more shelter, food and nesting opportunities for some of these more vulnerable species.

...having said all of that, here's a shot of it in our Elm tree....hrrrmph!

Saturday, June 11, 2011


A while back, a mate and I decided to head from Adelaide out towards the area known locally as the 'Iron Triangle'. This area covers Port Augusta, Whyalla and Iron Knob but our trip was also to include an overnight stay at Lake Gilles CP, just north-east of Kimba. We were initially setting out to locate the myall population of Thick-billed (Western) Grasswren but we'd also hoped to spring upon some other west-coast locals such as Rufous Treecreeper, Western Yellow Robin and Blue-breasted Fairywren.
The area is a pretty easy 3-4 hour drive north of Adelaide. A first-time visitor to this area would be well advised to stop in at Telowie Gorge and Mambray Creek if they were fond of spectacular views, wildlife and solitude. Nice spots, yes.

But we weren't stopping, our first port of call, as it were, was Port Augusta. I knew Mike was keen to get out to Whyalla and Iron Knob to get onto the Grasswrens, a new tick for him since their recent split. But I was curious to check a stretch of road north of Port Augusta called 'Yorkeys Crossing'. Mike didn't need too much convincing so we headed out past the Arid Lands Botanic Garden and onto this section of well-made gravel road. The road weaves its way through bluebush plains, salt lakes and some more wooded areas featuring the Acacia species known as 'Western Myall'. It's a great  mix of vegetation types and arid habitats of the far north, all laid out in a convenient, smallish block, not too far from Adelaide.

In no time we had stopped for our first small flock of Zebra Finch and then we spied a smaller Pipit-like bird darting for cover. Without any tall cover about to take refuge in, we had an idea that we may be looking for a Rufous Fieldwren. With some patient stalking (and Mike's more seasoned guidance....) we were afforded great views of this spectacular little bird within a few minutes. A 'lifer' for me and a great start to the trip! Along the first 5km's or so of this road we saw/heard a half dozen or more of these birds, it was a real treat to find them in country that most people would dismiss as a wasteland. In this 'wasteland' we also got great views of other aridland specialists such as; Southern Whiteface, Budgerigar, Cockatiel, Blue Bonnet, Black-faced Woodswallow, White-backed Swallow and Chirruping Wedgebill. The Chirruping Wedgebill's were the main reason why I had wanted to search this area, another 'lifer' for me, it was great to see these birds so easily. We had found a small party of them halfway along the road where the sparse vegetation and saltpans gives way to more 'generous' vegetation. In all, we saw around 35 species in this section alone which gave us plenty of 'pep' for the next leg of the trip.

The next stop on our way was at Whyalla Conservation Park. Western (Thick-billed) Grasswren had been found at this park in the past so we thought it would be worth checking out on our way south-west. Within a few brief minutes and barely 500 metres into the park we had our first glimpse of Redthroat, with a bit of a chase and some hide and seek we got a decent view of a single bird. Nice! Then we set our minds to deciphering a mix of Variegated and Blue-breasted Fairywrens that proceeded to dart and squeak their way around us, sending us in all directions to get better views of them. For all of our efforts, I was not convinced we had seen the BBFW's we were trying to find. I am hopeless when attempting to distinguish between female Fairywren's, Mike was determined but I was frazzled....just give me a lurid-looking Male standing atop a conveniently located bush for goodness sake!

We did see some other great birds in this park including; Port Lincoln Parrot, White-winged Fairywren, Variegated Fairywren, Splendid Fairywren, Grey Butcherbird, Crested Bellbird, Chestnut-rumped Thornbill and one very "bleached blonde" looking Emu with young. We did a spot of searching around "Wild Dog Hill" (name???) within the park for our Grasswrens but to no avail. Onward....

I had a tip from an SA Museum volunteer  whom I met on the APY Lands that the road between Whyalla and Iron Knob was crawling with Grasswrens. I assured Mike, who at this stage was looking a little worried, that I had a highway full of birds waiting for him. We must have stopped and started the car 20 or 30 times along this one miserable stretch of road! We had views of just about every bloody Fairywren known to man  but not a Grasswren in sight. Along this stretch of road,  anywhere that trees gave way to a monoculture of bluebush we saw and heard more and more Rufous Fieldwren. So, our last site that we had any hope of finding them was just outside of Iron Knob. Pressing on....

"What's wrong with you boy-o? This road is teeming with Grasswrens!"

At Iron Knob we turned onto the main highway and drove south-west for about 500 metres or so before turning off onto the road that leads to Mount Ive Station. On this stretch of road we finally hit paydirt, as it were...but not without the relief and joy being a little tainted. We did finally find our Western Grasswren but it had a couple of barely or newly fledged young with it that we soon realised we were almost standing upon. One of the poor beggars hadn't even formed his long tail feathers yet and he was calling desperately for some help from Mum or Dad, who we had cut-off from the young'un by virtue of our over-zealous bird chasing. We soon beat a hasty retreat to leave the family to regroup and settle. We also manged to see;  White-browed Babbler, Zebra Finch, Redthroat, Southern Whiteface, White-fronted Chat, White-winged Fairywren and more Rufous Fieldwren. But there was another surprise waiting for us beyond the car. We managed to chase up some Slender-billed Thornbills that had much more bold 'tangy' yellow bellies and a brighter lemon -yellow rump when compared to the population/race found along the noerthenr coast of Adelaide. Very handsome indeed!

"..did I say THAT road? Oh,no boy-o...they're on THIS road!"

Next stop, and our camp for the evening, was at the northern end of Lake Gilles Conservation Park. Here the Mallee dominates with many taller trees present, a nice change from the much less inviting look of Iron Knob and surrounds. This is a great spot and highly recommended for anyone who likes their camping to be people and  generator-free...not another soul within cooee, nice! Despite having driven all of that way and birding like speed-fuelled junkies, Mike and I still managed to spot a bunch a beaut birds before sundown. Rufous Treecreeper, Restless Flycatcher, Jacky Winter and Crested Bellbird were among the many birds we feasted our tired eyes upon. As we ate and then quickly retreated to our tents, we were treated to the sound of a Boobook Owl calling and the screech of an Owlet Nightjar off in the distance.

"Can you see any other humans about? No? Good, let's stop here...."

The next morning we set off to explore more of the northern end of the park on foot. We still had to track down a Western Yellow Robin and some Blue-breasted Fairywrens. On our way to find these birds we were again treated to great views of Rufous Treecreeper, Jacky Winter, White-eared, White-fronted, Yellow-plumed and Spiny-cheeked Honeyeaters and finally a lone Western Yellow Robin. We did stumble upon another large gang of Fairywren, with Mike concluding that there were definitely Blue-breasted birds among them, but I was feeling totally fried! I will have to give them another go some other time...

Lake Gilles CP, Northern Section

Before leaving the area we decided to take a look at the southern portion of the park and followed a road the lead 10km's to Lake Gilles proper. Here we stumbled across a veritable 'festival' of birds. The species present here all seemed to be in plague numbers! We were swooped by Port Lincoln Parrots who decided to get better views of us by flying at our faces! Woodswallows were everywhere, as too were Common Bronzewing, Tree Martin and a few more Restless Flycatchers thrown in for good measure. It was a nice spot and would be well worth returning to to give the outer edges of the lake a good going over...I just know some Scarlet-chested, Princess or Night Parrots were smugly watching us from the other side of the lake...

Lake Gilles CP, southern section

So, that was the 'west', more or less...we fuelled up in Kimba and then almost drove into a Godzilla-esque Galah on the road out of town. Mike quickly identified the offending Cocky as a young, female bird...possibly the progeny of a Cassowary and Galah blind date gone awry....

"Looook into my eyes! Looook into my eyes!"

Our last stop on the way home was a brief 'hot chip' refill complete with great views of Banded Stilt and Red-necked Avocet at Bird Lake in the industrial wonderland just south of Port Augusta. Chips in one hand, scope in the other, viewing birds from the carpark of a BP service station.  A strangely pleasurable way to complete a frenetic 48 hours of birding.

Wati Tjulpu


Whoa, you take your mind off of all things birdy and before you know it, it's been two months since a bird-related posting on this here page. Jeez! Not that I haven't been out & about...just many other things going on of late. Well, I have a couple of older trip reports to write up and some local birding news too...along with the bird schtuff I've also had a birthday, so too has my daughter, Ivy, and we've all had doses of the dreaded 'flu. Urgh!

Today marked a break from the funk of sitting at home feeling sorry for myself, so when everyone else had gone out with other things to do for the day I thought I'd make the most of it and head out for a spot of birding. I thought I'd try my luck again at Thompson Beach, given that I haven't been up there in a few months since many of the visiting waders vacated the beach. Not many people seem to head out to the northern coast during this time of year so I thought I'd brave the cold and see what was about.

What a day it turned out to be, 43 species in all...a personal record for me at this site! A couple of oddities kept me energised despite some freezing cold wind and what's considered the 'norm' in Adelaide as far as weather goes at this time of year....grey, high cloud that doesn't seem to move to allow the sun to penetrate and provide your skin with any bloody warmth, day after miserable bloody day. Arrrrggghhhh...I miss my Central Australian not-winter. Boo Hoo!

Alas, I'm not writing a weather report....

So, 'oddities' and other interesting things included close to 40 Double-banded Plover, 3 Eastern Curlew, 2 Buff-banded Rail and 1 Darter. Aside from the Plovers, these are all 'new' species for me at this site. I have seen a lone Eastern Curlew out at Port Gawler before but to see three of them quite well was a real treat. For some reason they seem a bit 'goofy' to me, no bird should have to suffer wearing a bill that ridiculous...the silly bill (as useful as it may be...) is only surpassed by their comical, grating 'honk' of a call. Still, I really find them captivating and wish I could have gotten a better shot of them but they had a 'forcefield' around them of what felt like about 100 metres or so. Each time I tried to get a better shot they flew further northward along the beach.

 The highlight of the day for me was not the Eastern Curlew though, I decided to brave the washouts and mud and drive a little further northward this time and was rewarded with crippling views of not one, but 11 Australian Spotted Crake! Anyone who has read earlier entries on this here blog would know that these have eluded me for some time...but not today! I was seeing them in almost every rank pool and claypan north of the Esplanade. Nice to get the little, spotty 'monkey' off my back!

I just happened upon a group of 3 in a small claypan with loads of slimy vegetation lining the edges of the samphire cover. They seemed unfussed by my presence and went about their business foraging in the shallow pool, often journeying out into he centre of the pool, metres from cover. After so much time spent trying to locate and photograph them earlier this year (battling the heat and mosquitoes of Greenfields Wetlands) I really felt like I'd won bird lotto today getting views of 11 birds in total. Each pool and small claypan seemed to have a resident pair who were busy "working their turf". It was truly one of those sublime birding moments.

The good vibes continued. When scoping for a distant pair of Crake, I spied a Buff-banded Rail, the first for the day, poking its elongated head and striking white eyebrow into frame. However, the joy was brief as it soon slinked across the water and took deep cover in some samphire, refusing to show itself again. Later in the afternoon I caught a glimpse of a second BBR trying to slink into cover, thinking that I hadn't spied it out of the corner of my eye. This bird was at the far southern end of Thompson Beach, behind the houses on another small claypan. It crept into some thick cover and refused to come out, even after waiting 5 minutes or so. I soon retreated back towards the car only to realise that the same crafty bird had gotten past me through the cover and was now being mobbed by some White-browed Babblers. It quickly took flight with a dogged Babbler in hot pursuit and I was unable to locate it again. Dang! What a great, gaudy-looking bird! They look like they've gone and put on all of their loudest clothes at once and to top it off, when they take flight they look like a technicolour donkey trying to win the Melbourne Cup. The strained neck, the barely adequate wings, the heavy body and drooping feet.....ahhh, splendid!

Not a bad way to spend a frigid winters' afternoon!

Wati Tjulpu

One very psychedelic Crake

Monday, April 11, 2011


For the second time in as many months I have been kicked into action by the unfamiliar sound of a Crested Shrike-Tit calling about our house. Funny how your hearing becomes accustomed to the familiar sounds of home so quickly...

The first time I caught a glimpse of two birds working methodically along the branches and outer canopy of our neighbours' enormous River Red Gum. They had a distinctive 'chucking' sound used to keep in contact with each other while they went about their business, sadly, they didn't allow enough time for me to grab the camera - they took off after about 45 seconds.

Good things come to those who wait....or at least, those who live next door to one of the biggest Red Gum's in the area. Anyway, on April 3rd I was working in the backyard when an unusually strident, double-noted whistle tipped me off that something was nearby. Not the 'chucking' sound I had heard before....but enough for me to grab the bin's for a closer look. Sure enough...a CST! I ran inside and grabbed the camera, hoping it would still be there when I got back outside. I had missed it, but heard it call from another neighbouring yard. I did my best to mimic the double-note whistle and within 5 seconds the bird was within 5 metres of me, looking around with frantic curiosity trying to work out who was doing such a shoddy rendition of such a lovely call. I gave up on the whistling upon seeing that the bird seemed somewhat agitated....and gladly it obliged me with some cracking views!

Sadly, things are not going so well for this species in the Adelaide Hills and Plains with the Eastern subspecies Falcunculus frontatus  now listed as 'vulnerable'.

Wati Tjulpu

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


For some reason the last post that I put up would not correctly embed the images in the text. They do work if you click on them but it's a bit of a pain in the posterior...not to mention that it leaves the page looking pretty bland. So, a test run today to see if it's a continuing fault or just a 'one off' event.

Working on ideas for a longer entry soon detailing the last 5 years of progress on my urban house block's 'bird garden' that has been an ongoing labour of love. It's fitting that in rolling these ideas over in my mind, we've had some interesting guests of late, namely two Crested Shrike-tits and today, a Collared Sparrowhawk.

    Collared Sparrowhawk Accipiter cirrocephalus

Wati Tjulpu

Saturday, March 26, 2011


Well, it's getting close now. My summer of getting to know our overseas visitors is coming to an end. I have spent 4 of the last 5 mornings/afternoons out at Thompson Beach trying to get some views and images to see me through until the waders return later in the year.

It's been a great chance to learn about a new sphere of birding, having done 99% of my birding in the bush, the scoping bug has bitten hard! From mid-December I have added a bunch of new species to my 'life list' and in retrospect (see earlier digiscoping post....) the purchase of a good quality scope and digiscoping attachment has really allowed me to enjoy the experience on a very different level. For me, being able to review the images at home and getting to see the birds and their ever-changing plumages in detail without wind or rain or burning sun to compete with has become very 'absorbing'.

So, I have decided to make the most of the tail end of the wading season. In the last 5 days I have managed to add Greater Sand Plover, Lesser Sand Plover and Double-banded Plover to my 'life list' and in making the effort to get out into the water at first light to scope birds, despite an ambient temperature of around 14 degrees, I was also rewarded with great views of Fairy Tern and (perhaps most surprisingly???) two Cape Barren Geese in flight.

Fairy Tern Sternula nereis

I had things set-up early on Saturday morning to digiscope both Lesser and Greater Sand Plover, the scope was 'on them' but I had left the digiscoping frame in the car. As I was heading back to the car, two local (more senior) birdo's walked past muttering, "G'day" and proceeded to park themselves about 15 metres past my scope and lined themselves up for some primo shots. I was only gone a minute but by the time I had gotten back to line things up, I saw that they had pushed the 4 birds too far and had scattered them.

Damn, double dirty shit and phooey!

I was pretty annoyed. Also adding to the sting, was the fact that the two Lesser Sand Plovers were in gorgeous breeding plumage and sitting flanking the other two Greater's in a nice little bunch. Argh! The light was terrible, which was little consolation. So, burning with rage (haha!) I moved on to the claypan/saltpans found at the Northern edge of the housing and Esplanade. As I trudged out onto the perimeter of the pans I saw very little in the way of wader action. A few Curlew Sandpipers and a few Red-necked Stint further east. As I panned across the Stint's I saw a larger bird dart across the field of view - Double Banded Plover!Yes, a nice pair of them darting in and out of the Stint's and keeping to the dead, grey Samphire cover found in the salty margins of the pans. A triumph! It certainly took the 'edge' off of my mood.

The day ended with a friendly chat with the couple who had earlier flushed the Plovers. I was glad they made the effort to have a chat, being mostly a 'loner' birder I tend to lean towards being a misanthropic git when little things like the 'Plover' episode happen. We talked a little about birding on the coasts and in the arid interior and then they asked me if I had seen the lone Black-tailed Godwit among the 100+ Bart's further along the coast.


Triple damn and shitty dirty shit and more phooey!

               Bar-tailed Godwit Limosa lapponica

Oh well, that's the way it often is when you spend your spare time trying to pin-down 'free' creatures for your own viewing pleasure. All in all, it wasn't a wasted day...the light was terrible and hence, no photos.

Great Knot Calidris tenuirostris

The photos featured I took earlier this morning (Sunday 27/3) in poor light again but the real highlight was a low fly-by from two Cape Barren Geese. Big, fat and grey and pumping their broad, slightly arched wings along just 15 or 20 metres above the beach, heading due North. I was gobsmacked, as these birds are reported semi-regularly way south of Adelaide and down into the South-East and beyond. A new 'tick' and a great thrill - I momentarily fumbled with scope, camera and bin's trying to work out what to do. In a few seconds they were beyond photographing range so I followed them until they disappeared from view with the bin's. I was hoping they'd land, preparing for a foot-race along the coast to get a better view. No luck.
You'd have to be a real hardened curmudgeon to groan about a day like that, and to think that it started with another surprise, catching a view of two Peregrine Falcons apparently nesting in a radio control tower on Shingleback Road just a few kilometres from Dublin and Thompson Beach!

Alas, I returned home feeling pretty good, despite the frozen and wet feet. I got home, made a hot cuppa and was startled back into 'twitching' action upon hearing a very close call coming from a Grey Shrike-thrush. was sitting at our front door, checking an old nest we have on sitting atop our porch light.

Grey Shrike-thrush Colluricincla harmonica

Here's hoping they decide to call it home for a while!

Wati Tjulpu