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. Close....it 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


...So, hatching more stupid plans.

I had thumbed through my copy of Pizzey & Knight many times and gawked at the beautiful depiction of Purple-gaped Honeyeater as rendered by master illustrator Mr. Frank Knight. I had discussed this bird with another mate who has seen them a few times and he recommended a trip to Monarto CP, a great small patch of remnant Heath and Mallee that stands between Murray Bridge and the Eastern slopes of the Lofty Ranges. I had driven through this area on my way to twitch Latham's Snipe down at Milang and had made a mental note of the quickest route to it from my place in Gawler East. I (once again) begged for some leave from family duties and (again!) it was granted with the understanding of a saint! (note : and accompanied by the rolling of the eyes of someone who has heard the same sad, tired pleading many times before...)

Taking the roads through the back of the Northern Lofty Ranges, the trip from Gawler to Monarto is completed in just over an hour. Pretty good in my opinion and easy enough to get to to warrant more regular visits. This was to be my first real 'reccy' of this little park and it turned out to be a bit of a surprise. The first half of the park, accessed by the main road linking Monarto and Langhorne Creek, features a short loop walk that begins and ends at the car park/entrance. This features a great stand of remnant Mallee woodland and Heath established on a very soft, white sandy soil. I was surprised to see plant species such as Correa and  Eremophila thriving and flowering profusely in such free-draining soil. Sandy heath...a new experience for me! Despite the diverse flora, the bush was almost silent apart from the far-off clinking calls of a lone Grey Currawong. I had banked on late afternoon/early evening being the prime-time to see Honeyeaters in action but was beginning to worry the deeper I delved into the bowels of the park. I hung about a stand of Mallee in flower, hoping a bird of some description would visit the blossoms but all I got was another distant call carried on the now-strengthening (and very chilly..) wind. Still, I was using the lack of bird activity as an excuse to have a good old snoop about and take a closer look at some of the plants found in this part of the State that I have not seen in my 'patch' just one hour North-East.

I soon realised that the walking trail was all too suddenly looping back towards the car and I'd still not seen a trace of a Purple-gaped Honeyeater. I tried pishing, but to no avail, so I resorted to a good old 'thunder-clap' of my meaty hands and within a second or two I heard the call of something sounding somewhat Honeyeater-ish and within viewing range. I managed a fleeting view of the bird and it appeared to have all of the features of a Purple-gaped Honeyeater...but not a good enough view to see this much gawked-at-in-a-book 'purple-gape'. I thought it funny how such a small distinguishing feature of a bird can get stuck in your craw and bug you until you've viewed it to your (often ridiculous) satisfaction. However amusing I found the thought, I was not going to give up until I'd seen some bloody purple!

So, I skipped through spiky clumps of Lomandra and Xanthorrea, dodged spider-web's amongst clumps of Mallee and stumbled madly over stumps to get a satisfactory view of a thin strip of purple on a little bird's face.

But what a stripe!

I was feeling pretty smug once I finally got a decent look at it and felt properly vindicated, as it (to my mind) was a very beautiful addition to an already pretty little bird and worth trudging about like an uncoordinated lummox for!

I continued to follow the walking trail toward the car park and felt somewhat ripped-off that such a nice park had such a short walking trail. Then I spied a fire trail running along the northern boundary of the park. I followed it a little way and eventually found a patch toward the rear of the park where the more 'dense' stand of Mallee opened up into what appeared to be some rolder regeneration work. The woodland opened up into what I would best describe as feeling like a town park...a little more space between trees, less prickly grass cover, a thinner spread of dense shrubbery etc. It was down the back of the block where I got the biggest surprise.

This place was teeming with bird life. The birds, as I've been surprised to discover in other parts of Australia, seemed to prefer the more 'clapped-out' patch of bush adjoining some more dense, protective cover. Within a span of 5 or 10 minutes I had seen a bunch of great birds, including; Southern Scrub Robin, (the not-so..)Shy Heathwren, Yellow-rumped Thornbill, Yellow Thornbill, Mallee Ringneck, Variegated Fairy-wren, Diamond Firetail and a few other species too. But it was the amount of activity that startled me most. Each shrub I walked past I seemed to flush little gangs of a dozen or more birds, often in mixed flocks, all bursting out in a blur at once. It was a little overwhelming trying to keep up with the activity. So, I opted for sitting beneath some cover and tried to pish up a storm...I figured it may trick a Shy Heathwren into stumbling before my lens. The best photo in poor lighting is featured below, the result of a protracted and hilarious 'dance' beneath the bushes with a Southern Scrub Robin.

All in all, another productive afternoon spent chasing the 'boids' as I try to climb to 200 species for the year thus far! I really recommend checking this patch of scrub out if you're visiting Adelaide or if you live nearby and have never been there, the nearby Ferries-McDonald park is also said to be a great birding site but it'll have to wait until my next visit.

Wati Tjulpu


(Original draft written on the 14/03/11...put to rest while I worked on some Uni tasks...)

Long weekends can be a blessing and a curse. I feel like I should get some jobs done about the house or do some more reading but I get itchy feet and need to get out of the house. So, Saturday morning I took off at sunrise to Thompson Beach for a wader count and to photograph some birds. Sadly, the southern section of beach was a little 'light-on' compared with previous visits. I managed to snap a few pictures of the surrounds, as on a calm morning, its a beautiful and tranquil place to spend some time.

Above : The view looking south, great remnant coastal vegetation (typical of the site) with Mount Lofty in the background.

Above : Masses of weed wash up on the shore, making walking on shore difficult and often wet, but it provides the perfect camouflage for birds like Ruddy Turnstone, Bar-tailed Godwit and Pacific Golden Plover.

Above : Perfectly still, for once!

In scanning the beach I saw the usual birds, albeit in lesser numbers, Grey Plover, Common Greenshank, Red-necked Stint, Pacific Gull and Silver Gull. One thing I wasn't counting on seeing was a lone Curlew Sandpiper in partial breeding plumage. As I moved closer to get a decent photo I took one step too many and it took off along with the Stint's and Greenshank's it was roosting with. Dang!

A little further south along the shoreline, hidden amongst the weed, was a little gang of four Pacific Golden Plover. These birds have been in the what seems like the same spot for the last month or two. I was relieved to be honest, as I had driven all of the way to Thompson's in the hope of getting a better picture of them before they depart for the Northern Hemisphere. I shot about 40 pictures of them in total, none of them really doing justice to the gold flecking in their plumage....maybe I need some disco lighting??? Here's an example....

After a quick bit of scoping and photography at Thompson's I returned home to take on my role as 'Domestor' the handyman...but 'Domestor' only completed about two and half minutes of housework before he became 'Distractor'.

Once again, hatching plans of where to get to in order to see some birds. I asked for some leave....it was soon granted. I planned to hit Gluepot and return Monday morning and soon began packing the Troopy. I set off at 3:30 and hit the highway from Gawler via Nuriootpa and onwards toward Waikerie. But I was feeling uneasy about just flying off in pursuit of birds when I have other 'resposibilities' waiting for me at home...and a great 2 year old daughter and a very understanding and loving partner. I got cold feet (they had turned from itchy to cold....amazing feet!) and turned off of the highway where it's signposted 'Yookamurra Sanctuary' heading to the east. I had always wanted to visit Yookamurra, given its interesting history, so I reached a compromise in my own head, spend a few hours in this section of Mallee, see some birds and get home by late evening....and resume role as 'responsible' father/partner.

It was a good decision in retrospect. Although I was unable to get into Yookamurra (by appointment only...) I found some great spots not too far away. Just 200m before sighting the homestead/buildings of the sanctuary I stopped to find a large mob of Chestnut-rumped Thornbills, one of my favourite little arid land specialists! At the end of the same road that Yookamurra is situated on (barely 500m on?) I stopped the car to have a look and listen. And sure enough, I heard the piping whistle of a Gilbert's Whistler coming from a tree not 5 metres from the roadside! I was pretty chuffed as this is a bird I've only seen briefly before, and at some distance, whilst at Gluepot earlier this year.

Below : not the most 'technically proficient' shot I've taken but it gave me a little chuckle all the same.

I got great views of this bird along with White-fronted Honeyeater, Brown-headed Honeyeater and managed to pull a 'lifer' out of my hat in the form of a White-eared Honeyeater too. Not the most elusive of birds, but elusive enough that I have not managed to get onto one in my recent Mallee visits. A little further along the road that follows the pipeline towards Swan Reach I stopped to find a decent number of Chestnut-crowned Babblers, Southern Whiteface and White-fronted Chat all giving great views as if to thank me for selecting their little patch instead of the more glamorous Gluepot. After all this excitement I returned home to check out my photo's, get some rest and see my family.

....and to hatch more stupid plans of where to head next.

Wati Tjulpu

Sunday, March 13, 2011


Sorry for the delay in posting...have spent the last 2 weeks getting my head back into study after 7 years of teaching full-time. Hopefully I can find the time to pop some stuff up here with some regularity, between assignments, classes and domestic duties.


Wati Tjulpu


I had been planning a weekend trip to Yorke Peninsula for some time and when I got a message from a mate that he was back in town for a limited time it seemed like a good excuse to spend 12 hours out and about trying to catch some interesting species. We left Gawler at 5 a.m. to get out to Telowie Gorge Conservation Park at first light...close enough, we arrived at 7:30. No sooner had we left the bitumen and we were on to our first Spotted Harrier for the year. It was great to catch a another view of these impressive raptors, one of my favorite 'bird meanies' from my birding days in Central Oz. It appeared to be a younger bird and was flying very low over a paddock full of Stubble Quail with the odd Brown Songlark calling in the distance. We were barely 2km's from the highway and in the same spot we got great views of a small gang of Elegant Parrots along with 3 Ringnecks...it was shaping up to be a great day!

Once we were in the park 'proper' the birding became even more frenzied with most birds in a frenzy of calling and skirmishing with one another. Right at the park entrance we got good views of Rufous Whistler, Golden Whistler, Grey-fronted Honeyeater, Grey Shrike-thrush, Silvereye and Peaceful Dove. Unlike Mambray Creek further north, Telowie seems as if it may be spared the heavy camper/hiking traffic of the other park.A great little gorge no less, with a very healthy looking understorey of grasses, herbage and shrubs.

Our target species for the park however was Chestnut-rumped Heathwren so we tried in earnest to get a view of this elusive species. Mike produced some notes that he had and mentioned that the terminus of the path along the gorge was the place to find them. As we headed 1.5 km's along the bottom of the gorge we were stopped dead in our tracks by crippling views of not one, but three beautiful Yellow-footed Rock Wallabies, one of which had young Joey peeking from it's pouch. A nice bonus to the great birding and beautiful surrounds. As we neared the end of trail we began to search for suitable looking cover for the CRHW's, but the understorey of shrubs seemed to open up more and more the further we walked in until reaching a series of small waterholes. It was at this point that we noticed more cover on the steep sides of the gorge. We had a poke about for a few minutes before giving up to try the areas detailed in Mike's notes. As we tramped back, talking busily, we were interrupted by a call that sounded somewhat similar to a Chestnut-rumped Thornbill, the call was longer and more 'musical' in sound and this tipped Mike off. We were close the bird but it eluded us by falling silent just as soon as we did. This continued as we made our way back down the gorge. Each time we heard the call, we stopped and stared intently only to have the little buggers do the exact same thing to us. We got a couple of glimpses of them high above the gorge trail but not good enough for a 'life tick' for mine.

So, from Telowie Gorge to Wallaroo, Bird Island and the adjacent beach on the mainland to be precise. We made it down to Bird Island Beach just after 1:00pm to find the wind blowing hard, making any chance of digiscoping out of the question. I left the kit behind but still carried the scope to scan the shore for waders. Mike told me that on the road approaching Bird Island Beach last year a small posse of Little Curlew were found amongst the stubble of what looked like a care paddock. No such luck today though. Down to the shore we went in search of Rock Parrots.

Mike was spot-on. The site he described, among the small mangroves and samphire, was chock-a-block full of Rock Parrots. I took a rough count of 40, many of them being juvenile birds, but there could have been as many as 50-60 in the small area we covered. They're a funny little parrot, they didn't seem to fly to far when we approached. Each time we flushed a few, they'd fly only far enough away to fall back into low cover - often keeping half of their body exposed to keep an eye on us. I was feeling pretty bummed about the conditions being too windy for snapping some pictures, it's not the most handy location in relation to where I currently live and it's a long way to drive back just to snap some photos of one species. Hmmmmmmm.

As the wind strengthened we cut our plans short, we explored a little more of the shoreline and turned up a few Grey Plover and Cormorants but not much else. On  our way back to the trail we spied some Banded Lapwings huddled amongst the samphire on the surrounds of a tidal pool. I was unaware that they are not commonly seen down here, having seen them reliably for three summers on the APY Lands at the Murputja Airstrip. I'll have to pay more attention to these things now, given the new birding spots I'm visiting.

Our trip was coming to an end so we decided to have one last scout of the nearby paddocks for any hiding migratory shorebirds....without luck. Our last stop before getting back to town was the Wallaroo Water Treatment Works on the edge of town. There were hundreds of feral pigeons and Silver Gull, we also spotted lone Little Black Cormorant, Little Pied Cormorant, Pacific Gull and a single female Musk Duck. This was a highlight for me, Muskies are top little ducks!

A good day out with a few surprise birds popping up along the way. Now to plan my return trip for some Rock Parrot pictures.........

Wati Tjulpu