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.....