Saturday, February 19, 2011


Spent most of Sunday (today) driving through the mid-north with the family in tow. We were on our way to view some 'bush blocks' around the Laura/Wirrabara area that we were curious to see...Rosanne and I have been looking for a nice, big block of land to do some re-veg work on and some small-scale organic farming for a while now and today took us out into the mid-north.

Had to throw the bin's, camera and field guide in the car just in case we happened upon something or (if time permitted?) we took a short trip to a nearby Conservation Park. So, we set out in beautiful, cloudy and a little breezy - very nice for late February! As we made it to Clare, I decided to take a detour via the golf club/country club in search of Little Lorikeet but aborted the plan a few minutes into the search as our noisy and restless daughter was thinking only of the horse she had spied on a neighbouring, I conceded defeat and opted for indulging in some horse petting much to Ivy's delight. I figured I'd make it back to Clare soon enough and would be better off searching for these little buggers on my own!

About 11 or 12 km's north of Clare I thought I spied a Black Falcon, Rosanne also weighed in, saying that she also saw the same bird as we whizzed by and she described a 'very dark raptor'. Nothing for it but to pull a U-turn and hope that the bird was still nicely perched by the roadside. I saw the silhouette off in the distance and didn't want to chance flushing the bird, so I grabbed the bin's and camera and set off toward it on foot. Within about 50 metres of the car I could see it was a Raven, but at 110km's with a split second view these things happen. On the way back to the car I could hear a call that I just couldn't place, coming from the paddock nearby and it sounded like a number of birds spread across 100-200 metres of field. Without any birds in sight, other than a solitary Brown Songlark, I thought they'd have to be Stubble Quails. Despite living so close to large areas of broadacre cropping I've never gone out looking for these birds and consequently never given them the 'tick'. I approached the fenceline of the property and as soon as I got within touching distance of the fence, one plump little Stubble Quail burst from the grass and flew for a good 20-30 metres before taking cover again.

It felt pretty to good to get such a great view with such little effort....lazy oaf that I can be!

So, onward we rolled toward Laura with a quick stop-off for some burgers and chips (loads of fresh salad on the burger and damn good chips too, I must say!) which we promptly took to the nearby park. As we sat there on the well-shaded bench, hoovering down some delicious deep fried vittles, an odd call pricked my ears and I was 'UP!' like a Doberman Pinscher ready to patrol a fenceline! It took a minute or two to get onto the little bird, which turned out to be a Brown-headed Honeyeater, which was keeping to thicker cover in some of the trees. But within a few minutes I got some great views of a bird I'm used to seeing only in relatively 'untouched' areas of bushland. It was flying back and forth from the shade of the eating area, out into the parklands and back with food, so I knew that young chicks must be about. Sure enough, two little fatties, that appeared to be recently fledged, popped out onto a nice bare little branch and began to 'pipe' their lungs out! Given the dappled shade I wasn't too confident of getting a decent picture of these birds but they came up alright, I reckon! I wouldn't normally seek out a bird with young to photograph but given the location and the fact that the birds seemed unperturbed by our presence, I thought it would be alright to take a few quick snaps.

Not bad for a "day off"!

Wati Tjulpu


The last two days could not have been more diametrically opposed. Yesterday, I took my daughter hiking and bird-watching at Kaiser Stuhl Conservation Park in the Barossa Valley and today I hauled our sad bottoms around the 'tarted up' concrete, steel & glass of the Adelaide Zoo.

Firstly, Kaiser Stuhl is a top little park. A great place to walk among remnant woodlands north of Adelaide and see some birds! Ivy was able to see Kangaroos at close range and White-browed Babblers too and I was able to get great views of a pair of Red-browed Finches looking to build a nest as well as a good number of Honeyeater species (White-naped, Brown-headed, White-plumed, New Holland and Eastern Spinebill) and other common local species. I bumped into the president of the 'Friends of Kaiser Stuhl' in the park and had a chat about the current 'news' to do with the area. She told me that the group had had a recent 'victory' of sorts, as the Barossa Council had plans afoot to "improve the profile of the park" and add more parking, paths etc. to give the park a make-over to accommodate for higher numbers of visitors...the 'friends' group lobbied hard to oppose a 'facelift' for the park and for the time being Kaiser Stuhl CP will retain its 'untouched' charm! As we talked briefly, we both agreed that this place offers that 'untouched' feel that larger Adelaide parks such as Parra Wirra, Morialta, Black Hill'd be a shame to meddle with it!

Park, good. Zoo, not so....

 I caved-in on Thursday and for a sad lack of other exciting ideas of 'things to do with a two year old' I decided to take Ivy to the Adelaide Zoo (sad lack? maybe a 2nd trip to the Stuhl?) I thought it would kill a few hours and she is still far too young to despair at the thought of animals living in such confines so I made the trip into the city with Ivy in tow (or perhaps the other way 'round??)

My first impression of the 'new' Adelaide Zoo is that there seems to be less animals 'packed in' and more space overall...probably a trend in most Zoo's in most 'modern' cities today. I remember vividly my first trip to the same Zoo as a wee could ride on an Elephant by the rotunda for loose change and the Polar Bears lived in an enclosure in full-sun that looked like a backyard swimming pool with some lumps of man-sized Styrofoam thrown in for an 'Arctic' feel. Things have changed, but it would take a strong argument from a person well qualified to convince me that these places do more today for conservation than 'cheap thrills' for bored bipeds for big bucks.

Anyway, cynicism aside we were on the quest for birds (perhaps the saddest animal you can witness in a cage?) as Ivy shares my passion for things with wings. She seemed rather non-plussed at the sight of a half-dozen Pelicans in a small yard, despite begging incessantly  to see 'Pehhhcans?' on our way through the gates. She turned out to be more interested in the Crested Pigeons that were making the most of visitor's clumsily fumbled food by the kiosk, she tried in vain to pat one...wily city Pigeons staying a good foot ahead of maniacal toddler at all times.

The most interesting find of the day was the presence of a raptor on the 'outside' of the Native Bird enclosures. A young Brown Goshawk was dive-bombing and landing heavily on the string of older aviaries and poking its talons through the mesh roof trying to grab an easy meal. It sat on top of one enclosure with a few Scarlet-chested Parrots in it and all of the 'contained' birds were absolutely freaking out. They were clinging to the mesh walls closest to the gawking public just to keep out of reach of the Goshawk. This set-off all of the birds in and out of the aviaries with a shrieking chorus of alarm calls. With no real means of escape besides pressing themselves like sardines against the mesh walls of the cage, most of the birds were looking a little 'stressed' to say the least. That said, it was probably the one time I'd feel the birds were better off on the wrong side of the mesh. At least I was spared the sight of said Goshawk snacking on a headless Gouldian Finch or SCP!

Despite the improvements I think it will be another 25 years until I pass through those gates again, I'm sure Ivy would rather see her 'Pehhhhcans' looking more relaxed and flying free somewhere else like Greenfields Wetlands.

Maybe our next outing?

Wati Tjulpu


...A blab about those great moments when the right bird materialises when you've been out all day, seen bugger-all and have lost the will to live (well, almost!)

It's happened to me a number of times, I've been out looking for a particular species, spent so much time listening, watching and waiting and finally 2 seconds before packing it all in - the blasted bird appears! Sometimes it won't be the 'target' species but something just as peculiar or even more the point where at times I've felt like I've won Avian Lotto...anyway, pour yourself a hot cup of something and let me begin....

Note: this could get very 'Mills & Boon' as it 'evolves'..or very 'Mind-numbing & Boring''ve been warned!



As I have mentioned in the last entry, I lived in the remote NW of South Australia for a number of years. I did most of my birding alone. One Saturday in May 2010 I spent the morning out on some remote 4WD tracks stopping at intervals of roughly 1km or wherever the vegetation seemed to change markedly. I wasn't looking for much in particular as I had driven much of this track almost every weekend for the last 4 months. I went home after a relatively quiet morning and on my way back into the community one of the roving relief teachers based in our spot was home for the weekend. He waved me down as I drove the one-way road toward home. He asked if I'd seen much in my travels, I replied with a dull, "no..." he asked if I planned to go out again that evening, I hadn't planned to but I hadn't really had a good whinge all week so I said, "sure....see you at 5:00pm". Soon enough 5:00 rolled around and me and my incredibly fast-talking friend were on our way back down the very track that I had scoured hours earlier.

At this point I must explain that my friend talks at a-mile-a-minute, I am a fast/non-stop blabberer but he makes me feel like an amateur. Anyway, we're driving along and he asks, "So.... what are you looking for?" I explain that nothing out of the ordinary usually shows itself in the far west until the hotter and wetter seasons bear down around October/November and to 'just look and listen and point out anything unusual'. He assures me that he's a good observer and with all of his km's under his belt on the APY Lands he's well qualified to spot ANYTHING out of the ordinary. For a moment I start thinking, "hey...maybe I should do this with him more often ....hmmmm, he does see a lot of the country and he's dead keen....bit too much yabbering, but 4 eyes are better than.........." when all of a sudden he yells, "LEFT!...what's THAT????"  he grabs for the bin's I've loaned him and by the time he's got them focused I see (without the aid of such tools) that he's fiddling like a madman to get a better view of a Magpie.

So much for that idea.

Despite it all we stay out a while, I tell him to 'ease up' after the fourth or fifth, "ON YOUR RIGHT!......WHAT IS IT????",  after jamming on the brakes, time and time again, for another bewildered looking Magpie. Don't know what it was about the humble Maggie that was getting him in such a was odd. So, we stayed out a while and once he calmed down he seemed genuinely interested in learning about which species were out and about at this time of year. He was chuffed to see Varied Sitella in a small gang, noisily hopping from one Desert Oak to the next. He remarked that, to his eye, these birds were "plucky little buggers!" and this comment alone 'wiped the slate' as far as the earlier Magpie faux-pas went. I was having fun showing him about and he seemed just as excited as me to be getting about looking at birds.

To cut a short story long (again?) we had a good time and just before dusk we were on our way back when, 'WHOOSH!'....just to the right of the car, sitting low in a Casuarina, a very light looking raptor belts out of the tree and up above the dense canopy of the Desert Oak forest. We jump out for a better look and manage fleeting views as the bird skims the treetops as it heads right to left in front of us.

I already have an idea of what I think it may be but I ask my 'partner' to describe it to me.

"What do you see Martin?"....

"ummm, it looks light, very light...grey, are the legs yellow?....yes, yellow!" 

I was not 100% satisfied that we saw a Grey Falcon, despite both of us agreeing on the pale, uniform shade of colour and quite 'bright' yellow legs. He looked in the field guide and assured me that's what it was, but I've been duped before...Brown Falcon's of the arid interior have caught me a number of times and I mean, "jam on the brakes, slide the troopy to a halt despite the gasps of wife and child , run like a demon and get onto it!"  kind of 'caught'.

We return home eventually, him feeling elated at having chased some birds and me feeling duped again at not getting a good enough view to even rule out a geriatric Brown Falcon...the feeling lingers and I want another shot! Even if it turns out to be a Brownie, at least the doubt will be erased.

By this time my long-suffering partner has had enough, her wise words of, "just eat your dinner, go to bed and try again in the morning!" temporarily halt my thoughts of going out in near-dark conditions and having another look....

The next morning I'm up at 'Sparrow's Fart', dressed and ready...enough water for a month in the desert and about to go when aforementioned 'long suffering' partner emerges bleary-eyed from the bedroom. She asks, "why do you always go on your never take us out with you? C'mon, take us out today and we'll help you look!??". I go through the "rules" of being a 'passenger' in the bird-mobile (as it was known, to me at least, on weekends...) inane chatter, no music, no toilet stops, no questions......etc. etc. Despite making a dictatorial 'arse' of myself in outlining my conditions, she merrily replies, "you're on...we'll be in the car in 2 minutes!". And sure enough, in 2 minutes flat, we're off!

Same track, same modus operandi.

A few kilometres down the track Rosanne starts getting distracted, talking about how nice the spinifex looks, how wet it has been and so on....despite a severe reprimanding for talking too much and despite (again!)suffering my supreme 'arse-ness' she agrees when I ask, "would you please just look to the LEFT...not my side, just the LEFT??" And onward we roll.............

Barely out of second gear after a stern 'telling-off' (that required pulling over, for extra effect!)  Rosanne turns and casually asks,

"Did you see those parrots?"
"Which parrots?"
"Those......." (pointing to my side of the car)
"Where?.....oh, must be Cockatiels!" (he says pompously & barely even looking to the right)
"No...these are dull green and really big!"


The group of birds had now landed in a large Desert Oak, I could see their silhouettes on the "outer" edges of the big, round-crowned tree. At this point I am nearly wetting my pants...Rosanne's description, where they were in the tree, I was hoping.....PRINCESS PARROTS! As I stalked closer I lifted the bin's for a better view through the wispy foliage of the canopy....AND THERE THEY WERE!

8 Princess Parrots.

I had been looking for them on the APY Lands since 2004. I had torn the Princess Parrot colour plate out of my fathers copy of A.H. Lendon's 'Australian Parrots : In Field and Aviary' at 6 years old. I had it hidden under my bed for yonks and would retrieve it at night and copy my interpretation of the Parrot into my drawing book at night. 27 years of wanting to see one had finally come and not just one, but eight!

To this day Rosanne still reminds me that I would have just passed them by without her alerting me to their presence...I argue that she would never have got the chance to one-up me had I not spent years scouting  for the right habitat and driven her right through it on that very day. A weak retort, I admit...but at least I had won first division in my 'Avian Lotto'....of all the birds I could have picked!

...note : the pics. were taken using Martin's camera, an archaic 3MP pocket jobby that had a hamster in it  that spun a cog to 'zoom' the lens in and out. I had no such camera with me on the day...I asked Rosanne to stay under that very tree until I returned with one to photograph the birds (if the birds were still there at all???) I drove that narrow 4WD track at an insanely unsafe speed, something I'd never do again. Once I got home I strafed through drawers and cupboards looking for my luck. Sprinted to Martin's, flung the door open (he was sitting down with visitors, enjoying a chat and a cuppa) and yelled, "Martin, can I take this?' I swiped his camera from atop his telly without waiting for a reply and headed back out to the tree at the same warp-speed that I left in.


Even madder, the birds were still there after my 40 minute idiot-blitzkrieg. Rosanne had the greatest of views, she saw them feeding on the ground, not more than 5-10 metres from her, as her and Ivy quietly sat waiting for Captain Clodhopper to return. She stills reminds of that too.........

Alas, I got some photos and spent some time viewing the birds myself. They sat about for what felt like ages and only Ivy's crying pushed us to leave such a special moment. We had to walk away from the Parrots! Amidst it all, I didn't take any notes of sexes, apparent ages of birds or any of the 'finer' details...I was literally gobsmacked! Definitely my 'number one' moment of what felt like birding 'serendipity'.


Wati Tjulpu

Sunday, February 13, 2011


Orrrighty...this is part one in a few shambolic & sentimental rambles about my time spent birding & teaching in the far north-west of South Australia on the Anangu PitjantjatjaraYankunytjara Lands.

Let's start...

I have lived and worked on the APY Lands for 5 of the last 7 years in two communities in the far NW corner of the state. I lived way out west of Ernabella and Amata and many of the larger communities in the 'far east', preferring to live in two of the smaller, mnore isolated communities. My partner and I moved there for a bunch of reasons initially, but over time I really became attached to the idea of being able to wake up, get in the car, drive in any direction for 5 minutes and feel totally alone. Some people dread this feeling, but I really love it. To stand in the middle of what is essentially relatively uninhabited land and feel the silence ringing in your ears is a truly wonderful experience... only bettered by the silence being broken by the calls of Arid Land specialists like Crimson Chat, Black Honeyeater, Banded Whiteface or Dusky Grasswren. In my 5 years in/on 'The Lands' I put together a loose list of 117 species, I say loose because one or two sightings were made on the periphery of the APY Lands in the east. However, the majority of my birding was done in and around the Mann, Tomkinson and Musgrave Ranges.

So few 'white' Australians ever get the chance to spend a decent amount of time out there that many people don't give the area a second thought. But in my experience, it has to be one of the great untouched wilderness areas in the country, particularly the country due west of Amata to the W.A. border. This area supports a vast array of Arid Land habitats/ecosystems that, in turn, support a vast array of Avifauna. In this area pockets of Desert Oak forest border enormous stands of Mallee and  Mulga woodland, vast Spinifex plains and the highest Ranges in South Australia. The variety of plant life, particularly in the last three 'wet' years, is astounding to a first-time visitor (who looks closely, of course!)

I did the bulk of my birding alone, the way I usually like to do it, but during my second stint in the Mann Range I began to let the kids in on why I would pull the school bus over a any given time to run off into the scrub chasing things. I was lucky to be given the chance to work with a small bunch of kids for three years on the trot. Which meant by the time I left, they were well and truly used to my idiosyncratic behaviour and yabbering and many of them grew to love it! At the beginning of 2010, and after many hours of blabbing on ad-infinitum about 'my plan', the school principal decided to give me a chunk of the school budget to spend on a year long unit of work centred on 'Bird Watching'. I decided to structure the unit around educating the kids in identifying/distinguishing species, analysing how birds have 'specialised' according to habitat/diet and how to record and report data. These skills have a 'knock-on' effect for the kids who wish to move in to the area of Land Management (one of three 'real' employment opportunities in the whole area). So, I set about writing things up and the boss loosened the purse strings.

In no time at all we had blown about $2700 on Binoculars and field guides - but, to see the kids eyes as they adjusted the straps on their own bin's and thumb through their own field guides. It was a sweet moment! I then spent time making the requisite speeches explaining how these weren't 'take home' gifts and how the kids had to look after them. So, I taught them how to clean the bin's, fix loose straps, adjust the eye cups and (one of the lessons they enjoyed the most) how to focus the bin's quickly at different distances AND under pressure.

I set up a kind of 'bird-nerd' Olympics in which kids had to work in teams to read notes from different distances and decode them to win points - they were mad for it! I also printed different sized images of bush birds from the web and placed them at varying lengths away from the kids and (again...) got them to work in pairs to i.d. the birds using their bin's and field guides. As they got better and better I reduced the amount of time they were given to view the different images....this drove them wild but also forced them to work quickly and, maybe most importantly, quietly. We spent time in class learning the names of the different physical features of birds and worked on expanding our technical vocabulary. This part was crucial as many of the kids had a limited knowledge of the many parts of birds and how they related to making field notes and decent observations. I even managed to link this to some art activities where the kids had to illustrate and colour images of birds according to a written description (eg; red lores, yellow lower mandible, red rump etc...) All of this helped to better equip them for our weekly field trips and turned our outings from all-out madness into relatively pleasant and organised excursions.

By the end of term one, there was a palpable sense of 'something big' going on with these older kids, especially some of the more difficult boys. I would go into the store on weekends and I would hear kids telling their parents and grandparents about the birds they had seen on our recent trips, the kids were then getting a double-dose of schooling as interested family members began to impart local knowledge about certain species we had encountered. This all fed back into our class work and really energised our (usually...) lack-lustre afternoons. We had Science lessons slated for three times a week and the kids continually bugged me, "When do we do more Birds?" - it was a buzz!


Well...after begging for some time away from Daddy-duties I was given the Sunday morning off to go and (with fingers crossed...) photograph the Black Falcon I had seen late last week and to take advantage of the clear sunny morning for a few Elegant Parrot shots. No luck on the Black Falcon front sadly, loads of rabbits running to and fro as well as Australasian Pipit's too..but no luck with the Falcon. So, onward I travelled to catch the morning high-tide at Thompson's to redeem my past efforts shooting Pac. Golden Plover in rather miserable lighting. Expectations were high, as the morning looked fantastic, clear skies and a very slight breeze promised good conditions for digiscoping.

I pulled in to the southern side of Thompson's Beach just after 8am (technically an hour before high tide...) and was very peeved to see that the water was about 800m offshore with nothing but exposed weed between me and the birds. I could see a few small flocks (100 or so) waders flying and diving just out to sea but at such a distance the scope was useless. Nothing for it but to walk out and get some brine in the boots!

I decided to do the walk-out on the Northern end of the beach where the track/public access ends, just about 200m from the end of the track there is a nice little inlet where I thought I'd station  myself once the tide was on it's way in. Again, to my dismay (another more colourful description perhaps more fitting???) I had to abandon that plan because a family with small kids were playing Beach Cricket on the opposite side of the bank and making a god-awful racket. Good on you Mum and Dad for getting the kids out of the house bright and early on a Sunday morn' but why go to such a tranquil spot, with so few visitors and pollute it with your disgusting cheering? Yes, I am a curmudgeonly git.

Time to put 'Plan 2' into effect; walk out to where the birds were and take some photos and a list of species present. But after trudging out there in the sticky mud that these northern shores are famous for, I was feeling a little low....not to mention that the only birds out on the water's edge were chooks....alas, I decided to hone the digiscoping skills by playing around photographing the birds that were nearby. During this time the wind began to whip up and made things a bit uncomfortable, not to mention the fact that by 9:45 the water had still not come any closer to shore - very odd! The light had also gone from gorgeous to god-awful within an hour and now things were a little too bright....there's no pleasing some people, eh?

So, plan 2 shot to ribbons and Thompson's abandoned in favour of the northern side of Parham. This side of this little town is great, nice stands of remnant coastal heath and samphire flats and also great to see such large blocks of it preserved on people's own private land too! Good on you Parhamites! I still can't get over seeing old stands of Callitris so close to the sea, it makes me wonder what places like Semaphore, Grange, Brighton and Glenelg would have looked like before the settlement of white folks. Anyway, enough...I was on a mission (again!) to find and photograph Elegant Parrots after getting washed out last week and like clockwork, these beaut little birds popped up in the samphire between the northern-most road (beyond the FREE camping ground - yes, FREE, in these crazy modern times!!!) but they were playing games with me, I swear

 "Let's pop up just long enough to see the dumpy man fuddle with his camera and scope and as he focuses it, BANG!  - let's scram!"

This happened over and over again, but what views I had in between! Such a sweet little bird, their little yellow/lime bellies were luminous in the sun light. A pity one of the only decent shots I managed didn't do them justice....hmmmmm, feeling a 'thread' running through my blog entries here. Despite it all I was chuffed to get great views of the birds over such an extended period and to see a little gang of White-browed Babblers close to the camping area scooting about and making a lot of noise. The other good news is that the Blue Bonnet's are also hanging around, but closer to the north-eastern side of town, by the houses on this boundary.


Wati Tjulpu

Friday, February 11, 2011


Got out to the northern beaches just on high tide today, the weather looked great when I left home but in the 40 minutes it took to get to Parham, thunder could be heard in the gulf and a thick, ugly band of black cloud was closing in on the coast. A pity really, because any other day I'd be welcoming the rain...but this morning I was on a mission - to photograph Pacific Golden Plover and Elegant Parrot in the soft morning light.

Not so much 'soft morning light' about...rather a dreary morn', but I had a good time getting some nice close views of Great Knot, Red Knot, Pacific Golden Plover, Grey Plover, Ruddy Turnstone, Red-necked Stint and Common Greenshank. One Red Knot that was looking a little 'coloured up' eluded I fixed the scope on it, it took off for some more space further north along the shore - dang! So, as the rain set in I finally found my 3 Pacific Golden Plover's, all hanging around on the southern shore adjacent to the small mangroves (just north of the carpark/toilets etc.) I've really got a soft-spot for these birds, having only recently seen them for the first time, I'm really taken by their fine features and luminous colouring...a little more 'sexy' when compared to the Grey Plover. It took ages to get a decent image, they kept a buffer whenever I approached too close but they never flew too far away. Sadly, the wind had picked up a little and the wind, combined with the poor light, left me with images that don't really do the birds justice....bit of a bummer really! At least I hope they'll be around for a little while yet!

The most surprising find of the day was a Black Falcon just to the south of the Dublin Oval (not far from where the old BMX track once was...) I stopped about 50-70 metres from it to get a photo but it flushed as soon as I opened the car door. This was a 'lifer' for me, I've been waiting to see one for a long while and have read recent reports (Chris Steeles??) of a few birds on the plains surrounding Hamley Bridge/Owen. I once had a brief view of one as I was driving between Amata and Ernabella on the APY Lands...but it got away from me before I could get onto it and work out if it was really a Blackie or just a juv. Brown Falcon....though the juv. Brown's are a pretty messy looking bird by comparison! Despite being 99% sure at the time, I didn't feel that it was a 'tickable' view. Other raptors were also out in good numbers scattered along the road in to Thompson's - 5 Brown Falcon (3 adults and 2 juv. birds) and 4 Nankeen Kestrel.

The second surprise was a big mob of Blue Bonnet's down at Parham. I knew that they could be found here, but in my previous visits I have not seen any here. They were well spread throughout the northern end of town, sitting in trees and on powerlines, even keeping company with such lowly birds as Starling and Feral Pigeons! They were pretty flighty and by the time I had arrived the rain was really coming down, suffice to say I got a few shots but they were pretty ordinary. All up I counted 19 of them and as I drove north to scout for Elegant's I flushed at least 20 more along the roadside. Sure beats driving to the Murray Mallee or north of Pt. Augusta to tick them for the year list! The rain by this time was coming down hard and I abandoned my quest for pics. of the Elegant Parrots.

All in all, it was a pretty good morning, came away with a new life tick and a few decent pics. of waders for the collection. Nice!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


Crakes and digiscoping.

Say no more!

I recently spent a late arvo/evening beside the hide at Greenfields Wetland just north of Adelaide...a prettier industrial backdrop you canna imagine! I digress, I waited by the hide looking East to get onto a Spotted Crake that a friend of mine had seen earlier in the week. He also reported a couple of Baillon's chicks too but didn't get onto any adult birds. So, after about an hour I caught my first glimpse of a couple of puffy, fluffy chicks weaving between the reeds and occasionally onto the mud. Great, I adult MUST be about too. I fixed the bin's on the spot and got a great view of the adult Spotted Crake as it hung a little further back than the less-wily chicks. I dropped the bin's and aimed the scope for a better view, picked off (what I thought were....) the 'salient' features, longish yellow bill with red spot, white flecking through the sides of neck and shoulder, heavy barring from below the wings continuing into the vent/tail area.....blah, blah blah.

Got it. A new 'lifer' for me....whoopee!

So, I watched the bird and chicks for about 10-15 minutes until I noticed two slightly larger chicks emerge from the same section of reeds but about 4 metres further along. They allowed the Spotted's to move past without much fuss but didn't join the family as it moved further along the muddy bank. Hmmmmm, I wondered if these were the Baillon's chicks that I'd been told about.....yellow bills and black fuzz, not the best dissection of a birds physical features....but even with the scope there wasn't much else to go on, I tried to pick up the Spotted again, with the idea that i'd snap off a shot for the archive. I mounted the camera to the scope to get some snaps and then out it came in the glorious light of late evening!

....And the misery really began..."how the f*#k do people follow such skulking little birds with all this crap mounted on a scope and still fire off such great shots???" I mumbled to myself. I would see the bird, follow it, focus frantically and fire...over and over.

Over and over.

Finally, the birds disappeared and I packed it in, keen to see my images on the laptop at home.

Upon getting home, I pulled out then field guide, ready to enter my date/location info to give Spotted Crake the 'tick' but in the midst of finding the page and so on I started downloading my images....urgh! my heart sank....what happened? At what point did a ham-fisted Yeti commandeer my scope and camera? I must have missed it because the shots were dog-slapping awful! None of the images really delivered the stonking great view I had of the birds. Damn! Alas, I attached one image in an email to a the friend who tipped me off to their whereabouts and titled it, "Spotted last!".

The next day in my inbox I saw his reply sitting there......"Congrats on the Baillons!"

...."the whatta?.....hey?"

It took me a few views to see it but I had 'arsed' myself a shot of a Baillon's when it was the Spotted I was sure I was looking at....double damn!

So, to cut a short story long...the bird I had seen earlier was NOT the bird i photographed. I feel a bit ripped off, like it's a bastard tick....just can't bring myself to tick either species given the had me going back and forth, field guide to photos to google images and back for a good two days.


Nothing for it but to wait to see both species again...maybe i'll leave the camera at home?


As a 'golden handshake' type of gift to myself after leaving my last job, I decided to buy a decent scope. As I was moving back to Adelaide and 1700km's closer to the sea than I have been for the last few years, I thought it would add a new dimension to birding for me. The scope is great, no complaints...but I forked out another few hundred bucks to buy a camera adapter to allow for digiscoping.

Or 'digi-fumbling' as I call it.

"Where did the bird go?"

...seems I can't 'scope' a bird and then mount the camera without losing the thing! The birds almost invariably move a foot or two by the time i'm ready to focus + shoot. Getting smooth motion when trying to pick the birds up in the viewfinder again is the key...for someone with meaty lumps of fritz for hands, it's a delicate skill I'm currently working on.

Today I finally made some headway. I fired off a few passable shots of three common waders; Wood Sandpiper, Black-winged Stilt and Black-fronted Dotterel. The results are below.....

So, I'm finally getting some value for the money I outlaid for the kit. As I see it, for a novice birdo (like me...) there are some not-so-obvious pitfalls and things to consider when buying a scope and the digiscoping gear, they are....

1. Weigh up the amount of time you will spend looking for the birds these things are designed for. They can also be useful for confirming i.d.'s + better views of small bush birds but only if you have enough room to swing a cat around my experience, this is not often the case.

2. Also consider (re: waders) the amount of hours per season/year you'll get use of the scope and extra kit. Where do you do the bulk of your birding?

3. Weight and size of the bits and pieces. Can you really lug all of it (with bin's, water, sunscreen, field guides, notebook etc...) through weed, mud and sand? Do you want legs and arms like He-Man?

4. Digiscoping can be very, very frustrating and adds an element of misery to seeing birds that is hard to anticipate. I'm sure that decent wildlife photographers would say the need a great deal of patience and in many ways it detracts from the experience of just being in the field observing birds.

5. You'll no doubt then start a new 'list' : SPECIES I HAVE PHOTOGRAPHED (seems like dangerous territory to me...ha!)

6. Try before you buy, find a friend who you can bug for advice, carry the gear (all of it!) and give it a may not be for you (or me???)

7. With scopes, it seems you'll be forever wondering, "What if I bought the.....with higher magnification?...I would have had enorously better views of that Gabbagabba Bird!!!" There will forever be birds just out of reach...give it up!


....okay, seems like I've exorcised some Digi-scoping demons now, hope it's of use to someone else, even after reading a myriad of reviews online of various brands/shapes of scopes I still have some niggling feelings of, "What if....??"  - so, do your homework!

Hopefully I'll have more images to post from future outings to share here.


Almost had my left ear taken off by a Collared Sparrowhawk in December in Hale Conservation Park here in the Northern Lofty Ranges in South Australia. I was trying to get better view of a mixed group of Thornbills, Wrens and Scrubwrens and tried hiding on the edge of a stand of I stood there doing my best to attract the birds, calls started coming from all directions as the smaller birds rallied to come in for a closer look. As I drew the bin's up for a better look I kept pishing and got the shock of my life when said Sparrowhawk whizzed past my left ear at great speed, missing me by a foot or thereabouts.

My trail of expletives sent the smaller birds packing and the Sparrowhawk sat briefly eyeing me with that yellow fireball of an eye....I swear I saw a trace of a smirk on his bill!