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 own...so 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