Monday, December 19, 2011


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

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

Banded Lapwing Vanellus tricolor

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

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

Red-necked Stint Calidris ruficollis

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

Not too bloody much!

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

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

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


Pacific Golden Plover  Pluvialis fulva

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

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


Wednesday, December 7, 2011


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

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

Freckled Duck Stictonetta naevosa

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

Freckled Duck Stictonetta naevosa

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

Intermediate Egret Egretta intermedia

Musk Lorikeet Glossopsitta concinna

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

Baillon's Crake Porzana pusilla

Australian Spotted Crake Porzana fluminea

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

Freckled Duck Dessicatus lamingtonus

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

'Dessicated Ducks'

I love it!