Sunday, September 16, 2012

Birding Cape York August 2012

Day one August 21.
Forest Kingfishers were common
Cape York and Iron Range NP in particular have been on top of my ‘must visit’ bucket list of birding venues for decades. So when the opportunity presented itself to make the trip with two other birding nuts I couldn’t resist. After much planning, brothers Mike and Steve Potter and I ultimately met in Cairns airport on August 21 for what promised to be two weeks of top shelf birding. When I say ‘much planning’ I should point out that Mike did the lion’s share of the planning – thanks mate.

After hiring a Pajero and buying supplies we didn’t waste any time heading straight for the Cairns foreshore to kick off our bird-list for the trip. The Cairns foreshore is an amazing place and never fails to deliver with a mix of waders, mangrove birds, and a whole range of forest birds in the fig trees of the parklands. Before long we had Helmeted Friarbirds, Fig-birds, Double-eyed Fig-parrots (incidentally this is the best venue I know of to have easy views of these little gems), Varied Honey-eaters, and Large-billed Gerygone along with a bunch of waders as well. The mangrove forests directly north of the foreshore area in downtown Cairns are also one of the easiest venues for sightings of Mangrove Robins and these were a tick for Mike and was the first for the trip so high fives all round. Mind you the sandflies are unbelievably ferocious and unless you have long sleeves or lather yourself in litres of toxic insecticide you won’t last long here.

We then headed up to Julatten and along the way had some Sarus Cranes in a field and Bush Curlews out in the open. We finally arrived at Kingfisher Park after dark and bunked down for the night ready for an early start the next day.

Day two Julatten to Musgrave Station – August 22.

Typical Cape York Woodland
We heard a Barking Owl calling just outside our cabins and it proved to be a bit of a dog to find in the pre-dawn gloom but Steve eventually collared it with his torch beam. We were on the road at dawn and it didn’t take long to start finding plenty of the more common birds as we headed north and by the time we reached Laura we had come across our first Cape York specialty in the form of a Black-backed Butcherbird. We spied these in the park next to the petrol station there.

By early afternoon we arrived and set up camp in the Musgrave Station campgrounds which turned out to be much more comfortable than anticipated with shady, lawn-covered campsites, and all right next to a well supplied café restaurant. We wasted no time setting up camp as we were keen to get back out to Artemis Station were Mike had arranged for us to hook up with Sue Shepherd who is the unofficial Queen and protector of the endangered Golden-shouldered Parrot.

Sue met us at the homestead and before long she jumped astride her 4-wheel motorbike to lead us a short distance to the secret location of these enigmatic birds. We stopped our vehicles at a patch woodland that looked about as unpromising as you could imagine. Burnt-out, rocky ground, all sparsely covered with native grasses and a few straggly gums. But after a hundred metres or so we soon sighted out first Golden-shouldered Parrot. Then another, and another, and then some more! What a bird! The colour-combo of turquoise flanks, red vents, and bright golden shoulders were as stunning as they were unusual.  The whole area was crawling with them – literally. The parrots were almost oblivious to our presence as they scrabbled around in the coarse earth looking for grass seeds and we were able to get close views and easy photos. This was definitely one of the highlights of the trip. It was a privilege to see these rare and beautiful birds at such close quarters. After having our fill of the parrots we talked with Sue about the management of the birds and I was amazed to discover that this task falls largely to her. We made a donation to the cause and Sue also gave us directions to a site where we might get the chance of seeing a Red Goshawk at the nest.
Only a short time later we homed in on the Red Goshawk site and sat at a safe distance and waited. There was already an adult, presumably the female, on the nest but she was keeping a low profile. After fifteen minutes or so another adult Red Goshawk came to the nest and sat obligingly on an open branch. This was too good to be true; two rare and wonderful birds in one day. The exact location of this site completely escapes me as I write but I believe Sue might be able to help you out with the details. Needless to say we were pretty pumped and well satisfied with a great day’s birding.

Day three, Lakeland NP – August 23

After the success of the previous day it was hard to imagine how we could possibly top it today. Nevertheless we headed hopefully into Lakefield NP in search of such targets as Star Finch, Black-throated Finch, and a host of other waterbirds, and bush birds besides. Amazingly the woodland here was full of birds and it didn’t take long to start racking up all the usual suspects at various roadside stops along the way. Most stops had us chasing multiple sightings in every direction and we soon had the Black-throated Finches under the belt.

Further along the road we entered the broad flat grassland/wetland area where we had reliable intel about the whereabouts of Star Finches. Being the end of the dry season the swamps were much reduced. Sadly it was all too evident that the pig population was very healthy and the swamps were consequently very unhealthy. The reed beds and sedges where all churned up and trampled and the margins pocked with wallows. We saw plenty of pigs both here and in the forests but were not so fortunate with the Star Finches. We poked around several other sites but it was generally pretty quite and so we decided to head back to the well known Low Lake billabong for a break.

Low Lake is a brilliant place, reminiscent of the Kakadu wetlands in many ways, and full of waterbirds. I decided to break out the scope here and aimed it out to the lake and focussed on the place it was pointed only to discover that I had randomly pinpointed a crocodile. I decided to move back from the margin an extra few steps. The scope was ideal at this site and with it I was able to turn up some otherwise tricky sightings such as (presumed) Latham’s snipe, Swamp Harrier, Glossy Ibis, and various ducks. We also saw Pied Heron, Brolgas, Black-necked Stork, Lotus birds, Stilts and Magpie geese in plenty. Mike spotted an enormous croc sunning itself on the far bank while I took another step back from the shore. As nice as all this was it wasn’t getting us any closer to seeing a Star Finch.

Eventually we headed back out to the open grasslands again, but I was not feeling all that optimistic about our chances after we missed the finches in the early morning. We headed to a small creek/billabong in the grassland where we had been reliably informed that the finches might be seen. Before we had even stepped out of the Pajero Steve and Mike were excitedly pointing toward some low bushes that were swarming with finches. From where I sat I thought I was looking at Red-browed finches but then my bins finally focussed on the red face and spotted flanks of an adult male Star finch. At last! What a relief! We hopped out of the vehicle to take it all in and I decided to set up the scope once more for a better look. There were hundreds of Star Finches here all crowded in a few small shrubs near the creek. This was definitely another trip highlight for us all.
Starfinch country

A little later another vehicle stopped nearby and some more birders joined the fray. The sign on the 4x4 indicated this was a professional birding outfit and Dave (Chook) Crawford soon sidled over and introduced himself to us. Dave is not a man you could describe as particularly shy and we soon fell into an interesting conversation about all things birdiferous. Dave gave us a hot tip about a venue where we might do a bit of night birding but we are sworn to secrecy about the exact location of this venue. All I will say is that it is nowhere near Perth.

We carried on birding is serval other locations including some riparian forest where we spied some relatively uncommon species for this region such as White-gaped Honeyeater, Fairy Gerygone, and Papuan Frogmouth. This was to be the first of many Papuan Froggies would see over the next few days. I couldn’t help noticing there was some movement in the water and quietly put together a small travel rod I had packed in my bag and managed to extract a decent Barramundi from the water before setting it free. We also headed up to the mangroves for a squiz but the sandflies staged a brave and formidable defence and successfully kept us out of the densest forests. We did manage a Red-headed Honeyeater on what must be the furthest eastern extremity of their range.
Mozzie time
Barn Owl
As the sun set we headed to the secret night-birding spot and waited. But as the darkness closed in so did the mossies. I thought the sandflies in the mangroves were bad but this was a whole other level of blood-sucking badness. Unless you soaked yourself liberally in deet and then set yourself on fire it was pretty much impossible to blunt the enthusiasm these mini-monsters had for a draught of your blood. Fortunately as the temperature dropped so did the number of mossies. Suddenly I became aware of a presence overhead. I shone my torch in the general direction and there above me was the ghostly figure of what a thought was a Grass Owl! I assume it was a Grass Owl as its talons hung well beyond its tail feathers. But it was only a fleeting glance. I called to Mike and Steve and together we began spotlighting in earnest. Before long we began to capture a whole variety of night birds in our torch beams. First it was Barn Owls, then another Grass Owl confirmed by its larger wingspan and trailing talons, then a Barking Owl, and then a Boobook owl put in an appearance as well. A little further on we spied a Papuan Frogmouth, a Tawny Frogmouth, a Large-tailed Nightjar, a Night Heron, a Bush Curlew, a Pratincole and most amazing of all: a Partridge in a pair tree! Well it seemed like Christmas to me. That was the most night birds any of us had ever seen in a single session and we were pretty chuffed and decided to call it a day, which was strange really as it was night.

Day four, Iron Range NP – August 24.

As good as the last two days had been we were all itching to get to Iron Range. Not that we had much choice after the way the mossies had torn into us the night before. But we were still keen anyway. We broke camp before sunrise and made it to Coen for breakfast. Here we came across Pied Currawongs which seemed so out of place this far north. We pressed on eventually turning off the main road and ultimately entering the Park by about 10: 30am. All we had heard and read about this unique rainforest environment had us twitching with anticipation so when we finally entered the first patch of forest we tumbled out of the vehicle with high hopes of some frantic birding. We did manage fleeting views of the loud and noisy Eclectus Parrots but other than that the forest was virtually silent and the birds nowhere to be seen.

That’s when it begins. You know what I’m talking about, the lame excuses and philosophical banter. “It’s not all about the birds after all, it’s just a privilege to be in a place like this…” and so on. It’s a lie of course but what can you do? We reasoned that we had simply missed the dawn chorus and decided to head for our accommodation in Portland Roads instead. Mike had arranged for us to stay at the Portland Roads Beach Shack and it turned out to be a brilliant place with a fantastic view of the little beach and north coast. It was basic but charming. We decided to try the café next door for lunch and were completely overwhelmed by the class of food and service in such a remote location. This meal would have put many an upmarket inner city café to shame. We unanimously decided where lunch was going to be each day. There were plenty of Sunbirds, Honyeaters, and Gerygones here to entertain us as we ate but we were still keen to get some of the rainforest species under the belt.
Iron range forest
Papuan Frogmouth in Portland Roads
When it cooled down a bit we headed hopefully back to the forest and finally managed our first Iron Range specialty in the form of a Tropical Scrubwren. We really worked hard but the birds were just not showing. Rainforest can be soul-destroying at times and this was one of those times. We birded our collective heads off and just before the sun dipped below the horizon we did mange to get onto the comical looking White-faced Robin. On the way back we stopped off at the Portland Roads dump where we were told Palm Cockatoos roosted. We waited til sunset but the Cockatoos didn’t show. Instead we were rewarded with some nice views of Large-tailed Nightjars and on the way back we saw many more Large-tailed Nightjar and White-throated Nightjar on the road.  It had been a tough day and we were pretty much at a loss about what to do.

Day five, Iron Range NP – August 25

Next day we had a bit of a look around the Portland Roads area and picked up both species of Frigatebird right overhead out front of our accommodation before heading back into the forest. We decided we would simply have to put in the time and the kilometres today if there was any hope of working through our list of hopeful ticks. We headed to the southern end of the Old Coen Road walking track where we managed to spot another of our target birds, a Tawny Breasted Honeyeater, before beginning the walk proper. The path here traverses varied habitats ranging from closed woodland, to vine forest, riparian forest and dense rainforest. We began to spy some nice birds such as Yellow-breasted Boatbills, Rufus Fantails, Woopoo Fruit Pigeon, and Suburb Fruit Doves but still no more of the IR specialties.

Then in a nice patch of vine forest we eventually found a party of birds and for a few hectic minutes managed a couple of our target species with nice views of White-eared Monarchs and best of all a Fawn-breasted Bowerbird. It was good to the see the Bowerbird, especially as they are reportedly becoming scarcer and harder to find.  We pressed on but that was pretty much it. After about 11am the birds just shut down and the forest fell silent. Very frustrating. After another sensational lunch at Portland Roads we eventually waddled around the immediate environment near our accommodation where we had Collared Kingfisher, Reef Egrets, Sacred Kingfishers, Broad-billed Flycatchers and Rose-crowned Dove. Both Mike and Steve had purchased 400mm SLR camera outfits before the trip and were having a ton of fun capturing some of the memories with some spectacular images of these birds.

Deplanchea tetraphylla
Mid-afternoon we headed hopefully toward Chilli beach where we tried the short walking track behind the camping area and were rewarded with views of the non-descript Green-backed Honeyeater. On the way back we had a look at a small freshwater lake where we jagged a group of Palm Cockatoos flying overhead.

Eventually we returned to the dump for another look at the large-tailed nightjars. Before the sun fully set we could hear Eclectus Parrots calling from the nearby forest and after pushing through the dense grass and pushing through a little forest we had brilliant views of both the male and female parrots roosting high in the trees. So far we had only seen the male of the species which, although pretty spectacular in its own way, is nothing compared to the bright red and blue female. Once the sun set, the Nightjars came out to play and eventually we spot-lighted one at close quarters.

Speaking of spot-lighting we headed back to the main forest and walked for kilometres along the road with our lights in the hope of seeing a Marbled Frogmouth or some of the other nocturnal wildlife known to inhabit these forests but nothing stirred. Apparently it had been unusually dry lately and I guess this had an affect on the birds and animals. But who really cares? It’s just a privilege to be in such a magnificent part of the world really….. Steve hit me with a stick at this point.

Day six, Iron Range NP – August 26

By now we were starting to get desperate and decided to put in an extra early start. Back in the rainforest at dawn the first call we heard was the strangely human like whistle of the Magnificent Riflebird. We had been hearing this call all over the place but so far had not really put in the effort to get a decent view. We chased this one down and eventually managed to get an eyeful of the female of the species. A little later we also happened upon the magnificent male of the species as well - which explains the name I guess.

Female Yellow Billed KF
After finally seeing the magnificent Magnificent Riflebird we decided to simply walk along the Portland Roads road. Slowly but surely we began to grind through our list of target species. First it was the dainty little Yellow Legged Flycatcher, then the charming Frilled Monarch. We also had fleeting glimpses of Red-cheeked Parrots as they dashed overhead. Another bird we were real keen to eyeball was the Yellow-billed Kingfisher. We often heard their trilling refrain coming from the densest part of the forest but they only called infrequently. There was nothing for it except push into the forest through vines festooned with dagger like thorns and clouds of biting insects and wait for them to repeat their bleat. Our first several attempts went unrewarded but eventually we chased down a call about 100 metres into the forest and while we were all waiting silently in the gloom the Kingfisher trilled only a few metres to our left. We had stunning views of a female Yellow-billed Kingfisher at close quarters.  High Fives all round. On the way back to Portland Roads we happened upon a couple of comical Palm Cockatoos in the woodland and managed to snap a few photographs. They really are worth the trip to Iron range.

At lunchtime Steve swore blind that he had seen a White-streaked Honeyeater in the trees near the restaurant which sent Mike and I and a whole bunch of other birders into a mild panic but it turned out it was just a common Varied Honeyeater. An easy mistake to make I’m sure you’ll agree and Mike and I were careful not to ridicule Steve for this little blunder or remind him of this event ever again, which I think was very good of us.

In the afternoon we managed to turn up a party of Lovely Fairywrens in the vine forest near Portland Roads before heading back to Chilli beach again. With the aid of the scope we were able to identify Black-naped Terns on the little island just offshore here. We also saw plenty of Pied Imperial Pigeons roosting on the island as well. It was windy here and apparently the Sou Easter is fairly persistent at this time of year. We reviewed the walking track again and managed to see another Yellow-billed Kingfisher with relative ease. It had been a tough day but we were pretty happy with the results.

Day seven, Iron Range NP – August 27

Next day we were back at it at dawn. So far we had dipped on the White-streaked Honeyeater despite repeated attempts to track one down in the woodland areas. On the way over to the main forest we stopped off in the stunted woodland near the highest point of the road and after a while I finally managed to get onto an adult White-streaked Honeyeater in a grevillea. I called to Mike and Steve and the bird waited til they arrived then promptly disappeared before either one of them could get their bins on it. We poked around here for some time until we disturbed the nest of some Paper Wasps that launched a ferocious attack that had us scurrying back to the vehicle.

We really wanted to see a Trumpet Manucode, but we simply didn’t hear a peep from one for the whole day. We also hoped for a Northern Scrubrobin and the Chestnut-breasted Cuckoo as well but time was fast running out. We walked and walked and walked some more today but the forest was virtually silent and even the common birds were thin on the ground. We ended up walking about six kilometres for no score. Our only consolation was finding an Eclectus Parrot nesting in a hole in a large rainforest tree. We had great views of the female in the nest-hole as the male attended her.

There were quite a few other birders camping here and everyone was experiencing the same tough conditions as we were. Fortunately I was able to console them with the thought that it’s a privilege to be in a beautiful place like this whether we see the birds or not. Oddly people began hitting me with sticks.   

We birded our way through the rest of the day but apart from the loan White-Streaked Honeyeater, we simply couldn’t find any more of our target birds.

Day eight, Iron Range NP to KFP – August 28

This was our last day in the park before we travelled back south so we headed to the camping area and had one last thrash but to no avail. We slowly dragged ourselves away from the forest and reluctantly headed out of the park. I tried to ignore the fact that we had dipped on a few of the key birds and reminded myself what a privilege it was to even be here when just as we left the park I couldn’t help but notice that some heartless public servant had erected a totally unnecessary and hurtful sigh with the word “DIP” emblazoned in large bold letters on a bright yellow sign. Who are these people?  Talk about the lemon juice of torment being poured on the paper-cut of disillusionment.
The trip south was pretty uneventful apart from a Black-breasted Buzzard that buzzed over the vehicle. We tried for Squatter pigeons at a couple of locations near Mt Molloy but no joy. We finally arrived at Kingfisher Park at sunset.

Day nine, Michaelmas Cay, Cairns – August 29

Steve snaps an easy shot of the Noddies
Next day we were up before dawn – yet again – in order to get down to Cairns to take a boat out to Michaelmas Cay where we hoped to sight a few terns and some other tropical seabirds. I’m afraid I get sea sick at the sight of a rocking boat. I’m close to the magical 600 on my Australian list and could easily attain it with a couple of pelagic trips but the thought of hurling breakfast at the birds all day just doesn’t work for me. Fortunately we had picked a calm day and the cruise out to the cay was okay. The cay is a brilliant jewel in a turquoise sea and is covered with Common Noddies and Sooty Terns. Also present were Brown Boobies, Frigatebirds, Crested Terns, Lesser Crested Terns, Black-naped Terns, and Little Terns but we dipped on the resident Red-footed Booby and the Roseate Tern.  I know that some of you reading this are expecting me to make some kind of lame attempt at humour by talking about other kinds of boobies we may or may not have seen but I do have my limits and I’m afraid I refuse to indulge your childish desires. Although I will say this: there was a woman on the boat who had an enormous hat. We also had the chance to snorkel on two sites on the reef which was nice and we also saw a Humpback Whale.
Fish boatside

Back in Cairns we headed over to the Centennial Lakes for a quick scrounge to see if we could find Red-necked Crakes or Little Kingfisher.  I managed a Little KF in the mangroves but he gave us the slip. This park is an excellent place to bird if you have limited time and I have had many happy hours wandering around here in the past. A great day all round.

Day ten, KFP and Mt Lewis – August 30

We had been sleeping in Kingfisher Park for three nights but had yet to spend an hour of daylight there so it was great to finally have the chance to reacquaint myself with the park and with Keith and Lindsay Fisher. I had been to this area several times before but I still had a few species I was keen to connect with. Today we had secured the services of Del Richards to assist us. I have never used a bird guide before so this would be a new experience. We gave Del our hit list and we had hardly got underway when he pointed us in the direction of a flock of Barred Cuckoo Shrikes which was a tick for me and Mike and Steve as well.

We gradually made our way up Mt Lewis finding most of the target birds that Mike and Steve were looking for such as Pied Monarchs, Paradise Riflebird, Fernwren, Tooth-billed Bowerbird and Bower’s Shrike-thrush. It was amazing to me just how well Del knew where to find these birds. The Fernwren in particular was wonderful as it was singing loudly with its odd penetrating call. But I was starting to get a bit toey about seeing something I had not seen before such as a Golden Bowerbird or a Chowchilla.
A view from KFP
We tried for a Golden Bowerbird in several places but it was not to be. Just as we were about to call it a morning Del heard the call of a Chowchilla which sent me dashing back into the forest to stalk the Chowchillas. It didn’t take long to find a whole family of the birds and it was a huge relief to finally get these birds out of the unseen column and into the seen. It certainly increases the pressure when you pay someone to point you in the right direction and I have to admit Del did in a few hours what had taken me days to achieve on previous trips but I still prefer the emotional highs and lows and the blood sweat and tears that come with the challenge of thrashing about for days and days and eventually tracking down your own birds in the traditional demoralising way – what was Del’s number again?

That afternoon we tried for both the Blue-faced Parrot Finch and the apparently non-existent Squatter Pigeon in the traditional demoralising way with the traditional demoralising lack of success. Back to KFP and Mike and Steve managed to have good sightings of the Little Kingfisher at the crake pool.

Day eleven, KFP near by – August 31

This was to be our last full day and we decided to try a whole bunch of different venues. That’s the amazing thing about KFP – there are so many options from open woodland, grassland, wetlands, rainforest and more all within sight of each other.

We had another tilt at the Blue-faced Parrot Finch. Nahdah! Then we tried the Mt Molly cemetery for the Squatter pigeons. Nichts! Then we headed out toward Mt Carbine where we were had been told we might find a Squatter pigeons. Zilch! Then we tried some open paddocks at Bustard Downs to see if we could find a Bustard for Steve which we unbelievably did! Lucky bustard. Then we headed back up Mt Lewis to see if we could find a Chestnut breasted Cuckoo. Nawt! It had been an eventful morning so we decided to repair to the Mt Molly café where we ordered unbelievably enormous servings of food. Steve ordered a hamburger which had a trolley full of food shoved between two car-door sized slabs of bread.

We had one last chance at the Squatter Pigeons further south so we headed off hopefully toward Mareeba. As we were approaching our destination Steve and Mike were arguing about something of small importance when I noticed a squad of Squatter Pigeons crossing the road in front of us. I inarticulately blurted out “On the road, there, there, on the road…!” and contemplated throwing myself out of the moving car in a death roll to make sure I finally ticked these nemesis birds. Eventually sanity prevailed to some degree before we all threw ourselves out of the car in a death roll. High fives all round.

Day twelve, KFP to Cairns – September 1. 

This was our final day and so once again we dragged ourselves out of our beds at some unearthly hour. While we were messing around getting ready to go Dave Crawford turned up to meet some clients and we were able to thank him for his invaluable intel and regale him with the stories of our successful sortie. Steve moved in and gave him a big bear hug which was fun to watch as I’m pretty sure Chook is not a man who is overly comfortable with man hugs, or for that matter, skim milk, hair gel, sandals, or non-kaki coloured cloths.  But he recovered tolerably.

 We had one last lurch at Mt Lewis and essentially reviewed all the birds we had seen two days before. We said our final goodbyes to Keith and Lindsay (who are incidentally looking to sell their interest in KFP if anyone is looking for a tree change) before heading back along the coast to Cairns.

It had been an incredible trip with many happy memories with 225 species of birds and for me 24 ticks. Sure we dipped on a few nice birds but that gives us an excuse to come and visit this amazing region again. In any case it’s just a privilege to even be in a place like this….


Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Birding in USA – Three days in Texas – April 20-22.

Famous sign

I recently went to the USA for various reasons but not least among them was the chance to spend three days in South Texas for a bit of birding. Texas is famous for its exceptional birding, especially in spring as the migrant birds return to North America. One of best places to take it all in is at High Island where it is possible in the right circumstances to witness a phenomenon known as ‘bird fallout.’ This can occur when migrating birds are forced to push against a north wind before they reach the Texas coast on their journey from South America. Apparently when this happens - once or twice in a season - the birds literally fall out of the sky in desperation for something to eat in the trees at High Island. High Island is one of only a handful of places along this stretch of coast to sport a forest so the birds are drawn to it like coffee addicts to an espresso machine.

Incidentally if you are a coffee addict and espresso machines are a vital element of your day, then High Island is not going to be a fun place for you. I would have paid a hundred dollars for a decent coffee in High Island (or indeed anywhere in USA) and I strongly recommend you take your stovetop espresso machine if you plan on not tearing someone’s eyes out of their head. I think I did pretty well with the lack of proper coffee, all things considered, although I must confess the fact that Texas still has death sentence for murder did offer some deterrent effect when I was informed that espresso machines do not exist anywhere near High Island. Anyway apart from occasional caffeine-less induced mood swings that had me toying with the merits of murder, High Island has some brilliant birding.

After a few days in San Diego where I was not really able to do anything serious apart from a handful of common birds in the outer suburbs, I was keen to really get into some proper birding. I arrived by air in Houston from LA just as the sun was setting which was a little disconcerting as I was about to hire a car and drive on the wrong side of the road and the wrong side of the car for the first time in my life. Fortunately it didn’t take long to sort of get used to it but the GSP guide was more to thank for this than anything. I made my way gingerly out of the airport injuring only a small number of people in the process but once on the freeway it was plain sailing from then on. If there is one thing that sets USA apart from all other countries then it’s their amazing freeways. Sure they’re soulless manifestations of concrete ugliness but I was grateful my first USA driving experience was so convenient. Anyway I set off for High Island to the South East of Houston about two hours’ drive away.

I arrived in High Island at about 10pm but there was no accommodation available (incidentally there is very little accommodation available on High Island itself) so I kept driving hoping for a 24hr motel somewhere down the road. I eventually found one about 20 minutes further on. I don’t know how the star ratings for hotels work in USA but I think I’m pretty safe in saying this was a solid half star affair complete with cockroaches, broken TV, 1970’s carpet and décor, and a general air of neglect. But I was too tired to care so dragged my gear in and fell immediately to sleep.

Day one – Friday April 20

the crowds gather at the 'grandstand'
At dawn I headed straight over to the famous Boy Scout Woods near the centre of the island which is the unofficial capital of birding in Texas. There’s an excellent information centre here where you can meet some of the local volunteer birders from the Houston Audubon Society who can point you in the right direction. It really isn’t necessary for a visiting birder to hire a guide at this venue as the local volunteers really know their stuff and were a huge help. There were several tag-a-long tours organised each day which include a morning walk around the Boy Scout Woods, a midday tour of the best wader sites, and an evening stroll around a freshwater rookery. They have bird lists, field guides, and other bits and pieces that make it all the more rewarding. Best of all is chatting with the volunteers who can keep you up to speed with the latest and best sightings.

Roseat Spoonbills at the rookery

After a quick stroll around the woods I soon had some of the more common species on the list such as Wood thrush, Brown Thrasher, Grey Catbird, Summer Tanager, Indigo Bunting, Orchard Oriole, Red Cardinal, and Inca Dove – to name but a few. But April in the Boy Scout Woods is really all about the Warblers more than anything else but unfortunately they were a little thin on the ground this season because of favourable winds – for the birds that is. There was a continuous trickle of Warblers coming through but it was hard work finding them.

So I opted to go looking for waders instead as this area is just as famous for its migratory shore birds as much as for its Warblers. It didn’t take long to start racking up a whole bunch of waders on my life-list such as the ubiquitous Killdeer and Willet, both very common. I also picked up Short-billed Dowitcher, Black-bellied Plover, Marbled Godwit, Wilson’s Plover, Semipalmated Plover, Dunlin, and Oyster-catchers, Avocets, various Herons and Terns - including the Black Skimmer, a most curious looking bird. There were plenty of other common birds around too such as three species of Grackle, Brown-headed Cowbirds, Mockingbirds, and gulls.

Willet were common

Late in the day the wind began to turn and it looked like a fallout could be possible. I went back to the Boy Scout woods where all the locals had their fingers crossed for a possible fallout either later in the day or early next morning.  Unfortunately, even though a storm front did pass through, it was too late in the day to effect a fallout.

It had been a tough day’s birding but I still managed to substantially build the life-list and met some great people too. That was one of the other features of this trip - watching the watchers. There were hundreds of birders scattered around the various birding venues in and around High Island and they were mostly friendly and helpful. Naturally there were the usual sociopaths among them but you get used to that as an unavoidable element of the birding fraternity. Many of the birders were from the UK or other European countries but I didn’t meet any other Aussies there.

Many of the USA birders dressed in highly camouflaged clothing that made them next to impossible to detect until you virtually standing next to them. I’m a little concerned that I may have taken a slash on a few of them during the course of my three days there but will never know. That was the other thing – USA birders are incredibly polite and friendly. Although with hindsight that may have had something to do with the fact that they were oddly enthralled by my accent and would deliberately keep asking questions to get me to talk. If I ever needed to endear myself to them all I had to do was look at a bird through my bins and say something like:  “Crikey, have a look at this little bewwwdy…” and such. I’m not proud of this but it did generate some useful intel on the latest sightings and such.

That night I decided to try a different place of accommodation but still ended up in a solid one star motel. Still it was just a place to sleep so no matter.

Day 2 – Saturday April 21

After the storm the previous evening the north wind had stiffened during the night and I was hopeful of some better warbler action today. Obviously the word had spread that a fallout was possible because overnight, birders from all over the USA arrived by the bus load. Yesterday’s hundreds swelled to thousands today. It was a spectacle in its own right to see so many birders sitting in the ‘grandstand’ at the Boy Scout Woods and thronging about on the trails. Sadly however the fallout never happened and we all had to content ourselves with the bits and pieces that trickled through. I did manage a Magnolia Warbler which was spectacular in colour and sound, along with other colourful additions such as Scarlet Tanager, Ruby Throated Hummingbird, Baltimore Oriole, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Blue Grosbeak, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Yellow Billed Cuckoo and much more besides.

Hummingbirds are amazing and a real novelty for an Aussie birder. I saw my first Hummer in San Diego a few days previous but these little Ruby Throated Hummers were just as incredible. Their wings literally hum as they hover over flowers and dart back and forth at will. I would really like to get an eyeful of more of these remarkable birds.

Two species of vulture, the Black and Turkey vulture, are common here and were ever present overhead. Apparently if you lie down on the ground and remain still they will put in a much closer and hopeful inspection of you. They were ugly as can be but fascinating all the same.

Enthralling though all this was the birding was quite slow so I opted to join the midday wader watching group. About 50 birders gathered at the designated meeting site before heading off down the coast and stopping at a small estuary where large rafts of waders were roosting. I was glad of the expert help and scopes of the local birders who helped to identify such wader wonders as Semipalmated and Least Sandplover, and Long-billed Dowitcher. We then moved over to an area of freshwater marsh and soon had Green Heron, Lesser and Greater Yellow-legs, and all the other usual suspects.

Lesser Yellowlegs

Next we drove down the coast to the famous Bolivar Flats where we soon added Brown and White Pelicans, Reef Herons, various ducks, and a handful of other waders to the list. On the way back we turned off at an open lawn area in among houses near the beach and I couldn’t imagine a less promising venue. But before long our hosts pointed out Upland Sandpipers in the grass. We saw up to 20 of them sulking around. Reminiscent of Little Curlews the Uplands are odd looking waders with tiny heads and round bodies. Meadow Larks were also a nice bonus here and I also managed to sort out all the swallows and martins with the help of the local experts.

Now that I was in the mood for waders somebody suggested I nip over to the Anahuac Wildlife reserve just a short drive away to check the extensive wetlands there. A short while later I drove into the reserve and immediately realised this was a seriously brilliant birding spot. In the late afternoon sun the wetlands looked spectacular and there were birds everywhere! Ducks, herons, waders, sparrows, larks, bitterns, nighthawks, raptors, crakes and rails and plenty of other bits and pieces as well. I simply couldn’t keep up with the overwhelming diversity of birds in this spot.

The most amazing bird here was the Common nighthawk which could be seen roosting on some dead trees and also flying overhead and filling the air with their unusual cry. They fly in a weird but wonderful way with fluttering wings and bouncing flight.
There were plenty of Alligators here too but apparently they are generally quite harmless and shy compared to our own Saltwater Crocodiles. That wasn’t a theory I was willing to test out however. Anyway I managed to pick up Stilt Sandpipers and Solitary Sandpipers here and also an assortment of other waterbirds as well. Sadly the sun began to dip beneath the horizon but I was resolved to return in the morning.

Night Hawk roosting
Day three, Sunday April 22.

Next day I was up before dawn and returned to the scene of the crime from the previous day at the Anahuac Wildlife Reserve. Clearly the slow pace of birding at High Island saw many of the other frustrated birders finding their way to Anahuac. There were carloads of birders with scopes, cameras and bins all over the place but the birds seemed content and unperturbed by all the traffic.

In the early morning light some of rarer shier birds put in an appearance. I saw a Sora, and a Least Bittern here and a host of other waterbirds and waders besides. I could have spent a whole week in this reserve and still had plenty more to see and do but had to content myself with what I could see in the limited time available.

Looks mean but not as dangerous as our own Saltwater Croc
Least Bittern well protected

I had a plane to catch later that day so reluctantly left Anahuac behind and opted for birding in the woods in Houston itself. There are many conservation reserves tucked away in the city and surprisingly they offer brilliant birding in spring. The migrant warblers and other birds need food to carry them on their northward journey and have little choice but to visit the reserves as they pass through the city. I visited the woods around the Audubon headquarters and had a great time catching up with Prothonotary warblers, American Redstarts, Eastern Bluebirds, and various Woodpeckers as well, to name a few.

Eastern Bluebird

Sadly my time was up and reluctantly I headed back to the airport but I am resolved to make a return visit to the Texas Coast some time in the not too distant future. Next time with more time. All up I only managed around 140 birds but there are many more waiting to be seen in the region.




Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Outback SA and Alice Springs May 2011

Trip report: South Australian outback and Alice Springs area.
Splendid Wren near Pt Augusta

Ten days holiday: what to do? After a very successful and enthralling jaunt through outback SA and Queensland in July last year I elected to continue making the most of the amazing conditions two and a half years of record rainfall have generated in the ‘arid’ interior. The twitcher in me craved a tick-fest in Cape York or the Kimberly’s but the more sound and socially acceptable birder in me won the day and as I decided to head “up the track” (Stuart Highway) toward Alice Springs.
It would be only practically possible to tick four birds, the Rufous-crowned Emu-wren, Slaty-backed Thornbill, Chiming Wedgebill and the elusive Grey Honeyeater. I guess Princess Parrot and Night Parrot could be added to the list but I am realistic – maybe I could get one of these but both on one trip? I think not.
Day 1 – May 3. 2011.
Headed north out of Adelaide early, and this time, on my own. Had to grind my way through the agricultural-industrial zone (what some people euphemistically refer to as the bush). For me the real bush doesn’t start until I’m past Port Augusta. There is something about the big-skied, unfenced-wideness of the land north of Port Augusta that is good for the soul. 
Incidentally just north of PA is the Arid lands botanic gardens, well worth a look in its own right but also a brilliant birding spot. Rufous Fieldwren and Chirruping Wedgebill being easy to get here.
I had planned to head out west and travel through the Gawler Ranges but yet another rain event had closed all the roads. Anyway about 35 kilometres north of Port Augusta the Stuart Highway runs through some excellent mulga scrub and I’ve always found it be particularly birdiforous. A one hour stroll through the bush and I soon had Splendid, Variegated and White-winged Fairywrens on the list along with all the usual suspects such as Blue Bonnets, Southern Whiteface, Pied and Grey butcherbirds, Red-capped Robin, Crested Bellbird, Common Bronzewing and much more besides. 
A few more similar roadside stops added to the list and everywhere the country was looking brilliant, knee deep growth covering the usually barren gibber plains. I had previously travelled this way in May 2009 and the contrast was obvious.
Day 2 – May 4, 2011.

Early next morning after breaking camp I stopped roadside about 100 kilometres south of Coober Pedy and found a patch of mulga alive with birds. The air reverberated with the dawn chorus of White-fronted, Singing and Spiny-cheeked HE along with Crested Bellbirds and Rufous Whistlers. In the distance I heard a call I had never heard before and intuitively knew it was Chiming Wedgebill. The call really was chiming. In the field-guide the Chiming Wedgebill is described as virtually identical to the Chirruping but “shyer and more skulking.” This proved to be very accurate. Every time I approached the calling birds they would drop to the ground and skulk away. I could only get fleeting glimpses. Eventually I had to resort to out-skulking their sulkiness until I finally had sustained views of several birds in a group skulk and proceeded to skulk around after them for half an hour or so. First tick for the trip. High-fived myself.
In addition I flushed several Little Button-quail at this spot. These little fellas were to become a common feature at nearly every venue I visited over the next week and a half. Also spied a pair of Bourke’s Parrots here. What a bird! I know I said this last year but there is something about the subtle colours and nature of these parrots so congruent with the bush. Zebra Finches were abundant to the point of being annoying, budgies were common and several flocks of Cockatiels put in an appearance as well.
The rest of the day was mainly spent driving with random roadside stops for a bit of birding. Ended up camping near the border in magnificent mulga woodland and fancied my chances of some exceptional birding in the morning.
Day 3, May 5 2011
The birding was rubbish. Just a handful of common species was all I could muster and the dawn chorus – non-existent. It’s amazing how often a likely looking spot would turn out to be rubbish from a birding point of view while other seemingly featureless venues were brimming with birds.
This point was driven home shortly after I crossed into the Northern Territory and stopped at a venue for the Banded Whiteface outlined in the new edition of “The complete guide to finding the birds of Australia” by Richard and Sarah Thomas et al.  Just north of Erldunda is a venue about as unpromising as you could ask for. Dull, flat, uninteresting gibber all sparsely vegetated even in these excellent conditions. I stopped more as a matter of incredulity than any desire to see the Banded Whiteface. But as I approached the hot-zone pointed out in the book, there they were - right where they were meant to be. I even snapped a few close photos of them on my little digital camera. Incredible but true.
I headed straight to Alice from here and quickly set up camp to give myself time to search for Emu-wrens at the famous “tyre-in-the-pole” venue on the Santa Teresa road southeast of Alice. On the road out I could not believe this was an arid zone. It felt like I was driving through green meadows somewhere near the Grampians not the Red Centre.
Anyway when I arrived, there was already another four wheel drive parked on the verge. It just had to be a birder so I sidled up and introduced myself to the driver. He was indeed a birder and a birder of some renown especially for his bird photography – Don Hadden. We talked at length swapping birding tales and information which was great but I was running out of time to search for the Emu-wren.
I set off along the ridge and soon found Spinifexbirds and other bits and pieces but was having trouble finding the Emu-wrens – which is the way it’s meant to be of course.  Eventually I cornered a couple of them in a clump of Spinifex at my feet and waited for them to appear. I could hear them calling but they wouldn’t budge. They eventually gave me the slip so I set out further along the ridge. Eventually I heard the unmistakable call of emu-wrens again and was a led merry chase through the densest part of the spinifex catching fleeting glimpses of the birds but no ‘tickable views.’ I know this has been a subject of keen debate on the Birding Aus site lately so won’t revisit all that here and now.
Many birders are unaware of the internationally ratified treaty of ‘Bird Observability’ signed by representatives of both birders and the birds themselves. Essentially it works like this:  Birds universally know if you have seen their species before or not and if they are aware you have already seen them they must allow easy sustained views within seconds of arriving at the venue. The Banded Whiteface that very morning is a case in point.
On the other hand if they suspect you have not seen them before they are only allowed to provide you with deliberately un-tickable views and so on.  Interestingly the Night Parrot is a notable abstention from this otherwise universally recognised treaty. 
Eventually one of two things takes place according to the treaty:
1) You have suffered enough, bled enough, spent enough, travelled far enough or whatever criteria the birds want to exact from you and will then magnanimously allow you a tickable view.
2) They make a mistake and accidentally allow you to see them and are then forced to let you see them easily from then on.  
In this case it was the second. One of the male birds was attempting taunt me with an un-tickable view and for whatever reason could not get out of sight quickly enough before I focussed my bins on the cobalt blue throat patch and emu-feather tail of the bird. I can imagine the conversation between the Emu-wrens right after this.
 “Sorry guys, I messed up. I’m pretty sure he got a tickable view.”
 “What? How the hell did that happen? That’s the second time this month.”
“He had his bins right up next to his eyes and they were already focussed at the right distance and I tripped on a twig. It won’t happen again. Really.”`
For all you real ornithologists firmly stuck in reductionist, dualistic, Newtonian cosmology I trust you can bear with my anthropomorphic twaddle and can just let this pass harmlessly through to the keeper.
Anyway, high-fived myself again.
Day 4, May 6, 2011
Hit the road before dawn in an attempt to find the Slaty-backed Thornbill and Grey Honeyeater out at Kunoth Bore.
Kunoth Bore is a dump.
For whatever reason Kunoth Bore was a place of mysterious beauty in the remote Never-Never north of Alice in my imagination. After all I had read and heard about the place I guess I was expecting more. In reality it’s a muddied dam surrounded by clapped out cattle country covered in garbage and cow crap. In a dry year it would be an oasis of sorts, I guess, but not this year.
Nothing much to report at the bore itself but the birding along the youth camp road just beyond the bore was brilliant. I gave it a thorough going over checking every bit of the mulga scrub for up to five kilometres from the turnoff. Lots of birds, especially Rufous Songlark, Red-backed Kingfisher, Mulga Parrot, Ringneck, Yellow-rumped Thornbill, Inland Thornbill, Weebill, Hooded Robins, Rufous Whistlers, a lone Jacky Winter, Red-capped Robins, GST, Sittellas, Grey Flycatcher, Southern Whiteface, Mistletoebird, and Peaceful Dove to name a few. But no Slaty-backed or Grey.
After a quick lunch headed back to Alice then out to Ormiston Gorge for a look at the mountains as much as a chance of seeing some other birds. What a drive. Endless vistas and eye-gouging beauty all the way. Saw two Black-breasted Buzzard on the drive too. Did the pound walk in hope of seeing some Painted Finch, although I have seen them before they are definitely worth a another look. Spectacular views, and plenty of nice birds, but nothing unusual apart from lots of Brown HE. Dipped on the finch. Western Bowerbirds and Grey-crowned Babblers are easy to see in the campground here and Red-tailed Black Cockatoos and Peregrine Falcons along the river.
Day5 - May 7, 2011.
Decided to head into Alice and then back out to the Rufous-crowned Emu-wren site for another look. Even though I had a tickable view of these birds two days ago I really wanted a better look at them. After all I only saw them for a few seconds. Naturally this time they were required to allow me easy sustained views.  
On the way out saw a trio of birders intently looking into the roadside bush. It turned out to be Mark Carter with a couple of birding clients out for the day. We talked briefly and Mark gave me a hot tip for finding Slaty-backed thornbill.
Back out to the ‘tyre-in-the-pole’ site and as predicted the Emu-wrens obliged and I had long clear views of both the male and females birds and the juveniles as well. At one point I was actually surrounded by a whole family of birds and followed them for several hundred metres.
After this wonderful encounter I decided to have a look for the Dusky Grasswrens supposed to live nearby on the other side of the road. Once in the rocky valley just south of the Emu-wren site it didn’t take long to find an obliging group of Duskies as they scampered about the rocks and spinifex. Dusky Grasswren appear to be the easiest of all the Grasswren to see as they seem just as intend on seeing you as you are in seeing them. Also saw a couple more Spinifexbirds here too. 
Back in Alice decided to check into a Caravan Park for a much needed shower and restock the Esky. At around 1pm I heard a raucous din coming from the trees just outside the park. I assumed it would be a Bowerbird by the sound of it but was amazed to discover a juvenile Koel instead. Apparently it was being ejected from its nest by its surrogate Little Crow parents. I have a 23 year old living at home so I took notes. Joining in the melee where Yellow-throated Miners, Pied butcherbirds, and Magpies. I watched this drama for some time and realised this would be an unusual record for Alice Springs but certainly not unheard of. Testimony once again to the unusual wet conditions I would venture.
Checked the Olive-Pink botanic gardens for Grey HE but to no avail. Bowerbirds in plenty here though and for all you coffee Nazis out there the only place in Alice that make a proper coffee, great food too. That afternoon headed out to the famous ‘Desert Park’ where the Slaty-backed TB had been seen recently. I searched the whole park and all around the park and everywhere in between but no Slaty-backs. I really thought the thornbill would be the easiest of the ticks to come by but it was not to be. Nevertheless saw absolutely everything else in the area including Splendid Wren, Western Gerygone, Crimson Chat, White-winged Triller, Pied and Grey-headed HE and more besides.
Day 6 – May 8, 2011.
I woke with a throbbing headache and realised I was succumbing to the flu. Originally I had planned to head out to Newhaven Station for a couple of days but was feeling generally miserable and lethargic and decided the Newhaven trip would have to wait for another time. Still I wasn’t going to let a mere thornbill best me so headed back out to the Desert Park and thrashed the woodland all around the park and essentially reviewed all the same birds I had seen the day before. Eventually came across a party of thornbills which seemed like they could be what I was looking for. Rufous coloured rumps, white underparts, a lot like a Chestnut-rumped thornbill in many ways but no white eyes. Surely these were SBTB? No. Juvenile Chestnut-rumped it turned out. Not to worry I knew of another site near Coober Pedy where I might find them on the way home. Further up the hill came across Spinifex Pigeons.
Headed out of Alice for the return journey in the early afternoon and attempted to put a few kilometres under the belt. Camped just south of Marla.
Day 7. May 9, 2011
After stopping off at a couple of likely looking spots on the way south ended up at the Slaty-backed TB site mentioned in the T&T book in the late morning. I must confess it didn’t look very promising. Gibber covered breakaways with small patches of mulga here and there. Still the birding was actually quite good. Added Tawney Frogmouth to the list here. At length I heard the sweet high pitched call of a thornbill. I gradually homed in the calls and caught fleeting glimpses of their silhouettes and finally got a clear view and focussed my bins on the eyes – they were Chestnut Rumped.
If anyone had chanced upon me right then in the middle of nowhere, and witnessed my intense pursuit and then watched as I finally had clear views of an otherwise charming (some would even say cute) little bush bird they would have been at a loss to understand the abusive vitriol that was being poured so unjustifiably upon so innocent a creature. Only a twitcher could understand.
I left the Chestnut-rumped TB to their pursuits and hoped fervently a hungry Hobby might feature largely in their immediate future. But finding a hungry Hobby would be a problem. There were mice everywhere both night and day. Everywhere I went I saw mice in the open even in broad daylight. All the raptors I saw were fat and even a little indolent if you ask me. Some of the younger raptors even looked a bit smug for my liking. Their comeuppance awaits them I say, come the return of the El Nino. 
At Coober Pedy I headed east onto the William Creek road in the mid-afternoon which is the ideal time to drive east with the setting sun making the birds easy to see. Within a few kilometres I had Inland Dotterels, Banded Plover, and Orange Chats by the thousand. Doubtless there would be Gibber Chat here too but the vegetation and huge number of orange Chats made it difficult to spy these otherwise fairly easy to see birds. In the open gibber plains I twice came across Harriers which I assumed would be Spotted but both turned out to be Swamp Harriers. The big wet is confusing them.
Near William Creek the gibber gives way to sand dune country all covered with canegrass. Ideal Grasswren habitat but I could not find any. There were however plenty of Cinnamon Quail-thrush in this area and I flushed no fewer than 20 in the afternoon.
Eventually I made my destination on the shores of Lake Eyre right on the last rays of sunset. By this time I was feeling very low with the flu and the recent defeat by a thornbill and a cursory glance at my hand-held GPS revealed I was 15 metres below sea-level so it stood to reason.
Mice were in plague proportions here and everything had to be zipped up, put up, or eaten up as soon as possible. Went for a bit of an optimistic Night-Parrot hunt with a spotlight but only saw mice, rabbits and a cat.
Day 8, May 10, 2011-
I really wanted to see Lake Eyre in all its glory at dawn so rose early and was packed up before sunup. Lake Eyre could not be described as beautiful so much as remarkable. It really is an amazing sight. So much water and life in the flat low-lying desert. There were Gulls, Grey Teal, Red-necked Avocets, Black-winged Stilts, and Gull-billed Terns in plenty here and on the shores there were huge rafts of dead Bony Bream in their millions and above them even bigger rafts of dead locust, crickets, beetles and other insects in their billions. Fascinating stuff to be sure. On the way back to the Paj I saw my first ever Kultarr - an odd looking creature with an unusual gait.

     Boney bream on shore of lake Eyre
The road out from the Lake is a tad bumpy and runs through some of the most desolate black gibber you can imagine. If a lunar module had landed in front of me a fully suited astronauts came bounding across the land I should not have been the least bit surprised.
The corrugations of the road shook a wire loose somewhere and every now and then the horn would give a friendly toot for no particular reason especially if turning left of slowing down. Whenever I passed people parked on the side of the road the vehicle would spontaneously and gleefully toot away in a maniacal display of overt friendliness. I just had to go with it and wave and smile like an idiot. In real life I am not that friendly.
This was all well and good but due to the frequent and recent flooding road works were common and as I slowed down the horn would bleat its empty-headed refrain. I can just imagine the smoko conversations of the roadwork fellas:
“Did you see that way-too-friendly bloke in the Paj? What was his problem?” 
I imagine this would be followed up with references to “Priscilla Queen of the desert” and such. Eventually I could stand it no longer and ripped the fuse out.
Anyway I digress. I encountered more Bourke’s Parrots on the road out of Lake Eyre and also Chirruping Wedgebills, more Cinnamon Quail-thrush, and driving past a swamp, as you might expect, saw a Spotted Harrier actively hunting Songlarks. Strange year.
Back through Roxby-Downs and eventually back to Port Augusta. As I entered PA suddenly remembered another bird I should have ticked: Ground Cuckoo-shrike. I have travelled extensively and frequently all through the inland of SA, NT, NSW and Qld and have never seen a Ground Cuckoo-shrike. On pure chance alone I should have blundered into heaps of them by now. I have never actually twitched a Ground Cuckoo-shrike on the belief that I shouldn’t have to. I know once I have gone to the trouble of twitching one I’ll be clearing them out of the grill from then on. So maybe it’s for the best. Only a two tick trip, but a heap of fun, and really worthwhile seeing the outback in such luxurious glory.

Trip List

1.                  Emu

2.                  Australian Wood Duck

3.                  Grey Teal

4.                  Australasian Grebe

5.                  White‑faced Heron

6.                  Little Egret

7.                  Black‑shouldered Kite

8.                  Black‑breasted Buzzard

9.                  Black Kite

10.              Whistling Kite

11.              Spotted Harrier

12.              Marsh Harrier

13.              Brown Goshawk

14.              Collared Sparrowhawk

15.              Wedge‑tailed Eagle

16.              Little Eagle

17.              Brown Falcon

18.              Australian Hobby

19.              Peregrine Falcon

20.              Nankeen Kestrel

21.              Black‑tailed Native‑hen

22.              Little Button‑quail

23.              Black‑winged Stilt

24.              Red‑necked Avocet

25.              Inland Dotterel

26.              Banded Lapwing

27.              Masked Lapwing

28.              Silver Gull

29.              Gull‑billed Tern

30.              Rock Dove

31.              Spotted Turtle‑Dove

32.              Common Bronzewing

33.              Crested Pigeon

34.              Spinifex Pigeon

35.              Diamond Dove

36.              Peaceful Dove

37.              Red‑tailed Black‑Cockatoo

38.              Galah

39.              Little Corella

40.              Cockatiel

41.              Purple‑crowned Lorikeet

42.              Blue Bonnet

43.              Australian Ringneck Parrot

44.              Mulga Parrot

45.              Budgerigar

46.              Bourke's Parrot

47.              Pallid Cuckoo

48.              Common Koel

49.              Southern Boobook

50.              Tawny Frogmouth

51.              Red‑backed Kingfisher

52.              Splendid Fairy‑wren

53.              Variegated Fairy‑wren

54.              White‑winged Fairy‑wren

55.              Rufous‑crowned Emu‑wren

56.              Dusky Grasswren

57.              Striated Pardalote

58.              Weebill

59.              Western Gerygone

60.              Inland Thornbill

61.              Chestnut‑rumped Thornbill

62.              Yellow‑rumped Thornbill

63.              Southern Whiteface

64.              Banded Whiteface

65.              Red Wattlebird

66.              Spiny‑cheeked Honeyeater

67.              Yellow‑throated Miner

68.              Singing Honeyeater

69.              White‑eared Honeyeater

70.              Grey‑headed Honeyeater

71.              White-plumed Honeyeater

72.              Brown Honeyeater

73.              White‑fronted Honeyeater

74.              Pied Honeyeater

75.              Crimson Chat

76.              Orange Chat

77.              Jacky Winter

78.              Red‑capped Robin

79.              Hooded Robin

80.              Grey‑crowned Babbler

81.              White‑browed Babbler

82.              Chirruping Wedgebill

83.              Chiming Wedgebill

84.              Cinnamon Quail‑thrush

85.              Varied Sittella

86.              Crested Bellbird

87.              Rufous Whistler

88.              Grey Shrike‑thrush

89.              Magpie-lark

90.              Grey Fantail

91.              Willie Wagtail

92.              Black‑faced Cuckoo‑shrike

93.              White‑winged Triller

94.              Black‑faced Woodswallow

95.              Grey Butcherbird

96.              Pied Butcherbird

97.              Australian Magpie

98.              Australian Raven

99.              Little Raven

100.          Little Crow

101.          Western Bowerbird

102.          Pipit

103.          House Sparrow

104.          Zebra Finch

105.          Mistletoebird

106.          White‑backed Swallow

107.          Welcome Swallow

108.          Tree Martin

109.          Spinifexbird

110.          Rufous Songlark

111.          Brown Songlark

112.          Common Starling