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    Birds and fruit-trees

    My home town Dayboro is a magnet for frugivorous-birds, every Summer the various figs and ornamental trees become a vast restaurant for numerous species such as Figbird and Koels.

    Topknot Pigeon

    South-west Queensland July 2012


    View SW Qld 2012 in a larger map

     

    During the early-part of 2012 I spent time with a visiting Canadian birder John Reynolds,  we had made a couple of local trips to find some of his missing species and he expressed his desire to spend a few days exploring the outback area of South-west Queensland. As I have had a reasonable experience of the area between St George and Thargomindah over the past twenty-odd years I suggested that we rent  an AWD vehicle and stay in accommodation rather than tents (the temperature can be very chilly in the evenings out there at this time of year!) Over the past 3 or 4 years drought had lifted in the region so I was keen to see how this had affected the bird-life.

    John negotiated with a car-hire company and got 5 days in a Nissan Dualis with unlimited kilometres for AU$345, however on the pick-up day they tried to ‘palm’ us off with a Renault Megane but John stuck to his ‘guns’ and managed to get the original vehicle (with $100 discount for his trouble, he used this to add the insurance excess, which proved very helpful….more on that later)

    Nissan Dualis

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    We left Brisbane at 2pm on Thursday afternoon and traveled to St George through a thunderstorm, arriving there around 7.30pm and booking in to a seemingly over-priced motel (the price you pay for coal-seam gas, cotton-farming and frequent-flooding?)

    After a nice nights sleep, we had a good breakfast and commenced the adventure, driving to the Mulgaview area approximately 30 kms west of St George, in the past this has been a good area for Spotted Bowerbird, Splendid Fairywren, Red-capped Robin, Singing Honeyeater and Black-eared Cuckoo and Friday morning was no disappointment, we even saw a pair of White-browed Treecreeper there which I had not seen there before.

    White-browed Treecreeper

    Black-eared Cuckoo

    Black-eared Cuckoo

    Black-eared Cuckoo

    White-browed Treecreeper

    White-browed Treecreeper

     

    Further along the ‘Adventure’ Highway between Bollon and Cunnamulla we came across a pair of Pink Cockatoos feeding on small roadside melons, John was elated when they allowed us to drive close and both get some reasonable images.

    Pink Cockatoo

    Pink Cockatoo

    We took lunch in Cunnamulla and continued on to Eulo picking-up some of the interesting species of the area such as Black-breasted Buzzard, Chirrupping Wedgebill, Black-faced Woodswallows and our first Budgies!

    Black-faced Woodswallow/Budgerigar

    Juvenile Black-breasted Buzzard

     

    Cunnamulla Scenery

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Southern Boobook
    Yellow-throated Miner

     

    We stopped at Eulo Bore and the nearby ridge but failed to find any of the ‘specials’ such as Chestnut-breasted Quail-thrush or Hall’s Babbler though we did have an interesting sighting of a ‘diurnal’ Southern Boobook just to the west of Eulo.

    Eulo Ridge

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    and so continued on, finding a Red-backed Kingfisher and getting poor-views of a Chestnut-breasted Quail-thrush west of Carpet Springs. Towards late-afternoon we arrived at the causeway of Lake Bindegolly, which is currently quite full and home to many breeding waterbirds such as Pelicans, Cormorants, Darters, Terns, Coots, Grebes and Brolgas (amongst others).

     

    Caspian Tern

    Australian Darter

     

    We made it to Thargomindah at dusk and were greeted by thousands of White-browed, Masked and Black-faced Woodswallows, this was wonderful but we were behind schedule and had to get to Kilcowera Station and so headed south on the (only partially-sealed) Hungerford road, arriving there at nine pm. We were greeted and shown our accommodation for the next two nights by our hosts Greg and Toni Sherwin and then turned in for a well earned-sleep.

     

    White-browed/Black-faced Woodswallows

    Masked Woodswallow

    On waking on Saturday morning we realized that the temperature was close to freezing so using the outdoor-shower was somewhat daunting but we seemed to survive the ordeal and began our next leg of the trip driving from Kilcowera to Noccundra. Until now I hadn’t traveled further west than Thargomindah so this was certainly going to be an experience for me too!

    About halfway between Kilcowera and Thargomindah we stopped at a dry-creek bed for some Crimson Chats and this proved to be one of the most ‘birdy’ areas, initially only intending to stop for 5 to 10 minutes we were there for over two hours! (….but it was to be worth it)

     

    Banded Lapwing

    Australian Ringneck

    Bluebonnet

    Black-faced Woodswallow

    Red-capped Robin

    Red-capped Robin

    Crimson Chat

    Brown Falcon

    Wedge-tailed Eagle

    White-necked Heron

    John found a lot of new species here, and we also recorded a Pied Honeyeater which was the first that I have ever seen in breeding attire. Both Brown and Rufous Songlarks, Plum-heased Finch, Bluebonnets, Banded Lapwing, Chestnut-crowned Babbler and Brolga, Crested Bellbird and Cockatiel were some of many.

    The drive from Thargomindah to Noccundra was longer than I had expected (approximately 140 kms) but it was quite scenic and we found some interesting species, Chirruping Wedgebills, Bourke’s Parrots and Rufous Songlarks.

     

    SWQ Panorama

    SWQ Panorama

    We finally arrived at Noccundra mid-afternoon and followed the advice of a Birding-Aus  member Mick Brasher who had discovered Grey Grasswren in a previous year in lignum near the waterhole. However after spending over an hour searching in vain we finally gave up and returned back to Kilcowera. Obviously more time is required for this elusive species!

    Eremophila?

    Eremophila?

     

    On arrival at Kilcowera we caught up with Toni Sherwin who told us that she had seen Pied Honeyeater near the homestead,  feeding on freshly-flowering eremophilas,  we resolved to get up the following morning and search for these before our departure.

    Sunday began very chilly and after the tortuous shower ritual we said our goodbyes to the other guests and headed out for a last brief look around the nearby billabong and homestead, on the lake John ‘scoped an unusual duck which was probably a Freckled although we couldn’t get a better view. As we passed the homestead I thought I glimpsed something interesting and we stopped for a quick look and John saw a small passerine which sounded like a Black Honeyeater, this was indeed it’s identity and soon we also found White-fronted and Pied Honeyeaters. A thornbill almost had me believing that there were Slaty-backed in the area (…whose status I’m still not convinced about in SW Qld) this duly turned out to be Chestnut-rumped.

     

    Pied Honeyeater

    Chestnut-rumped Thornbill

     

    This area turned-out to be far more interesting than we had anticipated so once again we put our schedule out by two hours and finally arrived at Lake Bindegolly just before lunch on a search for the handsome but elusive Orange Chat. In recent years the area has been declared a National Park and more restrictions have been made to public access,  we were unable to drive right around the northern edge so walked out to it instead, how different conditions are in winter compared with the rest of the year, lower temperatures and no blowflies made life far easier! Soon I spotted a handsome male Orange Chat on the samphire and endeavoured to get a photograph, as with previous experiences of the species the moment that he realised I was ‘stalking’ him he took off and flew about 100 metres away, consequently all the shots that are displayed are heavily ‘cropped’. In the immediate area I was surprised to see at least 9 birds fly off at one point, they can be extremely cryptic in the glaring sand.

     

    Orange Chat

    Orange Chat

    Orange Chat

    Orange Chat

     

    From Bindegolly we headed east and searched for a creek-crossing where I had seen Grey-headed Honeyeaters many years before, fortunately I managed to find it and after a bit of ‘squeaking’ managed to get at least 3 birds.

     

    Grey-headed Honeyeater

    Grey-headed Honeyeater

    Grey-headed Honeyeater

    Grey-headed Honeyeater

     

    Our next challenge was to try and get to Bowra and see if we could find a couple of missing species. I had tried to book accommodation earlier and had been told that it was full, so thought that it might be worth putting in an hour or two to try and find Grey Falcon or Hall’s Babbler. We drove out to the ‘Stony Ridge’ area but found very little although we heard several Black Honeyeater calling and I saw a very Splendid Fairywren which would have made an awesome photo had it have stayed long enough for me to get the camera!

     

    Bowra Stony Ridge

    Bowra Stony Ridge

    Splendid Fairywren

    Splendid Fairywren

     

    Soon the light was fading and so were John’s chances of getting his last two ‘lifers’ so we decided to set off for St George, I thought that it might be a good idea to let the Motel know that we would be arriving late (St George is 290 kms from Cunnamulla) and the receptionist told us that was OK but warned us to be careful of macropods on the highway after dark. Unfortunately her words came true around 20 kms before the town of Bollon when we hit a large male Red Kangaroo and smashed the offside headlight and dented the front bodywork. Personally I’ve travelled the same stretch of road on several occasions but never seen quite as many as we passed on this evening. Fortunately despite a few ‘near-misses’ we managed to crawl into St George without inflicting any more damage on the ‘Roo population, though another car arrived after us and had suffered a similar calamity. We were certainly thankful that John had had the foresight to take up the insurance excess at the start of the trip.

    Our return  was via a different route, Goondiwindi to Brisbane.  John still required Turquoise Parrot and several other species such as Singing Bushlark, Black-chinned Honeyeater and Red-kneed Dotterel so I thought that it might be worthwhile to try for these in the Inglewood to Warwick area, .In an area near Talwood we came upon several parrot species Red-winged, Ringneck and Pale-headed Rosella feeding on the road with Apostlebirds,.However when we finally arrived at Coolmunda Dam, Cement Mills and the Durakai water-hole it was around lunch and consequently fairly unexciting.

     

    Red-winged Parrot

    Red-winged Parrot

    Red-winged Parrots

    Red-winged Parrots

     

    Overall, a great 4-days birding with John seeing plenty of ‘lifers’, as he is a great ‘devotee’ of Ebird I thought it might be worth providing a link to one of his  lists (from this trip) If this is popular I might add more as he puts them up. At the time of writing I don’t have a full species-list but will put one up when available.

    I would like to thank all those that gave advice (especially for the grasswrens) and Toni and Greg Sherwin at Kilcowera (I look forward to returning…..with lots more time!)

    Species trip-list

    Kaikoura, New Zealand 2012

    Buller's Albatross (Thalassarche bulleri)[

    Buller's Albatross (Thalassarche bulleri)

    In February 2011 I was introduced to Alan and Celia Shaw, UK/NZ residents visiting Queensland for a brief visit. Alan is a long-time videographer of birds and has created film-clips of many of the vagrants recorded in the UK over the past 40 years. Whilst birding with them I mentioned that I’ve always wanted to visit Kaikoura in the Southland of New Zealand (arguably the regions premier pelagic birding-site.) Since they run a guest-house there I was delighted to accept their offer of a short-stay as mutual payment for my guiding-services, however as they were going to return to the UK for their regular summer vacation at the end of March my trip would have to be imminent.

    Fortunately I managed to find a fairly cheap fare to Christchurch with Virgin (the downside being that I would arrive at half-past midnight!) Alan kindly agreed to pick me up from the Airport and we proceeded to Waikuku Beach near Rangiora where we slept in the car until dawn. As day broke we walked out to the wetland near the estuary and soon realised that the temperature was twenty degrees cooler than the place that I had come from. However this issue was soon put behind me when Alan pointed out my first Black Stilt, one of the rarest birds in the world! The reserve was teeming with nice species and I also saw two other ‘lifers’ Black-fronted Tern and Spotted Shag. Great stuff!

    Black Stilt

    Black Stilt

    We then made our way north towards Kaikoura and stopped at St Annes Lagoon near Cheviot where I saw NZ Scaup (somewhat less exciting than the stilt but still my first!) Alan had recently photographed a rare vagrant here (an Australian Reed-Warbler) and noted the difference between the numbers of birders that turned-out for this and any rarity back in the UK!

     

    View from Whitby Place

    View from Whitby Place

     

    Kitchen View

    Kitchen View

    Eventually we arrived at the Shaw residence, Huia House (10 Whitby Place, Kaikoura, +64 3319 7535) and admired the area and it’s surrounding scenery….snow-covered mountains and sea-views. (How many birders can watch albatross and other seabirds from their kitchen-windows?)

    Alan and Celia Shaw

    Alan and Celia Shaw

    After settling in, Celia and Alan took me down to Fyffes Quay (4kms away), which is a rocky-headland at the end of the Kaikoura Peninsula much-frequented by ‘grey-nomads’ and overseas tourists in their campervans.

     

    View from Fyffe's Quay

    View from Fyffe's Quay

    Bird-life is prolific here, with rock-loving species such as Variable and South Island Pied Oystercatcher, Double-banded Plover, Ruddy Turnstone and several kinds of Shag, plus many different seabirds such as White-fronted and Caspian Tern, Arctic Jaegers, Kelp, Red and Black-billed Gulls and just offshore, pelagics such as Hutton’s and Buller’s Shearwaters, petrels and quite a few albatross but beware the large brown beasts strewn across the rocks and under the bushes….NZ Fur Seals are easily surprised and can inflict nasty wounds so tread carefully. A short walk above the headland is an excellent lookout where less ‘sea-worthy’ birders can enjoy observing the passage of many species of seabird and cetacean (….with a reasonable ‘spotting-scope’, of course!)

     

    NZ Fur Seal

    NZ Fur Seal

     

    Before leaving I had visited the website of the Kaikoura pelagic-tour operators “Encounter Kaikoura” and had booked a spot on Sunday’s ‘extended’ (4 hour) trip, however whilst there on Saturday morning I couldn’t help myself and booked a place on a standard (2.5 hour) trip too (and to the dismay of my bank-manager did Monday’s ‘standard’ trip as well!)

     

    Albatross Encounters HQ

    Albatross Encounters HQ

     

    Encounters boat

    Encounters boat

     

    Back of boat

    Back of boat

    Three pelagics in three days…..fantastic! The trips themselves were excellent with guides Gary and Tracy using their boating and birding skills to show us many species of seabirds (and a few cetaceans, though I missed a Sperm Whales tail through sun-glare.) The ‘Great’ albatrosses (Gibson’s and Royal) arrived at the back of the boat within minutes of departing from South Bay and we didn’t need to go out far to see most of the available seabirds due to the depth of the ‘shelf’ (1000-1500 metres!) The views were also breathtaking, huge seabirds ‘wheeling’ around with a backdrop of snow-covered mountains.

    NZ White-capped Albatross

    NZ White-capped Albatross

     

    Species seen by myself over the 3 days:

    1. Royal Albatross (Northern)
    2. Royal Albatross (Southern)
    3. Wandering Albatross (Gibson’s)
    4. Wandering Albatross (Snowy)
    5. Campbell Albatross
    6. Black-browed Albatross (Subantartic)
    7. New Zealand White-capped Albatross
    8. Salvin’s Albatross
    9. Buller’s Albatross
    10. Northern Giant Petrel
    11. Westland Petrel
    12. White-chinned Petrel
    13. Cape Petrel
    14. Cook’s Petrel
    15. Fairy Prion
    16. Hutton’s Shearwater
    17. Buller’s Shearwater
    18. Flesh-footed Shearwater
    19. Sooty Shearwater
    20. Pied Shag
    21. Spotted Shag
    22. Little Shag
    23. Black Shag
    24. Brown Skua
    25. Arctic Skua
    26. White-fronted Tern
    27. Black-fronted Tern
    28. Black-Backed Gull
    29. Black-billed Gull
    30. Red-billed Gull
    31. Australasian Gannet
    32. Blue Penguin

     

     

    On Sunday afternoon Alan and I visited the Kowhai Bush Conservation Area close to Kaikoura (under Mt Fyffe) and we managed to see native species such as Rifleman, Tui, Bellbird, Brown Creeper, Silvereye, Grey Warbler and Fantail amongst the many introduced Blackbirds, Song Thrushes, Yellowhammer and finches. However although we heard a NZ Robin at the main carpark we didn’t manage to see any on the trail.

    Rifleman

    Rifleman

    Grey Warbler

    Grey Warbler

    NZ Bellbird

    NZ Bellbird

    The following day was very wet but Alan had a tip-off that NZ Falcon could be seen near in the foothills north of Kaikoura however the only new species that we caught up with were NZ Pigeon.

    Overall the trip was a great break and the hospitality shown by my hosts outstanding, I will have to return to do another pelagic-trip and see some of the harder species. If you are planning a trip to New Zealand a visit to Kaikoura is a must, Alan and Celia have requested that I promote their accommodation to the birding-community but remember that currently they will only be there from November to April.  Have a look at the gallery which follows this.

    More images