Friday, January 29, 2010

Walsh Point

20100128_67_1 20100128_65_1

Arctic Jaeger (immature)

I was walking along Nobby’s beach a couple of days ago, with the wide angle lens to capture the sunrise, when two birds came flying fast from out to sea. It was a crested tern, being chased by an arctic jaeger. Several people then reported seeing groups of two or three behind Ocean Baths and in the mouth of the harbour. I regretted missing the photo opportunity.

But yesterday I was at Walsh Point in a grey dawn when two immature birds flew across the basin and up river, calling loudly.

Map picture

BTW Arctic Jaeger tshirts are available from Zazzle.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Owen Wilson, Dustin Hoffman, and Jack Black go birding

The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature, and a Fowl Obsession by Mark Obmascik is being made into a movie starring Owen Wilson, Dustin Hoffman, and Jack Black.

In 1998 three birders, Sandy Komito, Al Levantin and Greg Miller, chased Komito's record of 721 birds in North America. In the end Sandy Komito kept his record, listing an astonishing 745 birds. Many in the birding community believe this record may never be broken, as 1998 was one of the strongest El Niño years on record and many vagrant birds ended up in North America.

Whether Owen et al can match the on-screen presence of Hunter Valley birdos Mick, Steve, and others in Chasing Birds, is doubtful, but with that cast it should be funny. Hopefully it can maintain the humour/respect balance of the book.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Walsh Point Reserve


Both the dogs and I had a little luck today. First we were walking down the track when a hare came hopping down the middle of the track straight towards us. Duz and Thommo couldn’t believe their eyes, especially when as they started to run towards it, it froze. It soon came to its senses and started to run, quickly outstripping them, but they had never been so close to a hare. Usually they don’t see them until they run, so they are a long way behind and no match for the hare’s speed.

Then I saw this Far Eastern Curlew browsing amongst the oysters. They generally take off with their heart-stopping cry before I even see them. But this guy was happy to continue ambling about while I put the dogs in a down stay and edged closer. I took a couple of dozen shots (though it was early and heavily overcast) then collected  the dogs and walked on, leaving him still wandering around the mudflat.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Stockton Sand Spit


Red-capped Plover - immature

Having done a good deal of work since walking the dogs at dawn, I rewarded myself with a trip out to the Stockton Sand Spit, arriving around ninety minutes after high tide. There were good numbers of birds in the lagoon and salt marsh, and on the beach. There were two men collecting weed from the closest part of the lagoon, so  the birds were further out.  I crept out through the mangroves on the north side of the causeway, and got good views of the two pied oystercatcher runners, both quite grown up, one a little more independent of the parents than the other.

Three kinds of egret and a spoonbill were fishing in the shallows of the river. A large group of stilt hung around just off shore and a big group of godwit edged the beach. Curlews waited in the salt marsh.

I found a spot where I could sit on a log behind a grass tuft without putting up even the masked lapwing.  I didn’t have to wait long until a group of red-capped plover ambled up beside me to forage. The curlew were coming closer. And the godwit were near enough for me to identify at least one black-tailed among the bar-tailed. Terns and gulls were diving for fish.

Then they all took off. One of the weed gatherers was marching straight through the middle of the roost.


I waited half an hour but only the white-faced herons returned. However a peregrine falcon flew over, momentarily low enough for an ID shot.

Bird list.

  • Peregrine Falcon
  • Red-capped Plover
  • Masked Lapwing
  • White-faced Heron
  • Little Egret
  • Eastern Great Egret
  • Intermediate Egret
  • Royal Spoonbill
  • Black-tailed Godwit
  • Bar-tailed Godwit
  • Far Eastern Curlew
  • Whimbrel
  • Pied Oystercatcher
  • White-necked Stilt
  • Australian White Ibis
  • Silver Gull
  • Crested Tern
  • Gull-billed Tern
  • Common Tern
  • Little Black Cormorant
  • Pied Cormorant
  • Superb Fairywren
  • Little Wattlebird
  • Rock Dove

Monday, January 18, 2010

Hunter Wetlands


20100118_42_1 Cattle Egret with young

Stopped at the Wetlands for an hour while at work today. The ponds are all drying out, which does provide the opportunity to put in new paths and bridges, and to have a general clean-up, but it’s a bit depressing. Egret numbers are way down on last year, continuing a declining trend over several years. Cattle, Eastern Great, and Intermediate Egrets all had young, and there were young ibis on nests, but not in the huge numbers we have previously seen here.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Belmont Lagoon


Large groups of tree martins and white-breasted wood-swallows flocked in the trees alongside Tea-tree Creek and perched on the wires above. Both groups included significant numbers of immature birds.

Emu wrens were in their usual spot at the end of the pipeline track, but defied photographic capture. Variegated fairy-wrens were plentiful, as were tawny grass-birds. Black swans were on the move, flying into the lagoon from the lake over the highway. An azure kingfisher changed perch in a flash of blue, and a great egret proudly displayed its breeding colours.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Final VicTwitch 2009

Tim Dolby's Bird Trip Reports: Final VicTwitch09

Tim ends 2009 with 345 birds seen in Victoria. His full report makes interesting reading and suggests that Where to see Birds in Victoria would be a worthwhile purchase.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Stockton Channel



There was a bit of a feeding frenzy in the Stockton Channel of the Hunter River this evening with a large group of Silver Gulls and Great Crested and Common Terns diving into a school of fish.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Blackbutt Reserve


Buff-banded Rail

Blackbutt Reserve is 182 hectares of ridge spurs and sheltered gullies, just ten minutes from downtown Newcastle. While most visitors stay close to the Black Duck picnic area, there are kilometres of trails through a variety of habitats. Near the picnic area are a series of enclosures where visitors can get close-up views of a number of bird and animal species.

Today, after ten days of rain, quite a few of the birds were sunning themselves with spread wings - this rail offering a great view of his beautifully patterned feathers.

Map picture

Monday, January 4, 2010

Walsh Point Reserve



A Swamp Harrier cruised past with a pair of Masked Lapwing in noisy pursuit.

Map picture

(Windows Live Writer has a handy insert map feature)

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Soldier’s Point

20100102_47_1 Red-necked Stint

20100102_100_1 Pied Oystercatcher

20100102_216_1 Pacific Golden Plover

20100102_335_1 Curlew Sandpiper


Ruddy Turnstone

Over the summer Australia has an influx of around two million waders, which like the backpackers who arrive in similar numbers, are escaping the northern hemisphere winter. Like the backpackers again, they are distributed around the beaches of Australia. The full moon of New Year’s Day provided us with extreme tides, uncovering the intertidal flats at Soldier’s Beach on the central coast, and the sun was almost shining through the clouds so Maureen, Alwyn and I met up to capture some of the visitors. Of course as we arrived at the car-park above the beach it started to rain, so we grabbed coffees and huddled under the little available shelter while Maureen told us about all the great birds that were at this spot the day before.

The rain did stop, the sun even came out for a little while, before a late afternoon thunderstorm. We were able to run interference on holidaymakers determined to wander into the middle of the feeding birds, while gently edging close enough ourselves for some photos. As well as the birds above, the rock shelf held Silver Gulls, Great Crested Terns and Little Black Cormorants. A Terek Sandpiper flew on to the far edge of the platform, but didn’t come close enough for more than an ID shot.

(I’m trying Windows Live Writer for this blog post.)

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Stockton Channel

These common terns are not so common around here. They spend the summers in Australia, roosting in estauries on sandbars or as here on conveniently place channel markers. Groups of fifty or so birds have been seen off Nobby's Beach during December, though during the summer up to a thousand birds have been reported on the sand bars in the mouth of the Brisbane river in Queensland. Fascinating to watch as they dive headfirst after small fish, but easy to fill a card trying to capture them in action.


The sun was out for a moment this morning, though by the end of our walk I could have entered a wet t-shirt competition, had there been one in the area. Lots of little birds including three very cute baby grey fantails, playing baby bird games, and a horsfield's bronze cuckoo singing his heart out. They are apparently mostly silent outside the breeding season. Also in abundance was this guys preferred host, the superb fairywren. White-browed scrub wrens scolded, and red-browed firefails disappeared into the bitou bush with a flash of red.
At the last HBOC meeting a proposal was put forward to have individuals take responsibility for surveying specific small territories, as a way of ensuring an up-to-date bird atlas of the Hunter Region. Sounds like the patchwatching Simon describes. Bob suggested that I take on the land beside the HiFert factory as my patch - I guess there aren't too many people who are birding the off-leash dog exercise areas. I like the idea of setting up a feeding station in my HiFert 'patch'. I put away my home feeder after inadvertently feeding a dove to a sparrowhawk.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Hunter River

In recent years Pied Oystercatchers have been reported mating and nesting at this spot, but this is the first time I have seen young here. The two babies were first reported two weeks ago, and seem to be making steady progress towards maturity. They are in a patch of saltmarsh, which offers protection for the young birds. Recent visitors to the site have seen only one of the runners, and it was feared that one was predated, so I was thrilled to see the two of them today. The other parent was just out of the frame to the left (this is a heavily cropped shot taken with a 500mm lens, and I left before the birds became aware of me.)

The Pied Oystercatcher is officially listed as 'threatened' in New South Wales. While they are found all along the coast, they are thinly scattered.

They are primarily found on the intertidal flats of inlets and bays, where they forage at low tide, for molluscs, worms, crabs and small fish. The chisel-like bill is used to pry open or break into shells of oysters and other shellfish.

The Pied Oystercatcher nests mostly on coastal or estuarine beaches although occasionally they use saltmarsh or grassy areas. Nests are shallow scrapes in sand above the high tide mark, often amongst seaweed, shells and small stones, where they lay two to three eggs. The young leave the nest to forage beside the parents after three or four days.

The major threats to the Pied Oystercatcher are disturbances to their preferred areas by recreational vehicles, habitat destruction through development, and predation of eggs and chicks.