Darwin, Kakadu and Northern Territory Birding-October, 2017

On October 22 I boarded the 1:45 p.m. bus from Deniliquin to Melbourne’s Southern Cross Station, and then the Skybus to the airport, in time to board my 7:55 p.m. flight to Darwin.  Arriving in Darwin after 10:00 p.m., the Darwin Airport Novotel Hotel turned out to be an easy, and short, walk from the airport.  My scheduled 7:00 a.m. next morning start for a day of birding at Fogg Dam fell through due to the illness of the guide that Experience the Wild had assigned to me.  I used the morning to bird in the park near the hotel.  In the afternoon, my guide, Diana, was well enough to provide an interesting afternoon of birding in areas around Darwin.

During the morning I saw a few new birds, including several Torresian Imperial Pigeons and Red-collared Lorikeets.  In the afternoon Diana drove us to a nearby mangrove park where we were able walk on a boardwalk to a bench in the mangroves where we sat quietly and observed several flycatchers, kingfishers and other small birds.  We then drove to a park overlooking the water, where good sightings included a nesting Eastern Reef Heron with chick and several Beach Stone-curlews.  We then drove out of the city to a location where Diana has had success in the past with Rainbow Pittas, but none was to be seen, the first miss for her in 18 trips.  Sitting high in a large tree where we entered the park, were 2 Radjah Shelducks, completing my sweep of the Australian ducks.  We were able to observe a few Magpie Geese, the seventh and final new family that I had been hoping to see, and did see, in Australia. Although called a goose, the Magpie Goose is not part of the large Anatadae family, but instead is the sole member of the Anseranatadae family.  We saw a few Magpie Geese in Darwin, but in subsequent days they numbered in the 1000s in the Fogg Dam area and Kakadu National Park.

Diana was not well enough to conduct the rest of the Northern Territory tour to Kakadu. Experience the Wild owner, Mike Jarvis, arranged to have an independent guide, Luke Paterson, fill in for the next few days.  Luke, along with 2 other birders, Graham and Susan Kearns from Canberra, picked me up at the hotel the next morning and we headed for Kakadu, some 100 miles or so to the east.  But first, we stopped at Fogg Dam.  One of the first birds to show was a colorful Rainbow Pitta, the one that Diana and I had searched for the day before with no success.  Water birds present, some in large numbers, included Brolgas (storks) and many Magpie Geese.  As we ate our “take-out” breakfast in a little pull-out near the dam, Rose-crowned Fruit Doves dined high in the trees above us.  After venturing on foot out on the dam, always on the lookout for crocs, we drove on toward Kakadu.

Kakadu is a large national park.  The land is owned by several aboriginal clans, or groups, and is jointly(?) managed with the government.  It has been designated an important UNESCO World Heritage Area. It boasts woodlands, wetlands, plateaus, escarpments, waterfalls, rivers, aboriginal rock art sites, birds, mammals, crocodiles, and unique vegetation.   Unfortunately, invasive species of animals and vegetation create serious problems for the native flora and fauna. Many feral (domestic animals gone wild) buffalo (not the bison kind), pigs, horses (brumbies), and donkeys, roam and damage the park.  Invasive Cane Toads, toxic to much wild life, are present.  Invasive grasses have spread and pose a problem for native vegetation and wildlife, including birds.

We stopped at the entrance to Kakadu for a picture of Graham and Susan Kearns and me.

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and Luke:

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Toward evening we visited one of the rock art sites, an old occupational site called Burrungkuy (often misidentified as Nourlangie Rock).  One of the more famous and interesting works is this aborigine depiction of the Creator in the dreamtime, (the larger figure), and his wife.

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The rock art is definitely worth seeing.  We hiked on up to a vantage point  looking to the east toward the large territory within Northern Territory, called Arnhem Land, the name reflecting the influence of the Dutch historical explorations of the northern coast of Australia.  This Arnhem Land Escarpment shone in the afternoon light.

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Among the birds seen at Kakadu were:

Comb-crested Jacanas

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Lemon-bellied Flycatcher

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Forest Kingfisher

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Pied Heron

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Whistling Ducks and Magpie Geese

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The next morning we arose very early (at Luke’s insistence) to claim the best birding seats on board a ~30 passenger sightseeing boat on a slow cruise of the Yellow Water.

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This slow-paced cruise was perfect for viewing the life of the River, including

this Nankeen Night Heron dangerously close to one of the many Salt Water Crocodiles.

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Buffalo bull was cooling himself at the edge of the river, serving as a perch for a Western Cattle Egret.

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We were pleased to find two lovely Kingfishers, an Azure Kingfisher

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and a Little Kingfisher

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Other photographs by Luke include:

Great-billed Heron

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Grey Goshawk

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Pied Cormorant

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Plumed Whistling Duck

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White-gaped Honeyeater

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Susan is here pictured with one of the many Giant Termite Mounds scattered throughout the Park.

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We drove south through the park to the little town of Pine Creek, where we would spend our last evening before returning to Darwin.  As we drove into Pine Creek, several lovely Hooded Parrots  were loitering near a water pipe.

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At dinner in the local restaurant that night we met Mike Jarvis, the owner of Experience the Wild, who was dining there with clients.  The next morning, Luke insisted (again) that we get a very early start to have the best shot of seeing one of Australia’s most colorful birds, Gouldian Finches, when they came to drink at a little hole in an otherwise dry river.

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Also making its appearance near the water hole was a Crimson Finch.

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Other birds seen as we wound our way back to Darwin were:

Pacific Baza

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Pink-eared Ducks and friends

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One of the more interesting features were these Magnetic Termite Mounds.

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Magnetic termites are only found in the Darwin area of Northern Territory.  The colony looks like a cemetery, with slab-shaped grave stones up to 10 feet high, all oriented with the narrow sides to the north and south.  Hence, “magnetic”, I suppose, for orientation toward the magnetic north pole.  It is said that this is to stabilize mound temperature by minimizing heat from the noon-day sun, while maximizing the heat from the cooler morning (east) and evening (west) rays.

I finished the Darwin, Northern Territory portion of my trip with 139 bird species seen, of which 62 were new life birds.  Luke was an excellent guide and fun to be with.  Graham and Susan were unexpected participants on the trip, and my thanks to them for making the time so enjoyable.  Graham and Luke provided the photographs for this blog and allowed me to use them.  Thanks to them both.

The next morning I will fly from Darwin to Alice Springs, about 1,000 kilometers south but still in Northern Territory, for my final 2 days of birding in Australia.  Mark Carter, Alice Springs Birding Guide, is supposed to meet me at the airport when I arrive at 9:00 a.m., and he does so in spite of some last minute confusion regarding the time of my arrival.  Birding around Alice Springs will be the subject of my 5th and final October, 2017 Australian birding blog.  That will be a while in coming, though, because Mark’s computer was ruined by torrential rains (Yes, in Alice Springs), but he expects to recover the pictures and send them to me for inclusion in my Alice Springs blog, sometime in January, 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Plains Wanderer Birding – October, 2017

If there were no Plains Wanderers in Australia, I would not have made this trip.  This strange little bird, the only species within its family (Pedionomidae), is critically endangered.  Birdlife International reports that there are less than 1,000 remaining.  They live in grasslands in various, widely separated pockets of southeastern Australia.  As agricultural acreage has expanded, the habitat for the Plains Wanders has nearly disappeared.  To add to their woes, introduced foxes prey on these little ground-nesters, who are also poor fliers, who escape from predators, if at all, by running.

If the Plains Wanderer is not to become extinct, substantial credit for its survival needs to be awarded to Philip Maher of Australian Ornithological Services, who conducts the Plains Wanderer weekends several times a year.  He has spent years studying the Plains Wanderer near Deniliquin, in the Murray River Valley of New South Wales.  Along with his own work on habitat restoration, he has enlisted the support of some local ranchers who have made adjustments to their practices to maintain habitat.  One of these, Robert Nevinson, served as a co-guide on Philip’s Plains Wanderer Weekend. They are a good team, and the results of this intensive 2 days of birding were impressive.  I, and I am quite sure I can speak for the other 7 guest-participants, could not have hoped for a more interesting and productive week-end of birding than Philip and Robert guided. Although the Plains Wanderer was the highlight, we saw many other Murray River Valley birds on this intensive week end of birding.

One of the trip participants was Peter Bundgard from Denmark, an avid photographer, who has graciously provided the pictures contained in this blog and allowed me to use them here. To go right to the point, here are his pictures of the male Plains Wanderer

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And the larger and more colorful female Plains Wanderer,

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Very difficult to spot in daylight, we spent a most interesting night, primarily on Robert’s ranch, looking for and finally spotting this pair.  They proved to be most cooperative, taking little notice of us as we sat in our vehicles nearby, and Peter photographed to his heart’s content.  These birds are unusual:  the male incubates the eggs and raises the young; the female, after laying her eggs and occupying her mate with hatching the eggs and raising the kids, seeks another male companion and reproduces again.  In good years, she can produce several broods through this efficient arrangement.

Also seen on the night drive were:

Banded Lapwings,

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Inland Dotterls,

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Barn Owls

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To add to this impressive list of grassland birds, we were treated to decent, if short, looks at Little Buttonquails and Stubble Quail.  Arriving back at our hotel around midnight we battened down for a short night’s rest, as the next morning our birding weekend was to continue.

To backtrack a bit, our weekend of birding began at 6:30 a.m. Saturday morning, recessed for a brief rest between 1:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m., and continued with our night birding excursion beginning about 3:00 p.m. and ending at midnight.  Philip and Robert picked us up again about 7:00 a.m. Sunday morning and we birded until they delivered me to the Denilquin bus station about 1:45 p.m.

Among the birds photographed by Peter during these two days were:

Baillon’s Crake  (New)

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Royal Spoonbill

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Black Honeyeater (New)

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Crested Shrike-tit (Eastern Subspecies)(New)

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Emus

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Rainbow Bee-eater

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Superb Parrot (New)

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Square-tailed Kite (New)

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White-fronted Honeyeater (New)

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and Yellow-billed Spoonbill

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Other new species  seen on this weekend were:  Spotted Harrier, Collared Sparrowhawk, Black Falcon, Australian Spotted Crake, Long-billed Corellas (plentiful around our hotel), Yellow Rosellas, Blue Bonnets, Red-rumped Parrots (also plentiful), Horsfield’s Bronze Cuckoo, Tawny Frogmouth, Australian Owlet Nightjar, Azure Kingfisher,  Buff-rumped Thornbill, Yellow Thornbill, Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater, Little Friarbird, Blue-faced Honeyeater, Scarlet Honeyeater, Pied Honeyeater, Black Honeyeater, Red-capped Robin, White-browed Babbler, Varied Sitella, several Woodswallows, Pied Butcherbirds, Little Ravens, White-backed Swallows, Fairy Martins, and Brown Songlarks.

The participants represented several countries:  Australia, Wales, Denmark, Netherlands and the U.S. (of which I, like Tigger, was the only one).  Several of the participants have travelled widely and have an extensive world bird list.  I added 52 new species to mine in the two days.

For others who would like to participate in one of these Plains Wanderer Weekends in the future, and who do not feel comfortable driving on the wrong side of the road, I was pleased with the ease and affordability of  the public connections.  From the Melbourne Airport you can travel by Skybus (they run every few minutes) to the Southern Cross Bus Station in downtown Melbourne, and by bus (one a day) from there to Deniliquin (it takes about 4 hours).  Directions are clear.

On the return, the bus left Deniliquin at 1:45 and arrived at the Southern Cross Station about 5:30, in ample time for me to skybus to the airport and board my 7:55 p.m. flight to Darwin.  My next adventure, all in Northern Territory, was Darwin, Kakadu National Park, Pine Creek, and from thence to Alice Springs.  Blogs to follow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tasmania Birding – October, 2017

From Western Australia I arrived in Hobart, Tasmania on the afternoon of October 15.  I had made arrangements with Coreena Vieth through Tours by Locals for her to pick me up at my Airport Travelodge Hotel at 7:00 a.m. the next morning.  Our itinerary for the 16th was to drive to the ferry to Maria Island.  Maria Island is home to an introduced colony of Cape Barren Geese, and this was a species I particularly wanted to see, and was not likely to see on Bruny Island, my main birding destination in Tasmania.  Some of these Cape Barren Geese proved to be quite tame.

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Some areas of the island are cropped very short due to the high population of Australian endemic mammals, including Forester’s (Eastern Grey) Kangaroos

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Wombats (Mum and Bub)

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Pademelon

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Pademelon with Joey

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Unfortunately for the geese, endangered Tasmanian Devils have also been introduced to the island and have done well, foraging at night on geese and their eggs.  As the devils are nocturnal, I did not get a look at one on the island.  The future of the Cape Barren Geese on Maria does not look promising, based on recent studies on the impact of the devils on the wildlife on Maria Island.   Reference the Tassiedevil website.

I invited Coreena to take as many pictures as she liked because I did not have a camera and wanted to have some pictorial record of the birds and animals found on Maria.  Fortunately, she is a talented photographer, and welcomed the opportunity to use her skills while guiding me about the island.  All of the pictures in this blog (except those taken by Cat on Bruny Island) were taken by Coreena, who graciously permitted me to use them here.

We spent the entire day on Maria, and during the course of the day, I, with help from Coreena who in addition to photography and general tour guiding, knows a bit about birds, was able to identify a fair number of interesting birds, including the following:

Pacific Gull

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White-fronted Chat 

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Nankeen Kestrel

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Tasmanian Native Hen (Endemic)

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Flame Robin feeding Chick

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Scarlet Robin

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We boarded the last ferry from Maria to mainland Tasmania, and Coreena drove me to the Oyster Cove Inn in Kettering.  The Inn was still serving food when I arrived and after a pleasant welcome and a good meal, I settled in and the next morning I walked the short distance to the Bruny Island Ferry. The little restaurant at the ferry landing opened in time for a good breakfast of bacon (Tasmanian bacon is excellent) and eggs, before departing for the half hour ride over to Bruny Island.

I was met at the Bruny Island landing by Cat Davidson, who was to be my professional bird guide for the next 2 days.  She is one of several guides working  for Inala, a first rate hotel within a private reserve of some 1500 acres, with excellent birding itineraries for guests.   All 12 of Tasmania’s endemic bird species can be found on Bruny Island, many of them on the Inala premises, and we managed to find 11 of them during our 2 days.   The only one missed was the Scrubtit.  The ones seen were Green Rosellas, Strong-billed Honeyeaters, Black-headed Honeyeaters, Yellow Wattlebirds, Forty-spotted Pardalotes, Tasmanian Scrubwrens, Black Currawongs, Dusky Robins, Tasmanian Native Hens (pictured above) and Yellow-throated Honeyeaters

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Cat is involved in bird conservation as well as guiding, and she and her partner (who was working on a documentary) had access to the restricted conservation area along the beach where the Little Penguins come ashore at night to find their way into burrows in the sand dunes, where they lay their eggs and raise their young.  At the same location, thousands of Short-tailed Petrels arrive by air at dusk to dive into the dunes near cavities where they, too, nest, sometimes brushing by within inches of our heads.  The night was still and clear, and the penguins and shearwaters arrived on schedule to provide a fascinating night-time show. Having seen this phenomenon up close, as the show-time wound down and we started the trek back along the beach, I asked that we stop and turn off our flashlights so we could just stand quietly and look at the billions of stars shining brightly in the dark sky. The Southern Cross, always a delight to me when I have the good luck to be in the southern hemisphere when it is visible, shone, although a bit low to the horizon.

In addition to the 11 endemic species seen in Tasmania, and the Little Penguins and Cape Barren Geese, the following new species were added: Grey Goshawk (white morph), Hooded Dotterel, Pallid Cuckoo, Fan-tailed Cuckoo, Crescent Honeyeaters, White-fronted Chats (pictured above), Brown Thornbills, Grey Currawongs, Forest Ravens, Pink Robins, Flame Robins (pictured above), and a Beautiful Firetail.

Among the many lovely Bruny Island birds were these, photographed by Cat and used here with her permission:

Blue-winged Parrot

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Black-faced Cormorant

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Hooded Plover 

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Brown Thornbill

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Grey Shrike-Thrush (skirmishing with itself on our outside rear view mirror)

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A stop at the Mavista Rainforest produced a couple of the new birds.

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An interesting mammal encountered nearby was this Echidna, showing mostly its bum.

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Having completed 2 full days of birding on Bruny Island, and 2 nights in the beautiful and secluded Narina Cabin on the Inala property, Cat took me back to the ferry and Coreena met me on the other side.  As I mentioned in my Western Australia blog, one of the high priority new species that I wanted to see was Australia’s rarest duck, the Freckled Duck.  Coincidentally, Cat knew just where, on the Tasmania side, a dozen or more Freckled Ducks had been seen in recent weeks, and she coordinated with Coreena on location.

Coreena and I worked around a light rain which lasted most of the day, first touring the city of Hobart, learning the history of area, and then driving to the “Freckled Duck Location.”  There (Gould’s Lagoon, I believe) we found one of the highlights of my trip, a flock of at least a dozen Freckled Ducks. 

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At the same location were Black Swans

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Australian Pelicans

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And a good assortment of other water birds.

We completed our day visiting Russell Falls, at Mount Field National Park.

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Returning to my hotel at the Hobart Airport, I retired early to be ready for my 6:05 a.m. flight to Melbourne.  There I would “Skybus” from the airport to the Southern Cross Station in downtown Melbourne, there to board a long-distance bus to Deniliquin, in the Murray River Valley.  I arrived in time to walk to a nearby grocery store for some victuals, and arose early the next morning to participate in Philip Maher’s intensive Plains Wanderer Week-end.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Perth and SW Australia Birding – October, 2017

I left Des Moines about 6:00 p.m. on October 8 and I arrived in Perth about noon on the 10th of October, 2017.  Perth is 14 hours ahead of Des Moines.  My birding guide, Peter Taylor, was not to be available until the 12th, so I improvised with some self-guided birding around my hotel in Perth on the afternoon of the 10th and again on the 11th.

Geographically, Perth is to Australia as Los Angeles is to the United States: located toward the south end of the west coast.  Both are at about the 30th parallel, Los Angeles on the North Latitude, Perth on the South.  Perth is the capital of Western Australia.  Western Australia makes up the western third of the Australian continent, and contains about 10% of the population of Australia.  About ninety percent of that 10% resides in the Perth area and to the southwest of Perth.  Wikipedia has a good article on Western Australia.

At Peter’s suggestion I stayed at Sullivan’s Hotel and birded around the grounds and the small wetland across the road on the 10th and 11th.  Rainbow Lorikeets were plentiful and colorful.  This spectacular Australian species is not native to Western Australia, and as an introduced species has proliferated at the expense of other cavity nesting parrots.  They are now considered a pest by local birders, even though they are a colorful addition to the city.  I managed to get a picture of a pair of Rainbow Lorikeets on my cell phone, such as it is.

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Other species found in Perth were Little Corellas, Singing Honeyeaters, New Holland Honeyeaters, White-cheeked Honeyeaters, Black-faced Cuckooshrikes, Magpie Larks, several species of ducks, and other water-dwelling birds such as grebes, ibis, herons, cormorants, darters, swamphens, moorhens, coots, and Silver Gulls.

On the 11th I hiked up (really, up) to nearby King’s Park and Botanic Garden and it was well worth the hike.  The gardens are spectacular.

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The view of Perth from Kings Park is probably the best available in the area.

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As a plus, the King’s Park restaurant serves good food.  I ordered Shepard’s Pie, which was delicious and a go-to choice on my menu thereafter.

In the afternoon I hired a taxi to take me to Herdsman’s Lake, located just a few miles north of my hotel, where I hoped to find 2 of the Australian ducks (Blue-billed and Freckled) that I had never seen before, and both of which had been reported seen on Herdsman in recent weeks.  My taxi driver dropped me off at “Herdsman’s Lake”, which had many ducks and people and turned out not to be Herdsman’s Lake at all.  A fellow noticed me walking around distractedly looking through my binoculars at various common ducks and other water birds, and he came up and introduced himself, inquiring if I was birding.  The answer was obvious, but I said yes, and that I had thought the lake would be a bit less crowded with humans and common ducks.  He asked what lake I thought it was and when I said Herdsman, he laughed and said this was not Herdsman, but Herdsman was not far away and if I wished, he would drive me there.  Turned out he was an Uber driver, with no fares for the afternoon.  He drove me over to Herdsman’s Lake and then proceeded to join me hiking around the lake.  He knew a bit about the local fauna, and together we managed to watch what he identified as a Tiger Snake (poisonous) crossing a few feet in front of us as we trod the dirt path around the lake.  We spotted a fair number of Blue-billed Ducks, one of the two species I was specifically looking for.  No luck on the Freckled Duck, though, which was the other, and is Australia’s rarest duck.  He then drove me back to Sullivan’s Hotel and did not want to charge me anything, which I did not allow.  With the spotting of the Blue-billed ducks, I now lacked only 2 duck species found in Australia for my life list:  the Freckled Ducks, which were iffy, and Radjah Shelducks, which I was pretty confident of finding later on my trip in the Darwin area in Northern Territory.

At 7:00 a.m. on the 12th Peter picked me up at the hotel, and since I had pretty well exhausted the birding possibilities in Perth itself, we immediately proceeded to drive southeast about 100 miles through the beautiful south-western Australia country-side toward Dryandra Woodland. Wikipedia has a good article about Dryandra for those who care to dig deeper.  On the way I spotted a small, dove-like bird along the road, which turned out to be a Painted Buttonquail.  This unexpected sighting was my first of the elusive Buttonquail family. Although widely spread throughout the world, I had never seen any of the species in this family, and to see one was a reason I had selected Australia for this trip.  Unfortunately, when we turned around in the road to go back for a better look, or even possibly a picture, it was gone.

The largest family group of birds in Australia is the Honeyeater family (Meliphagidae ), with about 75 species, (including honeyeaters, spinebills, miners, wattlebirds, chats, and friarbirds).  The second largest family group of birds in Australia is the Parrot family (Psittacacidae ) with about 40 species (including parrots, lorikeets, rosellas, and the budgerigar).  Somewhat similar to the parrots is the Cacatuidae family (cockatoos, corellas, cockatiel and galah).  As we entered the dry, open woods of Dryandra, we began to see new (for me) birds of these 3 families, and others.   Among the others was a flock of White-browed Babblers, one of the Australian Pseudo-babbler (Pomatostomidae) family and the second new family of the trip for me.

Among the sightings southwest of Perth were these, all photographed by Peter:

Regent Parrot

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Red-tailed Black Cockatoo (Forest)

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Purple-crowned Lorikeet

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Elegant Parrot

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During the course of the next 2 days, I was pleased to see most of the Western Australia endemics, i.e., birds found nowhere but in Western Australia.  They included Carnaby’s Black Cockatoo, Baudin’s Black Cockatoo, Western Corella, Red-capped Parrot, Western Rosella, Red-winged Fairywren, Gilbert’s Honeyeater, Western Wattlebird, Western Spinebill, Western Thornbill, White-breasted Robin, and Red-eared Firetail.

On our first night out, we lodged near the Sterling Mountain Range.  The highlight of this locale was a good look at a new species within a new family for me, a Western Crested Shrike-tit.  The classification of this bird  has been subject to several recent changes, but the current consensus is that it is the only species within a [new] family, Falcunculidae. Assuming this to be the case, then it was my second new family seen in Australia.  There are 3 disjunct sub-species of this family, Western (the bird seen here) Eastern (seen later on the trip), and Northern (not seen).  Some believe they are each a separate species, but so far that split has not been generally accepted.

There are 2 other Western Australia endemic species that I especially wished to see because they are within a family of which I had not previously seen any species.  These were rare and elusive Noisy Scrub-birds and Western Bristlebirds. Both of these birds are basically brown and non-descript.

In the Cheynes Beach area on the southwest coast (by the Southern Ocean) Peter and I spent several hours hoping for a sighting of the extremely elusive Noisy Scrub-bird. The Noisy Scrub-bird is one of only two species in the Atrichornithdae Family, found only in Australia. Both species are endangered, and the Noisy Scrub-bird was thought to be extinct until rediscovered in 1961. In the thick, low-growing brush just off the beach, the ringing call of a Noisy Scrub-bird could be heard constantly.  But to see it, one needed to anticipate where on a particular path through the brush it might cross.  This is a small, plain, nearly flightless bird, that survives by its elusiveness.  Finally, the calls seemed to come closer, and suddenly it ran quickly across the path, in less than a second.  It was far from a good look, but Peter assured me it was as good as it gets, so Western Australia provided (this fleeting glimpse of) the third new Family of the trip to add to my life list.

From the beach area, we hiked, up-hill on a soft and mushy sand track, into the surrounding hilly, heath covered area in search of the second target bird, the Western Bristlebird.  As the sun was setting, I struggled farther and farther along, listening for the Bristlebird, until I finally gave in and told Peter I needed to start back or I might not make it.  So we came back to our lodging for the night, empty handed.

The next morning we rose early and birded with good success around the campground.  After finding most of the possible new species for that particular habitat, Peter asked if I would be up to another attempt to find the Bristlebird, and hopefully, another sand-dune rarity that we had heard but not seen the night before, Western Whipbird.  I agreed and within minutes we had a quick view of the Bristlebird, as it scurried across the path ahead of us giving me another new (Dasyornithidae) Family, number 4 for the trip.  We still failed to spot a Western Whipbird.  (The Western Whipbird is one of 3 species in the Australian Psophodidae family, and, having seen an Eastern Whipbird while spending a little time at O-Reilly’s many years ago, it would not have been a new family for me, some consolation).

We spotted several “near” endemic species during the course of our travel through southwestern Western Australia, including Rufous Treecreepers, Blue-breasted Fairywrens, Western Whistlers, and Western Yellow Robins.

western-yellow-robin-blog

 

We made the long drive back to Perth, stopping along the way for looks at several new species.  My days in Western Australia produced an almost even split between species that I had seen before (48) and new species (49).

Peter Taylor fit me into his busy spring-time guiding schedule, and I am grateful to him for that.  He is a fine guide and a good companion.  I wish to acknowledge his photographs of the parrots and yellow robin shown above, as well as of the Western Grey Kangaroo, seen during our travels.

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Back to Sullivan’s Hotel for the night and off at 7:00 a.m. for the long plane ride eastward to Tasmania, to be reported on in my next blog.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bhutan 2017 – The Kingdom of Happiness

As interesting as the birds are the history, culture and current life in Bhutan.  The country is landlocked, bordered by Tibet to the north and the remainder by India.

First, History:  Many of the Dzongs and Temples built in prior centuries retain their beauty and their importance for the cultural identification of Bhutan with its Buddhist roots.  They are stunning architectural gems that combine governance and spirituality.  We especially enjoyed our morning at Punakha Dzong with one of our local Bhutanese guides, who was very knowledgeable of the history and religious art and artifacts which adorn the premises.

punakha-dzong-1 punakha-dzong-2 punakha-dzong-4

 

Prayer Wheel

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Prayer flags are flying everywhere

prayer-flags

 

and large pictures of the king and queen are very prominent.

king-queen

 

Culture:  Our impression of the people of Bhutan is that many of the people are artists who have a deep appreciation of nature and beauty; not so much, science and engineering.  Many homes, even in the remote and humble villages, are decorated attractively and speak of the pride of the occupants.   Much of the ancient forest is preserved and wild life thrives.

village-home

 

Our Bhutanese guide told us that all children attend free public education through 10th grade.  At that point a test is given to determine who will continue for two more years.  Here is a young boy walking to school.

school-boy

 

Archery is the national sport.  The targets are small and at a long distance away.

archery

 

The physical aspects of the country lend to its preservation.  Mountainous it is, and to a degree that cannot be appreciated until you have gone into the high, rural areas, where the road (singular is appropriate) is difficult and dangerous.  We were blessed with a very skilled driver and we were most appreciative of his good judgment, caution and constant good humor.  Guides are certainly important, but we came to the conclusion that a good driver is absolutely essential.  We had one.

On many days in the mountains we experienced low-hanging clouds.

low-clouds

 

Current Life:  City life (Paro, Thimpu, some others), bustles, but with infrastructure in need of work and no traffic lights.

traffic-cop

 

Rural life is primitive.

rural-life-1 rural-life-2

 

Witness the method of cultivation of the fields.

cultivating-1 cultivating-2

 

Bhutan is viewed as a model for proactive conservation initiatives.  The Kingdom has received international acclaim for its commitment to the maintenance of its biodiversity.

The government aims to promote conservation as part of its plan to target Gross National Happiness.  It currently has net zero greenhouse gas emissions because the small amount of pollution it creates is absorbed by the forests that cover most of the country.

 

 

Bhutan Birds — April, 2017 — Part 5

Let’s start with the Barbets.  A few years ago, all Barbets were just Barbets.  Recently, however, they were divided up into 3 families:  Asian, African and South American.  The 3 species of Asian Barbet we found in Bhutan were colorful and vocal.  Here they are:

Golden-Throated Barbet

golden-throated-barbet

 

Great Barbet

great-barbet

 

Blue-throated Barbet

blue-throated-barbet

 

Eurasian Jays have a huge range, so it was no surprise that we found some in Bhutan.

eurasian-jay

 

Scarlet Minivets, (only the males are scarlet, the females are bright yellow) represented one of several very similar Minivet species seen.

scarlet-minivet

 

Rufous Sibias were common and vocal all day long.

rufous-sibius

 

Birds with blue were frequently encountered.  Here are a couple of the prettiest:

Blue-fronted Redstart

blue-fronted-redstart

 

Blue-capped Rock Thrush

blue-capped-rock-thrush

 

Birds were not the only animate objects of attraction.  Along the way we saw Capped Langurs, many more Golden Langur Monkeys,

golden-langur-monkey

 

Macaques (both Assamese and Rhesus), Barking Deer,

barking-deer

 

Yellow-throated Martens, Otters and 4 species of Squirrel, including this impressive Giant Pied Squirrel

giant-pied-squirrel

 

This is not a trip for wimps.  We survived 7 nights in tents in the mountains several of them quite cold, and a lot of long, hard drives.  But for the service of our guides and the crew that made our meals, erected our tents and tended to our comfort, it would not have been doable.  Birding was mostly from the road.  Physically, we were not put to a hard test.  Most of the walking was either flat or down-mountain, with only a few gentle up-mountain hikes.  Some of the facilities were marginal.  We highly recommend it.

In my last report, I’ll focus on the history, culture, and current life in Bhutan.

 

Bhutan Birds — April, 2017 — Part 4

I am particularly fond of the Wood Warblers and Hummingbirds of North and South America.  They are, for the most part, small, quick, colorful and challenging to identify.  In Asia, the Sunbird family fills that niche.

Two beautiful and very similar Sunbird species are Mrs. Gould’s Sunbirds and Green-tailed Sunbirds.  Can you tell which is which?

mrs-goulds-sunbird green-tailed-sunbird-1 green-tailed-sunbird-2

(The first one above is Mrs. Gould’s, note the crimson mantle and back.  It is perched on one of the many rhododendron trees which were in full bloom.  The last two are Green-tailed)

 

Another colorful little bird is a member of the numerous Old World Flycatcher family.  Here is a Pygmy Blue Flycatcher.

pygmy-blue-flycatcher

 

More common, and as beautiful in their own right, were the Verditer Flycatchers.

verditer-flycatcher

 

The Ultramarine Flycatchers never seemed to show up in good light, but in good light, they were quite pleasing to the eye.

ultramarine-flycatcher

 

Many members of the Flycatcher family do not have a claim to pretty colors; they are often quite drab.  That makes identification even more of a challenge.

This Sultan Tit has a just claim to its name.

sultan-tit

 

Whereas the Blood Pheasants won Bird of the Trip award, what might have been a contender were the more difficult to see Silver-eared Mesias.

silver-eared-mesias

 

The next installment of the Bhutan birds seen on our recent trip will feature a mixture of the more interesting birds that cooperated with the in-house photographer, and that do not clearly fit in the “big bird” or “very small bird” categories, but represent a cross-section.  Also included will be a few of the animals we saw.

Bhutan Birds — April, 2017 —- Part 3

One of the rarest species in the world is the White-bellied Heron.  It has been a few years since any of these have been seen on the Vent tour, but this year, with help from others in the Bird Guide fraternity, we found one feeding along the river not far from our campground.  Unfortunately, it was a long way off so the picture of this White-bellied Heron is not especially good, but I include it merely because of the rarity of the bird.

white-bellied-heron

 

Hornbills, those amazing creatures, were fairly common.  The most numerous were the Rufous-necked Hornbills.  Odd looking and fun to see.

rufous-necked-hornbill-1 rufous-necked-hornbill-2

 

Common around our campground were Great Hornbills, but not quite as approachable as the Rufous-necked Hornbills.

great-hornbill-2 great-hornbill-1

 

This installment seems to focus on some of the large birds, so let’s continue with that theme.

This Himalayan Griffon appeared to be ill or injured in some way, although it did fly away.

himalayan-griffon

 

When I published my pheasant blog, I overlooked a photo of a Kalij Pheasant so here it is now.    Not as colorful as the other pheasants seen on this trip.

kalij-pheasant

 

Yellow-billed Blue Magpies were numerous.

yellow-billed-blue-magpie

 

Pin-tailed Green Pigeons enjoyed the fruits of one of the early fruiting mountain trees.  

pin-tailed-green-pigeons

The next Bhutan installment will feature a few of the more colorful small birds, including some stunning Sunbirds and an even more stunning Silver-eared Mesia.

Bhutan Bird Families – April 2017

One of the reasons we chose to go to Bhutan on a birding tour was that there are a few families of birds that can be found there that I had never seen.  These were: Ibisbill, Honeyguide, Cupwings (Wren-Babblers), and Fairy Bluebirds.   The Tour Company’s checklist from prior trips to the area included the possibility of finding at least one species in each of those.  We struck out on the Fairy Bluebird, but succeeded with the other three.

The first bird we saw after arriving at the Paro Airport was an Ibisbill.  This distinctly marked wader was easily observed along the rocky riverside near the Paro Airport.

ibisbill

There are over 15 or more species of Honeyguide, mostly in Africa, but with one or two in Bhutan.  We succeeded in finding at least 2 of these interesting honey fans.  Here is one of the Yellow-rumped Honeyguides that gave us some good views in what is apparently a frequently used perch near some cliff-dwelling bees.

yellow-rumped-honeyguide

The Cupwings were a challenge.  We spent quite a few hours on several days trying to spot one of these secretive and elusive little ground dwellers.  Barbara eventually spotted one on the opposite side of the road from where the rest of the group was searching vainly for the source of the song of a Scaly-breasted Cupwing.

scaly-breasted-cupwing

A second species of the Cupwing family that has been seen on some prior Bhutan tours is the Pygmy Cupwing, but we neither heard nor saw one of those on this trip.

Woodshrikes and Flycatcher-shrikes of certain species, based on genetic analysis, have been moved into the Vanga family.  Vangas have, until recently, been thought to exist only in the Madagascar area.  We did see both a Large Woodshrike and a Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike.

It is hard to keep up with all the changes going on in the scientific classification of birds.  As genetic studies proliferate, I suspect there will be many more changes.  The most current list of bird families and species is the Clements Checklist Version 2016 published by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.  It can be found on-line in a downloadable spreadsheet version.

My next installment will feature some of the more spectacular birds we saw, including Hornbills, as well as a distant view of one of the rarest birds on earth, the White-bellied Heron.

 

 

Pheasants in Bhutan

On April 6, 2017 Barbara and I left Des Moines as we boarded the first leg of our flight to Delhi, India.  A day or two of rest in Delhi then preceded our flight on April 9 to Paro, Bhutan, with the other 3 participants in the 2017 Victor Emanual Birding Tour of Bhutan.

From the plane we could see the beautiful Himalayan Mountains before landing at the ornate Paro airport.

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My prior blogs detailing our birding out of the U.S. usually approached the subject in chronological order.  This time I am going to do it differently.  I have chosen as the first installment to cover the most striking family of birds that we saw in Bhutan, the Pheasants, or Phasianidae. All 40 or so species of this family are native to Asia.  The Chinese Ringneck Pheasant has been introduced as a game bird around the world , and has adapted well.

Let’s start with what our group voted the bird of the trip, Blood Pheasants.  They were plentiful in the high altitudes, i.e. 10,000 to 14,000 feet above sea level.  As is common among the Phasianidae, the males are far more colorful than the hens.  Here are some of the many Blood Pheasant photos Barbara took.

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Behind the Blood Pheasants both in number and in favor among the 5 of us, were the Tragopans and Himalayan Monals (far fewer seen, shy and difficult to photograph).  The Monals are most often found well above 10,000 feet.  While downloading photos from the camera, something happened that erased about 60 photos from that time period, including the ones of the Monals.

It is hard to believe that a bird as beautiful as the Tragopan only rated a second place among the pheasants.  Here are photos of the male and female of this not so shy bird.

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At the lower altitudes we encountered a few Kalij Pheasants, which lack the brilliant coloration of their brethren shown above, but nevertheless are striking birds.

Two other pheasants shown in the Field Guide to the Birds of Bhutan were Grey Peacock Pheasants (quite plain, reportedly common, but not seen by our group) and Blyth’s Tragopan, (rare and not seen by our group).

Stay tuned for the next installment, which will feature the birds I saw which are representatives of families of birds that were new to me in Bhutan.   (There are about 240 families of birds world-wide, with over 10,000 species spread among them.  Some families have several hundred species, others with but one specie).