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.