Monday, February 21, 2011

One door closes, another opens = Cancelled Pelagic results in great find!!

This weekend we were meant to be going on another Pelagic out of Port MacDonnell. We had all been focussed on the weather and I was checking my Weatherzone App on my Iphone regularly for updates as the reported 30 knot winds were not looking very helpful.

Friday we were told, yes we will still be going out, but the trip was changed to Saturday instead of sunday. This meant that I'd need to get to Stuart's house by 4.30am (thus leaving home at 3.15am).  So I was up at 2.30am and drove half asleep to Stuart's. Colin arrived just after I did and we all piled into Stuarts car and we were off.

We were making good time and had passed Padthaway by the time Jamie Moody phoned to say the weather was dreadful and he could not take us out. The boat trip was off. Poor Jamie, he knows how much we love these trips. He souded like he was scared to tell us and he appeared relieved that I answered the phone!! I relayed the info to Colin who was driving. We then had to tell everyone else who had booked so phone calls were made, messages left where necessary. Every one told, now what do we do??

Colin and Stuart looked like  they both might cry so I suggested that seeing as we were almost at Naracourte we go there and I'd introduce them to one of my former work mates and housemate Herman Bakker, a retired Park Ranger who managed Bool Lagoon for over 30 years.

Herman and I at Bool Lagoon

With the largest breakfast I've ever seen in my life we were entertained by Herman's tales of birding experiences for over an hour. He then invited us to join him on sunday at Bool Lagoon as there was an Open Day planned. The offer of free sausage sizzle did it for the boys so it was a date!

We then left Herman to have his coffee and we were back on the road. At Nangwarry we encountered 50+ White Throated Needletails enjoying the strong winds.

White Throated Needletails

Trying to photograph them was an extreme sport however and although almost impossible due to their speed and height it sure was fun trying! Colin managed to fill an entire memory card in 30 minutes!
Colin enjoying his photography

We then turned onto the Joanna-Wongary rd which follows Mosquito Creek. We found many Whistling Kites, Brown Falcon, Wedge Tailed Eagles - the wind is good for Raptors, but not good for most other birding.

There were Goldfinches, Musk Lorikeets, Cockatoos, Red Rumped Parrots, Galahs, Yellow Tailed Black Cockatoos and Shellducks in the swampy fields as we passed the back entrance into Naracourte Caves CP. We continued along North Settlement Rd watching Tree Martins taking a free ride in the wind and encountered a large flock of Long Billed Corellas.

Long Billed Corellas

Then we turned Right into East Settlement Rd which is good Owling country before heading to Penola.

We decided to try Magpie Swamp. To get there from Tarpena turn left into McEncroe Rd, then right into Paltridge Rd, left to Mingbool rd  and right into  Magpie Swamp road, which is just after the CFS.  This road can deliver good birding for SA as its right on the border. Last year Colin, Stuart and I had large flocks  of Brolga but we noticed that most of the fields have not been plowed this year. We did get 2 Brolga - I think if there had been piles of potatoes about there would have been alot more Brolga.

Then we got excellent views of Striated Fieldwrens, Golden Headed Cisticola, Grey Shrike Thrush, Superb Fairywren and Red Rumped Parrots. At the swamp we found Forest Ravens, White Fronted Chats and Masked Lapwing.

Striated Calamanthis

We continued along the Border Track then turned right and head back to Mount Gambier.

We checked Dry Creek Reserve where we observed a few Emu foraging in a freshly cut plantation and a Yellow Faced Honeyeater feeding on some blossums. We looked where I had found Powerful Owls a few months ago but none to be seen in the middle of the day so we decided to head to Picks Swamp and then onto Port MacDonnell.

We checked into our accomodation before searching Cape Douglas and Cape Northumberland in case any penguins had been washed in. We found Aust Gannet and Fairy Penguins before calling it a day.

Little Penguin

Periwinkles Cafe enticed us and we were not disppointed! A dozen Oyster Kilpatrick went down well before Prawn Penne (the most delicious meal I've ever eaten). We shared a choc honeycomb pudding - with coffee. YUM! The view with large glass windows overlooking the ocean, made the evening even better. We were able to keep an eye out for any stray Pelagic birds whist enjoying our wine! We noticed a photo on the wall incorrectly labelled "Wandering Albatross" which was clearly a Royal Albatross - most probably a Northern. We can tell them next time...  What a great way to conclude the day.

It was then time for bed and we were all in a coma before our heads hit the pillow!

Sunday morning we checked for Rufous Bristlebirds and also another quick scan for any lost Penguins at Cape Northumberland before the boys wanted Macca's in Mt G.

Cape Northumberland

Then it was back to Nangwarry and another shot at the Needletails and a very curious Grey Currawong before meeting up with Herman at Bool Lagoon.

Grey Currawong

On arrival we noticed instantly the large number of visitors. This immediately had me wanting to turn around and leave. But, we promised Herman so we stayed. We had good views of Magpie Geese, Australian and Strawnecked Ibis, Great Egret, Hard Heads, Royal Spoonbill and Musk Duck.

Magpie Goose

Magpie Goose

I then walked on ahead to get away from the people and also to look for Bittern with Colin.This was a half hearted attempt as all the cars would surely have sent them packing. Giving up I thought I'd look for Crakes so scoured the shadows on the dry islands. I got onto movement under some tea-tree. Colin got onto it as well but it had its back to us. Then it then turned around and we realised then it was a Plumed Whistling Duck!! AWESOME! It was alone and resting on the dry dirt. Probably unimpressed with all the visitors and it may have also been feeling overwhelmed without any other Plumed WD around. Stuart had been in the car so I called him over and he got onto it. He was stoked - it was a lifer for him! It was a new SA tick for me! 

Plumed Whistling Duck

Plumed Whistling Duck

I told Herman and he said the last time he had one at Bool Lagoon was in the early 1980's when he observed 3 of them. Colin had some up north on the Birdsville Track late last year.

We then walked about and got a Male Musk Duck displaying and some Swamp Harriers. There were simply too many people to make it enjoyable and I couldnt get away fast enough. So we had a sausage and coke, kissed Herman goodbye and we were off.

Bool Lagoon

A quick stop in Keith to look for the Bluefaced Honeyeaters on the way home then back to Adelaide.

So, even though we were disappointed at not being able to get out on the boat (and the almost certain dip on a great tick like Mottled Petrel) we still had a fun 2 days.  We got to see Dear old Herman and were priviliged to share some of his stories. We were certainly rewarded with the Plumed Whistling Duck. Great company, good food and some great birds = a thoroughly enjoyable weekend.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Scarlet Robins, Boxing Kangaroos and how 1 Snipe changed children's lives forever

Saturday started at 4am when I drove to Tanunda in the Barossa Valley to meet my friend Chris Steeles. We had planned to meet at 5.30am. Sitting in a the dark main street I started getting worried when it got to 6am and he still had not arrived, so I rang him. I was very relieved to discover he was just asleep - not injured!!  He arrived soon after looking very embarrassed!

A well rested Chris looking for Crested Shrike-Tit

We headed to Kaiserstuhl Conservation Park. The sun was just rising and it was very foggy so we searched for Scarlet Robins in the mist. Happily we found about 9 of them including some colourful Males. I had wanted to improve on the poor photos I've taken of them in the past but unfortunately it was so overcast that the photos I took this time are still poor. However, we had an enjoyable walk finding some nice birds, some include Crescent, Bown Headed, New Holland and White Naped Honeyeater. Also Red Browed Finch, Rainbow bea-eaters aplenty, Buff Breasted and Striated Thornbill, Striated Pardelote and White Throated Treecreeper.

Scarlet Robin in the mist

We then came across two male Roos having a punch up so I took some photos of them beating the daylights out of each other!

On the way home we called in to Chris's workplace, a winery which has an established woodlot. This area is home to a family of Crested Shrike-Tit.

This is actually where Chris and I first met in 2009. At that time he had lodged a Birdpedia report about the Shrike-tit. My dear friend John Turner and I were on one of our regular bird outings the day after his report was lodged,so we decided to call in to the winery to search for the bird. On that day I went in and asked if they knew about the bird sighting and Chris came over to assist us.

He was so friendly and welcoming. He took the time to guide us to the woodlot and showed us the nest. As all the trees look the same and are in rows John had the common sense to mark the spot so he found a long stick and wedged it against the tree to assist us to find it again.

Over the next year John talked about that day numerous times as he really enjoyed it.  It also resulted in me making a great friend in Chris.

Sadly, my dear friend John passed away on 8th December 2010 after a long & painful illness which had  left him paralised. His recent passing still feels terribly raw and deeply painful to me.

So, when Chris and I went into the woodlot together on Saturday we were thinking of John. We then came across the stick which is still leaning against the tree. I could actually see John laughing and carefully lodging it there. It hit me like a tonne of bricks. ...I just stood and could feel the tears welling up in my eyes (thankfully hidden by my sunglasses). That brief moment in the woodlot felt like his funeral.

My dear John, I miss you terribly.

John Turner enjoying his birding

Sunday morning I collected my friend Teresa and we went to Tolderol Game Reserve- nothing of great interest found there but good to see there is at least some water leaking back in there. It used to be such a great birding mecca. After inspecting the area it was onto Milang to chase Latham Snipe.

Some water in Tolderol now...

To me the highlight of this outing was a chance encounter with 2 remarkable kids riding little scooters along the track around the Milang Snipe Sanctuary. They were bored because their parents were visiting their Gran and they were just riding around aimlessly.

Teresa had walked on ahead when  the kids saw me with binoculars looking into the swamp so they came over to ask what I was doing. They intoduced themselves, Anthony, about 8 and his older sister Tash, about 12.

They were intrigued at the idea of birding and asked intelligent questions so I decided to tell them about the birds. They really wanted to "help" find them. I described the Snipe explaining that without binoculars it would be difficult but would you believe, this little boy, without binoculars actually spotted one flying and I was able to get onto it and confirm it.  After his success he was then hooked. He then searched the entire track finding 13 species of bird. His favourite, apart from the Snipe - his first Tick,  was the White Faced Heron.

His sister Tash was encouraged by my suggestion of starting a life list. I told them about Sean Dooley and how he started. On learning about what Sean has now achieved they started to head back to their parents to get a notepad, pen and binoculars to start their Lists. They had decided (with some guidence) to have an all day twitchathon!!!

They repeated back to me their memorised lists before they left and were gearing up to ask their parents for a copy of Simpson & Day from Australia Post the next day (but were planning to google Australian Birds that night)!! That to me was amazing!

These kids really brightened up my day! I really hope they do keep birding and who knows, one day they may even write a book talking about the Latham Snipe in the Milang Swamp that started it all.