Sunday, August 21, 2011

Daintree River Experience

I’ve been planning a trip to Tropical North Queensland for months now and  finally I’ve arrived in Cairns for a couple weeks of birding.
Today I enjoyed a wonderful morning birding along the beautiful Daintree River.
 While waiting out the front at 5am this morning at my Cairns Esplanade accommodation I enjoyed the company of 3 Bush Stone-Curlews who walked right up to me.

Deb and Andy run the Daintree River Experience where you can go birding on public sunrise or sunset tours of the Daintree River or, opt for a private charter like I did. I also arranged transfers to and from Cairns.  I chose them because they have all the required permits to access all areas along the river and with their boat being small, it can travel in only 4 inches of water which allowed us to travel into the narrow Barratt’s Creek and get great views of Little Kingfisher.
The morning mist was stunning and I was amazed that the first Lifer of the day was a Great-billed Heron which flew through the mist and we were able to then quietly approach it and it posed for photos.

It was wonderful birding for the rest of the day with 40 species. Hightlights were Pied Imperial Pigeon, Papuan Frogmouth, Little Kingfisher.
Papuan Frogmouth

I also was very happy with good views of Azure Kingfisher,  Yellow Oriole, Shining Flycatcher, Striated Heron, Grey Goshawk, Large-billed Gerygone & Yellow-bellied Sunbird.
Azure Kingfisher


Immature Nankeen Night Heron

Shining Flycatcher

Yellow Oriole

The Daintree River is absolutely stunning and so peaceful. Barrats Creek was an excellent area for birds and was also very beautiful.

Deb was most obliging when driving me back to Cairns – stopping frequently to allow me to photograph birds – Forest Kingfisher, Chestnut-breasted Mannikin and Crimson Finch.

We had a very successful morning and they also extended my tour by over an hour without extra charge to ensure I got as many bird photos as possible.

Contact Deb  and Andy at Daintree River Experience – 07 42222655 or 0408 426 544
The Daintree River has a wonderful selection of birds and was a fantastic way to start my trip up to Cape York!!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Scarlet-chested Parrots & Painted Honeyeaters at Gluepot

There have been several reports over the past few weeks of Scarlet-chested Parrots at Gluepot. I had seen a flock of 20 about a month ago but did not get what I feel was a tickable view so have been edgy ever since to find them again to view them closely in order to tick them and photograph them for

I arranged to head into Gluepot this weekend with Chris, Mike (Mdosi) and Steve for a fun-filled day of birding, all of us hoping to find these elusive birds.
We had a scare earlier this week when we discovered that Gluepot was in fact scheduled to be closed for goat-shooting this weekend so I phoned the Ranger Tony to clarify if we could access the area we needed. Luckily we could. Disaster averted!

Saturday morning Chris and I were in Taylorville and birding by 7am. It is a bit difficult birding before sunrise but not impossible. A flock of miners came in to view us probably wondering why anyone would be stupid enough to be out in the cold so early!
It was at this point disaster struck! My binoculars broke – the eyepiece jammed and  came off in my hand and could not be unjammed no matter what both of us tried. So, I was facing a day of birding through one eye.  Mdosi (Mike) and Steve joined us at 7.30am & I showed them my broken bins. Thankfully Steve loaned me his spare pair. THANK GOODNESS for Steve, such a relief to be able to bird with both eyes!


Kay praying for Scarlet-chested Parrots

We took a short walk and was rewarded almost instantly when a pair of Scarlet-chested Parrots flew straight over our heads! They landed near a tree hollow and great views of both birds were had by all of us. So, by 7.50am we all had a mega  tick!
So, I now have all of the Neophemas. AWESOME! I have been dreaming of this day.

Male Scarlet-chested Parrot

Female Scarlet-chested Parrot
Our work was not yet done however as Mdosi needed Black-eared Miner.  We got a few flocks  but only viewed Yellow-throats and Hybrids.

The guys checking to ensure they all have decent photos

I was very happy when we ran into Dave and Sue Harper on one of the walks and had a catch up. I had not seen them since last November so after arranging a dinner for that evening they went on to enjoy their day and we continued to explore. It is funny that each time I run into them I have just had a lifer, last time it was Square-tailed Kites, they are clearly good luck so I hope I run into them again soon!!

The vegetation is extremely healthy after all the rain!

Very healthy Triodia

Brown Falcon

We found another SCP, in a different location, this one was a juvenile who happily posed for photos. Chris and I managed to get very close to it by crawling and sitting quietly and the ground, just taking our time. It was not bothered by us at all. What a privilege.

Immature Scarlet-chested Parrot
A bit more exploring and driving in convoy we stopped to photograph a Chestnut Quail-thrush.

While we were waiting for Chris and Steve, Mdosa’s camera battery was flat so he and I were leaning against his car contemplating the usefulness of spare batteries. 

Mdosi finds Painted Honeyeater by relaxing on the car!

He relaxed back onto the car and looked up into the overhanging tree above us. Then calmly asked “does anyone need a Painted Honeyeater”? I looked up and there above us was a Male Painted Honeyeater gazing down at us! It did not make a sound as I franticly started clicking away with my camera. Incedible. That was a lifer for all the guys and a SA tick for me after getting  one in Victoria last year.

Painted Honeyeater

What a fun day! It is sure going to take some beating!

I celebrated at dinner with Dave and Sue.  They were here for Sue’s birthday (happy birthday Sue). We had a brief visited from Peter Waanders who called in to have a quick catch up visit with us after I sms'ed him to let him know we were there.

Even when Gluepot is closed, it still manages to deliver! It really is the best birding place in SA!!

Scarlet-chested Parrot

Monday, August 1, 2011

A Tribute to my friend and Mentor John Turner

John Turner was a gentle man who loved nature. Not only birds but all of nature, for example he loved orchids and invertebrates especially moths & Butterflies & took great pleasure in photographing them. He would email me numerous photos at a time of various species of butterfly, tempting me to get into them as well. It worked; I’ve started ticking them as well.

Lesser Wanderer Butterfly - Johns way of tempting me to start ticking them as well.

Small Grass Yellow Butterfly - another of Johns lovely photos

John loved the marine environment, he was a keen diver and that really began his love for photography. His house was decorated in beautiful underwater photographs that he had taken.

Green Grasshopper - one of the many photos he would send me.

John really loved birds. He loved experiencing them. He had a family of Magpie-larks in his backyard that he had tamed. He would sit for hours with a cup of coffee and interact with them. He new every individual bird in that group.  We’d go out to dinner and he would tell me all the things they’d been doing. His face glowing with joy.

John at Billiat Conservation Park, we had 2 Mallee Emuwrens that day.

Dear John, he had the most gentle and patient nature. He was kind, thoughtful and extremely generous with his time and money.  John spent so much time teaching me about birding. I was a novice and he was so experienced in birding, he was my mentor. We went birding together a lot. The master and his apprentice...

He must have loved a challenge as I am chaotic, disorganised, impatient and impulsive. John, on the other hand was organised, methodical & a planner.

He didn't give up. Over the years John taught me how to use mapping software on my computer, how to use a handheld GPS, how to keep birding records, how to log birds online, how to plan trips, how to learn bird calls and whistle them in so you don’t need playback, how to make friends with birds in the field, how to just "be" in the mallee in order to find birds, what to look for when trying to identify a Raptor. What equipment to use, how to look after your equipment, right down to driving techniques!

He had the patience of a saint, it was a real challenge to slow me down and be organised but he never gave up on me. Thankfully he eventually succeeded and I learnt so much from him. In my opinion John was the Dalai Lama of birding.

He was really meticulous and he put so much effort into his record keeping. His knowledge was incredible, he was a walking HANZAB. If I needed to know anything at all about Birds I’d just ring him and he knew the answer or had it filed in his amazing office of records and he knew exactly which folder it was in!

Brown-headed Honeyeater - John took this at Gluepot in 2010

It was his patience & meticulous nature that gave him the ability to take amazing photos.  He did not use expensive camera gear, rather a little Panasonic Lumix bridging camera with a 1.7 times teleconverter. One of the many things he taught me is that it is not solely the camera that you use, but rather how you use it, that counts. It was also these qualities that allowed him the opportunities to get good photos as the birds came to him.

Striated Grasswren
This is my favourite of Johns photo's.
John took this sitting on the ground, enjoying his surroundings & eating a sandwich!!

Chestnut Quail-thrush - John took this at Gluepot in 2010

Some of the things John used to say really stick in my mind. He stated regularly that if you don’t know what a bird is “think common” as 95% of the time it will be a common bird. We all like to hope it will be a rarity of course but in reality that does not happen often.

“Remember to look up” to check for Swifts.... He loved Swifts!!

“Check the tail, the width and shape of the wings, how does it hold its wings when soaring” when identifying a Raptor.

I hear him every time I go birding. Every situation one of his sayings will come into my mind.

John Turner died on 8th December 2010 after a long and painful illness. I lost my dear friend and mentor.

I am grieving. I miss the fact that I cannot ring him and chat. I miss his company & friendship. I feel so sad because I cant tell him every time I get a new tick. I feel his loss because I can't share funny incidents with him when I know how much he would have laughed. I miss the fact that he was always happy to hear from me and always willing to go birding when I wanted a friend to share the experience with. I miss my friend.

It was such a privilege to have had him in my life and I will always love him, miss him and hear him every time I’m in the field looking for birds. He is still alive in my heart. He is with me every time I see a bird.

My friend and Mentor John Turner
He enjoyed Pelagic trips!!