Tawny Frogmouth Family by Murray Chambers

This page reviews some guide books to Australian birds, some books about Australian birds and a birding app for mobile devices.

Just as British train spotters keep lists and carry paraphernalia, so too do birders. A good field guide comes in handy and the Slater Field Guide is one of the best.

Other birding guide books are are amongst the books reviewed on the 'Books' page.

As well as a good field guide, a birder may carry some or all of the following: 10 by 40 (or 10x42) binoculars, a tripod and telescope, a camera, a GPS for recording latitude and longitude of sightings, topographic maps, a notebook and pen, a device for tweaking up wrens and other small birds, plus a backpack with water, nibbles and so forth.

To help understand the makeup of a twitcher ~ a dedicated birder who is prepared to travel all over Australia and offshore in search of new birds ~ have a read of Sean Dooley's wonderful book, The Big Twitch.

The Big Twitch

Sean has written other books, such as one on the A to Z of birdwatching: Amoraks to Zitting Cisticola.

A to Z

 

Sean is editor of the new BirdLife Australia magazine and immediate past editor of Wingspan.

A recent development is the availability of birding guides for electronic devices. A benefit of such electronic guides is that they can be used in the field to help one identify a bird. Possibly the best of these is the Michael Morcombe eGuide.

Morcombe eGuide

 

 

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Articles page 2

Yellow-billed Sponbill
Yellow-billed Spoonbill by Murray Chambers

Articles by members (continued)

Silent Spring in East Kamarooka

by Peter Allan

For more than two decades, Echuca and District Branch President Peter Allan has been observing bush bird nests in the eastern Kamarooka section of Greater Bendigo National Park. Peter has observed a decline in active bush bird nests in his study area from over 50 to zilch over that time. Since Peter wrote the following article in August 2006, things deteriorated and no active bush bird nests have been seen in his study are for several years. As the notes under Peter's article reveal, he is not the only bird observer to become alarmed. The Victoria Naturally Alliance has now launched a campaign to draw attention to the plight of bush birds. Despite fuel-reduction burns, there has been a minor recovery of bush bird numbers in Kamarooka since the rains of 2010-11.

My articles on Kamarooka Forest, now part of Greater Bendigo National Park, appeared in The Bird Observer in January 1997 and in June 2003.

The first covered my favourite tracks and the good birding available in that part of the forest east of the Bendigo-Tennyson Road, the area of the forest which I frequent the most. Some Echuca Branch members will remember the birds and flowers we saw on our earlier trips.

The second article noted the sharp decline in bird numbers although the same species could be found with some difficulty.

The situation has now deteriorated further. The primary cause appears to be the continuing drought conditions of recent years, including 2006, and the lack of regular autumn breaks. While the taller eucalypts and mallee seem reasonably healthy, apart from storm damage, the understorey of Acacia, Cassinia and Hopbush has suffered badly. Being generally small-leafed, thin-branched plants subject to insect and other damage, they rapidly crumble into the litter when they die. As their life span is usually short, regular new growth is essential. Even the remaining stands of shrubs often have many dead branches. Wildflowers and other herbage is decimated (sic) in most areas and any new plants are quickly damaged by rabbits, hares and wallabies.

Number of Bush Bird Nests Observed in East Kamarooka Forest
Year Bush bird nests
1984-85
Average 33
1986
57
1987
57
1988
74
1989
87
1990
40
1991
50
1992
50
1993
12*
1994
13**
1995
18
1996
18
1997
18
1998
18
1999
18
2000
9
2001
9
2002
3
2003
3
2004
3
2005
7
2006
0
2007
0
2008
0

Note: Peter has averaged figures of some adjoining years (e.g.some nesting was over December and January).
*In 1993 Peter was away for much of the year so the figure is lower than actual.
** 1994 was a drought year and Peter was away early in the Spring.
The figures are for bush birds only and excludes hole nesters such as Rosellas and excludes magpies, ravens, etc.
Observations for 2006, 2007, 2008 have been added.

The overall effect on bird numbers has been dramatic. I have completed nest records for Birds Australia and my own data since returning to the district in 1983. My records of nests examined, including second clutches (see chart) shows an overall decline in the nesting.

Galahs and most other hole nesters were not checked out, nor were Magpies and Ravens so the figures are mainly “bush birds”: honeyeaters, whistlers, thrush types, robins, babblers, flycatchers, woodswallows and thornbills. The figures are affected to some extent by track closures and my absences at times ~ I was away in November of 1993 and in the early Spring of 1994, a drought year ~ and also by the fact that the more nests I found the more often I returned, finding more. Even so, this does not explain the sharp drop in nests recorded.


“Evident now is the lack of territorial song...and the simple absence of birds generally”

Evident now is the lack of territorial song, the collapse of regular nesting areas and the simple absence of birds generally. Even the honeyeaters, more mobile and adaptive, are fewer, particularly Yellow-tufted and Fuscous. The worst affected seem to be those more dependent on low ground cover for nesting and/or feeding, e.g. White-browed Babblers, Gilberts Whistler and Restless Flycatcher.

However much rain we get in the near future, recovery is going to be much slower than after the 1982 drought.

Since Peter wrote the above article, the drought continued, and bush bird numbers continued to fall, until flooding rain over the summer of 2010-2011.

Honeyeaters were always observed in numbers at the old distillery dam just off Campbells Road in Kamarooka Forest. When Peter visited during a Challenge Bird Count in early December 2009, not a single Honeyeater was observe there! Following the wet summer of 2010-2011 bush bird numbers have increase but it will take many good seasons before bush bird numbers regain their pre-drought numbers.

The Victoria Naturally Alliance has become concerned and the following is a short extract from their web site:

Victoria could be facing a wave of extinctions following a dramatic crash in bird numbers in the State's Box-Ironbark forests over the past five years. This is the dire warming from new research by leading ecologists Professor Ralph MacNally, Professor Andrew Bennett and Dr Jim Radford....they argue that the collapse in number of so many different bird species strongly suggests that the availability of all food has crashed. Flowering of eucalypt trees, which provide food for nectar-eating birds, appears to have declined greatly with the drought.
You can read more by clicking here.

indentlinkVictoria Naturally Alliance: bush birds in trouble

indentlinkFact sheet produced by the Victoria Naturally Alliance on the decline of bush birds

indentlinkTranscript (and video) of the 7.30 Report segment on the demise of bush birds in central Victoria

 

Eagle

a poem and photograph by Jon Hosford

Co-founder of the Echuca and District Branch of BOCA, Jon now lives in Launceston. When Jon composed the following, he was concerned at the loss of Wedgetailed Eagle habitat.Tas Wedge-tailed Eagle

How proud you stand still and watch
Your eagle eye fixed yet searching with hope
for a future unknown.

Your forests fall to the saw
and yet you soar aloft
and wonder why your free domain
is claimed by Man
in the rush to record
his footprint on this Earth.

You are misunderstood
as you swoop across the valleys
in search of the weak
and, from the tallest tree,
you command
yet with hope.

In days past you reigned
a king of this land.
A symbol of majesty
respected by the gentle folk
who shared your ground.

Your broken wing cries
of the present state
upon our trampled Earth
as man writhes his own death pain.

And yet you hope
that Man will see the error of his ways
And let you free
Once more to soar
a more certain future.

 

In a Deniliquin Garden

by Pat Eagle

Deniliquin member Pat Eagle was pleasantly surprised when, in October several years ago, she began recording the birds visiting her garden. Pat attended many Echuca and District Branch outings since the Branch's inception. Pat recalls some of her observations...

My garden consists of Sugar Gums and lawn, and not much else. So I was quite surprised when I began listing the birds living here. Galahs are in the Gums in hundreds, just as they have been for 30 years. The noise at dawn and dusk is shattering. A flock of Long-billed Corellas is new. Noisy Miners have been feeding young, as have Blue-faced Honeyeaters, Little Ravens and Australian Ravens. Ravens make great music trying to out call each other; an exotic duet. Black-faced Cuckoo-shrikes have nested not far away from the yard. A Striated Pardalote calls all day most days. On the lawns I see a flock of Red-rumped Parrots, heaps of Crested Pigeons and pairs of Eastern and Yellow Rosellas. A flock of Grey-crowned Babblers and about 15 White-winged Choughs trail each other around the fence and yard area, followed, in turn, by up to 11 Apostle Birds, which are as quiet as pets. Both the Apostles and Babblers come onto the front verandah and gossip within touching distance of my chair. Magpies have nested in a gum just inside the front gate and are aggro to all other birds. I watched a Maggie feeding a baby almost as big as itself; it hauled out of the front lawn a huge spider, so big it had trouble breaking it, and it was comical to see it fly with the spider hanging out of the sides of its beak, wriggling and kicking. When the spider was offered to baby, it had trouble too, and Spider had to be hacked in two before it could be eaten. Three young Apostlebirds were hunted into an old low shrub by parent Magpies and, each time they tried to leave the cover, were swooped on and buffeted. They would have been kept in the shrub for about 45 minutes. Magpies recently killed an Apostlebird. For the past two months, a pair of Mudlarks have been beating up the kitchen window and mirrors on any nearby vehicle and scrapping with the Magpies and Choughs. Although the Mudlarks nest around here each season, I have not seen any young being fed in the yard this time. A Nankeen Kestrel has nested not far from the house and it terrorises the birds, shrieking and swooping. Our resident Cockatiel has been perched on a dead tree hollow in the back yard, so I guess there are young somewhere. A murderous Grey Butcherbird haunts the front verandah, waiting for unwary Skinks to appear from between the boards. there is a big reduction in Skink numbers on the verandah since Butcher has been around. A big Kookaburra hunts on the lawn, using the old Hills Hoist as a vantage point. He is very efficient and doesn't like the four adult hares and four leverets which invade his space each evening. I saw kooka and a hare on the lawn, eyeballing each other, about a foot apart. Kooka conceded space and flew back on to the line. Some hares live in a feral fig tree and some live in an Agave clump, both great cover, so who knows how many hares might be here eventually! Heard calling, and seen flying, were four lots of Superb Parrots. Bee-eaters are nesting not far away. Every day a Pacific Heron and a Yellow-billed Spoonbill trawl the small channel near the house.

An amusing Swan tale was told to me by people who live near the Edward River just out of town. Seems strange, but the observers have been watching this drama for weeks. Sitting on eggs, two nesting domestic geese were scooped up by a fox, which left two lonely ganders to amuse themselves. They went to the river and met with a Black Swan which had three cygnets in tow. One of the ganders has become besotted with the swan, won't leave her side, and interlaces necks at every chance. The bloke telling the tale says it is the most comical bird act he has ever seen.

While sitting on the front verandah one cold morning in winter, I had a house fly alight on my bare leg. A Skink which must have been hinting, crawled onto me and grabbed the fly quicker than I could see it. I wish I had taken a video: the fly was clamped sideways with its head one side of Skink's mouth and the flailing legs the other, to no avail. Skink had his breakfast on the spot.

Whilst mowing dry grass near a shed, I recently disturbed a fat glossy Brown Snake at least 180cm long. It lives around the sheep yards and shed and I guess would live on rats and mice. The shearing shed also shelters a Boobook which perches on the rail during daylight hours. ~ Pat Eagle, Deniliquin (December 2004)

Pat's story about the Domestic Goose courting the Black Swan reminded me of a male Feral Pigeon which was displaying to a female Crested Pigeon on my front lawn last November whilst the confused mate of the Crested Pigeon watched on. Webmeister.

 

Over-wintering in Queensland

By Bev Curtis

I would like to share with you our trip to North Queensland. We left home on 1st June 2002 with our caravan behind, looking for warmer weather over winter. If you were wondering where the black-tailed Native Hens went to from around Echuca, well we found them all, three flocks of at least 150 birds, all very happy, between Wanganella and Boorooban in a swamp alongside the Cobb Highway.

Mt Hope At Mt Hope, along the Kidman Way, we camped on the old racecourse. It was very dry: no water to be seen anywhere. After a very cool night, we woke to a heavy frost. As the sun started to thaw the frost, water started to drip from an old shed roof. First to arrive for a drink was a Magpie who had his fill and then sat on a fence close by. Next came a pair of Mulga Parrots. The Magpie swooped in and moved them off. A Magpie Lark and then a Willie Wagtail were permitted to drink. So the parrots tried again, only to be moved off again. Four White-browed Babblers were allowed to drink until one started to splash water out of the gutter. This was not allowed: the Magpie hunted them off. The Mulga Parrots did have their drink, finally, and the Babblers flew into a Peppercorn Tree and joined us for breakfast. We observed 20 bird species here, including Red-cap, Hooded and Flame Robins. Bourke We continued to travel up the Kidman Way, staying at Kidmans Camp at Bourke. All day, Red-winged Parrots flew in and out of the trees, feeding off blossom and nuts. Red-tailed Black Cockatoos came through each night and morning. Little Corellas by the hundreds were causing problems in the orange groves. We have never seen it so dry along the Mitchell Highway between Bourke and Cunnamulla. Kangaroos and emus were feeding on the roadside during the day and road kills were very high. Wedge-tailed Eagles, Square-tailed Kites and Black Kites had plenty to eat. Quite a few feral cats had also met their doom.

Cunnamulla and Eulo Next camp was Cunnamulla, where we took a day trip west to Eulo. About half way, we stopped at a bore for morning tea. A Spotted Bower Bird was fussing around his bower of white shells and stones. There were Yellow-throated Miners, Chestnut and Yellow-rumped Thornbills but not much else.

Yellow-throated Miner
Yellow-throated Miner (D Ong)

Next stop was at a billabong about 3km west of Eulo for lunch. We saw 36 species here, including Brown Honeyeater, Painted Honeyeater, Halls Babbler, Crested Bellbird and Variegated Wren. While we sat quietly eating lunch beside the water's edge, a Collared Sparrowhawk swooped in and took what we thought was a White-plumed Honeyeater. The hawk landed in a low tree just beside us. Within minutes it had pulled the Honeyeater apart and lunch was over. After stopping at Eulo to sample some date wine and share a famous Eulo meat pie, we decided to stop at the bore dam again. We were rewarded at this late afternoon stop by two Bourke Parrots which slipped in for a drink with Blue Bonnets, Mulga Parrots and Ringneck Parrots. Emerald Moving further north, just south of Emerald, around a dam located about 200 metres off the road, were about 30 Brolgas, two of which were dancing. That was the most we have seen in one lot. Mostly, they were in pairs.

Burdekin Dam The Burdekin Dam, about 120km off the Charters Towers-Townsville Road, was another outstanding place. The camping ground is set high above the dam wall. In fact, you felt as if you were on top of the world. A great count here: 62 species, including Rainbow Bee-eater, Black-chinned Honeyeater, White-throated HE, Brown HE, Blue-faced HE (they wanted to share or steal from our plate), Red-backed Wren, White-browed Woodswallow, Black-faced WS, White-breasted WS and Bustard. Wedgetailed Eagles soared on the thermals all day and the Blue-winged Kookaburras couldn't laugh even though I tried to teach them! This was a wonderful, restful place. Alan tried his hand at fishing, catching a nice meal of Sleepy Cod which look like Flathead and are very nice eating.

Saunders Beach to Rockhampton Saunders Beach, which is 26km north of Townsville, was home for three weeks. We were with friends who have a house right on the beach. Each day, it was around 26 to 28° C and about 18° C overnight. The fishing off the beach was good. From their backyard, and whilst walking along the beach, we observed 59 species. A pair of Yellow-bellied Sunbirds were nesting under the eaves near a side door. A Pacific Baza caught grass-hoppers which were about 50cm long and as thick as your thumb. Brahminy Kites patrolled the beach, looking for scraps. Ospreys and Sea-eagles nested along the nearby creek. Other birds sighted here included Rufous Fantail, Spangled Drongo, White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike, Yellow, Dusky, Brown, Blue-faced and Black-chinned Honeyeaters. Each night Bush Stone Curlews called but I was unable to see them during the day. From Saunders Beach, we turned south, travelling along the coast and around the Proserpine area. Magpie Geese were raiding the new shoots of the freshly-grown sugar cane. We had a brief stop-over at Kuttabul, north of Mackay, where I spied a pair of Fernwrens plus Scarlet Honeyeaters, Plum-headed Finches and Double-barred Finches.

Inland to the Pilliga Scrub We left the coast at Rockhampton and travelled back inland through Miles and Moonie and then to Baradine, in the Pilliga Scrub near Coonabarabran. I had found some info on the Internet by David Johnston about birding in this area. It was very dry here so we only travelled one of the eight routes but were rewarded with 51 species, including Glossy Black Cockatoo, Turquoise Parrot, Striped Honeyeater, Pallid Cuckoo, Grey-crowned Babbler and White-browed Babbler. This was a wonderful day and I recommend you stay here. The maps are easy to follow and accommodation is now available at Baradine in (ex Sydney Olympics) cabins, or camp. (The local tourist people have forwarded brochures and maps to our branch president. Ed). Closer to home, past Lake Cargelligo, we drove out to the weir, looking for White-winged Wrens, of which we found about 20 in one area. But a feral cat was in a nearby tree so their future is not secure.

This ends out 2002 trip north. We clocked up around 8.500km in three months. We enjoyed great weather , met lots of new friends and have seen a lot of great birds. Hope you enjoyed a little slice of our trip.

 

Safari to Carawinya National Park

By Keith Stockwell

Over Easter 2002, I went on a safari to Carawinya with a few friends.

The plan was to meet on Good Friday at Mt Hope, a locality along the recently sealed Kidman Way between Hillston and Cobar. By the time we had all arrived, it was around 2pm. Our meeting point was on top of a rise opposite an old pub which had lots of character.

The pub and nearby store were both closed. We took a few photos and enjoyed the view.

Mount Hope
The Kidman Way at Mount Hope (K Stockwell)

After lunch, we set off on a side road bound for Round Hill Nature Reserve. However, we found some good birding spots along the way, in Nombinnie Nature Reserve, and never made it to Round Hill. Birds observed here included Apostle Bird, Mallee Ringneck, Chestnut-rumped Thornbill, Inland Thornbill, White-winged Chough, Magpie, Noisy Miner, Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater, White-fronted Honeyeater, White-eared Honeyeater, Yellow-plumed Honeyeater, Red-capped Robin, Dusky Woodswallow, Splendid Wren and Southern Scrub Robin.

It was late afternoon by the time we returned to our vehicles and so we decided to set up camp in another patch of scrub off the unsealed road. We heard only one vehicle during the night.

Next morning, the following were observed around our camp site: singing Honeyeater, Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater, Galah, Mulga parrot, crested Bellbird and Australian raven. Initially, someone mistook a Mulga Parrot for a Scarlet-chested Parrot, an uncommon bird of inland. areas further west.

Distances between settlements along the Kidman Way are great and it was late afternoon before we reached Cobar. About halfway between Cobar and Bourke, we drove along a minor track into the scrub for lunch and observed Grey-crowned Babbler, Grey Butcher Bird, and Yellow-throated Honeyeater, After stopping at Bourke to top up with fuel and water, we left the bitumen and travelled north toward Hungerford.

En route, several other birds were observed, including pied butcherbirds and some brolgas. Late in the afternoon we stopped at Youngerina Bore where we observed Singing Honeyeater, Hooded Robin, Mallee Ringneck, Crested Bellbird, Magpie, Crested Pigeon and a corvid. At a lignum-lined creek 133km from Hungerford, we observed White-necked Heron, Pink-eared Duck, Black-tailed Native Hen, Great Egret, Nankeen Night Heron, Whistling Kite, White-plumed Honeyeater, Rufous Songlark, Variegated Wren, Willie Wagtail and a corvid.

By this time it was getting dark. We decided to make camp near Wombah Station, in bushland off the road rather than proceeding on to Carawinya as planned.

Next morning, a walk around our camp site revealed Willie Wagtail, Grey Fantail, Rufous Whistler, Yellow-throated Miner, Crested Bellbird, Mallee Ringneck, Mistletoebird and Singing Honeyeater.

It was around 10am by the time we eventually reached the border gate at Hungerford. There we admired the ancient and unique pub, outside which poly pipe and felt mannequins sat in the shade at a bus stop, waiting for a bus that may take years to arrive Trish entered into a conversation with an apiarist and we finished up buying some of his unique Yapunyah honey and some of his wife's marmalade preserves. Yapunyah is a red-stemmed gum found along the Paroo and associated watercourses. Hungerford (population about 10) is a very isolated settlement and boasts the old pub, a floodlit tennis court, a children's playground, a small police station, a few abandoned buildings and a few houses. It had the first sealed road we had been on for around 200km.

Many birds took advantage of its green lawns and shady trees, including (excuse lack of capitals) pied currawong, yellow-throated miner, spotted bower bird, crested pigeon, red-wing parrot, striped honeyeater and welcome swallow. It was a very warm afternoon. Trish kindly shouted us drinks at the bar and we enjoyed a discussion with the pub owners who completed a 520km mail run three times a week.. Limited supplies were available, such as ice and souvenirs. Fuel and other items had to be ordered weeks in advance.

The bitumen road continued for some distance over the picturesque Paroo River (great birding) before it ended short of the nearby park.

Upon arriving at park headquarters, we self-registered and set up our tents alongside a waterhole behind an old wool shed. It was hard to see much such was the density of flies determined to make eating lunch near impossible. Outbuildings near the woolshed contained toilets, shearers accommodation and primitive (cold) showers. Not ones to waste time, it was decided we should set off for Ten Mile Bore. There we obtained excellent views of spotted bower bird, white-plumed honeyeater, willie wagtail and crested pigeon before a group of campers with dogs arrived in 4WD and shattered the idyllic scene.

We also visited "The Granites" and tried unsuccessfully to find halls babbler. We encountered lots of feral goats and some feral pigs at close quarters. Quite scary. We climbed the granitic tors and found that they were the edge of a plateau: at the top of the rise was a flat tableland covered in mulga. As Trish had been told halls babblers lived at the edge of the escarpment, we walked along the edge and through the mulga with no luck, although grey-crowned babblers were found. The views of and from The Granites were sensational and cameras worked overtime. .

I was intrigued with some beautiful Leopardwood trees at the base of the plateau. Their majestic, spotted trunks were the orange colour of the dusty soil.

As we were about to leave, I caught sight of some babblers not far from a Leopardwood tree.

They were not grey-crowned or chestnut-crowned. Failing light beat us.

It was well after dark by the time we arrived back at camp where the flies had been replaced by mosquitoes.

Next morning we were up and off around dawn. Destination was Lake Wyara and Lake Numulla, two huge lakes within the park. Lake Wyara is salty and nearby Lake Numulla is fresh, so different birds were expected at each lake. As it turned out, this was not the case.

At Lake Wyara, we took it in turns to row an inflatable boat across to an island in the lake, momentarily disturbing large flocks of black swan and other birds.

Birds observed included black-shouldered kite, whistling kite, little eagle, whiskered tern, peregrine falcon, black swan, avocet, hardhead, black-winged stilt, great crested grebe, hoary-headed grebe, black cormorant, little pied cormorant, silver gull, shoveller, pink-eared duck, grey teal, masked lapwing, Caspian tern, coot, blue-winged parrot, red-rumped parrot, mulga parrot, budgerigar, cockatiel, spiny-cheeked honeyeater, chestnut-rumped thornbill, chestnut-crowned babbler, white-winged blue wren, orange chat, willie wagtail, zebra finch and Australian raven.

Zebra Finch
Zebra Finch (D Ong)

Although Lake Numulla is only a stone throw away from Lake Wyara, it was quite a distance by road.

Upon arriving at a car park , we were amazed to hear the sound of waves. The freshwater lake lay hidden behind bushes. For several hours, we looked through our scope at a multitude of birds.

Species observed on the lake or in the nearby scrub included large number of emu, darter (nesting), great egret, intermediate egret, yellow-billed spoonbill, royal spoonbill, pelican, black swan, little black cormorant, Caspian tern, crested tern, grey teal, hardhead, black duck, wood duck, masked lapwing, silver gull, tree martin, white-breasted woodswallow, splendid wren, yellow-faced honeyeater, white-plumed honeyeater, willie wagtail, magpie lark, peaceful dove, blue bonnet, galah and chestnut-crowned babbler.

By the time we located someone's missing sunglasses and set off for camp, it was dark. Twice we stopped to observe spotted nightjars sitting on the road; some distance behind us, the others also encountered the spotted nightjar on the road.

Next morning, at sunrise, we enjoyed breakfast at the Ten Mile Bore. The campers had departed and the birds had returned. As we sat there, we observed red-winged parrot, Australasian grebe, tree martin, mallee ringneck, spotted bower bird, blue bonnet, white-plumed honeyeater, white-necked heron and yellow-throated miner. Many came down to drink. Having earlier in the morning been advised by the ranger, Andrew, a keen bird watcher, of likely spots to see Halls Babbler, we set off for a nearby patch of dry mulga, determined to succeed.

(We visited nearby Eulo before returning home via the Kidman Way. KS)

Journey to warmer climes

By Nance Marriott

My mid-year trip with Neil (my son) and his family took us almost in a direct northerly line through central NSW... Deniliquin, Hay, Hillston and lagoons of the Lachlan River system...

There was bird song every morning: we made bush camps on the way north. We saw Red-winged Parrots, Grey-crowned Babblers, Rufous Whistlers, Pale-headed Rosellas and Rainbow Lorikeets for much of trip and as far north as Yeppoon and Byfields. In Mid NSW we saw Apostle Birds, Hooded Robins and Chirruping Wedgebills.

Mitchell Highway
After crossing the Darling River at Bourke, the Mitchell Highway runs along beside the Warrego River for approximately 400 kilometres. We drove north through Cunnamulla and Charleville and then headed east to Mitchell on the banks of the Maranoa. The weir at Mitchell was a bird haven: Hardhead, Darter, Western Warbler, Wrens, Grey-crowned Babblers and more Apostle Birds. A northerly turn at Mitchell lead us, it seemed, into the unknown, up through the small town of Injune and on to a very rough road to Lonesome National Park. There was a tiny camping spot on a range with awesome views across to a circle of more escarpments. Our arrival at sunset saw the sun revealing beautiful colours of distant rock faces. It was an unusual night here for we heard the wind roaring overhead, yet it was still on the ground. This place is a must for the adventurous traveller. Next day it was down into the valley. It was disappointing to note beautiful bottle trees (Brachychiton sp.) being overtaken by many introduced species; most accessible areas were farmed.

Mt. Moffatt
It was back on the road to the Mt. Moffatt section of Carnarvon Gorge National Park: a tortuous drive, bull dust, rocky tracks, everything but mud. Jane was driver at this point and did a sterling job before handing over to Neil when the road improved! South of Mt Moffat, we encountered Cockatiels in flocks of tens, thirties and hundreds. They were a delight.

On our way to Dargonelly Rockhole camp we delighted at seeing a small party of Squatter Pigeons. Exactly as the name infers, these pretty little birds squat and move around quietly cooing.

We saw many more on the way to our northernmost destination near Rockhampton. After the bull-dust, the campervan was covered in dust. Thankfully it did not enter our well-sealed food. Jane is a good packer and provider! All was soon quite clean again and we were able to bucket-bath.

Mt Moffatt, I felt, was a highlight of the tour. To get in, your vehicle must be a 4WD. Vegetation is of open woodland with undulating flats. It is, however, high country, forming the upper catchment of the Maranoa river. This part of the Great Dividing Range is 750 m. above sea level.

Vegetation is diverse with such dryness as it does not come under the most tropical rains of the Carnarvon Gorge on the other (northerly) side of the range. We found Acacia, Cycads (Macrozamia), three species of Boronia, Prostanthera, Lomadias, Callitris and one only species of Grevillea. Callitris is taking over in some places since logging stopped. Many spiders, beetles, and two unusual mantises were found by grand-children Katy and Gordon. One insect no wider than a blade of grass could be mistaken for same; the other mantis was a dark grey with a diamond-shaped head and a diamond-shaped body.

A drive to Kenniff Lookout at the top shelter shed is the highest point of the Consuelo Tableland where we found tall stately eucalypts (E. laevopinea) which grow nowhere else. In most areas the beautiful pine-trunked Angophera is the most prominent tree and looking to many travellers so like a Eucalypt.

Carnarvon Gorge
Carnarvon Gorge National Park is a tropical rain forest, a place of great beauty. It is especially good for walkers. Areas such as Mossy Gorge, Moss Garden, the Amphitheatre and many falls are accessed from the flat Main Gorge track by numerous steps. The main track is flat along Carnarvon Creek, with sandy beaches the gigantic sandstone formations (the gorge walls) towering above.

In the clear creek water, Platypus and Tortoises were seen. There were aboriginal shelters and caves adorned with ancient motifs. "The Art Gallery", along the main track, is 50 metres in length, with hand and arm motifs. Paintings include fishing nets, goannas and circles as well as very ancient engravings.

All this with birds and bird calls. One night we spotted a pair of Barking Owls calling to each other. These calls went on for over five minutes. They sounded like a group of agitated dogs. My tape is almost unbelievable.

Oasis Lodge, private accommodation for visitors, has petrol and supplies. The other accommodation is a camping ground: Apostle Birds here were a delight, spending time around the camp ground picking up bits and pieces.Huge scrub turkey mounds are numerous beside the creek near the camp area. (This is a good place to see the red-backed wren. Ed). Notices tell us "Don't feed the birds".

Blackdown National Park
At our next destination, Blackdown National Park, Kookaburras were quite dangerous when we were trying to eat a picnic lunch.The Blackdown Tableland is 200kms west of Rockhampton. En route, we passed through Blackwater, a large coal town of 8,000 persons. Coal trains were on the move. Three trains had 117,000 (tonnes of coal?) and 96 carriages. These were moving eastwards to Rockhampton where the coal is loaded from shore to ship via very long jetties.

On, on, up, up to the tableland, a huge tableland rising from the flat, flat plain. The track up (and around) was the worst road we had encountered (another 4WD track) but the prize at the top was worth it! There was a lovely camping areas, each site with its own natural space, so one rarely saw one's neighbours. Birds here included King Parrot, wrens and Pied Currawongs that delighted in removing washing from the line. One evening a Greater Glider paid a spectacular visit, "flying" right over our camp. This beautiful possum was pale grey with white "underwings". A long, black half-metre bushy tail made up a length in all of over a metre. Its flight was over 200 metres. The following evening we were visited by Sugar Gliders climbing above us on a huge Eucalypt.

Plant life was prolific, including Hoveas and peas of many hues. Macrozamia platyrhaecies, found only at Blackdown, is a tough, low-growing plant: we saw many species, some high and not unlike Palms. Neil was continually checking Grevillea, hoping, of course, to find a new species. Grevillea singuliflora he found growing in abundance in pockets between rocks above Stony Creek Rockhole. Shield Ferns were interesting, growing along the edges of disintegrating rocks and forming a continual shield half a metre high by up to two metres along the rocks.

A few of the birds sighted here included Glossy Black Cockatoo (feeding on Casuarina seeds), Cockatiel, King Parrot, Owlet Nightjar, Little Lorikeet, Squatter Pigeon, Torresian Crow, 11 honey-eater species, Variegated Wren and Pale-headed Rosella. We only had two sightings of Australian Hobby: here and at Mt. Moffatt.

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Owlet Nightjar (D Ong)

Rockhampton area
Next was Rockhampton and north along Byfields Road to Waterfall Creek State Forest and a good camping area. At Bowenia State Park, beside a rocky stream, Neil found the beautiful Grevillea venusta. Endemic to the area, it had orange, yellow, purple and black flowers on a long spike, a truly beautiful plant, swaying in the wind.

Juvenile powerful owls
After a spell back in Echuca, Nance returned to Queensland. Nance was accompanied by fellow club member Verna Jeffress. In Brisbane, they met up with Jan England, a Brisbane member of BOCA.

Late on the afternoon of 13 August 1997, Jan took Verna and me to took for two juvenile Powerful Owls. At the base of Mount Coutha, west of Brisbane, we travelled along a narrow track and then sat alongside a deep gully, waiting for movement. Jan had been studying the nesting parents for some months. At last we saw two white blobs moving about in the trees.

Juveniles have pure white bodies. The wing colour of juveniles is pale brown. At dusk we saw them flying about. We were excited to see them land high above us and peer down over the edge of a bough, stretching their wings and showing us their large eyes.

Although we stayed for a while in the moonlight, we did not see or hear the parent birds. Incidentally, the call of these babies is a quiet sound, not unlike that of a bat.

The Powerful Owls is a large owl, measuring up to 66 cms. What a delight to see these beauties.

Back along the track, we enjoyed a quick Mexican meal and then it was off to a meeting of the Wildlife Preservation Society. The Society is striving to limit or curtail the enlargement of Brisbane's port for very large container vessels.

Following business, we were given a wonderful talk on Fraser Island, with slides, by Mike West. The talk was an eye-opener. An English member of RAMSAR, who had flown over the island, talked about how he was amazed to see what he was sure were "Fens" (of moors and fens). This talk and slides were presumably the first time scientists and lay people had discussed this unusual area of Fraser Island. The slides were outstanding, with views of clear pools. A most interesting feature of these pools was finding tiny fish in some. Beside some pools, white moss grew. Before this moss was recorded, moss was only known to be green ~ and fish have never before been found in Fens.

Some time later, club Secretary Nancy returned to Queensland accompanied by fellow club member Verna Jeffress and Nance's daughter Ruth.

Fraser (Great Sandy) Island
On Tuesday 7th June 1998, Ruth and I were heading for the ferry along the ocean beach about 5km south of Eurong. Standing beside a small dead tree that was partly covered by sand, was a Beach Stone Curlew, pecking at something.

We turned back and drove the car closer, not disturbing the bird. It slowly walked to the water's edge and quickly dug its beak into the damp sand, emerging with a mussel. Slowly, it walked back to its tree and began banging the mussel on a stump. By this time, an interested raven appeared, landing on a bough a few feet above the curlew.

As the smashing proceeded, a small part of the flesh flew to one side, to be quickly devoured by the raven whilst the curlew took the mussel flesh in its beak with an upward jerk and swallowed it.

Townsville area
Townsville birders will make any excuse to have a bird outing. Verna Jeffress and I were the excuse for three superb trips, the first of which was to Toonpan on the Ross River.

13 of us ventured through fog. Fog is quite unusual in Townsville. When we arrived, the fog was just lifting and the birds just awakening. Droplets of water festooned spider webs on grasses. On one twiggy bush above a small creek, resplendent with spider; webs, much to the delight of everyone, perched a Black Bittern. As the morning light strengthened, the whole scene was reflected in the stream. We were to see 70 species, including Forest Kingfisher, Red-backed Kingfisher, Zebra Finch, Double-barred Finch, Plum-headed Finch, Nutmeg Manikin (Spice Finch), Singing Bushlark, Little Cuckoo-shrike, White-winged Triller, Grey-crowned Babbler, Glossy Ibis, Hardhead, Cotton Pygmy Goose, Black-winged Stilt, Jabiru and Bustard. For we Victorians to see 12 Bustards, and a Jabiru flying across a few metres above us, was quite a thrill.

Everyone enjoyed the morning as much as the visitors and 72 species was an excellent tally.

Our next very special outing was a full day to Broadwater, a rain forest behind Ingham. There were 10 of us and we were on the road by 7am, travelling through sugar cane and pine plantations to reach this lovely destination. At the car park, an open area, a variety of honeyeaters were high in Eucalypts and Melaleucas. Fuscous, Bridled, White-cheeked, Macleays, Graceful, Dusky and Scarlet Honeyeaters were present but hard to spot. Special for us were Spotted Catbird, Orange-footed Scrub Fowl, Boatbill, Pale-yellow Robin, Rufous Fantail, Little Shrike Thrush and Grey-headed Robin...but the great find for the day was a father Cassowary with two juveniles. He strutted about below a wooden walkway whilst the youngsters walked quietly nearby, occasionally pecking as dad did. On our way home we called in to some wetlands adjoining cane fields. Many Herons, Ibis, black-fronted Dotterels, Royal Spoonbill, Yellow-billed Spoonbill, Grebe and Black Duck were seen.The sight of a flock of Crimson Finches finished a great day's outing. Over 40 species for one day.

Club Secretary Nance Marriott and then Treasurer Verna Jeffress returned to Queensland yet again a year later...

Once again, Townsville beckoned us for our winter break. And, once again, Townsville BOCA members showed us birds.
A CWA unit overlooking Magnetic Island let us view 10 or more White-breasted Woodswallows each morning, sitting along nearby power wires. Palm trees hosted Blue-faced Honey-eaters with young. Along The Strand, two Red-tailed Black Cockatoos and Brahminy Kites delighted us on many occasions.

Great Bower Birds were here, one in a roadside garden only 200 metres away.

Jack and Rosemary Payet kindly accompanied us to wonderful venues ~~ the northern beaches Toomulla and Tooleilea gave us over 43 species along the foreshore, in trees and shrubbery and on offshore sand banks. This was their winter survey trip. As well as birds, we enjoyed a great evening Biennial Concert at Queens Park with Island dancers and wonderful throat singers from Singapore, as well as Townsville's own "Dance North" troupe.

Kissing Point Military Museum is well worth a couple of hours. Wonderful memorabilia.
Another great day, 7.30am to 6pm with Ian Clayton, let us observe 92 species. Our destination was Paluma. En route, Ian knew just where to stop to see Cisticolas, Crimson Finches and Red-backed Wrens feeding in grasses and rushes, plus the lovely Fairy Wren, Scarlet Honeyeater, Macleays Honeyeater, all these lovely birds, but I feel a highlight was seeing a maypole bower of the Golden Bower Bird! The bower was between two trees which were adorned from the bottom up with sticks, crisscrossing to mesh the bower between the trees.

Then, it was once again off to the Town Common, a bush garden and a new one for us, Cluden Flats with the birders. I often hear visitors from down south speak of their disappointment at the Town Common (I'm one of them Nance, Ed!) ~ maybe they should have contacted the Townsville Birders for I have never been disappointed! On our visit, Brush Cuckoos were heard as was the Brown-backed Honeyeater. Forest Kingfishers were beautiful. We saw Little Grassbird, Jabiru, the sun flitting green on the neck and bill, Brahminy Kite, Osprey, Red-tailed black Cockatoo. Birds are not the only greats at the Townsville Common. We were shown possibly the tiniest of frogs, Sedge Frogs approx 1.5 cm of oblong green blobs on the low growth of Pandanas. there were dozens of them! What a find! We saw over 30 species between 6.45am and 10.30am.

I think the early mornings are imperative to birding, especially in the warm north climate. A week at Binna Burra Lodge with temperatures not over 10 degrees was very special. Lovely strenuous walks but we had a bird count of 40 plus.

Club Secretary Nance Marriott and Verna Jeffress returned to Queensland yet again in 2002...

Once again, our journey into warmer climes took us to Townsville BOCA's AGM. The highlight of this day was meeting then BOCA President Jill Plowright, and husband Howard, who awarded life membership to Rosemary Payet for her excellent work with BOCA's Townsville branch. As local President, Secretary and leader over ten years, Rosemary assured us she had a wonderful band of birdo workers. Congratulations Rosemary! The next day was one of the best when Jill and Howard drove us to the town common. In a couple of hours, we recorded over 40 species and each one was observed through Howard's telescope. Rosemary and Jock took us to Palmetum, a great trip and their expertise helped. Once again, we visited Paluma National Park. A male Riflebird showed his iridescent neckline. A bush garden gave us many lovely birds: a Brahminy Kite and a few honeyeaters. What would a holiday be without birds!

On once again. South to Hervey Bay. What excellent numbers and birding! We joined John Knight and the Hervey Bay Birdwatchers on an outing to the Great Sandy Straits, a Ramsar area opposite Fraser Island. On a hill overlooking a rocky shore, we saw hundreds of waders. About 300 Eastern Curlews flew below us. We remained motionless until they settled. The birds were very fidgety as they were only just arriving from Siberia! There were over 100 Masked Lapwings, 50 to 60 Pied Oyster Catchers, and some Gull-billed and Caspian Terns amongst the other birds. To get to this place on a private cattle property, we were up and down, across paddocks for two or three kilometres, with Brahmin bullocks running to us, eying us off.

Birds observed by Nance and Verna at Mathieson's Bird Hide (erected by John Knight and the Hervey Bay Birdwatchers), 12 August 2002. Eastern Curlew (300), Red-necked Stint, Pied Oyster Catcher (60-80), Gull-billed Tern, Caspian Tern, White-faced Heron, Masked Lapwing (100), Avocet (100), Black-winged Stilt (100), Australasian Shoveller, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Red-kneed Dotterel, Curlew Sandpiper, Marsh Sandpiper, Australasian Crake, Great Egret, Little Egret, Black Duck, Black Swan, Glossy Ibis, Hardhead, Brolga, Jacana, Black-fronted Dotterel and others.

Then on to another such property, with fresh-water lagoons lined with mangroves. Seen here were Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Red-necked Stint, Marsh Sandpiper, Australian (Spotted) Crake, Spotless Crake, Glossy Ibis, all clearly seen through John's telescope. Then, with a little persuasion, there flew from the mangroves, Mangrove Gerygones and a beautiful Varied (Mangrove) Honeyeater, with a yellow plume and a white tuft, faintly-barred throat and streaked abdomen. beautiful at close range!

Birds observed in lagoons by Nance and Verna (with Hervey Bay Birdwatchers), 12 August 2002. Cattle Egret, Chestnut Teal, Grey Teal, Magpie, Magpie Lark, Richards Pipit, Mangrove Honeyeater, Rufous Whistler, Noisy Miner, Willie Wagtail, Maned Goose, White Ibis, Swamp Harrier, White-breasted Sea-eagle, Brahminy Kite, Whistling Kite, Nankeen Kestrel, Galah, Crested Pigeon, Pale-headed Rosella, Pied Butcher Bird, Kookaburra and others (48 species). We were most fortunate this July and August to see birds not previously seen by us, such as at Arkarra Lagoon where John and his great team pointed out two more Gerygones, the Fairy and the White-throated. It was sad to see a family of White-browed Scrubwrens being harassed by a Drongo which was later observed enjoying one for breakfast. To add to our enjoyment, we spent an afternoon whale-watching. Whales are curious giants, just as we are curious. With our boat's engines shut down, these wonderful creatures played, dived and swam right under the boat. We were so fortunate that it was the time when Humpbacked Whales were passing here, en route for Antarctic waters. At Redcliffe Bay, amongst flowering Grevillea banksii, Verna and I discovered a Yellow-headed (Citrine) Wagtail. It was very active and vocal. It is rare in this area. We are still hoping it may have been seen in the area by others. ~ Nance Marriott.

· The Yellow-headed (Citrine) Wagtail is a small wagtail with a yellow head, black tail feathers and white outer feathers. It is a vagrant sometimes seen in marshes, farmland and grasslands near Sydney, Newcastle (Ash Island), Adelaide and Darwin.

The above article was written over ten years ago. Nance continues to visit Queensland each winter, but Verna is no longer able to accompany her. Webmeister

 

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