Monday, November 8, 2010

Square-tailed Kites in SA !!

Square-tailed Kites are generally rare to uncommon over most of Australia, in South Australia they arguably could be the rarest bird we have!
Twice before I have come across this species,with both times only brief views were had as an individual bird flew low over my head. The first time was back in about 1998 in a vineyard on the edge of the Onkaparinga Gorge. Then I saw one last year quartering over one of the woodlots at St Hallett Winery in the Barossa Valley (probably one of these birds), both times views were good enough to get a positive id on the birds.
Yesterday (7/11/10) a good birding friend of mine Kay Parkin went out searching for these elusive birds and hit the mega jackpot! finding a nest with a sitting bird! She rang to let me know and within an hour or so I was also standing watching as the female sat on the nest and then a male came in with some prey to feed what sounded like very young chicks! Fabulous sight to see, once in a lifetime stuff!! and what made it even better was the birds totally ignored us and went about their business like we weren't even there!
Right up there as one of my best birding experience's!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Strezlecki Track & Flinders Ranges Pt. 2

24/09/10 - 27/09/10 

Letter-wing Kite
After passing Montecollina Bore and the Swale country which surrounds it, we next headed to a site given to us as a place to find Letter-winged Kites. We pulled into the area and proceeded to walk the treeline that the Letter-wings use for nesting. The area has around twenty or so Coolabah's and we were nearing the last group thinking we were going to dip on our main target species for the trip having found none in the first fifteen or so trees we had checked. As we neared the last of the trees three Letter-wings flew up and started circling and calling around us, ghost like with their almost see through white plumage they flew higher and higher till we could barely see them. During this flight they often flapped there wings in a strange almost Butterfly like manner, an amazing sight to see! Luckily for us no sooner had they ascended to a great height then they descended back down and settled down back into the trees.
Mike and I were rapt! a bird we thought we only had a small chance of seeing in our lives, right there in front of us settling back down onto their nests and acting as if we weren't even there!
Personally, I was thrilled as this species is number five in the top ten birds I want to see in the wild in my lifetime!

Pair of LWKites found between Montecollina Bore and Strezlecki Crossing
 Suprisingly, for such an arid area there were birds everywhere at this site. Some of the other birds found at this site included : Red-backed Kingfisher, Spotted Harrier, Black Kite, Yellow-throated Miner, Australian Magpie, Zebra Finches and Budgerigar's. 

Red-backed Kingfisher at the Letter-winged Kite site
 We got back to the 4wd just in time to hear the last 7 seconds of the grand final, a draw! not what we were expecting to hear!
Didn't take long to forget about that and get back to enjoying just being in the outback! as we headed for the Strezlecki Crossing we had travelled a little further down the road when Mike slammed the brakes on, off to the right about 200m there was another Letter-wing! great spotting by the driver! a little worrisome as the passenger though!! This sighting was even more enjoyable than the first as we found this sight ourselves and that always is a more satisfing feeling than being directed to a site which can be a little like shooting fish in a barrel!

The Letter-winged Kite that eagle-eye Mike spotted whilst driving, heading towards Strezlecki Crossing.

Dusk on the Strezlecki Crossing
 We camped just back away from the waterhole at the Strezlecki Crossing. After a stunning sunset, Mike cooked up an exemplary camp oven roast (he was proving quite handy!), while I tested the wine make sure it would accompany the meal to our satisfaction, which of course it did being a 02 St Hallett Old Block (we couldn't go wrong).
That night we took the spotlight out and went for a look at the Crossing, where we came across many Nankeen Night-herons mostly in juvenile plumage. We also came across a few Kultarr hopping about the dunes which was great to see as neither of us had seen these before!
In the morning we looked around the Crossing a bit more, where there were masses of Great and Little Black Cormorants plus lots of other waterbirds. Also in the general area there were many parrots such as Blue Bonnets, Budgies and Cockatiels.

Blue Bonnets at Strezlecki Crossing

Blue Bonnet at Strezlecki Crossing

Dawn on Frome Creek at Mt Lyndhurst Station a Little Corella enjoys the sunrise! 
 Our last night was spent back on Mt Lyndhurst Station at the Frome Creek crossing which had a nice place to camp with water still running across the ford. The birdlife around this camp was pretty much the same as we had found at our other camps, although we did have a noisy pair of Sacred Kingfishers nesting in a hollow near us. An interesting thing happened to me the next morning as I headed off on a walk with a shovel instead of a camera (maybe I should have taken both!) a pair of Dotterals circled around my head with the sun behind them which made it impossible to tell what species they were! This was dissapointing as one of the targets of this trip was to find Inland Dotterals, which so far had eluded us, I have a feeling these birds were Inlands but I could never prove it as they flew across the river to where I could not get! So the two birds we felt we should be able to find: Inland Dotterals and Eyrean Grasswren had eluded us! oh well there is always next time!

Sacred Kingfishers where nesting right next to our camp on Frome Creek, Mt Lyndhurst Station

Sacred Kingfishers where nesting right next to our camp on Frome Creek, Mt Lyndhurst Station
  After leaving the Strezlecki Track we headed home via the Flinders Ranges specifically to target the Short-tailed Grasswren which can be found around Stokes Hill Lookout, just north of Wilpena Pound. On the way  there we travelled through Parachilna Gorge where we stopped a few times to see what we could find. At one spot we trudged all over a steep hillside to allow me views of a Redthroat, a bird I hadn't seen before. Mike had and of course he saw it easily where as it took me about 15min to get good enough views.
At Stokes Hill we had a lot more luck with Short-tailed Grasswrens, we had only left the car for about 2-5 minutes when across a small gully some movement caught my eye, there two ST Grasswrens where happily bouncing around as grasswrens do going about their business. Too Easy!!
After we left the Flinders the only other bird of note was a Black Falcon perched in a tree along a creekline south of Hawker.
All up a great trip and i'm already chaffing at the bit to get back up there again!

Short-tailed Grasswren found at Stokes Hill Lookout only five minutes after leaving the car!

Bonding Pair

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Strezlecki Track & Flinders Ranges Pt.1

24/09/10 - 27/09/10
With the outback reportedly in magnificent condition at the moment after all the rain that has fallen, I decided to arrange a trip with good mate Michael Warnes and head up along the lower half of the Strezlecki Track. We chose to go on the last weekend in September as it was AFL grand final weekend and Collingwood were looking ominous, and we wanted to be as far away as we could be, incase they won!! ( turned out to be a draw, so our plan failed and we had to deal with it the next weekend! )
We left at 6.30am and arrived in the Southern Flinders Ranges around 3 hours later. We had travelled around 30km's north of Hawker when we saw a small flock of six Chirruping Wedgebills in a roadside bush, so we pulled over for a look. While standing on the side of the road, not 4m away a Rufous Fieldwren popped up onto the top of a low bush and proceeded to sing it's little heart out, a second bird was hopping around in the same area also. In this spot we also flushed a small Quail, I think it was a Little button-Quail, although it seemed quite pale on it's back compared to other LBQ I often come across further south just north of Adelaide. Has me wondering if it was a Red-chested Button-Quail? Hard to be sure?

Rufous Fieldwren
 Next stop was Mt Lyndhurst Station and the rusty car site. The weather was picture perfect as Mike and I trudged up and down rocky slopes all afternoon, didn't help us find our target: Chestnut-breasted Whiteface! Zebra Finches were in abundance and I saw the only Pied Honeyeater for the trip while straining my eyes looking for the elusive Whitefaces! Highlight of the afternoon was a trio of Thick-billed Grasswrens which were responding beautifully to a little brass squeaker we brought along for just such an occasion!

Three playful Thick-billed Grasswrens!

Prepare for takeoff!!

Thick-billed Grasswren

Great little birds!
 As nightfall approached we had to admit defeat and retire to camp back towards Lyndhurst a little way. In the morning while consuming breakfast a group of 3 Cinnamon Quail-thrush came wandering past fairly well ignoring us as two males had a bit of a dispute over the female which was accompanying them.
After breakfast it was back to the Chestnut-breasted Whiteface site to resume the search. This time after an epiphany during the night where I remembered Dave Kowalick had seen them around 500m north of the rusty car, Mike and I set off with a renewed determination. We took off in different directions with a plan to meet on a distant rigdetop. An hour later we met and other than a few more Cinnamon Quail-thrush each and plenty of Zebra Finches we still hadn't found what we were looking for! Mike lead us back towards the 4wd
down a small gully where he had heard an interesting call earlier, nothing in the gully but as we neared the vehicle a small bird popped up onto the top of a low bush, Chestnut-breasted Whiteface!! Turned out to be a party of 4-6 birds (hard to tell numbers as they hopped about between bushes!) we also stopped in here on the way home and found a flock of 4 birds, which is where these photos came from. It had taken around five hours searching all up! but it was worth it to find the first of the two endemic species only found in SA that we hoped to find on this trip, the other being the Short-tailed Grasswren. Both would be lifer's for me and the CBW would be for Mike!

Chestnut Breasted Whiteface at Mt Lyndhurst Station

Chestnut-breated Whiteface
 Interestingly we didn't see any Wedge-tailed Eagles on the road up to the Strezlecki Track? it wasn't until we were trudging around Mt Lyndhurst Station that we had one circling around on a thermal a little way off in the distance. I would have put good money on seeing a few Eagles through the Flinders on the way up! I would be poorer for it now though!
The most abundant Raptor for the trip was hands down the Black Kite!

Black Kite

Australian Pratincole
  Australian Pratincoles were found at pretty much anywhere with a bit of surface water nearby.

Gibberbird with insect for it's young
  At one spot just past the Dog fence we pulled up on a flat green! gibber plain as Mike had seen a bird off the road a bit that he wanted to check out. When he returned to the car mumbling something about Brown Songlarks! he flushed a Gibberbird off it's nest, which then produced a very convincing broken-wing display to try to distract us from it's nest. The other bird from the pair also came in and did the same, although it wasn't going to give up it's hard earned prey, as can be seen in these photos! After a few photos we left them to tend to their offspring, happy in the knowledge that we had both found another lifer, a bird which can reportedly be hard to find!

  Part 2 coming soon!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Of Birds and Wine, Pt 1

Breeding Box placed in River Red Gum on the banks of North Para River
Just thought I would add a few photos of a little project I have going at St Hallett Winery near Tanunda in the Barossa Valley, South Australia. The winery has three waste water management tree-lots, fast growing and closed in they don't make the best of habitats. Some birds thrive in them for example: White-plumed Honeyeaters, Weebils and the local pair of endangered (in SA) Crested Shrike-tits, then there are others such as Adelaide Rosellas, Musk and Rainbow Lorikeets etc, which visit them to feed but thats about it, due to there being no natural hollows in the young trees.
 I applied for a grant to build some breeding boxes to place throughout the tree-lots and also on the adjoining North Para River bank. This year I managed to build and hang 12 bird boxes and two bat boxes. This is an ongoing project and I will get in and build some more before next breeding season. So far this year nearly all the boxes have pairs of Rosellas sitting in them! Plus a few which some annoying Starlings have decided to occupy!!
Anyway here's a few photos of some of the boxes and occupants, plus just a few other shots of some of the birdlife around the winery!

Adelaide Rosella sitting on one of the boxes in the woodlot

Whats in here?
Adelaide Rosella in one of the boxes
Box up a tree!!
Laughing Kookaburra sunning in the woodlot
Zebra Finch on an electricity wire at the winery
Native Water Rat in the North Para River

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Morgan Conservation Park

It's been 15yrs since I last headed up to Morgan, so I decided it was time to revisit this neat little riverland town! The main draw card for me on this trip was a memory now nearly twenty years old. I can still vividly recall a flock of around ten Regent Parrots flying fast and low overhead when I was up this way water skiing, at the time I was only about twelve years old!
Memories fade, but when I rolled into Morgan on a lovely sunny Saturday afternoon, it all came flooding back and it was as if I had only been here not long ago! It's always nice to return to a place where you haven't been to for a long time and find it pretty much as it was and not over-run with housing developments and big supermarkets everywhere, which can so often ruin our coastal towns these days! Once quaint little seaside towns, now big everything and 4wd vehicles that will never see a dirt road!
Striated Pardalotes
First stop was the playground as I had a couple of ankle biters with me. While there the first birds to make an appearance were a pair of Rainbow Lorikeets closely followed by stacks of Noisy Miners! Also seen in this area were a pair of Striated Pardalotes on the side of a cliff, a nesting hole had been dug out not far beneath them so I imagine they are breeding there. Three Red-rump Parrots were feeding on the lawns, Sulfur-crest Cockatoos and Little Corella's wheeled overhead, while down on the river there were some Pacific Black Ducks, Wood Ducks and a lone Darter on the other side.
Red-rump Parrot (Male)

Red-rump Parrot (Female)
Next we drove onto the Ferry and headed across to the Conservation Park. With a diverse range of habitat the chance of an unusual bird showing up is probably quite good, for me this turned up in the form of an Australasian Bittern calling it's distinctive call from a big reed bed on the edge of the lagoon. Despite scanning the area for twenty minutes it failed to show! Not unusual for this cryptic species!
The reed bed from which the Bittern was calling.
After scanning the lagoon seeing many of the usual waterfowl, we headed to the eastern side of the lagoon parked the car and took of on foot in pursuit of whatever would show up! Heading into the small sandy rises just away from the Lagoon we came across our first Regent Parrots which flew off into the distance almost instantly! d'oh!! luckily it didn't take long to locate many more!!

A pair of Regent Parrots

Part of a flock of 10 feeding Regents

Female Regent preening

Male Regent
Other highlights included : a pair of Crested-shrike tits, an Intermediate Egret, many Great Egrets, a Pied Butcherbird, lots of Yellow Rosella's, Tree Martins, Musk Duck, White-browed Babblers and many more common species! All up a good days birding! Definitely planning a return trip!

Yellow Rosella

Distant shot of a Pied Butcherbird

Great Egret

Welcome Swallow perched on the Ferry rail