Friday, December 22, 2017

Merry Christmas everyone

The beauty of the twitch is that you just don't know what, where, or when until it suddenly happens. The call then has to be made regarding whether a day off work and a bit of a drive is worth it. It usually is!

The ocean beach at Old Bar

Last week the twitchers around the country were thrown into a frenzy as a completely new species for Australia was reported on the mid north coast of NSW. Not only that but a flock of 15 had lost their way and significantly overshot their migration from the Aleutian Islands to south east Asia. The birds were just over 300km north of Sydney which is well within striking range and so on Monday I joined the migration of twitchers from all over the country heading for the small seaside hamlet of Old Bar.

Aleutian Tern

After a pleasant stroll along the beach we reached the sand flats at the mouth of the Manning River where the Aleutian Terns #488 were hanging out. Non-breeding terns and waders are a nightmare for me to identify and with a strong breeze blowing all of the birds were hunkered down against the sand and my scope was jumping all over the place. A few good candidates were sitting about among the native species but the diagnostic dark trailing edge to the inner wing was nowhere to be seen. But then, after a bit of a wait, a group of terns flew towards us struggling against the wind with the characteristic underwing pattern clear to see. They alighted right in front of us. No fewer than 10 birds! Tick and thanks for coming!


On the way back through the shallow water I managed to stub my foot on either a rock or an oyster but whatever it was it made a bit of a mess. Luckily Emily was on hand to improvise a field dressing from a pair of socks which did the job until we found a pharmacy. Nice.
   

Sunday, December 03, 2017

New pigeon!

Well it's officially summer now so I guess I'll just have to put up with the summer temperatures which are becoming increasingly unpleasant once more. We're also getting our fair share of rain as well which means it's hot and sticky which is rubbish but, on the flip side, the tomatoes and cucumbers in the back yard are loving it. I'm just hoping the possums don't find them before we get the chance to enjoy some as well.


As I mentioned in my last post, a rare fruit-dove that is normally restricted to the rainforests up north was spotted in the Royal National Park. They do turn up as vagrants down here but very rarely and so I got myself down there sharpish to check things out. The bird was reported to frequent the same fruiting fig tree about 150m south of a particular picnic area and so hopefully it would be a simple case of locating said fig tree and ticking the bird.


There was indeed only one fruiting fig just south of the picnic area but it was a little way off the path up a steep slope and looking into the thick foliage in the overcast conditions proved tough. My eyes are just not what they used to be and so I was pleased when another twitcher arrived on the scene. After about 10 minutes scanning the tree he was onto the bird and the Rose-crowned Fruit-Dove #487 was onto my list. Getting a picture was unfortunately impossible at that distance in the dim light which is a shame because this was one of the prettiest birds that I've seen. It's spectacular colours were more like a parrot than a pigeon making it a most satisfying tick.
 

Thursday, November 16, 2017

New car twitch

The new car is here! Well actually it's been here for a couple of months now but I only just got hold of my cargo tray for the boot and so the whole hellish process is now finally over and I can start to enjoy it at last. It's been very stressful!

New car

I wasn't planning to buy a new car but, as it turns out, my needs are apparently pretty niche and so having to go through a dealership was unavoidable at the end of the day. The car I was after just doesn't turn up second-hand. My Suzuki Grand Vitara is one of, if not the only, family sized true 4x4 that's still small enough to drive easily round the inner city and is half the price of these other ridiculously large off-roaders. This year's model is also the last one that can properly handle the rough stuff before sadly being re-designed as a useless city soft-roader next year. And so I was forced into getting rid of the old Focus slightly before it's time which was actually a little sad.
 

Anyway, with migrations now well underway and things on the move, the twitching is back on and the other weekend saw two pairs of Orange Chats turn up in a field in Kiama Downs which is a pleasant little drive south of Sydney. Usually found in the arid interior they are already on my list at #392 from my trip to the gibber plains on the edge of the Sturt Stony Desert. However, over there I only saw the rather plain looking female bird and so, despite not being a tick for the list, I was keen to get a good view of the male.

Random new cycle path across a field

The birds were frequenting a random cycle path that runs a short distance across a random field and sure enough, after a couple of false alarms with Richard's Pipits, a lovely male Orange Chat hopped into view. The second male soon showed up as well before we were rudely driven from the area by a super agressive Magpie. I've never been attacked by one before although it's well known that that's what they can do at this time of year. It's actually quite alarming as they certainly don't hold back!

Orange Chat

There's a Rose-crowned Fruit-Dove in the Royal National Park at the moment too so that's maybe on for this weekend...
  

Monday, October 23, 2017

Hamilton Island revisited

Ragged palms are the only real sign of March's cyclone

I'm back to work again now and my sister's visit last month seems like an age ago. Once again we headed up north for a cracking week on Hamilton Island in the Whitsundays. The island copped the full brunt of Cyclone Debbie at the end of March and there's still a bit of damage about the place but really it just meant that the palm trees were looking a bit ragged on top. Otherwise it was the same old cocktails by the pool, turtles swimming by in the sea, and wallabies and Bush Stone-curlews running around on the pristine hotel lawns. I also saw a couple of Yellow-bellied Sunbirds in the gardens this time which was a real treat. It's a very long time since I last saw them up in Cairns.

Views from Passage Peak

I also managed to haul myself up to the highest point on the island this time which was a bit of a hot slog interrupted by vicious horseflies but the views are worth it and we even spotted an enormous Leatherback Turtle cruising past in the channel.
  
    
  

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Reef snorkelling

Humphead Wrasse or Napoleon Fish

Moon Wrasse

 Lined Butterflyfish

It's always good to get back in the water on the Great Barrier Reef. Alas, no turtles again while I was actually snorkelling but plenty of other things to keep one entertained including Flying Fish and Humpback Whales on the boat trip out to the reef.

Yellowbar Parrotfish

Garfish

Anemonefish in their anemone

Surf Parrotfish

We were told that the cyclone had hit the reef pretty hard but the number and variety of fish is still mighty impressive. Sadly the visibility wasn't as good as it has been in the past so decent pictures were difficult to take but I still managed to sneak up on a few obliging fish for some record shots. Saying that, you don't have to be too sneaky where clams are involved!

Clams

An hilariously grumpy looking Bengal Sergeant
  

Reef fishing

Lazy Silver Gull

A lot of my time on Hamilton Island was spent fishing around the various islands of the Whitsundays and also the Lindeman Island group just to the south. Unfortunately there were no catches of a lifetime but I did come away with a story of the one that got away.

Stripey Seaperch

Indonesian Snapper

Hussar

I don't know what it was that I hooked but the power was freakish as it stripped line from the reel even with the drag set as high as possible. As I clung on for dear life the skipper was getting excited about the "head shakes" coming from the fish at which point he threw the boat into gear and, like some scene from Jaws, we pursued the beast across the ocean. The fish knew exactly where it was going though and was soon heading deep into the reef where it managed to break us off. No idea what it was but that's what keeps you heading back for more.

Batfish

Coral Trout

Honeycomb Cod

Even with a lack of success trawling for Marlin and the other big sport fish, the reef fishing in tropical waters is always a lot of fun too. An impressive range of species were caught with only some of those being pictured here. Most catches were returned to the water but at the end of the day you always head back to shore with enough legal size fish for a good feed.

Grass Sweetlip

Grass Sweetlip a couple of hours later
  

Monday, September 04, 2017

The cuckoos are coming

Enjoying the mountain air with my father-in-law

I'm now finally getting the feeling that Spring is just around the corner. Out of the blue we had our first warm day yesterday with the mercury stopping just shy of 30C. Reports of the cuckoos moving down through Queensland are starting to come in and so the birding action may be about to pick up again as things are clearly back on the move.

Female Crimson Banded Wrasse

Hopefully I'll then get out and about and do something different that I can share with you. Recent weeks have continued to be filled with the pleasant regular visits to the Blue Mountains and fishing picnics in the harbour. It's all going to start in a couple of weeks when I'll be heading north to the Whitsundays with my sister who flies into Sydney at the end of this week. I reckon I can kick things off with some proper fishing which might turn up a few specimens a bit bigger than the little stuff I've been pulling out down here.

Fishing in the harbour

There are also strong rumours of a new car arriving in the next few days! It's painful to let the Focus go as it's been a fantastic little motor but it's finally beginning to show it's age and so time now for a well-deserved retirement. The next and third iteration of the Bush Mobile is a step up in terms of being able to get out into the rough stuff and, who knows, it may even have to be taken up some of the famous inland tracks in the future. Watch this space...! 

 Silver Sweep
  

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Winter sun

Sydney Harbour

Well as you can see there's not been much happening at all recently. Work is particularly hectic at the moment and so I've been needing the weekends to rest up and recover. At least we're currently enjoying a load of sunshine even though it's still a bit cold. For Sydney!

A female Hibiscus Harlequin Bug (Tectocoris diophthalmus)

There doesn't seem to be too much on in the way of twitching in winter and so I've not been out chasing the birds for a while. The majority of the whales appear to have migrated past Sydney by now as well and so there's not much action to be had there either. Instead we've been down to the harbour for a couple of picnics and of course the snorkelling is still good at any time of year. The water hasn't been super clear and so sadly I haven't been able to get any good pictures for you but I'll keep on trying...

Girdled Scalyfin at Gordons Bay

A well camouflaged Kelpfish
  

Sunday, June 11, 2017

A most unsatisfactory twitch

The unremarkable woods of Cessnock

The (relatively!) cold weather indicates that we're well into winter now and so the migrants are starting to show up. One of those winter visitors is the Swift Parrot which, despite arriving from Tasmania every year, has eluded me until now. Apparently the woodland around Cessnock in the Hunter Valley is a prime location and, upon hearing of massive flocks swarming throughout the region, I made the two hour drive north to finally get this bogey bird onto the list. On my first day up there I scrutinised the many groups of Little Lorikeets all to no avail and every other movement seemed to be the ubiquitous Yellow-tufted Honeyeaters and Noisy Friarbirds. As the sun was setting I got onto a single parrot which appeared to fit the bill but high up in the canopy against the setting sun I couldn't be sure.
 

I returned again the next weekend as reports continued to pour in describing vast numbers of parrots in the very woods where I had been. This time we weren't there long before a pair of Swift Parrots #486 shot past giving the briefest of glimpses and that was that. A rubbish view and I can't decide whether it would have been better not to see them at all which would have forced me to return yet again for a better look.

Back to the Hawkesbury

We didn't have much better luck fishing on the Hawkesbury again last weekend. The weather was lovely but the tide was all wrong resulting in ridiculous currents which our light kids' gear couldn't cope with. We were then boarded by Ministry of Fisheries who couldn't believe that we didn't have any catch on the boat and were sure that we must be hiding a load of undersize fish in our eskys. Upon discovering that we were in actual fact just useless, they provided some top tips and the next cast saw me pull in the one fish for the day. We then promptly got our anchor stuck and had to cut it loose putting an end to the day's angling. At least Emily managed to pull off another great fishing feat. After previously catching a seahorse with rod and line which was pretty impressive, she may have bettered that catch by 'hooking' a cockle. These things don't even have mouths or anything. Remarkable.

School Mulloway

Even though the air temperature is getting a bit low at times just now, the water temperature remains relatively comfortable and so the snorkelling is still on the cards now and again between the rain.

 Bream
  

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Easter in the outback

Parkes Radio Telescope

The Easter long weekend is a rare opportunity to get a bit further afield. This year we actually did something and headed west. We based ourselves in Parkes for a couple of nights which is just about where country New South Wales gives way to the outback. Parkes is famous for two things. A radio telescope and an annual Elvis festival when tens of thousands of Elvises bizarrely descend upon the place. The radio telescope is pretty good actually and secured a place in history by receiving the first pictures of man walking on the moon. Most of the time it just listens to the universe in the hope that the little green men will call.

Minor outback road

A few hours further west from Parkes are the legendary Nombinnie National Park and Round Hill Nature Reserve. These two areas are probably the closest bits of mallee country to Sydney and are allegedly full of mallee specialty birds. As we entered the red dust I had high hopes of adding significant numbers to the list. Stepping out of the car at Nombinnie I immediately ticked Gilbert's Whistler #485. And that was that!

Major outback road

There were a load of nice inland species like White-browed Babbler, Chestnut Quail-thrush, Cockatiels and Splendid Fairy-wren but no other mallee birds and no more ticks. It was actually easier to spot what had been around rather than what was actually there.

Emu

Sitting kangaroo 

There's not much shade in the mallee and so after a pretty hot day we headed back to Parkes. On the way we had an encounter with a very angry Eastern Brown Snake. Unlike the little Blue Mountains Crowned Snake the big Eastern Brown is the second most venomous land-based snake in the world and is very much in the deadly category. This one was particularly annoyed because I'd just run over his tail. Snakes sometimes head on to roads after dark because the surface is still warm and so this unfortunate individual was lying right across the road like a police stinger in the pitch black. We went back to check on it and were met with a very aggressive response. Sadly it likely wouldn't have survived and so I thought it a bit disrespectful to take a picture. On the way back to Sydney we did see another very nice reptile crossing the road though and so I jumped out and took it's picture instead.

Snake-necked Turtle