27 April update (species count 533)

Just back from a quick run up to Lamington NP in SE Queensland. The highlight was Albert’s lyrebird, and several less difficult but spectacular temperate rainforest specialists. A surprise encounter with a single crested shrike-tit was very much appreciated. Unfortunately, I dipped on marbled frogmouth, despite working a number of known hot-spots, where I had at least 7 birds calling. I have two more opportunities to tick southern marbled frogmouths – in mid-August and mid-November when I’m working my way through the region again. I stayed in relative luxury at O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat, which needs no introduction to birders – it was a great experience and lived up to the hype. Before returning home (Ourimbah – north of Sydney) I swung out west to Munghorn Gap NR near Goulburn River NP - a favourite spot for the Hunter Valley birdos, where regent honeyeaters had recently been sighted. I didn’t find the regents, but did still managed to see some great birds, including rockwarbler, black-chinned honeyeater and chestnut-rumped heathwren (though this wasn’t my first sighting of the species for the year). I was disappointed to miss out on the plum-headed finches, white-backed swallows and diamond fire-tails that are a feature of many birding reports from the reserve, but ‘round 2’ will come soon enough in a few short months. I missed the northern ‘plumifrons’ race at Iron Range in January, and will be targeting it in about a month, when I’m back at that magical place. It’s the only specialty that I dipped on first time around, so I’m glad I have it as an excuse to return!

I’m presently enjoying two rare ‘down-time’ days, dedicated to catching up on real-world matters such as work and family (though I did manage to combine dog-walking with ticking red-whiskered bulbul this morning, amazing multi-tasking). I’m off to Wollongong tonight for tomorrow’s pelagic, before launching into a ten week road-trip.

Very excited about the next big leg of my year – a rare period where I will have company. Tim Faulkner, Scotty Ryan and I will be scouring a huge geographical chunk of Australia during most of May, attempting to sight as many races of grasswrens as we can in a finite period. Although we won’t be heading to WA, and won’t chase white-throated grasswrens in the far north, we will certainly take our best shot at almost all other races of these elusive arid-country jewels. In addition to being a bird-finding freak, Tim is a talented planner and organiser, so it’s a relative ‘free-ride’ for me, until I say goodbye to the boys at the end of the month. After that its NQ and Cape York (for second time), Alice Springs and west to Canning Stock Route, through the northern Kimberley (which I know well - from more than 20 reptile-related trips in the past), Kununurra, Darwin and top end.

A sea-birding confession

Tomorrow’s Wollongong pelagic trip (28 April) will be my eighth for the year, and though I’d like to report progress, the reality is that I’m still a hopeless sea-birder, finding it hard enough to keep from constantly falling over, let alone determine the finer facial markings or bill structure of fast-moving sea-birds through 8X binoculars. To make the challenge of seeing and photographing seabirds even harder (much harder) my state of diminished physical and mental coordination on board is further diminished by the anti-seasickness remedies required to avoid the dreaded sea-monster that has kept me away from boats most of my life. Full credit to the pelagic regulars with super-human abilities to spot, identify, and sometimes photograph birds that I’m lucky to see at all. They are enthusiasts and obviously love their time on the water, despite, for some, taking turns with me heaving over the back of the boat. I really enjoy meeting and mixing with these – at least in the early part of the day. Fortunately, the ever-present possibility of turning up a rarity between five-metre waves keeps me climbing on board, but I make no promises of sea-birding beyond 31 December, 2012! Highlights on the sea for me so far this year have included sooty albatross, south polar skua, white-necked petrel, black petrel and Tahiti petrel. The frequently seen albatross species still take my breath away at the onset of most trips (before the Travelcalm knocks me on my arse).

15 April update – Re-evaluating scope of Birding for Devils blog

Unfortunately it becomes increasingly unlikely that promised detailed trip reports will appear on the blog – which was always my intention. The reality is that every day for me is a Twitchathon – there is little fuel in the tank at the end of the day - and barely enough hours before bed-time (i.e. swag-time) to consolidate planning for the next day, and processing of photos. So, as they say about the best-made plans of men and mice… Maybe a big set of post-year trip reports or a more formal publication will be possible – there is certainly no shortage of adventurous challenges and disastrous incidences to report – and hopefully be able to eventually laugh about.

What I will try for in the meantime is for inclusion of occasional and brief diary-style entries such as the current one. But the core measure of my progress – the dated entries of progressive sightings will be kept up to date with the help of Jill, who will also regularly post photos that I’ll be sending.

The good news is that we are now very close to having the ‘photos’ link hooked up to the species list, so images of highly varied quality (some are really bad but at least will present the bird in question) will be accessible for a high proportion of ‘ticks’. I’m confident that this feature will be up and running before 10 May. Once up, it is easy to update, and this will happen at least once a week. In many instances the photo will represent a bird sighted after the initial ‘tick’, as seeing and identifying the bugger comes first, and the click of the camera often comes too late. I do make every effort get a shot – but this is often impossible for a mere mortal. My big year of birding is comprised largely of two to three sweeps of targeted regions, so on those few occasions where I have failed to get an image portraying first-time sightings, I’ll endeavour to nail these down on subsequent visits.

12 April update – Mallee magic (species count 514)

These past 10 days were wonderful, camping and bird-searching through Australia’s best remaining mallee country, visiting these phenomenal sites:

Innes NP, SA (best birds: malleefowl [two glorious sightings!], rock parrot and purple-gaped honeyeater)

BirdLife Australia’s Gluepot Reserve, SA (best birds: red-lored whistler, regent parrot, striated grasswren, black-eared miner – but missed scarlet-chested parrot)

Hattah Kulkyne NP, Vic (best bird mallee emu-wren – saw five groups in vicinity of Nowingi Track area as per Tim Dolby’s fabulous publications and blog-site). Saw Malleefowl tracks in the park but saw no birds – and saw plenty of fox sign.

Round Hill Nature Reserve, NSW (best birds: black-eared cuckoo and grey-fronted honeyeater)

It’s great to find so much good, reasonably mature mallee, though from a reptile-perspective, it is a cool time of the year, and there were no standout sightings. Apart from the elusive and nomadic scarlet-chested parrot, I didn’t miss much from my bird hit-list for the south-east mallee - so depending upon future sightings of this elusive nomad later in the year, I may not have the good fortune of visiting these fantastic mallee wonderlands again this year.

27 March – finally a first entry to blog (species count 466)

Although my ‘big year’ is proving to be more onerous than I’d anticipated, I wouldn’t have missed a minute of it. From New Year’s day, most of my waking hours have been spent in an intensive and sometimes frantic search for birds, leaving little time and no nervous energy for blog-writing and correspondence. Well, Norfolk Island was admittedly much easier, but I still managed to fill that week with birding. The 22,000 photos taken to date depict almost all of the sighted bird species, yet remain largely unedited, for lack of time. Images will eventually be available in conjunction with the list of species sighted. So far as images for the overdue trip reports, I am happy to report that I’ve distilled the images down to a manageable number of about 500. That’s at least a start! For the time being, in order to at least share a glimpse of what I’ve been up to, I’ve included the bird species listing up to today.

Iron Range
Tuesday, Boigu and Saibai Islands
Cairns and Tablelands
Tasmania/King Island
Christmas/Cocos Islands
Skulkers trip to SW WA
Broome Waders
Norfolk Island
Four pelagic day-trips

So far my strategy of targeting ‘tough birds’ and ‘tough locations’ hard and fast, with the comfort of having scheduled return visit to mop up a much smaller list of species later in the year seems to be working. So far there have been only a few big ‘dips’ - though the missed ringed plover on Norfolk Island last week definitely hurts.

I am about to begin a two-week trek through the southeast of the country, particularly mallee habitats, with a targeted list of about iconic species such as malleefowl and scarlet-chested parrot.

John Weigel