2018 Plains-wanderer Report
2017 Plains-wanderer Report
2016 Plains-wanderer Report
2015 Plains-wanderer Report
Cobar seed collection report with some birding posted 1 January 2017
Video by Chris Wood, Cornell University, of a pair of plains-wanderers mating. (This link does not work in Safari — or at least not in ours. Paste the URL into your browser if you have the same problem). http://vimeo.com/77521266
Ebird's link for plains-wanderer
Videos of mostly local bird species including female plains-wanderer calling (last video) http://www.youtube.com/user/AOS3141
Incidental sightings including Melbourne Royal Botanic Gardens
Inland dotterel with two chicks video https://youtu.be/I6gF0ESH-7o
2015 — 2014 Latest News
2013 — 2007 Latest News
2006 — 2003 Latest News
June 2002 — May 2003 Latest News
2001 — 2002 Latest News
Summer 2000 Latest News
Spring 2000 Latest News
Recent sightings Deniliquin & Wanganella areas
2018: Many thanks to the Illawarra Birders' Club, which generously donated $250 to my Wanganella Sandhill and Monimail revegetation projects. It was a kind and much appreciated gesture.
The Hay Plain is suffering the effect of a severe drought. Birders hoping to see plains-wanderers are advised to leave their visit to Deniliquin until after the district receives significant rain (if they can). [See 2018 plains-wanderer report].
10 July 2019: Tom Wheller had an extraordinary find in the redgum forest in Deniliquin township. Tom found a powerful owl — the first confirmed record of a powerful owl in the Deniliquin district. Good work Tom!
8 July 2019: 14.5 mm of rain on the Hay Plain.
30 June 2019: 10 mm of rain on the Hay Plain.
2 May 2019: 67.5 mm of rain has fallen on the Hay Plain.
9 April 2019 It was with trepidation that I took out John and Robyn, a lovely couple from Canberra. With drought still raging through all of south-east Australia I was worried that we wouldn’t see any of our target birds.
We headed north of town on a cold, slightly windy morning,which is never good for birding. We had only gone a couple of kilometres out the Cobb Highway when a large flock of superb parrots was spotted flying about the grey box. We pulled over to check them out. There were probably around fifty birds present and they alighted in the grey box trees before drifting to the ground to feed. With the cold breeze blowing they wouldn’t settle down so decent photos were hard to get. Still, we enjoyed some great views before most moved off. I was amazed to see them here. On my last trip with clients about six weeks ago I’d been unable to find superbs anywhere in the district. Such is the nature of superbs in the non-breeding season. Today we were off to a great start!
Our next stop was the boree country north of Pretty Pine. Here I was hoping that the painted honeyeaters would still be present. Several pairs had attempted breeding here in the summer. I didnít know how they had fared with their breeding as I hadnít been out here much over the summer due to the drought and extreme heatwave conditions. I thought they would have struggled though to raise any young in such diabolical times. So I was pleasantly surprised to find two immature painted honeyeaters on our first attempt. We tried at another spot where there had been another pair attempting to breed and again came up trumps with another two immatures. No adults were seen, suggesting they had moved on, perhaps leaving the mistletoe berries for the juveniles. How they managed to raise any young at all over such a horrific summer is beyond me. A female mistletoebird was seen here as well.
We moved on to the Monimail revegetation area. Spiny-cheeked and singing honeyeaters were plentiful here, probably feeding on ruby saltbush berries which are a staple for many species when itís dry. It fruits prolifically in the driest of conditions. A couple of striped honeyeaters were seen here too and some photos were had although the birds were not particularly cooperative. A few superb parrots flew overhead.
Back in Deniliquin we called in at the sewerage ponds where a swamp harrier had the ducks in a frenzy. Hundreds of plumed whistle-ducks were in the air as well as grey teal, pink-ears and others. The harrier moved on and the ducks settled down. A couple of male blue-bills were seen as well as half a dozen shoveller, the first I have seen in the district for some years I suspect. This once common species is now a rarity in the district. The morning proved more productive than I anticipated. We broke for lunch.
We called in at my revegetation area at Wanganella after lunch hoping for the pied honeyeaters that have been hanging about there of late. Other honeyeaters were plentiful here — primarily spiny-cheeked and singing as well as yellow-throated miner, probably all feeding on ruby saltbush berries. Four yellow thornbills were also seen feeding in the low acacias. I am fairly sure we did see pied honeyeaters but they were elusive, flying in the late afternoon in tight flocks to roost, but then seeming to vanish. They were probably sitting tight in the dense shrubs. Anyhow they refused to be seen so we moved on.
Out on the plains it was pretty hard going with our best spotlighting sightings being fat-tailed dunnarts, some banded lapwing and a barn owl. No surprises in not being able to find a plains-wanderer. The Wanganella area has had about 40 mm of rain in the first quarter of 2019 following a dismal 2018. The following three days in the Victorian mallee
2 March 2019: I went out to check on the pied honeyeaters that turned up a few days ago at my revegetation area at Wanganella. Just after sunrise at least eight pied honeyeaters took off from their roost and went high in the air. I did not see them again. It would appear they are going off to feed elsewhere, like they were doing last year at Monimail. I suspect they are probably feeding on saltbush berries along the creek somewhere. They probably come back to roost in the late afternoon. Some mallee eucalypts are in flower but no honeyeaters were seen feeding in them. Some of the Eremophila longifolia still have flowers that blossomed since the last rain a few weeks back. No black honeyeaters were seen at all.
The other highlight this morning was white-backed swallows. After seeing none for weeks and thinking they had moved on, at around 10.00 am approximately twenty suddenly appeared. I suspect by the way they were milling around the nest area they may have just arrived from the interior. There had only been a maximum of about eight here during the breeding season. I have had big mobs turn up before in the autumn. Hopefully they will stay.
Other species seen out here this morning included: red-rumped parrot, yellow rosella, crested pigeon, whistling kite, yellow-throated miner, spiny-cheeked honeyeater, striped honeyeater, singing honeyeater, white-plumed honeyeater, yellow-rumped thornbill (~15), yellow thornbill (~2), superb fairywren.
27 & 26 February 2019: It was with some trepidation that l took Andrew from England and Roland from Germany out for an evening excursion, followed by an outing the next morning. Andrew was a mate of Eddie, a birder who had taken me under his wing when Trisha and I were in Suffolk back in 2012. We are still in the midst of the mother of all droughts here and have just endured the hottest January on record with day after day of 40ºC+. Would there be any birds left alive? They probably had little chance of seeing much at all, let alone a plains-wanderer.
We pulled into my revegetation area at Wanganella where I thought we might pickup owlet nightjar or maybe white-backed swallow. We failed on both counts but we glimpsed a distant honeyeater that was either pied or white-fronted. Closer inspection revealed about three or four black honeyeaters soon followed by a similar number of pied honeyeaters. Wow ! I’d thought all the black honeyeaters had gone as I’d not seen any for over a month and all the eremophila had largely finished flowering, so I reckoned that was it, I won’t be seeing any more of those. The pied honeyeaters hadn’t come at all this season, so wasn’t expecting them at this late stage. At least one male black honeyeater was seen and two male pied honeyeaters plus females of each. I suspect they might be feeding in some flowering mallees possibly Eucalyptus dumosa as I think Eucalyptus socialis has pretty much finished flowering. I only planted the mallees as a bit of an afterthought and I am pleased I did now as they are so tough and have continued to put out new growth all through the summer in the most diabolical conditions. They grow about twice as fast as the poor old white cypress pines. They also flower in the late summer when there is not much else flowering apart from some of the mistletoes. Striped, spiny-cheeked and singing honeyeaters were also seen as well as yellow-throated miner.
After this great success we headed out onto the plains to do some spotlighting. At our first stop in the black box clump on the plains-wanderer property we had a try for owlet nightjar. Success was ours and had a great view of one in the spotlight. We headed up into the plains-wanderer paddock. I knew we had pretty much no chance for plains-wanderer as we had not seen any since November and there had been very little rain since then so there was little reason for them to return. We had not been spotlighting long when a small marsupial was spotted that I didn’t think was a fat-tailed dunnart. It disappeared behind a clump of dead vegetation so I got out with the torch to see if I could find it. After a short search I found the cutest little narrow-nosed planigale. I called to Andrew and Roland. They had great looks and Andrew got some photos. This was only about the fifth planigale I have seen in my life. Heaps of fat-tailed dunnarts were seen including females with pouched young and many young about three-quarters grown. Despite the drought they seem to be thriving. I think they actually like it when it’s bare as it probably makes it easier for them to forage for food. I was also amazed how many insects were around given we are in the midst of a severe drought. There were moths everywhere and heaps of brown crickets on the ground as well as spiders. As least two species of bats were around the vehicle most of the night, using the lights of our vehicle to catch moths. A barn owl was also patrolling the paddock chasing dunnarts.
We tried another couple of paddocks and found a dozen or so banded lapwing but inland dotterels remained elusive. A few emu were also seen in the spotlight. Four species of macropod were seen during the day: black wallaby, eastern and western grey and red kangaroo. And we had the two Dasyuridae members and brush-tailed possum. We called it a night at about 12 o'clock and headed for home. A couple of hundred kangaroos, mainly eastern greys, were feeding along the roadside on the way in but we managed to dodge them and make it home unscathed.
Andrew, Roland and I were out again early the next morning. We visited my revegetation area at Monimail, north of town. Here we managed variegated (purple-backed) fairy- wren, white-fronted honeyeater and a lovely male mistletoebird. Bluebonnets were also seen but superb parrots appear to have completely deserted this area which is very unusual. Robert had seen five Major Mitchell’s cockatoo around here yesterday morning feeding on dillon bush berries but we were unable to locate them. We hunted about on the TSR and eventually located quite a few groups of white-winged fairy-wrens in the saltbush country including several coloured males. We headed back to the boree country where the painted honeyeaters had been attempting to breed back in December. We found a single bird which I think was an adult female. Andrew and Roland were overjoyed. I don’t know how the painteds fared with breeding this year as it was so dry and they had to suffer the most appalling heatwave when they were attempting to breed. It would have been a miracle if they raised any young.
Although we missed quite a few species I would expect to see in better times, we had some rare and unexpected sightings and I think my two companions were happy enough. We had some animated discussions about Trump, Brexit and Australian politics, which is always cathartic.
17 February 2019: A dozen or so fork-tailed swifts over Deniliquin.
11 February 2019: Robert recorded an Australian pratincole and two pairs of orange chats, north of Wanganella.
7 & 14 January 2019: My friend, Peter Norris recorded a pair of bush stone-curlews on the TSR along the Cobb Highway, not far north of Moama, NSW. The stone-curlews are almost extinct in the Riverina and this is the first pair I’ve heard of in the district for at least five years. The population at Booroorban appears to have died out with no recent sightings from that area.
28 December 2018: My old mate Tom Wheller and I went down to the Gulpa forest today. Our main aim was to see how the pair of Gilbert’s whistler was faring with their nest that I found a couple of weeks back. We only know of one pair in the forest at present, although it is possible that there are others. Gilbert's whistler numbers are at rock bottom and it, like most other species in the district, is struggling with the drought conditions that sadly are the new norm in this district.
We have not seen them successfully raise young for well over ten years; given the current heatwave, I didn’t have my hopes up this time. While we were down there we took the opportunity to fill up some water troughs l had in the forest to help the birds through the heatwave.
We located the Gilbert’s nest in a small white cypress pine tree in amongst redgums and dwarf cherries. We were slightly alarmed to see nothing on the nest but we hung back a bit from the nest and waited. After a few minutes the female Gilbert’s come in carrying food and went straight to the nest and fed young. The young must be quite small as they were not readily visible, so they are not out of the woods yet, so to speak.
I know from previous experience that they get the young out of the nest at a young age, sometimes before they can even fly properly. The young follow the adults around, running along the ground and scrambling up into bushes. They share this characteristic with some other species; the crested bellbird comes to mind. I guess birds of that size are vulnerable in the nest so they like to get them out as quickly as possible and hide them. Tom and I, not wanting to disturb them, didn’t hang around; we’d achieved our aim.
We had a bit of a walk around the sandhills and were pleased to see quite a few rainbow bee-eaters nesting. Dusky woodswallows had done okay with a couple of clutches of fledged young seen. A couple of pairs of white-browed woodswallows were seen that may have also been nesting as they have been about for some weeks.
We spotted a diamond firetail high up in a redgum with a grass seed head in its bill, indicating breeding. This is the first seen in the forest this season as it is currently a scarce bird in the district because of the drought. They need green seed heads and although there were some good storms in the forest a couple of weeks back that should have germinated some native grasses, there was little to be seen. This is largely due to the huge number of kangaroos that now inhabit the river redgum forest, not to mention the exploding number of feral deer. The kangaroos used to die off in hundreds in the big floods but as it is now a rare event to get a big flood, this no longer occurs.
We also scored a juvenile Horsfield's bronze-cuckoo that must have bred locally. There had been adults calling here some weeks back on our plains-wanderer weekends. There's been the odd diamond dove down here lately but although we saw good numbers of peaceful doves, the diamonds remained elusive.
We checked out the water we had put out when we first arrived and were pleased to see the birds had found it. We watched it for about ten minutes and were delighted to record six species in that short time. They do like a drink or a bath on a hot day. We filled up another water trough at the regeneration area out near the highway and the birds found that within thirty minutes.
On our arrival back in Deniliquin Tom and l were saw a dozen or more fork-tailed swifts flying overhead in overcast skies. A nice end to our morning’s outing.
23 December 2018: Had a nice find this morning out at the revegetation area at Wanganella sandhill — a pair of Major Mitchell’s cockatoo. I’ve had them fly over the sandhill a few years ago but this is the first time they have fed on the sandhill, as far as I know. I didn’t see what they were feeding on as they had disappeared by the time I got around to where they had been.
A few of my mallees are flowering at present, mainly Eucalyptus socialis and dumosa, which I grew from seed gathered over at Moulamein. The honeyeaters feeding in them this morning included spiny-cheeked, singing, white-plumed and yellow-throated miner. Black and striped were also in the area. White-backed swallows were also feeding low over the sandhill.
At the Monimail revegetation area I had my first record of yellow-rumped thornbill yesterday. Western gerygone has also been in there a bit lately. Still a few black honeyeaters about the Monimail but they are starting to disappear; no white-fronted honeyeaters of late.
We are in for a terrible heatwave after Christmas; it’ll be a tough time for all the plants and birds. And no rain for the foreseeable future!
18 December 2018: Sadly, no plains-wanderers.
15 December 2018: Diederic from the Netherlands had been travelling around south-eastern Australia with his wife and two small boys for a couple of weeks and only had a short list of species on his want list. It was also his second trip to Australia. Heíd birded mainly in the north about ten years ago. Naturally he had seen most of the common stuff so it was the tougher species we were targeting. We headed south to Gulpa hoping for the now scarce Gilbertís whistler. We came to a halt not far out of town when three cockatiels flew across the highway. Along the railway line we glimpsed a couple of superb parrots but they were on the move and we really only saw their tail feathers disappearing in the distance.
I was pleased to see quite a bit of water lying about the forest. A good storm had gone through a few days ago. The district has been in drought all year so this would bring some relief for the birds that have been struggling to breed.
Gilbertís whistler is barely hanging on in Gulpa. We have only seen them spasmodically over the past five years. I had a singing male in here a few weeks back and on our last plains-wanderer weekend we found the pair building a nest in a young cypress pine. Initially Diederic and I couldnít find anything and I was starting to fear the worst. I was not in quite the right spot and when I orientated myself, we heard the male call and then saw him come in and go to the nest. Wow! We didnít hang around so as not to cause the districtís last pairís nest to fail. Diederic was happy to see the bird and I was relieved to see they were still nesting. They have not raised young in the forest for many years. The recent rain event should also ensure they have a plentiful food supply for the young so they might be in with a chance. Other birds seen on our search for the Gilbertís included hooded and red-capped robins (the red-caps were on a nest), dusky (also nesting) and white-browed woodswallows, white-browed babbler, white-winged triller, rainbow bee-eater, rufous whistler, buff-rumped thornbill, western gerygone and peaceful doves. A diamond dove was also heard but couldnít be seen. Several emus were seen here making their unusual grunting calls. They were feeding on the ripening fruits of the dwarf cherry as were quite a few other species including white-plumed honeyeaters and noisy friarbirds. On the way out, we stopped in the grey box on the TSR and had a male crested shrike-tit. This is the second time we have had this bird here now and possibly the female is on a nest. This would be great news as we have not had them nest here for ten or more years. A light phase little eagle was also seen here, also the first for a long time. Rabbits are making a comeback in the district in recent years which has led to the little eagles increasing in number as it's the main diet of this species.
We headed back to town, pleased with our efforts in Gulpa Island. Our next stop was a riverbend back in town. Diederic hadnít seen a square-tailed kite since his trip ten years ago so was keen to see another. We walked in to the nest but no adults were about. We think they have a young in the nest at present but itís difficult to see in the nest as they sit so low.
Diederic found a baby frogmouth on the ground that had come out of a nest. It was not in great shape and had possibly been attacked by something. (It had a little blood on its bill). We looked up in the tree above and noticed two adults glaring down at us! I put the young up in the fork of a tree but donít hold out much hope for it. We saw a dollarbird perched up in tall redgum, and an adult little eagle was perched up near its nest. I think the youngster has fledged from the nest now but it wasnít seen. An alarm call of a noisy friarbird was heard which heralded the return of the adult square-tailed kite. It soared about over the treetops for a while with a couple of friarbirds in pursuit before it was joined by its mate. They put on a display for a while before both landing in a tree right above us, and about 50 m from the nest, and commenced preening. They seemingly have no fear of humans, which is not a wise move on their part. They didnít bring in any food so we are still none the wiser as to the success of their nest. Other species seen here included striated thornbill, little friarbird, yellow rosella and common bronzewing. It was starting to rain now so we thought it a convenient time to break for lunch and a siesta.
Energy restored we headed east of town to check out an irrigation storage dam for crake and bittern. Both Baillonís and spotted crake were quickly seen. Diederic had never seen Baillonís in Australia. We both wondered why it wasnít a separate species from the European one, being separated, as they area, by such a vast distance. We were watching the crakes when an Australasian bittern exploded from out of the cumbungi. Fifteen or twenty years ago it would not have been unusual to have six or more flying around but the species is now deemed 'threatened' with under a thousand birds left. (We now have one or two sightings a year if we are lucky). This was our first sighting this summer. Soon after a male Australian little bittern called close by in the cumbungi but refused to be seen despite our best effort. It would have been wonderful to have seen two bittern species in the one day.
After our great success east of town we headed back north of town were our first stop was in the boree country to look for painted honeyeater. Initially this season, there was at least three pairs in one area of boree but lately I have only been able to find one pair and on this occasion only the male was seen so hopefully the female is on a nest. The usual singing and spiny-cheeked honeyeaters were seen as well as a brief look at white-winged fairywrens. Striped honeyeaters were calling and zebra finches were seen along a fence line.
Our next stop was further along in more mature boree where I was hoping for superb parrots. They have just returned to the boree country after recently fledging young. I donít know how much success they have had breeding this year as conditions have been tough. Hardly any of the other parrots have raised young this year. I havenít seen a single clutch of bluebonnets as yet nor even redrumps or rosellas. We heard the superbs almost immediately on alighting from the vehicle. They were some distance off in the top branches of a black box tree and as it was overcast, sitting right out in the open. (If it had been sunny they would have been hidden in the shadows). We approached closer and had great looks at about three mature males, some adult females and a few juveniles ó so they have raised some young at least.
Our next stop was at the revegetation area near Wanganella. Diederic wanted to see purple-backed fairywren (formerly variegated FW). We soon found a group that appear to be resident as the vegetation has become thicker. However, they were elusive and only females were seen. A bluetongue lizard was also seen here which poked its tongue out to show my companion why it is so named. A couple of white-backed swallows around the nesting cliffs added to Diedericís delight. We headed for the plains now as the day was drawing to a close. We had good sightings on the drive into the plains-wanderer property with a female brown songlark seen (which are very scarce at present), Horsfieldís bushlark, banded lapwing and male white-winged fairywren. We had emus and lots of kangaroos of three species: red and eastern and western greys. To cap off a great dayís birding the pair of ground cuckoo-shrikes was back at their roost in the black box clump. Diederic was beside himself! As we waited for nightfall a barn owl appeared and a frogmouth started ooming. We had done so well during the day I wondered if it could continue into the night! I was still apprehensive about the plains-wanderer as there had only been 21 mm of rain in the last fall and I didnít know if it would be enough to entice them back as the one pair that had been around had gone missing some weeks ago. We searched for inland dotterel first and it took us nearly two hours before we found a pair. More banded lapwing were seen on the dotterel hunt as well as quite a few fat-tailed dunnarts.
Now for the plains-wanderer! We searched for a couple of hours but not a sniff. We fell at the last hurdle. Everything had been going so well for us today I really thought the plains-wanderer might show up, but it was a big ask. The vegetation is still quite sparse and they have probably settled in to breed whereever they are, so probably not inclined to move at present. It will probably take a lot more rain to get them back. Feeling slightly crestfallen we headed for home, seeing another couple of frogmouths on the drive home, making about seven for the day, probably a record. We had had a great day and Diederic was happy despite not seeing the plains-wanderer. Kangaroos were out in force and it was a slow drive home. A 2 am arrival.
13 December 2018: A brown honeyeater was seen over at Brian Holden's, my mate who lives in north Deniliquin. He first saw it yesterday in his native garden but didnít get a good enough look to identify it. We both saw it well this morning, I think it may be a juvenile bird as it doesnít have a very prominent white spot behind the eye and has a yellow gape to the bill. It has been feeding in Eremophila longifolia, Callistemon brachyandrus and flowering wire-leafed mistletoe Amyema preissii. This is the second record for the district, that Iím aware. The first was about five years ago about ten kilometres east of the town in a clump of Eremophila longifolia. It was also very dry in western NSW at that time, as it is now.
1 December 2018: No plains-wanderers found.
29 November 2018: No plains-wanderers found.
Saturday/Sunday 17/18 November 2018: A female plains-wanderer found. See Plains-wanderer weekend checklist for species recorded
Monday 12 November 2018: A female plains-wanderer found.
Saturday 10 November 2018: Same pair of plains-wanderers found as Thursday night.
Thursday 8 November 2018:
In the late afternoon, I took out Steve Potter from Bellbird Tours and his group of sixteen Americans. Our first stop was in the boree country north of Pretty Pine. The painted honeyeaters have blessed us with their presence again this year and are back in the same areas they came to last year, which, in some cases, they had previously not inhabited for thirty to forty years. We soon had great views of male painted honeyeaters; the cameras went into meltdown. This was followed soon after by spiny-cheeked and striped honeyeaters. On the walk back to the bus we managed views of chestnut-rumped and yellow-rumped thornbills. White-winged fairywrens were seen but no coloured males.
Our next stop was the Monimail revegetation area. Yet more honeyeaters were seen here and we had great views of black honeyeater as well as singing honeyeater. The white-fronted managed to elude us. Bluebonnets were seen here as were a pair of white-backed swallows circling around my constructed nesting site.
The sun was getting low in the sky now so we had to make a rush for the plains. The usual red and eastern grey kangaroos were seen on the way into the plains-wanderer property. Steve organised dinner for the troops to a magnificent setting sun. The sun reflected in a pool of water from the rain two days ago.
We had high hopes for tonight as the area had been suffering badly from drought, having only received about 70 mm for the year prior to the 41 mm falling on Tuesday. We had not found a plains-wanderer after 23 October and had had eight consecutive misses since then.
When the troops had finished their meal we spotlighted an owlet nightjar and soon after had nice looks at southern boobook. We were off to a great start!
John, David, Robert and I, each in a 4WD, headed out to spotlight the plains with our large group. Our first quarry was inland dotterel, which had been a little more reliable of late than plains-wanderer. Heaps more kangaroos of the red and grey varieties were spotlighted as we headed for the dotterel paddock. This had the troops in raptures and I think they would have been quite happy just to see the kangaroos.
We arrived in the dotterel paddock and soon had nice views of banded lapwing. After a short search a pair of inland dotterel was located and the cameras were again in meltdown. The night was getting on and it was 10:30 pm when we hit the plains-wanderer paddock. The troops had had a long day and were starting to fade so I knew we didn’t have long to look for plains-wanderer. We saw a few fat-tailed dunnarts as we searched for a plains-wanderer, which woke the troops up a bit. Alas the paddock did not look much different than it had before the rain and my hopes were starting to fade as we headed for the gate. Suddenly John’s voice came over the two-way, “I’ve got one boss”. Wow! A few seconds later John’s voice came over again. “A pair!”. We swung into action and made a beeline for John. One of the troops asked me how I knew which of the other three vehicles had the plains- wanderer. I replied, “l just head for the one that’s not moving!”
Soon we were all enjoying great views of a pair of plains-wanderers, which were only a couple of metres apart and I suppose thinking about breeding. They were quiet and didn’t move. What a relief to have them back. Hopefully we'll keep getting some rain, which should keep them in situ. It is amazing that they could find their way back to their breeding ground after only two nights and 41 mm of rain. I suspect they arrived back the first night after the rain. I can only speculate where they came from but my guess is they were probably in excess of a hundred kilometres away. We were all on a high as we drove back towards the highway. A barn owl perched up on a fence post for us to complete a perfect evening. Then it was just a matter of dodging a hundred or so starving kangaroos as we made our way back to town; hopefully that situation will also improve.
Good work John!
Wednesday 7 November 2018 Morning with Jay and Heidi.
In the river redgum forest along the Edward River we had two adult square-tailed kites, a collared sparrowhawk, a little eagle (adult near nest), around fifteen superb parrots and striated, buff-rumped and yellow thornbills as well as weebill, white-throated and brown treecreepers and dusky woodswallows. In blackbox/boree woodland southeast of Deniliquin we had a pair of hooded robin with one juvenile, a red-capped robin, southern whiteface and chestnut-rumped and yellow-rumped thornbills, western gerygone, grey-crowned babbler and white-browed and masked woodswallows.On farmland southeast of Deniliquin we had a pair of black falcon, and at a dam east of Deniliquin we scored spotted and Baillon’s crakes and a little bittern calling.
Tuesday 6 November 2018: Out this evening with American honeymooners, Heidi and Jay. Over blackbox country north of Deniliquin we saw dozens of black kites and a few brown falcons catching flying ants that had hatched after this morning’s rain. At Pretty Pine there was a dark phase little eagle and a pair of wedge-tailed eagles. In the boree country north of Pretty Pine we scored a pair of painted honeyeaters, as well as striped, spiny-cheeked and singing honeyeaters and a purple-backed fairywren. Hundreds of white-browed and masked woodswallows were flying overhead at every stop.
The Monimail revegetation area offered up black and white-fronted honeyeaters and another painted honeyeater, as well as bluebonnets and a pair of white-backed swallows.
On the plains-wanderer property John had staked out a pair ground cuckoo-shrike and we had an owlet nightjar in a hollow. We spotlighted red and eastern grey kangaroos, eight fat-tailed dunnart (several half-grown), southern boobook, barn owl, a pair of inland dotterel and about fifteen banded lapwing. We also recorded a curl snake and about half a dozen spadefoot frogs. Alas, no plains-wanderers.
Monday 5 November 2018: No plains-wanderers. An inland dotterel, a boobook owl, banded lapwings and a few fat-tailed dunnarts were the highlights.
Saturday/Sunday 3/4 November 2018: See Plains-wanderer weekend checklist for species recorded. No plains-wanderers.
Thursday 1 November 2018: Out with two Swedes. The best sighing for the night was a barn owl catch and eat a fat-tailed dunnart. No inland dotterels, no plains-wanderers. Sad face.
Tuesday 30 October 2018: Out with a British group last night and again, sadly no plains-wanderers. An inland dotterel and painted, black and white-fronted honeyeaters were seen, as were about ten fat-tailed dunnarts.
Monday 29 October 2018: Reconnaissance on a neighbouring property found no plains-wanderers.
Saturday 27 October 2018: Big VENT group out tonight. Sadly no plains-wanderers. One inland dotterel.
Wednesday 24 October 2018: No plains-wanderers located.
Tuesday 23 October 2018: One adult female plains-wanderer and three inland dotterels located.
Saturday 20 October 2018 Plains-wanderer Weekend: One male plains-wanderer and one inland dotterel recorded. See plains-wanderer weekend checklist for other species recorded.
Thursday 18 October 2018: One male plains-wanderer and three inland dotterels recorded.
Wednesday 17 October 2018: A male plains-wanderer and an inland dotterel located.
Friday 12 October 2019: A female plains-wanderer located.
Tuesday 9 October 2018: A male plains-wanderer located at 10.30 pm.
Saturday 6 & 7 October 2018:
I went out with Robert and Christine, a delightful couple from Cape Sable on the east coast of Canada. They had lived in Australia thirty or so years ago when Robert undertook his PhD on ground-burrowing wasps.
With this record-breaker of a drought we're enduring, I didn’t know if I could find enough birds to fill in the two days they'd booked. We started off along the Edward River in town with nesting superb parrots. Many species are trying to nest in and around the town because of the drought and there’s much competition between all the parrots and cockatoos for nesting holes. The superb parrots and yellow rosellas are continually squabbling over nest holes. We saw the tawny frogmouth on its nest in a big old river redgum. Chris managed to spot the mate in another redgum about eighty metres from the nest tree, which was quite a feat.
White-browed woodswallows were seen in the redgums along the river, which is a rare occurrence. White-breasted and dusky were also present. After we had finished birding the river redgums, we visited a town lagoon where we had little grassbird. A visit to some ponds in town produced a hundred or more plumed whistling-duck as well as pink-ears and blue-billed ducks.
After lunch, we headed north to the Monimail revegetation area. Here we had spiny-cheeked, singing and striped honeyeaters. The striped honeyeaters appear to be feeding young in a nest somewhere in the revegetation area. The spiny-cheeked and singing honeyeaters are in surprisingly good numbers, despite there being almost nothing in flower. What they are all feeding on is a mystery to me. Bluebonnets were also seen here as well as white-backed swallows that are nesting again in my dugout cliffs. One western gergone was feeding in an acacia — my first record for the plot.
Continuing north, we stopped in at the Wanganella sandhill revegetation area where we had owlet nightjar peeping out of one of my nesting hollows, where they are nesting again this year.
On the way into the plains-wanderer property, we finally had a coloured male white-winged fairywren. Three species of giant kangaroos were also seen as well our largest bird, the emu. After a break and some tucker, we started spotlighting. Initially we tried a paddock for inland dotterel, which have been difficult lately. We managed to get a half dozen or so banded lapwings but no sign of the dotterels. Plains-wanderers have been on the move of late so I was not at all confident we would be successful with them either!
We started our search in the paddock we have been seeing them in up until a couple of weeks ago and soon had pipits and Horsfield’s bushlark. Suddenly bingo, a male plains-wanderer was spotted and nearby was a beautiful adult female. Wow what luck! Chris and Rob should buy a lottery ticket!
On our way out we tried another paddock and had a pair of stubble quail, and great views of barn owl.
My Canadian companions were pleased with their first day and we celebrated with some dark chocolate Chris provided. We made it home safely after dodging fifty or so kangaroos.
7 October 2018
On our second morning we checked out the riverbend where the square- tailed kites are again nesting. We saw the kite on the nest. She’s been incubating for about three weeks now I think. Little eagles are also nesting in the bend again, only about 100 metres from the square-tailed kites. They’re using the nest that the square-tailed kite built and used last year. The square-tailed kites have built a new nest or refurbished someone else’s this year. Whistling kites have also nested nearby and they all seem to coexist quite well together. A collared sparrowhawk nested in the bend last year and is around again this year but I have not found the nest as yet. We saw the female little eagle on the nest and several male superb parrots were flying about. Good views were had of a pair of crested shrike-tit. Thornbills also featured here and we had nice looks at striated, buff-rumped and yellow as well as weebill. A beautiful male spotted pardalote was seen up close. We observed an unusual eastern rosella with large blobs of red on its yellow breast where it should have been all yellow.
We decided to try the blackbox forest in south Deniliquin and were successful in finding and photographing a full on male red-capped robin as well as rufous whistler and varied sittella — a scarce bird at present. After a successful morning we adjourned for lunch.
After our break we went hunting for black falcon and were successful in finding two scavenging food from black kites and ravens. Great views were had of one black falcon sitting up close in a tree. We also called in at a drying out river redgum wetland and had a pair of restless flycatcher, now a scarce species in the district.
After this we took a drive out east of town to check out the eremophila clump where the black honeyeaters often turn up at this time of year. I was not at all confident that they would be around as it’s so dry I didn’t think the eremophila would be flowering. There was indeed a few flowers on the eremophilas but they were being largely commandeered by white-plumed and spiny-cheeked honeyeaters. We managed to find a few black honeyeaters nearby that were probably feeding in flowering planted eucalypts on nearby hobby farms. A lovely pair of rainbow bee-eaters, which have only just arrived back, landed in a tree above our heads and posed perfectly for photos. Further down the road more black honeyeaters were located. Likely, this species has just arrived back from the inland.
Chris and Rob were splendid company. They generously gave me one of my favorite things — a bottle of maple syrup — a very fine maple syrup from the Cape Sable province.
Friday 5 October 2018: No plains-wanderers located.
Thursday 4 October 2018: A reconnaissance outing turned up a male plains-wanderer at about 7 pm.
Saturday 29 September 2018: No plains-wanderers located.
Friday 28 September 2018: No plains-wanderers located.
Tuesday 25 September 2018: No plains-wanderers located. A group of seven birders out tonight with Robert and me .
Friday 7 September 2018: Robert took Bob from California out for an evening's spotlighting. They did well with a female plains-wanderer, inland dotterel, stubble quail, owlet nightjar, barn owl and southern boobook, among other species.
Monday 3 September 2018: This evening, my Strzelecki Track outback tour group scored a pair of plains-wanderers and an inland dotterel with one or more tiny chicks clustered under her.
Wednesday 29 August 2019: Out with three Italian birders for the afternoon and an evening's spotlighting. We scored a pair of plains-wanderers within five minutes of commencing spotlighting. We were heading across some plains-wanderer country when we came across a male plains-wanderer with at least two tiny chicks. (He didn't stand up so it's uncertain how many chicks he had). I believe this was a different male to the one recorded on a nest on 14 August. It is extraordinary that these birds are breeding in this horrendously dry year. Other species seen added later.
Monday 27 August 2018: Two British birders and I out spotlighting saw one adult female plains-wanderer, six stubble quails, four brown songlarks, one banded lapwing and four fat-tailed dunnarts among other species.
Tuesday 14 August 2018: Out for the evening with Nicholas, a young Swiss birder. An incredible eight plains-wanderers recorded: two mating pairs, a single female, a single male, a male on a nest with eggs and another single female. Also one inland dotterel.
Monday 30 July 2018: Robert, out with Duncan and Jory, found four plains-wanderers - a single female and a female with two males.
Friday 27 July 2018: Robert, doing some reconnaissance for an outing on Monday, found, against the odds given the severe drought conditions, a female plains-wanderer.
Saturday 5 May 2018
My buddy, Brian Holden, had an eastern spinebill in his garden today. They are a rare winter visitor to the district but there's been very few records in recent decades. They were fairly regular in the 1980s and 90s when the rainfall was a lot more reliable. It’s surprising that one would turn up when it’s desperately dry in the district but I guess it’s dry everywhere in southeast Australia at present and many birds are on the move. It follows on from the yellow-tufted honeyeater in Brian’s garden on 30 April.
Saturday 5 May 2018
Today there was a white-backed swallow at my revegetation area at Wanganella. This is the first one for several months and comes after 6.5 mm of rain yesterday. I’m amazed how quickly birds move after rainfall despite, on this occasion, it being only a minuscule amount. This is the most substantial rain at the sandhill since January.
Thursday 3 May 2018
I recorded a couple of silvereyes on the Wanganella sandhill today. This could be a first for the revegetation area. Lately there's been a flock of twenty or so yellow-rumped thornbills feeding on the sandhill, which is by far the biggest number I've recorded there. There's still a pair of yellow thornbill living on the hill, feeding mainly in the native willows. Two female and one adult male red-capped robin are also resident at the moment.
A pair of striped honeyeaters are being seen regularly and there are still good numbers of spiny-cheeked and singing honeyeaters present despite it being so dry.
A large party of superb fairywrens has also been living on the sandhill for the last couple of months and a couple of groups of white-winged fairywrens are living in the surrounding goosefoot and saltbush.
I haven’t had a sighting of the variegated fairywren for a couple of months. While it would seem the pied honeyeaters have moved from the Wang sandhill, they were still in big numbers at the Monimail revegetation area yesterday.
Monday 30 April 2018
Very dry conditions continue to cause unusual movements of birds in the Riverina. Yesterday my friend Brian Holden had a yellow-tufted honeyeater come to water in his garden in North Deniliquin. In my time we have only ever had yellow-tufted in the district once before, I think in about 2002 when there was severe drought in SE Australia. At that time I saw at least one bird in the town and I think at around that time Robert Nevinson had one or more birds feeding in flowering ironbarks at Booroorban. It seems that it has to be very severe conditions before this largely sedentary species will venture out. It is not prone to irruption like many other species of honeyeaters. The closest yellow-tufted honeyeaters to here would be in the foothill forests about Heathcote and Bendigo — the most likely source, but I guess it’s possible that they could be coming from the north or northeast about Temora or even West Wylong if the species still exists in that district.
Yesterday evening, Robert Nevinson had another spotted nightjar in saltbush country on the travelling stock route near his house on the plains north of Wanganella. This is the third record of spotted nightjar in the district in the past couple of months.
David Nevinson reported many hundreds of white-browed woodswallows feeding on lerp on blackbox around Booroorban in the past week. It is unheard of for this species to be still present in this district in late April.
23 April 2018
Robert took out Simon Starr of Firetail Birding Tours and a client for an evening's spotlighting. They found four male plains-wanderers.
18 to 29 April 2018
Away on the Alice Springs tour
16 April 2018 Monday
Wanganella revegetation area
While out at the Wanganella revegetation area fixing a fence with Local Land Services’ ranger Michael Mullins, there was an adult spotted harrier hunting over the dry swampland nearby, the first I have seen for some time. After fixing the fence I checked the rain gauge to see how much rain the sandhill had from the front that came through on the weekend. I was surprised to find a dead female white-winged fairy-wren in the bottom of the gauge. It had somehow got into the gauge and because of the shape of the gauge was unable to get back out.
Other species seen in the revegetation area today included red-capped robin, yellow and yellow-rumped thornbills, southern boobook (second sighting in about a week), pied, singing and spiny-cheeked honeyeaters and two male mistletoebirds. (Quite a few mistletoe berries are ripe at present). The owlet nightjars appear to have moved on.
13 April 2018, Friday
Monimail revegetation area
Two hundred and fifty to three hundred pied honeyeaters were still roosting in the thick shrubs at the Monimail early this morning. They had shifted a bit and were, for the most part, up at the south end. They came out in about eight big flocks between 6:30 and 7:00 am. The size of the flocks varied from around one hundred to about half a dozen. All flew in a northeasterly direction. A pied butcherbird made a feeble effort to chase a pied honeyeater as it left. I've noticed the honeyeaters make a high pitched call just before they take flight, seemingly a rallying call and then one group rises, which is the trigger for others to join them before integrating to fly off.
Other sightings of note this morning included three cockatiels flying over in an easterly direction. These are the first I have seen in the district for several months. The species is primarily a spring/summer visitor so a relatively unusual visitor at this time of year.
A single Major Mitchell’s cockatoo was also observed this morning in the blackbox to the east of the revegetation area. The first seen here for well over six months. A rufous whistler was also noted in the revegetation area. They have only started coming into the site in the last twelve months or so and are still a bit of a novelty.
About half a dozen striped honeyeaters were also in the revegetation area; the most recorded there to date. Lastly, fifty or so superb parrots were flying back and forth in small flocks in the early morning.
13 April 2018, Friday
Small numbers of fork-tailed swifts were feeding low over the town. There must have been quite a few about as my mate Brian Holden had them over his house in North Deniliquin at the same time they were over my house about three kilometres away as the crow flies. This must be getting close to the latest we have had them in the district.
11 April 2018, Wednesday
Astonished by the large flock of sixty to eighty pied honeyeaters at the Monimail revegetation plot on Sunday evening, today I went out before dawn to see what they were up to in the early morning. Vastly greater numbers than Sunday’s sighting emerged from the thick shrubs. There were two to three hundred pied honeyeaters wheeling around overhead before flying in four big flocks northeast towards the blackbox country. Only a dozen or so stayed to feed in the revegation area. With no rain since January, it’s very dry and food is not abundant. The main food available to them would appear to be berries of ruby and thorny saltbushes but maybe they are finding something else.
These pied honeyeater numbers are unprecedented in this district. The unusually large influx has been brought about by the severe drought in western NSW and southwestern Queensland forcing them south and they are now seemingly, marooned in the Riverina until it rains in the north. They will probably be all right until it turns cold, at which time they will suffer. Hopefully it will rain before that occurs. This is the latest I have ever seen pied honeyeaters in the district. In previous irruptions, they have usually departed the district by February/ March.
There were also a hundred or more white-browed woodswallows cruising over the top of the blackbox trees in the same general direction flown by the pied honeyeaters.
8 April 2018, Sunday
Monimail Revegetation Area
Another flock of twenty to thirty white-browed woodswallows were drifting south over the revegetation area at Monimail this morning and one pied honeyeater was observed.
Late this afternoon I went past the revegetation area again and was surprised to see between sixty and eighty pied honeyeaters sitting in the tops of dead trees and flying around in big flocks. I suspect they were coming into the revegetation area to roost because there’s a paucity of thick shrubs elsewhere in the vicinity.
This is by far the largest number of pied honeyeaters I have encountered anywhere in the district and probably as many as I've ever seen together anywhere in the inland. It would appear that they are currently all through the boree country north of Pretty Pine. Whether they are all coming into roost in the revegetaion area regularly or whether this is a one-off, I cannot say. I suspect they are feeding on ruby and thorny saltbush berries and probably mistletoe berries as well. There is nothing producing nectar at present apart from a few flowers on the grey mistletoe growing on the boree. Perhaps they are taking insects as well.
I can’t see them leaving the district until it rains in western New South Wales and southwestern Queensland, which are still in severe drought.
About twenty superb parrots were also flying about at the Monimail this morning. Some other species seen in the revegetation area this morning included:
Striped honeyeater ~2
Blue-faced honeyeater ~1
Striated pardalote ~4
8 April 2018 Wanganella Sandhill Revegetation Area
Late this afternoon there were about thirty or so fork-tailed swifts feeding low down over the revegetation area and the surrounding dry swampland.
4 April 2018
Steve Seymour and I observed a flock of about forty white-browed woodswallows this afternoon over Steve’s backyard here in Deniliquin. They appeared to be migrating south. They descended at high speed and dived into a thick tree for a short time before emerging and continuing their southward journey. A short time later, a dark phase little eagle appeared overhead. It was probably the cause of the white-browed woodswallows taking cover. I believe this to be my first ever sighting of white-browed woodswallows this far south in April. At this time of year they should be on their migration back to the interior. It's likely that because Western New South Wales and Southwest Queensland are still in severe drought these birds are stuck in the south until it rains, which would be the signal for them to migrate north.
This morning I also saw about eight or so pied honeyeaters at the revegetation area at Wanganella. Like the white-browed woodswallows they too are probably stuck in the south until it rains. For these two species to be still in this district in April is, I believe, unprecedented. Our changing weather pattern is remapping the distribution of some species, it would seem.
There has been no rain to speak of in this district since January.
Wednesday 14 March 2018.
Today I took out Ross and Cric from Eltham, an outer northeastern suburb of Melbourne. We started out in the boree country north of Deniliquin. I was hoping for the painted honeyeaters that had been nesting here in January and also hoping we might come across the superb parrots, which have been out in this area for several months but shifting about of late.
After nearly an hour, we had seen the more common singing and spiny-cheeked as well as striped honeyeaters but no painted. Then a couple of distant brownish-looking honeyeaters were seen that were soon recognized as female pied honeyeaters. We had last seen pied honeyeater here about a month ago. The female pied honeyeater is an uninspiring bird so fingers were crossed for the stunning male. We followed the brown females for a while before finding several males. This trail led us to our original target: a male painted! Eventually we saw about five or six painted honeyeaters, which included a couple of juveniles, one of which was still being fed mistletoe berries by an adult male. It was good to see the juveniles as their nesting had coincided with a long heatwave and I didn’t know how successful they’d been. More pied honeyeaters were seen making about six to eight in total. On the walk back a couple of western gerygone were feeding in the boree, which is a wintering area for this species. Also here, we had chestnut-rumped, yellow-rumped and yellow thornbills, striated pardalotes (some feeding in boree), red-capped robin and white-winged fairywren (brown birds only). Another big surprise was an adult spotted harrier, the first seen in the district for months.
We birded some more-mature boree further north hoping for superb parrots but none was forthcoming. Our next stop was the Monimail revegetation area. Here we saw several mistletoebirds, which were feeding on the wire-leaf mistletoe berries that are just starting to ripen. There’ll be plenty of berries ripening on the wire-leaf and fleshy mistletoes in coming weeks so there’s a reliable supply for months to come. Another female pied honeyeater was seen here but the male black honeyeater that had been here recently seems to have moved on. We also located a group of variegated fairywrens before we headed home for lunch and a rest.
Later we headed out east of town and at a large dam added a few waterbirds to the list. Nothing too exciting so we moved on to an Eremophila clump where I was hoping there could be a lingering black honeyeater. Not much was happening at the clump initially but nearby, the white-plumed honeyeaters and willy-wagtails were bothered about something. On closer approach I realised what they were chiding was on the ground — a snake maybe? I moved closer to see what they had when suddenly a spotted nightjar exploded from the undergrowth. Wow!! This is the first I have ever seen in the district in daylight hours and the first I have seen in the district for sixteen years (plains country 9.12.2002). The nightjar only flew about twenty metres and Cric, Ross and I were able to relocate it on the ground and had excellent views. I guess with western NSW and SW Queensland still in severe drought they have been forced further south like the pied honeyeaters. As we walked back to the vehicle after our encounter with the nightjar, Ross noticed some movement in the top of the Eremophila clump. Closer inspection revealed a male black honeyeater. As we were enjoying that sighting, the calls of white-fronted honeyeaters were heard and after tracking one down, we had some nice views.
We headed north towards the plains in a jubilant mood. Our next stop was at the drying out creek at Wanganella where we added black-fronted and red-kneed dotterels to the list. Nearby we caught up with a male white-winged fairywren. Across the road at the Wang revegetation area we had a cute little owlet nightjar peering out of one of my nest hollows.
Lots of Horsfield’s bushlarks were flushed up from beside the road going into the plains-wanderer property. Also along here we saw white-fronted chats, wedge-tailed eagles, emus, red and grey kangaroos and a mob of feral pigs. Just before nightfall, we encountered a few pairs of banded lapwing. After a short meal break, we started spotlighting. We checked out a couple of areas for inland dotterel, to no avail, before starting our serious search for plains-wanderer. After almost an hour with seeing very little, apart from a couple of brown songlarks, I was getting a tad concerned. Eventually a pair of stubble quail was seen and a short time later a male plains-wanderer was spotted and then, about five metres away, a glorious female plains-wanderer. Relief and happiness all round! On the way out I tried another paddock where I had seen little buttonquail on my previous outing. We soon flushed a couple up and good views were had of an immature female little buttonquail on the ground. On the way back to town, about half a dozen barn owls were seen to finish a good night’s spotlighting. Back in Deniliquin l said goodbye to Cric and Ross, two delightful birding companions. An excellent day with its share of surprises.
Thursday 8 March 2018
One of the pair of square-tailed kites was seen over North Deniliquin. The bird is heavily in moult and was shadowed by a black kite. The square-tailed kites are still hanging around despite the nest failing. They will migrate north fairly soon, I guess.
Gulpa revegetation area Wednesday 7 March 2018
Down at the Gulpa revegetation area I had my first record for the site of painted honeyeater. It was a juvenile bird and was feeding in grey mistletoe on boree, which is their favourite. It was with a couple of mistletoebirds and at least one of those was a juvenile. Many birds are on the move now after breeding and who knows where this painted honeyeater may have originated. They were once a regular migrant to the river redgum forests along the Murray and Edward rivers (near where this bird was seen) in the 1980s and 90s but due to the decline of those forests from lack of flooding the mistletoe is greatly reduced and rarely produces much fruit. It is many years now since I have recorded them in the river redgum forests. This bird may have come from the birds that recently bred in the boree country north of Deniliquin or even from birds that bred in central Victoria some time ago.
Despite it being dry at Gulpa (last rain on 31 January) there are quite a few birds in there at present. some species seen in last few days include chestnut-rumped and yellow thornbills, weebill, western gerygone, rufous whistler, silvereye, singing and spiny-cheeked honeyeaters, superb fairywren, jacky winter and common bronzewing. Wedge-tailed eagle, a juvenile swamp harrier and whistling kite were seen overhead.
Saturday 3 March 2018 Wanganella Sandhill Revegetation Area.
Today I spread grey mistletoe berries on some of the acacias out at the Wanganella revegetation area. The slow growing grey mistletoe is probably the hardest mistletoe to establish. It doesn’t take readily here, maybe because most of the trees aren’t mature enough. In fact, there's only one grey mistletoe growing here despite my spreading the berries for quite a few years and that one, growing high up in a boree, was put there by a mistletoebird. The grey mistletoe is the best one to get going as it flowers and fruits nearly all year round and the birds love it as do the satin azure butterflies.
The biggest surprise lately was a boobook owl roosting in a thick Eremophila longifolia. There are still quite a few mice about and undoubtedly that is what has attracted the boobook. The mice are also attracting black-shouldered kites, which have been hanging around for a few months. A pair of kestrels is pretty much resident at the hill and have nested there a couple of times in old ravens’ nests in the native willows (the biggest trees in there). A little eagle was seen over the hill, which maybe is a first since we started planting. An owlet nightjar poked its head out of a nestbox as I walked past. There has been no sign of the white-backed swallows for some weeks now; it will take a good rain to get them back perhaps.
Sand goannas must also be enjoying the mice as I have been seeing quite a lot of their burrows of late and saw an actual goanna today on top of a pile of wood and tin I had put there to attract reptiles.
Some of the birds are starting to move about after breeding. This is despite it still being very dry with no rain for well over a month. l had the first red-capped robin, a juvenile, for the year as well as grey shrike-thrush. The striped honeyeaters have been back for a few weeks after being absent for some months since the native willows were defoliated in the minus six degree temperature last July. The singing and spiny-cheeked honeyeaters as well as yellow-throated miners are in quite good numbers at present and I think are mainly feeding on the berries of ruby and thorny saltbush that are just starting to ripen. Pied honeyeaters are still about which is unusual but I guess with severe drought conditions still prevailing in western NSW and south-west Queensland they are stuck here at present. It is looking like there could be significant rainfall in the inland in the next week so some relief could be on the way for them. Crested pigeons are an amazing bird with two nests seen with young in the last week despite it being so dry. I had to mindful while spreading the berries lest I startled the young from the nest!
There are three species of fairywren out here at present: superb, white-winged and variegated. The white-winged has been resident for a while but the other two turned up a couple of months ago. The superbs have become scarce in the area since NSW Water stopped sending water down the Forest Creek system about twelve years ago. Both yellow-rumped and a pair of yellow thornbills are pretty much resident at the sandhill with the yellow- rumped nesting here in the past couple of years. There is a large group of them here now. When I was spreading berries today I found what I believe to be the old nest of a yellow-throated miner in an Acacia rigens so they have probably bred here as well. The honeyeaters do love to nest in the thick acacias.
On the feral front there has been the odd rabbit showing up here lately after being largely free of them for four or five years. They are starting to plague again in the district so I expect it will be an ongoing battle. If they get a hold in here now they will take some getting rid of due to the amount of shrubbery, so I need to be vigilant. A red deer stag has been back at the hill lately smashing down trees and shrubs with its antlers and will take some getting. They are spreading all through the district after being released into the Werai forest about twenty years ago. How dumb was that? As if we didn’t have enough feral animals!
Tuesday 13 February 2018
Out at 7 am with Phil and Ian from the U.K. We had a terrific morning with a few surprises. First stop out in boree country produced a pair of painted honeyeaters feeding half-grown young in a nest. It seems that the first nest they built failed and they built another nest about 100 metres away, which was where we saw them feeding young today. Nearby we had lots of white-winged fairywrens and an immature Horsfield’s bronze-cuckoo, which the wrens had probably raised.
At our next stop in mature boree further north we had a dozen or so superb parrots but we struggled to get a good look at a male. However, while looking for a male a black-eared cuckoo was spotted, which was my first sighting in the district for many years. The cuckoo was probably an immature. The excitement didn’t stop there. We went over the road to the revegetation area where we had a flock of about ten pied honeyeaters, closely followed by an adult male black honeyeater. Wow! To finish the morning off we had an owlet nightjar in one of my nestboxes. That’s what I call a morning!!
After a post-lunch siesta, I collected Phil and Ian. Our first stop was in the redgum forest along the Edward River. This was the area where the square-tailed kites nested but they have not been seen for about a month and I am fairly sure the nest failed as no young was ever seen. We found a few bush birds here to add to the lads’ list including buff-rumped and straited thornbills and white-throated treecreeper. Several recently fledged sacred kingfishers were also observed, the first young I had seen this summer.
Our next stop was a pond on the edge of town where we added yellow-billed spoonbill and white-breasted woodswallow to the list. About fifteen or so pairs of little pied cormorants have nested here this year; evidence of just how desperate they are to breed nowadays — they would never have nested on such a small body of water once. Most of the young had just fledged and were sitting around in the dead trees.
We stopped at the drying-out creek at Wanganella and Phil and Ian finally caught up with black-fronted dotterels; a species they were becoming a little concerned about. We had a quick look for white-backed swallows at the revegetation area over the road but none were about, although I had seen them there a couple of weeks back.
We headed north onto the plains and I was surprised by the number — thirty or more — of Horsfield’s bushlark on the road into the plains-wanderer property. Zebra finches have also bred up since the rain in early December and a couple of small flocks were noted. We decided to search a paddock in the daylight for inland dotterels, which have been AWL for a couple of months. Good numbers of banded lapwing (~50) and white- fronted chat (~100) were seen feeding in a mixed group but not a sniff of a dotterel.
We drove over to the old abandoned backstation for a bite to eat. Overhead, on the way, we had a flock of about ten black-faced woodswallows. As we approached the backstation a massive female peregrine falcon smashed what appeared to be a magpie lark right in front of us and flew off with it. Ian and Phil exclaimed that peregrines were hard bastards! I agreed!
After a bite to eat we moseyed over to the paddock we’d been getting plains-wanderers in and started our search. There was a surprising number of stubble quail about; about half dozen seen in short time. I was thinking it would make the plains-wanderers hard to spot with all these stubble quail running about but a short time later an adult female plains-wanderer materialized. Ian and Phil were enraptured. After some nice views and photos we headed towards the gate and lo and behold another adult female plains-wanderer flushed up in front of us. This one turned around and looked at us and my two companions could see the full chestnut gorget and chequered collar. The Brits, they do love their waders! A couple of fat-tailed dunnarts were also observed.
We tried another paddock for little button-quail and eventually came up trumps with two that I think may have been immature birds. We called it a night and headed south. On the drive out, in between dodging kangaroos, a single barn owl was seen. We arrived back in town about midnight, very pleased with our day’s birding.
Wednesday 31 January 2018
Our first plains-wanderer outing for the year saw cooler conditions than we've had for most of what has been an exceptionally scorching month. Eighteen days in January were over 100 degrees F (37.7 C) and about fourteen of those above the 40C mark out on the plains. The hottest was about 45C (113F).
In the late afternoon I went out with Danish couple, Aage and Karin. Our first stop was the boree country north of Pretty Pine; the main target painted honeyeater, nesting here now. The weather was not great with a strong, cold wind blowing from the south west. Initially very little was calling. Things brightened up considerably when a black falcon flew overhead delighting Aage and Karin. We had good looks at white- winged fairy-wrens, both male and female, followed by singing and spiny-cheeked honeyeaters.Overhead there were some martins and welcome swallows and amongst them, a couple of white- backed swallows. Eventually a lovely male painted honeyeater came in. While trying to get a look at a striped honeyeater, a group of medium-sized honeyeaters perched up the top of a dead tree. There were about four or five brown birds and two black and white males which gave away their identity away — pied honeyeaters! What on earth were they doing back here in late January! We had not seen a pied honeyeater here since November when the eremophilas were in flower. Now the eremophilas were pretty much finished and there’s not much about for a pied honeyeater to feed on so I was surprised to see them back. My guess is with western Queensland and much of the inland still in drought the pied honeyeaters basically have nowhere to go so are stuck in the Riverina until the drought breaks in the inland. Whether the pied honeyeaters will stay in the boree country or are just moving through is hard to know. They were in a flock, which suggests they are on the move so it will be interesting to see if they are still around on my next visit. They are fond of ruby saltbush berries which are fruiting so maybe they’ll stay and feed on them.
Mistletoebird and chestnut- rumped thornbill were also added to our list here in the boree.
We moved down the road a bit to another patch of more mature boree with grey mistletoe. Here we hoped for superb parrots and after a slow start we eventually had them in spades. All up about 30-40 birds were seen including some full adult males so the Dans were ecstatic. Quite a few young males just colouring up were seen as well, making them about twelve months old and testament to the good breeding season last spring.
A bit further along we stopped for blue-bonnets and then in another patch of boree some white-browed and masked woodswallows were seen and unbelievably another small flock of pied honeyeaters! There really must be a big movement on if we can find them at two different localities on the one day. We caught up with striped honeyeater here as well.
At what’s left of the swamps at Wanganella I was amazed to see two recently fledged swamp harriers. There was not much water here this spring and the cumbungi is only just starting to come back. There had been a male swamp harrier hanging around here for a couple of months but I had no idea they were nesting. I would have said there was not yet enough cumbungi.
Out on the plains we saw emus up close, and three species of kangaroo including some big reds. Wedge-tailed eagles also thrilled Aage and Karin. On the plains-wanderer property we waited for darkness to fall to start our spotlighting. We were hoping the cloud would lift as there was a special moon tonight with three things happening which apparently last occurred in the 1860s. But it was not to be and we could barely see the moon through the clouds,.
We started our search for the plains-wanderer just on dark and after an hour or so my Danish companions were getting a tad worried, as was I as I’d not been out for a month and there'd just been that horrendous prolonged heatwave. But all was good when we eventually spotted a beautiful adult female plains-wanderer. On the way back to the gate we saw several Horsfield’s bushlarks and a single male stubble quail. Then not far from the gate, lo and behold, a mating pair of plains-wanderers!. A barn owl was seen as we headed back to town, then when we were almost at the caravan park we had a tawny frogmouth to finish off a great day's birding.
Sunday 14 January 2018
I checked out the two painted honeyeaters’ nests that I found on 5 January in the boree country on the travelling stock route (TSR) north of Deniliquin. I was concerned they may have deserted during the 44C heat we had a week or so ago. When I found the nests on the 5 January one had just started to incubate and the other was still building.
Good news as both pairs were sitting tight on their nests in the hanging leaves in boree trees. One nest is only about a metre and a half off the ground and is the lowest painted honeyeater nest I’ve ever seen. The next week will test them though as we have three consecutive very hot days with two over forty degrees Celsius. I saw another pair today which almost certainly has a nest in an adjoining clump of black box. I’m fairly certain I know which tree it is in but I didn’t want to go too close this morning. It was windy and the nest will be in hanging leaves and the eggs could be thrown out of the nest if the adult leaves the nest. I’ll check it out on a calmer day.
I have found about nine or ten pairs so far this season. This is probably the most painted honeyeaters that have been in the boree country north of town since the 1980s.
The painted honeyeaters seem mainly to be in regrowth boree with just a few scattered older trees that have grey mistletoe on them. Some of these older regrowth trees have grey mistletoe on them as well. They have been seen in some very scattered boree as well but I’m not sure if they are nesting in the scattered boree or just feeding out there and nesting back in the thicker clumps. It has surprised me that they have come into the boree regrowth (about 20 to 40 years old) as I didn’t think it would be mature enough to have much mistletoe on it for years yet. Evidently there is enough mistletoe for them with the few scattered older trees and what is coming on the younger trees.
Some of the regrowth boree on the TSR was grazed hard by cattle back in the 1980s and 90s and could not get above about a metre in height for ten to twenty years as the cattle continually browsed the tops out of them. The lighter grazing regime of the last twenty years has finally allowed the boree to get above cattle height and develop into proper trees. I am in awe of the boree, it is such a resilient tree.
Strangely enough the painted honeyeaters don’t seem to be in any of the larger areas of mature boree which has a lot of grey mistletoe on it. I think the reason for this is that much of the mature boree has noisy miners living in it. Also, there is much competition for the mistletoe berries in the mature boree from superb parrots as well as striped, singing and spiny-cheeked honeyeaters. It would seem the painted honeyeaters definitely prefer the areas where there is less competition.
I am a bit peeved they have not chosen to come into the revegetation area at Monimail as there is quite a bit of grey mistletoe in there but my guess is that there’s so many singing and spiny-cheeked as well as a few striped honeyeaters in there, as well as nesting mistletoebirds, that the competition is too great. Hopefully some might come in there later on in the autumn if they haven’t vacated the district before then. The wire-leafed and fleshy mistletoe will be in full fruit at that time so there will be no lack of food for them.
Also today in my garden I had a male scarlet honeyeater feeding in eremophila. It's amazing they are still here, seemingly, not wanting to return to the coast. It appearsr they've bred in the town as my friend Brian Holden has had a couple of obvious juveniles feeding in his eremophila trees for some weeks. They were certainly singing like they were wanting to breed back in November and December. Looks like they will hang around for a while yet before finally heading north.
28 December 2017: A day out with Paul from County Cork in Ireland.In the afternoon we collected Simon from Germany and later, Steve and Mike from Adelaide.
Paul and I started at sunrise as it was going to be a hot day. It was Paul’s first day birding in this part of Australia so many birds were going to be new for him. Our first destination was to an area of blackbox woodland southeast of town. On the way out, a couple of eastern rosella flew up from the roadside, one of which was pale yellow all over rather than the normal green and red. In my youth I recall seeing a red-rumped parrot in similar plumage. Xanthochromism?
It was a humid and still when we arrived at the woodland and the birds were quiet. First up, Paul spotted a diamond firetail. [This was to be our only sighting of this species]. Soon after, we observed a family of hooded robins and had weebill and brown treecreeper, striped honeyeater and grey butcherbird. The noisy miners started making a racket and I thought something was up. Careful examination of a black box revealed a well-concealed tree goanna along a branch. It was the handsome Bell’s form, which is not often seen.
We checked out an owlet nightjar hollow but it was not home, perhaps due to the proximity of the goanna we had just seen. With nothing calling it was quite tough birding but after an hour or so we tracked down a few birds and eventually found most of our target species. These included red-capped robin, western gerygone, yellow, yellow-rumped and chestnut-rumped thornbills and southern whiteface. Spiny-cheeked honeyeater was seen here, which would have been unheard of twenty years ago. The superb parrots had been calling and flying about most of the morning and we eventually tracked them down to a clump of boree trees where they were feeding on the ripening seedpods. We checked out a nearby dam to see if anything was drinking but only added brown-headed honeyeater to the list. Happy with our morning’s effort my Irish companion and I decided to move on. We tried a couple of spots before we located a party of apostlebirds.
Our next stop was to be an Eremophila clump east of town. We stopped at a clump of native willows and pines and had a much better view of striped honeyeater. We were pleased to find a few pairs of black honeyeater were still present in the flowering Eremophila, as most of the other clumps in the district have finished flowering and the black honeyeaters have departed. A couple of pairs of rainbow bee-eaters were also nesting in the sand nearby and haven’t yet fledged young.
Our last stop for the morning was the square-tailed kites’ nest in town but the kites were not in attendance. [I am still not certain if they actually have any young in the nest as no young has ever been visible and their attendance seems to be somewhat haphazard]. We did manage to add striated thornbill to the list here as well as white-throated treecreeper. One of the adult collared sparrowhawks was also still present even though the young have fledged the nest. The dark phase little eagle also did a couple of passes overhead to add to Paul’s delight. It was getting hot so we headed back for lunch and a siesta.
About 4 pm l picked up Paul and our new birding companion Simon who hails from Germany but is currently working in Ballarat. Two birders, Mike and Steve, from Adelaide, were running late so we arranged to meet them at Wanganella.
Our first stop after lunch was in the boree country north of Pretty Pine. The previous day I had located no less than six male painted honeyeaters and at least one female! This was an exciting find as they haven’t been present in the boree country north of town for about seven years; and for the last three years we have only had one pair in the district — to my knowledge.
We didn’t have much trouble finding a lovely male painted honeyeater singing his heart out, to my two birding companions’ joy. Several more males were heard singing that were probably in addition to the six males seen the previous day. Wow! Nearby in some dillonbush we had great views of a male white-winged fairy-wren. I was surprised to find both white-browed and masked woodswallows had mysteriously appeared since my visit here the previous day. There had been, to my knowledge, none in the district since the big rain in early December.
The revegetation plot at Monimail was our next stop. We were hoping for white-fronted honeyeater here but were unable to find it. I had it here only a few days ago but whether they have finally moved on or were just a little elusive on the day I can’t be sure. They’ve been present here since October but, as far as I know, have never bred in the district. A few flocks of superb parrots were flying over as we looked for the honeyeater. I was particularly pleased to find a mistletoebird’s nest with young as it is such an exquisite nest, reminiscent a baby’s bootie and a difficult nest to find. They have only nested in the revegetation area once before and I think on that occasion the eggs were cooked in a heatwave, so it was extremely pleasing to see them feeding young. Mistletoebirds are very scarce in the district at present due to drought and severe frost knocking the box mistletoe about during winter.
We met up with brothers Steve and Mike at the Wanganella revegetation plot. Our quarry here was owlet nightjar, which we found peering out of one of my nestboxes. This was another new bird for Paul and brought him up to about forty for the day. The weather was getting a bit wild now and it was starting to rain lightly but I didn’t think it would impinge on our plans for the night’s spotlighting.
Out at the plains-wanderer property we saw our first banded lapwings as well as emu and red, eastern and western grey kangaroos. We checked out a nitre goosefoot swamp that had filled up after the big rain in early December. It was alive with red-kneed dotterels as well as black-winged stilt, white-fronted chat, both royal and yellow-billed spoonbills, black-tailed native-hen and some spotted crakes. A few wedge-tailed eagles were heading to roost indicating we needed to hightail it tor the plains-wanderer paddock and have a quick bite to eat before nightfall.
We then pretty much headed straight for the locality where I had located a mating pair of plains-wanderers on my previous search. An hour and a half later we hadn't managed to find anything. I could sense my birding companions were starting to get a little concerned but were keeping their chins up. I was quietly confident we would eventually hit gold. Not long after we hit silver with a male plains-wanderer and the boys were ecstatic. I thought there would be a female not far from the male as they have been keen to breed after the big rain in early December. This presumption proved not to be the case and I eventually gave up and tried another nearby locality. A good move as we had an adult pair in a very short time and a magnificent female to boot. [Why I persevered so long at the previous locality is anyone’s guess!] The male moved off a little and the female, keen to get him back, started calling. Several fat-tailed dunnarts were also seen during our quest for the plains-wanderer.
We went looking for buttonquail in some heavier grass and eventually found a male little buttonquail as well as brown songlark and Horsfield’s bushlark. We looked in an adjoining paddock where we had inland dotterels previously but they were absent. We did however find a couple more pairs of little buttonquail and good views were had of the adult female. A single female stubble quail was also seen. While we were looking at one of the little buttonquail a barn owl flew over to check us out. Paul and Simon were keen to try another paddock for inland dotterel so we gave it a go although I was not confident as the dotterels had been absent for a month now. This is quite unusual as there is heaps of suitable habitat for them but I guess their numbers must be low and there must be a vast area of bare country around Hay that would be suitable for them since the rain.
Also, while looking for inland dotterels in the second paddock, another two plains-wanderers were flushed, an adult female and an adult male in separate localities making a total of five for the night. This is great news as it means they have recolonised this paddock after largely vacating it about two months ago when it became too dry and bare.
On our drive home a southern boobook was spotlighted as well as another four or so barn owls. Paul finished the day with about sixty new species and Simon had quite a few as well. Steve and Mike only wanted the plains-wanderer so could hold their heads up high on their triumphant return to Adelaide. Other species of note were one hooded scalyfoot (a legless lizard) and one growling grassfrog.
16 December 2017 Hanna goes birding
Dirk, Wulan and their little girl, six year old Hanna, went out with me for an evening excursion. Dirk and Wulan are nurturing Hanna’s interest in the natural world and thought a plains-wanderer would be an exciting bird for her to see.
The mercury was in the mid-thirties(C) and Hanna's parents wanted to let it cool off a little before taking her out so Dirk and I set off at 5 pm to see the square-tailed kites’ nest in a redgum in a bend of the Edward River. We had good views of what was probably the male of the pair a few metres from the nest. The nest must have fair-sized young in it now (although I still haven't seen any sign of them) as both adults are often away from the nest hunting. [On 7 December, I erroneously reported it abandoned]. Flushed with this success, we returned to the Riverside Caravan Park to pick up Hanna and Wulan.
Heading north of town we stopped to show Hanna a female eastern grey kangaroo with an extremely large joey in the pouch that should have been well able to look after itself. Our first birding stop was at the Monimail revegetation area where our target bird was striped honeyeater. Hanna opted to climb the enclosure gate and we adults chose the less agile method of opening the gate and walking through.
The first call we heard was white-fronted honeyeater, which has been present here now for at least two months although has shown no sign of wanting to breed. We soon found an adult male striped honeyeater. The striped honeyeaters bred in the revegetation area this year for the first time and recently fledged young and, I’m happy to say, have been feeding here ever since.
The superb parrots were our next quarry and although they have been feeding in the revegetation area on green hopbush seed, I thought at this time of day they would probably be hanging out in a nearby clump of boree. In the boree they have been feeding on grey mistletoe and the green seedpods of the boree. Sure enough, we soon found a small flock feeding on the green seedpods and had a good look at male, female and juvenile birds. Hanna had a great view in the scope but was more intrigued by a fox skull that she had found under the boree, which she insisted on taking home with her. We had the splendid spectacle of a dozen superbs flying in to the boree just as we were leaving. Several pairs of bluebonnets were also seen about the boree country.
We continued north with our next stop at the revegetation area at Wanganella. Our target here was owlet nightjar, which has recently bred in one of my nest boxes. I trained the scope on the entrance of the nest box for young Hanna to watch it come out, and she was delighted to see it emerge as I gently scratched the box with a stick. This bird is docile and just sits at the entrance hole and rarely flies out.
The sun was sinking low in the sky so we made haste for the plains as we had more birds to find before dark. We managed brown songlark and banded lapwing and red kangaroo, a new mammal for Hanna and her parents. The light was fading fast but we just scraped in a male white-winged fairywren on a fence performing his final song before retiring for the night. We pulled up to look at fifty or so white-necked herons departing an area of swampland [he result of recent torrential rain] to fly across to a nearby box clump to roost. The mossies were ferocious and winding the windows up, we made a speedy escape.
We had something to eat while waiting for darkness to fall. There were still a few mossies about so we didn’t dillydally. I was hoping to find the plains-wanderers quickly before Hanna fell asleep but it was not to be as I couldn't find the mating pair I had found on 9 December. We did manage to get a great look at a stationary fat-tailed dunnart, which impressed Hanna. After about an hour searching we located a mating pair of plains-wanderers about 500 metres from where the 9 December pair had been. Wulan woke a sleepy Hanna to see the plains-wanderers. Mission accomplished! On the drive out to the highway a couple of barn owls were seen on the roadside. We arrived home about midnight and Wulan carried Hanna off to bed. I hope the evening’s outing further stimulates Hanna’s interest in nature; her parents are doing a sterling job in fostering her awareness of the natural world.
9/10 December 2017 Additional plains-wanderer weekend. A pair of plains-wanderers found.
7 December 2017 A trio of Victorian birders, Dave (South Gippsland) Pauline (Shepparton) and Ian (Torquay) and I set out in search of superb parrots. The superbs are on the move after fledgling young. We went out northeast of town where one was calling a couple of days earlier and where I had a hunch they might be feeding. We soon encountered several small flocks flying about. Eventually we managed to intercept a flock feeding and had some good views of a couple of adult males. A male rufous songlark was also calling here and we had good looks at this species, which is now uncommon in the district.
Rabbits are plaguing on the TSR — current government funding for management of the reserves is woefully low — but a couple of pairs of wedge-tailed eagles thought it a smorgasbord.
Our next stop was an Eremophila clump east of town where black honeyeater was the target species. It seemed quiet and I feared that they too may have vacated the district as most of the other black honeyeaters had done in recent weeks. However, soon enough, my fears proved unfounded and ten or so of both male and female black honeyeaters were seen, much to the delight of my companions.
Having our fill of black honeyeaters, we moved on. At the end of the road a dollarbird was encountered, which pleased Ian as he had only just mentioned that he was keen to see one. The sighting here of a dollarbird surprised me somewhat as they should be on the river nesting now and we were in farmland, a good twenty kilometres off the river. It might have been a late migrating bird that had come south after the recent rain event. With drought conditions prevailing, very few had come south prior to the rain. Another single dollarbird was also seen later that morning, strengthening my supposition. At this dollarbird spot, a clump of native willow and cypress pine looked suitable for striped honeyeater. Sure enough, a pair was located and duly performed a duet for us. Another chance encounter in some roadside boree produced a couple of white-winged trillers, a scarce bird in the district this season as well as another pair of striped honeyeaters feeding large young in their delightful nest resembling a large woolen sock. We scanned some rice crops for Australasian bittern but only yellow-billed and royal spoonbills, great egret, white-necked and white-faced herons and both straw-necked and white ibis were seen. Our next stop at a large irrigation storage dam, which had been crawling with both Baillon’s and spotted crakes for a month or more, was disappointing as both species had largely departed after the recent rainfall event. The spotted crakes were, for the most part, gone a couple of days ago although, at that point, there were still plenty of Baillon’s present. All the Baillon’s had now departed and just a single spotted crake was seen although another spotless crake was heard but refused to show itself. As both Baillon’s and spotted crakes only breed in the transitory swamps that fill up on the plains after heavy rainfall events, it is not surprising that they departed so quickly. They must be desperate to breed asthere are so few wet years nowadays. It is interesting that the spotted crakes (on the whole) departed first and the Baillon’s a couple of days later. We met up with Ian’s partner Susan and Pauline’s partner John who joined us for a couple of hours birding in some black box woodland on the floodplain. En route we encountered a small party of apostlebird in some remnant pine around a homestead. It was warming up and becoming windy but we still managed a few good birds. Here we had hooded robin, diamond firetail, jacky winter, southern whiteface, western gerygone and owlet nightjar. We headed to town for lunch and a siesta, happy with the morning’s excursion.
Mid afternoon, we checked out the square-tailed kite nest in a bend of the river but I was devastated to find it abandoned. I had suspicions it would probably fail as the female didn’t seem to be sitting consistently enough. Perhaps the male couldn't keep her supplied with enough young birds; they must need a tremendous amount of prey to successfully fledge young. Whether they were a young inexperienced pair I cannot say but both birds were in full-adult plumage. Note: ignore this paragraph, as you'll see above, Dirk and I witnessed the still-active nest on 16 December.
We were lucky enough to see both male and female collared sparrowhawk at their nest, which I believe has two large young. Both striated and buff-rumped thornbills, weebill and white-throated treecreeper were seen here.
As we headed north to the Hay plain a light rain set in which sent a shiver of panic through me as the plains were already saturated after last weekend’s deluge and any more rain would make things very difficult. I effected a calm countenance so as not to worry my birding companions! The rain eased up after a while and we had good sightings of banded lapwing, orange and white-fronted chats, white-winged fairywren, brown songlark and Horsfield’s bushlark, tawny frogmouth on a nest, bluebonnets, black-tailed native-hen and finally the resident group of ground cuckoo-shrikes.
The weather had settled down now so after a bite to eat we headed out to the plains-wanderer country to have a listen for females that I thought might be calling after the rain. Nothing was heard at this locality. We spotlighted for an hour but there did indeed appear to be no plains-wanderer present here nor inland dotterel, which we also had had here recently. We made haste back to another paddock where we had recently had many immature plains-wanderers. After a short time spotlighting at this location we located an immature female plains-wanderer about three months old that was just developing traces of the checkered collar and a chestnut tinge to the upper breast. Not long after, another immature female in slightly more advanced plumage was located which satisfied Ian, Dave and Pauline. A couple of fat-tailed dunnarts were encountered while we were searching for plains-wanderer, as well as Horsfield’s bushlark and Aussie pipits. On the drive home a half dozen barn owls were hunting mice along the road. Several spadefoot frogs had come up after the big rain event of 1-2 December. Interestingly, the spadefoots only called the first night after the rain and the holy cross frogs called for three nights after the rain before falling silent. (Sadly, our delightful giant banjo frogs seem to have disappeared in the last couple of years. It’s possible that there hasn't been enough heavy rainfall events over a long period of time to allow this giant bango frog to sustain its population).
5 December 2017 Best birds, with Neil from Sydney in the morning: East of town we had black and striped honeyeaters, rainbow bee-eater, about ten Baillons crakes, about four spotless crakes calling ( first in district for several years), swamp harrier, pink-eared duck, little grassbird, diamond firetail, hooded robin, owlet nightjar, western gerygone, southern whiteface, apostlebird and rufous songlark.
In the afternoon with Americans, Ian and Nick from Cornell University on board, the best birds were owlet nightjar, white-winged fairy-wren, orange and white-fronted chats, banded lapwing, an immature spotted harrier, Horsfield’s bushlark, brown songlark, tawny frogmouth, bluebonnet, four ground cuckoo-shrikes and black-tailed nativehen. We spotlighted six plains-wanderers, two being immature females and four mostly immature males and four barn owls. We also found an eastern hooded scalyfoot, Pygopus schraderi.
4 December 2017: Four delightful women from the Dubbo Field Naturalists’ Club and I kicked off our excursion at 4 pm with rain showers and gusty winds. Our first stop was the Monimail revegetation area. Despite the weather, we still managed white-fronted, spiny-cheeked, singing and striped honeyeaters. Our next stop was the Wanganella sandhill revegetation area where we had a seriously cute owlet nightjar peering out of one of my nesting hollows. They have bred here for the first time this year and I think they raised three young.
A band of rain was coming through Wanganella as we headed for the plains. The weather settled down a bit on the road into the plains-wanderer property and we managed a male white-winged fairy wren, Horsfield’s bushlark and brown songlark. The plains are saturated at present with 70 mm to 90mm falling on 1/2 December. This had implications for us tonight as the paddocks were still too wet to drive on.
Plenty of banded lapwing were feeding in the flooded paddocks and a small flock of sharp-tailed sandpipers were feeding with them. These are the first sharpies seen out on the plains for many years. White- fronted chats were seen and we had tawny frogmouth on a nest as well as bluebonnets, and a female black honeyeater feeding in flowering Eremophila bignoniflora in John’s yard. The ground cuckoo-shrikes must have roosted early tonight as we missed them, much to my chagrin.
We had a quick bite to eat and headed out onto the plains before dark as lightning storms were threatening from the southeast and we had to walk about a kilometre across the plains. John came out on his quad bike to lend a hand. It started to spit so I knew we didn’t have long to find a plains-wanderer and get the hell out of there! Luck was with us on this occasion. We found a male within minutes, had a good look and bolted back to the vehicle with the rain getting heavier. My group set off at a fast trot and I had to up my pace to keep up with them! On the way out of the property, I walked into a shallow swamp and brought back a delightful holy-cross frog for show and tell. Holy-cross frogs have been making wonderful woop calls since Friday’s great deluge. They put so much effort into the call it seems they could burst with the effort. This frog appears at very irregular intervals, which can be years apart. My companions were suitably impressed with this amazing creature.
We spotlighted a few barn owls on our way home. Lady Luck had been with us tonight given we managed to locate a plains-wanderer before the storm hit and to get back to the vehicle without getting saturated.
2/3 December 2017 Plains-wanderer weekend. In atrocious conditions, Philip, Robert and John located three plains-wanderers, a female and two males, for six brave souls who battled horizontal rain, cold wind and an extremely wet paddock, which they had to traverse on foot! A memorable night during an extraordinary weather event. The plain-wanderer property received about three inches of rain.
30 November 2017: Tropical Birding outing, eight plains-wanderers seen.
28 November 2017: in the morning we had superb parrot, crested shriketit, little eagle, collared sparrowhawk, square-tailed kite, blue-billed duck and plumed whistle-duck. Striped and white-fronted honeyeaters, bluebonnet, owlet nightjar, spotted harrier, three Australian hobby, white-winged fairywren, orange chat, the family of ground cuckoo-shrikes, brown songlark and Horsfield's bushlark were seen in the afternoon. Spotlighting, we had male and a female adult plains-wanderers, six or so barn owls, three or four stubble quail, five score or more banded lapwings and fat-tailed dunnart.
27 November 2017: Eight male plains-wanderers located, one with a large chick. Six little buttonquail including a male with two large chicks, two stubble quail, a score of banded lapwings, half a dozen barn owls were also spotlighted. During daylight we found four ground cuckoo-shrikes including one young, white-winged fairywrems, black honeyeaeter, white-fronted honeyeater, Horsfield's bushlark and brown songlark, among many other species. in the morning we had dollarbird, superb parrots, a diamond firetail, pair of hooded robins, striped honeyeater, owlet nightjar, little bittern, red-kneed dotterel, Baillon's crake and square-tailed kite.
25/26 November 2017: Huge plains-wanderer weekend with seventeen happy members of the Illawarra Birdlife group. One hundred and forty-eight bird species seen on a warm, humid weekend. In the evening, with John, David and Trisha spotlighting along with Robert and me, we located a male and a female plains-wanderer as well as a couple of inland dotterel, a little buttonquail, stubble quail, several barn owls and a peregrine falcon. Robert performed the best magic trick of the evening, spotlighting a huddle of ground cuckoo-shrikes roosting in a black box. There were three of four birds bunched together creating an extended wave of fine barring on a vivid white background. Stunning! Best birds in the daylight on Saturday were pied honeyeater and an Australasian bittern east of town. Amid tropical weather on Sunday morning, we saw, among other good birds, superb parrot, square-tailed kite, varied sittella and white-backed swallow.
24 November 2017: Out again with Firetail Tours for the evening.Three males and a pair of plains-wanderers located; as well as stubble quail, banded lapwings, an inland dotterel, a few fat-tailed dunnarts and a couple of barn owls.
21 November 2017: A day and evening with Jun and his Japanese group. We found four male and two female plains-wanderers, two stubble quail, one boobook, lots of banded lapwings and a couple of fat-tailed dunnarts.
20 November 2017: Out with Jun and eight Japanese birders for the evening. We located four male and two female plains-wanderers as well as, among other species, four inland dotterels, two stubble quails, a boobook, a congregation of banded lapwings and two fat-tailed dunnarts.
19 November 2017: 132 bird species seen and two heard. Best birds of the morning of the second day of the plains-wanderer weekend were superb parrot, crested shriketit, spotless crake (by some), swamp harrier, little grassbird, azure kingfisher, collared sparrowhawk, square-tailed kite and dollarbird.
18 November 2017: The second plains-wanderer weekend for the season produced two males and a female plains-wanderer. Dramatic thunderstorms produced 35 mm of rain at John's. Also seen on the plains-wanderer property was a lone inland dotterel, a female little buttonquail, fat-tailed dunnarts, a couple of hundred banded lapwings, red-backed kingfisher, Horsfield's bushlark, brown songlark and an adult male orange chat. Earlier in the afternoon, at Wanganella sandhill, we located one of the resident owlet nightjars and at the Monimail, we had white-fronted honeyeater, large number of black honeyeaters, as well as spiny-cheeked and singing honeyeaters feeding on the Eremophila longifollia. A male mistletoebird was feeding on grey mistletoe and variegated fairywrens were building a nest in the hakea thickets.
In the morning, we started with a dozen or more superb parrots feeding around a wheat crop, then took in a band of grey-crowned babblers in the blackbox. A visit to my mate Sam's native garden in north Deniliquin produced a pair of scarlet honeyeaters. Also of intererest at Sam's was a grey shrikethrush feeding three babies in a nest in a hanging basket beside the door and a recently used nest of a white-browed scrubwren in a shrimp trap. En route to Tuppal Reserve we saw apostlebirds and at Tuppal we had hooded robin, adults and a baby; western gerygone, a pair of diamond firetail, several chestnut-rumped, yellow and yellow-rumped thornbill, southern whiteface, striped honeyeater and grey butcherbird. On the way back to town we stopped at a turkey-nest dam and scored a bounty of Baillon's crake and half a dozen spotted crake and some were lucky to see spotless crake. A rare (these days) rufous songlark was seen along the Moonie Swamp Road.
16 November 2017: A female koel sighted at the Monimail revegetation plott.
15 November 2017. Out with Australians, David and Janette, for the day and evening. Down at the bird hide at Mathoura, we saw two Australasian bitterns and heard about four little bitterns, as well as Baillon's crake, musk duck, little grassbird, and saw about thirty glossy ibis flying over. We also recorded crested shriketi. In town we had superb parrots and a pair of square-tailed kites. Heading north after lunch, we saw black falcon along the Hay Road, pied and black honeyeaters at the Monimail, two owlet nightjars in daylight at the Wanganella sandhill and on the plains-wanderer property: five barn owls, a tawny frogmouth, stubble quail, around four fat-tailed dunnarts and a pair of plains-wanderers and another male plains-wanderer.
14 November 2017: Firetail Tours' Simon Star with two clients put in an evening with me. In daylight we had black, pied and striped honeyeaters at the Monimail, little eagle, swamp harrier, Horsfield's bushlark, white-winged fairywren and three species of kangaroo. After dark there were about half a dozen barn owls, southern boobook, banded lapwings, a female plains-wanderer and three males; brown songlark, fat-tailed dunnart and two inland dotterel.
10 November 2017: Four Americans for a day and a half. First afternoon, we had a quad of honeyeaters: striped white-fronted, black and pied at the Monimail. Spotlighting we had an adult female and about five male plains-wanderers and all the regular stuff including two inland dotterels, ten barn owls, southern boobook and three fat-tailed dunnarts.
9 November 2017: Robert and I took seven birders who were on a Bellbird Tours trip off their leader's hands for the evening. We spotlighted three inland dotterel, three stubble quail, ten barn owls and one southern boobook. On the plains-wanderer front, we located three adult females and a male with two full-grown young and two other adult male plains-wanderers.
8 November 2017: Out for the day with four Spanish birders. In the evening, we saw an adult female plains-wanderer, four adult male plains-wanderers and a juvenile plains-wanderer.
6 November 2017: Tropical Birding: Five plains-wanderers comprising two adult females, two adult males and one juvenile male.
5 November 2017: One adult female plains-wanderer, a male with four chicks, another adult male close by, and another immature male some distance from the others.
4 November 2017: Tropical Birding:: An adult femalel plains-wanderer, male with four chicks and another male close by.
3 November 2017: Ed and Susan had been out with me about twenty years ago. Eleven plains-wanderers!
1 November 2017 Borderland Tours: One adult male plains-wanderer..
31 October 2017: Robert out with George and Marc who had joined forces for the evening. They saw one female plains-wanderer, inland dotterels and lots more.
30 October 2017: VENT tour: one adult female plains-wanderer.
26 October 2017: Robert, out with American, Dr George Powell, found a female plains-wanderer. George is .a senior conservation biologist & technology advisor at the World Wildlife Fund
22 October 2017: The Plains-wanderer Weekend recommenced at 8 am. East of town, in a patch of flowering eremophila, we had about thirty black honeyeaters, mostly males seemngly, as well as a striped honeyeater and several spiny-cheeked honeyeaters. Nearby, we had a hundred or more white-browed woodswallows with a few masked mixed in with them. Down the road we recorded a single budgerigar, my first sighting for several years in this district. Further out, there was a black falcon loitering around a hay-cutting operation. Later on, we called in to a irrigation storage dam and had several Baillon's and two spotted crakes feeding in a patch of cumbungi. We finished up at 1.30 pm after visiting a couple of water storages in town where we ticked off blue-winged duck, musk duck, plumed whistle-duck, Australasian shoveller, Australian shelduck and a trio of white-backed swallows. All up, we recorded a respectable 134 bird species for the weekend.
21 October 2017 The season's first Plains-wanderer Weekend. Good birds during the morning included ten to fifteen superb parrots feeding on the ground and flying around our heads, about five metres from us in full sun. Scarlet honeyeaters were recorded at several locations within the town area including in the redgum/blackbox forest as well as residents' front yards. A pair of square-tailed kites building a nest was one of the better sightings of the day. Other raptors nesting nearby included whistling kite, little eagle and collared sparrowhawk. Two male redcap robins were seen, one in a front yard in north Deniliquin and the other in the redgum/blackbox forest. A group of varied sittellas were also seen here.. In the afternoon we had two pairs of pied honeyeaters at the Monimail revegetation plot and at least eight white-fronted honeyeaters and a couple of black honeyeaters and several pairs of blue bonnets.
A good view of a little eagle was savoured at Wanganella. Out on the plains there was Horsfield's bushlark, brown songlark, emu,, banded lapwing, juvenile spotted harrier, white-winged fairywren, owlet nightjar. John had seen Australian pratincoles earlier in the day but we were unable to locate them. Spotlighting, we enjoyed a courting pair of plains-wanderers. Other good birds for the evening included six or so inland dotterels, an adult male stubble quail, at least ten barn owls and a southern boobook. Home at about midnight.
18 October 2017: Joshua Bergmark and his Birdquest group and I headed out for the day and evening. There's an influx of honeyeaters into the district with six scarlet honeyeaters in north Deniliquin and about thirty black honeyeaters and one pied honeyeater east of town in flowering Eremophila longifolia. Out at the Monimail revegetation plot, there was a male pied honeyeater, at least half a dozen white-fronted honeyeaters and three or four black honeyeaters. Spotlighting we recorded a pair of plains-wanderers and another male, five inland dotterel, stubble quail and fat-tailed dunnart. Note: while we have had a couple of records of scarlet honeyeaters in the district over the decades, these are my first sightings in the district. The historical sightings, not recorded by me, were at Ulupna Island in about 1998 and the latter one in 2003 about 40 km east of town.
17 October 2017: Tom Wheller recorded a pair of scarlet honeyeaters in his garden.
15 October 2017: Sam Holden sighted a scarlet honeyeater and heard another in his garden in North Deniliquin, which is the first record for the Deniliquin township. (See entry above for history of scarlet honeyeater sightings in the district).
13 October 2017: Steve Davidson leading a Rockjumper group (comprising nine birders) met up with me late in the afternoon. We recorded four plains-wanderers, a pair and two males, as well as inland dotterel, stubble quail, fat-tailed dunnart, owlet nightjar, tawny frogmouth, brown songlark, Horsfield's bushlark and white-winged wren.
11 October 2017: Two couples, Ann and Andrew from the UK
and Joelle and Clyde from the USA, joined forces for the day and evening. In the evening, we recorded a male and a female plains-wanderer, three inland dotterels, heaps of banded lapwing, a fat-tailed dunnart and a stubble quail. And best of all — it rained!
6 October 2017: Americans, Michelle and Lisa, had a day around Deniliquin after a couple of days over in the mallee with me. Out on the plains we saw two plains-wanderers, a male and female. We also found four inland dotterel and an orange chat.
2 October 2017: Ted and Barbara from the States and I went out for the day and evening. Suffice to say at this point that we saw four plains-wanderers, one adult male and an adult female, about 100 metres apart; and an immature male and an immature female plains-wanderer.
30 September 2017: Two male plains-wanderers located. Four birders out with me.
25 September2017: Adult female plains-wanderer, eight stubble quail, brown songlark, two orange chats (spotlighted), lots of banded lapwings, one Horsfield's bronze-cuckoo and a fat-tailed dunnart recorded.
12 September 2017: Robert was out with Richard from South Africa and his friends, Neil and Debbie for an evening. They saw a pair of plains-wanderers, stubble quail, boobook owl, barn owl, ground cuckoo-shrike, black falcon and lots more. This was a return trip for Richard who came out with me at the end of 2015. We got a sub-adult female and a male plains-wanderer that night.
12 September 2017: Robert recorded a bustard west of Boorooban — an indication of how dry the inland has become.
4 September 2017: Three female plains-wanderers, one immature and two adults, recorded by our Strzelecki outback group as the tour came through Deniliquin. About ten stubble quail, a few brown songlarks and half a dozen pipits also seen while we were spotlighting.
31 August 2017: Reconnaissance tfor the upcoming outback tour: two female plains-wanderers and two other females calling.
23 June 2017: Robert recorded the same three ground cuckoo-shrikes as seen by John on 18 June.
18 June 2017: John had three ground cuckoo-shrikes on the plains north of Wanganella
14 May 2017: A group of about eight cockatiels was seen a little to the north of Monimail. This is my first sighting since the summer. Traditionally they are a spring/summer migrant so it's odd that they should suddenly turn up in mid-May. However, we have had a couple of weeks of very mild weather which is probably the reason for their unseasonal return.
12 May 2017 Wanganella revegetation area. Four inches of rain fell out at the Wanganella sandhill during March and April, which produced prolific weed growth in the revegetation area. For the last week, I have been spraying herbicide around last year’s plantings and preparatory spraying for this year’s planting.
There are a nice lot of birds out there at present. The plants largely sat idle through the low rainfall years but have finally started to develop with the good rain falling this and last year. I’ve established five species of mistletoe on the sandhill over the last five years or so and have finally got several species fruiting. It didn't take long for the mistletoebirds to find them and there have been at least three adult males there lately. While the species has visited periodically, this is the first time they have been resident on the hill.
12 May 2017: Amazingly, the two white-fronted honeyeaters are still present in the Monimail revegetation area. They have been about now for five or six months, which must be something of a record for this most nomadic of nomads. When they first arrived they were feeding in flowering Eremophila longifolia. Later in the summer they fed in flowering wire-leafed mistletoe Amyema preissii and fleshy mistletoe Amyema miraculosum. Currently they appear to be feeding in the flowers of the grey mistletoe Amyema quandang, which seems to flower and fruit nearly all year round. Probably they are eating a lot of insects as well to tide them over. Also of interest was one of the white-fronted honeyeaters mimicking a singing honeyeater. I heard and saw the honeyeater do this on several occasions but had not previously heard them make this particular call, which was a good rendition of one of the singing honeyeaters calls. Some other honeyeaters such as the regent are known to mimic other larger honeyeaters as a means of avoiding aggressive behaviour towards them by the larger honeyeaters when competing for nectar. There are many singing and spiny-cheeked honeyeaters in the area where the white-fronted honeyeaters are, and being the smallest honeyeater they are often chased away from food resources.
One of my aims when I started planting this area up was to have such a variety of plants that there would be something for birds to feed on all year round. It has been a hard slog with years of relentless drought when the plants hardly grew, however with the rain last year and then again recently, at last the area is realizing its potential. It will be interesting to see how long the white-fronted honeyeaters will stay and whether they will breed in the spring. They have never bred in the district, in recent history at least. The closest I have seen them breed is in the mallee county about Balranald.
11 May 2017: I had a new bird for my Monimail revegetation area that was quite unexpected. A small group of weebills was feeding in a mallee eucalypt. In more recent years, I have steered away from planting that genus in the plot so there is not much scope for weebills, which prefer eucalypts. However, they have managed to find the few larger eucalypts I planted years ago, and will occasionally feed in acacia as well. They have come from the scattering of black box trees in an adjoining paddock. Weebill numbers have been very low for many years now, even in prime blackbox in the area, so they were a surprise.
10 May 2017: Two or more Horsfield's bronze-cuckoos at Wanganella sandhill. Apparently have decided not to migrate this year They've been about for a week.
9 May 2017: White-backed swallows have been largely absent from the constructed nesting sites at the sandhill for the last four months so I was pleasantly surprised when about eight white-backed swallows suddenly appeared around the nesting area. You have to wonder where they’ve been.
9 May 2017: John recorded two ground cuckoo-shrikes on the plains-wanderer property yesterday.
9 May 2017: A male flame robin at Gulpa revegetation area; the first for some years.
2 May 2017: Robert recorded two blue-winged parrots between Wanganella and Boorooban, which were the first seen for the season.
18 April 2017 An update on the banded male plains-wanderer found on 10 April (see notes for the 10th). This bird was banded on 13 May 2016 at Terrick Terrick National Park in northern Victoria.
14 April 2017: Anita, a keen bird photographer from the Gold Coast, and I headed north late afternoon. At some roadside boree bedecked with grey mistletoe were spiny-cheeked, singing and striped honeyeaters, a female mistletoebird and zebra finches. Down the road a bit we came upon an adult spotted harrier, the first I've seen for some months. At the Monimail boree we stopped for some superb parrots. Initially, it was quiet but eventually a few pairs flew over but didn't stop. Just as we were about to leave, a dozen or so flew in with some landing. Anita got some good shots of a couple of adult males.
The sun was sinking on the horizon so we made haste for the plains, only stopping for Anita to get a photo of a pair of wedge-tailed eagles silhouetted against the setting sun. With Anita on gate-opening duty, we started looking for inland dotterel and banded lapwing. We found the lapwings soon enough and shortly after Anita had about six inland dotterels in her viewfinder. We waited for darkness and then started spotlighting. First bird Anita photographed was Horsfield's bushlark. We saw a couple of fat-tailed dunnarts but they were camera shy. We made our way over to the area where we had five male plains-wanderers a few days ago and soon found two males quite close together. With no sigh of the female, we worked our way across the paddock and soon came upon a beautiful adult female, and not the bird from our last outing. Anita was pleased to have photos of both male and female plains-wanderer. As we headed out we saw another fat-tailed dunnart which posed nicely for photos. We had heard a boobook owl calling across the plains while we were looking at the female plains-wanderer so headed over to John's box clump to locate the boobook but not before seeing a tawny frogmouth while we were en route. We checked the barn owl's nest tree and found the barn owl in a nearby tree. An owlet nightjar was calling but we didn't look for it. Dodging kangaroos, we arrived back in town at about 10.30 pm. Three plains-wanderers, one female and two males recorded
10 April 2017 Out with my cousin Peter Laws from over Shepparton way and my old mate Don Roberts from nearby Mooroopna. Don started birding back in the 1960s when he was just a lad and has an in-depth knowledge of the birds of central and northern Victoria.
The weather was cold and windy when we headed out after lunch. A strong front had come through yesterday, bringing the princely total of 2 mm of rain and a howling wind.
We called in briefly at Monimail, mainly to show Peter and Don the revegetation area but we did manage to see a few birds despite the weather. In the hour or so we were there, about thirty superb parrots flew over in small flocks, all heading west to the boree country.
We eventually made our way out onto the plains in the late afternoon with the wind starting to ease but still chilly. A cold front will usually make inland dotterels move so I was surprised they were still present. Don counted twenty-two and there could well have been more. A good lot of banded lapwing was present in the same general area, roughly a hundred.
We stopped for some tucker as we waited for darkness to fall and then started spotlighting. We hadn't been spotlighting long when we found our first male plains-wanderer. We continued looking, hoping for a female as I had had a trio of two males and a female here on two occasions recently. We soon found another male nearby and as Don was admiring it he noticed it had a band on its leg! I was astonished as we had not banded any birds for about twenty years so it had to have come from outside the area.
We managed to catch the bird to read the band number. I emailed my friend Dr David Baker-Gabb who still does some research on plains-wanderers in Victoria as I thought he may have banded it and, if not, would know who did. Before the night was out I had a reply that he hadn't banded it but it had almost certainly been banded in Terrick Terrick NP by Parks Victoria personnel. At this stage we still don't know when it was banded but possibly some years ago. This will be the greatest distance in recorded movement of plains-wanderer given our previous record was only about 40 km back in the 1990s. It will also be the first interstate record as the bird has crossed the Murray River. My estimate is that this male plains-wanderer has moved, as the crow flies, about 130 km. It could also be the oldest known record of a plains-wanderer in the wild when we ascertain when it was banded. Stay tuned! It all adds to our knowledge of this amazing little bird.
I still had a female plains-wanderer to find for the lads so we kept searching. We found another three males (five in total) within about half a kilometre. Why were there so many males in that one small area?
After another half hour searching we finally came upon a stunning adult female plains-wanderer about a kilometre away. Don and Peter were more than happy as she posed beautifully for some photos. We called it a night as it was not getting any warmer. On the way out we had tawny frogmouth and barn owl. Dodging numerous kangaroos, we arrived home around midnight. Six plains-wanderers in total in what turned out to be a significant outing.
22 March 2017: Good rain falling out on the plains!
20 March 2017: George Madani had organised an evening's outing for himself and three of his friends. Lachlan and George were from the Wollongong area and Brenton and Donna from Canberra. They were PhD candidates and researchers. No wimpy caravan parks for these gung ho young scholars — they were sleeping rough down by the river!
Heading north just after 4 pm, we called in briefly to the spot where I had seen ground cuckoo-shrikes a few days ago. As is the nomadic nature of this species, they were not there. Our next stop was the Monimail boree where the first bird we saw was superb parrot. I had been unable to get a decent look at them a few days ago but today a pair posed beautifully for us. Not too sure where the majority of the superbs are at present as there are only low numbers about the Monimail. We stopped in at my revegetation area at Wanganella and as this group was into reptiles, we turned over some of my roof tiles and old railway sleepers looking for striped skinks. We saw one at least, albeit briefly. A bearded dragon was also seen. Quite a few house mice are starting to get about so I expect the eastern brown snakes will be back soon. A few black-shouldered kites have also turned up, chasing the mice. There are good numbers of spiny-cheeked and singing honeyeaters present in the revegetation area; the most, I think, there’s ever been here. Surprising given only 13 mm of rain has fallen here so far this year. Other birds here at the moment include grey shrike-thrush (second consecutive year) and red-capped robin and a big group of about twenty yellow-rumped thornbills. Also several groups of white-winged fairy-wrens and the superb fairy-wrens are back after an absence of several years.
We continued north out onto the plains. On the plains-wanderer property one of the first 'wanted' birds we encountered was banded lapwing. Our next target was inland dotterel and we found them out feeding in the overcast conditions of the late afternoon. A quick count came up with eleven birds. We proceeded to John's box clump for a bite to eat and had the barn owl peeping out of its regular hollow. A tawny frogmouth started up just on dusk.
We headed out to the same paddock were I had the trio of plains-wanderers on my last outing. In very quick time, we located the female plains-wanderer only a short distance from where she had been on the previous visit and then both of the males of that night were located close by. My young coterie was howling with joy! They were still keen to see more so we kept spotlighting. I was also keen to get some idea of how many plains-wanderers were in this paddock as we had not seen many young (in this paddock) when they were breeding here back in the spring and early summer.
Unbelievably, over the next hour or so we located another nine plains-wanderers! We found three pairs and two single males and one immature female. The immature female was an odd bird in that the legs were quite yellow but the chequered collar and breast band were only just starting to show. This would suggest she was only between three and four months old; probably hatching some time in November. It was hard to age most of the other birds as the juveniles obtain their adult plumage at such a young age and many are now at the stage were it is difficult to tell them from the adults. All up, we had TWELVE plains-wanderers: seven males and five females. All were in adult plumage apart from the one immature female. This is the most plains-wanderers we have had in a single night for many years and indicates they did indeed breed successfully in this paddock.
Other birds encountered included Horsfield's bushlarks, pipits, a stubble quail and a brown songlark. It was a hot humid night, which is good for reptiles and we had about four curl snakes and a couple of tessellated geckos. By way of marsupials, we had about ten fat-tailed dunnarts and the usual assortment of kangaroo species. I was still keen to find more plains-wanderers but the crew was starting to run out of steam. They’d been on a massive road trip through NSW and Victoria chasing birds and mammals and camping for a week or more. On the way out we had another tawny frogmouth and a southern boobook sitting on the road. We were home about 1 am. George, Lachlan, Brenton and Donna were very pleased with their excursion out on the plains — as was I.
15 March 2017: Out with a great Canadian couple, Nicholas and Lise from Quebec. Nicholas was originally from Britain but has lived in Canada for thirty years or so and still retains his British accent. He puts this down to, for the most part, speaking French at home — Lise being French Canadian.
We set out early morning, heading out north to the Monimail area to see if could make contact with the superb parrots that have been feeding in the boree country of late. As soon as we arrived we spotted several small flocks but they were on the move flying east towards the black box country. We had a few looks in flight but not really the views we were after. Scratched a few of my nest boxes in the revegetation area for owlet nightjar but they also proved elusive. We did see quite a few spiny-cheeked and singing honeyeaters and white-winged and variegated fairy wrens (all brownies) in the same bush. Bluebonnets were also seen here. We headed off to the south, back towards town on back roads. I had a choice of two different roads I could take and finally decided on one. This turned out to be fortuitous, as we had not gone far when we spotted a ground cuckoo-shrike sitting on a fence beside the road. Wow, a jackpot! There were two others feeding nearby on the ground. We watched them for a while before they flew off, being harassed by a very aggressive magpie. Ground cuckoo-shrike is a scarce bird to see anywhere in Australia now.We continued south and then east of town as I wanted to check out the eremophila patch to see if black honeyeater was still present. There were still a few flowers on the eremophila but sadly the black honeyeaters had moved on. It was a pretty big ask I guess to expect them to be still present mid-March.
We pushed on east and had not gone far before we came upon a freshly cut paddock of lucerne. There were quite a few black kites and little ravens hanging about and sure enough a black falcon was also present, being harassed by, of all things, a collared sparrowhawk. A brown falcon was also present. The kites and ravens following the tractor around when the hay is being cut catch insects and mice. The black and brown falcons pirate the prey from them, which can be spectacular to watch.
We continued east as I wanted to check out the patch of boree where the painted honeyeaters had been feeding young in a nest only a couple of weeks back. Surely they would be still about, but no, we were out of luck, they appeared to have moved on already. It always amazes me how quickly birds move on after nesting at times. Back in the 1980s and 90s when the seasons were 'normal', the painted honeyeaters would sometimes hang around into the early winter but now they are more likely to move on after nesting. The last few years we have only had one pair in the district so they are only barely holding on. However we did score a nice adult Horsfield's bronze-cuckoo and a swamp harrier flew over. We checked out a nearby storage dam and had nice views of pink-eared duck. We headed for town and checked out the sewerage treatment ponds. Quite a few ducks have returned since the flooding last spring, including pink-eared, hardheads and shoveler. However the main duck we were after was blue-billed. Two pairs have been present for some time and one pair at least has nested and raised young. The species has rarely been recorded on the ponds previously and this is the first time ever it has bred here. There is only one tiny patch of cumbungi for them to build a nest in so its fantastic achievement. The Deniliquin Council hates cumbungi and will poison it at every opportunity so it is amazing that this patch has survived! Also present were a thousand or so plumed whistling- duck. They have been present for several years, since the severe droughts in Queensland, and are showing no sign of wanting to go back. Another refugee from the north that is present here is the magpie-goose. There were five birds present, four adults and one juvenile. A pair nested on a nearby pond this past summer and raised a number of young. This is the first successful nesting of this species in the Deniliquin district (of which I’m aware) for probably around a hundred years so, it’s a momentous event.
We adjourned for lunch and a break after a morning of mixed blessings.
In the afternoon we headed north again checking out the boree where I thought the superb parrots would be holed up in heat of the day, but wrong again. They can be elusive when they want to be. We checked out some nearby black box and eventually located a group of chestnut-rumped thornbill, weebill and a single red-capped robin. With only around 20 mm of rain around here in the last few months, all the birds are barely calling and are proving elusive, particularly in the heat of the day. Our next stop was the drying out swamp at Wanganella where we had quite a few red-kneed dotterel as well as a few black-fronted. Many of the red-kneed were juveniles, indicating that they have had a successful breeding in the inland. We searched in vain for black-tailed native-hen, which, not having returned from the inland, are still very scarce in the district.
The plains were our next destination and here we finally had good looks at a male white-winged fairywren and a large congregation of banded lapwings. The Canadians were also delighted to see emus and red and eastern grey kangaroos. In John's box clump the barn owl was peeping out of its usual hollow. I scratched some more hollows for owlet nightjar but they were elusive today. Inland dotterel was our next quarry. I didn't know how we would go as John hadn’t seen any since 10 mm of rain had fallen a few days previously. It does not take much to make them move, a shower of rain or a cold front coming through will do it. However, luck was with us as we located a group of ten or so hanging out in a dry gilgai swamp in the late afternoon.
It was time for us to move on to the main game — the search for the celebrated plains-wanderer! John had flushed up a female during the day while mustering sheep a week or so back so I decided to try that spot. I located the spot fairly quickly and within fifteen minutes or so located an adult male plains-wanderer. After this success we decided to try for the female and after circling back to near where we had found the male, we located another male, then noted the female sitting a couple of metres away and the first male a couple of metres on the other side of the female. So, we had the trio within a few metres! It is quite rare to actually come upon the trio all sitting together like this and I have only seen it a handful of times over the past thirty-six years. It would seem to indicate that they are very keen to breed when we get some decent rain.
With two happy Canadians on board we called it a night and headed for home. But our luck was still holding. As Nicolas got out to open John's front gate I realised (just in time) there was an owlet nightjar sitting beside the gate! After scratching trees all day we finally had one! On the road out to the highway we had another barn owl and a few kilometres further on a boobook owl was perched up on a post by the roadside. Three night birds in about fifteen minutes! A great end to a rather tough day’s birding.
3 March 2017: John saw a female plains-wanderer while he was droving sheep late this afternoon. He saw it run a few metres and then fly about six metres before landing and squatting.
28 February 2017, 5 pm start: Scots, David and Vicky were out with me in April last year when they were in Australia to meet their new grandson. Now one year on they took time out from celebrating their grandson's first birthday to drive from Sydney to Deniliquin to have another attempt at plains-wanderer. (Plains-wanderers had gone missing from February to May last year). It was with some trepidation that l took them out given that I had just had my first miss of the year a few nights previously, which was unexpected.
We had seen most of the specialties of the district on David and Vicky’s last visit so I scratched my head for something new to show them before the evening closed in on us. Aha Black honeyeaters! They had just turned up in the district after having been absent all summer. We headed to a patch of eremophila east of town where I had two immature black honeyeaters a few days previously. The immatures were not to be seen but we did find a lovely adult male black honeyeater. It is quite extraordinary for black honeyeaters to turn up this late in the season but, after some patchy rain in January, the eremophila was still flowering.
Another species we had missed April last was painted honeyeater so we headed out a bit further east to a patch of boree with grey mistletoe where we recently had a pair of painted honeyeaters nesting — again, late in the season. Lucky for us the pair was still feeding young in the nest. This is the only pair I know of in the district. (Before prolonged dry years became the new norm, we had colonies of them nesting in several localities). As we were admiring the painted honeyeaters feeding their young, a farmer lit up a nearby paddock of stubble. Black falcons and black kites like to frequent stubble burns so we kept an eye on it. Black falcons will catch quail disturbed by the flames, as well as pirate prey from black kites, mostly insects and mice I suspect. It wasn't long before a dozen or more black kites showed up and a few minutes later, a single black falcon came cruising over. We didn't know whether to look at the falcon or honeyeater!
Luck seemed to be with us so I started to feel a little more confident in how we'd fare spotlighting. We headed back to town and then north to Wanganella and the plains-wanderer property. I decided to try a different paddock after our dip of a few nights ago.
David and Vicky were delighted to see our three species of kangaroo, as well as emu and the ever-present white-winged fairywrens and banded lapwings as we drove into the property. We had a bite to eat as we waited for night to fall. After spotlighting for a while, we had a fat-tailed dunnart followed not long after by a couple more, but no sign of a plains-wanderer. After an hour spotlighting, working my way across the paddock, I was becoming a tad concerned. Suddenly we had a male plains-wanderer in the light. David and Vicky were delighted (and no doubt relieved) with seeing an adult male but I thought we could do one better. We didn't search long before locating the female within fifty metres of the male. I suspect she was probably an immature bird around 4-5 months old as her chestnut gorget was not very extensive. The legs were fairly yellow indicating she was coming into breeding condition and her proximity to the adult male suggests they are interested in breeding when it rains again. (There’s been none to speak of on the plains since December).
With two happy Scottish birders on board, we called it a night and headed for home. On the road out we encountered an inland dotterel (we had seen them the previous April) and back at Billabong Creek we stopped to admire a tawny frogmouth. I dropped David and Vicky back at the Riverside Caravan and Cabin Park around midnight
24 February 2017
Today was day one of a four-day tour with our wonderful clients, Terry and Roksana from Sydney. We had one day and evening around Deniliquin and three days birding the mallee in NW Victoria.
Birding locally, we headed out east of Deniliquin where I was intending to look for painted honeyeater, which I had recently seen. On the way out, just for the hell of it, I diverted to check an Eremophila longifolia patch. I wasn't expecting much here as the eremophila are normally finished flowering at this time of year. I almost fell over when just about the first bird we saw was a female black honeyeater, followed soon after by a second female. I had pretty much given up on black honeyeaters turning up at all this year; their usual time of arrival being October/November. How extraordinary that they should turn up when we are on the brink of autumn rather than the brink of summer. The eremophila was still flowering quite well, probably due to a timely storm in January.
The brilliant season in the outback last spring and early summer probably discouraged black honeyeaters from coming south but February’s fierce heat wave might have given them cause to reconsider. Black honeyeater had been on Terry and Roksana’s wanted list, so we were off to a good start.
As unexpected as the late arrival of black honeyeaters was, we were in for another surprise. There was a strange call as we were watching the black honeyeaters. Initially the mystery bird didn’t do its full call but when it started on its full call, its identity was obvious: eastern koel! With the current expansion of this species' range in Victoria, I suppose it was only a matter of time before one showed up. Still, I would have assumed it woud be in town rather than this locality —about 15 km east of Deniliquin. It was calling from some dense trees behind a house and try as we might we couldn't coax it out. This, as far as I know, is the first record of this species in the Deniliquin district and the second new species at this same locality, having had a brown honeyeater here, 13 November 2008.
On route to the next site we had a couple of intermediate egrets in a rice crop, a species that has been scarce in the district of late.
We finally arrived at the patch of boree where I had recently had painted honeyeaters, and soon located them. We followed them back to their nest fairly high up in a boree tree. One of them bought in a spider to feed the young, indicating that the young were still quite small as I think they feed them mostly insects for the first week before shifting over to mistletoe berries. They were bringing in food at regular intervals, which kept us entertained and allowed Terry some nice photos. Also at this locality, we had nice looks at striped honeyeater and a family of mistletoebirds.
On the way back to town we called in at a large storage dam but the water level was up and most of the birds had departed. We did see an immature nankeen night-heron from which we tried to conjure an Aussie bittern.
We repaired to town for lunch (and a siesta) before heading north later in the afternoon. At the revegetation plot at Monimail, we tried for the white-fronted honeyeaters that have been here for a couple of months but were unable to find them today. Perhaps this champion of nomads has finally moved on. Terry got some nice shots of an owlet nightjar in one of my nest hollows. Variegated fairywrens were here, as were white-winged fairywrens, the first for some time but sadly no coloured males.
We headed out onto the plains to look for inland dotterel before dark. After a bit of searching, and much to Roksana’s delight, we managed to locate a trip of eight dotterels. We approached quite closely in the vehicle and Terry got some nice shots of a lovely adult in full plumage. Banded lapwings were nearby. and a company of galahs, resplendid in the late afternoon sun, were admired. We continued on to John's box clump where we had good looks at a dozen or more bluebonnets of the yellow-vented variety. The barn owls were peeping out of their hollow and another owlet nightjar was observed. After a bite to eat, we headed to the plains-wanderer paddock to start spotlighting. I had had four birds in this paddock on my last outing so wasn't anticipating any trouble. We had several fat-tailed dunnarts while searching for the wanderers. One of the dunnarts had just caught a mole-cricket and was in the process of devouring it when we came along. Terry got some cracking photos. After an hour we were still ‘wandererless’. After two hours, still wandererless ... I was intending to try another paddock but Terry and Roksana wisely decided to call it a night as we had an early start in the morning to get to the mallee. They are coming back later in the year so will have another chance for the wanderer then. We called it a night and headed for home. Three days in the mallee report
24 February 2017: First eastern koel record for the Deniliquin district. Heard calling about 15 km east of Deniliquin in a dense tree behind a house.
14 Febraury 2017: Due to our late arrival back in Deniliquin this morning (2 am), we didn't start particularly early. I collected Magnus, Eja and Anders around 8 o'clock for a morning's birding. Lynton opted for the lie in.
We headed out south-east of town. The first stop was in a patch of pine for one of the few groups of apostlebird left in the district, after which we moved on to bird some black box woodland along Tuppal Creek. An owlet nightjar we had in a hollow recently was a little sluggish to emerge but eventually showed itself to our suitably impressed Scandinavian visitors. We birded the box woodland but it was hard going. After some effort we managed to see a couple of diamond firetails albeit only immatures. We could not find the beautiful adult that was building a nest a few days previously. Other birds seen here included jacky winter, dusky woodswallow, (white-browed was only seen briefly; they appear to have all but left this site), hooded robin, southern whiteface, rufous songlark and rufous whistler. Varied sittellas, once common here, have still not recolonised.
We moved up the road a bit into some slightly thicker box woodland and found a nice feeding party of small passerines. Here we had weebill, yellow, chestnut-rumped and buff-rumped thornbills (this is the first buff-rumped seen at this site for some years), western gerygone and a lovely male red-capped robin. We sighted about four superb parrots feeding on the ground as we were leaving the woodland, the first seen here for some weeks.
Our next stop was a patch of boree woodland east of town where we had seen the painted honeyeaters a week ago. We soon found them and had great views of both male and female. I suspect they are feeding young in a nest. We tried here for striped honeyeater but weren’t successful although we saw several spiny-cheeked. On the drive back to town we tried another patch of boree with grey mistletoe and managed to locate a family group of striped honeyeaters consisting of two adults and two juvenile birds. We called it a morning at around 1 pm.
While all Swedish, Magnus and Eja didn't’ know Anders (who now lives in Denmark) but they are going to keep in touch after sharing an AOS adventure. Nothing forms a bond like being driven around large, flat paddocks for hours on end in the middle of the night. Unusually, on this occasion, inland dotterel was the frustrating rascal rather than the reasonably cooperative plains-wanderers.
13 February 2017: Four plains-wanderers found, being two adult and two juvenile males.
Anders, a Swede living in Denmark, his friend Lynton from Victoria, and Swedes, Magnus and Eja joined forces for an evening excursion and some birding tomorrow morning. The Scandinavians and Lynton and I headed out just after 5 pm. Checking out the rubbish tip we found no black falcon. Out at the Monimail boree, a couple of female superb parrots landed in a tree close by as we pulled up. We saw more females and then a flurry of about fifteen birds flew in and landed. Two males, in full colour, were much photographed. Travelling north, we stopped for the first of many emus, a new bird for Eja, and then for a pair of dark, old wedgetail eagles sitting by the side of the road. Heading down to John's we had a Horsfield's bushlark, banded lapwings, three species of kangaroo and more emus. In at John's box clump, two very cute barn owls sat with their heads touching, looking out from inside a small hollow. We searched for an owlet nightjar in hollows to no avail and then, on dusk, one called from a tree beside where we had just searched. Still, we couldn't find it.
Up at the plains-wanderer paddock, we started spotlighting for plains-wanderer and inland dotterel. We saw lots more banded lapwings but couldn't find an inland dotterel. After about an hour we found our first plains-wanderer, an adult male, and a short time later we had a juvenile male. Searching again for inland dotterel, we saw two fat-tailed dunnarts. Up at the other end of the paddock, still searching for inland dotterel, we had another adult male plains-wanderer and another juvenile, not too far apart. A last-ditch effort looking in another paddock for inland dotterel failed to locate one. I don't think they liked the recent dramatic drop in overnight temperature when the mercury dropped to single figures. Home at 2 am, having spent the best part of the night looking for inland dotterel.
9, 10 & 11 February 2017: Three hot days in Deniliquin. The 9th sent the mercury to 44.6° C, the10th to 45.8°C and the 11th to 42.8°C. Good days not to be birding.
7 February 2017: Stefan from Germany and Carmen, originally from Spain but now living in Germany, sallied forth with me for the day and evening. About 10 mm or so of rain fell yesterday, freshening things up a bit (but sadly not out on the plains) and today the temperature stayed in the low 30s; all in all, it had the makings of a good day..
We started our tour out southeast of town in remnant pine woodland for apostlebird and continued on to nearby box woodland along Tuppal Creek where an owlet nightjar was sitting out of its hollow, sunning itself. Good to see as it had hardly been seen in this hollow in the last twelve months.
In the woodland we did quite well seeing adult and juvenile hooded robins, yellow-rumped, yellow and chestnut-rumped thornbills, weebill, western gerygone, southern whiteface and brown-headed honeyeater. The white-browed woodswallows were still present and have successfully raised young with several juveniles seen. A highlight was seeing a diamond firetail construct a nest out of the stems of lemon beauty-heads Calocephalus citrus. They seem to like making their nests out of various species of Asteraceae; over the years I have seen several nests made from yellow buttons Helichrysum apiculatum including one in an old magpie-lark's nest. What a brilliant bird! It's great that they are still breeding as well; they have already raised at least one brood here this season. Striped honeyeaters called but refused to be seen. A couple of little buttonquail flushed up. A pair of wedgetailed eagles soared overhead and a juvenile brown goshawk flew across the track. Pleased with our efforts we moved on to a drying out dam that, despite not having many birds on it, had quite a good varietyof species. With inland wetlands starting to dry out, waterbirds are returning. Ducks included pink-eared, shoveler and hardhead. There were red-kneed and black-fronted dotterels, yellow-billed spoonbill and nankeen night-herons, both adults and juveniles present. We pushed on to a patch of roadside boree where we have had a pair of painted honeyeaters nest in recent years. I was not confident they would be there; when I last checked the site in December it was very quiet. However, on this occasion I was delighted to find they had returned. We only saw the male so hopefully the female is on a nest. He did not call at all so must have been present for some weeks as they are very vocal when they first arrive. Elated with this find, we made our way home for lunch and a break.
After lunch we headed out to the tip to see if the black falcon was about but no joy there, just a bunch of black kites. We continued north to the boree county where a chance sighting of a raptor sitting in a boree brought us to a holt. We were at first puzzled as to its identity but soon fathomed it was a dark-phase little eagle, a rare bird in the district nowadays. It was clutching a kill that may have been a magpie-lark or at least something of that size and it was very reluctant to fly. Just after the little eagle flew off a wedgetail flew over so we had seen both Australian Aquila species in a few minutes.
Next we called in at the Monimail revegetation area and located one of the white-fronted honeyeaters and eventually had some half decent views. The usual spiny-cheeked and singing honeyeaters and a few bluebonnets were seen, and one superb parrot flew over. Across the road we encountered two pairs of superbs sitting quietly in a boree. A party of grey-crowned babblers delighted Carmen and Stefan. We called in at the Wanganella sandhill revegetation area and had a throng of yellow-rumped thornbills, which have been scarce there of late. We also tracked down the white-winged fairywrens and eventually located a coloured male. There is a good-sized group here now.
The sun was getting low so we headed for the plains. Several groups of emu were seen and our three species of kangaroo as we drove on to the plains-wanderer property. A barn owl was also seen in its roost hollow as we drove by. We tried for the inland dotterel just before sunset but without success. However, after something to eat we spotlighted a sub-adult inland dotterel on the drive out. We headed straight for the plains-wanderer paddock and spotlighted quite a few banded lapwing following by a pair of inland dotterel in full plumage. Delighted, we started our plains-wanderer search in earnest and after a short time located an immature male. A short distance away, we located an adult male. This was followed a soon after by an immature female, just starting to colour up. So, within a short distance we had almost the whole family, however the adult female eluded us. The Stefan and Carmen were over the moon with our success so we headed for another paddock to search for little buttonquail. On the way out we spotted yet another inland dotterel. In some heavier vegetation we had quite a few Horsfield's bushlark followed by a couple of immature little buttonquail. We called it a night after this success and headed for home. On the drive back to town, we spotted a couple of barn owls and a tawny frogmouth flew across the road. We arrived home about midnight. Our overseas visitors, with over twenty life birds for the day, seemed happy.
17 January 2017: My friend Steven Davidson came through town with a group of six birders from the Connecticut Audubon Society in what was the hottest day of our summer so far. Deniliquin peaked just shy of 43º C and Hay sweltered at 44.4 C (almost 112º F).
Not to be daunted by blistering heat, we ventured out in the late afternoon with the mercury still exceeding 40º C. We called in at the boree county north of town hoping for superb parrots. They have been back out here of late but only in small numbers. Due to the excellent spring rainfall and a major flood down the river system, the superbs, which have done well, raising big clutches of young, are more dispersed through the district this season. Quite a few have stayed about the redgum forest and along the river, which is what they used to do back in the 1980s and 90s before we were hit with seemingly endless droughts. In the dry years, the boree county, with its grey mistletoe and ragodia berries, was a great refuge for superb parrots. However it was not to be on this occasion as we neither saw nor heard a peep from them. They can keep very quiet and still on a hot day so there may have simply eluded us. We did have great views of a large, healthy group of grey-crowned babblers though, reluctant to move in the heat.
Next up we called in at the Wanganella revegetation area where we checked out one of my nest boxes for owlet nightjar. Sure enough, it was sitting at the entrance catching some fresh air. The Connecticuters went into raptures. We checked out the white-backed swallows’ nest banks but they weren't about. Singing honeyeaters were added to the list here. On the drying swamps nearby we saw a few white-necked herons and a bedraggled glossy ibis; and a couple of pink-eared duck were still present.
We headed out on to the plains. The Audubon group was enthralled by our three species of kangaroo bounding about and had their first emus as well as wedge-tailed eagle up close. After seeing umpteen brown white-winged fairywrens we eventually managed to see a delightful coloured male. In the box clump near John's house we admired bluebonnets in the setting sun. The barn owl was also peeking out of his hollow. We had a quick bite to eat as we watched Venus and Mars come in to view and then Sirius and Canopus. Robert arrived and we headed off in the two 4WD vehicles. Inland dotterel was our first quarry being the closer but we didn’t have to go as far as we thought. We located two birds actually drinking at a dam after the punishingly hot day. I think this is the first time in my life I have ever seen this species drink. Extreme temperatures will produce some very different behaviour in birds. We headed off to the plains-wanderer paddock some distance away. We had not long arrived in the paddock when an immature male plains-wanderer about two to three months old was spotted and then nearby, a beautiful adult female was located. These were probably both associated with the nest we found on 29 November as they were both only about 200 m from it. This was good news as it probably means at least three clutches have been successfully raised in this paddock.
The group was ecstatic. We were heading to another paddock to look for little buttonquail when another male plains-wanderer flushed up well in front of us and flew some distance before alighting. This was almost certainly another juvenile as they are much more inclined to fly than the adults. On the track out, Robert's sharp eyes picked up no less than two species of gecko, the tessellated and the gibber. We didn't know the gibber was in the district until a few years ago and the first one was only found in the Riverina a few years before that. We eventually managed to find a single little buttonquail in the next paddock. It appears most of them have vacated the area. (There has been little rain on the plains over the past month). Another male plains-wanderer also flushed up and kept flying, indicating it was probably another juvenile bird making four plains-wanderers seen for the night. Quite a few Horsfield's bushlark were seen while we were looking for little buttonquail and a few brown songlark and plenty of pipits.
We wrapped it up with a happy but tired bunch of birders. On the way back to town a barn owl flew alongside the vehicle for some distance allowing a great view. Back near the box country I had to swerve to avoid an owlet nightjar sitting in the middle of the highway; the first I have seen on the highway for years. They seem to be making a comeback after being in the doldrums for so many years.
We arrived back at the accommodation about 1 am with a well-satisfied bunch of birders after another exciting night out on the plains.
2 January 2017: One male plains-wanderer recorded.
-- 2017 ----------------------------------------------------------------------
29 December 2016 (continued from 28th): Next morning Paul and I headed out without Adlie and Jenny. We called in to the river in town to have another crack at crested shrike-tit in better weather conditions and soon located a beautiful pair. Strangely, they still have no young with them, unless they raised some early in the season. Also, here we were lucky enough to get onto a small group of superb parrots, We'd only managed flybys the previous day and now we had great looks at a couple of adult males. Next, we headed for the birdhide at Mathoura hoping for a bittern or two. Luck evaded us. We heard a couple of quite distant Australasian bitterns calling and an Aussie little bittern called almost continuously from the bed of phragmites in front of the hide but refused to come out. We did see several musk duck including one male in hot pursuit of another male; I think he would have murdered him had he caught him! The royal spoonbill colony is progressing well with some young now about half-grown. One distant great-crested grebe was seen and a couple of pairs of swamp harriers worked the swamp over. Several nankeen night-herons were actively feeding in the swamp, indicating that they too are feeding young. We headed back to Deniliquin through the redgum forest, stopping for a tawny frogmouth on a nest that had at least one half-grown young and nearby we had a feeding flock of small birds where we added western gerygone and yellow thornbill to the list. We called it a day. We had done well, particularly given that yesterday was around 100°F.
28 December 2016: It was a pleasure to spend the last plains-wanderer outing of 2016 with Paul and his thirteen-year old daughter, Adie, from Sussex in the UK and Paul's sister-in-law, Jenny, from Melbourne. Adie and Jenny sensibly skipped the following morning’s excursion after a big day and long night spotlighting.
We started the 28th early, heading southeast of town to blackbox woodland along Tuppal Creek. On the way out we connected with the pair of wedge-tailed eagles that I've been seeing for weeks and a kilometre up the road the two juvenile wedgies were also sitting in a tree. This is the first time they have been separate from the adults so it would appear the parents might be starting to encourage them to find their own territories. A small group of apostlebirds was also seen on the drive out. However, our most unusual sighting was a black falcon apparently resting on the road. When first seen the falcon was lying on its side on the bitumen and I thought it was an injured brown falcon. As we approached, it suddenly stood up and flew off with no sign of injury. In flight, its identity was obvious. This is the first black falcon seen for many weeks; they are quite scarce in the district at present. (And elsewhere for that matter — only one black falcon seen in roughly 7,000 km of birding through the inland in September on our outback tour). The blackbox woodland was quite productive with sightings of owlet nightjar, white-browed woodswallows on nests, striped and spiny-cheeked honeyeaters both feeding young in nests (my first breeding record of spiny-cheeked at this locality). Also here we had a pair of diamond firetails with four fledged young. At one stage we had an adult diamond firetail and an adult white-browed woodswallow sitting together in the same tree, which astounded me. Not nearly quick enough for a photo!
Southern whiteface was also seen here and finally a few family groups of superb parrots flew over. It was warming up and the wind was picking up making birding rather difficult so we headed back into town to bird in the blackbox and redgum along the river. We managed to find a small feeding flock of passerines and had a splendid male red-capped robin, buff-rumped thornbill, weebill and white-throated treecreeper, now a scarce bird in the district. A few nankeen night-herons, white-necked herons and a yellow- billed spoonbill fed in the backwaters filled by the recent flood. We tried for crested shrike-tit but were not successful this time. It was getting hot now so we stopped for lunch and a break.
Later in the afternoon we headed north, stopping in at the Monimail revegetation area for white-fronted honeyeater and variegated fairywren, and some bluebonnets were seen briefly. We also called into the Wanganella revegetation area and had a nice group of white-backed swallows at the nesting pits. Pink-eared duck and whiskered terns were seen out on the wetland.
We continued out north to the Booroorban sandhills where two ground cuckoo-shrikes greeted us at the gate. This is the first time I have seen them for some weeks although David, who owns the property, has seen them a few times lately. We watched them for a while and eventually located a third cuckoo-shrike, which strangely enough did not fly with the other two. The groups usually stick close together. Perhaps they might nest now there are three birds.
Other good sightings here included a male white-winged fairywren and lots of bluebonnets. A large group of white-browed and masked woodswallows was hawking insects over a plain adjacent to a blackbox woodland in hot stormy weather. We had been watching them for a while when they were suddenly joined by a small group of fork-tailed swifts feeding with them, down quite low. This is my first sighting for the summer of this species and I think I may have also missed them last summer. After our great success here we headed back south to the plains-wanderer county. On the drive in we saw some small flocks of banded lapwing on the road and a couple of brown songlark as well as plenty of emus and all three species of large kangaroo. Adie was greatly impressed by the kangaroos and emus. We also enjoyed a glorious sunset as we waited for darkness to fall.
We started our search for plains-wanderer a bit after 9 pm and soon encountered several fat-tailed dunnart, one of which was a female with obvious pouched young. Many banded lapwing were about. After an hour or so we located our first plains-wanderer, albeit only a juvenile about six weeks old. We continued our search hoping for a female but instead soon made contact with an adult male. After this young Adie did a great job picking up another plains-wanderer in fairly heavy cover with only the head and neck visible (arh, for young eyes!). This bird was probably a juvenile female by its size but no colour showing as yet. It was probably from the same clutch as the previous juvenile as they were not far apart and certainly from the same clutch we saw on the previous outing with the male. They are now independent. Everyone was getting a bit sleepy so we called the hunt off for the female as we still had to look for inland dotterel and little buttonquail. Traveling down the road to the next paddock l was forced to hit the brakes as an inland dotterel was standing in the middle of the road. I came to a halt a few metres short of the dotterel, which fortunately, for us, did not budge. Next up, little buttonquail, which wasn't too much of a task. In some longer native grasses, we soon located both male and female little buttonquail. On the way out we managed to flush up another adult plains-wanderer, but again another male. We couldn't crack it for an adult female this time. This is the fourth paddock we have located plains-wanderer in during the current spring/summer. We did have more good fortune though as the next bird we flushed was an immature male stubble quail, which has been harder to find than plains-wanderer of late. With four plains-wanderers under our belts, we made tracks for Deniliquin and arrived back at about 2 am.
22 December 2016: Ashley and Emma from Southampton in southern England and I ventured out early morning and were joined later in the day by Alex from Janjuc in Victoria. Alex hails from Brazil but has been in Australia for about twenty years.
At 6.30 am Ashley, Emma and l headed southeast of town to bird the blackbox woodland along Tuppal Creek. It was Ashley and Emma's second full day in Australia so most of the species were going to be new for them. On the drive out, we stopped for three wedge-tailed eagles perched in a dead tree.They looked splendid in the early morning light; a couple had their crests up reminiscent of harpy eagles. In the distance a band of superb parrots alighted on a tree far out in a paddock. We pulled up, got the scope out and as I put the scope down a female little buttonquail scuttled out from near my feet! We watched in astonishment as it made its way along the edge of the road. We viewed the superbs after we recovered from the shock of the buttonquail!
Continuing on down the road, we had a small party of apostlebirds and further along, a gang of grey-crowned babblers. The blackbox woodland along Tuppal Creek is looking healthy after the good spring rains and partial flooding. The understory is cloaked in a wide variety of herbs and grasses. Breeding birds, desperate to get their numbers up after too many years of drought, included white-browed, masked and dusky woodswallows, white-winged trillers and rufous songlarks. Hooded and red-capped robins and diamond firetails all have fledged young.
Also here we had western gerygone, weebill and southern whiteface, and a striped honeyeater on a nest. Oddly, spiny-cheeked honeyeater was also present for the first time (in my experience). The drying climate is forcing many dry land species south and east.
Many family groups of superb parrots were flying back and forth and some were persuaded to settle. Our UK visitors were awe-struck when two adult males landed within metres of us!
We headed back to Deniliquin to an area of river redgum and box woodland as we were still missing lots of small passerines. Our first stop at a backwater produced more superb parrots; these ones feeding on lerp in the river redgums. (The superbs have not left the river yet because of the flooding and general health of the trees. In recent dry seasons they have headed straight for the boree country after breeding). There were lots of yellow rosellas about. Both white-faced and white-necked herons and nankeen night-herons fed in the slowly draining backwater. The night-herons must have a breeding colony somewhere around the town as there were many feeding around the backwater. Generally, nankeen night-herons only feed in numbers in daylight hours when they are feeding young. We also had yellow-billed spoonbill feeding in the backwater, a rare bird in the district at present. We hunted about the blackbox searching for feeding flocks of small passerines but could find nothing apart from a couple of buff-rumped thornbills. (This forest was full of small birds before the devastating droughts that have been the dominant climatic characteristic, so far, of the 21st century). Eventually, on our way out, we heard a few birds calling. We pulled up and had striated, buff-rumped and yellow thornbill, and a stunning male red-capped robin (we had only seen brown birds at Tuppal) as well as rufous whistler and grey shrike-thrush. I was hoping for varied sittella but they are still hard to find. Our last stop along the river produced a beautiful male crested shrike-tit and white-browed scrubwren. As the day was warming we decided to stop for lunch and a break.
Alex joined us at 3.30 pm and we headed north of town. Our first stop was the revegetation area at Monimail where we located the white-fronted honeyeater that has been present for weeks. At least two birds have been feeding in the eremophila and will probably move on to the wire-leafed mistletoe, much savoured by this species, now the mistletoe is starting to flower. The male in one of the resident groups of variegated fairywrens was admired. Romance was afoot with a lovely pair of very active mistletoebirds. I am hoping they will breed this year as they have not nested here since their nest was cooked in a heat wave a couple of years ago. Several spiny-cheeked and singing honeyeaters were also seen, as well as bluebonnets.
Not one black honeyeater has turned up in the district so far this season to feed on the eremophila and as the eremophila is almost finished flowering it is unlikely any will show up now. It is unusual for no black honeyeaters to have arrived but the reason probably lies in the fact their numbers are low after so many years of drought and seasonal conditions are much better further north.
Our next stop was the drying wetlands at Wanganella. Here we added pink-eared duck, red-kneed dotterels, black-winged stilts and a couple of spotted crakes — the first crakes of any species to be seen in the district this season. A pair of white-bellied sea-eagles was harassing various birds about the swamp.
Our next port of call was the Royal Mail Hotel at Boorooban, not for a beer but to tick the tawny frogmouths that are nesting in front of the pub. They have two half-grown young in the nest. The female was sitting near the nest and the male was on guard duty in the next tree. On the drive out to the nearby sandhills we had a quartet of apostlebirds on the road. This may be my first sighting of this species at Booroorban — they are rare in this area. Sadly, when Robert came by a couple of hours later they had been reduced to a trio with one hit on the road.
Near the sandhills we looked for the ground cuckoo-shrikes that had been seen by David a few hours earlier, after an absence of a couple of weeks, however we were not successful. We did have nice looks at white-winged fairywrens and better views of bluebonnets. In the native pine and buloke we were lucky enough to find a small group of varied sittella, a rare bird in this area. Pleased with this find we headed to the plains-wanderer country. Our first stop on the plains was the box clump where we had a barn owl peeping out of its nest hole in a dead tree. Nearby we had two owlet nightjars flush from the same hollow in a blackbox tree. After a quick bite to eat we headed out onto the plains to search for inland dotterel at dusk. I spotted one up ahead on the track but there was a distraction in the back seat. A spider had crawled up the window, startling our British visitors. Alex leaned over the front seat to help get the displaced spider out the window. (I had been seed collecting around Cobar on the previous days and had inadvertently scooped up a few spiders with the seed pods). I had to wait for the excitement to die down before l could tell them there was an inland dotterel on the track. A bit further along the track we had another three dotterels, two of which were fully plumaged adults. Enough with the dotterels, we started our plains-wanderer search. After about one and a half hours we had seen plenty of banded lapwing and a few fat-tailed dunnarts but no plains-wanderer. I decided to try another paddock. We spotlighted another tawny frogmouth back in the box clump on our way out and on the road into the next paddock another inland dotterel was seen. After another hour and a half spotlighting success was finally ours when we came upon an adult male plains-wanderer with four well-grown chicks! Wow! I had been hoping to find a male with chicks for weeks and this was our first for the season. With all his chicks back under him he looked like a short fat tent! On the way out of this paddock yet another inland dotterel was encountered. We made tracks to another paddock that had some heavier native grasses and herbs and soon had a single little buttonquail and then a male with almost full-grown chicks as well as brown songlark and Horsfield’s bushlark. With this we called it a night. Ashley and Emma had almost worn out their pens ticking off all their new birds, Alex had got a few off his most wanted list and I recorded a successful plains-wanderer breeding event, so everyone was euphoric. Dodging numerous kangaroos, we arrived back in Deniliquin at 2 am!
15 December 2016: An enjoyable day was had with Gary and his client, Tom, from the USA. Gary owns Avian Journeys, which focuses mainly on South America. He and Tom were on their first trip to Australia. Later in the afternoon we were joined by David from Victoria. This was a return trip for David, who had been on the unsuccessful April excursion when we had a large group come up from Victoria. (At least two-thirds of that group has, in dribs and drabs, returned this season for outings showing a better result).
In the morning Gary, Tom and I went out southeast of town birding an area of black box woodland. This area is a hotspot at present and good sightings here included superb parrots (about fifty adults and juveniles observed), diamond firetails (adults and juveniles) and a single restless flycatcher (one of the few in the district). Dusky, white-browed and masked woodswallows were all busy building nests, southern whiteface had juvenile young, a pair of striped honeyeaters had a nest and hooded and red-capped robins also had juvenile young. We also saw western gerygone, white-winged triller, rufous songlark as well as chestnut-rumped, yellow-rumped and yellow thornbills. It was great to see so many birds nesting or with juvenile young after so many poor breeding seasons.The drive out produced Australian hobby, wedge-tailed eagle and apostlebird.
Next we headed for the bird hide by Reedbeds swamp near Mathoura. We called in briefly at Gulpa adding rainbow bee-eater, yellow rosella and brown treecreeper. Amazingly the bee-eaters' nest in the road verge had survived Thorpie in the national parks grader a few days ago. The grader had gone all around and over the nest! At the bird hide we added a beautiful male shrike-tit to the list. In the hide both Australasian and black-backed bitterns were calling and after a while we had a sighting of Aussie bittern in flight. About three of both species were calling. Great-crested grebes were doing a mating display, musk duck was sighted and about three swamp harriers were flying over the swamp. Royal spoonbills were seen on their nests and several nankeen night-herons flew over the swamp and were probably also nesting over on Gulpa Creek. A single intermediate egret was feeding out on a bed of milfoil. Sadly this species, which used to breed in their thousands in colonies in the Murray River swamps, appears to be now almost lost to the district due to near continuous drought and lack of flooding over the past fifteen years. Still, a few pairs must be breeding after the recent flood. But our best sighting was a lovely adult square-tailed kite, which quartered the treetops along Gulpa Creek. Satisfied we headed home for lunch and a break before a big spotlighting night.
In the afternoon, and with David now on board, we headed north of town. Our first stop was my revegetation block at Monimail. Here we located one of the white-fronted honeyeaters that have been present for several weeks now. Other good sightings here were singing and spiny-cheeked honeyeaters, bluebonnets and variegated fairywrens. Further up the road some blackbox woodland on the TSR produced both male mistletoebird and male red-capped robin. Next we called in at the revegetation site on the sandhill near Wanganella. Sightings here included white-backed swallows at my constructed nest sites and an owlet nightjar in one of the nestboxes. I was pleased. We checked out the adjoining wetlands, which I had lost interest in since the NSW powers-that-be had all but ruined by cutting off the flow of water (don't get me started!). There were still some birds present and we added yellow-billed spoonbill, which is a rarity in the district at present, red-kneed dotterel, black-tailed native-hen, pink-eared duck, black-winged stilt and sharp-tailed sandpiper. A black-shouldered kite flew over. We headed out onto the plains as the shadows started to lengthen. The road into the plains-wanderer property produced the trio of kangaroo species, as well as many emus — delighting our American visitors. Also along here we had sightings of male white-winged fairywren and banded lapwing. I decided to give the paddock where we have been getting plains-wanderer for the last couple of months a rest again tonight after my recent success in another paddock where we'd found two plains-wanderer nests in the last month. I listened at dusk for plains-wanderer calls to no avail. A little after 9 pm we started spotlighting and within half an hour we had a magnificent female plainswanderer in the light not far from the nest site that I had marked to avoid driving near it. Lots of banded lapwing were seen on our plains-wanderer search. Our next target was little buttonquail. We drove to another paddock that contained suitable native grasses and herbage. After a short search we flushed up a juvenile male, then an adult male with a clutch of almost full-grown young. We had a look for the stubble quail I had seen on my previous outing but couldn't locate them. However, brown songlark and Horsfield's bushlark were seen while searching for quail. Next on our wanted list was inland dotterel. The dotterels had only turned up a couple of nights previously when we had six in one paddock and two lots of two on the road going out. There was a big influx after Tuesday (13th), which saw the mercury hit 38.6° C, along with a hot northerly wind. They weren't so plentiful tonight but we quickly located a sub-adult bird on a track. Fat-tailed dunnart was also spotted on the track on our dotterel hunt. On the way out we connected with barn owl and tawny frogmouth in the box clump and heard nearby the boobook's appeal. A large adult wedge-tailed eagle was also spotlighted while we were looking for owls. A successful night in anyone's book so we decided to call it a day. Home by 1am. Well over a hundred species were seen for the day.
13 December 2016: Mikael from Sweden and Gwen, an Australian now living in Canada, and I headed out early this morning. Mid afternoon we collected Queenslander, Laurie, and made our way out on the plains. Prior to the commencement of the spotlighting excursion, we found six inland dotterels, and after dark, four more inland dotterels, six little buttonquail, five stubble quail, three barn owls, boobook owl, and around 10 pm, an adult female plains-wanderer.
10 December 2016: Another lengthy search this evening for a plains-wanderer. Greg, Janice, Dave and Alison, all of whom were out with me in April, returned for another go and at about 11.45 pm were rewarded with an adult male plains-wanderer.
8 December 2016: Elizabeth, Peter and Derrick had a full day and evening excursion. Spotlighting, we located a juvenile male plains-wanderer, about two months old, which took a mere three and a half hours to find.
5 December 2016: What a hoot to catch up with my old mate Bill Watson, who I’ve known since he was a high school teacher in Hay back in the early 1980s. Bill was travelling around with his Californian friend Tim, with whom he’s shared several international birding trips. Age has not wearied Bill and he’s as talkative as ever.! Bil, who loves an argument, provokes his companions by playing the devil's advocate. He and I are on the same page politically but he can still wind me up with his ludicrous propounding. He kept Tim and me amused and bemused for the three days we were together. (We ventured over to the mallee for the second and third day). Robin from Canberra joined us on day one around Deniliquin. Robin was a lovely guy who also liked a chat. With Robin and Bill over in the back seat, we were in for an entertaining day.
First up, we birded in the grey box at Gulpa and had nice looks at some superb parrots. The superbs have all fledged young now and are on the move. I expect they will be all gone in a week or so. They are generally moving north and east with more birds appearing about town and out Tuppal way. (They haven't made it out to the boree country about Monimail as yet). We caught up with a few more birds that Tim was missing such as buff-rumped thornbill, rufous songlark and white-winged triller. Robin got some photos he was after but it was a bit quiet so we moved on into the redgum. (The river redgum forest is suffering from years of drought (have I mentioned that before?) so it is a battle to find birds that were once common. Still, we have had good spring rainfall and a flood through the forest so at least the few birds that remain are breeding). Our first stop in the gum produced weebill, western gerygone and striated thornbill, and just up the road a tawny-frogmouth on a nest. We continued into the sandhills to check out the Gilbert's whistlers that were feeding young in a nest a week ago but there was no sign of them. Either the nest failed or they had the young out of the nest already. I have noticed in the past that they often get the young out of the nest when they can barely fly, so am hoping for the latter.
Nearby, we had white-browed babblers, red-capped robin, rainbow bee-eaters, dusky woodswallows and a juvenile hooded robin. We continued on to the bird hide at the reedbeds near Mathoura. Both black-backed and Aussie bitterns have been calling here lately so we were hoping for a sighting. We were not disappointed and after a glimpse of an Aussie bittern in flight, one landed on the giant rush in full view and we watched it in the scope for a couple of minutes. The black-backed called a couple of times but as is its way, refused to be seen. We also had musk duck displaying, a pair of great-crested grebe, swamp harrier, sea-eagle and many royal spoonbills on nests. Along the walkway into the hide, we had a lovely pair of crested shrike-tit in the redgum. Satisfied enough with our morning’s haul we headed home for lunch and a break.
Mid-afternoon, we headed north calling in at the Monimail revegetation area where there has been two white-fronted honeyeaters for a couple of weeks now, feeding in the eremophila. We soon found them and enjoyed great views as well as spiny-cheeked and singing honeyeaters and a pair of white- backed swallow at the nesting bank.
We stopped in at the drying wetlands at Wanganella and had black-fronted dotterel and pink-eared duck with babies that were extremely cute. We headed out across the plains to the Booroorban sandhills. This has been a hotspot of late but our arrival coincided with a thunderstorm so we had to wait for a while until the rain stopped before we could bird. We couldn't find the ground cuckoo-shrikes that have been around for a month or so but had great looks at masked and white-browed woodswallows and a delightful pair of diamond doves. On the way out we had white-winged fairywrens and heaps of bluebonnets. With the overcast skies the light was fading so we made haste back to the plains-wanderer property. Many banded lapwings were seen on the road into the property. The gods were kind to us tonight and we had an adult female plains-wanderer in under thirty minutes, which was the quickest we have had since they stopped calling a couple of weeks ago. (Lately it has been taking two to three hours to find a plains-wanderer). After our success with plains-wanderer we tried some heavier grass and soon located some little button-quail as well as having a barn owl fly overhead. A few house mice are starting to appear out on the plains again so I expect the barn owl population will increase. We had a quick look about for inland dotterel but nothing doing there so we headed for home. The troops were happy but tired, for the first time today all was quiet in the back seat!
3 December 2016: Philip Peel from Melbourne returned with Jack, Tim and Pete and Dale, nearly all part of his group who missed out on a plains-wanderer on their visit in drought-stricken April this year. Luckier this time with an adult female plains-wanderer.
1 December 2016: Ernst and Karin from Austria, Cindy from Nhill in western Victoria, Rosalyn from Melbourne and I set forth late this afternoon. Ernst was very excited about going out to look for a plains-wanderer. It was also Cindy's THIRD attempt this year, having been out with me twice with Victorian bird groups in April when we were still in the grip of drought. (April's groups had come forewarned they were unlikely to see a plains-wanderer). So, I had considerable pressure on me to produce the goods tonight. Although we have quite a few plains-wanderers about of late, they are not easy to find, particularly since they’ve stopped calling in the last two weeks. Still, I was quietly confident we would eventually see a plains-wanderer. Cindy wasn’t going home without one!
Heading north, we stopped at a lagoon on the edge of town hoping for yellow-billed spoonbill, which Ernst and Karin were still missing from their list despite havng birded all over the place. Most have gone into the interior to breed. We were lucky to find a single bird still present.
We stopped briefly at the Monimail revegetation area where a couple of white-backed swallows flew overhead. They have been nesting in the pit I dug for them and I recently recorded two juvenile birds there.
Our next stop was the rapidly drying Wanganella wetlands. Management of the wetlands, by the powers that be, has again been a debacle. They allowed the creek system to flood on two occasions in the spring but then not kept the water coming. This caused the waterbirds, which were desperate to breed after so many dry years, to commence nesting only to be hung out to dry when water levels collapsed. Frustrating and upsetting!
Still there is a small amount of water there and we managed a couple of pairs of pink-eared duck with young, looking very cute, and a musk duck. A male white-winged triller was singing brilliantly in the top of an isolated clump of river coobahs beside the creek. The female was probably on a nest in the clump.
We headed north for Booroorban stopping off at Black Swamp to look at white-fronted chat, which was another new bird for Ernst and Karin, who, despite having been to Round Hill and Lake Cargelligo, had not seen a single species of chat. We continued on to Booroorban where our main target bird was the elusive ground cuckoo-shrike. We sighted the pair almost immediately on entering my friend’s property, east of Booroorban. This pair has been present for almost a month now, hanging out in the same area on the edge of the sandhill, yet showing no sign of wanting to breed. We enjoyed great views of this rather wary bird through the scope and Cindy and Ernst managed some handy photos with their big lenses. Ros was excited as this was her first sighting of ground cuckoo-shrike. There was also a nice lot of white-browed and masked woodswallows on the sandhill at Booroorban looking like they are going to nest. Southern whiteface is also in good numbers here which was another new bird for Ernst and Karin. A diamond dove called but we couldn't find it in the available time as the sun was getting low in the sky, heralding plains-wanderer time was fast approaching. We made haste southwards. Banded lapwings were plentiful along the road into the plains-wanderer property. There has been a major influx of this species over the past month including many immature birds. There are probably several hundred banded lapwings on the property at present, the most for many years.
We stopped in at the box clump at dusk and the resident owlet nightjar duly appeared. We listened for plains-wanderers after dusk out on the plains but no joy.
We had a quick bite to eat while waiting for darkness to fall. Over the last month, there’s been about five adult female plains-wanderers in this paddock plus a couple of immature females that were probably bred outside the area. A few males have also been seen in the vicinity, including three courting birds. Generally males have been scarce of late. Most likely they have been on nests. Two nests with four eggs in each have been located over the last two weeks (in different paddocks while searching for inland dotterels). No males with chicks have been recorded in recent times, which is not surprising given there is a fair amount of cover on the plains at present. It shouldn't be long before we encounter chicks.
Just after 9 pm the search commenced. The clock passed 10 and then 11 with no sightings of plains-wanderer. Several fat-tailed dunnarts, pipits, brown songlarks and dozens of banded lapwings were seen. I was starting to get nervous! A little after 11 pm Ros spotted a female plains-wanderer in the sidelights not far from where the same bird had been seen recently. This is a very distinctive female with an extraordinary amount of chestnut on the breast. The troops were overjoyed and Cindy and Ernst got some nice shots. We left her in peace and moved on to some heavier grass and soon flushed up a male little buttonquail with a family of about three young, approximately three-quarters grown. Some nice looks and photos were had of one of the young. We headed back to the box clump and had three juvenile barn owls at their nest tree.
On the way out, there was a lovely boobook owl perched on a fence post — another new bird for Ernst and Karin, who had heard many on their travels. We checked out a spot where John had seen a couple of inland dotterels a couple of days ago but nothing doing there. They have appeared several times over the past two months but have not settled in, only staying for a day or so. The vegetation is probably still a little thick for them at present. With not a lot of rain of late, the vegetation will thin out and maybe the dotterels will settle.
Many red kangaroos were also seen during the night drive, which delighted our Austrian visitors, as did the emus we sighted in the afternoon, including two that walked right up to the vehicle. At about 2 am I delivered some very tired but happy punters to their accommodation. Cindy, Ros, Ernst and Karin were four delightful clients.
30 November 2016: An influx of square-tailed kites along the Murray River. More about this later.
29 November 2016: A male plains-wanderer seen in the late afternoon; and iater, a second male, in another paddock, on a nest.
26/27 November 2016: Plains-wanderer Weekend species checklist
24 November 2016: Sam Holden and I ventured into the Gulpa Island precinct of Murray Valley National Park to see what birds were about after the recent floods. I had largely ignored Gulpa Island for about a year, firstly because of the all to frequent droughts which had reduced bird numbers drastically; and more recently, quite the opposite, the area being inaccessible because of floodwater. In the sandhill country we were delighted to locate a male Gilbert's whistler and then we found a female on a nest in a dwarf cherry Exocarpus stricta. The nest was situated on top of a disused white-browed babblers' nest, as is often the case. The male was carrying food to the nest so we surmised that they had small young in the nest as the female was sitting tight. This is my first record of Gilbert's whistler in Gulpa Island since 21 May 2014. I had all but given up hope of ever seeing them in Gulpa Island again so it was a thrill to have a pair return. Good winter/spring rain and a flood will do wonders but only time will tell if the species can re-establish its numbers in the river redgum forests of Gulpa Island.
Other sightings of note today in Gulpa Island included hooded robin with two juvenile young, many pairs of white-winged trillers, couple of pairs of bee-eaters, many pairs of rufous whistlers, red-capped robins with juveniles, a pair of rufous songlark, a pair of western gerygone and tawny frogmouth on a nest. Bird numbers are still very low in the forest, particularly small passerine birds but at least now the river redgums are returning to health after the recent flood. Most of the birds we saw were breeding, which gives a glimmer of hope for the future. If 2017 turns out to be another year of above-average rainfall, the birds have a fighting chance of getting their numbers up.
20 November 2016: One adult female plains-wanderer, one juvenile female between two and three months old recorded
18 November 2016: One female plains-wanderer recorded
15 November 2016: One adult female plains-wanderer, one mating pair, one adult male. Total of four birds.
14 November 2016: One female plains-wanderer recorded
12/13 November 2016: Plains-wanderer Weekend
10 November 2016: One adult female plains-wanderer recorded, as well as little buttonquail.
9 November 2016: One adult female plains-wanderer recorded
7 November 2016: Plains-wanderer nest found, a male on a nest; one adult female plains-wanderer in a different paddock also recorded.
5 November 2016: Birdwatching Breaks: Dipped.
4 November 2016: Tropical Birding, two adult female plains-wanderers recorded, one immature female plains-wanderer, one adult male. Four total.
2 November 2016: Tropical Birding, one adult female plains-wanderer recorded and an inland dotterel.
31 October 2016: Birding Ecotours, one adult female plains-wanderer recorded
30 October 2016: The annual VENT visit: one adult female plains-wanderer recorded.
26 October 2016: A female plains-wanderer found with Sid, Randy, Simon and Graham.
24 October 2016: American, Jan was joined by compatiots Mathew and David on an evening excursion. We got a female plains-wanderer in good time and then another on our way out.
22 October 2016: Peregrine Bird Tours' Chris and Christine Doughty had a group of twelve out tonight. On our way north, a spotted harrier flew across the plains beyond Wanganella. Further out we got white-fronted chats, brown songlark and white-winged fairywrens. After a quick bite in John's box clump, we headed out. With Robert and John assisting, we listened for plains-wanderers calling just after dusk and heard one calling quite close. We found her about five minutes after we started spotlighting. A couple of pairs of little buttonquail were seen and a couple of stubble quail flushed. A fat-tailed dunnart was on the track as we made our way back to Peregrine Tours' bus.
21 October 2016: The Rockjumper Bird Tours' group tonight consisted of a dozen birders and their guides, Erik and Simon. Meeting out on the plains at 6 pm, we had brown songlark, white-winged fairywren, emu and three species of kangaroo. In the box clump for dinner, we got an owlet nightjar, and a tawny frogmouth on a nest. A spotted harrier flew over the area where it has been building a nest for some weeks. With both John and Robert assisting, we headed out for the plains-wanderer search. We got banded lapwings, one on a nest with three eggs, six to eight little buttonquail, a stubble quail (the first for the seaon at night), and a female plains-wanderer.
20 October 2016: Collecting Robert and Tiff at 8 am, we headed southeast of town to the Tuppal area, getting apostlebirds and grey-browed babblers. Floodwaters at the Tuppal Reserve thwarted our efforts to find diamond firetails. Checking out a dam for bitterns, we could locate only three musk ducks. A small patch of roadside boree revealed striped honeyeater bedecked with yellow pollen on its head from the grey mistletoe Ameyema quandang flowers. A couple of mistletoebirds were about but no painted honeyeaters as yet. We headed out west of Pretty Pine, to a large area of black box with some grey box, which has been badly affected by years of drought. Initially it was dead but we eventually located a feeding party of passerines, such as dusky woodswallows, rufous whistlers, white-winged triller, pair of hooded robins, red-capped robins, a pair western gerygone; yellow-rumped, chestnut-rumped and yellow thornbills; weebils, brown treecreepers, grey shrikethrushes and rufous songlarks. We headed back to town and finished about 1 pm. Robert, Sue and Tiff were delightful birding companions.
19 October 2016: Out with Robert, Sue and Tiff for a day and a half. Down to the Gulpa area for superb parrots of which we saw a score or more. They were mostly males, indicating that the females are on nests. The Gulpa Island is gloriously flooded. We also saw western gerygone, brown treecreeper, emu, and yellow thornbill. In the Gulpa revegetation area there were noisy and little friarbirds in flowering yellow gums, singing honeyeaters, brown-headed honeyeaters, a dollarbird called (the first one back in its breeding area and the second record of the season) and at least one male mistletoebird; and common bronzewing. In Deniliquin, we glimpsed the owlet nightjar recorded on the plains-wanderer weekend and had a tawny frogmouth on a nest with the other adult closeby.
We called in at the Monimail revegetation area mid afternoon. We had singing and spiny-cheeked honeyeaters, bluebonnets, a white-backed swallow not far from the nesting area and a nice group of variegated fairywrens, with a couple of coloured males. A young eastern rosella flew out of its nest hole. Out on the plains north of Wanganella we saw pipits, brown songlarks, white-fronted chats, Horsfield's bushlarks, southern whitefaces, banded lapwings and a fleeting owlet nightjar. At dusk, we listened for plains-wanderer calls. We heard two females but couldn't get close enough to pinpoint either locality. Around 9 pm, we commenced spotlighting from the vehicle and two and a half hours later we found a female plains-wanderer, about two hundred metres from where I thought the last calling female was situated. About twenty banded lapwings were also seen for the night.
17 October 2016: Lois and Diane from the States, along with guide Steve Davidson; as well as New Zealand-residing, Igor, and Australian, Barry, headed out on the plains with me around 4.30 pm. We got about a dozen banded lapwing, a barn owl, tawny frogmouth, brown songlark, white-winged fairywren, Horsfield's bushlark, white-fronted chat, bluebonnet, three species of kangaroo and a female plains-wanderer. We heard three or four female plains-wanderers calling.
15 October 2016: The Plains-wanderer Weekend's long search for a wandererer was finally rewarded with three, a pair and another male.
13 October 2016: A plains-wanderer miss tonight with Follow that Bird.
12 October 2016: A collection of birders out on the plains this evening: Peter Waanders' Bellbird Tours' group of five, our client, Poh Bee from Singapore, and Tera and Neil, two late entries who were caravanning at the Riverside. All were delighted to see a pair of plains-wanderers.
7 October 2016: Finally, a femaie plains-wanderer seen with Steve from Sydney and his uncle Jim from Brisbane.
4 October 2016: Out with a large group led by Steve Potter. Quiet night with no plains-wanders seen or heard.
3 October 2016: Out with Henning for another try for plains-wanderer. Plains-wanderer heard but not sighted.
2 October 2016; Out with Henning for the day and evening. Joined by Tony and Sally, along with Sally's guide, Steven Davidson. Windy, cold, some rain. No plains-wanderers seen or heard.
30 September 2016: Out with Elena (USA) and Steven Davidson: windy, rainy night; long walk to even get to a saturated plains-wanderer paddock. No plains-wanderers heard or sighted.
27 September 2016: The Wings group scored a female plains-wanderer, a little buttonquail and banded lapwing by 7.30 pm.
26 September 2016: Deniliquin has received 90.6 mm of rain thus far in September with more rain forecast for the remainder of the month and early October.
25 September 2016: On Sunday I took out South African expats, Kate and Paul and their two children, Stephanie and Nick. This is an intergenerational family of birders; Paul's parents were on a plains-wanderer weekend last year. Stef and Nick have inherited their parents' and grandparents' love of nature and were both keen to see whatever I could show them. The morning's weather was not conducive to finding birds, being cold and windy but improved as the day wore on. We went south of town, searching for superb parrots. As the Edward and Murray rivers are in flood most of the superb parrot nesting areas are under water, making it a challenge to find them . Eventually we managed to get good views of three males up close in the grey box country near Gulpa and then birded the grey box forest nearby and located western gerygone building a nest and saw sittella, Jacky Winter and a few other bush birds but it was hard going in the wind. We moved on to my revegetation area at Gulpa and some flowering Eucalyptus leaucoxalon var. rosea produced little friarbird, singing honeyeater and brown-headed honeyeater. We made a quick trip out to some black box woodland near Tuppal Creek, which is also in flood. We were hoping for owlet nightjar but that was not to be. However we did see other nice birds including a pair of hooded robins with two recently fledged young, and dusky woodswallow and diamond firetail. After lunch and a break (Kate and Paul needed to run some energy out of the kids!) we headed out north of town. Just south of Monimail a single Major Mitchell's cockatoo flew across the road heading southwest. It didn't deviate from its course and we had only tantalising views, just making out the pink underwing. We called in at the Monimail revegetation area and eventually had some decent views of several pairs of bluebonnets, which are feeding in there at present. Steph was over the moon as bluebonnet was high on her list of wanted birds. Spiny-cheeked and singing honeyeaters were also seen as well as a single white-backed swallow hanging about the nesting area.
We continued out onto the plains seeing a few brown songlarks, Horsfield's bushlark, white-winged fairywren and white-fronted chats on the drive in to the plains-wanderer country. I wanted to get there well before dusk to check out the country as the plains-wanderers had been flooded out of the paddock we had had them in with all the recent rain. The country is saturated at present, way too wet to drive on so any spotlighting had to be done on foot. A sigh of relief could be heard across the plains as we heard one, two and then three female plains-wanderers calling just before dusk. They gave us a bit of a hard time initially as they were not calling consistently enough to close in on them. However after crossing a drain three times, we got within 100 metres of one of the calling females before she stopped calling. We proceeded with caution in the direction of her last call and after a few minutes came up trumps with a beautiful female. The Buys family was overjoyed. We walked back to the vehicle and checked out the planets and a few constellations before two female little button-quail started calling. We had a quick look for one but it stopped calling and as it was cold and the kids were getting tired we called it a night. On the drive back to the highway we spotlighted a couple of spadfoot frogs and a giant banjo frog which greatly pleased Nick who is right into his frogs and reptiles. After a few misses on the plains-wanderer I was just as pleased as the Buy family to have finally tracked one down. It was also lovely to take out a family so enthusiastic about the natural world.
24 September 2016: Another disappointing night on the plains ...
23 September 2016: Exciting times at the revegetation area at Wanganella sandhill. Over the last two months several new species have turned up the sandhill and are showing no sign of leaving. These include a pair of yellow thornbill, which I have been expecting for some time. They are mainly hanging out in the native willows, sometimes in the company of yellow-rumped thornbills and western gerygones. This is the second year the gerygones have been present but they seem to come only in the winter and depart in the spring. Back in August I sighted a brown flame robin on the sandhill, the first for about 10 years but only saw it on one occasion. At least two rufous whistlers also turned up in July, a first for the sandhill. They appear to have taken up residence; hopefully they will breed. A pair of striped honeyeaters also appear to be residing and will probably breed this spring. They have been on the sandhill before but have never stayed for more than a day or so. As they require a varied diet including a lot of insects, the trees and shrubs have to be quite mature before striped honeyeaters opt for residency. It has taken about 15 years for the sandhill to develop sufficiently for them. The white-winged fairywrens are also back in after being wiped out by feral cats after the great mouse plague in 2011. It has taken them about four years to recolonise. There are at least two males present and the group is living in the goosefoot and saltbush surrounding the hill. A grey shrike-thrush was also present for a month or so earlier in the winter. It is the second consecutive year that a grey shrike-thrush has shown up. The white-backed swallows have been about over winter although I do not see them on every visit. I have bared up some ground hoping to interest the rainbow bee-eaters when they turn up but I am not too hopeful. Today there was a male rufous songlark doing display flights over the hill so hoping they will nest; they are also a first for the hill. Likewise today, a big female brown goshawk. A pair of kestrels are nesting in an old little ravens' nest in a big native willow (they have nested here for a couple of years). One of the kestrels had been flying around the nest tree yapping for some time. I eventually went over near the tree and the female goshawk flew out. An immature, I think. What the goshawk was doing in the tree I cannot say; I'm surmising a fatality occurred. A magpie-lark's nest in the same tree is another first for the sandhill. There are a couple of nest hollows in the same tree, one of which had an owlet nightjar in residence back in August. Also surprised today to see a wood duck nesting in one of the larger nest hollows. The surrounding 8 Mile Creek has been in minor flood over the last couple of months and has been attracting in lots of ducks and other waterbirds. The pair of brolga turned up in August and although State Water has been doing its best to sabotage the breeding event (dropped the water levels just when everything was starting to nest), it appears the brolgas may still nest. A noisy pair of white-bellied sea-eagles flew over the sandhill today, suggesting that they are also interested in breeding in the area. They have been hanging around for about for two months now. Magpies and little ravens already have fledged young on the sandhill and the pied butcherbirds were building a nest back in late August. The singing and spiny-cheeked honeyeaters are probably also nesting or at least getting ready.
We have been getting buckets of rain lately which is a change from the last four years. So far this year the sandhill has had 341 mm of rain and is looking fantastic although the introduced grasses are rampant. Most of this rain has fallen since May. This time last year the sandhill had had 249 mm and there was no useful rain until the end of October.
Buoyed by the rainfall, I planted 2085 plants on the sandhill this winter, the most for many years. I was hoping for close to 100% survival but already there's been a glitch. When I planted in August there was a plague of looper caterpillars on the hill. They really got stuck into the emubush and sennas, completely defoliating most of sennas. Some may recover. Still, I am a lot better off than last year when I lost hundreds through a severe frost and a very tough spring and summer. Even in a good season,setbacks can happen.
I am hoping more birds will move into the sandhill plot this spring/summer although the migrants are slow coming south this year. The weather has been cold and wet (77 mm at the sandhill so far for September) which may be holding the migrants back. There are few if any trillers in the district, rufous songlark is really the lone migrant to have arrived and only in very low numbers. With so much rain up north it is an open question as to how many migrants will come south this year. Still hoping a few will trickle down when it warms up.
22 September 2016: Busted a gut to get back from Melbourne after our frustrating outback tour to take Birdfinder out, only to have another disappointing evening in wet conditions.
3 September 2016: Out with my Strzelecki outback tour. Complete washout on the plains-wanderer excursion. Wet, unhappy punters.
29 August 2016: In May, after a horror late summer and autumn, we declared a moratorium on plains-wanderer searches. This was to give the plains-wanderer paddock a break. However, with our own Strzelecki outback tour coming through Deniliquin next weekend, it was time to see what kind of recovery there had been. After good winter rain we were quietly confident. I'm happy and relieved to report that the first search in three and a half months produced a courting pair of plains-wanderers in under ten minutes. There were also quite a few pairs of banded lapwing on nests and with young. Augers well for the spring.
13 May 2016: Robert got a fully coloured male flame robin about 20 km NNE of Wanganella. This is the first flame robin recorded north of the Billabong Creek for several years.
12 May 2016: Dana and John from Montana are birding southeast Australia with birding guide, Simon Starr. My advice to the few clients who had booked in for a May outing was not to waste their time and money but Simon, well aware of the situation, opted to give it a shot. This was my first outing since the failed plains-wanderer search on 9 April and we hadn’t seen a plains-wanderer since January. Our first real rain out on the plains since early November had only fallen about four days ago.
After collecting Simon, Dana and John around 3.30 pm, we headed north hoping to get some birding in before the light beat us. Out in the boree country we started seeing our first bluebonnets and after working on several groups, we eventually got some nice looks. A short stop at the Monimail revegetation area proved productive with a pair of white-backed swallows circling around the nesting area. Also here we had singing and spiny-cheeked honeyeaters. As John and Dana had not birded Australia before, most species were new to them. We were hopeful for superb parrots in this area but they were nowhere to be seen. We continued up the road and a chance roadside encounter with a cluster of small birds in a patch of boree garnered yellow-rumped thornbill, a male red-capped robin, striped honeyeater and a group of white-winged fairywrens including a coloured male. So far so good but the birds were getting tougher now that darkness was setting in. We tried for inland dotterel initially, which I was slightly more optimistic about. But you can never be sure of this nomadic species, especially after rain in the colder months. However, luck was with us tonight as we scored a pair while we were en route to their preferred paddock. We were off to a great start so we hightailed it straight to the plains-wanderer country.
On route we saw plenty of eastern grey and red kangaroos as well as a few western grey. It still looked grim in the plains-wanderer paddock with just a slight green tinge starting to appear. it will take another good rain to get any meaningful cover back into the paddock. But we pressed on seeing several fat-tailed dunnarts, some of which appeared to have pouched young already even though it had rained only very recently. We continued on searching a patch that still had a bit of old, dry cover on it comprising bush minuria Minuria cunninghamii, which had grown in the wet year of 2010. It still looked rather bleak when lo and behold, a male plains-wanderer came into view, sheltering beside a clump of bush minuria. Miracles can happen! What an amazing little bird that as soon as it rains it is straight back to its breeding grounds to attempt to perpetuate the species even though the conditions are far from ideal. After telling the clients we had virtually no chance of seeing a plains-wanderer, they were ecstatic (as was I). We headed for home seeing several spade-foot frogs including one very colourful specimen, as well as a delightful giant banjo frog — all burrowing frogs up after the recent rain. All in all, a surprisingly successful late afternoon and evening.
11 April 2016: I took members of the Nhill Birdlife group out for the day. Cindy, the organizer, had also come out with Philip Peel’s group on Saturday. We travelled in my 4WD and one of theirs in the morning and just took out mine in the afternoon as two of the group could not make it in the afternoon. The Nhill group, more sedate than the Peel group, was no less fun. We did the same route as we had travelled with the Peel group and went out north of Pretty Pine looking for the superb parrots. Small problem — no sign of the parrots. It was eerily quiet in the black box where they had been on Saturday. Undeterred we continued on seeing some bluebonnets. In the boree country we located a nice patch of birds and had good views of the three big honeyeaters, striped, spiny-cheeked and singing as well as red-capped robin, rufous whistler and mistletoebird. We saw heaps of white-winged fairywrens but a coloured male proved too elusive for us. We must have seen at least fifty brown birds for the day! We continued on our hunt for the superbs, heading to the Monimail boree where there was still a few birds lingering on. Almost immediately, we located a small flock of about six adult birds feeding in the grey mistletoe. Great views were had of several fully coloured males. We had a robust discussion about the beauty of male superb verses male regent parrot, a species the Nhill group get down their way. I think they eventually admitted the superb may have been a touch in front. Of course, they are both spectacular birds. We had a bit of a look around for the ground cuckoo-shrikes but no joy there. We continued on out to the Wanganella sandhill revegetation area where we saw plenty of yellow-throated miners and about a dozen yellow-rumped thornbills by far the largest group I have so far had in the plot. White-backed swallow was also seen near the nesting area. Other black and white birds seen were pied butcherbirds, magpie larks and willy wagtail. Gradually more species are taking up residency at the sandhill as the vegetation matures. Lunchtime was upon us so we headed for home. Trisha had a spread ready for us back at the Riverside Caravan Park.
After lunch and a short break, we headed back out north. Out near Monimail we had white-fronted chat and southern whiteface and several wedge-tailed eagles were seen. On the plains we had we had a flock of about fifty Horsfields bushlark in a fairly small area of dry grass on the travelling stock route. Emus and western grey kangaroo were also seen on the drive out. We headed straight for the red plain country and were surprised to see a couple of groups of banded lapwing, a species that has been scarce of late. About ten birds were seen. This turned out to be a sign of things to come because when we started scanning for inland dotterels we found they were crawling across the ground like ants! A quick count produced fifty birds, probably the largest flock we have ever had on the property. No doubt, I missed a few. They looked fantastic in the late afternoon sun and Cindy's camera was working overtime. They were rather flighty and I suspect that they had probably only recently arrived in the district and perhaps may not stay long as it is very dry (I have mentioned that before?) and there’s no sign of rain. Still it was quite a sight. We did some stargazing after dark and checked out the moons of Jupiter in the scope as well as the delightful constellation, the Jewel Box. We did a bit of spotlighting on the way home in some heavier grass and managed to find a male and female stubble quail in lovely plumage and Cindy's camera was again in danger of meltdown. It is always good to end on a high note so we called it a night at that and headed for home.
9 April 2016: Philip Peel from Melbourne had organized seventeen Victorian birders to spend a day in Deniliquin. They were a jovial bunch with much laughing and joking on the bus, which was great as I knew it was going to be a tough day bird-wise. They had been forewarned that plains-wanderer was extremely unlikely given we had not seen one since January and there had been no meaningful rain since early November. But still they wanted to have a look so we had four 4WD organised to do the spotlighting. We spent the day in a Toyota Coaster bus, hired locally.
We started off out north of town where I had recently seen superb parrots. They had been in the black box country north of Pretty Pine and no sooner had we pulled up than they appeared on cue. However, they were on the move and in a short time they had largely disappeared. As the group was into photography this was not what we wanted. It was a bit like herding cats trying to keep this group together so there were birders going in all directions. We were unable to relocate the superbs although bluebonnets were seen. Some superbs were seen by a few people who stayed back near the bus. Eventually I rounded everyone up and we had a drive around to see if we relocate the superbs. Apart from a distant flyby they refused to be seen, however we eventually located a nice patch of other species on the ecotone between black box and boree. Birds here consisted of striped, spiny-cheeked and singing honeyeaters, red-capped robin, rufous whistler, yellow and chestnut-rumped thornbills, white-winged fairywren and mistletoebird. There was a territorial dispute going on with the red-capped robins which flew right in amongst us, completely oblivious to the group. Great photos were shot. We worked on getting a good look at a male fairywren and eventually succeeded. A little further out, we had a very dark brown falcon that caused great consternation on the bus. Eventually everyone agreed it was indeed a brownie. It was, primarily, identified by its large head and long legs.
Still heading north, out to the Monimail, we searched for the ground cuckoo-shrikes seen there some days previously, but to no avail. They cover such a large area when they’re on the move, its difficult to pin them down. We had a distant view of white-backed swallow at the Monimail — a pair is still hanging about the nest holes. On the way back into town, a pallid cuckoo flushed off power lines, only the second record this autumn. Down another lane, another three white-backed swallows were seen around a pit that a farmer had dug in the last few days, miles from any other swallows. It's amazing how this species can find new nesting habitat. We called in at the Tip hoping for black falcon but saw only black kites and a pair of wedgies.
After lunch and a break, we headed back north and stopped again at the superb parrot spot. We were in luck. Everyone got good looks and photos. We continued on to the boree country where we searched some more for the ground cuckoo-shrikes. We became a bit excited when a distant bird was seen but closer inspection unveiled another pallid cuckoo, the third record this autumn.
We continued out onto the plains north of Billabong Creek as the sun was getting low in the sky. We searched the red plain where we had recently seen a pair of inland dotterels but they eluded us. I was not too worried as I thought we could probably spotlight them. Both red and western grey kangaroos were seen in this area. We continued across to the box clump where Trisha had a picnic dinner waiting for us, which we ate by the light of a slither of a waxing crescent moon, i.e., virtually no light at all.
With Robert and David and my mate Sam from town, who’d brought out my 4WD, we piled seventeen birders into four 4WDs and headed back across the plain, looking again for the dotterels. Initially a pair was flushed from near the track which had me a little concerned but after a short search another pair was located which sat tight and eventually everyone had great views and myriad photographs were taken. We travelled back to the east to the plains-wanderer paddock where we spotlighted for an hour or two. A good number of fat-tailed dunnarts were seen and some photographed. White-striped mastiff-bat was also heard flying around above the vehicles. Sadly, it became apparent to all that a plains-wanderer would not be on our list tonight so we called it a day and headed for home. The inland dotterels were a new bird for just about everyone on the bus so the troops were happy enough. It would have been great to get a plains-wanderer but until it rains, and some grass grows, it’s not going to happen.
5 April 2016: Birders, David and Vicki from Scotland, who are out visiting their brand new grandson in Sydney, and I had a day's birding. A professional ornithologist, David has studied white-browed babblers in Western Australia, and in New Zealand has done work on kakapo and black robin.
It is extremely dry in this district at present with no real rain since early November hence the birding is tough. So I was apprehensive about what we would see. David and Vicki had birded quite a bit in Australia so their list of wanted birds was short and consisted of mostly difficult species. We headed out north of town to where I had last seen superb parrots in an area of black box north of Pretty Pine. We had only just pulled up and were looking at a bluebonnet when a superb called overhead. A couple of females were soon located and a short time later an adult male flew in, which was the one we were really after. Then another group of about four adult males came in. After that success we returned to the bluebonnets. We continued north to the revegetation area at Monimail. Walking around and not seeing much apart from singing and spiny-cheeked honeyeaters, I decided to check my nestboxes for owlet nightjar, which was on their wanted list. I had not seen one here since November so didn't hold great hopes. However on my second attempt an owlet nightjar shot out and went straight into another nestbox. We eventually had a good view of him peering out of the nestbox watching us. Not long after David spotted some cuckoo-shrikes flying in the distance, I looked at them expecting them to be black-faced but they turned out to be ground cuckoo-shrikes We chased them across the plains and eventually got good views of a wary bird. There were five birds in total. David and Vicki should buy a lottery ticket, such is their luck. We then headed back towards town and out to the east where I had last seen painted honeyeater. En route we saw a farmer burning off a paddock and although initially there didn't appear to be any raptors present, after a few minutes we spotted a black falcon up high in the smoke. A little later another black falcon was seen and as the smoke cleared it revealed about fifteen or so black kites were also hunting down low over the fire. We checked out the boree clump where the painted honeyeaters had nested and where I had last seen them about a month ago. However it appears they have moved on but we did enjoy good looks at striped honeyeater, mistletoebird and zebra finch. After a great morning, with its share of surprises, we headed home for lunch.
In the afternoon we headed out onto the Hay Plain. There were really only two more birds we could hope tp get on David and Vicki's list — chestnut-crowned babbler and inland dotterel as plains-wanderers appear to have departed the district for the present. We had quite a drive out to where the babblers reside around the sand ridges east of Boorooban. En route, in the cottonbush country, we picked up a female orange chat , one of the few left in the district. We continued on to the sand ridges seeing a few red kangaroos as well as both eastern and western greys and a few emus. It appears the country has become too dry even for red kangaroos as far fewer were seen than on previous visits. The area around where the babblers live looked very dry and desolate and I was not confident we would find them as we did not have long till dark. We searched for about an hour with no success and were almost back to the car when David spotted a babbler. We approached this wary babbler cautiously and eventually had reasonable views of a group of about ten. A beautiful pair of Aussie ringnecks was also seen nearby as well as red-capped robin. We headed back south hoping to locate the inland dotterels before dark but the light beat us. However, we did get a nice view of a few banded lapwing, which are also scarce at present. We waited till dark so we could spotlight for the dotterels and after a short search located a pair. David and Vicki were overjoyed. We called it a day at that and on the drive home talked of capercaillie and Eurasian dotterels. They will be back to visit their grandchild so hopefully they will have another opportunity to look for plains-wanderer when the country is not in drought.
1 & 2 April 2016: Out with Richard from Cambridge, UK, for a day and a half. Richard had not done much birding in this part of the world so many of the local birds were new for him. We started off at the town lagoon with little grassbird and surprisingly, an azure kingfisher, then spent most of the morning in the black box adjacent to the river in town. It is diabolically dry in the district at present, being the fifth consecutive year of average or below average rainfall and no meaningful rain since early November. Needless to say, bird numbers are well down and nothing was jumping out at us. Nevertheless we managed to see most of the bush birds we were after. The first birds seen was a group of sittella feeding in the top of a tree beside the vehicle. We continued on with most of the thornbills: yellow, buff-rumped and striated, striated pardalote were seen, as well as rufous whistler, red-capped robin, jacky winter, dusky and white-breasted woodswallows, yellow and eastern rosellas, weebill and red-browed finch, to name a few. The winter visitors are on their way back with the first olive-backed oriole heard calling along the river and a bit later when we called into the Island Sanctuary we eyeballed one. We also managed a beautiful male shrike-tit in the Sanctuary which was on Richard's wanted list. It was very obliging and came right down to eye level. Our last stop before lunch was the sewage ponds which was quite productive with about a thousand plumed whistle-ducks (must be still dry in Queensland) three magpie-geese (have been around the town for a while), forty or so pink-eared duck, hardhead, hoary-headed grebes and a single male blue-billed duck. The latter is not often seen at the ponds.
After lunch we headed north, calling in at the Tip where a well-plumaged black falcon was perched up on a black box tree awaiting us! In the dillon bushes near Monimail, we had white-winged fairywrens including a coloured male. In the revegetation area we had bluebonnets, spiny-cheeked and singing honeyeater but could not connect with the white-backed swallow. I know they are still about as I have recently seen a pair but I guess as they have finished breeding they are only coming to the nesting burrows infrequently. We headed out onto the plains north of Billabong Creek and after an extensive search managed to locate a pair of inland dotterels, possibly the last pair left in the district! At dusk we had a pair of barn owl emerging from their hollow. We spotlighted after dark searching initially for banded lapwing and found three nervous birds and could not get much of a look at them. We searched the plains-wanderer paddock for about an hour but our best sightings were about half a dozen fat-tailed dunnarts. We have not seen any plains-wanderers since January and it is unlikely they will return untill there is a major rainfall event. On the way home we stopped at the clump of ancient redgums and managed to locate a single boobook owl calling softly.
Next morning we headed out east of town to check out the patch of boree where the pair of painted honeyeater had raised young in late summer. Sadly it appeared they had moved on as there was no sign of them. As a consolation we had great looks at striped honeyeater and zebra finch. After checking out a nearby irrigation storage dam and adding a few waterbirds to the list we set off looking for superb parrots which we were still missing. We checked out several areas where they are often present at this time
of year including areas I had seen them in the last couple of weeks but were completely skunked. We did manage to see a couple of groups of grey-crowned babblers and a couple of probable brown goshawk were seen, a bird that winters in the district . Eventually we saw a single superb parrot disappearing in the distance out in the boree country . This is the same area where I saw close to a hundred birds about a month ago — such is the nature of birding the inland. Given the desperately dry conditions in the district at present we didn't do too badly I guess, but we definitely did not get any free kicks. Richard was great company and with the birding a little slow we talked about birding in Cambridge and of course whether Britain should leave the E.E.C.
13-19 March 2016: Away in our Lord Howe Island tour.
27 February 2016: No plains-wanderers located.
26 February 2016: No plains-wanderers located.
25 February 2016: No sooner had I arrived at the Wanganella revegetation plot than I spotted a tight flock of smallish birds flying towards me. Realizing that they were something unusual I grabbed the bins and was surprised to see a flock of about ten pied honeyeaters. There were about equal numbers of male and female in the flock. They wheeled around a bit before heading off in a southerly direction. It was March 2013 when they were last in the district and there were several sightings during the preceding spring and summer. The only food source available for them in the district at present is the berries of ruby and thorny saltbushes; they are certainly very fond of ruby saltbush berries. There are plenty of saltbush berries at the revegetation plots so here's hoping they hang around.
24 February 2016: Grey goshawk. This morning, Geoff and Sandra Plumb had a white phase of the grey goshawk in Murray Valley Regional Park (formerly Deniliquin State Forest). There have been a few records of this species in the district over the past forty years although I personally have never seen one in the district. I believe all of the records have been in the autumn/winter/spring so it is rather unusual to have one here in summer. The birds that turn up here probably come out of the Otway Ranges. It's likely that this bird has been pushed out early with the drought conditions and bushfires that have been afflicting that area this summer.
21/22 February 2016: I had three birders from South Africa: Peiter and his wife Katrina are farmers in the Eastern Cape Province and their friend, Hendrik. Hendrik has been living in Toowoomba for the past thirteen years. Peiter and Katrina's farm is situated high up in the mountains. They get some great birds on their land, the rarest of which is a species of miniature bustard. Pieter said climate change is having a big effect on the bird life there with some resident species disappearing and other species that they have never seen there before coming in. Sounds familiar; however, I digress. Our first stop was the Deniliquin tip where a black falcon flew in and landed in front of us as soon as we alighted from the 4WD. It was an adult bird in moult so definitely a different bird from the one seen there previously, which was an immature. We moved on to the boree country out Monimail way and soon located the superb parrots sitting quietly in the boree trees as it was still quite hot. Here we also managed grey-crowned babbler. Across the road in the revegetation area we had spiny-cheeked, singing and one of my favourites, the striped. Bluebonnets were also seen here and three white-backed swallows were hanging around the nesting area. Some variegated fairywrens were seen but only brown birds and a white-fronted honeyeater was seen briefly. The white-fronted has been present here for well over a month.
After our success here we headed out onto the plains. On the TSR we had Horsfields bushlark and a lovely male white-winged fairywren. In the red plain country out on the plains-wanderer property we soon located the inland dotterels including one superbly marked individual. About eight were seen in all. We raced across to the box clump to try for owlet nightjar before nightfall. But it was not to be. Several called after dark but try as we might we could not get a look at one. A barn owl also called but was not seen. However we did have great views of tawny frogmouth. We went up to the plains-wanderer paddock. Katrina, Pieter and Hendrik had been forewarned that it was unlikely we’d get a plains-wanderer. We searched for an hour or so and saw a fat-tailed dunnart but sadly, no sign of any plains-wanderer. We called into the redgum clump on the way home and had both immature and adult boobook, which was a nice finish to the night. Many eastern grey and red kangaroos were seen on the drive home, some a little closer than we needed!
Next morning we headed out at 8:00 am as it was a late night. Katrina had the morning off so the Hendrik, Pieter and I went into the black box forest near town. Here we located buff-rumped thornbill, weebill, red-capped robin, crested shrike-tit and restless flycatcher. The flycatchers must be on the move as we had no breeding birds in the district this season. We also ran into local birders Geoff and Sandra Plumb working over their patch. Next, we headed out to some boree northeast of town hoping for painted honeyeater. The clump was alive with birds and painted honeyeater was the first bird seen! Again it was an immature bird and no adults were seen. I conjectured that the adults may have departed so that there was more food available for the immatures although there seemed to be enough mistletoe berries to feed a whole squadron of painted honeyeaters. Also, here was lots of spiny-cheeked and striped honeyeaters and many mistletoebirds including some juveniles. This is the only locality in the district that I know of where mistletoebirds have bred this season. We also located the immature western gerygone seen here on our previous visit. Our last stop for the morning was a clump of Eremophila longifolia back towards town where I hoped to get better views of white-fronted honeyeater. We were successful on this occasion and Hendrik got some photos. This brought to an end an enjoyable birding experience. Albeit with no plains-wanderer.
18 February 2016: Out with Wolfgang from Germany. Wolfgang had been somewhat restricted with his birding in Australia due travelling with a baby and partner, so he was chaffing at the bit to get out for a full days birding. We set out at 7:00 am and headed out north of town. Out in the boree country we soon tracked down the superb parrots, which are still feeding in the grey mistletoe and now are starting to feed on the berries of thorny saltbush. Twenty or so superbs were seen in half an hour including some nice males. Wolfgang got some good photos. Here also we had grey-crowned babbler and across the road at the Monimail revegetation plot, we had spiny-cheeked and singing honeyeaters, bluebonnets, and white-backed swallows still hanging around the nesting area. We tried for white-winged fairywrens and saw lots of uncoloured birds before we eventually saw a coloured male. We tried a couple of patches of boree for striped honeyeater but no joy there but we did manage a group of variegated fairywren although they were quite furtive as they often are. Zebra finches were also seen along here. Heading back towards town, we called in at the tip where we had both black and brown falcons sitting side by side in a box tree. The black falcon was an immature bird in immaculate plumage; almost jet black in colour — unlike some of the scruffy looking birds often seen around the tip. Presumably they must have bred somewhere in the district this season. Next we headed south- east of town stopping at some remnant pine woodland for apostlebird. We went further out to some blackbox woodland hoping for owlet nightjar. We had been seeing them reliably here all summer but had missed them on my last visit and today proved no different; it appears they have completely deserted this locality. After lunch we headed out northeast of town to another patch of boree. This time we were hoping for painted honeyeater. A pair had nested at this locality. I was not confident they would still be here as they often start moving about once the young have fledged. However painted honeyeater was about the first bird we saw on alighting the 4WD. It was an immature bird and was only a hundred metres or so from were it had been raised. A second immature bird was also seen, indicating that both chicks have successfully fledged. This is good news as only one pair nested in the district this year to the best of my knowledge and they usually only lay two eggs. We also added western gerygone to the list here, which surprised me a bit as they usually don't move into the boree country until the autumn. It was an immature bird with a yellowish throat and I guess they have started to move early this year due to the very dry conditions in the box and redgum country. Striped honeyeater proved much more elusive and we had to try another spot before we had satisfactory views. We called in at an irrigation storage dam where a few waterbirds were added to the list, the best of which were yellow-billed spoonbill, pink-eared duck and hardhead. Time was getting away so we started heading north of town. We stopped at another black box woodland where we added chestnut-rumped thornbill, weebill and red-capped robin. Out on the plains-wanderer property a brief stop at the old, abandoned house produced several southern whiteface. We moved on to the red plain country where inland dotteral was our target bird. We found them without any trouble.. Owlet nightjar was still missing from our list so we tried one more box clump. This time we came up trumps at our first tree and had a great view of a bird peering out of its hollow. The next bird I was not confident about was my signature bird, the plains-wanderer, and I had good reason to be. After about three hours hard slog we admitted defeat. We had searched the paddock high and low. It would appear they have voted with their wings and completely deserted the paddock. This was a rare event once but has become more common in the past ten years as the seasons have become tougher. Wolfgang was very pleased with the day none-the-less. We had seen some great birds and I had pre-warned him that the plains-wanderer was highly likely to be a bridge too far.
16 February 2016: Neil Bull, the environmental projects manager with the Ricegrowers' Association, organised a meeting and an outing with Gregory Andrews, the Federal Government’s Threatened Species Commissioner and his entourage while Gregory was visiting Deniliquin. The plains-wanderer has recently had its status upgraded to Critically Endangered so Gregory was keen to talk to people in the field who have had first-hand experience with the species and hopefully see a plains-wanderer for himself. Gregory proved to be an affable chap with an easy manner. We discussed the problems facing the plains-wanderer, which are mainly to do with climate change, and what can be done to address the challenges.
We ate dinner while waiting for nightfall and the commissioner talked with Robert and John. I was a little apprehensive about our chances of seeing a plains-wanderer as numbers had been dropping rapidly over the past six weeks. There has been no useful rainfall out on the plains since early November and the amount of ground cover in our one remaining paddock is sparse. We searched for a plains-wanderer for a couple of hours but it was not going to happen for us. We did show Gregory a couple of fat-tailed dunnarts and a lovely hooded scalyfoot. A couple of tawny frogmouths were seen. Nothing like driving around a paddock for hours to bring home the point that plains-wanderers are definitely in trouble. Hopefully the commissioner can take action to address the situation. A crucial step at this stage would be to pay landowners not to graze certain paddocks. Due to the minuscule amount of rain we are receiving, plains-wanderers cannot compete with livestock for the small amount of available cover, yet graziers still have to make a living in increasingly challenging times.
13 Feb Monimail revegetation area — butterflies
Not much birdwise at the Monimail but the butterflies were wonderful. The recent rain’s prompted some good hatching. A nice lot of satin azure butterflies are hanging around the fleshy mistletoe, which is growing on Eremophila longifolia; the most I’ve seen in many years. Stencilled hairstreak butterflies were also about in good numbers, feeding on the flowers of Eremophila (formerly Myoporum) deserti and Acacia salicina. I think it’s the most of this rather uncommon butterfly I have ever encountered. Both the aforementioned plants have produced flowers since the last rain on 1 February. It’s amazing how quickly some plants respond to rain. Many of the boree, Acacia pendula, are also in flower. They didn’t flower much in the spring this year due to it being so dry, with almost no seed produced. Quite a few saltbush blue butterflies were also about.
10 February 2016 Monimail and Wanganella Revegetation Areas
I went out early this morning to check out the revegetation areas as there had been good rain (19 mm at Wanganella Sandhill, 20 mm at Monimail) since I’d been away on the Tasmanian tour. This was on top of 26 mm at Monimail and 18 mm at Wanganella on the 22nd January. So it is looking positively green at Monimail and not bad at Wanganella. There were plenty of singing and spiny-cheeked honeyeaters calling at Monimail and I heard one striped honeyeater call. Superb parrots were out in force and at one stage something disturbed them in the boree across the way and there were about eighty in the air at one time. There were two white-backed swallows hanging around the nesting bank and the white-fronted honeyeater was seen again. Some of the Eremophila longifolia is in flower again after the recent rain so the white-fronted might stay for a bit longer given the mistletoe is almost finished flowering. Bluebonnets were feeding in the revegetation area and a group of white-winged fairywrens was seen. The ruby saltbush is starting to set fruit since the rain so there will be plenty of food for honeyeaters in a week or so. Maybe the superb parrots will show some gratitude and actually start feeding in the reveg area instead of flying over as they do at present. The quandong trees are also setting fruit and could have a good crop if we continue to get enough rain through the year. One particular quandong tree has never set fruit despite being about ten years old. I particularly want seed from this tree as the parent tree (since deceased) had the biggest fruits of any in the district. It is flowering at present so there is still a chance it may set fruit this year. The fleshy and wire-leafed mistletoes are also starting to set fruit and should be ripening in about a month’s time. There should be ample food for honeyeaters and mistletoebirds when this happens. The grey mistletoe flowers and fruits nearly all year round so is continually providing food for many species including the superb parrots.
Things were a little quieter out at the Wanganella sandhill revegetation area. Just a few singing and spiny-cheeked honeyeaters; however I did have a couple of mistletoebirds feeding around the trees and shrubs. This is the first time I have actually had them feeding in this RVA; previously they have only flown over. As at Monimail I have four or five species of mistletoe going at Wanganella and the fleshy, wire-leaf and buloke should be ripe in the next month, so am hoping for more mistletoebirds. Several white-plumed honeyeaters were present as well as yellow-throated miner and a pied butcherbird was in good voice. The last good sighting of the morning was eight white-backed swallows circling about the nesting banks.
7 February 2016 Gulpa (Murray Valley National Park)
Called in at the Gulpa revegetation area (RVA) to check the rain gaugeon my way home after the Tasmanian tour. There was 16 mm in the rain gauge making a total of 23.5 mm so far this year but overall, very little since early November. Gulpa only received 296 mm (close to 12 inches) for 2015 (average about 16 inches) so it is very dry in this area and many of the understory plants are looking stressed. It was mid-afternoon so there weren’t many birds about but I did manage a white-fronted honeyeater. This is a first for the Gulpa RVA. The only other white-fronted honeyeater I had down this way was in the sandhills in Gulpa forest in the mid 1980s. This honeyeater is a great wanderer and can turn up almost anywhere in Australia. There’s a bit of an influx into the district at present as there has been one at Monimail RVA for at least a month and David Nevinson recently had one in the sandhills at Boorooban. This is the time of year they turn up, when the fleshy, harlequin, wire-leaf and buloke mistletoes are in flower.and none of the eremophila species are.
25 January 2016. Late Monday afternoon I took out Brits, Peter and Kate from the Liverpool area and Americans, David and Alex from Georgia and Connecticut. Peter and Kate were new to birding in Australia having only birded Tasmania, just prior to arriving in Deniliquin. It was Alex's first trip to Australia so many birds were also new to him. David had been in Australia for several months studying superb fairywren at Serendip reserve west of Melbourne. We called into the tip and saw little and Australian ravens, black and whistling kites and wedge-tailed eagle but no black falcon to be seen. We continued on to the boree country, north of Pretty Pine, where we had great views of superb parrots in the boree. About twenty birds were in the trees and flying about. A party of grey-crowned babblers was also the boree. We stopped at the Monimail revegetation area hoping for white-backed swallows but none were about so made do with bluebonnet and spiny-cheeked honeyeater. White-winged fairywrens were also seen nearby. We headed for the plains north of Wanganella. The days are getting shorter now and we still had birds to find before sundown. On the way out, we had a nice group of Horsfield's bushlark on the TSR. In the cottonbush country we managed to find a small party of orange chats including a lovely male and nearby had a flock of banded lapwing. Next up we searched an area of red plain for Australian pratincole and Inland dotterel and found both at the same time. As there are very few left, we oncentrated on the pratincoles first. We got an adult pair with a full grown young. After a short time we relocated about ten or so inland dotterels including some in lovely plumage. Alex and David's camera shutters were in danger of meltdown! We also witnessed a pair copulating as Robert had a week or so previously. (There was rain out on the plains a couple of days after Robert saw them mating and again a couple of days after we saw them mating. Seems like they are very good weather forecasters. There has been little rain out there since early Novembe. At any rate it augers well for the future). We moved on to the black box clump for a bite to eat. Here we had a barn owl peering out of a hollow and heard owlet nightjar calling but it could not be seen. The moon looked spectacular as it rose in the east andfor fun, we managed to identify quite a few stars and constellations. Interlude over, we headed for the plains-wanderer paddock. After about thirty minutes searching we located a male plains-wanderer and a short time later located the female within about fifty metres.The recent rain may have got them thinking about breeding again as we have not seen them close together for some time. Both the birds may have been immature but they are getting to the age now (about four months) when it's difficult to tell them from the adults. Several fat-tailed dunnarts were also seen in our search for plains-wanderers. Well pleased with our efforts we headed towards the highway, stopping in at the redgum clump where we found the juvenile boobook owl in pretty quick time. We headed for town, dodging a few dozen kangaroos along the way. Home about 1:00 am.
Next morning I picked up Peter and Kate at 8 o'clock for a morning's excursion. We stopped off at a town lagoon were we had nice looks at little grassbird as well as a native water rat, an animal rarely seen nowadays. We tried an area of redgum near a lagoon and after some searching located a pair of crested shriketits with two immature young. This species is normally high up in the gums but we had spectacular views at eye height. We moved on to some black box woodland southeast of town. On route, we stopped off at a patch of remnant cypress pine for apostlebird. In the black box we searched for owlet nightjar to no avail. This surprised me as I had had no trouble finding them here for months. Such is the fickle nature of birding. However we did locate other woodland birds including white-browed woodswallows, western gerygone, rufous whistler and varied sittella. Our last stop for the morning was an irrigation storage dam partly filled with cumbungii. Here we had a few water birds including spoonbills, Australasian and hoary-headed grebes and spotted crake. The biggest surprise however was hearing a male Australian little bittern calling. I would have expected them to have raised young by now. Maybe the breeding failed somewhere else and they are having a second go. I think this is the latest I have ever had them attempting to breed in the district in almost forty years of observations. Little bitterns are quite rare in the district nowadays and It would be unusual to see them after January as the species migrates.
With the day heating up, we headed back to town.
24 January 2016: I went out to the Monimail revegetation plot this morning to check out how much rain there'd been on Friday. As soon as I stepped out of the vehicle I could hear a pair of striped honeyeaters calling nearby, and at the same time, saw a group of about ten white-backed swallows flying above the constructed nest area. This is by far the most I have seen at this locality, with three the maximum previously encountered here. At least one pair nested but I didn’t see the young so don’t know how many were raised. Some of the birds seen this morning appeared to be immature birds so probably some bred here. No idea where the rest came from, I don't think the one known pair could have raised that many.
There was fresh growth on some of the acacias and the tussocks of umbrella grass had greened up a bit so I was hopeful there had been more rain than the lousy 7.5 mm at Gulpa and 10.5 mm in Deniliquin. The birds were very active. There were heaps of spiny-cheeked and singing honeyeaters calling and flying about and small flocks of superb parrots continually flying back and forth. At least three mistletoebirds were present including two adult males feeding in the grey mistletoe. The rain gauge showed a massive 26 mm had fallen. While this may not seem much to some, this is the best fall here since early November and way better than the few miserable millimetres we’ve been receiving. No wonder the plants were looking good and the birds so happy! I caught up with the pair of striped honeyeaters. They were feeding on the ripe berries of Eremophila longifolia but not just swallowing them holus-bolus. One was tugging at the fruit and I couldn't see exactly what part it was consuming, the seed or the flesh or indeed the lot in a perforated state. I had not previously recognized the berries as a source of food for honeyeaters as they don't look very appetizing, not having much flesh on them. I didn’t see the white-fronted honeyeater today although the wire-leafed and fleshy mistletoes on which it was feeding are still in flower. The rain will mean that the ruby and thorny saltbushes will now fruit and there’ll be plenty of food for honeyeaters and superb parrots in a few days. It will also mean that any of my last season's planting that’s still alive should now survive the summer. I have probably lost about 20-30% this season at the Monimail (370 planted last year), which is a lot better than the revegetation area at Wanganella Sandhill were I have lost about 80% of last season's planting (1,300 planted last year). There was 18 mm at Wanganella so at least what's left should be okay. Sadly, only 6-7 mm fell out in the plains-wanderer country, barely enough to lay the dust!
21 January 2016: Patrick Scully, Ken Haines and my old mate Kevin Bartram. It's been three decades and then some since Kevin and I last went out birding. Heading out at 4 pm, we stopped at the Monimail for white-backed swallows, to no avail. Over at the boree, we got some nice views of superb parrots and saw a couple of striped honeyeaters and a couple of pairs of bluebonnets. Out on the plains, in the cottonbush country, we had a couple of pairs of orange chats, a brown songlark and banded lapwings. We searched for the ground cuckoo-shrikes but they had finally departed as I thought they would. We headed south to some open plains country to look for inland dotterel and what remains of the group of Australian pratincoles. We found both species almost simultaneously. There were at least fifteen inland dotterels and two adult pratincoles and one juvenile. Back at the box clump, while we were having a bite to eat, an owlet nightjar called and two barn owls circled about. Spotlighting for a plains-wanderer, we first got a male, probably an adult, and a short time later, an immature female plains-wanderer, probably about four months old. About half a dozen fat-tailed dunnart were seen. On the way out we spotlighted an adult boobook owl in the redgum clump. A tawny frogmouth was seen sitting on a roadside post as we headed home, arriving at about 12.30 am.
20 Janaury 2016: Robert recorded a pair of inland dotterels mating.
18 January 2016: Warwick and Warren turned up at about 3:00 pm on another hot Riverina day, a fraction under 40C, the same temperature as their last visit a month ago. We headed straight out north with only had one target bird — ground cuckoo-shrike. Once the young become mobile this species is likely to disperse and we may not see them for some time. (This nest was a great find of Robert's on 4 December). Fingers were crossed as we approached the nest tree. An initial scan revealed nothing. Concern was setting in when a long-tailed bird with a white rump flew in. Then all four birds were present, the parents and two older siblings, keeping a close watch on their progeny, hidden in the foliage of a pine tree. Warwick and Warren had great views and Warren got some decent photos of the adults although the birds didn't make it easy. Close inspection of the birds showed them to be two adult birds and two immature birds; the latter helpers at the nest. Both the immature birds still had dark eyes and had much courser barring than the adults as well as barring on the head, which the adults lacked. I couldn't be sure if they were this season's young or the previous season's but certainly under twelve months old. They brought some food in for the juvenile while we watched. One of our most spectacular birds! We saw a few orange chats in the cottonbush country including one adult male but they didn't stop for photos. On the way back into town we pulled up in the boree country hoping for superb parrot and were not disappointed. They flew off before Warren could get some decent shots but we followed, which led us to another dozen or so birds. Warren got some photos of a nice adult male. Satisfied, we headed for home.The boys had a long drive back to Ballarat and likely as not, plenty of kangaroos to avoid on the way.
17 January 2016: I went out to the plains-wanderer property with my boyhood friend, Brian Holden. We had a couple of purposes to our trip, one was to get some sheep manure from under Robert's shearing shed and the other was to check out the ground cuckoo-shrikes’ nest to see if the chick was still present. Ballarat boys, Warwick and Warren, are returning tomorrow in the hope of seeing them. Brian had also never seen orange chat or inland dotterel so we looked for them as well. On the way out we called in at the Wanganella sandhill revegetation area and were pleased to see a couple of white-backed swallows still hanging around the nesting pits. Orange chats are getting less numerous and on our drive north through the cottonbush not a single bird was seen, however on the way back a small group of chats flushed up. This turned out to be a group of five male orange chats. We were pleased to find that while the young ground cuckoo-shrike was out of the nest it had not gone far and was sitting in a nearby tree still being fed by the adults. So things still looked okay for Warwick and Warren's visit tomorrow. We left the cuckoo-shrikes to their business and went south to the open plains to check out the dotterel and pratincole situation. We found a small flock of banded lapwing and nearby was an adult Aussie pratincole with a full-grown juvenile. I thought they may have cleared out so I was pleased to see them and particularly so the juvenile as they didn't have great breeding success this season. A short distance further on we came upon eight or so inland dotterels trying to disguise themselves as tussocks of grass. We checked out some more nearby plain and found another adult male pratincole which may have had another young hidden nearby and also another group of about ten inland dotterels. So it appears, if there has been any movement of late with the dotterels, it has only been local. With the fun over we made our way to the shearing shed and loaded up with sheep manure.
14 January 2016: James from Melbourne joined Americans, Andrew and Taylor, for an evening excursion. We started with a brief flyover of the tip's black falcon. Other good birds included superb parrot, striped honeyeater, white-backed swallow, orange chat, brown songlark, Horsfield's bushlark, inland dotterel, banded lapwing, ground cuckoo-shrike (only the juvenile in the nest), black-faced woodswallow, barn owl and an immature male plains-wanderer. Also fat-tailed dunnart.
12 January 2016: Keen photographer, Paul Jackson, and I headed out at 5 pm, first calling into the Deniliquin tip for the black falcon. Other good birds were crested shriketit, superb parrot, bluebonnet and striped honeyeater, orange chat, white-winged fairywren, banded lapwing, ground cuckoo-shrike, pratincole, inland dotterel, barn owl, full-grown male and adult female plains-wanderer. Also fat-tailed dunnart.
8 January 2016: Two and a bit days with Stuart Housden, the director of the RSPB in Scotland. Stuart is a softly spoken, thoughtful man with whom it was a privilege to spend some time. We headed out to the north of town in the late afternoon, calling into the boree country and quickly locating a pair of superb parrots sitting quietly in a boree tree. Nearby we had some bluebonnets and grey-crowned babblers. We were off to a good start.
Out on the Hay Plain we had our first banded lapwings followed by Horsfields bushlark in the cottonbush country. We searched for orange chats, which have become scarcer since the recent big rain in South Australia. Eventually we managed to find a single immature male. Our next stop was the ground cuckoo-shrikes’ nest and pleased to find the adult still on the nest as the single young is quite large now and won't be in the nest much longer. We headed back south hoping to come upon inland dotterels. There was no sign of them in the first paddock. They also have been moving about a bit of late and like the orange chats, there doesn’t appear to be as many around since the big rain inland. We waited for nightfall and then spotlighted for both inland dotterel and Australian pratincole. We managed to find some pratincoles almost immediately. The first couple of dotterels, which had been testing me, were quite timid and took off before we could get a decent view but the third one sat tight and Stuart had a great look.