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 (updated December 2016)
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
Plains-wanderer Report 2016
Recent sightings Deniliquin & Wanganella areas
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 is 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 periodicaly, 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 which 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 a 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 about the night's 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 county 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.
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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.