Monday, 29 October 2012

'Tristis' Chiffchaff

Over the past week we have had several monochromatic Chiffchaffs here on Bardsey. All of them that have been heard calling have sounded almost identical to Common Chiffchaffs. This has led us to think these birds are the Scandinavian form P.c. abietinus.

However, this morning one of the birds in Plas Withy was calling somewhat differently, giving a short piping mono-syllabic  'peu', not the di-syllabic 'hu-eet' that the other Chiffchafs were giving.

The bird called just on just four occasions in the 1 1/2 hours I spent trying to record it with my phone! Each time it gave four or five individual calls, with an almost Dunnock-like feeling to the call and nothing like the other Chiffchaffs. It did not give the classic Bullfinch-like call that I have heard on many occasions.

The bird is very striking and is in the same bushes as several colybita Chiffchaffs and an abietinus Chiffchaff.

It was good to be able to see the three types together and hear the calls. Plumage wise, there was little difference between the presumed abietinus-type bird and this presumes tristis-type bird. It should be pointed out that this tristis is and adult in active wing moult. This is,  I assume, why the flight and tail feathers are so brightly fringed giving it an almost Bonelli's feel to it.

The bird also showed the classic tristis wing bar, formed by pale tips to the greater coverts.

There was no hint of yellow in any part of the bird's plumage with the exception of the under-wing coverts. This can just be made out in the father blurry flight shot lower down.

The bird's bill was also much blacker than the other Chiffchaffs. The only pale on the bill was at the very base. The difference can be seen well in the pictures of the abietinus and colybita at the end of the post. The legs and especially the feet were solid black. Much darker than the abietinus and colybita (c.f. photos at the end of this post).

It was quite interesting too that the bird did not really respond to tape of Common Chiffchaff, however, it did respond quite well to the song of Yellow-browed Warbler from the recording by Andreus Schultz on Die Volgelsimmen. What is interesting about this is that there is a quite loud 'tristis' Chiffchaff singing in the background of that particular recording!

I will be very interested to see the comments on this bird.

Note the wing bar

black legs

very grey head

note the darkness of both legs and bill

black feet

yellow under-wing coverts

Collybita Chiffchaff

One of the abietinus Chiffchaffs from a day or so ago.
Same bird as above

Spurn weekend trip

26-27/10/2012 - A busy couple of days with some remnants of the fall earlier on in the week still present and productive seawatching:

8 Little Auks
2 Long-tailed Ducks
7 Scaups
2 Goldeneyes
1 Pintail
23 Eiders
2 Red-breasted Mergansers
25+ Red-throated Divers
1 Canada Goose
28 Pink-footed Geese
7 Dark-bellied Brent Geese
2 Sooty Shearwaters
1 Pomarine Skua
1 Arctic Skua
10+ Bonxies
1 Merlin
2 Woodocks
2 Jack Snipes
2 Ruffs
1 Purple Sandpiper
4 Swallows
3 Waxwings
200+ Redwings
300+ Fieldfares
200+ Blackbirds
1 Ring Ouzel
100+ Robins - also quite a few dead unfortunately
2 Blackcaps
20+ Chiffchaffs
30+ Goldcrests - a few desperately pottering around the beach
3 Tree Sparrows
c100 Bramblings
8 Siskin
15 Twites
7 Snow Buntings

Trip report and images below!

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Firecrest at Wylfa

Tony White found a Firecrest in the car park for Wylfa head yesterday. I managed to twitch it late morning but couldn't relocate it in the evening.However birds are more active at this site in the early morning, and the rain is pretty grim here today.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Clive Stephenson had a Firecrest there once......

Zac had a Thrush Nightingale in Bangor on Wednesday. I had 30 minutes to kill on Wednesday after work so thought I would go and have a nosey.Then I remembered Clive had a Firecrest up there 10 years or so ago, as that path (behind Lidl) went up to Minffordd where he lived.There is a lot of cover up there and it is quite high so it's not surprising migrants drop in there. It looks a really good spot. Zac was still there with Chris, Rob and Simon when I arrived but unfortunately there was no sign of the Sprosser. There were plenty of birds up there and Rob and Chris thought they heard a YBW. Did anything come of that chaps? I was also wondering on the topic of quality photos of North Wales Birders, does anyone have any photos of Clive in the field, as he was one of the charachters of North Wales birding in the late 20th Century but unfortunately he passed away in Goa in 2004? RIP Clive.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Richard's pipit, Great Orme

It was a very slow start on the Great Orme this morning with just 4 crossbills and a merlin of note in the first two and a half hours then vis mig picked up dramatically as a weather front moved in with hundreds of birds overflying the limestone pavement headland predominently chaffinches, starlings and blackbirds. Also noted were 70+ fieldfares including one flock of 50, plus good numbers of redwings, greenfinch, meadow pipits and skylarks with at least one brambling, a few redpolls and a couple of mistle thrushes. Then just as I was about to leave a Richard's pipit flew over the car park area calling several times but despite searching wasn't relocated. Pete Alderton had the 2 lapland buntings and snow bunting.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

OBP!!!!!...Obstinate Bloody Pipit

A fantastic day with low cloud cover and almost no wind saw an excellent variety of species recorded during a long day in the field. The day started off when I flushed a pipit with a very short buzzy call from Cristin garden, It was seen twice more in the space of two hours over the observatory calling many times as it flew over. Unfortunately the bird never showed itself on the ground but was almost certainly an Olive-backed Pipit. Whilst trudging the fields looking for the pipit I flushed a ticking bunting which when it showed itself briefly proved to be a Little Bunting.

The other most noteworthy species seen during the day included a Long-eared Owl at Cristin, a Short-eared Owl, a Richard's Pipit, five Black Redstarts, a Redstart, two Ring Ouzels, a Lesser Whitethroat, five Yellow-browed Warblers (two of which I  trapped and ringed), a Firecrest and a Snow Bunting.

Good numbers of thrushes saw 76 Blackbirds, 13 Fieldfares, 25 Song Thrushes and 158 Redwingsscattered around, whilst singles of Spotted Flycatcher, Woodcock and Great Northern Diver were also recorded.
 This stunning Long-eared Owl was flushed to the North of Cristin and managed to find its way into the only net open at the time, opened to catch the YBW below!

 The Lesser Whitethroat showed some characteristics of Asian origins, any comments welcomed.

Two Yellow-browed Warblers were trapped during the day

As was this abietinus Chiffchaff (right), alongside a Common Chiffchaff in this image (left)

Black Redstart

Great Orme

Two lapland buntings and a snow bunting still showing around the limestone pavements on the Great Orme this morning but otherwise disappointingly quiet. A great spot woodpecker was by the old cafe while a small number of mipits, greenfinches and starlings moved through.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Hibernicus Coal Tits in Wales?

Following on from the 'hibernicus' Coal Tit thread, a good candidate occured today in Pembrokeshire. This quote, which includes interesting notes about the Scilly records, is by Mike Y-P on their blog :-

I didn't see Byron's Snow B on the Head this morning but there was a Coal Tit. A close look revealed a dullish olive-green back and mantle warm buff tones on flanks and a creamy yellow suffusion most noticeable in the cheeks. Birds showing these characteristics arrived on St Agnes in the Scilly Isles on October 10th following north-westerly winds. There were at least 20 on St Agnes where they are far, far rarer than the Grey-cheeked Thrush which was present three days before, in fact the last record anywhere in Scilly was 2008. They caused quite a stir and lots of speculation about their provenance since the yellow suffusion in the cheeks is indicative of the Irish race 'hibernicus' (check The 'Collins Guide' or 'Svensson'). So to find a similar bird on a North Pembrokeshire headland today is perhaps predictable but nevertheless quite exciting.

As well as this, Steve Stansfield sent me two pictures of what I think is a good candidate on Bardsey taken in April 2004. Any opinions? I've sent the photos off to some Irish birders for their opinion. A first confirmed Welsh record of this form?

Penmon 22/10/12

After several days of inactivity due to illness, visiting antique fairs, bumping into the Duchess of Cambridge etc.. I decided it was time for some serious birding. I was at Penmon Point at dawn, with light easterly winds and thick cloud the conditions looked promising. Lots of migrants passing over (east) but surprisingly few grounded birds on the point. This is a very hard area to cover thoroughly, but the birds I saw from 7.30 to 11.00 were 1 'flava' Wagtail, 3 Crossbill, 180 Redwing, 1 Fieldfare, 7 Meadow Pipit, 1 Water Rail, 70 Goldfinch, 220 Chaffinch, 4 Brambling, 26 Siskin, 6 Redpoll, 15 Greenfinch, 8 Linnet, 130 Starling, 1 Mistle Thrush, 10 Song Thrush, 10 Blackbird, 2 Pied Wagtail, 1 Grey Wagtail, 15 Wood Pigeon, 3 Skylark, 1 Jay, 1 Blackcap, 1 Lapwing, 24 Goldcrest, 15 Blue Tit, 10 Bullfinch.
Visible migration was slower than I had expected, but a good variety of species on the move. I may try again tomorrow, if the winds stay easterly. Also still 3 Sandwich Tern on the shore by Penmon Pool, and a drake Common Scoter sat on a rock just off the layby there!

Bunting hunting

A number of birders up the Great Orme this morning looking for the snow and lapland buntings and with patience both showed down to a few feet away around the limestone pavement area. A brambling called overhead. Hopefully predicted easterlies will bring a goody over this week.

Adult Med Gull - Rhuddlan

Spot the adult Med Gull.....

This lovely winter Mediterranean Gull is showing well most days in the gull roost on the lower Clwyd at Rhuddlan, just north of the flyover. It was there yesterday, but spent its time asleep.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Here and There

Well last week proved to be an excellant one for me. Firstly I visited Burton Mere and surrounding birding sites with Dave(denbigh) and Karl.
We had great weather give or take a couple of downpours,but all in all a fantastic day was had by all!
At Inner marsh Fram dave picked out the Long Billed Dowitcher in with 30+ redshanks YES! a new lifer for me , happy days!
This was followed by a stunning Hobby on our walk back to the car and YES again another first for me , the days getting better by the minute! and we also nearly crushed a smart Common Frog who was sunbathing in the middle of the path !
Onto Burton Mere , all the usual suspects present and from the bottom hide we had better views of the LBD in with some Green Shanks now and we also watched the Hobby hunting over the reedbeds AWESOME!
Off to Parkgate next and we managed to pick up yet another first for me in the form of two Ruddy Shelducks,also we had soem great views of hunting Hen Harrier and Short Eared Owl.

A great day was had by all and we finished the day with 70 species on our list happy days.

HOLYHEAD has been excellant recently with the Barred Warbler, YB Warbler and RB Flycatcher all within walking distance of eachother near the breakwater park,but unfortunately I missed the RBF as i was in Burton mere :-( and the YBW has proved VERY hard to track down too mmmm

But lots of other nice birds around , the Osprey is still present on The Inland Sea going into its 4th!! week!!,also a lovely juv Great Northern Diver has been present for a few days now and the Spoonbill has also made another appearance but Ive not seen it again YET!

The pics of the Osprey where taken on Saturday when i spent a great day Birdwatching locally with my step son to be Alex who incidently was the 9 year old who found the Juv Rose Coloured Starling in Holyhead last winter and he even had the good sense to take a pic of it to show me as he didnt know what it was. We had a great days birding and he was determined to beat our 70 birds from our burton mere visit and well he was over joyed as we ended up with a days total of 75 birds and had great views of Osprey, GND, Barn Owl etc so he was one happy 9year old who's birding bug has well and truely biten!
Popped up the Great Orme today, shame I just missed you and Alan, Marc. Also missed the Snow Bunting by just 5 minutes but the Lapland Buntings gave stunning views. As Marc says in his earlier post with a bit of patience they will show fantastically well, nearly creeping across our feet at times. Photographers were backing off as the birds were getting too close for the long lenses to focus, a problem I also had with digiscoping. Most of the time all I could get was head & shoulder shots!! Two of us also had a high flyover Twite, calling distinctively, whilst we were having lunch at the picnic tables in warm sunshine by the car park.

Cemaes Area Update

Last week Mike Smith had a few Jays in the Cemaes area. I had one in Llanrhuddlad on Friday and Tony had one at Wylfa today, possibly immigrants? Yesterday Reg was at Carmel head. He had27 Bramblings, 2 Snow Bunts and 2 Crossbills, plus a Ruff at Cemlyn. Highlight however was 3 Bewick's Swans flying offshore, a very good bird for Anglesey nowerdays! I had an hour on Wylfa this morning before I had to go to a Christening in Runcorn.There wasn't a lot on the headland, but that may have been due to the male Peregrine, and the male and female Merlins! The female headed over to Llanbadrig and was seen by the observer who had the Richard's Pipit and Lap bunt there. Any ideas who that was? Vis mig was light but included a few Redpolls and Siskins plus a Brambling and a Crossbill. Tony White also had 2 Lap bunts fly out of Tregele Stubble, and I had 2 Great tits fly high north over Wylfa head!

Bunting Beauties - It's a hatrick! Anyone up for the 'hibernicus' challenge?

A first for me this morning - Lapland, Snow and Reed Bunting in the same scope view - hatrick! A lovely morning weather wise on the Great Orme was livened up by a few good birds. A few early morning migrants were immediately evident - a Brambling and 10 Great Tits on show at the north end before sunsise. The Lapland Buntings soon gave themselves up in the usual place, with at least three birds present. While watching them with Alan Davies, a Richard's Pipit announced its presence with its loud 'shreeep' calls. Unfortunately, despite being heard a few times again, it didn't give itself up. Later in the morning a fine male Snow Bunting appeared alongside the Laplands; surely just in. Two Redwings were in the gorse, 5+ Goldcrest, 12 Great Tit, 2 Lesser Redpoll, 20+ Brambling, 2 Great Spotted Woodpeckers, 19 Skylarks and a good passage of 25+ Coal Tits during the morning. Chris had a Ring Ouzel above Llys Helyg drive too.

This fine male Snow Bunting appeared mid morning alongside the Lapland Buntings. At one point they flew into the air calling and were joined by a Reed Bunting; a nice hatrick of Great Orme buntings.

The Lapland Buntings are drawing good numbers of visitors from across the North West. With a little patience they give good views. Up to seven have been seen during the past week, with three birds staying faithful to a small area just south of the northern cairn on the limestones.

There has been an excellent movement of Coal Tits on the Orme over the past fortnight with sometimes upwards of 60 birds moving through. All I have seen so far have had lovely white cheek patches, like this one above taken this morning at the most northern gorse bush on the head land. Surely there is an outside chance of a 'hibernicus' Coal Tit from Ireland joining up with them. The Isles of Scilly have recorded birds that recall 'hibernicus' already thsi autumn. However, I'm not aware of any proven records in Wales. The bird below was on the Mullet, County Mayo and the buffy / off white cheek patches can clearly be seen. Now there's a challenge for any west coast vis-migger.

Coal Tit - coutersy of Dave Sudderby, Mullet, County Mayo, October 2012. Follow him on twitter @davesudds62

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Four Surf Scoters and a strange Redshank

The three drake Surf Scoters showed well in the late afternoon sun from Station Road, Llanddulas and as I was watching them it became apparent that they were paying rather a lot of attention to a female type bird. As the shimmer disappeared and the sun came out, the triangular shaped head of a female Surf Scoter materialised with the bird diving with the tell tale leap and open wings. The group then split with one drake following the female and the male 'pair' melting into the flock. 4 Velvet Scoter also present today as well as 20+ red throated Divers, 5 red breasted Mergansers and 12 Great Crested Grebes.

The worst picture ever of 2 drake Surf scoters at a miles range!

Below is a picture of a strange looking Redshank that is hanging around Morfa Madryn and Lavan Sands at the moment. A 'leucistic' buffy type bird.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Surfs up.

With one thing or another my first trip out for a while had me heading out Llanddulas after a tip off that the scoters were showing. My new baby daughters first birding outing. Many more to come. Amongst the thousands of common scoter 2 drake surfs and a single drake velvet eventually revealed themselves. The White on the surfs nape shining nicely in the sunshine. 20 plus red throats, plenty of Guillimots and 2 razorbill were the best of the rest.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Point of Ayr

Went for the big high tide at Point of Ayr today and checked out the new three-sided shelter that at long last has been built on the site of the old hide. Nice firm structure although it'll be open to the elements in poor weather, but it's better than nothing at all and at least prevents you from disturbing the roosting birds on the saltmarsh. Bird of the morning was a cracking merlin that roosted in a bush close to the shelter. Big tide didn't flush anything unusual out but good numbers of mixed waders with mainly knot, dulin, redshank, barwits, and oycs. Pintail and wigeon on view and good numbers of shelduck. Eight birders present today so hopefully the new shelter will start to attract birders to an area that has always had great potential, especially if you bird the warren area as well.

RB Fly in Holyhead BWCP

I managed to sneak in a quick RBF for my lunch. Ken found it this morning in the Breakwater Country Park. It has been hanging around in the large stand of trees at the back of the Car Park at the end of the road. It has been in the alders/ash trees by the picnic bench in the trees by the pool at the cliff face (not the boating lake). It also moves into the adjacent tall pines. I got some brief but good views down to 8 meters. Cute little bird, flashing it's white at me as it flitted from one perch to another.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Western Australia: Broome to Perth in a camper

This summer I spent a few weeks in Western Australia, starting in Broome in the NW and then driving a campervan slowly south to Perth.  We'd always fancied Australia but with Mil being a teacher it's not possible to go at the 'traditional' time of our northern winter.  However, we had heard that the tropical north-west was enjoying its more hospitable dry season in our summer and that coupled with the chance to explore a more 'off the beaten track' part of Aus away from the backpacking hordes in the east tempted us over.  We flew with Cathay Pacific from London Heathrow to Perth via a few hours in Hong Kong.  From Perth we took a domestic QANTAS flight up to Broome (about 2 hours); while waiting for this flight my first lifers of the trip flew overhead in the form of 2 Australian Ravens showing their distinctive elastic flight pattern.

We spent two successive nights in transit to get there so on arriving in Broome we were somewhat out of it to say the least.  However, after checking into our hotel (with handy views over the mangroves and beach) I avoided the sensible option of bed and a shower and headed straight out for a jetlagged wander while Mil wisely had a kip.  It was somewhat surreal to be bombarded by totally new birds straightaway, but a stroll around the local neighbourhood and park soon had me acclimatising to the local avian fare, which included Crested Pigeon, Peaceful Dove, Bar-shouldered Dove, Straw-necked Ibis, Rainbow Lorikeets (northern rubritorquis form), Little Friarbird, Torresian Crow, Magpie-lark and Masked Lapwing.  Some of these birds like Masked Lapwing and Little Friarbird are at the western edge of their distribution in Broome, being species of the Northern and Eastern coasts.

 Little Friarbird (above) and Masked Lapwing (below), both common in Broome but at the western limit of their range.

 Peaceful Dove; only seen north of the Tropic of Capricorn and very approachable

 Pied Butcherbird (above) and Magpie-lark (below) were constant companions throughout the trip. Amazing to think that the Magpie-lark is actually considered a giant monarch flycatcher.

 Bar-shouldered Doves; another northern species

 Straw-necked Ibis

A scope from the hotel balcony across the mangroves and beach yielded the first Brown Boobies, millions of Black Kites, Black-winged Stilt, Whimbrel, Gull-billed Tern, Silver Gull and Sacred Kingfisher.
Eventually I coerced Mil into a walk to the Town Beach where I was rewarded with the first Eastern Reef Egrets (dark), Nankeen Kestrel, Whistling Kite, Singing Honeyeater, White-gaped Honeyeater and Black-faced Cuckoo-shrikes.  A strange grunting and growling call from some suburban scrub led to a close encounter with a Great Bowerbird, another species at the western limit of its range in Broome.  As Mil was literally falling asleep on her feet and I had sated my craving to check out the local habbo we took the sensible option and headed back for some much-needed recuperation, encountering an Australian White Ibis on the hotel lawn.

  Black Kites were very common around Broome but became scarcer as we got further south

 Great Bowerbird; another species at its western limit in Broome

  Whistling Kites were regularly encountered throughout our trip

  Aussie White Ibis

  Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike doing its alternate wing-raising display

The next day, a killer sore throat didn’t prevent me from enjoying a few more new species for the trip.  From the hotel balcony I connected with Pied Cormorant, Caspian Tern, Crested Tern and Lesser Crested Tern.  A walk alongside the mangroves produced Brahminy Kite, a fly-by flock of Budgerigars, some glorious Red-winged Parrots and the first of many Pied Butcherbirds.
This being our final day before collecting the camper van we spent it relaxing and enjoying the Town Beach.  A flotilla of Australian Pelicans sailed past on the sea, with one stopping on the beach, and I encountered a few more new species for the trip including Striated Heron, Little Egret, Eastern Great Egret, Eastern Osprey, immature White-bellied Sea-Eagle, Australian Pied Oystercatcher and Red-capped Plover. An Intermediate Egret roosted in the mangroves opposite the hotel and the first Tree Martins and White-breasted Woodswallows were seen.  After collecting the campervan next morning we headed over to Cable Beach to find a camp site, stock up on supplies and then enjoy the Indian Ocean sunset.  The camper was an automatic, rear-wheel drive Toyota Hiace with long wheelbase and kitted out with sink, microwave, two-hob gas cooker and fridge for the tinnies, with ample room for sleeping in the back too.  That night my jetlag rewarded me with the sound of a pair of duetting Barking Owls from somewhere deep within the campsite. 

  Aussie Pelican chilling on the beach

 Striated Heron (above) and Red-capped Plover (below) both showed well on Broome town beach

 Gulling Broome-style!

 very obliging Eastern Great Egret on Cable Beach

 Eastern Osprey, Cable Beach

 Indian Ocean sunset from Cable Beach

With the freedom of our own wheels we set off next morning to explore the wider area and headed to Gantheaume Point.  A wander round this area turned up Diamond Dove, Collared Sparrowhawk, Brown Falcon, Sooty Oystercatcher (northern opthalmicus type), Eastern Curlew, Common Sand, a nice tern roost including non-breeding plumaged Roseates, Lesser Crested and Crested, Little Corella, Rainbow Bee-eater, Variegated Fairy-wren, Grey-headed Honeyeater, Willie Wagtail, Tawny Grassbird, Fairy Martin, Mistletoebird and Zebra Finch.

Sooty Oystercatchers (note the heavy yellow spectacles characteristic of the northern form)


Brown Boobies added to the tropical feel
While leaving the campsite the following morning my attention was diverted by the sound and sight of a male Olive-backed Oriole in the trees by the entrance, which was a bit jammy as this is another species at its western limit in the area.  With about 400km for us to get under our belt on the way to Port Hedland this was very much a ‘road day’. Nonetheless, I still notched up a few more goodies with the likes of Little Eagle, Australian Pratincole, Grey Shrike-thrush and Yellow-throated Miners on the way to our first ‘free camp’ at de Grey River.  This was a beautiful spot to spend an evening and produced White-plumed Honeyeater, White-winged Triller, White-breasted, Masked and Black-faced Woodswallows, Brown Falcon and Fairy Martin before the sun set over the outback.  

 White-breasted (above) and Black-faced Woodswallows (below) settling to roost

 White-winged Triller

 Great to see Zebra Finches out of a cage!

 Brown Falcon and friends

I woke up with the rising sun in my eyes and ventured outside in search of a strange song which converted into a Red-browed Pardalote while a Blue-winged Kookaburra patrolled the nearby bushes as we had breakfast before continuing the drive to Port Hedland.  Here I treated Mil to a stop at the local sewage works, which was awash with wetland species.  Wildfowl included Plumed Whistling-duck, three Pink-eared Duck (the only ones of the trip), Grey Teal, Pacific Black Duck and Hardhead.  Australian Grebes bobbed on the open water while single Royal and Yellow-billed Spoonbills roosted. Waders were complimented nicely by Red-necked Avocets and Black-fronted and Red-kneed Dotterels.  Galahs (western pink-crested roseicapillus form) were plentiful and the beach produced Greater Sand-plover, Bar-wits (presumed baueri due to NW Aus location), Grey-tailed Tattler (the only one seen) and Red-necked Stints, which were great to get close views of.

 It wasn't the best time of year for waders but nevertheless I caught up with this Grey-tailed Tattler and plenty of Red-necked Stints (below) at Port Hedland
Rather than continue to follow the coast and drive through several rather nondescript mining towns we decided to head inland into the Outback for a stint with the added draw of the Karijini National Park.  On the way out of Port Hedland I couldn’t resist another stop at the sewage ponds and was rewarded with my first Little Pied Cormorant plus a juvenile Swamp Harrier on a kill.  The drive south into the arid Pilbara region yielded few new birds but an adult Wedge-tailed Eagle on a cow carcass right by the roadside was a superb sight and a Spotted Harrier flew in front of us.  On arrival at Karijini I had an evening wander around our camp site, which was really remote and had what I imagined to be an African savannah feel to it.  As the sun set I enjoyed good views of a noisy family of Grey-crowned Babblers, as well as numerous Crested Pigeons.

After seeing the moon rise into a star-filled sky while enjoying a few VB’s the previous night I was up early to walk another route round the camp site.  Passerines were much more in evidence with Rufous Whistler, Hooded Robin and Spinifexbird all logged.  After being out on the road for a week by now we headed to the small mining town of Tom Price and found a well-equipped camp site to recharge the fridge battery and sort our laundry out.  Wandering around the tracks nearby I encountered colourful Australian Ringnecks (Port Lincoln Parrots) while in the surrounding scrub a Weebill showed along with Western Gerygone, Brown Honeyeater and Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater (the latter reminding me strangely of Wrynecks).  I also flushed the first Red Kangaroos of the trip; nice to some alive for once and not a roadside corpse!  In the evening a Black-shouldered (Australian) Kite graced the fields next to the camp site.

Spinifexbird sneaking around the camp site at Karijini

Galahs were a regular sight as were Crested Pigeons (below)
 Weebill living up to its name
Before we left the following morning I followed up some gen about a site called Kings Lake, which was just around the corner from the camp site.  This little oasis was well worth a visit and produced my first Australian Wood Ducks, Australasian Darter, Little Black Cormorant, White-necked (Pacific) Heron (only one of the trip), White-faced Heron, Australian Magpie, Australian Reed Warbler and a tiny unidentified crake sp. which fluttered across the open water in front of me too quickly to be nailed.  En route back to the coast at Exmouth we stopped at a roadside rest area where Spinifex Pigeon and a glorious male White-winged Fairy-wren showed in the heat.  A band of roving Cockatiels flew across the road as did Blue-winged Kookaburra and the first Little Crows began to appear.

 Australasian Darter

 Kings Lake, Tom Price

 Little Corella; bit on the dusty side

Exmouth is a gateway to the Cape Range National Park at the northern end of the little-known but beautiful Ningaloo Reef.  New birds were fewer on the first day there but included Welcome Swallow, Australian Pipit (recently split from Richard’s) and our first Emus at last; a family of these crossed the road slowly in front of us and proceeded to eat some bushes right next to the road.  This turned into a great wildlife day, as we watched Humpback Whales from the beach in the evening and had our first decent views of Red Kangaroo on the way back.  

First Emus!

Welcome Swallows

Poor pic but you get some idea of the vivid colour! White-winged Fairy-wren - pretty common in the right habbo

 Bottlenose Dolphin and Humpback, Cape Range NP
Aussie Pipit

The next day was mainly spent enjoying a boat trip over the coral reef and chilling on the beach, but a visit to the Mangrove Bay bird hide gave good views of the endemic Mangrove Grey Fantail and Wedge-tailed Shearwaters fed offshore.  However, the highlight of the day was an Emu which strolled casually down to the shoreline just metres away from us as we enjoyed our picnic on the beach (the only people there) and proceeded to have a bath in the sea - a very memorable experience!

Mangrove Grey Fantail, one of the local endemics

 Emu takes a dip

The following morning, much to Mil’s sheer delight, I treated us to a visit of the local sewage farm.  A Star Finch was feeding with a small flock of Zebra Finches, while a Rufous Songlark sang from the adjacent golf course.  Best of all though, while photographing some perched (seemingly a rare event!) Budgies a male Crimson Chat popped up into view and was later seen feeding with two others along the track.  An immature White-bellied Sea-eagle also showed well perched on a giant owl bird ‘scarer’.  On the way back down the track a Red-backed Kingfisher was on the overhead wires.   An afternoon out in the Cape Range NP gave more good birds including Horsfield’s Bronze-Cuckoo, Brown Songlark and Rufous Fieldwren.  I was also relieved to finally catch up with Western Bowerbird before we left its range, another endemic of this area, with several squawking awfully and chasing each other about over the coastal heath.  Time was running out for me to catch up with the remaining Western mangrove endemics but my efforts were rewarded with Dusky Gerygone and Yellow White-eye both eventually giving themselves up.

This immature White-bellied Sea-eagle showed what it thought of the owl bird scarer

Cool to see wild Budgies!

Crimson Chat and Budgies

White-plumed Honeyeaters were very common

 Tree Martin

Rufous Songlark

 Red-backed Kingfisher

Rufous Fieldwren

Western Bowerbird; a great western endemic to catch up with

 Red Kangaroos were really easy to see in Cape Range NP

Wouldn't fancy this crawling on my back - I think it's a Huntsman (but didn't stick around to ask)

Continuing ever south we called in at the tiny hamlet of Coral Bay for a couple of nights, where I added Black-tailed Native-hen and Banded Lapwing to the trip tally.  Further south still we stopped at Carnarvon, famous for its mile-long wooden jetty and giant NASA satellite dish.  On the way there a Grey Butcherbird flew across the road.  A walk along the jetty produced Pallid Cuckoo while the mudflats held several waders including Greater and Lesser Sand-plover, Terek Sandpiper and both Great Knot and Red Knot for comparison.  My first Pacific Gull was loafing on a sandbank, these being a more southerly- distributed species, and Laughing Doves were in the camp site (this species was introduced many years ago and is now established in WA).

Black-tailed Native-hen kicking up some dust at Coral Bay

Banded Lapwing

We were regularly woken up by Yellow-throated Miners at dawn

 Pallid Cuckoo, Carnarvon

On the way to Denham (our base for visiting Monkey Mia) we stopped at Hamelin Pool, famous for its ‘living fossils’ known as stromatolites.  Now that we were starting to get closer to the Tropic of Capricorn the habitats and consequently birds were starting to change from what we were used to in the north.  Pied Honeyeaters (blossom nomads that follow the incredible bloom of spring flowers) were busy displaying with their weird morse code song, while stunning Red-capped Robins were much in evidence.  Little Woodswallows fed over the road and Chiming Wedgebills gave themselves away with their catchy, techno-like tunes.  It took me a while to pin down one of these sought-after Western endemics but while watching the first Wedgebill another new bird, White-browed Babbler, popped into view to see what was going on – always a treat to have two lifers for the price of one!

Chiming Wedgebill with attendant White-plumed Honeyeaters

 The gulling really picked up after Carnarvon with two species to go at; here a Pacific Gull dwarfs a Silver Gull - check out that conk!
Pied Honeyeaters were following the blooming spring flowers

A day at Monkey Mia to see the famous Bottlenose Dolphins and take a boat trip into the Shark Bay UNESCO World Heritage site meant an early start and a very good chance of catching up with the endemic Thick-billed Grasswren, which were actually quite easy to see as they chased each other around the low scrub in the car park.  A walk around a nearby trail as we waited for our afternoon catamaran trip yielded Australian Shelduck, Fairy Tern (in a mixed flock of Caspian, Crested and Lesser Crested) and fearless White-browed Scrubwrens.  The boat trip also gave good views of my first Australian Gannets.

Bottlenose Dolphins at Monkey Mia

Caspian Terns were regularly seen along the coast

Aussie Shelduck with young (felt strange that it was Spring in Aus but turning Autumn back here)

 Thick-billed Grasswren (textilis) at Monkey Mia car park, a great little endemic to catch up with

Dugongs were just returning to Shark Bay for the Spring

Aussie Gannets

 Pied Cormorant

Our last day in Denham was spent walking along the beach from the camp site to Little Lagoon.  On the way I caught up with several White-fronted Honeyeaters (another blossom nomad) as well as the first of many Silvereyes and a couple of smart White-backed Swallows.

We crossed the Tropic of Capricorn and prepared to put the shorts and sandals away as we headed towards the cooler south. A stop at the Murchison River rest area en route to Kalbarri National Park was worthwhile for Black Swan, Nankeen Night-herons (surprisingly the only ones I saw) and a mixed roost of Cormorants including Little Pied and Little Black.  Australian Ringnecks were busy prospecting nest sites in tree holes, a Mistletoebird sang nearby and a party of Black-tailed Native-hens rummaged about on the other side of the river.  After we’d parked up at the camp site in Kalbarri I had an evening stroll by the Murchison estuary and was treated to good views of a Buff-banded Rail as it fed in the fading light.
Great Knot has always been a mythical species for me so it was great to catch up with some on the trip

No trip to WA would be complete without Black Swans - the state bird

Nankeen Night Heron

Aussie Ringneck (Port Lincoln Parrot) were busy prospecting for nest sites

Little Pied and Little Black Cormorants on the Murchison River

 Red-capped Robin - poor pic but shows how striking his red cap is!

After exploring the Batavia coastline the following day, and seeing a surprisingly close-in Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross, we stopped on the way back in the evening at a spot of scrub that looked good for one of the main target birds of the trip.  A Grey Fantail showed well but it wasn’t long before a call from deeper within the open woodland had me casting aside worries about venomous snakes and venturing in.  The risk was well worth it as an amazing male Splendid Fairy-wren (splendens) posed on the exposed branches and literally took my breath away – I had wanted this species since seeing a picture of one as a kid and I was not disappointed!  A whole family of Splendids showed well and allowed for good comparison of their calls with nearby groups of White-winged and Variegated Fairy-wrens.

A return visit the next morning was much quieter but did allow me to connect with Yellow-rumped Thornbill at least.  Continuing ever Southwards we stopped at Pink Lake, with its surreal but natural hue.  A small lagoon next to the lake held plenty of water birds including the first Australian Shovelers and a Wood Sandpiper.  The undoubted highlight here though were the Banded Stilts (a much wanted but tricky to pin down Aus endemic that I had been really hoping to see), which fed side-by-side with Black-winged Stilts and Red-necked Avocets.  A Grey Currawong was seen on the way to Indian Ocean Drive and our overnight destination of Leeman.

Humpbacks were pretty easy to see along the NW coast as they headed south after breeding in the tropics, many with calves in tow

 Immature male Splendid Fairy-wren (above) and the Big Daddy himself (below).  Was too busy just enjoying the sheer gaudiness of it to get any decent shots, but this at least gives some idea as to how astonishingly vivid it was and why it left me literally speechless

Banded Stilts with Red-necked Avocets

 Boo! Bobtail Skink out on the road
We were woken in the morning by the strange but evocative refrains of a Pied Butcherbird and Red Wattlebirds chased each other noisily around the camp site.  A drive out to the Nambung National Park for the excellent Pinnacles Desert produced White-cheeked Honeyeaters before we continued on to Lancelin for our last night with the camper van.

The camper wasn’t due back in Rockingham until later the following afternoon so we had plenty of time to cruise south.  An inquisitive visit to the brilliantly-named coastal town of Seabird produced New Holland Honeyeater and a singing Inland Thornbill.  The undoubted highlight of the morning though was a flock of Carnaby’s Black-cockatoos that fed in a roadside patch of scrub – I had been starting to wonder if I would ever catch up with these threatened Western endemics but actually ended up seeing quite a few; including one on a lamp-post as we dropped the van off in Rockingham!  Further on, Yanchep National Park in the northern outskirts of Perth had the feel of the grounds of a British stately home but the Australian Wood-ducks, Pacific Black Ducks, Red-necked Avocets, Carnaby’s Black-cockatoos and Australian Ringnecks constantly reminded me I was a long way from home.  An Australian Hobby perched in a dead tree over the car park was the only one of the trip.

 Singing Honeyeaters (above) and Willie Wagtails (below) were two of the commonest birds seen throughout the trip

Carnaby's Black-cockatoo; it took a while but I finally managed to see quite a few of these threatened SW endemics

New Holland Honeyeater at Seabird

Red-necked Avocets and Black-winged Stilts roosting at Yanchep NP

 Pacific Black Duck; one of the commonest ducks of the trip after Grey Teal

Spending most of my formative birding time as a youngster at Martin Mere WWT I must confess to being a bit of a duck-nut (I know, sorry!) and a stop at Lake Monger in the Perth suburbs was therefore a must to catch up with a few species that I still hadn’t connected with.  Blue-billed Ducks were very easy with a large flotilla present on the open water.  However, it took a while before I finally nailed my main target – Musk Duck!  At least two were present, almost resembling Otters to me as they glided low in the water.  A Dusky Moorhen and several Hoary-headed Grebes were also present while Rainbow Lorikeets (of the introduced Eastern type) chattered in the trees overhead.

A few days sightseeing around Fremantle beckoned next and I wasn’t expecting much in the town itself so was pleasantly surprised to encounter a small feeding party of Red-tailed Black-cockatoos in the town centre.  For the next day (our last full day in Australia) we had booked the ferry to Rottnest Island, about half an hour west of Perth/Fremantle where we hired some bikes for the day.  The bikes were a great way to get around the island (despite the keen headwind!) and encounter the many Quokkas (small rat-like marsupials after which Rottnest is named) as well as various birds including more Banded Stilts. Unfortunately I failed in my quest for the mythical Rock Parrot but was at least rewarded with great views of Spotless Crake and White-fronted Chat at Bickley Swamp, while back at the pier a Fan-tailed Cuckoo sang its chanting call from the nearby trees.

Red-tailed Black-cockatoos seemed quite at home in Fremantle town centre
immature Aussie Magpie

immature Silver Gull, Freo harbour

sub-ad Aussie Gannet - one to watch for on a seawatch!

Banded Stilt catching a wave on Rottnest Island

Crazy Quokka on Rottnest

King Skink

Sacred Kingfisher at Bickley Swamp

 Aussie Pied Oyc

We weren’t flying out until late the next night so we decided to catch the train into Perth and visit Kings Park, which we’d heard was a major highlight of a trip to Perth.  We weren’t disappointed; the Park offers great views of Perth’s cityscape and the mighty Swan River and is something of an oasis in the sprawling suburbs.  On the walk through the surprisingly-extensive bush habitat in the park outskirts we finally caught up with Laughing Kookaburra (introduced to the SW a long time ago and firmly established). Spotted Dove (another introduced species) was seen along with some decent Western endemics including Western Thornbill and Western Yellow Robin, the latter found by Mil much to my relief as I thought I’d blown it for this species.  A Striated Pardalote was a little gem as it foraged high in a tree before being moved on by some territorial Australian Ringnecks.

Spotted Dove

Striated Pardalote in Kings Park, Perth

Laughing Kookaburra and Spoonbill sp.

Red Wattlebird; common in the SW

Spring in Oz!

On the way home we stopped for a couple of days in Hong Kong.  The searing heat and humidity and coupled with smog-stung eyes made birding a challenge, but of course I managed to sweat it out at a few sites as we fulfilled our tourist obligations.  Kowloon Park had Spotted Dove (proper kosher ones), Oriental Magpie-Robin, Red-whiskered and Light-vented (Chinese) Bulbuls, Black-collared Starling, Japanese Silvereye and plenty of Black-crowned Night Herons.  It was also interesting to see the commixtus Great Tits, which looked very grey and drab compared to our gaudy specimens.  Little Egrets and plenty of Black Kites were logged over the harbours and Tree Sparrows were extremely common, even in the heart of the city.

A visit to Stanley in the south of Hong Kong Island produced two Barn Swallows of the white-underparted gutturalis type, Crested Myna, White-shouldered Starling, Large-billed Crow and, best of all, Common Tailorbird.

Birding in Kowloon Park produced (from bottom) Spotted Dove, Oriental Magpie-Robin and Light-vented (Chinese) Bulbuls amongst others

 Light-vented (Chinese) Bulbul

 Black-crowned Night Herons were common in Kowloon Park and enjoying the Golden Koi

 Crested Mynas in Stanley

Oriental Magpie-Robin

 A taste of what you could expect in the Stanley area of HK