A very different Christmas as I showed Noah Strycker around for 2.5
days. For those who don't know, Noah has been doing a big year and
has been birding every day since January 1st. See his blog at
http://audubon.org/noah His goal was for 5,000 species for the year,
but he was on 5,949 and heading towards 6,000!! I had met Noah
earlier in the year as he was part of the Rockjumper Bird Tours
extension to Shiripuno Lodge in the Amazonian rainforest in SE
Ecuador (where it rained, and rained, and rained and the river rose 9
feet and trees were falling over!!!).
I had hoped that I could show him 60 or more species. But he did
exceptionally well in Queensland (Cairns, Brisbane), Melbourne and
Tasmania. And he changed from the original 3.5 days to 2.5 days. So
the final list of possibles were 53, but many of these would need
exceptional luck. I made a guess on the percentages and came out with
31.6 (call it 32). His flight from NZ was 40 minutes early, which
then raised Western (still Rufous in Clements terminology) Fieldwren
to almost a certainty so 33 would be par.
So on Christmas Eve I picked him up at the Perth International
Airport and we were away at 13:30. We had 400+ kms to go to Payne's
Find on the Great Northern Highway. It was windy, and we saw very
little. At New Norcia the Western Corellas were in force posing for
photographs, and shortly after an Australian Ringneck (Port Lincoln
Parrot in Clements terminology) flew across the road, and then we
drove past some Black-faced Woodswallows (how did he miss that in the
east?). With the extra time available I went up the southern entrance
towards Charles Darwin Reserve to bird in the Unallocated Crown Land
south of CDR. Western (Rufous) Fieldwren was quite easy as expected
and Redthroat responded to give good views. But no Black-eared
Cuckoo, Black-breasted Buzzard, Malleefowl, Southern Scrubrobin,
Southern Whiteface, White-fronted Honeyeater, Tawny-crowned
Honeyeater that could have been possible. The wind! We continued to
Payne's Find arriving at 20:30. No Spotted Nightjar in the dark.
Christmas Day. The first I have spent birding. We were off at 05:00.
Windy! We stopped at the grid at the 7km mark on the Sandstone Road.
Nothing calling!!! But we did track down the White-browed
Treecreeper and a bonus of a group of Slaty-backed Thornbills. No
Southern Whiteface!!! No Black-eared Cuckoo. We continued to the
Warne River crossing 50km east of Payne's Find. Again silence along
the river. No water there at all. It looked like it hasn't rained
here for a long time. Chiming Wedgebill eventually called and we had
very poor views. No White-fronted Honeyeater (or any of the nomadic
honeyeaters). Little Crow was a bonus. I have seen them there in the
past, but I missed them in May when I was last there, so I thought we
might miss this. And Splendid Fairywren was there. Things were going
very poorly. Then some birds flew and bingo! Fantastic views of
Bourke's Parrots and Mulga Parrots and Noah spotted a female Crimson
Chat walking on the ground. No Southern Whiteface, Black-eared Cuckoo
or Red-backed Kingfisher.
We headed back towards Payne's Find. A single eucalypt was flowering
so I did a quick U turn. Nothing in the tree. But then the magic call
of White-fronted Honeyeater. I thought that had got away. Several
more stops along the way but still no Black-eared Cuckoo or Southern
Whiteface. Got some more Slaty-backed Thornbills! SBTs but no SWs?
Crazy. We then visited the old mine next to Payne's Find to look for
White-backed Swallow. Stewart Ford said his team had them there on
the Twitchathon in mid November. Little Woodswallows (but he had seen
one outside Brisbane) were nice to see in the pit, and there were
some Fairy Martins flying around (but he had seen those). But no
White-backed Swallows. But we did get one Southern Whiteface in a
mixed flock of thornbills.
We then headed south on Maranalgo Road to my Grey Honeyeater
site.Terry Witt (from the US) had been there there in the past
fortnight and had seen Grey Honeyeater and Major MItchell's Cockatoos
along the road. I have seen Ground Cuckooshrike, Budgerigar,
Red-backed Kingfisher, Orange Chat, Black Honeyeater, Pied
Honeyeater, etc along this road in the past. But we struck out. Yes,
the wind! And the exceptionally dry conditions. So we added 13
species we wouldn't get out of Perth. I had expected 15+ and I was
hoping for 20+.
I considered heading back to Perth via Beacon and Wongan Hills, but
being Christmas Day I was worried about whether we could get fuel. My
turbo diesel Subaru Forester has exceptional range (900km+), but it
would be marginal to make it back to Perth especially with the wind
reducing the fuel efficiency. So we headed back to Wubin. No
Black-breasted Buzzard, Regent Parrot, Major Mitchell's Cockatoo,
Red-backed Kingfisher or Black-eared Cuckoo. No fuel in Wubin, but
relief with fuel in Dalwallinu. So we headed for Wongan Hills. The
birdswa email list had given me information about sites there for
White-backed Swallow and Southern Scrubrobin and I have seen
Purple-gaped Honeyeater at Ballidu in the past. Just north of Ballidu
Noah spotted some swallows. A quick U turn and yes there was a pair
of White-backed Swallows. I always think these are wonderful when I
see them. No Purple-gaped Honeyeaters in the mallee across the road
from Ballidu. And then we visited several sites around Wongan Hills.
Reynoldson Reserve had a flock of White-backed Swallows (20+!!). I
have never seen them in a flock before. But no matter where we looked
there was no Southern Scrubrobin. Fabulous habitat for them in many
places, with the poorest habitat at Mount Matilda which was a site
given to me where they would be near the car park. We finally
admitted defeat and headed for Perth via Goomalling and Toodyay
arriving after 20:30. So the total was 17 species, but this included
some we would see around Perth.
Boxing Day and we left before 05:00. First stop was the Anstey Keane
reserve off Armadale Road. A good site I was told for Tawny-crowned
Honeyeater, and Robyn Pickering gave me an excellent mud map. The
wind! No TCHEs. But a pair of Elegant Parrots flew overhead, and as I
was getting into the car I heard what sounded like Regent Parrot. We
walked back along the road, and yes there were two Regent Parrots in
the trees. I missed this on my recce the previous weekend, so a
bonus. I checked out the heath on Stirling Road but it had been
burnt, and the banksia woodland at the NE of Forrestdale Lake. No
Tawny-crowned Honeyeaters. But as we started off, Noah spotted some
cockatoos. We tracked them down at the end of Moore Street and a
group of Carnaby's Black Cockatoos were feeding busily in a couple of
Next was Admiral Road. No Western Wattlebird (but they would be easy
later) and no Baudin's Black Cockatoos which I had heard the previous
week. Did I mention the wind? A quick stop in Bungendore SF to lock
in Western Yellow Robin and Western Spinebill. The latter proved
difficult. It called but didn't give us any views. Varied Sittella
was good to see, but Noah had seen this in PNG (Clements doesn't
split Papuan Sittella). So we stopped next at the Gleneagle Rest Area
to see the spinebill. I had struck out there on the recce. But a
different story this time with Western Spinebill and Gilbert's
Honeyeater very easy. And Western Whistler, but Clements has yet to
split this. And then we heard Baudin's Black Cockatoos fly past.
Heard is good enough for the twitch. Next stop was Wearne Road off
the Albany Highway just north of North Bannister. I had never birded
here, but I know that several teams start here for the Twitchathon.
So Robyn Pickering gave me an excellent mud map for the area, and I
visited here on the recce the week before. An excellent site that I
will continue to visit. Western Thornbill was fairly easy on the
drive in. Scarlet Robin is a potential split so one for Noah's bank.
The birding was harder than the recce (and no not because of the
wind!) but we did get the target Rufous Treecreeper, Yellow-plumed
Honeyeater, Red-capped Parrot, Blue-breasted Fairywren and Western
Rosella. We also saw Gilbert's Honeyeater, Hooded Robin, Rufous
Songlark, Carnaby's Black Cockatoo. But we missed Crested (Western)
Shriketit and Painted Buttonquail. I had seen the CST on the recce.
Next we drove to Dwellingup to my Twitchathon site on River Road.
Very quiet for the first few minutes. Where were the Western
Wattlebirds that were abundant the week before? And the Red-winged
Fairywren and White-breasted Robin that had been waiting for me the
week before on the recce? And then it happened in quick succession.
Red-eared Firetail flew across the road. Western Wattlebird flew into
a tree just up the road. A party of Red-winged Fairywrens worked
their way along the side of the road for Noah to photograph. And two
White-breasted Robins stayed inside the vegetation but gave good
views and Noah got a photo. And then two Red-eared Firetails flew up
onto the power line for Noah to photograph.
11:30 and we had seen all the certainties. So where to now? Out of
the way but the decision was Collins Road off the Brookton Highway.
This was a site I regularly visit, but it had been quiet the two
times I visited this year, except for Crested Shriketit which I got
both times, and Painted Buttonquail had been common back in April. We
headed down the escarpment to Pinjarra and headed north on the South
West Highway to Armadale. I hoped to jag a Square-tailed Kite along
the way but no such luck. Then out along Brookton Highway. Again no
luck with STK. We got to Collins Road at 13:00. For the first 40
minutes we did well with Western Yellow Robin, Rufous Treecreeper,
Yellow-plumed Honeyeater, Rufous Songlark, Blue-breasted Fairywren
etc but none of these were new. We had just found some fresh
buttonquail platelets when a Crested Shriketit did something they
very seldom do. It gave a single call. This lack of calling is part
of what makes them so hard to locate. We moved to roughly where we
thought it had called, played the call and bingo!! There it was. And
a second bird called in the mid distance. And this was the middle of
a warm day (32C)! We returned to the area of platelets and it wasn't
long before Noah flushed a Painted Buttonquail.
14:00 and what to do now? We could stake out Victoria Dam and hope a
Square-tailed Kite flew over, and at dusk we could go to Lake
Joondalup and hope for a Black-backed Bittern to call. Both a long
way from being certainties. We could revisit Anstey Keane for a
second try at the Tawny-crowned Honeyeater. But this is a
Twitch!! So let's head east to look for Southern Scrubrobin,
Tawny-crowned Honeyeater, Purple-gaped Honeyeater and maybe even a
Malleefowl. In retrospect not the best decision, given the very dry
conditions and the stiff breeze. We made it to Corrigin where we
stopped in many places that looked excellent for Southern Scrubrobin,
and where I have seen that and Tawny-crowned Honeyeater in the past,
and one site that had potential for Purple-gaped Honeyeater, and one
site with some flowering poker grevilleas (White-cheeked Honeyeater
but no Tawny-crowned). But it was to not to be. Fuel could again be
an issue returning to Perth, but we managed to refuel at Corrigin. It
was after 17:00 and it would have been 18:30 by the time we made it
to Hyden so we turned around and tried several more excellent sites
for Southern Scrubrobin without success. We returned to Perth. Still
no success with Square-tailed Kite along Brookton Highway, but we did
see three Baudin's Black Cockatoos at Roleystone. It was last light
as we went along Armadale Road. I have done Western Ground Parrot
surveys and heard Tawny-crowned Honeyeaters calling until the very
last light, so we revisited the Anstey Keane Reserve. Excellent
conditions with no wind. But no Tawny-crowned Honeyeaters.
So the total was 35 species. Not bad and better than par, but I was
hoping for 40+. But wait. I checked my email at 22:00 last night just
before heading for bed and with many thanks to Ross Jones he reported
Tawny-crowned Honeyeater at Kensington Reserve. Noah had an 08:30
departure, so plenty of time to have a look on the way to the
airport. Bingo. There it was sitting on top of a flowering banksia.
So the final total was 36 bringing his year total to 5,985. With a 7
hour lay over in Singapore (where Con Foley will show him around),
and then 3 days in north east India near the Burma border, he should
comfortably make the 6,000.
If we had the extra day that he had planned, I would have stayed an
extra night at Payne's Find and spent a day birding north to Mt
Magnet and Cue, or maybe we could have visited Kirkalocka Station.
Hopefully we would have got Western Quailthrush, Orange Chat, Banded
Whiteface, Western Bowerbird, Red-backed Kingfisher and we would have
had chances for Budgerigar, Diamond Dove, Slender-billed Thornbill,
Spotted Nightjar, Black-breasted Buzzard, Black-eared Cuckoo, Grey
Honeyeater, Little Buttonquail. But he needed to average 13.7 a day
for 5,000 and 16.5 a day for 6,000 so he almost certainly made the
A different time of year would have helped. In May I had Black
Honeyeater, Black-eared Cuckoo, Major Mitchell's Cockatoo, Ground
Cuckooshrike, Black-breasted Buzzard and Budgerigar in the area. And
I would have contacted Charles Darwin Reserve for permission and we
might have seen Regent Parrot, Southern Scrubrobin, Major Mitchell's
Cockatoo, Black-eared Cuckoo, Budgerigar, Crimson Chat and Malleefowl
could also have been a chance.
The biggest difference would be to have had a good season. It has
been a very bad season and conditions were very dry. A good season
would almost certainly have added 3 to 6 species.
But on the plus side we had reasonable temperatures. The three days
before had been 39C in Perth, and today is forecast to be 36C. We had
high twenties and low thirties which were pleasant. Although lighter
winds would have made it easier. Boxing Day morning was cool early on
and we needed light sweaters.
It was fun and a very different way to spend Christmas. We travelled
over 2,000kms in the 2.5 days!! Good luck to Noah for his final few
days. I look forward to the book.
Frank O'Connor Birding WA
Phone : (08) 9386 5694 Email :
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