Birding Ozservations [not short]

Subject: Birding Ozservations [not short]
From: Laurence and Leanne Knight <>
Date: Mon, 08 Jan 2001 16:54:43 +1000
Here are some notes from three weeks I spent on the aerial version of
the wallaby ? I dropped in on Darwin for a couple of days on my way over
to sandgroper flats for Xmas and then back via Sydney on my way home. 
People who are thinking of spending some time round  12 24 S 130 55 E 
or 35 05 S 117 57 E  may find these notes useful.

Part 1: Darwin

I spent three days twitching round Darwin, looking to catch up with some
of the species that you don?t see round SEQ.  Basically, I wandered
round most of the sites listed in Niven McRie?s website

First port of call was Buffalo Ck ? which logically enough is at the end
of Buffalo Ck Rd [map 8 of the current Gregory?s Directory].  Buffalo Ck
offers the opportunity to look at shore birds, mangrove birds, and
monsoon rainforest birds.  It is a great place to watch the tide coming
in [always nice to watch water rushing "upstream" and to see the depth
of the water in side gullies rising at the rate of a cm per minute]. 
There were plenty of yellow white eyes and lemon bellied flycatchers
present [every bird I initially thought might be a female mangrove
whistler proved to be a LB flycatcher].  The mossies in the mangroves
were pretty fierce [and proficient at biting through my shirt].  There
were a fair few shore birds of various descriptions there, but they
weren?t too easy to identify in a rather strong northerly ripping down
the beach.

[I was quite lucky with the weather ? very little of the stinking hot
weather you?d otherwise expect in December ? there was a lovely cooling
breeze much of the time, which is just the thing in a humid climate].

I decided to have a look at Lee Point on my way back, and had a wander
along the beach towards Buffalo Ck.  This paid off, as I managed to find
a mixed group of crested and lesser crested terns [the latter being
lifers for me].

The next morning I had a quick look at the Nightcliff reefs [the tide
had been very high] where the main interest for me proved to be the
frilly lizards running round the esplanade, before driving down to
Howard Springs [Map 62] for the morning.

Howard Springs is always worth a visit, even if you don?t come across
the birds you might be after as it is a nice place - you can always go
for a swim with the barra if you want to cool off.  Basically a fair old
stream flows out of a spring and into a 100 x 30 metre pool [developed
during WWII].  It has plenty of birds and fish [including 1 metre barra]
and is one place where it is pretty easy to see rainbow pittas [they
aren?t exactly shy] and little kingfishers [had a nice view of a pair
from 5 metres].  There is also a pleasant circuit walk through the
monsoon forest.

After lunch, I drove on to the Fogg Dam [off the map, head east along
the Arnhem Hwy towards Kakadu for 20 clicks before hanging left at a
sign-posted intersection].  The place should really be renamed the Fogg
Wetlands, coz the dam was a big flop and there is very little open water
to be seen.

FD has been developed a bit for visitors over the last few years, with a
couple of walks established.  On the walk along the dam wall there are a
couple of covered vantage spots.  There were plenty of crimson finches
to be seen as well as a few green pygmy geese.  

I had a close encounter with a RB pitta when I took a deviation off the
swamp walk.  I was just stepping past a large tree when a pitta zipped
past my head [not often you get within 30 cm of a pitta].  It just so
happened that I was beside the pitta?s nest, which was a neat domed
structure in the fork of a tree at head height.  It had a side entrance
and contained 3 eggs.

The 3rd walk through the monsoon forest was quite pleasant, though there
were a few mossies about.  There was a fair bit of avian action going on
when I got back to the car park, with the main attraction for me being a
grey whistler.

For my last port of call for the day, I called in on the Botanical
Gardens to have a look at the rufous owl that apparently is a common
resident in the rainforest section near the tropical fruit garden. 
There was no sign of the owl, but I kept on hearing a strange call
coming from the vicinity of the creek running through the forest.  The
only bird I could find there though was a radjah shelduck 20 perched
metres up a tree.

I had a look at Knuckley Lagoon [Map 30] the following morning.  For
those following Niven?s notes, there are two nurseries on Lagoon Rd, and
the access to the main lagoon is along the unmarked Randall Rd [ie a
little over half way between Agostini Rd and Secrett Rd].  Other than
the quail I flushed as I stepped out of the car, there wasn?t any
interesting bird life present [KL is probably a much better site in
Nov].  There was, however an interesting light green 2cm frog in the
pandanus bush in the car park ? it blended in nicely, with a light brown
stripe down the centre of its back, a bronze side stripe on its hind
legs, a white streak below its eye, a brownish stripe through its eye
and a golden ring around its eye.

Next stop was the Holmes Jungle [Map 19].  This has a series of walking
tracks passing through woodland and rainforest habitats, and a bit of a
dank ck forming the backbone of the rainforest.  There were the
compulsory pittas and scrub fowl, and I flushed something that looked
like a bittern when crossing the most substantial bridge in the park. 
On a more positive front, I did find a rufous owl when traversing a
relatively short stretch of rainforest.  It was perched nicely about 20
metres up, at a comfortable viewing angle.  It was being hassled
somewhat by a pack of drongos, and after a period of mutual inspection,
it took off.

For something different to do in the middle of the day, I drove round to
Channel Island [off the map, in the middle arm of Darwin Harbour].  It?s
an industrial site with plenty of mangroves [and mangrove bitterns]. 
There wasn?t a lot to be seen [apart from the odd red headed
honeyeater].  However, on the drive back to Palmerston, I did come
across what appeared to be a partridge pigeon by the road [about 2/3 of
the way between the Channel Island bridge and the Elizabeth River].  I
didn?t get a good enough look at it to be certain as the beggar flew off
after I pulled up, but it appeared to have a red eye patch and had the
right size and body posture.  Niven however thought it would be unusual
to see a P pigeon so close to Darwin, so it would be interesting if
anyone else sights one in that area.

To finish off the day, I traversed the mangroves along the northern
fringe of East Point [Map 25] from Colivas Rd to the Rocks.  At low
tide, the mud on the seaward side is quite pedestrian friendly, and it
is possible to access the heart of the mangroves via a boardwalk about
halfway along.  I saw a pair of beach thickknees beside the path into
the boardwalk, and a couple of broad-billed flycatchers in addition to
the more common LB flycatchers.

On my final morning in Darwin, I met up with Niven and had a look at the
birds at the Darwin Sewage Treatment Plant [at the end of Fitzmaurice
Dr, off the edge of Map 8].  As is often the case, a key is needed to
enter the complex, and Niven was one of the locals in possession of a
key.  The STP is one place where you drive around in your car [mobile
birdhide].  There were quite a few yellow wagtails present, a few white
winged terns, the odd sand plover and common tern, and a supporting cast
of hundreds of wandering whistling ducks. 

Finally, with an hour left to poke around, I had a look at the Stuart
Park mangroves [under development pressure from foccacia fringe] east of
Tiger Brennan Dr between Woolner Rd and Gonzales Rd.  When the tide is
out, there are a few points where you could wander into the mangroves in
search of chestnut rails, otherwise you can use the short tracks into
the power line towers.  I didn?t see any rails, but did have some good
looks at a few mangrove robins.

Part 2: Frenchman Bay, Albany

I spent a week or so round Christmas at Frenchman Bay ? on the southern
side of King William Sound, across from Albany ? the largest town on the
south coast of WA.  Rather than doing a series of daytrips to the
Porongarups, Stirling Range, Bibbelmun Track etc, I decided to keep
myself occupied by doing a 5km radius atlas survey from my
accommodation, with the goal of listing 50 species.  This took a bit
longer to achieve than a similar list in SEQ would normally require.

One of the early highlights of the survey was a flock of carnaby?s
cockatoos getting stuck into the pine cones in the trees outside of the
front door of my accommodation.  As the length of the upper mandible is
one of very small number of ways of distinguishing between carnaby?s and
baudin?s cockatoos, it is always handy to watch the big fellas eating.

By far and away, the most numerous species in my zone were new holland
honeyeaters and silver eyes.  I also saw quite a few Aus kestrels ?
almost as many as the Aus ravens and grey currawongs.  Silver gulls were
the most common shorebird, followed by sooty oystercatchers and common
sandpipers.  Interestingly, there were also plenty of limestone reefs
along the shorelines, but no egrets patrolling them.

There were quite a few pacific gulls flying around the sound, while over
the southern ocean, crested terns and aus gannets dominated the patrols
[it was interesting to compare the aerial skills of the two, with the
gannets appearing to glide like pelicans when viewed at a great

Poking about the heaths proved splendid fairy wrens, red winged fairy
wrens and southern emu wrens to be fairly common, with the tawny crowned
honeyeaters, red wattlebirds and western spinebills having strongholds
on separate hills.

One of the highlights of the survey came while Leanne and I were
traversing the track which runs along the Flinders Peninsula from
Isthmus Hill to Bald Hill.  A pair of peregrines were going through
their acrobatic routines in the Albany doctor.  One of the more
interesting manoeuvres involved a slow shallow stoop in which the
peregrine looked very much like a jet fighter with its wings swept back.

Another highlight was a square-tailed kite which was cruising round
Quarantine Hill, and later observed in several other locations round

Parrotwise, the zone included red capped parrots, western rosellas and
rock parrots.  [I had some fun with my initial diagnosis of the first of
the rock parrot I came across ? it was 200 metres from the beach and
lacked any frontal band.  Pizzey & Knight was no help in definitively
determining that it wasn?t an elegant parrot, and it wasn?t till the
next day when I came across a group of four feeding on their preferred
flowers on Cable Beach that I could put them on the list.]

I came across another example of the dopiness of bird guide groupings
when I found that Pizzey and Knight had separated the pipits and
songlarks by 20 odd pages.

Getting to 50 species proved to be quite of a challenge, and at the end
of the week I was stuck at 49.  I was in the car about to drive away
from my last site at the northern end of Goode Beach opposite Mistaken
Island when a white-bellied sea eagle floated across the heath tops and
rounded things off.

As I drove up to Perth the next day, a large fire at Two People?s Bay
was causing the noisy scrub birds to review their fire evacuation plans,
and I had to deviate round another fire threatening Mt Barker.

On my last day in Perth before flying over to Sydney, I followed Frank
O?Connor?s directions to the baillon?s crake site at Studmaster Park off
James Spiers Drive at Lake Joondalup.  Sure enough, one of the crakes
was fossicking around the margins of the lake crossed by a footbridge. 
It was a bold little fellow and didn?t mind being examined at close

Part 3: Siddeny 

On my last port of call, I spent a couple of days with a friend who
lives in Turramurra ? handily located to Ku-ring-gai Chase NP [where you
are always a chance to see a superb lyrebird hightailing it through the
cliff breaks].

Turramurra provided an opportunity to look at how two species of birds
have adapted to suburbia.  

The first species is the eastern whipbird.  My friend lives at least 500
metres from the nearest bush reserve, but he had a pair of whipbirds
happily bouncing around in his hedges. 

The second species is the common mynah.  While this is an invasive
feral, its human-like characteristics make it interesting to observe. 
In this case, my friend?s sister had a pair of well-fed cats.  One spot
where their food was left out for them was in a semi-enclosed atrium.  A
pair of mynahs was accustomed to feeding from this bountiful supply of
tucker and their approach to the food was textbook burglary. 

The mynahs would systematically case the joint, with one flying to a
hanging pot plant overlooking the food, while the other strode back and
forth along a nearby wall.  Once the absence of cats and humans was
apparent, the mynahs would then approach the food, bolting the canned
cat food [when not displaced by a currawong] in preference to the dry
cat food.

The moral of this tale of burglary [mynahs have that criminal look] is
that the spread of mynahs has probably been helped along by people who
leave pet food out in the open ?

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