birding down under 6-7

Subject: birding down under 6-7
From: "Wim Vader" <>
Date: Mon, 06 Aug 2001 11:29:52 +0200

                                BIRDING DOWN UNDER 6. THE SALTWORKS IN ADELAIDE

Adelaide does, as far as I know, not boast a sewage farm of ornithological
fame, but it has its Penrith saltworks, also only accessible via permission
and a special key, and also a well-known good birding area. Birding-ausser
Ian May showed off the saltworks to John Bradbury and me and although this
Friday started off with pouring rain, this cleared rapidly and later we had
the same sunny winter weather and beautiful light conditions that graced
all my days in Adelaide.

So once more we drove along narrow tracks between lagoons, flushing
wagtails everywhere---this bird is extremely common in this type of
country---, with smaller numbers of White-fronted Chats and Singing
Honeyeaters. Somewhat fewer ducks perhaps than at Werribee, but many Black
Swans, Pelicans, Shelducks and Hoary-headed Grebes (We had seen very large
flocks of these small grebes on the Coorong lagoons at Pelican Point a few
days earlier), more cormorants and White-faced herons than at the sewage
farm, and also I think more and more diverse rails: Dusky Moorhen, Purple
Swamphen, Eurasian Coot, even Black-tailed Native Hens and a wonderfully
demonstrative Spotted Crake.

And once more we had the good fortune to admire both species of Stilt plus
over 200 Avocets from close by and compare their feeding techniques; a
sweep with a net in the area of most intense foraging yielded mostly
bloodworms biut also some Artemia. And once more the light was just right
and I cursed my 'photo block' that has resulted in the absence of a camera
this entire trip .
Newcomers for me this trip were the Whiskered Terns that hawked over just
one lagoon and the Sacred Kingfisher that we surprised in a she-oak.

But the most lasting impressions were of two quite common bird species! Two
Australian hobbies (a pair?) posed on two identical tree stumps next to
each other (giving the disconcerting feeling of a double image and
soul-searching: what did I drink?) and let us study all their field
character traits at leisure, not all that common with this species that one
most often sees in flight. And the zenith were probably the brilliant
White-winged Fairy Wrens, that live in the saltbush---especially in flight
they look like some big exotic tropical insect, in all their sky blue and
white brilliance!

Ian knows the surroundings of Adelaide so well, that we afterwards 'got the
choice' of several bird species. I chose the Banded Lapwings, as their
elegance always appeals to me. And Ian brought us to a plowed field near
Malalla, where some 5-10 of these stylish plovers clearly appeared to
settle in territories. Such experiences one can only get through local
assistance. Tusen takk, Ian May!!


During my days in Adelaide I stayed in a delightful B&B in the suburbs,
with a large leafy garden, where amidst a profusion of Spotted Doves,
starlings, sparrows and Noisy Miners pairs of Adelaide Rosellas keep
territory, noisy Rainbow Lorikeets barrel through, and Red Wattlebirds
(quarrelbirds, I thought of them as) and New Holland and White-plumed
Honeyeaters bicker incessantly. A lone Kookaburra caused all the smaller
birds to gather excitedly, internal quarrels momentarily forgotten, until
the large bird departed after a final burst of defiant laughter, surely one
ofthe most special bird calls in the world. Of course, Australia has its
fair share of weird bird calls, and the shrill 'elctric-shortcut'  duets of
the Magpie-Larks, also very much a street bird here, also score high on
this list.

Through Birding.Aus I had heard about the Birds.Australia Gluepot mallee
reserve, and when I mentioned this to my hosts Robin and John, they
immediately and most generously decided to take me there; only later I
found out how far from Adelaide it really is and that a day-trip just
barely can scratch the surface. Still, off we went on Saturday 28 July,
once more one of those calm, mostly sunny days, that do definitely not feel
like midwinter for somebody from 70*N, together with friends Tony and
Keith, recruited at ultra-short warning (like 10 minutes). They live in the
Adelaide hills, so we drove the scenic route to Swan Reach, where a ferry
crosses the Murray River, The river here is broad and sluggish, with high
sandstone cliffs on one bank and many waterbirds. Pelicans sail overhead
like heavy old-fashioned bombers or float light as cork on the river,
cormorants of at least three species festoon the gum trees along the shore,
and 'a swimming snake-neck' surfaced to become the always prehistoric
looking Darter. Great and Little Egrets supplied patches of white along the
bank, and Sulphur-crested Cockatoos in the riverine trees, while Black and
Whistling Kites patrolled overhead. Also here the miners were still Noisy

We recrossed the Murray at Waikerie, retrieved the key to the gates from
the petrol station and embarked upon the final 60 km to Gluepot, along a
surprisingly respectable sandy track. Mallee everywhere now, spreading
many-stemmed gum trees with scattered undergrowth, stock here and there,
feral goats and seemingly very little birds or wildlife: three kangaroos
crossed our track, that was all.

On arrival at Gluepot ca 1 30 pm we read all the information provided
(things are well organized here) and decided with some initial misgivings
(everything seemed silent and a trifle desolate) to walk the track to a
nearby tank; a Striated Pardalote provided the only sound effects at the
start. But things would change quickly and gloriously some hundreds of
yards along the track. Attracted by a few calls from the crown of a
flowering gum, we stopped at a place which turned out to be teeming with
birdlife, so much so that misunderstandings frequently arose as different
memebers of our party were looking at different birds in the same bush! The
honeyeaters were duly tracked down first, as White-eared and White-fronted
Honeyeaters,and a female whistler somewhat disappointingly as a Rufous
Whistler. But the same bushes also held Brown Treecreepers, droll , quite
tame birds that also were not at all averse from foraging on the ground, a
surprise for me. Likewise in family parties were the always entertaining
White-browed Babblers; these always remind me of a gang of street-urchins,
all the time ready for adventure and mischief , and poking their long noses
in every nook and cranny.

The prize for most beautiful bird of the day once more goes to a fairy
wren, this time the third extended-family-roving species of this clearing,
the very aptly named Splendid Fairy Wren, with its exquisite pattern of
blue-upon-blue. This bird fairly paraded for us, darting around as if on
springs in typical fairy wren manner. Runner-up were no doubt the sprightly
Red-capped Robins in the same clearing, as unafraid as the fairy wrens.
Red-capped Robins were common all afternoon and a constant delight; later I
also came across the more conservatively clad, but also striking Hooded Robin.

Nor was this all  this wonderful patch of mallee had to offer!  Diamond
Firetails frequented a small hole in a mallee-trunk, there were
Chestnut-rumped Thornbills in the bushes and Yellow-rumped Thornbills on
the ground (Later that day I should also find my first ever Inland
Thornbills), and a slender sleek grey and white flycatcher-type bird
stumped us completely and permanently. In the trees Eatern Ringnecks, on
the ground the spectacularly colourful Mulga Parrots, and overhead the wail
of my first Australian Raven of this entire trip. What a fantastic place!!

After this early climax the pace understandingly slackened somewhat and we
got better time to rejoice in the landscape, the mallee gums, the she-oaks,
wattles and various other busjhes. Flowers were few and far between, but
the few flowering gums invariably held a number of honeyeaters; these are
always so busy chasing each other that I wonder how they ever find time
enough to forage! The most common honeyeaters here caused us some trouble:
they were stripy underneath, with olive crown and upper parts, so clearly
some Lichenostomus. But the yellow neck-pattern was long and narrow (as in
the figures of Fuscous or White-plumed) and not as broad as figured for
Grey-fronted or Yellow-plumed. Nevertheless we tentatively concluded that
these latter two were the species concerned, although we still kept having
trouble identifying the flighty individual birds. Also the larger
wattlebird-like honeyeaters initially gave trouble, but I am now fairly
confident that these were mainly Spiny-cheeked Honeyeaters, although there
were also a few unmistakable red Wattlebirds around.

Robin and Keith got beautiful views iof two Chestnut Quail-thrushes, while
John and I simultaneously were entertained by the antics and
scissor-grinding of an immaculately attired Restless Flycatcher, entirely
living up to its name. On the way back from the tank to the car the sun was
setting, giving wonderful light effects in the forest, while several grey
Butcherbirds were tuning up their superb voices, a fitting farewell to a
great area. Of course one should spend days here, not hours, and as it was
we never saw any of the Gluepot specialties. But we definitely got a whiff
of the Gluepot, enough to want to come back for a more extended visit. If ever!

Tusen takk once more, Robin and Johnm, for this 550km day trip!!

                                                        Gardermoen airport, 
Oslo, 31 July
                                                        Wim Vader, Tromsø Museum
                                                        9037 Tromsø, Norway

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