Twitcher for a day, or

To: <>
Subject: Twitcher for a day, or
From: Syd Curtis <>
Date: Mon, 20 Aug 2001 18:46:08 +0800
 - or "Is this a chat line?" :-)

Yes, Rottnest Island it was.  As Lawrie Conole, Frank O'Connor and Wim Vader
were all quick to point out.  Also Harvey Perkins.  Too easy for words if
you've been there, I guess.  And what a beautiful island!  (Off-shore 20 km
or so from Fremantle, WA, for anyone who doesn't know of it.)

And yes, Frank, you are right about the peafowl and pheasants.  Even I
reckoned they would be a dead give-away.  And dead is how I'd have preferred
those exotic pests, the pheasants!  Got sick and tired of being startled by
them exploding from off the ground near me with their inane squawking.  But
get a side-view of a pheasant running across the ground, and its silhouette,
with that long tapering tail, is the image of a small two-legged dinosaur as
commonly depicted.  They look as if they haven't descended very far.

Eight fluffy ducklings (Mountain Ducks) on a lake shore caught my attention
and I reached for binoculars. Beside them was a small grey bird foraging
near the shoreline.  My knowledge of waders is miniscule, but the dark band
across the chest looked distinctive, and Rottnest has only a limited number
of birds.  (Otherwise I wouldn't have tried to be a twitcher!)  But no wader
in "Birds of Rottnest Island" fitted it.  And by then it had disappeared
from my sight.  

I wanted to get a better look at the ducklings anyway and a cautious
approach gave me that, - plus another look at my "wader"  ... which made me
realise how small it was: not a wader at all.  Once I got over that mental
block it was quickly identifiable as a chat - white-fronted.

But it was the ducklings I really wanted to tell you about.  As I
approached, the parents waddled to the water and lazily swam out from the
shore.  I heard no sound, but the ducklings made to follow suit.  Two
started swimming and the third paused at the water's edge.  Nos. 1 and 2
returned to shore.

Mother turned back.  Again I heard nothing, but the ducklings immediately
took to the water and started swimming out after mother.  But not quickly
enough, it seems.  Mother turned back again, and this time I heard three
sharp calls.  What an effect!  The ducklings couldn't fly, of course, but
did they churn up the water.  An incredible turn of speed.

Rottnest has a very pretty golf course (only sand greens, though) and apart
from the pestiferous pheasants, clearly provides attractive pickings for
Pied Oystercatchers, ... and, at least when I was there, Banded Lapwings.

The most plentiful birds were the Banded Stilts.  Such handsome birds with
their snowy white and contrasting black plumage plus a chestnut chest band
(which extends to the belly) and bright pink legs.  I had seen small numbers
of them and then fairly late in the afternoon I could see on the far side of
a lake, a large group of several hundred resting on a sand spit.  Too far
away to be sure of the identity.  Too late to walk around the lake, a couple
of kilometres long.

Next day I took the (historic) train ride to the  WW II gun battery on
Oliver Hill which got me to the other (south) side of the lake.  Alas no
gathering of birds.  Followed a sealed path around the edge of the lake in
an anticlockwise (easterly) direction ... only to be stopped by a fence
around the airstrip and a notice warning of a $1000 fine for unauthorised
entry.  Just too late to catch the last train back, so had to walk around
the western end of the lake, and was rewarded by several gatherings of birds
(30, 50, 100 or there abouts) close enough to confirm that they were indeed
Banded Stilts.  (And later I read in "Birds of Rottnest" that the salt-lakes
have such an abundance of Brine Shrimps that the birds are able to spend
long periods resting on sand bars where they "crowd in and form what appears
from the distance to be tightly packed "rafts".

When I wrote "no gathering of birds" after my train ride, I was referring to
"rafts" of stilts.  There was a gathering of a hundred or so nesting Silver
Gulls on a small promontory jutting into the lake approximately where I had
seen the "raft" on the previous afternoon.  I approached behind a small
knoll some 10 m high and 100 m or so from the gulls.  Within seconds of my
gaining the top of knoll, I was spotted by a gull which gave the alarm and
flew up to tell me what it thought of me ... followed by most of its
companions.  They would fly up, dive at me with threatening imprecations a
few times, and then return to the rookery.  An occasional harsher curse from
closer range heralded a Caspian Tern joining in the Syd-harassment.  It was
a fine spectacle and I should have felt guilty at being the cause of it, but
for that sealed path that followed closely the edge of the lake, cutting
across the spit right beside the rookery.  I followed the path when forced
by the airstrip to return, and of course was further abused by the gulls.
My guess is that the Island Administration normally closes this track for
the breeding season, but hadn't got around to doing so when I was there.
(Is mid-August earlier than normal for Silver Gull nesting, I wonder.)

On one of the Island beaches I was entertained by Caspain Terns fishing.
One had caught something about 10 cm long and was immediately chased by
several others ... plus a couple of gulls, and even a Raven,though the Raven
didn't persist for long - I guess it realised that even if the Tern dropped
its' prize, Ravens are really equipped for picking something out of the

Over an early morning cup of coffee at the Dome, I watched a lone Caspian
Tern fishing.  It seemed to be doing all right too.  At least it was making
frequent dives into the water.  And then a nasty-minded gull arrived on the
scene and chased it up and down until in disgust the tern landed on the
beach.  As soon as it took off again, the gull was after it.  So (to my
sorrow) it departed the scene.

Perhaps the most famous of Rottnest's fauna is the Quokka - a delightful
small wallaby, quite a bit smaller than a pademelon in fact.  When we
arrived at our unit, a mother Quokka with largish pouch young followed us
inside.  Very early next morning, I was surprised to find one a couple of
metres up a small Melaleuca tree and happpily browsing on it.  The Visitors
Information Centre confirmed that Quokkas do climb trees.  Delightful little
animals and everywhere quite tame: fully protected of course, and no dogs,
cats, or foxes on the island.

I'll repeat my bird list below.


Syd Curtis 

Little Pied Cormorant           Phalacrocorax melanoleucos
Pied Cormorant                  P. varius
Mountain Duck                   Tadorna tadornoides
Black Duck                      Anas superciliosa
Pied Oystercatcher              Haematopus ostralegus
Banded Lapwing                  Vanellus tricolor
Red-capped Plover               Charadrius ruficapillus
Banded Stilt                    Cladorhynchus leucocephalus
Ruddy Turnstone                 Arenaria interpres
Silver Gull                     Larus novaehollandiae
Caspian Tern                    Hydroprogne caspia
Crested Tern                    Sterna bergii
Spotted Turtledove              Streptopelia chinensis
Laughing Turtledove             S. senegalensis
Galah                           Cacatua roseicapilla
Sacred Kingfisher               Halcyon sancta
Welcome Swallow                 Hirunda neoxena
Redcapped Robin                 Petroica goodenovii
White-browed Scrub-wren         Sericornis frontalis
Singing honeyeater              Lichenostomus virescens
White-fronted Chat              Ephthianura albifrons
Silvereye                       Zosterops lateralis
Australian Raven                Corvus coronoides

(Plus of course, the pheasant and peafowl)

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