Trip to WA (long)

Subject: Trip to WA (long)
From: "Nicholas Talbot" <>
Date: Mon, 06 Oct 2003 16:02:41 +1000
I?ve just completed my first trip to Western Australia and saw 86 species
including 15 new ones for me in about 2 days of birdwatching. The real
reason for the trip was a conference at a big hotel built out at Scarborough
(which is on the coast about 25 minutes drive from Perth CBD) with some time
tacked onto the end for birdwatching. Fortunately birdwatching, rather than
work, dominated the trip more than I expected. I selected the birding sites
for this trip from Frank O?Connor?s excellent website, as well as advice
from Frank O?Connor, Simon Nevill of Falcontours and Philip Griffin (who
provided me with a CD of the calls of the three WA skulkers).

The first birdwatch was an official tour of King?s Park Botanic Gardens
(3pm-5pm 2/10). I managed to pick up 24 species, although no new ones for
me. The highlights included Weebill, Common Bronzewing (a very tame one), a
Tawny Frogmouth on a nest and Australian Ringneck (a new subspecies for me).

I asked to be dropped off on the way back to check out Lake Monger
(5.10pm-6.30pm 2/10). Again I missed out on seeing anything new (including
the Western Corella which apparently pops up there late in the day). However
the birding was great. The highlights were 20 Blue-billed Duck (including
three displaying, with one very enthusiastic male), all three grebes, lots
of Musk Duck (including a close up display), Aust Shoveller, Aust Shelduck
(one with chick), Black Swan (one on a nest) and Purple Swamphen and Pacific
Black ducks with chicks/ducklings. Two really good walks with no ticks to
show for it was somewhat unexpected but I shouldn?t have worried.

The next day (3/10) I got to head off unexpectedly early to pick up a hire
car for my rushed trip to Albany. In the taxi on the way I spotted a
Laughing Turtledove sitting on the road for my first tick of the trip.
Out onto the Albany Highway. I spotted some Black Cockatoos in a dead tree
at a spot I think is part of Churchman State Forest (S 32 11 05.3 E 116 05
13.2). On closer inspection they proved to be 15 Red-Tailed Black-Cockatoos
and 4 Long-Billed Black-Cockatoos (tick number 2).

Just over 4 hours later I was at the Cheyne Beach Caravan park. The owners
provided some good advice about recent sightings as well as a map of the
area and a valuable warning that the road to Waychinicup Nature Reserve was
cut by the local river. I then headed straight to the Noisy Scrub Bird spot
(which is a short walk from the Caravan Park). I could already hear it
calling when I was still in the caravan park (a very familiar call by now,
after listening to the CD about 50 times). When I first reached the section
of scrub near the beach I thought I saw the Scrub Bird scuttle away under a
bush. I refused to believe I could be that lucky and the calls seemed to be
further away than that. I quickly determined the scuttlers were Brown Quails
which comically hurtled across the road in front of me before running up a
sandy bank and sliding back down a couple of times in the process). While
looking for the scrub bird I spotted New Holland Honeywater and Grey
Fantail, White Bellied Sea Eagle and Welcome Swallow (overhead), Sooty
Oystercatcher, Pacific Gull, Crested Tern and Silver Gull on the beach. By
about 5pm I was getting tired and started trying to pish the Scrub bird out
of its bushes. It responded with characteristic noisiness so I worked my way
in behind the bigger bushes and positioned myself in a spot with minimal
scrub about five metres from the road. The bird almost immediately moved
into the bushes beside me, so close I could hear it moving but couldn?t see
it. It then started calling right in front of me but I couldn?t see
anything. This is definitely the loudest bird call I can remember hearing. I
started working my way into the large bush/tree where it was calling. As my
eyes adjusted in the rapidly fading light I spotted the Noisy Scrub Bird?s
white chest (tick number 3) in mid-call about one metre from my face. The
chest then vanished as it hunched back over after calling. I then watched it
calling on and off for about five minutes and then in another position
nearly two metres up in the same bush. The white area on its breast looked
larger than in my field guides and the black area seemed to extend into a
very thin dark line down the breast. The rump was also much brighter rufous
than I expected although this could have been because of the poor light. A
great experience!
It started raining hard, along with some hail, and I got absolutely soaked
but still managed to do a check of the landscape above the caravan park
where the owners said people had recently seen the Bristlebird and the
Whipbird. I also managed another tick (number 4) by finding a group of
Red-Winged Fairy wrens on the boundary of the caravan park.

On 4/10 I got up before dawn and walked around fire breaks that have been
cut through the heath between the caravan park and a nearby farm, until I
found a spot I?d selected the day before to wait for the light. During that
walk I flushed something from long grass which flew right in front of me. I
think this was a Ground Parrot but the light was so poor I couldn?t be sure.
The first bird I actually saw was a pair of Tawny Crowned Honeyeaters
foraging on the ground, then my first tick of the morning (number 5) the Red
Capped Parrot. I also followed another pair of rather calm Brown Quail for
about 50 metres before picking up Little Wattlebird (number 6) which I
gather is now a separate species. At about 0600 I?d done my circuit around
the firetrails several times and had only heard the Bristlebird and the
Whipbird call in the distance. I then started to hear the Bristlebird closer
to where I thought one of the trails ran out. As I went up to investigate I
realised that the trail turned at right angles and continued right past the
spot where I?d heard the call. I then stood at this corner and watched the
section of trail closest to the call. To my amazement I saw the disappearing
rump of a Bristlebird. After seeing it hopping about a few more times I
realised the calls were coming from another bird while this one was hopping
about feeding. I then found the singing Western Bristlebird (number 7)
inside a low bush. The singing bird stayed in this clearly visible position
(less than five metres away) for several minutes. I also picked up the
feeding bird half a dozen times. The singing bird went into a larger bush
and I was able to watch for several minutes. While it was calling I realised
that the whipbird had moved up and was calling behind me. I didn?t turn
around until I lost both the Bristlebirds and as I did so the Whipbird (a
dark blur) stopped singing and dived into the heath. I thought I?d blown a
really easy chance of seeing the last of the three skulkers by focusing for
too long on the Bristlebirds. I stayed in exactly the spot I?d arrived at
nearly half an hour before and just waited, hoping the Whipbird would start
singing again. Bizarrely enough it did and hopped into a small bush (number
8). It then went from bush to bush calling in plain view and into the bush
where I?d just been watching the Bristlebirds. As with the other two
skulkers I could see it clearly for several minutes at a time. I finally
moved off the magic spot when I lost the whipbird. I then resumed my circuit
and picked up Horsefield?s Bronze Cuckoo, Red Eared Firetail (number 9-
feeding on the ground and far from alarmed by me), two Southern Emu Wren,
another Western Bristlebird calling from a small bush within 10 metres of
the caravan park boundary, three Fantailed Cuckoo, White Browed Scrubwren,
Brush Bronzewing (almost tame in the caravan park) and (number 10) White
Breasted Robin (on a post next to my cabin).
Surprisingly enough I was able to leave Cheyne Beach before 1000 (after
another trip to the Scrub Bird site where I heard but didn?t see it). I also
picked up Wedge tailed eagle, Black Faced Woodswallow and Fairy Martin on
the way.. as well as the only cat I saw in the area (the caravan park owners
have a cat trap and have apparently used it to good effect over recent
years).. crossing the road just before I got back to the highway.

Because I had extra time for the return trip I headed for the Porongurups
which are conveniently on my way back to Perth. On the scenic drive to
Porongurup I spotted a group of Black Cockatoos in the road side trees (S 34
40 20.8 E 117 54 08.1). They turned out to be Long Billed Black Cockatoos
but I identified three of them as being Short Billed Black Cockatoos (number
11). The most obvious difference was that one of these birds focused on the
only introduced pine tree at the spot and all three lacked the sharp curved
part at the end of the beak. At the same site I found a mixed feeding flock
of smaller birds including Scarlet Robin, Grey Fantail, Western Thornbill
(number 12) and Western Gerygone (number 13). Within the national park
(which cost $9 to enter!) I immediately found Western Rosella (number 14)
along with Rufous Treecreeper, Golden Whistler, Kookaburra, Grey Shrike
Thrush, Tree Martin, Spotted Pardalote, White Breasted Robin, Red Eared
Firetail, White browed Scrub Wren, Red Winged Fairywren, Scarlet Robin and
White Naped Honeyeater. For the life of me I couldn?t find a Western
Spinebill and, being nearly mid-day, I thought I should start the long drive
back to Perth. After several rest stops and becoming increasingly tired I
decided my last hope for a Western Spinebill was to give Bungendore park a
go when I got back to the outskirts of Perth. I dragged myself down the
track at Bungendore Park for about a kilometre (after being swooped by a
magpie and spotting a Striated Pardalote and some more Red Tailed Black
Cockatoos) where I found some Western Thornbill and heard Grey Fantail and
started pishing. I heard the Spinebill immediately and it came into view a
few minutes later (number 15), proceeding to forage about on the trunks of
some recently burnt trees (S 32 11 13.8 E 116 02 51.6). The only species I?d
hoped to see but missed was the Western Corella but after such an incredible
two days it was hard to complain.

Nick Talbot

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