...and the rain continues to fall inland.
..and with it we can feel a number of birds slipping further out of our grasp
for the Hunter Big Year. If only the rain had started a week earlier we would
have had at least an extra 3 species on our list. We are now anxious about the
prospects of these, and several other species, that may not return to the
Hunter in spring. We have started lamenting already, after only 3 months in.
Such thoughts need to be shelved – it‘s going to be a bumper spring!
March started out quite well, with my 275th species for the year notched up on
the 3rd day. This was in the form of a magnificent roosting Masked Owl, in a
paperbark tree situated literally metres from the Newcastle-Sydney railway line
and equidistant from the car park – I could think of a better place to try and
get some peace and quiet!
A brief reccy out to the sandstone country in Yengo NP yielded Spotted
Quail-thrush and Gang Gang Cockatoo. The real highlight here though, was
hearing a Superb Lyrebird rattling off a myriad of mimicked calls, including 2
that I’d never heard before – Scarlet Robin and White-throated Nightjar (the
latter started perfect but really lost it at the end!). A few days later Dan
and I were back at our Black Bittern stake-out. This was to be our 3rd attempt
and we had decided to have no expectations on this occasion. Just as were
trying to locate a calling Azure right on dusk, a dark, compact “Heron” flew
across the creek about 100m from us. Initially I thought it was a Striated
Heron, but then it landed ion the opposite bank – a wonderful male Black
Bittern – there was much rejoicing.
On the 12th March I was continuing with my surveys for Regent Honeyeaters,
feeling a bit dismayed that they hadn’t been seen in the region since October
2009 and barely anywhere else across their range either. My spirits were lifted
though, when at Pelton I saw a Pacific Baza being mobbed by Noisy Miners. This
was my penultimate raptor – only Black Kite remains. Having seen some
Stringybark blossom around Kitchener I decided to drop into the spot in
Werakata NP where Regents were hanging out in July last year. I was literally
stopped in my tracks as I heard what I thought was a Regent. The ensuing
silence was deafening, until finally it called again. It was indeed a Regent,
calling from a tall tree with no blossom whatsoever. It was the only Regent I
saw that day, but numbers seem to have been slowly building in the interim.
A Buff-banded Rail seen on Kooragang Island during a wader survey was very
welcome. Then came news of the Magellanic Penguin from Elizabeth Beach, just
south of Forster – I had to give it a go. In the process of completely failing
to find it, I was able to pick up some very handy locals. These were
Double-banded Plovers at Harrington and Australia’s southernmost Beach
Stone-curlews (Old Bar) and Radjah Shelduck, which continues to loiter around
the grounds of the eco-resort at Bombah Point, in the Myall Lakes.
A report had also come through of 2 Eastern Yellow Wagtails from Ash Island. At
least this was closer to home, but it did mean donning the OH & S gear and
going through the procedures of entering the work site on Ash Island, which has
been out of bounds to the non-inducted public since early June 2009. This in
itself was frustrating the Big Year, as Ash Island is an important location to
monitor for our more ‘unusual’ sightings. However, the ‘promised land’ has
failed miserably to deliver and over the course of 6 frustrating outings the
only bird added to either of our lists has been European Goldfinch.
The pelagic trips were looming large and with some nor-east winds, warm water
and a cyclone in Queensland a couple of weeks earlier, the prospects of
tropical species were causing a buzz.
And they did not disappoint.
Saturday March 27 was the first day of a double-header weekend of trips out of
Port Stephens. Reading through the species that were found, you would have been
forgiven for thinking you were reading a trip report from Southport. After
adding Sooty Shearwater on the trip out, the first bird seen as we hit the
shelf was a Solander’s Petrel. Soon after setting the cod liver oil slick we
had a White-bellied Storm-petrel around the boat (making up for the miss on an
ID in Feb that was almost certainly this species). Minutes later a Tahiti
Petrel zoomed through, followed soon after by a Brown Booby…wow! The return leg
provided another surprise in the form of a Red-footed Booby – 2 Boobies in one
day, I like it!
The following morning, Dan couldn’t help but to have been dismayed that he
hadn’t been on the Saturday trip. I consoled him by saying “today could be a
corker of a trip”. He was difficult to convince and it didn’t help that things
were actually very quiet on the shelf. We did have far more Wilson’s
Storm-petrel than the previous day but try as we might we couldn’t attract
anything with a pale belly…until about a quarter past twelve. At that moment
Michael Kearns alerted everyone to a “Storm-petrel with white belly!” and
everyone fumbled to get bino’s and lenses onto the bird. We didn’t realise we
were looking at such a significant bird at the time.
Allan Richo and I had managed some fotos. The legs clearly trailed well beyond
the tail, ruling out White-bellied, but more significantly the bird had dark
streaking on the belly and flanks. Richard Baxter looked at me and said “it
looks like a New Zealand”. All hands were then on deck to try and relocate the
bird. It soon did and all images pointed towards a New Zealand Storm-petrel –
which it was. This was the first record in Australian waters, but only just, as
we soon learnt that the SOSSA Deep Sea trip had found one the day after!
The trip home that day provided a couple of “bonus extras” in the form of a
distant Gould’s Petrel and a Common Noddy. I came home from this weekend’s
pelagic trips with a big grin and 295 species for the Hunter Big Year safely
One last ditch effort was made on the final day of the month in an attempt to
locate the Yellow Wags and to try for the Eastern Grass Owls that had also been
recorded in recent weeks. True to form, Ash Island produced five eighths of
nothing, despite a frustrating observation of a Barn Owl that had our hearts
racing for a brief moment.
With the absence of so many waterbirds and waders from the region, it really
seems as though pelagics are going to be our only hope at posting a tally close
to what we had set ourselves last year.
Bring it on!
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