In Search of Penguins

Wednesday, 26 September 2018

One bird species we were keen to see whilst we were in Victoria was the Little Penguin. We had only ever seen one penguin in the wild; that was a Magellanic Penguin (just one), off the coast of Brazil back in 2006. It was pretty distant, but unmistakeable-they only get one species there and it is rather sporadic, so we were very lucky with this individual. Anyhow, Little Penguins, the world’s smallest penguin species, are pretty common around the Victoria coast, if you know where to look, although, being diurnal, they tend to be out at sea, feeding, during the day and come back to land in the evening.

Actually, that behaviour has sparked quite a tourist industry, taking advantage of the penguins’ habits. There is a famous ‘Penguin Parade’, on Summerlands Beach, Phillip Island, where you can pay to sit and watch the birds come ashore, along with lots of other people. It may be a guaranteed spot but it really didn’t appeal to us much. A bit too commercial! Anyhow, we decided to head that way anyway, spy out the land and see if we could spot a penguin that hadn’t headed offshore for the day, keeping the parade on the back burner, if needed.

Phillip Island wasn’t far from our B&B at Corinella, and it is actually joined to the mainland (near the little town of San Remo) by a bridge. So far, so easy. The southern and western edges of the island, bordered by the Bass Strait and the entrance to Westernport Bay, are Important Bird Areas, especially because of the Little Penguins. There are an estimated 32,000 breeding pairs on the island itself; surely we would come across one! There were other birds we wanted to see, too, including Hooded Plover, an endangered endemic species of southern Australia and Tasmania. A search of E-bird had indicated that some had been seen, recently, on the beach at Surf Beach, so we were to head there first.

There is one main road round the island, and most of the sites are located off this road, so it was pretty easy to navigate. Surf Beach is a small seaside community; the E-bird checklist had specified looking from ‘The Esplanade’ and we found this pretty easily. We parked in a cliff top car park, overlooking the beach, and started to scan.

Surf Beach, Phillip Island

You can see that there’s a lot of sand to scan!
We were beginning to despair of finding anything, when we noticed a small ‘dot’, in the distance, running up and down the beach as the waves rolled in. A telescope view confirmed it; it was a Hooded Plover, albeit not a great view. Sometimes, in birding, that’s all you get. I took a photo, but you will have to believe me that it actually is a Hooded Plover.

Hooded Plover-no, really!

The day was starting well. We decided to hop along the Bass Strait coastline, in case of more plovers and, anyway, it was a very pleasant day. One species that was everywhere we looked was the Cape Barren Goose. We’d been pretty excited at our first sighting, of a couple of these birds, at Werribee. It is probably one of the world’s rarest geese, albeit not particularly rare in southern Australia and Tasmania where it is endemic, and rather a peculiar-looking bird. Well, we were to see plenty of these geese today, as Phillip Island plays host to many breeding pairs. Lots of photo opportunities!

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We followed a turn marked ‘Pyramid Rock’; we were not sure what to expect but it was heading down to the sea. A car park led to a long boardwalk, heading towards (you guessed it!) a pyramid-shaped rock, just offshore. Very scenic.

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Well, this was a good site for seabirds, one of Mark’s birding passions. There were Australasian Gannets patrolling the sea, along with a few other species, much harder to make out, but eventually ID’d as albatrosses and giant petrels, Shy Albatross and Southern Giant Petrel to be precise. Now this was a real bonus, as we’d not expected any pelagic species, really, since we had no boat trip scheduled.

Very distant, but Southern Giant Petrel (the dark bird) and Shy Albatross (photo by Mark)

So far, great birding, if poor photo opportunities! Still, we were to remedy that on the way back to the car. Not birds, but mammals. This time a small group of Black Wallabies (also known as Swamp Wallaby) were feeding on the heathland just off the boardwalk, and were totally unconcerned by our presence. We were able to take quite a few photos. Just to add to the bird list, I was able to capture a Little Raven, just leaving its perch on the boardwalk fence.

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Back to the main road, and a brief stop for a look at a couple of Australasian Shelduck, before taking another side road, this time to Kitty Miller Bay. A beautiful half-moon bay, apparently a haunt for snorkellers, where we were hoping for another look at Hooded Plover. It was not to be, despite me trying to ‘string’ a couple of Masked Lapwing as something more exciting! We never found out who ‘Kitty Miller’ was, though.

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At the western end of the island, where the Westernport Bay opens out to the Bass Strait, is the Summerlands estate, home of the aforementioned ‘Penguin Parade’, and, just past it, an ecotourist spot called ‘The Nobbies’. We had to go look at a place so interestingly named! Just past the ecotourist centre (a sea life centre, apparently), was yet another boardwalk, surrounding the headland and providing views of The Nobbies, themselves; a series of flat-topped islands off the end of the peninsula. Just beyond them, some flat rocky islets are called the Seal Islands, and are home to the largest concentration of Australian Fur Seals in Australia.

This is a penguin spot as well, the boardwalks are there to stop people wandering all over the penguins’ burrows. Artificial nest boxes have been provided, dug into the side of the quite precipitous slopes, to replace the burrows the birds usually use. Some of these were clearly in use, judging by the bare areas in front of the boxes and the clear trails heading down to the sea from the boxes. We decided to look into each box we could see, in case any were occupied. There was a movement, I took a photo…

Nope, it was a rabbit! Clearly there are not only penguins inhabiting these boxes. And then, success. There was a bird, inside one of the boxes. We could see it moving around, getting glimpses of different parts of the body; the belly there, turning to the darker back, maybe even a flipper. With the eye of faith, you could make up a whole penguin. We were not going to get a better view, it wasn’t coming out and we certainly didn’t want to disturb it. It was a Little Penguin and would do, until we can go to Australia again and see them better. And we had avoided the need to go to the ‘Penguin Parade’-result!

There really is a Little Penguin in there!

Time to head back towards the mainland, but via the north side of the island, where we stopped off for a walk at a nature reserve near Rhyll. It was supposed to be a Koala reserve, according to the map (although I freely admit we might have been in the wrong bit). We’d definitely like to see Koala, so an explore seemed a good idea. Long story, short-no Koalas, but a few interesting birds and insects.

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Heading off the island, we stopped at San Remo for lunch. Going truly Aussie, we popped into the local bakery for pies, lovely. Now that is a habit we could definitely get into-it’s lucky for our waistlines that you can’t do it here!

Eastern Rosella

Mark had lined up another small reserve, along the coast at Wonthaggi, for our afternoon’s excursion. We found the Rifle Range Reserve and headed in. It was alive with Honeyeaters in our first few steps; it looked like it was going to be a good choice. On the way in, we’d stop to take advantage of a lovely Eastern Rosella, eating flower buds. This was a first sighting for me; Mark had seen a few the night before, at Corinella, but I hadn’t got onto them, so it was good to get this back. We did enjoy all the many parrot species in Australia, and Eastern Rosella is such a ‘parroty’-looking one!

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There was a hide, by a marshy pool, some walks through shrubby bush, with a small drinking pool for the birds, and a forested area; lots to go at. On our first arrival, we took a look from the hide and noticed some kangaroos in the distance. Eastern Grey Kangaroos, we thought, just like the ones we’d seen at Toorbul beach in Queensland. On the way back we took another look and found a party of females, some with joeys, foraging and lazing about, almost in front of the hide. Fantastic views.

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Well, Wonthaggi had treated us well, but dusk was falling and we had to head back to Corinella. Time for one last detour though. When we were in Werribee, we’d been disappointed not to find any Musk Ducks there. These odd-looking stiff-tail ducks had been a species we wanted to see (who am I kidding, we want to see them all!) because they look so very peculiar, the males having a lobe hanging down below the bill, and with the tail held upwards in a fan-shape. Well, we had scanned every body of water since, hoping (and failing) to see them. On the way back from Wonthaggi, we noticed a small pool, half-hidden from the road, but with a small track running alongside. Heading up there, there was only one place to view a small portion of the pool and, on there, there was a male Musk Duck, preening and swimming around. What an amazing sight! It was getting dark, and the pictures weren’t good, but it was a Musk Duck-a tick after we’d just about given up hope. It was the only one we were to see on the entire trip-how easy it would have been to drive on past in the gathering dark, or for the bird to swim away into the part of the lake (most of it, really) that we couldn’t see.

Male Musk Duck

Well, that was a nice end to the day-nicer than dinner, which was another of those deep-fried offerings from the local general store. Corinella had been a great place to stop- a good local dinner-option would have made it better, but we had no complaints. Tomorrow we were off on a journey, across Victoria and into New South Wales for our Australian ‘swansong’ adventure, There wasn’t much more of the holiday to go, but we were going to make the most of it!

Cameras:

Sandra-Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ2500
Mark- Canon EOS 7D Mk II, with EF 100-400mm ISII USM lens.

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Shelburne Birding

Tuesday, 15 January 2019

One of the great things about being retired (especially early retired) is the ability to just go off somewhere. We’ve had a few very cold days here in south-west Nova Scotia (known as the Banana Belt to the rest of the province, but we can still get a little cold at times), with snow, that has tended to keep us indoors. Today was still quite cold, but bright and sunny, and we were ready for a ride out. We were going birding, of course; a new list (for 2019) had started on 01 January, so we were keen to see some new species.

We started out well, with a Thick-billed Murre, glimpsed as we crossed the causeway from Cape Sable Island, where we live. After a quick U-turn, we went back across the causeway to the car park at North-East Point to get a better look. It wasn’t a new bird for the year, but they are quite scarce, and so always worth another view. It was a shy bird; Mark walked out to the end of a rather slippery jetty to try and take photos, but the bird consistently hid behind the green boat in the harbour so that he couldn’t see it from where he was! I stood out on the edge of the car park, hoping to be able to direct him if the bird became visible. The scene was beautiful, the sun glistening off the blue sea; time for a photo, I thought.

It was at this point I discovered I’d left my camera’s SD card in the slot in my computer at home! I really must start putting my other card in my bag-it’s still loaded with all of my Australia shots, but I’ve backed them up now, so there really are no excuses. Luckily, Mark had a spare one with him -he must have been a Boy Scout in a previous life! Actually, it was me that was a Girl Guide, but it doesn’t seem to have done me much good at ‘being prepared’, does it?!

The Cape Sable Island Causeway, from North-East Point

We were heading up the Ohio Road, something we do only occasionally because we don’t ever have much luck up there. Still, this could be the trip to change that! We have found Ruffed Grouse up there in the past, and a couple of other species, such as Evening Grosbeak, and Red Crossbill, could be possible. The road is a long one, linking Shelburne with the other side of Yarmouth, and it gets progressively rougher the further along you go. It is more potholes with occasional bits of road, than road with occasional potholes! We were gong to go only as far as the county boundary, and then turn back, thus avoiding too much of the rough section. It’s a pleasant trip, especially in the early stages, but it has to be said, pretty birdless! We found none of our target species on the outward trip, although an unexpected group of four male Ring-necked Ducks sort of made up for that. Of course, they immediately swam away from us, and, for some reason, tucked their heads underneath their wings, so my pictures are pretty awful.

Ring-necked Ducks on the Roseway River, Ohio

Probably our best sighting wasn’t a bird at all. Scanning the trees on the side of the road for roosting owls, grouse, etc., Mark noticed a spiky bundle in a small tree. It was a porcupine, evidently enjoying the rays of the midday sun. I know they are not everyone’s favourite mammal (especially anyone involved in forest management!) but we get pretty excited when we see one. Of course, they are not found back in the UK, and they were also pretty hard to find in Quebec, so they have novelty value, although we have had a lot more luck coming across them here in Nova Scotia. As we watched, and took photos from the car, he climbed a little higher in the frankly spindly tree he’d chosen. We decided to leave him to soak up the sun, and he was still there when we passed by on our return journey, so I don’t think we’d disturbed him too much.

Lunchtime approached, so we headed back down the road, picking up a Ruffed Grouse that crossed the road in front of us-result! Of course, as soon as it realised we were there, it put on a spurt and crossed the road in double-quick time, racing up the bank and always managing to put a bush between us and it. This was the best picture I got!

We decided to take lunch at ‘Anchor’s Away’, on Highway 103 at Clyde River. Yes, unfortunately, it IS called that-the incorrect use of ‘Away’ for ‘Aweigh’ does tend to set my teeth on edge, but the food is good for a roadside diner, and they do make a very acceptable seafood chowder, with lots of lobster and scallops in there-just the thing to warm you through on a cold day. Mark settled for ‘lobster mac and cheese’, an interesting-sounding mixture but it worked remarkably well. Being in the region of the ‘Lobster Capital of Canada’ (Barrington), we tend to find lobster cropping up in all sorts of dishes, not that we are complaining!

Well fed and warmed up, we decided to take the coast route back, in order to drop in at Baccaro, the next peninsula up the coast from our own home island, and a known site for a wintering Snowy Owl. I had yet to see one for the new year, and, besides, it’s a Snowy Owl so it’s always worth seeing! The owl has been a bit hard to see at times, although others have had it sitting out in the open. Today was not one of those days, and a stormy-looking sea maybe was the reason. We have seen owls at Baccaro every year since we have lived here, and generally know where to look to see one. Today was no different, after scanning around the area, Mark spotted it; just the head peering over some rocks on the beach and a long way away.

There’s a Snowy Owl in this picture, can you see it?
Does this help? It is the white blob, right in the centre, and it’s looking at us!

I admit, not the most stunning picture of a Snowy Owl, but it’s the reality of some birding experiences. It helps that we were able to observe it through a telescope. Mark proceeded to scope around the bay, whilst I was fascinated by the power of the waves beating on the shore, and decided to try and take a few scenic pictures. It was wild, cold but sunny-very atmospheric, with the booming of the waves as they pounded in.

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Time to head home. We didn’t have a big bird list, but there were some nice ones, and we’d certainly shaken off the cabin fever of the last few days. There’s a ‘nor-easter’ coming in, apparently, so we might be stuck inside for the next few days, although we’ve learned to not believe the weather forecasters, too much. Last weekend they were telling us that the area was under heavy cloud, when it was actually a blizzard out there, so we might get anything from a heatwave to a hurricane. Anyhow, I’m glad we made the most of the sun!

Camera: Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ2500

Notts Traverse

Wednesday, 21 November 2018.

We had one more full day in the UK, before we had to catch our plane back to Canada. I had to be in Halifax on Friday for a medical appointment, so the plan was to fly back on Thursday and stay over in the Halifax area, saving us a 6 hour round driving trip. We would be flying from London Heathrow, rather bizarrely via St. John’s, Newfoundland, fairly early on Thursday morning so wanted to overnight somewhere nearer to London than Yorkshire. It meant that our stay in Nottinghamshire, Mark’s county of birth, would be necessarily fleeting, but we decided to make the most of a meander southwards by dropping in on a couple of birding sites on the way.

When we left Nottingham for Canada, back in 2003, the Idle Valley Nature Reserve, up in North Notts, was a mere twinkle in somebody’s eye. There had always been a birding scene up there, centering on the gravel pits at Lound, but no formal reserve, although things were beginning to happen as we left. Now there is a splendid reserve, complete with Visitor Centre, marked paths and plenty of access, all managed by the Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust. We really wanted to see how it had developed so made a bee-line for the new Visitor Centre at Retford. We were quietly impressed!

Now, November isn’t perhaps the most exciting time to visit a nature reserve in Britain. We decided to walk around the main lake of this part of the complex, the Bellmoor Lake, and took the trail starting at the left-hand side of the Visitor Centre. The lake had a nice variety of the normal birds we’d expect to see at this time of the year; ducks, lapwings, coot, etc.

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The hedgerows were hopping with tits, Blackbirds and Robins, so we were kept entertained on our way around.

We even came across a flock of some of the prettiest sheep we’d ever seen -I know that ‘pretty’ isn’t an adjective normally used for sheep, but these ones were so fluffy. I was quite enchanted!

Heading back into the Visitor Centre, we decided that a cup of coffee and a slice a cake would be just the job to warm us through. The centre has a nice little café, doing snacks and light lunches, and a splendid selection of home-made cakes. A slice of coffee and walnut cake seemed to hit the spot, although the lass behind the counter apologised because they’d forgotten to put the walnuts in! No matter, it was very good anyway.

The Visitor centre has a ‘recent sightings’ board, and it told us that there were a couple of Great Egrets currently on the reserve. We’d seen quite a few Little Egrets during our UK trip, but no Great yet, so we thought we’d take a quick detour for a look. It would allow us a little trip down memory lane, as well, because the birds were situated on the old gravel pits site at Lound, now part of the reserve, where we’d gone birding many years before. I saw my first ever Snow Bunting on that site. A short car trip, down some rather bumpy gravel roads (rather reminiscent of our own, dear Nova Scotian roads!) and we were there.

The Idle Valley Reserve here encompasses acres (in fact 400 hectares) of ponds, ditches and meadows, very good for all sorts of wildfowl and wetland species, but none of them were very close by. We stopped and scanned the scrapes, but couldn’t see anything large and white at first. In the end, we did find both birds, not close and not photographable, but they were Great Egrets, quite unmistakeable.

Time was getting on; we were to head to Nottingham to drop in on our nephew for a cup of tea, but first we were quite keen to see some Hawfinches. These can be elusive and are quite local; the best place to see one in Notts has always been in Clumber Park or around Rufford Abbey. We headed for Rufford, as the birds were being regularly seen there, and it was a pleasant place for another walk.

Rufford Abbey, as the name suggests, was a Cistercian monastery, founded in 1147 by monks from Rievaulx Abbey in Yorkshire. It did well until Henry VIII’s Reformation, and the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1534, when the site was granted to the Earl of Salisbury and the abbey was converted into a country house. Nowadays, part (the old monastery) is in a ruinous state whilst the country house is owned by Nottinghamshire County Council. The grounds comprise Rufford Abbey Country Park; there is a thriving Wedding venue business in the old mill and offices in the house section. We didn’t have time for a full walk around the grounds, and taking in the Abbey itself, so I have cheated here and included a few pictures I took on a previous visit, in January 2007.

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Quite an interesting place, especially those carved roof corbels. I have a real soft spot for them.

We took a walk around the lake edge. The grounds, being those of an aristocratic country house, were extensively landscaped to make a beautiful strolling area for the house’s inhabitants and now for the people of Nottinghamshire. We were singularly lacking in Hawfinches, but got good views of Canada Geese (not normally a problem!), Greylag Geese, moorhens and a single Goosander. This is called Common Merganser in North America, but isn’t ‘Goosander’ such a lovely name? I think we should import it!

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Reluctantly, we had to abandon the search for the Hawfinches and get over to Nottingham, before we’d get caught up in the rush hour traffic. The city hasn’t got any easier to navigate since we left, whilst the rather insidious ‘average-speed cameras’ on the ring road really made the traffic behave. We got there, spent a little time with our nephew and then headed off to Oxford, and a Ramada Hotel in the motorway services on the M40, where we’d pre-booked a night’s stay. We weren’t expecting much (it’s in a service area, after all!) but we were pleasantly surprised. It was really very good, comfortable and quiet, with a restaurant attached, not to mention the services themselves, just next door. We were thinking that we’d have no compunction staying there again; that is, until we got home and found the parking fine that the hire car company passed on to us. Motorway services in the UK have now started to impose fees if you stay more than 2 hours-a bit of an own goal, I think, since forcing more cars onto the already congested road seems a rather stupid idea. Of course, the hotel, being in the service area, has an exemption; as long as you register the car with the reception desk (which we did). It seems that this information wasn’t passed to the car park company, who levied a punitive fine for not paying up, of over 100 GBP! Luckily Mark noticed the invoice, queried the car hire company, called the hotel, got them to provide the proof of registration and finally got the full amount refunded (several weeks later). You can’t help but wonder just how many people get taken like this; those who just don’t check their hire car invoices, perhaps, or aren’t totally au fait with pound to dollar conversion rates, and lose it in the conversion? It was a slightly sad footnote to what was a very successful and enjoyable trip, and a salutary lesson in checking those receipts!

Cameras:
Main pictures: Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ2500
Rufford Abbey buildings (2007): Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ27

Victorian Sewage

Monday 24 September-Tuesday 25 September 2018.

One thing you get used to, as a birder on holiday, is a trip to the sewage works. Seriously, we have visited sewage works all over the world, some smellier than others, and there is nothing that gets Mark more excited than the thought of a good sewage pond. The reason, of course, is that birds, especially waterfowl and waders, find them irresistible and there is usually a concentration of interesting, and otherwise hard-to-find species. Australia was no exception and we were looking forwards to visiting one of the premier birding sites in the country. First, though, we had to get there.

Our early-morning flight from Cairns to Melbourne, in the southern state of Victoria, went without a hitch, although the relative cold of the area came as a bit of a shock after the warmth of Tropical North Queensland. Still, we’d expected that and had come as prepared as we could, given packing constraints, with gloves and hats kept handy. It was, after all, pretty early in the Spring down there. Our first job was to pick up our hire car.

Mark is apparently a ‘Gold Member’, whatever that may mean, but it still didn’t seem to speed up the process any. I was kept amused, waiting at the back of the office, by watching another couple come in for their car. He, dressed in designer leisurewear and a sheepskin jacket, I mentally called ‘Vinnie’, whilst she, in stilletos, fake fur, too much makeup and a lot of bling, got named ‘Britney’. I might be quite wrong, I suppose, and be totally typecasting, but the names seemed to fit. However, they got their car in 10 minutes flat, of which 5 whole minutes was spent by ‘Vinnie’ trying to get ‘Britney’ to decide what colour car she wanted! Half an hour later, we were out in the car park, looking for our car (no choice of colour given), this time a Hyundai Tucson and probably the nicest car of the whole trip. Unfortunately, the hire car company couldn’t rustle up a map for us, so we would have to wing it until we could make other arrangements.

Our urgency to get going was because Mark had made prior arrangements. He’d been in contact with the office of the Western Treatment Plant, more commonly known as Werribee, for several months and had arranged to go straight there from the airport, in order to gain access to the treatment plant. The people at Werribee had been concerned about our schedule, and had thought that we wouldn’t make it to them before 5.30 pm, when the office closed, although one lady had said she’d stay behind for us. What a refreshing attitude! When treatment plants all over the place, including ones in Canada, are closing their doors to birders (in the name of ‘Elfin Safety’), Werribee encourages visitors, as long as they have a permit and are issued with a key. As it was, there was no problem getting to the Treatment Plant Office by mid-afternoon. Mark headed in to complete the paperwork and get issued with a key (for free!) that we could keep until tomorrow morning. The lady was a little concerned that we were intending to head straight over there, and wanted us to promise that we would be off the site by 6 pm, but otherwise there was no problem. The actual Werribee site is a little way from the office, along the Princes Freeway. The site is gated, and the key provided gives access to some of the site. Other parts are reserved for people with an additional permit, for which you have to undergo training (and is therefore practically limited to local birders) and the rest is blocked. Even so, the access is very impressive, giving views of a number of open ponds (including Lake Borrie) and the beach along Port Phillip Bay. We were most impressed.

One of the locked gates at Werribee. Gates with a blue sign could be opened with our key.

We had a couple of hours before the 6 pm curfew, but it wasn’t going to be enough to see the whole site. We decided to drive the main loop, around Lake Borrie, and taking in the bird hide on the beach, and then see how it went. We headed down Point Wilson Road and got onto the site through Gate 5 at Paradise Road. A long, straight road through farmland, it was edged with trees and shrubs, providing cover for finches and LBJs (Little Brown Jobs). Almost immediately, we had our first tick, a small flock of Zebra Finches. These common cage birds look so incongruous, its hard to remember that they really are wild birds, but we were delighted to see them here. Nearby, on a fencepost, was an Australasian pipit, one of only a couple we’d seen since our first one, up on the Atherton Tablelands when we’d first arrived at Chambers Wildlife Lodge, what seemed like ages ago!

Before long we were looking at the open pools, full of wildfowl and wader species. We’d been warned that Werribee was a haven for snakes, and therefore not to go into the long grasses, so we tended to stick by the car. We never saw a snake, and probably it was too early in the season for them, but better safe than sorry! The pools were home to Red-necked Avocets, Hoary-headed and Australasian Grebes, various duck species and Whiskered Terns. It was slow going, because there was something to see on every turn. Part-way round we came across the bird hide, parked the car and headed down the path to the hide. The beach was covered in Sharp-tailed Sandpipers, Red-necked Stints and Red-capped Plovers. It was all pretty overwhelming!

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A couple of hours had seemed quite generous, but it clearly was nothing like enough. The light was failing and we were still only part way round the Lake Borrie section. We put on a bit of a spurt, and could see Gate 4 in the distance, but there were interesting shallow pools to look at, too. Thank goodness we did look, because a couple of birds showed up, picking their way around the edges of the pool. One was Red-kneed Dotterel, not new but we hadn’t seen too many of them. The other was a Double-banded Plover, a new species for us and, in fact, the only one we were to see on this trip. Excellent views, if distant, but difficult photography in the fading light.

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Well, we made it out of the gate with just a few minutes to spare. I don’t think that there would have been any problem if we’d been late; they weren’t going to lock us in or anything, but we were aware that we were guests on the facility and didn’t want to abuse the privilege. Anyhow, we still had the key and were planning another visit the next morning before returning it. Now to find our overnight hotel, the Quality Suites, Point Cook, chosen as a fairly bland corporate hotel that wouldn’t mind a late arrival and early start. It was going to take some finding, without a map, even though we had printed off Google Maps instructions when still back home. It pays to know where you are when trying to follow those, and I think the instructions were based from the Treatment Works office, rather than Werribee itself, so not that easy to follow. Stopping for fuel, Mark nipped into the service station shop, looking to buy a map, only to be confronted with a teenaged assistant who didn’t know what a road map was! I suppose it is our fault, looking for old technology in this era of smartphones and GPS. I only know that, when you have a GPS (as we do) that has a tendency to switch itself off whenever the route gets interesting (as in, it’s fine for 300 km of perfectly straight highway but blanks out as soon as you get to your first turning), you tend to be pleased to have a printed map handy!

It was dark when we got to Point Cook and found our way, more by luck than judgement, onto Point Cook Road. Driving down the road, we hoped in the right direction, we couldn’t see anything that looked like a hotel. The civic numbers seemed to indicate that we’d passed it! Turning round, we headed back and finally saw it, just as we passed it yet again. No such thing as an illuminated sign, oh no, just a small string of fairy lights to indicate the gate. This was distinctly odd.

Hauling the car round again, we finally navigated the entrance gate and drove up through a deserted car park to a rather dark building that seemed to be a reception, of sorts. A lonely receptionist sat behind a desk at the rear of a huge marble atrium. Distinctly weird. Mark headed in and checked in-the receptionist giving every indication that she was pleased to see someone, any one in fact. It was a sort of resort hotel, and had only recently been taken over by Quality Inns, and the accommodation was in small villas dotted around the grounds. We were allocated Villa 9 and headed off to settle in. There was a restaurant on site, which we were glad to see because we really didn’t fancy trying to find anything out in the real world and have to try and navigate our way back in the stygian gloom that was Point Cook Road.

We headed straight back to the reception, and found the restaurant. Only one diner was in there and he’d pretty much finished his meal as we arrived. We ordered, they didn’t have my choice; we ordered again, the food arrived, it was good but the whole place was feeling more and more peculiar. We were glad to get back to the villa, with plans to catch up with e-mails and organise our next day. At least a corporate chain hotel would have good internet.

Nope, the internet wasn’t working. Mark phoned reception and the young lady there did her best to sort it out. It appeared that the system worked on a series of booster routers situated in some of the villas and, guess what, our nearest router, in Villa 8 next door, had failed. That was that-no question of repairing it that night, of course, so we had to make do. An early night so that we could get out quickly the next morning seemed the best plan. It seems that this hotel, planned as a holiday resort (though for what sort of holidaymakers is beyond me), was now the place where tradesmen and truck drivers put up when in the area, so a good number of noisy trucks and vans set off early the next day. It wasn’t a problem, we’d got up at first light anyway to take a quick walk around the grounds and into a country park situated opposite the hotel gate, finding our first New Holland Honeyeater for the trip, but we weren’t sorry to bid goodbye to the weirdest hotel of the trip so far.

New Holland Honeyeater (photo by Mark)

We had to make some decisions. Mark’s first plan had been to spend another couple of hours at Werribee, before heading down to the coast west of there (at Anglesea) for some seawatching (that is watching for birds over the sea, not watching the sea-which could get a bit ‘same-y’!). Then we were supposed to drive right round the bay, through Melbourne, to our next B&B, situated at Corinella. That seemed like a big ask, now that we’d seen the ground, and it also seemed to be short-changing the wonderful Werribee site. We decided to spend more time at Werribee, leaving around lunchtime for the Queenscliff-Sorrento ferry. A quick phone call using Mark’s limited allowance on his roaming phone, booked us onto the car ferry at 3 pm, and another call to the B&B warned them of our arrival around 7 pm. Now we could relax and really enjoy Werribee. We decided that we would make sure we’d see all of the permitted areas, as well as retracing our steps around Lake Borrie.

It was a good decision. The pools and muddy areas were alive with birds and we were soon racking up the species and ticks. More Zebra Finches were hanging out with Yellow-rumped Thornbills. Our first ever Cape Barren Goose caused some excitement. White-faced Chat, Banded Stilts and Blue-billed Ducks were added to the list. We seemed to be shadowing another car, a birder and his grandson; the young boy was not at all concerned about snakes and kept lying in the grass to take photographs. Perhaps the risk of snakes had been overstated? Well, we decided we weren’t going to take the chance-we’d let the lad be the snake bait (he was fine!).

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One group of birds that we’d been rather unlucky with, so far, were the Crakes and Rails. We’d heard, but not seen, Red-necked Crake at Kingfisher Park, and seen a distant, self-found, White-browed Crake on McDougall Road, but had had no luck with any other species. Imagine our delight then when we chanced on a muddy area with an Australian Spotted Crake. We were enjoying this sighting when a much smaller bird, a Baillon’s Crake, joined it and walked around in the open. Neither bird was ever stationary, and the light was low, so pictures are not great, but they were crakes! Even better, a brief view was obtained when a Buff-banded Rail passed through, too. Riches indeed!

To cut a long story (much) shorter, we spent a very happy morning exploring Werribee, picking up lots of birds but also missing out on a few. We searched endlessly for Freckled Duck and Musk Duck; the former an occasional visitor, the latter supposed to be relatively common, but with no luck with either. Orange-bellied Parrots, an extremely rare, endangered species, were present on the site but in a section we couldn’t access (Granddad and his lad told us about them, later). Ah well, you can’t win them all.

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A flock of Red-necked Stints fly along the beach at Werribee

Time to take the key back to the office, admire the Long-billed Corella feeding on the grass there, and pick up a little lunch (yes, more pies!) before heading for the ferry. The service station with the pie shop (a branch of Pie Face-very good they were too) also managed a couple of maps, of Melbourne and of the state of Victoria; so armed we felt a lot better about finding our way to Queenscliff.

Long-billed Corella (photo by Mark)

In fact, we made such good time that we got to the terminal just before 2 pm, with the previous sailing still loading. We decided to see if they’d let us go early so joined the queue. Yes, no problem, and we were soon on board and ready for the short trip across the end of Port Phillip Bay to Sorrento, at the end of Mornington Peninsula. This would cut off a big loop around Melbourne, although we would then have to drive up the length of the peninsula and down the coast of the next bay to get to Corinella. We took up position on the open deck, despite a chill wind, keen to look for seabirds. Nothing much, a few Australasian Gannets and a distant Sooty Oystercatcher, on the shore near the Sorrento Terminal, were the highlights, although we enjoyed seeing the skyscrapers of Melbourne, distantly visible across the bay.

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At Sorrento we disembarked and then made the slow drive right up the peninsula and back down the other side. In hindsight, Corinella wasn’t an ideal place to choose to stop and, indeed, we might have changed the booking if we hadn’t already paid for two nights. However, the B&B itself was delightful, situated on the esplanade overlooking the bay and with a small wharf just down the road. We quickly settled in, rather earlier than we’d planned but the proprietor was fine with that, and then headed down to the wharf to check out the birds. Gulls were the targets, and two species in particular: Kelp Gull (new for the trip) and the lifer Pacific Gull, with its ridiculously big bill.

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Pacific gulls were very obliging and we enjoyed watching them as the sun began to sink below the horizon. Eventually we had to head off again, looking for food. Corinella, a small seaside town, was totally bereft of anywhere to eat. It was quite a way back to the main highway, where there might be something, but it wasn’t guaranteed, so we settled on the local store and its takeaway menu. They had everything you might want to eat, as long as it was deep-fried and came with chips, that is! We had fish and chips, although the fish was called something strange and nobody could tell us what sort of fish it actually was. It was ok, but a bit greasy-hardly haut cuisine. We would have to try and find somewhere else for food, tomorrow.

And the final irony? The internet didn’t work! However, this time our host was most apologetic. It seemed that there had recently been a change in internet provider and the changeover hadn’t gone well. He promised to sort it out, tomorrow, but in the meantime gave us the code for his own connection. How very kind and trusting, we were very impressed. Corinella was going to turn out to have been a good choice, after all.

Cameras:
Sandra-Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ2500
Mark-Canon EOS 7D mkII, with EF 100-400 mm IS II USM lens

Of Pies, Puddings and Pooches…

Sunday 18 November – Tuesday 20 November 2018.

Three days of lazing around, eating, chatting and catching up with our very good friends and indulgent hosts, and their furbaby Newfiepoo, Lottie. Our friends, Liz and Steve, live on the edge of the Leeds-Bradford conurbation, but this means that there are lots of good country parks and, even better, seaside resorts in fairly close range. On Monday morning, a rather squally day, we set out to visit Bridlington, a seaside resort on the North Sea coast and little sister to Scarborough. Although there were bursts of wind and rain, we were wrapped up fairly warm and had hopes of a walk on the beach and a chance to play ‘catch’ for Lottie.

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We headed towards Bridlington Quay, the old harbour area. The town has a fishing heritage and, interestingly for us, it calls itself the Lobster Capital of Europe. Well, we live in the Lobster Capital of Canada; the Barrington Municipality that, along with the rest of South-west NS, is responsible for up to 40% of the Canadian lobster catch annually, so we were looking forwards to seeing this. It’s not very comparable to be honest, the old quay had a few boats in situ, and several piles of lobster traps of a slightly different-looking design to ours, but nothing like the number of boats and wharfs of Cape Sable Island and Pubnico, for example. That there is no comparison is underlined by the catch; 420 tonnes of lobster landed in Bridlington in 2014, as compared to 34,000 tonnes in South-west Nova Scotia in 2017! Still, they keep their wharfs much tidier, and it was a pleasure to stroll the harbour. A couple of traditional cobles, the flat-bottomed, open fishing boat of the North-east of England, were moored in the harbour.

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All this time the weather was worsening so we decided to make a break for the car before we got drenched. There were some threatening clouds heading in over the sea!

There’s rain in them thar clouds!

Time for a little light luncheon! Did I say ‘light’? Not sure that a Yorkshire pub knows the meaning of the word. We were off to the Ship Inn at Sewerby, just up the coast a little and a pub that Liz and Steve (and Lottie) know well because it is dog-friendly-your furry pals are welcome to join you for your meal. Well, that suited us just fine and we were soon settled at a table, enjoying mugs of ‘Engine Warmer’ (mulled cider-very nice!) and perusing a very interesting menu. Although quite why is beyond me as we’d already decide that Pies would be the order of the day. Anyone who has read any of this blog knows that we are mad for pies, when in a proper pie-friendly country that is, and Yorkshire certainly fitted the bill. I believe that Mark’s pie involved pork sausage and apple sauce!

The Ship Inn-home of the pies!

A short stroll along the cliff edge behind the pub helped the pies to settle a little. It was pretty cold, but a panoramic view over Bridlington, buffeted by the squally weather, was worth the look and the crumbling cliff edge. The Yorkshire coast is losing land to the sea at an alarming rate; it won’t be too long before the pub is sitting right on the cliff top.

As we were out there, we took a little jaunt along the coast to Flamborough Head. Now this is one of our old birding spots; we had done quite a few twitches here, over the years, but I have to admit, not to this particular side. We were used to the South Landing, where there is a small nature reserve but this time we headed to the North Landing, with its spectacular cliffs. We parked in an almost empty cliff top car park, near a closed (not in season) café, and watched the rain come down. A brief break in the clouds and we were out of the car, heading for the cliff top walk. Flamborough is, geologically speaking, quite an oddity as it is the only chalk sea cliff in the north of Britain. Not as big and imposing as the better-known White Cliffs of Dover, it is none-the-less very interesting, with more caves, blow holes and natural arches than its southern rival. Indeed, there was a very nice example of an arch in the cliffs just by the car park.

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In the breeding season, these rugged cliffs are covered in sea bird nests. Mark did his best to find a few, whilst Steve took Lottie for a little run. Alas, we didn’t have too long before another squall drove us back to the car and ultimately home. It had been a good day, though, and those pies were well worth the trip!

The next day Steve was very keen to take another drive out, this time to a battlefield. A very famous battle, between the Houses of Lancaster and York, for control of the English throne-all very ‘Game of Thrones’ of course, where do you think he got his inspiration from? The battle of Towton was the culminating battle in the first stage of the Wars of the Roses, possibly the largest and bloodiest battle ever fought on English soil, and was a Yorkist victory (grrr-even though it happened way back in 1461, it still rankles for a good Lancashire girl!). It led to Edward of York taking the throne as Edward IV, and the Lancastrian king, Henry VI, fleeing to Scotland in exile. Of course, ultimately, the Lancastrians came out on top (their natural position!) with Henry Tudor (Henry VII) at the battle of Bosworth, and a joint house was formed by his marriage with Elizabeth of York. You see, we Northerners can get on. I was pretty keen to see the place, as there was a battlefield walk with information panels-Mark will tell you I am a sucker for information panels. Liz and Steve could walk Lottie and Steve was also hopeful that there would be a few interesting birds, especially Red Kite. So something for everyone, if only the weather would oblige (I have to say, it was far better behaved during our Lancashire sojourn)!

We got there, it was raining, but we decided to go, at least part way. In truth, there isn’t too much to see on the actual site, but the walk is pleasant, the panels give a good idea of what was happening around the area back on 29th March 1461 and it was good to get some fresh air. We were also trying to work up an appetite for another Yorkshire pub lunch. We saw several Red Kites in the air, and a Corn Bunting in a bush by the cross that marks the battlefield (which looks very old but was only erected in 1929). I put up with the good-natured jibes as to being a ‘loser’, from our Yorkshire hosts, only reminding them once or twice that we Lancastrians had ultimately triumphed.

Just up the road was another dog-friendly pub – seriously I think that Steve navigates by them- but this one was a new experience for him. We’d taken a look at the menu on line (the internet is such a boon to gourmets like us!) and we were sold at the mention of giant Yorkshire puddings. Now, as I have mentioned earlier, I am a true Lancastrian, and Mark is a proud son of Nottingham, but we both agree that the Yorkshire pudding is a great boon and gift to the world. We would have to have Yorkshire pudding in Yorkshire, its spiritual home, although even we could not be tempted by the pub’s 100% Yorkshire Pudding Challenge, consisting of a starter Yorkshire pudding with onion gravy, followed by a giant Yorkshire pudding, filled with meat, mash potato and veggies, ending with a Yorkshire pudding filled with vanilla ice cream and toffee sauce. Just too much of a good thing, I think! Instead, Mark went for the plate-sized giant Yorkshire pudding, with steak and kidney and mash potato filling, whilst I thought I’d try the ‘dainty’ option of a pulled pork Yorkshire pudding wrap, with chips-ooh err! At least it had a salad garnish, so healthy eating, then?!.

Needless to say, it was delicious, very filling and quite enough to be going on with.

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Heading out of the pub, I took a quick trip across the road to take a look at a distant building in the sheep fields opposite. It looked distinctly ecclesiastical, and it was. Another of those useful plaques told me that this was the site of the village of Lead, mentioned in the Domesday Book back in 1086 and still extant when the battle of Towton raged several centuries later. By the end of the 1500’s however, it was no more, becoming one of the deserted medieval villages that pepper the landscape, especially ‘up North’. The reason for the desertion is unclear, but it is known that the local lordly family, the Scargills, enclosed land in the area to make a hunting park. In addition, many deserted medieval villages became so when the lords decided to graze sheep on the land, instead of leaving it for arable crops, and so evicted the tenants. There are still sheep there today.

And the ecclesiastical building? It is the remains of St. Mary’s Chapel, the church of Lead and likely the only stone-built building in the village. Once considerably larger and grander, with stained glass windows, it managed to survive, albeit in a semi-ruined state, to bear witness to the site of the village of Lead. Most interesting, even in the rain.

Time to head home. and for us to move on in the morning. We had only one full day left in the UK, and we were to devote that to Mark’s home county of Nottinghamshire. It had been a great few days in Yorkshire, and wonderful to catch up with our friends, and to make the acquaintance of Lottie, at last. I promised a pooch, here she is:

Lottie

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Camera: Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ2500

Gorgeous Gertie!

Saturday 22 September-Monday 24 September 2018.

One thing about this trip; there was never a chance to get bored or to feel down, we were always moving on and today was no exception. It was time to leave Red Mill House and head for another of the famous birding spots of Far North Queensland, Cassowary House. Located near Kuranda, on the edge of the Atherton Tablelands, we would be driving south, to Cairns, before taking a right turn up yet another of those wind-y mountain highways that the area seems to specialize in. We had all day to make the journey and were planning a few birdwatching stops on the way. Before we left, however, our hostess asked if we’d seen the tree frogs yet. Well, no, we’d seen no sign of any frogs in the area, not even the White-lipped Tree Frog, which seems to be something of a local speciality. She came down to the small parking area at the front of the house and pointed to a waist-high bush-‘they are in there’.

I couldn’t see any frogs, so she motioned us closer. Nestled in between the leaves were tiny, tiny frogs, smaller than a fingernail. There were apparently two types here, the Eastern Dwarf Tree Frog and the Northern Dwarf Tree Frog, although they are rather difficult to tell apart. They were, however, a lovely sight to see. As for the White-lipped Tree Frog, she had a metal sculpture of one on the house wall, which she flipped over. There, nestled inside the hollow cavity of the sculpture was the much larger White-lipped Tree Frog-how appropriate! I took a few shots of each animal before replacing the frog sculpture the right way round and leaving them all to their morning snooze. A great start to a new day.

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We had decided to travel down the coast road to Cairns, and visit a couple of sites around there before heading up the mountain. On the way we checked out the Daintree Barramundi Farm (where you can apparently ‘Hook a Barramundi’-a bit like a game of ‘hook a duck’ on the fairground, or so it seemed to us), where we had previously seen distant Radjah Shelduck. They were present again, even a little closer to the road this time- unfortunately, the only views to be had were from the road edges and less than stellar.

Still, these are really special shelducks, and well worth another look.

Our first port of call in the Cairns area was the Cattana Wetlands. We had really enjoyed the walk around these lagoons on our previous visit and thought them well worth another look. It kept trying to rain, but Cattana does have a number of hides placed around the more central lagoons so we found we could hop between these and sit out the showers in relative comfort. It proved a good choice; we saw some good birds, not new but nice to see again, and we got some great photo opportunities.

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Heading on from Cattana, we dropping in on the town of Machin’s Beach, looking for a little lunch. In our previous visits, we’d only gone to the beach itself, but this time we found a nice oceanside pub, still serving food (just-it was actually 2.30 pm by now), and settled onto a table on the verandah. Whilst waiting for our food we saw a small flock of finches land in a tree opposite the pub and, after some debate, ID’d them as Scaly-breasted Munia, a new species for us. Although they are actually an introduced species, they are free-living and it all counts on the Australia list.

Time to head off to our next accommodation, via a supermarket for supplies. This was to be another self-catering place and we were stopping for two nights, so a couple of meals were needed. Provisions obtained, we headed off up the Kennedy Highway to Kuranda, and Cassowary House.

Cassowary House is a guest house that caters only for birders and wildlife photographers. It is tucked away down a small road and in thick rainforest and, for many years, it has been part of the territory of a pair of Southern Cassowaries. These rare, huge flightless birds are a prized sighting for visiting birdwatchers, including us, so we were very excited to be there. Even here, the birds are not guaranteed and, we were told as we arrived, the female Cassowary, who had been recently quite reliable at around mid-morning had just today changed her routine and turned up at breakfast. Well, we had two nights, and mornings, to get lucky, so we crossed our fingers and hoped.

We had booked the Catbird Cottage as it sounded quaint and cute, and allowed us to self-cater. Unfortunately, it wasn’t really that pleasant; seemingly built out of old bits and pieces, with questionable electrics and plumbing. I was concerned when I noted that the table-top oven was plugged into an extension lead looped over the top of the sink! Old plastic bags stuffed as lagging into the edges of the corrugated tin roof looked incongruous, and the whole thing seemed teetered on the edge of a slope. I could tell that Mark (who doesn’t get on well with heights) was less than comfortable sitting on the back porch. Oh well, it would be worth it if we could see the Cassowary! We settled in, explored the grounds a little-but they are thick jungle and not conducive to much exploring- cooked a chicken curry for dinner and, after realizing that (yet again) there was absolutely no internet reception (apparently, there are too many trees!), tried to sleep.

It is a rainforest and, of course, that night it chose to rain torrentially on a corrugated tin roof. Mark isn’t a great sleeper at the best of times; he really didn’t do well that night. We are not at all ‘precious’ about these things and have slept in some interesting accommodation around the world, but really this one was not worth the money it cost to stay there – or at least it wouldn’t be if we didn’t get the bird! Bleary-eyed, we stumbled out the next morning for a walk around the grounds before taking breakfast up at the main house. The day before, Gertie, the female Cassowary, had turned up around 8.30 am as the other guests were having breakfast, so we decided this was likely to be our best chance. Breakfast was good; home-baked breads, freshly toasted; yoghurts and fresh fruits-ideal for me at least. A number of nice species visited the feeders around the verandah, and we chatted to the other guests who, astonishingly, all came from Canada!

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No sign of the Cassowary, and my bladder was telling me I had to move; I decided to nip back to our cottage for a bathroom break. A couple of minutes later I emerged from the cottage to find that a Cassowary had turned up in my absence! I could hear the other guests talking about it, and the sound of Mark’s camera on shutter-snap overdrive, but couldn’t actually see the bird, so it was a bit nerve-wracking as I crept the long way back to the house so as not to cause any disturbance. As I emerged on to the verandah, the bird was still there, picking at some of the breakfast fruits that had been tossed down to her-magnificent! Now, Cassowaries can be pretty formidable birds; they can do a lot of damage with those huge feet and strong legs, so we kept our distance. Our hostess confirmed that this was Gertie, the female of the pair. The male, Dad, was looking after their latest brood of chicks who were too small and nervous to approach the house. She also said that Gertie was quite placid, in Cassowary terms, and that we could head down the side stairs to get a little closer for photos, so we did.

She was indeed quite placid, working her way through the trees to the front step of our cabin. Thankfully, I had closed the cabin door on my way out, or we might have had a Cassowary roomie! A lot of photos and video were taken, she really was worth the bad night’s sleep. Many birders don’t get to see any of these birds, even in a hotspot like Cassowary House, so we felt very privileged. I don’t think we will ever forget it.

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Gertie, the Southern Cassowary

Job done! Well, should we stay another (sleepless) night in the Catbird Cottage or head on back down to Cairns? Tomorrow morning we were flying down to Melbourne for the last phase of the holiday and, having experienced the mountain highway on the way up, we felt that we’d rather be closer to the airport, anyway. Also, we had a few ‘mop-up’ species to target today, not least Crimson Finch and Nankeen Night-heron, that would be around the Cairns area if we were to find them at all. It was an easy choice, abandon cottage! We’d already paid for the two nights and tomorrow’s breakfast, so it was an easy job to pack the car, leave the key on the cottage table and head out. In hindsight, it might have been better to try to visit for the day, as many of the birding tours do (although the group that was visiting on the day we arrived actually missed the bird because Gertie had changed her schedule that morning). Alternatively, maybe the rooms in the house are better, albeit not self-catering? Anyhow, on the way back down the mountain we called the Villa Marine at Yorkey’s Knob (this had been our first accommodation in Tropical North Queensland) and were able to book a room for our last night.

Crimson Finch had been on our ‘want to see’ list for our entire stay. Our guide book had given Thomson Road, in Edmonton, as a sure-fire site and we had gone there several times, with no joy. We had seen some other interesting birds on the road, so all was not lost. We decided to give it one more go; predictably no Crimson Finches, indeed no finches of any variety, but we did enjoy an Australasian Figbird on the nest, and a good view of Leaden Flycatcher.

We went to Cairns Esplanade, an area that had provided varied pickings for us during our times in Cairns but that was supposedly the site of a roost of Nankeen Night-herons. We’d looked repeatedly for these birds on each visit, with no success. Another thing that had rather surprised Mark was the lack of other birders here. It wasn’t the high season, that would be next month, but everything that he’d read before visiting had suggested that local birders congregated on the esplanade boardwalk each afternoon and were happy to share their knowledge with visitors. We hadn’t seen a single one during our visits. Anyhow, we did a little birding on the beach, picking up a ‘trip-list tick’ Pacific Reef-heron, very distant, alongside Black-fronted Dotterel, Masked Lapwings and the expected Australian White Pelicans. We searched the trees along the foreshore for the Nankeen Night-heron roost, especially those around the war memorial, which we’d been told was the place to look. There was repair work going on on the boardwalk nearby, which perhaps explains why we just weren’t seeing them here. Time was getting on, and the tropical night falls swiftly, perhaps we weren’t going to get to see them.

Birders! A small group had met up on the boardwalk, so Mark decided to stroll over and ask for gen. We met a very nice local couple and asked them about the Night-heron roost-yes, they were here but not where we’d been told. Instead they were further up the beach, towards the town, and had been for most of the year. They very kindly offered to take us there, and immediately did so. A well-foliaged tree was absolutely full of Nankeen Night-herons, seemingly starting to wake up. It might not be too long before they decided to leave the roost and head out to forage. Our guides confirmed that the work on the boardwalk had caused the birds to shift their roost.

We were enjoying the Night-herons when Mark asked our guides if they knew of any sites for Crimson Finch. ‘Well, yes’, and it was not Thomson Road; instead they directed us to Redford Road, up past Yorkey’s Knob and on the other side of the highway. They always saw them here-it was a guaranteed spot. Well, we had to give it a go, despite the failing light and the possibility of flying Night-herons. We said goodbye to our guides, with copious thanks, and rushed off to the suggested site. Easy to find, the road was lined with cane fields and the canes were full of finches-and most of the finches were Crimson Finches! A really smart bird, and one that we’d pretty much given up on, we had really pulled that one back at the last minute.

very satisfied, we made our way back to Yorkey’s Knob at dusk, to check in to our last night’s accommodation. On the way, we came across a field of sugar cane being cut, and the road edge was alive with birds picking off the insects and rodents escaping the cutting. Two stately Black-necked Storks were causing a lot of interest in the passing traffic and many people stopped to take a photo-of course, we had to, too. This was an excellent view of a beautiful, and quite rare bird; much closer than any previous sighting, and a pretty nice way to round off birding in Queensland.

Villa Marine was full-apparently it was a holiday week in Queensland so a lot of families were stopping there. We ere lucky to have got the last room, surprisingly exactly the same one we had had on our arrival. So, no internet (without sitting in the middle of the lawn); but on the plus side, a very comfortable, spacious room; the best kitchen of any we had experienced in Queensland; and a guest laundry right next door for me to indulge my inner housewife. It had been a good choice to move! It was just a hop, skip and a jump the next morning to go to the airport, via a petrol station to fill up the car. Even there, Queensland had one last surprise for us, a really rather handsome spider sitting on the side of the pump that was later identified as St. Andrew’s Cross, apparently named after the diagonal cross shape made by the paired legs. It really had been an excellent trip so far, hopefully Victoria would add yet more species to the list.

St. Andrew’s Cross Spider

Cameras:
Sandra-Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ2500
Mark-Canon EOS 7D mkII, with EF 100-400 mm IS II USM lens

Yorkshire Bound

Saturday 17 November 2018.

It was time to say farewell to my Mum and Dad and head off east, into Yorkshire-ooo er! Well, that’s the perception of Lancashire v Yorkshire, going back to the Wars of the Roses and upheld by every Roses cricket match (where, I have to say, my home county doesn’t have the best record). In truth, there might be some friendly banter but, when it comes down to it, Yorkshire and Lancashire will come together against ‘namby-pamby southerners’! Maybe Mark, hailing from the Midlands county of Nottinghamshire, would be more likely to have to watch his step over there.

Actually, we were off to spend a couple of days with our good friends Liz and Steve (and dog, Lottie!), at their home in Dewsbury, near Leeds. We’d been promised a curry later, something we would happily travel thousands of miles to enjoy-the Leeds/Bradford conurbation has some of the very best curry houses in the country and we always try to make room for at least one whenever we go back to the UK. Beforehand, we were going to drop in at another RSPB reserve for a little light birding-what else!

Hitting the southbound M6 fairly early in the morning was interesting. The traffic was just so busy, it seemed far more so than our last visit 5 years earlier. There were also so many more accidents on the road network, or so it appeared. Poor little Britain felt very full, after the relative quiet of our home in Nova Scotia, but then we do live in the middle of nowhere (or ‘at the edge of everywhere’, as Yarmouth’s town motto puts it)! The M6 around Preston was actually Britain’s first motorway-not the M1 as people seem to think, assuming  that the ‘1’ denotes ‘first’- and it was opened 60 years ago this month. Then it was two lanes on each side, with odd cars dotted along its length, and with absolutely no speed limit! Now there are four lanes a side and it can be solid with traffic for the entire length (and there definitely are speed limits, and average speed cameras to make sure you keep to them). Our journey would continue via the M61 and M62, more traffic mayhem but, despite it all, we got to our destination in double-quick time.

Our destination was Blacktoft Sands RSPB reserve, another of those excellent bird reserves we so miss. Located on the south bank of the River Ouse, where the waterway widens to become the Humber Estuary, it has a number of hides overlooking marshes and supports waders and waterfowl. We were looking forwards to a stroll along the reserve and spending some time in the hides. It would be just the thing to work up an appetite for the curry!

It was a lovely Autumn day, cool but sunny and dry. There weren’t a huge variety of birds but we enjoyed views of a few nice species. One of my absolute favourites is the Common Shelduck; I just love those ‘simple, but effective’ blocks of colour in the plumage, and it is so easy to identify! There were a number of these birds to enjoy in the six marshy lagoons.

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Just as in Lancashire, Little Egrets were relatively common; such a change to when we used to live there. It’s hard to believe that these used to be twitched! Now they are an almost expected addition to every wetland scene.

We spent a little time enjoying some Eurasian Wigeon in a pool just outside one of the hides. The light was so good that these birds just seemed to glow. One of the males had a slight green tinge to the feathering on the head that Mark hadn’t seen before. Wonder if his mum had been no better than she should be?!

It was nice to bump into one of Mark’s old birding mates from Nottingham. Stuart Taylor is now assistant warden at Blacktoft; they haven’t seen each other for years but recognised each other immediately. Stuart was heading down to check on the ponies; the RSPB use a small herd of 6 Konik (or Polish Primitive) ponies to help graze the marsh to control the reedbeds, We didn’t see the ponies, but the fence was intact so Stuart was confident that they were fine. It gave Mark and he a chance to catch up. It was interesting to find out that wonderful places like Blacktoft Sands are under threat-over 80% of the funding for the site currently comes from the EU and it isn’t at all clear where replacement funds will be found. I hope we will still be able to visit such great places when we next go back to the UK but I’ll admit that I’m worried.

Stuart and Mark

Time to head off, back along the M62 (in rush hour-who’s bright idea was that?) to Dewsbury and Liz and Steve’s house. It was great to see them again, they’d been one of the couples who had visited us last year, and to finally meet Lottie, their Newfiepoo furbaby. Even better, two more of our good friends, Steve and Tor, had headed up from Nottingham to join us for the night out. Excellent, curry and great friends-it doesn’t get any better than that!

Every time we have visited Liz and Steve, we have gone to a different curry house. There are so many to choose from, and so many good ones, that it must be hard to decide on one. We are just happy to be taken along, this time to LaLa’s Kashmiri restaurant in nearby Batley. A ‘BYOB’ establishment (bring your own beer), we were almost without any when Steve forgot to pick up the bag of bottles he’d been keeping cool in the garage. luckily, we remembered before we’d got to the end of his road; a quick ‘u’ turn saved the day!

LaLa’s Batley

A very upmarket appearance!
We were soon settled in a nice round table, beers opened and orders placed-aahh! The food came, it was superb. We all like naan bread with our curries. LaLa’s boast something called the ‘family naan’ alongside their standard size. We decided to order standard-sized ones for each of us (well, we do love naan)-that was a mistake! They were enormous, excellent but huge-the size of a baby. Served hung on ‘naan trees’ (something I’ve never seen this side of the pond), they quite obscured the view! I can’t imagine how big the ‘family naan’ would be, but I expect it would quite overwhelm my family. No way could we finish them, but we had a jolly good try!

Camera: Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ2500

Never Smile at a Crocodile…

20th-21st September 2018.

This was our last morning at Kingfisher Park, before we were to head north to our next location, Daintree.  Before we left, however, we were keen to mop up a few more species on the park and its environs. We hadn’t caught up with one lodge speciality, the Red-necked Crake, which had declined to show itself in the evenings when we had watched by the crake pool (although we had heard it call, from a distance). Apparently, a neighbour has taken for feeding it cheese, which was luring it away from its usual haunts! We were going to have to do without a sighting. However, there were other birds to see, especially the Lemon-bellied Flycatcher that was known to be nesting in the grounds, so we were determined to pick this one up before we left.

It was a pleasant stroll around the grounds, and into the next-door park, where we enjoyed watching a colony of Metallic Starlings. These engaging birds nest communally in pendulous nests of woven grasses, and a tree in the park held a thriving colony. I just love those bright red eyes.

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Just here we also finally found our Lemon-bellied Flycatcher, along with a Forest Kingfisher and a Pacific Emerald Dove. Back on the park, we visited the ‘platypus pool’; no platypus but a Spectacled Monarch and a female Shining Flycatcher were certainly fun to see. We’d probably neglected the orchard area of the park grounds, a little, but had a yomp around it now, adding Pale Yellow Robin, Macleay’s Honeyeater, Brown Honeyeater and Little Shrikethrush to the day list. A nice end to our stay at Kingfisher.

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After loading up the car and saying farewell to Kingfisher, we decided to take another look at McDougall Road before heading off. There was nothing much different at the first dam, but the second one held a surprise. A White-browed Crake was working its way around the margins. A long way away, and a rather tiny bird, it was a great find as we hadn’t had much luck with crakes and rails so far. We were enjoying this when a fellow ‘Kingfisher Park’-er came by, looking for the ‘Indian God’. He had been told that a very good fig tree, likely holding Double-eyed Fig-parrots, was by the Indian God statue on this road, somewhere. Well, I’d actually seen this god on a previous trip down the road; a statue of Ganesh, the Hindu god of beginnings and patron of intellectuals, was by a gate just down the road. We were able to take him right to it. There was a very large fig tree just by the statue and, true enough, it was holding a number of tiny Fig-parrots. I don’t know why they are ‘Double-eyed’, they seemed to have just the right number of eyes to me, but it was great to get good views of these birds since we’d previously only had very brief, flyover views.

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Time to head north, via the coast road, giving glimpses of beautiful beaches but with lots of warnings of crocodiles. There never seemed to be anyone actually on the beaches, I wonder why?

We were heading for the village of Daintree, and Red Mill House Bed and Breakfast. We arrived a little early for check-in time, and were rather hungry, so we decided to try and get a bite to eat in the village, which seemed to be composed of a pub, a café or two and a lot of ‘crocodile tour’ booking offices. The café, however, was offering a Devonshire Tea, and we’d enjoyed the last one so we went for that. Three halves of home-baked scone, jam, whipped cream and a pot of locally-grown tea, very pleasant indeed. It filled up the time very nicely until we could go and book into the B&B, situated just a couple of hundred yards from the café. We had a very comfortable en-suite room, just up the stairs from a parking area. The owner was a very helpful lady, giving out useful sheets of instructions for local birding spots. In fact, these had been written by the previous owners, a birding couple, and thus were a bit out of date, but they proved very useful, nevertheless.

We took a turn around the garden, picking up a couple of interesting insects; Rainforest Elf, a tiny dragonfly, and a male Dingy Swift, a skipper species. Just by the gate was one of the few lizards we had seen on the trip, Closed-litter Rainbow Skink. Things were looking interesting round here.

We decided to take one of the suggested drives. The country road wound its way along the river valley, not overly birdy but with a few interesting things, like a couple of distant Radjah Shelduck across the river. It was a relaxing drive at the end of a fairly busy day. We headed back to the B&B, via the pub in the village for dinner, and then tried to catch up on our e-mails. Predictably, the internet at the B&B didn’t reach our room, so we had to take the equipment along the verandah…sigh! One day we’d find another Australian lodging with decent internet, wouldn’t we?!

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The next morning we were down on the jetty, bright and early, for the boat tour. It seemed that all of the other patrons of the B&B, a British couple and a group of 4 American birders, were going on the same tour with Murray Hunt, the ‘Daintree Boatman’. His was the small boat we had seen heading in the night before and we were soon loaded up. As the first there, we snaffled the very front seats of the boat…a privilege of early rising! Murray was very knowledgeable and entertaining, providing lots of anecdotes about the things we were seeing. Almost the first thing we saw was the local dominant male Saltwater Crocodile. He really was a big lad, longer than the boat with quite a malevolent-looking yellow eye, and he was gliding along the river towards us-ooh er! Murray estimated him to be at least 8 metres long and advised us all not to fall in the water right now! He thought that this was likely to be a croc called Barrett; so named because he’d been hatched and spent his formative years in a side creek of the river, called Barrett’s Creek. We were to be heading up that creek during this boat trip. Barrett slid past us, keeping a beady eye on us the whole time, and then disappeared. It was to be the only sighting of Saltwater Crocodile for the whole trip but it was a very memorable encounter.

Barrett, the Saltwater Crocodile, keeps an eye on us!

Unfortunately, the birds were a little sparse but we enjoyed what we saw, including a pair of Papuan Frogmouths, day roosting at the edge of the river. The male was sitting on the nest, the female was close by; both gave good views. Amongst the other birds seen were Australasian Darter, Little Pied Cormorant, Asian Koel (new for the trip), Azure and Sacred Kingfishers, Shining Flycatchers and a Brown-backed Honeyeater sitting in a nest. You could only see the tip of the tail! Murray found us a Common (or Green) Tree Snake, which provided only brief views before it slithered away. I was fascinated by the beautiful flowers of the epiphytes growing along the edge of the river.

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Soon it was time to head back. I think that Murray must have been told off, previously, by the owner of the guesthouse for getting her guests back late for breakfast because he got us back to the dock in jig time. Mark had been hoping for Great-billed Heron, but we’d not seen hide nor hair of one so he was a bit disappointed. Still, the day was still young, it was only 8.30 am!

It was a fine breakfast, at least for me who loves fruit and yoghurt, and I got to try some new fruits (like the purple custardapple in the picture above-delicious). However, we really were not sure what to do for the rest of the day now that the boat trip was over. We didn’t have any specific target areas and the birding hereabouts had been difficult at times. Perhaps we could try further north, across the river? There were some sites north of the Daintree, including Jindalba, a rainforest boardwalk, that we hoped would be interesting. First we had to cross the river on the chain ferry, so we headed there. Its rather expensive to cross, but you only live once. We were amused, and a little concerned, by a couple who had got their motorboat stuck on a sandbank in the river and had to get out and push. This is the home of the Saltwater Crocodiles, after all! The ferry runs on a cable, so couldn’t divert to give them a hand. However, with a little elbow grease, they got the boat refloated, without losing any limbs to Barrett and his pals, and were able to carry on with their journey, only a little red-faced at having the whole ferry watching their plight!

This was probably the only time during the whole trip to Australia that we felt at a loose end. In such situations, nothing we did would have worked well, so the drive up to Jindalba felt uninteresting and uninspiring. We didn’t spend that long there, dropping in on a couple of sites (such as Cow Bay) on the way, and we headed back to Daintree just after lunch. What to do to rescue the day?

Well, we went birding, of course; this time following the second sheet of instructions from the B&B, and thank goodness we did. It really restored our good humour. The first part of the drive was the same as the one yesterday evening. We took a look at Stewart Creek from the road bridge across it and, to our surprise, found our own Great-billed Heron! He was tucked up against the bank initially, but then walked out onto a log before flapping off around the corner and out of sight. It felt like a good omen.

Great-billed Heron

This was Stewart Creek Road, and it was very scenic and very birdy. We enjoyed views of Black Kites, Eastern Cattle Egrets, White-bellied Woodswallow, and White-bellied Sea Eagle, along with the inevitable Forest Kingfishers on the fence wires. At the very end of the road, where the trees thickened up, we had stopped to watch a Wild Pig, with a litter of cute stripy piglets, when we noticed a bird, scratching in the leaf litter at the side of the road. It was a Noisy Pitta, a bird we had heard but not yet seen. We couldn’t get out of the car or it would be off; it was very dark too, late afternoon and in the shade of the trees, but we watched it make its way across the road, disappearing into the foliage, and tried a couple of shots through the windscreen. Less than optimal, of course, but it was a Noisy Pitta and not everyone manages a sighting of one of those!

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Time to head back to Daintree for another excellent dinner at the pub, and our last night in the very comfortable Red Mill House. We were off again, next morning, back south towards Cairns but, before we retired for the night, our hostess showed us one of the nocturnal animals she has in the garden. A Northern Brown Bandicoot was busy hoovering up crumbs on the lawn and could be seen in the light of a torch. Another great sighting for our burgeoning mammal list!

Northern Brown Bandicoot

Cameras:
Sandra-Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ2500
Mark-Canon EOS 7D mkII, with EF 100-400 mm IS II USM lens

Lancashire Life

13-17 November 2018.

It’s been a little while since I last posted, but there has been a good reason-San has been on the Lam again! This time, a visit to our old home country, England. Mainly a family visit, to celebrate my dad’s 81st birthday and, on the day after, my parents’ 60th (Diamond!) wedding anniversary, we also took the opportunity to visit a few good birding sites and reconnect with some British birds.

I was born and brought up in Preston, the county town of Lancashire in the north-west of England, and my parents and sister still live there. Therefore, after the red-eye flight from Halifax to Heathrow, London, and picking up a car, we headed straight up to my parents’ house- watching for Red Kites along the motorway as we went. There are lots of these birds now; they were pretty uncommon when we left the UK in 2003, but have flourished since being re-introduced in a few suitable areas-a real success story! It had been a long day, with little sleep on the plane (the flight is not really long enough for a good kip), so we were pleased to make it safely to Preston and settle in.

Mum and Dad are not really early morning people, so we arranged to go out in the morning before they got up, coming home around midday. This was Dad’s birthday so we did want to get back in good time. We decided to visit a local nature reserve that we had found on our last visit which, due to various occurrences mostly beyond our control, was way back in 2013! First, though, we had to get out of my parents’ road.

We had really noticed the increase in traffic on UK roads. Maybe it is because we now live in rural Nova Scotia where, although most households have at least one car (often a huge truck), the number of people is relatively low. In the UK, the island now seems crowded and the number of cars, albeit generally little ones, is enormous.  We turned out of my parents’ road, onto one of the main highways out of the city, and then sat there. It was ‘rush hour’, admittedly, but it took us 30 minutes to travel less than 100 metres-clearly, something was wrong up ahead. A bit of fast manoeuvring, and my fading memory of how to get across the city (I left home at 18 and have only visited intermittently since!), finally got us to the site we were aiming for; Brockholes Wetland and Woodland reserve in the Ribble valley.

This site, a former quarry since developed by the Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside into a thriving nature reserve, boasts the UK’s first floating visitor centre and an excellent café. Plentiful footpaths around the site gave us the opportunity of seeing a few British birds. It was really nice to reacquaint ourselves with common birds, like Chaffinch, Dunnock, Blackbird and Robin. It had been so long since I’d seen some of these, that they were almost ‘new’ again. It was good to appreciate the colourful plumage of Blue and Great Tits and enjoy the Fieldfares and Redwings that seemed to abound there. It was clearly going to be a ‘thrush’ winter in the UK.

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The weather was showery but reasonably warm for November, but provided some good photogenic ‘lowering’ skies. After a good walk round the grounds we decided that we had earned a coffee and a snack, in the floating village. When we found that they did a ‘cream tea’, with real clotted cream and jam on a warm home-baked scone, we were sold-you know how much we like cream teas! And we were on holiday after all.

Cream Tea, with real clotted cream!

Time to head back to base and celebrate Dad’s birthday. We were to have a posh meal out tomorrow, for the wedding anniversary, so tonight we headed to my sister’s house for a splendid buffet and birthday cake. Clearly my waistline was going to suffer on this trip!

The next morning, we headed out early again for a sort of pilgrimage-I call it that because we go to this site on every visit to Lancashire, namely Leighton Moss and Morecambe Bay RSPB reserve. It’s a little way up the motorway (M6) from Preston, but worth the trip, and this morning there was no traffic holdup. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds really knows how to care for a nature reserve and this RAMSAR site, a wetland of international importance, is no exception. When we got there, we first visited the outlying Morecambe Bay offshoot. There seemed to be a lot of people about, considering it was a Thursday morning in mid-November, and a lot of cars lining the approach roads. This usually indicates a twitch is ongoing, and so it proved. The target bird, however, turned out to be an American Wigeon-not too exciting when you live in Nova Scotia, so we didn’t expend much effort to look for it!

There are two hides at this end of the reserve, the Allen hide and the Eric Morecambe hide. Hides are what American birders call blinds, although I’ve rarely come across an American blind that compares favourably with a good hide, which has opening windows at the right height for a person sitting on a bench, with binoculars propped up on elbows, to look through and with no foliage or other obstructions obscuring the view. It can be a very relaxing experience to sit in a hide and watch the (avian) world go by.

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Eric Morecambe, one of the duo ‘Morecambe and Wise’, was a much-loved British entertainer who came from Morecambe and who was also a birdwatcher. To we of a certain age, Christmas was just not Christmas without watching the Morecambe and Wise Christmas show.

We headed up to the main reserve. We were getting a bit short of time, now, but felt that we could manage a quick yomp around part of the extensive site. A feeding station near the reception building provided some nice views of common woodland passerines, Common Pheasant and, unfortunately, rats!

The reserve has added a viewing tower, definitely not there last time we visited. This is a sturdy-looking edifice that even Mark, well-known for disliking heights, was happy to climb. There was a good view of the extensive wetlands from the top.

We were not going to get round the whole reserve, so we decided to concentrate on the western end, and the Tim Jackson and Grisedale hides. We were lucky to hear a Cetti’s Warbler in song on the path to the hides, although the deep cover provided by the extensive reedbeds meant that we only saw the briefest of flight views. Still, Cetti’s Warblers are unmistakable in song. Another of those species that have been spreading northwards, they were previously unknown in this reserve but are now relatively common. There were no Bearded Tits showing, but a nice selection of commoner birds and a flighty Marsh Harrier made the trip worthwhile.

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Time to head home, but only to head out again, this time with my parents. It had been a beautiful autumn morning; sunny and relatively warm, so they fancied a walk by the sea. Always ready for a bit of sea air, we were happy to join them for a trip to Lytham St. Annes. This rather genteel seaside resort is situated on the Fylde coast, on the edge of the Ribble estuary and south of the less refined joys of Blackpool. A long promenade provides easy walking and sea views, although the sea can go out quite a way all along this coast. Well, we set out in relative warmth, but the sun soon disappeared behind a cloud and the wind off the sea became rather cutting. Mum feels the cold, so it was decided that she and Dad would take a turn through the town (hopefully a little more sheltered from that wind) whilst Mark and I would bird the seashore. We would meet back up in an hour.

Even in the cold wind, the birds were evident, albeit distant, feeding at the edge of the tide. A boardwalk allowed access to the water’s edge, so we picked our way down the rather slippery surface to see if we could get any closer. Not really, but the sea views were good.

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A feature of Lytham Green is the old windmill, no longer working of course. Windmills were once a feature of the flat Fylde plain, and this example was built in 1805, to grind wheat to flour and oats into bran. It was last used in 1921 and now houses a museum, alongside the old lifeboat house next door. We were stalking Rooks on the grass by the windmill when we noticed Mum and Dad returning from their sojourn in the town. Time to head home and get ready for the party; a very nice meal in a local restaurant and a fancy cake. It’s not everyone that makes it to 60 years of marriage!

It was a late night and a fun one, so we headed out the next morning intending to let Mum and Dad have a quiet day to recover. This time we didn’t have a set place to visit, instead we decided to head up to Fleetwood, a small fishing town north of Blackpool and the home of ‘Fisherman’s Friends’ lozenges-inexplicably exported all over the world. More seaside, but we had hopes of bumping into a few more bird species and, if nothing else, some fresh sea breezes to blow the cobwebs away. We certainly did that, enjoying a stroll along the beach and distant views of Oystercatchers and Ringed Plovers, and returning via the boating lake where there were relatively close Ruddy Turnstones and muddy-headed Mute Swans.

Heading north from Fleetwood, across the Wyre Estuary, we headed to a site I remembered from childhood. Pilling Sands was legendary for never seeing the sea. A sea wall could be traversed by a steepish ramp, and cars regularly drove along the hard-packed sand. The sea was miles away. People used to go there for driving lessons, even. It seems wrong to me, now, to drive on the beach, but it was a simpler time, back then. Only once did we breast the ramp to find the sea lapping right up to the sea wall-sudden breaking and a swift reverse saved us from an involuntary sea bathe. It was interesting to go back, after all these years. The ramp did not seem quite so steep, the sea was its usual distance away and, now, there was an area of grassland at the base of the sea wall. Evidently, the silting up of the coastline on this side of the UK means that the sea no longer comes in as far and new land is developing. It might end up joined to Ireland (unless the east coast of that island is also eroding away)! Just a little way up the coast we came across a small reserve, Pilling Lane Ends. The fields around it were full of Lapwings, Curlews and Pink-footed Geese. Slightly further north, we took a side road to the coast, yet again, at Glasson Dock. Built as a dock for Lancaster, back in 1782, it is still in use for some commercial shipping, although it seems like a very sleepy backwater.

Time to head back. A Chinese meal, with (oh, joy) prawn toasts and prawn crackers, was our contribution to the festivities. Waistbands were definitely tightening! Tomorrow we were heading off, across the Pennines into darkest Yorkshire (definitely alien territory for this Lancashire lass), to stay with our good friends, Liz and Steve. More feasts were going to be the order of the day, starting with a fabulous curry. There was still much more to look forwards to in this trip to the Old Country, and more sea views!

Camera: Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ2500

Mount Lewis

Wednesday 19th September 2018.

Today we planned a big trip, a ‘slog’ up the trail at Mount Lewis, one of the few, relatively-accessible areas of mountain wet rainforest in the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area, accessed by a 28 km-long drive up a gravelly road. Not always accessible without 4-wheel drive, the recent drought conditions, alongside grading works, had made this a real possibility. We had spoken with a group who made it up there, yesterday, with little problem, so we were very much looking forwards to the challenge. First, though, a nice walk around the lodge grounds yielded the normal species expected in the gardens, such as Australian Brush-turkey, Macleay’s Honeyeater. Bar-shouldered Dove, Red-browed Finches and Chestnut-breasted Mannikin.

Soon, though, it was time to set off. The road to Mount Lewis was the next road along from Kingfisher Park, and soon we were climbing steadily. It seemed that we were the first car to have made the trip up there today, as we kept coming across quite substantial bits of tree and bamboo, lying across the road. I was kept busy hopping out of the vehicle to heave them off the road. Part-way up we came across a pair of Chowchillas, foraging in the leaf-litter at the side of the road before scuttling across and into the undergrowth at the other side. Typically, right in the darkest spot so still pictures were not really an option, although a short video did capture something of the occasion. We’d previously only heard these birds, so it was great to get a sighting!

At the top of the gravelled road is an area called ‘the Clearing’. In fact, the track goes on from here, but it is really only recommended in a four-wheel drive vehicle and, anyway, we didn’t need to go any further. Our target would need a hike, up a trail heading off to the left, but first we would take a look around the clearing for anything interesting, including (possibly) the Blue-faced Parrot-finch. Really, we were too early in the year for those birds, but a nice Mountain Fantail and the spectacular Black Jezebel butterfly were welcome.

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Heading up the trail, we soon became aware that hiking trails here were not really like those elsewhere. Although a reasonably obvious way, it was punctuated by tree trunks that had fallen across the trail and been left. These were obviously not newly-fallen trees-they had been there for some time; years, probably-and there was generally no way round them, only over. Not bad if you are 6 ft tall, but a bit of an effort when only 5 ft, 4 ins, with little legs! The rainforest on either side of the trail was thick, full of bird sounds (we heard lots of Tooth-billed Bowerbirds, for example) but with few bird sightings.

Our main target here was to be Golden Bowerbird, the smallest Bowerbird in Australia and another of the Atherton Tablelands endemics. Localized and quite secretive, and only found at altitude, it can be a difficult species to see. Mount Lewis has been the preferred spot to see these birds although, even here, sightings are dependent on the male bird building a bower relatively close to the path. An active bower had been established, almost at the top of the trail near a microwave tower, and it was supposed to be a reliable spot, if you could find it. It would entail a 7 km scramble over those rough trails, though.

We had been told to stay on the path and, on no account, to take a path to the right. Well, that sounded easy until we came to a fork. It looked very much as if the main trail carried straight on, and another trail branched off to the left but, what if this latter one was the main trail? There were no signposts, naturally. We actually took the left-hand trail and walked some distance, apparently heading downhill. This felt wrong, as a microwave tower would normally be uphill, not down. Retracing our steps to the fork, we took a look at the right-hand trail. This felt even more wrong. Heading back to the original trail, we bumped into another couple, hoping that they would have some idea. No; despite being Atherton Tablelands residents, they had never been here before and, even more surprisingly, they were unaware of the Golden Bowerbirds, although they were pretty keen for a look if we could find them. We decided to hope for the best and keep on down the left-hand track. We’d been told that we would pass a miner’s dam, a small lake, if we were on the right track. Thereabouts should be our secondary target species, Fernwren-yet another endemic of the Tablelands that we hadn’t had a sniff of, yet.

The fork in the track-left or right?

Well, in the end we chose correctly. Just when we were sure we were completely wrong and thinking of heading back, up came the dam, a pretty little body of water, with a kingfisher in residence. Unfortunately, no Fernwrens though.

Without more ado, we carried on up the track, which had now taken on a more pronounced ‘up’ direction. Our instructions for finding the bower was to go right up to the tower, turn around, head back down for 100 metres and the bower would be on the left, opposite a pile of wood that looked ‘meant’, as if it had been placed there to identify the spot. All the way up we were looking for the artificial pile, and not seeing anything of the sort. It seemed a long slog uphill, with the path washed out into a dry stony rivulet on occasions. We began to despair of ever finding the tower, when suddenly we were there. We had evidently walked past the bower without even recognising it. Mark decided to use his stride as a rough measure, and worked his way back down the slope to the approximate site, then we both searched each side of that spot until, suddenly, we found it, and the male Golden Bowerbird was in situ next to the bower!

The Golden Bowerbird builds the largest bower of all Australian bowerbirds, and it is the only representative in the country of the twin-tower type bower; i.e.
two columns of small twigs built around two trees, about a metre apart and three metres high. Despite its size, it is very easy to miss in the dense undergrowth of the rain forest. Mark headed back down the track to find the other couple, whilst I watched the bird so as to be able to point him out when they arrived. He was very obliging, staying around his bower until they arrived, and even coming a little closer for a while. Low light in the rainforest made for dark photos, but it was a Golden Bowerbird, so not complaining at all!

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Job done, we retraced our steps back down the mountain and back to the car. We were looking forwards to a little lunch, and a nice cup of tea, back at the lodge, This was our last full day at Kingfisher Park, so we were going to target a few more special birds. The lodge owners were happy to provide some ‘gen’; e.g., Squatter Pigeon at Mount Molloy and a late afternoon roost of Red-tailed Black Cockatoo at Maryfarms. This all sounded good so, after a short rest in the middle of the day, watching the bird feeders from the verandah, we were off again. But not before we noticed something interesting hanging from the roof of the verandah, a few doors down.

Australia is known for having the most poisonous snakes and spiders in the world. It had been a slight concern, when planning the trip, although the reality had been that we’d seen hardly any of either. In fact, Mark told me later that there had been a few spiders, often in the rooms we were inhabiting, but that he’d not told me about those! Now, I really don’t like spiders in my living quarters, but I’m not fazed by them outside, in the wild, and I can even take photographs with equanimity. So, when we saw a pretty gigantic spider, hanging in its web, further down the verandah, we had to take a closer look and snap a couple of pictures. It had to wait till we got home, but I managed to ID this one as a female Giant Golden Orb spider (Nephila pilipes). Not particularly venomous, it was just minding its own business, so we let it be. Look away now if you are an arachnophobe!

Check out those bright yellow knees!

Squatter Pigeons were supposed to be common in the gardens of Mount Molloy, so we headed there and took a turn around the town. We weren’t seeing anything, though. The school grounds were also supposed to be a hotspot, too, so we headed there. It was home time, and the little gate was busy with kids and parents. Not wanting to be in the way, we drove past the gate to where the grounds met the road at a chain link fence. there was a wide grassy area here that had several Squatter Pigeons roaming around-result! This really is a very smart pigeon, despite its common name. It is thought that this might stem from the bird’s tendency to ‘freeze’ in a squatting posture when startled or threatened. Incidentally, the reason for the inactive great Bowerbird bower, that we’d seen on our first visit to the school, was revealed by the fact that there was a highly decorated active bower, and Great Bowerbird, just around the corner from it! We just hadn’t walked far enough on our first visit.

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On our way back through Mount Molloy, we stopped at a café for ice cream when a small group of parrots flew over and dived into a tree on the other side of the road. Diligent searching by Mark identified them as Red-winged Parrots, a much better sighting than the brief fly-through looks at Mount Carbine caravan park, yesterday.

Time to head out to Maryfarms, to be in place for the evening Cockatoo spectacular. This was best seen from West Mary Road, but we were a little early, so we decided to head down East Mary first, and we were so glad we did. We’d seen Australian Bustard reasonably well, yesterday, but we were in for a treat, today. A male Bustard, in display, marching through the grass of the paddock, quite uninterested in his appreciative human audience (us and another photographer). It was spectacular. I managed stills and video, and it was definitely one of the highlights of the trip. He really was a stately lad!

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A rather obliging Black-shouldered Kite just added to the excitement.

Heading on to West Mary Road, we had time to settle in before we heard the first of the cockatoos approaching. Numbers of Red-tailed Black Cockatoos head for the trees here, in late afternoon, in order to drink, bathe and socialise in a small dam in the field by the end of West Mary road. It was quite a spectacle to watch the birds drifting in and out, in groups large and small.

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Time to head back to the lodge, and dinner. For the last couple of days we’d self-catered in the lodge, and it had worked out well, but today we’d decided to eat out. On the corner of the road to Mount Lewis was the Highlander Tavern, and we’d decided to give it a go. It looked nice, with a covered verandah and a pleasant bar room. Given the late evening, we decided to eat inside, and enjoyed it. Mark took advantage of a cold one, in one of those rather spiffy holders they give you to keep it cold!

Back at the lodge, we took our computers down to an area near the office so as to check e-mails. In keeping with almost everywhere we’d been, Kingfisher Lodge had totally inadequate wi-fi. Despite actually paying for access, it didn’t reach as far as our room, so the only option was to carry our stuff down near the reception and work there. I was just finishing a message to our friends, who were cat-sitting for us, when we heard the lodge owner saying ‘does anyone want to see a Papuan Frogmouth?’ Daft question, we scrambled back to our room, dumped the electronics, picked up bins and camera and followed her back to the site, just next to the laundry. We’d walked a long way round but the bird was actually in a tree just opposite our room. Illuminated for a short while, in the light of a torch, the frogmouth was an excellent end to a very good day!

Cameras:
Sandra-Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ2500
Mark-Canon EOS 7D mkII, with EF 100-400 mm IS II USM lens