Sunday, October 1, 2017

I Love Orange-bellied Parrots

Last Friday I was looking down a track in the northern part of the Western Treatment Plant and saw a jewel in the grass. It was so green and bright that at first it called to mind an Emerald Dove. Of course I knew that it would not be an Emerald Dove and as my bins went to my eyes, the back of a tiny Orange-bellied Parrot appeared. I did not expect to see one of these beautiful birds, and as much as I loved looking at it, I wish I had not. That little bird should have been in Tasmania.

According to its leg bands, he was a mainland released male from earlier this year. He had a silver band with a Y on his left leg and a red ring on his right. He was actively feeding on the tiny grass heads and seemed happy, although a tad woebegone. I was deeply moved. I stood for about 35 minutes basically where I had stopped when I first saw him. I just kept taking photos and marveling at, and loving, this tiny treasure. I did not want to disturb him and he allowed me to spend a little time with him. Just the two of us.

Here he is...

Eat well my little friend... get strong.

Num, num, num...
Eventually, moving slowly and quietly, I called my friend Dez Hughes (the Wader Whisperer) who was only few kilometers away. He headed up to see the parrot. However, minutes before he arrived, it had flown up, around, and disappeared into cover in the same general area. As Dez stood there with me, it flew up and out again, giving him great views of those vibrant blues and greens (and orange-belly) before it landed again disappearing in the scrub. We left the area.

I first saw wild Orange-bellied Parrots in June of 2012 at the Borrow Pit at the WTP. There were three. I was a fairly new birder and I fell in love with these wondrous little parrots as I would. I took Lynn and my twelve-year-old granddaughter, Mandy, to see them. We had amazing views and I took copious photos. Below are a few from that day.

I do not know if these critically endangered little parrots can survive. There are only a handful left in the wild. Literally. There might be less than thirty maybe? I do not know exactly.

Time is passing. I find being sixty-four years old unbelievable. But when I look at the changes I have been through and that I have seen in this world, I reckon I have to believe it. I hate to think that one day there may be no wild OBP’s left. I am so glad that I got to show them to Mandy over five years ago and I am so glad I got to see them then as well. However, I wish I had not seen this little guy there where he should not still have been. I wish he had gone to Tasmania weeks ago.


I literally just now read that a male OBP that was seen at the WTP on 21 September has arrived at the breeding grounds in Melaleuca, Tasmania on 29 September! And my little buddy was eating constantly. Maybe he was storing up energy for a big flight. I will not give up hope. Maybe he is going to get to Tassie after all. I hope so with all my heart.

To help these birds click here: Difficult Bird Research Group

Sending love from the Tiny House.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Northern Shoveler ~ SA Twitch!

Last Saturday evening there was a post on the South Aussie Birding Facebook page about the sighting of a Northern Shoveler. My buddy, James Cornelious, alerted me to this. I began seeking more information. My friend, Kay Parkin, suggested a dash for it as it might quickly move along. I decided to go the next morning.
The white spot in the middle is Norman the Northern Shoveler
Troopi is still in the shop awaiting a used replacement fuel tank to become available somewhere. So I was off in the Prius at sunrise Monday heading for South Australia (and saving enough in fuel to afford a room). It was about seven hours to the spot. Around two thirds of the way there, I began getting reports that the duck had not been seen that day. I considered cutting my losses so-to-speak and heading back home. My new Facebook friends, Eddy and Jenni, texted saying that they were going to check out the surrounding areas later in the afternoon since the day before the duck had been seen in the arvo. I decided to carry on.

I checked into a little cabin at the Keith Caravan Park ($100, I recommend it). Then I drove about 40 minutes to the “ponds” near Tilley Swamp. There was no one else around and no Northern Shoveler either. It had not returned. As dusk approached, I left the ponds and drove back to the cabin.
Keith Caravan Park cabin... works for me.
This is what was odd to me. I was not disappointed. I was honestly okay with not having seen it. I had kind of figured it was gone. A group of serious birders had spent the whole morning searching the area and had dipped. The smart money was on that it had departed for good. I am sure I would have been disappointed if I had missed it by an hour or something, but it had not been seen all day. I did not have that ‘dipping sadness' that can be so crushing. But I figured I would go have a look in the morning. Who knows?

The next morning I was up before five and put the kettle on. I was loading the car as the dawn chorus was coming alive. Sweet. I love that. At first light I was driving west to the spot. With the sun rising behind me, I arrived by the ponds and parked off the edge of the road. With my bins, I scanned the pond on the right, no Northern Shoveler. Then I scanned the first pond on the left (south) and it was not there either. Then I caught a glimpse of bright white in the pond just behind the south pond. I got the scope out of the car quickly.

As I am going on a twitch I have a lot of time to think. I was in the car alone for close to seven hours on the drive over. And I picture in my mind various scenarios of rocking up and seeing the bird. What that will feel like. I picture seeing the bird in my mind. This is not magical thinking. I do not think I can manifest the bird by visualizing it. But I do imagine seeing the bird and how wonderful that moment can feel. That moment feeds my passion for this type of birding. It don’t get much better than seeking and then finding. Not for me anyway.

I set up the scope and focused it. There was that moment. The glimpse of white morphed into the beautiful white chest, and then the iridescent deep green head and rufous sides of a male Northern Shoveler. It was the “That’s It!” moment in twitching that makes it all worthwhile. I was looking at the bird! I drank in the experience. I breathed that bird. I took recording shots as best I could. I was approximately four hundred meters from the duck and the land was fenced and private, but the scope views were crystal clear gorgeousness. There was no one else around to see me glow and I was glowing with excitement and genuine joy. I walked to the middle of the road partially up the hill behind me and with one dot of signal I texted Eddy and Jenni. I sent one word, “YES!”
Lifer Selfie. Norman is somewhere in that pond over my right shoulder.
I resumed staring at, and appreciating, the duck. Then I went back to the road and I sent Philip Peel a message asking him to please post to Facebook that I had refound it and the location. I managed to get a back-of-the-camera phone pic to go though! Then I went back to staring at the duck.

There were other cool birds around. A couple of dozen Black-tailed Native-hens were bobbling about in the paddock just in front of me. They are beautifully goofy birds. I was standing so still viewing the Shoveler that they ended up walking over within a few meters of me. When I did move, they freaked out in their wonderfully goofy way. It was like they were saying, “Run! It’s a monster! Run! RUN!” I love them.
A few of the several hundred Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos in the area
Lifer Pie in the form of Ice Cream (and I had a cookie too).

There are so many wonderful parts of a twitch. And at the culmination of a successful twitch there is Lifer High. It strikes me the first moment I see the bird and then it reverberates and reverberates. I feel giddy and giddy is good! That wonderful feeling can echo through me for days afterwards. I feel it right now two days later sitting at my table in the Tiny House. I am so grateful. I did it. I twitched Norman the Northern Shoveler. Yeah, I gave him a name. I love that bird. As I would.

Before I left for the long drive back to Lara, Luke and Kathy Leddy rocked-up to view the bird and then Eddy and Jenni arrived (having set land speed records to get there). So I was able to share a bit of the delightful giddiness of Lifer High. This was all due to Facebook. Social media: don’t go birding without it.

And... the book about the year of traveling all of Oz is coming along very well. I will keep y'all posted. I am hoping to have it completely finished by Christmas.

Peace. Love. Birds.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Lil' The Little Stint ~ Twitch!

Lil' and one of her Red-necked Friends.
When Simon Starr found Syd the SIPO, he also inadvertently "discovered," Lil’ the Little Stint as well. Here is what happened.

For those of you who read my blog (and of course I am only talking to those of you who do), I wrote about Syd’s rediscovery in the last blog entry. After the word got out, many Aussie twitchers descended on the sleepy little hamlet of Jam Jerrup to park at the end of Foreshore Road and go out looking for Syd. Sometimes he would be near to the carpark, other times, he would be somewhere near the sandy point of land over a kilometer to the south. That point is referred to as “Stockyard Point.”

It is a very flat area so the tide makes quite a difference in the makeup and size of the “beach.” At high tide the beach toward the point disappears. At low tide, miles of mud flats are exposed. You do NOT want to walk out there. You will sink. And the waders can be scattered far and wide across them. As the tide rises and covers the mud, many of the waders head toward the point, especially the little waders such as Double-banded and Red-capped Plovers, Red-necked Stints and Curlew Sandpipers. They can arrive by the hundreds. Mostly folks were looking for Syd and did not scan closely through the masses of these little waders. But on Sunday, 25 June, Scott Baker and Paul Peake did just that and Scott spotted a Little Stint amongst them! Consulting with Kevin Bartram, the i.d. was confirmed. This was one week after Simon found Syd. The second mega rarity there in a week. Amazing.

Lil’ (her very unofficial name) is in breeding plumage and stands out fairly well, but she can also be easy enough to overlook. On 23 June, Geoff Glare took photos of the flocks of waders at the point and upon later close examination discovered the Little Stint in his photos. Used by permission, here is one of those photos. Lil’ is there. I promise you. See if you can find her.

I was at Stockyard Point again on Saturday the 24th and most probably “saw” Lil’. I really saw, and took some photos of, a beautiful Asian Gull-billed Tern, affinis race. It is a subspecies not yet officially split from Gull-billed Tern. I also saw my pal Syd. On the way back the tide had come in and we had to go inland to get back to the carpark.

The little very white tern right in the middle.
When Scott’s amazing discovery hit Facebook it was about 2:15pm on Sunday. I seriously considered making the dash, but I really could not have gotten there in time. It would have been almost dark. So I planned to go over the next morning. Choosing my departure by the tides (low at 8:30am and high at 3:40pm) I left home at the civilized hour of 9am. My friend Carolyn, who also lives in Lara, rode with me. I collected my buddy, James Cornelious and our friend Owen Lismund at a train station on the way. We knew that we did not need to hurry and we rocked up at Jam Jerrup about 11:30am. The tide was still way out. Too far out.

Twitchers waiting on the tide...
A few other birders began arriving and so did rain showers. We waited a bit longer and started to the point about noon. We had a nice walk down the beach (thanks for carrying my scope, James). The tide was still too far out. We could see hundreds of waders about a kilometer over to our left. We waited. And then… little groups of waders started showing up to the sand spit in front of us, and then more, and more.

By about 1:30pm we had a lot of waders to look through, but still more came. The bird was spotted by James Mustafa. Bill Twiss and I both grabbed quick looks through his scope before the flock re-shuffled. It was the Little Stint, but not really a “lifer look.” We all moved to the right to get a better view over a rise in the sand. I was standing by James who was scanning with my scope when I saw a small, russet coloured stint. I got James on it. Seeing it through the scope he proclaimed, “That’s it!” And friends, it was. I had re-found it. Not that that sort of thing is important, but with so many young eyes, and more experienced eyes looking, I felt damn good finding it. Sweet as.

Lifer Selfie with James and Carolyn
This is now Tuesday evening and I have been having a Lifer Day. It is an invention of my own. It is like an all day version of Lifer Pie. I am allowing myself a “happy day.” Truth be told, I am not given to that, even though it might appear that I am. But for a while today, fuck it, I was indeed happy and for that, I am grateful. Birds, you did it for me again. Thanks, Lil’.

PS, I wrote the majority of this blog at my old family dinner table! Older than I am, but it was just too big for the Tiny House... our dear friend and brilliant wood-artist, Julian Beattie, made it smaller for us. I love sitting at this table. I have finally found my spot. I will continue to work on the "book" of the year of travel and birding right here at this table. I am grateful.
Peace. Love. Birds.