Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Broome Bird Observatory ~ Part One

It really ain’t any less hot, and it’s even been hotter sometimes, so I will skip the whining regarding the heat and humidity. We have had some wonderful birds and wonderful times and made wonderful friends. Right now I am writing in Broome at a McDonalds where their wifi does not work (as the young Maccas lady explained, it usually doesn’t work). So this will not be as detailed or clever as I try and make some blogs. I am too distracted by the tattoo choices of some of the patrons here. They do know they are permanent, yes? Anyway… a quick catch up, here you go...

On Good Friday, after a visit to the sewage ponds to take some photos of the Barn Swallows that Lynn had spotted the day before, we moved into the Broome Bird Observatory. It is a legendary place to me (and many others) and I am grateful to be here!

Lynn's Barn Swallows
Saturday morning began with a ride across the Roebuck Plains with John Graff to hopefully see the Yellow Chat. It was hazy and stupidly humid, but we had beautiful views of about six chats. My photos are lame, but recognizable (to me anyway, I was there). I am grateful. It is a gorgeous bird and this is one of the best places to see them. I am grateful as.
Yellow Chats!
Brolga in the humid, morning haze.
As the morning progressed (and the heat) we headed down with our new friend, Sue, to have a look for Common Redshanks amongst the Common Greenshanks. There was also a Red-kneed Dotterel there that turned out to be the first of the season for BBO.

Common Redshanks (and Common Greenshanks).
Sunday began with a walk along the mangroves to have a look for White-breasted Whistler. We saw two and it is one of the more stunning birds we have seen. It is a very large whistler, although in the books it much resembles a Rufous Whistler, this bird is noticeably larger and its beak is wicked-big. I am grateful.

White-breasted Whistler
Later that morning, we were given directions from John and Nigel on where to look for an Asian Dowitcher. Lynn and I stopped at the first spot and were overwhelmed by the waders. There were at least a couple of thousand. Nigel and Dave came down and remarked on what a small flock it was! But we (and by we, I mean Nigel) found a gorgeous Asian Dowitcher in breeding plumage! I am very, very grateful.
Asian Dowitcher in breeding plumage.
Look at that massive bill!   

Yesterday morning early, Lynn and I took a walk behind the observatory and in less than ten minutes had a gorgeous White-throated Gerygone ticked. It’s a bird that we had missed back east. I am grateful, of course.

White-throated Gerygone
I have said over and over that this is not a photographic safari. We are birding and I take photos when I can. This particular blog leans on the photos. I am now at the library in town and hope that I will be able to post from here without using our Telstra. It seems that I can, but now the laptop battery is running down, so I must hurry. Sending great vibes to all from tropical WA, and the magical world of Broome Bird Observatory.

Birds. Peace. Love.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Birds, Sweat and Twitch

Americans for the most part don’t know how different the sun is down here. The difference between being in the sun and in the shade is unbelievable until you experience it yourself. The other afternoon it was 34C here, but the heat index was above 40C. I just know it is miserably hot, in or out of the sun, and I spend most of the day dripping in sweat. We are in the tropics and I am grateful.

Yesterday morning, we stopped by the Broome Bird Observatory and found out that the Semipalmated Plover had been seen the day before at the sewage ponds (not on the beach behind the ponds as I had thought, and where we had spent some overly hot time searching). Of course, we drove straight down to the ponds. The trick to seeing anything at the Broome sewage ponds is to elevate yourself, and as my levitation skills are woefully lacking, it meant standing on Troopi’s hood and that is what I (and eventually we) did.

We looked in the spot where it had been observed the day before, but it was not showing. We tried different angles, driving around the ponds and stopping and climbing up on the hood (or her bow as we often call it) to scope the ponds. We ended up back at the spot where we started. We’d been doing this for about an hour and a half, and were getting close to throwing in the towel (which would have been soaked with sweat) and then I saw the Snipe.
Pin-tailed/Swinhoe's Snipe (I want to know!)

I did not know exactly what snipe it was and I still don’t. Here it would either be Pin-tailed or Swinhoe’s. Nigel was 99% sure the snipe that he saw there that morning was Pin-tailed. However what we saw was probably a Swinhoe's (according to Nigel). Yes, there are two snipe hanging out at the poo ponds. Anyway, I stayed longer with my scope, bins and camera on Troopi’s hood, looking and taking poor, too-far-away snipe photos. It got hotter and hotter.

And then… I saw the plover, our plover. I knew it the moment I saw it, even from the back and many meters away. I told Lynn that I had it and she was up on the hood in a flash and looking at it through the scope. We had twitched the Semipalmated Plover! I am so grateful! Sure, we’ve seen hundreds in the US, but this is an Aussie Lifer and that’s what counts! And speaking of birds that we have often seen in the US but never here, Lynn spotted and correctly identified Barn Swallows at the ponds yesterday! When we spoke with Nigel in the afternoon, he mentioned that he had seen them there that morning as well. She spotted them. I would have missed them.

The first "Oh my God! Oh my God! I've got it!" view. That's its little back way over there above the coot.

Semipalmated Plover!

Here are some more photos from the last few days. There are some other Lifers and more. It’s been hot, but worth every drop of sweat and there is so much more to come... birds and sweat. We’re in Broome, Western Australia and I am grateful.
Lifer Eastern Yellow Wagtail (with dark head and seemingly no eyebrow).
Eastern Yellow Wagtail with eyebrow.
Lifer Paperbark Flycatcher at the roadhouse.

Rufous-throated Honeyeater coming atcha!
Lifer Rufous-throated Honeyeater looking wistful.
I like this photo. An Australian Bustard just strolling along by a river on the way up here. 
And a couple of Knot bad flight shots of a Great Knot.

 Lifer Selfie instead of Lifer Pie (sometimes). This was in the Roebuck Plains Roadhouse the other night, just before I had a wonderful grilled Barramundi dinner.
Birds. Peace. Love.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Grey Honeyeater Joy

We drove out to the Tom Price area of WA really for only one reason, the possibility of finally seeing Grey Honeyeater. It is a hard bird and one that we had put a bit of time into already without success. We had some good info on where to look out here and we headed off yesterday morning to look (and listen. They have a very distinctive call).

We got a late start, but one of the odd things about Grey Honeyeaters is that they tend to call later in the morning, like after 10am. We figured to be out in the area where we were going to be looking by about then. On the way out, I saw a flock of finches (we are still looking for Painted Finch) and pulled Troopi off onto the “shoulder.” A note on driving a Landcruiser… it’s all “shoulder.” Not really, but your ‘pulling off the road’ options are greatly expanded. Anyway, they were Zebbies, surprise, surprise. But whilst we were looking through them, Lynn noticed a bird perched-up and asked, “What’s that bird?” And I believe I said, “I think that’s a Spinifexbird!” A lifer for us both (and a bird that we would see 3 or 4 more times before the day was over). But I was very grateful indeed.


I like this photo... the Spinifexbird and its bug and the background and all.
We continued along the sun-baked (it was about 35C, no clouds), red-dust roads further out near Mount Sheila. It was in this general area that it was suggested we look. So we looked and listened. Early on, we thought we might have had one, but it just wasn’t quite right and we figured it was possibly a Western Gerygone. We kept looking as we worked our way back toward Rt. 136 (unsealed as well) that runs along the western side of Karijini NP. I spoke with my friend Tim and he was very encouraging. He said that we were in the right habitat and to just “keep going.” I did.

Lynn had had her dose of Aussie-early-arvo sun, so I was mostly doing the getting out to look and listen. And I kept doing it, and doing it, and yes, well, doing it. And then about 2pm I was amongst the now so familiar mulga and I heard the call! It was that wondrously, magical moment when you realize there is a living bird that can make a sound JUST like your app! My heart soared.

As I said, at this point, I was doing the reconnaissance and as soon as I heard that distinctive call, I waved to Lynn to COME HERE! She bolted from Troopi to where I was, about 100 meters in. I had not played the call since I had heard the honeyeater, but as soon as she was with me I played it once and a pair of Grey Honeyeaters flew straight in, answering back. I thought my head would explode. Finally. For sure! Seeing, while hearing them! I took a few very mediocre recording shots (see below) but I was absolutely thrilled to get those. They moved off a bit and I considered trying to get them to come in again, but they seemed so excited and responsive to the first playback, that I decided not to do it. I saw them, heard them and got some photos. They owed me nothing more. I am ridiculously grateful!

Grey Honeyeater!

Lifer high reigned the rest of the day and I had potato chips with my sandwich at supper as my “Lifer Pie” treat (it can be anything you know). They were delicious and special I am grateful.

"Crazy Mulga Man." That's me in my shorts and gators after a day in the sun, mulga, and spinifex and finding the Grey Honeyeater! Do I look happy? I am about as happy as I get.
So, for the few last lifers... the Spinifex Pigeons were all Lynn. She found them and she showed me. And… she was the one who spotted the Spinifexbird yesterday morning. But those Grey Honeyeaters? I kept going, and searching and found them, and that feels SO damn good. I am grateful.

By the way, for birders who are interested, the coordinates of where we found them are: -22.2423 x 117.9245. Or just have a look at the map on our eBird list. We were about 100 meters in on the south side of the road from that point. And please, use eBird. For all its frustrations, it is an awesome resource for us, but only if we use it!

Birds. Peace. Love.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Spinny Pidge and the Dystopian Holiday Park

Thursday morning after a bit of birding about the sewage ponds, we departed Exmouth.
Spotted Harrier
Budgerigar in a finch bush (more about that later elsewhere).
We pointed Troopi toward Onslow, WA. Not because we had any desire to see, or be in Onslow, but because eBird listed a spot near it on Onslow Road that had produced some birds we wanted to see. We also did not actually point Troopi at Onslow as that would have produced a large splash and a short trip. So we pointed her south, then northeast and then north to be on the road to Onslow, home of miners (not the birds, although there were some there).

We stopped on the way when I saw a small flock of finches (which turned out to be Zebra) flying around what turned out to be a small dam. We had a quick look about and then went to the eBird spot where we found Orange Chats, which are very cool to see anytime as well as some zebbies and a few other of the regulars. It was very enjoyable and I was, and am quite grateful.

Orange Chats, a couple of the boys.
Ms Orange Chat
We arrived at the caravan park in Onslow about 4:30pm. It was a Discovery Holiday Park. We are members. I will join any caravan park group that is free to join, so we saved 10%. I hated this park. It was not a caravan park. It was like some sci-fi miners housing from an unhappy future. Instead of “Discovery Holiday Park” it should have been “Dystopian Holiday Park.” My review on WikiCamps is as follows…

“Never again. Not even if it were free. It has the ambiance of a minimum security prison and the noise level of a steel mill. It is not a caravan park (for me).”

After a crap night’s sleep (as stated, the noise was awful), we went birding. The eBird spot produced Chats again and some White-winged Fairy-wrens (love them too) but none of our targets. We headed back to the dam that we had stumbled upon the day before. There were millions of Zebra Finches. Ok, there were hundreds. We birded around the dam and I was on the backside when I heard Lynn call, “BRUCE!” I knew she had found something, and I ran straight toward her. As I came over the dam, I saw her looking through her bins and I asked, “What?” And she said, “Spinifex Pigeons.” And they were too. She was looking at three of these bizarrely beautiful pigeons, one of our targets, and life birds for us both. Yes! I am so grateful.
Showing off!

Just one of the bushes and spots filled with Zebra Finches at the dam. There is also a single Budgerigar in there with them.
Spinifex Pigeon (or as Ross refers to them... a Spinny Pidge). 

Just cool as... I am in love.

Birds. Peace. Love.