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A Field Notebook
  Updated 1/1/70 0:00:00
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Wanderer at 6 o'clock!
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Wandering albatross
"Wanderer at 6 o'clock!", the cry went up and sent shivers down my spine. This was the moment I had been dreaming of for years, the appearance of a great albatross during a southern ocean pelagic. We'd been at sea for six hours, we were 35 miles offshore from Port Fairy, Victoria, over the edge of the continental shelf and the sea bed was nearly a kilometer below us. We'd seen many albatrosses already, but they were all of the smaller type, in this region often referred to as molyhawks. Four species in fact, shy, black-browed, Indian yellow-nosed and Campbell Island albatross, all with wingspans of 2.5m or less.

The new arrival was considerably bigger, a wandering albatross with a wingspan of up to 3.5m, the longest of any living bird. This awesome and majestic bird glided past the boat without a single flap of the wings, dwarfing the nearby molyhawks and taking my breath away. Over the next hour or so we saw about four wanderers, as well as two other species of great albatross.

Wandering albatross and Grey-faced petrel
Wandering albatross, sometimes referred to asexulans. Note especially the almost grotesque size of the bill on this bird and then compare with the New Zealand wandering albatross in the photo further down.


Wandering albatrossexulans.


Immature wandering albatrossexulans.

New Zealand wandering albatross ssp. gibsonii
I'm told by the seabird experts on the boat, of which there were clearly several (one guy was on his 100th pelagic), that this bird most closely resembles New Zealand wandering albatross of the racegibsonii. This is another of the great albatrosses. The key differences between this species and wandererexulansis the relative size of the bill and also the slightly more compact appearance. I'm clearly no albatross expert, but perhaps I can see that the bill on this bird is not quite so grotesquely large as that of the wandererexulansabove. Perhaps this bird also has a shorter more compact neck. Or maybe I'm just trying to make it fit. New Zealand wandering albatross is actually the commonest of the great albatrosses in south Australian waters.

New Zealand wandering albatross


The third and final great albatross of today's pelagic was this magnificent Northern royal albatross with a similar sized wingspan or slightly smaller than wandering albatross.


Northern royal albatross.


Northern royal albatross. What a fantastic bird. Imagine that, a 3.5m wingspan! That's twice my height!


At the other end of the scale, Indian yellow-nosed albatross is the smallest of the molyhawks with a wingspan of 2m. Still with a wingspan greater than my height though!


Indian yellow-nosed albatross.


Indian yellow-nosed albatross with shy albatross.


Indian yellow-nosed albatross. What a beautiful looking bird!


Look at the size difference! Shy albatross (which is itself only a molyhawk) and Indian yellow-nosed albatross. Wandering albatross can be up to twice the weight of shy albatross!


Shy albatross, the commonest albatross in the area. At times there were probably up to 50 of these birds around the boat and in total we saw about 90.


Shy albatross


Shy albatross fending off a brown skua.



Shy albatross


Shy albatross


Black-browed albatross, presumably a juvenile bird going off the very dark underwing.


Black-browed albatross


Black-browed albatross


This Campbell Island Albatross came into the boat in the early afternoon. It's almost inseparable  from juvenile black-browed except that it has a diagnostic pale iris. Thank goodness Kevin Bartram was able to get such a great photo, and a big thanks to him for letting me use it here.




Northern giant petrel.


Apparently this was a late date for brown skua, which was good news for me! We also saw two Arctic skuas which were of interest because potentially they could be Scottish breeders.


Gannet feeding frenzy.


White-chinned petrel


White-chinned petrel


Grey-faced petrel, we saw about 70 of these.


White-headed petrel, one of the stars of the day. We saw about three.


White-faced storm petrel are fantastic birds, pattering and bouncing across the water leaving barely a ripple. We saw about 30 today.


White-faced storm petrel.


Fairy prion, of which there were about 30 today.


We saw about 150 short-tailed shearwaters.


Wilson's storm petrel.


Wilson's storm petrel.


Finally the boat turned and we started to head back at speed. I was sitting below deck looking through a guide book and drifting in and out of sleep and two other birders were looking at photographs from the day and filling in a recording form. It had been the perfect day but a long day, and it was time for quiet refl..... the engine stopped suddenly and we were drifting! In half a second the three of us were on deck and looking around. Why had we stopped?

Suddenly a huge arching back broke the surface of the water right alongside the boat and a huge spray of water was expelled from a whale blowhole! And then there was another and another. Seven in total, humpback whales.

Over the next 15 minutes we watched as these magnificent animals gave us a wonderful show, tail slapping, pectoral fin slapping and swimming back and forth under the boat. Eventually we saw them breach on several occasions. An amazing finale to a fantastic day.



These impressive animals came right alongside the boat, in fact we could see them under water they were so close. I should add that we didn't approach them, they came right up alongside us.








The humpbacks weren't the only whales, we saw two pods of up to 20 pilot whales. I'm told that they were long-finned pilot whales. This certainly looks like long-finned going off the amount of white behind the dorsal fin, but see below.



Pilot whale.




Pilot whale sky hopping.


We did see two pods of pilot whales and in my opinion these could easily be short-finned looking at the grey area below the dorsal fin, but I don't know enough about variation in the species to be sure. Long-finned are far more likely in south Australian waters.



Common dolphins


Australian fur seals. There were up to 30 jumping out of the water together in the area where the gannets were plunge diving.


Australian fur seals.



Port Fairy pelagics are run byBirdswing Birding and Wildlife Tours. It was a wonderful trip, far exceeding my expectations, largely due to the very knowledgeable and helpful people on the boat. I certainly didn't expect to see seven species of albatross and two species of whale on what was a truly unforgettable day and the highlight of my trip to Australia. I can't recommend this pelagic highly enough.
Return to Aus!
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After a very successful and yet more than slightly depressing five days in New Zealand I took the decision to return to Australia early. I don't know what it was that I didn't like about New Zealand and to be fair I didn't really give the country chance. Imagine landing in Portsmouth, spending five days in the New Forest and then leaving the UK early without seeing Scotland, Wales, the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales etc. That's a bit like what I did. All I can say is, read the post from 22nd November from Tiritiri Matangi. Anyhow, I did see a lot while I was in New Zealand, I saw NZ Storm Petrel, little spotted kiwi, wrybill, takahe, kaka to name but a few so not too bad. However..... relief.



The You Yangs dominate the scenary in Victoria for miles around, because this part of the state is very flat. This is a a view of them from Werribee.


After arriving back in Melbourne I decided to have a trip to the You Yangs and one of the first birds I came across was a new one for me, white-winged chough.



Black-shouldered kite.

Encounters with monotremes, marsupials and other Australian mammals
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Echidna
In many respects it is the mammals rather than the birds which draw me back to Australia. The birds of course are many and varied and are always a pleasure to see, but it is the mammals which make Australia so unique. At the time of writing I've visited Australia on three occasions and spent a combined total of 12 weeks in the country and only now does it feel like I've seen a decent selection of iconic species. Although Australian mammals might seem large and obvious, I can vouch for the fact that they are often very difficult to see. They're often not particularly shy, but many of them are far more restricted by range than you might imagine and many are nocturnal. For example, there's no point in looking for platypus, wombat or koala if you visit Perth because you're at least 2700km outside their range and the only chance of seeing them is in a zoo.

Echidna
In my opinion the stars are the monotremes, with two representatives, duck-billed platypus and echidna which are unique among mammals for many reasons, not least because they lay eggs. This echidna was at Finns Reserve in the Yarra valley near Melbourne. At times it seemed oblivious to my presence and just kept walking towards me until it was less than a meter away, at which time it suddenly seemed to realise that I was there and tried to dig down vertically in a cloud of dust so that only its spines were exposed. I simply stepped back a meter and it stood up and carried on its way.

The previous day, Josh and I had seen a beautiful golden coloured echidna cross the road at Wilsons Promontory which is about a 3 hour drive south east of Melbourne. Echidna are found all over Australia but these two are the only echidna I have ever seen.

Duck-billed platypus
Of all of the mammals in Australia, duck-billed platypus is probably the most iconic and the one I wanted to see most of all. As a child I saw the platypus on television but never believed that I would ever get to go to Australia let alone see a platypus in the wild. The platypus in the photo above was the first I saw with Elaine at Peterson Creek, Yungaburra in the Atherton Tablelands, the highlight of my first trip to Australia in 2015.


The most reliable spot for platypus that I have been to is the bridge over the river Yarra at Finns Reserve, near Melbourne where I saw up to three animals. Platypus have a quite restricted range in Australia, no point in looking for them away from the east or south east coast or Tasmania.


Wombat
Wombats have an even more restricted range than platypus, being found almost entirely in the south east and Tasmania. My first wombat was at Finns Rerserve from the bridge over the river Yarra. The wombat in the photo was one of 15 seen at Wilsons Promontory. This particular individual was just walking around the campsite in the evening.


Kennett River on the Great Ocean road is one of the best places for seeing Koala. Josh and I saw about 20 individuals here, including a few adults with babies.



At Mikkirra Station near Port Lincoln, Koalas were introduced from a few taken from Kangaroo Island near Adelaide in the 1970's. The species is doing well here and are very photogenic, and to all intense and purpose they are wild at Mikkirra where there is no human intervention to help them. This is the furthest west that the species occurs in Australia.


Eastern grey kangaroos near Melbourne. Kangaroos are not always as easy to see as you might think, on my first visit to Australia it took me over two weeks to see my first kangaroo.


Western grey kangaroos at Mikkirra Station near Port Lincoln.


Whiptail Wallaby, photographed near Seventeen Seventy, Queensland. This female obviously has a joey in her pouch but I didn't actually see the youngster. This is quite a confiding wallaby and will allow very close approach.


Black wallaby or swamp wallaby. is another species found exclusively on the east and south east coasts of Australia. This was photographed on Phillip Island and Victoria is the only state in which I have seen the species. The only other species of wallaby which I have identified (but not photographed) is agile wallaby in Queensland.


Mammals are poorly represented on the west coast of Australia when compared to the east, but Quokka is a west coast specialty. It's quite rare on the mainland but is common on Rottnest Island just off Perth, and is very tame to the extent that they unashamedly allow tourists to take selfies with them.


Grey-headed flying-foxes are common in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne and can be found in colonies of many thousands.



Spectacled flying-fox is a species with a very restricted range, found only in a thin coastal strip from just south of Cairns to the tip of Cape York in Queensland. There is a colony of many thousands in Port Douglas and like many such urban colonies they produce a mixed reaction from residents and visitors, but in my opinion they are a wonderful addition to the local fauna.


Actually flying-foxes leaving their roost is quite a spectacular sight. These animals have a wingspan of around 1m.

Common ringtail possum
Possums are a group of mammals which successfully eluded me until my third visit to Australia in November 2018 when I found that I had a small population of common brushtail possums living in the garden of my accommodation in St. Kilda. Then while visiting Finns Reserve on the River Yarra in search of platypus, I came across this common ringtail possum watching me from its drey. Common it may be, but don't bother looking for it anywhere other than the east or south east coasts of Australia because that's the limit of the species range.


Humpback whales migrate around the east and west coasts of Australia. I saw them with Elaine on a whale watching trip from Sydney in 2015, also at Noosa heads and surprisingly at Port Lincoln in June 2018, where they are a very uncommon species.


Distant humpback whales off Whalers Way, near Port Lincoln, a relatively uncommon sighting here. Southern right whale is the common species off South Australia which we did see off Whalers Way but couldn't photograph.


Seven humpback whales came up alongside the boat when we were on a pelagic trip from Port Fairy, Victoria and stayed with us for around 15 minutes.


Humpback whale.


Pilot whales, probably long-finned, though we did see two pods of around 20 on the Port Fairy pelagic, and there was a suggestion that one of the pods might have been short-finned.


Pilot whales


Pilot whale spy hopping.


Pilot whales.


Common dolphins from the Port Fairy pelagic.


What wonderful animals these are, a pod of Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins at River Heads, Hervey Bay from the Fraser Island ferry in June 2018.


Common bottlenose dolphins, mother and calf at Port Lincoln. On a couple of occasions we actually saw two adult dolphins swim past our back garden which backed right onto the harbour. I've seen commpn bottlenose dolphins at several places on the south coast of Australia, including several riding the waves at Fisherman's Bluff, near Port Lincoln. Seen but not photographed were Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins from a whale watching trip from Sydney in October 2015.


Australian sea-lions occur only along the south and south west coasts of Australia and about 40% of the population breeds on islands east of Port Lincoln, SA. These animals were on Donington Island off Lincoln National Park.


From Whalers Way, SA Josh and I saw these New Zealand fur seals which occur along the south coast of Australia mainly west of Melbourne.


This New Zealand fur seal spent a few weeks on the steps below Sydney Opera House in autumn 2015!


New Zealand fur seal, Sydney, October 2015.


On the Port Fairy, VIC pelagic we came across a feeding frenzy of Australian gannets with common dolphins and these Australian fur seals. These occur only around the coasts of south east Australia, including Phillip Island  which is where we also saw them.

The Sadness of Tiritiri Matangi
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Takahe
I spent five days in New Zealand and didn't see a single native passerine except those that I saw on Tiritiri Matangi. That's the real reason why I left New Zealand early.....because it's a totally depressing place from a wildlife point of view. The only way in which native wildlife can survive is by uprooting it and moving it to a completely managed island and removing all alien pests. It was on Tiritiri, an apparent idyllic paradise that the first seeds of doubt were sown in my mind.

Kaka
Certainly Tiritiri is a conservation masterclass, a place where New Zealand native species are saved from the brink of extinction by a dedicated team of scientists, researchers and rangers, this is New Zealand as it should be, and it certainly is an island paradise. Yet how sad that it's come to this.

The irony is, when you enter the country they have sniffer dogs checking you over for mud or soil on your shoes or food in your luggage so that you don't spread alien species or diseases into New Zealand, yet the biggest alien of all has already decimated the country and continues to do so. Humans have farmed or developed the land, introduced livestock chopped down the trees, cleared the scrub, polluted the atmosphere and introduced alien predators such as cats, dogs, stoats, possums, rodents, a whole host of non-native birds, plants and even wasps, making most of the country virtually uninhabitable for the native species, so much so that most of it can only exist in places like Tiritiri. Still, at least there was no soil on my shoes at the airport so that must count for something .....

Brown Quail

Even Tiritiri isn't completely immune, there are tons of non-native birds on the island, blackbirds, starlings, skylarks and brown quail, and even more non-native flora reaches the island on the wind. On nearby Little Barrier Island they employ people to remove alien weeds from the cliffs, but the plants just keep returning.

North Island Saddleback
In five days in New Zealand I didn't see a single native species of passerine away from the menagerie that is Tirirtiri, every passerine I saw was either deliberately introduced or an escaped introduction. That's the real reason why I took the decision to leave New Zealand a week early. When my pre-booked pelagic trips from South Island were cancelled due to an impending storm, there was no reason for me to go to South Island and it was a quick decision to retreat to Australia.

Red-crowned Parrot
I imagine that birding in New Zealand is pretty dull if you live here. I mean, all of the native passerines are non-migratory and the only other birds which reach the island are either sea birds or waders. There's no vismig and apart from a small movement between islands, not much hope of seeing anything different from one season to the next. Certainly no autumnal"east coast fall"of the kind we might expect in north west Europe or the east coast North America. Once you've seen the small number of residents that's about it. The chances of seeing something different is virtually nil.

Kaka

However, in my five days in New Zealand I did have an enjoyable time, I went on a superb"pelagic"and saw New Zealand storm petrel in the Hauraki Gulf (not really a pelagic, it barely left the bay), the iconic wrybill at Miranda, the gannet colony at Muriwai and on Tiritiri many of the New Zealand passerines and more importantly (for me) kaka, takahe and little spotted kiwi. Kaka is a large parrot of which there is currently only one on the island but it did at least reach here under its own steam because it flew from the mainland. Takahe and little spotted kiwi on the otherhand are both flightless and were introduced into this safe haven, a move which probably saved both species from extinction. Aparently at one time little spotted kiwi was down to six individuals while takahe was actually considered extinct. They were both major target species for me and I was delighted to see them. The kiwi are nocturnal, but a walk around suitable habitat at night with a red light torch produced the goods, with two birds seen well at close range. A fantastic experience, but I couldn't face birding in New Zealand for a second week without the pelagics to look forward to, so I took the decision to leave and head off, back to Australia for the last few days of my holiday.

Bellbird

Brown Teal

Kelp Gull


North Island Robin


New Zealand Dotterel

New Zealand Pigeon

Pied Cormorant


Variable Oystercatchers. The black form looks very like the Australian sooty Oystercatcher whereas the pale form looks like pied oystercatcher. Everything in between looks like a hybrid but apparently it is a separate species.

Tui

Pukeko
Pukeko is also known as Austalasian swamphen. Why this obviously closely related bird to the Takahe should be so successful when it's cousin is virtually extinct is probably explained by the fact that Pukeko can fly.

Takahe






I love these Takahe, and Tiritiri is virtually the only place you have any chance of seeing them in the"wild". However if they get sick they get taken to the vets and these chicks will probably get moved elsewhere because if they don't then the population levels on Tiritiri get too high and they attack and injure each other. Takahe are on permanent life support and the prognosis is bad. Without the extinction of humans and their domestic animals, it's hard to see a bright future for the Takahe.

Similarly, when I saw the kiwi on Tiritiri, the thing which really stood out was the bright shiny rings which glowed in the dark like cats eyes in the torchlight. It's virtually impossible to see little spotted kiwi anywhere else, it's about the rarest of the kiwi. It was a fantastic experience seeing kiwi, and it felt wild at the time so I've no complaints, but those rings were just awful.


The majority of these trees have been planted. Back in the 1960s Tiritiri was mostly farmland and the native trees and scrub had been cleared.


It truly is a conservation masterclass and a great place to visit, but it's also a permanent reminder of how badly wrong the world outside has gone. It makes me sad.


The bunkhouse









Werribee Water Treatment Plant, back for seconds (and thirds!)
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Back in Melbourne for a week and the obvious thing to do was to get the key to allow me access to Werribee Western Treatment Plant again. I mean it is rated one of the best wetland sites in Australia so crazy not to go again, and it worked out pretty well actually, the first two weeks I was there I only saw one new species for my Aussie list, yet this week I managed to add several. Key to this success was finally working out where Crake Pond was, and this provided me with not only with about four Australian spotted crakes and three Baillon's crakes, but also a pectoral sandpiper and nearby an Australian hobby. In the final analysis, Werribee WTP provided me with 103 species during my stay in Melbourne.


The crakes were wonderful, it was not unusual to see two or three spotted and a couple of Baillon's walking around in the open at the same time. Really smart little birds.



I'd forgotten how small Baillon's crake is. It didn't look much bigger than a starling creeping around at the bottom of the reeds.


Crake pond in the T-Section part of the site.


Australian Swamphens are very common across the site and they're very quarrelsome. This one seemed to be engaging in some kind of threat posture to nearby birds.


Black-tailed native-hens were quite scarce across the site, or perhaps they were just a bit more skulking and difficult to see. The most reliable place that I saw them was at the ford over Little River where I saw up to four birds, but I did also see one swimming across another pond at the other side of the site, so perhaps they were more common than I thought.




It's just amazing the numbers of sharp-tailed sandpipers across the site, they really are everywhere, not only on the freshwater marshes.


As you drive along the tracks they fly up in front of the car or you see them disappearing into the grass as you approach. This goes on for mile after mile, the site is close on 15 miles long.


The treatment plant backs onto the coast and there are thousands of sharpies on the mud flats at low tide.





At high tide they form roosts on many of the pools with mainly red-necked stints, but also curlew sandpipers.


Red-necked stints.


Red-necked stint.


I was delighted to see this pectoral sandpiper on Crake pond. Obviously it's only an Aussie tick for me, but unlike the pec sands we get in the UK which originate from North America, the birds which occur in Australia are from the Siberian population. This is not a common bird in Australia, and the south east is the main place to see them.







It kept itself to itself and all of the times I saw it the bird was on a very short stretch of mud around the back of the pond and away from the majority of sharp-tailed sandpipers.  It was not scared of defending it's territory though, and was very aggressive towards any sharp-tailed sandpipers which came too close, often chasing them off.


Curlew sandpipers are quite common at Werribee, though nowhere near as common as red-necked stint or sharp-tailed sandpipers. They were particularly interesting to me because there is a hybrid pairing of curlew sandpiper x pectoral sandpiper known as Cox's sandpiper which occasionally occurs at Werribee, so even though I didn't see one, it was good to get both potential parents! Nothing is as clear cut as it seems though, apparently Cox's sandpiper can only be a hybrid between a male pec sand and a female curlew sand. It cannot be the other way round. Strange......


Pacific golden plovers.


I counted up to 15 marsh sandpipers.


Marsh sandpiper and greenshank.


Marsh sandpiper and glossy ibis. This is by far the rarest ibis in Australia in my experience. I've only ever seen them occasionally, and even then only in single figure counts, whereas Australian white ibis can occur at almost pest proportions in places, walking tamely around outdoor cafes in the center of Sydney for example. Straw-necked ibis can often occur in flocks over several hundred. Of course glossy ibis can occur in big numbers elsewhere, my record wasa flock of around 10,000 in Doñana Spain.


The beach stretches for miles and at low tide is full of waders.



This is a smart looking bird, Golden-headed cisticolla, a close relative of zitting cisticolla or fan-tailed warbler.



I saw a few brown hares at Werribee, obviously introductions from Europe.


Horsfield's bronze-cuckoo is about the size of a song thrush. It's a really great looking bird, especially in the right light when it can be quite bronzed iridescence.



Whiskered terns are everywhere, competing with sharp-tailed sandpipers and pink-eared ducks and grey teal for the title of most numerous bird at Werribee. This is part of just one of several roosting flocks, though most birds were in the air.

Here's a short video of a flock feeding over a field. Most of the black birds on the ground are straw-necked ibis.



White-necked heron occurs widely but always sparsely in my experience. I don't think I've ever recorded more than one.



This pale morph little eagle flew over Crake pond. Only my second ever.


It was closely followed by first one, then a second huge white-bellied sea eagle. Both immature birds.




Two white-bellied sea-eagles.


There are thousands of Australian shelducks across the site.


The You Yangs from Werribee.


Small numbers of musk duck occur, 30 was about my biggest count. This is a female I assume because it lacks the large lobe of the male, but perhaps it could be a young male.


I'm not sure if this is some kind of threat posture rather than courtship, I didn't see any other birds in the immediate vicinity.




During my second period at Werribee there seemed to be an influx of freckled ducks. During the first two weeks I had tried but failed to find a single bird, though small numbers were being reported. However in the second period my personal best was about 20 birds.


You may recall this photo from a few days ago which appears to show a brolga on a nest. Well it turns out that it was indeed on a nest, because the next photo shows the result. A brolga chick! These photos taken by Carol Ann Moyse and used here with her permission.

Brolga chick© Carol Ann Moyse

Brolga chick with adult© Carol Ann Moyse
He or she has a lot of growing to do. Lets hope it makes it.



Hauraki Gulf Pelagic
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New Zealand storm petrel
Another awesome pelagic trip today, this time into the Hauraki Gulf, North Island, New Zealand. Completely different to the pelagic I had with Josh on Sunday, but just as good. Whereas Sunday was about albatrosses and whales, today was about petrels, especially New Zealand storm petrel. This is a species which for 180 years was considered extinct until the people who run this pelagic rediscovered it and today I saw about 10.



New Zealand storm petrel.


New Zealand storm petrel.


New Zealand storm petrel.


New Zealand storm petrel.


White-capped albatross, the only albatross we saw on this trip, but fortunately it was a different species to those we saw on Sunday, making it the 8th species of albatross seen on the holiday.



Black petrel.


Cook's petrel


Cook's petrel


Flesh-footed shearwater.


Flesh-footed shearwater


Fluttering shearwater.


Sooty shearwater.


Flesh-footed shearwaters and sooty shearwater (the smaller bird with the dark bill).


Kelp gull.


Little penguins. Also today common diving petrels which looked a lot like little auks in flight but were virtually unphotographable!


Fairy prions


Fairy prion


Fairy prion and white-faced petrel.


White-faced petrel.


White-faced petrel.


White-faced petrel.


White-faced petrel.


White-faced petrel. These birds skim across the water, barely touching it with their feet. Notice how there's hardly a rippled on the water. Here's a short video taken on the day.



White-faced petrel.


Always time for a cuppa!


Always time for a kip!





A last look at white-faced and New Zealand petrels, then it's time to head back.
In the company of giants and lyrebirds
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The temperate rainforest to the north and east of Melbourne is dominated by mountain ashEucalyptus regnans which is the tallest flowering plant and 2nd tallest tree in the world and occurs naturally only in Victoria and Tasmania. The forest also has an interesting understory which includes some very prehistoric looking tree ferns. It really would be easy to imagine dinosaurs living in a place like this and in fact they still do because there are many interesting birds about even if they are often frustratingly difficult to see.

Take the superb lyrebird for example. This is a noisy species which looks a bit like a small pheasant and has a spectacular display. Should be easy enough to see you might think. Well no, at least not for me. I've looked (and listened) for them on several occasions in the past without success. Until today. Josh and I were walking through Sherbrooke Forest in the Dandenong Range, accessed from Grants picnic site when we heard the song of a whipbird. There was a guy without binoculars about 50m ahead of us standing and listening too. When we got up to him he casually announced"the lyrebird is just through that gap singing"...... and sure enough, there it was, a male lyrebird in full view singing away mimicking a whipbird! Perhaps that's why I haven't heard any in the past, because I thought they were something else. We watched and listened for five minutes before it wandered off and out of view. Fortunately though this wasn't the end of our lyrebird experience for the day, it proved to be  just a foretaste of what was to come.

© 2011 David Cook Wildlife 
We continued along the track for another mile or so, the occasional sulphur-crested cockatoo or yellow-tailed black-cockatoo flew noisily about the canopy, whilst white-throated treecreepers, spotted pardalotes, crimson rosellas and golden whistlers were a little more accessible lower down or in the understory. Suddenly as we were chatting a male superb lyrebird strolled out in front of us and walked across the track. Far from disappearing, it stayed within a few meters of the track and we watched it at close range as it scraped in the leaf litter allowing us excellent views for about 10 minutes. A memorable experience to end my visit to Australia.


Mountain ash is so adapted to bush fire that it depends on it in order to regenerate. It's seeds are released from their woody capsules by the intense heat of fire, and they need so much daylight in order to grow that they can only do so when there is no longer a mature tree canopy.



Yellow-tailed black-cockatoos occur throughout the forest. We came across one which was gouging chunks out of a tree in its search for borers, probably beetle larvae.




The understory is full of many species including a variety of ferns.


The trees and tree ferns are covered in epiphytes which are species which grow on other plants for support but do not negatively affect the host, i.e. they are not parasites. This looks like a species of liverwort growing on a trees fern.




Tree ferns can grow up to 12m high.



Mountain ash grows to an altitude of about 1000m. Above that, as here on Mount Donna Buang (1250m) it is replaced by Alpine ashEucalyptus delegatensis, which is also a species which occurs naturally only in Victoria and Tasmania.



Melbourne Royal Botanical Gardens
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My first full day back in Australia and most of the day was spent getting my bearings and recovering from jet lag, not that I ever suffer much from the latter. This afternoon I had a walk through Melbourne Royal Botanical Gardens and came across many beautiful and interesting birds including my first new bird for the holiday, this stunning eastern rosella.



Rainbow lorikeets are not bad either. Wherever they occur they always seem to be far and away the commonest species.



Bell minors are nice enough looking birds, but can't compete with the parrots. They do however have an equally annoying call, from which they get their name! The park information boards refer to these as bell birds, which is potentially confusing because when I get to New Zealand I'm hoping to see another species which is called bellbird, but that's a New Zealand endemic.
Koalas on the Great Ocean Road
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On our way to Port Fairy from Melbourne for a pelagic, we decided that it was too good an opportunity to pass up on the Great Ocean Road. Really beautiful scenary, if a little busy at the Twelve Apostles. My favourite stop was at Kennett River where we saw about 20 koalas, some with babies, a tawny frogmouth with a baby and several Australian king parrots.



Tawny frogmouth.



King parrott.





Bellarine Peninsula
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So back in Australia and I found myself some decent self catering accommodation in Werribee and then contacted Melbourne Water and managed to get hold of the required key for the rest of the week. However, not wanting to spend all of my remaining time at the water treatment plant, today I decided to visit the Bellarine Peninsula near Geelong and about 110km south west of Melbourne CBD. It's a really impressive place full of great birds, impressive wetlands and glorious beaches.

However the first place I visited on the way to Ballarine was Jerringot Wetlands in the city of Geelong where I managed to see a few Latham's snipes which were new for me. This is a species which breeds in Japan and spends the northern hemisphere winter in Australia.


Black-faced (far left, far right) and pied cormorants near Portarlington with Melbourne behind. Pied cormorants are widespread in both Australia and New Zealand, but black-faced only occurs in southern Australia.


Amidst the beaches and salt marshes there are only a handful of freshwater lakes, but where they do occur they can be quite fruitful, attracting reasonable numbers of ducks. At Lake Lorne I came across at least 30 freckled ducks. This is a species which I was so delighted to see on the last day of my last visit to Australia in July at Herdsmans Lake near Perth.


I never seem able to get good photos of freckled ducks, this is about the best I've managed so far.


Lonsdale Lakes near Point Lonsdale held good numbers of red-necked stints and sharp-tailed sandpipers and is said to be one of the few places where you can see hooded plover away from the beaches, though I didn't see any. I did however see hooded plovers on a couple of beaches on the Bellarine peninsula, especially on Thirteenth beach.


This awesome Pacific gull was feeding on a dead fish on Thirteenth beach. I guess that it's most likely a 3rd calendar year bird. Although I've seen hundreds of Pacific gulls, I've only seen this age a handful of times. Usually the gulls I see are either adults or juveniles. The bill looks even more impressive than normal on this individual.


This silver gull made a failed attempt to join the party!



This is what the Pacific gull was eating.


Striated feildwren, a first for me.


Lonsdale Lakes


Portarlington


Portarlington


Thirteenth beach.


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