Saturday 26 February 2011

Local list hits 100 at Wallasea

Had a really nice long day out yesterday hoping to add to my local year list (which is becoming more of an obsession than I planned). I needed a few birds of prey so headed for Wallasea Island. It wasn't until I walked the whole of the circumference of the island before I saw my first, a distant ringtail Hen Harrier from where I began my walk. It was positively Spring like with Skylarks and Corn Buntings (above) singing their hearts out on a mild February day. There was still a large chunk of day light left so I headed for Paglesham Lagoon where the Egyptian Geese were still around from a few days before. I added Stock Dove, Greylag and Canada Geese to my list before heading back to Wallasea for sun down and hopefully some owls. On my way I had a really good view of a low flying Buzzard from the car. The reported Short Eared Owls didn't show at Wallasea but my cockles were warmed with a Barn Owl ghosting it's way round the island ditches and bringing up my 100.

Sunday 20 February 2011

Southend Pier

With an Easterly wind and rain forcast I thought it would be a good opportunity to get Purple sandpiper at the end of the pier and see if anything else was getting blown into the estuary. No such joy on the latter but there was the bonus of an adult med gull in full summer plumage (pic on S.O.G site).

Tuesday 8 February 2011

Orange-bellied Parrots, Melaleuca

Male Orange-bellied Parrot

Juvenile Orange-bellied Parrot

Juvenile Orange-bellied Parrot

Juvenile Orange-bellied Parrot

I've just returned from Melaleuca in Tasmania's south west, the breeding ground of the Orange-bellied Parrot. In recent years their numbers have dropped from 200 to an estimated 50 wild birds (!) - so I thought I better get down there before it's too late.

I hope it will never be too late for these jaw-dropping little beauties but, despite their picturesque safe-haven in tassie, you have to worry about their welfare when wintering the cat-and-fox-festooned coast of the mainland.

It's a bit of a commitment to get to this patch of wilderness but it's worth every cold-tinned dinner you'll stomach along the way. I've detailed a few logistical points below just in case you feel like taking it on.

But first, if like me, you haven't been to to Tassie before there are 12 endemics to try and pick up: Tasmanian Native-hen, Green Rosella, Dusky Robin, Scrubtit, Tasmanian Scrubwren, Tasmanian Thornbill, Forty-spotted Pardalote, Yellow-throated Honeyeater, Strong-billed Honeyeater, Black-headed Honeyeater, Yellow Wattlebird and Black Currawong. Here are the ones you're likely to see at Melaleuca...

Dusky Robins are common and confiding

Yellow-throated Honeyeaters were common too, often seen around the OBP feeding table and surrounding bush

Strong-billed Honeyeaters were less numerous than the Yellow-throats. A good place to see them was the stand of trees between the walkers' huts and the lagoon. Three birds showed up to pluck hair from this poor wallaby around the toilet block.

Red-necked Wallaby (?)

Strong-billed Honeyeater

Green Rosellas were more often heard than seen. They were around the feeding table and Deny King's house, occasionally seen flying over and, once or twice, perched up.

This is a very soft record of the only Tasmanian Scrubwren I encountered. It was hopping around Deny Kings fantastic garden. If you're sure you're not disturbing anyone in residence at the house (Deny's family regularly visit) and if you leave a healthy donation in the hide honesty box, then it's really worth a look around.

Other non-endemic new birds for for me at Melaleuca included Blue-winged Parrot, Striated Field Wren, Olive Whistler, and Cresent Honeyeater. With notable appearances from Bassian Thrush, Southern Emu-wren and good numbers of Ground Parrots - flushed but never photographed.

Southern Emu-wrens were loyal to the start of the track that headed out to the mine from the airstrip.

Female Southern Emu-wren

There were quite a few Striated Fieldwren around the airstrip - usually in pairs.

This scraggy looking fem Blue-winged Parrots would feed with the OBPs at the table, usually in the morning. A male was hanging around too but I didn't see it.

Tree Martin

Pademelons were tame and numerous

I stayed in Melaleuca for two nights before heading back to Hobart and the search for more endemics. Without time to go the Bruny Island, a reported good spot for most of the endemics, I rented a car and drove to the Peter Murrell reserve near Kingston which is famous for its Forty-spotted Pardalote population. You apparently have to look around the White Gums near the car park lake. I spent 5 hours there in windy conditions and managed to see every Striated and Spotted Pardalotes in the park, with a few tantalising glimpses of juveniles, without connecting with their troubled cousin. I did tick Black-headed Honeyeater, Tasmanian Native-hen and Yellow Wattlebird though. The jury is still out on the Tasmanian VS Brown Thornbill debate - got hundreds of dodgy pictures to study.

After a lead from a local birder I gave up on the Forty-spots and headed to Mount Wellington to try and see a Black Currawong. I was told there is a tame individual at a place called Sphinx Rock (10-15 minute walk from the road halfway up the mountain) but I ran out of light. So, 8 Tassie endemics down and 4 to return for.

Tasmanian Native-hen

juv Black-headed Honeyeater

Yellow Wattlebird

There were a few things about the trip that I wasn't able to glean from the internet before I set off so here's a few pointers that may help you if you're heading down there.

SYDNEY to HOBART rtn: Jetstar

HOBART to MELALEUCA rtn: Par Avion c.$350. Par Avion flights leave from the Cambridge Aerodrome, a 5-minute taxi ride from Hobart airport. I believe they fly out twice a day at 9am and 3or4pm. The flight takes about 50 minutes. You will need to buy a Tas Parks pass for your trip too for about $30 - available at the Aerodrome. The weather in Melaleuca is very changeable and it's possible that your arranged return flight will have to be delayed. You won't have any phone reception so leave the Par Avion number with anyone that might miss you.

HOBART: I had to travel to Hobart the night before flying to Melaleuca in order to make the morning connecting flight. I chose to stay at Seven Mile Beach Caravan Park because of its close proximity to the airport. You can camp there if you wish but I opted for a cabin with a toilet and a TV @ $110 per night. Your food options are pretty limited or non-existent if you turn up late so, if you want more options and a happier taxi driver you might find it easier to stay in town. I liked it though and will stay here again. Remember to arrange to have a key left out for you - reception shuts at 6pm I think.

MELALEUCA: There are two walking huts about 100m from the airstrip. You would be unlucky to not find a free bunk but pack a tent just in case (a swag may be too bulky for your flight if it is full). There was one other person staying there the first night I was there but 6 more walkers showed up on the second. There is a nice Tea Tree (?) wood behind the huts where you can pitch a tent and I chose to do that while the weather was good. On the second day the rain set in so I moved into one of the huts. There were three of us in a hut that would sleep 6. The other, newer hut is about the same size.

Base camp

FOOD: You need to bring your own to Melaleuca. I chose to take nothing but tinned goods and therefore recommend you take a burner and some noodles. You can't carry fuel for you burner on any of the flights but you can buy some from the Par Avion boys at the Melaleuca airstrip.

WATER: There are four or five fresh water tanks around the place. The water is as pure as it gets and does not need purifying - at least I still feel ok.

I bought a poo trowel in preparation for this wilderness trip but, if you are sticking close to the airstrip there is one of the poshest camp dunnies I've had the pleasure to be inspired by.

TAXIS: I used The Airport Taxi Service Group (0418 179 202) to get me between accommodation and airports. They were reliably on time.
CAR HIRE: I hired a Getz from AVIS for about 50 bucks. It was perfectly acceptable unless you like a bit of oomph up a hill.

Finally here's a few other shots from Melaleuca...

The view from camp.

Approach to the OBP feeding station hide.


The airstrip

View from airstrip.

OBP juv (2% of the entire population)

Thursday 3 February 2011

Waxwings and a Firecrest

My luck was in today. I had a tip off about some Waxwings on Cherry Orchard Way a couple of minutes before I was due to drive down there on my way to Hockley Woods (amazingly my first Waxwings during this crazy Waxwing winter). My good fortune continued at the woods with decent views of the Firecrest (South East from Play area in large Laurel bush and too mobile to digiscope).