Friday, October 30, 2009

......and on to Orielton Lagoon

Feeling that I'd probably already used up my birding luck (see previous blog), I wasn't that enthusiastic about donning gum boots and plodding through the Orielton mud. Gone are the halcyon days when many of the rarer waders were seemingly regularly seen here. Such birds as Oriental Plover and Ruff spring to mind. Having said that, it's still one of the few places in southern Tasmania to see some of the less common migrant waders
My first surprise was to find a 'new' wetland, I believe courtesy of the release of 'grey' water from the nearby water treatment dams. With the high Winter and Spring rain, this water isn't required for irrigation purposes, but still has to go somewhere, hence the around one hectare wetland. My first encounter was with a Black-fronted Plover, well actually I only heard the characteristic "rattle" call, and sought it out. As I stood scanning the area of drying mud on the far side of the creek seeking the blackfont, I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye and only a few metres away. Second surprise, it was an Australian Crake, creeping away into the salt bush, flicking its' white under-tail as it did. This is the first I've ever seen here, and I've been a regular here for many years. Was the 'new' wetland the lure, or have they always been here?
I stood there for several minutes hoping to get a photo opp., but no reappearance, so back to the blackfronts. First one and then a second flew round, calling, and I got the impression that they were probably breeding close by. Moving on along the bank of the creek, about a 100 metres further on, I met 4 more blackfronts. Making a note to return to this spot for some attempt at photography I moved on, trying, unsuccessfully as it turned out, to avoid stirring up the breeding Kelp Gulls which "infest" the eastern side of this reserve. I quickly moved off, 'pursued' by calling gulls. They in turn disturbed a flock of Eastern Curlew and Bar-tailed Godwit, just visible a kilometre away, through the heat haze. I walked through the marsh towards the golf course to the East, disturbing a few Australasian Pipits and numerous Eurasian Skylarks. Overhead small flocks of Galahs and Corellas past, calling, and I scattered several family groups of White-fronted Chats. Keeping a wary eye on me were 2 pairs of Pied Oystercatcher, by their actions, breeding close by. My goal was a closer look at a flock of small waders, which proved, as expected, to be Red-necked Stint. Numbering around 500, one was colour flagged (banded in South Australia over 800kms away), and among their number was a solitary Sharp-tailed Sandpiper. Nearer the golf course, in a favourite posi., I could just make out a flock of Pacific Golden Plover, around 20. I left them in peace, and headed back to the blackfronts for an attempt at photography.
As you can see by the accompanying images, I was at least partially successful. These Black-fronted Plover have probably been 'pushed' out from the nearby overfull farm dams, as I've rarely recorded them here in recent years, and usually only an odd pair. I sat on the creek bank and 'allowed' them to come to me, which rather warily, they did, albeit on the far bank of the creek. But since I've only managed a few shots from the car before, I made the most of it.

Friday, October 23, 2009

"Late" Cattle Egrets

En route to Orielton Lagoon for a change of birding venue, I chanced upon a small flock of Cattle Egrets on the northern side of the lagoon. Totaling 9 in all, they were feeding among a small flock of sheep, fairly close to the road. A quick U-turn and I was alongside the paddock, which made the egrets understandably nervous. I scrambled a few shots out of the car window before they edged further up the paddock.
In recent years, no doubt due to the lack of rain, I've found few Cattle Egrets in southern Tasmania. So the recent prolonged rain may have caused these egrets to hang on longer than usual, before migrating back to the Mainland. The individual pictured at right is sporting almost? the full breeding plumage, the first that I can recall seeing in Tasmania. A few others in the flock had partial breeding plumage, but most exhibited none.
As I drove the short distance to the bridge over Orielton Creek, a Little Egret flew over. Added to the 6 Crested Grebe I 'd seen from the Sorell Causeway, it made for an excellent start to my visit to the lagoon. More of that later.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Striated Pardalote--"orange-tipped"

While looking for Striated Fieldwrens at Pipeclay Lagoon (I failed), I came across a pair of Striated Pardalotes with a nest hole in a low bank beneath an old fence line. Watching them from a distance, I realised that both birds had orange markings in their wings, rather than the usual yellow, one of which is shown at left. (You will need to click on the image to see this and you might like to compare it with the 'normal' type below).
The Tasmanian striateds, were once known as 'Yellow-tipped Pardalotes', but are now lumped with their Mainland counterparts. This species ranges over much of Australia, exhibits variable plumages and the spot in the wing ranges from yellow to red (consult your field guide!). The one thing they apparently have in common is their "pick-it-up" call, and this pair incessantly demonstrated that. Most Tasmanian striateds migrate to the Mainland in the Autumn, returning early in Spring.
Orange-tipped birds have been recorded in Tasmania from time to time, as has the red-tipped 'model', but this is the first that I've seen.
I'm not sure whether this pair will breed successfully, as they have chosen a site potentially subject to flooding. Much of the area is already inundated, sufficient to attract a pair of Black-fronted Plovers.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Just Passing....Gould's Lagoon

I managed to fit about 20 minutes of birding at Gould's Lagoon last weekend, while on my way to a family get together at the Salmon Ponds. A little blustery, and overcast, but Gould's is almost always worth a look, and I even managed to add to my list for this location.
We parked on the side of the highway, crossing the road to cast our eyes over the reed beds, and saw the first of several Little Grassbirds, one carrying food, and I even managed a distant shot of one (below). A very 'nervous' Great Egret stalked the reeds beside the rail line, and we noted a number of paired male Australasian Shovelers involved in vigorous aerial chasing of unpaired males trying to "muscle" in.
Along the shoreline towards the partly rebuilt bird hide, a pair of Chestnut Teal herded their clutch of recently hatched ducklings, although I suspect, some at least, may well end up as Harrier food, as a pair of Swamp Harriers were regularly hunting over the reed beds. Among the Coot and Teal, I found the first of two, possibly a pair, of Dusky Moorhens, my first for this venue. This species, common over much of Eastern Australia, is slowly but surely colonising Tasmania, so it will be interesting to see whether they breed here.
Anxious family members, looking I thought, rather ostentatiously at their watches , finally pricked my conscience, and all too soon we moved on. All in all, a worthwhile 20 minutes.
[I didn't manage any shots of the moorhens, and the image at top, was taken earlier this year on the river at Richmond, where a few pairs bred]

Friday, October 02, 2009

"It's Not All Doom and Gloom"

Early in September, Birds Tasmania played host to the Australasian Wader Study Group's 7th conference. Mike Newman, a long time Tasmanian birding stalwart, now a NSW resident, asked me to co-author a paper on long term observations on Pied Oystercatchers in South-East Tasmania. (I should mention here that I may have been the catalyst for Mike's long term interest and study of Pied Oystercatchers, and my contribution to the paper was minimal and 'historic' rather than recent). I'm not big on meetings these days, and I was surprised that I managed to 'survive' two days of papers and discussion. Probably tempered by meeting both old friends and new, who have a passion for the conservation of shorebirds.
I am not a member of AWSG these days--I was party to its' foundation--and I was for the most part a passive observer. But, there's always a but, after listening to the many papers on the state of play in the East Asian-Australasian Flyway (the route taken by waders flying between breeding grounds and wintering sites), I could only say it's pretty horrific. I was rash enough to voice my 'horror' of the decline of migrant wader numbers and destruction (euphemistically referred to as "reclamation") of their feeding grounds, particularly in South East Asia, and notably in South Korea. I also felt that the next conference would be reporting on further declines, but little would have been done about it. Ken Gosbell, chair of AWSG, countered by saying that "it's not all doom and gloom", and a discussion followed. There were some bright spots, but even on the Australian scene, sharing beach habitat with the general populace was of concern. Compliance with limits placed on beach use for bird conservation, by dog owners especially, was extremely low (I seem to recall about 17% in one study!). So even with these limitations in place, it's a struggle for our shorebirds. Ken did mention the close cooperation with Birds Korea and other overseas groups, and that was heartening, adding that a wealth of information has been gathered showing this serious decline in wader numbers. But I couldn't help feeling that the whole debate needs to be voiced at a higher level, and become a mainstream issue for conservation groups generally. I can only say that I was left feeling rather depressed--it may not be "all doom and gloom", but it's getting perilously close!
Birds Tasmania (chaired by Eric Woehler), deserves to be congratulated on a well run conference--the company and the refreshments were excellent.