Thursday, September 15, 2011

Wander Lust..... Wandering Whistling-Duck

A report on Birdline Tasmania at the weekend, caught my eye as much from the observers' comments as from the content. Ian Lundy reported seeing 3 ducks at Lake Dulverton, that he described in detail, believing that the birds in question were Wandering Whistling-Duck. He was not able to get any shots with his phone (photographs have become almost mandatory for rare bird sightings). He concluded by saying: "this bird is not found anywhere near here but it is what I saw--please tell me I'm not going crazy". This species breeds in the tropical north of Australia and is uncommon to rare further south, and as far as I'm aware, has not been recorded in Tasmania before, so I guess Ian's comments are not unreasonable.

Being old and sceptical, I awaited developments and they were not long in coming. Paul Brooks sent me an email saying that he had subsequently seen them, confirmed their identity, and thought that it might be possible to photograph them. I have to say I wasn't particularly enthused, my twitching days are largely behind me, but as Lake Dulverton is almost always worth a visit I gave a lukewarm reply.

Consulting the weather forecast for the rest of the week suggested a visit might be better sooner than later, so on Wednesday morning I set forth. It's an hours drive from Hobart and although I set off in high hopes, as I approached Oatlands (where the lake is situated), the weather noticeably deteriorated. At the Mud Walls dam the wind was wiping up waves and this usually good spot for duck held absolutely nothing! Not a good omen. On to Dulverton.

I pulled in to the small carpark overlooking the spot that the previous observers had indicated the birds had been sighted. Looking along the dam wall I could see a flock of about 15 Little Pied Cormorant roosting, and close by, tucked close to and largely hidden by tufts of sedge, I could make out 2 ducks, but the limited view indicated they were almost certainly the birds in question. I then, with the benefit of hindsight, made a gross error of judgement. I got out of the car! The cormorants took off and so too did the duck. Worse, I didn't see where they headed to.

I spent the next 3 hours around the shores of the lake. I watched the very flighty flocks of Hardhead, there were over 500, by far the largest numbers that I've ever see in Tasmania. I noted a few Blue-billed duck, a single pair of Australian Shelduck, and many hundreds of Eurasian Coot. There were noticeably few 'dabblers' such as Chestnut Teal and Black Duck. I then returned to the starting point, and lo and behold, the 'whistlers' were back, and so were the cormorants. No problems this time though. I descended the bank to the shoreline and bird by bird the cormorants flew off leaving the 3 Wandering Whistlers and I shot off several images, one shown. I decided to attempt to approach along the dam wall. I fired off 3 or 4 shots before they flushed, landing about 30 metres away among the low, but dense vegetation of the lake.

I met Els Wakefield shortly afterwards, she was also after photographs of them, and reported that they were now back where she had seen (and photographed) them earlier. Comparison of notes and digital images ensued. I was if anything, relieved at managing to get a few shots, particularly in the blustery conditions which made all the duck very flighty, and I was still annoyed with myself for earlier having flushed them from the dam wall.

With the aftermath of the Mainland floods, with good conditions for waterbird breeding, it probably isn't surprising that these duck have turned up. I think there will most likely be more unusual sighting of "mainland" species. A question has been raised as to the possibility that these birds are "escapees" from a waterbird collection or zoo. While impossible to rule out, I think the behaviour of these 3 birds suggested that they are wild birds.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Chatham Albatross on Eaglehawk Neck Pelagic

Report from Els Wakefield:
The pelagic trip, led by Dan Mantle from Canberra, left Pirates Bay (Eaglehawk Neck) and headed straight to the Continental Shelf drop off on board the Pauletta. Many of the birders on board had made hundreds of trips, but declared Saturday's (3rd September) the best ever with a huge variety of birds and great viewing conditions. The highlight of the day caused a rush to the side of the boat. It was what we call a "lifer", as nobody on board had seen it before and it was Tasmania's first record ! I understand that 2 or 3 have been recorded off the Australian mainland. The bird was a Chatham Albatross (Thalassarche eremita), previously considered a form of Shy Albatross (Thalassarche cauta), commonly seen in Tasmanian waters.
It's a handsome bird, with grey head and neck and an enormous yellow-orange bill. Some called it 'banana-bill bird'. As it appeared in the distance little did we realise that it would come right up to the stern of the boat, enabling all to ID it and take photographs.
A similar trip the following day, failed to locate the bird.