Wednesday, 25 January 2023

Birding New South Wales Part 1

New South Wales 

Flooded farmland, bridges washed away and roads closed, not the Australia Sandee and I had read about or expected. Rural areas had been hardest hit, including major population centres including Sydney. Historically Australia has always had bouts of drought, wildfires and floods. Following the devastating wildfires of 2019 the country was now in the third year of the La Nina phenomenon, leaving many parts of the country wetter than normal.

La Nina (shown in red) enveloping Australia while New Zealand surrounded is mostly spared.
                                                                                                                  (National Geographic)

Straw-necked Ibis and Little Ravens scavenge along a flooded roadside. Birds that would normally congregate around waterholes were scattered everywhere making birding more challenging.

Day 1-3 Sydney NSW

Cumberland State Forest, Marayla, Bushel's Lagoon, Boongala Gardens and Windsor area.

Our Australian trip began with three days of orientation in Sydney. Sandee and I took a tour of the city. At a windy Bondi Beach a large flock of shearwaters battled the way to an offshore island. They were too far away to tell the exact species.

Magpie Larks are common across the continent.

 A short walk from the hotel an Australian White Ibis bathed in an ornamental fountain. They are known as 'bin chickens' or 'tip turkeys' due to their scavenging habits.

Australian White Ibis or 'Bin Chicken'.

 I thought the background of multiple spray nozzles made for an interesting juxtaposition. I used my iPhone 8 to capture the fleeting moment, Bin Chicken or not, the bird was the first lifer of the trip. Downtown offered a chance to bird the Sydney Botanical Garden where I picked up a dozen new species. A great way to shrug off jet lag. Most large centres had botanical gardens, Rockhampton and Coff's Harbour were some of the best.

Pacific Black Ducks are found throughout Australia.

The Sydney Natural History Museum (free admission) was the perfect way to spend a rainy afternoon, one hall was devoted to Australia birds, another to aboriginal history and culture. Both good primers for our upcoming adventure.
On Day 3, while Sandee indulged in retail therapy I met up with Birding Pal Barry Lancaster who took myself and another birder out to Cumberland State Forest on the outskirts of Sydney.
 An early start made sure we had time to see parrots and cockatoos before they left their forest roosts to search for food in the surrounding orchards and farmland. The forest was full of birdsong and the ultimate skulker and vocalist, the Eastern Whipbird. 

Eastern Whipbird.

 A colourful flock of Red-rumped Parrots feeding on a suburban lawn was another highlight. A ground feeder, small flocks are confined to south-eastern Australia.
By the end of the day and with Barry's expert knowledge I had added sixty-six more lifers to my Aussie list. An introduced Eurasian Blackbird, House Sparrow, Rock Pigeon and Common Starling were Australian ticks. I couldn't have asked for a better start. 

A Red-rumped Parrot on a garden fence.

White-faced Heron
 Sydney Olympic Park.

Sept 26-Oct 3 2022

Day 4 we picked up our camper and headed south toward Goulburn and inland to Jugiong. There we met Lyn Burden, another Birding Pal I had been corresponding with for months. Lyn had taken the trouble to make up a five day itinerary for us but due to inclement weather had decided to reverse the tour to avoid the rains. Our destination, Lake Cargelligo was five hundred kms inland. We stayed at a combination of free and paid campsites. 

Double-barred Finch.

We made numerous stops including Pioneer Park in Jugiong where Lyn found me a speckled Warbler. 

Speckled Warbler.

Other stops included, Campbell's Swamp, Fivebough Wetlands, Hooey Road Lookout and Lake Wyanger where we picked-up White-winged Chough, White-bellied Sea Eagle, Nankeen Kestrel and Sacred Kingfisher. 

Eastern Yellow Robin

The rains had made the roads treacherous with potholes everywhere, one of our planned campsites was even under water. Overall the free campsites offered the best birding opportunities

Black Swans take advantage of the recent rains

At least we didn't have to deal with dusty roads which meant the camera was always out and ready to go. Later in the trip we had to drive through 14 kilometres of flooded roads to make our way back via the Blue Mountains to Sydney 600 kms to the East.

White-breasted Woodswallow.

The wetlands, of which there were more than usual provided some good birds including Blue-billed Duck and Whiskered Tern. Soon I had photographed one hundred new species, way too many to list here. The scenery was spectacular, the rolling hills and thousands of sheep reminded us of Scotland and Wales. The economy and surrounding towns were all built around sheep and grain exports. We even had time to visit a shrine in honour of Don Bradman, the greatest cricketer of all time. That was a real treat.

A Grey Kangaroo bounds across a watery landscape.

Birding can be dangerous as well as exhilarating. At one point while crossing a flooded roadway we felt our camper slide sideways and slip down stream before gripping the road and pulling us to safety. The whole incident still gives us goose bumps, something neither of us will ever forget. Something I would do differently should we return would be to hire a 4x4 Utility or UTE with tent on top rather than a camper van. A number of National Parks were totally unsuitable for our vehicle.

Crimson Rosella.

Lake Cargelligo

"You missed the Major Mitchell's Cockatoo" Sandee announces as I returned from an afternoon birding session. Sandee loves to tag along on trips and seems happy to take in the sights and sounds. She potters around doing whatever non-birders do. Wildlife feels comfortable around her, probably oblivious to her presence. Later over supper she describes the many 'red, white and yellow' birds that visited the campsite during my absence, from her descriptions probably Noisy Miners, Peaceful Doves, Sulphur Crested Cockatoos, Galahs and Australian Magpies, all birds comfortable around humans. There were others I could never quite figure out. They would come within inches of her, looking for handouts or perhaps just curious. On one occasion, so deep into her novel that an Australian Brush Turkey crept up and scratched her toe, drawing blood. 

Australian Brush Turkey.

Then there were the lizards and giant centipedes, favourite prey for the Laughing Kookaburra. Fortunately we did not encounter any nasty spiders, scorpions and only one snake, a large Python that had wrapped itself around a tree at the base of the verandas few feet from our camper. It waited patiently to pounce on a  hapless rodent or bird. It posed no risk to us, but at six feet long it was an imposing sight, especially in the dark and on our way to use the facilities. Creepy to say the least.

Wear sturdy boots, stay out of long grass and keep to trails was good advice.

 Thanks to Lyn's keen eye and knowledge of birdsong every day provided a new set of birds. Equally interesting were encounters with kangaroo and lizards. The red earth that held the recent rains was especially vibrant, wildflowers covered the landscape, and the smell of the eucalypts was something else

Painted Button Quail in Nangar National Park.

Finally this was the Australia we had read about, far from the city and quite stunning. During one of our excursions Lyn spotted a pair of Wedge-tailed Eagle feeding on carrion, a few metres further on an Emu was browsing and a flock parrots flew overhead. Birdsong filled the air.

Wedge-tailed Eagle.
Australia's largest bird of prey.

 After negotiating flooded roads we made our way back to Orange some five-hundred kms east of Sydney. At the botanical gardens in Orange I ran into a local birding group on their Sunday morning walk. They helped me pick-up two lifers, an Eastern Spinebill and a Spotted Pardalote.

Golden Whistler.

 Time was running out for the first leg of our trip. A few days later we were in the famed Blue Mountains where we viewed a Wollemi Pine at the Blue Mountains Botanical Gardens. The Wollemi Pine is one of the world's oldest and rarest plants dating back to the time of the dinosaurs. With less than 100 adult trees known to exist in the wild, the Wollemi Pine is now the focus of extensive research to safeguard its survival. 

Eastern Rosella.

Part two will cover our trip from Cairns and the Atherton Tablelands and the seventeen hundred km drive south to Brisbane.
 Part three will cover the Ulur or Ayer's Rock portion including the return journey from Brisbane back to Sydney.
 Stay posted.

"It's never ever too late to say G'day"

John Gordon
BC Canada


Thursday, 28 July 2022

A non-birder goes birding

Big Bar Ranch Birding 

 -  June 24 to July 1, 2022

Story by Tineke Goebertu

Photography John Gordon

After a two year hiatus, Gareth’s Pugh's annual birding trip was on again …. and I was invited to join. Most participants are avid birders. I am a nature lover and enjoy a bird or two.

Big Bar Ranch

Savannah Sparrow.
Dropping provide nutrients for the lichen.

Birders being chased by mosquitos.

Dreamy Duskywing.

The Big Bar Ranch is in the Cariboo between Clinton and the Fraser River; ranches, grasslands, lakes, and last but not least the dramatic Fraser Canyon. There was spectacular scenery all around.

Arriving at our cabin, we were welcomed by the Mountain Bluebirds and Cliff Swallows that were nesting right there. Amazing to see them so close-up sitting at our porch, a true birder’s cabin. 

Mountain Bluebird were nesting in the cabin eaves.

After our first homemade dinner of chilli, the evening program was birding. All 9 of us jumped on board with our binoculars and went to a pond we had seen on the way up. As soon as we left our vehicle the mosquitos attacked us, and we were not prepared for them at all. 

There were a pair of Sora and several thousand mosquitos at the pond. 

Within 5 minutes we were all in the car again, and from then on, we made sure that we "Deet-ed" ourselves thoroughly. It was a M&M Memorable Mosquito trip, coming home I had more dead mosquito bodies on the inside of my windshield than on the outside.

Four-spotted Chaser.

This has been one of the very few trips I was not the first one up in the morning. Birders rise early, and birding happens from the early morning into the late evening (nightjar survey). After the first day of stop and go with our cars on a route of Gareth’s choosing, I was exhausted. 

Spotted Sandpiper

A lot of bird species were recorded, and I enjoyed a “lifer” *of my own; the Few-flowered shootingstar. Big pockets of them. It has also been cooler and wetter than usual in this area, and we hit it right with the wildflowers. Together we tallied over a one hundred (plant) species, and in very large numbers.

*Lifer as in a new plant.

Cutleaf Anemone
(Anemone multifida)

Yellow-bellied Marmot pups

Birders use a lot of gadgets, obviously binoculars, scopes, and cameras. But also, their phones to either let it record and tell you which birds it hears, or to play a bird call. In the evening, the many birding books were put to good use when the discussions got heated over the true identity of some birds. Consensus was always reached in the end.

Horned Grebe

I appreciate how they love to share their knowledge and enthusiasm and are only mildly disappointed when you don’t share the same excitement over a certain species….  

Common Raven

Churn Creek Day Trip

Our day-trip to Churn Creek on the west side of the Fraser River was memorable. A very warm day in and around the Fraser Canyon which is out of this world beautiful and to my surprise so little known.

LFN Members take a break to photograph the scenery leading toward Churn Creek.

California Bighorn Sheep. There are 300-500 in the area.

 With a few stops on the way to bird, to admire “wild” horses, to take in the breathtaking landscape and to celebrate the first flowering Brittle Prickly Pear Cactus, of which we later did see patches and patches, we arrived at the bridge to cross the Fraser River to Churn Creek. 

Prickly Pear Cactus

Western Kingbird pants in the hot weather.

It was an extremely hot lunch break in between the fields of flowering cactus. After, we descended to the river and found a few new bird species. I loved the vibrant yellow of a pair of Bullock’s Orioles higher up on the hill. 

Blacktail Deer keeps an eye on the group.

Vesper Sparrow.

 The Secwepemc Sacred Rock

Sacred Rock.

The rock was moved to Vancouver without permission and repatriated back to Churn Creek in 2012.

That evening we enjoyed 1 of our 4 variations of chicken-with-rice dinners we had that week.

Just after leaving the ranch the next day, we did spot a Sandhill Crane family with 2 colts. So gracious.

Sandhill Crane, the rest of the family were close-by.

 Big Bar Lake was our destination. Another gorgeous day in a beautiful place. But before we got to see the lake, we spent 30 minutes in the parking lot… birding…. but so worth it as a Northern Waterthrush was heard and then seen. We hiked part of the Otter Marsh Loop: sun, birds, and flowers. It does not get any better.

A closer view of the Northern Waterthrush.

The calm before the storm.

Indeed, it got worse the day after with soggy rain. But I learned that you can also go birding in the rain, and that is what we did. We boarded our dusty cars and came back with muddy cars instead. We found the reward for our perseverance though: American Avocets with chicks that were not recorded before in this area. I now know what a Scottish lunch is; eating your lunch in the car on the side of the road while it is pouring rain outside. 

Red-naped Sapsucker

Our last day was another trip into the Fraser Canyon, the road to the decommissioned Big Bar Ferry. We found out that we were traveling mainly on OK Ranch land when talking to the owners. They did not mind us as long that all we did was birding. Here I did see my first Lazuli Bunting, what a colourful bird! 

Lazuli Bunting

After yesterday’s rain, the sandy roads were so slick which made us decide to turn our cars around and enjoy lunch in the sunshine looking at the landscape and the raging muddy waters of the Fraser River. 

A very wet Ruffed Grouse following a downpour.

Undeniably, birding is rubbing off on me. On the way home I spotted an owl sitting on a post along the highway. After a U-turn it appeared to be a Stoic Owl 😊

Tineke Goebertus

Saskatoon Berry

We recorded the following number of species:

125 birds

101 flowers

12 mammals

18 butterflies

3 dragon flies

3 bees

8 beetles

2 reptiles

5 lichens

8 fungi

"It's never too late to give up the writing duties"

John Gordon

Langley /Cloverdale 

BC Canada

The Narwal: Extreme Heat and Habitat Loss

 July 28 2020 

Extreme heat a strain for birds already burdened by habitat loss
Habitat conservation and action on climate change are needed to lessen threat to at-risks species.

See story in the The Narwal which used my Red-breasted Sapsucker and Merlin images.

This Merlin had two hungry offspring to keep happy.

Click on the link below

 The image below was not used as the Narwal magazine format is for landscape rather than vertical. The vertical shot below would make a perfect cover shot. Don't forget to leave room the magazine's name and inside contents. 

"It's never too late for deadlines"
John Gordon Photography
BC. Canada