Sunday, 17 September 2017

Australia (1/8) Melbourne

Birding off the patch! We have just arrived home from another great holiday, a tour of Australia, courtesy of Riviera Travel.  We were over there for 21 days and clocked up around 6000 miles on internal travel. Add that to the 21,500 mile return trip to Aus and I have some serious carbon offset to address. Our trip, shown below, included the Darwin loop.

I have to say though, a great holiday. A small group, well organised, nice people and best of all cheap(ish). I couldn't get anywhere near the price when I looked at doing a similar independent tour.

OK there were some downsides. I didn't get as long for birding as I would have liked and sometimes we were moving on before I had even got the camera out. However, for us, holidays will always be a compromise. That is between my wish for birds, butterflies and all things nature and Sue's belief, strange as it is, that there are other things in life worth doing and to be fair that doesn't just mean shopping as I may have suggested in the past.

So, onto the birds. There are about 850+ different species in Australia with around 45% of those being endemic. I managed to see and photograph around 130 in the time I was there although some of the photographs are (a lot) less than perfect.

We arrived in Melbourne late evening and I was out in Fitzroy Gardens next to the hotel in the predawn light looking for my first exotic.


Not exactly what I had expected but I could at least hear some unusual bird calls from the surrounding trees.

Common Myna

Common Myna, better but still not a new bird. I could see assorted crow and Raven type birds but in the early morning light I couldn't really be sure of an identification. Then my first new bird Australian Wood Duck.

Australian Wood Duck

With the light starting to improve a few more birds appeared from the shadows. Rainbow Lorikeets, colourful in the low light but stunning once the sun comes up.

Rainbow Lorikeet

Australian Magpie

It wasn't until a few days later that we realised that the Magpie was the source of the flute like calls that we could hear as a constant background to our time out birding.

Magpie Lark

Red Wattlebird

Little Pied Cormorant

Later that day I took a walk through the Yarra Park for a look at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Lots more of the birds we had already seen but a few new ones as well.

Noisy Miner

Pied Currawong

Spotted Dove

Eastern Rosella

The next day was a bit disappointing. We had a trip organised out into the Dandenongs with a ride on the Puffing Billy steam railway up to Emerald Lake, a noted birding location. We saw a good few birds from the railway including Crimson Rosella, Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, and Laughing Kookaburra but with a lot of people around they were keeping their distance and picture opportunities were limited. By the time we got to Emerald lake we had heavy rain but I managed a few shots of some rather wet birds and the steam railway was some consolation.

Crimson Rosella

Grey Curawong  -  I think!
 grey throat, less defined bill hook and white tipped flight feathers

Purple Swamphen

Arriving back in Melbourne we still had a couple of hours before sunset and the rain had stopped so it was a quick walk through the park and over the river to the Botanic Gardens.

Australian Raven

Bell Miner

Pleased to get the Bell Miner. We could hear a few of them ringing away in the bushes but they were hard to locate, very territorial and aggressive and always on the move.

Pacific Black Duck

Silver Gull

Long-billed Corella  "Cut Throats"

Our second day in Melbourne draws to a close and in the morning it's time to move on. So much still to see and we hadn't even managed to get out to the Water Treatment Plant at Werribee, the Poo Farm in local terminology, with a bird list of 284 species. Truth be told I didn't even have the courage to raise the possibility with Sue.

Australia (2/8) - The Great Coast Road

We left Melbourne early and headed off along the Great Coast Road towards our overnight stop at Warrnambool, a distance of just under 350 kilometres. Most of the day was spent on the coach although there were a number of stops to stretch legs and to get a closer view of some of the more spectacular stretches of coast.

I saw plenty of birds but stops were brief and it was difficult to get decent shots. A lunch break at Appolo Bay gave me a few opportunities but Fairy Martins at the Twelve Apostles stop proved to be too much of a challenge. Forty or fifty flight shots and I didn't get single one in frame.

Australian King Parrot

Poor shot but it's the only one I managed to get. The Eastern Great Egret below Ardea modesta is considered by most authorities to be a sub species of the Great White Egret Casmerodius albus found in Europe.

Eastern Great Egret

New Holland Honeyeater

Pacific Black Duck

Sulphur-crested Cockatoo

Welcome Swallow

Willie Wagtail

We arrived in Warrnambool about an hour before sunset with the light starting to fade. What to do? Probably 30 minutes of decent light. The Merri River estuary just by the hotel; South Warnambool Wetlands; Thunder Point Coastal Reserve; E Johnson Reserve; Warnambool Foreshore Reserve; Lake Pertobe; Merri Marine Sanctuary with its Little Penguins on Middle Island and the harbour all within a kilometer of where we were staying.

The penguins were particularly interesting as they are protected from predatory cats and foxes by Maremma Dogs. Click here if you are interested.

I managed to get as far as the estuary before the light went completely.

Australian Pelican

Pacific Gull - distant but no mistaking that bill

Singing Honeyeater- in very low light

This looked a really great place for walking and birding but we were up before dawn and back on the coach before it was really light. I needed at least a full day here. Fortunately we made an unscheduled stop about 15 kilometres down the road at the Tower Hill Wildlife Reserve.

Tower Hill is an inactive volcano that had been stripped of its timber by early settlers, used for farming, quarrying, motor cycle racing and as a rubbish dump. Over the past 40 years it has been repopulated with 300,000 native trees and now supports an extensive wildlife population.

It was raining but the larger animals and birds were easy to spot.



Grey Fantail

Make it two days at Warrnambool. I could easily spend a day wandering around this wildlife reserve.

It was more than 600 kilometres to Adelaide so most of the day was spent looking out of the coach window and studying the maps. So many places I would have liked to stop. A few where we did and one new bird, a Superb Fairy Wren.

Superb Fairy-wren   -   breeding male

Superb Fairy-wren   -  non breeding male

and one more picture just because it is such a wonderful bird.

We arrived in Adelaide late afternoon with the prospect of a whole day to explore the city and the surrounding area. Just the sort of thing that I always laugh at visitors to my own country for doing. Still, got to make the most of it.

Australia (3/8) Adelaide

A quick look around the city, a one mile central square surrounded by parkland and then we headed for the Botanic Gardens. First bird of the day, a very uncooperative Laughing Kookaburra. This one was definitely having a laugh. I would have to wait a few more days to get a decent picture.

Back end of a Laughing Kookaburra

Nice gardens and a good selection of birds. I was particularly impressed by some of the very strange bird calls until I realised that it was feeding time for the monkeys in the adjacent Adelaide Zoo.

Australian Grebe

Noisy Miner

The Australian Ibis is a much maligned bird. Bin chicken, tip turkey, foul fowl, being just a few of its names. This is a bird with a bad reputation. With its large wingspan it can be seen, and so I am told, smelt, across many of Australia's cities.  However this bird is a survivor. It is a native of Australia and used to live in large numbers on the inland waterways of New South Wales and Queensland. As its environment has gradually been degraded its numbers have gone into serious decline. The birds answer was to move into the cities where it has adopted a new way of life living of the waste that we leave behind.

It sounds just like the UK's gull population. I believe it also has a taste for a well cooked chip.

Australian Ibis

Female Australian Wood Duck

Rainbow Lorikeet

Crested Pigeon

Little Corella

Musk Lorikeet

Walking back along the river, the Karrawirra Parri to get to the hotel we had the usual ducks and gulls plus a nice looking Little Pied Cormorant and a very confiding Australian Darter.

Little Pied Cormorant

Australian Darter

Adelaide in a day and a nice place it seemed. The only issue, the city centre felt a bit down market when we were looking for somewhere to eat in the evening, so we walked up to O'Connell Street north of the river which had a much nicer feel to it.

Next stop a flight up to Alice Springs and a chance to explore the Red Centre.

Australia (4/8) The Red Centre

We arrived in Alice early afternoon and made a visit to the Old Telegraph Station just outside the town. It shows the fascinating story of how the first telegraph line was established from Darwin down to Adelaide thus enabling direct communications to the southeast coast for the first time.

There were a good few Black and Whistling Kites around but none of the less common raptors. Plenty of birds but all ones I had seen before.

Black Kite

Whistling Kite

Crested Pigeon


The next morning we had a trip out into the Western McDonnell Ranges visiting Simpsons Gap and Standley Chasm. Fortunately a late start was scheduled, the only one on the trip, to allow a few brave souls to go ballooning over the desert. Myself, I was standing outside the Olive Pink Botanical Gardens at 0630 in the half light. Major problem, there was a high fence and a locked gate with a sign saying that the gardens did not open until 0800. I hadn't planned for this.

Fortunately one of the members of staff arrived at about 0700 and was happy to let me in early. A big relief, I was expecting to see the Western Bowerbird and this was one of my two main targets on the holiday. The other being the Cassowary which I was extremely unlikely to get to see.

Singing Honeyeater

Australian Ringneck  -  also called Port Lincoln Parrot

White Plumed Honeyeater

Grey-crowned Babbler

Possible Little Crow

 I found the corvids very difficult to identify. Given the location this is likely to be a Little Crow or a Torresian Crow. In both species the eye is dark in the juvenile bird turning to white in an adult. I have probably seen both birds at some time on the tour but I am unable to call the difference.

Spinney-cheeked Honeyeater


Grey Shrike-thrush

Western Bowerbird

Western Bowerbird. I knew this bird was there, I had researched it on the web from home and I even knew where to look for it in the Botanic Gardens. I can now say that I traveled to the other side of the world to twitch a bird. Fortunately I was the only one that did and I had it all to myself.

I had a quick look around to see if he had a bower but there were two birds present and I did not want to disturb them so backed off and left them to it.

Western Bowerbird

Western Bowerbird

Western Bowerbird

Little Woodswallow

We spent the next day travelling the 450 Kilometres from Alice to Yulara the town closest to Uluru (Ayers Rock).

Uluru  (Picture by Sue)

There was little change in the birds we saw but the background colour did change in keeping with the Red Centre.

Magpie Lark

Another Grey Shrike Thrush

Juvenile Pied Butcherbird

Below the only snake that we came across during the trip. It's not a good shot and I did for an instant consider getting my gardening scissors out to tidy up the view. Then I remembered where I was. I think it's probably a Western Brown, very aggressive when threatened, very fast and highly venomous. The aboriginal name for it is Gwardar which translates to - go the long way around.

I usually stick to birds in these blogs and leave the touristy bits to others but I was saddened by Uluru. It has been a home for the Aboriginal people for a long time. Some would say 60,000 years. Two hundred years ago Europeans turned up and took ownership of the land. A concept that the Aboriginals did not understand.

I thought that the land around Uluru had been given back to the Anangu people but now I find that it has only been leased back to them without giving them control over access, tourism etc. 

35 people have died climbing Uluru and many have had to be rescued. For safety reasons and because it has spiritual significance, the traditional owners of the site, the Anangu, have asked people not to climb the rock.

There are signs around the base of the rock......

......and what happens

"Either we can't spell or they can't read" says traditional owner Vince Forrester of the thousands of tourists that climb Uluru each year.

My views - I would love to climb the rock but this place deserves the same respect as any other religious site. Stop the climbing.

and more disrespect, this time from the Zebra finches

Next stop The Top End via a flight to Alice and then another on to Darwin

Keep looking - four more blogs on Australia to follow