Friday, 7 February 2014

January 2014: Farewell

WARNING, much of the following is a repeat of what has already been covered in Birds of Allen Road and Birding the South Burnett.

I did have ambitious plans for the new year; a new format, a different way of keeping any remaining public audience interested in the Biding Beyond the Pale.  It hasn’t come about so far.  All that additional time that virtual retirement was supposed to bestow upon Fay and I just fizzled out, like a wet squib at a fireworks display.

Having the time on your hands does not necessarily equate to more time for writing.  So far, most of our additional time has been squandered in increased birding!  As someone once quipped, you can’t have your cake and eat it.

To add further pressure to an already anxious mind, I am desperately attempting to maintain three blogs: Birding the South Burnett and Birds of Allen Road in addition to Birding Beyond the Pale.  Each has a reason for being there but combined they create a formidable challenge and in the end I cannot use any one of them to give the full birding picture.

Take January 2014 as a pointer.  The Allen Road tally amounts to 61 species; the South Burnett tally runs to an impressive 146 species.  However, the overall January tally is actually             170 species; a record in itself, clearly over-hauling the previous best January score of 145 in 2007.  Birding Beyond the Pale, designed primarily as an outlet for all those planned trips beyond the South Burnett, including overseas jaunts, ended January with a meagre 42 species. 

Mice and men!  There were only three trips beyond the pale: on 7 January to Toowoomba; 14 January when we raced across to our former stomping grounds, Redcliffe, to consult our tax accountant and the weekend of 17-19 January, our annual foray to Book Fest on the South Bank.

Not the stuff champions are made of.  May and early June approach but there appears to be little on the immediate horizon to alleviate a glaring blank in this blog.  It has clearly not lived up to mu initial expectations.

As loathe as I am to pull myself away from an enjoyable pastime – and you have to understand my deep-rooted passion for writing to fully appreciate the enormity of the wrench- I have decided that the time has arrived to put Allen Road to bed.

This will be the last Birding Beyond the Pale blog.  Farewell.

Keep an eye out for developments at:

Monday, 13 January 2014


Had this brief report been aimed at a more pre-pubescent, bling-wearing, target audience then I would probably have been tempted to open my remarks with the customary WOW!  What a week to open up our 2014 birding Year List – and yes, now that I have a piece of extraordinary software that keeps such lists automatically I find myself bitten by the bug; nay, worse still, during 2013 I found myself comparing monthly tallies both along Allen Road and in the wider South Burnett region.
We started off the new year with what has become our traditional breakfast at the Boat Mountain Conservation Park, in the former North Burnett region.  Or, to be more precise, we indulged in our cold bacon butties [sandwiches for the uninitiated] and hot coffee in the car park at the foot of the mountain prior to ascending to the peak.  It is a long-standing tradition of three years.

We originally “discovered” Boat Mountain in our early days of residency in the area when reading a well-intentioned but rather unsatisfactory brochure about birdwatching in the South Burnett.  It took some time but in May 2010 we finally managed to make our first visit to the mountain.   We came away with a meagre tally of 21 species but that did include the Horsfield’s Bronze-Cuckoo Chrysococcyx basalis and rather stunning views of a Black-shouldered Kite Elanus axillaris.

I can’t now recall why we decided to return on New Year’s Day 2012 but we did and enjoyed ourselves tremendously; the tally improved marginally to 22 species.  We were back in 2013 when the count soared to an impressive 36 species!  We were hooked; the tradition was established.
We found ourselves at Boat Mountain on New Year’s Day 2014, again with cold bacon sandwiches and hot coffee.  The walk to Daniel’s Lookout, taking the longer route, was exhilarating, all the more so as we added our second only sighting of Black-breasted Button-quail Turnix melanogaster to the tally – the only previous record being at Yarraman State Forest back in March 1996!

The day improved as we progressed along the walking trail. As we reached an open area some 25 White-throated Needletails Hirundapus caudacutus appeared overhead.  A pair of Wedge-tailed Eagles Aquila audax were almost within arm’s reach as the younger of the two [a juvenile?] called softly to the older [the mother?].

Four of the cuculidae graced our outing: Pheasant Coucal Centropus phasianinus, Channel-billed Cuckoo Scythrops novaehollandiae, Fan-tailed Cuckoo Cacomantis flabelliformis and Brush Cuckoo C. variolosus. The Noisy Pitta’s Pitta versicolorwalk to work” call stopped us in our tracks but it never actually showed.  Moments later the Varied Triller Lalage leucomela had us craning our necks to it bring into view.  We had more success with both the Little Colluricincla megarhyncha and Grey Shrike-thrushes C. harmonica.

As we were leaving, the Rufous Fantail Rhipidura rufifrons and White-eared Monarch Carterornis leucotis showed well, bringing the day’s tally to 29 species, our second best score from Boat Mountain.

At the end of the first week we ventured forth into relatively uncharted waters.  No brochures or tips from other local birders here.  We “discovered” and explored this trail on our own volition.
Back in January 2011 heavy rainfall had caused the road up the Blackbutt Ranges to collapse, completely blocking off any access from that direction.  Indeed, with the flooding in and around Gympie to the north and the internal tsunami that raced through Toowoomba, going on to wipe out Grantham, Nanango became isolated from the outside world for several days.

In the immediate aftermath, the Government instigated major remedial work on the Ranges which took some 18 months before limited traffic was permitted to travel up and down in a one-way system alternating in fifteen-minute time intervals.  It was while we were travelling along the road here that we first noticed the Site Camp [parking for the earthmovers, toilets for the workers, etc.] at the top of the Ranges.  That put it just beyond the South Burnett region and squarely into our “SE Queensland” computer folder [i.e. Birding Beyond the Pale].

Its potential as a new birding site was discussed but left on the backburner until a more suitable opportunity presented itself.  That opportunity arrived on 5 January when we found ourselves with time to spare from home renovations and other more mundane household duties.

The drive to the turn-off itself was straightforward enough; it was a drive we had made on many occasions, in both directions.  It was gratifying to find that the workers had kept the old forestry track in good condition and that it was navigable by ordinary vehicle.  We parked and walked for a mile or more before returning to the Forester.  Even as we walked, a longer term plan evolved; on our next outing here, we would drive to our turn-around spot and walk on from there for a mile or and repeat this until we came down to the bottom of the Ranges – always assuming that the track exists that far].

Our birding opened with good views of a male Pacific Koel Eudynamys orientalis, perched on a dead limb calling to all and sundry but try as we might we could see no evidence of the female.  A Channel-billed Cuckoo called from nearby, as did a male Eastern Whipbird Psophodes olivaceus. 

Our tally mounted the further we proceeded along the track: a male Satin Bowerbird Ptilonorhynchus violaceus and moments later a female Regent Bowerbird Sericulus chrysocephalus; a pair of Mistletoebirds Dicaeum hirundinaceum; both the Rufous Pachycephala rufiventris and Golden Whistler P. pectoralis; a Green Catbird Ailuroedus crassirostris and then, the bird of the trip, glorious views of a Brown Falcon Falco berigora as it flew over the Rangers.

We came away with a tally of 36 species but given the poor light conditions we felt well vindicated for having ventured forth Birding Beyond the Pale.

Sunday, 1 September 2013


Not that Fay would ever admit to being a “twitcher,”or indeed having the least interest in twitching. She rarely, if ever, keeps a list of sightings let alone a comprehensive tally of species accumulated over the many years we’ve been birding together; she does record birds we spot as we are driving along enroute to some destination or other. I find it difficult, right down dangerous, to simultaneously drive and record birds flashing by the windscreen! The mention in birding-aus of Freckled Duck Stictonetta naevosa, together with Plumed Whistling-Duck Dendrocygna eytoni in the Lockyer Waters region was sheer coincidence.

We had only ever seen the Freckled Duck on seven occasions and the first of those, back in May 1992, had been in the Lockyer Valley; the last sighting [at Lake Bindegolle] was on 2 October 1993! It was at Bindegolly that we were able to show the late Dawn Allen her first Freckled Duck; she died shortly afterwards.

 Two decades between drinks is perhaps a little excessive.

We have a long history at Allen Road of the Wandering/Plumed Whistling-Duck i.d. calls as the birds flew by overhead almost every night during a substantial period of time a few years back. Added to these incentives was the disappointment of our previous two trips to the Lockyer Valley. We have fond memories of the place dating back to regular visits during the 1990s. Albeit seemingly piecemeal, we had come to know the region as we made our almost bi-annual excursions there; alone or in the company of others, including near legendary birding figures such as John Hadley. Our baptism had been in April 1991, during a joint Queensland Ornithological Society [now more commonly Birds Queensland]/Toowoomba Bird Group outing to Apex Park in Gatton [two Lifers  added to our personal Life List from the lagoon there]. We had also covered Lake Clarendon [Magpie Goose Anseranas semipalmata], Ropely Dam [Plumed Whistling-Ducks, a Lifer] and Gatton Forest [only our second ever sighting of Rose Robin Petroica rosea].

Our visits continued throughout the decade: May [with John Hadley and the Toowoomba Bird Club] and November [Blue-billed Duck Oxyura australis and Oriental Pratincole Glareola maldivarum added to Life List] 1992; June 1993; April [Helidon Dip] and November [Aitkinson’s Dam] 1994 and October 1995 [targeting Painted Button-quail Turnix varia]. We managed a record three trips in 1996, the last two [August and November] guiding overseas birders around the Valley.

Then, zilch. Not a single survey between November 1996 and August 2012. In excess of fifteen years without a solitary visit. The “tree-change” from Redcliffe [on the coast] to Nanango [in the country] and the arrival of the “removal house” played a major role in the gap but those affairs had come in 2001 and 2002 respectively; what of the intervening years, 1997-2000?

As if to add insult to injury, when we finally persuaded ourselves to revisit the place in August 2012, albeit as a side attraction to Ravensbourne National Park, we came away with a tally of seven species! Unable to stomach such a failure we forced ourselves to call in at Helidon Dip where we recorded 25 species.

Still incredulous at the poor tallies compared to earlier years [e.g. 62 in October 1994] we returned the following month, determined to restore the former good birding name of the Lockyer Valley. There were no “lifers” among the 58 species recorded but it remains pleasing to note the number of times I scribbled “conservative estimate of numbers involved” alongside various species.

Thus, following our trip along the first of the Wambo Bird Trails, we targeted the Lockyer Valley for our next venture Birding Beyond the Pale. And this time we were determined to do things properly.

Back in August and September 2012 we had simply tossed binoculars and telescope into the back of the car, together with a flask of coffee and a handful of sandwiches. We missed Jahnke’s Lagoon altogether. We circumnavigated Aitkinkon’s Dam without locating the famous “overflow.” We dibbled, dabbled and dribbled our way around the area without actually finding any familiar landmark. In frustration we returned to Gatton where that recent monstrosity, the Conference-Centre-cum-Information-Centre overshadows the lagoon like the Grim Reaper hovering over a lost soul poised on the doorstep of Eternity.

We found Bird Places of the Lockyer Valley but by then the day was a little too long in the tooth and we had three cats and a dog waiting to be fed – to say nothing of sundry  pigeons, ducks, chickens and assorted wild birds.

An email on the birding-aus forum from Bill Jolly was fortuitous. I telephoned him and he was kind enough to give me a brief update on birding conditions throughout the Lockyer Valley; the Seven Mile Lagoon was, in his opinion, the best current spot for birds. We located it on the map included in the aforementioned leaflet.

Armed with appropriate optics, two flasks of coffee and hard boiled eggs for lunch, we were prepared for anything and everything. Well, except for a GPS unit [“Emily”] that insisted we turn right into Dead Gully Road. The first hint of mishap came when the “road” petered out to become a farm track; we became further concerned when, looking into the rear-view mirror, we noted a large ute tearing down the track in seeming hot pursuit of us. The young farmer pulled out into what can only be described as a minimal space between track and ditch; it seemed advisable to stop and point out that we were merely following the directions of the GPS unit. His tone and facial expressions said it all- yes, GPS units had a tendency to bring unsuspecting motorists along Dead Gully Road but he assured us that it went nowhere and that our best recourse was to turn about and retrace our steps back to the main road.

Determined not to be frustrated by a simple conglomeration of fancy electronics that didn’t know her way around farm tracks, we fell back on that oldest of human resource, logic and good guesswork given the topography of the area. Where electronics had failed us, we succeeded – only to discover that we’d been here the previous month but had been unaware of the lagoon’s name, mistaking it for some oversized farm dam.

Even a flat tyre in Gatton itself couldn’t deflate our optimism as the bird tally rose from site to site.

At the end of the day we came away with 58 species. No lifers but then we hadn’t seen Red-necked Avocet Recurvirostra novaehollandiae since January 1998 and here we had them in a flock of at least one hundred! Similarly, our previous sighting of Wandering Whistling-Duck Dendrocygna australis had been in January 2011.

Wherever we turned there was only good news: 100-plus Pink-eared Duck Malacoryhnchus membranaceus; at least 50 Australasian Grebe Tachybaptus novaehollandiae and 100 Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus. In smaller number but nevertheless worth the journey out beyond the pale were the half dozen Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus, with one pair in full courtship display – erect in the water, facing each other and performing a series of bobbing dance movements. The gyre of 17 Black Kites Milvus nigrans was awesome.

Even on the way home we notice a solitary Pheasant Coucal Centropus phasianius quietly squatted on the grass verge of the busy main road.

For those who have made positive comments regarding the statistics involved with both The Birds of Allen Road and Birding the South Burnett, the monthly tally for August has peaked 100 species; at 114 it rests on the ladder bottom but is only one short of the 115 in April, two short of June’s 116 and three off the 117 in March. The 2013 Year List has crawled over the 200 mark at 202 species. And at the time of writing there are still a few days to go before August ends.

MAY 2014
booked The Smiddybooked Pine Lodge for one nightbooked room in the Lancaster for one nighthired bird guiding services of Richard Atkinsonhired bird guiding services of Kim Seng
book flights arrange visas

arrange visas

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Wambo Bird Trails

Bear with me a moment.

It took a little longer in the coming than I had originally anticipated but come it must and come it has.  As intimated in the opening crescendo, Raison d’etre, my entrance into the Bloggershpere, via Staffordshire Stray, was instigated by a need to search out like-mined individuals domicile in the West Midlands; I was in search of birding news and/or offers of help during our planned brief sojourn back to Staffordshire and it seemed that as so many birders appeared to be venturing forth into this avenue of communication it could be profitable to join their ranks.
Staffordshire Stray was largely successful.  It aided me in my pre-departure research and we even met a couple of birding bloggers at Belvide Reservoir.
However, on our return to Australia, the blog suddenly appeared moribund.  At the time, October 2010, it didn’t appear as if we would ever return to the UK; Trinidad & Tobago or even India held more sway.  The chances of coming across any West Midland birders who had strayed that far afield in their pursuit of birds seemed rather remote, although, as it turned out, during our Goa trip in November/December 2012 we did meet up with a birder from Dudley.
Staffordshire Stray had one other glaring disadvantage; it lacked any direct reference to birds, bird watching or birdingor even ornithology. In a casual Google browsing session searching for “bird blogs,” Staffordshire Stray simply ailed to put in an appearance.
Birds of Allen Road followed on naturally. Birding the South Burnett seemed an appropriate pathway along which to introduce a wider reading public to the avifauna of the region, the pale of our primary birding activities. However, since October 2010, Fay and I have been on a number of birding trips beyond the South Burnett pale. Among the more notable destinations has been Sundown National Park in September 2011 and of course Goa during November/December 2012. All went unrecorded on the Bloggersphere; Staffordshire Stray somehow appeared an inappropriate outlet. 
Chinchilla at the end of June 2013 was the final catalyst. We had devised the outing, had organized it to the last detail and had come away with a bucketful of good birds and memories but no blogspot in which to celebrate our successes.

The WAMBO BIRD TRAILS of 12 August 2013 was not to be allowed to suffer the same malaise.
Oddly enough, it had its nascence in Chinchilla; we picked up ta brochure at the Information Centre in town although it was a day or two after our return to Nanango before we came around to reading it. Or rather, before Fay came around to reading it. It was quite a revelation.
With the assistance of Doug Henning, Malcolm Wilson [Dalby area] and Doug & Bernice Seton [Bell/Bunya Mountains area] the former Wambo Shire Council [now incorporated into the broader Western Downs Regional Council] produced a six-page booklet entitled Birding Areas of the Wambo Shire. It opens with a taxonomic list before providing details of eight “trails,” each subdivided into a number of “sites” within the trail. Basic “mud maps” accompany each trail and each site is supplied with compass reference points. Each page carries a short description of habitat type and a brief list of the species that the intrepid explorer could expect to find along each trail.

Jandowae Trails [16 sites]

Kumbarilla Trail [8 sites]

Dingo Barrier Fence Trail [7 sites]

Broadwater Trail [1 site]

Bunya Foothills Trail [10 sites]

Bunya Mountains Trail [4 sites]

Warra Trail [7 sites]

Kaimkillenbun Trail [6 sites]

For reasons of expediency, our angle of approach, Fay and opened our Wambo Bird Trails account with Map 5, the Bunya Foothills Trail. Nr did we adhere strictly to the numerical order of sites, starting at 2 before moving on to 1 and catching up on ourselves at 3, 4, 5 and 6. At tht point we deemed retreat the better part of valour as the midday sun was becoming oppressive.
While we failed to find the primary target, Blue Bonnet, we did come across not one but ten Ground Cuckoo-shrikes. Watching the Torresian Crow being harassed by a pair of Nankeen Kestrels suggested the latter had a nest nearby and that they were determined to avoid losing their progeny to the voracious corvid. A little later we observed a solitary Nankeen Kestrel meet out similar malice to a Brown Falcon.
At 26 53' 56.1"S 151 39' 11.6"E, the sudden appearance of a pair of Wedge-tailed Eagles had the Torresian Crows, Little Corellas and a myriad of smaller birds all afluster and screaming.

By the time we admitted defeat to the growing heat we had accumulated 52 species from the first six sites of this particular Trail.  That leaves a further four sites to explore  before we even think of moving on to the next Trail. 
That’s an awful of birding beyond our normal pale!
Grallina cyanoleuca
Torresian Crow
Corvus orru
Common Myna
Sturnus tristis
Nymphicus hollandicus
Grey Butcherbird
Cracticus torquatus
Noisy Miner
Manorina melanocephala
Struthidea cinerea
White-winged Chough
Corcorax melanorhamphos
Straw-necked Ibis
Threskiornis spinicollis
Eolophus roseicapillus
Ground Cuckoo-shrike
Coracina maxima
Common Starling
Sturnus vulgaris
Australian Magpie
Cracticus tibicen
Black-shouldered Kite
Elanus axillaris
Pale-headed Rosella
Platycercus adscitus
Nankeen Kestrel
Falco cenchroides
Willie Wagtail
Rhipidura leucophrys
Crested Pigeon
Ocyphaps lophotes
White-throated Treecreeper
Cormobates leucophaea
Little Corella
Cacatua sanguinea
Superb Fairy-wren
Malurus cyaneus
Rufous Whistler
Pachycephala rufiventris
Eolophus roseicapillus
Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike
Coracina novaehollandiae
Red-rumped Parrot
Psephotus haematonotus
Great Egret
Ardea alba
Pied Butcherbird
Cracticus nigrogularis
Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater
Acanthagenys rufogularis
Shining Bronze-Cuckoo
Chalcites lucidus
Yellow-rumped Thornbill
Acanthiza chrysorrhoa
Brown Honeyeater
Lichmera indistincta
Double-barred Finch
Taeniopygia bichenovii
Australian Raven
Corvus coronoides
Red-browed Finch
Neochmia temporalis
Brown Falcon
Falco berigora
Wedge-tailed Eagle
Aquila audax
Striated Pardalote
Pardalotus striatus
Noisy Friarbird
Philemon corniculatus
Sulphur-crested Cockatoo
Cacatua galerita
Eastern Yellow Robin
Eopsaltria australis
Laughing Kookaburra
Dacelo novaeguineae
White-faced Heron
Egretta novaehollandiae
Eurasian Coot
Fulica atra
Aythya australis
Little Pied Cormorant
Microcarbo melanoleucos
Grey Teal
Anas gracilis
Australasian Grebe
Tachybaptus novaehollandiae
Australasian Darter
Anhinga novaehollandiae
Rock Dove
Columba livia
Spotted Dove
Streptopelia chinensis
Olive-backed Oriole
Oriolus sagittatus
Rainbow Lorikeet
Trichoglossus haematodus