Friday, January 10, 2014



Farewell 2013.  Long live 2014.

The tail end of 2013 was a struggle for all three of my blogs.  Birds of Allen Road and Birding the South Burnett were weeks behind schedule for the last three months of the year; Birding Beyond the Pale barely managed to raise its head above the maelstrom.  It was hustle and bustle from all quarters – all seemingly designed to keep me away from one of my favourite activities.
Matters should improve during 2014.  To begin with, as I’ve mentioned on previous occasions, I am now effectively retired; a long career in teaching, stretching back to the UK in September 1970 has more or less closed.  Here, Down Under in Australia, it is the long summer vacation which, at least for teachers at Blackbutt State School, ends when they return for “pupil-free days” on 24 January; I’ll take long-service leave from that point until 25 April [ANZAC Day] when I officially retire.

Plans are already afoot to change the day-to-day format of the blogs.  The monthly reports could be increased to weekly reports, or better still!  Birding Beyond the Pale should become more prominent during the year.  Hopefully my meagre photographic endeavours should improve; I have a new SIGMA 120-400mm APO DG OS lens which on my SONY [A100 and/or A55] should effectively give me a 500mm+ telephoto lens.  I might even delve into digiscoping.
Never having attempted to give an overall review of a year’s birding at one specific location I may not get this right but will, nevertheless, persevere.  Random thoughts of a random birder at his Backyard Patch [made in or out of heaven] may be of some interest to others.

On the whole, at 101 species, 2013 was not a particularly outstanding year at Allen Road, nor, conversely, was it the worst year on record.  It fell well below the all-time record year of 2006 [110 species] or 2002 [102 species] but it was equal to 2011 and 2007 [both also coming in at 101] and surpassed all other years since 2001.

 The high of 2006 [110 species] is at least partly explained by the fact that it was the first year in which Fay and I moved to Nanango, rather than used Allen Road as a temporary weekend/holiday hideaway; Fay, having secured employment with a small research company subcontracted to the Peanut Company of Australia [PCA], had moved here on a permanent basis in March 2005.  I had to await the confirmation of my transfer to nearby Blackbutt State School and moved here at the end of that school year.

The low of 2008 [87 species] can be partly accounted for by my knee replacement.  In the months leading up to the operation I had become virtually housebound, unable to walk from the front door to the front gate without experiencing excruciating pain.  Concentrated birding was not a viable option and there are only so many species one can “tick” from the front verandah.

In terms of monthly tallies during the year, January [70 species] outshone all the other months.  Indeed, in three of the past eight years [2006-2013] January has topped the monthly tallies; December has equalled this while in 2009, in which only four tallies exceeded a count of 50,  October [58] was the highest month and 2006 [the record year] saw November top the months with 72 species [a record in itself].

Obviously all 70 of the species tallied in January were new to the 2013 Year List and it would be cumbersome to attempt a comment on each and every one of them.  It would however border on ornithological negligence not to mention that the Leaden Flycatcher Myiagra rubecula [8 January] and Black-eared Cuckoo Chrysococcyx osculans [15 January] put in their only appearance for the year but both were over-shadowed by the humble Pale-vented Bush-hen Amaurornis moluccana.

It had been a wet day.  It had been steadily raining for several days; thoughts of January 2011, when Fay and I became marooned on our own property for three days, loomed large.  During a respite in the rain we sipped a glass of wine [almost invariably an Australian shiraz] on the east verandah, overlooking the oval garden patch we refer to as the ”Doughnut,” when simultaneously we spotted movement in behind the rose bushes.  A moment later the bush-hen emerged, a juvenile happily foraging amongst the leaf litter.  We froze, awed.  How could there be a Pale-vented Bush-hen here, on the southern outskirts of Nanango and more specially, in our front yard?

Almost immediately the bird raced off to crash into the Middle Compound fence and that’s when we saw the adult, foraging among discarded chicken and duck feed.  They remained together long enough for the shiraz in our glasses to warm up, demanding a cooler refill. 
And then they were gone.

February produced two species that made only one appearance during the year.  The Caspian Tern Hydroprogne caspia, last seen at Allen Road in February 2005, a gap of eight years, was noted flying by over the property, traveling SW-NE, on 4 February.  A pair of Ground Cuckoo-shrike Coracina maxima, last seen here in October 2012, was observed flying over the property and like the tern, travelling SW-NE.

The Brown Goshawk Accipiter fasciatus put in two appearances during the year, one in February, the other in March.  Both the Common Myna Acridotheres tristis and Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo managed three appearances during 2013, in each case the initial showing was in February.
The mega addition to the Year List in March was the Intermediate Egret Egretta intermedia.  Not only was it new to the Backyard List but it put in only the one appearance during 2013: noted on small dam along Allen Road.  While not new to Allen Road, the Powerful Owl Ninox strenua, on 19 March was the first since September 2011 and only the fifth since originally noted here in October 2008.
Like the Intermediate Egret, the Zebra Finch Taeniopygia guttata on 10 March was new to the Allen Road Backyard List but unlike the owl lingering doubts remain as to its veracity: our near neighbour, an ex-Vietnam veteran, used to keep caged Zebra Finches. He released them all some time ago but continues to feed them in his backyard.  The jury is still out on this one.
April, in comparison, was somewhat duller.  Admittedly the Red-rumped Parrot Psephotus haematonotus showed well on 5 April, it’s first visit since January 2012 and although numbers have never regained the glorious seven appearances in May 2003 [three in March 2008 the nearest to that] they have shown, albeit in dribs and dabs, on a fairly regular basis since 2003.  Similarly, the Collared Sparrowhawk Accipiter cirrocephalus graced the skies above us on 25 April, its first visit since December 2012; it came again on 28 April and yet again on 16 August and 1 September.
The Whistling Kite Haliastur sphenurus did put in its second showing for 2013 [the first being in February] on 26 April.
May was the month of the Black Kite Milvus migrans.  Up until August 2011 the species had never been recorded in South Burnett, let alone Allen Road, since our records started back in 2001.  Nor did local, long-time birder, Colleen Fingland, have any record of Black Kite in or around the immediate area.  In 2011, while at Blackbutt, I wrote “On Nanango side of Nukku turn-off.  Being "escorted" by pair of Torresian Crows”.  Almost exactly a year later to the day [August 2012] Fay and I spotted one at the Tarong Power Station being harassed by Whistling Kites.:
Nothing more was seen of them until 24 March of this year when we were returning from Kingaroy: my notes record “Stopped to have a good look as the bird flew off towards Nanango.  Forked tail quite clear.”  We spotted the kite again at almost the same spot, near Horse Creek, on 30 March.  It appeared here again on 20 April.
By the end of April it was becoming increasingly clear that we were experiencing an irruption of Black Kite into the area.  On 28 April I wrote: “Circling overhead.  Further evidence that the species is entering the area…”
By May the species was being recorded from Blackbutt to Nanango to Kingaroy.  On 5 May 2013 Fay and I noted Black Kite flying around top end of Allen Road and appeared to be associated with a pair of Whistling Kite.  It was the first record of the bird for Allen Road!
The Wedge-tailed Eagle Aquila audax showed on the same day, reappearing on 22 May.  The humble Rufous Whistler Pachycephala rufiventris, last heard here in August 2012, called sweetly on two consecutive days, 11th and 12th.
June was as dull as dishwater.  July fared only marginally better.
Birding improved a little during August.  The Collared Sparrowhawk put in its penultimate appearance on the 16th.  The Red-winged Parrot Aprosmictus erythropterus put in its first showing for 2013, on 29 August; it went on to reappear once again in September, twice in October, once in November and finally on 4 December.
The Olive-backed Oriole Oriolus sagittatus provided some food for thought.  Having arrived with a bang last August 2012 and delighting the Dawn Chorus almost non-stop for the next nine months, it suddenly disappeared from the scene during June and July 2013.  Not that this disappearing act was totally unexpected, in the previous season [2011-12] the oriole had arrived towards the end of September to vanish by mid-March and reappeared in August.  It repeated the performance this season.
Why?  Where does the oriole go for those two or three months?
And then suddenly it was September; oddly enough one of my favourite times of the year [autumn] when I was domicile in the UK and remains so Down Under when it is spring.  The Year List blossomed.  On 12 September the Tawny Frogmouth Podargus strigoides put in its first appearance since January 2013; it called again on 29 September and again in each of the following months – calling twice in December.  Two days later, having last called on 29 January 2013, the Australasian Figbird Sphecotheres vieilloti was heard calling loudly from just beyond the house; it called again on 14 September, missed out October but was present in November and December.
The Plumed Whistling-Duck Dendrocygna eytoni absent since early February 2013 flew by overhead on 15 September; it returned on three occasions, both in October and November but only twice in December. 
The Sacred Kingfisher Todiramphus sanctus returned to theses southern climes on 18 September and three days later the Leaden Flycatcher was seen for only the second time [it had called on 18 January] since 2011.  A week later the Oriental Dollarbird Eurystomus orientalis made its way back to this area and a Spotted Pardalote Pardalotus punctatus called on 28 September, its first visit to Allen Road since January 2011.
September was always going to be a hard act to follow.
October tried.  As early as the 4th the Great Cormorant put in the last of its three appearances for the year; its first on 2 February and its second on 9 March.  A last appearance for the year was also put in by the Little Lorikeet Glossopsitta pusilla on 30 October.
The Brush Cuckoo Cacomantis variolosus followed its established pattern; it appears in this area around October or November each year, although in 2005 and 2008 it arrived as early as September and in 2009 it was delayed until December.  In 2013 it was recorded on 9 February [its last appearance for the 2012-13 season] and reappeared [for its 2013-14 season] on 2 October.   A truly summer migrant.
It would be a rank fallacy to accuse November 2013 of being a sluggish month; it came in with a final tally of sixty [60] species, in equal 2nd place with February and December.  Nevertheless few species not already mentioned elsewhere in this review stood out. 
The Australasian Grebe Tachybaptus novaehollandiae, putting in only its fourth ever appearance and its first since December 2006, showed well on our own small dam, as distinct from viewing the bird elsewhere along Allen Road.  It was a magic moment.
The Scarlet Honeyeater Myzomela sanguinolenta bettered this.  It showed for only the third time along Allen Road on 27 November; its first showing since September 2012, following its original visit in March 2004.
By December the Allen Road Year List stood at 99 species and mounting school work in the first two weeks of the month left little time in which to seek out that looked for 100th bird.  In the end the century came up while Fay and I were sitting up in bed enjoying an early breakfast and cup of tea.  The Little Bronze-Cuckoo Chrysococcyx minutillus came to us on 7 December, its visit here since October 2012.  The Australian Pied Cormorant Phalacrocorax varius on Boxing Day was the first since July 2012.
As indicated at the outset of this review, 2013 was not among the more prolific of recorded years but neither was it the sparsest.  Given the mounting classroom pressures of the Australian Curriculum in Education Queensland it is hardly surprising that birding opportunities, both in 2012 and 2013, became rather restricted.  It is difficult to appreciate the finer nuances of a male Australian King-Parrot perched on the verandah rail while trying to mark a dozen or more semi-legible essays written by 9-year olds on the geo-political significance of “first contact” between early Europeans and the indigenous peoples of Australia.
If it has any significance above and beyond the norm, it is that 2013 marks the end of my 43-year long teaching career and opens the gate towards extended birding activities.  Roll on 2014.
BIRD OF THE YEAR: Pale-vented Bush-hen in January.

Saturday, January 4, 2014



December was going to be a month of two halves. 
Up to and including Friday 13th birding was to be decidedly patchy in birding terms; final report cards to compose – how do you tell a doting mother that her beloved daughter is decidedly a sandwich short of a full picnic, or, how do you find a way of pointing out to the obviously unwashed father whose every other utterance is a four-lettered expletive that he can’t really hold the school responsible for the decidedly foul language used by his macho 9-year old son?  Not that it’s all that way inclined; for the vast majority it’s just finding another way of repeating more or less what you maintained at the end of the first semester.  Leopards and spots?
From Saturday 14 December it was to be a decidedly more birdy period.  I was effectively retired after 43 years in teaching.  Summer vacation and long-service leave would keep me out of the classroom until my actual retirement on 25 April 2014.  My time was my own and birding was decidedly on the horizon.
On the other hand - and no doubt Papa Hemmingway would have penned it in a far more appropriate style, something about the best laid plans of mice and men- there was always the unexpected; the long list of chores that had somehow slipped below my radar while my head was buried in schoolbooks and report cards: the verandahs needed ceilings; the bannister rails needed repairing and painting; the henhouse leaked; there was a carpet snake housed under the pigeon loft; there was weeding to be done and holes to be dug for new plants and of course the house needed cleaning up in preparation for Christmas.  Did I mention Christmas cards to write and post and presents to be wrapped?
It wasn’t the lowest December on record [46 in 2002] but it was decidedly not among the best and fell ten [10] short of the 70 species tallied in December 2011.  At 60 species it equalled the 2009 tally; in 6th place over thirteen [13] years of records. 
The three regularly nocturnal raptors maintained their presence: White-throated Nightjar Eurostopodus mystacalis [1st, 2nd and 24th]; Southern Boobook Ninox boobook [1st and 7th] and the Tawny Frogmouth Podargus trigoides [5th, 14th and 15th].
The cuckoos also put in a reasonable showing with the Brush Cuckoo Cacomantis variolosus [26th, 28th and 29th] making the largest contribution.  The Fan-tailed Cuckoo Cacomantis flabelliformis and Little Bronze-Cuckoo Chrysococcyx minutillus both showed on 7th December.  The Red-winged Parrot Aprosmictus erythropterus made a solitary appearance on 4th December.
That left the month’s limelight to the Black-Cockatoos.  The Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoo Calyptorhynchus funereus [16th, 17th, 18th and 19th] and the darlings of our Backyard Birds, the Glossy Black-Cockatoo Calyptorhynchus lathami [14th, 16th, 28th and 29th], put in some decidedly spectacular appearances, seeming to time their arrival as Fay and I sat on the verandah sipping a glass or two of Australia’s decidedly finest reds.