Yorkshire Dales, 15-17 Sept 2017

A weekend of hill walking from our base at the Moorcock Inn at Garsdale Head.

Not a huge amount of nature action to report. Birdwise a couple of Red Grouse above Keld where there was also a single Raven plus a Bank Vole scuttling under a wall on the edge of Muker. Apart from 2 or 3 scattered Grey Wagtails, Sparrowhawk, Nuthatch and plenty of Mistle Thrushes the best sighting by far was a lovely Red Squirrel which showed very well on grass and then on a dry stone wall in Widdale just SW of Hawes. There were also plenty of hirundines still about plus Red Admirals, Small Tortoiseshell and a late Green-veined White.     

Citrine Wagtail and other weekend bits. 9 & 10 Sept 2017

The weekend started off with a frustratingly long drive to North Norfolk on Saturday where Belinda and I did a long 14km walk from East Runton. Birdwise it was quiet with just a noisy pair of Nuthatches in East Runton village and a mixed flock of House Martins, Sand Martins and Swallows along the clifftop at West Runton followed by a single Swift just west of Cromer Pier at dusk. As we'd started late we ended up having a night out in cromer too.

Fast forward to Sunday. After a morning of doing chores (opticians etc) in Norwich I grabbed a quick lunch and headed to Minsmere for the afternoon. Meeting Matthew Deans and Adrian Kettle by the centre we headed to West Hide where luckily I was able to pick up the 1w Citrine Wagtail within a pleasantly short space of time! It had been ranging all over the scrapes and seen from various hides so it was nice to connect so quickly. I was particularly keen to see it as it was my first one in the UK for 22 years - I suddenly feel old! I didn't stay long at Minsmere but added Green Sandpiper, Little Egret and Cetti's Warbler before departing for Kessingland. Parking at a new spot which cut the walk down to a couple of hundred yards (!) the Wryneck of the last couple of days was showing nicely on arrival near the sluice and went on to provide some memorable views. Pity I'd not brought my camera out! I went on a wander down as far as Beach Farm, Benacre after that but things were quiet. I did however clock up another late Swift, 3 Wheatears, loads of House Martins moving south, 2 Little Grebes on the pits, Stock Dove, 2 Stonechats and Green Woodpecker.

 Wryneck (courtesy of Matthew Deans)

          Cromer Pier was looking rather nice!  

The 'Heberton Honeyeater' Conundrum

On my recent trip to North Queensland I was lucky enough to find some of the so-called 'Heberton Honeyeaters' at Springvale Road, about 10km SSE of the town of Heberton.

These honeyeaters have been discussed at length for some time, most publicly by Lloyd Nielsen in his excellent book Birds of the Wet Tropics of Queensland and Great Barrier Reef and How to Find Them (there's a long book title!). They seem to fit into neither Yellow-tinted Honeyeater or Fuscous Honeyeater for the reasons Lloyd describes. I had literally no experience of any species of honeyeater before my trip but I was able to watch c18 of these interesting birds in the mixed (but predominantly pine) forest along Springvale Road and even get a few pictures. To me they look like dull Yellow-tinted Honeyeaters although I realise that voice, behavoir, nesting, habitat etc all need to be taken into consideration alongside just physical appearance. Several of the birds I saw were fully-grown juveniles which interestingly had distinct two-tone bills which according to my field guides is only shown in Fuscous Honeyeater. They also seemed to spend most of their time in pine trees, often clinging to the trunks and large limbs, something I didn't see any other species of honeyeater do.

Extract from his book (copyright Lloyd Neilsen)


Springvale Road showing typical habitat



Adult

Adult

Adult and juvenile in typical 'pine trunk' pose


They have gone on my list as Yellow-tinted as I really can't see them being Fuscous but I stand to be corrected by anyone who knows better. I can't quite understand why a simple DNA test couldn't resolve the puzzle. A job for an enterprising Aussie birder maybe...?
  

 

North Queensland, Day 16, 4 August 2017. Cairns Esplanade, Redden Island and Cattana Wetlands

My final day.
Due to the campervan rental office closing at 15.30 it was sadly not even a whole day but I was determined to make the most of it.

Cairns Esplanade was once again my site of choice. Mainly because Alex Jones had tipped me off about a couple of potential lifers which would round my trip off nicely! I began at my Mangrove Robin spot and had one almost straight away again and then just a few yards away taget number one fell - Varied Honeyeater. I went on to see several along the length of the esplanade but this one showed the best in low bushes. Exploring the trees around the northernmost carpark I had Spangled Drongo, plenty of tame Peaceful Doves, Magpie Larks and a Double-eyed Fig Parrot. After a while I then got onto my second target and another lifer - a stunning Rose-crowned Fruit Dove feeding on fruit and allowing a few photos before it flew off towards the mangroves. On the adjacent beach was the last trip tick in the form of 2 Collared Kingfishers plus 5 Grey-tailed Tattlers. I set off to walk the length of the esplanade in a rather good mood! There wasn't much to add birdwise with just Common Mynas, House Sparrows, Metallic Starlings, Rainbow Lorikeets and a couple of White-breasted Woodswallows. I had a relaxed coffee and walked back considering my next move with Brahminy Kite and Eastern Osprey both livening up the walk.   

Mangrove Robin

Varied Honeyeater

Peaceful Dove


Rose-crowned Fruit Dove

Brahminy Kite

Magpie Lark


I decided to give nearby Redden Island a look next. This patch of dry woodland on the north side of the Barron River mouth was plagued with mozzies but I stuck with it and despite a few bites ended up with some nice birds - Northern Fantail, Dusky Honeyeater, Brown Honeyeater, Brown-backed Honeyeater, Varied Triller, Rainbow Bee-eater and Scaly-breasted Munias. Down at the river mouth itself a Gull-billed Tern was flying up and down asking to be photographed and Crested Tern and Agile Wallaby were also seen. 


Northern Fantail

Agile Wallaby


Gull-billed Tern

With time beginning to run out I drove the short distance north and back to Cattana Wetlands for one last hurrah. Birdwise it yielded nothing new but a showy Leaden Flycatcher, Green Pygmy Geese, Pacific Black Ducks, Comb-crested Jacanas, Black Butcherbird, Brown Gerygone and Black-faced Cuckoo Shrike followed up by an Azure Kingfisher along the boardwalk are not to be sneezed at.

Leaden Flycatcher

Black Butcherbird

Green Pygmy Goose

Black-faced Cuckoo Shrike

Azure Kingfisher

A 'Hungry Jacks' burger, a petrol stop and then a campervan drop off later and the trip was over.

The total tally was 231 species seen with 192 of those being lifers. Not bad for an Australian rookie!

North Queensland, Day 15, 3 August 2017. Michaelmas Cay and Cairns Esplanade & Town

And now for something completely different - seabirds!

I'd been looking forward to today, a day-long boat trip out to the Great Barrier Reef including Michaelmas Cay for its seabird colony. The 'Seastar' boat left the marina at 08.00 and within an hour the whole boat load of people were whooping and hollering as a pair of Humpback Whales with a calf showed superbly well for everyone. One of the adults breached completely out of the water twice which has to be one of the best wildlife experiences I've ever had! and we also had a pod of Bottle-nosed Dolphins playing by the boat too!

The Cay itself was equally magical with seabirds so close I had to be careful not to stand on chicks and juvs! Variety was limited to Common Noddys, Sooty Terns, Crested Terns, Brown Boobies, Silver Gulls plus Great and Lesser Frigatebirds but the spectacle was immense!  

 The Seastar






Humpback Whales

Bottle-nosed Dolphin

Michaelmas Cay

Great Frigatebird








Common Noddys




Sooty Terns





Crested Terns


Brown Boobies





Silver Gulls


Lesser Frigatebirds

The 2nd port of call on the trip was the submerged reef of Hastings Reef where I undulged in some snorkelling. Snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef?! I could hardly believe I was there! The following pics are courtesy of the good guys at Seastar Cruises who I would heartily recommend.












Back in Cairns I relocated the car to one of the numerous free spaces just off the Esplanade and made my way down to the sea. This time the Double-banded Plover was literally the first bird I saw on its favoured patch of shingly beach!  There were also 11 Red-necked Stints on this visit plus 19 Red-capped Plovers plus the usual waders and herons that I'd seen the previous day.

The day wasn't finished there though. Talking to a helpful local I discovered that Rufous Owl is actually breeding at the site I'd been to the previous evening! So needless to say I hot-footed it there straight away and within a little while I was met by another local who'd only discovered the female in a nest hole the day before. He was a little bemused that a visiting foreign birder knew about them already but was also very friendly and within about 20 mins we were both getting some amazing views after the female emerged from her hole and sat around for 10 mins before disappearing head-first into her hole.

If Carlsberg did birding days...

Double-banded Plover

Red-necked Stints, Double-banded Plover and Red-capped Plovers

Red-capped Plover

Far-eastern Curlew

Australian White Ibis

Metallic Starling

Whimbrel

Little Egret

Masked Lapwing