And the bush has friends to meet him, and their kindly voices greet him, In the murmur of the breezes and the river on its bars,
And he sees the vision splendid of the sunlit plains extended, And at night the wonderous glory of the everlasting stars.

Banjo Paterson (1889)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Scarlet Robin Fledglings

It's December and the start of summer in Perth, Western Australia. The last of spring's Scarlet Robin nestlings have fledged and the parents are busy finding enough food.

This is a video I took of some fledglings in the Wandoo woodlands to the east of Perth.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Australian Spotted Crakes

Heavy late spring rains in Perth have kept the water levels in the local lakes up and have created excellent crake habitats. Thomsons Lake, normally with only a large patch of water in the middle and dry reedbeds all around, has about 2 inches of water throughout most of the reeds, a perfect crake environment. After reading the numerous birder emails going backwards and forwards about 'Crake Heaven' at Thomsons, it was time to visit the lake myself!

It's certainly is 'crake heaven' at the moment! I have never seen so many Australian Spotted Crakes in one area before, maybe a dozen or more. Normally you can see or hear the dark Spotless Crakes at Thomsons Lake fairly easily, but this time we only managed to see one, the area has been taken over by the Spotteds!

This area is usually dry mud and reeds by now, but it's looking pretty good this year.

The Spotted Crakes were not too concerned about us and approached unusally close, more interested in catching the small invertebrates on and under the water.

The south-east section of Thomsons Lake in probably the most ideal crake habitat at the moment.

The beautiful little Baillon's Crakes were also making an appearance, but in lower numbers. These little guys are my favourite crake species I think!

It was a wonderful morning spent watching all 3 local crake species at the one spot, normally quite a challenge.

The weather forecast looks windy and a little stormy for this week in Perth, but if there's a chance, it may be time to drag the big video camera there and try to get some crake footage!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Western Glossy Swamp Skink

The name of this skink is a bit of a mouthful, a generally shy, secretive and fast-moving skink, it will be gone before you call out it's name! The Western Glossy Swamp Skink (Lissolepis luctuosa) until recently (2008) belonged to the genus Egernia, but now belongs Lissolepis which is represented in Australia by 2 species. These semi-aquatic skinks are related to the similar Egernia skinks, but are solitary and very shy.

Around Lake Seppings at Albany, where this photo was taken, they tend to be more easily seen, especially when sunning themselves in the open sunny patches on the lake's edge. They may be more use to seeing people here, but they still don't stray far from thick vegetaion and if you come too close, they're gone at lightening speed into the reeds, even diving into the water.

Perth is about the northern limit of their distribution, but they are  more commonly found at the swamps, lakes and creeks along the south coast as far as Cheynes Beach, east of Albany. Around Perth the Swamp Skink is disappearing, mainly due to urban development and wetland habitat destruction.

The Glossy Swamp Skinks are sometimes confused with the larger King Skinks (Egernia kingii), which also occur in these southern coastal areas. As the name suggests, the Glossy Swamp Skinks are more glossy, have a different pattern and only grow to 34 cm.
The other Lissopelis skink, the Swamp Skink (Lissopelis coventryi) is found only along the southern edge of Victoria. These two skink species populations were probably once connected, but are now separated by almost 2000 kilometres, due to the drier climatic conditions and environment in southern Australia.

I'm looking forward to my next trip to Albany and seeing these beautiful skinks again, and hopefully getting some good video!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Down to Albany

It's the start of Perth's long hot summer, but you wouldn't know it yesterday, as there were huge thunderstorms and heavy rain all day long! Perth seemed to have thunder and lightening all day, even the airports were closed.

It's the quiet time of year for my fauna work, so we decided that a few days in Albany on the south coast would be a nice break, wonderful scenery and cool weather, what more can you ask for! Another reason for heading to Albany was to see if it could be a good place for a future home, as Perth is only getting drier and hotter as the years go by, and the future doesn't look too bright with a rapidly increasing population and shortages of water and power.

One of the many beautiful old buildings in Albany, the Church of Saint John (1841), the oldest consecrated church in Western Australia.

The Rectory next to the church, built in 1850. Looks like a place that might have a few ghosts?

The old gun emplacements along King Geogre Sound, built to defend Albany during the war.

The scenic walk from the town to Emu Point.

The old Lighthouse Keeper's Home.

The coastal heathlands provide great habitat for many of the southwest honeyeaters.

Beautiful swimming areas near Emu Point.

The calm waters of Oyster Harbour at Emu Point.

Big eucalpyts line Emu Point.

The circular walk around Lake Seppings is an excellent place to see local birds and wildlife, including Western Glossy Swamp Skinks, a reptile species that I hadn't seen before and is becoming rare around the lakes near Perth. I'll have some info about them in the next blog post.

Many of the local birds at this time of year are moulting or are young birds, here a scruffy-looking Grey Fantail appeared to wish us goodbye.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Istanbul - The Birding Tour

It was time for our long-awaited Istanbul & the Bosphorus Migration birding tour with Naturetrek. The history part of the holiday was on hold, now it was time for some proper birding. We met the group of 11 keen birders, including our local guide Kerem Ali Boyla, excellent guide, nice guy and a great birder that we can recommend for an birding in Turkey.

 The next day we were up in the Büyük Çamlıca, a great raptor watching hill that overlooks Istanbul. Groups of Levant Sparrowhawks were the only things moving through that area in the morning.


It's a popular spot with Istanbul locals, so birding there on a Sunday morning can be interesting.

The migration may have been occurring in another area, so we headed towards the Black Sea and decide to bird at Lake Terkos. A wonderful birding location with Pygmy Cormorants, Little Egrets, Marsh Harrier, Redstart, Reed Bunting, Golden Oriole, Squacco Heron, Snipe, and even a Grass Snake.

Next stop, a fish lunch at Riva on the Black Sea, and view of Red-backed Shrikes, a Hoopoe, Green Sandpiper, Kingfisher, Short-toed Eagle, Red-rumped Swallows and a migrating flock of 50 Common Cranes.

More Black Sea birding.

I had to go and feel the waters of the famous Black Sea.

It was time to head to Bursa the next day, so another wonderful ferry from Eskihisar to Topçular, beautiful trip. Good birding along the way as well, Honey Buzzard, Short-toed Eagle, Bee-eaters, Kingfisher, Mediterranean Gulls and Baltic Gulls.

We arrive in Bursa.

The view from the rooftop restaurant at our hotel, the nice Burcman Hotel in the centre of Bursa. Time for a quick wash at the hotel, then it's off to explore Bursa with our guide Kerem.

The inside of Bursa's Great Mosque.

The Green Tomb of the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed I, built in 1421.

Wonderful artworks, mostly of blue-green tiles cover the tomb.

The next day found the group birding on Mount Uludağ. The mountain has a number of vegetation zones with their different birds. Here we are in the Black Pine forest zone, having just seen 3 Kruper’s Nuthatches (new and must-see bird for Liz and me). We are very happy!

Kruper's Nuthatch.

The ski resort near the summit at 2500 metres.

A beautiful day for watching Water Pipits, Black Redstarts, Willow Warblers and Stonechats.

We hunt for our main target bird in this area, Red-fronted Serin.

The Serin hunt went on, but alas we ran out of time.

The following day, a journey to Lake Ulubat and the village of Gölyazı. The area had some wonderful birds such as Marsh Harriers, Squacco Herons, Pygmy Cormorants, Bee-eaters, Water Rails, Ferruginous Ducks, Lesser Grey Shrike and 3 Little Bitterns! 

Interesting rustic buildings in the village, including some ancient Roman baths (that were closed, damn it).

We were back in Istanbul and time for the history part of the Naturetrek tour. It was good to see the obelisk at the Hippodrome on a sunny day.

Something I had not noticed on the obelisk base last time, a carving of how the obelisk was moved there.

A visit to the grand Tokapi Palace, the main residence of Ottoman Sultans for nearly 400 years.

A newer and different style ceiling artwork, compared to the other buildings we had seen in Istanbul.

The Sultan's widow must have been small!

While standing here, we saw an amazing flock of 250+ migrating Levant Sparrowhawks.

After Tokapi, the rest of the group went on to explore the Basilica Cisterns, but seeing Liz and I had already seen those, we explored other areas of Istanbul, such as the nice coffee shops!

Time to catch the ferry back to our Hotel Harem. It had been a long but enjoyable day.

The last morning before the group flew out, we decided to go back to a good migration birding spot we had visited some days before, the hill of Toygar Tepesi. By lunchtime we had seen 319 Lesser Spotted Eagles, 50 Short-toed Eagles, 19 Booted Eagles, with double-figure counts of Steppe Buzzard and Levant Sparrowhawk, two Black Storks and to cap it all a sub-adult Steppe Eagle.

At the end of the 8 day tour, we had logged 122 bird species. We are looking forward to our next Naturetrek tour, probably in Peru.

After another couple days in Istanbul by ourselves, it was time to head back home via Dubai. We had a fantastic birding holiday, seen lots of history, visited family. On the flight home we were already planning our next trip, yep, maybe it's time to head towards South America!