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, October 27, 2011

Into The Great Victoria Desert

Normally our birding holidays take time and have a lot of planning, but having read a recent report about sightings of rare Princess and Scarlet-chested Parrots at Neale Junction in the Great Victoria Desert, we headed off within a couple days notice. It turned into an exciting 5 day, 2600 km journey.

We must have picked the worst week weather wise to go, as many outback areas had record rains. Most of the pictures on the post were taken during sunny spells that don't show the huge thunderstorms that usually built up during the afternoons, dumping vast amounts of rain.
When we first arrived in Laverton after our 950 km, 10 hour trip from Perth, there was a massive thunderstorm that seemed to circle the town, with a spectacular lightning show and pouring rain that flooded the area. We wondered if our parrot quest was going to be very short indeed, as the local people warned us about heading out into the desert, as most of the roads will probably be closed due to flooding if the rains continue!
The next morning dawned to mostly blue skies, so we took the chance and headed out along the Great Central Road towards the Great Victoria Desert. Even after all the rain, the road was very good, but how would the Point Sunday Road be? We needed to get to at least Point Sunday Camp for the night.

Princess Parrot

Scarlet-chested Parrot

Our 2 main target species, the Princess Parrot and Scarlet-chested Parrot.

The good rains this year had made many of the desert plants flower, such as these Desert Greilleas, which brought in big numbers of White-fronted and Grey-fronted Honeyeaters. By the end of the trip we had 13 honeyeater species!

A good birding spot called 'The Pines', about 120 km east of Laverton along the Great Central Road. This area alone had trees filled with hundreds of beautiful Budgerigars, probably 2000+ birds, and big numbers of Cockatiel as well.

A male Central Military Dragon (Ctenophorus isolepis), these guys were common in all sandy locations. Another reptile that was also common in the area, were Lozenge-marked Dragons (Ctenophorus scutulatus).

The Point Sunday Camp, wonderful location to set up camp and a place where Princess Parrots had also been seen recently. The Point Sunday Road had turned out to be quite smooth and mostly dry, even after all the recent rain.

One of the weird looking plants near the camp, a Caustic Vine, a species of Sarcostemma.

It's great fun sleeping in our swags, they are mostly rainproof, but it did rain during the night causing us to pack up a wet camp the next day.

Our quick-to-pack-away camp setup. Most of the evenings were lovely, but you could often see the lightning and thunderstorms on the horizon.

Some of the mornings were not so nice, with rain and a cold wind.

Due to the weather, we decided not to risk getting bogged (maybe for days) by going all the way out to Neale Junction, but decided to only go as far as Yeo Homestead along the Anne Beadell Highway. Yes, this is a good section of what is called the Anne Beadell Highway. There was a good birding area, along the 'highway' at Stoney Point.

The Homestead, another good birding area and a great place to camp. We read the visitors book, which stated that probably no one had been there for over 10 days. Not many people had visited this remote area lately.

Lots of interesting local information on the history and wildlife.

We only had time for a some quick birding and lunch, as the skies grew very dark with lots of rain clouds. We decided to return to the Point Sunday Camp for the last night, as the section of the Anne Beadell Highway we had travelled, was often very muddy and low-lying, and could become flooded very quickly if it rained hard.

The local shower.

The local well for your washing water needs.

But watch out for the snakes!

On the journey back out along Point Sunday Road, we came across this Thorny Devil (Moloch horridus).

A fantastic lizard that feeds on small ants.

Liz has a new friend.

We had not heard or sighted any Princess or Scarlet-chested Parrots during our journeys and thought that this trip was going to be fruitless, until we passed this spot (280 00’ 45.9’’ S  1230 58’ 36.2” E).
17.5 km north of Point Sunday Camp on the Point Sunday Road, we saw a small parrot fly to some low trees.

We got to the trees expecting the parrot had flown off, but Liz sighted it sitting quietly on a branch. It was a female similar to the one in this pic (not mine), but had more blue on the face and more vibrant colours. We had finally seen one of our target birds!

We were very happy to say the least, travelling back towards Laverton. That was a difficult and beautiful parrot to see! Even the Point Sunday Road seemed more colourful.

Sections of the road had wonderful wildflowers, such as these beautiful Parakeelya (Calandrinia sp.).

On the way back to Perth, near Marvel Loch, different species of Grevilleas were in flower attracting more honeyeaters, such as Tawny-crowned, White-eared and Yellow-plumed Honeyeaters. We had wanted to try and find Gilbert's Whistler, but many of the roads were either closed or flooded.

A nice end to our trip was to see this beautiful Western Blue-tongue (Tiliqua occipitalis), near Southern Cross.

It was a great trip, it would have been better had it not rained, and we probably would have got out as far as Neale Junction. Oh well, it leaves somewhere else to explore, maybe next spring, and get those Princess Parrots out there!

Lots of driving, lots of storms, wind and rain, but we did manage to see 78 bird species at the end of it, and one fantastic desert parrot.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Opticron GS52 Scope

Birders are sometimes crazy. We just read a report about a birder's visit last week to a remote area of Western Australia in the Great Victoria Desert, where he saw good numbers of Princess and Scarlet-chested Parrots. Now we are quickly packing the 4WD to head out there!

You have to understand why. These parrots are sort of the holy grails of birding in Australia, rare desert parrots that are usually very hard to get. After years of drought the desert at the moment has had good rains and the parrots have bred and are moving. This may not happen again for a long time. So it's pack and drive the 950 km to Laverton, then head out on basically two wheel ruts 250 km into the desert to Neale Junction. We shall see how it goes!

Anyway, this post is to provide a some information about the fantastic little scope I bought at the British Bird Fair, the Opticron GS 52.

The Opticron GS 52 GA ED

For most Australian birding we have our old Leica 77 Televid, which is a fantastic scope, but very heavy by modern standards and often a pain to carry overseas. We were looking for a small travelscope that we could take on overseas birding holiday and leave the Leica purely for Australian Birding.

The Leica 77 Televid

After looking at quite a few scopes at the bird fair and reading some reviews about the GS 52, the GS appeared to be the best scope for us. It doesn't have all the clarity and brightness of the big scopes such as Leica, Swarovski or Ziess, but it excellent within it's limitations. It's light and can fit in you coat pocket! A perfect scope that you just throw in your backpack or big pocket, just in case you want a closer view.

Funny looking, but a great scope

The protective cover for the GS 52 was also quite reasonably priced compared to the big scopes, such as Leica, where I ended up making my own cover for the 77 Televid from some left over canvas.

The GS 52 protective cover

So far we have been very happy with our little 'pocket rocket' as we now call it, but we shall see how it really goes on further overseas holidays. I must admit that I feel very happy when I see other birders loaded with gear and lugging the big scopes, while I have an excellent view still but with almost no major weight!

Here's some Opticron info about the scope, plus a link for further information.

Introduced in response to increasing demand for quality travel scopes, the GS 52 GA ED sets new standards for light transmission, resolution and colour contrast offering today's birdwatcher a practical and versatile alternative to larger heavier telescopes in situations where size and weight are an issue.

Fitted with full-size 24mm prisms from the larger GS, the models deliver optimum light transmission from the 52mm twin-element ED objective lens. Using the HDF T 12-36x eyepiece set between 12x and 18x, the instruments transmit exceptionally bright high contrast images with excellent depth of focus - perfect for hand held or tripod mounted observation between 100m and 200m. Unlike other telescopes of similar size, the GS 52 GA ED retains it’s performance up to 36x, delivering superior colour fidelity for longer range viewing, even in comparatively low light..

Images are not just brighter, they are sharper too. Fitted with the HR2, HDF T or SDL eyepieces, the GS 52 GA ED compares well with the standard GS 665 GA for resolution at magnifications up to 30x. Field of view is also enhanced with certain eyepieces; +30% against the smaller MM2 52 ED with the HDF T 13xWW, and +20% with the HDF T 18xWW.

At just 200mm long, the GS 52 GA ED is designated a Travelscope but features the centrally positioned twin focusing system from the full-size GS models to allow accurate focusing adjustment at higher magnification settings. For garden birdwatching and photography, close focus has been set at just 2.5m.

Fully rubber armoured and nitrogen gas filled for protection against the elements, the models are fitted with a lightweight magnesium tripod sleeve offering -/+ 90° each-way rotation for easier positioning when viewing from the confines of a hide or vehicle.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

British Birdwatching Fair

Yep, it was that wonderful time of year for UK birders, the British Birdwatching Fair. Our holidays in the UK were centred around a 2 day visit to the bird fair at Rutland Water Nature Reserve in August. It first started in 1989 and we had gone once before some years ago for one day and found that just a day there really wasn't enough!

We had looked forward to this day for a long time and yes, we were on our way!

It was an early start and the crowds had arrived already making long lines at the shuttle bus from the train station to the fair and at the entrance, but we were in.

Just like my wife Liz, 'Small but perfectly formed'. Had to take this picture!

We were lucky most of the 2 days, with sunny weather for the fair.

Lots of birders enjoying the birds at the big bird hide, which is part of the visitor centre at Rutland.

A good birding area at one of the other hides at Rutland Water, where we saw Hobbies and Marsh Harriers skimming the reeds.

Over 9 big marquees and numerous outdoor displays, with everything a birder could want.

Due to our travels to Borneo and lots of Asia, the Oriental Bird Club stand was of special interest.

If only pittas were this close and easy to see! Can anyone name the 2 pittas on the hat?

One of the huge marquees, with a Bill Oddie picture. We did see the real Bill Oddie checking out scopes and I told Liz to run up and give him a big hug, but she wouldn't do it.

The displays just blow your mind away!

The marquees go on forever.

One of the optics marquees. 'Oh, what's this?'

'Ok, lets do a deal'. I ended up buying a small scope, the Opticron GS 52, the little 'pocket rocket' as we now call it.

The British Birdwatching Fair was fantastic and everything we expected. It was probably the birding highlight of our holiday. We just wish we could visit it every year!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Travels in the U.K.

We were back in the cold weather of the UK again, after the hot humid conditions of Dubai. This holiday was the usual birding type of holiday that we often go on, but we also had to visit more of the family this time.

Arriving in Ellington in the northeast of England, our first morning's plan was to head down to Cresswell Pond. As you can see it's a little wet and misty, and of course cold!

The view from the hide at Cresswell Pond, lots of Dunlin, Redshank, Snipe and Lapwing.

It's good to be back at this great birding spot.

Some of the locals look a bit strange!

Soon we were travelling a bit further a field, such a Kielder.

Interesting countryside, but lots of biting small midges at Kielder.

An unexpected find was this beautiful bird hide hidden in the forest near Kielder Castle.

Very artistic with different shaped windows at various levels.

Bird feeders were almost at every window allowing good close views of birds, such as this Chaffinch.

Next day a trip to Hauxley north of Cresswell, but as you can see not many birds.

I like this surreal photo of a coastal church, south of Cresswell.

Liz dressed for the cold, at another good birding spot west of Newcastle, Bolam Lake.

We headed over to Manchester to visit Liz's brother with a visit to nearby a great bird reserve, Martin Mere.

The great bird hide at Martin Mere. Fantastic!

We even got a warm sunny afternoon to spend with Liz's brother and family.

It was off east to Lowerstoft to do some Noffolk/Suffolk birding. Thanks to Steve from Miri whose house we were able to use as a base.

It was a sunny, but very windy day during our visit to Hickling Broad, but a wonderful area.

A big bird area with lots of hides. Maybe a Short-eared Owl, that would be nice!

One of our main targets were Bearded Tit, there's a few somewhere in the reeds, but we couldn't get on to them. The broads are interesting places with lots of canals, often we would see big white boat sails that appeared to be travelling across the land.

No luck at Hickling with Bearded Tit or Cetti's Warbler, our other main target, so it was off to the great reserve of Minsmere. A Common (Viviparous) Lizard (Lacerta vivipara) enjoying a warm rail on a Minsmere boardwalk, watches us.

The Sizewell nuclear reactor is really close to Minsmere! Hope it's ok!

A still day.

The weather at Suffolk has been kind and Liz enjoys the afternoon sun in Steve's garden.

The Mute Swans may be common in the UK, but are always stunning.

Liz scanning the fields of Minsmere, lots of snipe and other waders in the wet fields.

An afternoon drink at the Blue Boar pub, toasting our success at getting some of our target species, Bearded Tit and Short-eared Owl.

We headed northwards birding and found Great Yarmouth.

A interesting coastal town with weird beach sheds.


The Cley Marshes were more our style with the modern visitor centre.

The classic windmill that is the well known symbol of the Cley Marshes. A fantastic birding area, shame we didn't have more time here.

Typical pebble beach in the UK.

A good place to stay when birding in the Norfolk area is the Gate Lodge in Hunstanton.

Another of the great English bird reserves, Titchwell Marsh.

The old bird hide and the mega modern new hide at Titchwell.

Titchwell is one of the best birding place we have been to in England and it was here that we got our long awaited Cetti's Warbler.

The big new hide is fantastic with lots of bench space and big sliding windows.

A Spotted Redshank, one of the many nice birds at Titchwell.

The blackberries were sweet and ripe, attracting us for a feed as well as the birds!

The last great bird reserve we visited was Welney with it's long entrance walkway. The only trouble is as we found out, if you arrive before the visitor centre is open, you cant get into any of the reserve because the only way in or out is via the walkway which starts inside the centre.

The walkway is an amazing piece of work.

Welney reserve has this wonderful big heated hide, for long hours of watching the huge number of geese and swans that gather there during the cold winters.

A small break for birding with a day in the historic city of York.

York Cathedral.

Hmmmmmmmmmmm? Bile beans?

The weather was a bit stormy at first, but a walk along the ancient York city walls is a must.

So that's how they mow the grass along the steep city walls, a remote control lawnmower.

It's a long walk around the city walls.

One of my favourite photos of the holiday, the historic city of York.

It was then off to Wales to meet up with the rest of Liz's family. We even got a nice warm afternoon for drinks outside.

Almost time to leave the UK and fly to Turkey for some more birding and history. A few drinks with Liz's cousin in Bath before we leave.

One of the foods I have long wanted to try were Faggots. Not something you would say out loud in Australia!

Faggots are basically a big meatball made of liver and onions, usually served with some hot big green peas. Very nice indeed.

Birding in the UK was pretty good even with the rainy windy weather we usually had, with 7 new lifers (Bearded Tit, Marsh Tit, Cetti's Warbler, Grasshopper Warbler, Short-eared Owl, Stock Dove and Common Scoter) and a total of 127 species.